slight updates

I haven’t forgotten the blog; it’s just that usually I write around the photographs, and with the rather excessive heat & humidity – just woodworking has been enough of a task. I haven’t really shot much in the past month or so.

Some folks recently have written asking about this & that, two of whom mentioned/asked about using power tools for one thing or another. I can’t even remember the specifics about the requests right now, so here is a general comment for this blog about power tools. First, you don’t need my permission to use power tools – go ahead if that’s what you want to do. Secondly, and most importantly,  I can’t give you advice about using them one way or another. I really know nothing about them, nor do I want to… so for those of you looking for that sort of information, it ain’t here. There is lots of stuff here about hand tools, furniture history (of a very narrow scope) and some other random bits… so feel free to take what you can from here, and add to it whatever way suits your interests. some of my best friends use power tools…as they say. I decided long ago that I did not want to spend my time working that way. I have not regretted that at all, and I continue to derive great pleasure working wood with old tools and methods. Recently, a visitor to my shop, watching me work asked if I also did “traditional” woodworking.  I lo0ked around at the pole lathe, hand planes, hatchets, saws, etc and the carved oak – and I asked him what he meant. He said, “you know, do you go home & use power tools?” – that was his definition of “traditional” woodwork. Oh, well.

I’m slowly getting back in the swing of things, and in the meantime, I was browsing my folders here and ran across a couple of things.

Here is a painted box, done as practice when I worked on the MFA cupboard. This one I decided was worth finishing, so I put a bottome & molding on it the other day, and cleats on the lid. All it needs now is the new wood painted.

painted box

One project I did this summer is another three-footed chair. This one is ash & cherry. I think it too will be painted; but not till the humidity is gone. I wrote a piece about its joinery for Popular Woodworking Magazine, that’s why it got bumped from the blog…

board-seated turned chair

When I was up in Maine at the Lie-Nielsen open house, a father & son duo shot a photo of this white rat in one of my boxes. I did not get their names, but they had previously visited my shop at Plimoth. Apparently they photograph the rat wherever they go, or many places at least…

rat in till

Most of my photos this summer have looked something like this, early morning at the beach, when time allows…

Daniel as T-rex


low tide


august fog
Went out in the yard the other evening to pick up some stuff, and saw this heron across the river; catching the low light as the sun set… around the yard lately have been herons most days (heard more than seen) and red-tailed hawks nearly constant. One morning two screech owls, also heard not seen…
sunset heron

paring ladder, not shaving horse

Two years ago, I started this blog with a post about shaving horses, and the lack of 17th-century evidence for them. Here is that post:

In it, I showed Randle Holme’s “paring ladder” and also a photograph from early 20th-century England showing the same device for drawknife work.

Today I stopped down in the museum’s English village to see the carpenters there, here is a repro early 17th-century house they are working on:

new old house


There’s lots to see in it, but I was there for one thing – my friend Michael French said he would showe me how he uses the paring ladder they have made…

paring ladder

I think they said this is the second one they’ve made; you can see it’s two uprights, joined by three rungs. Sticking between two rungs is a thin riven board of oak, this is the work surface.  Below you see Michael with a small stick of sassafrass pinched between the work surface and the rung – his hip bears against the bottom end of the work surface, and that is enough pressure to keep the workpiece (the sassafrass) in place. The top of the ladder is leaning against a timber in the house that is under construction… the uprights are about 8′ long.  They are sassafass, and I bet the rungs are white oak, but I didn’t even check.

shaving stock on paring ladder


Here is a detail of a notch cut in the back side, upper end of the work surface. This reduces the chance that the work surface will slip down and out…

work surface detail


 I was impressed by how quickly Michael could shift the stock; and with some practice it would be quite handy to use…he said you could also just lean it against a building, rather than this timber inside here. I imagine it could also be made as a free-standing tripod too. Everybody who uses it has a slightly different approach, but the whole crew spoke highly of it…

shifting the stock


Its feet are wide apart so there’s room in there for the workman; depending on what sort of stock you use, you might adjust the spacing near the top of the ladder. These guys are making clapboards and wattle with it, so some narrow and some wide stuff…

paring ladder in use


a nice apparatus, I tried it for a minute, and I would like to work on it again. It’s quick. Maybe I’ll rive some more basket stock and try it out… thanks to Michael, Rick McKee, Tom Gerhardt & Justin Keegan et al for working this device up, and putting it through its paces… I hope to sneak more of their work onto this blog. I think you’d like it…

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

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

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.

springtime projects

I have a few odds and ends tonight.

recent projects


The museum opened this week, so I have less leeway regarding photos. In the winter, I can set up lights and spend the time necessary to get the shots composed the way I want…not so once the place is open to the public. But, I get more woodworking done this way…less fiddling about.

