Hand Tool Woodworking Workshop Days 4&5

At this point the participants were barreling along, full steam ahead.  The project to build a water-tight box for sharpening stones was probably a bit too ambitious on my part, but they were game and worked long and hard.  Resawing and planing the vintage cypress soon filled the space with the pungent and pleasant odor of this magnificent wood, still fill of aromatic extractives even after 180 years.

The pieces of the box began taking shape all over the place.  The pace of work was intense, and even the friendly chatter subsided a bit as the concentration on tasks at the bench increased.

The fragrance of the wood was augmented with the scents of alcohol and beeswax as the finishing exercises were also progressing.

But mostly it was about fashioning wood into an artifact.

The day concluded with a couple of special events, namely “Don’s Greatest Hits,” a Powerpoint presentation of notable projects over the past decade or so, followed immediately by a rib-fest cookout at Jane and Cam’s house.  We ate spectacular ribs until we could not move, and that was followed by gallons of freshly homemade ice cream.  We were barely ambulatory by the end of the evening.

Day 5 commenced in the shop much the way Day 4 had ended — feverish work making as much progress as possible.  You could tell by the growing mounds of detritus that something was happening in a big way.

No one actually finished their boxes but all promised to do so once the got home with their new benches to work on.

We spent some time loading the aforementioned benches and the place cleared out before suppertime.  It was a grand week of fellowship and learning and I departed exhausted and content.  I only had two long days of driving to get back home to Shangri-la.

Heartfelt thanks to the students and  my longest time friend Rick and Jane and Cam for making this event happen and memorable.

Hand-Tool Woodworking Workshop Day 3

By Day 3 the participants were pretty much on auto pilot.  My task was to circulate and help where I could, and encourage at all times.  The only deviation from the inertia already established was that I had promised to integrate a little traditional finishing into the mix, and we were so busy on Day 2 that I never got to it, so they got a double dose on Day 3.

As usual my emphasis was on burnishing with polissoirs, wax grain filling, brushing shellac, and pad spirit varnish polishing.  Clearly Dave was getting a good laugh about something, which is entirely appropriate since finishing is about the most fun you can have in the shop.

I think everyone was new to the methods I demonstrated for them to mimic.

Once finishing time was over it was back to the sawing/planing/joinery exercises for the middle of the day.    Jane was thrilled with her first really good dovetails, as she should be.  She had the mechanics down pat already, but needed just a bit of guidance to get over the finish line with great results.

Then it was on to diving into the sharpening stone box, made from some of my prized stash of c.1840 11/4 cypress that came from the staves of an old railroad water tank in southern Georgia.  The material was resawn and sized for the boxes and progress was made on every front.

We went back to finishing to conclude the day.  This group of students was really enthusiastic, some of them arrived as early as 7.30 in the morning  and stayed until 7 in the evening.

Traditional Woodworking Workshop – Day 2


On the syllabus for Day 2 was to finish up the workbenches quickly and get started on the initial pair of pratica, namely the winding sticks and the planing stop.  But in the lull of battle preceding the gathering of the students I reveled in just walking around, admiring their productivity yesterday.

The benches soon received their finishing touches of holdfast holes and threaded aprons to accept the screws for the vises.  I learned after the fact that a good drilling jig would have been very helpful for these holes.  A few of them were slightly off kilter, and a good jig would have saved a lot of headache in the end.  I’ve already got the design in mind and will fabricate it as soon as I get home.

Soon the holes were drilled and threaded and the screws lubricated and tested in them.

The double-thick jaws were laid out and drilled with a drill press that was brought over from the shop and the vises installed.

After this the Moxon vises were a cakewalk.

The benches were  then given their first real workouts with the resawing, ripping, and crosscutting of the pieces for the winding sticks and planing stop.  All variety of saws were employed, with my giant c.1800 two-man frame saw the the new Bad Axe version receiving great acclaim.

One of my treats for the day was giving Cam a lesson on saw sharpening.  He’d finished up his work in the metal shop for the day and dropped in to see what we were up to.  Being a skilled metal worker Cam took to it like a fish to water and the results were gratifying.

This is one of my favorite images for the week, with husband and wife working alongside each other in their own tasks.  A profound model for us all.

Bench Build *Out*, IRMA 2 *In*

With prep time barreling down the rails, and given the zero interest thus far in September’s workbench building workshop at the Barn I’ve decided to cancel that event and use the week for ripple moldings instead.  It might be or might not be a reprise of last year’s First Annual Meeting of the International Ripple Molding Association or it could be just me and my friend John noodling on ripple cutters in the shop.  I really need to concentrate on perfecting my machine and maybe building another one, and I’ve asked videographer Chris Swecker to mark his calendar just in case John and I decide to make a video as we make both the machine and the moldings.

