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

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!

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.

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.

Indispensable Gragg Chair Tool #3

One of the more challenging aspects of building a Gragg chair is the need to chop 17 half-blind dovetails for the ends of the seat slats, eleven on the front seat rail and six on the rear seat rail.  Unlike cutting half-blind dovetails in drawers or casework, the workpiece cannot be oriented to be most easy for the workman; these dovetails have to be cut after the chair frame is already assembled due to the fact as I have state before, making a Gragg chair is more akin to composing a sculpture in three dimensions than any other furniture-making exercise I have encountered.  Because of this there is no opportunity to adjust the orientation of the workpiece to the tool and the maker, requiring some contorted tool work.

In my development of techniques for replicating Gragg’s work, reverse engineering as he left no account of his own processes, I found the need for a task-specific dovetailing chisel is requisite.  I’ve tried working with fishtailed gouges, skew chisels, and probably a host of other tools lost in the fog of memory, but have settled on making my own tool which has now been in use for the past several chairs with excellent results.  The key is to make the business end of the tool match precisely the pocket being excavated.

In general there are two primary approaches to the problem, one much more expensive that the other.  The expensiver option is to take a 1/2″ curved fishtail gouge and regrind the tip configuration to match the angles of the pocket being excavated.  This yields an excellent tool for the task.  (Unfortunately, I think this tool fell into a crevice behind the workbench in the video studio and cannot be reclaimed unless I remove the siding on the exterior barn wall, an option I am loathe to even contemplate).

In my case, and probably in yours too, the problem was solved inexpensively by recycling a no-account cheep bench chisel from my scrap tool box.  Yes, alas (?), I keep an inventory of scrap tools along with scrap metal along with scrap ivory along with scrap tortoiseshell along with scrap wood…  Sometimes I think all our shops should just be call “the scrap yard.”  Part of me understands my late father-in-law’s mindset (and my late father’s as well) that it is difficult to dispose of materials that do indeed have utility.  Anyway, I took this old cheap Stanley bench chisel, probably available for a quarter at any tool swap or flea market, and ground away all the material I did not need for the final configuration.  This was an exquisitely efficient expenditure of time as this one tool reduced my time for cutting the half-blind dovetails in, well, half.

Replica Studley Infill Mallet Castings

I was recently alerted to the ongoing project by foundryman Bill Martley to replicate the shell castings for the beloved mallet of Henry O. Studley.  Well, beloved to me at least.  Bill and I corresponded and I ordered the raw castings in his original alloy, a red-ish bronze.  You can tell the coloration difference between Bill’s castings and the brass shells I have worked on in the past.

The castings are quite nice and I am working through finishing them to make myself a mallet or six.  The amazing thing is that Bill got the pattern really close to the original, without even having access to the Studley book!  He said he was relying on pictures I posted on this blog.  I sent him a copy of the book as part of our transaction, so he can move forward with the definitive information in-hand.

Bill has been selling these rough castings through his Instagram page, mystic_pickers.  If you are interested in acquiring one of the rough castings from Bill you can contact him directly through the Instagram page.  If there are hiccups let me know and I will check with him to see if he wants me to post his contact information here.

Since the color of the alloy is wrong for me I have ordered two addition sets of castings from Bill with yellower alloys to see how they look and work.

At the same time I have been tinkering with my patterns for casting the mallet shells myself, just because.  (I am determined that 2021 will be a year of metal casting at The Barn with several projects in the pipeline)  Once I get the patterns to a point where I am satisfied I will cast them in both silicon bronze and brass in the barn.  Since I have the detailed information based on my many examinations and with the blessing of Mister Stewart I am confident that the end point will be successfully achieved.  (Let’s just keep it between ourselves, but my ultimate goal is to have finished “authorized” mallet replicas for sale at Handworks 2021.)

I’ll be recounting the project from my end as things proceed and I hope you will enjoy the ride.

Treasure in Atlanta

I was contacted by a long-time friend in Atlanta, who had a tool-collector friend who died recently.  He sent me these pictures of some of the tools for sale.

He told me yesterday that there is also a large quantity of vintage Honduras Mahogany lumber, some of which is oversized, and a quantity of veneers old and new.  My friend IS NOT a woodworker so he could not provide detailed information or assessment.  If you have any interest in pursuing this acquisition please drop me either an email or a Comment and I will pas your information along to my friend or get his permission for you to contact him.


Decades ago I discovered the benefits of keeping a stash of emory boards at-hand in the shop.  Bought at the local pharmacy I found these little tools to be a magnificent solution to any number ot abrading and shaping problems.  Unfortunately, like a great many products over the years these have become too cheezy to really be the workhorses they used to be.

So, as I have posted previously, I make my own.  One of my beginning-of-year habits is to make a new set of abrasive sticks, gluing sheets of sandpaper to tongue depressors with a spray adhesive and then cutting them apart into a pile of useful tools.  (I really don’t need any posts about my New Year’s regimen of sharpening routine edge tools, do I?)

This year I did something a little different and expanded the variety of sticks.  In addition to the typical pairing I’ve been using for a long time, a coarse side and a medium side of aluminum oxide abrasive, I added finer stearated silicon carbide papers into the mix.  These options created their own issues, as I found the adhesion to be not as robust as with the AlOx paper.  Using a small roller, made by and given to me many years ago by my pal MikeM, I found that pressing the edges worked well, plus I discovered the need to embed the sticks while the spray adhesive was still soaking wet.

I wound up making three different sets of abrasive sticks.  The specs for each was detrmined by the abrasive sheets I had on the shelf.

The first set was pretty similar to ones I’ve made  the past, this time with 60-grit and 100-grit sandpaper.  I think that the 60-grit side will be less useful than I originally thought, but that could be because the product itself is pretty cheap and the abrasive particles spall off with first contact to the substrate.  Next time I will aim for 80 and 120-grits.

Next up are the sticks using SiC papers, 150-grit and 220-grit papers.  I’ve not made this combination before and think it will be a very satisfactory one.

Finally I went utra fine, with 400-grit and 600-grit together.  We’ll see how useful these are in the coming days.

I’m now set up with this year’s inventory of abrasive sticks.  Well, we’ll see if this lasts my usual full year since there are now so many different options.



New Year’s Ritual

I believe that in some (many?) craft cultures it is a New Year’s tradition to bring all of the components of the tool kit up to snuff.  For the past several years, at least since relocating to Shangri-la, I have been dong some of the same thing and will spend this week so engaged.  Throughout the year I toss everything that needs major rehab into a box on the shelf awaiting the beginning of the year for attention.  Obviously this would not include anything truly critical to ongoing activities, that would be dealt with immediately by necessity.

This year there is an equal proportion of tools-to-be-made compared to tools needing a tune-up.  This includes a batch of infill mallet heads I sourced recently, another plow plane iron re-purposing, a new (to me) iron to be fitted into my infill smoother and a new wedge made for it, a new tool holder for my patternmakers’ gouges, and some tools being transformed from one thing into another like some gouges I bought for the explicit intent of turning them from out-cannel into in-cannel, etc.

And of course, this is a week that gives freedom to my “re-arrangeritis” impulses, not that I have much restraint in that area to start with..

It is going to be a very fun week in the shop.

Salvaging A Busted Sharpening Stone

Among my inventory of sharpening implements is an old 8000-grit ceramic water stone that I bought perhaps 35 years ago.  I recently dropped it on a concrete floor with the resulting carnage you might have predicted — it snapped in two.  Rather than toss it out I tried to salvage it and put it back to work.

Based on the character of ceramic sharpening stones, namely that by nature they are comparatively porous, the foundation existed for adhering the two pieces back together.  In fact, since ceramic stones tend to be fairly soft and friable (fracturable) when adhering pieces of these ceramics together you have to pay attention to the adhesive-adherend margin, making sure that the density and hardness of the adhesive is congenial to the density of the adherend.  While I cannot modify the character of the cured adhesive film, I can use other methods to modify its performance.

In this case I followed my longstanding practice of using dilute adhesive to size the gluing margin (the surface of the adherend), thus rendering something more hardened-sponge-like than a block of hard plastic in direct contact with the soft ceramic.  The latter construct is much more likely to fail in somewhat short order as the harder, denser, and more cohesive adhesive breaks off some of the softer ceramic block, resulting in the failure.   In this case I used an epoxy I had on hand.

I mixed the two parts thoroughly, then diluted it immediately with with acetone to yield a watery solution.  This was applied directly to the broken stone surface, and soaked in to yield a fairly parched-looking surface.  This results in an adhesive/adherent region perhaps ten or twenty of fifty times wider than that accomplished by full-strength epoxy alone.  After a few minutes I added another application of the dilute epoxy, then set it aside until the epoxy was almost tack-free.

The it was ready for a bead of the full strength epoxy, which I applied to the lower half of the joint to make sure none of the full-strength epoxy would squeeze out the top glue line to excess.

Once the gluing surfaces were coated with the epoxy I placed the two halves together and applied very gentle clamping pressure, mostly to hold the two halves in correct alignment rather than drawing them together.  Their fit was wonderfully tight from the git-go.  There was a tiny bit of epoxy squeeze out on the top line, and I wiped that off immediately with a paper towel sodden with acetone.

I let the assembly sit until the epoxy was fully hardened, then re-trued the surface, first with a sheetrock screen and then with sandpaper over a flat surface.  Since it is an ultra-fine polishing stone it does not need much water; to make sure the epoxy is not challenged I simply wet it on the surface instead of soaking the stone in the water bath.

In use there is a little click as the steel is passed over the fracture line, but the stone still works just fine.