joined stool seat

I finished the seat for the joined stool the other day. It had dried on its surface enough to be able to plane it smooth. First I created the thumbnail molding on its edges. Where I had made a rabbet all around the seat, I just used a plane to bevel the edges down until they hit the general shape I was after. I do the end grain first; and use a skewed approach. The plane should be nice & sharp.

planing the molded edge

after doing the two end grain sections; I then cut the long sides. once the molding was done, I gave the top of the seat a going-over. To do this, I shoved the seat against a board nailed to the end of the bench. This way, the teeth of the bench hook didn’t mar the finished molded edge.

Planing the top

Then I position the seat on the stool’s frame. This I usually do by eye & feel, as last resort I will use a ruler. If it looks all right, then it is all right. At this stage, the top of the frame and the bottom surface of the seat need to both be flat. Trimming the top of the frame needs some attention; in this case I did it back when I trimmed the stiles…

positioning the seat board

Then I depart from period methods, and use a handscrew to clamp the seat in place for boring. Alexander and I have often speculated and tested different methods for how they might have held the seat in place; at one point we nailed it down, then pulled one nail at a time, bored the hole & drove the peg. All speculation aside, the method I used yesterday is simple and efficient. I think when I get to this part of the text, I will just say we don’t know how this was done; and here’s a compromise method we use that is not too far out of  whack.  

clamping the seat

I bore the holes so the pegs fix the seat to the stiles. Some stools have pegs driven into the rails instead. Both methods work. I sight the holes in line with the stiles, aiming to for the area between the joints – it turns out to be a small target. The bit is aligned to bore at an angle close to that of the end frame of the stool. This way the pegs are pinching the seat down. Sooner or later, someone picks a stool up by the seat; and if the pegs are just straight down into the stiles, then the seat can come off.

boring for seat pegs


I bore one hole, peg it, and then bore the next. The pegs are square with essentially no taper to them. They must fit as tight as can be, without being so tight as to split the stile. You can drive one into a test hole, to check the size. I split them from dry oak blanks, that were riven & set aside to dry out. I keep a large supply of this peg/pin stock at all times. Any straight off-cut over 4″ gets busted out into these blanks. I split them with a knife, and then shave them with a 2″ wide framing chisel. I like the weight of this chisel for this task; most folks don’t like shaving them this way. for me it works well. The motion comes from the upper body, I even lift my right foot up, shift my weight up and bring it down to drive the chisel. It takes some practice, but I find it works well. The first hundred or so feel clunky. then it levels off.

splitting pegs


shaving pegs


Then hammer them in. As I said, I do them one by one. Hold it firmly while hammering; any errant blow can split the peg apart. Turn off the music & listen to the sound it makes, when the sound deadens, the peg is home. I trim it a half-inch or more above the seat then hit it again sometimes.

driving a peg


The peg needs to fill the entire hole, there should be no cusp beyond the faces of the peg. This one fits well.

driving the peg


I had no deadline with this stool, so I left the pegs still proud of the seat, and will come back in a day or two & hit them one more time. then a trim with a backsaw & chisel to pare them flush with the seat. Maybe then one or two more passes on the seat itself with a sharp plane, set to take a light shaving.

joined stool, nearly done

spoon class at Country Workshops

Jogge Sundqvist, carved spoon


Wanna-be spoon carvers have another chance! I wrote the other day about a class I am attending in the summer, Jogge Sundqvist teaching spoon & bowl carving at Country Workshops…

the newsletter from Country Workshops came the other day, and it said they have added a second week with Jogge, because the first one filled before the brochure went out – so here’s your next shot…I can’t recommend it highly enough…

Click here to read back issues of the newsletter, and to sign up. It’s free, my favorite color.

braces or wimbles

a quick one today, about braces. I showed a couple the other day from the collection formerly at Heritage Plantation. Here’s the last one of those I have, a small brace, fitted with a permanent bit. Now snapped off. A ferrule fits on the stock where the bit is secured into the brace.

