Full Chisel Blog

April 30, 2008

Pantograph for portraits

Filed under: Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 6:04 pm

I was called upon to make a particular philosophical (scientific) instrument from descriptions of the original.  It is a portrait pantograph that reduces the outline or sillouette of a person sitting in a chair next to this machine.

There was an early artist named Sutliffe Maudsley and he did profile portraitures in the early nineteenth century, he did portraits of Joseph Smith Jr. and Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith founded the Mormon Church.  There was an exhibit at their museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City a couple of years ago and one of the fellows that works there came up with a device using a shadow cast on a sheet and the profile copied then reduced.  He could not figure out how the device was made.

I became interested in this machine and from the original descriptions of the original and how it operated, I figured it out.  It was a matter of making a mock-up and seeing if it would work, and it did.  So I built it using traditional techniques of the time period keeping true to traditional construction and materials.

Portrait panograph

The large lapped base is for stability and the mechanism is this height to accomidate the person sitting in a chair to the left of the upright.  The base is made to actually position the legs of a chair in the proper position.  The clamp is temporary.

Pantograph mechanism

The long thin stylus on the lower left is used to follow around the profile of a person sitting in a chair.  The arms then transfer and reduce 5:1 to the paper held in a frame.  The frame is adjustable to accommodate adults and children.  There is a pencil in the mechanism just in front of the paper, and when ready to draw, a new piece of paper is inserted in the frame, the pencil pushed into place and the wooden spring put on the end to push it on the paper.

By vary carefully moving the stylus around the profile a small portrait is drawn matching the profile of the individual but much smaller.  It was a hit during training last evening and will be in daily use when the park opens up this week end.

I will make a video of it in operation as soon as it is set up.  This was a fun project to figure out and build.


April 28, 2008


Filed under: Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:51 pm

The first building I ever built, besides a log cabin for a movie was made of dirt.  Adobe or sun dried bricks have been used for thousands of years and when people came out to the West and areas where there is not a lot of wood to build log cabins, adobe was the choice.

Brigham Young had knowledge of this technique and it is ubiquitous in the West.  It is simple, mud, some straw, dried grass, animal hair, egg shells, sand and wood ashes was mixed with water into a thick mud and placed in wooden molds and allowed to air dry and sun bake.

I made a 6 gang mold that would make six bricks matching the size of old adobe bricks and they do vary in size.  These are about 4 inches thick 8 inches wide and 16 inches long.  The mold is made about a half inch larger as there is some shrinkage when the adobe dries.

The adobe mixture is made in a pit and the pits were moved to fresh dirt and the mixing process begins.  One important ingredient that goes largely unmentioned is the addition of wood ash.  Simple ash from stoves and fireplaces add an important ingredient to the adobe and makes it more waterproof than adobe made without.

However given the uniform color or gray of the old adobe indicate that they did use wood ash, and they knew why.  It acts similar to portland cement and the wood ash reacting to water makes for a harder brick.  The mud is then shoveled into the molds, pounded down to remove any air spaces and is screed off to smooth off the tops.

 Adobe Making

The mold is then lifted, it requires two people to lift it off, it is repositioned on some fresh straw and an new batch of mud is is shoveled into the mold and the process is repeated.  Each new day the bricks are turned up on edge and turned over to allow all sides to dry equally to prevent cracking.  The straw, hair, grass all help to bind everything together, but it is important that the pieces dry equally.  Turning is done on a daily basis.

Depending on the weather, temperature and humidity the bricks dry in less than two weeks in the summer, the best time for making bricks.   We were actually building this building as we were making the adobe bricks, I had a helper to do the work but we made the bricks and built this adobe building in about a month, that was in 1977,  the photograph is from today.

Adobe Building

Adobe buildings are cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  Most adobe buildings were covered with stucco or siding to protect them from the weather as they are not fired so they are water soluable.


April 27, 2008

If a chisel falls in the forest, and you catch it, will anyone hear you scream?

Filed under: Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:29 pm

I have been doing woodworking longer than I haven’t and within the first year, shortly after I had learned how to sharpen tools, real sharp, one of my chisels with a round handle rolled off the work bench and I caught it before it hit the floor.

