Two little “groovin’ cuties”

Posted January 31, 2016 by D.B. Laney
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Every woodworker has favorite tools.  Some are favorites because they have a broad range of uses, like a reciprocating saw.  Others have very limited uses, but they just feel “right” every time you pick them up. Some are simply wonderful examples of the toolmaker’s art.

Two of my favorites are plough planes, a Record 050 and a Record 043.  (If this were a discussion about an American made plane, I would have spelled it plow.)  The 050 is a “standard” size.  The 043 is a small, single-handed plane, for fine work.  Both are a joy to use.



I’ve noticed that when most folks use a plough (or any moulding or specialty plane) for the first time, they’re inclined to position it as you would a jointer, at the “beginning” of the cut.  WRONG!  While it may seem counter- intuitive, specialty planes should be started near the “finish” of the cut.



Starting at the “finish” effectively shortens chip length.  Shorter chip length greatly reduces the potential for tear out.  Also, taking shorter chips helps when encountering changes in grain direction, knots or other anomalies in the stock.  It also requires less energy and makes the plane easier to control.  This is especially important when using any plane that is fitted with a movable fence or other type of lateral stop.  Happy ploughing (plowing).




Old dogs, New tricks – continued

Posted January 28, 2016 by D.B. Laney
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Finishing touches are being completed.  The slab is receiving several (three to four) coats of 1 pound cut shellac (super blonde) which will act as a sealer.  After a final “rubbing”, a good waxing will be applied. Several butterflies were inlaid to to stop checks.  The butterflies were made from Swiss Pear, which is extra-ordinarily fine grained and tough.  Also, it’s very similar in color to the Bocote sapwood, when finished.


We departed from our normal method of inlaying by hand and opted to use a commercial template and a Whiteside “inlaying” kit to make the mortises and butterflies.  A word of caution:  make sure that you double check the set up when changing from mortising to cutting the inlays.  Enough said!

The base has really exceeded our expectations in terms of stability.  The use of sliding dovetails to join the short, lower stretchers to the main, lower stretcher has help to create a very strong, rigid structure while maintaining a “light” look.  The base, which is ash, will be finished with four coats of “rubbed” Boiled linseed oil (the first being thinned with turpentine).  The BLO gives the ash a lovely golden color.


In a week or so, we’ll be ready to assemble the top and put this table to work, standing guard in the hallway.  For anyone who’s curious about dimensions, the table height is 30″

17th century furniture and God’s Elect

Posted January 24, 2016 by D.B. Laney
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If you resided in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the 17th century, you were forbidden to wear furs.  You were forbidden to wear lace.  You were forbidden to wear any gold or silver decoration and you were never to “dress above your station.” This was a matter of law.  You were expected to be concerned with your “spiritual estate” not your worldly one.  You were, very likely, a member of the English Reformed religious movement, referred to by those outside of your community as Puritans.  You lived in a community that kept no holidays, including Christmas.  The work week was six days long and you were expected to be present in Church for the entire day, on the seventh. Fortunately, the consumption of alcohol was acceptable.  Drunkenness, however, was not.


“There’ll be no celebrating here”

You probably lived in a large, framed house.  The exterior was left to “weather” grey or painted using colors found in the earth or on the farm (iron oxides or blood).  The interior was somewhat somber, done up in earth tones and in general was utilitarian, not highly decorative.




While life in “The City on the Hill” was supposed to give the appearance of being plain and pius, it was a commonly held belief that wealth and success were a sign of God’s favor.  It’s probably fair to say that the system of governance was a theocratic plutocracy, dominated by wealthy churchmen, merchants, large landowners and the occasional aristocrat who had opted for a life “on the frontier.”  These were “The Elect”, members of their church in good standing and “pillars” of the greater community.  And for “The Elect” it was considered altogether appropriate to demonstrate their exceptional status in the furniture they placed in their own homes.  This was not the furniture that was found in the common farmhouse.  Ornate carving decorated many pieces such as chairs, joint stools, forms, tables and chests.  Turned appliques were used to decorate pieces like Court cupboards.  Many pieces were painted.  Painting might be used to highlight carved areas or could, indeed, by the main focal point of a design.


dennis chest

court cupboard


Much of this furniture was brought from Great Britain and the Low Countries, either as imported wares or the personal belongings of wealthier members of the community. There were skilled craftsmen residing in the Massachusetts Bay Colony who provided excellent quality goods, but the desire for bespoke furniture, to impress the neighbors, has been present since the arrival of the first European settlers.

