What I’m working on: Bookmatching ‘Ugly’ Wood

You now those projects you put off, and put off, and put off? They’re not fun, per se, few people will see them, just kinda blah. For me, it’s the cabinetry for the laundry room (where only my wife goes). She’s been asking for some cabinetry for years, and the time came to do it.

I have a boat-load of ash left from a tree I took down in 2007 (ish). I’ve used much of the ‘good’ stuff for projects in the past few years. There are treasures in what remains, but much of it is streaky with brownish heartwood. So here’s the laundry room sink base cabinet, for which I re-sawed, and book-matched the ugly wood to make, um… slightly less ugly raised panels.  It seems like a mirror-image of the “blemish” makes it seem more of a feature, than a deficiency.

Sink Base cabinet in Ash

Sink Base cabinet in Ash, inset doors, false drawer


The other ash I’m kicking around the shop these days is a small table, maybe destined for a coffee table. It was a 12″ wide by 2.5″ thick slab with some cool figure and a live edge that I re-sawed. The bandsaw was not cooperative that day, so the bookmatch was not perfect, but it’ll still make a cool tabletop: the figure and purple swirls are awesome.  For now, I a taking it easy, spending some time reading portable table saw reviews since I need to revamp my workshop. When I get inspired about completing the base, it will be for sale. Contact me if you’re interested in this piece.

Bookmatched Figured Ash Table top, in progress


Modern Woodworkers Association Podcast, #4: Sketchup Guide for Woodworkers

Check out the latest podcast, co-hosted by yours truly, from the Modern Woodworkers Association.  In this episode, we review Taunton Press’ Sketchup Guide for Woodworkers. Note: This episode was recorded just hours before it was announced that Google is selling Sketchup to Trimble. You can read more about that here.

CraftBoston Spring 2012

This weekend I visited the Craft Boston show for a little inspiration, and to see how furnituremakers at the show were displaying, see what the crowd at this show is like.  This show is not strictly furniture, but includes artists and makers in many different media: ceramics, metal, jewelry, fabrics, etc. The ‘theme’ of the show was Steampunk, something like Victorian revival (think Jules Verne) which was a subtle presence, not carried through to most of the exhibitors. I won’t say more about it, because I don’t really appreciate the appeal, or understand the concept.

For me, and the other makers I went with, the focus was primarily the wood furniture, and other interesting woodwork.  I’ll say up front, that I did not do a great job in documenting everything we looked at, or even getting the maker’s names on all of the pieces I did photograph (primarily in the student works). Such is life.

First, I wanted to share some of the shots of my favorite piece from the show, from Center for Furniture Craftsmanship (CFC) student Monica Raymond: Standing Desk, in quartersawn walnut, QS walnut veneer, and maple, with holly stringing. Inspired by architectural features from some European cathedrals (stained glass windows, buttresses, entry arch, etc.), this piece was remarkable for the details.  If some of the little things had not been added, like the groove detail around the edge of the top, the angled feature where the walnut meets the maple leg, the fine maple cock-bead beneath the front apron and drawer, one might notice they were lacking, rendering the piece less than remarkable.



Here are the remainder of the shots I took, with as much info as I have for each in the caption. I’ve made a gallery of images, with as much information as I could recall or recorded. (NOTE: If one of these is your pieces, and would like to add attribution, or additional descriptions, let me know, I’d be happy to add it!)




You can also check out some of the other exhibitor’s works at their websites:

Sharon Mehrman

Duncan Gowdy

Paula Garabino

Mark Del Guidice

Dan Klein

Monica Raymond


Apologies if I missed your booth!


Hewing Hatchet Handle

If you’re reading or working along with many of us who are returning to the roots of the craft and building the Follansbee/Alexander Joint Stool (I talked about it here), there are a few tools that are less commonly found in most of our shops. In most cases, you can get away with using other tools (yes, you could even use your machines). I thought it worth the learning experience of trying to use the tools an early joiner might have (as much as possible). One of these is a hewing hatchet.






New ones are quite expensive, but fortunately, ebay tends to have a few at any given time.  I paid about $23 for one on Ebay.

