This Asian completely rocks.
I spent the summer after graduating college in Taiwan. One of the things I did was to learn how to play a Chinese zither. I figured out how to play “Black Magic Woman”, but nowhere as good as this.
A couple of years ago I built a very large dining table for my home. It will seat ten comfortably, and several more if needed.
But I've held off on building chairs due to my inexperience with this furniture genre. The past couple years I've done a lot of research on chair types, or more accurately, chair-construction methods. I've spent a lot of my shop time making tree trunks into precise rectangles. So I thought it would be a good idea to branch out into a style of building that I was unfamiliar with. That led me towards the work of John Brown and his Welsh stick chairs.
His book stayed in my mind long after I closed the last page, and the pair of Welsh stick chairs by Chris Schwarz that I keep in my office serve as a constant reminder of this more rudimentary, non-rectangular construction style.
Next I considered the work of Jeff Miller. Jeff is not only a friend, but he's also been a big influence and sounding board for new ideas in woodworking techniques. His chairs are undeniably comfortable and beautiful, but I felt like I needed to go even further back to an earlier evolutionary stage to find what I was looking for. Jeff makes his chairs with a combination of ancient and modern techniques, but I wanted something more ancient.
Then, in the middle of this process Konrad Sauer started building a set of chairs for his dining table and that got my mind reeling with yet another option. Konrad's interpretation of Maloof's joint was intriguing, but again I found myself drawn to the rudiments of the craft.
But as I usually do, I find myself returning full circle.
I've followed the work of Peter Galbert for a number of years, and aesthetically his more modern chairs have appealed to me the most. However, I'm not a huge fan of the classic windsor chair (in all its varieties), but I have become quite a fan of the windsor technology. Call it green woodworking, stick chairs, whatever. I simply think it makes a lot of sense to build a chair this way, and for the way I want to work, it's enormously appealing. Of course Peter's work has greatly influenced my decision to try this method.
To test my theory I decided to build one of Peter's Smarthead shaving horses. The project itself uses chairmaking technology, so I thought it would be a good exercise to answer some of my curiosities. Last year I drew up plans in Sketchup for the Smarthead portion, but before I got a chance to build one Pete made a bunch of refinements to the design and asked if I would mind making the changes to the plans. I was happy to oblige. So after many long nights after work and numerous emails back and forth with Pete, I decided to completely redraw the Smarthead. I then generated 2-d plans of all the components. I also drew a Sketchup drawing of Pete's shavehorse to supplement the Smarthead plans.
To download the 2-d prints of the Smarthead, click here.
To download the Sketchup drawing of the Smarthead Shavehorse, click here.
The Sketchup drawing does not show the tapered dowels nor their matching angled holes in detail. They are simply represented in the drawing. To understand how the dumbhead is secured to the Smarthead, and also how the housing is secured to the plank, see Pete's video.
With plans in hand, I headed out to the shop to build my first shavehorse.
With help from Pete and Steve's sightline ruler I laid out my sightlines for the splayed legs of the plank. I didn't have enough width on the plank to lay out for the rake, so I butted another board to the edge to get the intersection.
Once I had the first sightline established, I set a bevel gauge to the angle and laid out the other three.
But the second pair were better.
By the time I had the holes reamed, and the legs fit, I had my answer. This was the way I'd build my chairs.
This is how I drilled the legs for the stretchers. Don't laugh, my lasers will be here tomorrow....
The plank is spalted maple. It's solid around the legs.
The legs are not glued or wedged into the plank, but simply tapped firmly into the tapered holes. This allows the horse to knock down for storage and transport.
With the plank and legs done, I focused on the housing and the Smarthead. The latter is made exclusively of beech.
I used some square nuts to keep the shafts in place. More on this below.
In use, the upper pivot shaft must end flush with the sides of the Smarthead, otherwise workpieces can get trapped under the exposed portion, in this case the square nut, instead of being held down by the front of the dumbhead. So I removed the nuts, and cut the shaft shorter.
This was one of the funnest projects I've done in a long time. But now the real fun begins. Sourcing wood for my set of dining chairs.
They've concluded that arguing about woodworking is a more popular hobby than actual woodworking. "We ran hundreds of thousands of forum and blog posts and tweets from all over the world through Google Mock for automated analysis, since mocking language has a high correlation to argumentative behavior," said Stanley.
Preston explained they also ran field studies. "We used focus groups of 5-year-olds reading online postings aloud in the schoolyard. The argumentative tones stood out clearly, allowing us to classify the various viewpoints."
This method had some challenges. "We had to terminate the program because it invariably led to shouts of 'Your mother!' and shoving matches, and fisticuffs would ensue."
However, through this combination of analytical and empirical methods they were able to score postings with a 20-variable differential equation to come up with their Argument Rank. The exact algorithm is a closely-guarded secret.
Stanley said, "We wanted to explain that much because the American Association of Argumentative Persons disagrees with our methodology. They feel simple mocking language isn't an appropriate measure, and they prefer middle-school girls as their field readers. But they're idiots."
Preston said, "It really should be 19 variables, not 20. Everybody knows a prime number of terms produces a more reliable standard deviation."
"I'll show you standard deviation!" Stanley said heatedly.
The interview terminated at that point as the two researchers slammed their laptops shut and fisticuffs ensued.
Fortunately they had given me their list of the most popular argument topics for hand tool work, summarized below. Certain common themes start to emerge.
Hand Tools and Power Tools
- Power tools are cheating.
- Hand tools are too laborious.
- Hand tool users are elitist snobs.
- Using power tools isn't craftsmanship.
- Power tools are unsafe.
- The government should/should not mandate power tool safety features.
- Old-time craftsmen would have dropped their hand tools for power tools in an instant.
- Old-time craftsmen would never have permitted such abominations in their shops.
- Only an idiot would do everything with hand tools.
- Only an idiot would do everything with power tools.
This could form the basis for an entire argumentation society on its own. There are just so many arguments to choose from.
- Hand sharpening is best/worst.
- Powered sharpening is best/worst.
- Oilstones/waterstones/diamond plates/sandpaper are the best/worst for sharpening.
- Oilstones/waterstones/diamond plates/sandpaper are the fastest/slowest.
- Oilstones/waterstones/diamond plates/sandpaper produce the best/worst edge.
- Leather strops should be smooth side/rough side up.
- Strops are a waste of time.
- Using a jig is the best way to sharpen.
- Using a jig is cheating.
- People make sharpening too complicated.
- People don't pay enough attention to their sharpening.
- Polishing the entire back is required/a waste of time.
- The bevel angle must be accurate to 1/10th degree.
- The bevel angle can be anywhere within a couple degrees.
- Edges should be sharpened to one atom thickness.
- Edges should be sharpened only enough to do the job.
- A double bevel is best/worst.
- A micro bevel is best/worst.
- A convex bevel is best/worst.
- That's not how I learned to do it.
- Only an idiot would sharpen that way.
- Pins first.
- Tails first.
- Hand-cut dovetails are better.
- Machine-cut dovetails are better.
- Chop the waste with a chisel.
- Saw out the waste with a coping saw.
- Use exactly 1-to-6, 1-to-7, or 1-to-8 pitch on the tails.
- Use any pitch on the tails that looks good.
- That's not how I learned to do it.
- Only an idiot would make dovetails that way.
- The tenon should fit perfectly right off the saw, anything else is cheating.
- You should saw the tenon a little fat, then pare it down to the line.
- Drilling mortises is cheating.
- You can't use that kind of chisel for mortising.
- That's not how I learned to do it.
- Only an idiot would make mortise and tenons that way.
- Bevel down/up planes are best/worst.
- Metal planes are better than wooden planes.
- Wooden planes are better than metal planes.
- Brand x planes are better than brand y planes.
- Brand x planes are too heavy/too light.
