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
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…


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