recent work, oak, oak & ash

Some work from the shop recently. I finally finished the white oak rabbet plane I started some time ago. (there was a maple version that got scrapped) . Atchison made the iron, and I fit the body to it. I think the iron is about 1″ wide, maybe just under. Yesterday, I fine-tuned this one, and it seems to be running alright. I gave it to Rick, one of our carpenters at work. He’ll use it for doors & shutters in the repro period houses. We’ll see how it goes…

rabbet plane, white oak w beech wedge


I took some liberties with the shaping. Shavings were getting jammed, so I took a gouge and opened up the area right ahead of the wedge.

bottom view of new rabbet plane


Then I was able to cut rabbets in both green wood & dry, and it worked well. So off it went this morning.

rabbeting chest bottom boards


Last week I took some of my own time for the kitchen door project. Got this one done at last, had the panel, made & carved the frame for it.

white oak door c. 14" x 19"


One more picture for tonight. I gave away the last of the applewood for bowls, so now I am officially done with that batch of bowls and back to turning chair parts, like it should be. the bowls were fun, but it’s time for chair stuff. I have an ash log that won’t last thru the summer, so I split it open the other day & started in on a three-legged turned chair. This is the sort of chair that I wrote about when this blog was very new…

enough with the bowls already

Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event

LN planes & saws


Back 30 years ago when I started green woodworking by making chairs with Alexander etc there were few places to buy new tools. Woodcraft, Garret Wade & Frog tool in Chicago were it, if I remember right. Maybe a few other smaller outfits.

 Things are different now. Since then there has been a huge growth of high-quality tool makers and sellers. Last year when I went to the Woodworking in America conference in Valley Forge, PA I was astounded at the quantity & quality of tools available. Almost all out of my budget, yet I did manage to lighten my wallet some as a result of that conference.

 One great way to see, use & learn about some of these tools is to attend one of the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Events. I went to one the other day at the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts, a school in Beverly, Massachusetts run by Phil Lowe. Phil’s resume is a long one, readers of Fine Woodworking will know him by his articles and videos going back twenty years or more. He formerly taught at North Bennet Street School, ran the furniture program there for quite a while. For the 17th-century fanatics, it was Phil who restored the missing moldings on the front of the Pope cabinet for the Peabody Essex Museum. One of my favorite parts of visiting woodworker’s shops is how they store/access junk. Here’s the part of Phil’s place that really caught my eye:

samples & patterns


more samples & patterns


Thomas Lie-Nielsen has started these Hand Tool Events as a way to connect people with the tools his company produces; but they are more than that also – other tool-makers exhibit there, and various woodworkers demonstrate techniques to boot. It’s like a small-scale trade show, and it’s FREE. They happen all over the place, see their website for the schedule  and for slideshows of previous incarnations of this thing.

 I spent some time at the bench where Matt Bickford was showing his molding planes. He spent time with everyone who came by, and guided several folks through the process of cutting an ogee molding with rabbets & rounds. Nice planes; worth a look for certain.

Matt Bickford cutting an ogee


Bickford's planes


I missed the bench with the fellow from Fine Woodworking; but I noted that he was busy the whole time I was around; always with a crowd. That was also true in the front room of Phil’s shop, where the Lie-Nielsen crew was showing & demonstrating their tools. All in all I think these are a great draw; from the sounds of them they are growing as they go. From my standpoint, I know what it’s like working & answering questions all day – and these folks have an audience that is already fanatical about the subject, that makes for a more lively time for all involved. If they come near you, I’d say it’s worth a trek. It’s not green woodworking, but it is hand-tool woodworking, and I think that’s good enough for many.  back to greenie stuff next time.

low-angle plane, figured maple


a bunch of guys around a bench - a familiar scene


LN tool display

symmetry; who needs it

I saw this wainscot chair yesterday, for the first time in 10 years.

Hingham wainscot chair


It’s privately owned, and was made in Hingham Massachusetts in the mid-seventeenth century. Oak with some inlaid bands. These might be walnut heartwood & sapwood. I though some of the “dark” pieces were cedar. I don’t think there was any microanalysis done, but I am going to check. The placement of the inlay is really absurd, it is trenched into the stiles and some rails right at the edge where a mortise is cut, and the corresponding tenon shoulder meets the mortised member. Some Yorkshire wainscot chairs have bands of inlay, but usually they are set in from the edge of the stock. Like a sane person did it…

panel detail


I am planning to make a copy of this chair, much like I did for another Hingham chair for the Brooklyn Museum last year. The V-tool work is really quite vigorous; it’s about the deepest-cut stuff I can remember.  While I was shooting some photos of it, I noticed the crest rail’s carved pattern. Symmetry is suggested, but not really attained. I always emphasize this idea to people when they see my carving and ask how I get it “perfect” and by that they mean symmetrical. Upon closer examination most folks can see the deviation from right to left, top to bottom, whatever the situation might be. But you have to go looking for it in most cases. Our brains like repeating patterns, and will scan for repeats while tolerating some discrepancies.

crest rail


And that is some of what I look for in period carvings…if they aren’t there, then I get suspicious.

workbench fittings, 17th-c style

"single bench screw" PF bench

Here’s my take on the bench screw(s) of Moxon & Holme. The “single bench screw” is the one fitted through the piece fixed to the front edge of the bench. For edge-planing and similar applications I found I need some way to support the other end of the stock & I opted for a “deadman” that slides on runners attached to the lower rail of my bench & the bench top’s underside. I have NO EVIDENCE for the deadman in the 17th-c reference material. So that is a case where I stole something from a later period… the deadman has a row of holes, not for holdfasts but for a peg on which to rest the nether end of the stock.

 The screw in this device can’t grab the way a vice can – it’s really just to pin the stock against the bench’s edge. If I have to really hold it tight I use a holdfast in the bench’s legs…

holdfast in bench leg
holdfast w stock vertical

For edge planing of stock that fits on the bench top – I use the “double bench screw” described by both Moxon & Holme. Instead of thinking of this as a precursor to a vice, I think of it like a clamp, in essence, it relates to the handscrew of the 19th & 20th centuries;  except in this case, both screws move in the same direction, and the action is quite slow.  But it holds.

 I have two. One made by me, one by Alexander. Mine is smaller, about a foot & a half long maybe. I use it to prop stock up on edge oin the bench top, for planing the edges of boards. Sometimes I set the back end of the stock up above the wooden screw, and tilt the forward end of the stock downwards against the bench hook. Other times, the double bench screw is just grabbing the end of the workpiece with the two inches or so beyond the screw. I use it a lot this way, for planing, to steady pieces under the holdfast for mortising. I also use the double bench screw to hold tenoned stock upright on the bench top for splitting the waste off tenons, after sawing the shoulders.

"double bench screw" on PF bench
Here is a slide of one of Jennie Alexander’s benches; its front edge is quite deep/high. This allows Alexander to bore a row of small-diameter holes for steel pins to catch the nether end of stock held in the single bench screw for edge planing. Eliminates the need for my deadman solution…
JA's bench w/ screw, holdfast & hook


Now back to Moxon. I think that Moxon’s illustration of the double bench screw is not reliable for scale – remember that he talks about planing stock that is 7 feet long – so if his bench is say 8 feet long, then the double  bench screw there is what, about 4 feet long? Seems awkward. But who knows? 

Moxon's joiner's bench


My take on the notion of attaching the double bench screw to the front edge of the bench top is that it’s hokum. I see no reason to try to do so, I can’t understand what operation would leave a joiner needing a device like that. Remember, joiners did not regularly dovetail stuff, rarely if at all. When I need to really hold stock upright, I blam it agsinst the bench legs/front edge of the bench with a holdfast in the leg.

 So that’s my view. I have used a bench like this for almost 10 years now. Almost never use a vise for anything; and certainly not for joined furniture. You just don’t need it. I started out using a modern Ulmia bench with two vises; and making the shift away from that was intimidating at first. But once I threw the switch in my head that told me it would be difficult, things went smoothly. The toughest stuff to hold is small-dimensioned thin stock. but there are ways…

Another fitting that Alexander & I both use, but have no period evidence for is the wooden bench hook – (not to be confused with the toothed planing stop that in the 17th century is called a bench hook) – this one’s the small board with cleats fastened at opposite ends of oppsite faces. It hangs against the edge of the bench for sawing tenon shoulders; and for paring tenons’ cheeks. Oh, yea, I shave pegs on mine too. I finally retired this one, & made a new edition. JA & I would love to hear the history of this bench accessory. 25 cents to anyone who can provide it with documentation.

wooden bench hook

spoon carving DVD from Country Workshops

Here’s an easy blog post for me, I just copied what Drew Langsner sent me the other day. They announced that Jogge Sundqvist’s 1988 video is now out on DVD. Drew says it will be posted on Country Workshops’ website soon, but they have it in stock now. So call or email Drew to order a copy…


“Carving Swedish Woodenware” on DVD.

In 1988 Jögge Sundqvist taught a course in carving Swedish woodenware at Country Workshops. Among the class participants was Rick Mastelli, who at one time was editor of “Fine Woodworking” and was then in charge of Taunton’s new video department. During the class Rick decided to produce a video with Jögge. He got on the phone and arranged for a video crew to fly down from Connecticut to record this production the very next week.

