Always On The Lookout #2

Recently while en route to the SAPFM Tidewater Chapter meeting I stopped into a Michael’s store in search of one ingredient I wanted for my demonstration.   They did not have what I wanted but as is my habit I took a stroll through the art supplies to see what might be on sale.  My mouth probably fell open as I saw a deep discount on all their inventory of Robert Simmons Sapphire brushes, the sable/nylon blend bristles that for me are the standard by which all others were measured.

They did not have any 1″ brushes, but I bought all the 3/4″ flat wash and filbert mops they had.  In doing so I added another half-dozen to my inventory (since I do so much teaching of finishing, I can never have enough good brushes), saving myself a ton of money.  If I recall correctly these brushes are listed at about $70 apiece at retail, and I got these for about $10-12 each.

I do not know if this is a discount at Michael’s nationwide or if this was restricted to the one store I was at, but it would be worth your checking it out.

UPDATE:  I’ve been to several Michael’s stores and found each of them to have the same discounted offer.  They didn’t all have any inventory, but they all had the same discount.

Desk Veneering – Legs

With the writing box and drawer addressed and set aside it was time to move on to the fanciest work awaiting me.  The veneering of the “legs” of the desk provided the showiest detailing for the entire project, and frankly consumed the most time and energy.  Since I hope to continue building copies of this desk into the future it was worth spending the time to really get the process nailed.  I got pretty close with this one after a considerable amount of prototyping.

As a recap, all of the materials for this project, including the veneers, were hand sawn and prepped.  The highly figured veneers for the faces of the legs came from several crotch mahogany slabs I had obtained several years ago.  In the meantime they had warped enough to make sawing them a challenge, and the exuberance of the grain made planing and prepping them a hassle.  In the end I decided to leave the veneers ultra-thick and thin them once they were attached to the substrate.

As with all decorative pattern veneerwork the layout was the crucial thing.  And, since the patterning for this project was almost exclusively circles and arcs my tool of choice would be based on a compass/divider, or in this particular case, a trammel set.  Given the thickness of the veneers being cut for the pattern a stout cutting edge of the end of the trammel was called for.  I first tried a utility/scalpel blade but it was not beefy enough.  Ditto my LNT Latta cutter.  After a fair bit of trial-and-error I settled on one of my striking knives and concocted a way to mount it to a trammel bar.  This tool served to provide 99% of the work moving forward.

I mortised the trammel beam through the vertical block that would hold the striking knife/dovetail chisel and excavated the block such that the knife fit snugly, and attached it with hose clamps.  Worked like a charm.

My first task was to true the outlines of the arcs on the legs.   With my layout lines firmly established I taped a 1/8″ plywood square over the center point a struck the arc.  This was a technique I used throughout the process.

I then cut the individual veneer elements themselves (sorry for the dearth on pictures, I was too busy working to take more).  These were glued in place with hot animal hide glue.

Starting first with the central crotch veneer elements then wrapping up with the outer straight grain pieces cut to fit, the composition was completed.  I have no idea why I left this camera in the center of the image.


This post does not fully convey the time consumed in this aspect for both the testing and execution, but it was many days worth of work (almost two months if the camera codes are to be believed) to get it to where I was not unhappy with the end result.  After the veneers were all cut, applied, and trimmed, the full surface was toothed and scraped to a uniform thickness of approx. 1/16″. .

PS  I have no idea why the final picture is rotated.  It stubbornly resisted my efforts to present it otherwise.

Stripping Spindles Efficiently

One of the exercises I incorporate into the syllabus for the Historic Finishing workshop is finishing a baluster spindle or two, to get the feel for brushing finish onto an undulating surface.  Rather than spend a lot of time finding new ones for student use I just got a trash can full of them and recycle them as necessary.  I found a very efficient way to strip them in preparing for the next round of use, a solution that I think would work for anyone who has a similar task.

I had our local welding shop to fabricate two vertical stripping tanks (for about $80), comprised of a piece of steel pipe welded to a steel plate base.  One of my standing tanks uses a 2″ pipe, the other 2-1/2″.  This allows me to use (and lose) a minimal amount of whatever solvent I am using, whether paint remover for the initial treatment of painted spindles or denatured alcohol for recycling the shellacked ones.

The system works like a charm, I just put the spindle in the pipe and fill it with solvent, then place a piece of metal plate on top to hold the spindle down and cap the cylinder, and in a few minutes I extract the stripped spindle, allow excess solvent to drip off, and wipe it down with paper towels  It literally takes only 15-30 seconds of my time to get one done.  Over a few days’ of doing this I lose only about a half-pint of solvent to evaporation, and whatever additional solvent is absorbed into the film.