I had taken a great deal of time to get that heavy 1/2″ socket firmer chisel to a mirror finish and honed to a fine edge, I wanted to protect it, unfortunately I chose to do it with my soft fleshy and bony hand, which was no match.

The result of that incident is that I no longer ‘catch’ anything.  I have lost the catch reflex.  I of course can not play catch as I will not go for the ball.  If someone throws me something, I stoop over and pick it up off the ground, so far, no lacerations from doing that.

I have dropped tools and given the probabilities, the sharp end, ends up hitting the ground first about 50% of the time.  However given that they are streamline towards the sharp end, the percentages may be higher for the nice sharp pointy end hits the ground first.

I can always easily resharpen a badly damaged blade that I recently dropped on a rock in less than an hour.  Now that nasty, clean to the bone cut,that takes a bit longer to get over, makes that resharpening look good.

When I have a sharp tool in my hand, I always make sure I know where the cutting edge is and my orientation to the most important part of the tool.  I always have respect for and know where the sharp parts are, I am aware of the cutting edge and I Never cut towards anything I do not want to cut off.  This is an important rule from anything from straight razors or chisels.

Respect the sharp edges, I have brushed against tools just laying on the bench and those sharp edges will fool you, because the first time you notice you are bleeding is the red stains on your woodwork.  I have been lacerated by the sharp edges of freshly planed pine. 

All of my chisels and other sharp, pointy objects have tapered square and chamfered (8 sided) handles that do not roll off the bench.  They are all curly maple and I use them for tanged and socket chisels.

Sharp, pointy objects, your mothers warned you about these thing, they can poke an eye out.

And when you are in my shop, remember all of the tools in my shop are sharp, so when you cut yourself, please do not bleed on the furniture or the tools, it rusts the tools up something awful and makes the furniture hard to sell.


Sport Museuming

Filed under: Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:31 am

Sport Museuming 

After having visited about 200 museums and historic sites I have come up with a new recreational sport for those interested in the past, history, heritage, genealogy, technology, social, cultural, geographical, archeological, &c., sport museuming. 


If I am going to a particular area, I do research on their history, make notes and prepare my itinerary, strategy and plan of attack.  While I realize that in most cases I have more knowledge than the docents, volunteers and in some cases the hired staff.  I do not however ever do anything to put them down or make them feel bad about the experience.  I enjoy visiting museums and deal with the infuriation of inaccurate labels, incorrect dates and of course in my case mislabeled wood species.  In most cases it is well taken when someone can contribute to the knowledge base and I do it as graciously as possible.  Some are offended but so be it, it is the history, facts, first hand accounts, original sources are what is important.  By doing this I have got consulting contracts on the spot and spent a few hours telling them exactly what they had and got paid for doing so.  Sometimes it pays to go to museums.


Here is an interesting example.  Back in 1976 I traveled across the country with my father after my mother passed away.  I drove us to Indiana to visit my sister and her children then to fly on to Washington D.C. for a visit to the Smithsonian.  We stopped at every marker along the way and even went 200 miles out of the way to visit The Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron Nebraska, a great museum by the way. 


We stopped at an historic site that had some open air kiosks exhibits of its history, including the North American Fur Trade.  I was walking around and an interpreter, dressed up somewhat came over to where I was standing looking at the Mountain Man exhibit. (I use the word ‘exhibit’ rather than ‘display’, museums ‘exhibit’, stores ‘display – also interpreters wear historic clothing, clowns wear ‘costumes’.)  His interest was the fur trade, he was smoking a kaolin pipe with some Kinnikinic, had on a blanket coat and fur felt hat.  He commented on his particular artifact in the case, a broken fragment of a Hudson Bay Company ‘target’ pattern clay pipe.  A green gray color with a round cylinder bowl and stem, a distinctive chin and a target or bulls-eye on each side makes this clay smoking pipe distinctive.


He went on and on about it and I began to smile.  In my pocket full of “People of the Long House” Kinnikinic, was a near perfect original Hudson Bay Co. target pipe with a reed stem.  I had purchased it a couple of years earlier along with a couple of dozen other old clay pipes and wasn’t in it more than $10.00.