- A couple planes can handle all jobs.
- You need a bunch of different planes to handle the different jobs.
- Lay planes on the their sides, not down on their irons.
- Lay planes down on their beds, not on their sides with their irons exposed.
- Set planes bed down on a plane strip with their irons off the bench.
- O1/A2 irons are best/worst.
- That's not how I learned to do it.
- Only an idiot would plane that way.
What showed the highest statistical significance? The ever versatile ad hominem argument: "Only an idiot would do that."
After the popularity of Terry Chapman’s May 2011 What’s in YOUR Zombie Apocalypse tool kit? blog entry, we have taken your suggestions and created The Highland Woodworking Zombie Apocalypse Bug-Out Bag. Forget the chainsaw, as today’s zombies have seen all of the movies and know how to counteract the ever-popular chainsaw method of destruction. In today’s zombie society, it’s all about the hand tools and battery-powered drills.
Your very own Zombie Apocalypse Bug-Out Bag will come with the following life-saving, zombie eliminating woodworking tools:
1) Crown 1″ Rolled Edge Skew Chisel-Make sure you have the longest handle you can get. This is for both for leverage over the tool rest and distance between you and the zombie.
2) Festool TI 15 Impact Drill/Driver Li 3.0Ah-These Festools have a really long lasting battery, which is critical, since you never know how long the apocalypse will last. Don’t waste your batteries.
3) Drill Mounted 2 1/8″ Forstner Bit-This one is a little too close to the zombie to suit me, but it will do the job. Perhaps a cranial hit from the rear — oh wait, no brains, right?
4) Japanese Ikedame Ryoba Saw-Be sure you get this in the flesh eating teeth. Long handle and long blade works best.
5) Five Freud Thin Kerf Ultimate Cutoff Blades: 12″ x 96 Tooth, .091″ Kerf-It has 96 carbide teeth, it is thin enough to fly quickly and fly like the ultimate frisbee. Thin, fast, and deadly, wait they’re already dead!
6) Gransfors Bruks Nordic Battle Axe-this one speaks for itself, other than you really need a horned helmet to execute the blow.
7) Stick Fast CA Wood Finish Starter Kit-Spread a circle of this glue around your shop and it will be “the perfect glue for joining dissimilar materials.” You need to use the medium or thick viscosity glue since the thin will soak in too quickly to be effective and you need to have the activator close at hand so you can set the glue immediately. Otherwise they just stumble on through it.
8) Face Shield-Essential equipment for splatter control.
9) Gloves in a Bottle-No more sandpaper hands? How about no more zombie hands! Use this after you just decapitate a zombie and keep your hands feeling clean and smooth.
All of these tools for the small price of just $4,113.00, while supplies last*
As an added bonus, if you order your Bug-Out Bag within the next 24 hours, we will include 2 tickets for a tour of The Walking Dead set in Senoia, GA, just 35 miles from Highland Woodworking. Here you will have the opportunity to put your tools to the ultimate test!
We welcome any comments or questions if there are any added necessities or concerns that you can think of, as your safety and preparedness are our top goals!
*Please note that while we strongly encourage the use of hand and power tools in case of a zombie attack, this package is not actually available. We hope you enjoyed our holiday amusement and please have a safe and fun April Fools Day.
Although tobacco pipes have been used in the Americas time out of mind, the iconic wooden tobacco pipe was developed only in the 1850s, eventually displacing the clay pipes that Europeans had been using since the sixteenth century. The story goes that a French military officer was traveling in Corsica and broke his clay pipe, so he asked a peasant to make him a wooden one. The peasant made it from the root of a local shrub called “briar,” presumably because the wood does not ignite easily. The officer brought his new, wooden pipe back to France, and an industry was born.
Thus, the art of shaping pipes from briar wood is a relatively new skill, going back less than two centuries. Compare that with the art of making chests, cabinets, or chairs. The printed evidence for such crafts goes back to the 1700s, and the documentary evidence goes back millennia. Look for information in building a rocking chair or a curio cabinet, and you are deluged with information. Look for information on how to make a pipe, especially with hand tools, and you get much less.
