spoon wood, hatchet work & safety

a few things tonight; none really furniture related. There’s some clearing of timber at the museum for a new pathway, and we were able to convince those involved to keep much of the timber out of the chipper. So I got a pile of birch branches the other day; and some holly today. spoons galore…

saved from the chipper


I don’t have a lot of time right now for spoon work; but I roughed out one each of holly and birch. I consider them practice for Jogge’s class in two weeks.  Here’s a hunk of the birch. First I hew away the bark along the proposed split, then I used a wedge and sledge hammer to break it open. It’s a nice crook, which makes a good spoon, but hard to hold for splitting. Fortunately I had just quartered an oak, and two sections of that provided enough resistance to the splitting until the thing opened. This was lunchtime today, then later tonight I hewed the shape…but no picture of that part yet.

bark trimmed


splitting the blank


This work, and hewing the canted rear posts for a wainscot chair I was working on today had me using several hatchets. I always think about safety when using a hatchet – I was taught good techniques about posture and safety when using these tools, and it has always stayed with me.

Recently Adam Cherubini wrote about tablesaws and safety – he was trying to lead a campaign to erdicate tablesaws from amatuer shops. An admirable goal; but pissing in the wind I figure. http://blogs.popularwoodworking.com/blog3/CommentView,guid,eb24a328-21fc-489f-9683-c3f8b9161496.aspx#commentstart  (wow – 33 comments there when I went to get that URL just now…Adam struck a nerve it seems. )

I don’t hate or love tablesaws; I don’t spend any time thinking about them one way or another. But, I do think about injuries whenever I pick up  a hatchet. I also think that if as many people used hatchets and axes as use tablesaws, the emergency rooms would see just as many or more grisly woodworking injuries. If I understand things correctly, you can go buy a tablesaw, come home & set it up, and start cutting. Maybe read the manual, maybe not. It’s easy for us handtoolies to get high & mighty (I have done it many times…) but the same story holds true for us – you can, if you have enough money, go buy a great hewing axe or hatchet, and come home & start cutting and drive the damn thing right into your leg.  Or take off Jerry Garcia’s finger with one..

So, for what it’s worth:

I’m right handed, so my right leg is dropped back a good ways; keeping it out of the path of an errant hatchet swing. Also speading my feet apart gives me a little more stability. Use your whole body in this sort of work.

I hold the workpiece either in the midst of the chopping block, or even on the further side of center…again, a misdirected blow will hopefully hit the block, not bounce out of the workpiece into my leg.

short strokes & sharp hatchet are the way to go.

In my shop, the hatchet is either in my hand, or hanging on the wall. the stump is right behind my bench, and the hatchet hangs right behind that…leaving it lying around can cause it to get bumped/knocked about. A falling hatchet is scary.

hewing stance


The only other thing I have to mention tonight is this link to Nicola Wood’s blog about the Kesurokai project happening now in Japan. I was quite honored to be invited to attend this thing – as it turns out I couldn’t go, but I am very much enjoying seeing  what’s happening with this crew…if you have some time, go ahead and read the posts on her blog. Experience of a lifetime, I’d say.


more work-holding methods

In my woodworking training, I was lucky enough to meet several people who were willing to freely share information, techniques etc. – I have always been appreciative of transmission of ideas among crafts-persons… and nowadays this sort of stuff is zinging around the world quite quickly, and reaching a much wider audience than ever before. I suspect this is both a good thing & a bad thing. But tonight, it’s a great thing. We have another drawing from Maurice Pommier. You might remember his other contributions to the blog https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/?s=Maurice

Maurice, I am flattered that my blog posts make you happy, and the feeling is likewise when I see your sketches. they are outstanding.