I asked to borrow his pipe tool, a hand forged piece he kept in his hat band.  I pulled the pipe from my pocket and began to clean my pipe.  He continued talking for a while then looked down as I tapped out the dottle.  His eyes got wide open as did his mouth.  I handed it to him and told him not to drop it.  He could not believe what had just happened.  He called other interpreters over and went on and on, thanking me over and over again.  Sometimes it pays to go to museums.


Now my interest is woodworking so that is a lot of my focus.  Here is one of my greatest complaints about museums, historic sites, relic halls, etc.; it is that an object will be identified as ‘wood’.  Well now I can eliminate animals and minerals.  Gymnosperm, angiosperm, cycad?  The usual answer is ‘what?’  My response that was my question.


‘What kind of wood is it?’ 


We don’t know. 


I do.  Now I either have irritated them in which case I drop it or they are interested and they ask questions.  Some take notes, turn on recorders or cameras.  I have even had all of the workers assemble to listen to what I have to say and answer questions.


Now this does require that you know what you are talking about, facts are facts, history bears that out, don’t venture beyond your field of expertise.  It is perfectly acceptable to say ‘I don’t know’, although I don’t say that often, oh now that sounds bad.


My whole theory is that if you are going to do history, either with static or living history you are obliged to do it exactly right.  Or it is wrong.  I like to hold peoples and institutions feet to the fire when it comes to history.  And I would expect the same thing of me when I am interpreting in a living history museum, which I do.


Now there are some places where you will visit that are doing it exactly right and to the best of their ability are honestly portraying the past.  Without a modern mind-set that always wants to do history one better doesn’t understand it is not our job to do it ‘better’ than they did in earlier times.  It is not our job to improve upon the past; it is our job to portray the past as it was.


‘Nobody will know the difference.’  ‘Most people wouldn’t notice that.’  ‘Nobody cares.’  Well I would like to inform all of those people who say that, I will visit your museum and I will know the difference, I will notice that and I DO care.  I will bring it to your attention, the administration and the board of directors and the public.  Burr under the saddle, ring a bell?


I am easy on local relic halls that are largely volunteers and have little budget for professional museum staff.  I gladly offer to help them improve their collection in terms of both labeling and conservation and preservation.  Most are happy to receive help and it can be our way of paying back to those ‘free’ museums and even those that have an entrance fee. 


Now I almost always try to get in free, professional courtesy and all, nod, nod, wink, wink.  I am surprised at how often when I show up dressed like those inside how easy it is to achieve entrance without those entry fees.  This can sometimes lead to members of the administration accompanying you on the tour, in living history settings this can be a distraction and may want to be avoided.


Certain sites I will gladly pay to get in, sort of incognito, then blend in and enjoy your visit.  This gives you a good idea of how the interpretation happens.  Knowing someone from another museum can put the staff on their toes, which does lead to great interpretation and entertainment but it can also give you a ‘clean’ version.


A lot is to be said of the ‘blue tour’.  All museums, living history museums, reenactments and the like all have ‘their story’.  This is what you don’t hear on the regular tour, this is the real dirt on the place.  Some may be folklore but it is always fun to get the good stuff on what was going on in the past.


As far as how sites are interpreted that depends on the particular situation.  At times I enjoy taking my time endlessly looking into glass cases at inanimate objects and appreciating the preservation of our historical cultural past.  These self interpreted sites can contain errors worthy of note and notification of those in charge.  At other times a living history museum can provide an immersion process that really gets you into the past.  Walk through the gates and step into the past.  When it is done properly it is by far the penultimate museum experience.  When people can be confused as to which century they are in, great things have been accomplished.


There are times when history just stops you in your tracks.  On that visit to Washington D.C., I was in search of shoe buckles, had a new pair of lanchet shoes and needed buckles.  At that time there were few suppliers so I was looking at ‘costume’ shops to try and find a set.  Not having any luck I was walking down a street, looking at the steel and concrete structures of the city.  I was looking down at the cement sidewalk as I walked when I noticed a set of wooden stairs.  I stopped and looked up, Fords Theater; I spun around and across the street the original house that Abraham Lincoln was taken after he was shot and where he expired.  Neither were open at the time the theater being under renovation.   But I didn’t need to go in either edifice as I stood there the history and dark story of the event was the historical experience.