I started off with some small projects; including a rabbet plane I am working on. This one the body is white oak. At this stage, I am trying to fashion the wedge so that it ejects the shavings…so some tinkering is next.

rabbet plane, white oak w beech wedge


If I were in England, this weekend I would join the Regional Furniture Society for their trip to see the carved chests from Devon. These items were exhibited in Exeter this past fall, but now these folks are getting a close look at those that remain. The RFS has the greatest trips, lectures, etc. They produce an excellent journal; and their newsletters are equally enjoyable. Here’s their link. If you have an interest in furniture history, go ahead & join the RFS. It might be an excuse for a trip to England for you at some point…

 This carved panel I just did (and part of the frame) is inspired by the joined furniture that is part of their focus this weekend…

red oak frame & panel


Down the road from the house here, someone cut out an apple tree. I got some of the wood, and have been making some spoons from it. Today though, I took a small, straight chunk and turned a bowl from it; I still have the other half of the blank this bowl came from, that’s for after the weekend.  The bowl is inspired by Robin Wood’s stuff; I won one of his bowls last year, and have wanted to make some of them since then. I did a few out of cherry; but around here nothing is better than apple for this sort of work. and

Also from the same chunks of apple are two brace-heads I turned at the end of the day…there’s a tiny bit in between the brace parts that gets cut out. That’s later though, this wood is sopping wet. 

apple turned work


A lunchtime walk on the beach got me these photos of some great kites this week…



pirate kite


Next to last, I lost a half-hour at least tonight, when my great good friend Heather sent a note about new prints she’s selling of her paintings. I had seen many of these before, but I had to look again.

Quaker Stillness, Heather Neill


And now, if any sisters, etc have made it this far,  a twin-fix for those who look for that sort of thing here. Springtime on the Jones…

down by the riverside

Help on the Way

help on the way


Help on the way indeed…

My hard drive crashed. Yikes, what scary stuff. the guys at were able to save my you-know-what…they were great. New hard drive, and all my data was recovered. so here’s my free advice to anyone who wants it:

back it up…

that’s what I’m doing tonight. And I pledge to be more diligent about it from here on in. It’s not like it’s difficult. There’s a 1T external hard drive right next to me here…

more on the MFA cupboard as soon as I get things together. I have to dig up some software, etc…

I was told that this knight was on his way to the New York Islands, to cut down some trees. they have small,  medium and large trees there, & he’s going to cut some. I don’t know which. At least he’s not going to the Redwood Forests… (the suitcase, borrowed from a paleontologist, has his tools for cutting trees in it…I guess he just has the one outfit for his NY trip..)

snow day, no woodsy-bits to speak of…

Apologies to my woodworking readers, but with 2 four-year-olds, five days til Christmas, and nearly 20″ of snow, there’s no time for woodworking today.



Jones River snow


I always like the snow, the more the better for my purposes. It seems that it’s something for folks to complain about when shovelling it, but I like the way it quiets things down…today I got to work for a good while out front, and took regular breaks to watch the birds in the back yard and on the river. Give me winter & snow anyday over summer with its motorcycles and lawn mowers around here.  So I was quite happy with today’s total. Even got a new yard bird, a ring-necked duck in the river, # 93 or so.

The robin flocks have descended on the holly trees here, and they are working their way through the whole crop of berries…a winter tradition. We think of these birds as spring birds, but they winter here in large flocks.

robin in holly tree


It took some preparation; but we managed to get the kids outside in it for a while.



