Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do, Or Do Without – Making A Petite Froe From A Planer Knife

The aphorism that begins this post’s title was a familiar saying especially during the series of Great Depressions that lasted from 1929 to about 1950 and remains part of the undercurrent in most of the rural world.  In its most extreme cases it can contribute to a psychopathology of “hoarding.”  For most woodworkers or putterers of almost any kind this tendency becomes manifest in our loathing to throw out anything that might be useful.  Some time.  Some day.  Even if that day is decades away.

But sure enough, with enough time that day will come.

Such a momentous day happened to me this week.  I’m up to my eyeballs in Gragg chairs, and that requires transforming honking big pieces of oak trees into long thin pieces to be worked by edge and steam and bent into chair parts.

My long-time old-as-dirt hand made froe works fine on the honkin’ big pieces of trees, with its trailing edge thickness of almost a half inch.  But for making long, thin pieces of about 5/8″ x 1-1/4″?  Not so much success there.

I did a browse of the interwebz and found several acceptable options for a small froe, generally in the size range of something that would be called a basketmaker’s froe, and I was sorely tempted by this sweet little one from the Gramercy folks who have already parted me from much lucre over the years.  But I pondered the froe iterations possible from my collection of repurposable raw materials in the barn.

Window shopping my way through the “hardware store” portion of the joint I found just the answer I had been searching for; a used planer knife from my 10″ lunch box portable planer.  Darned.  Near.  Perfect.  It was good quality tool steel, hard and very sharpen-able.  Shoot, it already had a bunch of holes in it.

Quick as a bunny I pulled one out of the “metal scrap” drawer(s) and set to work.  With my Dremel-ish Craftsman tool I cut the 10-inch knife in half.  I was making a very petite froe so five inches was plenty.  Grabbing a chunk of white ash from underneath one of the benches where that is stored I was set with all my raw materials.

I put the ash piece in the vise and ripped a kerf with a slotting saw (thanks reader Jack for clarifying the tool as being in the Starrett catalog in ages past) followed by a few seconds with the Iwasaki fine float.

Viola’ at all fit together perfectly!

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.

More Artistry for The Barn

As I departed Arkansas after the workshop my hosts presented me with a custom made gift that is awesome.  Part of Cam’s metal fabrication business includes plasma cutting, as task mostly run by son Luke.  They downloaded the logo from the website and fabricated this treasure.

It will soon be adorning the entrance to the retreat.


Not Just For Cleaning Bathroom Fixtures Any More

Somewhere along the line I obtained a peculiar “hacksaw,” a Victor No.22 with a 1/8″ thick blade (IIRC Victor made tools for the machinist/metal-working trade).

I have no real idea about its true use, it seems to be more of a slot-cutting tool than a cut-off saw as are virtually all hacksaws I have ever encountered.  Actually the closest tool I have to it is an edge float so perhaps that is its true purpose.  Whatever its intended application I kept it hanging on a nail over my workbench and used it once or twice for reasons I cannot recall.  But recently I found it to be a perfect tool for a particular task in a project I will describe in upcoming posts.

In order to use it for this purpose I needed to clean it up quite a bit to make sure the blades sides were nice and slick.  Everything about it was dirty or rusty or both, the blade sides were downright crusty.  In the past I would attack such surfaces with chemicals or sandpaper or abrasive pads, arrows that are still in the quiver.  (For a remarkable website based in-part on tool restoration tutorials I comment highly one of my everyday reads, The Accidental Woodworker.  Ralph is a blogging machine and humbles me for my lack of output.)  I tried something different here.

In great part due to my work in historic finishing I have been gravitating towards pumice as a “go to”  abrasive, and recognize its importance to the ancients for use in powdered and block form.  Most woodworkers are well familiar with loose pumice, practically all of us have a container of FFFF pumice somewhere in the shop, but any familiarity we have with block pumice probably comes from a completely different context — removing rust stains from the toilet or sink.  For just $2 or $3 they can be had at any hardware store or home center, packaged as “scouring sticks” or “porcelain cleaner blocks” or something similar.  I keep several on hand so that they can be used for dedicated purposes.

Including removing rust and grime.  They do get consumed fairly quickly in this process.

I dry-scrubbed the blade of this Victor “hacksaw” with the pumice block for two minutes, tops, and it was ready to go with a brilliant sheen polished into it.  At some point in the very near future I will touch up the teeth with a file but for now it works just fine for what I need.

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.

