Visiting Fine Woodworking

This past friday, a group from the Modern Woodworkers Association (MWA) had the privilege of spending some time with Fine Woodworking Magazine’s (FWW) Senior Editor Matt Kenney and Art Director Mike Pekovich touring the Connecticut headquarters of Taunton Press, home of Fine Woodworking, Fine Homebuilding, Fine Cooking, Fine Gardening (just to name those I subscribe to!) as well as several other periodicals and books.

You know a bit about the making of the magazine, because by now, you’ve read Steve’s account of the visit on, and Dyami’s Modern Woodworkers account of it.

As an added benefit of the trip to CT, we were able to visit the home shops of both Matt and Mike, and you’ll soon be able to tour those, as well as the FWW shop, with video posts from Dyami Plotke (coming soon) in the Penultimate Woodshop blog, and on the Modern Woodworkers Association Blog.

Since these other blogs have the details of the visit covered, I’d simply like to share some interesting things I learned, both facts about Fine Woodworking, some general comments I found thought provoking, and my own thoughts about woodworking, the culture, the community, and my own work.

  • I was surprised that the largest demographic in FWW’s circulation is 60+.  It makes sense, in a way, since woodworking is often a post-retirement endeavor, or at least, a hobby that grows substantially in retirement.  Nevertheless, I was surprised because the vast majority of the woodworkers I interact with are late-20’s to early-40’s, primarily since my network of woodworkers are in the online woodworking communities (#woodchat, twitter, Google+, MWA). In the group that toured, 8 of 9 were significantly younger than FWW’s primary demographic.

  • A key question I had for the FWW folks: Given they are a respected authority in the field, how do they see the role of the online woodworking community; more specifically do they plan on engaging and leveraging this growing network to help in growing the craft, and how…or does the free sharing of information via social networks, and the real-life networks they help create somehow compete with them. The short answer: they have access to a large network of authoritative sources, authors of such high-caliber as to be virtually uncontested as experts in the field, and they don’t consider online woodworking community a competitor; they are interested in finding ways of engaging the communities and doing what they can, and are looking for ways of helping and participating. (Given that they invited Modern Wooodworkers to the shop, I think this engagement is underway, planned or not)
  • The key to being productive isn’t so much getting lots of time in the shop, it’s maximizing the quality of the time you have. The FWW guys live lives similar to mine in many ways, as do most of the other MWA guys who made the trip. We face similar challenges, and all manage to make nice things in wood, share our knowledge online, and care for our families. (Sounds obvious now that I’ve written it, but it helps to see it first hand; getting together and chat about wood and life helps remind us)
  • Stop collecting tools. There are few tools beyond the basics that will make you a better woodworker. Don’t wait until you have the ‘next’ tool before starting to build. It’s just an excuse, you don’t really need it, just go build.  Why this thought?: Seeing the FWW shop, as well as Matt and Mike’s shops underlined the point that these guys make great work with shops smaller and possibly even less well-equipped than mine (so, with few exceptions, it’s not the tools…)
  • People online (bloggers, tweeters, etc) tend to write about successes, and accomplishments. Those are great to see. However, (again, with a few notable exceptions) nobody uses these great resources to ask questions, talk about problems they are facing, have faced, how they overcame it, lessons-learned.  There’s a side-effect: consumers of the content see this and think they’re the only ones facing challenges. It can be discouraging. I, for one, have no shame about seeking counsel from the wisdom of the online woodworking community. If nobody knows the answer, they often know who will. I also screw up alot, so many future woodworkers can learn from my mistakes. If you write, write about the bad stuff too. (You know there’s more than you’ve let on…
  • It was proposed that the next generation of communication (after forums, for instance) will be conversations directly in the comments of a blog or G+ post (both?) Once searchable in Google, what used to be found (with difficulty) in a forum thread, becomes a thread attached to the source document, with pictures, links, and little or no barriers to participation. What do you think?

