Category Archives: Portfolio

Jordan’s Toolbox

Some woodworking projects are for fun, some are skill builders, some are to keep the lights on and some are for necessity. As they say “necessity is the mother of invention.” When taking a woodworking workshop at the North Bennet Street School one of the challenges is often lugging all your tools to class. The school is set in the North End of Boston and most folks take public transportation to get to the school as parking in that area is expensive and in short supply. I’ve seen folks use bags, backpacks, plastic toolboxes, 5 gallon buckets, rolling carts, suitcases, you name it. I can still remember lugging big toolboxes on the subway when I was student.

This past weekend one of my students, Jordan Ruiz, showed up to my Introduction To Shutters Workshop with the toolbox you see below:

Closed toolbox with oak hasp
Closed toolbox with oak hasp

He designed it off the top of his head and made it mostly from a single pine board.

Open drawer
Open drawer

What I like about his utilitarian design is how he translated a lot of the traditional hardware needs into wooden or other natural equivalents. Note the oak hasp which is articulated and secured with wooden pins. A hemp rope drawer pull. Dowels to secure the moving wooden tote handle, sliding top secured by a captured dowel etc.

French fitted packing foam to keep the tools in place
French fitted packing foam to keep the tools in place

I also like how Jordan used some packing foam to ‘French Fit’ all of the tools into his toolbox.

Jordan Ruiz with his toolbox
Jordan Ruiz with his toolbox

If he’s willing to do all that work to prepare for a workshop I can only imagine the dedication and creativity he’ll have at the job site. I think Jordan has a bright future ahead of him in the woodworking field. (He also made a very nice shutter as seen in the previous post)

Take care,
-Bill

Boxes for every occasion…

Building customized storage solutions is one of the joys of being a woodworker. I never seem to have enough storage at home or in the shop. On days when I don’t have a lot of time in the shop, when I have some nice scraps I want to use or when I want a quick warm-up, I often find myself making boxes and other storage solutions for items I want to take care of. Below are three posts I recently made for Popular Woodworking on their ‘Woodworking Daily’ blog to explore some of my thoughts on this topic. I hope that they will inspire you to get out into the shop and make something today.

Aging 100 Years in a Day

Sliding top timber framing chisel box
Sliding top timber framing chisel box

You can check out this post on making a sliding top timber framing chisel box from eastern white pine, simple rabbet joints and cut nails. It features a weathered finish made from milk paint and wax that will only look better with age and use. You can read the post here.

Working in the Round

Turned Box
Turned Box

This turned cherry box is a great way to start turning round boxes. The hollowing is done via a large Forstner bit. You can learn more about how to do this here.

A Great Box to Have Dinner With

Dovetailed Candle Box
Dovetailed Candle Box

This walnut candle box was one of the first projects I built as a student at NBSS and we still use it today. I’ve seen similar boxes for sale at Colonial Williamsburg (Prentis Store) and various Shaker Villages, so even in our modern times there is apparently still some demand for candle boxes. Learn about some of the details you can apply to your own shop built version. You can read more about it here.

Take care,
-Bill

Drafting in the Digital Age

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” — Benjamin Franklin

When it comes to design and drafting old Ben’s quote rings as today as it did in the 1700s. A good design and a clear set of plans can spare you from a lot of unnecessary frustration or wasted material. When I went to High School in the 1990’s I had the opportunity to take classes in traditional drafting on paper and using AutoCAD on old DOS based PCs that were old even at the time. The computer was viewed as the future, but the extra time for smaller projects and prices/availability of good software was a hindrance. For the sake of expediency and my wallet I generally broke out the drawing board when I needed to make a set of plans.

Workshop Shutters In Color + Perspective
Workshop Shutters In Color + Perspective

Years later when I went to the North Bennet Street School they also espoused the use of traditional drafting with leads and full size drawings. No messing with expensive computers and ever-changing software. This works great for chairs and pieces with lots of complex curves. But for timber frames and buildings, often with many repeating elements a small change in the design could literally send you back to the drawing board for hours.

Workshop Shutters
Workshop Shutters

I recently got a copy of SketchUp and around the holidays found a real good deal on Robert Lang’s SketchUp for Woodworkers Shop Class on Demand Videos and watched them around Christmas. SketchUp took a bit of getting used to compared to my old AutoCAD days, but after watching Bob’s videos, and with my background as a software engineer and traditional draftsman I got up to speed quickly. (You may have noticed a proliferation in some computer generated renderings in recent posts) Bob Lang’s videos start with simple projects and tools and increase in complexity. I recommend getting both videos as the second video (‘Advanced Techniques’) was the most interesting to me wherein he shows the user how to create dovetails, work in the round, layout the model for printing dimensioned renderings etc.