This one is a brand I’m not familiar with, and frankly, I didn’t really care about brand, just that the steel was in decent shape, and was a head of ~2-3 lbs. A little research online showed a 1925 flyer for a similar head, made from ‘chrome nickel alloy steel’ selling for $37/dozen, in 1925 dollars (that’s ~$460 of today’s commodity dollars), and described as ‘Broad’ hatchet, single-bevel, curved bit.

I cleaned up the head with sandpaper to remove the very light pitting and corrosion and polished up the back side. then ground the bevel, and honed it as I might a scrub plane blade – with ample camber. Honed it to 6000, razor sharp (sliced my wrist a little just grazing it!)





On to the handle:  I used a method discussed by Robin Wood, nearly exactly, so I won’t go into the details, they’re all on that blog.

A couple things I did slightly differently:

Since it’s a hewing hatchet, often , the handles are angled away from the plane of the flat side, to give some clearance for your knuckles when swinging parallel to the stock. I roughed the tenon for the head at an angle relative to the length of the board. The result is a head about a 1:16 angle between the handle and the edge, flat face to the left (I’m a righty):

Some of these hatchets I’ve seen have extremely offset handles, almost ‘S’ shaped. which could be made if you started with really thick, or already curved stock. I’ll determine whether I’ll need that when I’m using it. I suspect not, given the amount I’m likely to use it.

Shaping the handle is entirely up to you. I just went with what looked right. I may tweak it after I use it a bit. For finish, I’m thinking just Boiled Linseed Oil, though I’m open to suggestions.

In all, this took about 2 hours of shaving, and shaping, so in my mind was worth the effort. This tool should last decades, and if the handle need to be replaced, now, I know how.

 More on the Joint Stool:









Ripple Molding without the Moxon Engine

In my last post, in which I talked about Ripple Moldings and the Moxon Waving Engine, I also mentioned that all the strips on the piece I am restoring were accounted for, and I would only need to repair some minor chips which I could do by carving. The rest would be taken care by some professionals that I hired from Fixling handyman. Well, I’ve since learned to count.

It turns out, there was a missing piece of the ripple molding, which left me with a decision to make: re-create the moxon engine, or carve it.  Knowing my own propensity for perfectionism, I determined remaking the moxon engine (or some version of it) would likely take days, if not weeks, and I’d likely end up re-designing it (gotta make some use of that mechanical engineering degree, right?).  If this were an experimental piece, I might do it, but as this piece is for a customer, I opted to carve it, since, while time consuming, it would be much faster than the former method.

Here, I’ll give a brief photo record of what I did. I won’t talk about the art of carving, per se, because, well, you don’t want to learn it from me.



Make a scratch stock using the profile from the original molding to make the horizontal profile.




 scratch, scratch, scrape, scrape …until the profile takes shape.







Mark the spacing of the ripples with dividers or by pencil (I just aligned an existing piece along the new piece, and marked each groove with the pencil)



Cut a shallow kerf to about the depth of the bottom of the ripple at each mark




using a v-tool, carve a notch along across the profile to the depth of the kerf






the v-tool leaves the general shape, but with clear facets on the grooves, rather than smooth ripples…



…the rest of the work was using a small #5, a #2 sweep, the v-tool, a #11 veiner, an exacto-knife, and a very small v-file to round all of the transitions as much as possible.



this one shows the original, my first attempt at the carving (I made 2, the first for practice, in different species of mahogany) and a ruler for scale.


And here is the final product, installed on the secretary (sorry for the shadows). Can you tell which is the new one?

The finishing: I used a blend of red mahogany and mission brown transtint dyes in denatured alcohol to match color, which was tricky. Fortunately, there wasn’t uniform coloration on the original, so there was some margin of acceptable tint.  The finish was garnet shellac with a little transtint dye mixed in.  The exposed endgrain in the grooves of the ripple really soaked the dye in, which darkens the grooves substantially, giving the appearance of added depth.

In all, carving was time consuming, and definitely left a more faceted and non-uniform appearance than the moxon machine would have, but was a satisfying experience, and I’m happy with the product.  When I have some down time, I may just cobble up a waving engine…for the next time.



Lathe Stand & Tool Rack

When I purchased the bed extension to my little Delta VS midi lathe, it outgrew the length of the table I was using as a lathe stand. While I failed to document the build process, I thought it might be of moderate interest to see the finished product (such as it is).

