photos from a great day of study

Last week I wrote about a day I spent at the 18th & 19th century joiner/carpenter’s shop that was recently found. It wasn’t really missing, but it took a trained eye to see it for what it was. It has been a long time since I’ve been involved in that kind of research, I used to tag along with Plimoth’s historic carpenters to study old buildings whenever I had the chance.

This day reminded me of some of the best things about museum work. Among the crew that day were folks from Colonial Williamsburg, the University of Delaware/Winterthur and others. The building was first identified as something significant by my friend and colleague Michael Burrey, formerly of Plimoth, but for ages out on his own as an historic restoration carpenter.

Jeff Klee of Colonial Williamsburg sent me his very nice photos of the shop. Have a look. This building is of major significance, and its story will be told at some point, but for now it’s time to record it and assess its future.

For me, the highlight was to be reconnected with some of the core ideas behind museum research in this sort of field. I got quite a charge out of it, in the sense that it brought back the fun and excitement I felt back when I was new to museum work in the mid-1990s, making field trips to record all kinds of evidence of what happened, way back when. I’ve been away from research for a while, and it was exciting to get involved again. It makes my work in the shop and with the museum’s visitors better.

Back in my shop, I have been looking closely at the evidence I have left over 19 years, wondering if people would ever be able to tell – “he kept his hatchet here, chisels there…” etc.  What we are trying to do in this shop is to read signs on the wind really…but it’s fun just the same.

Thanks to the involved parties for including me.


Joined chest DVD error to be fixed

New DVD from Lie-Nielsen


Got this note recently from a reader of the blog, about the Joined Chest DVD

“At 3:05:16 in the chapter on Making and Installing the Top there is a big red error screen that says Media Offline #15067 for a short while, like 15-25 seconds. It looks like a small section of video is missing when they compiled the video. ”


I wrote to Thomas Lie-Nielsen, and he replied:

“Yeah, … It is true.  We’ve pulled them and will reprint. Sorry!”

When I get new ones, I’ll send out clean copies to those who bought from the blog. I’ll keep you posted when I hear more.



I’m an oak man

I have lots of planes. Ones I use everyday, ones I use occasionally, some I keep for students in workshops. New ones, old ones. Some I’ve made.

a few planes


I have just sold lots of Jennie Alexander’s planes. Any of which I could have kept for myself, no questions asked. Some I did.

So what on Earth was I doing even looking at planes last week at the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking? Not the LN planes, but a bunch of them at Josh Clark’s table, Hyperkitten Tools.

Hyperkitten Tools
Hyperkitten Tools 2

When I spoke to Josh that morning, I saw a plane that really caught my eye. I told him he’d better sell it during the day, because I did not want to have to buy it. When I went by late in the afternoon, there it still was. So now, it’s in my shop.

jointer plane

a “small” jointer as Alexander used to call such a thing. About 26″ long, an iron somewhere around 2 1/2″ wide or so. I forget exactly. Great condition. But so what? I sold several of JA’s jointers in similar shape. Here’s a detail

what do you notice?


I have only seen one other oak plane that I can remember & I bought that one too. It was a broken little live oak plane:

oak plane body

The new one from Josh is probably German, marked “Holst Hamburg” on its toe. Great chamfers, very heavy plane. Condition is excellent. It’s my new favorite plane. Got to shuffle some around to make room for it. I sharpened it up on Sunday and it’s shaving nicely.

new favorite

I was very impressed with the tools Josh has. I spent some time working beside Freddy Roman & kept commenting on various tools Freddy was using. Again & again he said, “I got that from Josh…” Some were planes I had never seen before. Lots of British planes, and other tools too. Josh showed me a nice lefty Kent-pattern hewing hatchet. Very reasonable. Sign up for his blog if you haven’t already. I don’t want to have to keep buying tools from him…so you should save me the trouble.

Thanks to all who have ordered spoons this week. I’m packing & shipping soon. A few are left, and another batch in a month or so.





tool racks

Remember this joint?

I was back there this week as part of a group of museum folks and preservation carpentry people recording the details of this building and its fixtures. I can’t go into great detail here on the project, it’s quite convoluted. But the building is in good hands and has a lot of people watching over its next phase.

If I hadn’t just converted to a tool chest, and hadn’t just written about how stupid tool and chisel racks are, I would be making many of these for my shop…

tool rack

ahh, I’ll probably make some anyway. Here’s my sketch of the first one. 1/4″ grid.

tool rack

Here’s another, made to hold just one chisel. How’s that for specialized? the slot is 1/4″ x 1″.

bracket for one chisel

Joined chest DVD now available

New DVD from Lie-Nielsen

I went down to Manchester, CT the other day for a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. As always, I had more fun than I could stand…and just as I came in the door, Ted Dishner of LN saw me & told me, “we have your new DVD…”

So, if you have a few hours to watch me thrash an oak log apart and build a joined chest, you can do so from the comfort of your own home – otherwise, you have to stand at the railing in my shop at the museum.

We shot the DVD last spring in Maine, it includes splitting and riving the stock apart, hewing and planing, then layout, joinery and assembly. I cut notches for the till, and show how to install that, and make a tongue-and-groove white pine floor. The lid is also white pine, a single-width board. For the finale, I attach the lid with iron “snipebill” hinges, (what I call “gimmals” – the 17th-century term for them.)