Shutters Workshop
Hand Drawn Shutters

Save a Tree, Burn some Pixels

About a year ago I designed some traditional interior shutters for my workshop — I started out drafting them by hand. The plans sat on my TODO list for a few months and now with SketchUp in hand I decided to explore some other design possibilities with the raised panels.

Various Panel Options
Various Panel Options

Design Options Explored (Colors added for easier reference here, I’m not planning to build any shutters for a circus):

  1. Red — Raised, Sunk Fielded Panel
  2. Orange — Raised and Fielded Panel
  3. Green — Raised and Fielded Panel (rounded fielding)
  4. Brown — Flat Panel
  5. Purple — Raised Panel
  6. Blue — Bead and Butt
Panel Details
Panel Details

In the end I settled on #1 above which was part of my original design, but this software saved me from having to experiment with a few test panels to see how things looked from different angles — a nice time and effort saver which offset the perceived longer time it took me to draft this project in SketchUp in the first place. Each project I get a little faster with SketchUp and I think part of why I feel like it takes longer is you generally need to complete your model in most if not all details as opposed to some shortcuts I can take when drafting by hand. (Though I think I am getting a bit OCD as I created all the mortises, draw bored pins etc in full 3D)

Dimensioned Shutters in Color -- Rittenhouse Blue
Dimensioned Shutters in Color — Rittenhouse Blue

With SketchUp you can also experiment with colors and textures. Above you can see my shutters in Rittenhouse Blue to match my existing trim out in the shop. For other projects I’ve used actual textures which help give you a feel for how a surface would look with real wood grain etc.

Exploded View
Exploded View

The other big time saver is how fast you can generate other views — beyond top, bottom, front and back you can quickly generate an exploded view….

Section View
Section View

Or a section view…

Molding Details Dimensioned
Molding Details Dimensioned

or a dimensioned detail view. The dimensioning goes in quickly and the model can be probed in the future if you missed a dimension and want to see exactly how big a part or detail should be. All of these views help me create additional visual aids for this blog and for my teaching as I think a lot of woodworkers are visual learners. You can also share your models with other users or download thousands of models from the 3D Warehouse to save you some time.

I also like the fact that I can draft from the couch in front of the TV at night when I am too tired to be out in the shop and don’t want to be in another room hunched over the drafting board. If you have been waiting for a good reason to try out SketchUp, or draft something new you have no excuse — if you are reading this blog you are likely on a device that can be used to run SketchUp.  🙂

I look forward to seeing some of your new creations and hearing what others think about using the program.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. If you’d like to build one of these shutters with me in person, there are still 1 or 2 seats left in my upcoming workshop at NBSS on this very topic. You can find more details here.
P.P.S. If you’d liked to check out Robert Lang’s SketchUp For Woodworker’s Shop Class on Demand Videos or DVDs  I bought my copies from here. (I don’t get any sort of kickback for this, just recommending a good resource)

Bolt Stretcher

What do you do when you need a very long bolt? Most hardware stores only stock bolts up to about 10″ or 12″ in the sizes most woodworkers use — 1/4″, 5/16″,  3/8″ and 1/2″ diameter.

Time to break out the bolt stretcher?

Assuming you don’t have such a mythical machine you can make your own longer bolts.

Start with some threaded rod and appropriately sized nuts…

Filing off the rough machined edge
Filing off the rough machined edge

File off any paint and machine/mill marks from the end of the threaded rod.

TIP: Place a nut a 1/2 in or so down onto the threaded rod before filing. Once you finish your filing you can remove the nut, and in the process will clean out the top threads which may have been deformed by the filing. Use should also use this technique when cutting threaded rod or bolts.

Why do I need such a long bolt?

In this case, I am building a workbench with a shoulder vise — this bolt helps make sure the massive vise screw does not blow out the wood joinery.

From Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking Volume 3 he suggest brazing a nut onto the end of a threaded rod, so I figured I’d give that a shot…

Mapp + Oxygen cutting and welding torch used for brazing
Mapp + Oxygen cutting and welding torch used for brazing

Time to break out the Mapp + Oxygen cutting/welding/brazing torch and some brazing rod which works much like solder. (Make sure you work in a well ventilated space and take all necessary safety precautions). Clean the mating surfaces and apply flux, then braze the nut to the threaded rod.

Brazed nut
Brazed nut

Once it cools down you can file off any excess and use this newly made bolt. I’m no expert on welding, but the amount of hardware, time, and cleanup seemed excessive. Even with some filing, wire brush work and then some polishing I was not happy with the result — this end of the bolt would be visible in the finished bench. The coloring was off and now the nut looked a little off.