If you might be interested in joining in, let me know.

Exercises for Arkansas I – Winding Sticks+ and Planing Stop

The point of the week in Arkansas was not to make a workbench, well, not the only point, but rather to use it to undertake a series of activities that would allow the participants to begin integrating traditional hand tool work into their regimens.  Fundamental to this is the ability to make lumber pieces thinner (resawing), narrower (ripping), and shorter (crosscutting).  And since virtually no woodworking involves only a single monolithic piece of wood, multiple pieces had to be brought together via joinery.  I tried a few test-run exercises in advance to see if they could work out for the students, whose level of experience was unknown to me.  So, beginning with a piece of the select 4/4 x 10 SYP I bought a couple months’ ago I gave it a shot.

With an eye towards what could be accomplished in four days (remember, the first day would be as dedicated to making the workbench) I decided to have them first pursue a pair of winding sticks, which would emphasize resawing, ripping and truing, then make a planing stop.  The first step was to use the kerfing plane around all the edges then resaw an 18″ piece of the 4/4 x 10 in half, yielding the stock for both of these exercises.

The Bad Axe frame saw has become an integral workhorse in my shop, and I am delighted to have this arrow in my quiver.

I planed the surfaces flat, then ripped one of the two pieces in half.  By executing these process carefully and with precision the task of creating the winding sticks was nearly done.  After all four sides of the two pieces were planed smoothly and placed against each other, then one of them switched end-to-end repeating the edge planing, both pieces were identical and parallel.

But I was not done with these two boards.  I notched a doe’s foot in one end of each of them so that the winding sticks could serve double duty as clamping devices.  Viola’, we have winding sticks plus.

The remaining resawn board was crosscut at the 2/3 point, and the ends shot on the bench hook (I also was going to have them make bench hooks but that was so simple I felt no need to emphasize that here).  I dovetailed them together and the result was a planing stop to fit into the face vise of the bench.

My own every-day planing stop was made from cypress many years ago has been tucked underneath my workbench ever since, and I use it frequently.

I was pleased with the simple straightforwardness of these projects, believing it would take them about 1-1/2 days to complete.  That would leave 2-1/2 days for something slightly more demanding.

Vise Screw Mass Production

The final large scale undertaking for the trip to teach in Arkansas was to make the wood screw sets for both the face vise and the Moxon vise, enough for ten benches.  There was nothing special about it other than the scale of the work, in total I made 20 long screws and 20 short screws.

Again I doused the tulip polar dowels with acetone-diluted epoxy  and set them aside, moving on to the octagonal knobs.

I ran off the 60 squares needed for the knobs (the face vise hubs were double layers) then moved to the drill press to punch the center holes into which would go the threaded dowels.


Once I had the requisite pile of holed blocks I returned to the table saw and octagonalized them.   I must say that drilling the holes first made it a lot easier to handle them in this process, there was always somewhere to grab to hold them firm against the fences for the miter cuts.

A pleasant by-product was a box of glue blocks from the off-cuts.  I’ll set that aside and will no doubt use them over the coming months and years.

I dealt with the long screws a little differently from the short screws at this point.  This had to do with the arrangement of the Beall thread cutter.  With the long screws passing through a double thickness of stock for the movable jaw I could get close enough to the thread cutter for the threads to work fine by making a split handle to hold and turn them.  This was not true for the shorter Moxon screws, so I fed them by using a small plumbers wrench as a grip to get the threads far enough toward the head.

Off to the thread cutter, where a couple hours of concentration and labor ensued.  Before long I had a large tub of thread stock.

I glued the knobs on them using yellow glue.


At this point the shorter screws were finished.  As for the longer screw’s doubled knobs I trued up the octagons with a Shinto rasp and drilled the pass-through holes for the handles they were finished, too.

Two full tubs of vise screws and it was time to move on to the next thing.

Writing Desk – Spindles

Making and installing the spindles that would tie together the shelf and the writing box was the last major complex fabrication step for the desk.  It was also perhaps the most stress inducing aspect of the whole project; it was not difficult per se, just a very fussy layout exercise with zero margin for error.

