Favorite Tools of the Day (for Spindle Turning)

I recently spent a day turning small-ish spindles for a project now on the home stretch.  The overall length of the spindles was roughly 12″ with a maximum diameter of ~3/4″ and a minimum of ~1/2″.    This was one of those times I really appreciated the four-jaw chuck I bought many moons ago as I could easily switch from square stock to round stock in a matter of moments.

Given the delicacy of the spindles, and despite the fact that I was using some excellent old-stock true mahogany, I could not hog off the material and needed to be fairly conscientious about the detailing which included several beads that were just a smidge shy of 1/8″.  I had previously tried many turning chisel combinations for the effect without easy success, and even ordered a so-called 1/8″ beader made by Sorby.  Though a fine tool, apparently one of us does not know how to measure 1/8″ so I just hung it back up on the rack hoping to someday have a project where I need to turn some fat 5/32″ beads.

For a brief moment I thought about re-making the tool into something more useful for this project, but instead I cast my eyes on the worthless parting tool (is that redundant?) in the rack.  I do not find the spear-point parting tools to be at all useful, and certainly not this dog, so I instead I decided to turn it into the beader that I needed.  So I did, with my Dremel and slipstones and a half hour.  It now works exquisitely.  I tried it out on a practice piece and was very pleased.  You can see how Ihad aready turned some of the beads into chum by other methods.

For other detail work on these spindles I took a few surplus plow plane irons and ground and honed them into shapes that fitted my needs perfectly (including a parting tool that is worth the title).  I have some additional plans for more unused plow plane irons and will document that at the time.

One final old favorite that became a treasure was the pile of tongue depressor sanding sticks I made some time ago.  These are great for providing delicate shaping (using the 60-grit side) and a fine surface with the 180 grit side, keeping my fingers out of harm’s way the entire time.

@Handworks 2017 – Roubo Print 249

Given the presence of this print in Chris Schwarz’ book Campaign Furniture this might be one of the more attention-getting offerings from my inventory during the upcoming Handworks 2017 IN LESS THAN A MONTH! we have Print 249 from the First Edition of  L’art du Menuisier, “Plan and Elevations of a Campaign Bed with Its Developments.”

The intricacy of this print speaks for itself.  The page is in excellent, near pristine condition.  As an added charming feature the plate and the page were not perfectly aligned so the hand-printed image is ever so slightly askew compared to the page margins.

The Plate was drawn and engraved by Roubo himself.

If you have ever wanted to own a genuine piece of Rouboiana, this is your chance.   I will be selling this print at Handworks on a first-come basis, with terms being cash, check, or Paypal if you have a smart phone and can do that at the time of the transaction.


Spring Ritual – Hydro System Tune-up

With the passing of winter (fingers crossed) and the hydroelectric system de-mothballed, I undertook my annual ritual of tuning up both ends of the penstock, or pipeline that carries the water from the small dam at the top to the turbine at the bottom.

My first big upgrade a few years ago was to swap out the original four large capacity Tractor-trailer deep cycle batteries for four ultra-mega high performance deep cycle batteries for storing the generated electricity.  Each of the new batteries has the capacity of the entire previous battery bank, so with this step I increased my power storage 16-fold.  BTW each of the new batteries weighs 192 pounds, and these are the largest capacity 12v batteries available in the US.

A couple years ago I swapped out the rock-and-concrete catching dam at the edge of the property for a rock-and-sandbag one three hundred feet closer.  I did this to save myself the intense maintenance involved in that last hundred yards of run which provided only another ten feet of drop.  It just was not worth the added effort, being more than 25% of the penstock maintenance for a return of about 8% in the power output.  Besides, the new site was perhaps the nicest narrowing of the creek with a huge rock on one bank and a great source of stacking rocks for the other.

Once again this year my debris filter needed replacing, something I will just have to plan in doing every other Spring unless I can find some stainless steel 1/4″ hardware cloth.

It only takes me four or five minutes to make a new one, and it swaps out with the older one in about fifteen seconds.  I spend way more time walking up to the site and anything else.

On the bottom end of the penstock I also refined some revisions I’d made in previous years.  The turbine came with three graduated fixed nozzles when I bought it, 1/4″, 5/16″, and 3/8″, to provide for a nearly infinite variability in the system flow control.  This required pipe fittings leading the three high-pressure hoses going to each of the nozzles, and the Y-pipe fittings were a maintenance headache.  Previously I’d cut the options down to two nozzles and their fittings, but I realized that the only one I really needed was the largest one and reconfigured the routing again.

Now it’s just a straight shot leading to a single hose and nozzle.

