the camera gear I use…

Recently a reader asked about the camera I use for these blog posts. I have been wanting for some time to describe how I go about writing a post – so here’s my chance.

For me, they usually revolve around photos. that’s how I organize a lecture, and it’s how I write articles usually too. In the shop, here’s what it often looks like when I am planning a post:

and my shot ends up like this:

The camera is a Nikon D80, usually fitted with a Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm lens. When I have the time, and have the place to myself, I kill the overhead lights & try to light things the way I need them.  I often will bracket the shots; my shop has windows behind me, so I usually will over-expose in the bracketing.

The camera sits on a Bogen/Manfrotto tripod, a hand-me-down from Alexander who once used my cheaper Bogen &  sent me this one instead.

I use a remote trigger for the shutter; sometimes it ends up in detail shots, here it’s in my left hand. It can shoot right away, or with a delayed timer ticking down. My kids love to take pictures with it.

remote in my left hand

The lights are ones I bought several years ago. I am brain-dead when it comes to flash systems, so I like to use continuous lighting.  The lights are OK – they could be stronger. Next ones will be. These were designed for product shots for Ebay –   I got the 55 watt bulbs.  The stands and fixtures are too flimsy. I hope to upgrade this end of things in 2012.

Much of the year, my shop is mayhem; open to the public 7 days a week, and other craftsmen & women in the room. So I sometimes shoot very quickly, and those pictures show it. But I always use the tripod, and when I can, try to light it with the daylight-balanced lights. If the shots are going to be keepers beyond the blog, then I certainly kill the overhead fluorescents.  In the winter, the museum is closed, that’s why the winter months I get more blog posts out – I keep the lights & tripod out all  the time, so I can set up a shot easier.

For the birds, I switch lenses to a 55-300mm zoom. But that’s a  small lens for birds.  You still have to get real close to them…



You say “Moxon vise” I say “double-screw”

By now, you have seen Chris Schwarz’ effect on the so-called Moxon vise. Chris has turned the entire hemisphere, and more, onto this bench fixture. Jameel Abraham even makes them complete with bells & whistles. What, no racing stripes, Jameel?

Chris uses his mainly for dovetailing – but in Moxon’s era English joiners didn’t cut dovetailed carcasses. So how were they used? Jennie Alexander & I have been tinkering with this fixture for some time, we were curious to see just what they were for. What Moxon says leaves a lot to be desired.


“Sometimes a double Screw is fixed to the side of the Bench, as at g; or sometimes its farther Cheek is laid an edge upon the flat of the Bench, and fastened with an Hold-fast, or, sometimes, two on the Bench.”


Randle Holme adds one key phrase,  “to have their edges wrought” (i.e. worked):

“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.”

He then goes on to describe this fixture a bit more:


Randle Holme 1688


“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.”


So then we wondered, what is a “spar”? Is it a specific size of timber? Holme runs down a whole list of joiners’ timber:

Joiner’s timber

Terms of Art used by Joiners in their way of Working and explained.

First for the Names of their Timber.

Raile, it is a piece of Timber, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 foot or more long, and carrieth four inches broad, and an inch or more thick. A Raile is an half Spare.

Spare, is two inches thick, and four inches broad; in some places it is termed a single Quarter.

Joyce, it is four inches square. In some Counties called a double Quarter.

Bed posts, such as Beds either for Standards, Bed sides, or Beds feet are made of.

Stool feet.

Chair backs.

Munton, the short down right pieces in Wainscot.

Stile, the over cross pieces in Wainscot, in the riget of which two, the Panell or middle pieces are fastned.

Boards of several sorts, as

Plank, of any length, but never under 2, 3, or 4 inches thick.

Inch Boards.

Half Inch Boards.

Vallens, narrow Boards, about 5 or 6 inches broad, and half inch thick, and of all lengths.

Pannell, little cleft Boards, about 2 foot high, and 16 or 20 inches broad, of these Wainscot is made.

Shingles, cleft Wood about 6 or 8 inches long, and 4, or 5 broad; with these in Wood Countreys they cover their Houses.


Alexander made a nice double screw that I now use a lot; its “spars” are 1 ½” x 3 ¼” x 21” long. I have one I made with even smaller spars…its use is somewhat limited.  Here, I have a long rail for a joined chest, ready for chopping mortises.

chest rail ready for mortising

I fix the rail to the bench with a holdfast; but secure one end in the double screw to keep it from tilting this way or that under the pressure of the holdfast. The forward end of the rail is jammed against the bench hook.

After I mortised the rail, then I plowed the groove in it for the panels. Again, the double screw is a key element in this operation. I fasten the back end of the rail in the double screw; and jam the forward end against the hook, so I can run the plow plane along the rail to cut the groove. In this case, the holdfast secures the double screw, not the rail, to the bench. But if I keep the rear end of the rail on the bench, and in the screw – the spars of the fixture interfere with the fence on the plane.


double screw holding rail stock


So I bump the rail up onto the screw itself.

rail stock propped up in double screw


And there is one detail that Alexander incorporated into this version of the double screw that is really subtle, but useful – JA bored the holes for the screws off-center in the height of the spar. So the one-inch screw has 1 3/8” above it one way, and 5/8” the other. If I needed more clearance than what’s here, I’d flip the fixture over, and re-fit the rail in it.

plowing groove in chest rail


winding down 2011

If you live in American with two small kids; then this is a busy time of year! I hope whatever holidays folks celebrate have been good ones. Thanks to all for reading & commenting this year.


Lots to come in 2012; first up is a bit of reworking on this blog. That’s underway now, there should be links at the top of the screen to take you to pages about my work…ultimately I am letting my website expire. No sense keeping that running if I don’t update it. So its content will move over here.

Meanwhile, early winter often means waxwings around here, feasting on holly berries with large flocks of robins.

cedar waxwings in holly

I got a bit of woodworking in today, when the pictures are sorted, then I’ll have some oak to look at…

Happy Holidays



joined chest floor boards

Well, one more day out of the shop. Some kind of pinched nerve it felt like. Hurt like mad, but better now. So some stuff I shot last week on the joined chest I just finished. The floor & how it fits. I’ve covered this before; but as I have said, there’s new folks reading these days, so here it is again. Doesn’t hurt to review it anyway.


floor grooves in chest framing

Here are the grooves that I plowed into the front and side rails’ interior faces. At the back of the chest, the bottom rail is set in so its bottom edge is the same height as the top of this groove. Important.  So the rear bottom rail is bumped up a bit from the other bottom rails.

The floor boards (or bottom boards, they’re the same thing) are in this case white pine. Air-dried. I plane them to about 5/8” to ¾” thick. Beveled on the front end, where they fit into the groove in the front rail.

inserting floor boards

The boards that are at each end are also beveled on one long side, to fit into the grooves in the side rails. These boards are usually random widths; and often are not parallel edges. More on this in a moment.

tongue & groove


I cut tongue & groove joints in their edges; the groove just cut with a plow plane. The tongues are made with a rabbet plane on the top face; and just beveled from below until it tapers enough to fit the groove. Cut the grooves first, and take a piece of off-cut that has the groove in it to test the tongues. You can use dedicated tongue & groove planes too. This way is pretty quick & easy.


I start at each end, and fit the boards there. Then start filling in the middle. The final board that fits between those on the left & right is tapered in its width, to shove the floor side-to-side. Snugs things up a bit right at the end. So the pair to each side of this board are both grooved, and the tapered board has tongues on both long edges.

the tapered board

Then nail them up to the slightly higher rear rail & trim the protruding ones out back. Done.

nailed up to rear rail


There’s other ways to fit the floor. Beveled all around, so it’s like a panel. More complicated methods involve a rear rail lower than the others, that the floor sits on top of it…better, but tougher to do. I might have covered that before. Yup, a year & 1/2 ago, here it is:


carved boxes, but not mine

One of the nice things about this blogging stuff is the connections with people from all over. I often get notes and sometimes photos of carvings folks have done after reading the blog or watching the DVDs. It’s always nice to hear people tell me that my work helped them understand the designs, patterns and methods to cutting these carvings. Sometimes at demonstrations, folks don’t believe me when I tell them it really is easy.  The other day, Peter Siwek sent me these photos with a nice note.  Well, I don’t know if it was easy for him or not, but his results are stunning. Look:

Peter Siwek #1

He sent a few. I love this one; I want to copy that pattern:

Peter Siwek # 2


Peter Siwek # 3

Staggering results. last one:

Peter Siwek # 4

NOW GET THIS:  what’s best of all – it’s in MAPLE.  He didn’t have access to riven oak, so tried kiln dried white oak. Then switched to maple! If you have heard me talk about timber before, you know I run from maple, except for turning.