The base is made from some scrap lengths of Advantech sub-floor sheathing (basically, wax-impregnated flake board, the latest in sub-floor material). I cut them to the length of the lathe+extension, plus a couple of inches, and slightly wider than the footprint. 

I made some 2×4 legs in the same way as you might to make a saw-horse, adding some scrap plywood gussets on the ends. The stretchers (at the bottom, under the shelf/drawers) are just 2×4’s screwed to the legs.

I made a simple butt-joint box of plywood to house the drawers, with simple plywood-box drawers with bottoms nailed on.  I had a thin resawn offcut of oak from the wine cabinet I had used to test finishes and colors (read: pre-finished) that I used as false fronts. It was perfectly sized to be used with continuous grain across the drawers (yes, totally unnecessary for a utilitarian piece such as this) I also had some cheap wood knobs kicking around, too big to be used for much else, but very functional for this application.

Here are the deficiencies I’ve found so far:

  1. The shavings collect on top of the drawer shelf, on the blanks I’m currently storing there, and ultimately fall into the drawers when I open them.  I think I may enclose this behind doors, a hinged lid, or something similar to keep it ‘clean’.
  2. There is currently no mount for the dust collection hood.  I just haven’t gotten around to making one, so I just prop it up any way I can.
  3. I can’t really get behind this stand to sweep or vacuum. To fix this, I may just try being less neurotic about cleaning up. What harm does a pile of shaving cause back there anyhow? They can wait.

After the stand was made, I decided I needed a rack to hold commonly used turning tools. The less used ones are kept in the drawers beneath.  My rack is pretty basic and functional, made of plywood.  Not much to say about it, so I’ll just show it in photos, if you have questions/comments on it, don’t hesitate to comment below.

So the final word on these shop additions: the stand is rock solid, and the tool racks – so far so good.  I think these’ll serve their respective purposes, and functional was the only goal in this little diversion.


Ripple Molding: the Moxon Waving Engine

I’m pretty selective about what I take in for repairs (read: if it wasn’t worth buying when it was new, or isn’t a unique piece, it’s probably not worth repairing…can I build you a new piece?).  Recently, I took in a very interesting piece to repair:

French-Canadian Secretary

The client purchased this secretary at an antiques auction in the 70’s, in upstate NY, and had recently moved it from their home in PA to Massachusetts (that’s where I come in). The only information about provenance the client had was that it was a French-Canadian piece, unknown age (mid 19th century, based on the features discussed below).  It looks to be mahogany and pine, maybe bits of other woods in inconspicuous places.  Three features of this made it interesting to me: 1.  the upper case attaches to the lower with dovetailed ways effectively locking it in.  2.  The writing surface also pulls out from the top of the lower case in dovetailed ways. 3.  The moldings.

The last feature is the topic I’ll discuss here, since I spent the last couple of weeks researching it in anticipation of working on this piece.

The Ripple Molding.

Here are some images of the three different styles on the secretary (use arrows to navigate):

Door Trim - Scale

Picture 1 of 8

Ripple Molding

It seems the first appearance of wavy, rippled molding, was around 1600, and the machine for producing it, called a ‘waving engine’ shows up in Joseph Moxon in the mid-late 17th century.  The style became known as Dutch ripple used on ebony or ebonized wood picture frames, often seen on frames for the Dutch Masters, though the origins seem to trace back to Germany in the late Renaissance.  Accounts of similar waving engines occur periodically in other sources including in Roubo, and others of the era. (3)

Though accounts vary, the machinery and methods for producing this seem to have disappeared in this country when the JC Brown Clock factory and the machine itself burned in 1853, after starting to produce clocks with this feature in 1848. The ripple molding made these clocks popular in the mid 19th century and even more so due to the scarcity of these in the collector’s market. It was used by other clock makers, and in mirrors and frames in the same era, though the source of these moldings aren’t clear. In this century, a clock maker, Irv Rosen, who reproduced many of the Brown clocks also reproduced the machinery for making the moulding, and wrote about it in FWW #58. I found this example of an original Brown clock on the Skinner, Inc site:

JC Brown Gothic Clock , Skinner, Inc

JC Brown Gothic Clock , Skinner, Inc (click on photo to go to site)

The basic mechanics of the machine involve either repeatedly moving a scraper blade along a molding, while moving the blade along the waved profiles, or guides (vertical, lateral, or both), cutting very slightly deeper with each pass, for hundreds of passes, OR moving the molding itself under the blade, moving the molding along the waved profile to form the waves (lateral wave profile, below) or ripples (vertical wave profile, like in the images above, clocks and case moldings).

