Hand Tool Headlines
The Woodworking Blogs Aggregator
Back in the late fall, I worked on some commission work that I kept off the blog. Didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag…these things being presents. Then I forgot to show them once the holidays were over. A Shakespeare enthusiast asked me to make a joined chest and joined stool, to commemorate 25 years of he & his wife reading Shakespeare together. Thus, the “WS” carved on the muntins.
As I was making the front of this chest, I wrote about the mitered joints for Popular Woodworking Magazine. The current issue (April 2018) has the whole run-down on cutting the joint. I think I added it to the upcoming book too. Here’s the layout of the tenon.
It’s one really leaned-over sawcut to get that mitered shoulder.
A marking gauge defines the bevel on each edge of this muntin. Then plane it down.
The tenon partway home, make sure the grooves line up, then the mitered shoulder slides over the beveled edge of the stile. Whew.
Then, to make matters even more complicated, I undertook a painting on the inside of the lid. I haven’t really done any painting since about 1981…What was I thinking?
The finished painting. I felt like Alec Guinness in The Horse’s Mouth – It never comes out like it is in my head.
When that was done, I got to make my own wife a present. A much-needed book rack, for library books used in home-schooling. It looks so Arts & Crafts; quartersawn white oak, through mortise & tenon joints…Look at that wild medullary ray pattern on those uprights. Who could dislike that?
Me. I couldn’t leave it like that. Too blank. Horror vacui.
|the moment of truth|
|the epoxy on this is still a little tacky|
|scraping the finish off the drawer front|
|this got a reprieve|
|epoxied the spacer on|
|did some putty work before the epoxy|
|handle haircut time|
On Miles's handle I started the haircut down at the bottom where it ran wild and beyond the bolster edges.
|got one side close to the bolster edge|
|top of Miles's pigsticker|
|Miles's chisel sanded and done|
|the other side of the 3/8" chisel|
|planing the facets out|
|I'm happy with the grip now|
|the plastic pouch these came in is history|
|I want to make something similar like this|
|painted the tool cabinet and one drawer|
|painted the frog on the #5|
|scraping the big front on the pull out tray|
|I didn't go nutso on this|
|painted the interior of the tray|
I may get the tool cabinet painted and ready for the tools tomorrow.
Did you know that Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki are the only two players in MLB who were Rookie of the year and MVP in the same year?
Here is the back panel to the walnut chest showing a nice even reveal. I've had this Becksvoort router bit for years and I use it on all my panels. It has a 22 degree angle instead of the usual 90 degrees which requires more care but the results are worth it.
They are available from Lee Valley.
The complete 2018 Barn workshop schedule, which I will post every couple of weeks to help folks remember the schedule.
Historic Finishing April 26-28, $375
Making A Petite Dovetail Saw June 8-10, $400
Boullework Marquetry July 13-15, $375
Knotwork Banding Inlay August 10-12, $375
Build A Classic Workbench September 3-7, $950
contact me here if you are interested in any of these workshops.
If you wandered by our warehouse lately, you would be hard pressed not to notice that there are many changes afoot. We just purchased our first machining center and we had to basically move everything in the workshop at least once, sometimes twice, to make room. And since the electricans are coming anyway, we are adding big ceiling fans too. Also a compressor, and lots of miscellaneous things like a refractometer in order to tell us the condition of the machine coolant.
It's all very exciting!
But just to make it interesting, I am writing this after a week of staying home sick battling the flu. Other staff members are sick too. I feel okay today, other than feeling the effects of not having eaten a proper meal all week, but I thought it would be prudent to stay at home.
Being sick and short-staffed, especially with the machining center coming, is not only cruddy of itself, but also made us realize at the last minute that we were not in a position to do the New Jersey Woodworkers Show next weekend. We're disappointed - we always have a good time at the show, but we know it's important to know your limits. For example, in order to be ready for the show we have to set up show inventory for packing. Since I was out sick, I couldn't do this. And the person who sets up the booth for the show has also been under the weather. This sets up a whole cascade of events. So sadly it's not happening this year. :(
Meanwhile other things are chugging along at TFWW. Festool prices go up on March 1, so if you were planning a purchase anyway do it now ( Click here). The big change for Festool is that all the vacuums (except the Autoclean) will start coming with smooth hoses. And the hose garage has improved too. Cost have gone up, so getting the older versions might be your choice, but we will have new models to sell on March 1st.