You Can Taste The Irony

This morning I posted an essay commemorating five years of blogging, implying trouble free hosting by WordPress.  Which, up until some time today, was an accurate description.  But sometime during the day, for reasons and by which means I am utterly clueless, that posting got moved in my history to May 29(!), making it invisible to any viewers unless they searched back more than two weeks.  It just disappeared.

According to my WordPress dashboard, it is as though the posting never happened.  But I know it did because I got a very kind comment in response, and the time notation on the Comment was within minutes of my posting time.

Anyone got any ideas about what happened?

Because I am either stubborn or principled I am reposting this morning’s blog.


Taking Note of 5/900

In the past week or so the website/blog passed two milestones; five years of blogging and 900 blog posts (actually this is literally the 900th post).  I guess if nothing else I’ve got some stick-to-it-iveness and perhaps more to say than I first thought while living the dream of hermitude, homesteading, and craft.

Originally this was going to be an occasional post about some activity or other, but apparently it morphed into something else without me even planning it that way.  I have not taken a vow of verbosity, but as long as this amuses me it will continue.  I have now fallen into the routine of posting something almost every weekday — unless occupied with someone, something, or somewhere else — juggling informational content of several threads running parallel and simultaneously.  The non-linearity of the postings is mostly in response to my own tendency to boredom or my putative ADD (Mrs. Barn insists I have it, I contend that I am merely hyper-curious).

I recall a chat with Chris Schwarz over dinner with the FORP I group several years ago in southern Georgia about this blogging thing.  As the dinner progressed I commented on the incongruity of using methylcellulose as an adhesive to hold breading onto frozen fishsticks and onion rings, as a thickener for paste paint stripper, and as a filler for candy bar nougat.  “There you go,” he said.  “That’s a blog post.”  Who knew?

The blog posts have chronicled the ups (HO Studley book and exhibit, the Roubo franchise, conservation projects, replicating historic furnitureall the little discoveries while in the shop) and downs (broken bones, broken pipes, ongoing battles with critters discontented with the landscape and intent on eating Mrs. Barn’s gardens) but mostly the fairly mundane and whimsical observations of trying to bring order and productivity to a big barn and carve out a congenial life four hours from the city.

The regularity of both the blog posts and the site traffic was established early on.  By three months into the enterprise I was posting three to four times a week, then eventually the current five or six.  Visitorship has remained faithful and loyal, reliably and stubbornly unchanging over the past 4-1/2 years.  A typical weekday draws roughly 375 folks, of which you must be one, and once in a rare while attracts another hundred or even two hundred for reasons that remain opaque to me.  Weekends are about a hundred fewer than week days.  To be truthful I am not sure how to read the stats for the site, but I do not worry about it.  Too much.

If this were nothing more than some sort of a self aggrandizing ego trip I would be concerned by this failure of the site traffic to grow, I suppose, but instead I see the blog as a two-fold undertaking, neither of which includes counting visitors obsessively.  The first thing is to simply practice writing well and quickly, and I have definitely noticed a change in the way I approach this.  Rather than taking a Twitter/Instagram/post-literate grunts-and-phrases approach I write a brief article almost every day, generally in about a half hour, complete with compound sentences and, hopefully, fairly standard syntax and grammar.  I tend to keep thirty or forty blog posts in varying states of completion waiting my further ministrations before posting, and much to my surprise and the lamentations of other bloggers I have yet to run out of ideas.  (I once undertook the challenge of writing a political column twice a week for a full year in response to a friend’s grousing about him doing so for income; it turned out to be during the Monica Blewclintsky business so the columns practically wrote themselves).  Second, I’ve got a lot of stuff kicking around between my ears and blogging allows me to jettison that and fill up the newly emptied brain space with new knowledge.  I truly believe that when you lose the passion for learning, knowing, and doing, you start dying.  When I look at the culture around us, I feel like Haley Joel Osment in “Sixth Sense.”  I see dead people.

I still have lots of plans for the site and the blog.  Videos.  New furniture and conservation projects.  Technique tutorials.  Reviving the Shellac Archive.  Getting all my scholarly and popular press articles uploaded.  Finishing a furniture conservation text book and posting it on the site.  And maybe even serializing a thriller novel I’ve been writing since forever focusing on a derelict furniture conservator in the hinterboonies who discovers a long-lost marquetry cabinet that holds the fate of western civilization within it.  The story interweaves the ateliers of 1760s Paris with the Vichy France of 1940, and today’s museum world of the Eastern U. S. megalopolis with life so far from the city that GPS does not work here.  I mean there.  (Mrs. Barn tells me I write fiction because I get to put words in everyone’s mouths.)

I’ll just close with thanks for those of you peeking over my shoulder, and for the real and virtual friendships I have formed as a result of  They are the true treasures.  How else would I ever count among my friends or correspondents, among many others, folks as far flung as a psychiatrist from Namibia, a ship’s master machinist from Denmark, a miniaturist in Moscow, a retired steel executive from Maryland, toolmakers from around the globe, and a beekeeper from North Carolina?

Thank you all for joining me on the adventure.  Regular blogging will now resume.

The Cheapest, Easiest and Simplest Saw Sharpening Vise Ever?

While noodling around the shop getting the classroom and supplies ready for the upcoming (actually, just-completed) “Make A Petite Dovetail Saw” workshop I devised and built several of perhaps the easiest and simplest saw filing vise ever.  Like me you can make one in minutes using materials from the scrap box.

I started with some 1/2″ baltic birch cut into a pair of 6″ x 8″ panels.  These were connected together along one of the long edges with a piece of piano hinge, with about 1/8″ space between the panels when the hinges were screwed on.  Following this a pair of scrap strips approx. 1/8″ thick were glued to the inside edge at the tops (the hinge was on the bottom).  Once the glue was dry I trimmed the top edges with a block plane until they were clean.

The result was a wooden book facsimile that was narrower at the bottom than at the top.  This would be important later on.

With these top strips in place along the inside edge and the glue hard I planed a chamfer along the bottom of each of them to create bevels that touched at the top of the vise, thus bringing it into intimate contact with the saw plate being sharpened.  At this point the vise is finished.  Really.

In operation the vise is pretty much idiot proof.  Place the saw in the “book” so that the teeth are exposed by the amount you want.  I generally shoot for a tad more than the distance between the teeth, but you can use what ever is convenient and comfortable.

The vise with the saw inside are gently pinched together and placed in a bench vise, a Moxon in this case but any vise that fits is an option.  By adjusting the Moxon vise such that the thinner bottom of the saw vise slips into it easily yet the saw vise engages with the Moxon jaws a little more than halfway in, this seems to work perfectly.  Press down on the saw vise until it is snug in the Moxon and fully engaged with the saw plate.  A gentle tap on the top of the saw vise drives it deeper into the Moxon and causes the saw vise to pinch the saw plate so that it can be filed.

When you are finished with a filing run a 3/4 turn of the screws loosens the Moxon enough to allow the saw vise to be easily lifted out of the Moxon.


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.

Space Available For Upcoming Boullework Class

I was making some preparations for next month’s Boullework workshop (July 13-15) and noted that there is still space in it.  If you would like to participate just drop me a note.

We’ll be making tordonshell from my own special process, and using already-cured tordonshell and brass sheet to cut a couple of tarsia a encastro designs using a jeweler’s saw and 6/0 blades!

In this technique you will cut both the pattern and the background at the same time and thus create two complete compositions, one being the negative of the other.  If we add pewter to the mix it will be three compositions.

I’ll be providing all the tools and supplies for the course.

Hope to see you there.

P.S.  There is also still space in the knotwork banding class August 10-12.

Traditional Woodworking Workshop – Day 1

The agenda for Day 1 of the workshop was ambitious.  We first met for an introductory time and a review of the expectations and projects of the week.  I won’t say there was disbelief at the list of things we were going to do, but I could sense some skepticism.  Especially that part about everyone building a complete bench on Day 1, a heritage tool that would be up on its feet by the end of the day and ready to be put to work for Day 2.

And that is what we did.  I described and demonstrated the process of building the Nicholson bench and everyone got to work, with cooperation and fellowship abounding.  All the 2×12 SYP lumber had been pre-cut so it saved a fair bit of time and allowed for the students to work more efficiently.  As did the use of battery powered drills and decking screws.

Before lunch we had at least a couple of them up on their feet for the first time.  There are repeated up-and-downs with these benches as many of the subsequent steps occur (or should) while it is laying over on its side.

After lunch at Jane and Cam’s restaurant, the best one in the region by far, things got hopping as the tops were added followed by the second lamina for the legs going into place with decking screws and glue.

The front edges of the tops were planed flush with the front aprons and folks got the sense that a real live pile of workbenches was about to happen.

Before long the legs were being trimmed to length and the tops flattened, Round One.  I recommended that everyone wait until next summer for the final flattening of the tops.

Here are a final few pictures from the day as holdfast holes appeared in great abundance, making the benches fully functional even before the twin screw vises and Moxon vises were completed the following day.  It was such a roaring success that it resulted in total buy-in from the participants for the rest of the week.