Is there another way?

I thought back to my days working on my Mustang and old F-150 and a remembered good old Locktite Red Threadlocker 271.

Locktite 271 Red Threadlocker
Locktite 271 Red Threadlocker

This little tube packs a heck of a grip. You apply some threadlocker on the threads and inside of the nut, put them together and let it cure for 24 hours. You would need to exceed 500 degrees F and 245 ft/lbs of torque in order to break the bond — so in other words, plenty of strength for my use.

Threadlocker curing
Threadlocker curing

Once cured I cut the bolt to length, filed off the hacksaw marks and cleaned up the leading threads using the tip above.

15" Long Bolt
15″ Long Bolt

Now I have a nice custom sized bolt ready to go. If the need arises I hope you’ll give these techniques a try. If you do, let me know in the comments.

Take care,
-Bill

Balloon Framing

Between Timber Framing and modern Platform Framing was an intermediate style of framing a building called ‘Balloon Framing’.

Balloon Frame 3D Model
Figure 1: Balloon Frame 3D Model

This method of framing was radical for its time. Started around the 1830s and steadily gaining in popularity through the end of the 19th century Balloon framing ushered in a new generation of building supplies and builders who benefited from and drove the advent of ever cheaper machine made nails, consistent milled lumber, and more efficient transportation methods (Rail box-cars etc). Beyond the technological advancements in the materials production and transportation this building method caught on quickly as buildings framed in this manner could be built cheaply with non-skilled labor and common nails and tools, thus farmers and do-it-yourselfers could build what they needed with a far shallower learning curve when compared to all the advanced joinery traditional timber framing required. This was invaluable to frontier areas where traditional carpenters and joiners were in short supply.

Bell's Carpentry Made Easy Plate 4
Figure 2: Bell’s Carpentry Made Easy Plate 4

In the mid-west and plains states in particular you see a lot of balloon framed houses during this period as they had good access to the mills producing these building materials, a desire to quickly build and expand existing buildings and in some areas a dearth of heavy timber needed to build in the older styles. Even in more populated areas back east you’ll see many of the Shingle Style and Victorian homes and Triple-Deckers were framed this way, though certainly some more austere farm houses of this period were also framed in this manner as it was an economical way to build. If you look carefully at some of the design details you can see how tastes and designs changed to make use of the dominant building supplies of the time. You’ll see higher ceiling heights, various bump outs, towers etc that were more easily executed with this style of framing and in keeping with the prevailing styles of the day. (See Figure 3)

Mansard Victorian in Manchester NH
Figure 3: Mansard Victorian in Manchester NH

Balloon framing made use of common sized lumber coming from mills — the first real large scale use of 2x4s, 2x8s, 1x10s etc in framing a building and marked a transition from the heavy timbered buildings of the east coast of America and the ‘Old World’ that preceded it. In the earlier part of this period a 2×4 was actually 2″x4″ in some areas as opposed to the ‘nominal’ sizes we have today wherein a 2×4 is 1.5″x3.5″ by the time it makes it to a modern lumberyard, but that is a post for another day. The weight of the building was dispersed across a series of smaller consistent studs as opposed to a few heavy posts. Also notable was the fact that the studs ran from sill to plate, thus requiring the 2nd and 3rd floors to be ‘hung’ from the studs via ledger or ‘ribbon’ boards. (See Figures 2 and 4)

Bell's Carpentry Made Easy Plate 5
Figure 4: Bell’s Carpentry Made Easy Plate 5

A great period resource for information about Balloon Framing is William Bell’s “Carpentry Made Easy: The Science and Art of Framing”. While Bell was not the first author to extol the virtues of Balloon Framing he may have been one of the most prolific. His ‘Carpentry Made Easy’ book was published continuously from 1858-1904. 46 years is quiet a testament to the information he provided. The book’s longevity is largely due to how the information is provided. Bell starts with a detailed section on basic math and geometry for carpenters and the moves into framing. He covers Balloon Framing for homes and modest sized buildings and moves on to heavy timber framing for industrial buildings, bridges, spires and the like. Bell was a trained carpenter and joiner and speaks the reader in a clear and concise way that was agreeable to most carpenters. Bell goes into technical detail but did so in such a way that any reasonably skilled carpenter could take this information and apply it to the project at hand. His words still resonate well today — in fact using his descriptions I was able to build a detailed 3D model in Sketch-Up based on his instructions for how to build a Balloon Framed structure. (See Figures 1 and 5). I’m sure that many a house carpenter had a dog-eared copy of this book in their toolbox and regularly referred to it over the years.

How fast did this transition happen?

Like most major shifts in an industry the transition from Heavy Timber Framing to Balloon Framing did not happen over night. The word had to get out, it had to be evaluated, the supplies had to be ready and a host of macro-economic pressures had to come together in order to facilitate this change — a strong need to build economical housing for an exploding population etc. Like most things, some isolated or rural areas clung to the old ways for longer periods and some areas were more willing to try out these new techniques. Even cutting over in terms of technique was an evolutionary change. If you look closely at Figure 4 above you’ll see that the house shown there has Balloon Framed walls with a heavy timbered sill, which the author notes as the preferred way to go if heavy timber is available, as opposed to Figure 2 which shows a more traditional balloon framed sill made from 2x framing elements.

In broad terms this building method started in the 1830s, crescendo-ed during the 1880s-1930s giving way to modern Platform Framing which was an evolutionary advancement that built upon the strengths and lessons of this movement. Balloon Framing and it’s relative efficiencies greatly improved the living conditions of many Americans and others of modest means and the burgeoning middle class.

Balloon Frame Cutaway 3D Model
Figure 5: Balloon Frame Cutaway 3D Model To Show Joinery

Why did Balloon Framing disappear? Disadvantages and Demise

With Balloon Framing, you framed an entire wall at once from sill to top plate, thus requiring longer framing members. Once the wall was standing you needed to have ladders and scaffolding in order to ‘hang’ the upper floors from the ledger plates and studs. This required more labor compared to modern platform framing where each level builds upon the lower level, thus requiring less labor, scaffolding and smaller framing members.

In some larger Balloon Framed buildings you’d see some sagging towards central walls due to differential shrinking of the framing members — joists resting on ledger boards will move a different amount when compared to joists nailed into the side of as stud. This kind of differential can add up in a larger building and took time to manifest itself. (See Wikipedia here for a more detailed explanation)

While the above items are negatives for this system of framing the final nail in it’s coffin was how it performs in a fire. The inter-stud wall cavities that run from sill to plate worked like a chimney flue and helped to rapidly spread fire throughout a Balloon Framed building. To counter this, fire blocking can be installed between each floor, but this was labor consuming to install and not quite as good as the fire resistance you’ll see in a Platform Framed building. Even today when filling out an application for homeowners insurance you’ll often see questions related to this kind of framing.

What replaced Balloon Framing?

Around the 1930s the death toll and property loss data was starting to add up and folks looked to rectify the situation. The solution was Platform Framing. In a nutshell you’d build a platform of sill, joists, rim joists and sub-flooring, use this as a platform to build the walls for one floor, you’d tilt up and nail off the walls, then build another platform on top of that until you top out your building. This method required less labor, shorter framing members and by breaking up the wall cavities at each floor provided better fire resistance.  After World War II the post war building boom accelerated the need for even more housing and faster build completion times. At this time we started to see the introduction of studs 16″ to accommodate sheet goods (Plywood and later OSB) in regular sizes as a replacement for more labor and material intensive traditional sheathing. And in a similar manner vinyl siting replaced genuine clapboards etc etc until you get to present day building materials and practices.

Conclusion

We don’t often see or hear much about Balloon Framing today as it has fallen out of favor in the building community, but it’s impact can be felt today in any Platform Framed structure that benefited from all the lessons learned by this earlier incarnation of efficient home building. I hope that the next time you are examining the framing of a Balloon Framed structure you’ll take a look and see what lessons it can teach you.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. If you’d like to read William Bell’s “Carpentry Made Easy: The Science and Art of Framing” (1858) you can get a copy from the Toolemera Press here. It was a great read with interesting sections on timber framing, compound roof joinery, bridge-building, spire making and other interesting building topics above and beyond the Balloon Framing and carpenter’s geometry I mention in this article.

** Plates 4 and 5 of from Bell’s Book are provided via Gary Roberts of the Toolemera Press and used with his permission.

Treenails, Trunnels, Pins and Pegs

Treenails, Trunnels, Pins and Pegs — all terms used to describe the wooden nail-like fastener used in timber frame construction. I needed to make a large number of them for an upcoming project and thought you might also enjoy seeing what it takes to make these deceptively simple looking pins.

White Oak and Hard Maple stock ripped, thickness planed and jointed
(1) White Oak and Hard Maple stock ripped, thickness planed and jointed

Where did all those names come from?

Like most things that predate modern recorded history I’ve read many conflicting theories on where these terms came from, so what I relay here is based on my own experiences in this field; your mileage may vary. Timber framing dates back thousands of years and can be found in early civilizations around the world in many different forms. What all these structures had in common was the joining of heavy timbers using traditional joinery and large mortise an tenon joints that were pinned together using large wood fasteners.

These fasteners are known by a lot of colloquial names, the most common of which I describe in this post. Most literally treenails (or trenails in some places) is the term for nails made from a tree. Trunnels is derived from the pronunciation of treenails and at times reserved for larger treenails used in very large buildings or ships, sometimes even wedged so they do not back out. Pegs tends to be a more modern term for treenails and pins tends to be used for smaller scale work though many timber framers I know today use it regularly. Having said all this I’ve heard all of these terms used inter-changeably at times by both novices and seasoned professionals, so feel free to use the term(s) that best suit your work and locale.

The bottom line is ‘a pin by any other name will hold your building together just as well.‘ (provided you heed my tips below 😉 )

Stock ripped down into square blanks
(2) Stock ripped down into square blanks

How do you go about making these pins?

Traditionally pins were split out of green wood, shaved down with a draw knife and shave horse and allowed to season. Then touched up again when dry. Since I have to make a few hundred of these, being a practical modern joiner I will make use of my table saw and some high quality kiln dried lumber. Most of the stresses in a timber frame are carried by the joints and not the pins, and white oak is very resistant to shearing forces so I am not worried about the wood not being split out for this usage. (I’m building a square rule, late 19th century style frame from milled eastern white pine, so by that point the pins likely were made the same way I go about it)

For the scale of timber framed buildings I generally work on — homes, barns and sheds, I’m usually using a 7/8″ ships auger bit to drill holes for pins. Most tenons I work with are generally 1.5″-2″ thick eastern white pine and based on experience and reference tables I’ve found this size to work well for me.

I learned to timber frame while at NBSS and with that my framing has a proclivity for historic precedents. The historic buildings I work on all had octagoned pegs which worked well for hundreds of years and can be made more easily when compared to the expensive turned pegs you see some modern supply houses offer for upwards of $2 each. For a draw bored joint, I feel the octagon pegs look better and hold better compared to the CNC turned pins. (More on that later)

Making octagons out of the square blanks
(3) Making octagons out of the square blanks

1.) I start off by milling down my rough 4/4 white oak stock to be 7/8″ thick, then I joint an edge on each board (See photo 1). I then crosscut each board to be about 30-3/8″ long. (Each of these boards should yield 3 sets of 10″ long pegs)

2.) Next I rip each of those boards into 7/8″ square sticks (See photo 2)

3.) Tilt the blade on your table to 45″ and turn each of those square blanks into an octagon. The use of feather-boards will help you be consistent. (See photo 3)

Chopping several blanks at a time on the chop saw using a stop block
(4) Chopping several blanks at a time on the chop saw using a stop block

4.) I set a stop block on the chop saw at 10″ and gang chop (cut several at a time) for the sake of efficiency (See photo 4)

248 Oak Treenails and 166 Hard Maple Try Pins
(5) 248 Oak Treenails and 166 Hard Maple Try Pins

5.) At this point you’ll quickly see how many pin blanks it takes to make even a modest building. (In this case a 12’x24′ large shed/small barn) (See photo 5)

Using the hewing bench, carpenter's axe and timber framing chisel to taper the ends of each pin
(6) Using the hewing bench, carpenter’s axe and timber framing chisel to taper the ends of each pin

6.) Now it’s over to the hewing bench to taper the leading ends of the pin blanks. I usually rough off the wood with my capenter’s axe and touch things up with a timber framing chisel. I find it helps to get the cut started with the tool and bang them both (peg and tool) in unison on the hewing bench. The downward momentum drives the tool through the wood with a minimal expenditure of energy — important when you have a few hundred of these to complete.

Completed pins
(7) Completed pins

7.) I usually taper the first 2″ or so of the pin. You do not need to be overly concerned with trying to make the pins look like a sharpened pencil. You just need to knock off the corners to help guide the pin through the draw-bored joint.  Anything beyond that is to suit the design aesthetic you are going for. (Some folks will want to cut the ends off a pin in the house, so all the more reason to only do what you need to do with them)

Foreground -- 3/4" Hard Maple Try Pins; Background 7/8" White Oak Treenails
(8) Foreground — 3/4″ Hard Maple Try Pins; Background 7/8″ White Oak Treenails

8.) Sit back and enjoy your work. Take a deep breath and repeat steps 1-7 all over again to make try pins. Try pins are slightly thinner pins used when test fitting your timber frame. I make them from hard maple for two reasons — I can visually differentiate them from the oak and the smooth hard maple is easily removed when the test fitting is complete. For this frame using 7/8″ Oak pins I make the try pins from 3/4″ hard maple stock. They are made the same way as their larger brethren.

Full buckets of pins
Full buckets of pins

Why are they octagons?

By making a 7/8″ octagon pin and driving it into a 7/8″ round hole the corners will bite into the wood and keep the the pin securely seated.  (The diagonals across the 7/8″ octagon are slightly longer than 7/8″.) This is why you want to use smaller try-pins during test fitting, this way you are not deforming/stretching the holes before the frame is raised.

Driving in the pegs
Driving in the pegs

Tips for a high quality timber framing pin:

  • Use kiln dried pins with a green wood frame. Use green pins with a dried frame
  • I use most often use White Oak pins with green Eastern White Pine frames
  • I use Hard Maple Try Pins during test fittings (try pins should be 1/8″ smaller than your final pins)
  • Octagon your pin stock so that it properly bites into the joint
  • Taper the ends of your pins so they will easily enter the draw bored joints
  • Don’t stress too much about the tapering
  • Avoid the machine turned pins — I dislike the look, the cost (~$2 each), holding power, fact that they are not historical etc
Many pegs in a timber frame
Many pegs in a timber frame

Where can I learn more about timber framing?

  • Join the Timber Framer’s Guild (www.tfguild.org) and read the many good publications they have
  • Read any of the books by Jack Sobon, Ted Benson or Ed Levin on the topic of Timber Framing
  • Take a class in timber framing at The North Bennet Street School (with Rich Friberg or me), or at the Heartwood School in Western MA

The next time you are in a barn or timber framed building I hope that you will take a moment to examine the pins holding the joinery together.

-Bill

Hewing Bench Revisited (Already)

After living with my new hewing bench for a few weeks I finally got around to using the other half of the log. I’m glad things worked out this way as I made some modest improvements based on our time together.

Original bench on the right, revised model on the left
Original bench on the right, revised model on the left

The original bench was fairly solid — it could hold me standing on it and didn’t bounce around when I would strike it in a downward motion — but when I’d do something heavy and lateral I could feel what felt like a tiny bit of flex in the the legs.

Turning thicker legs
Turning thicker legs

At the time I ripped down a 2×3 to make the legs roughly sized to the 1″ ship auger bit which was the largest I had on hand, but I worried about the 1-1/8″ legs being too spindly. The mental image of the legs being too spindly haunted me, so for this second time out I decided to rectify that issue.

Removing the bark from the half log
Removing the bark from the half log

Improvements:

  • Thicker legs (1-1/2″ square) with a more pronounced shoulders (this way the legs don’t add to any unnecessary wedging/splitting pressure and no matter how much hammering takes place on top of the bench the legs are maxed out in how deep they will go into the top of the bench)
  • Legs splayed in both directions to be that much more stable
Leveling the legs
Leveling the legs

Beyond the modest improvements called out above, I otherwise built it the same way as the first hewing bench. (Wedged tenons, wax sealed end grain, leveled legs etc)

Completed benches. They can also work well as a pair of saw horses.
Completed benches. They can also work well as a pair of saw horses.

The Verdict:
The new bench is rock solid and will be a workhorse in the shop. The new legs are nice and stiff. Having a pair of these benches in the shop has already come in handy as you’ll see in the next post.

Take care,
-Bill

Turned Cherry Bowl

In woodworking we often spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to make things rectilinear. Most trees I see do not have a lot of square edges on them to start yet many woodworkers have trouble thinking in the round.  Lately I’ve been doing some more green woodworking and wood turning and have been enjoying the explorations of different forms and techniques. When turning free form work I love how the wood speaks to me and tells me what shape it would like to be.

The cherry bowl below was a change from the very traditional colonial forms and delicate/thin shapes I spend a lot of time working with. I wanted to make a deep bowl with simple lines to let the grain and color speak for itself. I think mentally I was picturing something Asian inspired, though this piece could be at home on a very traditional table.

Completed bowl
Completed bowl

Recently I had a weekend out in the shop and turned this bowl as a thank-you gift for a good friend. Below is a quick chronicle of the process:

Bowl blank cut out on band saw and mounted to faceplate
Bowl blank cut out on band saw and mounted to faceplate

I had a nice bit of 16/4 Cherry in my shop for a long waiting for it’s time to transform into a bowl. Using a compass I marked out the largest circle I could get out of the blank, cut it roughly round on the band saw and mounted it to a faceplate for the lathe.

Turned outside of the bowl.
Turned outside of the bowl.

Once mounted on the headstock I turned the bowl round and formed the exterior shape of the bowl. For this bowl I wanted to try something different, so rather than turning a tenon which would decrease the external depth of bowl I could get from the blank I relieve the bottom of the bowl so that the bowl chuck could expand to hold the bowl rather than clamping down on a round tenon.

Bowl reversed and in the bowl chuck
Bowl reversed and in the bowl chuck

Once I got the outside of the bowl shaped the way I wanted it, I reversed the bowl and mounted it in the bowl chuck. Next I  hollow out the bowl being careful to not go too deep and blow out the bottom or sides of the bowl.

Applying the finish while on the lathe
Applying the finish while on the lathe

With the bowl still on the lathe I was able to apply finish to the bowl which helps speed up the process. As the bowl gets polished up, you can really see how the figure of the wood pops.

Close up detail
Close up detail

This bowl is finished with tung oil and wax.

Grain detail of the turned Cherry Bowl
Grain detail of the turned Cherry Bowl

Freshly turned the cherry looks pretty light on top of my maple bench, but with time and exposure to daylight it will darken up nicely and take on the warmer color you expect from cherry.

Bottom Detail
Bottom Detail

I learned to turn from Alan Lacer and Rich Friberg and one thing they both taught me was to add little details to surprise or delight folks who took the time to inspect what you made. On the bottom of this bowl I varied the surface under the bowl to give more visual and tactile interest.

Turned Cherry Bowl
Turned Cherry Bowl

I  am happy with the results and hope this sturdy little bowl has a good life.

Take care,
-Bill

The Humble Hewing Bench

If you’ve watched Roy Underhill on the Woodwright’s Shop with any regularity then no doubt you’ve seen him using a hewing bench. It’s a great little bench made from half a log on 4 modest legs.  Roy’s used it for hewing, trimming, holding, sitting and many other common shop uses. It’s a project you can complete in an afternoon and will serve you well for many years in the shop.

Why would anyone really want this rough little bench?

If you do any sort of green woodworking it’s nice to have a place you can quickly hew a blank in the shop with a hatchet or similar small ax. When the ax hits the long grain of the bench it will not dig in the way it would if you were using the end grain of a stump or similar log section. (It also protects the reference surfaces of your real workbench) For tapering the end of treenails, splitting wood or roughing a green turning blank  it has been a priceless addition to the workshop.  It also makes a nice place to sit when people visit the shop. 😉

How do I make one of these benches?

Like any good Roy anecdote it starts with “First you find a tree….”

Splitting the oak log with metal wedges and a heavy leather faced mallet
Splitting the oak log with metal wedges and a heavy leather faced mallet

In this case I took a 12-15″ wide and 30″ long section of white oak from a large tree I recently felled in my yard. This tree was over 130 years old so the growth rings are nice and tight. Using metal wedges and a large leather faced mallet I use for my timber framing I split the log in half.

Watch to make sure the split runs the way you want down the log
Watch to make sure the split runs the way you want down the log

If the wedges alone cannot do the whole job of splitting for you, a froe can help it along.

Log split in half. You can clearly see the heartwood and the sapwood
Log split in half. You can clearly see the heartwood and the sapwood

After letting the slabs sit for a few days, it was time to de-bark the logs. If you don’t have a dedicated de-barking spud you can use any tough metal roughly chisel shaped tool or ax. In this case I used a 16lb post hold digger as shown below.

De-barking the log on the right. A metal post hole digging bar makes a good impromptu barking spud.
De-barking the log on the right. A metal post hole digging bar makes a good impromptu barking spud.

Back again in the shop I squared up the edges of the log with a hatchet. Being a green piece of wood this razor sharp ax made quick work of it.

Square up the edges with a hatchet
Square up the edges with a hatchet

I flipped the log over and removed any remaining bark.

Remove any remaining bark with the hatchet
Remove any remaining bark with the hatchet

Now time for the legs…

Ideally you want to split out some 1.5 inch diameter legs. In my case it was snowing and I didn’t have suitable wood on hand to do that, plus the largest ship auger bit I had on hand was 1″. I ripped down some nice straight grained 2x3s I had on hand to 1 1/4″ by 30″ long. I put them on the lathe and turned down the top 6″ to 1″ diameter. I then used a block plane to chamfer the edges.

Split or rip some leg stock. Drill holes with an auger and set your legs
Split or rip some leg stock. Drill holes with an auger and set your legs

Using a ship auger bit I bored a through hole into the log to allow the legs to splay a bit in both directions. After you set the first leg you’ll want to visually reference that first leg when drilling the next leg. Repeat this process for all 4 legs. After test fitting you’ll want to cut a kerf in the end of each tenon and re-install the legs. Make sure those kerfs are perpendicular to the grain of the log so you don’t split it with the wedges. Then glue and wedge the tenons. If you have ever built a windsor chair, this is a cruder version of the same process you’d use to fit the legs and level the feet.

Test fit on a level surface like a table saw
Test fit on a level surface like a table saw

With the legs installed I put the bench on a known level surface, in this case my table saw. Using a compass or similar tool mark higher up on the legs and cut them where you marked them. Then chamfer the ends of the feet and you’re almost done.

Mark what you want to remove to reduce the height and level the feet
Mark what you want to remove to reduce the height and level the feet

Next I applied some end grain sealer (from Land Ark/Heritage Finishes) to reduce the likelihood of splitting in my heated shop. I also trimmed off the wedges and tenons.

Seal the end grain to reduce checking
Seal the end grain to reduce checking

Now the bench is read for use in the shop. This bench, with it’s delicate looking legs, can hold me standing on it, so it should have no problem handling my in shop hewing needs.

Trim the leg stumps and the wedges
Trim the leg stumps and the wedges

Shown here is a Gransfors Bruks hand made Swedish ax. This carpenter’s hatchet is my goto ax for small trimming work and is sharpened to the point of being able to shave with it. The poll (the other business end) of this ax is hardened and can be used like a hammer. The handle is carefully tapered to fit in the hand and without looking you know when your hand is at the end of the handle. The notch under the bit allows you to use this ax much like a large chisel or plane and can yield impressive results. I used this to quickly level bits of the bench surface.

Enjoy your new hewing bench
Enjoy your new hewing bench

For short cash, a few tools and an afternoon in the shop this project is well worth the effort.

Take care,
-Bill

Working in the round…

Bowl blanks waiting to be turned
Bowl blanks waiting to be turned

Yesterday I had a rare day off and some time to work in my shop. With the holidays and cold weather fast approaching I am trying to get through my mile long TODO list. One of the items on my list was to make good use of some turning blanks I had on hand. (Last weekend I cleaned up the basement and organized my wood rack so now things are nice and neat)

Mallet blank
Mallet blank

Before tearing into a bowl blank I wanted to warm up with a spindle project and I’ve had a nice mallet blank sitting in my tool rack for the last year (literally).

Turning the mallet
Turning the mallet

You may recognize this style mallet from an earlier post I made last year on my blog here. The handle is made from cherry and the striking face is quarter-sawn hard maple. The concept here is that a mallet made from a single piece of wood usually loses some of the long grain sections that come flying off over its service life. By using quarter-sawn wood on all 4 sides you are not exposing any of the grain that is likely going to fly off. This also assumes that the Titebond glue joint is stronger than any movement in the handle.  We’ll see how well this one lasts in my own shop. (The first one was a gift for a friend)

Finished Mallet
Finished Mallet

A few changes I made in the design is I made the top a tiny bit concave so I can stand the mallet on its end and I simplified the handle a bit as it will likely have a hard life in the shop. I do however really like how the bead makes a pattern with the contrasting wood species.

Turning tools in the rack
Turning tools in the rack

Now that the tools are all warmed up, it’s time to start making some bowls.

Bowl blank mounted on a face plate
Bowl blank mounted on a face plate

After roughing the blanks round on the band saw I secure the blank to a faceplate using good quality wood screws. (The screw holes disappear as that wood is removed from the inside of the bowl)

Bowl blank ready for turning
Bowl blank ready for turning

The first step is to turn the bottom of the bowl. I elected to make a chunky Asian feeling bowl from a small walnut blank I had on hand.

Turning the bottom and making a foot for the bowl chuck to grab onto
Turning the bottom and making a foot for the bowl chuck to grab onto

The bowl chuck grabs onto the foot (or base) of the bowl and allows me to hollow out the inside of the bowl.

Hollowing the bowl, knee deep in shavings
Hollowing the bowl, ankle deep in shavings

You know it’s a good day at the lathe when you are completely covered in shavings and standing ankle deep in shavings.

Hollowed out bowl, finishing the edge detail
Hollowed out bowl, finishing the edge detail

Once I got the wall thickness and profile into a form I liked, I apply the finish right on the lathe. This allows for easier buffing etc.

Finished bowl
Finished bowl

I liked the figure of this piece and how it came out.

Underside of bowl
Underside of bowl

The bowl is finished with Tung Oil and Wax and likely will be a place for my wife to put her keys or watch or similar items at the end of a day.

Turned walnut bowl. Finished with tung oil and wax
Turned walnut bowl. Finished with tung oil and wax

On a cold day like today, I hope that you will get out to the workshop and make something new.  Time for me to get back into the shop myself….

Take care,
-Bill