So that answers some folks’ question, what other woods can you use. And I don’t have to try the maple – I can just tell them that it works. For some.

Another part I like is that these boxes are his own bag. Not everyone is nutty as me about 17th-century stuff; but my point about the carving is that it can be adapted to suit most any piece of flat wood. Heck, even not-flat wood, like turnings. Thanks to Peter for sending these along & letting me post them. Made my day. But I’m glad I don’t have to dust the lids!

This isn’t the dovetail post I mentioned last night. My back is acting up, so I stayed out of the shop today. Next time.

Meanwhile, many of you know I regularly read Robin Wood’s blog, but if you are new here then you haven’t heard me testify about it – here’s his link: = go down to the one about “life is a gym”

In that same vein,  have been enjoying Doug Stowe’s blog a lot again lately. In my case, (many of you also) he’s preaching to the choir, but I like to hear it. If you haven’t seen Doug’s writings, go now:




In the fall of 1963 I turned 6 years old, and opened this book:

To this page:

And drew this picture:



48 years later, my twins turned 6, and here is Rose with the same book:


and here is her version of the same page:


Drawing is a big deal in our house these days.


I have about 10 pages or so of drawings my mother saved of mine, from about age 4 ½ towards junior high school. One I did in the first grade was of Bill Russell, then the center for the Boston Celtics basketball team. The kids have been fascinated looking at my drawings from when I was their age – so Daniel sat down & drew Bill Russell – after only seeing my drawing. We don’t watch any sports here, I pay no attention these days to professional sports at all…as far as I can tell, he’s never seen a basketball game! But they listened closely when I told them that Russell almost always won & Wilt Chamberlain almost always lost – so Daniel drew Russell soaring over Wilt. Got the # 6 on his jersey, and the goatee. Also the initials B. R. :


When I got to high school, it was the early 1970s, and the way the school was structured, I was allowed (with loads of other kids) to specialize my high school studies to lean towards art school. As it turned out, art school & I did not agree – but for many years I always kept a sketch book going. You won’t be surprised that for a long time it was mostly birds I was drawing. I wanted to be a cross between Andrew Wyeth and John James Audubon.  While digging through this stuff to show the kids, I found two drawings from 1979 that show my first two chairs!  I no longer have the chairs, and no photos of them, so these are the only records of my first true woodworking efforts.


my first chair

That one was a one-slat chair, then I did a two-slat version, with bent posts. these were before I got to Country Workshops, and met Alexander and Langsner:


Nowadays I sometimes still get out pencils and paper, but it’s usually to work out some carving details; proportions & spacing, that sort of thing. Like this:

here’s one I did while viewing some Dutch furniture at the Peabody Essex Museum last summer:

But the kids do the bulk of the drawing around here, and I am thrilled at the degree of detail shown in their works. That means they’re looking closely at stuff. Drawing certainly helps you see more clearly. Great stuff.  No question about this tree species by Rose:

Rose's squirrel

Daniel is often drawing his Lego figures:

So there. I got a slew of my kids’ drawings in this post, but worked in a little woodwork just to keep folks coming back. Dovetails next time. Yup, you heard me right.

two more carved boxes

there’s lots of new readers here these days, so for you who have been reading this blog a while, this will be redundant. Here goes.

When your workspace is a public display 8 months out of the year, clean-up can take a while.  This fall I have been slow to get the shop all squared away so I can resume working in earnest after the holidays. One thing I got done the other day was some photography of two boxes and a bookstand.  These boxes kicked around during the past year- I think the front of one and the sides of another were pieces I carved in the DVDs w Lie-Nielsen. Eventually I ended up with too many carved panels around and made boxes from them.

carved box 2010

Like many of my boxes, these are oak carcasses with pine bottoms and lids. I like to carve the sides in addition to the fronts; most New England ones I know from the period have carvings only on the front. Some do have the sides carved. The box above is fastened with wooden pins in the rabbet joints, glued also. The bottom is nailed in place.

carved box, 2011

Well, the front of this one’s not in either video, so maybe I carved it at one of the Hand Tool Events that LN puts on…I don’t remember.  It’s fitted with nails driven right through the front & back into the ends. That’s the typical way they were done in the 17th century.


