The View From Up Here — Custom Loft

Another project from back in 2005/2006.

This loft was a great project with a lot of interesting challenges. This townhouse had a 2 story vaulted ceiling above the living room, dining room and kitchen and was designed in such a way that a loft would fit nicely above the dining room dividing wall.  By installing the loft with a lot of natural cherry trim it really warmed up the space, gave the dining room a much better sense of scale and sophistication and added ~150 square feet to a modest size townhouse.

The Before:

Loft Before
Loft Before

The After:

Railings, hand rails and ladder completed and installed. Matching cabinet is for storage of the ladder when not in use.
Railings, hand rails and ladder completed and installed. Matching cabinet is for storage of the ladder when not in use.


  • I designed and built this project from end to end
  • Solid cherry railings with hand and floating toe rail
  • Solid cherry custom access ladder
  • Can lights including detailed alcove for displaying art or similar highlights
  • Antiqued Maple flooring
  • Storage compartment to store ladder out of the way when not in use
  • Stainless steel hardware, grab bars, and matching cherry ladder storage compartment to match with existing kitche


  • Blending knock texture between new and old work
  • Building a 9′ custom ladder
  • Working in a tight space and protecting the rest of the townhouse

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Mission Accomplished — Custom Mantel

Jumping back to an oldie but a goodie from ~2006.

The Challenge — dress up a plain Jane fireplace insert in a new townhouse.

The Before — just the tiled hearth box, the insert surrounded by textured Sheetrock and a pre-made shelf that was serving as ‘mantel’

The After — tiled surround and crisp clean lines of a mission style mantel

Detail view of corner
Detail view of corner

The final result:

WIde angle view of mantel
Wide angle view of mantel


  • I custom designed, drafted, built and installed this piece
  • Tracked down and installed matching tiles from the builder to tile a surround that matched the hearth box
  • Frame and panel construction
  • Built up complex molding
  • Primed and painted finish

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Timber Framing at Brookwood Farm

There are a few different methods for laying out the joinery in a timber frame — scribe rule, square rule, mill rule etc

This post will take a deeper look at some Square Rule based framing.

Back in the fall of 2009 we worked on a frame which will be the workshop of an NBSS student using the Square Rule method.  The project was carried out at Brookwood Farm in Canton MA which provided a great backdrop for our work along with the location of a later Scribe Rule project — restoring the old English style 2 bay barn that was discovered on the property.

Installing the rafters
Installing the rafters

Rather than custom scribing each joint in the frame — which is labor and time intensive, square rule framing allows you to effectively make some parts of the frame interchangeable (Think Model T Assembly Line) — so braces, joists are all cut to the same size to start. This method of framing came from the USA and was in part an answer to the need to speed up production as America rapidly expanded westward. Effectively you are using a square to find/define the virtual ‘perfect’ smaller timber inside the potentially rough stick you are working on — thus where the joinery is cut you are cutting back the side opposite your reference faces to square up that smaller perfect timber. This way you have nice clean and consistent mating surfaces. In the joint below you can see this on the top of the timber where it goes from clean cut joint to the rougher edge as the timber came from the mill.

Cutting joints
Cutting joints

This system allowed craftsmen (and women) to cut joints on the ground or in separate locations and then put them together for the first time at the time of raising. For those new to the trade that can seem daunting — but with practice and the old adage of  ‘Measure Twice, Cut Once’ its not as scary as it might seem.

Group Shot on the completed frame
Group Shot on the completed frame

Below is a slideshow outlining the process of building a timber framed workshop/barn

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Timber Frame Repair in Dorchester MA

Timber frame repairs at the historic Anna Clapp-Harris house in Dorchester MA.

Group shot in front of the house.
Group shot in front of the house.

Repairing a rotted modern sill can be challenging work. Repairing a timber framed sill can be even tougher if the foundation you are sitting on needs to be re-chinked into place as well. This house had some interesting things going on — beyond some questionable handywork by previous owners or tenants as you’ll see in the slides below. As each layer of the building is peeled back you can get a much better feel for its earlier glory days. By repairing the sills and other structural issues first we set the house on solid footing for upcoming repairs and restoration work.

Look for an upcoming post showing the restoration of the front windows which really give the front facade a new lease on life.

Captions in the slide show give additional information. 29 slides in this post, so be warned it might take a moment to load.

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Classic Stick Framed Shed

Back in the spring of 2010 I had the opportunity to design and build a very traditional stick framed shed. This project served as a great lesson on modern stick frame/platform framing construction techniques. In addition to top quality materials the project also had an emphasis on how traditional designs can be executed in a modern context while also maintaining high levels of craftsmanship.

View from the front of the barn. PT Access ramp installed.
View from the front of the barn. PT Access ramp installed.


  • 12′ x 16′ Stick Framed Shed
  • Cedar shingled exterior
  • Hand built doors
  • Period Hardware
  • Transom Window
  • Corner boards and detailed trim

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Viewing History — Old State House Window Restoration

The slideshow below documents the 2010 restoration of historic window sash for the 1713 Old State House in Boston MA. This historic building was the seat of colonial government in the Massachusetts Colony, site of the infamous Boston Massacre and where the Declaration of Independence was read to the citizens of Boston.

It’s easy to take windows for granted — we see them every day — they are all around us. But with the constant bombardment of advertising for ‘new’ vinyl windows, the latest insulated glass etc and an over-hyped fear of lead paint and asbestos many of our nation’s historic windows are being discarded without a second thought. We’re robbing future generations of the same views we had — seeing sites through the same wavy old glass our forefathers looked through. The way light shines through a true divided light window and the ease of use and maintenance some old windows can offer.

Ease of use and maintenance?! What old windows are you talking about?

Believe it or not properly built old single and double hung windows can be quite weather tight and easy to use when properly installed and maintained. These old windows were designed so that you could take them apart — held together with joinery and pins — and replace or repair broken glass or rotted wood. This is a lot more ‘green’ that today’s ‘modern’ modern vinyl windows. If something breaks on a vinyl window often the only repair solution is to swap it out for a new unit — think of all that waste.  And lead and asbestos can all be safely removed or mitigated by preservation specialty contractors under the guidance of EPA regulations.

Below is a brief slideshow roughly documenting how a quality sash restoration can be carried out. I really enjoyed working on this project and I hope that you will consider saving/restoring your own historic windows.

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Tapering Jig Grows Up

It’s not every day I need to taper a table leg, but when I do, I want the operation to go off smoothly. For years I’ve used an extruded aluminum model which got the job done for modest size pieces but it had a lot of limitations especially if you value the quality of your work and your fingers.

This week I’m working on a shaker style console table for an upcoming show and I figured this was as good a time as any to build a better tapering jig. Thumbing through an old FWW compilation of shop improvement projects I found a jig I liked and I built my own.

Completed tapering jig ready to adjust to the needs of your work.
Completed tapering jig ready to adjust to the needs of your work.

The result is a much larger unit that is far more secure in holding the piece while tapering with better results given the miter slot runner and zero clearance edge to align your piece with. In an upcoming post you’ll see the results of this jig in action.

UPDATE: Added some pics to the slideshow showing the jig in action and the results it produces — nice clean and consistent tapers.

Clean consistent tapers
Clean consistent tapers


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Ultimate Crosscut Sled

Installed Zero Clearance Fence
Installed Zero Clearance Fenced and my only regret is that I didn’t build it sooner.

After years of half measures and fancy miter gauges (Delta, Woodstock, Rockler and Osborne) I finally built a proper crosscut sled. My only regret is that I didn’t build one sooner. 🙂

My design is a hybrid of many designs and features I’ve seen or liked over the years — from NBSS, Wood Magazine, FWW etc.

Highlights of this design:

  • Solid construction
  • Zero clearance fence
  • T Track for stops and jigs
  • Lexan safety screen
  • Heavy duty fences

Here is the process I followed:

  1. Find material for the base. I used 1/2″ MDF since it’s cheap, stable and I had it on my scrap pile. I built this entire project using materials and supplies I had on hand which dictated some of the dimensions. 1/2″ Cabinet Grade plywood would also work well. I’ve found MDF to be more desirable for this sort of jig since its cheaper, IMHO slides better and less prone to warping. My base is 24″ x 34″
  2. Rip 2 runners to fit tightly in your miter slots. I recommend UHMH (Ultra High Molecular Weight) Plastic since it’s stable and slides well. Take your time here and make sure this is NO play or slop in the fit. The runners should be a few inches longer than your sled is so you can use them to help get the jig onto the table saw when using it on large pieces.
  3. Set the runners into the miter slots. Place you MDF base on top of the table and center it on the runners and try to get is square to the blade. (no need to fuss too much, but you can use the fence to get into the ballpark)  Clamp it in place and using a large square draw out lines for the screw placement. Also space your screws evenly across the length of the sled and make sure the heads are countersunk below the surface of the base. NOTE: Make sure you properly size your screws so they do no go all the way through your plastic runner and scratch your table top
  4. Mill some 8/4 hardwood — I used hard maple to form the fences. To many this may seem like overkill, but remember that you will be sawing through about half of your fence, so you need to make sure the ‘meat’ of whats left on top of the fence is strong enough to keep the sled in one piece even with the maximum kerf is in place. I also used a 1/4″ radius roundover bit to ease the edges of the fences and used a 5/16″ straight bit and router fence to plunge the holes in place for the adjustable zero clearance fence.
  5. Put your base + runners assembly back on the saw. With the runners secure, plunge up through the middle of your sled base and make a kerf about a foot long. NOTE: When plunging up like this make sure you hands, tools etc are well clear of where the blade is going to surface.
  6. Place the front fence (The one you will handle by hand when using the sled) on your sled assembly. Screw on the fence from below and countersunk like the runners. Only secure one side at this time as it will be a pivot for you in the next step.
  7. Place your framing square against the kerf you made and use it to square up the fence to the kerf.  When you feel you have it square, carefully pull the sled back so you can clamp down the right size of the fence and drive a screw in to secure it. Raise the blade again and make some test cuts. If your cuts are not dead on square, re-adjust the fence and retry until you get it right. This is the critical use for the fence, so this is the one area you want to make sure you fuss over and get it right.
  8. Once you have the sled cutting square outline the fence in pencil (so you know if it ever gets bumped out of square if its dropped etc) and then use several more screws so secure the fence to the sled base.
  9. Repeat the above process for the far fence. If you don’t plan on using the sled at maximum capacity you don’t have to fuss as much with this end.
  10. Cut a 4″ wide piece of 1/4″ or thicker Lexan and install it over the top of the fence in line with the saw kerf. This serves to protect the operator and also provides some more support to the fences hopefully decreasing the likelihood of the base getting warped in the middle. Sand/round over the edges of the Lexan and use fender washers to spread out the pressure from the screws used to secure the Lexan.
  11. Cut 4″ wide strips of 1/2″ MDF to form the Zero Clearance fence. (Works much like the fences on some router stations — like Norm’s New Yankee Workshop Deluxe Router Station). You can hold them up to the kerf on your sled and use the sled’s other side to mark the ends and then use the sled itself to make the cross cuts. Then hold them in place and put a pencil through the routed holes in the fence to mark where the jig hardware can move. Drill holes near the far end of the slot marks — so when you tear up the zero clearance inserts by use you can true up the ends and just close the gap for many years before you need to re-make this consumable piece. Also make sure to countersink the face sides of the holes in the MDF so the jig hardware does not interfere with stock pressing against the fence when the sled is in use. I rounded over the lower edge of these pieces with a 1/8″ radius round over bit to better accommodate dust that might otherwise get between the piece and the fence. (NOTE only round over that bottom edge and not the vertical edge you are using for the zero clearance backer)
  12. Install the jig hardware and secure the zero clearance fence.
  13. Cut some T-Track to width and install that immediately above the zero clearance fences. By making the MDF fence 4″ tall there is no way the 10″ blade on my table saw could possibly hit this T track. After years of quick clamping stop blocks in place I love finally being able to use a track and variosu kinds of jigs/stops to speed up production work.
  14. Enjoy your new Sled!

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Getting Hooked on Blacksmithing

I recently had the opportunity to take one of the ‘Taste of Blacksmithing’ classes at the Prospect Hill Forge in Waltham MA as part of the NBSS group event there. It’s something I wanted to take for a long time and I am happy I finally got to take it. During the class we learned some basic techniques and principles of how to work metal, then Carl and Mike let us try it for ourselves. The project for the class was a drive hook — which is a hook you would drive into a timber framed post or similar and then use like any other hook. (see below)

Completed Drive Hook
Completed Drive Hook. First thing I ever forged -- I really like it. You would drive it into a post and use it like any other hook. Has nice twisting detail.

I’m looking forward to talking more classes there in the future.

You can find out more about the Prospect Hill Forge here. Carl and Mike were great instructors, and like me worked in Software/High Tech. 🙂

Here is a brief slide show from our class:

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New Binford 6100 Kiln

This weekend I finally finished my new Kiln — a Kiln that would make Binford and Tim Allen happy. My wife is ready to kill me as its one more huge thing to move up to NH soon, but I want to get back into making some more Windsor chairs once we get settled in our new house this spring. I took a workshop last summer at NBSS and made a continuous arm Windsor chair  and hope to make some more for our new place.

The design is based largely on one my friend Pete Galbert came up with and shared on his blog here with a few minor changes/tweaks based on the engineer in me and what materials I had on hand. I’m looking forward to it having a long service life.

Warmed up kiln is ready for business
Warmed up kiln is ready for business


  • 2′ x 3′ x 4′
  • Thermostatically controlled
  • Reflective insulation
  • Cord storage
  • Chest handles
  • Leveling feet
  • Room for sizable pieces

Next up chair making project will be a shave horse.

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