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Just trying to leave something behind.
Updated: 1 hour 58 min ago

The Magic Attic-Mahogany 

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 6:11pm

If you have been following along for very long then you have heard me make mention of my magic attic.  When we moved into this house, just over two years ago, I discovered that the previous owner had left behind some wood in the attic.  Well, “some” is an understatement. Almost half of the attic is covered in boxes of and slabs of wood.

Most of the slabs are clear pine.  I have yet to determine if it is eastern white or sugar pine though.  The slabs are over 2″ thick and range in width and length, but are at least 10″ wide and three feet long.  Along with the pine I have found slabs of maple and even a few of walnut.  There is also some bits of mahogany, possibly spapele, up there.  I’m not sure I have the knowledge to tell the difference.

So, where did all of this wood come from?  My best guess thus far is as follows.  The gentleman that lived here, who passed away over twelve years ago, retired from a steel mill.  I’m wondering if all of the wood was scraps that he hauled home from the pattern shop.  Just a guess, but I’m starting to get really curious.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to get the shop a little more organized before jumping into my next project.  To that end I thought it would be a good idea to separate the wood I have into species and take stock of what I actually have to work with.  The scattered all over the garage system doesn’t seem to be working all that well.  My thinking was to start with the material that I though I had the least amount of.  Which I assumed would be mahogany.  So up into the magic attic I went with a five gallon bucket.

I should point out that I have raided the mahogany stash a few time already.  I made several cam clamps with it.

Framed my incense burner stand with it.

Used some in my book stands.

Most recently I used some in the bodies of my clamp-on pincushions.

So I really didn’t expect to haul all that much more mahogany down from the attic.  Several trips later I ended up with this pile.

Yes, it is mostly just bits and pieces, but they are fairly thick and there are a lot of project possibilities in the crazy big pile!

Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Clamp-On Pincushions-Part 2-Complete with a Bonus

Sat, 08/05/2017 - 6:32pm

The plan at the end of my last post was simply to complete the second version of clamp-on pincushion and complete the design drawing for the first version.  A simple conversation changed my plans.

My mother stopped by over the past weekend and while showing her the pincushions I have been working on, management made a comment about something she had put back from her grandmother.  A pincushion that her grandmother had made her that held scissors, bobbins and a thimble.  Since her grandmother had passed away many years ago, management no longer uses it, but keeps it as a memento.  That set my wheels turning and I began searching for ideas for a sewing caddy.  More on that in a minute.

I did manage to finish version #2 of the clamp-on pincushions.  After the third coat of Tried & True finish had cured, I made the pincushion for it.  I’ve been using felt for these pincushions and it seems to be working well.  The nice thing about the felt is that it doesn’t require any fancy seems.  A simple blanket stitch that butts the edges together is all that is needed.

I also promised to complete the design drawing for version #1.  So here you go.

OK, that brings me back to the sewing caddy.  After a bunch of sketches I came up with a design that I liked.

The general idea is that it is a bird theme.  The head holds the scissors, there are pegs down its back to hold thread spools, there is a peg at its feet to hold a thimble and the wings form the pincushion.  Management suggested that it should also hold sewing machine bobbins and I added that feature by putting the bird on a perch.  The whole thing clamps on the edge of a table in the same manner as the second version of clamp-on pincushions.

With my design in hand I went out to the shop to see if I could bring it into being.

A humble start.

After a few hours, I had the thing together.


Over the following days I added the finish, made the pincushion and worked up a proper design drawing.

Well that should do it for my pincushion making for a while.  Although I’m sure there will be a few more in my future to give as gifts.

Part 1 Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Clamp-On Pincushions-Part 1

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 7:16pm

I mentioned in a previous post that several years, eighteen to be exact, we spent an impromptu weekend at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.  We fell in love with the Shaker furniture and, at the gift shop, I purchased three little books of measured drawings.  I had big plans to make a bunch of the projects in those books.  Unfortunately about all I had were plans and ambition.  I didn’t have a place to work, practically no tools and a very limited skill set.

Once we were home, the harsh reality began to sink in.  So I focused on the smaller projects, with little success. One of those small projects was a clamp-on pincushion.  A nifty little thing that utilized a wooden screw to clamp it to a table.  I was convinced that I could build one.  I even purchased a tap and die set from the local Woodcraft.

After several failed attempts at trying to thread store-bought dowels I gave up and stashed the tap and die set in an old toolbox.  There it has remained ever since.  I had actually forgotten I had the set until I came across it while rummaging for something else recently.  The sight of it set the wheels turning again.  Now that I have a few tools (lathe in particular) and a slightly expanded skill set, I thought I would give the clamp-on pincushion another go.

The first task was to get the wood threading thing figured out.  Ironically this proved to be a simple task once I turned a proper diameter dowel.  There was a bit of fussing with setting the cutter to the right depth, but still pretty easy.  Obviously having a decent dowel or shaft is the key to the whole operation.  Wood choice is a factor as well.  A hard, tight and straight grained wood is the best choice.  I had maple, white oak and cherry on hand with maple being the best choice. Now I could tackle the clamp-on pincushion.

The clamp-on pincushion is basically a wooden c-clamp.  The “C” portion of this version is a turned barrel shape with half the center section removed.  My best guess is that the barrel needs to be four times the diameter of the threaded screw.  Since my tap and die is for 3/4″ diameter, I needed a block of wood at least 3″ in section.  So up into the magic attic I went.  I returned with a chunk of mahogany that I hoped would work, knocked off the corners and mounted it in the lathe.

