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The Barn on White Run

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Where modern craft meets the past.
Updated: 1 hour 21 min ago

Conserving a c.1720 Italian Tortoiseshell Mirror – Laying Down Lifted Tortoiseshell

Sun, 03/29/2015 - 7:04pm

The tortoiseshell surface of the mirror frame was replete with areas of delaminated and detached (lifted) shell veneer, with even more numerous areas that were delaminated but not detached as they were still adhered at their margins.


This was particularly prevalent at the seams of the shell pieces.


Nevertheless as most of these regions were stable I left them alone.  They are not at imminent risk, so I can always return to them should the situation change.

The main concern was those pieces flapping in the breeze, or in danger of becoming so.  Those were the areas where I needed to introduce adhesive underneath them, then clamp them in place until it dried.

I chose Milligan and Higgins 192 Special hide glue for my adhesive; it has more than enough shear strength, and is much more tacky quicker than the standard hide glue (eliminating the need to add glycerine as a tackifying plasticizer).  I soaked it overnight, 1 part glue to 2 parts distilled water, then cooked it twice on my coffee cup warmer before using it.


With my fingertips, or often with bamboo skewers and hors d’oeuvers toothpicks I gently lifted the edges of the tortoisehell and inserted my glue brush underneath, working it until there was excess glue present.


I then pressed down the shell by hand to swab off most of the excess glue, then laid down a piece of this plastic sheet (I really like food vacuum packing membrane for my gluing barriers; I bought several rolls on ebay for about fifty cents) followed by a shaped caul of polyethylene foam.


I made the cauls from scraps of foam left over form various projects, hollowed out with a few strokes of a convex rasp.


When in place, their concave shape provides admirable clamping pressure on the convex surface of the mirror frame.


I placed a foam caul over each section being glued, followed by a piece of plywood backing and a clamp.  Extreme clamping pressure was not needed, only enough to hold the shell in contact with the substrate until the glued hardened.  I left it over night and removed it in the morning.


I was fortunate to have success with every glue-down, not always a certainly when working on a contaminated surface and substrate.

Sample Board Partying – Cerusing

Sat, 03/28/2015 - 6:59am

Cerusing, or glazing, is the technique whereby you apply a hyper-thin layer of pigmented medium on the surface of the wood in order to manipulate its coloration.  “Glazing” is the more generic term for using the technique to change coloration is any direction, but “cerusing” is a term specific to the lightening or whitening of wood.  Ceruse had been first used actually as a cosmetic known as Venetian Ceruse, a face “glaze” made from led white and oils to make the wearer look, well, pasty faced (think about the court of Queen Elizabeth I). Lead white was an especially prized pigment by the ancients in great part due to its translucency.  Imagine how pasty-faced you could look after a lifetime of slathering lead white on your face!

Not surprisingly we do not use lead pigments widely despite their evident beneficial properties (oil paints made with lead pigments are nearly indestructible as the lead imparts tremendous durability) beyond very specialized application by fine artists making easel paintings.  Instead we use a combination of titanium dioxide and calcium carbonate or similar benign pigments for our whites.

Like the earlier liming process, for cerusing the wood was planed and scraped but unlike liming it not scrubbed with a brass brush.

The key to this process is to prepare and apply a thin layer of essentially translucent paint evenly over the surface.  In many instances of glazing the surface is first sealed to provide a barrier to the glaze soaking into the wood, but in this case the controlled “soaking in” is a critical component.  If the surface is smoothly scraped this works fine. If the surface is sanded, the results can be more of a challenge as the comparatively rougher, more “open” sanded surface behaves differently vis-a-vie the glaze than the scraped surface.


For these sample boards I prepared a white glaze from one part oil-paint primer, one part tung oil, and one part mineral spirits, with about 2% japan drier.



I slathered a thin layer of the glaze over the surface distributing it as evenly as possible with the cheap disposable brush, then worked it back and forth with a fine bristle brush, going one direction, then perpendicular to it, then diagonal and perpendicular to that, then finishing up with the grain with a very light touch.  Excess glaze is not helpful, just put on enough to cover the whole surface to the visual intensity and depth that you want, keeping in mind that your working the surface with a brush will pull some of the glaze off.  As you smooth out the glaze and pull it off with the brush, make sure to clean the brush frequently by rubbing it against a rag, which you will throw away when finished (make sure to do it properly, as the oily rag is flammable).


With a light touch and a good brush you can leave a perfect translucent layer on top of the raw wood, with just enough soaking in to bring it to life.

Once the glaze is fully dry, I follow it with a wiping of paste wax, and call it done.


As you can see from the comparative samples of flat-sawn cypress and quarter sawn oak, a cerused pickling is well suited for bold grain.

The techniques of glazing will be mentioned regularly in this blog and upcoming presentations and writings, as it was both historically accurate, especially asphaltum and brick-dust glazes, and is an important tool in the kit to making new surfaces appear to be aged.

Stay tuned.

Slip Sliding Away

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 7:20am

Among the flaming chainsaws I am juggling at the moment, by far the weightiest is my interpretive rendition of HO Studley’s workbench I am fabricating for the upcoming exhibit of the Studley Tool Chest and its companion workbench, now less than two months away.  The purposes of this element of the exhibit are basically two-fold; to demonstrate the manner in which Studley built his bench top, and to have some place to hang the half-dozen piano-maker’s vises (which you will be allowed to play with).  I realize that not everyone is as interested in these as am I.  Heck, outside of Jameel Abraham, nobody is as interested in these as am I. Why do these vises capture my imagination so? Why is peanut butter and mayonnaise my favorite sandwich? Some things are just chalked up to the vagaries of the cosmos.


I’d blogged earlier about my frustrations with the African “Mahogany,” and in return heard from my friend Rob in Lawrence, Kansas, with encouragement.  He had encountered the same problem, and instructed me on how to overcome it.  I will write soon about my adaptation of his advise –use an ultra sharp high angle smoother and take infinitesimally light cuts — in an upcoming post, but for now all I was wanting was to get the slab workably flat.


For that I continued working with my newly sharpened toothing plane, which was doing its job admirably.  Still, the process was not without problems. I had the slab clamped to the sawhorses in the corners and worked regionally.  The issue at this point was the floor.  Yes, my southern yellow pine flooring has become “polished” through foot traffic, and at times the entire assembly of slab and sawhorses skidded across the floor. After extensive exasperation with this, I grabbed some of the open webbed non-skid padding I used under my sharpening stones, or when sanding on the bench or something like that, cut it up and tossed a piece under each foot of the sawhorses.

Problem solved. Next?


I then got the slab on edge clamped to my planing beam with a new pair of holdfasts from Tools For Working Wood (they are fabulous and I will order three or four more pairs) and worked the long edges, which will eventually receive the edging similar to Studley’s.


Sample Board Partying – Liming

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 6:11pm


One of the dominant aesthetics in the interior design world of my early days in the furniture trade in Palm Beach County, Florida, was the lightening or even whitening of wood furniture and paneling, presumably to reflect the bright sunniness that was numbingly constant outside, especially in the winter when those with the financial means escaped the cold, grim climes of (mostly) New England.  This was manifest in what decorators called “pickled” finishes for wood surfaces.  During my recent luncheon presentation in Palm Beach, one of the topics my hosts requested was to address this one.

Traditionally this was applied over either oak or cypress, and I recall finishing what seemed to be acres of it.  In fact the “whitening” of these woods was accomplished by two unrelated techniques.

One technique involves the deposition of white material into the grain of the wood, and the other requires the deposition of a thin uniform layer of white translucence over the entire surface.  Though I executed both techniques on both oak and cypress, you will see from the results that one technique worked well for one wood, and the other, the other.

“Liming” of wood requires the deposition of, well, lime onto the wood, or more precisely, into the wood.  In these samples I planed and scraped the panels, then lightly scrubbed them with a brass brush to wallow out the grain.  In the case of oak, it resulted in the emphasis of the ring-porous nature of the wood, while with the cypress it created a muddy, unremarkable effect.


Once the surface was ready I took some hydrated lime from the hardware store and prepared some very lean gesso from the lime, water, and about 2-3% 315 gws glue.  I first soaked overnight and cooked the glue in the water, then added powdered lime to the desired consistency.


This was brushed onto the surface, making sure to work it down into the grain, and allowed to dry completely.


Since the gesso was very lean, I was able to remove the excess gesso, that is the gesso not down in the grain, with an abrasive pad rather than the coarse burlap of days gone by.


Following that I applied a single coating of paste wax, and when that was hard I buffed it with a piece of clean cloth.  This is a nerve wracking step the first time you do it as the paste wax saturates the lime deposit, making it disappear.  Never fear, as the solvent in the paste wax flashes off, the white will slowly emerge again.  The effect in oak is dramatic.


For cypress, the presentation is fairly undistinguished.


Fortunately, there is a technique that works wonderfully on cypress.

Stay tuned.



Conserving a c.1720 Italian Tortoiseshell Mirror – Cleaning

Sun, 03/22/2015 - 2:57pm


Once I finished with documenting and photographing the mirror frame, with special attention given to the areas of fracture and delaminated tortoiseshell, I began the process of cleaning it.


Like a legion of its brethren, this mirror had undergone a longstanding and typical process of being oiled periodically in order to spruce-up the appearance. In this particular instance, I believe the oil used was olive oil. Unfortunately, this process also contaminates every presentation surface, and if there are any cracks through which the oil can wick, the gluing margins as well. Equally unfortunate is that oiling tortoiseshell provides at best a temporary luster, while producing a long-lasting gooey residue that adheres airborne particles to the surface.


To address this I cleaned the entire surface of the mirror frame three times with naphtha on soft disposable shop towel pieces, until I was satisfied that the surfaces were clean. Somewhat more challenging was the incursion of the oil underneath the areas of lifted tortoiseshell. For these I not only needed to dissolve the oil but the transfer it to a spongy material in order to imbibe the oil into the sponge.



Once again I used the blue paper shop towels, cutting small pieces to gently slide into the openings of the fractured and lifted tortoiseshell with a thin spatula. Once in place, I used a dropper to wick naphtha into the paper sponge and let that wick up to the end, underneath the delaminated tortoiseshell, contacting, dissolving, and transferring the oil into the disposable sponge.


After a couple iterations of this, with two or three hours of contact each time, I let it dry thoroughly and tested one area and found it to be adequately cleaned in order to proceed.

Sample Board Partying – Before the “Finish,” Fuming and Polissoir Burnishing

Sat, 03/21/2015 - 5:58pm

As I presented my sample boards at the luncheon banquet on my recent trip to Florida, I began with two simple methods to enhance and modify the wood surface itself, even prior to beginning the application of any finish materials.


The first, and a very popular once again, was the coloration of white oak through the application of ammonia.  In the first sample I simply brushed on liquid ammonia and left it to dry.  The coloration is about what I expected, with the slight blotchiness and shallow penetration that would be the result of a light liquid application.  The depth of penetration from the single wetting with ammonia was about 1/16″

A second and similar sample was that of white oak exposed to ammonia vapors.  In this instance I prepared the six oak samples and placed them standing upright in a circle around a coffee cup warmer, on which I placed a half pint of full-strength hardware store ammonia.  I turned on the coffee cup warmer to heat and vaporize fully the ammonia and placed a plastic bucket upside-down over the lot, and left it for twelve hours.  I neutralized the ammonia with a light swabbing of white vinegar and left them to air out for a few hours, but there was no noticeable odor.

The result was the sumptuous almost-mocha coloration we have come to expect as the base for a lot of Craftsman furniture.  An application of a couple coats of deep red garnet shellac would have yielded a magnificent dark reddish brown finish.  I left the samples in their “native” state to make sure that the audience could see it in the raw.  Just to see how effective the fuming was, I sawed a sample in half, and the entire 1-inch cross section was the same fumed color.


As a special treat I showed a set of samples that I did not prepare other than to cut them to size.  These were pieces of “bog oak” from a crib dam on the Rappahannock River that had been submerged for nearly a century-and-a-half.  The coloration and luster of these pieces as truly spectacular, and I cannot wait to make some furniture from the pieces I have.


A final “pre-finishing” step was, not surprisingly, burnishing with a straw polissoir.  I lightly scraped the entire surface, then burnished one half of it.  I demonstrated this one at the luncheon, bringing the mahogany surface to a desirable sheen in just a few seconds.  I also noticed that these samples drew continual attention (caressing?) during my presentation, even after I had moved on to other topics.

After that we got down to the serious business of selecting and using a variety of finishing materials

Caught Sleeping While on Duty

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 5:08pm

I’ was looking through the 5.500 photos in my “Studley” file and came across this amusing one.  Evidently I was waiting for the videotaping setup to get ready when we were making the documentary, and just… dozed…  off…


Current Conservation Treatment — c. 1720 Italian Tortoiseshell Mirror Frames

Tue, 03/17/2015 - 6:16pm


I’m currently working on the first of a pair of matching 5-1/2 foot tall mirrors which have suffered some pretty extensive delamination of the tortoiseshell veneer.


One of the most critical issues for artifacts like this is to get them safely from Point A (the client’s home) to Point B (my studio).  For large planar artifacts like this I always construct a litter to which the artifact will be lashed so 1) I don’t have to handle the big clumsy thing any more than necessary, and 2) provide a safe housing for the artifact in transit.


My long time woodworking pal Tom was able to help me get the mirror down off the wall and into the litter easily.  The litter had clean foam pad/slats onto which the mirror was laid, and once in place blocking was glued to the slats to lock the mirror in place.


Once the blocks were set (I used hot melt glue) I added loose battens to the top of the mirror, directly in line with the slats underneath it.  This allowed for gentle restraints without adding any undue stress to the 300-year old engraved glass.

mirror frame

Using some upholstery webbing I had, I draped it over the battens and screwed it to the frame of the litter, snug but not tight.

c IMG_8238

One the packing was complete, we went straight out the front door and into the rear of the van  and a half hour later it was resting comfortably in my basement studio at my daughter’s house.

Stat tuned.


There’s A Party Going On! (part 1)

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 6:35pm

Several months ago I received an invitation from a South Florida custom millwork and fabrication shop to speak at a luncheon banquet celebrating their 25th anniversary.  At first I was ambivalent about the invitation as I didn’t know the folks, but Mrs. Barn was very enthusiastic about the prospect of a trip to the warm sunny climes at the tail end of a brutal winter in the mountains.  As my correspondence continued with my host and the themes emerged for the presentation, I too warmed to the idea.  By the time we plowed through the snow on our way out of town I was really looking forward to it.


The audience was designers, architects, and contractors, and I did my best to turn them into historic finishing enthusiasts.  As I told them at the beginning, “My task is to show you a door, and open it just a little bit so you can see inside there’s a party going on.  And the name of the place behind the door?  The Finishing Room!”  They were very receptive.


In the weeks leading up to the event I made dozens of sample boards so that every table had a complete set to fondle and admire as I talked about them.


In coming posts I will walk you through the samples I made.


It was great fun and reminded me how much I love woodfinishing, and the delight I will take over the next three or four years while crafting my gigantic Historic Finisher’s Handbook.

Thanks AWC and Catie Q for the invitation, you guys were great hosts and I hope to see you again!  (and Mrs. Barn loved basking in the warmth and sunshine).  I think late winter trips to Florida may become part of the routine.

WIA 2015 (repost from PopWood)

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 2:53pm
Woodworking in America 2015: Some Sessions to Whet Your Appetite

A box full of vintage marking gauges for sale in Patrick Leach's Marketplace booth at Woodworking in America.

Over the weekend, I edited the full Woodworking in America 2015 site, which will go live later this week (registration is scheduled to open at the end of the month).

I’ve already released the names of all of this year’s expert instructors; below you’ll find one session title and description from almost every one of them (in no particular order).

Don Williams
Keynote Address (at Saturday morning breakfast)
The Studley Tool Cabinet. Get a behind the scenes and inside-the-cabinet look at one of the most iconic tool collections in woodworking. Don and his team had unprecedented access as they worked on the book “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley.” You’ll hear his stories (it was an amazing journey to even discover where it was), see hundreds of gorgeous pictures by Narayan Nayar of the chest and its contents, and learn what Don has been able to discover about the man behind this stunning piece of work.

Tom Fidgen
The Kerfing Plane & Resawing by Hand. Resawing by hand is a skill every hand-tool woodworker should know – and there are several ways to go about it. Tom Fidgen shares techniques and tools that lead to success: a kerfing plane (that he developed) and the traditional frame-saw approach. With his expert instruction, you’ll soon be sawing wafer-thin pieces suitable for veneer or just cutting thick panels down to perfect size.

Jarrod Stone Dahl
Shrink Boxes. A “shrink box” is an ancient type of container that predates cooperage. The box body is hollowed from green timber, and after cutting a rebate (rabbet) in the base, a dry bottom piece is added. When the green body shrinks, it binds around the dry base. In this session, after sharing the history and photos of surviving period boxes he’s studied, Jarrod Stone Dahl will show you how to make this fun and fascinating historical form. While the technique is simple, you’ll find it offers great freedom with design and decoration.

Christopher Schwarz
Building Staked Furniture: Reviving an almost-forgotten furniture form. For hundreds of years, when you needed a chair, stool, desk or table you built it using a “staked” furniture joint – essentially a conical mortise-and-tenon joint that is back-wedged. With the rise of machinery and the professional furniture-making class, this joint has disappeared – except in some chair joints. In this session, Chris will teach you all about the mechanics of this joint and how to hugely simplify the geometry involved using only your eyeball and a square – no math. And you’ll get to see how this joint can be used for a wide variety of projects.

W. Patrick Edwards
Protein Glues Explained. W. Patrick Edwards, maker of Old Brown Glue, knows his adhesives. And in this modern word of PVA and two-part epoxies, he still swears by traditional protein glue. Patrick will share his more than 40 years of professional experience working with bone, hide, fish, horse and rabbit-skin glues, and teach you why and when they remain an excellent choice, along with how to use them.

Roy Underhill
Combination Planes. The 1884 Stanley No. 45 “Combination Plane” and 1897 No. 55 “Universal Plane” were developed to replace an entire rack of wooden moulding, rabbet and dado planes. And they sure do look cool – like a woodworker’s steampunk Swiss Army Plane – but do they work? Roy Underhill puts these fancy (and sometimes fussy) planes through their paces and shows you the benefits and shortfalls of each

Phil Lowe
Inlay & Bandings. Phil Lowe shares traditional and contemporary techniques for making and installing inlay and bandings (commonly found on Federal furniture, among other styles). From scratchstocks to routers, you’ll discover myriad approaches for adding signature decorative details to your work.