The turnings themselves were straightforward.  I made a measuring template and a sample to send to the client, and got to work after getting approval.  Turning premium vintage mahogany is a delight.  Some of the details of the spindles even provided the opportunity to make and modify some tools.  Since each spindle had several half-round elements of just under 1/8″ it was worth my time to take a no-account old turning chisel from the drawer and regrind the tip to the right profile to make it effortless to work.  I tried it out on a sample to make sure then proceeded apace.

I needed to make sure that the spindles were precisely sized, as their installation required sliding them up through the holes in the shelf and into the corresponding holes in the underside of the writing box.  I spent more time laying out, then checking and double checking before drilling the holes.  I was relieved that they all went in exactly as planned.

The fussiest part of the whole undertaking was fitting the two spindles on either side of the shelf.  These had to be drilled and fitted into the underside of not the writing box but rather the “ears” of the legs.  Careful layout and a steady hand served me well.

Nicholson Prototype Vise(s) Construction – The Screw Stock

With the workbench itself completed it was time to move on to the two twin-screw vises for the unit, one face vise and one “Moxon” vise for temporary use on top of the bench.

My first consideration was the stock for the screws themselves.  For all the screw making on this unit I used 1-1/2″ tulip poplar dowels from Lowes; it was clear, straight, cheap and readily available.  But, in a previous undertaking of refitting my Roubo saw-bench with new screws, I had observed ferocious tear-out when using the Beall Wood Threader due to the softness of the wood.  I think the Beall system was designed for use on dense hardwoods like maple or tight-grain oak, but all that meant was that I had to turn tulip poplar into something that behaved like a harder, tighter grain wood.

My resolution of the “tear out” problem was to impregnated the dowels with a dilute solution of epoxy and acetone.  I mixed a small batch of epoxy, thinned it 50/50 with acetone and brushed it on the dowels.  It soaked in well, and was hard in 24 hours.  The result was to reduce “tear out” by more than 90%.

Even the “feel” of the impregnated screw stock was better when feeding through the cutter.  With this problem addressed I could charge forward.  Goo thing, as I not only had to make the four screws for the prototype bench but for another ten benches as well in order to get ready for the Arkansas workshop.

Writing Desk — Shelf

The final few steps of the construction phase of the desk project were to make and fit the mid-level shelf, make install the single and double beading moldings on the box, turn and install the spindles that suspended the shelf from the underside of the writing box, and turn the roundels that adorned the “ears” of the legs.  Each of these operations will be dealt with separately beginning with the shelf (I’m not sure I’m getting the blogging order correct, but you’ll get the whole picture by the time I finish).

The mid-level solid slab shelf was partly cantilevered off the “leg” units, fitted into notches on the double bead moldings on the edge of the leg and sitting on simple glue-block brackets on the insides of the legs.  Placing and affixing the shelf was pretty fussy work, nothing especially complex but the key was working slowly and carefully.  I started by tacking a scrap into the location of the support blocks on the legs and rested the shelf slab on them to get the notching on the moldings correct, easily.  (The actual finished mahogany support blocks will be visible in the offering about the spindles upcoming)

With the shelf slab sitting on the temporary supports I marked the locations of the notches on the moldings with a fine saw, then excavated with the saw and chisels.

The fit was darned near perfect, especially once I beveled the contact edge on the shelf where it connected with the notch.

At this point the only further work on the shelf per se was to add double beading on the edges, using a bronze scratch stock tool from LNT, followed by my home made scratch stock to removed the shoulders of the profile.

Gragg Chair Video Day 1

Recently we had our first day of production for the “Making A Gragg Chair” video.  We had been waiting for several weeks to get a beautiful day to film outside while I harvested the wood for making the chairs that will be documented in the video.  Full disclosure — I will actually be making three chairs more or less simultaneously so that we can use subsequent production days most efficiently, getting several consecutive steps recorded on the same day by having three chairs at different points of the construction.

So this beautiful day was spent splitting wood up the mountain with wedges and sledges, then on to a mallet and froe in the riving brake next to the barn.  The setup for the latter was new to me so it was a bit awkward getting into the swing of things, but due to the magic of video editing it might actually look like I know what I am doing.

We also shot the introduction to a Special Feature we will be including on the video, and probably on the web as well, as we record the entire process of me conserving my own damaged chair.

One of the things I am trying to keep track of is the amount of time it will take me to build one chair from start to finish.  I would love to teach a workshop on building Gragg chairs but I need to get the time down to seven days max, six days preferably.  I suppose once these chairs get down I will build one from scratch as fast as I can to see if it is a reasonable project for a workshop.