The post below is an expanded version of a recent post I made for my friends at Popular Woodworking which can be found here. For the sake of continuity on the series related to Sloyd on this blog I am providing an extended look at this topic.
In honor of American Independence day this past week, why not do something that makes you a little more independent?
When I started out woodworking I’d watch television shows and read magazines pushing all kinds of fancy new tools and think ‘If only I had a shop full of those tools I could build anything’. I spent a long time saving my pennies, reading the reviews and trying out the latest tools. The models seemed to change with the seasons. New project? Time for a new bit or jig or gizmo. Realizing that earlier craftsmen didn’t have access to all of these modern wonders yet they produced far more intricate work, I went in search of the hand cut dovetail and the arts and mysteries of our ancient craft.
I quickly found that power equipment was not broadening my capabilities as much as it was like an anchor tethering me to a limited band of work and taking up valuable shop space. I also didn’t like wearing the requisite dust mask, hearing protection and safety glasses all the time — it was like a mini sensory deprivation chamber. When I asked master cabinetmaker Dan Faia (NBSS) what he does for dust protection in his own shop, his succinct reply was “I never coughed up a curl“. That pithy remark reflected the very different view traditional woodworkers have — without all the big machines, the dust and noise, you can focus on the work, invest in a smaller set of high quality tools that should last a lifetime and enjoy the process as much as the result.
If you are looking to downsize your powered shop, get into more traditional woodworking or just starting out the questions that often come up are —
What is a good minimum set of tools I need to get started? How much is this all going to cost me?
In researching the Sloyd tool cabinet shown above I found some old tool catalogs from Chandler and Barber of Boston (a primary supplier of Sloyd paraphernalia including the Larsson benches etc ) including one from 1900 complete with a listing of and pricing for all the tools in the cabinet. According to the Federal Reserve’s website $1 in 1900 that should be worth about $27 today. A straight monetary conversion doesn’t paint a complete picture since some tools that were common back then are a specialty today and vice versa so I also included a column showing what an equivalent quality tool would cost new today.
In 1900, just as it was when I was a student over 100 years later, the view is that it is better to buy a quality tool once that will last a lifetime than buy something of poor quality which will not serve you well in your work. Keep that in mind as you review the list — since the tools were not the cheapest back then and surely are not the cheapest today. But with this modest set of tools you can build an amazing array of projects just as many ‘Sloyders’ (Sloyd school students) have done before us.
Original Price in Today’s $
2′ Folding Wood Rule
Bi-fold Rule from Garret Wade
6″ Metal Blade Try Square
Swanson Try Square On Amazon
Robert Larson Marking Gauge on Amazon
Shinwa (Japanese) Lee Valley or Amazon
Pair Dividers, 5 inch
Starrett 4″ or 6″ on Amazon
Screw Driver, 4 inch
Marples, from Tools For Working Wood
13 oz. Claw Hammer
Stanley 13 oz Hammer, Walmart
Block and Rabbet Plane
Lie Nielsen Block Rabbet Plane
Bailey Jack Plane
Stanley Bailey Jack, from Rockler
Cross-cut Saw, 20 inch
Pax Handsaw, from Lee Valley
Splitting Saw (Rip), 20 inch
Pax Handsaw, from Lee Valley
Japanese Keyhole Saw, from Lee Valley
Firmer Chisel, 1/4 inch
Henry Taylor, from Traditional Woodworker
Firmer Chisel, 3/4 inch
Henry Taylor, from Traditional Woodworker
Firmer Gouge, 3/8 inch
Henry Taylor, from Traditional Woodworker
Firmer Gouge, 3/4 inch
Henry Taylor, from Traditional Woodworker
French Bit Brace, from Lee Valley
Jennings Pattern Bits, 1/4,1/2,3/4in.
Auger Bits, from Traditional Woodworker
2 Gimlet Bits
7 Piece Set, from Garret Wade
Driver Adapter Bit, from Lee Valley
Hand Countersink, from Lee Valley
Stanley Spoke Shave, from Rockler
Brad Awl, from Lee Valley
Stanley Nail Set, from Amazon
Half Round File
Nicholson Half Round File, from Home Depot
Norton Combo Oil Stone, from Amazon
Goldenrod Oil Can, from Amazon
Pair Combination Pliers
Crescent H26N, from Amazon
Titebond, from Amazon
Crown Bolt brad and nail assortment, from Amazon
Maxcraft woodscrew assortment, from Amazon
If your wallet still cringes at the totals above, fear not, for the totals above are for all brand new tools. The one luxury we have in our modern day of hand tools falling out of favor is the large secondhand market where you might be able to scoop up some great tools — possibly even some of the actual tools that once inhabited these cabinets for the original price in today’s dollars or less.
So before you break out the barbeque, give some thought to how you can free yourself from a mountain of modern tools and invest in a modest set of traditional hand tools that will get you started on the path to more enjoyable woodworking.
P.S. Extended Content For Readers of My Blog:
Note, the table above is expanded to show what sources I pulled my current pricing data from — which may be controversial to some — but was a best effort to identify similar makes, brands, qualities and countries of origin to be the same as what was in the original cabinet. For items no longer made in the U.S.A. I tried to find the next closest replacement.
P.P.S Why did the relative price of new tools go up so much?
This is a topic we’ll explore more in a future post, but for all the armchair economists looking to convert see what a dollar was worth in the past, this site from the FED was interesting.
Recently we’ve talked a bit about the Sloyd Tool Cabinet and it’s contents — but with all these tools on hand and a book full of models to build, where do you actually build them?
I’d like to introduce you to a slightly more famous cousin to the Sloyd Tool Cabinet — the ‘Larsson Improved Adjustable Workbench’ or more commonly known as a‘Sloyd Bench’.
This workbench was designed by Gustaf Larsson the principal of the Boston Sloyd School in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and manufactured by Chandler and Barber to Larsson’s specifications. The bench was the result of Larsson’s experiences at Naas, at the Boston Sloyd School and at the North Bennet Street Industrial School. It draws upon design elements found in traditional continental European benches but was scaled to the needs of a classroom setting and had to accommodate both children and adults.
How do we know so much about this bench?
In some ways it is fairly well documented in old tool catalogs, like those of Chandler and Barber — the premier supplier of ‘Sloyd System’ benches, tools and supplies and in other advertising. In addition, a fair number of these benches still survive which is a testament to how well they were built and how many of them were produced. While the North Bennet Street Industrial School catered to training immigrants and younger students in its earliest days, the Boston Sloyd School focused on teaching the teachers of Sloyd. Teachers would come to the school, learn how to teach Sloyd to students and then go back to their municipalities to teach Sloyd to the local population. So with diplomas in hand these new teachers often wanted to order the same or very similar setups to what they learned on. This was the genesis of many manual training programs in the United States.
Above you can see one of the many ads Chandler and Barber took out in Sloyd related publications — in this case the ‘Sloyd Record’ which was the alumni newsletter of the Boston Sloyd School. Chandler and Barber seemed to be the most prolific dealer in this space, but just like today there was a lot of competition. You’ll see ads from Hammacher Schlemmer (they used to specialize mostly in tools and hardware back then), lumber dealers, publishers and other similar companies trying to get a piece of the apparently semi-lucrative Sloyd pie.
The competition got so fierce that some of the Chandler and Barber felt it was worth mentioning how others got burned trying to save a few dollars going with a competitor’s bench of inferior quality. Don’t be a part of that sorry lot…..
What made this bench so special?
Beyond being the brand name bench associated with Sloyd pioneer Gustaf Larsson the bench did have some novel features. If you look carefully in the picture above you can see a set of hinges on the cross member of the base (near where you see the word Pat.Aplc..). Why would anyone want hinges on their bench? Essentially you could take the top of the bench off, flip up or down those blocks, re-install the bench top and be able to accommodate both children and adults in the same workspace. Over the years several models of bench were associated with Larsson’s name, including the popular No. 5 model shown here, another larger model designed for 2 students to share a workspace, and even a clamp on vise which could be used for light work when attached to a sturdy table.
Beyond being a reasonably stout bench, it could be ordered with wood or metal vise screws, a few variants of removable tool rack (which made it easy for instructors to see if all the tools were put back in their proper place and in good condition), vise and dog hole configurations and similar tweaks.
