Sunday, October 4, 2015


For a moment, please pardon some personal navel gazing.

2,304 days ago I sat down at a computer in our house in rural northern Maine. Thousands of miles away from the pack of family and friends I'd gathered over a lifetime. I'd made a decision to fill my hobby time by getting serious about woodworking, something I'd played at for a while. I decided along side that I'd document the process online as a way to improve my writing skills too. At the time I thought I was inventing the woodworking blog. I hadn't read Chris Schwarz (well I had but didn't appreciate it for who it was) or really anyone else outside the occasional magazine.

I remember the excitement at getting my first comment, the elation of reaching 1,000 hits, then 1500 hits!! The sheer joy in catching my first rude comment that required a "moderator's" hand (A friendly note on the phallic nature of something I'd turned)

"Dick jokes on my blog!  I must have arrived!"  :)

I passed the stage where I celebrated most milestones publicly. In private, once I notice they happened, (usually after they're past.) It's Ickey Shuffle Time.

This one's not bad though. This is the 400th post. That's a lot of writing, some of it good, some of it amateur, some of it pretty bad. My fingers itch to edit old posts, especially from the first year or two but I won't let myself, they show the progression which is what I was after all along. I did some gross estimations and averaging and figure I've written my way through two out of three books in "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy. (we're talking length, not quality)

The best way to learn how to do something is to start, in the shop or at the laptop the story is the same. As my hand work has improved, so has my writing.

Things change. Maine changed back to Wisconsin. Shops moved several times. New friends have been made. Fantastic opportunities presented themselves. I've grown as an craftsman and a writer. This past spring at Handworks and the Studley Exhibit I had the surreal first moments of being picked out by strangers in a crowd and asked if I was "The Oldwolf  Guy" The best comment after that was "You know what I like best about your blog? You're not afraid to show it when you screw up."

If I didn't show my screw ups I'd only have half the things to write about.

I've tried to show my honest growth from a sometimes sawdust making, tablesaw obsessed hobbyist to someone reasonably well versed in traditional woodworking techniques. Someone who's been published in an internationally distributed woodworking magazine. The learning and growth continues on from here as I tackle workshop challenges like marquetry and writing challenges like publishing my first book.

Writing an internet blog is an incredible litmus test. People can anonymously tell you where you got it wrong, if they'd do it different or better, and sometimes, just how much you suck. I really do enjoy the near instant feedback I get. So maybe, just maybe I'd still be plugging away at this keyboard even if nobody was out there was reading . . .but it certainly would not be as much fun!

So here, at this milestone I wanted to stop and say Thank You to anyone and everyone who has taken a minute here and there to keep up with me and the shop this far into the adventure.

Oh and just for fun, here is a link to the first blog post . . . I warned you.

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Shop Stool Build Off: Epilogue.

Almost 22 months ago I participated in a pretty fantastic event. Chris Wong organized a one day build off where all involved were to make a new shop stool during the duration of that 24 hours. I built a stool based on the Plate 11 workbench from Roubo.

I don't remember much about the day and the build. I was a concerted blur of effort to get all the joinery done. Four double mortise and tenons for the top and eight more mortise and tenons for the stretchers around the legs. All I do remember is it was damn cold in the shop that day, my little R2-D2 heater barely helped at all.

This is where the build ended. I had intentions of finishing the seat with a little sculpting and maybe applying a little finish the next day, but it didn't happen. It didn't happen for almost 22 months. The stool kicked around the shop. basically unusable because the seat tenons were still proud of the top.

But recently I started a big kick of finishing up some of the things I began but never quite put the period on the sentence. This stool was one of the first things I grabbed.

I planed the tenons and the top and eased all the edges. The white oak had picked up some stains as it kicked around so I gave it a coat of dark, slightly reddish stain. Several coats of garnet shellac, and a coat of clear paste wax.

The results were quite nice. The ray flecks and the grain pop just enough, Best yet, it's done!!

I love how the finish accentuated the hand tool marks. I love more that it's done, and I can use it, and I can move on. If you want to see the accumulated social media pictures from the original build (I had to look to remind myself how the day went) I have them in a blog post HERE.

