Mouse Wars Commence

After nine years of blogging and 1,700+ posts I cannot recall anything that surprised me more than the response to my recent post about mice in my truck(s).  I got several Comments (I average about one comment per two or three posts, or about one-and-a-half per week).  Plus, I got several direct emails with advice and commiseration.

Let it be said that the Mouse War has begun in earnest.  There has to be a Peter Sellers joke in there somewhere.

The strategic approach includes three separate campaigns: discouraging mouse entrance, eradicating mouse presence, and expunging the olfactory aftermath.

As for the first point, that is discouraging mouse entry, two distinct tactics are involved.  The first is to create an odor inside the cab that mice find repulsive.  Problem is, the smells mice find repulsive, I do too.  I am not hypersensate but there are precious few odors I want to be bombarded with continually.  Good barbecue might be on that list, but I presume that would attract mice, not repel them.  Yes, dryer swatches, room fresheners, and a host of other odors might work but I would soon tire of the fragrance.

The second tactic involves installing a strobe/sonic rebuff, which I ordered and will install when I get a free minute.  My pal MikeM is a vintage car guy and stores a treasured vehicle in an out-building and swears by these devices.  We will know soon enough whether it works for me, too.

The second phase of the war is the eradication of the interlopers.  I’ve had mixed luck with traditional mouse traps, but find them to be too insensitive in general.  All too often I do not find a dead mouse, but I do find the trigger has been licked clean of the peanut butter bait, even after I modify them to have a hair-trigger.  At Mrs. Barn’s suggestion I put one of her RatZappers in each truck with resounding success.  In short order I had six electrocuted mice, and in the week since there has been no activity.  I am so pleased with them that despite the price I will order several for myself, one for each truck and one for each end of the studio.  I work in a barn, after all.

The final hurdle is the de-stinkification of the cab once a mouse has crawled somewhere inaccessible and died.  Based on the responses I am not the only one with this problem.

I will for the most part follow a line of passive resistance — when the weather is accommodating, I will leave the windows cracked a bit to air out, and until the stench of dead mouse is gone I will pack the cab with some of my homemade charcoal to soak up the smell.

Wish me luck pilgrims, wish me luck.

Essential Planes – Near Miss #3

This third and final installment of “Near Miss” planes is an eccentric one revolving around the fact that I am not a chair maker.  I am a Gragg Chair maker, a definite distinction.  It might be a distinction without a difference, but it is a distinction.  My only rationale for including this/these tools here is that indeed they are integral to that work but are probably not true panes.  They are plane-ish.  Yes, they have sharpened irons held inside a body but they are different enough to call their type into question.  This/these tools are the micro spokeshave and its cousin, the drawspoon, sometimes called an inshave or scorp.

I was first introduce to the micro spokeshave in the foundry pattern shop when I started work there around 1978.  At its core, when it came to the types of patterns we were often tasked with making, patternmaking was essentially no different than curvilinear sculpture.  I was astounded the first time I watched the shop master John Kuzma lay waste to a glued-up stack-laminated helix that was to become the rib of a dredging cutterhead.

Almost hidden in his hand, this tiny tool soon had created a pile of shavings as the almost organic contour and surface took shape.  While I had used “full sized” spokeshaves before, this little jewel was new to me and I have been a convert ever since.  When I parted with the pattern shop in 1981 to marry Mrs. Barn and give college one final try — first college credits in 1972, tripe major degree finally in-hand in 1986 — John reluctantly bid me farewell (he could be an irascible sort but we got along famously; he came from the rough-and-tumble world of Cleveland factories and taught me obscenities and associated linguistic constructs that would make John McWhorter proud) he handed me as a farewell gift the micro spokeshave we had cast in the foundry.  That tool remains one of my personal treasures.

The micro spokeshave we made in the foundry and John gave me as a farewell gift is the one in the upper right.