If you are in the neighborhood feel, free to stop by the showroom on Friday the 2nd (8 AM -5 PM) or Saturday (11 AM -5 PM) we will have snacks and other treats.
Also finally, I'm delighted to announce that Osmo finishing supplies are arriving this week. We have been trying to carry this line of environmentally aware and durable hardwax oils for a while and now we have succeeded. Watch our site or stop by to check Osmo out!
ps - That's our new compressor and tank coming off a truck from our local compressor dealer, Murlynn Compressor. Gerry has been great putting together a deal for us that made sense.
|working on the bridle joint idea|
|for Miles's toolbox|
|got a 1/2" one for me|
|Miles's 3/8" pigsticker on top and my 1/2" on the bottom|
|my 9/16" pigsticker|
|what's up with boxes?|
|first mind fart|
|at least I repeated it on the upright|
|thinning the dowels|
|it's flush on this side - wow again|
This doesn't change my opinion of dowel joints. I still don't have a high regard for them but I am happy with my technique and the resulting joint. This will stay a bottom of the pile for choosing joints but I won't hesitate to use again if I have to.
|spacing the braces|
|I have a warm and fuzzy with this|
|took it apart, spread the epoxy, and rescrewed it|
|no gap on the top drawer|
|remove the spacer|
|sized the two end grain surfaces|
Did you know that the average american watches about 4 hours of TV a day?
We recorded a new podcast episode this morning which can be listened to above. Because Mike and I just finished Issue Four, we dedicated this episode to discussing what it’s like to produce the magazine, what’s featured in this new issue, and what to expect in the coming weeks.
I was in elementary school when my father hurt his back so badly while working on the farm that his doctor confined him to bed.
My bedroom was immediately down the hall from my parents’, and after school one day I heard disturbing noises – violent banging and rasping – coming from their room. The door was open a crack, and as I gently pushed my way in, I was surprised, relieved and completely enlightened about my own nature.
My father was lying flat in bed, as per the doctor’s orders. And he was building a small side table in this odd position, without a workbench or his machinery. (In fact, during this convalescence, he completely finished the table, which I still own. He painted a flower on each end and varnished the entire thing. All while on his back.)
Likewise, I’ve never been able to sit still. My dad once offered to give me $5 if I could sit motionless for five minutes. I have never collected on that bet. But after seeing him build a table in bed, at least I know – genetically – where I get my peculiar work habits.
My father’s urge to create was unstoppable. He transformed our house in Fort Smith, Ark., into a delightful English/Japanese garden, learning masonry, fence-building and landscaping on the way. He built a goldfish pond, tended a bamboo garden and installed dramatic lighting. All of this fueled by a remarkable eye for design and unspeakable energy.
When our house in town was perfect, he bought 84 acres outside Hackett, Ark., and proceeded to transform that with his hand and a vision. He bought a drafting table, read a bunch of books and took a class at the Shelter Institute in Maine with my mom. And then bang, we were building the first of two houses without the help of electricity or running water.
He plowed the bottomland and planted strawberries. Then he constructed a second house of his own design that was about 4,000 square feet. We were going to move there as soon as it was complete. I was promised a herd of goats. (Which I have never collected on.) And chickens.
I left for college in 1986, my parents divorced in 1989 and my dad lost heart in the farm.
This man who shaped an Arkansas wilderness of turkeys, rocky soil and armadillos was confined to a tiny apartment in one of those complexes that has a “singles nights” and keno. I thought my dad was done for and was broken in spirit. But I was wrong.
He bought a run-down farmhouse in town and transformed it into another gorgeous estate with a lap pool, workshop and guest cottage. No detail in his house was too small – he hand carved the heating registers with a geometric design I’ve never seen before. He built garden furniture that was so cunningly simple and beautiful that I blatantly ripped it off as a furniture maker. His kitchen was like something in Architectural Digest.
Meanwhile the farm sat dormant and unfinished. We’d go down there to fix walls or hang a new gate, but every visit was depressing.
During one visit, my father told me that the urge to create things every day had vanished. In some ways it seemed a relief to him. He didn’t have to judge himself on his daily labor. He began to take a deeper interest in music and singing (and piano and later cello).
Again, I thought he had reached the end of his creative life. Again I was wrong.
He sold the farm and bought an old house in the historic district of Charleston, S.C. And again, he set to work rebuilding the garage, workshop and guest cottage. He transformed the interior of the house, and once more he created a perfect human terrarium where he was surrounded by beautiful objects he had collected or made during his entire life, from his time during the Vietnam war to multiple trips to Europe and Mexico.
And here he lies tonight. Flat on his back and dying from cancer he was diagnosed with in 2003. He’s leaving us far too early.
This time, he doesn’t have the parts or tools to build another side table. This time I’m sure we’re at the end.
Or are we?
Without my father’s example, his unstoppable work ethic and his eye for beautiful objects, I’d be a sorry woodworker. Luckily, I grew up in a house where we unapologetically made things. And when dad found beautiful objects made by others, he bought them. He sat them next to his own work and saw how his measured up. Or if it didn’t. And when the next day came, he kept building.
That’s where I come from. I might tell people I come from Arkansas (where I grew up) or Missouri (where I was born). But I really came from a home where our job is to make the world a little more beautiful each day.
And when he leaves us, which could be any minute now, the world is going to be a little less beautiful without him.
— Christopher Schwarz
Several customers have asked why they are receiving emails from our store notifying them that there is an updated pdf of “Ingenious Mechanics” ready for download.
Is this a scam? A mailserver error? Did chipmunks chew a CAT5 cable?
No. There’s a new pdf available for you to download.
When we make updates to the pdfs that we sell on our site, we ask our software to notify all existing customers that a new version is available. There have been two updates to the pdfs this week.
The first update was to increase the resolution of the photos (we doubled it).
The second change was to add the cover to the beginning of the pdf.
We’ll probably have another update or two in the coming months as readers point out corrections or typos.
— Christopher Schwarz
After the death of Nancy Cogger of Londonderry Brasses, Horton Brasses acquired the company’s stock and is selling many existing pieces at 50 percent off. Orion Henderson estimated there are more than 23,000 pieces of Londonderry hardware now for sale on the Horton site. If this is all the information you need, get your credit card out and load up. Here’s the link. I swooped in and bought about 50 […]
After the death of Nancy Cogger of Londonderry Brasses, Horton Brasses acquired the company’s stock and is selling many existing pieces at 50 percent off.
Orion Henderson estimated there are more than 23,000 pieces of Londonderry hardware now for sale on the Horton site.
If this is all the information you need, get your credit card out and load up. Here’s the link.
I swooped in and bought about 50 pieces of campaign hardware for future commissions and a follow-up to “Campaign Furniture.” I was shocked at how much money I saved. Here’s the link to the campaign hardware section.
Londonderry is fantastic stuff, made using a lost wax casting process to copy original pieces. The good news is that the hardware looks bang-on original. The bad news is that it usually requires more finessing to install than modern hardware that is completely consistent in every single way.
Orion says that Horton will continue to carry some of the Londonderry pieces and bring them in as a special order. But you’ll never see these prices again.
If you aren’t familiar with Horton, it’s time to fix that situation. I’ve been a happy customer since 1997.
— Christopher Schwarz
In the last 10 hours 8,900 woodworkers have watched part 8 of making my workbench on YouTube alone. That of course does not include how many have watched the other 7 parts in the series. On woodworkingmasterclasses.com the series has been going out two weeks earlier. I am not sure how many have seen it […]
I don’t remember much of the furniture I grew up with, but one small piece stands out in my memory. It was a small, oak footstool, which was kicked around my parents’ kitchen for years (sometimes literally). I believe that it was made by some friends who were into woodworking at the time. They made a batch of them to sell, and my parents bought one. It’s survived several decades of heavy use in their house, so when I first began working wood, one of my first projects was a similar kitchen stool.
My resources were limited, and so was my skill set. The original stool, which I built 10 years ago, was made entirely from pine. I was not at all confident in my mortise-and-tenon joints, so I ended up just dovetailing the legs into the sides.
That stool stood up for five years, but eventually the legs all came loose. By that time I had the tools to make tapered tenons, so I ended up cutting the stool’s top shorter, boring angled mortises, and installing new legs, also made from pine.