First off, though, was the tree. Went perfectly.

now I don't have to do it


But I still do have a little woodworking before the big day. Ysterday I carved the kids’ names in the slats, and finished a hickory-bark seat on one of the chairs, and will do the other tomorrow. A few pins, a little oil here & there & they will be done. I got no photos yesterday, so this is the previous day’s output…I’ll shoot ’em tomorrow.

chair frame w test-slat

modern (for me) woodworking

Everything is relative of course, but for me, I traveled a lot this past year. Had great times in various locations, but one of the best parts is that several trips took me near enough to the Conewago Creek that I/we got to visit with our great friends Heather & Pat. These days Heather is living a dream, working as a full-time artist.  (see web & blog – But back when the world was younger, in Cambridge, she learned chairmaking by watching me make a few. She went on to make way more ladderback chairs than I ever did; here’s the kids monkeying around in some of her oldies.

last spring in Conewago

I have often made Alexander-style ladderback chairs for kids in my life, but much like the proverbial shoemaker’s kids, mine have no home-made chairs. I started to fix that not too long ago, and worked on one of them today. This is modern-woodworking for me; a power-bore bit, held in a Stanley universal brace – I even used a pencil today on wood.

horizontal boring for chair frame

It’s been over 8 years I think since I have made one of these chairs.  Jennie still sells the DVD for those who want to take on these chairs. You could also take a class at Country Workshops, which is where I met Alexander & Drew Langsner back in 1980.  I simplify the methods I learned from them;  just because I am only making two of these, and barely have room & time for those. Before we really got entirely involved in joiners’ work, I was working pretty closely with Alexander; but my ladderbacks were always just serviceable, they didn’t really click like many other chairmakers that went through Alexander & Langsner. Thankfully joinery came along with my name on it…

 A few quickly-taken shots of the shaving horse. I recently saw some folks saying they need a work surface higher than the “bodger’s horse” – but the one developed by Alexander has a hinged work surface…problem solved.

at the shaving horse
hinged work surface on shaving horse

I’ve been sick this week, so I only lasted a half-day today…so I got one chair partially assembled. Then I inserted a scrap of matboard to test for the slat curvature. It’ll work, but I’m no threat to the modern-chairmakers…

for those inclined, see and

For Drew’s place, see particularly

part-way there

Heritage Crafts Association link

joined chest
joined chest


The way I practice joinery is based as closely as is practical on seventeenth-century methods from New England. Furniture made in England was executed in essentially the same manner, with variations here and there. I find this type of woodworking challenging, exciting and rewarding. Also the furniture has a tremendous appeal for me. It is strong, practical and, to my eye, attractive. The main timber used is oak, a wood I never grow tired learning about and using.


Tonight I’m not writing about what I do, or how I do it. I’m writing about the web, England, history and the future. The web has changed the life of everyone who uses it regularly, and one of the greatest benefits of it is the way it can connect like-minded people easily. I regularly read a few websites, regularly check a few others. One is – many readers of this blog already know about that one. I was very grateful when Luke Townsley included my blog as one of those tracked there. Thanks Luke.


One of my favorite places is the English countryside. I have a terribly skewed view of it, having only made three trips there, all designed to see as much oak furniture as possible. Yet, I feel a strong connection there, mostly through my long-term study of English joinery, both here in New England and in old England as well.



And mainly because of the web, one of my favorite craftsmen I have never met is Robin Wood. 

Robin Wood turning a bowl
Robin Wood

Robin’s blog I read regularly. You can see it here:  For those of you who are new to his work, he is a renowned turner of bowls on a pole lathe, but also a lot more. Good writer, researcher and photographer. His book The Wooden Bowl is excellent. I have no intention of ever turning many bowls, I sometimes go years between bowls, but I’ve read his book twice.  Now add passionate advocate for rescuing/saving/promoting “old” crafts to his resume. Robin and several others have been working hard at starting up an organization in the UK called “Heritage Crafts Association” – he just posted the details of it the other night. Although I am a long ways from the UK, I have an Anglo-historic bent, with the study of historic joinery, my family history, etc. So when you have a few minutes please take a look at what the HCA is attempting. These folks are working hard at doing good.


 In the museum setting, I meet a lot of people. More than 300,000 a year, for over 15 years now. They watch me work at furniture-making, and one thing I hear more & more is that people are separated from the making of things.  Thus I think it becomes more important to save the ideas, skills and techniques involved in hand-made stuff. If you made it this far, thanks for paying attention to my rant. Here’s the link again, in case you missed it above