Alfred Sharp
Design Inspiration for & from Period Work. In this session, Alf Sharp discusses “historical awareness” – part an investigation of the original sources and inspirations for the 17th- through 19th-century furniture styles and pieces that remain popular today – particularly with woodworkers! You’ll be surprised and inspired yourself – whether you’re a furniture designer or build period reproductions (or both!).

Marc Adams
Doors & Drawers. Marc Adams takes the fear out of making and fitting doors and drawers – essential components in so many fine furniture builds. You’ll learn techniques to guarantee success, as well as options for door hinges and drawer runners, and how to fit and install both. With Marc’s approaches, you’ll soon be building doors and drawers like a pro.

Vic Tesolin
Minimalist Woodworking. As the title suggests, “Minimalist Woodworking” is the idea that you don’t need hundreds of square feet of space or thousands of dollars worth of gear. What you do need is the desire to make something with your own two hands. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish with about 50 square feet and some hand tools. Vic Tesolin talks about his own small shop and how he has made it efficient – despite it’s 170-square-foot size, and gives you solid ideas about how to make the most of your tool budget and space – no matter how small they may be.

Jeff Miller
Bent Laminations. If you’ve seen Jeff Miller’s award-winning work, you know the man knows his curves – they’re a prominent feature of his signature Arch Table and rocking chair. In this session, Jeff shows you how he creates the curves in his work using bent laminations, including a discussion of stock selection and prep, various tool approaches, myriad considerations when making bending forms, what glues to use and why, and how to go about it. You’ll learn what you need to know to begin incorporating laminated curves in your own work.

Mark Harrell
Demystifying the Traditional Backsaw. When is a vintage handsaw worth saving and how do you bring it back to life? Mark Harrell gives you the answers, start to finish. He’ll teach you how to identify good candidates for restoration, then lead you through the process from disassembly to cleaning to handle work to reassembly and retensioning to truing up the saw and sharpening it. Plus, Mark shares the “continuum of a toothline,” to help you learn what saw gets sharpened how, and why.

David Marks
Gilding Vessels. The gilding processes David Marks introduces in this session can be applied to any surface that will accept paint. First he’ll discuss surface preparation and show you examples of projects in various stages. Then, you’ll see how to apply “gilder’s size” to the surface and the techniques for applying genuine silver leaf. In addition, you’ll learn how to apply copper leaf and dutch metal (composition gold) to your work to create dramatic patterns and effects.

Mike Siemsen
Workholding: With & Without a Vise. Mike Siemsen knows workholding – heck, he’s built a bench using 5-gallon buckets as a bench on which to build it. In this session, he’ll show you how to hold your work solidly on almost any surface. Sure, he’ll show you how to make typical woodworking vises such as a face vise and end vise work even better, but he’ll also give you solutions for when those vises don’t work. Or for when you have no vises. Plus, he’ll share strategies for holding round and curved work.

Scott Meek
3D Shapes with Rasps. Scott Meek wields rasps on an almost-daily basis as he shapes his sculptural wooden bench planes, and as a result, he’s a master at using the tool. With just a few tools, he can quickly create sinuous and fluid shapes that will blow your mind. In this session, he discusses tool selection and shows you the different uses for various rasps – then he shares his “secrets” by showing you how he uses them. With Scott’s instruction and a little time at the bench, you’ll soon be creating perfect sinuous shapes in your own work.

Deneb Puchalski
Joinery Planes. Joinery planes are some of the easiest hand tools to use – once you get them sharp and set up. In this session, Deneb Puchalski shows you how to get a keen edge on the cutters for rabbets, skew-rabbets, plows, routers, dado planes and their nickers. Some of these irons are odd shaped – such as the router’s L-shaped cutter – but can be sharpened easily once you know a few tricks. You’ll also learn to deal with grinding and honing skewed blades, which must be sharpened perfectly or they won’t work. And once the irons are sharp, using the tools is a snap. Deneb shows you how – and shows what these powerful planes can do in your shop.

Will Neptune
Carved Elements for Period Furniture. Eighteenth-century furniture often relies on carved embellishments to articulate form and lead the viewer’s eye around the object. Common designs were developed to be carved efficiently and carving still requires a systematic approach. In this session, Will Neptune will present several designs, and share strategies for designing patterns that relate the gouge sweep to the work, to help you make a set of parts that match. You’ll learn about several common carvings, from pattern making and layout through the carving process. You’ll also discover how simpler carvings, including a shell on a cabriole leg and waterleaf on a Duncan Phyfe leg are a good way to learn the basic steps, and how those basics can be developed to handle more challenging forms including ball-and-claw feet and an acanthus leaf.

Nick Lieurance
Cool Kitchen Cabinet Hardware. If you want to build your own kitchen cabinets but are overwhelmed by such a large project and the array of choices and decisions, this session will help. Nick Lieurance, online education manager for Popular Woodworking, spent 12 years building and designing custom cabinetry. To start, he’ll share with you his expert tips for online research tools, appliance specs and dimensions…and then get to the fun part: deciding from among the array of cool kitchen cabinet hardware (drawer slides, hinges, organizational hardware and more — all the cool new innovations!).

James Hamilton
Make Your Own Woodworking Machines. Who needs expensive woodworking machinery? This session takes jig making to a whole new level! James Hamilton (a.k.a. Stumpy Nubs) will show you how to make clever and precise woodworking machinery, tools and jigs in your own shop. From homemade band saws to unique sliding router tables, his designs are about innovation as much as saving money. Jim’s philosophy is, why buy it when you can make it yourself – and often make it even better. You’ll learn some of the secrets to designing accurate jigs and how homemade tools can open up a whole new world of woodworking in your shop!

Donna Hill
Advanced SketchUp. If you know the basics of the three-dimensional modeling program SketchUp but want to expand your knowledge to complex shapes and tricky joinery, in this session, you’ll learn how. Donna Hill, the project illustrator for Popular Woodworking Magazine, shows you how to create flowing curves, dovetails, moulding details and more.

Dave Jeske
Care, Feeding & Use of Marking Knives. The first tool ever offered by Dave Jeske of Blue Spruce Toolworks was a marking knife, on which he founded his successful tool-making business. In this session, Dave disusses the differences among various forms of marking knives (spear point, single bevel, striking knife and more), how to sharpen them and how to keep them performing like new. Plus, you’ll learn tips and tricks for wielding a marking knife like a master.

Kevin Drake
How the Body Turns. In this session, Kevin Glen Drake, founder of Glen-Drake Toolworks, will drill down on how the body functions behind the lathe, why “catches” and other common problems happen and – most important – how to overcome them. Kevin’s favorite turning tool is the skew chisel, and he’ll explain the subtle differences between flat skews, round skews and oval skews during this session. Kevin believes that understanding how tools work is the key to using them successfully, so you will leave this session with much to think about.

Megan Fitzpatrick
How to Make a Magazine – And How You Can Help. In this session, Megan discusses the changing world of publishing (and Popular Woodworking), and how we strive to make print and eMedia work together to create solid woodworking content “across channels.” Plus, she shares with you how to we decide what goes into every issue, what it’s like to work with us on an article, video or online education – and how you can be a part of it.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

Saturday’s Presentation at SAPFM Tidewater Chapter

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 8:57pm

Saturday I will be heading down to the Virginia Tidewater Chapter of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers.  My topic(s) for the day will revolve around my ongoing curiosity about historic finishes, including a trial run of a session on making a new finish look old.  This will also be the theme of my demonstrations at the SAPFM mid-year meeting in Knoxville in June.

Hope to see you there.

Here’s the announcement on the Saturday shindig.


We are looking forward to a great SAPFM Tidewater chapter meeting on March 14th at Somerton Ridge Hardwoods, near Suffolk. The Highlights are:
DON WILLIAMS  –The authority on period furniture finishes.
WILLIAM DUFFIELD — Presenting his “Bench top bench” –( you’ll all want to make one)
CHRIS VICKERS — Hardwood lumber inventory and specials — ALSO Lunch!
So that Chris, our host, can make plans for our BBQ lunch, he needs to know how many people will be attending. So please respond ASAP, if you haven’t,  so we can give him a head count. Also, Chris has 2  Specials available and needs to know how many might be interested—4/4 curly maple packs,100-200 bf @ $3.70/ bf; and African Mahogany in 100-150 bf bundles — $4.85 for 4/4 and $5.00 for 8/4. Let us know of your interest in these as well.
Please arrive between 8:30 and 8:45 as we will start promptly at 9:00 am.
                                        THE AGENDA
9:00    Welcome and housekeeping notes
9:15   Finishes used in the period
9:45   Level of build and gloss desired in the period on different types of pieces

10:30           Break
10:45  How period finishes were applied on different surfaces (brushed/padded/rubbed?)
11:15  New discoveries about period use of waxes — applied under or over finishes? How applied?
12:00       BBQ Lunch
1:00   The Bench top bench –it’s evolution and improvements — how to build
2:30   How to recreate a 200 year old looking  finish today?
3:00   DEMO of same
4:00   Tour Somerton Ridges Hardwood inventory
4:30 – 5:30  Lumber and finishing supply sales
This will be a great learning opportunity for us all!!  We are looking forward to seeing everyone there,

Parquetry Tutorial – Completion

Wed, 03/11/2015 - 7:19pm

With the applied parquetry solidly glued down and stable, the final steps revolve around getting that surface flat and smooth.  This is necessary since we started out with sawn veneers, which by definition will have some variations in thickness.



