Full Chisel Blog

February 19, 2013

Clockmaker’s or Watchmaker’s Bow Lathe Plans

Also called a Turn or Fiddle Lathe and after several years and numerous requests I finally am finishing them and they will be ready for delivery soon and you can purchase them now.  Order Here

I posted about the lathe earlier, but things came up and it went to the back burner.  I have finished the second drawing for the wedge version, see drawing below.  The other version is for threaded wooden thumbscrews, see drawing above.  The entire lathe is shop made of hardwood.

fiddle lathe1

The plans are 11″ by 17″ and are full size.  Also included are instructions and a parts and cutting list.

The price is $15.00 plus $6.00 shipping to domestic U.S. locations.  There is an additional $10.00 charge for international shipping.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to finish this project, you know who you are.


January 11, 2013

Shepherds’ Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Woodworker – First Review


This is the first book review of my first book that was originally published in hardbound in 1981.  This review appeared in Smithsonian Magazine April 1982.





I found this while doing research at the University of Nevada, Reno at their excellent library.

Now I need to find the reviews in Workbench Magazine, Soldier of Fortune Magazine and Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly.

Available at Tools for Working Wood

and The Full Chisel Store or from Amazon.  Amazon also has original hardbound editions for sale.


June 3, 2012

The Next Question about Traditional Woodworking

Filed under: Historical Material,Moxon,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 5:33 pm

In the past I have asked questions about traditional 18th and 19th century woodworking and found answers.  Sometimes it takes a bit of time to finally ferrate out the answer, I had heard of European gypsies traveling around re-tinning pots over a fire using a stick and rag, yet it took me 30 years or so to finally find the answer.

Vernice Martin was another enigma; the legendary ‘Varnisher to the King’ had come up with a varnish that was appreciated all over Europe.  I had to find his formula.  It also took better than 30 years and now I have 3 of his recipes for varnish.

I had wondered why old laminated steel tools were better than modern all steel tools and discovered that the steel wasn’t any better it was the process of forge welding and quenching in brine that made the laid steel tools so good. When I first saw pictures of the puzzle mallet in the Chronicles of the Early American Industries Association, I didn’t have the knowledge I needed to figure it out.  After some experience with x-rays of wood joints, I realized that it had been misinterpreted as folding wedges when in fact it was a ramp dovetail.  I published my article in Woodworker’s Journal before Roy Underhill did an episode on his show.

By carefully reading Moxon’s text I was able to determine what his bench looked like and how the crochet and vice were actually used.  And by carefully reading Moxon’s text I don’t know what to make of his description of using a saw set?

I know what the nib on the end of a saw was used for, but no one agrees with me, so it is an answer for me alone.  I know the saw was never used backwards to start a saw cut.  I know to lift the saw slightly on the non-cutting stroke of the saw blade.

I know that rebate and rabbit are pronounced the same.

Traditionally spalt wood was considered a cull and highly figured woods were considered inferior until the Fedral period.

I know what I know about 18th and 19th century woodworking but that doesn’t interest me as much as what I don’t know.  I don’t know why they went from single plane irons to double irons?   Is it a cap iron or a chip breaker?  How many different plane types are there?  I don’t know if drawboring was ever used on furniture?  I don’t know if a scrub plane was ever used to thickness a board?

There are also questions that I and others haven’t even asked.  That is the challenge and what keeps it all very fascinating.



January 28, 2012

The Moxon Vise

This post is inspired by a recent completion of a tool I made a while back, see here.  I needed to add a cleat and after finding some of the yellow poplar that I used to build the tenon clamp, I cut a 6″ long piece.  In the side of the clamp I cut a full mortise ¾” deep and glued it in place with Fish Glue, I will peg it later.  Now when I use the holdfast to secure the clamp, the hold fast is out of the way.  I then either had an epiphany or thought the whole thing up.

