reading oaks

I have been thinking lately about what makes a good oak log for joinery. I walk by a large pile of oak logs each day, and I decided I can show you what doesn’t make a good one. These logs are all in the parking lot at work, and will be used for one thing or another by the artisans’ department at the museum; house parts, fence pale, etc. If you haven’t been watching their blog, here is the link again. It’s well worth a visit, says me.

Learning to read the bark is an inexact science; but many things can be worked out…one problem is that experience with bad logs will teach you a lot about what’s going on there. I am reminded of the saying:

Good Judgement is the result of Experience

Experience is the result of Poor Judgement.

example # 1 – quite simple, clearly a loser for joinery. Knots, two hearts at the bottom nearest the camera, weird, mis-shapen bole.

red oak

Next, another red oak I think. Pith of the tree is way off-center. Usually a sign of a tree that has grown on uneven ground – a hillside most commonly. That results in tension within the log. Twisting and warping in boards made from this log. Rarely reliable stock inside.

off center

Now this one shows some promise. White oak this time. Nice tight furrows in the bark. No big lumpy bits, a kink near the far end, or that’s a short log lying right against this one. Joinery most often uses short sections. 4 or 5 feet is about the longest you need.

this one shows promise

Then I looked at the end grain. Off-center pith, wind shake (large tangential cracking) bole is oval not round. and an injury or buried metal near the bottom right hand segment of the end grain.

walk away

What next? The long scar in the bark of this white oak indicates some trouble inside. Might be lots of good wood in this log, but right along where the scar is will become waste.

scar in the bark

More? This one might be all right for a while. Not the roundest, and some knots after five feet or so. But a short log near the bottom of this trunk might be worthwhile.

semi OK red oak

This is more like the shape I want in the end of the log.

nice & roung

This one has some checking from sitting out a while. But these can help you when you’re shopping. Look for end grain checks that are flat. If they curve ,the wood inside curves also. Here’s a good end grain view.

good splits

Now the easily worst of all. Anybody could see this one’s a bummer.

weird growth rings

Excuses, excuses

I know it doesn’t seem like it on this blog, but I have been doing some woodworking lately. Just not shooting much of it. Carving some spoons, boxing & shipping tools and generally getting pretty busy.

But this is what took up most of my mental energy these days – the lead-in to the first day of first grade.

1st day of first grade

I haven’t been in first grade since 1963, so it’s different now. But these two were over the top excited. It will take a while, but eventually things will settle down a bit & I’ll get back to the blog other than selling.

Hollows & rounds posted…

JA H&R011 stamp

Once again, thanks to all who have responded so enthusiastically to the yard sale of these tools. You’re helping two people clean out some clutter….and getting nice tools to boot. 

This batch of timely tools is mostly molding planes, the bulk of them are hollows & rounds. Mixed pieces, no pairs, etc. 

Once you’ve read Matt Bickford’s book, then you can get going with planes like these.

here’s the link.

Send an email or comment if you’d like any of them. I’ll be away from the computer, but will just go by time stamped on incoming mail…first-come, etc. Shipping is extra. Pay w paypal or check. 

My shop is still a mess, so here’s what I have been looking at


Long-time readers of this blog know that I follow closely the work that Robin Wood does over in England.  Robin’s blog was the one that inspired me to do this one…

Just last week, he (and many others)  finished the first-ever spoon fest in Derbyshire. Robin posted a bunch of photos, as well as links to other blog posts about the event. I wished I could have gone, but I deserted my family enough this year with woodworking travels.  Be sure to follow the link that takes you to the audio portion of Jogge Sundqvist’s talk that opened the event. Great stuff, thanks for making it happen, Robin et al. Sounds like a good time was had by all.

here’s the link, read through about the past five posts or more. Great, great stuff:

Robin Wood & Jogge Sundqvist

Now, another piece that you folks that have been here a while might remember is these fabulous drawings from Maurice Pommier.



French sawing

They came with very kind words from Maurice. His work intrigued me, so I looked up his books. He had a children’s book that I added to my list, and I finally ordered it. I couldn’t read a lick of it mostly…but I loved it. I showed it around at a Lie-Nielsen gig one time, & described it as a cross between Mad Magazine & Eric Sloane. I sent images to Chris Schwarz, and he replied that he already had the book in the works. Now it’s ready to go, so trot over to Lost Art Press and see for yourself.  I assume that Chris never sleeps.

Grampa’s Workshop


This follows almost instantly on the heels of Matt Bickford’s book on using hollows and rounds.

Matt Bickford Mouldings in Practice

I had read the book in a near-finished draft, and was knocked out. Even if you haven’t used molding planes, or especially if you haven’t, this book will make you want to.  Hollows & rounds are some of the next batch of JA tools here, later this week. Matt’s book makes the use of them so basic & simple. He really has demystified the use of these tools. If you have ever seen Matt at one of the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Events, then you understand. A nice guy, a great book. Lost Art Press, the hits just keep comin’.



