Tool Cabinet – A Little HO Studley, Much More A&D Roentgen

As I slowly move forward with my ultimate tool cabinet the reminders and memories of the Studley Tool Cabinet are ever operating in the background as I strive to integrate the maximum inventory of tools into the space.  Fortunately (?) my tool cabinet will be five times more voluminous than Studley’s, which presents a multitude of opportunities and headaches.  Sure, I can include five times as many tools, but like Studley the multi-layered layout must be accomplished by hand and trial-and-error.  I expect that hugely time-consuming process will continue to infinity and beyond, or until I run out of tools to put inside.

Less problematic, at least in principle, is the decorative treatment of the presentation surfaces.  There I have a starting premise and need only to fine tune the execution.  My goal is to assemble a complex diamond-and-stringing parquetry surface evocative of the creative genius of Abraham and David Roentgen who, like many of the monumental French ebenistes, were Germanic.  My parquetry surfaces will be based on some of their work, but without the over-the-top exuberance.  As for decorating the interior surfaces, I have plenty of black dye, mother-of-pearl, and “bone,” both genuine and artificial.

Since beginning the project my efforts have vacillated between fitting the tools inside and mapping out the parquetry process.  For the latter I needed to create a very rough proof-of-concept panel that could provide useful information about tinkering with the size and proportions, and the process of executing whatever/wherever I wound up.

One of my foundational starting points was to use wood from Roentgen’s era for the veneers.  Fortunately I had a large inventory of leftover white oak scraps from the FORP gatherings in Georgia, which employed timbers that were literally growing at the time the Roentgens were active.  While none of the wood pieces were sizable, they were certainly process-able.

With a newly tuned bandsaw and brand-new, variable spaced teeth bandsaw blade I set to work making enough sawn veneer to execute the sample panel.

Stay tuned, this project will consume dozens of blog posts over the coming months.


Years ago when my sister’s family was visiting and we were giving the kids a walking tour of the property, one of my nephew’s exclaimed, “Uncle Don, it’s just like you live in a state park!”  As you can probably deduce from some of the firewood-harvesting pics, the topography for much of the property is, shall we say with literary license, exuberant.   One moment of inattention or one spot of poor footing can put you on the ground in a twinkle of the eye.  Given my poor vision with almost zero binocular depth perception and my history of injury I am becoming increasingly attentive to keeping upright in the place I want to be moving or standing still.

Traipsing around up and down and across the hills requires good footing and for all of these years I have relied on an old pair of lumberjack-ish boots.  For standing, these are the most comfortable footwear I have ever worn, but as my excursions into the forest have become more purposeful, they were wanting.  For starters, as the knobby soles became worn they were less able to grab the ground as needed, but even worse is the fact that they weigh about 8 lbs apiece making the traversing of rough terrain all the more problematic.  Hiking around iffy ground with a brick lashed to each leg is not optimal.

Since firewood-harvesting became integral to my routine here I started looking into spiked-sole lumberjack boots (the term for this type of boot or shoe is “calked;” I have no idea of this etymology) as a response to slippery footing.

After much browning of the interwebz I found this pair of “calked” boots built on a hiking boot platform, thus reducing their weight by around 50%.  They are comfortable, lightweight, and grab the ground like they were, uh, spiked to the ground.  They have transformed my time in the woods or when bush hogging the hillsides, or even just mowing the yard (although I must be attentive to where the water hoses are so as to avoid stepping on them).  In these arenas, they are perhaps my most important tools.

One More Reason For Japanese Saws

In my frequent travels this past year to visit Li’l T and his parents and Barndottir the Elder I have almost always taken a traveling tool kit.  Perhaps not enough for major home repairs or construction but certainly enough to get most woodworking tasks done.  Fortunately, my SIL is an accomplished remodeler and the basement and shed at Barndottir the Elder’s home still has a pretty complete inventory of my tools, so I am almost fully set up regardless of which place I am.

My traveling tool kit is a very concise collection of woodworking tools with a couple of extra things useful for home repairs.  Perhaps one day I will blog about the contents of the kit, which resides in a mahogany surveyor’s theodolite box with a couple drawers added on beneath.

Since space is always a premium in a kit like this I have become additionally enamored with Japanese saws, more particularly Z-brand saws with replaceable/interchangeable handles and blades.  With one handle I can outfit it with any number of set-ups to accomplish everything from sawing timbers to fine dovetails and all points in between.  I keep a cardboard “envelope” for the blades and pack them separately from the handle, so the spatial footprint is surprisingly small for such a large range of sawing utilities.  In just the space of a handle I can carry a good set of saws.

Yet another reason to incorporate Japanese saws into your inventory of tools and skills.

Round Carving/Joinery Mallet

I’ve been hanging with my pal MikeM for a couple decades, and at least one of his consuming passions is rubbing off on me — hammers.  Many times a Christmas package would arrive from Mike, and on more than one occasion it was a hammer or mallet he had restored or made.  One of them, a polished vintage ball peen hammer head with a sublime curly maple handle, is in my personal tool pantheon and gets used every day I am in the barn (pic above).  Every day.

Well, as they say, “Bad company trumps good character,” and Mike’s “bad” influence on me over the years in the realm of hammers has taken hold.  (Just kidding folks, Mike’s friendship is a life treasure.)  I now find making hammers one of the many delightful undertakings in the studio.   I’m probably not approaching Mike Territory, but in response to a comment by a recent visitor in the studio, “No, I do not have a ‘hammer problem.’  I have a lot of hammers.  Big difference.”

Many years ago I picked up several steel pieces at a flea market.  These cylinders, which I naturally thought would make great mallets, were of unknown origin and a peculiar morphology.  The flat ends were easily drilled and tapped.  My original thought was this would be great for affixing faces to the striking surfaces.

The problem emerged when I tried to drill a hole on the cylinder surface for a handle.  It was hard.  I mean really, really hard.  Too hard for any drilling device I had, up to and including carbide and cobalt drill bits.  The rounded surface was so hard I could not even make a dimple with a machine punch and in fact the tip of the punch broke off when I tried.  I have never encountered something this hard, and scratch my head about the  manner of hardening this surface.  It was probably case hardened on a precision rolling mill, but what was its purpose?  I have no idea, but for several years its purpose was mainly to hold down the sill of one of the studio windows.  Occasionally it would be used as a dolly or backing anvil, but nothing more.

Recently, while in the tool-making “zone,” I decided to give up on the idea of creating a typical mallet configuration from the cylinder and exploit its differing hardness to create a joinery/carving mallet.  This began with drilling a hole in the flat face.

To match this I turned a white oak handle from some of my scraps, and drilled that as well.   The finish on the handle was Blend 31 wax melted into the surface while turning on the lathe, then burnished with a piece of coarse linen.  I like both the look and the feel of the handle, beautifully smooth but with just a hint of tack for gripping.

Inserting a threaded rod dowel with epoxy to assemble the two pieces completed the assembly process.   I didn’t clamp the assembly and let the hydraulic vacuum of the thick epoxy hold everything steady while it hardened.

It is now an intriguing addition to my inventory of homemade mallets.  I note that of these mallets there is a huge range of shape and weight. The tapered cylinder mallet on the left, made thirty-five years ago, weighs in with a lignum vitae head of a half pound, plus the handle.  The tulipwood mallet on the right, made 25+ years ago, weighs in with a head of 3/4 pound.  This new one with the steel cylinder has a head weight of two pounds.  It just might be a beast.  Because of its comparative diminutive size I was thinking of keeping it in my traveling tool kit.  With that weight I am reconsidering that decision as it is almost two full pounds more than the lignum vitae one

I will probably wrap the new steel cylinder with leather to diminish any strike damage inflicted onto anything I whack with it.

Stay tuned.

About Resawing

When it comes to sawing lumber there are three distinct processes.  Crosscutting is the most common to most woodworkers, wherein a longer board is made into a shorter board.  Ripping is when a wider board is cut into two or more narrower boards (one of which may be purely waste material) and is the function for which the table saw was primarily created.  Resawing, by which a thicker board is cut into two thinner boards, is generally the least employed of the three sawing methods.  And if it is done, it is mostly reserved for table saw or bandsaw work.

Because of my own peculiar interests and projects, I find resawing to be a regular function in my studio as I routinely saw my own veneers, both by hand and by bandsaw.  Recently in my preparations for my presentation at the upcoming SAPFM Annual Mid-Year, as I was working on some luan plywood panels to create the set of sample boards reflecting my presentation content, namely the options available to rural colonial craftsmen, I was dissatisfied with the aesthetics of the outcomes.  I decided to make some honest-to-goodness furniture lumber sample boards.  The most readily available material I had was true mahogany of 8-9 inches in width and 1 to 1-1/4″ thick.  In other words just a smidge wider than I could resaw with my upstairs bandsaw.  My downstairs bandsaw with the riser block and beefier motor was out of commission for some maintenance.  So, I decided to resaw the mahogany boards by hand.  [N.B. I would have preferred to use walnut as that would reflect 18th C rural life in the mid-Atlantic region better than imported mahogany, but the lumber for that was at the bottom of a very big pile of lumber.  Nuts to that.]