Since the grain directions run in multiple directions, the tool of preference for gross flattening in smoothing has been for over 200 years a toothing plane. A modern option includes a so-called “Japanese” rasp which is comprised of numerous hacksaw blades configured into a surfacing tool.  Using this approach, the rough and irregular surface can be rendered into a flat but not perfectly smooth surface.


Following the toother or rasp comes the card scraper, either hand-held or handled, or even a finely tuned smoothing plane (I actually find my low-angled Stanley block plane to wrok perfectly for this) to yield a flat, smooth surface ready for whatever finishing regime you choose.


And, you are done!

In closing I want to thank Rob Young of the Kansas City Woodworker’s Guild for requesting and encouraging me to compile this series of blog posts to help explain the steps we were executing during the workshop I taught there.  Thanks Rob!

Over the next couple of weeks I will be combining this long series of blog posts into a single tutorial which I will post in the “Writings” section of the web site, and will announce that addition to the archive here.

Upcoming Conservation Project — Saint Joseph

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 6:54am

Another project new to the studio is this three-foot-tall carved wooden figure of St. Joseph.  My task will be to sculpt a new arm, which means I will need to look at a lot of similar sculptures, then fabricate a new one to make the sculpture seem whole.

c st joseph

One thing I will probably do to make the task “read” more sensibly is to apply an easily removable whitewash over the entire surface so that I can concentrate more fully on the form.  I will also try to discern a color scheme to see if there was polychrome or if it was simply painted to mimic plaster or marble.

Stay tuned.

Parquetry Tutorial – Gluing and Clean-up

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 4:44am

The penultimate chapter in the saga of creating a simple parquetry panel is to affix the assembled decorative lamina to the substrate of choice.  In this instance I selected 1/2″ baltic birch plywood as the substrate, which is pretty much my default position these days.


Once you are ready to put the assemblage together, the first thing to do is moisten both sides of the paper-backed parquetry.  Not sopping wet, but damp.


This allows the assembled parquetry to move in the vertical axis while it is getting glued down, in  other words allowing all the individual pieces of the pattern to be pressed down into intimate contact with the substrate.  This is what you want.  Don’t worry about the show surface being uneven in the aftermath, you will flatten and smooth it in the next, final episode.


Once the assembled lamina is a bit soft and ready to glue down, using hot animal hide glue slather both the substrate surface and the underside of the parquetry (the wood surface, not the papered surface) and place them in the proper alignment.


As a typical practice I then drape a piece of plastic sheet on top of the parquetry, followed by at least two thicknesses of corrugated cardboard or a flannel blanket to provide for even pressure on the uneven surface, followed by the gluing caul, usually a slab of plywood.  For planar panels I often simply flip the glued panel over and clamp it face down to the bench top.



Leaving the construct to set overnight, in the morning unpack the whole unit and begin removing the paper on the surface of the parquetry, with a dampened sponge and a dull scraper or knife.  Once you have finished with this and it is all clean and the excess glue scraped off, set it aside until the surface is dry enough to plane and scrape, which comes in the final steps.

Sample Boards As Inspiration

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 5:50am

For much of the past month I have been working on a set of sample boards for an upcoming address to a luncheon banquet of folks involved in mostly architectural interior finishes.  It reminded me once again how much I love finish work, and caused me to ruminate on undertaking my long-desired magnum opus.  I’m now committed in my heart to finally put pen to paper and create that mammoth manuscript I’ve been mulling for a long time, beginning next autumn, extending perhaps into the following two years.  It will be part finishing room bench manual, part materials science treatise, part historical review, part aesthetics, and a large part recipe book.


The sample board set included things like glazed panels, limed panels, burnished shellac/wax, shellac pad polishing (aka “french polishing” even though the French probably call it “English polishing”), waxed French polishing, raw polissoired surfaces, fumed oak, japanning foundation, and finally a piece of true “bog oak” salvaged from a dismantled antique dam.

Now all I have to do is my part in getting Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley 100% done (I’m going today to get the page proofs printed in color to finish my review), Roubo on Furniture Making revised and into the Lost Art Press production pipeline, and the Studley tool cabinet exhibit done.

Tilting Fretsaw Fixture

Sun, 03/01/2015 - 2:17pm

My friend BillF asked me to post the image and plan of the tilting saw bench I use for cutting marquetry with a jeweler’s fret saw.

tilting bench pin copy

Okay Bill, here they are.  I’ll see if we can get the PDF of the plan on the Writings page.

tilting sawing bench

I think I first saw this tool in a c.1900 book on fretwork, and have since seen it many other places and books.  I made a passel of these at one time, and have used and gifted them for years.

A Thrilling Day!

Sat, 02/28/2015 - 2:22pm

This morning Chris Schwarz emailed me the complete set of page proofs from VIRTUOSO: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley for my review.  I am nearly lightheaded with delight.

page proof

Forgive me while I crawl into my easy chair and spend the evening ogling the book with a red pen in hand.


