We had planned to spend a little time on the road this morning, but imagine our surprise when we woke to 6-7 inches of “occasional flurries” on top of the several inches from a few days ago.  My snow blower had a flat tire with no way to get it to an air compressor to it or vice versa, so we spent several hours shoveling snow.

Website Updates

Over the next two weeks Webmeister Tim will be updating virtually every aspect of the site platform and blog functions.  If all goes well you should experience no difference other than faster loading and a Comments function that actually works.  I will strive to post with some regularity in the mean time but there may be some interruptions to my access for posting.

If you are trying to order something from the Store and it isn’t working, be patient and try again later.  I’ve got my final pre-Christmas mailing of a few orders tomorrow (they will surely not arrive before Christmas), and then there will be no more shipping until January 5 at the earliest.

Hope it isn’t too disruptive, and besides you should be concentrating on enjoying the blessing of time with loved ones.

Indispensable Gragg Chair Tool #2

One of my fond memories from my formative years as a woodworker was the period of three years hen I was a patternmaker in a foundry, which is where I learned what “precision woodworking” was all about.  To be truthful it is a standard applicable to very little of my work ever since, but it was elucidative nonetheless.  Most of our work was pretty heavy machine-oriented, but we did have a selection of hand tools for shaping the forms.  Because, another lesson from the patternmaking days was that we were, in essence, fabricating sculpture, most of it being sculpture based on blueprints, but sculpture just the same.  But for most of our work we relied on stack lamination and shaping components with large disk sanders, working to the center of a knife strike line.

Every so often we had to really sculpt pieces by hand, hence the inclusion in our tool kits of tiny spokeshaves that I find so integral to Gragg chair work.  Another peculiar tool set for sculpting foundry patterns was the interchangeable thin-walled gouge set made by Buck.  For many years after leaving the patternmaking shop I searched for a set of these gouges, and then all of a sudden I found myself with three complete sets.  I still use these tools in the shop with regularity although I am down to two sets.  When my dear-friend-I-have-never-met Rob Hanson related the tale of losing his house and shop during the California fires two summers ago, I began sending him “care” packages full of tools to get him re-started, concluding recently with a barely used Record 52-1/2 vise.  Somewhere along that trek I decided I did not really need three sets of these gouges and sent one to him.  I have not yet figured out how to integrate these tools into Gragg, but I will.

The small spokeshaves are fine for convex surfaces and larger concave shapes, but for concave surfaces with smaller radii we relied on a set of tools we called draw-spoons.  For shaping the rear seat rail and wallowing out the seating deck of the Gragg chair tools like scorps, travishers, and inshaves do not work for me but the drawspoon fits the bill perfectly.  There were a range of drawspoons in the patternmaking shop, but there was only one set and I never had the opportunity to make another.  The larger of my tools came from Garret Wade back in the day, now I think they are available from Woodcraft as a spoon plane.  I have a smaller set that came from AMT back in the Stone Age, I do not know if they are available anywhere any more.  Lee Valley makes a drawspoon but it is too large for the purposes I need.

I have found that I simply could not make Gragg chairs in any meaningful way without the drawspoon, and if you want to make them you will need at least one as well.


More Woodpile Treasure

A while back a local friend brought me a pile of wood from his firewood pile.  Not until he cut and split it did he realize that it was a load of quilted cherry.  Quick as a bunny he brought it over, and I have been waiting for the best time to saw it up into usable boards.  Unfortunately that time has not yet come, but my eyes glance over to the pile every time I go down to the first floor of the barn to feed the stove.

Even when viewing it along the cleavage line from splitting it is clear there is something pretty special inside.  A few minutes with a scrub plane and fore plane, followed by a dousing of shellac, confirms the initial optimism.  Given the firewood-size of the pieces, this one was about eight inches wide, I’m thinking of some particularly figured panels or small-ish boxes.

Spectacular, and I am betting that if you have a firewood pile there is plenty of woodworking and woodturning treasure in there too.

A First Nibble of Winter

On Monday we had our first measurable snowfall, we’d had a few covering skiffs but this was about 3 inches of magnificent huge wet flakes, imparting spectacular beauty to the branches and landscape.  Today should be a pip, with nine inches expected.

Thus far even the temps have been reasonably mild, with some days requiring only a little time of my kerosene heater to take the chill out of the shop.  It looks to remain that way for until Christmas, and I will not mothball the hydropower until then.

[Update — At mi-day there were another 4-5 inches of snow, although it seems to be vacillating between fluffy flakes coming down hard and sleet.  Might by my first chance to use the mondo snow blower we bought 18 months ago.]

Rookie(?) Mistake

Much of the goings-on in the shop are Christmas-gift related and therefore must wait a while before recounting them on this page.  But one recent veneering exercise revealed the foibles implicit in being distracted by other activities, and what happens when you (by that I mean me) lose your concentration.

I was creating a fairly simple pattern from some rosewood veneer and everything went well and I managed to assemble the pattern with one little scrap I had to use.

When I glued down the veneer to the substrate I simply forgot to anchor the composition into the correct place on the panel, and lined it up free then placed the caul and clamps.  Of course the whole thing shifted under the weigh pressure and I saw the next day that everything was out of whack.

I tried to lift the veneer by soaking it with acetone, but it was too set for that to work.  All I accomplished was tearing everything up.  It was off and that was that.  Now it’s off to the trash can.

Now my only question is, was this simple rookie mistake or a geezer mistake?.

‘Tis The Season…

… when I have The Messiah on loop playing on my compewder, and I exhort you to join me in listening to the most compelling version of the magnificent musical devotional I know.  This one is presented by Collegium 1704, the Prague ensemble committed to playing Baroque music on Baroque instruments interpreted as closely as possible to the way that music was played at the time of its creation.  This performance and setting are to my eye and ear flawless.

I have loved The Messiah since I was but a little boy, playing it over and over on our portable record player and eventually owning perhaps a dozen versions to play on my grown-up stereo.   This version is by far my favorite, its tempo and expressiveness are lively and overwhelmingly joyous.  How could it not be, it is the grandest story of all wherein Creation is reconciled to the Creator through sacrificial Redemption?  The sprightly pace in some passages might be a bit startling to those of you who have had to endure the multitude of turgid Messiah performances over your life.  All to often it is performed as a dirge rather than a joyous celebration.

But this performance is spectacular in every way.  The setting is Divine, the musicianship is virtuosity itself, the choral ensemble is angelic, and the soloists are all captivating, especially alto Delphine Galou who is radiantly sublime.  I could listen to her singing the Federal Budget.

In watching the performance I am always impressed with the Colloquim’s commitment to period musical instruments, I find myself looking for details of the ancient tools they are using.  While those in the viol family appear to have not changed in 300 years, the same is not true for the brass and woodwind clan.  Some of them look downright odd.

An instrument I wonder about is the one directly in front of the conductor, it looks vaguely like a roll-top desk.  I find myself wondering if it is one of the console pipe organs from Taylor and Booty, just down the road from me.  We have toured their facility two or three times as a family, it is an amazing facility producing other-worldly instruments.

I forget whether this is Mr. Taylor or Mr. Booty who was giving us this tour in 2007, showing off one of their console pipe organs.  The guts are packed tighter than a 1972 Boss 428 Mustang engine compartment, the one where you have to loosen the brake master cylinder to get to the spark plug on cylinder #8.  Elder dottir is a pipe organist and really wanted one of these babies.  All it took wa$ lot$ of moolah.  Lot$.  Hence, she no has.

Much like a wooden boat, which has to look a particular way but whose most important feature is being water tight, so to are musical instruments; they have to fit the human body (or in some ases an architectural surrounding)  but still sound lovely.

Dwindling Inventory

On my most recent visit to the Post Office to mail some family packages I was informed that they are no longer projecting packages to arrive before Christmas due to bottlenecks throughout the system.  That’s good to know, so if you were planning on sending any of my wax or polissoirs for Christmas I can mail them immediately but do not expect to receive them before Dec 25th.  Early December  is the only time of the year where I regularly go to the post office more than once a week to mail packages.

Much to my surprise I made it to this date with a bit of my dwindling inventory remaining, I had my doubts.  It’s been a few months since I received any new polissoirs since my broom maker has been dealing with some serious health issues and has not had the strength to sit and make brooms or polissoirs.  At this point I am down to about a dozen of each model in stock (way fewer than in this picture).  I’ve got plenty of wax blocks and can always process more, ditto Mel’s Wax.

I spoke to the broom maker last week and he is determined to get back into his shop this week.  I hope it is true because that means his healing will be nearly complete.  That will be great as we can start building excess inventory to prepare for Handworks 2021 on Labor Day weekend.

Truing The New 30-60-90 Triangle Square, Part Deux

To judge and tune the angles of the square I first establish the right angle to be as perfect as possible with my Vesper square, which is the reference I use for anything 90-degrees in the shop.

With with my brass triangle laid out as closely as possible to the geometric model of the base being exactly 1/2 of the hypotenuse, I begin to mark the 30-degree angles cumulatively to form a half circle or even an entire 360-degree construct.  I have found that simply marking the angle with a pencil and building the angle construct from that is not accurate enough to get it exactly 30-degrees.

When I am creating the sawing and shooting jigs for parquetry I have to keep in mind that in order for the assembly to be perfect the pieces have to fit tightly together by incorporating twelve lines — six starburst pieces with two sides each.  For every fraction of a degree of angle the triangle square is off, that error will be magnified twelve times in the final assembly.

Once that is accomplished I set the square down against a line, then lay a popsicle stick along  the angled line.

Removing the square and placing a second stick as the mating surface I now have the reference line to establish the second 30-degree angle. I continue this process until I get to the stage where, if perfect, the first line and the last line are perfectly in accord.

This never happens, the aggregate is always off by a tiny bit and the hypotenuse needs a bit of adjusting, in this case less than 1/64th”.

I do this on my granite block with a roll of 60-grit sanding medium, gently pressing the toe or the heel of the hypotenuse to kiss the angle a teensy bit one way or the other.

It usually takes me a few brief sessions at the granite-and-sandpaper before I am satisfied with the six-angle exercise.

Once I get to that point I can solder the shoe on the short leg of the square and finish it off, calling it “done.”  This example is the bigger sibling of the current one, made during the workshop two summers ago.  I trued this square the exact same way, and it is a joy to hold and use.

Truing a 30-60-90 Triangle


In many instances, cutting dovetailed open mortises through a Roubo bench top for example, a 30-60-90 layout gauge only has to be “close enough,” however you define that term.  All one layout line has to do is match another layout line, and as long the two lines are struck with the same tool off the same reference plane all is well.

During last year’s workshop we all made one or two of these triangles, and like I said above, they work just fine.  Laying out the hypotenuse with dividers was all that really needed to accomplish (the hypotenuse of a 30-60-90 triangle is exactly twice the length of the short leg), using my Chris Vesper sublime refence square for the 90-degree corner.

But what happens when you have to create a series of lines coming from different places, and they establish the perimeters of pieces that must match each other precisely?  That is exactly the case of laying out a basic “starburst” or “dice” pattern parquetry composition.  I used to be content with simply laying out a sawing jig using a small plastic triangle from a middle school geometry class set, but since I have moved to shooting the edges of all the lozenges to minimize the joints even more, I needed to make myself a truly precise triangle square to set the fence for the shooting board.

Starting with one of the brass triangles left over from the workshop two summer ago I determined to make a 30-60-90 square that fit the bill.  Once I had the angles perfect I could then solder on the shoe to the short leg of the triangle.

Tomorrow I will show how I did just that with a bench top geometry version of a Covid/PCR test, using a piece of paper and two popsicle sticks.