There’s likely much more I’ll find on further reflection, but I’ll leave it at that for now. I’m interested in your thoughts on these things (remember, you’re contributing to a thread to be read far into the future, say your piece!)

I’ll leave you with a some images from the trip to browse through :

Matt Kenney's Tool Cabinet/Chest

Picture 1 of 14

Matt Kenney's Tool Cabinet/Chest

A Basement Tool Wall, Part 1.

I say Part 1, because as it stands, there are few tools on the wall.  This post is just a quick one to document a long overdue shop modification.

Those of you who have basement shops have experienced the difficulties related to making good use of poured concrete walls. Before I moved into the space a friend of mine referred me a company he had used for his basement problems, and so I got my basement addressed by mudjacking Denver as the concrete just was not sitting well and within the next 46 hours, I could not explain how but the basements walls concrete level was just perfect due to their professionals. I also painted the walls white (there’s a ‘basement’ paint for this very purpose, I think it’s sold at Home Depot) to brighten the space. I didn’t address the need for wall storage at the time, because I wanted to live in the shop a while to see how I’d want to use it.

On one side of long walls of the shop, there’s a buttress wall poured to support the fieldstone foundation of the original house, with about 2′ of storage space (30″deep) above it.  I’ll be filming a shop tour video shortly and I’ll show how I opted to use that space. On the opposite wall, there is nothing but 24′ of white concrete wall.  This was the side I decided needed to be made useful by mounting some  wood on which cabinets, tool holders, shelves, or whatever else I might wish to add could be mounted. I ran electrical conduit along the wall about 4′ from the ceiling, so I chose to just sheath above it.

Here’s a shot of most of the empty wall, after I’d pulled away the machines and tables, etc.:


A bit on materials and methods:

My first choice would have been to use some ship-lap or tongue and groove pine planks, but that would have required a planar surface with horizontal strapping.  Because the imprints of the forms in the concrete left a not-entirely-flat surface along the length, it meant that running horizontal strapping would have required alot of extra work to make the run co-planar.  This meant that I needed to use vertical strapping and run the planks horizontally, or use sheet goods, instead. I had a few sheets of birch ply left over, so opted to use half sheets (to keep the grain vertical).

I have a Ramset powder-actuated nailer (hammer-fired variety), but it almost never succeeds in setting the nails in the concrete of the foundation walls (not sure why), but I have had good luck using the Tapcon concrete/masonry screws (the blue ones).  These require pre-drilling with a masonry bit, and if you have a corded-hammerdrill, it’s the way to go.


I started by laying out center lines every 16″ on center for 20′. I then installed furring strips (1×3’s, and 1×4’s where the sheet joints would be) plumb at each line. I used 4 concrete screws for each strip. At a shear strength of something like 4000 lbs for each screw, they won’t fail in vertical loading, but I used 4 in the case where one might want to pull out under load.

Once the furring strips were installed, I simply screwed five 1/2 sheets of the birch ply, butt jointed, along the length of the wall, pushed everything back against the wall, and began to think about just how I’ll fill up the now-useful space with clamps, tool cabinets, shelves…almost limitless possibilities! This picture was just before putting up the last sheet:

In Part 2, I’ll show you how I will fill the space. It may take a while before that post, since it’s an evolving project.  If you have wall-mounted tool racks that you really like, please comment and add a link, I, and other readers would love to see how YOU used that empty wall space!  Readers would really love to see your ideas for clever tool mounts, clamp racks, and other storage solutions for your walls.


New Logo is here!

In case you missed it in the header of this page, Mansfield Fine Furniture has a new logo. There are three images, the color logo intended to appear as a brass plaque, the color logo with background, and black and white, which will be used as a stamp/makers mark:

Full Color Logo

Full Color Logo

Full Color with Background

makers mark

Mansfield Fine Furniture Makers Mark

Tell me what you think!

Woodworking Around the House

Filling in the free time around sick kids, travelling wife, and other such mundane, but necessary parts of life, as well as using some time getting wood from the source, colonial style, means small projects around the house.  A couple of  projects I had on the to do list: replace a broken baluster on an old staircase (circa 1880) which I broke in half bashing into it with the shopvac, and make a corkboard for the kids artwork, calendar and other trappings of modern life.

Where 5 years ago, I’d have gone for the epoxy to fix the baluster, and pre-made trim to wrap the cork tiles my wife brought home from BJ’s (8pack), today, with a fully functional shop, and a neurosis for over-complicating things, I decided on turning a new baluster spindle, and making an inlaid frame for the corkboard.  Overkill, on both counts, but that’s who I am.

The Baluster:

Broken Baluster

Broken Baluster RemovedThe original was fir, stiff and strong.  I looked through my piles of reclaimed fir, much of it from earlier renovations on this house, coming across some awesome saw blades, but  couldn’t  find any sufficiently sized stock in sufficiently usable condition.  I had a perfectly sized piece of basswood (Linden) which I’ve never worked with before, and thought I’d give that a try.  It is  soft, really soft, and  known for its good carving qualities, it doesn’t seem to turn remarkably well, somewhat  fuzzy and prone to tearing instead of cutting (at least this piece was).  I super-glued the old one together to make a template for the new, and used it for reference sizing for the features.

With a little sanding the fuzz cleaned up (mostly), and after cutting the round tenon on the bottom, I removed it from the lathe, and marked and cut the angle of the top using the old one as a guide.  Installed it in the tread and nailed the angled top to the rail with some finish nails, and primed it with Zinnser BIN Primer (shellac-based white primer, good stuff).  It still needs a coat of semi-gloss paint, but other than the sheen and the packing tape I used to mask the tread, you can’t tell it isn’t an original.  Trim painting is the wife’s department. Can you see which one is new? The best part: all finished during naptime.

new baluster

On to the corkboard frame:

The corkboard itself is ~2’x4′, nothing special: 12″ x 12″ cork tiles available pretty much everywhere (drugstore, staples, grocery store, warehouse store…) glued to an MDF backer.  To get the joints as tight as possible, I used blue tape to pre-assemble it into a sheet before gluing, similar to how you might use veneer tape. Rolled on a bunch of Titebond to the MDF, lay on the sheet of cork, another piece of MDF on top of it, and a pile of ash waiting to become stairtreads on top to apply pressure.  On to the frame.

The wife specified dark wood (the room is painted yellow, and she wanted high contrast).  I have a small stash of African Mahogany: Khaya Ivorensis and Khaya Senegalensis, which I used in some other projects (like these). In this case, the latter was used. (Thanks to Shannon Rogers for identifying and explaining the difference).  She also specified plain, as in, no decorative moulding or edge-treatment. I decided I wanted to spice it up a bit (with her approval, of course) so added a figured maple inlaid border. I’ll save the details of inlay for another post.

Corkboard - inlaid frame

A couple of notes on it:  The stiles and rails are bookmatched (top and bottom are mirror images, as are right and left) including the inlay pieces.  Its probably not quite visible in the photos, but the stripes in the figured maple are identical left and right, so it looks a little like they go all the way across.

Inlay mirroring

What I really wanted to show here was the product of the miter shooting board I made a video about recently.  The miters came together really nicely but clamping this piece was a pain in the neck…I really must find a good technique for this sort of clamping.


Both of these woods are really hard and really figured and tear-out prone.  And sanding, while an option, often leaves stains of dark wood embedded in the light maple. This meant no sanding for me, just planing with a 4 1/2 with a 55 degree angle (standard angle with 10 deg back bevel blade installed), followed by some cabinet scraper to deal with a couple severely tear-out prone areas.  The finish: Boiled Linseed Oil, followed by somewhere around 6 coats of clear shellac, rubbed out, and waxed.

My only regret is that this frame is for a corkboard.  It merits at least a print of fine art or faux antique map, or something a little more….distinguished.

Fun little project to make, and I may use this combination again, it really looks sharp.