Writing Desk Veneer Prep

Both the writing box and the legs for the desk are fully veneered on their faces, and in a most prominent manner.  In keeping with the client’s request to make the complete piece from technology appropriate to the 18-teens I sawed and prepared all the veneers by hand.

For the writing box I used a superb piece of Cuban mahogany I had been saving for nearly 40 years.  I did  not know back then what I was saving it for, but I knew it would be something special.  The board was just the right length and width to allow me to wrap the entire box’s full sides and back en toto and continuously, I made the back and the drawer front match which turned out nicely.

Using a variety of saws, my pal Tom and I sliced off two full leaves of veneer, about a shy 1/8″ thickness.  We were not excessively experienced at the task and chose to err on the side of safely rather than efficiency.  The density of the mahogany made it a real workout, but the results were definitely worth it.  Sawn veneer is such a delight to work with; I have a sizable stash of sliced veneer and to tell you the truth I use it more in gluing up small pieces of plywood than anything else.  Well, that and making sample boards for students to use in finishing classes.

With the thick sawn veneer I can actually plane it by hand to prepare it for use.  I usually concentrated on the underside, that is the side that would be glued to the substrate, hitting it quickly with a succession of the scrub plane, a fore plane, and the toothing plane.

For the veneer on the legs, the central decorative fields were comprised of flame crotch mahogany.  I had purchased some big 3/4″ slabs of that but they had warped so severely that dealing with it was a challenge.  Even cutting them down considerably they were still a squirrely mess of end grain.  I wound up sawing these almost 1/4″ then planing them flat.  Now that was an exasperating adventure.

To work the pieces I made a special planing jig with thin stops on two edges,  I’d put the veneer on a piece of rubber matting, push it into the corner and set to work.

The scrub plane was too aggressive, so most of the work in flattening and thinning the stock was done with a vintage Stanley spoon bottom palm plane and some luthier’s planes, followed again by the toothing plane.


The results were pleasing albeit aggravating.

PATINA Toolfest Harvest

During my recent foray to the annual PATINA tool tailgate flea market, dealer sale and auction, I garnered a fair bit of treasure.  Some inexpensive, some not so much.  Here’s the inventory of the harvest.

My first purchase was completely off-shopping-list, but this fellow had two timber-sized Japanese saws for $10 apiece.  There was no moral argument for passing them up.  I will clean and tune them up, and hang them with the rest of my Japanese tools.

Next came this stash of 6-inch Starrett satin chrome machinists scales for $4/per.  I keep these both in the tool cabinet and my work apron, and scattered around the shop.

Having several work stations – barn, gardening shed, utility room in the cabin – it seems I can never have enough miscellaneous tools.  Tools like these wrenches and channel lock pliers abound at flea markets, and I got these for $4/per.

The best thing about tool flea market is that you can pick up derelict tools for very little, and can either rehab them or adapt them for another purpose without spending a fortune.  This pair of bow saw arms for a petite saw was $3, and I can fiddle with it when I have the need.

This trio of 1″ dado planes was had for less than $10 apiece.  Now, I have no particular need for 1″ dado planes, but I know of a tool that can be made from them.

And here is that tool, the small shooting plane that Patrick Edwards had at WW18thC.  It is especially suited for trimming parquetry pieces, and since that is an art form to which I am committed, the tool was a perfect compliment to my own set.  I was immediately enamored of the plane, and asking other tool aficionados led me to think this was a one-off user made tool, with the foundation being a radically modified 1″ dado plane.  Soon enough I will do the same thing.

One of the fellows from whom I bought one of the dado planes also had tubs of molding planes, and I bought a mismatched pair of #8 hollow-and-round planes to complete my set.  I think these were $15 for the pair.  They need a little attention, but I should have them ready to roar in an hour or so.

By the time I bought these planes the inside dealer sales were open a raring to take my money.

I think my first purchase was this spiral taper cutter for beer keg spigots, although I will use it for reaming the drilled mortises for staked benches and the like.  I have a small shaving horse with the legs broken off in the half log base, so this will come in handy very soon.  I think this was $22.

Next I found someone who had some new-old-stock files, and I bought a pair of 12″ Nicholson Black Diamond mill files, I think the pair was $10.  They do not go bad.

My final dealer purchase was this knurling cutter with two sets of wheels, so that I can make my own knurled thumb screws.  I am recalling this near-pristine set was $25.

I hung around for the afternoon auction as there was a power tool I wanted.  This box lot was full of miniature woodworking machines used by model train makers, and the tiny table saw caught my eye.  I will fit it with a 1/32″ slotting saw for cutting the grooves in the brass spine of back saws.

Certainly the most substantial purchase of the weekend was this slab of vintage mahogany, 8/4 x 24″ x 8-feet.  My friend JohnD brokered the deal for me to buy this at a fair price from a famous toolmeister’s widow, and if I cut it carefully it will provide the tops for eight more Webster Desk replicas.  Now all I need are the clients to pay for the desks.

Seriously, if you have any interest on tools you should connect up with fellow galoots and galootesses at places like EAIA, MWTA, PATINA, RATS, MJD, or the multitude of strictly local tool flea markets.


Excising Gobs of Mass, aka Fancyin’ Up the Roubo Bowsaw Prototype

With Roubo Joinery Bowsaw Prototype tested in battle and found wanting in the lightness department, it was time to think about ways to reduce the overall weight and bring that down to a point I was comfortable with.  As it was now, it was a massive beast that was simply too heavy to use as a one-handed saw for cutting tenons or dovetails.

I rounded all the edges substantially, but that was not enough weight reduction.

I sculpted the tops of the arms, it was pretty but insufficient.

I transformed the stout cross-bar into a diamond cross-section with tapered chamfers providing the transitions.  Nyet.

It wasn’t just a smidge heavy, it was a couple pounds too heavy.  Achieving any more mass reductions would have been quicker with a new starting point since I had obviously selected the wrong one here.  Since Bad Axe had sent me some new plates to my specs, that’s where I went next.  We’ll see if 3/4″ white oak stock is up to the task of restraining these plates, or if I need to address this frame again with acres of carving and other diminutions.  At the very least, with 3/4″ stock I would start with a 40% reduction in weight, so the idea was promising.

Stay tuned.

Roubo’s Panel Clamps

When asked how many clamps they have, any woodworker worth their salt usually has two connected answers “1) A lot, and 2) not enough.”  Given the expense of manufactured clamps in our age, consider the relative cost 250 years ago when everything was made by hand.  I would imagine forging a single functioning iron clamp was the better part of a day’s work.

In part for this reason, Roubo and his contemporaries devised inexpensive, high-performance and practical solutions to the problems of clamping, especially for clamping up panels.  I too have followed their lead, and despite having many bar and pipe clamps I find these to be a terrific addition to the workshop.  The engravings are petty self explanatory, straightforward enough that I could crank them out in minutes.

My base stock for these is scrap 2×4, with clear grain if possible.  Laying out a series of square holes, off-set from the center line (almost certainly overkill, but then I tend toward overbuilding everything), I punched the 1/2″ square holes through the 2×4 with my mortiser.

That done I just re-saw the 2×4 on the table saw, yielding two identical halves of one clamp bar set.

Add a group of squared pins to connect the clamp bars and some wedges to tighten on the panel being glued and you are pretty much done.  NB: Before using for actual gluing all the surfaces of all the components should be coated with wax or grease to prevent sticking once the glue dries.

In use I just place half of the bar pair on the bench at each end of the panel assembly and insert the cross pins into the square holes, followed by placing the gluing subjects in place.

The other halves of the clamping bars go on top and once everything is squared the wedges are driven in to squeeze things together.

Finito Mussolini.

PATINA Toolfest

Fortunately for all of us afflicted with terminal toolaholism we are not the first ones down this path of compulsion; we stand on the shoulders of giants who got there first and established well-oiled mechanisms to feed their “needs.”  EAIA, M-WTCA, MJD, Superior, all there to provide you with a focus for spending to satisfy the urge (if you sign up for the latter two they will deposit tool listing directly into your email in-box).

Another such group is the Potomac Antique Tools and Industries Association that meets monthly, and once a year holds its mondo crack-house flea market, dealer sales and auction event.  Since this often coincides with the Highland Maple Festival back home I can attend only occasionally.

This year was one such occasion, as our guests for that weekend of the Maple Festival canceled and I was free.  So off to Damascus MD I went with a little money and a shopping list.

The tool flea market in the parking lot begins around sunrise, or so I am told, I generally arrive about 7.30 and find the festivities well underway.

At 9.00 the inside dealer sale opens, and the morning is spent fondling, testing, purchasing, and yakking about tools.

I almost pulled the trigger on this one, but the quality/price point just wasn’t good enough.  But next time I will recount the great deals I did make.

Roubo Joinery Bowsaw Prototype – Frame

With the stirrup system finalized for anchoring the saw plate it was time to move on to the frame.  Armed with some extra-dense 5/4 white oak I dove in.   I wanted to make sure the frame was both simple in construction and beefy enough to withstand the stresses of tensioning such a robust plate.