Most briar pipes are shaped on lathes and refined on grinding/sanding equipment. There is some file work in tight spots, but most pipe makers rely heavily on machines for the bulk of the work. There are, however, many makers of “freehand” pipes, mostly artsy creations of no predetermined shape. Freehand pipe makers sell their work at a premium, so I suppose they have little incentive to reveal their methods.
There are a few classic texts on briar pipes, which I am gathering and reading as time allows, but they are leaving me with a lot of unanswered questions about many of the details of the work. The internet has helped fill in some of the gaps, but I’m still having to figure out a lot of the details on my own. Being lathe-less, my work thus far has technically been “freehand.” I am currently working with a lot of rasps, files, and card scrapers, improvising work-holding techniques as I go. I don’t like the way most “freehand” pipes look, so I’ve been experimenting with a more traditional look, yet without the traditional shaping techniques.
I don’t yet know how my personal style is going to develop, but I already feel as though my work is sailing in uncharted waters. For a beginning craftsman, that’s not a comforting feeling.
Filed under: Musings, Tobacco Pipes
I’ve learned over the years that beauty can be found in the most unexpected places. But most of my friends and acquaintances would probably agree that a sawhorse would not usually be held up as an object of adoration. Well, unless you’re already familiar with the work of Master Carpenter Louis Mazerolle and the French journeyman carpenters of the late 19th and early 20th century, get ready to change your view. Erase that image of the paint stained, cut up,” always needs to be tightened” thing you’ve been working with and feast your eyes. Try not to go all agog…
This is not simply a sawhorse. In French it is called a treteau. But a treteau is still a trestle. But this is much more. This is a laboratory in the practice of precision joinery and projected angle drawing that once understood, truly makes the journeyman a master.
The treteau above may well be the work of Mazerolle and Les Compagnons de Devoir. But the trestle below is clearly Mazerolle’s design as is comes from his book, Traite Theorique et Pratique de Charpente:
The treteau above is incredibly complex with diagonal bracing turned in such a way as to make it extraordinarily difficult to project. I found this photo on Yahoo France. I apologize for not being able to credit the craftsmen who completed this work. It is amazing and I salute them.
Chris Hall of the Carpentry Way Blog, has completed a beautiful version of Mazerolle’s treteau. He’s documented the process beginning in his January 2009 post. Search for the posts marked Treteau. Mr. Hall’s persistence, commitment to craftsmanship and his generosity in sharing his efforts is sui generis. He also presents a Treteau dit Cadet, which is probably a better place to start for most mere mortals.
Another website which offers more discussion on the construction of a proper treteau is Association Bois de Brin. Simply look for the plan d’un treteau.
We all need several good stout sawhorses. And, building traditional treteaux is a way of perfecting joinery skills that are rarely used in the course of everyday furniture making or general woodworking.
BTW, when you visit The Carpentry Way, be sure to check out Chris’ gallery of work. The guy’s good…very good.
Temperatures dropped to what normal human beings can tolerate to work in. We even had some much needed rain.
All six chair ‘stools’ are now glued up. I began the back sticks and was making good progress until chocolate intervened and again slowed my progress (I had to hide all my own Easter eggs around the garden this year since Virginia was away for the weekend).
I must find that last egg!
Filed under: Seating Tagged: back sticks
I also used a couple of the 1/2" resawn pieces to make some "Redneck Plywood". Never heard of it? It's cheap and strong. I had two 1/2" pieces left over that were in sad shape, full of checks and knots, and warped all to heck. Normally you would throw these away. Don't do that - glue them together and glue a 1/4" strip on the front. Makes a great, cheap shelf, and you can't tell it from a solid wood shelf.
For now, it is being used to store some of my hand planes until I get the plane cabinet built, hopefully this summer.