The output of the hydro system is running about 10-12 kwh per day, which is way more than I need for most any day.  Even running a planer for three hours or the wax cookers all day is no problem, especially on a sunny day when the solar panels kick in another 8-10 kwh.

My next system projects are to build a heavy-mass turbine housing to dampen the whine of the turbine, which interferes with the gurgling of the stream, and build a new powerhouse for all the electronics inherent in the system..

Goin’ Hollywood

Last month I was visited by Joshua Farnsworth, Ray Pine, and George Lott, for a wonderful day of fellowship, filming, and yakking about woodworking and rural living.

Joshua shot a bunch of video to be edited and compiled and the first one was posted last night.  You can find it here.  Clearly I have a face for radio and a voice for writing.

@Handworks 2017 – Roubo Print 248

Finally we are getting to some of my prints wherein Roubo actually illustrates furniture rather than arcane geometric exercises (I can only speculate from the abundance of the latter in L’art du Menuisier that Roubo had not yet discovered girls).  Here is Print #248, “Illustrations of a Turkish-style Bed and its Developments.”

The artistry, rather than the mere technical mastery, of Roubo as both a draftsman and engraver are on display here as he shows the composition and design aesthetics required for creating “D’un Lit a la Turque.”  Frankly I am uncertain of what makes this a Turkish Bed, as opposed to the Polish Bed, the English Bed, the Martian Bed, etc., he presents in adjacent sections of the book.  Regardless, it is a lovely illustration and the page is in excellent condition, in fact I would say that there may be several in my inventory in as good a condition, but none better.

If you have ever wanted to own a genuine piece of Rouboiana, this is your chance.   I will be selling this print at Handworks on a first-come basis, with terms being cash, check, or Paypal if you have a smart phone and can do that at the time of the transaction.


Workbench 1,2,3 – Day 3a

This was a short work session as it totaled only a couple of hours removing all the clamping screws from the half slabs and legs, running them through the planer, and clamping the slabs up (using standard bar clamps for this step).

The last half-day will be sawing the dovetailed tenons and removing the excess tenon-like protuberance from the bottom of the legs, truing the tops and trimming the ends, and driving home the legs in the double mortises.





@Handworks 2017-Roubo Print 245

Up next in our Magical Menuisiery Tour is Plate 245, “The Way to Draw Extended Curves Used on Bed Canopies.”   Like all of the geometery exercises in L’art du Menuisier this plate was drawn and engraved by Roubo himself.

The print is in very good condition due to some spot staining (not really disfiguring but present).  The edges of the page have the oxidation fully in keeping with a print that was pulled and bound in 1774.

If you have ever wanted to own a genuine piece of Rouboiana, this is your chance.   And if you have any plans to build a royal bed with an oval canopy with lace draperies and bed linens, you are in luck!  I will be selling this print at Handworks on a first-come basis, with terms being cash, check, or Paypal if you have a smart phone and can do that at the time of the transaction.


Update on 2017 Courses al The Barn


May 23-27 Making a Ripple Molding Cutter – this is less of a workshop than a week long gathering of fellow galoots trying to design and build a machine to allow us to recreate ripple and wave moldings.  Material and supplies costs divvied up, no tuition.

This event is pretty much full.


June 16-18  Make a Nested Set of Brass Roubo Squares – This is a weekend of metal working, as we fabricate a full set of nested brass squares with ogee tips, as illustrated in Plate 308 of l’art du Menuisier.  The emphasis will be entirely on metal fabrication and finishing, including silver soldering with jeweler Lydia Fast, and creating a soldering station for the workbench. Tuition $375, materials cost $50.

I still have one space left.


July 24-28  Minimalist Woodworking with Vic Tesolin

This class has been cancelled.  Vic and I are hoping to reschedule it for next summer.



August 11-13  Historic Finishing – My own long-time favorite, we will spend three days reflecting on, and enacting, my “Six Rules For Perfect Finishing” in the historic tradition of spirit and wax coatings.  Each participant should bring a small finishing project with them, and will accompany that project with creating numerous sample boards to keep in your personal collections.  Tuition $375.

This class has one opening remaining.


September 4-8  Build An Heirloom Workbench – I’m repeating the popular and successful week-long event from last year, wherein the participants will fashion a Roubo-style workbench from laminated southern yellow pine.  Every participant will leave at the end with a completed bench, ready to be put to work as soon as you get home and find three friends to help you move it into the shop.  Tuition and Materials $825 total.

This workshop has two openings remaining.


If any of these interest you drop me a line here.

Workbench 1, 2, 3 – Day 2

One guy, two workbenches, in three days.