The overall structure couldn’t be much simpler — two vertical arms connected by a crossbar that was inserted as an unpinned mortise-and-tenon into the arms.  Once I had the dimensions and proportions where I wanted them I used my mortiser to cut the pockets in the arms and sawed the tenons on the crossbar.


Then I moved on to the housings for the stirrups.  It was a simple matter of laying them out against the base of the arm, removing the material so that the stirrup fit neatly, then sawing a slot for the plate to go through.

With the arms and crossbar cut to length and fitted together, and the stirrup housing made, I sawed the curved shape of the arms on the bandsaw.

I assembled everything together just to make sure the parts all worked together before moving on.  I really was pleased with the manner in which it all fit together.  It seemed a little beefy, but I had not put it to work yet.  Besides, it is considerably easier to make elements smaller ex poste than to make them larger.  It made me recall on of my Dad’s favorite quips in the shop, “I just don’t understand this.  I’ve cut it twice and it is still too short.”

With rasps and spokeshaves I shaped the arms to be more congenial to being hand held.  Once it was far enough along to give it a test drive I assembled it completely and strung the top with multiple strands of linen cord for tensioning, found scrap stick (a practice spindle from the writing desk) to act as the windlass paddle, and it was ready for the race track.  I’d added a small vanity flourish at the top of the arm so I just knew it would saw like a banshee.  I cranked up the tension until the plate twanged like one of Stevie Ray’s guitar strings (before he broke it) and lit into a scrap of wood.


And it did saw like a banshee.  Made from concrete.  It was so heavy I actually grunted when picking it up to use the first time.  Somehow I had to hog off a gob of mass or otherwise it was a two-handed-only tool, and I wanted something that could be used with one hand.

Roubo Joinery Bowsaw Prototype – Plate Anchors

Before I got too deep into making the “bow” of the bowsaw I realized I needed to work out the details of how exactly the saw plate was to be anchored to the bow frame.  Given the robustness of the saw plate from Bad Axe and the illustrations and commentary from Roubo I knew this was not a casual thing.  The amount of tension required to make the saw plate perform well was considerable given the dimensions of the plate, so the anchors for the plate had to be able to withstand the force requisite for making it function well.  And, given the likelihood that any user of such a saw as this might well want to swap out the plate from one utility to another, taking advantage of varying plates that could be available.  So, the fitting of the plate to the frame needed to be not only exceedingly stout but also easily reversed or swapped-out.

The clue to the preferred manner of fixing the plate within the bow frame was pretty clearly described by Roubo in his commentary to Plate 12.  While the simplest method would be to simply drive a pin through the foot of the bow frame and the end of the plate, there was and is a better way.  And he tells us how to do it.

There is still another way to attach the blade in the saw, which is to use stirrups, which are pieces of sheet or flat iron that you fold into the form of a “t”, and that you attach to the two ends [of the blade into the stirrup] with a single nail the same way as above. These are then inserted into grooves in each of the arms, which you take care to fasten tight enough to hold them. This method is very good because the stirrups holding the arms from their back sides make full use of the arms’ strength, without which they might split, and you only use one nail to hold the blade at each end because if there were two it would prevent even blade tension, figures 11 & 12.

I took this information/description and started running with a couple of changes.  First, the folding of bar stock into the “T” was not possible with the material I had on hand, although it might be fine with lighter steel flat stock like 1/32″ or 1/16″.  I didn’t have that (nor did the local fabrication shop) and I was too impatient to wait for some to be shipped to me.  Second, the plates supplied by Bad Axe have two bolt holes, which I believe are necessary to house fittings strong enough to tension the plate.  Still, I really liked the concept of a “T” shaped stirrup to affix the plate in the frame.

So instead of folding thin flat stock for this purpose (although I am certainly likely to try it in the future with either thin soft steel flat stock or brass, although I like the solution I came up with for other reasons) I sawed some 1/8″ x 1″ x 1″ angle stock I had on hand.  I cut the length such that the body of the plate would be fully housed but the teeth were exposed and unfettered.

Then I cut off most of one side of the angle stock to reduce the arm of the stock from 1″ to 1/2″ so that when two pieces of the cut angle stock were placed together the configuration would be a “T”.  I used the finished plate itself to provide the layout holes into the stirrup “T” plates.  One half of each pair of the plates was drilled and tapped, the other was drilled and countersunk to fit machine bolts I had in my hardware stash.

Placing the two halves of the “T” stirrup over the pair of bolt holes in the plates, and screwing in the machine bolts, the task of mounting the plate to a stirrup was finished and it was time to move on to the bow frame (this picture is a bit out of sequence and was intended for another purpose but you get the idea).