From a Tree

I have Peter Follansbee to thank for getting me started in following woodworking blogs, and later, starting one of my own. In fact, I think it was this post that I found when researching how to deal with green wood from some trees I had taken down a few years ago that introduced me to Peter’s blog and work.  In it, (and others) he talks about how to split, rive and prepare green logs, but also, coincidentally, says this, referring to the joint stool:

“The gist of it (we’ll have plenty of detail on this in the stool book one day) is that this project can be done from the tree quite quickly, but it doesn’t have to be…” -Follansbee, Feb. 2010

Two years hence, it seems ‘one day’ has arrived.  For those that haven’t heard, Mr. Follansbee (with co-author Jennie Alexander) has completed his book entitled ‘Make a Joint Stool from a Tree: An Introduction to 17th-century Joinery‘, available for pre-order from Lost Art Press.  I knew it was in the works, but I could, nevertheless, hardly contain my excitement when it was announced. Needless to say, mine is on order and I’m giddy like a school girl.

Follansbee and Alexander Joint Stool Book, Lost Art Press

Make a Joint Stool from a Tree: An Introduction to 17th-century Joinery, Follansbee and Alexander

(A quick warning: this post has a bit of philosophy (if you would call it that) before I get to the woodworking, so skip ahead if you want to, but read on if you want to try and follow my train of thought for a moment.)

Why such anticipation?

Is it that I’m a big fan of the 17th century style? Well, no, I wouldn’t furnish my house with it, at least not much of it, but it does ignite a spark of interest in pre-industrial, even pre-colonial methods of work. I do find it remarkable that craftsmen were able to build such remarkable pieces, some lasting 400 years, without worrying about much of what today’s woodworker agonizes over, such as exhaustive measuring, finishing, smoothing, sanding, etc.  Instead, they approached it as utilitarians, form following function, and unnecessary work was often simply not done (like milling both sides of a board flat and parallel).  On the other hand, in reading (and seeing) Peter’s work, decorations, like carving, painting, and decorative shaping, things that are clearly non-functional, were often seen on the “show” faces – a paradox that intrigues me.

If you read some of my earlier posts, especially the one on the wine sideboard, you know its not that I have a great fondness for red oak either, though to be fair, the last I worked with it, it was kiln-dried, plain sawn.  Even for those who don’t like oak, there is something alluring about the look of quartersawn oak, with the flecks of medullary ray. Want to know more about qualities of riven (split) oak, guess what: Peter wrote about that too.

So why am I so excited?

I think it is about evolution.  (don’t get political on me folks, let me explain).  Think back to early man. What materials did he use in the beginning? Before iron, bronze, steel, he used wood. (ok, maybe stone too, but it was harder to work) Over the course of millenia, the ways of working wood evolved, slowly. In fact, it could be argued, it evolved so slowly because there was no driving force for change. Simply put, the way they did things worked pretty darn well for centuries. I’m not a historian, but it seems to me that the methods used in the 17th century, as espoused by Mr. Follansbee are not substantially different from those of the late middle ages, maybe earlier.  After that? Well, as I said I’m not an expert on period furniture making (perhaps one of you who is can comment on my thoughts on the evolution of methods), it seems to me that after the 17th century, as we enter into the American colonial period, and certainly by the 19th century boom in furnituremaking, the methods are evolving.  Things start to get more complicated: the tools become more specialized, the joinery, ‘fancier’, not to mention the development of more ‘aesthetic’ furniture. Today there are more jigs, gizmos, power tools, bits, gadgets, helpers, doodads, etc than ever before, and I often wonder how we got here from there.

