Archive: » 2019 » March

Making Roubo’s Cabinetmaker’s Squares

One new workshop for this summer is the project to make a set of nested cabinetmaker’s squares a la Roubo. When first encountering them I was immediately intrigued and made myself several versions of the form in wood, metal, and ivory. For the upcoming workshop we will make our sets with plate brass. Since the process and form might be unfamiliar let me recount it for you in several steps over the next couple of weeks.

Roubo does not describe the “making” of his tools, merely their utility. In our modern times we have the advantage of having tables saws at our disposal, and most of us have crosscut sleds. And, we have easy and (comparatively) inexpensive access to plate brass. I started with a piece of 1/8″ brass plate measuring 12″ x 24″ and cut it in half on the sled.

Since the fragments of the brass coming off the saw can be quite stinging, when I find that I cannot arrange to be out of the way I often cover the kerf line with a piece of scrap lumber to keep all of that shrapnel going down into the saw box rather than up into me.

The first thing I did was take the 12″ x 12″ plate and rip off four 1-inch strips to get to a final dimension of 8″x 12,” which would be the size of the largest square for this nested set. The 1-inch strips will become the “shoes” for the squares later on.

One of the trickiest parts of this step is judging how close to the corner you can get with your cuts as you want to make sure not to cut past it as that ruins the corner intersection. I get to about 3/16″ of the corner with the saw blade, then turn off the saw and rotate the plate to cut it at 90-degrees,

To complete this particular cut I took the workpiece to the vise and finished the cut with a large jeweler’s saw frame and some #4 blades.

The “outer” corner of the remaining piece was cleaned up gently with a file and I returned to the table saw to repeat the step. Lather, rinse, repeat.

In the end I was left with all the parts I needed to make a nested set.

Stay tuned.

Finishing Kerfing Plane Tune-Up

Since I had very little invested in my set of kerfing planes I felt no hesitancy in attempting to modify them into greater usefulness, even if the result was their destruction. Fortunately it did not.

Clearly the solution to the knuckle scraping problem illustrated last time was to elevate the position of the trailing hand.

Since the bodies of the planes were made from Baltic birch plywood, my favorite material for prototyping (although probably far too often the prototypes remain the final in-use version for a lot of things) I just cut the handles off and remounted them to a more satisfactory position.

The only real challenge was to make sure that the glue line between the plane body and the newly re-located handle fit closely so that the new glue line was robust enough to withstand the use.

It was. I glued the handle in its new location then went back in and rounded out the front of the hand hole and it was ready to get back to work.

As you can see and I can testify the new posture was perfect for continued use without having to be attentive to the blood flowing out of my pinky knuckle. For someone who re-saws by hand a fair bit, this is a big deal.


PS I am still trying to post the next video. I must have forgotten some trifling step in the process, but a soon as I remember it the video will go up.

Special Introductory Price For Mel’s Wax Ending Soon

The introductory price of $43 for Mel’s Wax (domestic shipping included) will expire in a week as the price will assume the standard level of $49 (domestic shipping included) on or bout April 1. This is not an April Fool’s joke, it is just a convenient transition from the two months of previous pricing. At the moment I have no plans for another price increase.

Tweaking the Kerfing Plane Design

A while ago I made myself a dedicated kerfing plane, adapting the designs by Tom Fidgen which in turn were probably originally documented by Roubo in the 1760s. Tom re-invented the idea unaware of Roubo’s tools, and in turn I adapted them for my own use. My first foray into this arena was re-purposing a derelict plow plane, and idea that worked okay, but then I moved on to a dedicated tool made with Baltic birch plywood build more along the lines of a backsaw profile.

For the workshop I taught last summer in Arkansas I made a few more kerfing planes, and their shortcomings, which I had dealt with unthinkingly, were a serious issue as almost every person who used them got their pinky finger knicked simply due to their configuration.

I noticed that the students modified their handhold to grab the tool differently, as I had done at home almost unconsciously after ripping open my pinky knuckle a time or two. It was time to address this nuisance and I did.

I’ll show you how next time. Stay tuned.

A Collaborator Goes “On-Line”

My video production collaborator Chris Swecker has created a web site to market his new-ish venture, Seed and Fruit Media. If you are in the Mid-Atlantic region and would like to explore video as an element for your work, Chris is an excellent option. He is especially great at seat-of-the-pants production, and I find him a delight to work with and the final product is exactly what I wanted; whimsical broadcast quality footage.

Chris definitely has the chops for first-class work. He spent a decade out in Realityville working on big-time projects, and fortunately for me he has come back home to the place where he was raised.

We will be resuming filming the Make A Gragg Chair video early next month once the weather warms a bit. This was a bitterly cold winter, so shooting in the unheated attic of the Barn was not an option.

BTW I hope to post the next episode of the Veneer Repair video on Saturday.

PS Imagine the possible communication confusion when two of your closest collaborators are both named “Chris S.”

Workbench Wednesday – #15 (2017), part III; The “LC” Bench

A few months before the benches were built for and debuted at Handworks, I had been invited to teach woodworking to my colleagues in the Rare Book Conservation lab of the Library of Congress.  The emphasis for this two-day workshop was on fabricating oak book boards by hand. In antiquity the covers of a book were almost always leather covered this wood boards, usually quarter-sawn white oak.

The workshop was simultaneous delightful and frustrating.  Delightful because the staff there was congenial, skilled, and highly motivated.  Frustrating because they did not own a workbench worth lighting on fire.  At the time I vowed to rectify that situation, and by repurposing one of the petite Roubos I did.

Several months later, as other projects were winding down in the studio, I was able to find the hours to transform one of the Handworks knock-down display Roubos into a workbench worthy of daily use by my friends at LC.

The initial steps were straightforward, as I simply reassembled the basic bench as I drove home the legs in their twin sockets with a sledge.  They were so snug I did not bother with glue, I simply pinned them in place with 4″ screws and wedged any spaces.   This construct was so stout that it would hold up to vigorous use even without integral stretchers.

The top surface needed only a few minutes of flattening, first with a #5 set up as a fore plane, followed by a freshly sharpened #7, and concluding with cross-hatching with a toothing plane.  The stretchers and shelf were equally simple, just screwed in place.

In the end the “transformation” might be better expressed as “tartification” that came in the guise of a modified vintage leg vise I had in my inventory.  Given the mundane nature of the original, probably a late-19th Century unit I picked up who knows where, I felt some enhancing was in order.  The barrel head of the original was entirely uninspiring, simply inappropriate for the new setting and the artifacts it was to be part of.

I gave it some new life in its contour, and inset a large mother-of-pearl button at its center.  Just because I could.

Not to abandon the foot of the movable jaw, I spent a few minutes with a saw and a file to give it a bit of pizzazz also.

My final flourishes were a double planing stop attached to the end of the top and some sharkskin pads for the top  of the vise.

The true beauty of the bench was that with the addition of the risers underneath the legs it was suited for every person in the Rare Book Conservation group, and the petite size was absolutely perfect for the very limited space they had for it. It was the example of something turning out perfectly almost accidentally.

The second of the petite Roubos remains in the classroom of the Barn, awaiting re-fitting for my nephew’s wife who want to learn woodworking and will need a bench in their Philly apartment.

Meeting Mister Mulesaw

I have distant memories from more than a half-century past regarding my sister and a French pen-pal with whom she corresponded throughout high school and perhaps beyond. Evidently Pen Pal Clubs were a thing back then, I do not know if these were school activities or what, but I remember her reading tales from Monique(?) about every day life in 1960s France. These memories are charming artifacts from a time when people actually wrote letters by hand, on paper, using pens and stamps and such. For a time I was a letter writer, mostly to parents and siblings. My father would often shout out to my mother, “Mary get out the dictionary. Here’s another letter from Don.” (Actually my parents were both lovers of words and their skillful use, a trait that has redounded through the generations of their descendants; my 102 y.o. mother has more than a half-dozen great-grandchildren).

My sister is still an enthusiastic letter writer and I correspond widely myself, albeit by electronic means. My mindset might be 17th Century, but I am at least superficially conversant with modern technology. Via the magic of the interwebz I correspond with folks, mostly fellow woodworkers, from around the globe.

It was by these means that I made the virtual acquaintance of Jonas Jensen, a marine engineer and woodworking/homesteading blogger from Denmark. I have been following his Mulesaw blog for years, and corresponding with him nearly as long. I remember once chatting with Chris Schwarz about Jonas when the latter attended Chris’ tool chest class in Germany, and Chris remarked, “Yeah, Jonas is your kinda guy.”

Our correspondence is voluminous and while it concentrates on woodworking it also contains forays into family, homesteading, world-views, and a host of other rabbit trails.

Until recently Jonas’ work travels were concentrated in the northern Atlantic Ocean as he was an engineer on supply ships providing support for North Sea oil rigs. We who follow him were never short of amusement as he would chronicle amazing woodworking projects using crate wood and similar materials and a sparse tool-kit working in the machine shop of the ship. Though I encouraged him to visit or even move to the Virginia Highlands he was bound to family and job in Scandanavia and the surrounding region. Any trek to North America was simply out of the question.

Recently all of that changed. About three months ago Jonas excitedly informed me of a job change, moving from utilitarian North Atlantic supply ships to become the Chief Engineer on a heritage Norwegian sailing vessel.

And, that ship makes an Atlantic circumnavigation every year, stopping in Norfolk, Virginia. With great anticipation we marked the calendar and planned to meet in person on his ship. We finally did so last week.

As I was approaching the berth where the ship was docked I wondered if I would recognize it. Of that there turned out to be no doubt. The ship is striking in appearance, and the giant Norwegian flag allowed me to find it effortlessly. I strode up the aluminum gangplank and a minute later the beaming face I recognized from his blog approached me and we greeted each other warmly.

What followed was a memorable time of fellowship and learning about the ship that was his new work-home. I was struck by the elegance of the ship even as I was at its entry. This fitting for a section of folding rail was truly impressive, only the first of many times I was agog in the coming hours.

I had the same overwhelming impression of the yards of well-fashioned mahogany throughout the ship, from the precisely fitted decking to the vintage steering wheels (two sets) to the exquisite pilot house.

Though retaining its century-old heritage and configuration, the ship is necessarily a thoroughly modern sea-going vessel as you might expect for a ship traversing the full Atlantic Ocean. To the greatest extent possible the modernization of the ship is disguised, as in these rescue runabouts suspended over the deck. There is no practical way to make these speedboats look old, but at least the booms used to hold and lower them are fashioned to look like they were part of the original construction more than a century ago.

The attention to historic presentation and modern practicality continues below decks as well, some times the modern looking not much different than the vintage. For example, the carpenter’s shop looks like any carpenter shop might look in such a setting. Still, the absence of “flat, square, and true” almost anywhere on the ship is disconcerting to us landlubbers. I think a week in this shop would probably make the OCD/anal-retentive type woodworkers mad.

Just down the way from this shop is one I think Jonas might be eyeing for re-fitting as another woodworking shop. The set-up is well underway with this bequeathed set of hand planes already ensconced there; the space only needs Jonas’ magic ministrations to turn it into a fine woodworking shop.

In between these two spaces was a store room filled with ropes. Lots and lots and lots of ropes of every size and configuration, along with a number of examples of the sailor’s knotwork arts.

One of the primary functions of the ship is as a training vessel for naval cadets from the Navies of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and The Netherlands. When hosting groups of these naval cadets, usually about 60 at a time if I recall correctly, these younger folks sleep in hammocks hung from hooks in one of these large bays. You can spot the hooks on the beams overhead. Each cadet has 1/3 of the floor chests, and the dining (and studying?) takes place at the benches and tables situated along the hull.

Fortunately further back in the ship are the cabins for the crew and officers of the ship, including Jonas. This cabinet in Jonas’ cabin re-emphasizes the reality that on a ship like this, almost nothing is flat or square. The cabinet and cabin doors often look like they came from a crazy house in an amusement park.

The accouterments and detailing of these spaces are quite elegant. Carved stair railings, furnishings, and skylights are all magnificent.

After the tour of the ship we went out for some barbecue and the conversation lasted for hours, covering woodworking of course, but also rural living, faith and world view, families, and the state of Western civilization. Jonas made arrangements for me to sleep on board, and before dawn the next morning we parted and I headed for home looking forward to our next reunion.

