A Major Decision

Posted August 25, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

In 1906 my Grandfather was ten years old.  He received one gift that Christmas, a toy locomotive engine. That engine occupied a place, on a prominent shelf, in his shop for as long as I can remember. It was always there.  It was important to an old man.  It was important to a boy in the process of becoming a man.


Near the end of his life, my Grandfather told me that he wanted me to have “the old engine”.  When I asked him if he was sure that he wanted me to have it, he simply said that it had always been mine.

Through the years I’ve thought about “refreshing” the “old girl”.  I thought about repairing it, making a new bell and headlamp, replacing piston and tie rods, giving it a bright new paint job, maybe a nice green and red theme.

But then after reminiscing about the hours and hours that I spent with “the Old Man”, I realize that this simple toy has been witness to so many important lessons in my life, that I’ve decided to put a coat of linseed oil on it, put it back on the shelf in my shop and leave it just as it’s always been.  I’m pretty sure that Grandad would approve.

“It’s a gift to come down, where you ought to be

Posted August 5, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

I think of all those times that I dreamed of traveling the world.  Oh!  To tour Europe to my heart’s content! How great to take a leisurely circumnavigation or travel all around North America.  So many places to see, great places, beautiful places!  Buy that lottery ticket!

Then, every once in a while one of those voices in my head (who, occasionally, has some very sage advice to offer) reminds me of something like the old Shaker Hymn “Simple Gifts”:

It’s a gift to be simple,                                                                                                                                                 It’s a gift to be free,                                                                                                                                                       It’s a gift to come down,                                                                                                                                                 where you ought to be

I look out from my front porch.


My head still works (mostly).  My hands still work (mostly).  Life ain’t so bad.

P.S.  Check out that old Chevy



Planer on a stick

Posted August 4, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized


The adze is one of the oldest of tools, having changed very little through the ages.  Unless you’re a timber framer, a conservator, or a devotee of traditional hand work, you may be completely unfamiliar with it’s use.  My friend Charlie, respectfully refers to it as “a planer on a stick.”  Once mastered, a sharp adze is one of those tools that is a joy to use, pure therapy.

When seeing an adze today, many people assume that it is some type of excavating tool, perhaps confusing it with a grubbing hoe or mattock (corrected from maddox, thank God for intelligent readers). Indeed, it is very serviceable in that capacity.


But the adze has been a woodworking tool for centuries.  While it’s use in the west has been as a finishing tool, some cultures have used the adze for felling work.  Evidence that an adze has been used for felling would be a stump of significantly greater height than those left by an axe.

The adze was a common tool in shops and farms in the United States well past the mid point of the twentieth century.  Adzes were manufactured by companies like Plumb until very recent times, as they were used extensively by the railroad industry for trimming ties (sleepers) in the field.  It’s not unusual to spot “field built” ties in trackbeds across the country, marked by parallel top and bottom surfaces and irregular sides.

When looking at hewn beams, many people mistakenly identify broad axe marks as having been made by an adze.  In fact, structural members were usually left with the “broad axe” finish.  In an effort to save time, only exposed, interior beams (parlor beams) and decorative, exterior surfaces would have been finished with an adze.

from Sloane

from Sloane

As with many hand tools, the basic adze has often been redesigned for special purposes:

Traditional Japanese Adze

Traditional Japanese Adze

Foot adzes, railroad adzes and carpenter’s adzes are primarily for large, flat surfaces:


Note the curve of the handle in the adze above and the fact that the handle is not wedged as an axe or a hammer would be.  The “attack” angle of the adze can be changed by reversing the position of the handle, a great help if your position changes from standing “atop” of the work surface to being “astraddle”.  Removal of the handle also makes the job of sharpening much simpler.

Ship adzes, whether straight or lipped, were used for smoothing curved surfaces, frames, ceilings and planking.  More often than not, ship adzes have somewhat shorter handles, as many times the user would be facing his work:


photo from John Zimmer Tools

photo from John Zimmer Tools

Ship pattern adzes are typically fitted with a “pin” poll, used for driving down pegs or fastenings which might sit above the finished surfaces.  (Note:  Iron spikes, bolts and lignum pegs are not good for cutting edges – they should be driven below the surface well before the commencement of the finishing operation.)

Coopers adzes and herminettes (Fr. adze) are used for chamfering the inside edges of barrels and casks. Today, many are identified as “bowl” adzes.  There’s every possibility that your local cooper might have provided grain shovels, scoops and troughs (for dough or water).  So, indeed, the term bowl adze is applicable.



Most adzes are crowned or lipped so they can be used at right angles or diagonally to the grain of the wood:



Gutter adzes were used for making all sorts of troughs and wooden pipes (some still existing in NYC). They gutter or hollowing adze can also be used for the removal of large amounts of material prior to finishing, similar to the way a scrub plane is used.  They’re also used for making chair seats and just about any large concave surface.  Smaller gutter adzes are usually referred to as sculptor’s adzes.


So, the next time you trip over an old adze at your local antique emporium or garage sale, pick it up, take it home (pay for it, of course), sharpen it up and learn to use it.  Few tools are as much fun to use.

Remember, an easy, well-anchored, pendular motion works the best.  Take small chips.  This is a finishing operation, afterall.  And if you’re standing atop of your work, keep your toes up.  Really, for safety’s sake, keep your toes up.

from Fine Woodworking Forum

from Fine Woodworking Forum






Stopped dovetails for case work

Posted August 3, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Cutting stopped or sliding dovetails by hand is not nearly as difficult as one might think, given that you have the right tools.244

For me, a sharp cross cut saw, a saw guide block (beveled to the appropriate angle), several sharp chisels (one ground for making the angled stop cuts) and a router plane makes the task fairly straightforward.

That said, every time I find myself engaged in this particular job I experience some level of trepidation. Obviously, layout is critical.  Ergo, I measure, check, re-measure, re-check, etc., etc.  I tend to take a few practice cuts with the saw (in some scrap), just to make sure that I’m “keepin’ my elbow tucked in”.  As the bottom surface of the dovetail is critical to a proper fit, I use the router plane to insure even depth.

It may come as a surprise, but my goal is to have a fit that can be assembled easily, not requiring the use of a mallet.  If the joints are so tight that they must be driven together, there’s a very good possibility of bowing the case side (or breaking out the dovetail) and remember that there needs to be a little room for the glue.

Next time, leave your router in the cabinet and enjoy the reduced decibel level.


My Great Motivator

Posted August 2, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: ,

Greed, love, fear, are recognized as great motivating factors in one’s life.  But for me, lack of space is right up there with the most powerful of them.

Anyone who’s been following my shenanigans for any length of time will, very likely, remember that I have been stumbling over an unfinished chest of drawers for several years.  That’s right, this thing started out as an experiment in band sawing ogee bracket feet a couple of years ago.  So now, desperately needing the space, this project has been elevated to “Priority No. 1”.


With the exception of the feet, everything has been accomplished using hand tools.  The methods are classic case construction, rails being dovetailed into the case sides and drawer bearers mortised and tenoned into the rails (left loose).

At this point, the plan is for flush, cross-banded, beaded drawers.  I’m toying with the notion of using drawer slips, which would allow for thinner drawer sides.  The downside of slips is that they interrupt the side/bottom intersection.  Some furniture makers opt to stop chamfer the top inside edges of the drawer sides to create a little lighter appearance.  But that decision doesn’t have to be made for a few more days. I’m old, things happen slowly, no matter what the motivating factor is.




Craftsmen of Yesteryear

Posted August 1, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Patrick Moore has done it again!  Not only is Pat a Compagnon Charpentier, a great teacher, and a student of history.  He’s also a guy who believes in sharing his passion with as many of us as he can.  Take a look at the presentation of wonderful old photographs of carpenters and masons that he just posted.  Then spend some more time on Pat’s site.


A Great Read

Posted July 24, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: ,

My friend, Les, asked me if I had a copy of Country Furniture by Aldren Watson.  I told him that I did not.  Apparently, Les had managed to wind up with two copies.  He offered me one, which I gladly accepted (as I live by the rule that no book should go homeless).  I’m certainly glad that I did.

The title is a bit misleading.  It’s about Country Furniture.  But, more importantly, it’s about what Country Furniture was made from and how Country Furniture was made in the days before electricity.


Mr. Watson was a renown American artist/illustrator.  He was the son of one of the founders of Watson-Guptill Publishing.  His illustrations and writing prove that he was, indeed, a very knowledgeable and skilled woodworker.




To learn more about Mr. Watson, his life and his work, visit the website, www.aldrenwatson.com.

If you follow Roy Underhill, if you love Eric Sloane, you’ll find this book a great read, chocked full of valuable information for the hand tool enthusiast.  A picture can say a thousand words.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 290 other followers