I used my 3/8″ kerfing saw on all four sides of the boards and got to work (the saw cuts a 1/16″ kerf 3/8″ from the edge of the board, not a 3/8″ kerf).

Back in the day when the Woodworking in America shindigs were a thing one of my favorite presenters was Ron Herman of Antiquity Builders of Columbus, Ohio, who would show up with a half-dozen boxes of carpenter’s saws of almost every iteration known to man, and talk about all things saws and sawing.  I learned  tremendous amount from Ron as he waxed eloquently of things he had been taught and subsequently learned from his many years of restoring and preserving historic buildings.  One thing he said which remains embedded in my brain was, “Make sure the saw fits the job.”  He would then walk the audience through the process of selecting from among the scores of saws he had for a specific task at hand.

Ron’s words were ringing through my ears as I undertook the slicing of my mahogany boards.  The mahogany was dense, and some boards were denser than others.  This required fine-tuning my tool selection to make sure the saw I was using was the best fit for the board itself, and given that the three boards I resawed were different densities, I wound up using three different saws (and tried several others) to get the job done.  Such a conundrum is not present when I am resawing, for example, cypress when the grain is so uniform and the density so creamy I can go at it with my most aggressive saw.  Or, when I am resawing hard cherry or maple.  But when, as in this case, the boards are not uniform in density or even when different sections of the same board differ in character I was switching back and forth between saws.

At this point in my studio trajectory my default starting point for resawing is the Bad Axe one man Roubo saw, which works wonderfully well and did so in this case.  For the densest of the mahogany boards this saw and its 4 t.p.i. configuration was the tool of choice for much of the work.

This time, inspired by this Salko Safic video I decided to try one of my c.1800 frame saws.  With its 2 t.p.i. configuration it cut like a beast on fire but I had a bit of wander on the outfeed side.  Perhaps with a bit more practice…  Or, I could give Mark Harrell a call to ask for some advice on getting the saw to cut dead true.  I had not tried using a four-foot saw by myself much before this, so perhaps all I need is more time in the saddle.  It could also be that Salko is simply a better man than I.

I have two brand new saw plates for four-foot frame saws so maybe a new tool project is coming over the horizon.

The most Ron Herman-ish episode of the excursion was tuning my saw selection to the individual piece of wood.  For the denser board my usual re-saw tool, the vintage 3-1/2 t.p.i.  Disston “skated” over the wood a bit much, even after I gave it a quick tune-up with a file (about five minutes’ worth of work; it took longer to set up my saw sharpening rig than to actually do the touch up).  Switching to the equally vintage 4-1/2 t.p.i. Disston, set up with the exact same specs did the trick.  Both saws were what I call “skin prick sharp” (the teeth are so sharp they grab my skin when I gently press my finger against them) so really the only difference was the tooth spacing.  The 3-1/2 t.p.i. saw worked like a charm on the less dense board.

I might not need Ron’s eight dozen saws in my inventory, but maybe a few more than my dozen-and-a-half could be called for.  I’m always scouting for good vintage saws cheap at flea markets.   All I want is an original depth plate and no kinks.

One final note: I make a point of keeping my saw plates well waxed, stopping to apply a thin swipe of paste wax whenever I feel things “grabbing.”  It makes all the difference.  Normally I use a paste wax made from my 31 Blend but that would have required walking to the other end of the studio to retrieve it.  This tin was right there.

I find resawing to be an immensely rewarding exercise, and I do mean exercise.  It takes a good while and a fair number of calories but the result is exhilarating when done well.  To paraphrase Toshio Odate, “If I find a task pleasurable, why would I want it to be over quickly?”

He is a wise man.


The Best Layout Knife I’ve Ever Used…

… and it’s home made and free from the scrap pile!