During my time at NBSS over the years I’ve had the chance to work at some of these benches a few of which seemed to survive in the darker corners of the workshop department. At the time I didn’t realize the history of what I working on — I thought it was just another old workbench which had seen better days and was propped up to accommodate taller students. At this sort of old bench I first learned to layout and cut a proper dovetail and it was well suited for the task and you could fit a fair number of them in a modest sized classroom. The benches were commonly bolted down into the floor which made up for the lack of mass when compared to a full sized bench. As a joiner these days I am used to working from a much larger bench as I work on a bigger scale, but if you are tight on space or find a good deal on a used model, it would be a great place to start on your path to more enjoyable woodworking.
In your travels, if you see any of these benches, tool cabinets or Chandler and Barber catalogs from the early 1900s, I’d be interested to see or hear about your findings here on the blog or via email.
“Sloyd is tool work so arranged and employed as to stimulate and promote vigorous, intelligent self-activity for a purpose which the worker recognizes as good” — Gustaf Larsson, Principal of the Boston Sloyd School (1906)
To explore the world of Sloyd training is to roll up your sleeves and get some time at the workbench building your skills. A core component of Sloyd based training is building a series of models which increase in scope and skills required to execute them. Let’s explore one of those skill building exercises from the series of models described in Gustaf Larsson’s 1906 book “Elementary Sloyd and Whittling: With Drawings and Working Directions”.
We’ll take a look at the ‘Match Striker’:
A Match Striker?!
Yep, a key tenet of these models is for the students to make something they can use in their day to day life. Living with items you make yourself will help further refine your ability to judge the quality and completeness of your own work. But why would a child want this? 1906 was a different time — maybe after a long day of 4th grade schooling the students liked to go home for a quick smoke? Probably not. Most likely this item was affixed near a fireplace or stove and provided a nice place to strike a match from — rather than directly on the mantel etc.
While the models were designed to be generally completed in order, the sloyd teacher was encouraged to experiment a bit and design models that would appeal to the actual students in the class. While it is possible that someone could build all the models from a Sloyd book or program and still not be much of a woodworker, the physical and life lessons learned were always considered to be more important than the accuracy of the model though clean and quality work was certainly the goal to strive for. Even if woodworking was not the students’ eventual vocation, it certainly helped them to judge the quality of and respect the work that went into this kind of work.
Above is the description of the exercise we’ll work through today…
I started off by sharpening my Sloyd knife (The Hyde Sloyd Knife is actually still made in the USA but takes a bit of sharpening to be useful) and practice a bit on some eastern white pine scrap. Tip: When whittling you want to use the full length of the blade taking a shearing cut and generally cut away from yourself.
After some practice it was time to move on to the real stock. In this case the only thing I had handy that was 1/8″ thick was some walnut I bought years ago and never found a good use for — unfortunately walnut is not great for whittling — so I’d recommend Whitewood, Eastern White Pine or Basswood as better choices for the new woodworker.
Crosscut the blank to length, then rip it to rough width. With a block plane, trim the piece to width.
Next up is laying out the design using a compass and a square as called out in the plans.
To cut the semi-circle you can use the sloyd knife to do all the work while holding the piece in your hands and whittling. If whittling is not your thing you can rough out the curve using a jeweler’s saw or fine coping saw and then clean up the edge using the sloyd knife.
Once you are happy with the general shape you’ll want to take a sanding block and fine sandpaper to break the edges.
At the center of the semi-circles you’ll want to make a hole using a brad awl. In this case I am used a chisel edge brad awl. It drills a tiny hole by simply applying downward pressure and rotating your wrist back and forth until you get to through the piece or do the depth you want. (Note: I am used a shim to protect the bench surface) These holes are used to mount the striker to the wall or some similar surface.
To complete the project, apply a coat of wax and glue a piece of ‘No. 1’ Fine Sandpaper to the surface. After the glue dries this match scratcher is ready to be used. Time to break out the matches and celebrate….
Turns out that most modern wood kitchen matches will NOT light on sandpaper or similar surfaces. So you need to either buy some ‘strike anywhere’ matches or find another use for this model. Don’t worry, if you flip back a few pages in the Larsson’s book you’ll see the the first model was a ‘pencil sharpener’ which is effectively a square strip of wood with the same sandpaper glued to it — and you’d rub a traditional wood pencil on this to sharpen/adjust the point. So now I have a very fancy yet simple pencil sharpener which will live out in the shop.