Flash forward to my first in-person encounter with a Gragg chair.  Even underneath many coats of paint the processes and tools of Gragg were readily apparent, and a small spokeshave was integral to his work as well.  Thus, when I started making replicas of his chair I was well equipped.  Every curvilinear element of a Gragg chair is worked with this tool or one of its analogs (I own about two dozen micro spokeshaves and happily they are still being made)

The drawspoon on the left was made by AMT, and IIRC the one on the right by Ohio Tool. As far as I know neither is in production today. Perhaps the pinnacle of this form was made for a short while in Rhode Island by the Otner Bortner company. I am in the market for a set of those…

Another sorta cousin to the micro spokeshave to which I was introduced in the pattern shop was the drawspoon, used often in concert with the spokeshave.  The spokeshave deals with the outer surface of a curvilinear shape, the drawspoon handled the inner curve.  Unlike the shave, the spoon was restricted by its size and curvature so we had a set of them ranging from 1/4″ radius to 3″ radius.  Try as I might I have never found another set like ours, perhaps not too surprising since we made them in the foundry ourselves.  One of my great regrets ex poste is that I never copied the patterns for the shaves and spoons, and when I returned to visit the patternshop many years later all the tools and patterns of those tools were gone — rather than being a wood-based shop it was now a polymer-composite-based shop with body grinders replacing the woodworking tools.

Like the shave the spoon is plane-ish, but also like the micro shave it is integral to my working the seat deck of the Gragg chair.  NB – I made a few modifications to Gragg’s original techniques and configuration, and introducing a modest swail to the seat deck with the spoon was one of them.  That make the sitting ever more comfortable.

So, the micro-shave and the spoon are “near misses” in the Essential Planes menu only because they are plane-ish.  If your work is different than mine these might not even appear on the radar, but in the context of my work they would be ranked #1A right behind the bench plane.

Essential Planes – Near Miss #2

A second, most useful, “plane” that is adjacent to my Mount Rushmore of planes is the router.  Hmm, is it really “a plane?”

Though primarily used for excavating, such as dados and rabbets (if I did more case-building it might be in that pantheon) but I find myself using it more than I would have thought when excavating areas for inlay or excavating joinery where my rabbet/dado plane will not work.  I’ve even thought about getting one of the mini-routers now on the market, just for small inlay work.

I have two vintage routers, one “D” style and one platform style, both with no adjustments other that tapping and tightening screws.  Both are tool swap/flea market finds, and I found both to be terrific tools so much that I had no problem finding a new home for my NOS Stanley router.

Once again, the only reason they are not ranked higher on my list is that I don’t do enough of the kind of work that makes them reside there.  It’s not their fault I don’t have them in my Essential Planes.

Stinking Rodents

I can’t speak for or about any other place, but here in the hinterlands we have a big rodent problem.  Not just the critters that burrow into Mrs. Barn’s garden (causing my sweet natured bride to pick up a pyrotechnic projectile tool and start blasting away at the bunnies and groundhogs), not just the critters that occasionally find their way into the house, but the real exasperation comes from mice and similar evil creatures infesting and damaging vehicles.  These incursions are never ending and remain a constant source of work for local mechanics as mice chew through gas lines (yup), chew through brake lines (yup), chew up the insides of cars and trucks (yup), and especially get up behind the dashboard to either establish a colony (yup) or to eat the tasty wire insulation until they get electrocuted (yup, it’s why several of my dash gauges do not function right now).  Up there.  Behind the dashboard.

I think I’ve got such a case right now.  A month ago I noticed the stench of death in my truck, and despite a thorough search I could not find the source.  I have to assume that I’ve got a decaying mouse carcass somewhere hidden in the cab.  I was advised to place a car air freshener inside the cab as mice hate the smell and it will act as a repellant, plus it will mask the stench of the decaying corpse.

I did, and all I accomplished was a whole new layer of stink to the truck interior.  It didn’t even discourage the mice, as I noticed this morning that the peanut butter on all the mouse traps had been cleaned and none of the traps had any trophies.  For the moment all I can do is keeping reloading the mouse traps, adjusting them to have the hair-est-trigger possible, and load as much charcoal as I can into the cab to eventually scrub the air passively.   I put the charcoal in a few days ago and have convinced myself I can notice a difference, but still the peanut butter keeps disappearing off the traps.  I expect that if I ever do excavate behind the dashboard I will find a complete mouse condominium there.

Stinking rodents!

About Raining and Pouring

After three years of near-drought conditions (twice last year, once the previous year) I am suddenly deluged with opportunities to teach and present this year. In addition to those I have previously mentioned, there will be a third Historic Woodfinishing workshop, this one at the Barn(!), commissioned by the regional chapter of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers.  They’ve had a month to get their members into the class and now I can open it up to the general audience for the last couple of slots.  My neighbor is coming over this afternoon to help me rearrange the classroom and move some workbenches down from the fourth floor.