The United States of America’s third President, Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826), was an intensely passionate man both in his political life and personal life.
In 1772, at the age of twenty-nine, Jefferson married a young widow, Martha Skelton; however Martha died in 1782, shortly after the birth of their sixth child.
Jefferson took a diplomatic role in Paris in 1784 and was appointed Minister to France in 1785. Following the death of his youngest daughter, Lucy Elizabeth (II), Jefferson’s youngest surviving daughter, Polly moved to Paris accompanied by one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. Jefferson subsequently formed a torrid relationship with the fourteen-year-old Hemings, leading to him commissioning a remarkable piece of furniture.
Drawn to Revolutionary Paris’ flamboyant lifestyle and influenced by the debauched constituent of Paris’ salon culture, Jefferson had one of Paris’ artisan brasiers, René Antoin Cavalier make him a “Parisian horse on two levels […] of strong brass and gilded leather […] for intimate liaisons”.
Jefferson named his indecorous horse ‘Fitzpartner’ and seemingly made good use of it. Hemings bore Jefferson a further six children.
Not normally falling within the purview of this blog, I now take a leap forward to the late nineteenth-century and Queen Victoria’s son, Albert Edward (1841 – 1910) – the playboy Prince of Wales; the future King Edward VII, then known to everyone as ‘Bertie’. Bertie too, had a predilection for Paris’ salacious distractions and, no surprise by now, another Parisian horse.
The Prince of Wale’s wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, tolerated his numerous dalliances to a degree. His father, Prince Albert, however, despaired of his debauched lifestyle, calling him “depraved” and the Queen blamed Bertie for her beloved husband’s broken heart and premature death.
Amongst Bertie’s favourite Paris haunts were the Café des Anglais, the Moulin Rouge and the Chabanais – a ‘maison de tolérance’ established by Irishwoman, Roisin Kelly. Madame Kelly’s opulent brothel pandered to all tastes with rooms lavishly decorated in exotic themes.
Bertie, an esteemed patron of Madame Kelly’s, was furnished with a personal room in which were a bed (carved with his coat of arms), a swan-necked bath (purportedly filled with champagne) and a Parisian horse made by the renowned nineteenth-century French furniture manufacturer, Soubrier.
Soubrier are the current owners of the former Prince of Wales’ cheval d’amour.
Getting through U.S. Customs Saturday was a harrowing experience. I was certain they would pull me aside and go through my luggage because my declaration card was filled with red flags I’d gathered during my three weeks in Melbourne, Australia.
I always err on the side of declaring everything – everything, even breath mints – when I pass through immigration. Honesty is so much easier than trying to hide a backsaw in a body cavity.
So my declaration card included:
• Old tools with wooden components.
• Random chunks of timber, some with bark.
• Lots of expensive and pointy bits of stuff.
• Bizarre Australian candy for the kids.
• Antique Japanese paring chisel with a rosewood handle.
When it came time to go through my luggage, the Customs officer didn’t give a second look at the tools, timber or other pointy bits. It was the candy that received the scrutiny. Some of the wacky sweets looked like bananas. Fruit and meat are a no-no. After the “bananas” were determined to be completely artificial, I was free to go.
After a big sigh of relief, I sprinted to catch my connecting flight.
Of all the stuff I brought back, the biggest treasure is five small sticks of King Billy Pine (Athrotaxis selaginoides) I picked up from toolmaker Chris Vesper. It’s a slow-growing and endangered species from Tasmania that has a long, fragrant and storied history in the history of the region. It’s a protected species and difficult to get here. These sticks were acquired entirely ethically.
I got just enough to build two Roubo try squares. One of them will be part of my payment to Wesley Tanner for redesigning our revision of Joseph Moxon’s “The Art of Joinery” with my commentary.
“The Art of Joinery” was the first Lost Art Press book and is now out of print. This year we’re reissuing the book, which will be expanded to include the following parts:
1. The text from Moxon’s writing on the art of joinery which has been lightly “translated” by me to make it easier for the modern reader to digest. Most of the “translation” consists of removing the long “s” from the words and breaking up some long sentences with semicolons.