I was introduced to the layout knife when I went into the pattern shop in 1978 (I was a strictly power tool woodworker prior to that) by shop master John Kuzma, who taught me more about precise work than anyone who has ever crossed my path.  Regardless of the scale of the foundry pattern, ranging from a small gear or housing to huge dredge pump components, the standard was always the same — work to the center of a knife cut. Given that the final product in metal was probably going to be machined to a .001″ tolerance this made sense.  Rarely/never is this the case for woodworking otherwise.

While marking knives (of an astonishing variety) have been a constant presence in my tool kit over the past 4+ decades I have never encountered a better version of the marking knife than the one John used very day.  It was simultaneously no-nonsense and performed exquisitely in every application in the wood shop.  Recently I made another of these tools like this.  The beauty of this method is that not only do you end up with a superb tool using recycled material, it does not require any de-tempering or re-tempering the material.    It’s all cold work.

The starting point was a retired file.  I make no secret of my pack-rat tendencies, so I always have old files on hand.  If they were a good file, they are good tool steel.  John’s knife was built from a 1/4″ square file, this one I just made was from a 3/16″ round chainsaw file.  Given my reliance on firewood for heat I have a nearly never ending supply of worn out round files.

The first step of the process is to smooth out the remaining texture of the file teeth using a diamond stone or similar.  This leaves a texture but not so much as to be uncomfortable in your hand.

The second step is to put the tang in the vise and give it a bit of a bend.  The amount of the bend is slight enough that there is no need for any heat treatment of the metal.

Once the bend is done, sharpen the tip to a knife edge.  In my case I use a coarse diamond stone for the shaping followed by a routine regimen of achieving a sharp knife edge.  The beauty of this little curved tip is that it enhances the ability to make marks inside or underneath restricted spaces.  I have never encountered a better way to transfer the lines of the small dovetails I often make,

On the other end of the file I again used the diamond stone/sharpening stone routine to create a knife bevel and razor sharp tip.

That’s all there is to this tool.

No cost, almost no time (under a half hour) and incomparable performance.  Sounds like a near perfect formula to me.  As soon as I come across a worn out square file I’ll make one from that, too.



Outfitting the Tool Cabinet – I

As I have stated previously, the interior of the tool cabinet will be “composed” more than it will be “designed.”  The process of layout and fabrication will certainly be a deliberate one, and the amount of progress will depend greatly on the other activities in my life, projects in the studio and events outside the studio.

I have made my first choices and taken the steps to make them happen.


First, I moved my saw rack en toto into the rear of the proper right compartment.

Second, I began to design the fittings to affix my hand planes to the rear of the proper left compartment.

Third, I began the process of mounting my carving chisels on the proper left door panel.

It’s clear there will be a lot of proceeding and retreating as I work out the composition, but it will all be a lot of fun.  There will be irregular updates as they are called for.

Stay tuned.

Sharpening Impulse Hardened Saw Teeth

Sometimes a willingness to venture “outside the box” yields great rewards.  This is one of those times.

Like probably most of you I have a number of modern saws with impulse hardened tri-faceted teeth.  The upside is that these teeth can be very long lasting.  The downside is that they are brittle and prone to snap off whenever encountering an exceedingly hard material, such as a nail.  I have several saw blades with a gap-toothed grin.  Fortunately, the blades are almost always replaceable.  Unfortunately, until recently, my experience had been that they were impossible to sharpen due to the impulse hardening that made the files skate off of them without affecting any improvement.  I found this frustration to be true for any of the facet-tooth saws I have, whether actual Japanese saws or the Stanley western style saws that employ Japanese-style teeth.

While working at my daughter’s house a while ago with my old-ish Z-brand saw I hit a nail good and hard.  Much to my surprise only one tooth snapped off, but a couple dozen were mushroomed (I’m not good enough with that camera to get a nice pic).  I had never before seen this damage.  Before, the teeth just snapped off.

I certainly had new replacement blades in the drawer, but since the teeth were intact (except for the one) I decided to bring it back to the barn and give it a try to sharpen them.  Using abrasives, first sandpaper then one of my small whetstones, I flattened the back side of every damaged tooth.  Since most of the saw’s use was for rough carpentry and yard work I went ahead and cleaned it up pretty well.

However, when it came to re-shaping the damaged facets even my diamond needle files mostly skated over the hardened tips.  But there in my small container of whetstones for my carving tools was a diamond shaped aluminum oxide “India” stone.  The cross section was exactly like that of the file normally used to sharpen Japanese-stye saw teeth.  I also had a needle-taper stone of the same material.  They both came in handy.