Looking at the cleat as a method of securing this clamp and other planing and sawing appliances, I considered that perhaps this is how the Moxon Vise was also secured to the bench.  The holdfast might get in the way with this interpretation.  Then I also noticed the similarities between the movement of this clamp and the garter to the original engraving from Moxon’s work.






I first illustrated the Moxon Vise here.  I drew two illustrations as to how the vise was used.  However there was one mistake, I failed to draw one more hole on the workbench top.  This hole can be important as I will explain later*.

From the very beginning I have had inquiries as to how the vise was attached to the bench.  Up until now I did not know but I think I may have come up with a possible solution.  The screws need garters as mentioned by Henry Mercer in Ancient Carpenter’s Tools, so extra screw sticks out front and does not complicate things on the back of the vise.  The cleat allows the vise to be mounted on the underside of the bench by inverting the holdfast*.

This looks like a much better method of holding the vise chops.


November 2, 2011

Damascus Striking Knife with handle

I ripped up some curly maple stock for tool handles and also found a smaller sized blank of the same ‘tiger maple’, but not a lot of stripes and fashioned a handle to match my other tool handles.  I use the tapered octagonal handles like illustrated in Moxon or from the 1596 ill fated Nova Zembla expedition, I do like the Dutch influence, on all my chisel and other tool handles.

Great shape and they don’t roll off the bench.  Early on in my apprenticeship I had a chisel roll off the bench and I caught it before it hit the ground and damaged the edge.  I immediately changed all of my chisel handles to the tapered octagon design.  Well, not exactly immediately, I had to attend to a gash on my hand and blood on the tool.  The blood got removed first then I attended to the nasty wound.

Since that time, nearly 40 years ago, I have purposefully lost my ‘catch’ response.  I literally can’t play catch.  Now if a tool drops, I quickly and safely move out of the way and deal with a damaged tool rather than a lacerated hand.

I shaped the curly maple with a small Moxon smoother then went to my toothing plane to deal with some tear out.  Worked great, then a scraper to remove the toothing marks.  Then using a very fine drill and two very narrow chisels I excavated a rectangular tapered hole in the narrow end to hold the Damascus/pattern welded blade in place.  Once it was fit tight, I etched the blade with a clove of garlic and used a bit of fish glue to secure it in place.

A coat of Moses T’s St. John’s Oil and it is ready to strike out.



July 6, 2010

Ink Erasure, not a Civil War Surgical Scalpel

Sometimes these appear on the Internet as Civil War Surgical Scalpel, they are not, rather they are used to remove ink from paper or parchment.  This is before the time of very abrasive flexible ink erasures.  Gum rubber [natural latex] pencil erasures were available during the nineteenth century and are very similar to the Art Gum pencil erasures available today.

These are the tools I used to form the handle for the iron blade.  The blade was made by Mark Schramm, the Blacksmith at This is the Place Heritage Park.  Sometimes smaller items are more difficult to make.  The handle is a piece of curly maple, which I planed with the Moxon Smoother, then because the wood chipped out I went over the surface with a toothing plane which does not chip out the wood.  I then used a scraper to smooth off the toothing marks.

Using the Fray & Pigg brace and my smallest gimblet bit, I drilled a hole, then with an 1/8th inch chisel made the mortise in the end of the handle to hold the steel blade.  It took a bit of trial and error but I got it to where I liked the fit.  I then used some side cutting pliers to put barbs on the edges of the tang of the blade.  Then after making all parts of the steel blade bright by draw filing, I sharpened the edges and gave it a good buffing with some white rouge.

I raised the grain on the wood with water then scraped it down again.  I then burnished the handle until it was shiny.  I drove the blade into the mortise and gave it a coat of walnut oil.  I will repeat this a time or two until it has a nice polish.

I now have two originals and this reproduction.  Not that I make any mistakes and need to have three.


May 19, 2010

They sure don’t make them like they use to.

Filed under: Historical Material,Moxon,Of Interest,The Trade,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:41 am


After some recent discussions around the internet on various topics has prodded me to start thinking about if things really got better.  Not that I need any prodding, I think about old stuff all the time.  There is also a great discussion about the quality of steel used in edge tools, many saying that modern steels are ‘better’ than those available in the past.  With all of the modern innovations; tempering ovens, atmospheric controlled and exotic new materials, people assume that the steel will be better.  What the hell does that mean?

Their argument seems to be that with modern techniques the material is more uniform and consistent from batch to batch.  I think we under estimate the abilities of our ancestors with this bit of arrogance and hubris. I have used ‘modern’ steel tools, there is nothing like a laid steel blade for a chisel or plane blade that were common on tools prior to modern times.

Moxon talks about the different types of steel that was available in the late fifteenth early sixteenth century in England.  If he could determine and delineate different steel types then he knew or was told by those who did, the differences.  Sounds pretty consistent to me.  The annealing [or as he called it nealing] process is the same as today, heat up the metal to a blood-red-heat and allow it to cool slowly.  His process of hardening appears to be the same [although he does mention hammer hardening for saw plates, etc.], but his description of tempering [to let it down] differs from how the process is done today.  ‘The light goldifh Colour is for Files, Cold-chiffels and Punches, that Punch into iron and Steel: The dark goldifh Colour for Punches to use on Brafs, and generally for moft Edge-tools; The blew colour gives the temper to Springs in general…’

Moxon is not the be all or end all when it comes to the trade, but it was the first English language description of the topics he included in Mechanick Exercises or the Doctrine of Handy-Works.  It is the foundation on which all subsequent publications were built.  It is a great resource and should be read with its original punctuation, spelling and type face, for the best effect.  When immersed in the text, I get a bit of the feeling of what it was like 300 years ago, and I like that feeling.

We think everything new is better, synthetic sharpening stones, synthetic glues and finishes are better than the real thing.  Our ancestors were not some sort of knuckle dragging sub humans, our brains are the same size.  Nor are they stupid hayseeds that just fell off the cabbage wagon.  I would venture a guess that if educated adults today had to pass the mid school curriculum of the early nineteenth century many wouldn’t qualify.

If you look at metal turning lathes from L’Art de Tourner by Charles Plumier in 1792, the only difference between those and modern lathes are the power source.  They were sophisticated machines that could cut threads, had slide rests and in some instances have more options that are now available.  Look at the ornamental turning lathes of the nineteenth century produced by Holtzaffel are quite sophisticated.

A friend of mine called this ‘White Man Syndrome’ in that today people consider that they know more or when making reproductions they make ‘improvements’, using newer ‘better’ materials, etc.  I have heard that inane comment ‘well if they would have had it they would have used it’, to which I reply well they didn’t have it, so they didn’t use it, so stop [explicative deleted] messing with history.  You can’t improve upon the past.


November 16, 2009

Smoothing Plane Workshop 2

Well, there ended up being 9 students in the class, 5 were there all day Friday, 3 showed up after they got off work and got up to speed and Sal showed up on Saturday.  All got to the same level by noon on Saturday and continued throughout the day.

The Nevada WoodChucks ‘clubhouse’ is a well equipped workshop with benches (and vices) enough for all to have a place to work.  They do have power tools and I did not discourage them from using what was comfortable for them.  Above are the first five that were at work all day Friday.  Steven on the left with his back to the camera, next Tom (had to make sure his hat was in the picture), in the middle Jan who traveled from Fernley to take the class (she stayed with her daughter who lives in Reno.  Then Dick and Chuck, with his hands in his pocket (he finished his plane first).

Jan drilling the holes for the mouth and throat of the hand plane.

Rod, the current President of the Nevada WoodChucks was one of the three that showed up late on Friday, he got to the shop at about 3:30 pm and was able to get the throat chopped and caught up to the rest, quickly.

Joe on the left was another that showed up late on Friday as was Jason, I caught Tom without his hat.

And here are the happy Plane Makers.  From left to right Jan, Chuck, Jason, Dick, Rod, Tom, Jim, Steven and Sal.

They had the options of how to shape the outside of the plane, the inside throat and wedge escarpment were all the same for all planes.  Some picked the standard coffin smoother shape, others preferred the Moxon shape, there was one that was like a Moxon but had sides like a coffin smoother.  Rod chose a hybrid shape of his own design and Tom left his large and will decide later.  Everyone finished their planes on Sunday and got shavings.

Something happened during the workshop that was a first for me, I don’t know if anyone has ever taught a workshop when one of the students was on the phone to their booky?

Everyone seemed to have a good time and invited me back next year to teach another workshop, there is some discussion as to what they want me to teach, perhaps the double hacksaw, but probably a router plane, although there is also talk of a hammer veneer workshop.

They insisted that I be in a photograph, so here it is, I am the one in the middle wearing an apron, it is not a dress.  I had a great time and sold lots of books, I actually ran out of The Universal Receipt Book I brought and sold a dozen Hide Glue Books and several Shepherds’ Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Woodworker.

Now I am going to take a couple of days off and enjoy Reno.


November 9, 2009

Smoothing Plane Workshop

I am preparing and packing for my up coming trip to Reno, Nevada to teach a workshop for the Nevada WoodChucks this weekend.  It is a 3 day workshop, Friday, Saturday and part of a day Sunday.  There are 8 people signed up for the workshop and as it were I had to provide the blades and wood.  I was able to purchase the blades (Buck PL138) at a large box store for $4.20 each plus tax as they were on clearance, meaning they will no longer carry them.  Well I bought 7 blades and Tom Doud bought the only one in Reno, I will bring my own.

No 2 inch maple available in Reno, so Mike Moore of Mike Moore’s Custom Mills in Salt Lake City, donated enough 2 inch maple for the 8 planes.  Well 9 planes, as I will make one for myself.  We will be copying a 19th century English coffin smoother, with an option to make a Moxon Smoother, I have one I made as a sample.

I have made a coffin smoother before for a past president of the Nevada WoodChucks and it is a handy little smoothing plane.  The Moxon smoother that I made is one I use all the time, I like the shape but I think I will make myself a coffin smoother this time.

Looking forward to seeing old friends and my family, always a good trip by rail and a good time when I arrive.  I will post daily during the workshop, should be fun.


September 18, 2009

What we can learn from History

Filed under: Hide Glue,Historical Material,Moxon,Of Interest,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 5:56 am

We get to look at and work with old tools and some things don’t change and others do.  We have this historic record in books, publications, newspapers, advertisements, etc. of the period and they can shed a good deal of light on what was being done in the nineteenth century and earlier.  We get works like Diderot, Roubo, Moxon, Holtzhaffle, et al and those are great sources in both what they provide visually and verbally but they can also have another important piece of history.

Moxon said to avoid adding weak beer to Hide Glue to thin and extend its working time, saying that that didn’t work.  Well apparently enough people were doing just that or he wouldn’t have spoke up against the practice.  This is just what some people were doing.

In other publications, if the author say not to do something, that needs to be looked at, as apparently there were a number of people doing it to justify a caveat.  Not that you are reading anything into the history, but sometimes what is said can have more meanings than just on the surface.

Glean what information is there and look at what is not.  Some methods were not described by some authors as it was common knowledge.  Well that is fine if you have the common knowledge of the 17th, 18th or 19th century but not all of us have that.  And how close was the author to the trade?  Did they have passing knowledge and put together data from other sources or did they actually know the craft?  Moxon knew bookbinding, publishing and mathematical instrument making, how much did he know of bricklaying?

But at least we have that information and we can look at it from all angles, with different perspectives and with differing view points.  We should analyze the stuff, we should scrutinize the information and we should put it to the test to see if it works and what contribution it can make.


Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress