Full Chisel Blog

May 9, 2013

Scorching Sand

scorching sand

I am in need of some scorching sand for heat shading veneer and for hardening goose writing quills.  I got a couple of cups of sand from a friend, it was left over from an out door cook oven.  It is coarse construction sand and was in need of cleaning.

I first ran it through a coarse sieve [12 wires per inch], the stuff that didn’t make it through went into the garden.  I then ran  the sand through fine brass screen [20 wires per inch].  The stuff that didn’t make it through I separated out and saved it for future use, thinking I would still need to wash it when I was done.

Everything that fell through the fine brass wire screen contained all of the fines and dust, which I assumed I would have to wash it and dry it out.  As I was pouring the sand from one container to another the wind blew some of the fine dust away.  Now I was winnowing the sand and in about 15 minutes it was very clean.  I didn’t have to wash it after all.

The size of the sand really does not matter for scortching wood or hardening quills, but it is nice to have two different sizes of winnowed sand.



May 3, 2013

The Complete Cabinet Maker And Upholsterer’s Guide – J. Stokes 1829


Gary Roberts over at Toolemera has done it again and reproduced a fine tome from the nineteenth century.  The book has many full color plates, hand colored engravings and Mr. Roberts has reproduced the entire book in color, so the pages appear as they would in an original edition.

Mr. Stokes has done an excellent job at assembling material from his peers and predecessors, which I won’t call plagiarism as it was common practice.  Some of the engravings have the long f for the s, indicating an earlier time.

The book is however full of very useful information about lay out, perspective, drawing, design and construction of furniture, with an emphasis on finishing, which I found fascinating.  This is a great hardbound edition of an historical work that is a pleasure to hold in ones hand and read about the past and the ways of old.  Add this one to your bibliotheque.


March 21, 2013

Dyeing Maple with Iron Buff

Iron buff is an interesting dye, the fact that the liquid is clear and can still instill a blue-grey color to hard maple and a green color to soft maple.  So it is also an indicator to determine if the maple [Acer spp.] is hard or soft.

Most folks say to place steel wool into vinegar.  The problem with steel wool is that it is covered with oil from manufacturing so I find it better to use iron filings [I save from saw sharpening] to make the solution known as ‘iron buff’.

I mixed up a small batch to stain the handle of a touch hole prick, also known as a vent pick, used to clean the touch hole of a flintlock rifle or smooth-bore.  A friend who is a blacksmith said he wanted me to make him one as he admired the one I had made several years ago using iron buff to color.  It has some age to it as can be seen in the photograph.

little prick

I will set the piano wire needle in the handle using Cutler’s Cement.  I first etch the end of the wire with garlic and as you can see the end also has some ‘upset’ marks on the shaft to help give the cement a key to improve the grip.  After it has cured for a week or so I will finish with Moses T’s Gunstocker’s Finish.

Everyone needs a little prick.


March 3, 2013

30 day e-pox-ee or traditional Cutler’s Cement


As many of you know, and all of you should, that I don’t use modern things when it comes to doing traditional woodworking.  I don’t like modern white or yellow glues as their manufacture is extremely dangerous, highly polluting and based on petroleum distillates.  Same with modern poly glues and plastic finishes, I have no use for them.  They are just inappropriate for what I do.

What I was missing was the equivalent of e-pox-ee, the word does not even come out of my mouth, but I needed a permanent adhesive for chisel handles and for attaching wooden handles onto metal objects.  I did some experimental archeology and recreated the 1824 Cutler’s Cement from the Universal Receipt Book that I reprinted.

Well the stuff works great with only one drawback and that is its incredibly long drying time.  It does take at least 30 days for the stuff to completely cure and that is even helped along with keeping the newly ‘glued’ pieces near a heat source to aid in the drying and curing of the cement.  I also live in an arid mountain desert with low humidity.

I went with the exact formula on this batch, carefully measuring out the two main ingredients then adding just enough linseed oil [in the form of Moses T’s Gunstocker’s Finish, which is high in linseed oil with a bit of turpentine, gums and resins, etc.], to make a very thick paste.

small eating knife

small eating knife2

On a small German [F. Herder, Solingen] eating knife with a beech handle, I first etched the metal tang with a fresh cut clove of garlic, then pushed the thick past down the hole of the handle and checked it until it was pushing excess back out the hole.  I cleaned off the squeeze out and set it aside to dry.

small eating knife4

small eating knife3

After about a week I noticed that the oil had soaked through the beech wood handle in two places near the blade.  To my surprise the oil had not traveled with the grain of the wood but it migrated along the medullary rays, through the grain or growth rings.  I found that astonishing as I assumed the oil would flow along a ring rather than through the annual growth ring.

After a few more weeks the blade was securely held in the handle and I raised the grain and allowed it to dry.  I lightly sanded the beech, applied some Moses T’s Reviver [a lean oil] and some burnt umber dry powdered pigment.  I wiped off the excess and allowed it to dry for a couple of days, followed by a couple of coats of Moses T’s Gunstocker’s Finish [a fat oil].

small eating knife5

This knife has been used, soaked twice and washed with soap and water over a dozen times.  Blade is held securely.

The other items, brazier handle ferrules, saw handle, awl, chisels, etc., have all dried for the required time and all are very secure.  So now I have my appropriate, traditional adhesive that is waterproof, heat resistant, all natural, safe to make and use, and not a permanent inflexible dangerous petrochemical plastic.



February 15, 2013

Wit & Humour from the 1860’s

Filed under: Alchemy,Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:11 am

From Wit & Humour 1860's


February 11, 2013

The Importance of Charcoal in American History

Filed under: Alchemy,Historical Material,Of Interest,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 10:24 am

Beehive Charcoal Kiln

The significance of charcoal cannot be over stated, it was one of the most critical resources in the history of American commerce.  Not only for making the finest iron and steel; the blacksmith’s used charcoal to fire their forges, tinsmith’s used charcoal to heat their soldering coppers, it is a valuable pigment, for drawing, purifying agent, filter medium, gas absorbent, ‘sweetening’ cisterns and barrels, fertilizer, heat insulator, charcoal briquettes, tooth powder, and ingredient in gunpowder.  It is also used to make potash which has many purposes.

There is also animal charcoal such as bone black and ivory black that make the finest black pigments, and for pharmaceutical applications burnt natural sponges were used.

Of course there were other consumers of wood produced from forests, steamships and railroad locomotives used wood to power their steam engines.  Wood was used to heat homes well through most of the nineteenth century.

According to some scholars the ‘collier’, the traditional term for a charcoal maker was more responsible for the deforestation of American than the lumberman, and the farmer.  It was a dirty and sometimes dangerous occupation, the fire once started required around the clock monitoring to prevent the fire from going out too early to the pile catching on fire ruining the whole batch.

Not all charcoal piles were the low dome shaped piles of wood, leaves and charcoal powder so commonly depicted, which had to be rebuilt for each new batch and torn down after the wood was cooked.  Some were permanent brick or stone structures and the beehive kiln was the usual choice.  The illustration shows three such kilns built in Central Utah in the mid nineteenth century.  It diagrams how the kiln is loaded and with the door sealed.  Once the wood had been loaded, it was ignited and the opening sealed.  The kilns were not completely air tight with small openings between the stones, rocks, or bricks that allowed enough air for proper combustion or carbonization.  It had to be observed to make sure the combustion continued but there was no longer the danger of being incinerated by falling through a traditional charcoal pile.

Next time you fire up the grill think of charcoal and its role in the commerce and culture of American life.


February 4, 2013

Charcoal Iron & Steel

charcoal pile

Just read an interesting section in Material Culture of the Wooden Age, [1981] edited by Brooke Hindle, the article is entitled ‘Charcoal Iron: The Coal Mines of the Forest’ by Richard H. Schallenberg.  The article talks about many things including the process of bloomery and blast furnace iron powered by charcoal, comparing the differences between coal/coke iron and charcoal iron, the former containing sulphur and phosphorus introduced by the coke, these contaminants, together with more absorbed carbon contributing to a more brittle iron.

England and Europe with the exception of Sweden had converted to coal/coke iron processing in about 1815 due to the lack of wood to make charcoal while in America charcoal iron was produced until about 1945, due to the great abundance of wood for making charcoal.

‘Blast furnace iron was better than bloomery iron in all these respects.  It did have two serious drawbacks, however-the pig iron which poured from the blast furnace was hotter than bloomery iron and therefore contained more dissolved carbon, and the pig iron solidifies from a fully liquid state and therefore had a more crystalline structure than the bloomery metal.  Both these conditions made furnace pig harder and less malleable than bloomery bar, and thus it was a less useful iron in the manufacturing process of the day, which almost always were some form of forging.  Therefore, most charcoal furnace pig was ‘refined’ before being sent to market.’

‘Moreover, the hotter the iron, the more the dissolved carbon tends to form the chemical compound cementite [Fe3C], which is glass-hard and brittle.  Finally, the grain structure of coke and coal irons is coarser than charcoal irons, caused by the higher concentration of silicon in these metals.  Larger grain size makes the iron weaker, and also makes it more difficult to heat treat.’

‘To correct at least some of these problems, rather drastic refining techniques are needed for fossil-fuel-smelted irons.  The pig is melted, boiled, and the impurities burned out or chemically reacted with additives or refractory linings.  In the Bessemer and open-hearth processes, it is also alloyed to counter some of the bad properties.  Charcoal pig, however, lacked most of these drawbacks. And therefore did not need such extensive refining.  The charcoal pig was heated until it became soft and then was beaten under a trip hammer.  A certain amount of carbon was burned out in this way, as it was in puddling, but the main function of the continual hot working of the iron was to make it less hard and more ductile-the properties needed for forging.  That is, the heating of the pig iron ingot elevated the metal above what metallurgists call the recrystallization temperature.  If iron is mechanically worked above this temperature, the grain size is reduced, graphite particles are more uniformly distributed, and dislocations in the crystal structure do not produce hardening, as they would with working cold, rather relieve stresses and make the metal easier to work-i.e., make it more ductile.  Therefore, in the charcoal refining process the metal was not heated primarily to burn out the carbon, sulfur, and phosphorus, as was the case in puddling and Bessemer processing, but was heated so its internal structure could be rearranged above the crystallization temperature.’

‘Moreover, the repeated working of the refinery forge served also to spread thin filaments of slag throughout the mass of iron, giving the metal the fibrous, tough, shock-resistant and readily weldable properties characteristic of all true wrought irons.’

Better iron, better steel.  This method was used to make the Viking ‘Ulfberht’ swords.  I wonder how the Japanese made their iron and steel?



January 22, 2013

Basswood stick glue brush


A friend lent me an old book that had a section on Hide Glue that he thought I might be interested.  I read the part about making a glue brush from a piece of basswood.  I thought they meant the inner bark as illustrated in Hide Glue-Historical & Practical Applications illustrated below.

basswood brush1

But the book said a piece of basswood, so I thought I would rebuke this with a simple test.  I found a piece of basswood and using a small froe [made by Blacksmith Brian Westover] and split out a piece of wood so the grain would be straight.  I then used my coffin smoother and spokeshave to round the wood into a proper shape.

basswood glue stick1

Then according to directions ‘soak end in water for 2 to 3 days’, which I did replacing the water every day as some was soaked up by the basswood.  After 3 days I took the wet piece of basswood and with a hammer smashed the ends, the hardy-hole anvil worked great.  As I was pounding water was squirting out the ends, which I carefully removed from the hammer and anvil when finished.

basswood glue stick2

To my surprise it delaminated and turned fibrous much like the inner bark does when softened by dry pounding.  It hardens up when dry but softens again when soaked in water.  As it wears down new fibers can be made by soaking and pounding again.  Learn something new every day.


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.


October 15, 2012

Testing Woolen fabric for French Polish Pad, Fad, or Rubber

Filed under: Alchemy,Finishing,Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Techniques — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:58 am

I recently read of a traditional technique for preparing a rubber, pad, or fad for French polishing, and this technique differs from others I have researched.  I switched from cotton balls as a pad filler to raw washed wool, which I am very happy with how it works and lasts.

However this new method looked interesting, so I asked my favorite seamstress if she had some 100% woolen fabric that I could use?  She brought by enough for my specifications, but wider, so I could rip it to the desired size.  I thought that before I went ahead with French polishing, I should test the fabric to see if it would bleed any of the dye.

Sure enough after some alcohol and placed in a glass jar for an hour or so, then I took it out and placed it on a paper towel and you can see what happened.

I told the seamstress of the problem and she said she had some light brown herringbone wool fabric which she dropped off.  I did the same test and no bleeding, so I will use this next time I polish.

I will also post the new/old technique soon and see how well it works.


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