small brace

 I have an old wooden brace, sent to me by Jennie Alexander (like many of my tools, thanks JA) that shows evidence of having had a ferrule also.

brace, oak?


embossing and staining from ferrule

This brace seems to be made of oak. It is impossible to date, I think. Could be 70 yrs old, could be 200 years old. I think more likely the former. Not sure if the head is original, it’s fixed on with an iron nail or brad through its protruding tenon.

head of brace

There’s some layout lines scribed on the stock to align the bit and the head:

layout lines

A nice, simple brace, fitted with just one bit. So this craftsman had several braces, presumably, for different sized holes. Here is a brace from Pilgrim Hall, showing a removeable “pad” – thus a brace that could have several bits. The caption uses a common period term, “wimble” for the brace. Moxon called the whole thing the “piercer”.

wimble & bit; probably 17th c; New England


and here it is, in the early 15th century, in the Merode Altarpiece. St. Joseph boring holes for foot warmers:

brace & bit, c. 1425
I often point out to folks that the tools depicted in this painting are fully-developed. Not a transition phase, so the early 1420s is the date of the painting. the tools’ forms are older than that still..there’s more to come. Randle Holme has a nice illustration identifying the parts of the brace…but I’m out of time.

European planes pt 2

It’s been quite a few years since I made any planes. I need more like I need a hole in the head, but I’m going to make a few this winter, I think. So that’s been the impetus for getting out these old photos. As I mentioned yesterday, there are a few more shots from that group of European planes & braces that I saw back in 1998. I found some notes today as well. This first plane is quite small; only about 8″ long.
plainest of all

This next Dutch plane has very little carving on it, just around the mouth. In Dutch, these planes are called gerfschaaf. Gerrit van Sterre’s Four Centuries of Dutch Planes and Planemakers says there is no simple translation for the term gerfschaaf.  This one is about 6″ long on its sole, and about 2 1/2″ high at the rear end. the widest part of the sole, at the mouth of the plane, is just over 2.” As Gary Roberts pointed out in a comment yesterday, it is extremely difficult to assign dates to planes like this, they continued to be made in the same traditional style for over 200 years at least.

plain Dutch plane

 Here’s a slightly better shot, showing the carving around the mouth. The wood is beech.

carved mouth

 This next plane is dated 1732. It is about 2 1/2″ wide; by about 7″ long. The body is only 1 1/2″ high at the toe. It is beveled downwards near the heel of the plane (can’t really see it in this shot.)

1732 plane

 One more, this plane has a heavily chamfered body, with a sculpted horn, or tote. the tote is definitely let into the body, whether with a sliding dovetail or not you can’t tell from this picture, sorry Kari.

horn plane w chamfers

 When the Heritage Plantation deaccessioned these tools, I think they were sold through David Stanley Auctions in the UK. When I have time, I like to browse their website, a nice chance to see tools that I never get to see in the local antique shop… like this one on their “tools we’ve sold” page…

Dutch plane

some european planes & braces

German-style plane w incised decoration

Yesterday, I got out some old slides I shot of European planes. I saw them at the Heritage Plantation in Sandwich, MA. many years ago. A few years back, I thought I would go have another look (and hopefully get better pictures, notes, etc) but they had been de-accessioned by then. So these slides are all I have…some are OK, some are pretty dismal. Digital cameras have made a better photographer out of me… The planes, probably most of the tools there, were thought to be generally 18th century, although an axe I will show later has a date of 1602. I mostly only looked at planes & braces, which is what I was making at the time, c. 1998 I think.

The first plane here is one I really like, some nice carving to the front tote and the area in front of the plane’s mouth. Then the additional incised lunettes on each side, with the punched work above them.  Here’s some of the mouth detail.

mouth detail
Dutch plane

Here’s one of those little Dutch-style planes, with some nice carved volutes. I will pre-empt Alexander & apologize for the position of the ruler. It obscures the bottom of this plane, but it presumably is shaped like this newer example, (is it 19th-century?) sent to me by Alexander:

Dutch smooth plane

 And here it is, drawn by Randle Holme in England before 1688, when he described it as “The Smoothing Plain, is a little short Plain, which hath its Iron set very fine, and to take off very thin shavings, because its use and office is only to smooth the work from those irregularities which the Fore Plain and the Joynter have left behind them”

Holme's smooth plane


The next detail shows the volute; notice how much wood is removed at the sides of the plane to make them stand out…

volutes detail Dutch plane


Aside from the bilious color background and the fact that I composed the photo to crop the bit away, here is a pretty good view of a wooden brace with a nicely turned head. This is a case where the brace has one permanently-fitted bit.

brace & bit


This next brace looks like it’s made from ash, a wood that I wouldn’t expect to see in this application. Nice chamfers; small turned head. Can’t quite see in this view how the head really attaches…
small brace


There are a few more of these slides, I’ll try to put them up tomorrow or the next day.

joined stool seat – addition

If you have been reading this morning’s post,

here’s an addition to it.  Jennie Alexander wrote this morning to remind me of a “before & after” photo from her website; showing a joined stool seat :

Alexander stool seat before & after


It’s part of an article we have referenced before; but here it is again.

joined stool seat board, pt 1

joined stool, red oak

Joined stools are among my favorite things to make. The seat poses a real challenge, it requires pretty wide stock,  radially riven. Takes a big tree to get the width. As it happened last year, I built a bunch of stools, but could only finish one because the logs I had were not big enough to give me 11″ wide radial stuff.  MacIntyre brought me up a seat blank of red oak that he split in Maryland so I worked on it some Saturday.

Here is the riven section; including some sapwood. Usually I remove the sapwood, but here it is sound. You can usually judge it by its color. If the white is grey and mottled, then the wood has begun to deteriorate, and should be discarded. There was enough width so that I could ditch all the sapwood, but the wood near the center of the tree, the “juvenile” wood, was a little twisted, so I chose to keep the sapwood on, and trim the twisted grain out of the juvenile stuff.

riven seat blank

So the way I proceeded is the same sequence for most any stock – check with winding sticks, and then plane one face flat. The winding sticks are quite helpful for checking that the board is flat; but Alexander & I have never found period evidence for them however. Moxon does not mention them, nor Randle Holme. We use them anyway. (later I will dig out the only early engraving we have seen that shows a pair of sort-of winding sticks in use…it’s one of Alexander’s favorites. )

winding sticks

For this sort of stock, I usually do much of the planing across the board. working with the stock shoved against a bench hook, I need to make sure each stroke of the plane is aiming at the bench hook, or the workpiece whips around.

cross-grain fore planing


After finishing this face, then planing one edge, I hew away the excess off the 2nd face.  The stance and positioning are important from a safety perspective. Note that my right leg is slid back, away from any glancing blow of the hatchet. Also the workpiece is positioned across the stump, not the near edge… 



Then back to planing. Here’s a shot of the fore plane, and the 2nd face in process. It’s hard to see in this photo, but I planed a small bevel on the forward edge of the board, to minimize tear-out at that edge.

fore plane, 2nd face of seat


The stool seat has a thumbnail molding around its four sides. To create it, I first plane a rabbet. Here I have a fence secured down with two holdfasts; (the 2nd holdfast is hidden here by my hands).  The rabbet plane rides against this fence.

planing rabbet for molded edge


I also use a moving fillester plane;  it eliminates the seperate fence. There is only one reference that I have seen to fillesters in the 17th century, and it doesn’t describe them at all. Randle Holme just says, oh yea, there is a fillester plane too. the nicker helps score across the end grain, making a clean cut of things there.

planing rabbet w fillester


Right now, the seat has a pretty high moisture content, so I decided to leave it at this stage for a while. It’s roughed-out, and has a shallow rabbet all around. Next week I will go over it with a sharp plane, finish the molded edge, and peg it to the frame. If it were summertime, I wouldn’t bother waiting; the stock would dry more slowly then. But in winter, the shop’s heat is on, and the stuff can dry too quickly, sometimes leading to distortion or cracking. It will still be pretty wet by modern standards; but will behave a little better with some drying time. This is one of the tricky parts of this aspect of green woodworking. I try to be aware of the general humidity levels in the shop at any given time; and act accordingly…with a little practice, it’s not a problem.

seat board thus far


Completely unrelated to the above, I got a severe case of book lust at the public library recently. Silent Spaces: the Last of the Great Aisled Barns by Malcolm Kirk  (Boston, Bulfinch Press; 1994) What a beautiful book…the barns are from England, Netherlands, Germany, France and maybe more besides. Nicely photographed… visitors to my shop often comment about 17th-c carpenters, saying they do the “simple” stuff, and my carved furniture is the real craft. I always respond “nonsense” – a good look through this books shows carpentry at its peak…earlier that 17th century, but what a treat!

Silent Spaces


cruck roof in Wiltshire barn

the spoon problem:a revolution is required


awful spoon
side view of awful spoon

Well, if you ask me, one of the things wrong with the world today is spoons. Look at this wretched specimen that my wife got in a Xmas swap. I was loathe to bring it home, except I knew I could blather about how bad it is, and how it demeans all life around it.  I showed it to my friend Bryan MacIntyre, and said I couldn’t imagine how it could be worse. “It could be pine” he said. True. But, this spoon is just horrible; even at a dollar it’s not worth it, because then it’s making your life uglier every day you have to look at it.

an attempt at function

Notice the nice bevel they sanded into the underside of the bowl, makes me want to scream. I’m going to give it to the kids to fling sticks into the river with…maybe it will float away one day. At least it’s biodegradable.

I just finished reading Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell. So I was primed to find connections between this spoon and the decline of civilization. I think the book is preaching to the choir, but I enjoyed it a lot. There’s a whole chapter about IKEA.

Dan Dustin spoon
Dan Dustin spoon, side view

Here’s a nice spoon worth having; by Dan Dustin of New Hampshire. Dustin has made spoons for about 30 years or so. He’s a real master of the craft. I bought it for $40 about 6 years ago, and another one the year before that…my brother-in-law thought I had lost my mind, paying that for a wooden spoon. But he had never seen hand-made spoons before, I guess. This spoon is small, but for stirring, serving, etc. I think the wood is mountain laurel.

I learned spoon carving from Jogge Sundqvist at Drew Langsner’s Country Workshops, back in 1988. I also got to take a week-long class with Jogge’s father Wille in the early 1990s; Wille taught CW’s first course in 1978.  Now Jogge is returning this year once again.

 I signed up as quickly as I could, and apparently so did others, it’s been full for a while. This year I want to try to learn more about making large cooking spoons. I have done eating spoons a lot now & then, and I feel pretty comfortable with them; but large ones are challenging. This photo shows one of my everyday eating spoons, in apple at the bottom. It’s about 20 years old. Also some spoons underway in cherry, aiming for larger ones for the kitchen.

PF spoons, 1 old & 2 new

Drew teaches classes in this spoon carving frequently.

I just checked tonight and his winter classes are full, but keep it in mind. He has written about spoon carving many times; he has some photos of Wille posted on Country Workshops newsletter; showing the various “grasps” that Wille uses to shape the spoons. These are tricky; in the photos you can’t see the slicing action that Wille is expert at…

Here’s a link to part 3 of an article Drew did last year. It should connect you to parts 1 & 2 also. Down the bottom of the page.

 And here’s a spoon by the master, Wille, and the  other master, Jogge. I photographed them at Country Workshops last summer.

Wille's spoon
Jogge's spoon

Jogge is something else in his own right. He did a video on carving spoons and bowls for Taunton press in 1988, if you can find it, watch it.  Hatchet, adze, and knife work that is inspiring. He has a website, showcasing many aspects of his handicrafts… it’s another world!

