Vintage Veneer Saw @MJD

If I did not already own one I would be interested in bidding on this 4-foot (!) veneer saw at the upcoming May tool auction at Live Free or Die Tools.  If you have  case of the Roubos coming on, this might be the medication.

Live Free or Die Auction Preview (

Lot SC21-411

Workbench Wednesday – SAD


One of my quirks is that I usually like to lay a piece of sacrificial sheeting on top of my workbench most of the time, and today was my day to swap out the old one for a new one on the FORP Roubo bench.  As I was making the swap I noted that it was also time to address one of the two main manifestations of Seasonal Affected Disorder that afflicts (?) wood in the natural course of events, sometimes called hysteresis, sometimes called rheological cycling, but generally known to us folks at the workbench as “wood expands, wood contracts.”  One of the consequences is that when there are pieces of wood assembled with different grain orientations eventually they get out of sync dimensionally.  In a Roubo workbench this become manifest as the tops of the leg tenons eventually protruding past the top of the slab.

As I was fitting new pieces of luan plywood to lay on the bench top I noticed that the tenons were quite proud of the slab, perhaps 1/16″.  I only assembled the bench a couple years go and did not notice the issue when I laid the initial sacrificial covering at the time, but it was there now.

You might have thought that since the bench was initially fabricated eight years ago it should be fully settled into its new environment.  Maybe, maybe not.  If the old adage that wood seasons at the rate of “one year for every inch of thickness” is true then the answer would be “yes.”  Since I moved to the hinterlands and talked to some of the local wood guys I have come to appreciate their view of seasoning woods, especially dense hardwoods.  To them “one year per inch” does not hold true; instead they use a formula of “one year for the first inch, two additional years for the second inch, three additional years for the third inch,” and so on.  By that metric my five-inch-thick bench top will pretty active for 1 year + 2 years + 3 years +4 years + 5 years, for a total of 15 years.

I dealt with the tenon ends directly in about an hour this morning, and will address the slight crown of the overall bench perhaps at the end of summer.

It might be worth reiterating that once I get a slab bench top flat I prefer to hit it with a toothing plane to give it a little texture.  I lose none of the planarity but gain a lot of grip on the workpiece.


Firewood Ladle, Part 2

My original strategy for sculpting a lovely kitchen accessory for Mrs. Barn’s Christmas was to gently work both the inside and outside of the workpiece until something beautiful and functional could be obtained.

As I mentioned earlier I knew right away that cheating via drilled excavation was the way to proceed with the inside of the bowl.  The nature of the piece’s morphology would constrain me to slow and gentle work, no wailing away on this one.  Still my plan was to carve and excavate, drill a little, then carve and excavate some more until it was finished.  3-4 mornings max, no problem.


As I got deeper into the bowl of the spoon/ladle I encountered my worst “working burl” nightmare.  The cherry burl was crumbly, as burls sometimes are, and caution and a turtle-like pace was called for.  But even caution and a slow pace was not adequate for this piece of wood.  It needed enhancement.

So, my routine for the next several dozen hours of working on the carving, spread over a dozen weeks, was to soak the entire bowl end of the workpiece with epoxy, allowing it three days to set fully, then carving until I hit crumbles again.

I did not use straight, full strength epoxy — that would have been a catastrophic failure on so many fronts — but rather my old faithful West System, diluted roughly by 1/3 with acetone to allow for greatest penetration when I slathered it on until the surface was fully wet.  Even so the effective saturation was only so deep.

With this protocol, slowly but surely the piece began to take shape.  My dream of getting this done by Halloween and moving on to other things was not dead but it did require some creative scheduling.  I did this for  little time, then I did that, then the other thing.  Actually if fit rather nicely into my ADHD.

A Pre-Studley(?) Studleyesque Mallet?

One of my great disappointments in the aftermath of publishing Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley (an appropriate gift for nearly any human on any occasion) was the paucity of additional information to come my way.  I figured there would be a flood of new information but there has been nothing new directly related to Studley.  Perhaps I should concentrate on the “glass half full” mindset and congratulate myself for being a competent researcher working with other competent researchers, resulting in a book with all the information available on the subject.

There are those bright moments, though, such as the recent contact from reader DougM:

Hi Don,

 I have an very old English cast iron joiners mallet that Studley probably got his inspiration from. Same exact style, but English oak handle and cast iron head. Didn’t know if you had seen one before?    Doug

In response I asked for some photos and there are exciting.

When he sent the images Doug included the following note:

Came from England (Ebay.UK). Handle polished smooth by years of use. Originally black iron head, I polished. VERY top heavy, not for swinging/beating. Using by choking up or cupping head in hand, tapping more natural. Masking tape to tighten loose joints.


Ebay seller was from east coast of England. It was slightly rough cast and pitted, not a fine finished casting. Edges were chipped and the wooden insert was well used. The handle is how I would date it, it’s old English oak and worn/polished smooth from use. Looks like 1870-1890’s.   Owners name still stamped and legible,  F. Stubbs.

Thanks Doug!

You Can See Me For Miles And Miles…

One of the items I received during our recent long-delayed Christmas celebration was a new fluorescent hoodie, a common outer garment for me in the autumn and winter.  I do not want some wayward city slicker hunter to mistake me for a bear, so my attire is something that can be seen for miles and miles and miles and miles.

I’m guessing this will do the trick.

In addition to this hoodie I got an extended-neck butane lighter, only partly for lighting the wood/coal stove in the barn basement.  My daughter was emphatic that the other purpose was to burn my “disgusting” ancient previous hoodie, which in truth was no longer really orange.  Despite being washed regularly the build up of grime, glue, varnish, caulk, spray insulation, and other ingredients left it probably closer to camo than fluorescent.

