A Gallery of Unfinished Work

Posted May 22, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Some time ago I wrote a post in which I bemoaned the fact that I had too many unfinished projects and I was getting quite tired of “tripping over them.”  A reader asked if I’d show a few of them (probably to determine the depth of my procrastination).  I was talking with Les and he agreed that, as we are now “men of leisure” (retired) and no longer driven by the profit motive, it’s very easy to concentrate on the aspects of woodworking that we really enjoy, while subordinating the more mundane, all at the expense of project completion.  So in something of a “confession” we decided that we’d both show the world how easy it is for a couple of old guys to get distracted.  (I’m secretly hoping that this will be the impetus for a renewal of the discipline required to get these project out of the shops, finally!)

Obviously, we’re not going to run out of work anytime soon.  That said, I’ll leave you with two parting thoughts:  Getting older is not for the faint hearted.  Finish one thing before you start another.

Cross boring on the lathe (and the absolutely frightening potential for cumulative error)

Posted May 15, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my friend Les and I have been getting together one day a week, during the seemingly unending winter, to work on projects.  The original thought was that we’d help one another finish up any number of uncompleted projects that reside in both of our shops.  But it’s so much easier to go off on little “flights of fancy” and start even more projects.  There are just so darned many “fun things” that we could do and the old stuff can be a little boring…

Well we decided that making some little post and rung high chairs would be good fun. You know the kind, little ladder backs with turned posts, rush seats:

I mean, these are easy.  People’ve been making them for centuries.  You turn or shave the posts.  You “eyeball” and bore for the stretchers.  “Knock” it together.  Throw a little paint on it.  Weave the seat.  Voila!  Instant heirloom!

Okay…So Les and I just can’t seem to take the “path of least resistance”.  We’ve got to “up the anti”.  So we decide we’ll make multiples of this little baby.  We’ll give ’em to the grandchildren.  Doll collectors would probably want one (who knows, maybe two).  Anyone serious about colonial stuff just wouldn’t be able to resist.  To do this we decide that we’re going to have to employ some production techniques.  You know, knock ’em out fast…and accurate.  We decided that we’d bore the stretcher holes while the posts were still on the lathe.  Makes sense, right?

We’ve both cross bored posts and columns on the lathe.  You determine the height of the spur center, build a little two point block that you clamp to the ways, then bore away.  Easy, breezy! But this time, rather than build a (or find the existing) boring “block” we decided to use a new drilling jig that Les had picked up.  The device is one built by a first class lathe manufacturer.  It’s mounted on a frame not unlike those used for certain “steadies”, the type built with urethane skate wheels.  The unit has a slide with depth control stops.  First class, all the way.  So we mounted the drill motor into the single point collar, designed for that purpose.  I had the responsibility of aligning the bit.  I ran the slide in towards the spur center and adjusted the height accordingly.  Everything perfect.  At least so I thought.  In fact, I had failed to notice that the bit was not running parallel to the ways (or, in other words, at a right angle to the center of the lathe).  The slide of the device was at 90° to the lathe bed.  But the single point collar had turned, ever so slightly, and changed the tangential relationship between the bit and the workpiece.  Without going into a lot of illustrations, suffice it to say that as the actual boring axis was not at 90°, the stretcher hole was off.  But we hadn’t really noticed the error at this point, so we bored both posts (ignorance is bliss).  We put the back slats into the posts, then the first stretcher and…  Sweet angel of mercy, what went wrong?  Well it took about 1/100 of a second for us to realize that we missed the boring alignment, but what we were reminded of was that when boring pieces that will be placed in “mirror” opposition of one another – the error doubles!  In “tech speak”, this is cumulative error!!!

Most carpenters and cabinetmakers will tell you that (usually) one error cancels out another.  And, many times this is true.  But not so when you’re cross boring on the lathe. So it might be a good idea that in some future post, we explore the construction of a very simple, extremely reliable two-point drilling fixture.  In the meantime, most of our younger friends should take away this lesson – even the old dogs can screw up!  So, if our paths cross, you’re permitted a little back slapping humor, at our expense.  But, don’t overindulge, or from now on we won’t share our “unfortunate mishaps” with you.


A Queen Anne drop leaf table gallery

Posted May 12, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

While the last few months have not been great ones in terms of woodworking productivity, a few projects have been completed.  Over the winter, Scott, Les and I have gotten together once a week.  Scott is a professional furniture maker and operates a woodworking school in Southern Michigan.  Most of you know Les through previous posts.  Each of us has been involved with woodworking for more than fifty years.  We all agreed that getting together on a regular basis would allow us to share techniques and ideas and renew our passion for woodworking.  Even the best romances can get a little stale.  So we decided to put together a straightforward little Queen Anne drop leaf table. Drop leafs were quite common in the late eighteenth century.  They are very utilitarian and were used for dining, gaming or as entry tables (and, I suspect, other applications).

This particular design is rather unique in several of its features.  The first and immediately visible is that the knee blocks are buttressed, instead of applied.  I think it fair to say that on a light, “feminine” design, applied blocks would have (probably) been more common.  There is no huge load on the frame or legs and no field is required for carving (as the absence or minimization of carving is a major aspect of the Queen Anne Style).  The second are the leaf supports.  They are hinged with the surface of the “fingers” being constructed in such a way as to remain “flat”.  Several prototypes were made with both flat and radiused fingers, so the differences will be easily seen.  Enough talking, on to the pictures.



The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley,

Posted May 7, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
          For promis’d joy!
Thus spake the Scots poet Robert Burns.
      And that pretty much sums up my last three weeks.  I had big plans.  Clean up the shop after a miserable winter.  Start completing projects that have been laying around, uncompleted, for far too long.  I had schemes a’plenty to fill up the month of April.  It started well enough.  I had finished a sternboard for my friends’ sailboat and my passion for woodworking was renewed.
     My daughter, son-in-law and our two little grandchildren came to visit for a few days over their Easter Break.  But living two hundred miles away and attending nursery school means that the little darlings are exposed to a completely different “germ pool” than “the old folks at home”.  It’s impossible to forgo close contact with the “babies”.  I mean, they’re the future.  Their laughter and shenanigans filled the house. And what grandparent, worth their salt, would think twice about runny noses and a little coughing.
     The Missus and I began coughing and sputtering as we waved goodbye to our children and grandchildren.  My wife, God Bless her, is living proof that women are stronger than men.  She managed to keep her ailment to what appeared to be a severe seasonal “cold”. I, on the other hand, had a completely different experience.  I started coughing.  I mean coughing constantly, constantly and hard, really hard.  Then the first course of antibiotics.  Then the second course of antibiotics.  Then the chest x-ray.  Then the diagnosis, pneumonia.
     I had deluded myself in the past, thinking that I had had pneumonia.  You know, the atypical kind that we are fond of referring to as “walking pneumonia”.  Well, I now know that the two conditions are far, far different.  I, quite literally, spent the better part of ten days in bed.  I couldn’t have imagined how weak I could be.  Believe me, you don’t want pneumonia!
     So why am I writing about this in a woodworking blog?  Simply this.  If you’ve been engaged in woodworking for any length of time, your lungs have been exposed to some “bad actors”.  Even those of us who are hand woodworkers, who preen and puff out our chests and say that we make shavings not dust, are still exposed to those same “bad actors”.  So, even if you’ve never been a smoker (and, truth be told, I don’t know many woodworkers over fifty who haven’t been), give a second thought to the use of dust masks and other protective gear.
     I still remember my grandfather saying, “well now, God only gave you two eyes, so you better have a care for ’em”.  I also remember him saying, “bejasus, if I knew I was going to live this long, I woulda taken better care of myself.”  I’m here to remind you that you’ve only got two lungs.  They’re pretty important.

Anything for a friend

Posted April 15, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,

The great thing about being retired is I don’t have to do anything that I don’t find interesting or particularly challenging.  And, these days I’m apt to work on a project gratis just because it meets the interesting and/or challenging threshold.  This freedom is a great luxury and I’m very happy to have it.

A friend of mine (recently retired) decided to get back into sailing.  He picked up a nice little 28 footer.  Upon seeing the boat, I suggested that he needed a carved sternboard to bear the boat’s name and that I would be happy to make it,  just for the experience of doing a ribbon banner type of carving.  Obviously, he thought it was a good idea.

We spiled (scribed) the line of the stern onto a pattern and realized that it was going to take a fair amount of material.  Luckily, I remembered another friend saying that he had a mahogany plank that he was thinking about getting rid of.  After a little “horse trading”, we came up with a 20 bdft (8/4) plank of absolutely clear mahogany.  The stock had come out of a luthier’s shop and was just beautiful.

The first order of business was to cut the stern curve into the blank.  Thank goodness for yet another friend who could get 13″ under his bandsaw guides.  After rough sawing the surface was planed using an old Stanley 113.  (Which I found worked best by keeping the plane parallel with the direction of travel while skewing the cut.  Due to the curved surfaces, moving the plane diagonally changes the relationship between the curve of the work and that of the plane’s sole.)  The waste pieces were saved and used as concave and convex “dollies”.


Mahogany works like “butter” with any sheering tool (provided the tool is sharp).  The finish below is a product of planing with the 113.


I love to carve walnut.  But I have to say that I had forgotten how wonderful it is to carve mahogany.  The grain is consistent in both direction and density, which means crisp details and ease of tool re-direction.


We were both quite happy with the results.  The letters and pin stripes will be painted a marine white after a couple of coats of spar varnish.  Should be able to be read by the captain and crew of any boat “standing well off”.  My friend insisted on paying me for my efforts.  To which I replied, absolutely not.  In this case, the work was the reward.


He did, however, convince me accept a canvas bag which I found contained several bottles of 15 year old Glenlivet.  Hey!  What are friends for?

Getting it into perspective

Posted March 21, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: ,

I’m pleased to say that there does, indeed, appear to be some renewed interest in applied geometry.  I’m convinced that it was one of the things that separated humans from the lower animals.

Several readers have said that they are intrigued by more advanced geometric techniques like l’art du trait and stereotomy, but found them hard to comprehend and a bit overwhelming. Rightly so, as these techniques have been shrouded in secrecy for centuries, thus assuring carpenters and masons a fair amount of “bargaining power.”   These techniques require the novice to have some level of familiarity with geometry and, sadly, the vast majority of the population has not had that experience.  A few days ago someone asked if I could recommend any books on the subject that might get the “pilgrim” started on the journey.

Well, the novice could start by reading Euclid’s Elements.  But trust me, the plot line is very difficult to follow and it’s easy to loose interest (a statement based on my own experience).  Perhaps the best way to become introduced to trade geometry is to read up on perspective drawing.  Yes, that’s what I said, Perspective Drawing.  Remember, geometry is a way of seeing.  Figuring comes later.

The very best book that I’ve ever come across on the subject is “Basic Perspective Drawing” by John Montague.  There are many editions which indicates to me that it’s one of the best tomes on the subject.  I think the drawing below will support my reasoning.  This is plane geometry:

From "Basic Perspective Drawing" by John Montague

From “Basic Perspective Drawing” by John Montague

Take some quiet time for yourself, with a “wee dram” perhaps, and peruse this book (or any book on the subject, for that matter).  My guess is that you’ll get the connection pretty quickly.  But beware, you may never again look at the world in the same way.

Wow! I sucked at math!

Posted March 20, 2015 by D.B. Laney
Categories: Uncategorized


I mean really, Algebra, Calculus?  Just couldn’t get my head around it.  (Also too busy chasin’ girls and not a member of the football team.)  Now Geometry, on the other hand…I could “see” that.

My friend Chad (of Woodchoppintime fame) and I were discussing this just a few weeks ago. After several glasses of a very nice bourbon cask ale, we concluded that Geometry is a way of “seeing”, not a way of “figuring”.  If I move myself in relationship to an object, I get a one view.  Conversely, if I move the object in relationship to myself, I get another view.  Hello!  This is the how they built the Pyramids and how Hiram put the “Temple” together.  It’s all about seeing.  And it’s about making yourself “part of the picture.”

We see “lines” that are “plumb”, “level”, or angled in relation to other lines.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t “see” things in terms of sines and cosines.  We see in reference to planes of view.  Ergo, Plane Geometry.



Geometry was what allowed masons and carpenters to build the great cathedrals of Europe, with not one computer on the jobsite.  Geometry was the “life blood” of our “brotherhood”.  It gave craftsmen position in society.

But then came Newton and Leibniz.  They changed everything.  After these two, the mason and carpenter were no longer officers of the town council, they were mere employees.

But hark!  There may be good news.  It seems there is a resurgence of interest in geometry and how it relates to our craft.  One can only hope.  But we must study, if we are to see.



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