Both of them have tills fitted on the interior. Oak lids with pintle hinges. The bottoms and sides of the tills are probably both Atlantic White Cedar – I have lots of narrow thin boards of it; usually for moldings. But it suits the till parts fine too.

Iron gimmals on both boxes, some of mine often have wooden hinges instead. Just depends on whim mostly.

I know I’m too late for Xmas shopping; but I’ll be putting both of these boxes up for sale on my website. The new price (lower) is going to be $600. I continue to threaten updating the site, now as soon as the joint stool book is out of my hands.  So January.


snowy owl again

It was a sunny day on Tuesday and my friend Marie & I found the snowy owl in good light. here’s the setting:


Here’s the owl:

snowy in the dune grass

we stayed shooting him for about ten minutes or so. I love it when these birds come down here for the winter.

snowy owl

A plane finally spooked him.

getting up

and over the dunes:


I think Marie got better shots than me, hers seem sharper. Here they are:

we’ll go back on another sunny day; hopefully this will tide us over til the eagles show up.

woodworking next time.


carved chest, fall 2011

carved chest fall 2011

Here is the finished chest that I was putting hinges on yesterday.  H: 31″ W: 48″ D: 20″

There are many New England examples that are composed like this, oak carcass with pine secondary wood. So for this chest, the floor boards are white pine, as is the lid & 2 rear panels. I tried to mostly make this one with bits of wood left in the shop from one log or another. The two front muntins are sawn white oak, the front frame otherwise is riven red oak. The end rails, muntins and panels are riven white oak…you get the picture – a patchwork of timber.

carved chest fall 2011 open

The carvings are based yet one more time on the work of Thomas Dennis and his “shop tradition” as it’s called in the furniture history arena. You can see tons of this carving on the blog over the past 3 years. It’s my most common group of carvings, because it’s so varied and you can combine them every which way. It appears here on the blog listed as either Thomas Dennis’ work, Ipswich (the New England town he lived in) or Devon – the English county where this work seems to stem from… I call it by any or all of these monikers.

bracket and S scrolls

This detail is the bracket under the front rail. You can see the S-scrolls carved in the stile and bottom rail; as well as part of the criss-crossed S scroll on the wide muntin. This pattern in its multi-varied forms is the subject of the 2nd video I did with Lie Nielsen – there’s enough variations of this form that I was able to cook over 100 minutes of it for that DVD.


Here is 1/2 of the carving that runs across the upper front rail. This one’s lots of fun. (click this one.  for some reason it’s cropped in my view. When you click it, you should see 7 1/2 circles…)

I’m using the same sorts of carvings for the next chest I just started, so you’ll see more of this coming this winter.

setting gimmals (you might know them as snipe-bills)

The next chest is begun, but I had to finish the last one yesterday. This one I made for the museum, oak carcass with pine top and bottom. The subject here is how to set the hinges, usually today called “snipe-bill hinges” but I often use the 17th-century term for them, which is “gimmals” or variously gemmels, jimmers, etc. Derived from Gemini, the twins….like my kids. Here’s the set I put in this chest.


The rear stiles’ flat face is inside the chest. This means that on the back, the stiles stick out beyond the rear upper rail, so I cut a notch in them to thin them down at the top to match the rear rail. It’s not an elegant notch, just sawn apart to get the wood out of the way. Then I trimmed it a little with a small plane.

notch in rear stile

Then, I started with a chisel to make a V-notch for the hole to receive the gimmals. This notch is chopped in the arris of the upper rail.

Then bore a hole from the outside, at an angle. All the way through.

Then drive the gimmals into this hole, should be nice & tight, but not so tight that you deform the gimmals.

The eye of the  gimmal that fits in the rail is oriented vertically. Like this:


Now spread them & hammer them back into the rail, like clinching a nail.

setting the gimmals in rail

Then position the lid in place, with sufficient overhang at the rear. Mark the back edge of the chest on the lid, as well as the spot where the gimmal is set.

scribing the lid

Then bore the holes and drive the lid onto the gimmals. I use a heavy mallet, and a scrap piece to keep from marking the lid. Especially important with this pine lid.

driving the lid onto the gimmals

Then clinch them.

clinching the gimmals in lid

That’s how I do them. Works most every time.

If you’ve not seen a snipe, here’s one.