Full Chisel Blog

February 29, 2008

Rediscovering the Past

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

In the Shop

Much of the past is still in existence in the form of historic objects including furniture, original source materials such as journals, newspapers and if you are lucky enough photographic evidence.

We can look at these objects and examine how they were made and in most cases determine the types of tools used to make them.  We can read original materials and get an idea of what was available during the historic past and glean information that can help us put together a more complete picture of what was going on.

Then there are times when we are confronted with something that can not be easily explained given what we know at the time.  It is important to remain as objective as possible when doing the analysis and this is best done by not trying to think up a modern solution.  Instead a traditional mind set is necessary in order to solve a traditional problem.

This might be in search of the recipe used by luthiers in Cremona, Mr. Martin’s mysterious varnish or proper Japanning.  It might be figuring out how stopped rebates are made without using a plane.  Or how the mystery dovetail mallet was constructed, oh wait I already figured that one out.  But there are many other mysteries and tricks of the trade that still need to be rediscovered.


February 23, 2008

Reproducing Period Furniture

Filed under: Furniture,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 4:23 pm


Reproducing Period Furniture    This is a topic of much discussion and debate as to what it takes to reproduce period furniture.  Now it is my feeling that if you are making true reproduction furniture then you must use the same tools available at the time of the construction of the piece that is being reproduced.  This means that using non existing machinery to make copies of old furniture is not the same as reproducing period furniture.  Without using a lot of modern words (I’ll keep the soap handy) you can’t use a computer controlled piece of equipment to make reproduction furniture, you can use it to make a modern copy but that is it, a copy.     If some standard doesn’t exist then it is difficult to even talk about the subject.  So here is the standard, the tools, materials and techniques much match what the originating craftsman used.  Now slight variations in the carbon content of modern steel used in a panel saw would still qualify as a hand tool and appropriate.  Even I split hairs only so far.  Use what is appropriate for the period of time from which the furniture was made and you are truly making reproduction period furniture.  Use modern tools and you will have to call it something else.  Reproduction period furniture is made with period style tools, appropriate materials and proper techniques in the style and manner of the original  The word Reproduction means to replica, duplicate or facsimile of the original and you can not reproduce the same marks and characteristics without using appropriate tools.  The whole thing gets fuzzy when reproducing late nineteenth century pieces because you can make reproductions using modern tools as most of them were in use by then.     But if you are making earlier pieces in order to be ‘reproductions’ you must use the same style tools.  It pays to do your research; it is surprising at the advances in woodworking in the early nineteenth century.    Stephen

February 21, 2008


Filed under: The Trade,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:50 am


 Apprentices were sometimes indentured, meaning that the parents of the apprentice pay a craftsman to take and train their child in their particular trade. Many were merely written agreements to provide training in the particular craft or trade.  Some were orphans and many were volunteers to learn a valuable skill and trade. Apprentices served from 4 to 7 years following the European tradition.  Most apprenticeships are fulfilled in 4 years here in America.  Menial tasks are first assigned to the apprentice a boy of 9 to 12 years of age; until trust was established then real training began. 

The term apprentice struck fear into the hearts of every journeyman as these young upstarts were after all, after their jobs.  Early training was guarded  An apprentice was expected to work for 12 hours a day, given two meals a day and a place to sleep out of the weather, albeit it in the wood shed or loft in the shop.Aside from food, clothing and shelter, an education is provided, as the apprentice needs to know their ciphers, good grammar, penmanship, manners, etiquette and social skills.  It is important that one be versed in the classics, philosophy, gentility and of course spirituality. 

They were then trained in the mysteries, secrets, skills and tricks of the trade that made them proficient in their craft or trade. When the term of apprenticeship is completed and if the apprentice had not run away or expired, they are presented with a good set of tools, many of which were made by the apprentice.  These pieces called test pieces were made as the skills develop.  They were also given a good set of clothing (custom of country) and their walking papers. 

They were then free to make their journey. Now they had achieved their ‘journey’ status and were able to take their journey and many were free and encouraged to remain in their master’s shop.  After working for pay and saving money many started their own business and became masters of their own shops.  Or maybe with a tip of their hat they may be down the road to work in other shop to receive more training or establish their own shop in new climes.   Stephen

February 18, 2008


Filed under: Hand Planing,Hide Glue,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 10:23 am

Toothing, Truing, Keying, Gluing or Veneering Plane  

This unusual plane with its serrated blade set perpendicular to the grain of the wood.  The blade is set at 90º to the sole of the plane.  The blade called an iron was traditionally made of wrought iron, hence the name iron, with a thin steel of veneer forge welded to the face of the iron.  When sharpened only the thin cutting edge is of steel with the rest of the sharpening done on soft iron.  The steel back is then serrated with parallel grooves to produce a fine saw tooth pattern.  When the bevel is sharpened the tip is serrated and cuts tightly grained wood such as curly maple or burls and not chip it out.

 This type of plane blade has been used by musical instrument makers for centuries to plane the curly wood used in wooden instruments.  The serrated or toothing blade cuts, scrapes and shreds the wood without chipping out the irregular grain. 

Toothing planes are commonly used to prepare surfaces prior to gluing such as for veneering.  Keying is also used on pieces like ivory and brass to roughen the surface prior to gluing.  Intentional roughing of the surface prior to gluing increases the holding ability of the glue by up to 30%.  This increased the surface area, hence a better glue joint.

  I just picked up a couple of old toothing planes, I have owned several in the past and have made a number of them as well.  It is actually one of the easier hand planes to make using traditional techniques.  One of the old planes had its blade almost completely used up, only about an eighth of an inch left of the serrations and precious little steel.  I will get a new replacement blade for it.  The other did not have an iron so I put one in it and I use it on a regular basis.  (I also have a cabinet scraper with a serrated blade for similar purposes). 

What I am writing about now is using this fine plane for a purpose for which I am sure it was used in the past, although I have not run on any documentation.  This information was extrapolated from experimental archaeology.   I have seen some Russian planes that were finished on the outside with a toothing plane, the bodies were curly wood, the surfaces obviously planed with a toothing plane then scraped.  The lines ran parallel to the sole of the plane.  This got me thinking about other uses for the keying plane.

  Now these are sometimes called truing planes as they true up really difficult grain.  While planing the edge of some pine boards with nasty knots I was having trouble with other planes so I picked up the toothing plane and took care of those troublesome knots.  Wow what a sweet tool.  A little scraping and the toothing marks are gone. 

Making a mitered door for a clock and after cutting the miter in the miter board, I shot the ends with a jack plane on a miter shooting board, but it was still a bit off, I had a belly in one piece.  I laid the toothing plane on its side, worked over the miter and now it is keyed ready for gluing.  I worked over all of the miters after shooting them with the keying plane on the miter shooting board.  There must be other uses for this valuable hand tool.


Toothing Plane Iron made from a modern block plane replacement blade.

About 28 lines per inch serrations

Toothing BladeGnomon is 6″ long



February 17, 2008

Former Scary Sharp User

Filed under: Sharpening,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 5:43 pm

I have used this method on occassion in the past and being very careful I was able to generally avoid dubbing over the flat side.  I still used stones but gave the sandpaper thing a chance.  Now while sandpaper is perfectably acceptable to use during nineteenth century, it was expensive and available in limited grits.  Sharkskin or dogfish skin was also used.

 Traditional sharpening was always done on stones and the results are superior to any other method.  Besides of the fact that that is how it was done, it is too easy to dub over the edge using sandpaper no matter how it is used.  I have tried several methods of securing the paper and there is still the problem of the give of the paper. 

No matter how flat the substrate the paper will still give a bit causing the problem.  Once it starts everytime sharpening occurs it is amplified.  While the method is quick I think that it like all new improvements just isn’t that good.  Proper sharpening, keeping the back of the blade Flat against the stone insures that this dubbing will not happen.

And I will not even think about discussing back bevels or the ‘ruler trick’, this is just a bad habit and not a good practice.  Woodcarvers can micro or double bevel their tools, they are different, both the tools and the people.  I have a good friend that for a number of years was a professional woodcarver.  He had a problem in that he couldn’t drink beer and carve wood.  His solution, he quit woodcarving.

As for sandpaper, I don’t have much use for it, when stuff comes off my lathe it is smooth enough off the tool that any sanding would scratch the surface.  Sharp planes and scrapers produce a much finer finish than sandpaper can ever achieve.   It does have its place, just not for sharpening or finishing.  I lightly sand finishes between coats and that is about the only use I now have for sandpaper


February 16, 2008

Febuary 16, 2009

Filed under: Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:22 am

Spent a couple of days sharpening edge tools, chisels and plane irons.  I should have waited for warmer weather as the iron and steel is cold and I need to hold them without gloves or mittens so I can feel the contact between metal and stone.  Several turning tools which I had not sharpened yet, (new to me but old tools) and they were in bad condition.

Previous owners had not paid enough attention to get the backs flat.  Dubbing over of the cutting edges required a lot of work over coarse stones to remove this, I hope inadvertant back bevel.  Back beveling is a lazy method of getting tools sharp and was not done.  It is a ‘new’ thing and during my fairly traditional training I was not allowed to hold the flat of the tool against the flat of the stone any other way than FLAT.

I also made the base for a coat rack out of pine.  Saddle lapped in the middle, I cut pieces for the ends of the 4 legs to double their thickness.  I toothed both surfaces slathered on liquid hide glue, rubbed them and left them overnight.  The next day they were perfectly tight and I smoothed and rounded over the ends.  As soon as I am able I will post some images.


February 8, 2008

First Entry in the Log

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 3:45 pm

Full Chisel


Paper Cut Out

Well here we are.

 I have just spent 2 weeks working in my shop.  Let me tell you about my shop.  I work at This is the Place Historic Park, a living history museum in Salt Lake City, Utah.  It is January and it is cold.  My shop is a board and batten building, a copy of the 1857 Henry Dinwoody Cabinet Shop and I have a fancy iron stove brought here by ox cart.  All of my tools are of the period and I do traditional woodwork.  The wood out here is softwoods, predominantly and they are all painted and grained to imitate fancy woods of the East and Europe. But it is cold and that is what I am going to focus upon until it warms up.  I did this experiment to see what it was like for our ancestors to work in conditions year round.  This is everything from how much wood it took to stay ‘warm’, to melting snow for water, warming work before it can be glued, warming the glue, warming myself and my cacao.  What is the best combination of clothing available during the period to keep warm?   I monitored my health, weight, food and water intake as well as the temperature and humidity of both my shop and outside.  This time was particularly cold and I had to make adjustments.  The outside temperature ranged from low single digits to about 30º (F) with humidity from 10% to 60%, the low exterior, the high interior. Did I mention that it was cold, and I may have failed to mention that the wind blows with gusts up to 35 MPH, but the wind blows at our location all of the time day or night.  I regularly walk through drifts up to my knees.  Located at the mouth of a canyon, it blows either up or down, every single day.  The deer bed down during the day in an oak thicket behind my shop, we have coyotes, bobcats and cougars, the rattlesnakes are sleeping this time of year. The first thing I encounter when I come to my shop in the morning before the sun is up, is the iron and brass lock on the back door.  The lock is the same temperature as the outdoors temperature, so I try not to touch it for very long.  I then must start a fire.  I have everything ready so there is no fumbling to get a flame.  My strike-a-light is a bit of charred linen cloth, a piece of flint, a hardened fire-steel and a bit of tow (coarse linen fibers).  I put prepared kindling in the stove and use the flint and steel to start a fire. I hold the piece of char cloth on top of the flint (the hottest sparks curl up) and a few strikes and I have a glowing ember in the char cloth.  The char cloth is linen or cotton fabric that has been burnt in the absence of oxygen.  This is done in a small metal container with a small hole in the lid.  The cloth is placed in the container, placed in the coals and allowed to carbonize.  Once the smoke no longer emanates from the hole the char cloth is done. With a glow in the char cloth it is transferred to the tow which is arranged like a small birds nest, I breathe onto the bundle increasing the oxygen and it heats up.  Soon a glow then smoke, then I stop blowing and flame.  I immediately transfer the burning birds nest into the kindling and shortly I have fire.  I then light a candle and the grease lamps are warming up on the stove.  It is very difficult getting a grease lamp burning when the grease is hard from the cold. I will have to check the stove every half hour or so and add more wood as needed.  I also haul in water for a tea pot on the stove and the days drinking and washing water.  My well doesn’t freeze over so I don’t need to melt snow, which I did before the well was dug. Inside my shop is generally 10 degrees warmer that the outside when I arrive in the morning.  But it can start out at 26 degrees when the outdoors temperatures are in the teens.  By the end of the day it has warmed up to 53 degrees.  As you can imagine it is not necessarily the best place to work but it is exactly what our ancestors experienced when they did the same thing a 150 years ago.  I put myself in the same situation although I am sure I complained more than craftsmen from the past.  Chopping firewood does actually warm you twice, when you split it and when it is burned you are warmed as well. There certain things you try and avoid doing when it is this cold.  For one thing gluing with hot hide glue is out of the question, at my best temperature it would have been difficult to do a glue up.  I did use liquid hide glue and it required that I warm the glue and the wood.  I did a few glue ups during this period and didn’t have any trouble.  Another thing I avoid is any tool made of metal that you have to hold in your hand.  You can use gloves or mittens but this is not always practicable.  My favorite brace, a Spafford pattern coach maker’s, is all iron and this time of year always cold. I use tools with wooden handles; these can be cold however as well.  I did notice one thing in particular and that was the finish put on tool handles.  Most of mine are wood with linseed oil, renewed as needed.  I just bought a set of screwdrivers with some sort of hard varnish finish.  I have one of the same style that is just beech with linseed oil finish.  I could feel the difference, the varnish handles were colder.  When the weather warms up I will be stripping the varnish from all my new screwdriver handles. It is important to dress properly under these conditions.  I wear layers of clothing starting out with under drawers and linen (a little too thin) or canvas trousers.  An undershirt and a linen over shirt with a canvas vest.  I also wear two coats and take the long linen duster off first and later shed my canvas sack coat.  A hat, scarf and mittens top it off.  The foot ware and stockings are another matter.  The lined boots and shoes are a bit warmer than unlined versions of traditional boots and shoes. What is of the most importance is the stockings.  Thin cotton in several layers is not bad, two layers are cold.  Thick cotton stockings over thinner ones are good but still cold.  Wool stockings are the best, I tried thin and thick cotton underneath, wool alone and wool over silk.  The last was actually the best my feet were warm almost all day long.  Sitting down warming and massaging my feet would warm them up again. I also wear a linen shop apron and sleeve stockings which add layers of protection.  I also wear a lined linen shop cap and that is an important addition as it retains a great deal of body heat.  I put on gloves or mittens to get firewood, handle metal objects, the fire poker and shovel as well as metal tools that I might have to use if I have to use them and can with my hands covered. No not all of this is bad, you can do a lot more hand planing without overheating.  Also sawing and boring generates heat as does working the treadle lathe.  This is the time of year I want to crank the grand wheel rather that work at the lathe.  The physical work generates heat and that requires a lot more intake of food.  In order to do this in a traditional manner for the two weeks I ate food that was common to the nineteenth century.  In order to kick up the calories I fried my morning bacon in lard and daubed up the grease with some bread. At first I lost a few pounds then added more protein, fat and sugar to my diet put the weight back on and maintained the weight for the balance of the experiment.  It doesn’t appear that it had any effect upon my health and I felt good albeit cold the entire time.  And I did notice that I could eat more fat because being cold actually burns calories and doing physical labor also requires more energy intake. You can use shellac without any problem the alcohol prevents it from freezing.  Oil paint can be used as well if it is warmed up.  Oil based Varnish or paint can also be applied and it does help to warm the pieces being painted as well as the varnish or paint.  It also may take a little longer to dry but it does dry. Of course during this time period I for some reason worked on iron objects knowing how cold they could be.  I made a toothing iron, requiring taking an existing blade, removing the temper by heating it to a cherry red then placing it in a bucket of wood ashes.  The next day I removed it from the bucket of ash and filed serrations on the back (non bevel) side of the blade.  Fortunately the file had a wooden handle but the iron was cold.  I worked on a couple of other projects but limited my contact with metal as, did I mention it is always cold. One day when retrieving water my hand was wet and froze to the brass door knob on my back door.  It came off as soon as the heat of my hand warmed the small brass knob but it was a start to get stuck to my door knob. One thing that you have to be careful about is sweating in the winter.  Now I know this sounds unlikely but it is possible to put yourself in harms way if in the wintertime you work up a sweat and have know way to remain warm as you dry out.  Once your clothes are wet it is possible to develop what today they call hypothermia and in the nineteenth century the ‘chills’. I suppose the main difference between what I did and what my ancestors went through is that I knew in the back of my mind, if things got bad I actually had an alternative.  If I sweated I knew I could find a place to get warm.  If I ran out of firewood I could easily get more.  If I was injured I could get professional help not available to our forebears.  I have also had my shots so tetanus, the plague, small pox and yellow fever were not a problem. This experience also gave me some insights that I did not have before I started this event.  I had recreated conditions that haven’t been occurred for one hundred and fifty years or longer.  I put myself through this in order to gain insights into the past and it left me a different person.  During this time period I did some investigation and experiments on the techniques and methods employed in the nineteenth century.  As I analyze the information and make sense of the notes and put it all together I will add it to this endeavor.   Stephen

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