Ratione et Passionis

Forest To Furniture 2015: Joint Stools.

I had the good fortune to spend last Sunday out, enjoying excellent weather, making wood shavings, chips, chunks, and dust with a couple good friends. It was a similar demo we did together last year for the Castlerock Museum of Arms and Armor and they asked us to make it a yearly adventure!

This year we organized our efforts a bit and all worked on different parts of the same project, A joint stool. Tom Latane had several he'd built in classes with Jennie Alexander many years ago and we had the great book by Alexander and Follansbee from Lost Art Press to reference throughout the day.

Tom took up riving, hewing, and planing oak into planks and legs. Making them ready to pass off for the joinery.

 I spent the day swinging a mallet and chopping mortises (something I'm much faster at when I'm not stopping to talk with visitors about the process) I also demoed making pins and drawbore joints. I never did get around to cutting a tenon.

Paul Nyborg is an up and coming blacksmith on the scene, (he made the holdfast I'm using in the pic above!) When I first met him he was hauling around pieces to a nearly finished wainscot chair. Imagine starting to learn 16th - 17th century furniture and carving by starting with a wainscot chair. Ambitious yes but cooler yet, he was pulling it off.

He used the afternoon to demo the refinements to the joint stool. Carving and making mouldings with scratch stocks. I love how he works off a low bench like Alexander shows in "Make A Chair From A Tree".

The museum has asked us to make this a yearly show and it's so fun to do how could we say no. My own involvement with the museum will be increasing in the future as well, but more on that to come.

Next year we're thinking of a joined chest. That seems ambitious as well, but a satisfying ambition as one is very high on my bucket list.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Roubo's Tool Chest: Scratch Stock

In order to maintain my perfect record, I will not be at WIA this year. When I heard "midwest" as part of the announcement I had hopes but they were dashed when the dates were released and I knew I had already committed to a demonstration that weekend. Instead of WIA I will be hanging out with Tom Latane and Paul Nyborg at the Castlerock Museum of Arms and Armor in Alma WI doing something we call Forest To Furniture.

We did it around the same time last year (you can see some pics HERE) and it looks like it will be at least an annual event for us. Last time we were a little disjointed in our efforts but this time we're all going to be working on different parts of the process to making a joyned stool similar to this one Tom made several years ago in a class taught by Jennie Alexander.

Really, making shavings in the company of good fellowship is a reasonable trade off for missing WIA. If you're in the area and want to see a couple guys work up a sweat stop on by and heckle.

I will be demonstrating hand cut mortises and panel construction. To help I took some time and made a demo piece showing drawborn mortise and tenons along with a floating panel.

I decided as long as I carved the panel, I needed to carve the rails too. I've wanted to do some gouge work that interplays with scratched bead mouldings but my current scratchstock only works on the board edges.

I needed something that would work on the face of the board for "crease" mouldings. This meant making a new beam and fence style tool. Again the gallery of plates printed from Roubo's masterwork took over the planing part of my mind and I went down a deeper path. Figure 14 on Plate 21 spoke and I listened. How could I not with it's locking wedge and cyma recta cut out on the fence. (the fences on the pin marking gauges on plate 14 have a similar detail)

These types of project are wonderful for thinning the offcut bin by a bit. I hunted up a chunk of red oak, a little ugly in the grain, but an inch thick and within the margins of a good size for the fence. I flattened it, squared up the edges to each other and marked out the locations of the wedge, cyma, and beam.

Then I got to work on the recess for the wedge. Using the drill press I carefully drilled a 1/4" hole down the square edge of the recess. Then it was back to the bench to pound out the ramped side with some chisel work. I used a combination of a mortise chisel, and a 1/4" bench chisel to remove most of the waste and an 1/8" bench chisel to clean up the work.

The tool I'm missing that probably would have helped greatly with this is a couple plane maker's floats. I may just have to make myself a set of those in the near future as well. I did use some flat detail rasps and files to finish things off, but over all the chisels worked well.

I still wonder if you could speed up this process by resawing the block, cutting the recess with a saw and router plane, then regluing the block together. Similar to a Krenov plane construction.