One more thought about the sale of Jennie Alexander’s tools

I got this note from JA today, after posting my note about selling tools



It was a good idea to restate the tool distribution plan.

In the past I must have been guided by a good  spirit. A long time ago and sometimes since I have been able to obtain useable tools at modes cost! Back then Pawn and Hock Shops were  a good source the more so in Baltimore, a busy seaport. At tool auctions I was often able to obtain useable tools but not brass and mahogany from successful auction bidders who had to buy throw ins they did not want. Sometimes I was able to trade brass and mahogany for  a number of useables. Some tools were gifts from people  who responded to my enthusiasm. Often I didn’t even know I needed a tool but it turned out  I did. Many were tools for joinery-a craft I didn’t even known existed at the time I acquired them.

In time I was able to furnish useable, functioning tools to the classes I taught. Over the years I have been able to help 3 wonderful apprentices along.

Wow it has been a wonderful journey!

Your idea of how to get the tools back into workshops all over was the most fitting way to continue their journeys.

I promise to send you no power tools.”


Remember the boxes that arrived?

next batches of tools for sale

I have had some time to sort them a bit, and am now researching the antique planes (making sure there’s no Cesor Chelors in there…)

While fumbling through boxes of those, chisels, drawknives, etc  I came across some Ulmia planes.

Ulmia planes

These require little to no work on my part to get them back in circulation. So I shot some photos quickly, and ran down some details. For those who might be unfamiliar, these are modern German planes. Nice ones, in mostly good condition, so  pricey. But if you are inclined, you can see what’s what here or the link at the top banner of the blog.


There will be more wooden bodied planes, some old ones. Some more new ones. and some metal planes too. It will take me some time to sort them all.

While I am at it, a few words about the sale of Jennie Alexander’s tools. It is not a case of a down-on-her luck aging woodworker pawning their tools for grocery money. It’s more a case of a middle-age woodworker (me) seeing ahead to a day when I get a sudden call to come clean out decades’ worth of tools & shop in one fell swoop. Jennie & I discussed this last summer and decided one way to contend with the tools she can no longer use is to get them in circulation via this blog. We looked at auctions, sales, tool dealers, etc & decided that the readers here should have first crack at them. I’m setting the prices as I go. Trying to be fair, but not give them away,nor take a beating.

If you miss out on a tool here, there are lots of places to buy old tools. Don’t despair. Some sites are:

There’s also Ed Lebetkin at the Woodwright”s School in Pittsboro NC.


People get ready, there’s a train a’comin’

Well…it wasn’t a train. It was Trent in a van. He kindly brought a slew of tools from Alexander’s up here. So now I will pick the boxes one by one, open them & sort the tools for selling here on the blog. Drawknives, spokeshaves, wooden planes, metal planes. chisels. Braces. Bunch of stuff. Should have the first batch in a week or so…

next batches of tools for sale

spoon knives and more

various spoons

I’m still carving spoons when I have time. I have a batch of about another dozen coming up soon for those still interested…

but a lot of folks have asked about tools and materials for learning to carve their own spoons. So here goes. First off, start with Drew Langsner’s site . That’s where I learned most all I know about carving spoons. Drew sells the excellent DVD by Jogge Sundqvist “Carving Swedish Woodenware” as well as many tools for this work –

hook knives

I got these two hook knives from Drew – the one in the foreground is by Hans Karlsson, that in the background is by Svante Djarv. I do 90% of my hollowing with these, some large spoons I start hollowing with a curved bent gouge and mallet.

I have many straight knives, this one is my everyday knife, with a handle I made long ago, probably wouldn’t make it so bulky these days…but by now I am used to it. It’s a Frost blade, fitted to a maple handle. The handle is about 3 1/2″ long, by 5/8″ wide. But that’s after 20 years of use.

carving knife
more straight knives

Three more straight knives. The large one at left is by Svante Djarv. I just got it this spring from Drew. It’s big. 4″ long, by 3/4″ wide. Great knife. They sell smaller ones also…

The small middle knife here is by Del Stubbs It’s a fabulous knife. I use if for finishing cuts, once the green wood has been roughed into shape. As it dries the wood cuts more cleanly. Del’s site has lots of spoon-carving information & inspiration.  The top knife here is another old Frost blade, now worn down to a nice small size for detail carving. It’s my first carving knife, so it stays in the game.


detail knives

For the chip carving that I put on the spoon handles, I use the one in the right above made by Ron Hock   it’s called the “Chip Carver #CKC100 1” on his site. The other I have just been getting used to is another tool from Svante Djarv that I got from Country Workshops.

While you’re at Country Workshops’ site, sign up for their free newsletter. This recent issue has an article about Drew & Louise’s trip to Sweden, where among other things, they visited  Wille Sundqvist – who started all this spoon carving at Drew’s back in 1978.

