Walnut COD – In time for Christmas?

Posted June 19, 2016 by D.B. Laney
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This whole project started as an experiment in cutting ogee bracket feet on the band saw using a support block (2013) as opposed to the usual method of stock removal done by means of “kerfing” and planing.


I assembled a base then proceeded to trip over it every time I turned around for the next year.  My wife suggested that we needed another book case (the result of our mutual bibliophilia).  I decided to build something with existing stock and to do the work using only hand tools.  It quickly became obvious that the case was much too deep for use as book case.


After some pondering, I realized that the carcase could be modified to fit the dimensional envelope commonly associated with a small chest of drawers.  (Bear in mind there are no plans being used here, just what’s going on in my head.)


The case was cut down to an appropriate height.  Top rails were dovetailed in place.  Sliding dovetails were “let in” to carry the drawer rails.


Mortise and tenon joints are used for the drawer bearers.  These are left “loose” to accommodate movement.


Drawer fronts were rabbeted to accept both cross banding (quarter sawn white oak) and cock beading. Then half blind dovetails were let in.  Through dovetails are used on the rear of the drawer assembly.



Drawer bottoms were planed to thickness.  Only the “show side” is planed smooth.  The bottom surface was left with the telltale marks created by a highly crowned fore plane.  Rebates were cut to fit the slots and the bottom was beveled.  This is “good practice” as it reduces the “plane of weakness” at the edges.


The next step was to fit the brasses.


The cherry cock beading was treated with an iron acetate solution made with 15% vinegar (available at traditional butcher shops where it used for marinating; the label very clearly states that this product is not to be consumed undiluted).  Normally, if I was attempting to ebonize cherry I would pre-treat the wood with a tannic acid solution.  This method turns cherry “dead” black.  But this time I was looking for a very dark brown so I used only the iron acetate solution.  After the precipitate was buffed away, the surface was a mottled, deep brown that allowed the “flecking” common to cherry to show through. When oiled, the beading has an almost “leather like” look.  A happy accident.


The drawer fronts were “washed” with shellac to prevent any “bleeding”.  The cock beading was then fitted and glued in place using liquid hide glue (modern version).  Painters masking tape provides sufficient clamping pressure.  The tape was removed after forty-five minutes to prevent residue that would hinder final finish application


Back boards (ceilings) were planed, fitted, painted with a wash of barn red milk paint (real lime and casein version) then attached with cut nails.  (As the ceilings are not “show wood” the fore planed surface was sufficient.)


The base and case had previously been dyed with a mixture of household ammonia and walnut husks. This covered a small amount of sapwood that was present and “evened” out the color differential between the base and case.  (The variety of color in walnut, even in boards cut from the same tree, can be startling.)


The entire unit was then given three coats of Minwax Antique Oil (in reality a synthetic wiping varnish), as it dries more quickly than boiled linseed oil, especially as seasonal humidity increases.  Now, all I’ve got to do is nail up the base molding, make and attach the top.  I might actually get it done by Christmas!

I’m hoping my friend, Mr. Plane, will weigh in on where the project might fall on the “period style” scale. I’m guessing “sorta-kinda” Georgian.


It’s how well you work fast!

Posted May 8, 2016 by D.B. Laney
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A friend is working on his 1894 Sears Kit Home.  (Absolutely beautiful home, by the way.)  He asked if I might be able to make a couple of replacement sills for him.  “Of course” says I, “I can whip up a sill in my sleep, with one hand tied behind my back.”  Now that statement may smack of hyperbole, but old sill profiles are fairly easy to duplicate on a table saw.  “Easy”, if you have a right/left tilt saw or know what “datum A” is (the base surface for measurement; “register”, si vous préfères.)  Unfortunately, I have an old left tilt saw and these particular sills had not only the common angles that you’d associate with this component, rebates and ploughs were also required.  I almost immediately concluded that it would be far quicker to make them by hand, especially since there were only two required.

Basically, it was a matter of sketching the profile onto the blank then running guidelines.  Major stock removal was done with a carpenters axe.




After the axe work was complete, the details were incorporated and some additional planing was required.  This was a clear case of “appropriate” technology being the very best choice.  It would have taken twice the time to do the job with power tools. And, it smells like Christmas in the shop.

If you want to see what craftsmen can do with axes you should visit Roald Renmaelmo’s blog.  The Northern and Central European traditional carpenters are absolute masters with an axe.  If you have a little extra time, explore some of the links from Roalds site, there’s a lot of fascinating stuff going on.

So long Buddy

Posted May 6, 2016 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Yesterday wasn’t a good day.  Our old Golden Retriever, Wu Ming had to be put down.  He, like many Goldens, succumbed to hemangio sarcoma.  He answered to many names.  But usually it was simply “Boy.”

Wu Ming was born in Beijing China and emigrated to the US when he was about a year and a half old. For a long time he understood his commands in Chinese only, but ultimately he became bilingual.  It would be hard to imagine a more gentle being.  He was an extraordinarily good listener and never criticized.  He will be sorely missed by all those who knew him.





What, exactly, is a register chisel?

Posted April 19, 2016 by D.B. Laney
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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!


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