I’ve avoided the question.  Evolution.  The more I learn about woodworking, the more I want to know.  I started when my father in law showed me how to use a router, more than a decade ago. I’ve been a voracious consumer of woodworking magazines, tv shows like New Yankee Workshop and Woodwright’s Shop, and online learning. Like many of us, I started to learn “tips and tricks” for the router, then table saw, gadgets, specialty power tools, then later discovered hand tools, took some courses…in short, a haphazard, and basically counter-evolutionary personal development.  So I have a longing for some personal evolution of woodworking knowledge, starting from the old ways.  Am I giving up power tools? Heck no, at least not until I get myself an unpaid apprentice to rough mill my stock. Am I throwing out my 19th and early 20th century stanley planes? Nope. I’ll use those too.  But I DO want foundational knowledge that led to their development, and I want the basis to know whether a ‘gadget’ is worthwhile when my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather (is that enough grandfathers to get me back to the 17th century?) could do it with the few tools on hand, and if he didn’t do it, why?  So, wanna be a better woodworker? Learn how the knowledge of woodworking grew through time, develop your skills and methods the way mankind developed its own.

So that’s why I’m excited about the book.

So what to do in the month or so I have to wait before it arrives? Start splitting wood of course!

I probably should have (or could have) waited for the book to come and see if the methods I used are discussed in it (I think they will be), but my friend Wally felled a 100-something year old red oak, and, a few months ago, I talked him into trying to split and rive it, without a specific project in mind.  Then I heard the book was coming, and I suddenly was eager to go over and do it, which was good, because he was eager to get it out of his yard or make firewood of it.

Here it is, two twelve foot sections, from the root flare to the first big crotch was about 22 feet.  The chainsaw in the photo has a 20″ bar.   You could tell (though barely) that there was a little twist in the trunk, but as they say in my daughter’s pre-school “you get what you get and you don’t get upset”.

 I decided to remove the root flare, up a little more than 2 ft from the bottom.  The center of the very bottom was punky, and I hoped to get above the soft part, and into the remaining 9-10 feet of relatively uniform diameter to split.  The diameter at the top end of the first section was 2′, and more like 30″ at the bottom after making this cut:

To get warmed up, we opted to split the 2′ section of root flare first.

Then, after the base was cut into 16ths, we drove some wedges into the end of the main trunk.  Starting the wedges was easily the hardest part of the job.  The wet wood was, well, bouncy and elastic, and..wet. The poor tree bled water when the wedges compressed the endgrain.  The wedges were not sharpened as an ax might be, but had a steeper angle, like a maul, and would not wedge into the endgrain, but would go in a little, then bounce back out.  In the end, we had to make a deep score using an ax or hatchet to allow the steel wedges to gain purchase and stay put.

driving the first wedge

A few blows, and the cracks began to open across the endgrain, toward the pith, and along the trunk under the bark.  Once opened sufficiently, we placed some ash wedges and pounded those to continue the split. A note on the ash wedges.  I made a couple dozen, and we destroyed almost every one.  Hitting them with an 8lb. sledge tends to do that. But there was another reason: they were cut too steeply, maybe 1:3 or so, and wouldn’t have sufficient contact area in the split to stay in. These would literally jump from the split line, so we had to hit them really hard to get them in enough to stay.  There were a few with 1:6 or 1:8 or so, and those worked MUCH better. We worked wedges down the log, moving the split farther with each wedge.  And the twist became much more apparent. Despite the overall twist, there are large sections of reasonably straight runs, which might yield 4-5′ finished boards, though some of the medullary ray may disappear on the ends of the flattened stock, where the twist is taken out and becomes more like rift sawn.

The most rewarding part was the popping and crackling sound which followed each blow.  Finally, the log came apart, with some hatchet work to free the remaining strings holding the sides together.  And so the first split was completed.

At the end of the day, we had split the root flare section into 16ths, and of the main log, we had made one half, two eights, and four sixteenths.   We also had no feeling in our hands, cramps in our arms, sore backs, one ton of wood to put into the trailer, no wooden wedges intact, and probably another two or three tons left to split…some other day.

I will add images of the next steps of splitting and riving from this tree in the coming days, weeks, months…(years?), it looks like it’s going to yield some decent wood.

So what did I learn today about the evolution of woodworking? Men in the 17th century were of heartier stock than me.

