Wisdom Of Our Forefathers

It has been a slow month for woodworking this January. Cold temperatures and a injury to my knee have kept me from spending too much time making sawdust. A good old cortisone injection in the knee and some warmer temps lead to a whole day in the shop this weekend. I hope the weather is turning for the better here in Wisconsin because I could really use more time in the shop.

The current project I'm working away on is a version of the William and Mary Bookstand made by Chuck Bender and featured in Popular Woodworking Magazine's Arts & Sciences section. Out of respect for processes already covered by both the author and the magazine I am not going to go through my standard step by step of the build. If you're interested I encourage you to take some time and explore both Chuck's great blog Parings, and the online info provided by Pop Wood. There is enough info included in these places to allow someone to build this piece themselves if they choose.

Infact, here's my disclaimer. I never got around to actually purchasing the issue of Pop Wood this piece was featured in. All the info I needed to get to work on this piece was provided by a .pdf put out by the editors after the realized they had made some mistakes on the cut list page of the project. You can download your own copy of the page HERE.

The one thing I do have to say is that as I work on building this piece I have to admit how impressed I am at every turn. At first look it appears very simple, a nice in-between project, something for a weekend, but as you break it down there is a whole lot of work that goes into this simple little project. It includes dovetailing, mortise and tenons, turning, scroll work, wooden pin hinges to line up correctly. As I work away I continue to be impressed with all you have to do and do correctly or it will show up like a sore thumb on such a compact little piece.I am seriously thinking about adding some carving to the sides as well to give it a little extra dress up. I really thought I was picking up something that would be a fun little project that would use up some shorter white oak boards I had lying around, but I am finding a project that is delightfully challenging. I'm not a big one for building projects from magazines or copying others work, but I do highly recommend this one!

One of the things I was able to do with this project is make some smaller mortise and tenons. For the last few years if I've been making this joint, I've been making a big version of this joint, these were instead only 1/4" wide, the perfect chance to get to better know a tool I've been wanting to work with for a while now. A nice old mortising chisel.
A while back my father-in-law gave me a chest of tools that had traveled with his Great Uncle from Norway back around 1865, there was a lot of great stuff in there and you can read some about it HERE, but what I haven't spoken about is a couple years before he gave me the down payment on the chest with a big cardboard box of chisels and a couple wooden jack planes. Among the bench chisels was a 1/4" mortising chisel. I didn't know what it was for a while, I was just on the cusp of changing my Normite ways and moving a little more St. Roy, and I had never seen anything like this used in the New Yankee Workshop. It wasn't until I was reading through Leonard Lee's "Complete Guide to Sharpening" that I matched up a picture and the tool.

What threw me for a loop at the start was this depression on the backside of the chisel. A while ago I finally went to sharpen it and I had to decide how aggressive I was going to get. The backs of chisels are supposed to be flat aren't they? Well I thought about it and decided that I would be wasting a lot of steel and making a lot of work if I ground the depression away. I cleaned it up and figured that if needed, over time the depression would be eventually taken care of through sharpening and standard grinding. But then I got to actually using it.

The depression that was ground on the back, wither by my wife's great-great uncle or a family member after him, works kind of like a scoop or a spoon and makes a kind of sweeping blade. So I can use it to start to hog out a lot of waste fast, like a mortising chisel is supposed to do, but when it comes down to clearing chips the depression acts like a little backhoe, scooping out the chip in mass. And when it comes to squaring and fine tuning the mortise for depth the angle of the back side of the blade almost mimics a plane blade or scraper, curling up shavings and cleaning out the hole like a champ.

The little depression doesn't change the whole game when it comes to chopping mortises. It's not a massive revelation by any means, but it is one of those little things, a detail that can make a job just a little bit easier. Where did Wilbur Indahl come up with the idea, back in the mid 1800's, either he had to learn it from the master he apprenticed under or from another man of the craft maybe on a job site. To me it speaks of the type of information we lost a lot of when this country moved away from apprenticeships and towards assembly lines. The eventual result of those decisions has left us with an abundance of Wal-Marts and a distinct lack of artist/craftsmen. What a loss.



  1. I think the "flat back" requirement for chsels is most important for paring. Doesn't matter so much (as you've discovered!) for mortising. If back flatness was an absolute requirement for a chisel, most of mine would have to go in the trash! (they are mainly very old, rescued basket cases). Losts of uses for chisels other than paring though.

  2. I just like to wonder sometimes if we aren't our own worst enemies with all the "Rules" we've created when it comes to tools and hand tool woodworking. It's amazing how many of these older tools Obviously the guys who used to make a living with these tools didn't always follow specific rules. It's good to have guidelines and a place to start, but too often I don't think we're given permission to experiment.

  3. Ok, so does this mean I get to see some pictures of your completed stand or not? :)


  4. Well good lord, THE Chuck Bender posting on my blog, You just never know who will show up here do you? :)

    Well in all honesty this project went a little sideways on me and I know the culprit was my stock selection. I was trying to force this piece out of some white oak I just had laying around and . . . well I don't think the oak wanted to be a bookstand a little more than I wanted it to. It won. and it's tough to write a post about why you failed.

    I do have some black walnut I split from logs last fall that I think some of it will be ready this spring, I think that will be William and Mary Book Stand: Round 2. I love this piece and I haven't given up on it, I just need to spend a little more effort into the pre planning than I did the first time.



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