Note: Obviously these are not perfectly literal days, as my time was scattered among many competing needs during this period; other work around the homestead, getting ready for gardening season, other projects in the studio.  In reality this took small pieces of seven days, but I’d estimate that if I was doing nothing else it would take me three short days of work to accomplish.

On the second day I undertook the gluing up of the bench top slabs and legs, such that each slab was half of the final bench top so that I could feed these through the power planer prior to gluing the two half-slabs together.

The only notable aspect of this process was my “clamping” mechanism, the theory of which took me back to the pattern shop lo those many decades ago.

But let’s start with the glue and the spreading thereof.  My jug o’ PVA had been laying on it’s side, unmoved, since the workbench build last summer.  The combination of time, lack of motion, and its residence at the far end (and hence colder) of the studio transformed it into a sickly yellow pudding.  I got some out of the jug and examined it, assuring myself the change was purely physical and not chemical.  The oligomers were not fusing into polymers so the almost-gallon of glue was salvageable.

I cut open the jug and plopped the contents into a wide-mouth PET jar and turned loose my hand drill holding the paint stirrer on it after adding a smidge of water.   Soon enough the stiff pudding turned into a sludge consistency which was good enough for my needs at the moment.

Harkening back to one of my favorite past times of watching youtube videos of Japanese craftsmen I decided to try their method of using a spatula for glue application rather than our more typical brush or roller.  I did not want to spend any time making a special, probably disposable, spatula for this endeavor so I looked around to see what I could find to suit the bill.  Sure enough, the near-perfect tool was sitting right there on the shelf along with its siblings.  A package of very nice carpentry shims was just the trick.

The tip was tapered and thin, making it flexible and well-suited for applying the glue, breaking up any remaining globs during the spread-out.  This spatula came in handy in another couple of minutes as well during the “removing excess glue” portion of the operation.

I glued up the first iteration of the assembly with clamps.  I discovered immediately that this approach, while manageable with two pair of hands, is unwieldy and aggravating with only one pair of hands.  Since I generally view complex gluing as an operation whereby going slow is the best way to go fast, I broke it down into component sub-operations amenable to my being only one person most of the time.   Occasionally I am more than one person, but that is primarily for conversational purposes late in the day after working alone for several hours on mundane tasks.  Even then this circumstance does not provide any additional help to the tasks before me.

In the pattern shop almost everything we fabricated was “un-clampable.”  Our two go-to methods were rub joints followed by a lengthy time of leaving the workpiece alone, and gluing-and-nailing, followed the next day by the removal of the nails with a nail puller.  Here I employed a variation of that theme.

Instead of glue-and-nails I used glue-and-decking-screws with fender washers to maximize the clamping power of the screws and keep the screw heads from burying into the wood.  With 4″ screws I could assemble four laminae at once — screwing from both sides — which suited me just fine.  I did that four times as they were the inner core for the four half-slabs.  I used a C-clamp for aligning the edges of the laminae.

Once each screw-up was completed I removed the glue squeeze out, again using the shim/spatula to scrape it off.  I found that I could then reclaim about 3/4 of the excess glue, making the wipe-up easy and fast.

While those four assemblies were set aside I moved on to the outer three laminae for each half-slab, the mortise joinery for the double-tenoned legs yet to come.  I layed out the locations and spacing of the mortises, then cut the adjacent pieces to fit.  I screwed these in place one piece at a time, working my way through the four half-slab assemblies in turn.  By the time I got done and moved back to the first one for the next layer, the previous screw/clamping had set enough that I cold proceed.

I let them sit overnight for the next steps.

Thus something that could have been a hurried nuisance became a much more controlled and congenial success.

Sawing Brass on the Tablesaw

I am clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer, as a belated lesson today confirmed.  I have long used the table saw to make bigger pieces of brass and aluminum into smaller pieces for specific projects.

I needed to make some small square pieces of brass from the bar stock inventory I keep on hand.  In years past, and I mean many years, I would shroud myself in all kinds of protective gear from the waist up to diminish the discomfort of being blasted with tiny needle-like chips of metal being hurled my way at high speed.  Heavy apron, work jacket, leather gloves, full face mask, the whole works.

Suddenly in a flash of inspiration I arrived at the same point probably all of you discovered eons ago.

How about sawing the brass using a completely different set-up, with a sacrificial scrap on top of the work piece, and the saw blade teeth raised enough to cut the brass on the table but not so much as to cut through the waste scrap?

I gave it a try.  Perfect.  No shrapnel.  Zero.

That sound you heard around 4 o’clock was me smacking my forehead and berating myself in most graphic  terms for being so obtuse all these years.

Of course part of the blame was y’all’s since none of you told me this before.