My tendency when building off-the-cuff is to keep my head down and fully engaged.  This instance was no different, so I’m light on photos.  At any rate, the tuning of the mahogany into the barrel shape and subsequent drilling, tapping and removal of the center section went smoothly.  I used another piece of maple to turn and thread a slightly more svelte handle than my initial version.  By the end of afternoon I had the thing together and working.

The version in the book has an addition turning upon which the actual pincushion is mounted.  Its’s unclear from the book as to whether this was an additional piece or turned as one unit.  Either way, I’m omitting it on this version and will be installing the pincushion directly on top of the barrel-shaped body.  I turned a cove at the top edge specifically for the purpose.  I struggled with the handle shape and length for this thing and ended up making yet another handle.  The last operation of the day was to add the first coat of oil.

Admittedly, I have become obsessed with the clamp idea.  Not that we have any great need for clamp-on pincushions, but the idea has lots of applications.  While searching the internet I stumbled on a different arrangement of the same idea.  That version lends itself to being used on a greater variety of table thicknesses as well as the ability to be mounted through a hole in the table top.

Over the past week I have been applying oil to the first version and working on proportional drawings for both versions.  Ironically, here is the drawing for the second version.  I’ll have the drawing for the first version next time.

Keep in mind that there is nothing “absolute” or ” critical” with the construction of these clamps.  They are just a fun and useful way of using up some scrap bits of wood.

I did manage to finish the first version.  I even made the pincushion myself.  Although my sewing ability is a bit lacking and I ended up taking it apart and redoing it.

Second attempt at the pincushion.

I also started on the second version and have it glued up and the first coat of oil is on it.

I’ll put up another post when I have the second version and the drawing for the first version finished.

Greg Merritt


Categories: Hand Tools

Ratcheting Book Stand-Redux

Sun, 07/16/2017 - 5:36pm

It’s not very often that I get requests for projects that I build.  Some of my stuff is a little out there.  But, when I do get a request, I try to accommodate.  My version of the ratcheting book stand design that Peter Follansbee brought back into focus has proven popular among family members.

The nephew is in from college for the summer and asked if I would make him a “medium” (3/4 scale) version to take back to college in the Fall.  Of course I will!  Apparently the Summer is all but over because he will be packing off for the Fall semester in a few weeks.  Given that sobering time frame I figured that I had better get with it.

I dug through the offcut pile and culled out enough bits from which to mill up the parts.

I began with the posts by first bringing them to a rough round at the shaving horse and then to final shape on the spring pole lathe.  I turned a small urn-shaped finial on them and a single, simple bead.  The locations for the rungs/spindles I set in with a skew chisel and then used my bit of welding wire (shown in use on a garden dibber) to burn them in.


Each of the parts progressed in the same manner, shaving horse, lathe and done.  I’m definitely no speed demon at the spring pole lathe, but I am getting quicker.  So by the end of the day I had all of the parts turned and ready for assembly.


Today I did the boring bit and then shaped the shelf.  Everything went pretty smoothly , mostly due to my working at a relaxed pace.  Or it was just pure luck.  Either way, the dry fit and subsequent glue up is done.

One trick-of-the-trade that I have been using is to pre-finish the individual parts while they are on the lathe.  It gives me a jumpstart on the finishing process.  More importantly though, it makes cleaning up the glue squeeze out much easier.

I’ll add a couple of more coats of my usual Tried & True Original over the next few days and this little ratcheting book stand is ready for college.  I hope the nephew has been saving his pennies from his summer job in preparation for his upcoming economics lesson…

…uncle Greg doesn’t work cheap!

Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Shaker Stool 128 Mod-Part 3-Complete

Sat, 07/15/2017 - 6:43pm

I spent a few days working on the milk paint finish of that I had started at the end of my last post.  I’m going to hold off on the details of the process for now.  I’ve been asked by Salko Safic to write an article for an upcoming issue of his new, online, hand tool centric, magazine, “Handwork“.  After reading through the first issue, I’m pretty sure I’m in way over my head, but I’m going to give it my best effort.  So if your interested in my process, keep an eye out for next issue of “Handwork”.  At any rate, the finish on the stool is almost complete, but before I complete the finish, I need to weave the seat.

The seat weaving is a repeat of the fibre rush seats that I put on my last two stools.  I can use the practice!  Actually the weaving process is starting to grow on me as I gain a little experience with it.  Someone commented recently that the process has a meditative quality and I’m inclined to agree.

There are few things that I have picked up along the way.  First,  it is recommended that you dip your working bundle of fibre rush (twisted paper) into water for a few seconds before beginning the weaving process.  I’m sure that this varies by brand, but for the particular product that I have, less time in the water is better.  I have found the bundle much more manageable if I simply dink it in water and immediately bring it back out.  Shaking out any excess water.

I’ve also changed how I join in a new working bundle of rush.  Most sources recommend the use of a square knot.  Obviously this works and it is easy and quick to do.  The drawback is that the square knot is bulky.  Most of these knot will be hidden by the weave or only show on the bottom, but the bulky knot bothers me.  One resource I have recommends a simple seizing to join in a new working bundle.  I gave this a go using waxed sail twine and like the result much better.  The seizing is much less bulky and only takes a minute or so to tie. Technically I joined these with a “common whipping“, there are no frapping turns, but it is more than strong enough for the application.

A comparison of the two methods.

Another lesson learned is to, after every few wraps, use a block of wood to compress the wraps so that they remain parallel with the rungs.  The natural tendency of the weaving process is that the turns around the rungs grow wider than the crossings in the center.  A little persuasion brings everything back into alignment.

Finally, internalize the mantra, “work the corners, work the corners“.  Every turn of the cord that generates the internal corners must be neat.  Crisp tight corners are what gives the finished product a crisp, neat appearance.  A single sloppy turn will show in the finished seat.  I’m getting better, but have a ways to go.

