Tools

In The Neighborhood

When I blogged ten days ago about the sensation of being thunderstruck at the fellow who brought in a Studelyesque petite Prentiss vise to a recent PATINA gathering I mentioned that I had something sorta similar.

This is it, a charming little piece.   It’s a smidge bigger than the prized Prentiss but definitely in the neighborhood.  I do not know if any original japanning remains but perhaps one day this winter I will take a swab and solvent to it to find out.

You cannot really see in this picture but the base has been broken through-and-through and remounted to a new metal sub-plate, which is the only reason I could afford it.

I guess those differences really do delineate a $15 vise from a $1500 one.

Studley-esque Treasure Discovered at PATINA

One of the great joys of living in the mid-Atlantic region is the 42-year-old organization known as The Potomac Antique Tools and Trades Association, or PATINA, which meets every other month in McLean VA on the outskirts of Mordor.  I have had a long and fruitful relationship with this group and find their bi-monthly swap meet and demonstrations sessions to be a genuine delight.  Their annual mid-March flea market and auction near Frederick MD are worth the drive from wherever you might be coming from.

The recent PATINA meeting was the fulfillment of all that and more!

Let’s back up a year or ten, reflecting on my research into Henry O. Studley and his tool cabinet and workbench.  Experiencing it, up close and personal, it is even more spectacular than can be captured in images.  The nooks and crannies can be appreciated only in 3D in real space.  One of the tools it contains is this little 1″ x 1″ Prentiss vise mounted on a Cuban mahogany block, tucked up away and entirely out of sight to the normal viewer.  I love this vise and have been looking for a sibling without success since I first saw it almost a decade ago.  I’ve been in the neighborhood a time or two (more tomorrow) but never found the exact house address.

Thanks to the ongoing project at our daughter’s house near Mordor I was in town for last Sunday’s PATINA meeting and flea market (I bought a few useful items).

And then my friend JohnD summoned me over to his table.  A fellow named Kevin had strolled in and showed him this.  John knew what it was and also knew I would pop my eyes.  I did.

Holy cow!

I offered him five bucks cash, no questions asked.  He declined.  I think John was dickering with him for a while.  I would love to own this but cannot justify the money it would take to reach a fair price.  But at least I got to look at it closely on this grey, drizzly day.

You just never know what you will find at a PATINA event!

Finishing Roubo Squares

Two of the students from the recent workshop have posted photos on their Instagram pages.

LenR posted an impressive glamour shot, and JohnH posted an image of his entire collection, although just short of the finishing line.  It was indeed a great weekend, and I look forward to actually getting my two sets finished next month.  At the moment I am just swamped with other priorities.

I’m thinking of diving in to the Instagram swamp; I am so old fashioned that I think of “social media” being conversing or corresponding with an actual human.  Silly me.

FORP Tool Tote Inventory

Just for jollies I took all the tools out of the tote and inventoried them, which I share with you now.

I have probably almost two dozen vintage hand saws, but the ones I included in this kit are selected in part due to the fact that they fit into the box.  One of these is an 8 t.p.i. crosscut saw, the other a 4-1/2 t.p.i. rip saw.  Just below them is a 14″ solid Brazilian rosewood razee shipwright’s plane, it is a fussy tool to get right but once it’s there, boy howdy!  I include this rather than a #5 because it is a bit lighter in weight.

Working across the bottom of the picture,left to right, we begin with three nail sets.  This is almost certainly overkill but they do not take up a lot of space.  The next thing in line is a home-made line transfer scribe that is one of my favorite tools.  I will blog about making one for yourself soon.  No marking knife is better at the task of tracing and transferring lines from one piece to an adjacent piece.

Moving to the right I’ve got a package of utility knife blades, a collection of pencils including a #1, #2 (mechanical), carpenter’s, a #3, some coping saw blades (obviously I did not tage the photography quite right), and ball-point and Sharpie pens.  Next comes a box with a variety of items including a small diamond stone, my small oil stones, my home-made dovetail gauge, a bullseye level, and probably some other items I cannot recall just now.

Rounding out this image are my 2″ framing chisel and a set of Stanley chisels; I bought the Stanley’s from Lowes for a demolition job many years ago and found them to be of such superior quality that I rehabbed them after that project and now use them dialy.  I found them to somly be the best value in chisels there is.

Moving on to image #2 across the top from the left is a large set of auger bits for the brace, an expansion bit, the brace itself, a vintage rosewood-handled 6-incher, with a set of twist drills for it.  Continuing the rightward-ish flow there are my Roubo winding sticks-on-stilts, which have changed fundamentally the techniques I use for flattening stock (the sticks for these serve as straight edges whenever I need them), and my pair of DMT combination stones, one 220/325 and the other 600/1200.  Just below them is a vintage spokeshave and one of the Turkey Wing whisk brooms that I sell..

Going back to the bottom left I have a pair of 10-inch dividers, a small level, a folding carpenter’s rule, the coping saw inside of which are the utility knife, a 24-inch four-fold furniture maker’s ruler, and a rosewood handles awl.  Adjacent to that is my smaller Japanese bevel square and my Knew Concepts webbed frame saw.  This was pretty much overkill and really superfluous for the kit so I will almost certainly leave that one hanging on the joint over my main bench in the shop.  

Rounding out this grouping is a 12-inch speed square and a 4-in-1 rasp, old enough to be from the time when they still made good ones.

The final vignette from this little account begins with a Japanese saw handle which accommodates three interchangeable blades, which I must have left in the tote during picture time.  Then I have a superb ancient take-down framing square, complete with its original sleeve, followed by my 3-inch hand forged slick, a $5 from a tailgate sale.  I made a new black walnut handle to replace the piece of junk that had been appended to it.