To do this Rick converted our teaching workshop into a video studio. Lots of distracting, extraneous stuff was moved off camera. The floor was scrubbed. Reflectors were set outside to bring in more natural light. The space between a freezer and shop frig became the control center (wires going everywhere). Rick taped a tree trimming against the outside of a window, to soften the light and to fill in some white space. We even borrowed our household TV, to be used as an extra monitor so that Jögge could see what was being recorded during his demonstrations. Incidentally, Peter Follansbee was our summer intern in ’88. He can occasionally be heard during the video nailing the loft flooring to our new barn. I was running back and forth between projects.

Click here for the full story – with historic photos from the 1988 production.

How to contact
Country Workshops
Drew Langsner
828-656-2280 (Daily, 9-6 Eastern time)

Postal mail:
990 Black Pine Ridge Road
Marshall, NC 28753

next one’s wood I promise


I just got back from a quick trip to Maine. I managed to get a lot of birding in. Among the most absurd spectacles was the fish-ladder at Damariscotta Mills. The alewives were running some  of the time; and the osprey descend on the place to literally pluck fish just about out of a barrel. The photographers descend as well…it was startling to imagine the bill for all the optics in that place…many thousands of dollars. Below is an osprey who dove into the pool and came up empty. I had never seen them dive in such shallow water before…

empty handed

Same bird, or someone looking just like him came back moments later and was successful.

coming up for air
got one
all a blur to me now
I’ll spare you the other several hundred osprey shots I took…I did spend a good deal of time in the woods looking for warblers. Hard to photograph; but I did get this black-throated green warbler.
black throated green warbler

I stayed in the Blue Skye Farm B&B in Waldoboro, ME. (great place, nice people. stay there if you’re in the area)

Acres & acres of woods to walk. Right in the yard were about 8 different warblers; plus an American Bittern that was calling each morning & evening, but I never could find the secretive little you-know-what. First bird I saw there the day I arrived was an immature Bald Eagle.

blue skye farm B&B, Waldoboro, ME
But, I had to cut it short & scoot back home. Saw this oriole today. I remember when they were quite rare here in Massachusetts, now they are always singing all spring.
northern oriole

But like the GD used to say, “such a long, long time to be gone, and a short time to be there.” Lots to see in Maine, but another time. Here’s the two little birds I really came home to see (and their mother, or course).  I promise, next two posts at least are about woodworking. One on benches for the folks following that recent spate of bloggery.

two little birds

the other horse’s mouth – Randle Holme

Randle Holme, joiners' bench etc


the beat goes on, as they say. Here’s Gary Roberts’ post:

and Chris Schwarz’ next one –

(probably if you are reading one of these threads, you’re reading them all, but I put them here just in case you missed one. )

I will add a few things to the fray here. Above is a cropped image of Randle Holme’s joiners’ bench – the nice thing about this one is that it’s a drawing, not an engraving. Thus perhaps one step closer to the actual bench. BUT…it’s not all that enlightening. Sometimes Holme has more detail in his text than Moxon, sometimes less. sometimes they are essentially the same. Below is the pertinent text.

Now, I’m really leaving. I will see the rest of this junk when I get back next week. No doubt Alexander will chime in…JA – you there?

Randle Holme, Academy of Armory & Blazon, 1688 [from CD:  N. W. Alcock and Nancy Cox, Living and Working in Seventeenth-Century England: An Encyclopedia of Drawings and Descriptions from Randle Holme’s original manuscripts for The Academy of Armory (1688) (London: The British Library, 2000)

 “the Joyners Working Bench, with all the Appurtenances belonging thereunto, as
First the Plank or Board for the top. in which are made several round holes for the Bench Hook and the Hold Fast; as they have occasion to hold the Work on it.
The Bench Feet, those of the Workmans side being made full of holes, in which are Pins put for the Board or other things to rest upon, while its edges are to be wrought, either by shooting with the Plain, or otherwise, which Pins are to be removed to higher or lower holes, as the breadth of the Board shall require.
The Bench Screw, set on its higher side, to screw Boards to the Bench side, while their edges are plaining or shooting, that they shake or tremble not, but remain steady while they are in working.
The Hold-Fast, which is to keep the Work fast upon the Bench while the Joyner either Saws Tenants, or or cuts Mortesses, or doth any other Work upon it.
The Bench Hook in it, which is to stay or hold Boards, or any other Stuff that is laid flat against it, while they are trying or Plaining.

the Bench Screw, it is made of Wood, the out part flat, which lieth or is nailed to the Bench side, the other part opened by degree or steps wider and wider, to fit Boards of all thicknesses that shall be put between the Bench and it, through the higher Tang or Lip is put a Wooden Screw, the same being screwed through the hole, its end holds the Board fast to the Bench side.

