Murphy’s law, spring joints and skottbenks

Posted September 15, 2014 by D.B. Laney
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Every once in a while, you have a project that “goes South” and then “goes South” over and over again.  Ergo, the reference to Mr. Murphy and his law.  The dining table I’m currently building is just such a project.  The base is well on its way to being finished (another post on glazing is just around the corner).  But when it came time to finish up to top, I was given quite a big surprise.  The glued-up top had “cupped”, significantly, about 5/8″ in 36″, too much for the fasteners to “pull down”.  Jointing and gluing up large panels is, at least in my experience, always a challenge.

Many “old hands” maintain that “springing” a joint is a good thing.  And over the years I’ve found this to be a good practice, as much of the stock (air dried) I use has not, necessarily, achieved theoretical equilibrium.  But it is one thing to spring a joint on 24″ door panel and quite another to spring a joint on a 7′ table top.  It might seem that just a few thousandths of “spring” wouldn’t make much of a difference, geometrically.  But the reality is sort of like saying that all triangles equal 180 degrees, until you lift one of the corners.  Then, the universe begins to fold in on itself.

I began to consider my options.  I certainly did not want to cut the thing apart and re-joint it.  That would be a last choice.  In the past I’ve had some success in straightening pieces by wetting and controlling the drying of two opposing surfaces, albeit smaller pieces.  So, with the help of a friend, I toted the top out into the yard.  I wet the grass, then positioned the top with the cupped side down.  It wasn’t terribly hot but the sun was fairly intense.  I went about my business, determined to check in on the process in several hours.


To my great surprise, within something short of an hour, the rough top appeared to have straightened.  After laying a straight edge across the surface, I felt sure that I had been present as something of a miracle had taken place.  It was dead flat.  Upon raising the top, I realized that there was still a trace of moisture on the “grassy” side.  I pulled some heavy cauls (3″x 4″x 48″) out of the shop and clamped the top to allow the remaining moisture to evaporate.  After several days, I loosened the clamps and with each turn I watched the cup reappear.  So much for that old trick!

As I said earlier, I’ve never had much luck at cutting and re-assembly.  Time for a new top.  (I’ll put the old plain sawn stock to some good purpose.)  I made the decision to do the next top in quarter sawn oak.  Stock movement should be very minimal.  The only significant challenge will be jointing the long stock.  Of course, there are numerous ways to joint long pieces of stock.  You can joint them conventionally on a jointer (If you’re strong and steady or have the well coordinated assistance of an associate).  You can hand plane them.  If you have stock that is already “near straight”, you can “kerf-in” with a saw.  You can use a track-saw on a straight edge.  Or, you can use a skottbenk as Roald Renmaelmo would.  The skottbenk is a jointing (or shooting) bench, unique to Scandinavia, that is mainly used for jointing and/or cutting tongue and groove joints in floor planking.  It seems to me that it might be just “what the Doctor ordered” for anyone wanting to create long joints without the aid of electrically powered appliances.

Take a look at this video of Roald using a skottbenk.  I think you’ll agree that it might have a place in world of table top construction.  Hmm, now that I have some extra room in the shop, since the treadle lathe is gone…

Roald has just put another post on construction of a skottbenk on his blog,  He and his associates also do extensive research on traditional work benches and tools at  And be sure to check out all of the videos that Roald and the Norsk Folkmuseum have posted on Youtube.  Grab yourself the refreshment of your choice, sit down and start watching.  You’ll probably be surprised how long you can sit in one place.  Just be careful that your legs don’t fall asleep and you collapse upon trying to stand.  Remember the theory of “Unintended Consequence.”



Farewell, old friend

Posted September 14, 2014 by D.B. Laney
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In every life there comes a time to cast off most of the material things that we labor to gain and maintain, those possessions that, ultimately, possess us.

Pretty philosophical, right?  Well, the truth of the matter is that I need space.  Anyone who has walked into my little shop in recent months has found it more cramped than ever.  I’ve just got too much stuff in there.  So I decided to take an inventory and get rid of things that I hadn’t used in the last year or items that I possessed in multiples.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that gaining some much needed space would not, necessarily, be that difficult.  If reality could talk, it would have said something like, “Hey!  Dumb Ass, you’ve got three full size lathes here!  Why?  Who needs three lathes in a one man, 400 square foot shop?  What are you thinking?  You’re not thinking!  One of them has to go!”  There it was.  Cold.  Hard.  Reality.  Ugh….

The main lathe is a Nova 16-24-44 that I bought several years ago.  Couldn’t get rid of that.  Then there’s a Powermatic 45 that’s next on the list for restoration.  It’s the lathe I’ve always lusted after.  That one’s staying put.  So.  There it was.  It had to be the Treadle Lathe.  What?  The Treadle Lathe?  The heavy duty, double spring, spring pole lathe that could swing 20″ and center 48″?  That lathe?  The one I built with my own two hands?  That lathe?  Yep.

I’m a great believer in the notion that a true craftsman finds his joy in the process, not the product.  But still, this was my baby.  I was more than a little attached.  But after thinking about it awhile, I decided to call a friend of mine.  This particular friend is a hand tool aficionado, collector, student of woodworking history and a guy who, along with his family and friends, is building a log cabin with hand tools (non-powered).  So I called him, explained the situation and, to my relief, he agreed to “adopt”  the lathe.  There it was, the lathe would have a new home.  It would be well cared for, appreciated and I could visit occasionally. Several days ago we loaded it up into his truck. I suppose the feeling that I had, as the truck pulled out of the drive, was like the guy just gave his dog away (right after the dog had chewed up his new $500.00 Italian loafers).  It was a mixture of emotions.

So now I have desperately needed space that I can use for assembly and finishing.  But it is an unusual feeling.  The shop seems to have lost some of its intimacy.  Hmm?  I wonder… Could there be some other unique project out there? I mean, hey, now I’ve got some room…

cone pulley reeving



How to hew beams, all day long

Posted September 13, 2014 by D.B. Laney
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When I was a much younger man, I made extra money to help support my young family by “moonlighting” in flatwork concrete construction.  A big part of the work was breaking up and removing old concrete slabs.  On many projects I worked with man named Slim.  Slim was a tall, slender black man who was seventy years old.  He was gentlemanly, soft spoken and had been a laborer all of his life.  And, at seventy, he would continually outwork men who were half his age.

On one project, Slim and I had to break and remove some especially old and thick slabs.  I started breaking with the maul.  (For those of you not familiar with the term, a maul is a sixteen pound sledge hammer, not a tool for the faint of heart.)  I was swinging away with this thing like a man trying to ring the bell at the county fair or put a home-run over the center field wall.  After ten minutes (or less), I had to sit down and rest.  The cycle of equal amounts of work and rest continued for about an hour.  Finally Slim said to me, “son, you keep this up, I’m afraid you’re gonna drop dead.  Let the hammer do the work.”  “What do you mean, let the hammer do the work?”, I asked.  “That thing weighs plenty.  Just lift it up over your head and let it fall.  The weight alone will break that slab.  And, if you’re gonna work all day, pace yourself.”

Roald Renmaelmo recently told me that the Norsk Folkmuseum had just put some videos on Youtube that I would find interesting.  The first one I watched was two carpenters hewing beams.  It is all about “pace”.  Slim would smile in agreement.

The Folkmuseum has posted a number of videos that are well worth watching, if you’re interested in traditional craft.  And be sure to visit Roald’s blogs at or

Remember, you can run one mile or walk ten.


Hidden Treasure

Posted September 13, 2014 by D.B. Laney
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I live in a house that was built in 1860.  My shop is in a “carriage house” that I suspect was built sometime between 1900 and 1920.  My guess would be that the structure was built for “horseless carriages” and replaced the original stable.  It’s a large structure with a second floor apartment that, very likely, was home for a driver in an earlier, grander time.  I’ve worked in this shop for more than a decade now and it still surprises me that very few visitors have ever noticed the “hidden treasure” that resides next to the west wall.  In fairness, it may be that I’ve managed to keep it buried under various tools and supplies.  But it’s worth a look.


Clearly, someone who resided here in the past, was involved in some serious woodworking.  This is a bench that was built for joinery and it’s been here for a long time, a very long time.  The bench is 126″ long, 18″ deep and 32″ high.  The top is a single slab of 3″ thick white oak.  A pegboard (hopelessly stuck in place) leg vise is attached on the left side.  A 12″ wide “stretcher” runs diagonally from the left front leg to the right rear.  The stretcher has helped maintain the top as “straight as a string” in length.  However, over the last century the slab has cupped (crowned, if you prefer, as the work surface is convex).

The stretcher is fitted with two tiers of planing supports.  These are large dowels that can be moved forward when additional support is needed.  Unfortunately, some of the support rods have been cut short, rendering them useless.


Though I use the bench now for a place to support a grinder, filing vises and storage containers, it could be put to work, jointing long stock in a heartbeat.  With any luck, this bench will be around for another century.  I guess I could clean it up a little bit.  But it’s got an awful lot of “character” just the way it is.


The high cost of re-work

Posted September 10, 2014 by D.B. Laney
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No term in the craftsman’s lexicon can cause as much pain and suffering as “re-work.”  It is the quickest way to destroy profit known to man.  Even when the craftsman is being rewarded only with the gratitude of loved ones, the loss of time alone can have substantial impact, if for nothing other than ruining the planned schedule.

The decision to “re-work” is difficult to make when it is being made bilaterally, between craftsman and client.  But, the decision can be excruciating when it is made unilaterally.  A craftsman, working for his daily bread, needs to know when “it’s good enough”.  But when it’s family… you get the “drift.”