Now In The Store – Blend 31 Block Wax

You can now order Blend 31 block wax in the Store at  Blend 31 is a solid wax of 3 parts hand-processed beeswax and 1 part shellac wax.  It is $16 per quarter pound block, domestic shipping included.

I use Blend 31 for all kinds of things around the shop including lubricating plane soles and saw blades, and it works wonders on drawer runners.  Since it is 1/4 shellac wax, and since shellac wax is the second hardest natural wax, it is a fair bit harder than pure beeswax.  And, unlike pure beeswax, thanks to the shellac wax fraction this blend warps a bit when going from molten to solid.

Recently I posted the recipe I use for turning Blend 31 into a stout paste wax good for any application where paste wax is the desired form.

Workbench Wednesday – #15 (2017) Pair of Petite Laminated Roubos, Part 2

I was busy with travel yesterday, so this is a day late.

The procedures for making this pair of benches was identical to previous and more recent versions, the primary difference being the scale of the project(s). The first steps revolve around rendering usable lamina from 2×12 southern yellow pine, ripped and cut to length. As has become my practice I run all of the stock for the top and the legs through the power planer to get clean surfaces and edges for the glue-up.

This project was so routine in fact that I made no record of assembling the top, but it was an identical approach as I have recounted previously.

This approach makes for almost effortless cutting and fitting of the leg tenons and the top mortises. With the top flipped I just drove the leg tenons home with almost gentle pressure. Sure, I was using a 12-pound sledge, but I wasn’t having to wail away on it.

Actually the driving home of the legs in this manner is why I off-set the three lamina for the leg, leaving the center lamina untrimmed. This disposable tongue gives a great place to pound on.

Lying the assembled unit on its side allows for effortless trimming of the legs to the identical length. Soon enough the first one was upright, serving as a bench for the second.

Given the petite dimensions, particularly the height, I needed to devise a system to raise and lower the bench according to the height of the user.

I prefer a bench higher than do most folks, I am about 6″-0″ and like the bench to be about the height above my wrist with a hanging arm, so I figured that a stepped height would be fine. Using 2x construction lumber and some coarse sandpaper I created a set of stepped slippers to allow for the height to be variable. In the end this turned out to be a crucial component for the end result of one of the benches (actually, probably both of them).

With some final detailing, flattening the top and drilling for holdfasts, I had a near-perfect workbench/display table for the task most immediately at hand.

One of the features I designed into the benches was the easy removal of the legs so that the benches could be portable knock-down units. I fabricated a fitted block to drive the tenons of the legs down through the top of the assembled top, allowing for complete disassembly. This strategy worked perfectly and in time the benches were ready for transport to Iowa.

They served me perfectly there, and confirmed the original concept of a small-ish Roubo-style knock-down bench (an idea I first stole for Kari Hultman).

After the Handworks event the benches came home with me, awaiting their next chapter.

Stay tuned.

2019 Barn Workshop – Make A Ripple Molding Machine

Just as I was writing the blog post for the final Barn workshop of 2019, Make A Ripple Molding Machine, I got an excited note from my friend and fellow instructor John that after many months of experimenting with seat-of-the-pants engineering he has conquered the waving problem. In our two years of Rippleista gatherings with me, John, Sharon (who wrote to tell me she had just purchased a 17th century painting with a ripple molding frame), and Travis we made great strides in recapturing the technology for replicating ripple moldings from centuries past, but the wave moldings were still not where we wanted them to be. Such is no longer the case.

Sharon’s new old frame

The ripple/wave machines we will be making during the workshops are at least tenuously connected to the concepts of those in the 17th and 18th centuries but we are incorporating modern hardware into the equation to make these machines precise workhorses in the studio. We’ll work with each attendee to produce a completed hand-powered machine to take home with them, capable of producing almost six-foot moldings. After that it’s all up to you to make it sing your song.

The workshop is September 23-27, $950 all materials included. It’s probably way too cheap but this is our first time to teach this one. We will probably be so jazzed that John and I will build a couple ourselves.