The modern world faded and in my mine the drama and chaos filled the streets with a stunned crowd pushing for answers.  With the recent unpleasantness between the States having ended and with the promise of peace, made this event a national and international tragedy.


Because I was familiar with the history of the place it was unnecessary for even a marker to delineate what happened on this spot.  No need for an interpreter as I was self-interpreting the site, but it would have been nice to tour both of these structures, being there in the street between these two structures whose only connections was the night of the performance of ‘Our American Cousin’ attended by President Lincoln.


I knew Booth carried a single shot pistol made by Derringer in Philadelphia and after his jump from the presidential box to the stage, caught his spur in the bunting and broke an ankle as he crashed to the stage.  A shocked audience heard the words sic simper tyrannous (death to tyrants) as the assassin flees.  Slavery, secession, the War fleshed out the events in my mind as I stood quietly on sacred ground.  I was only there for about 10 minutes, would have spent more time had either building been open, but it was a significant ten minutes.


After 30 years I have learned much more about what was going on at the time in our country and the world and the memory of my visit to Ford’s Theater gives place to that history.  I must visit again and get the tour inside


This works both ways; the ethereal history that is learned at school, from books and study gives some form, content and background to the events of the past.  The location or physical site gives that form shape, adds content and fixes the background with visual, tactile verification.  Visiting a site first can cause us to round out our understanding by reading and studying the written record.  The chronicles of the past can inspire us to go out of our way (well out of some peoples way) to visit the actual location of the original events.  The visual or tactile visit can help focus and correlate historic information in our minds.  It is easier to remember if you can ‘picture’ it in your head.  This puts learning in context with location.


Some sites can not be visited as they no longer exist, perhaps a marker about what was there and some may be underwater or their exact location unknown.  All we may have is the recorded history that we can get from books and study.  It is nice when we can put the two together to have the whole experience.


One interesting, intriguing and challenging aspect of this sport is looking at models and dioramas in various museums and to find the anachronism that is invariably put in these diminutive exhibits by most builders.  This will be very subtle and some may have gone unnoticed since they were installed.  You have to look closely, a clever builder will sometimes hide the object in plain sight, and others will secret it away but none the less still visible from some point.  Modern soda pop and beer cans are a favorite, I have seen a beer can in a midden pile of an Anasazi cliff dwelling and a soda pop can in the reeds in the water of a pre-Columbian Midwest fishing scene.


Souvenirs from my excursions into the past include photographs of artifacts.  I have several photographs of an object in an exhibit case while holding the exact artifact I own in front of the case.  These are usually small objects such as wick trimmers and tools.  These are also more at local museums where I can take my artifact back to take the photograph of both objects.  I have done a few larger objects and this usually requires permission from the museum staff.  Because this is unusual and an opportunity for the curators and historians to examine an other matching artifact, they usually go along with this curious request.


FARB, FARBY and DEFARB are new words that apply to historic reenactments and were derived from someone commenting about inappropriate materials, tools, techniques used in a traditional setting, far be it for me to say that is wrong.’  And to defarb is to remove the offending anachronism and render the item correct to the period.  This applies to objects, sites, individuals and depictions of historic events.


A magazine cover art depicting mid nineteenth century American military carrying World War II European bolt action rifles.  Or the classic Revolutionary War epic with a soldier firing a bizarre Hollywood 44-70 trap door Springfield ‘Flintlock”.  It might be more subtle such as an 1870’s tooth pattern cross cut log saw in a motion picture set in the 1830’s.


To get the children involved give them a challenge before going to the museum.  Have them make a list and fill out the names of things they see that correspond to the alphabet from A to Z.  A scavenger hunt to find objects that can be expected at various locations.  Have the kids spot historic markers, stop and have them read them out loud.