I had eyeballed by wedge layout on the fence, so I used a bevel gauge to transfer the slope to a piece of 1/4" thick walnut from the offcut bin. Saw near the line and plane down the wedge to fit by clamping the plane (this time a Stanley #3) upsidedown into your leg vise and running the wood across it. Make sure to keep your fingertips away from the blade.

At the drill press I used the same 1/4" drill bit, (because it was still chucked up) and drilled the perimeter of the beam hole recess then refined that with chisels and rasps making sure the edge intruded sufficiently into the space. Having never really done this before I relied on guesswork and the measurement "That seems like it should be enough."

I cut out the cyma and refined it with rasps. Then I planned a length of walnut to work as the beam. Instead of making another recess and wedge like the original, (Roubo looks like he's double dipping on the usefulness of a hollow plane blade) I wanted to utilize some of the same chopped up saw plates I've already made a dozen of. So I made a saw kerf into the beam and pinched it on the end with a flat head brass machine screw and wingnut.

I softened and refined all the edges to be gentle on my delicate hands and chamfered the ends of the beam. Then a once over with a dry polissoir on the beam and wedge and a pre waxed polissoir and buff for the fence. It was time to go for a test drive.

This is (at least) the fourth tool I've made from the pages of Roubo's l'Art Du Menuisier, including the Press Vise I published in Popular Woodworking and THESE layout distractions. And everyone of them has been an adventure in learning, and sometimes relearning thing I thought I already knew. I'm certain Master Roubo is hanging out on some plane of existence laughing and smiling at all us guys just figuring out the tricks he knew well enough to write about.

Ratione et Passionis

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Roubo's Tool Chest: Marking & Measuring

Sometime around the end of May I printed out these plates from Andre Roubo's "l'Art Du Menuisier"  and tacked them to my shop wall over my workbench. Ten pages of planes, marking gauges, chisels, clamps and more. I will admit when I put them up I had no real plan. I was fascinated with the moulding planes, but mostly I just though this should be something I take a look at every day.

Time hasn't passed without effect.

It started with this little vignette on Plate 15. I like making wooden squares even though I have more than enough I find myself working on a small run of them every 18 months or so. Making them is my version of doing a Gottshall Block. As I looked on I decided I had never made a miter square before so maybe it was time.

I started with a chunk of 1 1/4" square walnut and a slice of cherry 1/4" thick by around 5" wide.

I plowed a 1/4" groove in the walnut to accept the cherry blade and even though the representation in the book is plain, I had been watching a bunch of Melencolia Squares fly around the internet for a while and decided to make a little moulding to the other side of the walnut. The moulding turned out with mixed results in the end.

After gluing them up and truing them up I hit them with the polisoir, beeswax, and a couple coats of garnet shellac.

Since I was in the process I figured I'd make the bevel gauge too. The best detail about this little beast wasn't evident to me until I was looking close at the high resolution images in Lost Art Press's "Book Of Plates"

There is a nice little Cyma cutout on the end of the blade and the fence, but in the high-res you can clearly see a dotted line showing the blade, when closed, is supposed to mate up with a perfectly cut out Cyma landing spot. Blew my mind a little bit with this detail.

I took one piece of walnut and ripped it into three thinner strips at the bandsaw. Then I cut the moulding into the blade/center piece, and glued the solid end back together

The downside to using this gauge like my other bevel gauges is the locking factor. This one doesn't and even though I made the hinge tight it will probably loosen over time and use as well. It does work well as a angle sight guide for drilling angled holes or chopping angled mortises. Looking at lots of photos of 18th century furniture tells me those guys weren't using these to dial in their dovetails to a perfect 1:8 ratio, and most geometric angle problems were solved with a dividers and a straight edge. It's still a fun and challenging piece to construct.

Locating the pivot pin perfectly is a challenge but the bevel works fine with a small amount of error and the walnut looks great.

I have finished one more piece from Roubo's Tool Box recently and if you follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter you already know the results, but it will have to wait a few days here. The question is, if you have an itch what do you do?

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Tray For Tea Part 1: A Degree Of Redemption.

I started a tradition with my oldest daughter Chloe. When she turned sixteen I made something in the shop with only her in mind. She does a lot of sewing and crafting and I decided to make her a notions box based on the school box from "The Joiner and Cabinet Maker" But I made it from some awesome curly red oak stock I'd managed to get my hands on.

Now my middle child Fayth has turned sixteen and I have spent a lot of the summer working on something for her in between and around other projects. A tea tray. You may think it's an odd choice but this girl should have been hatched across the pond because she loves tea. The temperature gauge is topping 100* F outside and she's got the tea pot on the burner and Earl Gray waiting to steep.

For her birthday we found a nice antique Oriental tea set, just the pot and four cups, made in Japan. I thought a Tea Tray would be a good accompaniment.

I searched out ideas to match what I had bubbling in my mind, I wanted something early period but not a Pie Crust Tea Tray. My book collection didn't pay off but the auction houses on the internet did. Unfortunately the photos I saved of the inspiration piece are poor and from my cell phone and the piece has since sold from the online gallery and evidence erased.

What I found was rectangle in shape with straight sides dovetailed at the corners with flowing fretwork cutouts along the sides. What I was after was a canvas for a bit of redemption.

The mistakes are there to see, especially if you look towards the bottom of the panel

I freely talk here about the mistakes I make building something but the fact that I have to make them drives me crazy. I did this parquetry panel for the inside of my nail cabinet, my first shot at this type of work and I made many mistakes. So much so that when Chris Schwarz sent me LAP postcards for the inside, I was more than happy to pin them right over the veneer.

My incomplete list of mistakes:

  1. I didn't make a proper assembly board
  2. I didn't use / have access to the good backing paper
  3. I didn't use the right glue. I used Old Brown Glue when I should have used 192 hot hide glue
  4. I used super thin commercial veneer, this isn't a mistake per say, but it didn't help my cause
  5. I didn't prepare all my surfaces adequately, I knew I should, I just got excited and jumped the gun.
  6. I didn't get a good press of veneer to substrate and probably didn't press it long enough how I did it. 
  7. I chipped off loose corners of veneer removing the glue on the show side. 
  8. The list goes on . . . 

I received a lot of good advice, even an email from W. Patrick Edwards, the man himself. I resolved to do better next time.

Learning, for me, tends to be an incremental process. I have to learn some of my lessons the hard way and that helps reinforce for me the parts of the process that are really important. I still didn't do things perfect this time, but I found out something that helped.

The right glue, a press, and thicker shop cut veneer go a long way.

 I still pulled off some errors, I applied a mastic (mixture of hot hide glue and sawdust to fill gaps and holes) much later that I should have and made more work for myself. I didn't manage to order the right paper or make an assembly board and struggled at times laying out the pattern because of this.

Parquetry down on the substrate and ready to go . . . or so I thought.
At this point I realized I needed the mastic. 

But foibles aside, I managed to pull off a useable and complete field of walnut parquetry. everything stuck, everything stayed, and other than the odd grain direction error here and there, everything looked good. Not the work of a master, but a might better than the last go.

I'll take any small victories I can get. Let's call it . . .a degree of redemption. Next up - the inlay.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Newer, Studlier Marking Gauge.

Going through some photos I found a quick project I meant to blog about several months ago but missed. Mea culpa.

H.O. Studley's cutting marking gauge. Image taken from the book "Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet 
and Work Bench of Henry O. Studley" If you haven't bought it I don't know what you're waiting for.

Marking gauges are unquestionably an essential part of any woodworking tool kit. As ubiquitous as the square, even those who primarily prefer power tools keep one or two around. Just like the square; there are several variety of gauge that accomplish the same task, and while I appreciate rod style gauges like the Tite-Mark, I don't own a one because I adore the older style wooden gauges. 

How many gauges does one woodworker need? Surely we all keep several versions of a square around so how many do you need to keep in your tool chest? While you can get away with just one, I find four to be a nice even number for the busy woodwright. Personally I keep five in my tool chest but what's life without a little excess. 

Four might seem like excess to many but hear me out. I keep two pin style gauges, this way I can keep track of two settings without changing anything. I also keep a cutting gauge with a sharp blade, and a mortising gauge. The one oddball is a double beam gauge I was given by my father-in-law. It has very fine points that exceed in fine detail and narrow settings so it's earned its place. 

I find them all over the place in antique stores and second hand shops. I've never paid more that $10.

The ugly duckling of the group was the cutting gauge. It was the first beaten foster child to come into my shop while I was just starting to figure out this woodworking thing. The beam was marked as a Stanley Sweetheart but was beaten and worn and the cutting blade had been worn away to barely anything. The most salvagable piece was the head or fence.

Necessity, invention, and mothers who all drink from the same cup of cliche, I did what I knew at the time to make it usable. I cut a new beam from pine scrap and did a amateur's job of fitting it to the head's recess. Then I a hole in one end and flattened one side with a chisel. For a blade I used a broken piece of jigsaw blade. I ground and sharpened an edge on it and held it tight in the beam with a piece of dowel.

That was… oh fifteen or more years ago. And it worked . . , kind of . . . except when it didn't. Then I entered the realm of the Studley Effect. 

It's better to be lucky than good, and I consider myself so. A few months back I got to spend time hanging around Don Williams and the Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench as a docent for the Icon's exhibition which ran concurrent to Handworks. Even a little time around the chest is a life changing experience. (Much less hanging around Don and the rest of the docent crew, a really inspiring bunch of creatives) I was fortunate to spend more than a little time (though not nearly enough) 

Over and over I heard people ask Don one of the big questions, "Which tool is your favorite?"  

His answer…the infill mallet from the upper right till. Narayan Nayar, the book's photographer, is smitten with the oilstone box that hides behind the masonry symbols on the left middle. 

It made me wonder for myself. I don't think I could pick one and I'm not entirely sure I'd pick any. Maybe the No. 9 miter plane, but that's because I have an issue with miter plane envy. I did spend a while gazing at the four ebony marking gauges that flank the infill mallet. The setting and spacing of the till is so captivating to me. A heavy portcullis gate hiding the rows of gothic arches and twisting drill bits behind, by Sunday afternoon when the crowds had thinned and were allowed to stay and look on as long as they pleased, I found my sketchbook and a seat and began to scratch some ideas centered around the till.

This increased my focus on the ebony marking gauges and the contrast they had to my embarrassment back home. I made a resolution and one of the first things I started when I returned to the shop was fix my cutting gauge problem.

It started by making a new saddle. This piece goes between the screw and the beam and spreads out the force applied by the screw. Older gauges I find have often lost this piece as it sits loosely and falls off when the head is slid off the beam. The gauge still works but the screw starts to hammer the crap out of the beam and the head can twist on the beam more easily with the force focused on a point instead of spread out along the beam.

I had a thin sheet of brass laying around. Too thin to work in a single layer so I doubled it up and curled it back on itself. A little cold hammering and a little file work to make a couple flats and a snug fit and I had a new, workable saddle. 

Next was making a new cutting blade. I unceremoniously dumped the old jig saw blade in the bin and rummaged around the "broken shit" drawer for a suitable replacement. 

I happened upon a broken 1/4" chisel. Perfect!  A little time at the grinder and I'd worn it down to a good thickness and length. Cut it to length and a little file work to fancy up the dull end and a little time at the sharpening station. 

By far the pickiest part of the process was making the small wedge to hold the blade in place. The new beam of walnut was no problem to fit but I went through four different wedge attempts before I was happy.

But the detail work wasn't done there. There was chamfering the ends of the beam. Hitting everything with a dry polissoir (no wax) and then a couple coats of thinned garnet shellac.

The end result was quite pleasing. I have a pin gauge to work on yet in the same manner, but like most things I got distracted before I could start it. 

It was a good attempt to try and work the Studley out of my system so I could dive my head back into 12th century medieval France and it helped, but once something like that gets deep under your skin there's no shaking it. I can imagine years from now, someone asking me about a design element or decision on a piece and my response will be to pause, place a thoughtful finger at my lips and then reply…

"Well, because Studley." 

Hopefully that will be enough and I won't have to try and explain that. I'll probably just tell them there's a book they need to read.

Ratione et Passionis