Parquetry Tutorial – Trimming and Banding

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 4:16pm

I am earnestly trying to wrap up some frayed threads in the blog posts, and this one and two more will complete the tutorial on simple parquetry, which I will combine, edit, and post as a downloadable document.



Once the parquetry composition has been assembled such that the area completed is larger than the field of the composition as it will be presented on the panel, the time has come to trim it to the exact size you want.  But before that, you have to decide exactly how large you want the central field of the parquetry panel.  I tend to work my way in from the edges of the panel as determined by the sizes and proportions of the furniture on which it will reside, then subtract a symmetrical border and a symmetrical banding.



Once I have done that, I simply re-establish the center lines of the parquetry assemblage and precisely mark out its perimeter, and saw it with any of the veneer saws mentioned earlier.  The desired end result is a rectangular and symmetrical composition.  Once I have the field trimmed to the proper size, I re-mount the unit on a second, larger sheet of kraft paper using hot glue.  It need be adhered only at the perimeter.


I tend to make my own banding, frequently making a simple stack of veneer faces with slightly thicker centers, assembled and glued between two cauls until they are set.  Then I just rip of as many pieces of banding as the assembled block can yield.



Once the banding is available, I cut them then trim the ends with a plane and miter shooting jig.  Once the first piece is ready to apply, I place the entire composition on a large board with a corked surface.  Then just like Roubo, I glue the banding  down on top of this second piece of kraft paper, tight against the cut edge of the field, and “clamp” it in place with push pins, similar to those illustrated by Roubo.  By the time I get all the way around the perimeter of the field, cutting then trimming each of the banding pieces, the piece is ready to set aside for a bit.


For the outer border, I tend to use a simple approach, often employing some of the original veneer stock in either the long-grain or cross grain orientation.

Once the banding is set I remove the pins then hammer veneer the borders in place, and the assembling of the parquetry panel is complete.

Up next – Gluing Down the Parquetry

Current Conservation Projects – Lotsa Tortoiseshell

Thu, 02/26/2015 - 5:26pm

As I mentioned recently I have been blessed with a rich buffet of challenging conservation projects.  While not all of them are tortoiseshell, it does seem to be a recurring theme.


This project is a two-part carved tortoiseshell vessel (it has a inner, smooth cylinder to hold whatever it is supposed to hold) I believe to be a brush or writing implement holder, but I could be wrong on that.  There are several sites on the outer carved shell that are missing some carving, and a number of other locales where the shell is fractured.  It is a challenge to be sure.


This place is missing the carving.  It is roughly the size of the fingernail on my pinkie.  Good thing I know how to do this stuff.


A second and perhaps even more challenging project is this molded tortoiseshell box with a split in the top.  What makes this project so problematic is that the margins adjacent to the split are not aligned, so there is some fundamental material manipulation involved.

As the project moves forward I will be updating you on both what I am doing but why I am doing it.  Amusing that a sheer nylon drapery is integral to both solutions.

Of Studley Slabs abd African “Mahogany”

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 6:11am

The slab for the Studley work bench top is all glued up and trimmed to size, and slid off my workbench onto a pair of horses for further ministrations, and just in time as I need my bench space to finish up a large group of sample boards for a luncheon presentation I am making soon for an architectural/decorative arts finishes assembly.


I have a lot of clamps, but not enough for me to affix the final top lamina of the bench in one step, sot I first glued on the first half, then a day later the second half.

The slab is a beast, and I would estimate its weight at about 175 pounds.  My version is about 1/8″ thicker than Studley’s, giving me a little bit of room for planing and finishing.  The edges will be installed once the wheel-handled vises are attached for the exhibit, which will turn the top into a 500-pound behemoth.


From this point on I will be planing and finishing the top.  Due to the time and budgetary constraints on my side, I selected something called African “mahogany” as my face laminae over the white oak core.  As I mentioned earlier, it looks beautifully similar to the true mahogany that Studley used for his tool cabinet and work bench, but works like a composite that would be the result of making “wood” out of straw and donkey dung.  It is the nastiest stuff I have ever worked, and I can state with a fair degree of confidence that this will be the first and last project to employ this “wood.”

Planing it is a challenge.  I touched it with my “go to” low angle smoother and got horrific tear out.  That took me back on my heels.  Hmmm.  So, I switched to my favorite toothing plane, and got tear out with the toothing plane as well!    I mean, I have never had tear out with that toother.  I backed off the blade a bit and had some success, and today I will touch up the toothing blade and proceed, but it will be slow even though the surface needs very little work.

The next challenge is to resharpen my smoother to use after the toother, or conversely just tooth it overall and go straight to the scraper for the final surface.


Sty tuned.


by Dr. Radut