That version of the stool lasted five more years. But even though I had reinforced the pine top with battens underneath, the whole thing finally split in half. It was clearly time to replace this old stool with something more substantial.
This is the rebuilt and re-broken stool, standing atop the pieces that will become its replacement.
In theory, there was nothing wrong with the rebuilt stool’s construction. The only problem is that construction-grade pine is not a good material for the seat. The open grain in the mortises doesn’t take glue well, and the wood is too easy to split.
An ideal replacement would have a hardwood top, preferably made from a close-grained hardwood, and legs made of a tough hardwood appropriate to the task. I had no wood thick and wide enough for the top, though. After considering the wood I did have on hand, I opted for a laminated cherry top and red oak legs.
The cherry wood is a story in itself. I had several boards that I had gotten for free out of a pile of junk lumber. They had a lot of bug holes, and the ends were rotted–which is why they were free! But each one had a little sound wood inside. It took all the good wood from two of these 6′ boards to make one top for a stool.
As I cut into the cherry, I had a minimum length in mind (11″), but I was able to cut a few pieces longer (up to 12″), just in case I needed to cut around defects later on. As I looked at my collection of wood strips, though, I found that I could place the longest ones in the middle and the shortest at the end, which would allow the ends of the top to be curved instead of straight. There’s no functional advantage to curved ends, but they will look nicer.
The wood strips were pretty rough when I brought them into the shop. I oriented all the worst edges in one direction (see photo above), which would be the bottom. Then I planed the other three sides.
Even nasty looking lumber can clean up nicely.
Lots of glue and an overnight clamp-up later, I had a top.
While top was in the clamps, I turned my attention to the legs. I selected some straight-grained red oak I had stashed away for just such an occasion. The oak came from a neighbor’s tree, which was taken down a while ago. I had sawn up a few pieces to about 1 1/2″ square, expecting to eventually build some kind of a stool or chair. I cut four billets to about 12″ long. That allowed me plenty of leeway to eventually trim either end to final length. The stool itself will end up 10 1/2″ tall.
I planed them roughly square, but there was no reason to obsess over making them identical in thickness. What’s the final thickness of the legs? I have no idea. Somewhere a little under the 1 1/2″ they started out as. But it really doesn’t matter.
I set them in cradles to plane the square pieces down to octagons.
I love how the oak shavings pile up on the windowsill beside my bench.
I marked the approximate center of each leg with a Forstner bit the same width as the small end of the tapered tenon cutter–in this case 1/2″. I have a tapered tenon cutter (essentially a giant pencil sharpener) that allows me to shave down a perfect tenon. First, however, it is necessary to roughly shape a taper on the end of the leg before cutting it to final shape with the tenon cutter.
For one insane moment I considered sawing the taper down–eight cuts on four legs. Then I came to my senses and reached for my drawknife. I marked 1″ below the tenon cutter’s length and started with the drawknife. Although the tenon cutter makes an accurate cut, it can be slow going. If the workpiece is just a little too thick, the tenon cutter stops cutting, and then it’s necessary to remove more stock with spokeshave before continuing with the tenon cutter.
Eventually I got them all cut.
The next day, I turned my attention back to the top. The glue was dry, and the top was ready to be planed. This is the “good” side, which will be the visible top.
Planing across the grain with a jack plane quickly leveled out the slab.
A smoothing plane with the grain leaves everything flat and silky smooth.
Viewing a planed surface with raking light helps identify any irregularities. I know I’m going overboard here, though. This surface is going to be stood on regularly, so it’s not necessary to make everything precisely flat and smooth. But a smooth surface is less likely to collect grime and easier to clean than a rough surface.
Plus, cherry is fun to plane.
Next I cut a gentle curve on each end. Marking out the curve was easy. To mark this kind of curve, I’ve seen woodworkers rig up some kind of trammel or pencil-and-string apparatus. But it’s not necessary to draw a geometrically-precise curve. Your arm will do nicely. Your elbow is the pivot point. Place it in line with the center of the workpiece. Then hold the pencil and swing your arm from side to side. The result is as fair a curve as you could want on a stool.
The only really tricky part of this whole build is boring the holes at the correct angle. Set a bevel gauge to a pleasing angle (I used one of the legs on the original stool) and eyeball the rest. If I do this much more, I’ll make myself an angle-gauge that will stand up easier. I kept knocking the bevel gauge over.