The disc runs over 200 minutes and is broken into 18 chapters so you can get around to the segment you nodded off at. There is additional content accessed through your computer; some measurements, photos and other bits and pieces.

I have 10 of these discs for sale, you can order from me by emailing me with your mailing info. Price is $42, shipped media mail in the US. Of course, as always you can buy the disc directly from Lie-Nielsen too, while you are there buying tools and other goodies. They have my two previous DVDs on carving, they also sell the joint stool book.

today’s ramble

earthquake, Maine, Oct 16, 2012

Lots happening. Last night, I felt the little old house wiggle (more like a “thunk”) and heard stuff slosh around a bit. Told the kids, who were going to bed, that a large truck must have just gone by…Rose said “I didn’t hear a truck.” Later, I read about the earthquake in Maine. My first ever experience with one.

Early this month, the local red-tail hawk showed up. Our museum has chickens running around it, and no shortage of chipmunks  etc… These hawks become very tolerant of humans. Good for photos, it is.

Red tail hawk, Oct 3

I have been carving some spoons lately, here working on a maple one from a small sapling I removed from the yard to open the view a bit.

hatchet work

said view here:

Jones River


There will be more spoons for sale soon. I went for a walk this morning before work…

leaving the shop

past the forge…

forge and gate

and down the Eel river walkway…

again, a bit further on

another view of the Eel river

Where I collected this crook of cherry, a ladle to be.

cherry crook

I don’t have any time to delve into this chunk of wood until after the weekend. But it looks promising. So, more later.



another argument for working out of a tool chest

I am a recent convert, like many, to working out of a tool chest instead of hanging tools on racks, using shelves, etc… (here are some old posts about it )

but there’s still lots of tools hanging around. I put a chisel away today, and found yet another argument for using the tool chest.

good reason for a tool chest

So I know some of what I will do in the shop tomorrow.

tomorrow’s task

Here is one of many boxes I made in the summer, when it was too hot for real woodworking. The blocks to separate the chisels were based on something I saw in the new edition of the Tool Chest of Benjamin Seaton. (this detail is in the old edition too, but I was only looking at the book because I had got the new edition…)

mortise chisels

I got my copy of the Seaton book by joining the Tools & Trades Historical Society… – it’s worth a shot if you haven’t already done so. But it might be you have to buy the book at this point…I don’t know. You gotta have it either way.


joined chest: till parts, paneled lid

till closed

Fitting the till parts inside a joined chest is one of the most time-consuming aspects of making these things. It takes a good deal of test fitting and fussing to get it right. there is a tendency to rush this part, many times I have made tills that I wasn’t happy with in the end. All in the name of impatience.

The sequence I use is to do the bottom first, then the side, then the lid last. I often make the bottoms and sides from white pine, and always make the till lid from oak. Almost always.

Here is a view of the till bottom fitted into notches in the front and rear stiles, and scribed and fitted against the beveled panels and muntin on the chest side. I made a two-part template from matboard, one part scribed to fit the front stile, and one for the rear. Then I overlaid them on the pine board using the muntin notch as a benchmark.

till bottom scribed & cut

The till side is easiest, and I didn’t scribe it to perfectly match the contours of the chest interior, close enough is OK.

For this till lid, I decided to notch the inner corner of the front stile so that the end of the till lid is a square cut, other than the pintle. I sawed and chiseled the notch, and bored the hole for the pintle. This hole is above and tangent to a line struck from the top edge of the till side.

front stile notched for square-ended till lid

For more about cutting tills, here’s an earlier take on the subject.

Now, this chest has its rear finished face inside the chest.

inside the chest, rear framing


I really like this format, it makes a nice surface in the chest when you’re rooting around in there. And it leaves all the scruffy bits against the wall, where no one sees them. But one challenge in this arrangement is that the rear stiles bump out beyond the back face of the upper rear rail.

rear stile thicker than rear rail

When it comes time to hinge the lid, you need to deal with these stiles. One way around this problem is to make rear stiles that are the same thickness as the rear rails. I have seen English chests do this, but not New England examples. Another way around this is to cut a notch in the top end of each rear stile. Like this: 


We’ll see this again when I install the hinges on this one. This chest is going to get a paneled lid. When I first started reading about 17th-century joined chests, paneled lids in New England work were perceived as being indications of “first-generation” workmen, those trained in old England. That might be so, but it’s a difficult notion to prove. What I can say for certain is that paneled lids take up a great deal of labor. A single-board pine lid is the quickest thing on earth. Plane it, cut it to length and width, and run a thumbnail molding along its perimeter. A multi-board oak lid is a lot of work too, riving and planing usually three long narrow oak boards, edge-jointing them & gluing it up. Then planing it as a whole. 

But the paneled lid is the most labor of all three versions. 

This one requires riving and preparing all those framing parts, cutting the joinery, test-fitting it, drawboring, and then cutting the panels, beveling them, and so on. Maybe those old guys were faster than me…it still takes me more than a day to make this lid I bet.