While at historic sites and at museums tell the children not to touch anything unless they are encouraged to do so.  Respect the places as part of our heritage and encourage the children to hold it in reverence and honor what they are seeing.  The personal involvement and hands-on participation will give the children a much better idea of what the past was all about.  It is not all entertainment, sometimes it is educational and sometimes it is life changing.  A unique experience at a museum, historic site, living history location can forever change the course of young minds.


April 26, 2008

Up-Down Saw Mill

Filed under: Sawing,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:35 am

(I hope I am not violating any blogging laws by posting more than once a day, I appologize.)


Up-Down Saw Mill


This is a fairly typical up down saw mill that was common up through the industrial revolution when larger circular saws were available and when trees were much smaller as a lot of original growth had been cut down and burned.


It is a pole type building with its upright posts set in holes in the ground.  Sometimes the wheel would be under the mill as was Mr. Sutter’s Saw Mill on the North fork of the American River in California.  This one is an overshot wheel with an overhead flume to bring water to the top of the wheel.

 Pole barn construction

The bents are constructed flat on the ground and raised up to position and in their holes.  The connecting members are placed and pegged.

 Saw Mechanism

This shows the up-down sash saw mechanism.  The small pulley is a power takeoff for a lifting wench to bring logs up to the working floor of the sawmill.


Saw Irons


A ratchet mechanism advances the log on the carriage, which can travel a foot per stroke with the rip tooth web under tension usually was sharpened 1 tooth per inch with large gullets to remove the sawdust.  The sawdust fell under the mill and was usually shoveled into the tailrace.


The finished mill has no walls as they were only used in the warmer spring months after the thaw during the spring freshet.  This mill has a diversion sluice to allow the water to flow its course and not moving the wheel.  The head of water was diverted while a new log was being dogged to the carriage.


Up-Down Saw Mill


A mill similar to this was built in Utah Territory in about 1850; it had an overhead sluice with a roadway underneath.  This mill was also sided and was used year round.  When no water was available it had large grand wheels to operate the other machinery, namely a planing machine and turning lathe.


With saw webs up to 8 feet long, subtracting a one foot stroke and these saws could handle very large logs.  Most large logs from original growth forests in the nineteenth century and earlier were burned, they were too large for the sawmills to cut up.  Lumberman would cut logs to the length of the carriages of the mills they supplied and also knew the limits of the size of the log the mill could cut up into boards and timbers.


Historic buildings in the local communities will have similar measurements or multiples of those measurements because of the size of lumber and timbers that the local saw mill supplied.  This is an interesting bit of information because it allows us to extrapolate how big the saw mills were as not many originals have remained out here in the West.



Board & Batten Building

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

Board & Batten Building 

This is a very simple board and batten, post and beam building.  It has a simple foundation of piled stones, but can be built down low with a dirt floor.  The drawings are for a building, built on a slight hill, hence the different piles of rocks.

String Layout


The first thing to do is to layout the size of the building.  This is usually dictated by the size of timbers and lumber that is available from local sawmills.  Of note in different communities the sizes of the buildings are always the size of the length of the local sawmill’s log carriage that determines the size of the buildings.  Or it is in multiples of the size of timbers and boards supplied by the mills.


Stakes are pounded into the ground at the corners, measuring diagonally to determine that the building is ‘square’, even though it is rectangular.  The string line is also determined to be level by using a whiskey stick (spirit level), transit or water tube.  The flat stones are then placed until the foundation is level in all the right places.

Stone Foundation


The sill plate is notched at the corners on the ends to lap on the long sides.  If there is going to be a dirt floor then the next step is not done.  It might be a good idea to run a strap of wood across the center to prevent spreading of the sill plates during construction.

First Bent


The floor joists are cut to length and with dovetail joints, sawn and chopped into the sill plates.  The ends of the joists can be cut with a hand saw into dovetails, and then used to lay out the receiving mortises (half blind dovetails, sort of) which are sawn and chopped.  These lock the sill plates into position and give support and a nail plate for the flooring which is laid loose until the building is complete.  This allows it to season and acclimate to the environment where the building is being built.  Some floors were laid loose and not nailed or pegged down until a year later.  Having the floor in place will help in building the remainder of the building.


Holes are drilled and mortises chopped down through the lap joints for the posts, which are tenoned on both ends.  One tenon for the mortise in the sill plate and the other for a mortise to be drilled and chopped in the rafter plate.

Joinery details


Bents are assembled on the ground and lifted into place.  A bent is a part of the structure that can be assembled on the ground and hoisted into place.  They can be from end to end or side to side, depending on the number of bents and size of the building.


Knee or wind braces need to be cut and the appropriate mortises chopped to receive them.  Their purpose is to prevent wracking of the structure under wind load.  When properly installed they make sure the building is plumb, level and square.  If the math, marking and methods are all accurate, the building will be remarkably square, plumb and level.


The rafters are simple laps, no ridge beam nor purlin and dovetailed tie collars with bird beaks and pegged with trunnels or treenails into the rafter plates.  The rafters are kept in place with skip sheathing of rough cut boards for the board and batten roof.


The studs and plates for the windows and door openings were sometimes joined into the framework or merely toe nailed in place where the fenestrations are required.


The roof is done first and the siding fit up underneath and allowed to run long on the bottom.  Boards are laid so that they will cup and form a gutter or trough and the Battens are laid cup down so they shed water, making for a tight roof.

Completed Building


The siding is put up the same way with attention to grain and cupping.  Flat trim can be added around doors and some were adorned with barge boards, corner boards and eve returns.  These buildings were the simple and common trade’s buildings in the nineteenth century after pole barns which are similar without the sill plates.


The finish woodwork of the doors, windows and other detail work completes this utilitarian structure.



April 25, 2008

Working Green

Filed under: Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:49 am

Working Green


No, no, no, this is not about how to ‘be green’, but working green wood.  Now that is not the color, it just means it is fresh cut and has not dried out and shrunk up.  Green wood has advantages and disadvantages.  For one it will shrink, probably split and can twist, wind, bow, cup and warp.  But if that is not a concern it is great stuff to work with.  And it can be glued with hide glue even green wet wood.


Fresh cut, unseasoned green wood is excellent for chair making as the shrinkage can be used to advantage.  If the upright legs of a chair such as a ladder back are made of green wood and all the rest of the parts, dry seasoned wood, then when it shrinks and all of those socket holes shrink it will lock the chair together in addition to the hide glue holding everything together.


Or the seat of a Windsor chair is made of green wood and the spindles and legs are dry wood, then the same thing happens, the socket holes shrink around the tenons of the legs and spindles.  Also other combinations of dry and green wood have been used with great success.


Turned pieces are sometimes roughed out when green allowed to season (easier because the bulk of the wood has been removed) then returned when dry.  When a piece is turned from green wood when it dries it will become slightly oval.  If it is a square piece when it dries it becomes a slight diamond shape.


How wood seasons

(ignore the ilovewood.com it is now www.fullchisel.com)


One other slight advantage is that when working green wood there is no static electricity that makes the shavings stick to everything.  Dry wood will produce the static and the shavings and chips are attracted to most surfaces.  One disadvantage is that it can rust tools because of the moisture, so it is important to keep the tools green.


Green wood is also much easier to work, ever try and hew an air dried white oak log?  But working a green log is much, much easier, although the log is heavier.  Green pine works like butter.  Under a chisel or plane iron the work is smooth and creamy, whatever that means.  Sawing can produce some fuzz but that can be cleaned up with a low angle very sharp plane.


Here is the real advantage and something I have wanted to get out there, green wood becomes air dried wood which is a much better product to work with as opposed to kiln dried wood.  Now kiln drying is a new thing and was not done in the mid nineteenth century as a matter of course.  It may have been done in isolated places but the large percentage of wood was worked green or air dried.


Kiln drying was introduced in the late Industrial Revolution to keep up with the demand for dry wood for increased manufacturing.  So in my time period (mid nineteenth century) it was not around, so all dry wood was air dried.


Cooking wood to dry it out will forever change the structure and chemistry of the wood.  This is why when you steam wood, heating it above 185º, it cooks the fatty acids in the lignin and when it cools it becomes solid, on reason steam bent wood stays in place.  Once it is cooked that hot the wood is harder and more brittle than air dried wood.


The difference between kiln dried and air dried woods is noticed in tone-woods by musical instrument makers (Stradivarius didn’t have kiln dried wood) and chair makers; I have noticed a big difference myself.  Kiln dried wood doesn’t have the same feel as air dried wood, and air dried works better under a tool.  Knots are easier to plane when they are green or air dried but not so easy when kiln dried.


Kiln dried wood is also more difficult to glue than air dried wood, there are problems with what is called a refractory surfaces and case hardening that effect how easy they are to glue.  Kiln dried wood may cause problems with finishes.


That is why I like green wood and am very fond of air dried wood and try and use it as much as possible.  I do use kiln dried wood because I can’t always get green wood and few suppliers offer air dried lumber.  Give green wood a try and if you can get some air dried wood, buy it and give it a try, you will be pleasantly surprised.



April 24, 2008

Dovetailing Drawers

Filed under: Dovetails,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 2:53 pm

The Dovetail Joint Half Blind Dovetail

We have a different view of the dovetail joint than they had in the nineteenth century, and I am pretty sure in the eighteenth century and before as well.  Today we revere and honor the almighty dovetail as the end all of craftsmanship.  When in fact in the nineteenth century it was just a good joint and its application was for specific purposes.

In fact I would guess better than 90% of the dovetail joints were not seen until the drawers are opened.  Probably the second most common joint after a chair socket, the dovetail provided a self clamping and self squaring joint, all things being equal.  Ideally suited for box construction, its most common application was for making drawers.  This accounts for the bureau or chest of drawers being the most expensive item for sale in a Cabinet Shop in the nineteenth century.  A fancy chair would sell for $6.00; a common Windsor Sheraton would sell for $4.00, a rocking chair for $8.00 and a bureau for $26.00 to 31.00.  A farmer or labor could make $0.35 to .50 per day, a skilled craftsman $1.75 to $2.50 per day, so the chest of drawers would have been a major expense during the 1850’s.

People are intimidated by dovetail joints because they want to make them show, while most dovetails as in drawers are hidden.  Practice on drawers before going on to class 1 joints that show.  People are intimidated by chairs as well; I will deal with that later.

Dovetailed drawers are wonderful things to practice on as they hardly ever show.  Drawers are good practice for dovetailing and there is no better way of learning than by having to repeat the task over and over again until it is second nature.

There are a lot of jigs, guides and fancy tools to help in the dovetailing process.  I will not mention them as I don’t use them but they might be of benefit to beginners and anything to make it easier for those just starting out is a good thing.  I don’t even use an angle jig anymore as I am only concerned about the square cut (the most important cut), the angle will take care of itself.

Because I always gang saw, in other words I clamp both sides (and pairs of sides) together and cut them all at once, so I cut tails first.  I know some people cut pins first, but doing a lot of half blind dovetails on drawer fronts, I find this cumbersome.  Tails first for me is the way I learned, the way I do it and that is what I will be talking about.

Once the pieces for the drawer are made up, I use ¾” to 1 inch fronts, with ½” thick sides and back and a ¼” bottom.  Sometimes I use a thicker bottom and feather three edges to fit the plough (plow) {groove} on the drawer front and sides.  The back has no groove and is not as wide as the sides to allow for the bottom to slide in from the back and secured only with a single nail, so it floats free in the grooves.  In most cases the grain of the bottom is from front to back, but on wider drawers the grain can go from side to side.

I then set a marking gauge to the thickness of the sides (half inch) and mark both ends of the sides and back.  I also mark the back of the drawer front on each end gauged from the sides and the side of the drawer front with the fence on the back side.  I know that the plow or groove will be near the bottom within 3/8” or ¼”, so I make sure the bottom dovetail on the side of the drawer front will cover the groove. 

I then space the dovetails by eye make a few pencil marks on the drawer side.  I clamp up the sides (up to 8 half inch boards), usually two so that everything is square.  Then with a square I mark out the lines over the end grain of the boards as these are what are important.  I place a mirror on the opposite side of my vise so I can see the back side allowing me to saw to the score lines without stopping and looking on the other side to see if I am close.  With a rip saw, I cut the dovetails, using the nicker nib if necessary to get the cut started.  I also lift the handsaw on the pull stroke to avoid premature dulling of the teeth.

I will remove the waste with a chisel or sometimes a coping saw, the former is easier, the latter is faster but subject to needing paring, which I avoid.  Because I use a marking gauge for the layout, I cut to the line in both cases, and if I have to pare the joint I have words with myself.  About 85% to 90% of my joints (dovetails, I have better percentages with Mortise and Tenons) go together on the first try.  I am not bragging, no I guess I am, but I have had a lot of experience.

When I chisel, I use the score line to orient the chisel and go from there.  Using a wooden mallet I strike the chisel straight down then split off a bit of wood then strike again.  I reverse the board and repeat.  With the little piece left a light blow and it is clean and on to the next.  With sawing I insert a narrow coping saw blade in the rip kerf and begin cutting near the bottom then to the line, again using the mirror to see I am sawing to the line.  This is the hard part, the money side which is where all of the cuts are made from is easy it is the off side that can be off, and the mirror helps.  I reverse it and finish off the little bit I couldn’t get at the start and the joint is clean.

I then use the tails to lay out the pins on the drawer front and drawer back board.  The groove should already have been ploughed and the bottom side tail should cover the groove if everything is right.  With the side square and positioned I use a striking knife to make the transfer marks.  This avoids the vagaries of a wide pencil line.  The score line also gives a positive starting place for both chisel and saw.

I lay the drawer front flat with the edge towards me and secured to the bench and using my rip dovetail saw I make the cuts for the tails.  I have in the past scribed the square lines, as they are more important, the angles already established with the pins, but in most cases I don’t.  I also do not stop at the thickness gauge mark on the back of the drawer front.  I go beyond the score mark to make the chisel work easier.  I do stop at the mark on the side of the drawer front to make for a better looking joint.

I then use a chisel and remove the waste.  I have a quarter inch wide chisel that has heavy bevels on the side for dovetails and use to remove the waste material.  The saw kerf helps locate the angle on the inside back edge and the heavily beveled chisel gets into those tight corners.

The drawer back is positioned just flush with the top of the groove to allow the bottom to be inserted, removed and repaired or repositioned if it dries out.  I then cut the pins after marking them from the drawer sides.  These dovetails are usually a bit smaller and are almost never seen as drawers are seldom pulled all the way out.

With proper layout and cutting everything should be flush on dry fit up.  I also make sure that it fits into its opening and make any adjustments before gluing up the drawer box.  I then take the drawer apart, apply glue and reassemble.  I wipe off all excess glue with a wet rag at this point as I don’t want to glue the drawer into the cabinet.   I check for square, insert the drawer bottom loose and place the drawer into the opening where it will go to dry.  Dovetail drawers are self clamping and it helps for the drawer box to dry in situ.  If the opening is slightly out of square, the drawer can be wracked a bit to fit.

I usually make my drawers square (they can be rectangular but they are still square), because they tend to be square anyway and make any adjustments by planing off the drawer front.  Also adding cock bead to a drawer front will make any irregularities go away.

Some drawers have lips and overhang the cabinet, so it is important that they fit up good and the drawer can be racked to work and allowed to dry.  I make sure the drawer runners are on the drawer guides and there is no twist, paying attention to detail now helps make good working drawers.

When the glue is dry and being one would only use hide glue, that would be the next day, I remove the drawers, run a scraper or if necessary plane to smooth off any raised grain and then nail in the bottom.



April 23, 2008

Ellipse Engine Video

Filed under: Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 6:15 pm

For those who have never seen the Oval Machine in operation, here it is.  The video is from my camera, the sound is weak and I don’t know what that clicking noise came from.

I hope this works.  And it did, thanks to Aaron McDonald for shooting the video.  He is also my part time apprentice.


April 21, 2008

I broke my Blog

Filed under: Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 4:51 pm

I do appologize for the missing article on Sawing, somehow my blog went down sometime saturday after I had posted.  I will try and post it later, for now I just want to thank those that commented, sorry for the delay in approving new ones.

I will be back up to speed soon.


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