2. The “translated” text will have some commentary from me and the engravings from Moxon’s book placed in situ – e.g. the image of the chisel will be next to the chisel.
3. The original text, untranslated and with all its 17th-century peculiarities. The text will be entirely reset in a font picked by Wesley. We’re adding this section to the book because several readers complained that they really really really wanted the source text without any commentary. There were also grumblings that my light “translation” was like rewriting the King James Bible in the voice of Austin Powers.
4. We’ll be offering the whole book in either cloth or leather bindings, plus in ePub and Kindle versions.
Work is proceeding on the book, and it should be out by the end of the year.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: The Art of Joinery
Hanging out with Bob Rozaieski, while he was teaching us how to make a molding with hollows and rounds.
I went to the car boot sale yesterday. It was humbling to see items from the 1700s through the 1800s being sold for so little when I could see how much skilled hand work went into them. What was humbling was the reality that I couldn’t work out how many of the things there were actually made even though they were made from wood and I have worked wood for 52 years if I include a couple of years woodworking at school..
Crafts of every kind crop up at car boots. Beautiful blown glass and leather clogs on wooden soles, ploughs, oak butter churns, chairs of every age and every size made from wood in woodlands and on workbenches. Dovetailed chests by the dozen and a few weeks ago I passed up an upturned jointer in beech 6’ long for £200. Looking at a massive (1 3/4″ dia) boxwood screwbox thread cutter made by Thomas Turner was what humbled me. I thought it beautiful, but there is a financial limit and limited space to buy all I see. You see, for me, that’s what I find humbling too. Creativity and creative work space is limited too. We are limited, but living in a virtual world that we know is not quite ‘there’ is always telling us that we are not limited. I am limited in the amount of knowledge I can retain in the same way I am limited in the amount I can do as a craftsman. Absorption can never be limitless and humility for me is finding my limit, accepting it and finding contentment within that limiting sphere. In many ways I feel I have found that in what I do. I cannot extend the hours of my day and nor can I force my body beyond its limits to produce more. In the pre computer age when life was, well, real, virtual was more an unknown phenomena. Yes, your mind could take you where ever you wanted to go but thankfully circumstances of reality constrained you with limiting factors like personal strength, stamina, skill levels and so on. In this, I think, humility rests and a man like myself finds that place reserved for contentment.
Even this tool chest was humbling when I saw the dovetails randomly cut is quite humbling.
When I stand at my bench, pull my tools from their chests and share my creative workspace with one or two others around me, I discover a peace I rarely find anywhere else. This is contentment. In this I lose myself, clocks stop, people pass, I work unnoticed and I do what I am limited to do knowing I cannot do more, make more, earn more. I think that this is what the amatuer in me finds and the amatuer around the world finds. In this is the reward of craftsmanship. Settling for mastering skill that cuts a hand cut dovetail, and tenon fitting to perfection is a place of utter contentedness in the whole of what is being made. I know this to be true for me and for others too. That space of time in occupying an hour or two that has no monetary compulsion, no demonstration for others to admire and and a freedom from all else save shaving and paring and sawing, fitting, heating, bending and creating something we build from real wood. This measure of contentment can be matched by nothing else. Such an ambition, contentment, remains within my very soul. In this I feel absorbed, enveloped by my craft of working wood.
I finally got a chance to finish binding Julia's guitar, a copy of a guitar made by Santos Hernandez in 1933. I did some research on the internet looking for images of guitars that he made after 1921 and before his death in 1943 to get a better idea of how he "trimmed" out a guitar. Here is my interpretation of what I learned.
On some of his guitars Santos used a very wide maple purfling.
This makes for a very bold look. He also made a heel cap from the same wood as the bindings. I used ebony bindings on this guitar and used ebony and maple for the heel cap to make the binding theme.
A photo of gluing on the heel cap.
You would be surprised at the amount of stress a guitar receives while it is being made! It gets all covered with glue, my hand slips when the binding tape breaks and a finger nail scrapes the sound board, it can be a bit of a brawl between maker and guitar! (Sorry for the blurry image!)
The sound board cleaned up after the binding is complete.
This guitar is very special, Julia chose a redwood top that came from a board that was rescued from a barn that stood outside of Yosemite National Park. I was able to re-saw only two guitar tops from this board, one that is on this guitar and the other will be used for a copy of a 1968 Hernandez y Aguado guitar. The rest of the board has too many knots to make it useful for guitar tops, I will probably use them for ukuleles at a later date.
Wood with this kind of provenance is rare, not often can a maker claim this personal of a connection to a piece of wood.
I love to build furniture. My guess would be is that most woodworkers would put furniture building right up there at the top of the heap as an expression of skill and ability. But after more than fifty years of experience in interior joinery and architectural carpentry, I might be inclined to take issue with that notion.
There are four words that will make me take immediate notice each time I hear them; Post, beam, mortise, tenon. Put together with the appropriate conjunction, these words describe a building process that has provided human beings around the world with structures that range from the lowly cow shed to the soaring cathedral. Post and beam – Mortise and tenon.
Look at a pile of dismantled barn timbers and it suddenly becomes obvious. This is complicated work. This is work that requires skill and ingenuity. This is work that requires mastery over subjects like geometry, as well as artistry. This work requires physical strength, as well as intellectual stamina. This is big work, magnum opus. Heavy timber work.
Joined timber construction is amazingly strong and durable. It utilizes a renewable resource that is, usually, at hand. And, in many cases, salvaged timber will work as well as something fresh from the log yard. Timbers can be sawn or hewed. Many times an irregularly shaped timber will be used to take advantage of its natural strength.
The beauty of timber joinery cannot be overstated. And I am struck by the tremendous similarities of Oriental and Occidental joinery. While it’s true that the actual process of cutting the joints might be somewhat different, the results are usually the same. The same types of scarf joint will be found in Japan, France and England. However, if you watched these joints being made in these three areas, you’d be surprised at the difference in technique. (There is no RIGHT WAY! – only the way that works for you)
Anyone who has built furniture in a one man shop knows that it is a solitary job. While solitude, in itself, can be spiritually rewarding, most of us need some peer contact on a regular basis. Being complimented by a fellow carpenter is very much akin to being awarded an Academy Award. Your peers know the level of your skill by their own experience. And, the term Master Carpenter is more often an honorific conferred by brothers and sisters in craft, rather than a mere licensing document.
When the weather is cold and blowing, I’m content to be in the shop. But as these spring days begin to warm, I realize that I miss the good natured banter of the jobsite, that has persisted through the ages. And most of all, I miss working alongside carpenters doing heavy work. I can think of nothing more rewarding.
To learn more about Traditional Carpentry in Europe visit Charpentiers d’Europe dt d’ailleurs.
To download a very good, free booklet on historic timber framing in the United States, go to www.ncptt.nps.gov/wp-content/uploads/2004-08.pdf
If you think you’re a good carpenter, visit Chris Hall’s blog. But be warned. Chris’ blog is serious stuff, for serious carpenters.
So I set out to make a dovetail joint immediately to see what the challenge was and how difficult it would be. The first decision was whether to make the tails first or make the pins first. Half the people I talked to said one thing and half said the other. I really don't think it matters, and after all these years, I just do what I feel like at the time. As for the transfer of the lines, that is a question of technique and tool, which one works better for you. The best argument I have for cutting tails first is that it is easier to adjust the pins last since they are end grain.
I remember Frank Klaus on his video talking about the first time he made a drawer, and his father took it and threw it into the corner. When I completed my first "drawer" test with full dovetails and half blind dovetails, I threw it into the corner. Since I have never moved the shop in 40 years, it still sits in the corner, reminding me of my start. Here is a photo of that effort.
|First Dovetail 1969|
Next week I will be on a national television show, which the non disclosure contract I signed prevents me from naming. It is a new "reality" show on a network which is just entering the reality show genre for the first time. The show is about determining if something is real or fake.
I was asked to analyze a Civil War table and determine if it belonged to Lincoln or not. Before I went to the taping, I searched out the patent copy for the Knapp dovetail, since that distinctive dovetail was typical of the post Civil War furniture. You see, the Industrial Revolution transformed all aspects of furniture making during the mid 19th century, and creating a machine to make a dovetail was the last task that was resolved, first by Mr. Knapp, and soon after by many others. The first patent by Knapp was 1867, but the 1871 patent was the one which made him famous, and his invention was quickly adopted by factories and used on most furniture for a decade after that. I'm sure you have seen it. It is a half round shape with a pin in the center.
The instant I pulled out the drawer and pointed out the distinctive dovetail, I concluded that Mr. Lincoln did not live long enough to ever lay eyes on this table. The director stopped me and said that, since the show was an hour long, I would have to find some way to delay my conclusion and focus on other aspects of the table. That's called "leading the witness."
|Layout Is Important|
Today I started framing the carcase for my fifth tall case clock, with the period works by Daniel Lecount. I mentioned these works some time back on this blog, and now have the time to build the case. I am duplicating a case which I found online that is by Lecount, and it is like the other marquetry clocks I have built in the past.
|Small Marks Prevent Problems|
Building a tall case clock starts with the back board. That is the spine which all the other parts are attached to and it is the best place to start. Tall case clocks are rather easy to build. You have a box on the bottom, a box with a door in the middle, and a box on top which covers the works. All the rest is just surface decoration.
|Note The Mitre Edge|
Today I made the bottom box. I am using white oak for this clock. In the past I used beech, pine, tulip poplar or white oak. I do not use red oak. Just don't like it. White oak is nice, but the French oak is even better, if you can get it. I am using American white oak, since I have some left over from a recent job making a desk.
|Pins And Tails Properly Cut|
The box on the base of the clock has horizontal grain. If you use vertical grain there is a good chance it will eventually crack and spoil the marquetry. With horizontal grain, the clock just becomes slightly shorter as it ages. Less chance of cracking, in my opinion.
|Nothing To See Here|
This also allows the use of full blind dovetails in the corners of the box. Full blind dovetails are perfect for making something which is veneered. They are structural, but do not telegraph through the surface veneers as the wood moves. The corners are nicely mitred and make a clean surface for the veneer. I use thick sawn veneers which are 1.5mm thick, but even at that thickness I have seen antique furniture where the dovetail pins show under the veneer as the wood ages.
Making full blind dovetails is a neat and rewarding job. It requires careful measurements, clean cutting with sharp chisels, and good sawing technique. Actually, I find it doesn't take much longer than a regular half blind dovetail, once you do it a few times.
The really cool thing about it is that, once it is done, it is never seen again. Only the maker knows about it and there is no reason to show it off or point to it with pride. It is the perfect zen joint. It takes skill, knowledge and confidence to accomplish, and then disappears forever.
Talk about the "mysteries of the trade!"
I had to sharpen the blades of course. There was quite some pitting in the tonguing plane so I had to grind a couple of mm from the edge. Luckily there is still plenty of life left in this iron. It seems these planes didn't see a ton of use. Both bodies are still in perfect shape with just the usual nicks and dents.
The plane making the tongue. Funny to see is the double shaving emitting from the plane.
And the grooving plane.
And this is the very nice planemakers mark. It's not very clear in the picture, but it is a fugure of a man, probably a saint, above the letters ADH.
In use these plane are very easy. Because of the narrow blades they cut quickly. You just push on, back and forth until the plane bottoms out. That gives you perfectly matched tongue and groove panels.
So I am pretty pleased with this new addition to my collection!