There’s also a growing spoon movement in the UK, see the Bodgers’ forum and Robin & Nicola Wood’s work and back in the States Del Stubbs is also spoon-mad. He makes great tools for the craft, and his website has umpteen million pictures.

But enough about what spoons should be…I have revolution on my mind. Anyone who has listened to me too much is already sick of me harping about Bill Coperthwaite’s book  A Handmade Life (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2003, paperback 2007). I’m wild about this book. Bill has a great philosophy about the importance of what we surround ourselves with…and his surroundings are pretty nice. He introduced Wille Sundqvist and the Langsners many years ago, and that started Country Workshops, and that’s where I got my start at crafts…

So, here’s the call. Start (or re-start) the handmade revolution now. Go throw out just one wretched wooden spoon, (burn it, throw it in the ocean, anything but give it away. That just creates a problem for someone else.) Then take a stab at making some nice handmade ones. We can start there…then we can deal with the baskets. They make the spoon problem look manageable…the cheap ones everywhere are even worse than the spoon that started this…

So, here’s my spoon-carving kit, in a white oak basket I made in 1998…

basket of spoon stuff

views of the shop

Tonight I need to send a couple views of my shop to some folks…they had questions about the setup. So not a real blog post, and lousy photographs for sure. But Sarah & Conor, here you go.  

This time of year, my shop often turns into a hodge-podge of stuff…but generally it’s a pretty good space to work in. It’s about 13’ x 27’ but windows only on one side…and I have my back to them! Makes photography tricky; lots of backlighting.

 I have four benches in the shop, but most of them are for displaying stuff, and storage, except for the few times I have an apprentice. I keep a lot of stuff in the shop, keeping in mind that it functions as a museum-display as well as the place where I make stuff. So the more there is to look at, the better, I say.

shop corner


This corner has an Ulmia workbench, that usually stores a large, in-process project. In this case, it’s the top to the MFA cupboard. Then the lathe stand here, near the railing. During the off-season, (now) if I am not turning, the lathe collects stuff on it, and around it. Things like the lights and portable stereo are non-existent during the 8 months the museum is open to the public.

my workbench


this is the area where I do most of my work, the bench is 8 feet long. the bulk of the everyday tools are right on it, or right behind it. You can see the windows behind me, making it hard to shoot photos. What you end up seeing on the blog are often carefully composed and/or cropped. things like pattern sticks for turnings and such hang above, but it’s a lousy ceiling for that…last shop I had there was a nice open framed ceiling, just waiting to nail stuff up there.

between the windows


Here’s what I mean about the windows, it’s hard to pull back to get a larger shot without them getting in the way. One way is to shoot between the benches, using the light from the large window – but when real photographers come, we can usually work around the problems, and make it look pretty good.

view down the shop

rip-sawing to width

planing the edge of a wide pine board

I started in the other day on some of the applied moldings for the MFA cupboard. I needed a four-foot long section that is fixed to the front long rail in the cornice. So I took the board for the top and cut a section off it. It’s white pine, 25″ wide to begin with. I only need 21+” for the finished top, so it was perfect. Started by planing a straight edge, & then marked a line with the chalk.

chalk line

I like to saw at the workbench, not a low sawing bench. The stock is held by a holdfast, and I start the cut with the saw angled downwards, like this:

start of cut

After just a few strokes, I switch to a two-handed grip, and stand up straight. The saw is now held vertically:

sawing some more

I like this method, it uses both arms insted of just one, and the upright stance is easier on my back than hunched over. Also, I can see better, the saw is not leaning over the line.

I was sawing this way one day and a visitor to the shop told me it was just wrong to saw that way…made me like it more. I don’t do as much sawing as some other furniture-makers, but this method is one I use more often than not. I can’t re-saw the thickness of stock this way, but for cross-cutting and ripping the width of a board, I have found this to be both comfortable and effective.