Wow, that was a lot of work for a modest item — yep, but the item was not the point — it’s a side effect of the intellectual and physical exercise. I am now able to whittle a nice curve and learned a new way to sharpen a pencil on the job site if I need something more refined than a crude chisel tip on a carpenter’s pencil made with a utility knife.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about Sloyd, please check out some of my other posts here and you can read Gustaf Larsson’s “Elementary Sloyd and Whittling: With Drawings and Working Directions” here. If you try out a sloyd model based exercise on your own, please share your experiences here.
I recently had the opportunity to make a post to the Popular Woodworking online community which is edited by Dan Farnbach the PWM online editor.
Below is an extended version of that first post:
Bill Rainford is a young and driven craftsman in whom I think you’ll find a lot in common. Voraciously self-taught at first, Bill went on to graduate from the Preservation Carpentry Program at one of New England’s premier craft schools. He now teaches workshops at that school (North Bennet Street) and serves as adjunct faculty at the Boston Architectural College, in addition to developing his own body of commissioned work, building his blog and holding down a day job in software. I want to welcome Bill to the community as an occasional guest writer. He’s going to bring us a little history and several techniques from his area of expertise, which he describes as traditional joinery –though Bill’s skills do not fit neatly in just one category.
We may also do a project plan over the course of the next few months. Please welcome Bill by reading this newsletter and then visiting his blog! Of particular interest is Bill’s recent collaboration with Roy Underhill – more on that at the bottom of this e-mail.
What Sloyd Did For Me and My Woodworking Apprenticeship
Part of what made my training in preservation carpentry so rewarding was the way in which it was taught. We followed a system of educational handwork derived from what was originally developed at Nääs in Sweden and known as the ‘Educational Sloyd System.’ Sloyd is the Swedish word for ‘craft’ and most commonly associated with skilled manual craft work. In the early years of the school in the late 19th century, there was a strong need in Boston and America as a whole to help new immigrants learn the skills needed to acclimate to this new country and develop skills to support oneself. This Sloyd System trained students by building a series of useful models/items each of which introduced basic tools and skills, built confidence to tackle more advanced work, and fostered the ability to evaluate your own work and push yourself to reach new levels of accomplishment.
When Otto Aaron Salomon wrote ‘The Theory of Educational Sloyd‘ (page 7) he described the goals one should strove for in teaching and learning within this system.
The focus was not simply the ‘utilitarian aim’ :
To directly give dexterity to the use of tools
To execute exact work
There was also a larger, more ‘formative aim’ to the education:
To instill a taste for, and love of, labour in general
Inspire a respect for rough, honest, bodily labour
Develop independence and self-reliance
Train habits of order, exactness, cleanliness and neatness
Train the eye and sense of form. To give a general dexterity of hand and to develop touch
To accustom attention, industry, perseverance and patience
To promote the development of physical powers
The goal of all this training was not just to help find a job, but to help round out the person. Students may never pick up a tool again, but they will forever have the knowledge of how to make and evaluate things with your hand and your eye and appreciate the labor of others – something I often feel is lacking in members of my generation.
Students in this sort of program would often start with a simple block of wood and a Sloyd knife and learn to make controlled cuts. From this modest exercise they will absorb 3 of the most important lessons a woodworker will ever learn:
Cutting with the grain
Cutting against the grain
From this most basic of exercises students are able to make usable objects like a pencil sharpener, letter opener, penholder etc. which they are able to keep, evaluate and use. As the training progresses the students will have more freedom to implement their own designs and apply the skills they have learned.
Fast Forward to Today
This sort of learning by doing, ability to be self critical, self-sufficient, and continually push oneself is still present at the school. In the current programs at NBSS students work under the supervision of a master craftsman who will start with the basics and guide students through their training. By the end of the 1, 2, or 3-year program, depending on major, students will demonstrate proficiency in many tasks, and while there is always more to learn they will be well situated to seek out and tackle the next big project.
After graduating from my training, I remained interested in Sloyd and did further research on the topic. I learned that many of the benches and hanging tool cabinets designed and produced for early Sloyd programs were based on the designs of Gustaf Larsson of The Boston Sloyd School and produced locally in Boston. Some of the benches are still in use by the school and you can find some second hand every now and then on eBay, but the hanging tool cabinet was news to me.
Shortly after learning about the Larsson tool cabinet I made a serendipitous discovery at a local pawn shop in New Hampshire – I actually found one of these cabinets and in very good shape given its age. All the hardware was intact, and only the front door was rebuilt. It was clear that this cabinet was used for a very long time by someone who cared about it, as the replacement door inherited the hardware and layout of the original.
I am working on a reproduction of this piece, and will be presenting parts of that project here and on the Popular Woodworking blog. Future posts will include a bit on how the cabinet was made, interesting details on the tools that once inhabited this cabinet, as well as notes and prices on modern equivalents. If there is interest I will also make some explorations into some of the Sloyd exercises which can help improve your own hand skills.
Roy Underhill is a fellow Sloyd enthusiast and has been inspirational to me in my research. I caught up with him this week and he offered even more wisdom on the topic, saying:
“Everyone human likes to move, so we came up with yoga, dance and sport to make movement more engaging and expanding. So too with woodworking and Sloyd. The exercises of Sloyd can bring every modern woodworker along a thoughtful path of liberating discipline, of progress and accomplishment — and reconnection with the good feelings of our ancient craft.”
If you’d like to join me in re-connecting with the joy of our ancient craft of woodworking I will be taking some classes at Roy’s Underhill’s ‘The Woodwright’s School’ in Pittsboro NC this July 9-12. The first class is Making a Traditional Jointer plane with Bill Anderson and the second class is Making a Traditional Metal Namestamp with Peter Ross. Both of these classes are a great way to learn some basic Sloyd skills and experience the satisfaction of using a high quality tool you made yourself for years to come. If you’d like more information on one or both of these classes, please check out my post on this topic here. If you are interested in attending, please do not wait to sign up — there is a minimum number of students needed to sign up by mid-June in order for the classes to run.
Are you interested in meeting and taking a woodworking class with Roy Underhill of the Woodwright’s Shop and Woodwright’s School? (Along with Peter Ross the former master of the Colonial Williamsburg Anderson Forge and Bill Anderson a master plane maker – both of which have been on Roy’s show)
I talked to Roy and the guys and they were willing to do a special run of the two workshops below on the following dates*: Arrive July 8th class 9-12th leave the 13th at Roy’s School in Pittsboro NC
* (Given the very long drive from NH down to NC I wanted to try and get a few days in a row down at Roy’s school to get the most I could out of the trip, and I am very appreciative they were willing to do so, but we need a few more people to sign up in order to run it) So if you are interested in one or both of these sessions I encourage you to sign up soon.
3 Day class $425 + $115 materials (beech + plane iron etc) to make a massive single iron jointer plane
Total: $725 Tuition and materials for 4 days + your own food and lodging. I will be driving down (11hour drive from NH) and if folks from NBSS or the general Boston area are interested in joining me I can carpool. Hotels in the area are $55-100/night. Info from Roy on what it’s like to take a class at his school can be found here.
I also hear there is a good pizzeria behind the school that Roy has been known occasionally have a drink with the students after class and above the school is an old time used tool shop that has similar stuff to what we hunt for at the Nashua Tool show.
If folks are interested, we could also take an extra day to go see nearby Old Salem, which is home to the Museum of Southern Decorative Arts and a Moravian living history museum much like Colonial Williamsburg. http://www.oldsalem.org/ It’s kind of a crazy adventure, but I think it would be a memorable experience.
For more info, please contact me or sign up at Roy’s site:
You can reach Bill Rainford at: (My firstname ‘dot’ lastname at facebook.com) — or via my blog or my linkedin page
“Warning: Sharp chisels are dangerous and should be handled with care. Dull chisels are even more dangerous and should be sharpened.”
This timeless advice comes deep in the small print of the little card that comes with many Lie-Nielsen tools. Much like a shower or brushing your teeth, sharpening is a regular daily routine for most traditional woodworkers, and while it is amazing to see the lengths we go to be sharp, many of us often relegate this task to the end of the bench or tiny bits of counter space here and there.
Why all the fuss about about where to sharpen? How do I avoid this ‘dangerous’ situation?