I recently posted about my experience with a water based glaze that I had used on a table that I’m building for my daughter and her family.  I was not happy with the results, as I examined them in the shop.  Anyone who has ventured into my shop knows that the lighting is not of the highest quality.  In fact, several of my most earnest friends have suggested that I might find that I would benefit if I would begin wearing a miner’s headlamp.  In any event, I took the table base outside of the shop and was even more disappointed than I had been at “low light.”

tobacco juice finish

The finish looked as if certain parts of the table base had been positioned in such a way so as to create a “station” on a tobacco spitting obstacle course.  In my head I could envision the competitors “loading up” with great, big chaws of Union Workman, Beechnut and Mailpouch and “firing away.”  It was obvious that significant action was required on my part.  So after the angel on my left shoulder and the angel of my right debated across the empty space between my ears, I made the decision to…do it over.

No golf game this week.  And, my TV binge watching will have to be seriously modified.  But here’s the table base sanded and repainted, ready for another attempt at glazing it the right way.


It’s important to be your own “harshest critic.”  That’s what keeps your standards high.  That said, it’s much easier to do so when you’re not waiting to get paid upon completion of the job.



Water based glazes…eh?

Posted September 5, 2014 by D.B. Laney
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Painted and stained finishes, enhanced with glaze are a time tested finishing method for furniture builders.  Anyone doing period work or serious antique restoration is familiar with the technique.  I’ve been building a dining table for my daughter and her family.  She said that she would like a “shabby chic” finish on the table.  In the spirit of compromise, I suggested that I’d paint and glaze the base, then finish the top in stain and varnish.

Now paint to me means one of two things, either you use oil based enamel or milk paint (lime and casein).  But I’m a liberal, tree hugging kind of a guy, so I decided to try a finish using General Finishes Milk Paint and Glaze Effects.  I must say that I was very impressed with the GF Milk Paint.  It’s not “real milk paint”, but it works pretty well and a couple of coats will give you a decent base.  Then, I, reluctantly, started to work with the glaze.  I should have known better.  Anything that is soluble in water dries quickly.  In summertime it dries very quickly.  Well, when you’re glazing, quick drying is the last thing you want.

Glazing is an art.  And it takes time to be artistic.  You need time to accomplish effects like dry-brushing or graining.  You have to be able to “push the glaze around”.  It must remain “plastic” for an extended period.



The water based glaze dried so quickly that I was not able to control the level of effect.  I got “shabby”, but it certainly was not the effect that I could have achieved had I used a oil based glaze, like Behlens (or even an old can of stain that had settled out and the oil poured off).

If “re-purposing” is your thing, I’d say that the water based glaze would probably be satisfactory.  But the serious furniture maker would be better served by staying with “tried and true” methods, like oil based glaze.  Sometimes it’s tough to be “green”.


I’m just so gosh darned busy!

Posted August 26, 2014 by D.B. Laney
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Years ago a friend of mine told me that he never knew what “busy” was until he retired.  I thought he was nuts when he said that, a complete idiot.  But, it turns out, he was absolutely right.

I just realized that it’s nearly a month since I posted anything.  I was shocked.  Haven’t I done any woodworking for a month?  Well, of course I have.  But much of this summer has been spent with two little grandchildren and the occasional game of golf.  Sometimes, woodworking can and should take a backseat to other and more important things in your life.

But the tools haven’t rusted away.  In fact, they’ve been being put to good use in the construction of a rather large dining room table for my daughter and son-in-law.  It’s been slow going.  Some time ago I did a post about turning and carving the legs. But, I have to admit that it’s taken an unusually long time to get to this point.  But we’re making progress and I feel that I’m about to be “carried away” on a wave of productivity.

Here’s the “dry” fit up of the base:


Truth be told, I “borrowed” the details of the legs from Matthew Burak’s excellent site,  As this was for family, I turned and carved the legs myself.  If I were still working, I, very likely, would have bought the legs from Mr. Burak.  Extraordinary quality, fair prices, no headaches.  But, hey!  This is heirloom stuff, the kid’s legacy.  Who knows, in a few years, someone can put a vise on it or use it as a glue-up table.  I am nothing, if not realistic.

The toughest, single task on the base is the letting in of the center stretcher to the end stretchers.  I elected to use a simple bead detail, which requires the establishment of a secondary datum so the beads can be beveled.  This allows the detail line to be continuous from center to end stretchers.  When laying out these data, it’s a good idea to be in a state of complete sobriety, one little misstep…




These joints are just “dry fit”, so they’ll need a little more trimming, but, I believe you get the point.  Something as simple as a bead can be quite elegant, if done correctly.  The through tenons will be wedged and made flush.  Dismantling will require the use of a “Sawzall”, or some similar device.

Before anyone asks, I’m not quite sure about the style of the legs.  Regency, Georgian, Red Oak… it escapes me.  Perhaps my friend, Mr. Jack Plane could weigh in and give us a little direction here.  No one is more qualified than Jack.  And, I’d just like to take a moment to say that I’m “pleased as punch” that Jack is back.  And it sounds as if Jack is getting serious about putting a book together.  It should sell very, very well.  If you don’t know Jack, you should.  Visit him at


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