A Great Read

Posted July 24, 2015 by D.B. Laney
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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.

On Board the Margaret Ann

Posted June 24, 2015 by D.B. Laney
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My friend, Phil, Master of the Margaret Ann, invited me up for a working weekend, a little bit of sailing and a classic wooden boat show at his marina.  It was a long trip, five hours from NE Ohio up to beautiful Presque Isle Michigan on Lake Huron.  But, I must say, it was nice to get away for a couple of days.

We had a chance to stop by the Huron National Forest.  Hard to believe that just several hours north of Detroit, there is forest wilderness.  The Au Sable Valley is incredibly beautiful.


The economic engine of the area was, and still is, lumber.  So much so, that there is a memorial to those who have braved the rigors of that trade in order to supply the Nation’s demand for construction material.  The methods have changed since the days of log jams, mules and chains, but it is still a demanding business.


Just an hour or so north of the Valley found us in Presque Isle (French for “almost an island”), the Margaret Ann laying at her dock.


We had time for a little sail, before the work began in earnest.


The task at hand was three-fold: 1.  Install an auxiliary halyard block; 2.  Install a Windex;, 3. Install a roller furling rig.  Number 3 can be accomplished with the “stick in the step”.  In order to accomplish numbers 1 and 2, someone goes aloft in the boatswains chair or the mast is dropped.  As neither Phil or I was prepared to be hauled aloft (neither trusting the other to “tail a line”), we opted to drop the mast.  Thank goodness it’s a hinged rig.  That said, it is still not an easy job, especially for a couple of old guys.


With the work accomplished, it was time for the Wooden Boat Show.  Wooden boat builders are some of the best woodworkers around.  And, an abundance of craftsmanship was on display.  But my two favorites were a lovely dual cockpit “Chris” and a beautiful little lap strake Lugger (classic workboats from the British Isles and Coastal France named for the “lug” rig), newly built. Real classics.



But now it’s back to business, as soon as I get my “land legs” back!

Sharpening the classic carpenter’s pencil

Posted June 18, 2015 by D.B. Laney
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Imagine my surprise, when some years ago, as I was going through the check out at a major hardware mart, I noticed a new pencil sharpener that promised to put a conical shape on the classic carpenter’s pencil.  My immediate reaction was, WTF!  Why would anyone pay for a carpenter’s pencil and then shape and sharpen it like any other pencil.  This was clearly a solution in search of a problem.  Hey!  Save your money.  Steal a regular pencil from your kids or your wife!  Then it dawned on me.  Maybe there are a lot of people who just don’t understand how to use a carpenter’s pencil to one’s best advantage.

Of course, the pencil is a marking tool.  And the carpenter’s pencil (like any woodworking tool) works best when it is sharp.  The traditional method of sharpening a carpenter’s pencil is to create four trapezoidal surfaces, thereby presenting a knife edged lead.  This allows the user to strike a very fine line. A further benefit of this method is that sharpness can be maintained by simply rubbing the lead on a bit of fine sand paper.

My friends in the timber framing craft, many times opt for a somewhat different and very useful method of preparing their pencils.  The method below allows for very tight marking of both large and small joints. But, more importantly, it allows one to use the pencil as a scribing tool.  The long, angled surface can be created and maintained with a knife, chisel or plane.


The only caveat here is to be careful not to cut the long, angled surface so close to the lead as to weaken it’s position in the wooden stock of the pencil.


And, for goodness sake, if you bought one of those sharpeners, throw it away or hide it.  Pretend you never had one and then proceed to show all of your woodworking friends how you do it.  They’ll be very impressed with your practical knowledge.

Smoke and Mirrors

Posted June 17, 2015 by D.B. Laney
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Anyone who has attempted to bore an angled hole with a brace and bit or a drill motor, knows that it can be very difficult to maintain even the lowest level of accuracy.  Some (including myself) have even asked the assistance of family members, friends, co-workers or passers-by to “sight the line.”  Of course when boring angles there are two planes to contend with.  Ergo, two assistants are required, which can be difficult if you, like most of us, work in some degree of isolation.

But chairmakers have had a solution to this problem for as long as there have been mirrors (or some type of highly reflective, portable surface).  By simply placing two mirrors and angle indicating devices (squares, bevels, etc.) in positions that allow the craftsman to view the two axes while boring, the tool can be held in perfect alignment.


While it may seem counter-intuitive, it works!  The only thing to keep in mind is that the angle indicating devices must be positioned parallel and perpendicular to the axis of the work, not the mirrors. The positioning of the mirrors is dictated by the viewing needs of the “borer”.

You can purchase a box of six (6) mirror “tiles” at any of the “big box” stores for around $10.00.  For my money, that’s a small price to pay for improved and consistent accuracy without the aid (and limitations) of a drill press.

As far as the “smoke” part of the title.  Well, I confess, that was just to get your attention.


Fini – Finally

Posted June 11, 2015 by D.B. Laney
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Copy (1) of 004_1

It’s hard to see, due to the limits of photographic technology, but this little chair is constructed on an 8° included angle (front to back, side to side).  Paralax views, or something like that.  BTW, this is the second rush seat I have ever weaved.  I weaved the first about two hours before the second.  Not as easy as one might think.  Okay!  Movin’ on to the next adventure.


An Old Trick (for turning squares into octagons)

Posted June 9, 2015 by D.B. Laney
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Anyone who has laid out an octagon on a long square blank using a set of dividers, knows that it would be a lot easier if humans had evolved with three hands.  And there are times, as in “posts in place”, shaving fifty leg blanks or an octagonal section placed between two square sections, where laying out on an end is next to impossible.  And, then again, you might never have the need for this old carpenters trick.  But, here it is, anyway.

On larger square stock, lay a 24″ framing square or rule diagonally from one edge to the other.  “Tick” mark at 7″ and 17″.  Hand hold a pencil and mark the lines.  (Most people are amazed at how accurately a “hand-held” line can be drawn.)



For smaller stock, you can use a 6″ or 12″ scale.  Lay the diagonal line from 0″ to 6″. Then “tick” at 1 3/4″ and 4 1/4″.  Follow the path above.


You’ll be amazed at the accuracy of this method, not to mention the ease.



Red Oil, Black Magic

Posted June 8, 2015 by D.B. Laney
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The goal is to make the little post and rung high chair look old, well cared for, but old. Here’s what’s happened so far…

First, the chair in the “white”,


Next, a wash coat of Barn Red (Original) Milk Paint, the real stuff, milk cassein, lime and pigment:


Then a second coat:


After a good “rub down” with abrasive pads, a seal coat was applied over the milk paint. I used a “concoction” that I had been experimenting with.  The ingredients were Venice Turpentine, BLO, Turpentine and Japan Drier.  This is to seal the surface before the application of glazes.  BLO and turpentine (gum) would have been more than sufficient (but I had this stuff…)



The “seal coat” was allowed to dry for twenty-four hours.  Then I mixed a glaze of burnt umber artist color and BLO (dry burnt umber pigment would be fine, but I had this tube…).  The glaze was brushed on and the excess removed immediately.  This deepened the color considerably and, of course, “popped” the details.


Again the “red oil” was allowed to dry for twenty-four hours.  The next step was the application of “black oil.”  Black oil is simply BLO and black pigment.  Carbon black, Ivory black (may be hard to find) and asphaltum are all possible pigments.  But, I had some vine black that was very finely ground.  “Black oil” provides a look that one would see on furniture that had been through many years of exposure to soot and grease; in other words, wood or coal fired heating.  Frequently burnt umber or some other dark earth pigment is combined with the black pigment.  But as I had already done a “red oil” (dark earth tone-burnt umber) glaze, I used only the black pigment.


I first learned of “black oil” from a project that Jack Plane did several years ago.  Take a look at Jack’s “Mulberry” corner cabinet.  Take the time and read the posts associated with the gallery.  There’s an incredible amount of information.

Another coat, or two, of BLO then I’m off to weaving the seat, eureka!


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