This weekend, if you’re home reading this, that means that you & I are both missing a spoon extravaganza in England – Robin Wood is part of this spoon scene that descended from Wille -here is his site, showing his turned bowls, but spoon carving is a big part of his work too.

This weekend he & some friends are having a gathering of spoon carvers = read about it here. I wish I could have made it…

I think that about covers it. I’m sure there’s lots more; but this ought to get you started.

Lively up your stool

The joint stool book has been out a while now, so once you’ve digested  your copy go get at some oak & let us see what you came up with. Hopefully summer will let go soon, so the heavy work of busting open a log won’t seem so daunting. I know I have cut back on what I have tackled during the heat & humidity…

Here is a stool sent in a while ago by Larry Barrett:

Larry Barrett joined stool


side view

Here’s what Larry had to say:

“Hello Peter and Jennie
Attached are a few photos of joint stools, carved boxes and chairs – all made thanks to things I have learned from you both, either via your new book, Peter’s blog, or classes with Jennie.  I have a good sized black (or maybe red) oak and a chestnut oak on the ground so there may be more to come.  Thanks again,
Larry Barrett”

We’re thrilled to see this sort of work = so keep them coming. If you are working your way through the joint stool book, send me some stuff. we’d love to see it.


If you don’t want to carve your stool like Larry did, and you need to liven it up, get out the brushes. I had an ash stool frame hanging around the shop for quite a while, and last week I put a sawn white oak seat on it, and then set about painting it. Here’s the initial result



The first step was the black squiggles and dots, then a thin coat of iron oxide mixed in linseed oil went over that once the black was dry to the touch.

Here’s one example of the inspiration for this, a painting by Judith Leyster, early 17th-c in Netherlands:

Judith Leyster painting


Another is this painting by Nicholas Maes:

Old woman saying grace



for some work, cut nails don’t cut it

nail comparison

There’s lots of talk about nails these days. For me, the most easily available “old-timey” nail is just awful – the cut nails marketed today as approximating a blacksmith-made “wrought” nail. They are made in Massachusetts, here is the description for these nails:

“Decorative Wrought Head Black Oxide Finish   Designed to simulate the hand-forged nails of the late 1700’s, the head is three-sided and the nail has a black oxide coating.”

For the 17th-century work I do, the only choice is an actual wrought nail. These are the only type you would find on an original piece of furniture from that period.

Here’s one of the factory-made nails.

In this view, you can see the heavy, thick head these things have. The photo at the top of the page shows the bulge in the center of the shank. This results from how the nail is held to shape the head…the nail gets pinched in such a way that you end up with a bump in the midst of the shank. This is a true cut nail that is altered to mimic a wrought nail. I often compare it to using a router to cut dovetails, versus cutting them with a saw and chisel. Both are dovetails, but one is an imitation of the other. If you need 10,000 nails, these are clearly the way to go. If you need a few  dozen nails, or even a few hundred, you can do way better.

On the right is a hand-made nail, by my friend Mark Atchison. I know I’m comparing a large and small nail, but disregard the scale. The manufacturing process is the same regardless of size.  Notice the very slight, slender shank on Mark’s nail. Pointed tip, not a blunt tip like the cut nail beside it. Very thin head. Here’s the view of the hand-made nail’s head. Four hammer blows to make the head.

faceted head wrought nail
right and wrong nails

Some smiths these days rework these cut nails/wrought nail items…thinning out the heads and removing the bulge. That’s a good way to approach it if you are clapboarding a house. But as I said, if it’s a few nails you need – a blacksmith who knows what’s what is the way to go.

Period wrought nails are usually rectangular in their shank, the hand-made ones shown here are more square. That was at my request, I was using these with students last month at CFC in Rockport, ME.  The rectangular shanks just require a little more care in lining up the nails with the grain in the wood. Not a big deal..

Where do you get ’em? Your not-even-local blacksmith of course. Nowadays, you can sit right at home & get connected to a first-rate smith. Here’s three I know.

I’ve written before about the work Mark Atchison does  Sometimes you can cajole Mark into making you some nails, just don’t cut in front of me!

Another great choice is Peter Ross Peter made the nails (and hinges) when I taught carved boxes at Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School last spring. Drop Peter a note – he’s interested in making small quantities so that people can experience a real nail…

Another smith I have had the pleasure of working with over the years is Tom Latane – not sure if Tom is interested in making nails, but you have to see his work anyway…

I have paid up to $1.50 per nail. A perfectly reasonable price for a hand-made nail. Many of my carved boxes have 2 dozen nails in them, so just under $40 for the nails. If you’ve used the fake-cut-nail-as-wrought-nails, do yourself a favor – splurge for a special project & use some real wrought nails. You’ll be glad you did.

nails in oak