What, exactly, is a register chisel?

Posted April 19, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Ask ten woodworkers to explain what they mean when they use the term register chisel and you’re apt to get ten different answers.  Some people will refer to them as “registered” chisels, indicating that the tools have been placed on a list hosted by some higher authority.  Others might tell you that the tool was manufactured under the terms of a Royal Patent.  As Churchill said, it’s rather “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Among the many meanings of the word register, Webster gives these for our consideration:

  • to make or adjust so as to correspond exactly,
  • to be in correct alignment, or register 

Many craftsmen of the bygone era (including carpenters, millwrights and machinists) would use the word register to indicate a surface that must mate exactly with another or one to be used as a reference datum for measurement.

Register chisels have these characteristics;  square sided, thickly made and only slightly tapered (is at all) in section, hooped, ferruled (typically with a shock washer),


the handle is parallel to the back and the back is flat.


The flat back is very specific to a register chisel.  It allows for heavy (minimal clearance angle) cutting on a “register” i.e. cleaning up mortise cheeks after boring or a gain.  Large surfaces which require flattening, i.e. bridles and laps can be accomplished with socket firmers or slicks.  These tools do not (typically) have flat backs and handles are set above the tool’s center axis.  Socket firmers are either “lightly” driven with a mallet or pushed for paring.  Slicks are only pushed.



While a flat back would seem to be the norm, most tools warp during the hardening and tempering process.  For most chisels, a slight warp (in the right direction) isn’t a problem.  However, grinding or some other method of straightening is required to insure a perfectly flat back, as on a register chisel.

So this is the explanation that was given to me nearly sixty years ago.  I’m going to stick with it unless or until someone gives me a better one.





Slow and steady, wins the race?

Posted April 18, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Having no deadline is not, necessarily, a good thing.  Yes, it’s nice not to answer those calls from customers wanting to know where “I’m at” on their projects.  But when you’re doing something for your own consumption, it’s easy to get “side tracked.”  Such is the case with the chest of drawers I’ve been working on for the quite some time.  The good news is, I’m making progress, after a fashion.

The drawers are all “roughed in.”


The drawer bottoms have been left scrubbed as the backboards (ceilings) will be.  (Cabinet makers and Carpenters working with hand tools would rarely finish plane surfaces that weren’t registers (reference datum) or show wood.)


So, now all I have to do is glue the carcass together, nail up the base moulding, install upper kickers, dye and apply the cockbeading, manufacture the top, stain and finish everything and install the hardware…

Maybe it’ll be done in time for Christmas (BTW, I missed the last Christmas deadline).

Obviously, the tortoise had no deadlines either.  Good old Aesop.

How long does it take to carve a fan?

Posted April 12, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

That’s the question.  How long does it take to carve a fan, the type you might see on a high or low boy (chest on chest or dressing table).  Well, the simple truth is, probably, a couple of hours.  But the reality is that, unless you are a “constant carver”, it’s going to take considerably more time than that.

Carving is a skill and skills have to be practiced.  The carving of a simple fan might take two hours.  But getting “prepped for it” might take twenty.  Patience.  Commitment.  Persistence.  If these things are not a part of your “kit”, stick to bird houses.


Just when I was ready to go back to work

Posted April 11, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Mid April in Ohio is, usually, a great time to get back out to my, essentially, unheated shop.  While visions of cleanliness and order rolled around in my head, Mother Nature was playing a cruel trick. Saturday morning we awoke to this:





The last picture shows a number of telecom wires supporting a good size limb (this limb is but one of many).  Whether or not you believe in climate change, I suggest that this is not what we expect April in Ohio to be like.  Suffice it to say that the only sawing I’ll be doing for the next few days will be that accomplished with something attached to a gasoline engine.  No wonder it’s so hard for me to get anything finished!

Bannister back chair – getting to the center of things

Posted March 19, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized


After cutting the rear post from the stock, it became clear that we were dealing with a little bit of warp. We determined the position of the “centers” of the cylindrical section to be turned, prior to attaching the counterweight.  The illustration above shows the centers on one plane (the next centers were marked on the adjacent plane or 90 degrees from the first).  Then the lines were projected to find the “true” centers.

The first task was to create a “roller path” for the wheels of the steady rest to ride on.  This needs to be done carefully, as significant deflection will be encountered.  After the steady rest was mounted, we found that deflection was nearly eliminated.  The “working length” of the workpiece was shortened from 41″ to 24″, stiffening it considerably.  Our effective diameter is approximately 8″.  (Several posts back I indicated that the effective diameter was 16″.  My mistake.  Old age setting in…)  So we’ll be turning the details at approximately 1000 rpm.  Note that we’ve attached the counterweights with screws, backed up by several layers of duct tape, just in case…

In the spring an old man’s fancy turns to….

Posted March 13, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Yesterday, a friend mentioned that he hadn’t seen any posts lately.  He assumed that I was looking forward to getting back out to the shop with the onset of spring.  He wondered what projects I was currently working on.  I told him that I’d been engaged in a somewhat different project, as of late.


This should be proof positive that even at seventy, you can still act like a kid.  Back to woodworking soon.


Bannister back chair – preliminaries II

Posted February 23, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized


Many older bannister back chairs have straight rear posts.  Ugh!  You probably won’t want to sit for long in one of these.  An appropriate description of the experience would be discomforting.  So we’ve opted to replicate one of the types that incorporates a slouch angle in the rear post.

The long excepted method of creating this type of rear post is by cutting a blank that includes the angle, counter-weighting the blank, turning the upper portion of the post, then sawing away the waste to reveal the final shape.  Some chair makers create rather sophisticated counter-weighted fixtures when making multiple posts as this allows for the best yield in stock.  One of the drawbacks of these fixtures is that they increase the overall length between centers.  The bulk of these posts are between 45″-50″, which is, already, a “stretch” for most lathes.

Curmudgeons are notorious for not, necessarily, believing everything they read.  So we decided we’d do a little testing before we jumped right into the “good wood.”  Who knows, we might find a short cut, maybe something like the fabled “Northwest Passage.”

So we cut our blank and counter-weight:


We mounted the blank without the counter-weight.  Our test lathe is an extended Powermatic 35-20, plenty of weight, plenty of power.  Our thinking was that, as in turning off-set legs, we might be able to turn the “out of balance” piece at a slower speed.  The effective diameter we’re working with is about 16″, so an rpm range of  350 to 550 would seem to be a reasonable starting point.  In short order, we realized that we were fighting deflection as well as an out of balance problem.  So much for that “short cut.”  The counter-weight was mounted.

A word of caution here.  Having been on the receiving end of “things coming apart” on the lathe, please insure that any counter-weights are securely fastened.  For this trial, we simply screwed the weight into the waste stock.  However, the weight could be “rubbed on” with glue, fastened with banding or in any of a number of other ways.  My guess is that we’ll screw mount and throw a couple of wraps of “hundred mile per hour” tape on it, just for peace of mind.

Needless to say, the mounting of the single counter-weight greatly improved stability.  After some discussion, we agreed that by mounting two additional weights at 90°, right and left of the existing weight, the balance might be further improved.  We may give this a try, “just for fun”, as we’re not working to any particular deadline.


It should be noted here, that on most of the rear posts (on original chairs) there is a cylindrical section immediately above the lower, angled section of the post.  When I first noticed this feature, I wondered if some of these original posts might have been mortise and tenoned together (thinking that this would greatly simplify the task of turning).  So I conferred with my friend, Jack Plane, www.pegsandtails.wordpress.com and he assured me that only late 19th and 20th century replicas (of the “less expensive” variety) were ever constructed in that fashion.  The “real McCoys” were turned in one piece.  It’s clear that the cylindrical sections on the original posts was a roller path for some type of “steady rest” device.  Such a device will shorten the effective length and greatly reduce deflection.

More to follow.



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