Full Chisel Blog

March 27, 2014

Traditional Craftsman’s Lye Soap with Rosin (c. 1804)

Filed under: Alchemy,For Sale or Trade,Historical Material,Of Interest,Spinning Wheel,Trees — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:58 am

Based on an old recipe (c 1804) this is real soap [not a detergent bar] and contains NO modern ingredients, phosphates, or petroleum distillates.  After trying a couple of recipes, the lard and castor oil example was excellent and did not dry out my hands using it over the winter.  After getting my hands on some rosin, I had a batch of soap made to the old recipe and the stuff is great.

Not only does it not dry out your hands, it lathers well and is long lasting.  The rosin gives the soap a delightful fragrance, adds hardness to the soap and it is derived from trees, what could be better?  It lubricates sticky drawer parts and other wooden moving parts [such as the tension block of spinning wheels].

It can also be used to practice carving and you can clean up with the shavings.

Made of lard, castor oil, rosin, distilled water and lye, all from renewable natural resources.

Available in the Full Chisel Store and ready for immediate shipment you can buy it here.

Thanks to Mark Schramm, master blacksmith and soap maker for making this soap for me to use and sell.

Traditional Craftsman’s Lye Soap with Rosin.


February 21, 2014

Got Rosin?*

*that should read ‘Do you have rosin?’

According to the 1930 edition of Merck’s Index:


Colophony; Abietic Anhydride; Yellow Rosin; Resina, B.P.-Res. left on distil. volat. oil fr. oleoresin obt. fr. Pinus palustris & o. spec. of Pinus, Pinaceæ. – Occur.:Rosin is chiefly supplied by the U.S. – Sol.: Freely in A., B., E.,  glac.acet. acid, oils, & soluts. of fixed alkali hydroxides.  U.S.P. also in CS2. – Sp. Gr.: 1.07 – 1.09 at 25°C., U.S.P. – Constit.: Chiefly (80%-90%) abietic acid, or its anhydride resene (5%-6%, B.P.C.).; also pinic & sylvic acids –  Uses: Pharm., as ingred. in oints, plasters, cerates, &c. – Techn., manuf. varnishes, varnish & paint driers, printing inks, cements, soap, sealing wax, wood polish, floor coverings, paper, plastics, fireworks, tree wax, sizes; f. waterproofing cardboard, walls, etc., & as source of rosin spirit & rosin oil, & pitch.


It is available by the pound at the Full Chisel Store, here.


June 10, 2013

Painted & Grained Furniture at Historic Cove Fort, Utah

On a recent visit to Historic Cove Creek Ranch Fort in central/southern Utah I had an opportunity to photograph a fine collection of original pioneer era painted and grained furniture.  I actually made some of the chairs that are also on exhibit.  Also items from the Blacksmith shop and fences around the barnyard.


Said to be the original bellows from the fort, quite sure it is new leather. Bellows nozzle

Nozzel reinforced with rawhide, a good application. chairs and grained table

Ladder and Arrow back side chairs with mahogany grained table, not black stripes and edge.cochineal overshot quilt and mahogany grained rope bedstead

Croch mahogany rope bedstead with cochineal dyed overshot bed spread, log cabin patchwork quilt on blanket roll.cove fort

Entrance to the fort, the keystone and plaque were probably carved in Great Salt Lake City, Utah Territory. cove fort exterior

Exterior shot of the Fort, made from local volcanic rock, the fort was built for protection against the local Native American Indians. Cove fort exterior wall

The walls are very thick and there is a chimney for each room a total of 12 smokes. Croch mahogany grained bedstead with striping

Another fine croch mahogany rope bedstead.  The blanket roll should be loose, an extra blanket was wound around it and if needed pulled over the top.  The headboard is called a ‘rolling pin’ headboard because of its shape.  Some say because many are loose that it was used to flatten the straw and feather ticks [mattresses], this is a myth, you want the ticks fluffy not flat! curly maple blanket chest

Pine blanket chest grained to simulate curly maple. Detail Iron bracket on blacksmiths forge

Detail of rope holder on blacksmiths bellows. Edible fence

Strangest fence I have ever seen, held together with rawhide.  How many critters and farm animals would make a meal of this?  Silly modern interpretation. Farm yard

Barn yard. Finely grained chest of drawers with glove boxes, grained table and gondola chair