After a couple of evenings of weaving, I had the seat ready for the sealing coats of shellac.  

Two coats of shellac is plenty to seal the fibre rush.  It really is surprising how much shellac the first coat will absorb, but the next coat goes on quickly.

The last thing to do was add one last coat of Tried & True Original to the stool frame and give it a final buff with a soft cloth.

Part 2 Greg Merritt


Categories: Hand Tools

Shaker Stool 128 Mod-Part 2

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 10:41am

Turning the remainder of the three legs for this little stool went fairly quickly.  Helped in part by and early start and a cool morning.  A welcome change from the heat that is the norm for this time of year.

The boring of the mortise holes went quickly as well using the same method that I used on the previous stools.  I did add one extra step however.  These legs are small in diameter and the lead screw on the auger bit resulted in a shallow hole.  Luckily my forstner bit is the same diameter as my auger bit (not always the case) and I was able to deepen the mortise holes to the required depth.

The dry-fit went well and I took a break while the hide glue was heating up.

There was a brief moment of panic before the glue up however.  The joinery was so tight that I wasn’t sure I would be able to dismantle the dry-fit stool.  After considerable effort and application of force, I managed to get everything apart and begin the glue-up.  Thankfully that went smoothly and I soon had an assembled stool.

It’s been a while since I painted anything and this stool lends itself to having a bit of color.  I like wood tones as much as anyone, but its nice to have a splash of color here and there.  Management has a chosen accent color that runs throughout the entire house, coral.  The most recent addition of coral was the old fan from the magic attic that I refurbished.

An older piece is this little chest of drawers that I made and painted with salmon milk paint and top coated with clear shellac.

Since I still have plenty of salmon milk paint powder left from the chest of drawer project, that is what I’m painting this little stool with.  After letting the glue set for a few hours I mixed up some paint and gave the stool a total of three coats.

Next I’ll rub out the surface and give it a top coat.  I’m waffling between using shellac or Tried & True.

Part 1 Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Shaker Stool 128 Mod-Part 1

Sat, 07/08/2017 - 4:56pm

In a perfect world I would be using riven stock for building stools and chairs, but my world is far from perfect.  So I make do with sawn stock.  Which means that I have to be creative when milling stock to obtain pieces with straight grain and minimal run out. As a result, I end up with a fair amount of off cuts.  Since I’m too frugal to throw them out I’m constantly trying to find ways of using them up.  Otherwise I would soon be drowning in little bits of wood.  Which brings me to the project at hand.

The two Shaker style stools that I just completed resulted in yet more off cut pieces for the ever growing pile.  So to continue with the theme and to use up some scraps, I sat down and worked up a proportional design for the ubiquitous Shaker footstool.

There probably have been thousands of these little stools built over the years.  I think this attests to its utility and ease of construction, as well as its broad appeal.  Even though I have been on a bit of a stool building spree as of late, I think this one will be a good addition to the stable.

A classic little stool that can be built in the simple Shaker style or jazzed up a bit at the lathe.  A bonus is that I’ll have another chance to practice weaving a fibre rush seat!

Since I anticipate building several of these (they should make great gifts) I first spent a little time making a proper story stick.  I knifed in the lines, rubbed in some instant coffee and gave the stick a coat of oil.

With the story stick in hand, I milled up and cut to length the four legs and the eight rungs needed for this little stool.

I tackled the runs first.  Step one took place at the shaving horse.  Transforming them into rough octagons and then to rough cylinders.  With the roughing done they went onto the lathe.  I also managed to knock out one of the legs before calling it quits this evening.

I’ll finish the other three legs tomorrow and maybe even get this little stool assembled.

Greg Merritt


Categories: Hand Tools

Shaker Stools 240 Mod-Part 5-Complete

Sat, 07/08/2017 - 4:44pm

I spent my evenings after work weaving the seat for the second stool.  I was a little more comfortable with the process this time and actually enjoyed applying the rush.


I’m happy to report that I gained a little speed and the weave looked much neater.  So much so that I dismantled several courses on the first stool and re-worked it so that there wasn’t such a marked difference between the two.  Not a dramatic difference, but it would have driven me crazy if I hadn’t fixed it.

Just about everything I have read or watched says that the fibre rush should be sealed with a couple of coats of clear shellac or something similar.  This adds a bit of durability and stain resistance to the seat.  So I dutifully complied with shellac.

The first coat took a good bit of shellac and I was a little worried that the uneven appearance wouldn’t subside once everything was dry.

The first coat did indeed dry to an even, albeit, darker color and the second coat went on quickly.  I also took the time to add one more coat of Tried & True original to the frames of the stools.

With that, I’m calling these stools done.

Either hubris or taking the blame.  Not sure which.

Installed into the kitchen.

Part 4 Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Shaker Stools 240 Mod-Part 4

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 8:10am

Now that the stools were assembled, it was time to tackle the seat weaving.

The material that I chose to use is fibre rush.  This is a paper product that imitates the look of natural rush and has been in use since the early 1900’s.  I had planned on researching and writing a thorough post on fibre rush, but Cathryn Peters (wickerwoman.com) has a “history of” article on here site that covers it.  Jump over there and have a read and then come back.  I’ll wait…

…to understand the weaving process I read through the articles on Ms. Peters’ site, bought a small booklet on the subject and watched a bunch on YouTube videos.  The most helpful video, by far, was Ed Hammond’s (peerlessrattan.com) video.

Having prepared as much as I could, there was nothing left to do but jump in and do it.  So I gathered my supplies and tools and settled in for a long afternoon.

The pattern is a simple over-under and progresses counter-clockwise around the stool.