I’m also going to be the banquet presenter for this year’s Annual Meeting of the Early American Industries Association, speaking on the topic of the incomparable Henry O. Studley tool cabinet and workbench.

I even declined a gracious invitation to teach out on the West Coast and another out in the Heartland, but my days of that kind of travel for teaching are over.

When it rains, it pours.

So, here’s what my upcoming teaching/presenting schedule looks like:

April 12-14  Historic Woodfinishing 3-day workshop for the Howard County Woodworkers Guild, Columbia MD


May 20 The H.O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench banquet presentation for the Annual Meeting of the Early American Industries Association, Staunton VA


June 19-21  Historic Woodfinishing 3-day workshop for the regional chapter of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers, at the Barn


July 17-19  Historic Woodfinishing 3-day workshop at Wood & Shop, Earlysville VA


August 21-23  Introduction to Parquetry  3-day workshop at Wood & Shop, Earlysville VA


September 1&2  Handworks 2023, Amana IA (yes, I know this involves long-distance travel but I’ve been committed to this for several years)






Essential Planes – Near Miss #1

Among the multitude of planes that I own and use, the five previously mentioned are my Pantheon.  Three more planes are “near misses” for one of three reasons.  First, even though the tool might be called “a plane” it might not really be a plane in the most common sense of the word, that being a tool to make lumber flat, smooth, true, to a specific dimension.  Second, it might not be as integral to my own work, in other words my projects might not require this or that tool.  If your projects do require this tool, wonderful.  Finally, I wanted to make sure the Essential Planes were not gargantuan or heavyweight; my Pantheon are things that would be found in a reasonably-sized traveling tool box.  Admittedly, these restrictions are idiosyncratic and almost arbitrary, but so be it.

One of the tools in the “near miss” category is my sweet little #43 mini plow plane.  Though technically a groove cutter rather than a stock prepping tool, it is called a plane in the lexicon so I will do so too.  Were I more of a frame-and-panel sorta guy (I have recounted about how I am a premium plywood user for panel construction, even to the point of laying up my own custom veneer plywood) it would be right up there in the Mount Rushmore of planes.  If you produce a lot of small boxes and furniture like RalphB over at The Accidental Woodworker it would be a perfect fit.  The fact is I do not make much frame-and-panel work so this little beauty mostly sits on the shelf, patiently awaiting those few projects where it is an integral asset.  If you do build a lot of frame-and-panel work, especially small to medium sized, this could easily be one of your two or three most important tools.  I know that if I migrate in that direction, it will be for me too.

All that said, I do own two of these plow planes, one for the shelf in the shop and the other in my traveling tool kit; it breaks down to a very small package that fits into a #1 mailing envelope.  You just never know when a frame-and-panel project will strike.

Up next – not a bird, not a plane, but for me a supertool!

Best Song(?) on the Best Album(?) by the Best Band! (obviously not woodworking)

From the golden age of America’s best ever rock band, sez me and Jimmy Page, the jazz/funk/polyrhythmic “Day at the Dog Races,” (I vaguely recall blogging about it eons ago) a song I can listen to repeatedly at the same sitting.  Speaking of which, I remember one Thanksgiving Friday twenty years ago when Mel and I might have been the only people at work, so we decided to see how many times we could listen to Phil Collins’ “Something in the Air Tonight” on our best-in-the-building sound system.  We put the CD player on “Repeat 1” until we were tired of it.  As I recall, the answer was 43 times in a row.

Little Feat did a lot of backup for a variety of vocalists including Robert Palmer (Sneaking Sally Through the Alley) but as a bonus here is LF backing an engaging performance of Rhumba Baby by the infectiously charming Nicolette Larson.  From back in the day when music was fun and didn’t make my ears bleed, like the junk kids listen to today.

It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s A… Gragg?

Certainly the undertaking to study, understand, and replicate the “Elastic Chairs” of c.1810 Boston chairmaker Samuel Gragg has and continues to consume much of my interest, time and energy.  There’s just something about them.  It seems as though I always have a couple in progress in the shop or on the finishing bench, and indulge in some far-afield explorations of the basic bentwood technology.