For many years I was sharpening wherever I could find a bit of space yet knowing there was a better way to go about this. After moving last year I finally got around to re-arranging and re-imagining my workshop space and decided to do something about where I sharpen. Several years ago I went through a phase where I built a lot of New Yankee Workshop projects meant to organize the workshop and at that time I bought the supplies to build Norm’s Sharpening Station but never got around to building this one last project — I even had the top all laminated and ready to go since before the move. Now as I looked to make more room in my shop and move my 4’x8′ sheet goods cart out of the shop I needed to clear off that extra plywood and get some more storage space for all my sharpening paraphernalia. Now that I’ve finished this project I don’t know how I lived without it for so long. I *finally* have all my sharpening gear in one place, I have a spot I can quickly sharpen at and get back to work. I also have waited way too long to finally have an actual paper towel holder in the shop — yes the simple pleasures in life — like not having sawdust all over a clean sheet from the roll that was bouncing around the shop.
The point? Keeping your tools sharp is a vital part of doing good work, so the investment in a dedicated sharpening space and a couple of weekends is a great way to keep your edges keen, your points sharp and your paper towels clean (especially if you don’t want to get caught stealing paper towels from the kitchen 😉 ). Happy Sharpening….
Cut and label pieces
Gluing up the carcass
Installing the drawer guides
Finishing the Drawers
Fitting the drawers
Dual paper towel holders — one for regular paper towels, one for shop towels
Towel racks in use
Completed sharpening station with drawers open and step extended
The bench planes and chisels are not the only tools that need regular sharpening…your handsaws will also benefit from a little TLC.
Below is a nice vintage saw sharpening vice I picked up years ago from a cabinetmaker in Newton who was retiring and moving south. It was in very good shape and had some very graceful lines in the casting, but the little vise screw was designed to only close up to about 1″ so I could never use it on my 3/4″ thick assembly table unless I wanted to shim it up with an extra block of wood. It now found its home on the edge of my sharpening station where it’s generally out of the way when I am sharpening on the stones.
When looking for a saw sharpening vise, make sure you pick one where the inner jaw faces are smooth, the center of the jaws are open in the center when not under pressure — this way it evenly applies pressure when holding your saws — and has a solid clamping action both on the saw and onto the bench. If you cannot find one of these old vices, you can make your own jaws from wood and use it in your bench vise or check out the modern version of this vice from Gramercy Tools.
Now that you have a place to hold your saw, it’s time to start sharpening. I used to have a random assortment of files I bought from various machinist’s chests, flea markets and used tool dealers over the years and I got by with that. The problem with that random assortment was if you wanted something just a little bigger or smaller or finer or at a different profile it was a lot of hunting around, I may not have what I was looking for and I do not believe all of them were necessarily meant for hand saw sharpening. Then a few weeks ago I saw Lee Valley started offering a Grobet Swiss files with a labeled tool roll and decided to give it a try. I’ve had other Grobet Swiss files in the past (for carving and similar applications) and been very happy with the quality.
So far it’s been a great little set and earned a place in my tool chest. I sprang for the ‘needle file’ which is used with very fine and progressive pitch saws and has a dedicated pocket in this tool roll. Online there are plenty of great articles on how to sharpen a saw so I won’t go into detail about how to do that here, but I will make a few high level suggestions. If you sharpen regularly and with a consistent motion you’ll likely have good results. If you have to joint and reset a saw, track down an old Stanley or similar saw set tool. I found an old one in the original box for < $10 and it looked almost new — these tools often do not see a ton of use, but when needed they work much better than the very old bending wrench style saw set.
A good mallet of often overlooked. All too often we settle for a store bought carving mallet or crude instrument we fashioned in a hurry and then live with for years. Before the holidays I decided is was time to make a nice larger mallet for myself and one for a friend. I wanted a mallet that was a little larger and heavier than the average.
I decided to make my new mallet out of cherry and hard maple as they are two of my favorite woods to work with, and I like they contrast they have with each other when finished. The hard maple (Same I used for my workbench) is hard, dense and wears well, and the cherry (From a curly cherry piece I had around the shop) has a nice even tone and finishes well.
In making this sort of mallet, the stock preparation work is more important than the actual turning and finishing. That is why its critical to get the mating surfaces planed dead flat and take the time to clamp it up tightly (don’t starve the joint of glue) but make sure you do not have gaps or you will have unsightly glue lines and a potentially weaker mallet.
Why would someone spend so much time and effort to make a fancy mallet you are only going to beat the heck out of?
If you’ve ever turned a mallet from a single piece of wood and used it for a while you’re likely to see parts of it eventually come flying off — but only from two sides. This leaves you with an unbalanced mallet which may not hit your chisel the way you want. Where quarter sawn grain is exposed the wood is mostly intact after years of use, but where long grain is exposed some hard hits can take advantage of the plane of weakness in the wood causing them to fly off. They break off much the way splitting a piece of wood with a froe separates the grain.
The good news is there is a way to avoid this…
By gluing up a mallet as you can see here the hard maple pieces are quarter sawn — so on all 4 sides of the finished mallet you have nice dense quarter sawn hardwood grain oriented in such a way that it should have a nice long service life even under harsh conditions — plus it’s pleasing to look at especially with contrasting woods.
Won’t it break apart with seasonal movement or use? I used Tite-Bond II for the glue which has been proven to be stronger than wood when used in long grain to long grain bonds. The center or handle piece of wood should be a well seasoned hardwood ideally rift sawn and known to be stable. I’ve seen many of these mallets get heavy shop for years and hold up very well. A similar mallet is often a regular project the cabinet and furniture making program at NBSS.
You should take the time to fit the handle to your hand and make it as austere or ornate as you see fit. I particularly like how the laminated structure of the blank results in nice contrasting areas like you see on the bead in the above photo. I do a lot of period work so I was thinking about the 18th century as I turned these mallets. Most of it is finished with the skew chisel and needed almost no sanding. The finish is tongue oil with a very light coat of wax only on the end grain and handle. I look forward to it providing years of solid service.
A stone building or home often conveyed a sense of lasting presence, wealth, and a connection to the many famous stone structures of antiquity that we so often try to emulate and incorporate into our architectural designs. So why not just build with stone in the first place?
The answer is usually economics — wood is a lot cheaper, easier to move and shape compared to stone — so if you could make your wooden home look like stone you’ll be keeping up with the Jones’ and not break the bank.
I just returned from a trip down to Washington D.C. where we also visited Mount Vernon — the home of George and Martha Washington with amazing views of the Potomac — and the most famous example of Feigned Rustication I am aware of.
What is Rustication?
Rustication is a term from the world of Masonry wherein the individual stones are squared off or beveled so as to accentuate the textured edges of each block. You can learn more about it on Wikipedia here. You can often see this feature on the lower and/or first levels of large masonry structures like banks and older stone office buildings. It provided a sense of grounding and provided a stark contrast to the smoother ashlar work on upper stories.
What is Feigned Rustication?
Feigned Rustication is the process of taking wood siding — carving/shaping it so that it looks like a series of rusticated stones, priming and painting it, and then when the paint is still wet covering it with fine sand so that the board takes on the color/shape/texture of stone.
Here is a close up view of this technique applied to the exterior siding and trim:
While not alchemy, this technique got the job done and from a distance it’s hard to tell the building is not made from stone until you get up close — and even then you have to know what you are looking at.
So while George and Martha Washington were generally quite wealthy during their time, they did make decisions that weighed materials vs. appearance vs. cost much the same way we do in our own homes today and stretched the dollar as much as they could. As you can see in the picture below, for secondary buildings they only applied this technique to the fronts of the buildings — around the corner you can see the siding reverts back to a nice beaded clapboard detail. You can also see some other more common faux finishes like artificial grain applied to some doors in the home — to make them look like expensive mahogany. This was a fairly common practice and not looked down upon the way some readers may be interpreting this.
Now that you’ve seen how we can transform wood into stone — were you fooled by the illusion? Are you going to work some similar alchemy on your own home’s exterior?
I highly recommend visiting Mount Vernon if you are in the Northern VA/Washington D.C. Area. You can find out more about this historic home, museum and grounds here.
In your travels if you find some other examples of Feigned Rustication, let me know here on the blog. (Another famous place with this treatment is Monticello also in Virgina)
A Joiner's Guide To Traditional Woodworking and Preservation