Tag Archives: Hard Maple

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

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

Getting a grip on a solid mallet

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.

You can never have too many clamps, especially when clamping up a blank wherein you do not want to see any glue lines.
You can never have too many clamps, especially when clamping up a blank wherein you do not want to see any glue lines. Plus it takes on the look of some modern art work. 😉

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.

Blanks ready to be turned
Blanks ready to be turned

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.

First Mallet Turned, Next to the blank
First Mallet Turned, Next to the blank

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…

Completed Mallet
Completed Mallet

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.

End of mallet with finish applied
End of mallet with finish applied

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.

Completed Mallet
Completed Mallet

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.

 

Why don’t you sit down and have something to eat? — Kitchen Bench

I fired up the way-back machine again to visit another project from the past — a solid hard maple kitchen bench. This was an interesting commission in that it had to fit a specific alcove in a new kitchen, stand up to life with a busy family and provide some additional storage. The other challenge was tying into the kitchen, keeping a shaker look and incorporating details from the room like beadboard.

To protect the fingers of small children from the large lid I chose to use toybox/safety hinges which do not allow the lid to slam down. The unit also lives right in front of a large baseboard heating element so the bottom (inner shelf) of the bench’s storage area had sufficient spacing between the members and clearance off the ground to allow the heat to rise around the unit and leave sufficient room for the wood to move without checking or breaking.

The piece is constructed of hard maple and finished with water based poly and hand rubbed wax. The beadboard was solid maple as well and all made by hand and ship lapped — that was a LOT of work, but much better than pre-made or pressed panels.