I did have to double-check that I was boring the correct angle on the correct side. The last time I did this, I bored the holes backwards, and the bottom instantly became the top.
Actually, boring at the correct angle isn’t the hard part. It’s reaming the holes at the correct angle that is difficult. At least with the auger bit, once you’ve established the correct angle with a few turns of the brace, the bit will keep going at pretty much the same angle you started with. The reamer, however, can be tilted in many different directions at any time, so you have to repeatedly check your angle every few turns.
Even with repeated checking, the angles are visibly different from each other. Oh well. They’re not far enough off to affect the stool in use.
Also, as you approach the final depth with the reamer, test-fit the leg frequently. Once the top of the leg pokes up through the top, it’s time to stop reaming. Mark the hole and the leg so you make sure you don’t get them mixed up later.
Now, as tempting as it would be to just glue up the legs now, it is best to do all the shaping and trimming work on the top before inserting the legs.
First, I eased the edges just a little all around the underside of the top. It gives the whole piece a lighter look. I used a plane and spokeshave to relieve all the sharp edges. You don’t want a sharp corner when you inevitably bash your shin against it while carrying dishes through the kitchen.
I also found just a few old bug holes and one little soft spot on the end that needed attention. I saturated the soft spot with thin superglue, which will stabilize the wood. I filled the bug holes with sawdust and dripped superglue onto them, too. After drying the superglue with a hairdryer, I used a card scraper to remove the excess glue, leaving a perfectly smooth, filled void.
Once the top is shaped, trimmed, and smoothed, it’s time to get ready to install the legs. I find that legs like this will tend to work loose if they aren’t secured somehow, so I decided to wedge the tenons. Here’s how:
- Make the wedges the same width as the top of the mortise. Give them an aggressive taper–not too low an angle! Use a tough, seasoned wood like oak or hickory. These are pecan, also a tough wood.
- Insert the legs and mark a line across the grain of the top. With the tenon saw, cut a kerf in the top of each leg to a depth of about 1″. You just need the kerfs deep enough to allow the very top of the tenon to expand and lock the leg into the mortise.
- Use a half-round file or a knife to relieve the tops of the mortises, just on the end-grain. That way, when you drive the wedges in, the tops of the tenons will have space to expand, creating a reversed taper and locking the legs in place.
- Place clamps across the top to prevent the top from splitting as you drive the tenons in. This is a nice time to call in a little shop assistant to help.
Dinner was almost ready. Once the smaller kids were done setting the table, they each came over to help insert the legs into the mortises. We slathered the tenons with lots of wood glue, rotated them in the mortises until the whole surface was coated, and then pressed them in. I had marked the inside of each leg so I got the best grain oriented to the outside. Finally, we tapped each leg home with a mallet.
Before sitting down to dinner, we flipped the stool over and drove in the wedges. Wedging tenons is a tricky thing. If you don’t drive the wedges in deep enough, the wedging action won’t happen. But drive a wedge in too hard, and you risk breaking it off inside the slot. (If that does happen, about the only thing to do is to quickly cut another wedge with a blunt tip and try to drive it in on top of the broken one. Sometimes it works.) Just tap the wedge firmly until it stops. If you’re paying attention, you’ll feel it stop.
I let the glue dry overnight, then sawed off the tops of the wedges and planed everything flush.
On a stool like this, there are two potentially weak places, so it pays to reinforce each one. The first is the joints, which can work loose over time. Which is why I wedged the tenons. The other potential weak spot is the top itself. The long grain between the legs is unsupported and could possibly split in half if, say, somebody jumped and landed hard on the middle of the stool. So as one final piece of insurance, I nailed two battens underneath the top. For the battens, I selected a wood that is strong along the grain but fairly lightweight: southern yellow pine.
Although these battens will be mostly unseen, I still took the time to plane them smooth and chamfer the edges. Not only will this make picking up the stool easier on the fingers, but it lends just a little bit of grace to what is otherwise a very plain design.
What are the dimensions of the battens? I don’t know, really. Probably about 3/8″ thick and 1 1/2″ wide, more or less. What is more important is that they are flat sawn or rift sawn, not quartersawn. When nailing battens like this in place, the nails will hold better (and be less likely to split to wood) if they punch through the growth rings rather than between them.