Recently my friend JustinB dropped me a note to inform me of an upcoming auction for a stamped “S.Gragg/Boston” chair of a different sort.  Thanks to the research of Michael Podmaniczky and Patricia Kane we presume that Gragg only made his Elastic Chairs for a few years before turning his attentions to other, more profitable chairmaking enterprises.  Having now made many Elastic Chairs I can appreciate Gragg’s transition from making indescribably elegant chairs that took a lot of time to make towards making slightly less elegant but definitely much less time-consuming chairs in the Windsor milieu or even simpler forms.  It is useful to remember that artisans of the past were not generally engaged in contemplative work, they were trying to just survive and often never more than several days or weeks away from hunger or even malnutrition.  Generating any kind of cash flow was at the top of the “to do” list.  Simpler chairs that could be made in a matter of hours rather than a matter of days fits that bill.

So I bid on the chair in this on-line auction, taking the risk in that I had not examined the chair in any way other than scouring the on-line images.  Much to my astonishment the final price was about 1/10th of what I expected, and I won the auction.  I still have not seen the chair and it is winding its way to The Fortress of Solitude.  When it arrives and I check it out, I’ll let you know even if it is phony baloney.  In that case I’ve spent a completely acceptable amount of money on an idiosyncratic rocking chair for the front porch.  If it’s a “real deal” I will own a piece of history I will treasure, but it still may wind up on the front porch.

Stay tuned.

PS  I apologize if the chair’s images are funky, they were in a format my primitive software would not process as I downloaded them directly from the auction page.  Good thing I have a new compewder I am bringing on-line.

Webster Desks By The Truckload

I am probably(?) not unique among movie viewers n that my own personal interests, when represented on screen, often supersede the story of the movie itself.  One of those aspects for me is the furniture in the frame; I often spend more time looking at interesting or historical furniture than I do watching or listening to the characters.  One instance of this was when I would watch the television show Frazier.  Whenever the setting was Frazier’s apartment I was always distracted by the Eames Chair and ottoman.  One downside to my proclivity is whenever I watch a show in a historical setting, I have caught myself conversing inside my skull something like, “Yeah, this style of furniture didn’t come into fashion until long after this setting.”

Such an occurrence played out on our DVD player recently when we watched (or rewatched) the post apocalyptic movie Logan’s Run.  When I saw it first over four decades ago it left so little impression on me I literally could not remember a lot of the details of either the plot or the setting.

In this example, there was one scene set in a derelict US Capitol in the Well of the Senate.  Given my affection for the Webster Desk and its descendants in that chamber of mostly unconvicted felons, there were pastiches of this piece of furniture in abundance.   I could tell from the motion dynamics of moving the desks that they were not only fakes, but lightweight stage set accoutrements as well.  The real deal is quite heavy.  I blogged extensively on the project of replicating a Webster Desk a few years ago.

Nevertheless it was fun to see a furniture form with which I am very familiar being so prominent in the action.

Terrific Trio (Essential Planes Part II)

When choosing “the essential planes” the sorting factors differ from person to person, and my selection definitely reflects my interests and projects.  These three planes, combined with the previous pair, fulfills my needs for 99% of the work I do, and, as an added benefit, don’t weigh much or take up much space.

My final three Essential Planes are;

The scrub plane is simply part and parcel of my work in that they get rough wood flat (but not smooth) fast.  I find myself using one more and more and the power planer/jointer less and less.  A great part of that development is the nature of my projects — I make almost no large scale “cabinetry” — and the steeply cambered iron works wonders at getting things flat.  Even on my large-scale projects, mostly workbenches, the scrub plane is a jewel when it comes to flattening gigantic slabs of wood that don’t even fit into the planer anyway.

I’ve got both metal bodied (LNT) and wooden horned scrub planes and use them interchangeably.

Next comes the toothing plane, perhaps peculiar to my work in that I do a lot of veneer work and laminations for which the toothing plane was designed.  The serrated, or “toothed” iron is perfect for getting surfaces prepared perfectly for gluing together and there are regional techniques whereby all secondary surfaces are flattened quickly.  Again, not smooth, but definitely flat.  Admittedly I own far more toothers than I need (13) but you should have at least one and incorporate it into your work.  It really increases production efficiency.

Finally is a plane probably in most of your tool kit, the rebate/dado plane.  When it comes to making wide channels to fit pieces of wood together, or cleaning up the inside corners of joinery, nothing can compete with a rebate/dado plane.  I would say that it is a tool perfectly designed to do one essential thing, but it is more than that.  It is great for shooting moldings the Roubo/Bickford way.

Up next, three tools that may or may not be “planes” per se, and whose utility depends on my projects.  If my work was a little different they, too, would be in the pantheon.