Friday, April 24, 2015

Neck Deep

When I started to envision a book on medieval furniture, I didn't want to write something stuffy and scholarly. As I began to walk the path I realized a simple truth. I needed backup. I needed to have some sources, some research that dug deeper than the surface I was skimming.

Long story short. . . I started down a path I thought I knew well, but all to soon I realized there were deep places where I had not tread before. For those places I needed a flashlight.

That flashlight is research. Climbing on the shoulders of those who had gone before and hopefully seeing further.

Today I spent several hours hunkered down in the Kohler Art Library and it's vast archive of knowledge. It was incredible. I found sources for things I already knew. I found answers to questions I was asking myself. I mined enough raw ore to melt down and polish up into a book.

Now I have to continue to find out if I'm worthy of the task.

I'm not worried about building the furniture or documenting the process. I'm worried about writing a book others will find worth reading.

Ratione et Passionis

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Some Answers and Final Touches (Stanley 358 Miter Box)

Almost two years ago I finished up an extensive rehab on a old Stanley 358 Miter Box. By far this was the biggest tool rehab job I've ever done, but it was well worth it. Though I dare say I could live without, its a welcome luxury for dependable and repeatable cuts.

By far and away I get more email questions and comments on this series of posts than I do about anything else I've written or built. I believe that's because there are thousands of documented "how to cut a dovetail" posts out there, but not a whole lot of documentation on restoring one of these babies.

As I finished up writing about the rehab ( I still had a few questions myself that I was unsure about. Mostly it had to do with this piece set up to make cuts at a repeatable length.

I had the metal threaded disk that I knew inset into the wooden bed of the saw bed (see part 109 below) But I didn't understand how the other pieces related to it.

In my mind I envisioned something much more complicated. I'm not even sure it's worth the time to describe it. I had it wrong.

Then I got an email from Jeff, He'd picked up a Stanley Miter Box himself and the threaded disk was still imbedded in the bed. He went back over the part list and had one of those light bulb moments. The parts for the arm are other pieces repurposed.

You have these guide arms, and the thumb screw and arm clamp from the back. It never occured to me this thumb screw would thread into the disk, but it does!

This morning I finally got around to installing the disk and completing the rehab.

A 1" forstner bit made a shallow recessed for the disk. I followed up this by drilling out the center with a 1/4" bit to make clearance for the thumb screw.  I located the spot by eye and by running my fingers underneath to make sure I didn't drill the post into a metal support. By eye it's very close to the original placement shown.

Without any steel flat head screws, I decided brass would be ok. #6 size screws were the right fir for the bevel and holes in the disk.

Then it was try the thumb screw, clamp, and stock guide. works perfect and again much simpler and straight forward from what I thought. Isn't that nearly always the way.

Along the way, Jeff also turned me on to a great little book available through Project Gutenberg. Because I get a lot of questions about the project I thought I'd include the text and pics related to the miter box below, but you should go check out the book for yourself. The section on mouldings is worth a read by itself.

"The "How To Do It" Books: Carpentry For Boys
By J.S. Zerbe (1914)
from Project Gutenberg

Miter Boxes.—The advantages of metal miter boxes is apparent, when accurate work is required.

The illustration, Fig. 267, shows a metal tool of this kind, in which the entire frame is in one solid casting. The saw guide uprights are clamped in tapered sockets in the swivel arm and can be adjusted to hold the saw without play, and this will also counteract a saw that runs out of true, due to improper setting or filing.

Fig. 267

A second socket in the swivel arm permits the use of a short saw or allows a much longer stroke with a standard or regular saw.

The swivel arm is provided with a tapering index pin which engages in holes placed on the under side of the base. The edge of the base is graduated in degrees, as plainly shown, and the swivel arm can be set and automatically fastened at any degree desired.

Fig. 268

The uprights, front and back are graduated in sixteenths of inches, and movable stops can be set, by means of thumb-screw to the depth of the cut desired.

Figure 268 shows the parts of the miter box, in which the numbers designate the various parts: 101 is the frame; 102 the frame board; 104 frame leg; 106 guide stock; 107 stock guide clamp; 109 stock guide plate; 110 swivel arm; 111 swivel arm bushing; 112 swivel bushing screw; 113 index clamping lever; 115 index clamping lever catch; 116 index clamping lever spring; 122 swivel complete; 123 T-base; 124½ uprights; 126 saw guide cap; 127 saw guide cap plate; 132 saw guide tie bar; 133 left saw guide stop and screw; 134 right side guide stop and screw; 135 saw guide stop spring; 136 saw guide cylinder; 137 saw guide cylinder plate; 138 trip lever (back); 139 trip lever (front); 141 leveling screw; 142 trip clamp and screw; 146 T-base clamp screw.

That's all for the miter saw box except a couple quick notes.

First, I did a lot of my own research on this miter box in old tool catalogues scanned in by Rose Tools. Unfortunately that site is no longer in existence, but Isaac Blackburn has done a good turn by taking over the hosting on his website. See a ton of old tool catalogues at his site: 

Second, if you're interested in revisiting (or discovering for the first time) my rehab of this miter box you can find all the articles collated here:  It's a quirk of the blog software to post the most recent post first, keep scrollling to see older posts.

Third, and most important. Jeff, buddy, I owe you a beer (or whatever's your pleasure) when I get a chance. Thanks for figuring out the answers!

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, April 5, 2015

"Beware Of All Enterprises. . ."

 "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and rather not a new wearer of clothes"  -Thoreau

Often you only hear the first part of this sentence from "Walden." Kurt Vonnegut had it painted on the top of the coffee table he sat at to write his stories.

A recreation of Vonnegut's writing space at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis
If you take just the first half of the sentence out of context, it interprets as a kind of paranoid statement against allowing yourself to experience new things or change, you can also take it as an affirming "stay true to yourself," thing.

Instead, if you read the statement as a whole, and the supporting text. It really means you should change yourself first, and the clothing, or accoutrements needed should follow. Decide what you're going to be, find out if it fits instead of jumping in feet first and wasting money on things you don't need, they when you have a basic idea, go ahead and purchase the new clothes you're going to require.

Now we've moved from paranoia to the sage-like advice of experience. The kind I'd give to anyone who was interested in taking up the yoke of transforming wood into usable stuff, works of art, or a combination of both and more.

I've had Thoreau's words on my mind lately as I've moved about town buying, literally, new clothes for a new venture. I feel blessed to be part of a small group of people who've been asked by Don Williams to help with the exhibit of the H.O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench. One of the most solemn duties I've been assigned is to take a shift as a docent on each of the three days.

This means I will be there to assist the viewers, make sure everyone is behaving, and, the coolest thing, provide answers to questions and context to the collection. It also meant I had to buy some new clothes to fit into the docent dress code.

In order to help me study so I have the answers to questions, I've been allowed to view a editorial proof of the final product!

No, I cannot tell you anything you haven't heard from the official sources of Don Williams and Lost Art Press. You can ask, you can offer, you can bribe, but why would I do such a thing and jeopardize my inclusion in this historical event.

I can tell you one thing, The combination of Don's words, research and interpretation and Narayan's photography all result in a powerfully informative record of this incredible and historical tool cabinet that stretches into the realm of a powerfully folkloric work of art.

Off the top of my head I can think of only a handful of complete and historic tool collections connected to a single maker. The Benjamin Seaton toolchest, The Duncan Phyfe toolchest, The Dominy family tools, benches, and workshop. and The Studley tool cabinet and workbench. Of those I would bravely assert the Studley cabinet is the only one to consistently surpass the consciousness of the relatively small community of woodworkers and enter into the mass awareness of the public at broad.

Not always as a tool cabinet or collection of woodworking tools, but as an object of complex beauty, obsessive attention to detail, a novelty of desire or a combination of all and more.

The Studley collection is owned by a single, private collector. It is not part of any museum collection or regular exhibition The cabinet and workbench have never been displayed together in public ever before and it's highly possible they will not resurface again for a long time, if ever.

The good news: The collection is well and thoroughly documented in "Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O Studley"

The better news: You can still get tickets and make the pilgrimage to see the collection. The groups will be kept small and you will get nearly an hour to commune with the pieces. During each group time Don will open up all the hinged places and show all the hidden recesses the poster on your shop wall only hinted at.

You'll get to see the cabinet and workbench up close (Sorry, you still won't be allowed touching privileges, those are reserved for Don's expert hands alone.)  However, Don has constructed a replica of Studley's workbench and on that platform he will hang a number of vintage vices equal to those hanging from the master's bench. Those you will have free reign to open, close, and inspect to your curiosity's delight.

I am very humbled to be a part of this event and hope everyone can and will take the time and visit. I cannot imagine anyone finding themselves disappointed to spend a little time around an object as mythical in proportion as this. Honestly, do yourself a favor. Just buy a ticket and go!

The Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench Exhibit will be in Cedar Rapids Iowa, May 15th - 17th for more information and to pre-purchase tickets (highly recommended) go to the website:

The exhibit is set to coincide with the second incarnation of Handworks, a near mythical gathering by itself, set to take place at the nearby Amana Colonies, register for this event and find more information at

Advance purchase "Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O Studley" through Lost Art Press and choose to pick it up at Handworks (before it even has a chance to hit the mail stream) here:

And last but not least, Check out all the exhibition preparations and so much more Don Williams has been up to at his barn:

I really do hope to see you there.

Ratione et Passionis

(Note: All photographs above with the exception of the reproduction Vonnegut coffee table were taken from the Lost Art Press sell webpage for the book "Virtuoso")