more chisel work

rafter pocket

And geometry.

I started in cutting the rafter pockets/seats in the frame’s plates (the long upper timbers that connect the three posts on each long wall, and upon which sit the rafters). Most of these are 3″ wide, the ones at each end are reduced a bit, to 2″ to leave some wood at the end of the plate. Those outside rafters will be notched to fit the smaller pocket.

First, the simple bit, sawing down the 45-degree bits. This is the outside corner of the plate, where the rafter will sail past, overhanging the side of the building.

easy part first

Then you knock that bit out with the mallet & 2″ chisel. Easy if there’s no knots.

mallet work

Then pare that surface either flat or slightly hollow. Making sure the straightedge will connect the top & bottom limit of this flat.


The next bit is the one that takes some time & finesse. I didn’t shoot it all – I was busy enough trying to cut it right. I got plenty of practice – there’s 9 pairs of rafters I think.

It’s a notch cut right behind the first angled bit, one plane parallel to the first, the other 90-degrees to each. And an inch &  3/4″ deep at its mid-point. Which moves around if your angles get sloppy. Here I’m paring the end grain of this section.

peak inside

Here’s one plate with its rafter pockets underway. I’m almost done with them now. I have one real devil, with a big knot, to go. And one of the end ones, which are reduced in width.

Pret laid out & cut the outer rafters today, 4×6 timbers, the others will be 3x6s. Here’s his first rafter sitting on the drawing of the plate’s cross-section.

we’re getting there, but there’s still a long list of stuff between us & raising. But each day it gets closer.

the rest of mortising: beyond boring

There’s more to mortises than the boring machine, as enticing as that device is, it’s only the start. I wait until there’s several joints laid out, then bore all of them…then tuck the machine away & go on from there. 


boring detail

Here’s one of the through-mortises that’s all bored, three 2″ diameter holes:

mortise bored

Then it’s chisel work. This is actually a different mortise, but the principal is the same. Here I’m chopping the end grain. 

chopping end grain

And here paring the side walls/cheeks of the mortise. 

paring cheeks

I went to pick up my 2″chisel the other day, and there’s a ladybug crawling around. In January?

lady bug

This mortise is chopped. Now the timber needs to be reduced to 5 3/4″ at the joint. It’s how we compensate for the various sizes of 6x6s in the frame. 


First, saw down to the scribed lines, 

sawing housing

then knock out the waste with the chisels, 

chisel waste

then pare it flat. 


then cut a bevel along the bottom end of the mortise, where a corresponding one on the tenoned piece meets it. 


cutting tenons on the tie-beam

NOTE: for those (few) of you who still read blogs on computers, I posted my workshop/teaching schedule for 2016 both at the header of the blog and on the sidebar. There’s other stuff there too – links to the spoon carving DVD for sale, Maureen’s etsy site, Plymouth CRAFT – just so you can find any of that stuff without slogging around. On phone & devices – I have no idea what it all looks like. Hmm, the sidebar doesn’t show on the ipad…I guess I continue to be a dinosaur. I like to see it LARGE. The menu above has some other content, articles, snippets about my furniture work, stuff for sale; boxes and baskets – DVDs, and the schedule. OK – tour over, now for tonight’s post about the timber framing project.


You can fit what I know about timber framing on the head of an (oak) pin. I took part in some workshops back in the 1980s, and had aspired to build a frame of my own one day. Never thought it would take over 30 years…but life is funny. I’m thrilled to have Pret’s expertise to guide me through the process, he did the layout. Now I have started cutting the joints. The other day it rained, so I pulled a couple of the frame’s posts in the house to cut some joinery. These are 10′ long, so barely enough room to work on them. Through mortises, and a tenon at each end. Brace mortises still need to be laid out.

2 posts

There were a couple of other pieces laid out, but those 12-footers had to wait for the weather to improve, which it did today. Here I’m sawing the shoulder on a full-width tenon. Daniel took some photos for me, the 2nd one he caught the sawdust flying! Rose shot some of them too.



Then comes splitting the cheeks – when the wood is straight-grained enough. Just like the furniture work I do…


splitting detail

then paring the tenon’s cheeks. The frame is really like a grossly-oversized joint stool.


A finished tenon. Then I had some actual furniture work to get started. Some white oak for a change! I’ll shoot it next time. 

I’ve been posting snippets on Instagram – some of you might have seen this, but if not – here’s the splitting again.

more mortising for the frame

between holidays and rain days, we haven’t had a chance to do the layout for the timber framing until today. It was cold with an east wind, but we’ve been spoiled by spring-like temperatures til now. With more rain & sleet ahead, I wanted to get some stuff laid out so I could bring it inside to cut joinery. Pret came & did the layout, I started cutting the six shallow mortises in the sills. These are where the posts will sit, they’re only 1 3/4″ deep.

sill mortise for post

I was using one of Pret’s augers; this one cuts like a dream. A nice tool in fantastic condition. Cook’s pattern auger bit, I’m told from readers on Instagram/Facebook. I knew the shape of this auger from Curtis Buchanan raving about it for his windsor chair work. But here it is in a 1 1/2″ hand auger. And yes, this layout is marked with a pencil, unlike my furniture work. There’s all manner of modern approaches to this work, (some pressure treated wood under the sills, bolts & nuts to secure the frame to the footings, etc) but I expect all of tools will continue to be hand-tools.