Mahogany painted and grained chest of drawers with glove boxes and black painted split column and handles.  The gondola chair is one of the 25 chairs made for the LDS Museum of Church History and Art back in the 1980’s. indigo overshot quilt

Indigo overshot coverlet on maple grained bedstead. kitchen and questionable clock

A view of the kitchen, the tall clock is suspected by many to be of newer manufacture. kitchen with gondola chairs

Another view of the kitchen area including more of the gondola chairs.  All of the rooms have connecting doors to allow movement around the sides of the fort without having to go outside. Loop hole in Fort wall

One of the view ports [loophole] around the ramparts on the sides of the fort. Mahogany and maple grained bedstead

Pine rope bedstead grained to look like mahogany with maple panels. maple burl game table

Tripod game table made of pine and grained to look like curly maple. maple grained armless spinning wheel rocking chair

Pine side [armless] rocking chair, low construction for working on a spinning wheel. nice grained set of chairs

Matched side winsor chairs, mahogany with black stripes. nice pair of rope beds

A pair of pine rope bedsteads grained to imitate curly maple. oak grained bedstead

This bedstead is painted to look like quartersawn oak. Ogee clock owned by original occupant of the Fort

Original ogee shelf clock said to belong to the original residents. Ox stantion

Ox shoeing stantion, because cows can’t stand on 3 legs like a horse. polychrome firewood box

Polychrome wood box, even the utilitarian pieces were painted. Proper gutter and downspout in copper

Last time I saw these copper gutters and downspouts they were bright copper, a few years in the weather put on a nice verdigris patina. quilt and clothing

Nice quilt and some original pioneer clothing. Stenciled rocking chair belonging to original owner

Rocking chair said to belong to the original residents, black paint with bronzed stencil work. telegraph office, maple grained table

The desk in the telegraph office is pine painted and grained curly maple.  Note the lead acid battery pile under the desk. Wooden Fort Gates filled with sand

The doors of the fort originally filled with sand for protection of depredations that never happened.  Four Native American braves showed up at the fort, Mr. Hinkley invited them to dinner and there were never any problems.

I recommend a visit but be warned there are some dry cities in Utah, so take along provisions.


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.


July 19, 2012

Prices of Wood, Boston March 6, 1856

From the front page of the Boston Post and Press.

BOXWOOD, per ton   60 00 @ 85 00

LIGNUM VITAE, per ton  15 00 @ 20 00

LUMBER, per 1000 feet

East Boards, white pine, No.1  40 00 @ — —

Do, do, No.2   40 00 @ — —

Do, do, No.3   33 00 @ 34 00

Do, coarse, No.3   23 00 @ 24 00

Do, do, No.4   13 00 @ 14 00

Do, Scoots     9 00 @ 10 00

Do, Flooring, southern pine  18 00 @ 20 00

Clapboards, extra   38 00 @ 40 00

Do, clear    33 00 @ 35 00

Do, No.1    17 00 @ 20 00

Shingles, pine, shaved, best   4 25 @  5 00

Do, do, do, 2d qual.    2 25 @  2 50

Do, do, sawn best    3 00 @  3 25

Do, cedar, shaved, best   3 50 @  4 00

Do, do, 2d qual.    2 00 @  2 50

Laths, pine, 1 ½ in.    1 75 @  2 00

Spruce Lumber, at measurement   9 00 @ 11 00

Hemlock do,    8 00 @  9 00

Sugar Box shooks   — 45 @ — 50

Ton Timber, white pine best   6 00 @  8 00

Do, do, ordinary    4 00 @  5 00

Do, do, southern pine   10 00 @ 12 00

MAHOGANY, per foot.

Cuba    — 12 @ — 24

St. Domingo   —   8 @ — 17

Honduras    —   9 @ — 18

[MAHOGANY – At public sale 586 logs Mansanilla at 11 ¾ @38c per foot, 6 mos.]

ROSEWOOD, Rio, per log  20 00 @ 60 00

WOOD, per cord

Eastern hard    6 75 @  7 60

Nova Scotia do    7 00 @ — —

Pitch Pine     6 75 @  7 00

South Shore, hard    7 25 @  7 50

Just to keep things current.




May 17, 2012

Controlling wildfires is not always a good idea.

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Trees,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 2:05 pm

Here is what I wrote about the subject in 1981 and it is even more important today.  It is a followup to a previous post ‘An Open Letter to the President…’.

The above text is from Shepherds’ Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Woodworker, 1981, 2012, as is the following cartoon.


May 16, 2012

An Open Letter to the President, and the Congress of the United States of America

Filed under: Of Interest,Restoration,Trees,Uncategorized,Wood — Stephen Shepherd @ 2:56 pm


There is a real problem out here in the West and its solution can benefit the entire country.  There are over 360 million acres of Conifer Forests and over 40 million acres have been killed by the Red Death [bark beetle, pine needle borer] and they are expanding.  We are losing a great national natural resource, and it will get worse if nothing is done.

You and you alone could put hundreds of thousands of people to work to conserve the forests and convert the massive amount of standing dead trees into usable reasonably priced building materials.  The slash could be inexpensive firewood, mulch, and converted to alcohol.  There is also a great resource available from the pitch and sap exuding from both living and dead trees for turpentine and varnish production, not relying on limited fossil fuels.

While the process of removing the dead trees and their conversion to usable materials and stores will have an impact upon the environment, doing nothing is far more egregious.  The process of cleaning up all of the potential fuel will also lessen wild fire danger; making the forest healthy to resist future fires and infestations.

These forests are an important part of the Earth’s biomass that sequesters CO2 and produces oxygen.  They will only be a renewable resource if they survive.  And they are beautiful; please preserve them for future generations to enjoy.

Stephen Arden Shepherd


December 10, 2011

Unusual Characteristics of Wood

Filed under: Alchemy,Historical Material,Of Interest,Trees,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 2:08 pm

Certain woods have unusual characteristics that are not widely known.  These are characteristics that are beyond the normal everyday usage of the wood.  These also include unusual ways that trees grow as well as folklore, myth and legend associated with certain woods.  While this information is not necessary for woodworking, a craftsman should be fully informed.

Wood that grows on the south side of trees (in the northern hemisphere) is more flexible and springy that wood which grows on the north side of the tree, which is harder and denser.  Under normal growing conditions the center of the tree is closer to the north side of the tree.  Trees are sugared on the south side of the tree and sap is removed for navel stores on the south side of the tree.  Under the largest branch also produces more sap.  A large Oak tree can transpire over a ton of water (250 gallons) in a single day.

While Basswood is excellent for carving because of its uniform soft grain and its ability to deaden sound and used in musical instruments, it also can be soaked in water and compressed to about half its size, it will spring back to its original shape when it dries.  Used to make puzzles where one piece of wood is placed through another piece of wood without any trickery except its ability to be compressed and forced through another piece of wood.

Most trees grow in relation to the seasons, the sap is up in the summer and down in the winter. Satinwood however grows to a different cycle, the sap rises on the full moon and drops on the new moon.  Perhaps this is why the wood is so full of minerals that contribute to the crystalline look of this beautiful wood.  In the fall, the Ginkgo biloba, while a primitive gymnosperm from China, can loose all of its fan shaped leaves in as little as 30 minutes.

Both Ash and Walnut (which are related) have collapsible pith at the center of their branches and were used by the Native Americans to make pipe stems.  A grub was put in one end and allowed to eat its way through the soft pith to the other end.  A hot wire can easily clear the pith from the center of the branch.  Black Ash trees can be pounded while the wood is still green and this pounding loosens layers of wood used for baskets and chair seat bottoms.  The open ring porous part of the wood (springwood) is crushed and the layer of solid wood (summerwood) comes off in thin layers, which are scraped and formed into strips for weaving.

Cherry produces the sweetest fruit but the inner bark of the tree contains concentrations of strychnine and is used medicinally for sore throats, coughs and as a stimulant.  The inner bark of Willow contains salicylic acid, which at the turn of the twentieth century was used to synthesize modern aspirin.  A branch of willow will keep mold from growing in the glue pot.  The bark of Cork Oak (Quercus suber) is periodically harvested every four to seven years without harming the tree for making of all things, cork.  The best comes from Portugal; the finest quality cork comes from 2nd, 3rd and subsequent harvests.  The bark is thicker on the north side of a tree.  The root of the Spruce tree is used to flavor ‘root beer’ and is used as cordage by the Native Americans for lashing canoes and other bark utensils.  The bark from the roots of Sassafras makes a delicious tea, is a blood thinner and a tonic.  You can rub the ‘nut’ of the buckeye on joints to alleviate pain.  The shavings of Osage Orange can be used as a dye for lightwoods or textiles.

The largest tree on earth is the Giant Sequoia, the largest living thing on earth is the Aspen tree and the oldest living tree on earth is the diminutive Bristlecone Pine that can grow more than 5000 years if not accidentally cut down.  When trying to determine the age of these trees, scientists did a core sample of what they thought was the oldest tree in a stand in the West.  At 4600 years, they thought it was the oldest, so they cut down a smaller one nearby to do a ring study, that tree was over 5000 years old.

Some trees such as lodge pole pine, jack pine and limber pine requires fire to scarify the seeds for proper germination.  Controlling natural fires have caused a decline in propagation.  The aspen is a short-lived nurse tree for evergreens and for the same reasons the total number of individual examples are dwindling.  If you have seen one aspen tree you have seen them all.  Every aspen on earth are genetically identical with every other aspen.

Coppice (also called copse) is a thicket or scrub forest originating from root growth, stump sprouts and suckers.  Climax forest is old growth at its maximum maturity and called original growth, virgin forest or wildwood.  Previously logged areas that have re-grown is second growth and because of the more open growing conditions the wood will have wider rings that the old growth which competed for nutrients.  A weald is an English term for a heavily wooded area.  Arboreal, Alburnam and sylvan are terms used to describe anything relating to trees.  Sylvan or Silvan is a spirit that frequents the forest.  ‘Wood’ is an Old English term for being insane or mad.  If you are ‘out of the woods’ you are free from danger.  If someone is a ‘chip off the old block’ they resemble their parents, as does ‘that acorn didn’t fall far from the oak tree’.  If someone has ‘a chip on their shoulder’ they are ready for a confrontation.  A ‘woodenhead’ or ‘blockhead’ is a numskull.  ‘Timber’ can be used as a noun to describe growing trees and as an interjection to describe trees being cut down.  A person can ‘lumber’ along or be ‘lumbered’ with burdens.  You can ‘board’ a ship made of boards on a gangplank.  With all members ‘on board’ the ‘board’ met in the ‘boardroom’ and agreed ‘across the board’.  ‘Springboard, sideboard, buckboard, blackboard, bulletin board, dart board, dough board, cutting board, game board, dashboard, backboard, headboard, footboard, centerboard, bundling board and board like.  One can ‘leaf’ through a book or ‘needle’ an opponent.  Trees and other vascular plants produce most of the oxygen made on this planet.  Dryads are wood nymphs and Druids are ancient Celts with a fondness for oak trees.  The word ‘wood’ can mean the place where the tree grows, the very material itself or something made out of wood.  And no one ever wants to be taken to the woodshed.  How far can you walk into the forest?  Only halfway, then you are walking out of the forest.  If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?  Of course it does, it will make a physical noise or sound but not a perceived sound.  If you walk around a tree, and there is a squirrel on the other side of the tree and it remains out of site on the backside as you walk around the tree, do you walk around the squirrel or not?  ‘Knock on wood’ or ‘touch wood’ is a superstition intended to bring luck or at least ward off bad luck.  While its origins are obscure it appears that it has to do with the spirits inhabiting sacred trees such as the holly, ash or oak.

There are about 100,000 species of Hardwood commercially available in the world today.  There are about 700 species on North America and about 100 species of Conifers on this continent.

Phrases relating to wood and trees:

A real log jamb.
A walk in the woods.
As the twig is inclined so the tree is bent.
Augers well.
Barking up the wrong tree.
Can’t see the forest for the trees.
Cash on the barrelhead.
Chip of the old block.
Chip on the shoulder.
Dull as a froe.
Fall off the wagon.
Get on the bandwagon.
Going against the grain.
Hammer it out.
Knock on wood.
Lock, stock and barrel.
Neck of the woods.
Out of the woods.
Out on a limb.
Over a barrel.
Sleep like a log.
Sleep tight.
Square peg in a round hole.
Squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Stiff as a board.
That acorn didn’t fall far from the oak.
That old saw.
Top drawer
Touch wood.
Turn the table.
Walk the plank



November 26, 2010

Tree Nuts

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Trees,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:50 am


Almond – Prunus spp. ripe fruit of various species, sweet flavor with 50% fixed oil and a shell that is easy to crack.

Black Walnut – Juglens nigra, this is a small nut, compared to English walnuts, but packs a wonderful intense flavor from mainly fixed and some volatile oils.  The shell is difficult to crack without destroying the nut meats and requires a nut pick to retrieve all of the tasty bits.

Brazil nut – (Bertholletia excelsa) named after a wood ‘Brazil’, but not Brazilwood, is usually considered the hardest nut to crack but if placed properly in a nutcracker it is possible to retrieve the tasty oily nut whole.  Pound for pound Brazil nuts are the most fattening food on earth.

Butternut – Juglens cinerea, I have only had the opportunity to taste this fine nut a couple of times as it is not commercially available where I live.  It has both fixed and volatile oils and gets its name from the creamy taste it leaves in your mouth.

Cashew – of the Anacardium family, this imported nut is available either ‘raw’ or roasted, because of nasty alkaloids, Urushi, related to poison ivy, poison sumac, etc. the nuts are boiled first to remove them, then sold as raw.

English Walnut – Juglens regia, this is the classic walnut most of us eat and cook with.  Has a bit of a bitter taste with fixed and volatile oils and tannin.  I believe the walnut was designed improperly as it should crack open at 90° to the seam between the nut halves.  If you crack the nuts in that direction the entire meat section comes out in one or two pieces.

Hazelnut – Corylus spp. undoubtedly my favorite nut, I enjoy cracking the nuts open and enjoying its great flavor.  My naughty brass nut cracker does an extraordinary job at precisely cracking the cob nut or filbert while saving the nut whole.  Oddly enough I don’t like anything hazelnut flavored.

Hickory nut – Carya spp. another nut that I have only had a couple of times.  By far the tastiest nut I have ever eaten and one of the most difficult to extract the meat.  The shells are very hard and requires work to get to the good stuff.  A nut pick is a must for this tasty petite morsel.

Macadamia nut – Macadamia integrifolia probably the most expensive nut, it has a rich flavor but I think they are a bit mealy.  I have never seen this nut in the shell, but have heard they are difficult to crack as well.  Some species are inedible or poisonous.

Pistachio – Pistacia vera, you don’t need a nutcracker for this treat, the cooking process conveniently splits the shell allowing easy extraction of this green nut.  What would spumoni be without pasticcios?

Pecan – Carya spp. related to hickory in name only [well the wood marketed as hickory is either hickory or pecan].  Pronounced with a long or short ‘a’ depending where you are from the shell of this nut couldn’t be more different from its sister the hickory nut.  Easy to crack and delicious baked into pies.

Pine nut – pushing the boundary of nuts the ‘seed’ from the Pinus edulis are available fresh in the fall during harvest, but popular in cooking it is now available year round.  I love cracking open the shells getting pine pitch all over my hands, closest thing to eating wood.


November 11, 2010

I Saved a Pine Tree

Filed under: Of Interest,Trees,Wood — Stephen Shepherd @ 6:35 am


On a recent trip to Reno, Nevada, while staying with my niece and nephew I noticed that a large pine tree [not a fir, spruce or larch] in their front yard was being girdled by a chain.  The chain had been put around the tree a couple years back and it is where they secured the dogs when they were out in the front yard.  I pulled on the chain and it was stuck solid.  My nephew and great nephew wheeled out the compressor and with an angle grinder cut a link then managed to remove the chain from around the tree with considerable effort.  The tree will survive.

And it got me thinking about my tree deficit.   How many trees have I used up in my career compared to how many trees I have planted?  Being a woodworker, I use wood and that does grow on trees, so how many have I used?

If I count the wood that I ‘worked’ while working for other people, during my apprenticeship as well as the other ‘cabinet shops’ where I have worked, the amount of wood I have ‘used’ would be nearly impossible to calculate.  Tens of thousands of board feet I am sure, but because I was working for someone else, they can have the lumber deficit; it will be on their ledger not mine.

In the late 1990’s, I planted 50 redwood trees and about 30 other trees on Orcas Island in Puget Sound in Washington state.  I assume most of them will grow to maturity.  I have also planted about 2 dozen trees of various sorts on my own in various places around Utah.  So if they all grow to maturity I am sure that my tree/lumber deficit will be augmented and my ledger should be on the positive side.

I calculate that I have used up about two very large pine trees in my personal woodworking as much of my work is repair work requiring insignificant amounts of wood.

How many have you used and what is your tree:lumber number?


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