While the pattern is simple, the nuances that are the hallmarks of skill and proficiency are not.  As with most hings handwork, these must be earned with time on task.  Where to push and where to pull?  How hard?  How large a coil of material can I work with?  On and on.  The thing that I struggled with the most is how to handle and turn the coil as I weaved.  The loose coil of rush must be continually rotated, in the correct direction, else the strand will untwist and leave you with a string of flat paper.  I fought this all afternoon!  Constantly having to stop and re-twist the strand.

There is a rhythm that began to reveal itself as the afternoon wore on and I became more and more comfortable with the process.  Over the rail, up through the middle…over the rail up through the middle.  Even so, my progress was clumsy at best, but I managed to get the first seat completed.

This first seat is presentable and I’m confident that the next one will improve in both execution and speed.  This first round of weaving took me six hours!  I also woefully underestimated how hard this process would be on my fingers.  My thumbs and index fingers are raw and sore.  So either tape or gloves will be needed for the weaving of the next seat.

Part 3 Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Shaker Stools 240 Mod-Part 3

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 3:45pm

With all of the parts complete, it was time to bore some holes.  There are (24) rungs which left me facing (48) holes that needed to be drilled plumb and square.  It’s not that difficult of task really, but one errant hole can mess up the whole works.  Actually, a little variance can be beneficial by way of adding tension into the frame.  Too much variance though will either split a post or make it impossible to assemble the frame.

So I cautiously began marking out and drilling each mortise holes.  To add a little extra stress, I had to be diligent with my depth.  These are blind holes and need to be as deep as possible to form a strong joint.  I used a standard auger bit and had to pay careful attention to the lead screw.  Half a turn too far and the lead screw would come through the opposite side.  To  control the depth of bore you can count turns, strap on a vintage depth stop contraption or, as I did, wrap a bit of painters tape around the bit.

The process was to mark out the centers by sighting across the post at the top and bottom locations and connect those with a straight edge to establish the intermediate location.

The best way I have found to hold an individual leg is to place it in joiner’s saddles and clamp it to the bench with a holdfast.

The drilling is straight forward, but I checked my progress with a square.

No matter how careful you are, sometimes the point of the auger makes it through to the other side.

Sometimes though, it validates your skill with the brace and bit.

And so I progressed, first with individual frames and then the entire frame.

The glue up was a bit stressful.  It was a lot of parts to assemble and hot hide glue doesn’t wait.  I was given a few extra seconds though, due to the high temp (88F) in my shop.  So no pics of the glue up.  All of my concentration was on the task at hand.

The glued frames with a second coat of Tried & True Original.  The first coat was applied while the pieces were on the lathe.  That first coat of the individual pieces saved me a good bit of work when cleaning up the glue squeeze out.

A note about the grain orientation of the pieces.  I set the rungs so that their grain was perpendicular to that of the posts.  I also set the posts so that none of the rungs inserted directly through the long grain of the post.

Now all I need to do is figure out how to weave the seats.

Part 2 Greg Merritt


Categories: Hand Tools

Shaker Stools 240 Mod-Part 2

Sat, 07/01/2017 - 3:00pm

Progress continues on the stools.  Mostly one hour at a time after work each day.  This has become my basic workflow as of late.  Come home, check in and then out to the shop until dinner time.  Then grab as much time over the weekend as I can.  Anyway…

I managed to finish turning all eight of the legs (posts).  These are close to final shape, but I’ll most likely chuck them back into the lathe and change the shape of the taper to the foot.  I also completed the initial turning of all of the required rungs.


When I design a project I tend to focus on the overall proportions and keep the details to a minimum.  I do this so as not to overly influence the final product.  I know this seems counter to the whole idea of design, but it’s what works for me.  My goal is not to crank out identical, production style pieces.  If I make a piece again, I want the proportions to be right, but I also want each piece, or series of pieces, to be unique.  So part of my process is to work each element in stages.  Essentially designing on the fly through a process of gradual reduction.

Working this way would drive some folks absolutely crazy.  A lot of people like to have everything mapped out ahead of time.  For me though, I like having the details sort of evolve along with the project itself.  Sometimes I have an idea about the details from the start, but often I don’t have clue what will develop.  I find this to be particularly true with my wood turning.  A contributing factor is that I’m not all that confident in my developing wood turning skills, but I’m beginning to find my way.

The point of all that rambling is that my pieces tend to change as a project progresses.  The first change to the project at hand was to add a bead to the legs.

The rungs were next to fall victim to change.  I first turned all of the rungs to a simple cylinder and added the tenons.  I then set eight of them aside to become the top rungs around which I’ll weave the fibre rush seat.  The remaining rungs went back on the lather and received a taper on each end.

The final bit of modification was to the foot end of the legs (post).  During the initial turning I established the transition point of the taper to the foot, but left this area “fat”.  I felt they needed a little more grace and took cues from some Shaker examples to added a bit of life to the taper.

So now I have all of my wood bits ready to go.  Next up will be the drilling of holes and assembly of the frames.

Part 1 Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Shaker Stools 240 Mod-Part 1

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 7:45pm

My exploration of seating continues with a couple of Shaker inspired stools.  Many, many moons ago, long before GPS, we made a trip to Nashville for a friend’s wedding.  We had very little money at the time and knew this would be the only trip for that year.  Unfortunately our time in Nashville was less than pleasant, other than the wedding.  Anyway, on the trip home we began looking for any stop that would salvage the trip.  My wife scanned over the road atlas and stumbled on the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill just outside of Lexington, KY.  So, on a whim, we routed ourselves to the village.