I used cut nails, which require a pilot hole but hold very firmly. With a good pilot hole, you can pound in these nails perilously close to the ends of the battens without splitting them. I placed the battens as far apart as I could, which ended up being right up against the legs.
The last major step is to cut off the bottoms of the legs so the stool won’t wobble.
The easiest way is to place the stool on a relatively flat surface (such as the top of your workbench) and use something of the right thickness as a gauge to mark around each leg with a pencil. The end of my bevel gauge happened to be just right.
The only difficult part of this operation is holding the work steady as you cut the legs to length. It seems that however you hold them, the other legs are in the way of your handsaw. Well, so be it. Saw carefully, and try not to hit the other legs as you do so.
Just saw to your pencil lines, and don’t worry about being any more accurate than that. You could try to get the bottom of each leg precisely co-planar so the stool will sit perfectly on a perfectly flat surface. But that’s pointless because your floors aren’t that flat. As long as you get everything close enough, the stool’s top and legs will flex a little as you stand on it, and it won’t wobble in use.
The last shaping job to do is to relieve the sharp edges around the bottoms of the legs. Chamfering those edges will make the legs less likely to splinter on the ends. I used a spokeshave, but you could use a sanding block and sandpaper just as easily.
And now, here it is, the finished product:
The final dimensions are 10 1/2″ tall, 11 1/2″ wide, and 9 1/2″ deep.
Now to apply a quick finish to bring out the colors and make the inevitable dirt a little easier to clean off.
I applied some homemade Danish oil (equal parts polyurethane, safflower oil, and mineral spirits), using a couple heavy coats on the top especially. After letting it dry for a day in front of a fan, it was ready to use.
Here’s a shot of the underside now that everything is finished:
And the completed stool:
Now that it’s done, I’m thinking it’s almost too pretty to use.
While unpacking my “Gilding” tub for setting up my presentation at the CW WW18thC conference I removed all the stuff I needed for the show. Getting to the bottom of the tub I was dumbstruck. There, underneath all the gilding supplies — where it was not supposed to be — sat as my long-missing box of mostly mega-dollar (mostly) sable detailing brushes. I had turned the shop upside down several times in the past three years looking for this little box of treasures to no avail.
Recreating history is easier when you know all the secrets. Apparently (well, actually more than apparently) at a gilding demo many moons ago some idiot had packed this box of treasured brushes in the wrong tub of supplies.
Protection against self-incrimination prevents me from identifying the idiot.
As if WW18thC 2018 was not already wonderful enough!
|fixing the broken saw horse|
I sawed and planed what was left of the tenon at the bottom of this upright. Filling in the mortise is next.
|drilled out some waste|
|had to try it|
|I didn't reuse the first two screw holes|
|small miller dowel|
|what I'm going with|
|step two has room for two screws|
|shut the lights after this|
Did you know that an average adult elephant has a trunk that is 8 feet long (2.4 meters)?
I don't have a lot to add to his suggestions. In addition to keeping your planes very sharp, I have found a cabinet scraper to be particularly useful on white oak as a way of avoiding tearout. I find that even a sharp plane will tear white oak out sometimes.
One of the point he makes is absolutely true. Quartersawn white oak is much much easier to work than flatsawn white oak, to the point that I consider the latter unworkable with hand tools.
Another reaction I had to his post is if I ever run across one of those machines he pictures I am going to buy it. Not sure what I will do with them, but I would definitely like to have one of each. I think I recall Roy Underhill using something like this on one of his shows and it looked fun.
Given all of the challenges in working with white oak, why bother? It really is a very nice species with many desirable qualities. It's strong and durable, finishes well and looks really nice.
As I'll describe later, I am currently working with sapele for the first time. It has approximately the same harness as white oak and yet it is much easier to work. I don't understand this so, if you do, please explain in the comments.
A few weekends ago, I traveled up the Mendocino Coast in Northern California to see The Krenov School’s midwinter show in Fort Bragg, Calif. I suppose I’ve been vocal enough about my status as an alumnus of the school (when it was the College of the Redwoods), so I’ll just say that I like to get back when I can, visit the wonderful people of the area and check out the work in the show. The midwinter show, not the year-end show, has become the alumni event that brings dozens and dozens of us alumni back to the school.
One person I look forward to seeing when I visit is David Welter. David retired in 2016 from his long-time role as shop steward and jack of all trades at the school. David worked alongside James Krenov for 20 years, and he stayed on another decade and a half past the old master’s retirement from the school. David has shepherded and photographed every student piece that’s passed through the school, and he is a font of knowledge on the craft and community.
When Krenov retired from woodworking and his shop in April of 2009, he called David over to clean the place out. By this time, “Old Jim” (as he took to signing in his later years) had almost completely lost his eyesight and had retired from cabinetmaking to make his signature handplanes (which was as much a way to keep busy in the shop as it was a business venture, it seems). When David cleaned out the shop, he brought home a few of Krenov’s machines, hand tools and his workbench.
David just finished building his own small workshop this past year behind his house, a beautiful small shop split into a machine and bench room, with a small guest apartment. The machine room has all of the features of a good Krenovian shop – a nice band saw or two, a boring machine and stacks of wood too good to pass by. But in the relatively spare bench room, only two features catch the eye. One, David’s collection of egg-beater drills hangs above eye-level and is a joy to behold. The other, resting comfortably below eye-level on the same wall, is “Old Jim’s” bench, now fittingly David’s – and it is a joy to peer over, under and around.
The bench itself was built in the 1950s by Målilla Hyvelbänkar, a small family-run company that still makes traditional Swedish workbenches in Rosenfors, Sweden (a southern town with a population of 281). Three brothers (pictured above) started the factory, and it was Yngve Karlsson who built Krenov’s bench just after the World War II.
The bench will be familiar to those who have seen other Scandinavian benches from the 20th century – a large wooden tail vise and accompanying square dog holes, a shoulder vise and a shallow tool tray, with a beech benchtop. This style of bench has a particularly novel stance, with a much wider set of trestles on the shoulder vise end, to accommodate the vise’s protrusion. The tail vise is a classic construction, with the large wooden thread tucked into the dovetailed end cap, plus a guide rail that keeps the vise from sagging and racking.
The shoulder vise, however, is a bit peculiar. The sliding chop, which runs in an odd channel, has been beaten up significantly. Krenov preferred this style of vise for its capacity – without a thread in the middle of the vise’s depth, it could hold much larger parts (all the way down to the floor), such as full carcases or long drawers. Ejler Hjorth-Westh owns a much later bench from the same maker. On his, he requested a more standard vise – and encouraged the bench maker to pursue a more standard vise layout, should they want to sell more benches in the States!
Krenov made a number of simple modifications to the bench (and made them when it was relatively new, judging by the cover shot from the 1986 Prentice Hall edition of “The Impractical Cabinetmaker” which shows the bench back in Sweden with all of the modifications). He added two plywood shelves above and below the bench’s rails, inside of which he stored small pieces of lumber. He also added a simple rasp and file rack to the front of the rail.
On the back of the benchtop, he attached a number of blocks for holding his work light and several small foam knife blocks, into which he often stuck his carving knives. Under the bench is another simple modification – a side-hung drawer. The drawer is tucked under the top a bit, making it hard to reach – but this positioning keeps it away from the bench dogs, which might otherwise be difficult to pop up into service.
The bench is laden with marks from more than a half-century. At the tail vise, a particular angle was sawn so often (roughly 22º) that its kerfs are deeply marked into the top. The small knife blocks bear hundreds of small knife points, which show the variety and small size of the knives Krenov made and used (no slöjd knives here, despite his long residence in Sweden).
Krenov worked for several decades with this bench in his home in Bromma (a suburb of Stockholm), Sweden, and when he moved west to establish the school in Fort Bragg in 1981, he brought it with him. It lived in his corner of the bench room at the school for another two decades, eventually moving to the back room where he escaped from students. Finally, when he left the school in 2002, it followed him home to the shop where David picked it up in 2009.
Visiting this bench, the school and visiting with David and the rest of the teachers always brings about a particular flavor of nostalgia – it isn’t just a yearning for the old, but rather, a desire to get back to work having remembered the monastic time I spent at the school and the philosophy of its founding teacher. There is a quiet energy, not an excitement or enthusiasm, that always comes to me after a visit to Fort Bragg. Maybe, more than anything, it’s just a desire to be at the bench, working with a slow inertia toward fine work.
— Brendan Gaffney
The last session at WW18thC was my presentation of Historic Gilding and Finishing, including a brief sprint through the application of gold leaf. I described processes of gilding with a particular emphasis on building the surface (wood, gesso, bole) to make it amenable to the laying of gold leaf. It was only a few minutes, but gilding is a topic that can be introduced in either ten minutes or ten days, nothing in between makes much sense.
As quickly as I could I changed gears to get to transparent finishing, relying as always on my Six Steps To Perfect Finishing, a rubric that has served me flawlessly since I came up with it a couple dozen years ago. Not every one of the six points got the same emphasis here, that was not practicable given the time constraints, but the conceptual model was followed closely.
As always the starting point was surface preparation, including using toothing planes, scrapers, and pumice blocks that were integral to the finisher’s tool kit 250 years ago.
The final step in surface prep was to burnish the wood with polishing sticks or fiber bundle polissoirs.
I then moved into the no-man’s-land of filling the grain and building the foundation for the finish yet to come, employing the traditional method of using beeswax as the grain filler. In some circumstances this is the finished surface, in others it is the foundation.
In olden times they would have used a fire-heated iron to melt on the beeswax, I use a similar shaped tool that is electric. The molten wax is drizzled on to the surface then distributed with the heated iron unto there is excess. After cooling any excess is scraped off.
When choosing the finish itself, an 18th century palette would have been based on four major families of finishes. From left to right they are shellac, linseed oil, beeswax, and colophony (pine rosin).
In this demo I used padded spirit varnish (shellac) to show the application of the finish over the beeswax grain filling.
And then my time was up and everyone went home.
I’ll be offering my annual Historic Finishing workshop at the barn in late April. Let me know if you would like to participate.
This is an excerpt from “Grandpa’s Workshop” by Maurice Pommier.
Pépère watched me with a strange expression. He ran his fingers through my hair, and he said, in the softest voice :
— That’s the story…
— But I woke up just afterward! Tell me, nobody ever tried to make a new handle for the hammer?
— Ah, you know little rabbit, I don’t think so. That DAMMED HAMMER has always skulked around in the tool chest of some member of our family. But understand, really, that it is the men who decide how tools are to be used. And always remember, that drunkenness and anger never give birth to good things
— But you, Pépère, how did you know what happened to Abel?
— When I was a little boy, I asked Pépé Clothaire why this hammer’s handle had never been replaced.
— And you, did you also ask Pépé Clothaire how he knew the story?
— Pépé Clothaire told me that the elves in his shop taught him the story. So the hammer stayed in Pépé Clothaire’s tool chest, and after he died, nobody used his tools, except for the American carpenter’s big saw. It was your mother’s brother who used these tools.
— It wasn’t Uncle Gaspard, he has all modern tools in his joinery shop. What was his name , my uncle you never want to talk about?
— Étienne… He was our first boy. We had three children, Gaspard and your mother were his brother and sister. He had a tragic accident. He was a carpenter, and fell from the top of a church while rebuilding the roof beams . He braced his foot on the ANGEL’S HEAD in the chest. The piece broke out from under him, an angel that didn’t do his job . Since the accident, his chest has never been opened. Tools sleep and die if nobody uses them. You have woken them up a little.
Pépère told me that story without looking at me
Tomorrow it is back to school. I am going to see my friends again, but I will not see Pépère as much. I have to hurry. I need to finish my BOAT before vacation ends.
— You are well on the way to becoming a boatbuilder!
— No, Pépère, later, I want to be a joiner, like you, and I will work with your tools!
— Rabbit, I am really happy to hear you tell me that. If you want to become a joiner, I will show you how to use the tools little by little. But you also have to learn to work with the MACHINES like those in your Uncle Gaspard’s shop. You will not work alone, like us, and not in the same way.
In the meantime, tomorrow, there is school, and that is also very important to become a good woodworker.
— Meghan Bates
I built a folding bookstand (above) for an upcoming issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine that uses traditional copper rivets to join the components and allow them to pivot. After posting a few photos of the bookstand, a lot of people were curious about how to use copper rivets. So here is a quick tutorial – full details and measured drawings will be in the June 2018 issue of the magazine. […]