Here’s Maurice’s note, then the drawing. Click to enlarge. It’s great stuff. Similar to the British books I read when I first learned this work from Drew Langsner & Jenny Alexander. Daniel O’Hagan is shown using something like these in Scott Landis’ The Workbench Book. Worth looking up…

“Hi Peter!
To thanks you for your post on your blog, some little drawings: other ways to pinch and split some wood. Feuillardier is an old job, he works in forest of chesnut tree.
Thanks, I read your post I look the beautiful pictures and it makes me happy.
I wish you good time with shavings and sawdust.” Maurice


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: https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/shaving-horses/

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…

carving gouges

I’ve got a number of questions lately about carving tools. Which ones do I use, what do I recommend, etc.

 Here is some of the answer. The carving tools I use are a mixture of new & old. They all generally work, some better than others. I have some English, German, Swiss, American.

 I mostly lean towards the older tools; but I have many new (in the last 25 years) tools. Most of those are the Swiss-made tools, (Pfiel is the name of the company that makes them, I think). These days I have found some of their tools a little lightweight, which I don’t like.  

I imagine the “antique” tools I use are not all that old, maybe early-twentieth century. I have never really studied gouge-history, but I bet someone has and there must be a rundown of various gouge-making firms, like Butcher, Addis, Buck Bros, Henry Taylor. I have tools from all these & mostly like them.

 First, as for sizes. This picture is what I generally send people who ask what size tools do I use the most. A set of gouges like this will go a long ways in carving 17th-century style patterns.

carving tools' profiles


I’ve collected my tools here & there over the years; and some have come from Alexander’s collection as well. (as always, thanks JA) As for manufacturers, I guess most of my old ones are British. There’s no magic in the British ones, but they are generally nice.

The museum where I work once bought some tools, and in a money-saving mood, we chose the smaller versions of some Austrian tools, and I find them hard to use. I hit these things pretty hard, and the smaller tools feel like they can’t take it. I haven’t had a problem with them, I just don’t like the way they feel. I prefer a larger, full-size tool. Pfiel (sold through Woodcraft & elsewhere) make some carving tools in two sizes as well, so I recommend the bigger versions if you go that route. I bought some Ashley Iles last year from www.toolsforworkingwood.com and for new tools they seem well-made. They are large, and strong.

gouges old & new


This picture shows a bunch of tools I use a lot. From the top, two Henry Taylor gouges, one old one new. A W Butcher gouge, one of my favorites. Then a new Ashley Iles gouge, and a very nice, although small, Sheffield-made gouge.

Here is a comparison between the two Henry Taylor gouges. I don’t think the “old” one is all that old, (I’d guess 25 years or so?)  but there’s a noticeable difference between the two. see the detail of the bolsters, the new one doesn’t quite fit the ferrule that well, and the handle’s a little cockeyed too. Not a terrible big deal, but it makes the old one more appealing to me.

Henry Taylor gouges


detail, Henry Taylor gouges


This is one of my favorite gouges. Again, I doubt it’s all that old. But nice & stout where it needs to be, and well made.

W Butcher gouge


NOW, the V-tool is the real killer. It’s a hard tool to find one that’s the right shape. I have a Pfiel one that I bought 20+ years ago, and have changed its shape through sharpening over time, and I do most of my V-tool work with it. I have since bought new ones, same size, same maker. Different shape. Some of those failed (chipped cutting edge!) – I also have an old German one that I use a good bit. It’s a very nice example. This photo shows, from right to left, Pfiel, Ashley Iles, one from Hamburg (no name) and a Stubai from Austria. Look at the detail of their V-shapes, that’s the thing to look for. The closer it comes to an absolute point at the junction of both “wings” the better it is. That’s where the Stubai in this group loses out, the Pfiel and the German ones have the best shape. Ashley Iles is pretty good, probably better than the newer Pfiels I have bought in recent years.



Here they run just as above, from the left, Stubai, German no-name, Ashely Iles, and Pfiel (Swiss-made). the German & Swiss are the best, cleanest cuts, sharpest lines. the other tw0, being a little rounded at the bottom, bump along a bit, leaving ridges inside the lines.

V-tool shapes & lines


To learn more about V-tool shapes, have a look at Chris Pye’s website. He has an e-book dedicted to just this one tool. I skimmed it, and there’s good stuff there about the proper shape for this tool. (one of the proper shapes, anyway)


Hope some of this helps with questions about carving tools. it’s a start anyway. I”ll be doing some more carving this summer, and will try to add some blog content here on the subject.

Here’s a recent, nearly-done  panel I have been practicing, just so we have a carved panel after all this talk about the tools:

practice panel

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… https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2008/07/05/three-footed-chair/

enough with the bowls already

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

the other horse’s mouth – Randle Holme

Randle Holme, joiners' bench etc


the beat goes on, as they say. Here’s Gary Roberts’ post: http://toolemerablog.typepad.com/toolemera/2010/05/from-the-horses-mouth-moxon-on-workbenches.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ToolemeraBlog+%28Toolemera+Blog%29

and Chris Schwarz’ next one – http://blog.woodworking-magazine.com/blog/Joseph+Moxons+Bench+Screw.aspx?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+woodworkingmagazine+%28Woodworking+Magazine%29

(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. http://blog.woodworking-magazine.com/blog/A+Visit+From+The+Ghost+Of+Joseph+Moxon.aspx?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+woodworkingmagazine+%28Woodworking+Magazine%29)

 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

bowl hooks I use

hooks for bowls

Alexander wanted to see photos of the hooks Mark Atchison made for me. The one I use the most is on the right in this picture, but yesterday the other came in handy for part of what I was turning. I didn’t get the hang of these until I realized it works like a gouge that’s skewed in relationthip to its handle. I think in general they could be a little smaller. but they work fine on most of what I have tried thus far. yesterday I did a small-diameter bowl with some depth, and it got a little tight in there.

the overall length is about 28″ or so, this includes the handle. We got the specs from an old article in Fine Woodworking about Wille Sundqvist’s turning hooks. Wille was not using a pole lathe, but the action & cutting are about the same I imagine. the bowl spins, the tool cuts. I don’t have the citation for the article handy; and I don’t have the online access to the FWW archives. the article was not written by Wille, I remember that much… I think it was back in the days of B&W…

for more on Mark’s work, see https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/2253/

On another note, there is a juvenile redtail hawk around the grounds of the museum. She’s none too bright it seems. Here, she seems to be searching for something; looking this way & that…

listening for something

In the same tree was this squirrel, seemingly playing hide & seek with the hawk. this one the squirrel won… (click the picture to enlarge, the squirrel is on the right…)

right in front of your face, hawkie

log buying trip

shopping trip

People often ask me about how I get the logs I use. So  when I went on a shopping trip the other day with two of the carpenters from the museum I finally took the camera along. Our museum has been going to this same sawmill for over 30 years or so; we have been very fortunate with the way they treat us there.  It’s a small family mill in southeastern Massachusetts –  our favorite by far.Just like everything else, there has been a downturn in how much timber they are handling these days, so there wasn’t a lot to choose from, but we were able to get a few logs worth working.

We picked through a few piles of oaks, here my friend Tom is going over the distinctions between red oaks, yellowbarks and black oaks with the mill owner Paul. We ended up with two logs from this pile.
red oaks, yellowbarks, black oaks


There;s a lot of crawling around involved; invariably we want to see something at the middle/bottom of the pile. They treat us so well here, that they will pull the pile apart with a forklift, and lay the logs our for us to see better. These piles were small enough that we didn’t bother.

end grain view


This is the new carpenter Justin walking over the piles; I also went over these piles a few times, just to see if we had missed anything. Sometimes you find something at the back of the pile. I spend a lot of time looking over the end grain – I want nice round logs, with the tree’s pith centered. Oval and mis-shapen logs don’t work for furniture stock. 

walking the pile


I bought this ash log because it was cheap (.45 a board foot) and it was fresh. It’s 16 feet or more, so there must be some good sections in it. We got a few oaks, one of which was for me.

loading an ash


The oak I got is pretty nice, I consider it a little small, about 22″ on the large end. It’s nice & straight, about 9′ long. We will see what happens when I open it up.

new stock


they did have one really large log; but it was white pine. 40″ across the large end, 17′ long & clear. But it’s another story.

big white pine