These examples from the later part of the 17th century express the skill of European craftsmen of the period:



If you’d like to know more about the history and manufacture of 17th century American Furniture, you should be following Peter Follansbee’s Blog.  Peter is rightly considered as a leading expert on this period and, as many of you already know, is a gifted craftsman.

For more about the “bespoke” furniture of Great Britain and Ireland during the 17th and 18th Centuries, go to Jack Plane’s Blog,  Jack’s blog is an incredible repository of information.  Plus you’ll have the opportunity to see Jack replicate some of the most sophisticated furniture ever constructed.  Prepare to spend hours.


The Muse must be vacationing

Posted January 22, 2016 by D.B. Laney
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Upon the completion of the circumambulation of my tiny hovel of a shop earlier today, I came to several conclusions that might explain my lack of productivity over the past month:  It’s too cold;  The days are too short and don’t provide adequate light to promote good work;  The workbench is piled with all manner of things that need cleaning, sharpening and proper categorization; The cost of heating is far too high, and; I have a great deal of reading that I’ve allowed to go unfinished for far too long a time.  Plus, I can’t help but think that “my muse” must have taken a holiday, perhaps the Islands or Costa Rica.  She can’t afford to luxuriate much longer.

Old Dogs New Tricks – Part Two

Posted December 31, 2015 by D.B. Laney
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We’re making progress, but we’re like a ship’s crew that’s just spotted an iceberg, it’s all ahead, slow. Even with more than a hundred years woodworking experience between us, we’re finding something that seems to be so incredibly simple a real challenge.  Getting it just right is tough.  It just goes to prove that a couple of old dogs don’t, necessarily, know where all the bones are buried.

We started prototyping with this:


The frame has been built from ash and is now “dry fit” together:


Throw the natural edge bocote top on the frame and you have some idea of how the table will look when completed.  “Butterflying” several checks, tending to a few other details and, of course, finishing will require us to mark this as a 2016 project.  But, the good news is, we’re still moving forward.


Happy New Year to All



A Star is Born (well almost)

Posted December 24, 2015 by D.B. Laney
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Our old dog, Wu Ming (Chinese for Anonymous) decided he would try out, in character, for a spot in the local canine nativity play.  I believe he had a certain part in mind:


Unfortunately, he learned that neutering does not, necessarily, make you a lady.  But he is a determined old dog and who knows what other roles await?

Merry Christmas to all, especially those who are far away from family and friends.

Old dogs, new tricks

Posted December 22, 2015 by D.B. Laney
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Those of you who know my friend Les, know that the driving interest of his woodworking avocation is building furniture true to the 18th century style known as “Queen Anne”.  And, he’s damned good at it.


Framed top Lowboy and Spanish footed Gaines style chair

Well, you can imagine my surprise when I walked into his shop and spied a beautiful, natural edge chunk of Bocote.  I asked him “what in the world are you going to do with that?”  His response was simply “I’m going to build a contemporary hall table and you and our friend, Scott are going to help me.” “Contemporary!”  I mean, you could have knocked me over with a feather!

Period furniture has rules, a certain “ductus” that, if the craftsman follows, can, nearly always, guarantee an acceptable result.  Not so in the modern contemporary styles.  There’s much more nuance and far less outright decoration.  The fine balance between weight and line is incredibly important and the importance of individual craftsmanship gives way to the overall impact of the design.  Hey!  We were casting off and headed toward uncharted waters!

We quickly agreed that some prototyping work was in order.  You need to see it “in the whole.”  2 x 4’s became the name of the game.


It’s funny how many times you can position and re-position legs, aprons and stretchers before you start to feel comfortable about the direction you’re headed.

There was one thing about the project that was always a “given”, good traditional joinery practices would be followed.



And while one might be tempted to believe that there would be little hand work in this project, it didn’t take us long to realize that Les’ No. 20 compass plane would be very useful on a design that’s going to have a substantial number of curves.  (BTW, the No. 20 is, in my opinion, is a far better design than the 113, which is the compass plane I own and regularly use.)


Stay tuned to see if Old Dogs really can learn New Tricks.







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