cook's auger bit

There are a couple of through-mortises we’re making. For those Pret broke out one of the boring machines he used when he built his house umpteen years ago. The label on this machine is mostly worn out – but some web search tells me it’s a Snell boring machine. Made in Fiskdale, Massachusetts, over near Sturbridge.

boring machine

I probably last used one of these in the mid-1980s. So he ran through its features, bored a few holes, then turned me loose on it.

pret demos the machine


Here goes:

You can incidentally see in some of the photos that we have floor joists in, but used conventional lumber (2x6s) for them. We have only so many white pine timbers, so conserved them by using framing lumber. The joists are notched into pockets in the sills. Then they will be toe-nailed in place. They also have ledger strips attached (nailed) on, to house insulation under the floor eventually. It feels great to be getting this project going.

Down by the river

12s & 16s


This has been simmering for a long time. I mentioned the other day I was about to start on the largest project yet – well, it ain’t furniture, it’s a “tool shed” according to the local authorities. It will be filled with tools after all. It’s been nearly two years since my old shop at the museum was packed up & much of my stuff stored. I have since set up a workbench here at home, crammed like many of us in the basement. I also have the luxury of a borrowed space (thanks, TC) where I set up a bench & some tools so I can/could finish photography for the next joinery book. And some stuff has been in storage since the day I packed up the old shop.

old farts

Now, it’s time for my very own – just steps outside my back door. This is something I’ve dreamed of for a long time. A month or two ago, my friend Pret Woodburn found a stash of white pine 6 x 6s and 4 x 6s for sale. Decades old, no joinery cut in them. Enough for 2 buildings the size I’m working on, 12’ x 16’. So another friend & I went halfsies on them. One thing or another has kept me & Pret busy until now. Recently I got him hooked on spoon carving, so now to keep him from never leaving his house, we’ve settled on a routine where he comes up here and shows me what to do. He knows house joinery like I know oak furniture, so I’m in good hands. Our first several session were prep work, the site slopes down to the river – so some unglamorous work to get ready for today’s initial work on joinery. Framing the sills. Just 4 joints, and a bunch of checking this way & that. Then just before dark we got some help from the youth to pin the frame together.


mortise no pin


Daniel driving pins

so my mind reels with ideas for the inside. But one step at a time. Somewhere, I’ll finally be able to hang up this sign. 

Tamás Gyenes’ riven beech chests

I continue to be amazed at the connections we can make so easily these days. Remember way back when I stumbled across references to these chests:

Der Henndorfer Truhenfund

That ultimately connected to another blog post about some visitors to my old shop,

Well, that post brought me a new connection the other day. I got an email from Tamás Gyenes of Hungary. His note said “ I myself build similar chests – from riven beech with medieval methods “  When I asked for photos, he quickly sent some amazing shots.

Untitled attachment 02338

Great, great stuff. I first saw one of these chests at the Brimfield (Massachusetts) Antique show. I passed on buying one for $300 and kicked myself ever after. I had the money and the space then, have neither now.

Tamas & his wife splitting out some beech:


Grooving the framing parts – an ancient method. 


The shaving horse – an indispensable piece of equipment. 


Tamas with a work-in-progress


The decoration: 


a couple of shots of the original chests that Tamas studies for his inspiration: 


These are old ones he owns, from what I understand. 


One of his before color & decoration. 


Tamás’ shots of his working on them are so inspiring – and look timeless, don’t they? Thanks so much for contacting me & sending photos, Tamas. Keep in touch, 

His website is

Riving, hewing & drawknife at Plymouth CRAFT


Riving, hewing & drawknife class at Plymouth CRAFT is done. Great group of people, I didn’t even need to be there today, except there were some of my tools. Weather & food were excellent too.

thanks again to our hosts, Plymouth Antiquarian Society, at the Harlow House. (Iron work on the sign by our friend Mark Atchison, timber work by ditto Justin Keegan.)


Next woodsy ones are baskets in November and spoons in December. Website is here:

here’s photos of this weekend:

Our local inspiration was Pret Woodburn’s gate at the Harlow House:

pret's gate

Great clear red oak logs (thanks Michael D) – we had almost no waste at all. Could have used every split, but got picky..


One objective was to get the hang of the riving & steering of a split with the froe & brake.

riving on a fall day 2

The drawknife is a simple tool to learn, but then to get the real technique down takes some practice:


Sometimes there’s people you don’t want to have sharp tools. Pret’s work was well-burnished (it’s a joke – he had just finished his 60-minute shaving horse, and I asked him to show me how it worked, but that wasn’t a drawknife in his hands…)
sometimes we don't let him have sharp tools


Boring the holes to start the mortises.



Thankfully, I can project my voice, because I had to yell across the yard to Matt, “the block plane is not the tool to trim the rails…get a hatchet”

trim w a hatchet not a block plane

One of the many hurdles, test fitted. Laying out the braces.

test fit

The moody-shot, complete with old-timey cooperage.

mood shot

I was all for posing on our hands & knees, but the general consensus was we’d not be able to get up again.

folded in