Shop Surplus Giveaway pt. 2: Free Bench Grinder

Ok folks, here’s round two of the free stuff giveaway.  I have two grinders, only one of which I really need.  Rather than store the second, here’s a chance for you to get started with hollow grinding your tool bevels.

1/2 HP 3450RPM Bench Grinder, 6"

1/2 HP 3450RPM Bench Grinder, 6″

This is a Cummins (a basic import brand) 1/2 HP, 3450RPM  Bench Grinder, with 6″ wheels.  Its fully functional, and is only missing a tool rest on the left side.  I removed it to use with the Lee Valley Tool Rest, which I’d recommend you invest in.  This holds true for pretty much any entry level bench grinder, since the tool rests are basically useless.  The other thing you may want to invest in? Some Aluminum Oxide Grinder wheels (I think they’re around $35, for the Norton 3X blue wheels) will make the grinding substantially better.

Comments will close and winner will be selected from the submitted comments on Tuesday, Jan. 31st, 2012, around 2PM EST.


I realized that like Chris from Flairwoodworks, who’s also giving away his surplus, laying out the groundrules for these giveaways is a good idea.  Mine are just like his (’cause I cut, paste, and tweaked…why mess with success):

  1. I will post a picture and brief description of the item or group of items up for grabs.
  2. Comment if you want it!  I suggest you subscribe to this blog so you get notified when I post something.  If you want the item(s), leave a comment (IN THE POST BELOW, not Twitter or G+) on that particular post and let me know if you can pick it up or if you need it shipped.  (I am willing to ship, but you are responsible for all shipping costs.  I can get a shipping quote and will ship once I’ve received funds to cover my shipping costs.  I have a PayPal account with which I can collect funds, although there are better methods of payments for which one can read the full info here.)
  3. After a set period of time, which I will announce in the post, I will enter into a Random Chooser the names of those interested and let the program draw a winner.  I will announce the winner in the comments section and contact them to arrange a pick-up time or shipping details. If the first person chosen changes their mind, I’ll have another name chosen;
  4. Shipping will happen as soon as I can make it happen, which may not be the next day, but it will come. (Hey, its free stuff, quit complaining…)
  5. Items up for grabs will be posted as I come across things, I’m shooting for once every week or two, so stick around;
  6. No phone calls, please!

The Miter Shooting Board

If you read Steve Branam’s post earlier this week at Close Grain, you heard about the seminar given by Paul Sellers, and a shooting board he made in a matter of minutes to make a mitered corner on a picture frame.  It was amazing in its simplicity, and, after making a shooting board the “hard” way just days earlier (I wrote about it here), I was determined to try his method.  Steve Branam will also likely be doing a blog post on this wonderful contraption, so if you’re not subscribed to his post, do it, it’s worth it, I promise.

So here it is, my first video.  To underline how quick this is to make, the total un-edited time of the video was less than an hour, with a lot of fumbling and bumbling.  To make this again, now that I’ve done one? Probably 15 minutes.  Enjoy, and please, leave me some feedback on the video!

Update: Steve Branam just posted a video of building his own miter shooting board; similar methods, slightly different form factor, but well worth taking in. See it over on his Close Grain Post

Turning the Screw, Pt. 1

For folks who like a neat and tidy ending to a story, you may not want to read this one (wait ’til pt. 2).  In December, my first vise screw broke.  It was made from a 3″ thick chunk of ash shaped to form the head of the screw, drilled for a handle and drilled on the end to receive a maple dowel with threads cut using a thread box, and glued and pegged with an oak peg across the grain.  The glue held but the maple split around the peg one day when it was over-torqued.

The first screw


It Broke

It Broke

The first fix was to re-drill the head (to get out any remnants of the first threaded maple), turn the maple down to make a round tenon, and epoxy the tenon into the drilled hole.  This fix lasted 2 days.  I decided I’d like to turn a screw with a head from a single thick piece, and did so today.