Steeple Wave moldings (JC Brown Clock)

Ripple (top) and Wave (bottom) Moldings

Here is an image excerpted from (3),  of the Moxon waving engine as drawn by its author:

Moxon Engine - Thornton

The latest iteration of such a machine was made near London, by Yannick Chastang and his team of conservators, as documented in Furniture and Cabinetmaking, #187, where he recreates the Roubo plate version of the engine. (2) (for this construction we use miter saw).

Yannick Chastang and his new Roubo Waving Engine

Yannick Chastang and his new Roubo Waving Engine

I have to think there is someone out there using a CNC scraper to digitally run the profiles in a modern way, but I couldn’t find anyone online making or selling ripple moldings in the US (though I only searched for a couple days). This may be  a result of a lack of demand for this type of molding except for conservators and restorers, like Chastang, who ultimately make their own tools to make these. I did find Jakob Schiffer, a maker in Austria, who makes these by hand and can make custom profiles, if you need some and don’t want to make the machine yourself.

Want to read more? Joel at Tools for Working Wood wrote a nice blog last year on this as well, see it here, and though I read it at the time, I promptly forgot about it until just now, since I couldn’t imagine when i’d run into it. It turns out, 6 months later.

So, will I be making my own engine? It turns out, all of the moldings on the secretary are accounted for, though some detached. So I only need to repair some chipped ends, and can do it by carving. However, the engineer inside me really wants to try and reproduce this 17th century woodworking machine (supposedly, the second woodworking machine to be invented, after the lathe).  Who knows, maybe 2012 will bring the revival of the waveform in furniture design.


  1. FWW #58, p62-64.
  2. Furniture and Cabinet Maker Magazine, featuring the work of Yannick Chastang (#187, pages 17-22?)
  3. The History and Technology of Waveform Moldings: Reproducing and Using Moxon’s “Waving Engine”, Thornton, Jonathan.

If you have photos of furniture (rather than clocks or picture frames) which feature waveform moldings, please comment with a link!

Wood Expo 2012 – Why YOU need to be there next year

This weekend in Boston, woodworkers, furnituremakers, masters and students, and the general public converged on the Boston World Trade Center for WoodExpo 2012 whose stated purpose was to reconnect the maker and the buyer.

It’s a strange atmosphere, in a way, as there are several audiences this show is designed to attract (in no specific order):

  1. The Woodworker:  For $9 (online ticketing), you gain entry for four days to the New England Homeshow (in which WoodExpo features quite prominently).  In these 4 days (or in whatever portion you choose to attend), you have the opportunity to see demonstrations of techniques, concepts, methods of work, and listen to panel discussions which include some of the most talented and respected names in the game today.  This year, these included: Chuck Bender , Al Breed, Glen Guarino, Tom McLaughlin, Terry Moore, Freddy Roman, Phil Lowe (unable to attend due to illness), (I’m certain I’ve forgotten someone…).  Not only were there live demonstrations, but every one of these guys was accessible for one-on-one conversations. If you ever wanted to pick a master’s brain, what an opportunity.  (Photo: Clockwise From Top L: Glen Guarino talks with Mike Morton and Rob Bois about stacked lamination; Terry Moore demonstrates veneering a round table; Chuck Bender makes some Bermuda dovetails, and Al Breed carves a Rhode Island Ball and Claw in 30 minutes or less.)


    Just as valuable, in my view, was the opportunity to see the work that up-and-coming furnituremakers, students from North Bennet Street School and Furniture Institute of Massachusetts, and some really great self-taught woodworkers were showing, and talk in great depth about their pieces, their experiences, methods, inspiration, ideas, etc.  Each has a distinctive style, be it in period or contemporary genres, so there’s really something to see and talk about for every woodworker.  The passion for the craft is evident in every conversation. Follow the links at towards the bottom of this post, to many of the makers own sites so you can go see their work directly.  At the end of this post, there’s a slideshow of all the pieces for which I took halfway decent images, but here are a few photos of the winning pieces:

    Modern Chair, Juan Pablo Blanco, Best in Show, Best Craftsmanship, Best Student Work

    (Photo by Eli Cleveland)

    Modern Chair, Juan Pablo Blanco, Best in Show, Best Craftsmanship, Best Student Work; Birds-eye maple and QS cherry veneer

    Cherry Writing Desk, Ryan Messier

    Spalted Maple Step Stool, by Megan Caine. Winner, creative categorySpalted Maple Step Stool, by Megan Caine. Winner, creative category

  2. The Buying Public: The vast majority of people passing by the furniture on display are just that: passers-by who came to see the consumer home show (gutters, kitchens, etc.) and walk by, occasionally stopping when something catches their interest. This poses both a challenge to furnituremakers, but also some opportunities.  The vast majority of these consumers are likely to buy new furniture at Ikea, Target, or discount/chain furniture stores, and for whom up-front cost is a chief consideration in furnishing their homes, which could be attributable to insufficiencies in their appreciation for the value and quality of fine furniture, in their finances, or knowledge of the availability, process or attainability of quality furniture.  In this sense, the makers have some challenges: connecting with and educating these people to convey appreciation of the work, so that when the need and ability arise, they think of a furniture maker before Ikea to get what they want.  This crowd also presents some opportunities for the maker to get feedback on their work from a large number of people (though most aren’t likely to share the negative opinions, but rather just pass on in silence), engage them to learn about what they want in furniture (market research), an lastly, an opportunity, with some strategic designing, to convert some of these to clients and buyers of custom furniture by designing not only top of the line pieces to exhibit at this show, but ‘entry-level’ pieces which become (you’ll forgive the term) the gateway-drug to fine furniture.  By this, I mean high-quality pieces at a lower pricepoint (simplified, batch-made, etc.) making it more accessible and affordable to this audience and increasing the likelihood of converting a consumer from a low-quality, foreign mass-produced pieces. These new clients have potential to become the repeat customer of tomorrow when they see the value in well-made custom furniture.
  3. The Interior Designer/Architect/Buyers: These are the target market for fine furniture makers, who know about the value of top-quality work, and are often working for (or are) discerning consumers in many areas (not just furniture).  These are fewer in number at this show, and growing WoodExpo to be a destination for these types of clients will, I believe, need to be the challenge tackled by the show’s organizers. If you’re a designer, architect or buyer, and you want some of the best furniture out there, this is the place to be to see the work, meet the makers, tell them what you want, and forge relationships that will add tremendous value to your own designs.

    Castlewerks Contemporary Fine FurnitureCastlewerks Contemporary Fine Furniture

  4. The Furniture Maker: If you’re a maker, you’re crazy not to try to get into this show. It’s free. There is a ton of opportunity for educating, showing, getting design critique from peers and from masters, learning about the business, marketing, getting your name out, making connections, and making friends.  Will you sell your pieces when you’re there? It happens every year, not a lot, but if some of the things I mentioned start happening (ie. Makers building some gateway pieces for the homeshow market, and organizers working towards building the attendance of the high-end clients to WoodExpo) it will happen more each year. Would you want to miss out on an opportunity like that?
  5. The Masters: What can I say? These guys come out to educate. To educate the public about the craft and fine furniture. To educate the next generation of maker on how to do it right, in business and in the craft, how to be successful, to market, to deal with adversities unique to the field, and more. To educate woodworkers on some really cool ways of doing some really cool things. What draws them? Love of the craft and desire to see us all succeed, and the craft grow. True mentors.

If you are in any of these target audiences (and there are probably more I haven’t thought of) and you missed this year’s WoodExpo, make a point to try and make it next year, it should be even better. (Don’t forget to read to the end to see some more images from the show!)

Some other blogs with other accounts from WoodExpo 2012 (List may be updated as more are published):

Links to some of the talented makers and masters in attendance (its well worth the time to browse their portfolios):