Setting up the sharpening station just like every other saw I’d sharpened in the past umpteen years, “filing” with the “India” whetstones worked like a charm.

In less than a half hour I had the task done.  Prior to the sharpening the saw would still cut after a fashion, 51 strokes to get through a 2×4, but after the sharpening it made it though the same lumber in exactly 1/3 of the strokes, leaving a very nice kerf surface.

It is a good day when you can go to bed after learning something you did not know when you woke up that morning.

Improvised (and Darned Near Perfect) Dovetail Chisel

Whenever I have a metalworking file that gets to the end of its usefulness, whether for sharpening saws or just shaping metal over at the fabrication bench, and regardless of the cause of its infirmity — is it worn out or just boogered up? — I never discard the old tool.  It is almost always a great source of very hard tool steel so it goes into my scrap inventory for me to make something out of later.

This habit and experience served me exceedingly well recently when we were up visiting L’il T (and his parents, of course).  I carved out a little work station in their garage and just invent projects to occupy my time when I am not puttering around with house chores.  Well, this trip I was making a tray for the traveling tool kit I bring with me.   Much to my aggravation I realized at a particular point that I had not brought a dovetailing chisel for the small dovetails I was cutting into the ~5/16″ cypress stock I was using.  My first attempt to chop the dovetails with my 1/4″ bench chisel did not yield a satisfactory result.

Since I am not at home on these trips I make a frequent, almost daily, pilgrimage to their local excellent hardware store.  I set the project aside and figured I would see if the hardware store had a decent rack of steel bar stock I could use to make myself one of the triangular dovetailing chisels I like so much for small work.  I have made several and find them indispensable for making tight petite dovetails.  Although the hardware store did not have any bar stock that struck my fancy, I noticed their file rack nearby, and that they had a triangular file that would certainly fit the bill for about $7.


I brought the file home and set to work on it.  Yes, it probably was a travesty to use a brand new file, but that’s all I had access to.  My first task, undocumented alas, was to fashion a tapered octagon handle from some cherry in my scrap stash.  I drilled and then drove the file tang into the handle.  A little too vigorously, as it turned out.  At some point soon I will fit the handle with a bronze ferrule, but I have not got there just yet.

Using a Dremel tool with a cut-off wheel I chopped the file roughly in half.

It was time to reach for my new-ish extra coarse diamond stone and get busy grinding off the file teeth and creating the bevel.  This is exactly the kind of task this tool was created to accomplish, which it did surprisingly fast.

Once the coarse diamond stone had done its work I switched to the finer combination diamond to bring the surface to the place where it took only a few strokes on the 10,000 grit water stone to bring the bevel and the back to perfection.

In battle the new soldier performed with valor.  You can see the blow out on one of the dovetail shoulders resulting from using the 1/4″ bench chisel.  The rest of the joint shoulders were fashioned with the new tool, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorites.  The fact that I fabricated it myself by re-purposing something extant only enhances my affection for it.

1/4″ bench chisel vs. the new tool



Tool Cabinet Interior Composition Ready To Begin


With the box and doors constructed the slow task of arranging the interior of the tool cabinet interior will unfold over the next several months.  I have at best a vague master plan other than to “compose” the interior space slowly and deliberately, with no doubt a detour or eight along the way.

My overall scheme reflects the capacity.  The drawing above demonstrates the plan of the tool cabinet with its four interior hinged panels, yielding 12 panels on which to mount tools.  In addition, there will be eight drawers at the bottom of the case interior, four on each side.

At the moment my organizational strategy is as follows:

Panel 1 – carving chisels

Panel 2 – spokeshaves and other carving/shaping tools

Panel 3 – bench chisels and joinery mallets

Panel 4 – layout/measuring tools

Panel 5 – smaller planes

Panel 6 – larger planes

Panel 7 – larger saws

Panel 8 – smaller saws

Panel 9 – layout/measuring tools

Panel 10 – files and rasps

Panel 11 & 12 – don’t know yet

Check back in a year and we’ll see how close I stick with this plan.

In total, Panels 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11 &12 combine to provide 48 square feet of hanging tool storage, and Panels 4, 5, 8 & 9 add up to another 18 square feet.  We’ll see how much I can stuff in there.

In case you were wondering, and even if you were not, many of the tool fittings will be screwed from the outside of the case.  Hence, I think the decorative parquetry is still a ways down the road even though I have already begun designing that as well.