I started by finding a ~2.5″ square piece of ash long enough to make the head and screw, plus enough extra to hold it on the lathe and trim off the center marks at the end.  I located the centers and marked the ends, and the center across it’s width was marked on the side where the handle would be positioned on the head.

Layout for the through hole

Using an 1-1/8″ forstner bit, the hole was bored through the thickness, then the blank was mounted on the lathe.  As you can see, there is a check (crack) that ran the length of the blank along one corner;  I wasn’t worried about it, as it appeared to all be in the area that would be turned away.

Screw blank mounted on lathe

While I was turning, I neglected to take in process images- I had just received my Easy Wood Tools rougher and finisher, and was eagerly putting them through the paces.  My opinion of them, in short: not bad, but not as wonderful as I expected, at least for this dry ash spindle work.  There was a great deal of noise (relative to the cutting action of roughing and spindle gouges) due to the scraping action and resulting vibration in the spindle, the cuts were not any cleaner than traditional tools, and in many cases didn’t cut as quickly as standard tools.  I suspect that these tools will shine on end-grain work (bowls) and I did like not having to concentrate on proper tool position. In fact, I took out a skew to do a final pass at one point, and got a catch which sent me right back to the Easy Finisher.  All in all, pretty good tools (probably excellent, just not for this particular piece) that take alot of the effort out of turning.  More on this in the future as I work more with them on other projects.

Turned Screw blank

After turning the bulk of the screw: the head, the groove for the garter ring, and the screw shaft (to the diameter required for the thread box) and tapering the first 2-3 inches to start the threading, I applied some boiled linseed oil.  I found that applying oil to the wood prior to cutting threads helped the thread box work freely on previous attempts, and the finish for the rest of the ash on the bench is BLO, so I did the head as well.  I had also experimented in the past with using the lathe to assist in cutting the threads:  On the lowest speed with the thread box started on the tapered end, the lathe is turned on while holding the thread box handle firmly.  If all goes well, you have a threaded screw in a few seconds. (note: be prepared to stop the motor at the end of the shaft, or in the case that the cutter catches and the belt starts slipping.  Also, make sure to move the tool rest out of the way.  If there are no obstructions, you can let go of the handle and let the box spin freely to ‘pause’ cutting, though I advise stopping the motor before trying to grab it to start cutting again).

Moment of truth. I turned on the lathe and it cut the first few inches before catching (the spindle stopped, drive belt slipping on the headstock wheel). I backed it off a few turns, and restarted it, but I noticed that the threads were chipping pretty badly.  No going back.  I turned threads for about 12″ of the total length, before quitting.  The ash is just too splintery (I think due to the ring porosity of the species) for decent threads.

"threaded" ash - more like splintered mess

So I re-epoxied the old broken vise shaft back into the head to see how long that will last…or until I can get my hands on a 3″ square blank of something dense and nice to thread, like maple.  Part 2 will, when it happens, be about the same process (with more details of the turning and layout) in maple, and will hopefully have a neat and tidy ending… for those who need one.


Free dovetail jig


Finishing up my annual shop cleanup and purge, and I’m inspired by Chris Wong to just give away superfluous items.  One item I’ll never use again, given that I have another jig, and rarely use it at that, opting to handcut 95% of the time, is this Rockler dovetail jig.  It’s a great starter jig. (Note: the folding rule is just for scale)

I’ve long since lost the user guide, and any accessories it might have come with, but I’m sure these are still available from Rockler (if there are any).

If you’re interested, leave a comment and a winner will be chosen at random from interested parties.  The winner can either pick it up, or will need to pay shipping from MA. (not a bad deal for a free jig!)





The Shooting Board

I’ve been putting this off for years, and forgetting that I put it off, until I’m in the midst of a project where a shooting board is called for.  Rather than take time out of the project at hand to build a bona fide shooting board, I rig up a few scraps of wood to plane against, holding it all down with holdfasts and benchdogs.  Today, with no ongoing projects, I built a shooting board so I have it the next time I need it, and took some images to document the process.