Another Batch of Mel’s Wax

After not making any Mel’s Wax for nearly a year I finally ran out and needed to make another batch.  It is an enjoyable process for me, requiring careful lab protocol weighing, heating, melting, mixing and decanting.  The laser thermometer is a godsend.

It’s been an interesting phenomenon watching the product go nowhere.  I had thought that making and distributing Mel’s Wax would be a major component of my retirement activity but that has not materialized, and at this point I am not sure what to do (if anything) about it.  Apparently I do not know how to market a cutting edge product to the people who need it.  Last year en toto I sold 14 units, so even if sales double this year this latest batch should get me through 2021.  Oddly enough I have had half as many orders for Mel’s Wax in the past fortnight than in all of 2020.

Perhaps this year will be the one where I can answer Mrs. Barn’s question, “So when are you going to act like you are retired?”  I will soon be 66 and perhaps ease off the gas just a little bit.

2020: “Top that!”

2021:  “Oh yeah? Hold my beer.”

On the other hand my mom was almost 104 and fully lucid when she died, so I expect a lot more good years of woodworking, writing, metalworking, fuming about the collapse of Western Civilization, chopping firewood…


Carving A Ladle From Firewood

Last summer while on her way to a walk in the woods, Mrs. Barn dropped by to check my progress on processing the coming winter’s firewood.  She noticed that I had set aside a couple of burls while continuing with splitting tons of hardwood bolts.

“Oh,” she said, “that would make a lovely spoon,” pointing to a piece I had already identified as a candidate for just that purpose.  We spoke no more of it and she headed into the woods.

For almost three months beginning in early September I hacked away at the chunk of burl.  Eventually it was finished, just in time for Christmas.

To this point I had never carved a spoon, I am behind the curve on that one as apparently every other woodworker in the universe has done so already, so I was looking forward to the project.  Of course I was embarking on some of the most nettlesome woodworking I had ever tried.

My first step, not knowing if it was the right one because I did not attend the University of Youtube course on spoon carving until I was almost done, was to remove all the parts of the piece that did not look like a spoon, using saws, shaves, and rasps.  Actually I did not design the implement, it pretty much designed itself.

Once that was done I started working the piece very gently as the burled wood was not tight.  At all.  Using spoon cutting knives or even carving gouges was not getting me anywhere as this was burled cherry, and was a combination of hard and crumbly.  Not optimal.

I decided to cheat (?) and drill out a lot of the inside mass for the utensil to give me some entree’ for moving on.

It was only then that I encountered fully the feature that would plague me for the next several weeks while sculpting the ladle.

Working The Infill Mallet Head Shell Casting

I’ve been working on the first set of Studleyesque infill mallet head shell castings from Bill Martley, getting an idea about how to get these from rough castings to finished tools comparable to the mallet ol’ Henry had.  That is, of course, my favorite tool in the tool cabinet.  Even though these castings are not the alloy I want to end with, this gunmetal bronze is simply a little too red for my needs, getting these prototypes to “finished” is a critical step in the creating mallets for sale.

I need to learn how, and how long, it will take for me to get from rough casting >>>> ready-to-sell, since that will determine the price for a finished item.  I can pretty much promise it will not be competitive with Harbor Freight mallets, or even Crucible Tools.  The$e mallet$ would be $everal multiple$ more pricey.  And, if there is zero market for them, well, I will have quite an inventory of expensive gifts.

One of the most important aspects of the process is getting the cove detail just right on the handle collars and around the faces.  Since I have a collection of chainsaw files of varying sizes I was able to find just the right tool for that task.  I just lay the round chisel in the groove of the cove and gently move it along the groove, making sure to not rock the tool in use.  That way I can get a clean, crisp surface.

The next step will be to establish the surface texture.  Stay tuned.

Finally Christmas!

After numerous interruptions including funereal travels, imposition of the psychotic branch covidian quarantines, and multiple competing schedules, we finally had our family Christmas celebration this past Saturday.  A blessed time was had by all, but I am additionally pleased because I had a pile of blog posts waiting in the bullpen until the gifts could be opened.  They are now in the queue.


Innies and Outies (Cannel, That Is)


During my annual post-New Year’s tool tune up I am finally addressing a topic and a number of edge tools whose bevels are on the wrong side for my particular needs.  In the parlance of tool making, the question is often, “Is the bevel (cannel) on the inside of the curved edge or on the outside?”  The discussion even extends to edge tools that are not curved, such as plane irons being “bevel up” or “bevel down” or holding chisels while choppings joints.

Same question, different context.

One of my favorite features of the interchangeable-component pattern-makers’ gouges is that the number of in-cannel and out-cannel edges is roughly equivalent.  That is because the pattern-makers’ gouges are sculpting tools, not design-inducing tools.  The latter is the case when using the profiles and sweeps of carving gouges to lay out the line and profile for most incised or raised detailing, such as foliage or something similar on the knee or leg of a rococo leg.  In this instance the inner curve, determined by the size and sweep, combined with the out-cannel provide the replicatable incising lines to establish the outlines of design elements.  The complete composition is established by holding the edge of the gouge(s) against the work piece and striking it with a mallet, working around the perimeter until it is complete.

NB-Pattern-makers’ gouges of the type illustrated above are not to be struck with a mallet, they are to be pushed, essentially free-hand.

I’ve got two candidates at the front of the line that reflect my desire to reconfigure the bevel/cannel from one edge to the opposite edge.  The first is a carver’s v-gouge and the other a hand-forged petite sculptor’s (?) adz.  In both instances I needed/wanted to move the cannel from the outside to the inside.  I’ll deal with each tool separately in the blog, beginning with the adz.

Stay tuned.