The Double Screw, is sometimes fixed to the side of the Bench, and sometimes the farther Cheek is laid an edge upon the flat of the Bench, and fastned there with an Hold-Fast, and sometimes two are fastned to the Bench to hold fast some sorts of Stuff, that are to have their edges wrought.
The Mallet, it is always to rest only on the Bench, because of its continued use.

 the double Screws, mentioned before in the Joyners Bench, numb.139. they are made of Spar, the Screws are fitted with holes or Screw Boxes in the Spars fit to receive them, which being turned, the two pieces are drawn together so hard, that they hold firmly any thing set between them.

 the Joyners Bench Hook, or the Work Bench Hook, which is an Iron with a long Tang to go through a hole in the Bench, and a flat half round head, with Teeth on the streight side, to hold any thing that should be set against it: So that in it there is the foresaid parts, Viz. the Tang or tail, the Head or flat, and the Teeth, and all but one Bench Hook. “

17th-century workbench questions continue

There was a big jump in the numbers of views here on my blog the other day, & I don’t think it had to do with bird-watching. As some of you know, I have been distracted by spring migration & haven’t written much wood-working lately. Views on the blog went about 500-600 a day, then a quick spike up to 954 views yesterday.

 The explanation is that I got “quasi-Schwarz-ed.” Chris Schwarz is writing this week about Joseph Moxon’s workbench, and in a teaser-post on the subject he mentioned my work… (it’s a “quasi-Schwarz-ing” because he didn’t post a link, making his readers work to get to me…a “full-Schwarz-ing” would have a link.

 Chris is dealing with the bench screw as it’s called by Moxon and Randle Holme. We’ll see how he gets on with it; it has always perplexed me. I’ll be away for a while up in Maine; so I will miss the fun. I have some notes about it here:

 One thing about Moxon’s bench that I did differently with my bench is that the front edge of the bench top overhangs the frame’s front face. This seems impractical to me, so when I made my bench I cut the joints so that the front face of the frame and the front edge of the top form a plane.

Moxon's joiner's bench, London 1680s
Felebien’s bench, top overhangs the front of the frame.

plate XXX of Felebien

The bench in Wierix’ Childhood of Christ also shows the top overhanging the front…funny, isn’t it? Has anyone made one that way?

Wierix, workbench detail

like a walk in the park…

waxwings at Mt Auburn

For the past 8 years or so I have made a trip each May with our friend Marie to “bird” Mt Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. We got there before the gates opened at 6:30am the other day. The weather was 100% perfect, the birds were everywhere, it was a great walk. We spent about 4 hrs there, by then the birds were settling down, and the lawn mowers and other general noise-makers were going full-tilt. We scrammed.

 Seems like a good year for waxwings – I don’t really have the gear or patience to shoot photos of birds at Mt Auburn Cememetery; but I was able to get a couple of pictures of these waxwings that we watched for a while. Got to see them gathering nest material.

Mt Auburn is a beautiful place, if you haven’t been & you’re near Boston, it’s worth a trip. Something for everyone – birds, trees, flowers, sculpture, etc.  Marie was even able to help someone who was on a literary-grave search (found Longfellow).  Here’s their website, – where I copped this picture, because I only shot details:

Mt Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge

the trees are much more cooperative for photos than the birds are…they tend to stay put. Here is a great white oak burl, about 4′ in diameter, I’d guess. I see it every year & am always amazed. Even with my recent bowl-mania, I prefer this one on a tree than as woodwork. Mt Auburn is great for trees, there are many fabulous examples, all labeled, some even say when they were planted.

white oak burl
burl on white oak

One more tree, (I didn’t really bring the right lens for landscape stuff…) this dogwood has grown apart from itself, and then rejoined some of its members.

dogwood tree, Mt Auburn

Got one warbler picture, this black & white warbler on a trunk. Warblers are devilish to photograph, and the other day they were all flitting in the leaves.

black & white warbler

I always stop & re-read the grave of my mother’s ancestor, Benjamin Fisk (1778-1863) of Lexington. (my mother’s maiden name was Fiske).

Benjamin Fiske (1778-1863)

But my taste in gravestones runs more to the eighteenth century – it’s one place where I prefer 18th c to 17th c even. Benjamin’s grandfather, Ebenezer Fisk (1698-1775) of Lexington has this great portrait stone in Lexington’s old graveyard. (many years ago, my sister Anne found me a bookend that was patterned after Ebenezer’s stone. I still have it here)

Ebenezer Fisk, 1775

 I’m off to Maine in a couple of days, when I get back I will resume the woodworking blog posts, no doubt with some exceptions (I hope to get some birding in while I am there…) Meanwhile, one more warbler, this one a yellow warbler I got in Plymouth.

yellow warbler, Plymouth


yellow warbler, Plymouth