What’s a shooting board? For those who are unfamiliar, a shooting board is a platform with a fence that holds boards at a precise angle so the ends can be precisely trimmed using a sharp plane.  Here is a video from my friend Chris at High Rock Woodworking demonstrating the use of his shooting board:

Mine started with some scrap plywood, the largest, a 3/4″ thick, ~15″w, and ~24″ long piece that had been oiled and polyurethaned as an extra shelf for a built-in closet, but was not needed.  I chose it as the base, first due the dimensions, but also because the finished surface, with a little wax added, would provide a slick bearing surface for the plane to slide on.  I also collected some scrap 1/2″ plywood, 2 pieces of 1″ square poplar about 11″ long for the cleat and the body of the fence, and a scrap of hard maple for the adjustable fence face.


Start by trimming the 1/2″ thick ply to 4″ narrower than the base piece (the 3/4″thick ply).  Also you may trim both pieces to the same length at this point.  Be sure that the long sides of the base are parallel, it will become clear why later.  Glue and screw (with countersinks) at about 6″ intervals along the length and width, centering the 1/2″ ply to leave 2″ on each side along the length:


An alternative to sizing the 1/2″ to precisely 4″ narrower is to leave it slightly oversized, not putting glue all the way to the edge when you’re gluing and screwing, but take it to the tablesaw after fastening it, setting the fence to 2″, and the blade to about 5/8″ high.  Flipping the assembly so the 1/2″ is face-down will allow you to rip a sliver of the 1/2″ ply off parallel to the base, and at the same time ploughing a dust groove which will help prevent dust and shaving from collecting and causing problems while shooting.  The groove will look something like this:


Next make sure that the fence and cleat are square around all faces.  Place the shooting board on your bench overhanging slightly on the front, and position it such that it is comfortably on the bench in planing position.  If there is too much overhang, it will be unstable and will get in your way.  A couple of inches is sufficient. Using a combination square, clamp the cleat underneath the base square to the edge of the base.  Pre-drill, glue and screw it. If this piece is not perfectly square to the base, it’s not a big deal, it will still work, but the same technique will be used on the fence, where it will be critical, so it’s good to practice placing it, clamping it, and gluing and screwing the cleat while maintaining square so you’ll be able to repeat it on the fence.

Before you place the fence, it is a good idea, if you plan on making a replaceable face, to drill the slots (I used a countersink router bit mounted in the drill press), pre-drill the holes in the fence body which align precisely to the slots in the face, and screw the two together.  If the bottoms of the two are not co-planar, you have an opportunity at this point to plane them flush, making sure it remains square to the front of the face piece.


Get out the plane you intend on using for shooting (in my case, it’s a #607 Jointer, until I get a low-angle alternative) and position yourself and the plane in comfortable positions, so that the plane is mostly supported for the length of the imaginary cut.  Based on this mock-up, mark the best location to place the fence.  Again, use your combination square to position the fence perfectly square to the edge of the 1/2″ ply (which you just ripped).  glue, clamp, re-check that it’s square, pre-drill, and screw it down.  I placed the end of the poplar fence body 1/64″ or so back from the edge of the plywood (note: setback is on both ends of the fence body.  You may need to trim the fence body to 1/32″ shorter than the 1/2″ ply is wide).

The hard maple adjustable fence face is initially positioned a hair beyond the edge.  It will be trimmed flush with the first few passes of the plane.  The adjustable face is intended to be moved as the business end gets worn or trimmed away over time, and replaced when it’s served its useful life. This shooting board has two sides, so in cases where the left end of a molding must be planed it can be done without tear out to the face that can occur when planing from back to front.  Apply some paraffin wax to the plane bearing surfaces of the board, and you’re done!

It may take a few years, but I plan on adding auxiliary fences for 45 degree angles, a donkey ear, and others for this shooting board.  Hopefully I won’t wait until I need it to build them.