Next to that is my beloved home made tulipwood mallet that has pounded innumerable joints and assemblies over the years, a 12-foot tape measure, my treasured dovetail saw that I’ve had for almost fifty years and has not needed sharpening for almost 30.  The upper right corner is populated by a small Record rebate plane, a Stanley block plane, a Yankee drill and one of my newer tools, The Delve Square designed for Woodpecker’s by my friend Tom DelVecchio.

The bottom right corner has my Starrett 12-inch and 6-inch combination squares, my newest tool the 30-60-90 square, a combination screwdriver, and my equally treasured curly maple handled ball pein hammer, a gift from my log time pal MikeM.

That pretty much wraps it up.  I am pretty sure I will add a Shinto rasp along with some additional files soon

Shaping the Studley Replica Infill Mallet Head

One of the seductive features of the Studley mallet is that the shell of the head is curved on all four sides, making this blunt instrument of smashification seem almost streamlined.  In addition the edge detailing for the head was elegant, almost delicate.

In this particular case I decided to use brute mechanical/abrasive force to achieve part of the results, and hand filing for the other.  For the general gross rounding of the shell I just used my belt and disc sanding machines to literally grind off almost half of the shell mass.

Once the overall shape was finished and the handle openings trued I filed the teensy moldings on the faces and fit the shell with its infill block.  The original block was beech but I had maple handy.

One thing is for sure, this is a hopelessly inefficient way of doing things.  Once I get done with this proof-of-concept model I will make the patterns needed to cast this thing in the foundry.

My FORP III Tool Kit

For almost three decades my “traveling” tool kit has been a crude open tote box, sufficing for innumerable projects ranging from remodeling or maintaining the house, building various accouterments for the yard and garden, on-site furniture restoration, and, for the past few years, the much vaunted French Oak Roubo Project wherein mid-18th Century style workbenches are built from some of the most amazing slabs of wood you are ever liable to encounter.  I’m not building a bench but bringing my tools anyway, you never know what someone might need.

I cannot even remember why I made this box, it’s more of a tray with a handle actually, but once again I loaded it up for the upcoming trek to Georgia.  In so doing I was struck by the sheer volume of tools I could fit into it.  Fully loaded it weighed in at 56 pounds.

I’ll recount the inventory in the coming days.  I’m sure that once again after FORP III I will tinker with the layout.

First 30-60-90 Brass Triangle Finished

Given the prominence of 60-degree angles in the worlds of parquetry and Roubo benches, during the “Making Roubo Squares” workshop earlier this summer I made a couple of 30-60-90 brass triangles, as did the participants after I demonstrated the lesson they learned in seventh grade Geometry class: the hypotenuse is exactly twice the length of the base of this right triangle.

I finally got my first one ready for battle, albeit without the decorative flourishes I had been wanting.  I simply did not have the time at present but car return to add them when I do get the time.

I soldered on the lip for the base, then just cleaned up all the edges and surface and it was ready for action.

Get to work, you triangle you!

Play Time – Infill Mallet 2

With the two halves of the mallet head shell soldered together I got to work making it into something resembling what I wanted (a la Studley’s mallet).

I began by trimming off the overhang from the soldering with the band saw.   One of the great things about working in brass, bronze, copper, and aluminum is that they can be worked with a variety of woodworking hand tools and virtually all woodworking power tools and machines.  Well, maybe not jointer and planer.

Once the trimming was done I cleaned and squared the head on the stationary belt sander.

Then, while everything was still square I drilled then filed the holes in the center of the top and bottom faces.  These holes allow for the handle to protrude all the way through the metal shell and the wood block infill.  Doing all this before shaping the head was the only way to get it right.

Up next – on to shaping the head.

Improving/Making A Curved Fishtail Gouge

One of the challenges when building Gragg chairs is that the short seat slats are half-blind dovetailed into the front and rear seat rails (well, the front of the continuous slat are too, but it is mor difficult for these ones).  As a practical matter this can only occur after the chair has been mostly assembled, so the work is in tight and awkward quarters.  I generally cut the mortise shoulders of the dovetails as deeply as I can to make waste removal as easy as possible with a narrow dovetail chisel, but then I have to remove the remaining waste very carefully so as not to damage the joint fitting.


A tool that is extremely helpful in this undertaking is a custom-made curved flat fishtail gouge.  I tried store-bought curved flat fishtails and although the are fine tools but they do not flare enough to be particularly useful.  Instead I took a 1/2″ curved flat fishtail and ground away the shoulders to make their flare much more pronounced, and that works just fine.   It allows me to reach way into the interior corners of the dovetail mortise and get them clean.

Still, it does make for a mighty long work session.

I have enough trouble keeping the joint shoulders intact without creating additional hurdles to jump.  At this pint of the project that light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter.

Stoopid Pencil Tricks

I’m certain I am not even the millionth person to transform a pencil into at tracing gauge, but it is a tool that I use whenever I am making the intermediate seat slats for the Gragg chair, transferring the shape from the steam bent unified bottom/back slats.

I prefer to start with a carpenter’s pencil, saw it in half length-wise, then shave off most of one side with a utility knife.

Then I plane it flat with a block plane to reveal fully the graphite core.

To keep the open graphite from smearing all over everything I simply place some transparent tape over it and burnish it to make it perfectly intimate with that surface, then trim the excess tape.  That way I can not only handle the new tool but place it directly on a surface to be traced without contaminating that surface.  I make the tip sharpened, leaving the graphite/tape side flat and beveling the other three facets and place the tape side against whatever contour I am trying to trace, transferring the shape onto the workpiece being made to fit that shape.

Yup, when fabricating the seat of a Gragg chair the most important tool was free and required almost five full minutes to modify.