Monday, September 29, 2014

Black Walnut 17th Century Style Document Box

I have many, many things to catch up with here. I'm going to begin with a little bragging.

Back in June I did a little carving demo at the annual Gala for the Castlerock Museum of Arms and Armor. I carved a front panel for a document box out of walnut.

Just this past weekend I was part of another demo there, more focused on woodworking itself, and I decided to finish up a couple pieces to have as. ". . . and here's what it looks like when you're done." pieces. I spent last week finishing the till, lid, and turning a set of feet.

Here's the finished results.

The primary wood is black walnut, the inner till is made from cherry and the bottom is pine, (So you get that wonderful scent when you open the lid) .


The box measures approximately 20" across and 14" deep.

This small chest is also FOR SALE. I need to make more room for new pieces, (and help finance the materials for them) I'm asking $450 USD.

Send me an email ( if you're interested or have more questions.

There should be a lot more actual woodworking stuff coming from me soon.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Beaming About Benches

I am too poor and unfortunate a man to be included in the great bench building ventures of our time. Namely the French Oak Roubo Project (FORP) which is now in the start up of its second iteration while I jealously watch from the digital sidelines.

For, at least the last year I have been seriously weighing my options when it comes to building a new work bench. I built my current bench at a transition point in my life. Tired of tooling around learning how to do a little of this and a little of that, I decided I would focus my creative endeavors on woodworking, something I had played with and enjoyed, but now set forth to attempt to master.

The inspiration, Chris Schwarz's take on the Nicholson Bench

At this time I also started blogging about my work and time in the shop. At the time I thought this was a unique idea (little did I know what I was getting myself into) My current bench, a hybrid idea between the Nicholson Workbench Chris Schwarz shows in his original blue workbench book and a bench he built called "The $175 Workbench". Made from pine with a laminated 2X4 top.

The original, just finished circa summer 2009.
Time rolls. Lessons become knowledge. You know you can do better. I've made modifications.

My bench as it sits today, in my perfect little corner of the world. 
I upgraded/replaced the leg vise chop when it broke, and added a rail of holdfast holes to the underside and a cheep inset planing stop the raises and lowers with a thumbscrew.

The problems?

I knew we were going to move after I built the bench, so in my naivete I didn't make the connection between the legs and the bench top very solid. In fact the legs are slanted boxes that attach to the top with lag bolts and the bottom shelf with carriage bolts. Not exactly bomb proof joinery. So the bench racks a bit when planing. I solved that by screwing it to the wall!

The second and larger problem. The top has warped over time and not just a little bit. Enough so planing it flat is less than feasible to it's survival. It's not that I can't work on it, and can't work around it. handling long stock is the only real time its a big issue. Mostly I'm just tired of settling and working around the issues included in something I could have, should have done better.

So I've been pining for a second chance, a new bench with no compromises, but finding the right materials is the tricky part. The combination of patience and fate has delivered the materials to my doorstep.

The new workbench in its infancy. 

A week and a half ago, some folks I know dropped me a line, they had an old barn they had to burn down because they were selling the property it was on. As an after thought they thought I might like to salvage some material from it. If I'd had a few months time I'd have salvaged every usable stick, as it stood I had a one day window. I called a buddy and we went and got some beams.

I believe they are some softwood variety, which is fine with me. The big beam in front is a little more than 8x8 square. It will be the legs. The three thinner beams are around 4x8. Those will be edge joined together to make the top. They all come out to about 12 foot 4 inches long.

That means when I'm finished, unless I find something punky or bad. I have a chance at a workbench 12 feet in length and a little less than 24 inches wide.

A close up of the row of benches show in Roubo's infamous plate 11 etching. 

That should work just fine. It'll mean rearranging the shop something fierce, but it will be a nice problem to have.

I've got a lot of nails to pull today and then the beams are going to have to wait for a little while. Maybe even the whole winter long, but soon I'll be starting and there will be no compromises this time.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, September 7, 2014


A while back I carved a long panel with "S" scrolls. I didn't know what to do with it per say. So I simply hauled it around to my carving demos as an example.

Recently someone who I hope will turn into a benefactor and long term client expressed interest in owning the panel after I "finished it up a bit". 

I will be seeing them again at the end of this month and I thought I'd make a simple walnut frame and a little natural Danish oil to "finish" it. 

I built most of the frame yesterday and decided to join it with pocket screws today. Everything was going swimmingly until I went to attach the last side. 


I drilled the damn holes on the wrong side of the frame. In one corner. Bonehead rookie mistake. 

All I could do was laugh at myself. 

And I don't think I have any more of this thicker walnut stock left. 

I can't hide these holes with plugs. That'd look like hammered crap. 

Guess it's back to the drawing board for a while. 

I'll come up with something. 

Ratione et Passionis

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Misplaced My Mojo.

I feel like I misplaced my workshop mojo. Not because I'm burnt out, that's a different feeling, Not because I don't have anything to build, I have projects piled up to the rafters. And definitely not because I've been injured, ill, or in legal trouble of any kind.

August was simply an insanely busy month for us. Good, but chaotic. We had birthdays for two of our three daughters. The annual Midsummer's Feast with my medieval Reenactment Group (hands down the finest meal I eat every year) My in-laws celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a party we planned. And to put a cherry on top on the last day of the month, I had a lecture and presentation with my best friend and medieval combat buddy, Thom Peters, .

Thom and I armored up for a combat demonstration earlier this year.

The show was called "Armor Up; A Real World Guide to Wearing Medieval Armor" and it was held at the Castlerock Arms and Armor Museum in Alma Wisconsin.

I'm part of several presentations every year on medieval weapons and armor, most of those are at best, semi-off the cuff, and often before roughly gathered crowds in parks and at fairs. This was a formal presentation at a museum, attended by people familiar with the subject and know what they're talking about, and surrounded by actual historic examples of the very items we're referring to.

I haven't given a formal, PowerPoint style lecture since I left teaching in 2008 to return to work at the hospital. That's more than six years.

A little out of practice, a prestigious setting, and did I mention it was a sold out to standing room crowd. I was a little nervous heading in.

After things got rolling, and I managed to get a few laughs from the terrifically generous crowd, I settled down, like I knew I would.

We introduced ourselves, dispelled a handful of popular myths about armor, then we went over the armor pieces worn between the 10th and 13th century, what they protect, how they fit into the over all scheme, and what can go wrong while wearing them for combat.

Then we showed them how long it takes to armor up both a common soldier and a knight in real time. The answer, three minutes for a common foot soldier to ready himself, and 27 minutes for the knight, with two inexperienced volunteer squires helping.

The whole event was well received by the attendees, the museum owner and the museum staff. The best possible outcome. Especially since I have two more presentations there upcoming this year.

At the end of this month, September 28th, I will be teaming with Master Blacksmith Thomas Latane and blacksmith/woodworker Paul Nyborg in a demonstration called Forest to Furniture. Where we will show the process involved taking a tree, riving and hewing it down to stock, smoothing and joining that stock into furniture, and then carving and finishing a piece.

Then at the end of November, the 30th, I will be doing a presentation on the Furniture of the Maciejowski Bible. Work I'm hip deep in deciphering at the moment. I'm a little more nervous about this one than I should be. The chaos of this summer and August in particular have put me well behind my schedule, but what will be will be and I will be ready to talk about the research I've completed, the direction's I've had to look, and the various threads I've had to string together thus far.

If you've got a chance and are in the area, swing by the museum on one of these dates and say hi.

Now it's time for me to get my butt back into the shop. Papa's gotta get his mojo back.

Ratione et Passionis