We arrived late afternoon on a Saturday and were pleasantly surprised that they had overnight rooms.  As luck would have it there was a room available.  Not only that, they had a dining hall that served family style meals.  So we moved into our room and walked to the dining hall and had a very pleasant dinner by candlelight.

The next day we toured the village and I poured over the furniture and buildings as far as they would let me.  This was long before I had any tools or even a shop space, but the desire, the desire to build was there.  The last stop before leaving the village was the gift shop and there I bought three little books of scaled drawings of Shaker furniture.

That’s a bit of back story, but I thumb thru these books every now and again for inspiration.  This time around the stools caught my eye.  Actually the rocker has my interest, but I figure the stools will be a good way to get my head around the process.  These are simple stools and should nestle nicely with the kitchen island that I converted my old workbench into.

I like most things Shaker, there is an elegant simplicity in all that they built.  The one thing I have never been a fan of though is the woven tape seats.  Seats woven with muted earth tones are OK, but the brighter colors just look out of place to me.  So my stools will have seats woven with fiber rush.  It looks simple to accomplish and I personally like the look.

After playing around with the proportions and a little time at the drafting board, here is what I came up with.

Not too different from the original Shaker design, just tweaked slightly.  I’m building these stools with what I have on hand.  The legs will be red oak and the stretchers will be white oak.  The seats will be woven from fiber (paper) rush.  I’ve gotten off to start turning the eight required legs.  The goal is to crank out one leg after work every evening.  So far, so good.  I’m three for three. I’m actually getting pretty quick at it.  Quick being a relative term.  The story stick is a handy thing for this repetitive work too.

I deviated from the Shaker simplicity and added a single bead to the leg as well as a little wood burning.  You know I can’t not add some wood burning.  Just one more reason I would have made a lousy Shaker.

Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

3-Ply Moravian Chair-Part 4-Complete

Sun, 06/11/2017 - 5:50pm

The second chair went together pretty much as the first.

The next bit of fabrication was the back panels that will eventually be upholstered.  These are simple squares of ply that will be secured with bolts and “T”-nuts.  A little shaping should make for better comfort.


With that done it was time to make a final decision as to the finish.  You know I’m an oil and wax kind of guy, but plywood needs a little something more.  I thought about some sort of paint.  Maybe a bold color to make my wacky design even more over the top?  Maybe a traditional color of milk paint?  In the end I went a somewhat conservative route and decided to dye them.

Before committing to the dye, however, I broke out the wood burner (don’t act surprised, you knew I would).  I did show great restraint and limited myself to burning the front and rear corners.  For the dye, I chose to use Transtint’s Dark Vintage Maple.  I’ve used this product before in a different color (dark walnut) on a few tables.

Transtint comes as a concentrate and needs to be mixed with a carrier.  Water or denatured alcohol are the choices and I chose to use alcohol.  The alcohol dries fast and doesn’t raise the grain, although water may offer deeper penetration.  So mix the dye per the instructions and apply.   I rag the mixture on and work as fast as I can so as not to lose the wet edge.  The open grain of the red oak and birch ply absorbed more dye than I wanted resulting in a slightly darker shade, but I can live with it.

Since the dye/alcohol mix dries quickly, I was able to follow up with a first coat of Tried & True Original just a few minutes after applying the dye.  Today I applied the second coat of Tried & True.

While waiting on the finish to do its thing, I tackled the last bit of construction.  The wedge pins that secure the backs.  These are simply dowel pins shaved to a wedge shape.  To create the dowel pins I prepared two red oak billets.  One billet would generate two pins.

The last task was to upholster the two small back panels.  I completely missed taking any photos of the upholstery operation though.  They are really simple.  One inch foam covered with sage green vinyl (the same vinyl that I used on the footstools) and stapled in place.

That is pretty much it.  A final buff with a soft cloth and the backs wedged in place.

So that concludes my crazy chair experiment and my entry in Brian’s “June Chair Build“.  This design works, but is best suited to power tools because of the use of plywood.  Shaping the outside edges of plywood with hand tools is doable (requires frequent sharpening).  Shaping the inside edges (mortises/handle) is possible, but best suited to the use of an electric router.  One note about the stretchers.  Structurally they are not required, although they do add quite a bit of strength.  The legs and their tenons are more than strong enough on their own.  I simply prefer the visual of having the stretchers.

All in all I think I accomplished my original goal.  A simple chair that required no special tools or steam bending.  A chair that could be built from readily available materials.  Maybe even a chair that took an age-old construction method and updated it to a modern aesthetic.  The degree of my success is in the eye of the beholder and will most likely run the gamut of the scale.

Part 3 Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

3-Ply Moravian Chair-Part 3

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 8:22pm

Since my last post I have managed to turn and fit the stretchers for the second chair.  I truly do enjoy the spring pole lathe.   Nothing like and hour at the lathe after work to rid the mind of the stresses of my day.

With the parts for both undercarriages fabricated it was time to turn my attention to shaping the seats.  Given my whining about having to resort to using an electric router to round the edges of the back mortises and handle cutout, I really wasn’t looking forward to tackling the seats.  Once I got started however I found that I could do all of the shaping with hand tools.  So no electric router torture was needed.

To shape the seat I first sketched a few shapes directly onto the seat board.  Once happy I used a combination of hand saws to hog off the waste.  Then used a hand plane, spokeshave, rasp and files to refine the outline of the seat.

Here it is cut to the basic shape and very light shaping.

I had to hold back on the sculpting of the first seat so that I could use it as a pattern for the second.  Once the outline was established on both seat boards I could begin the sculpting of the edges.  That’s right sculpting.  Just because I’m using plywood doesn’t mean I can’t go beyond the basic edge rounding.

If you look closely at chairs, especially Windsor chairs, you will note that the front corners of the seat are eased over.  This easing prevents having a pressure point on the back of the sitter’s thigh.  It also helps to visually lighten the chair.  As a nod to this time proven design feature, I too eased the front corners of my seats.  This was a simple exercise with the spokeshave, rasp and file.  Sanding blended everything together.

I also gave the rear corners of the seat the same, albeit less pronounced, treatment.

The majority of the remaining edges were simply given a rounding over.  The other area that was given a little more dramatic treatment was the outer ends of the front batten.  At an inch and a half thick these looked pretty clunky and felt even worse.  So I added a heavy chamfer to lighten the look and rounded all of the edges to create a pleasing surface to touch.

Tonight I came home from work and gave all of the parts for the first chair a thorough sanding and inspection.  Satisfied with the parts, I cut some wedges and starting adding the glue.  I’m happy to say that the glue up went smoothly.

Tomorrow after work I’ll go over the parts for the second chair and assemble its base.

The next task will be the upholstered panels for the backboards.  Those still need holes drilled, hardware installed and upholstered.

Brian is also making good progress on his “June Chair Build“.  He is wrapping up the eight legs that he needs for his two chairs.  Be sure and check out his blog.

Part 2 Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

3-Ply Moravian Chair-Part 2

Sun, 06/04/2017 - 7:03pm

Plywood sucks!

I’ve been in the shop every chance I get working on these chairs (technically back stools).  Mostly things have progressed reasonably well.  The first thing I tackled was turning the six legs.  This is a first for me.  Up until now all of my legged projects have received tapered octagonal legs.  For these chairs though, I wanted a leg that leaned a little more toward mid-century modern/Danish.  So a simple tuned leg with a very slight taper along its length towards the floor.  The legs went pretty quickly.  I managed to get almost two per evening after getting home from work.

Next up was drilling the glued up seat blanks for installing my freshly minted legs.  Same old, same old.  Set a bevel gauge, chuck a 1″ bit in my brace and bore away.  I’m really liking the cylindrical tenon option over the tapered tenon approach.  I’ve also discovered that I have a pretty good knack for drilling at the correct angle.  At least I managed to drill these six holes without making a mess of things.

Creating the mortises for installing the back panel was pretty much the same as installing the legs.  The back panel is installed with a 5deg slope.  So I once again set a bevel gauge, bored holes and then chopped out the adjoining waste.  The mating tenons were straight forward cuts and chopping of waste.

Here is where things took a bit of a turn.

I knew going in that all of the edges of the plywood would need to be rounded over.  Decent plywood responds well to sharp hand tools.  At least outer the outer edges do.  Shaping internal cuts however, is an entirely different story.  Internal cuts such as those of the mortises and the handhold that I added to the back board.  I tried just about everything I could think of without finding a satisfactory method.  So I had to resort to…rotary power.

Many moons ago it seemed that I was helping just about everyone I know install laminate flooring.  To tackle the job of cutting holes for HVAC vents I purchased a knockoff Rotozip tool.  Basically a mini router.  With a spiral up-cutting bit it did a fantastic job of cutting vent holes in laminate flooring.  Anyway, I remembered that it had come with a cheapo 3/8″ round over router bit.  So this is the setup that I resorted to for rounding over the edges of the plywood.  It was loud, dusty and less than enjoyable work, but it did the job.  As a consolation prize, the cheap HSS router bit added a little wood burning.  So there is that I guess.

You can also see in the above photo that I taped one of the back pad into place.  This helped me to verify the height and get an idea as to whether or not it would even work.  I think it will.  I may have to fuss with the thickness of the foam.  We will see.

Today I managed to turn and fit the stretchers for one of the chairs.  I designed these to be beefy.  I even went a bit thicker than my design when making them.  The intent is to give a feeling of solidity and stability.  No one has come out and questioned the three leg design, but I can see the uncertainty on their face when they see it.  The strange thing is these same folks didn’t hesitate with the three legged stools that I just finished.  Something about adding a back and calling it a chair triggers a reaction in some folks.

Even in this raw state the chair is actually pretty comfortable.  There is a bit of flex to the back board and its width fits well along my back.  So, even though the plywood is a PIA to work with, I think I’m on the right track.

I think I’m making pretty good progress.  Four days into the “June Chair Build” and I have something I can sit on.  Still a long way from putting the finish on, but not too bad.

Part 1 Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Welsh Staked Stool-Part 3-Complete

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 5:23pm

I assembled the remaining three stools and added the texture and wood burning as with the first.  There were a couple of folks with questions regarding the order of assembly, so I thought I would go over that a little here.

First I lay out the parts of the undercarriage.  (legs and stretchers)

Add glue and assemble said undercarriage.  Apply glue to the seat mortises and leg tenons and install the undercarriage into the seat.  There is enough “give” in the undercarriage to make starting the leg tenons into the underside of the seat possible.

Once everything was seated, I wedged all of the joints.

When the glue had cured, I trimmed and flushed the tenons.

Each seat received a light uzukuri treatment.  I wanted a tactile feel, but didn’t want to make the texture so deep as to create potential comfort issues.  The seats now have a lightly worn feel to them.

To trim the stools for final height I first created a level platform on which to work.  The seats have a slight slope front to rear and I simply use a scrap of wood lined up with the rear of the seat for ease of consistency.  Each stool was shimmed for level in each direction and the legs marked for trimming.  A pencil taped to the blade of my bevel gauge (Peter Galbert-“Chairmaker’s Notebook“) is easily adjustable and perfect for this.

All that remained was finishing.  The finish consists of two coats of tinted linseed oil followed by two coats of Tied & True Original (linseed oil and beeswax).

The first coat of tinted linseed oil really brings the stool to life.

After a few days of oil and buffing, I have four completed stools.  They are light, comfortable and sturdy.  An impromptu poll finds that the height is “perfect” for the tables that they are intended for…management tested, management approved!

Next up…I continue with the crazy chair experiment and possibly a bench.

Part 2 Greg Merritt




Categories: Hand Tools

3-Ply Moravian Chair-Part 1

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 5:00pm

Well, its time to tackle a chair.  For my first chair you would think that I would opt for a proven and well documented design.  Nah, where is the fun in that?

I’ve been kicking around an idea for a while now.  Sort of a mix of Mid-Century/Danish and traditional vernacular (staked) chairs.  A chair with no seat carving or steam bending, but still comfortable, strong and, hopefully, attractive.  A chair made with easily sourced material.

After a lot of head scratching and sketches, here is what I have come up with.

A Moravian style (although several cultures have built chairs this way) chair, but built with modern plywood for the seat, battens and back.  With the plywood bits being derived from a quarter sheet of 18mm(3/4″) thick plywood (24″x48″ in the U.S.).

With design work complete, all that is left is to build a couple and see what they are like in flesh.  To that end, I picked up a sheet of Finnish birch ply from the local Woodcraft and spent an afternoon milling parts.  The legs and optional stretchers will be from red oak.

The next operation was to glue the battens in place after first shaping their edges.  I tackled one batten at a time.  Leaving each in the clamps for an hour before moving on to the next one.  It took all evening, but the all four of the battens are installed.

Using a clamping caul for even distribution of pressure.

The vise proved the best option for clamping the smaller batten.

Then a little layout work with the aid of a scrap piece of ply.

Well I’m committed now.  Stay tuned.

Side Note:

Brian, over at Toolerable, has an annual June Chair Build“.  Fortuitous timing means that I will be able to play along this year.  If things go as planned, I may even knock together a bench to match the stools.  

Check out Brian’s blog and join in on the chair building.

Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Welsh Staked Stools-Part 2

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 7:25pm

With the legs at the ready, I moved on to tackle the seats.  The seats are from a construction grade SYP 2×12.  When working with construction lumber, you have to really plan ahead and possibly get a little creative in order to end up with something decent.  I’m not opposed to having knots in my projects, but the trick is to keep those knots out of the joinery areas.  After a little trial and error I hade four usable slabs and a decent piece that may end up as a bench.

Layout is pretty simple and went quickly for all four seats.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve opted for cylindrical 1″ tenons on these stools in lieu of the tapered tenons that I have been using.  Why?  First, I simply want to try this method to evaluate the difference.  Second, when building the table trestles I found that the addition of the stretcher can cause the tapered tenons to be difficult to seat if any outward pressure is introduced by the stretcher.

The process for drilling the holes is the same regardless if they are cylindrical or tapered.  So I set a bevel gauge to my resultant angles and drilled the required holes for installing the legs.

With the legs installed, I set a pair of large dividers and marked the locations for the stretchers from the underside of the seat.


I then drilled each of the stretcher mortises with a spade bit and a backer board to keep the spelching at a minimum.  I’m making these as through mortises and will wedge all of the joints.

Next up was the front stretchers which meant a little lathe work.

Then the center stretchers and more lathe work.

Soon enough I had all of the joinery for the four stools completed.  Note that I added Turks head knots to the front stretchers.

Now I could turn my attention back to the seats and begin their shaping.  The shape is pretty basic.  A rectangle with the corners clipped.  All of the edges will receive a heavy chamfer just as I did with the recent table tops.  The idea is that these stools should look like they belong with the tables.  They don’t necessarily need to match exactly, but have the same general flavor.

Seats are shaped.

All that is left is assembly and to add my “decorative” embellishments.  So I assembled the first stool (glue and wedges), stamped in some texture on the clipped corners and went at it with the wood burner.  Finally, the seat received the uzukuri treatment.

Here is the unfinished stool next to one of the tables.  Note the color difference that the oils finish imparts.



Well, three more to go and then I’ll trim them all for height and start slathering them with oil.

Part 1 Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Welsh Staked Stools-Part 1

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 5:00pm

I have been having a lot of fun with then lathe, but it is time to get back on track.  I have two new tables that are in desperate need of some sort of accompanying seating.  To that end my first run at keeping butts off the floor will be four Welsh inspired stools.

I’m lucky in that Chris Schwarz just completed a run of High Staked Stools built in this manner.  So he effectively did all of my prototyping for me (thanks Chris!).  He worked through several seat, leg and stretcher shapes in his process.  His posts about them allowed me to see the forms, eliminate options and firm up my own plans.

My version will draw visual elements from my tables and will be a couple of inches higher than a standard dinning chair.  It has been my experience that stools matching dinning chair height always feel too short in use.  There is a delicate balance between seating height, the sitter’s center of gravity and the back of chair.  Remove the back and everything feels off.  So my stools will be a little higher to try to bring things back into balance (I hope).

To finalize my design I worked up a proportional drawing.

These four stools will have SYP seats, red oak legs and white oak stretchers.  I began by milling the red oak leg stock.

Then laid them out to be tapered octagons.

To shape the legs, I first removed the bulk of the waste with a drawknife at the shaving horse.  Then refined the octagon with a plane.

On all of my previous staked projects I have used the Veritas tapered tenon cutter and reamer.  They work well, but I will be trying out a 1″ diameter round tenon method on these stools.  From what I can find this method was used by John Brown and was recently demonstrated in Don Weber’s video “Build a Welsh Stick Chair”.  Thanks to the new lathe, creating the 1″ tenons is quite easy.

After an afternoon of work, I have all of the legs ready to go.

Next I’ll work on the seats.

Greg Merritt



Categories: Hand Tools

Ratcheting Book Stand-Lathe Project

Sun, 05/07/2017 - 1:06pm

One of the projects high on my list,  in the event that I ever had a lathe, is a 17th Century turned book stand that Peter Follansbee reintroduced.  It’s a nifty design with a ratcheting mechanism to adjust the angle of display and a wide shelf on which to seat the book.  Now that I have a lathe and trying to learn to turn, the book stand seemed like a perfect project to aid me along.  Plus, I simply really want to make one!

In a previous post I discussed that these beginning lathe projects needed to have a high probability of success.  This book stand meets that requirement while also challenging me to improve my skills.  One challenge is the need to replicate identical parts.  The posts should be turned to look identical and need to be the same length.  The spindles need to all be the same length, but don’t necessarily need to be turned identically.  So not as much pressure there.  There is also the added challenge of laying out and drilling for the spindles.  Another skill builder in this project is creating and sizing tenons.  Plus there is a lot of practice in turning a uniform cylinder.

Peter Follansbee is not known for using plans and, true to form, I couldn’t find any existing plans for this book stand.  There are several photos on his website and there is an episode of The Woodwright’s Shop where he and Roy build the book stand, sans any mention of sizes or measurements.  He did post photographs of a book stand with a known book resting on it and another set of photos with overall dimensions.  So, using my best reverse engineering skills, I looked up the dimensions of the book and extrapolated from there.  I took all of that information and made my best guess as to the size of the parts and the for layout.  I used that information to build a prototype.  I knew I could refine that guess and develop a proportional design drawing once I had prototype in hand.  

Using my rough sketch I began fabricating parts.  Replication of identical parts was more challenging than I had anticipated, but I made a decent showing.  The spindles were fairly easy, but getting the finials of the post to look the same involved a lot of fiddling and remounting before I was satisfied with the results.  Soon enough I had a dry fit of the basic parts.

One element that I guessed wrong on was the ratchet “leg”.  My first attempt was far too long.  This caused the book stand to have too large of a footprint and it looked clunky.  I simply made another shorter version.

I soon had my prototype complete with the first coat of Tried & True applied.  Maple posts, white oak spindles and red oak shelf.

Now I could work out the proportions, make corrections and generate a proportional design drawing.  My initial guess work proved to be pretty close.  One thing that needed to be corrected was the locations of the spindles.  I had noted, but chose to ignore, the asymmetric layout of the spindles on Follansbee’s examples.  The spindle that houses the “kickstand” is offset towards the top spindle on his examples.  I work with CAD every day, so I ran the layout on CAD to check as to if this offset is needed or is just an aesthetic choice.  Turns out it can be beneficial.  It allows the ratchet leg and kickstand to be the same length.  Both spindle layouts work, but the asymmetrical layout does offer a functional edge and a bit of visual interest.  I made a few other proportional corrections and then generated a final drawing to work from.

As with the lathe, I’ll not be posting my design drawing for the book stand.  This is Peter Follonsbee’s work, not mine.  He makes his living making, teaching and writing.  I’m just some guy banging together stuff in my garage and my family eats the same regardless.  Besides, rumor has it that he has a book in the works that may contain a certain book stand, so keep an eye out for that.  I will post these drawings of ideas for finials, feet and spindles that I worked up.


The full-size book stand is large and perfectly sized for larger books such as those produced by Lost Art Press.  However, most people don’t have need of a book stand this large.  Tablets have replaced books for most people these days.  So I decided to build a 2/3 scale example that would function as a tablet stand and be more useful to most people.  This scaled down version would also serve verify if I had the proportions correct.

To scale the book stand down from the drawing I simply substituted a smaller dimension for the module (controlling dimension).  The full-size version is based on a Module of 300mm.  I altered this by using a dimension of 200mm (2/3 of 300 is 200) and worked out all of the rest with a pair of dividers.

Just about all of the material for this version came from the offcut bin.  The posts are white oak, the spindles are black walnut and the shelf is white oak from a particularly unruly piece (I had to break out the card scraper) salvaged from a pallet.


This 2/3 scale version is perfect as a tablet stand, but is bit too small to be functional as a book stand.  Since I was on a roll, I decided to build a 3/4 scale version.  Again, all parts were culled from the scrap pile, save one.  I had to buy a piece of oak for the shelf.  This one has white oak posts and red oak for the spindles and shelf.  I also ran with the oak theme and tried my hand at creating finials and feet that had an acorn motif.

I think the 3/4 scale is a good compromise and will be the perfect size for most people.  It will easily hold most books as well as the popular tablets of the day.

I still needed to build another full-scale version that is based upon my design drawing to round out the set.  So I rummaged around in my magic attic (previous owner left a lot of scrap wood up there) and culled out enough walnut and mahogany to build a full-scale version.  The walnut is a little gnarly and has a big knot running through it and contains a little sap wood, but is fine for this.  The shelf is from some unknown stuff that I have had for quite a while.


Quick tip: To locate the holes in the shelf for installing the feet install a finish nail in the post and clip it short.  Then assemble the frame and press it down onto the shelf in the desired location.  The finish nail will mark the location on the shelf for the hole.

The following shows exactly why I like designing with proportions.  A piece can be scaled up or down and retain the same visual look.  I can plug any distance into the Module (within practical reason) and produce a version to suit the need without altering the overall appearance.

For an idea of scale: LAP “Book of Plates“, LAP “The Anarchist’s Design Book” and an iPad Mini.

These book stands are a lot of fun to build and are a great skill builder for learning to turn.  They are also a great way to shrink the offcut pile.

Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools