birds not wood

cedar waxwing


Well, I warned you. It’s nearly May, so that means migratory songbirds. Today I got to go out for a bit of birding, and Monday is my annual trip to Mount Auburn Cemetery, a famous birding spot. , Soutwest winds called for between now & then. hope it brings the birds up…

This waxwing was among a flock of about 20 that stayed in my yard all day eating apple blossoms. If that means no apples, I can handle the program. I can buy apples, but I can’t buy the sight of waxwings – always one of my favorites. They are the first bird my mother & I ever ID’d from a guide, when I was about 10 or 12 years old… I still have her copy of Peterson’s.

I was watching a ruby-crowned kinglet when a large shadow ran over us; I looked up & found this osprey fishing (unsuccessfully)


Just so there’s some woodworking involved, here are a couple of spoons I finally finished not too long ago. Cherry. These are about 10-12″ long.

cherry spoons, Apr 2010

Country Workshops again

I got the new issue of Popular Woodworking magazine the other day. I have a short article in there about the tools used by 17th-century joiners…

While I was flipping through the magazine, I was quite pleased to see a 2-page spread about Country Workshops. A nice general feature about their classes, and some of the history of how it came to be. The author took some of the same photos I shot last summer when we were there for my box-making class. These chairs of Drew’s are some of my favorites, especially the low-back version. The chair is pictured in the new article, but without Rose in it… (it’s in Drew’s book The Chairmaker’s Workshop too – 

Drew's chairs


Drew's low-back chair


It’s hard to take bad pictures there; here is a barn I worked on back in 1988, looking like it belongs there 20+ years later…

the new barn


I’m really looking forward to being back there this summer, as a student this time. Spoon carving with Jogge Sundqvist.

Meanwhile, spring migration is about to really take off here in southern New England. So don’t expect much woodsy bits next week. Here’s a new arrival in our neighborhood today.

eastern bluebird


I’ve posted a bunch of stuff that involved Country Workshops before. For those who missed these the first time around, I dug ’em out for you:

bowl hooks I use

hooks for bowls

Alexander wanted to see photos of the hooks Mark Atchison made for me. The one I use the most is on the right in this picture, but yesterday the other came in handy for part of what I was turning. I didn’t get the hang of these until I realized it works like a gouge that’s skewed in relationthip to its handle. I think in general they could be a little smaller. but they work fine on most of what I have tried thus far. yesterday I did a small-diameter bowl with some depth, and it got a little tight in there.

the overall length is about 28″ or so, this includes the handle. We got the specs from an old article in Fine Woodworking about Wille Sundqvist’s turning hooks. Wille was not using a pole lathe, but the action & cutting are about the same I imagine. the bowl spins, the tool cuts. I don’t have the citation for the article handy; and I don’t have the online access to the FWW archives. the article was not written by Wille, I remember that much… I think it was back in the days of B&W…

for more on Mark’s work, see

On another note, there is a juvenile redtail hawk around the grounds of the museum. She’s none too bright it seems. Here, she seems to be searching for something; looking this way & that…

listening for something

In the same tree was this squirrel, seemingly playing hide & seek with the hawk. this one the squirrel won… (click the picture to enlarge, the squirrel is on the right…)

right in front of your face, hawkie

some bowl turning

hook tool; outside of bowl


There’s many things I should be doing; but the bowls from this apple tree have me captivated lately. I got a chance to take some pictures of the work a bit today. The one above shows the hook tool as I am finishing cutting the outer shape of the bowl.  Below is another view of the same work.

another view


For someone who has mostly done spindle-turning (furniture parts) it’s strange to be cutting with the tool so far below the centerline of the lathe…but that’s how this works, as I understand it.

finishing cutting the inside


and here is a detail of the same step:

hook below center, cutting inside


Fun stuff. I have several more to do before this wood is gone. I need the exercise anyway…

bowl blank

Henry Messinger, Jr. 1686

Henry Messinger, Jr gravestone 1686

It’s been quite a few years now that I have been researching the Boston joiners – and Trent’s been at it about 3 times as long as me.. he and I are down to the wire to finish an article about the joinery & joiners there…

I went & shot the gravestone of Henry Messinger, Jr the other day. He died on November 17, 1686. Age 32 years 2 months and 17 days. The stone is  in the Granary Burial Ground, just past the Park St subway station. I was above ground for all of 7 minutes. Jumped up from the subway, walked for maybe 3 minutes, shot the picture. Turned around to look at some more carved stones, and before I knew it, Messinger’s stone was in shadow. I jumped back on the subway & beat the rush hour by a hair…

Messinger’s death at  32 years old was of course sad for his family, but ideal for us. It means he was still working at his trade, unlike an older man who might have lessened his work load. Thus, the probate inventory should have all his tools. But in this case, they are not itemized. Still, over £11 worth of tools and timber. Plus, in the house there’s 20 upholstered chairs. Did he make the frames himself? Ahh, we’ll never know.

Here it is:

Inventory of the Estate of Henry Messenger late of Boston, Joyner decd taken & apprized by us whose names are underwritten, 30th Nov 1686

Impr. His wearing Apparell, hatts, shoes, stockins, shirts etc and his Armes, given away by will amongst his Brethren 25:4:00
It: his small wearing Linnen 3:10:00
In the Halle:  
1 doz. Russia Leather chaires at 11/8 6:12:00
2 Tables at 24s a ps 1:08:00
1 pa of brasses for the chimney 1:10:00
Glasses & Earthen ware    :07:00
 In the Chamber over the halle:  
8 Turkey worke chaires at 14s 5:12:00
1 Chest of drawers 2:10:00
1 feather bed, boulster, pillows, ffurniture of coverings, curtains, vallents and bedestead 17:00:00
1 table 25s  1 looking glass & brasses 18 2:03:00
1 pr brasses for the chimney 20s 2 stands 8 1:08:00
5 pr of sheets 6/5 1 doz of Napkins 18 7:03:00
1 doz of diaper towells: eight coarse ones –:18:00
5 pillowbeers –:17:00
In the Chamber over the Kitchin  
One feather bed, furniture and bedstead 6-00-00
1 ???att table, one chest & deske and Trunke 1-10-00
1 case of knives   -7-00
In the Garret  
1 flock bed furniture and bedstead 2-06-00
1 feather bed furniture and bedstead 5-05-00
A meale trough 6s  four bushlls of wheat 16s 1-02-00
In the Kitchin  
1 Table (price) eight sedge bottom chaires (price) 1-12-00
1 Hamaker and Morings (price) one Chest 2-00-00
1 looking glass and brush   -07-00
Iron ware  belonging to the chimney 1-02-00
Smoothing box and heater   -05-00
Bookes 40  Pewter and Tin ware 50 4-10-00
Brass kettles and skillets 4-15-00
Iron pots and Kettle 25  lign??d vitae morter pestle ??? 1-15-00
Lumber in the Cellar 20s severall small things 12 s 1-12-00
Firewood in the yard 3-03-00
A dwelling house & garden and land the apprces 200-00-00
Timber, Boards, planks workeing tooles (etc) at theShop, apprized by Mr Cunnibell and Tho: Warren, Joyners

At Eleven pounds 16/8

A parcel of glew -12-10
one Cow 2-00-00
Money since the death of my husband for worke done forSome frenchmen 2-05-00
Debts due to or from the estate not known  

I didn’t want to do it – bowl turning by default

apple tree chunk


Over 30 years ago I made a couple of bowls from an apple tree. Delta lathe w/motor; round-nosed scrapers & sandpaper. Faceplate chuck & screws. the works. In the past 15 years or so, I have made about one or two dozen bowls per year, usually maple or cherry. Pole lathe, hook tools & gouges. I like making them, but have always been aware that to really do them justice I would have to dedicate more time to it than I was willing to take away from joinery… But the past week or two I have really had no choice. I don’t want to be a bowl-turner; but this apple tree is worth it. It was cut down in my neighborhood, and was en route to the dump.
apple tree


By this point, I have made about a dozen from the chunks I was able to get – it has clusters of either many tiny burls, or bird’s eye deformations. I’ve had the hang of the hook tool on the outside of a bowl for a long time, and now I’m finally getting to the point where I can work a hook tool on the inside too.  I’ll leave them to dry for a good long while, and then see later what they really look like.

I turn them on my spring-pole lathe; but I don’t really have any dedicated setup for bowls. I just shim the tool rest further out than usual, and go from there. Most of these are from 5-8″ in diameter.  I’m not usually one to go nuts over the figure & grain in wood, I usually want the straightest oak I can find. But this wood is really fun to pore over…

most recent apple bowls


detail apple bowl


apple wood


bowls thus far


I don’t have shots of me working at making these. Might try some at some point, but usually the photos are for joinery. I have two medium-sized hooks, that are based on an old Fine Woodworking article about hooks used by Wille Sundqvist. They work.

You’ve heard me prattle on about Robin Wood. For pole-lathe bowl turning, he’s the one to go to. See the videos he has posted, shot by his wife, Nicola. Her work is very well-done also. here she posted some nice diagrams of the stance, etc for using a hook.

log buying trip

shopping trip

People often ask me about how I get the logs I use. So  when I went on a shopping trip the other day with two of the carpenters from the museum I finally took the camera along. Our museum has been going to this same sawmill for over 30 years or so; we have been very fortunate with the way they treat us there.  It’s a small family mill in southeastern Massachusetts –  our favorite by far.Just like everything else, there has been a downturn in how much timber they are handling these days, so there wasn’t a lot to choose from, but we were able to get a few logs worth working.

We picked through a few piles of oaks, here my friend Tom is going over the distinctions between red oaks, yellowbarks and black oaks with the mill owner Paul. We ended up with two logs from this pile.
red oaks, yellowbarks, black oaks


There;s a lot of crawling around involved; invariably we want to see something at the middle/bottom of the pile. They treat us so well here, that they will pull the pile apart with a forklift, and lay the logs our for us to see better. These piles were small enough that we didn’t bother.

end grain view


This is the new carpenter Justin walking over the piles; I also went over these piles a few times, just to see if we had missed anything. Sometimes you find something at the back of the pile. I spend a lot of time looking over the end grain – I want nice round logs, with the tree’s pith centered. Oval and mis-shapen logs don’t work for furniture stock. 

walking the pile


I bought this ash log because it was cheap (.45 a board foot) and it was fresh. It’s 16 feet or more, so there must be some good sections in it. We got a few oaks, one of which was for me.

loading an ash


The oak I got is pretty nice, I consider it a little small, about 22″ on the large end. It’s nice & straight, about 9′ long. We will see what happens when I open it up.

new stock


they did have one really large log; but it was white pine. 40″ across the large end, 17′ long & clear. But it’s another story.

big white pine

plow plane, up one side & down the other

proper right stile, top view


A small detail that often perplexes people is the grooves plowed in chest’s stiles for the bevelled panels. In this view of a joined chest from Dedham, Mass. the groove for the side panel runs out the top end of the stile .  (it’s clogged with some kind of filler, after the fact) The groove for the front panel does not come out the top.

Now the other front stile:

proper left stile, top view


Here the groove for the front panel runs out the top, (again patched). The other groove is stopped before it gets out the top. This is as it should be. Here’s another chest, from Essex County, Mass. – same scenario.

proper right stile, top view


proper left stile, top view


The plow plane’s “handedness” is the reason behind these grooves being found in this pattern. I started a joined chest last week, and got a couple of shots that aim at showing how this happens. The plane goes up one side of the stile, and down the other. To get the groove deep enough just above the lower mortise on any side; you need to extend the groove beyond that mortise. Here’s two front stiles, laying on their faces.

grooves for side panels in chest stiles


Here is a full view of the stiles. To get the groove deep enough (about 1/2″) just above the lower mortise on the left-hand stile, I had to bring the plow plane back & extend the groove below this mortise. Because the plow only cuts in one direction (like a molding plane) the other stile’s groove was cut from top to bottom. Thus here, I had to get the groove beyond the top of the top mortise, to hit my 1/2″ depth just below that mortise. Thus the grooves run up one side, down the other. Almost always.

up one side, down the other


Here is the plane, (a poor shot, but the best I could get quickly) – the gist of it is to get the rear “skate” of the plow low enough to engage the iron in the mortise. If the groove did not extend back there, the skate would be tilted, and the iron wouldn’t be able to cut the groove deep enough right above the mortise.

plow plane cutting grooves


The plow in use:

plowing panel grooves


The chest thus far:

joined chest front, April 2010


Here’s some other posts I did concerning plow planes, if you didn’t see them: