Full Chisel Blog

May 18, 2008

The American Rocking Chair

Filed under: Furniture,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:40 am

There is talk about that the rocking chair is an American invention.  All right, we will claim it although I don’t know if that is true.  Rocking cradles were known in Europe.  Some say the rocking chair was developed to be used at a loom because it was in effect an adjustable height seat.  I don’t know but rocking chairs are interesting pieces of furniture and are frequently damaged, usually wear on the rockers, but with it moving most of the time, joints can also loosen up.

Boston Rocker

This is a Western version of the Boston rocker, made of pine and painted and grained look like mahogany, with gold details.

Here is another version called a Dixie Rocker because it was made in southern Utah in the 1850’s, 60’s.  This one is painted and grained to look like QS white oak.

Dixie Rocker

Here are two unusual rocking chairs.  These were made by John and Thomas Cottam, prolific chair makers from England, that produced hundreds and hundreds of these type chairs during their long time in business.  Their lathe was powered by horses.

Cottam Rocking Chairs

Both do not have their original rush seats and have been overpainted, too bad.  The rockers are made of fir instead of pine which will wear better.  If the rockers are not coplanar then a rocking chair will creep or crawl to one side or the other.  This has to do with angle of contact and the surface treatment of the bottom of the rocker, which wears off.  A slight belly reduces ‘crawl’.  The more the curve the more likely a chair is to crawl, lower arcs reduce crawl.

But to eliminate crawl all together use walnut for the rockers.  Don’t ask me why.

Here is my favorite Cottam rocking chair, it is made for a child and underneath that piece of wood is a woven willow seat bottom.  All Cottam chairs had twisted rush seat bottoms.

Cottam Child's Rocker

I have made reproductions of their chairs, but never a rocker, this is my next project.

I saved the best for last.  This one defies all rules of furniture made in the West during the pioneer period.  This one is made of one of the few local hardwoods we have out here, it is made of Big Leaf Maple.  It has an oil and shellac finish and its original cat tail rush seat bottom.  The wings have been replaced.  This chair belonged to Brigham Young and was one of his favorites.

Brigham Young's Rocking Chair

It looks like this chair bodger had a lathe.

Whether the rocking chair is an American innovation, I am not sure, but it is definately from the nineteenth century and not earlier.


May 17, 2008

Shepherds’ Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Woodworker

Filed under: Publications,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 6:42 am


Now that is a long title and this is shameless self promotion.  My first book was the result of 7 years work all those years ago.  Got some good reviews when it came out, Smithsonian Magazine, April 1982, called it ‘perhaps the ultimate tome on traditional woodworking, sans power tools, sans high-tech’.  Sold copies to the Architect of the Capital, The Department of the Navy and the CIA (this one caused me concern).

I reprinted the book in paperback in 2004.

Book Cover

I was convinced to put a pic on the new edition so I chose my tool cabinet.  It (the tool cabinet) has changed a bit and continues to evolve.  While the book looks thin, is 192 pages but it was ‘man against white space’.  The printers had a nightmare because I left so little border on the pages.

Original editions (there were not that many printed) are selling for nearly $300.00 on the Internet, however for $24.95 plus shipping Joel at http://www.toolsforworkingwood.com/Merchant/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=toolshop&Product_Code=AQ-1062&Category_Code=ET will gladely sell you a new paperback version of the original.  I just purchased an original edition (I didn’t keep one, yeah that was stupid) for around $150.oo in trade and a friend picked up one on the web for $95.00 a year and a half ago.

People who purchased the originals are happy with their increase in value and I am happy Joel is selling the reprints for me.  So if you don’t want to go the expense of the originals for less than 10% of what originals are selling for you can get a copy of your own.

Wait don’t order yet…

(I had to say that)

Order Now.


May 16, 2008

Warning: Naked Tools

Filed under: Proper Tools,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:53 pm

Got your attention?  I thought that might.  Well back to woodworking and this is related to a post I did when I first started to record this web log.  The post was about using tools in the winter time in a cold (wood heated) shop.  I talked about metal tools like my favorite Fray & Pigg Spafford pattern brace, which is entirely iron and I don’t use it in the winter time.

Another thing I noticed was that tools with hard ‘lacquer’ or varnish finish were almost as cold as the metal tools and I vowed to remove that shine.  It is kind of dull on most pieces, especially rosewood, does noting for the grain either.  But the smoothness has other problems.

Anyway here are the tools that needed to have their modern spray or dip finish removed:

Naked Tools

The Warrington pattern hammer is a cheap one made in the Orient and has what appears to be Japanese Oak for a handle.  The screwdrivers have beech handles as are the handles of the small carving knives.  The awl and the brass backed Gent’s saw have Rosewood handles and under the lacquer they looked dull.

Here are the tools after a bit more scraping and a coat of Moses T’s Gunstocker’s Finish really brings out the grain and will be the only treatment which I generally renew as needed on a yearly basis.

Proper Tools

I did my other Warrington and found a Miter square that needed attention.  I liked the way the Japanese oak worked, I reshaped the handles to remove that silly bulge after the handle necks down from the grip.  I don’t think I have ever worked it before, it doesn’t behave like American oak, not even white oak, seems much finer grain that isn’t as open as the Western stuff, I like it.

One other thing I don’t like about a slick smooth lacquer, varnish or shellac finish on tool handles is that they are smooth and slick, and in no time it is easy to raise a blister.  While this smooth surface has a lot of friction because it is smooth, it may have too much.  The same screwdriver with its hard finish removed and replaced with linseed oil finish will work just as well and will not raise a blister as easily.

Slick smooth finishes are also difficult to grip with sweaty hands and a couple of hours of ripping boards and my hands sweat.  Besides those factory finishes look like crap, just strip them off, scrape or sand them smooth and apply a coat of linseed oil and leave it at that.  Renew as needed, once a year for most tools.

The tools also just feel better you are feeling the wood not the finish and it looks better, the oil brings out the grain and it is a friendly finish that is easy to repair.  Soon those smooth slick modern finishes will flake and there is no repairing them.  Oil finishes are easy to use, easy to repair and make the tools look great.

Now I can use these any time of year and with the summer coming on they won’t slip in my hand and in the winter they won’t feel like cold iron.


May 14, 2008


Filed under: Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 3:15 pm

Runs in my family.  I am not sure this is a timely topic but I thought I would give you an historical prospective into this ancient practice (and not so ancient practice).

Moses Trader Shepherd

Moses Trader Shepherd was my Great-great Grandfather and this likeness of him was taken before 1866 when he expired.  He was a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS, Mormons, Mormonites, &c.) who joined up in 1846 in Nauvoo, Illinois and came to Zion (The State of Deseret, Utah Territory, Utah).  He settled in Spanish Fork, was a farmer and taught farming to the Indians.  He played the fiddle (my cousin has it, a Strad, who knew) and had four wives.

Now I have had four wives, but in succession rather than all at the same time, not that there is anything wrong with that.  I am proud of my family and its heritage and tradition.  My family successfully avoided military service since 1755.  And as far as I know Moses Trader Shepherd (named after a Baptist preacher Moses Trader) was the only member of the family to engage in plural marriage.  (We Mormons have big families so I don’t know about some of the cousins).

Do I think there is anything wrong with polygamy? No, I don’t, doesn’t hurt anyone.  Do problems happen, like everywhere else and in every church, yes, but that shouldn’t reflect on the practice.  These were and are concenting adults.

And there is a very long history and this practice is world wide not just out here in the Wild West.  Here is a paper I was asked to prepare for where I work, as this topic comes up from time to time.  This is provided to the interpreters to prepare them for the invariable questions.

Polygamy in History

For some reason this is the only version of this paper that I have.

Now I am not a bad Mormon, I am just not a good one.  And while I am not a polygamist, I do play one on my day job.

Mr. & Mrs. & Mrs. Shepherd

These are my new Wives!  May I introduce on the left, Mrs. Shepherd and on the right Mrs. Shepherd.  Thank goodness we go by surnames in the nineteenth century, I can’t keep all of their names straight.  Six and courting.

Mr. Shepherd

Miter Plane

Filed under: Hand Planing,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 1:56 pm

I have every intention of building the following early nineteenth century iron clad miter plane.

Iron Miter Plane

I really enjoyed reading Henry Mercer’s description of this plane in Ancient Carpenter’s Tools (available from Joel at www.toolsforworkingwood.com,) something like a wooden body clad with iron, no mention of in-fill, which reminds me of land-fill, so I will be using the term ‘clad‘ as it seems much more sophisticated.  He also mentions that the blade is placed in the plane ‘up-side-down’,  not Bevel Up, another term I will start using.

I also think I have figured out why these tools have a lip on the front end.  There is also an illustration in Moxon that shows a wooden plane with a lip on the front edge.  Have you ever pinched your hand on the edge of a board when starting a hand planing stroke?  Do you have a bruise or blood blister just below the first knuckle of the little finger on the side of your hand?  Hand ever slip off the front and get caught, now be honest?

So I think that little ledge protects the little finger from getting pinched, I could be wrong about this, but why else would there be a ledge?  To increase the length by an inch or less?  I think not, it is for protection, especially with a metal plane.  A wooden plane pinches real good, I imagine an iron plane would pinch even better.

I just ordered a laminated plane iron from Chris at www.galoot-tools.com and am looking forward to making a low angle miter plane with this traditional style plane blade.  I will post pictures and comments as I put this plane together.

Now while I have every intention on building the iron clad version, looking for some wrought iron barrel bands as I do not want to use modern materials.  I have several wagon wheels of wrought iron, but they are too thick and I am not going to ask the blacksmith to thin them out, I will wait until I can find some old barrel hoops.

So here is the one that I will actually make when I get the blade from Chris:

Wooden Miter Plane

 I still have not decided if I am going to put a lip on this plane (a la Moxon) or not.  I may put it on to see what it looks and works like and if I don’t like it I can always saw it off.

Now why do I want to make a plane like this?  Because I have all of the other planes that I need and use (and then some) and because I want to see what a low angle plane is like (I have tried some of the new expensive door stops and like the cut but am getting too old to lift a boat anchor).

I also have a miter jack and miter shooting board, so it will come in handy, I hope.  That is also one of the reasons that I am going to build it out of wood first, if I don’t like it, I will not bother making an iron clad version.  Also I don’t like the idea of heavy metal planes as when you drop them on what you have just planed smooth, it takes a bit of effort to steam out the dents and dings.  Also metal tools are not very friendly in the winter time.

 If things don’t work out, I will make another smoother, I have four I use now and my favorite is a single iron very small coffin smoother shown in a previous post.  So I would like another smoother with a single iron.  If the miter plane works out I will have to order another blade because I do want a large single blade smoother.


Larger than life

Filed under: Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:02 am

I thought my first public photograph would appear in a post office, as did several friends, however that was not the case.  The Park where I work used my likeness for their outdoor advertising campaign this season, didn’t tell me, so I was surprised to see me ‘larger than life’.


I am not the one in the blue dress and bonnet, nor the one on horseback, the one on the right is me.  I will have to put that on my resume.


May 13, 2008

Shooting Boards, a different technique

Filed under: Hand Planing,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:59 pm

One day I needed to square the edge of some short pieces, so I pulled out the shooting board (an appliance for holding boards so they can be squared and straightened along their edge) and being lazy and not wanting to walk around the bench, I thought, ‘I wonder if I could use this coffin smoother?’.  I picked up a square to check and the sole was square to both sides, I thought they would be square, but I checked just in case.

And to my surprise it worked just fine, so I started experimenting with it and it works just fine, the edges are square, the shorter length coffin smoother like this short one will not get a real straight long board, but it works great for short pieces.

Shooting Board

Now I became interested in this concept since many pieces I am squaring are short so a smaller plane will do just fine.  Now the one on the board is a very small coffin smoother but it does work on thin short pieces.

But for larger pieces I use a larger coffin smoother and I have several.

Shooting with a coffin smoother

Now this is an unusual method of using a shooting board because I actually grip both sides of the plane, not normally done.  But the real advantage is that I am planing on a skew.  By holding the smoother at an angle and its shape allows that to happen easily, I can plane the edges on a skew, by keeping the tip of the plane on the board will keep the plane square.

I can also use it laying flat or even cant it the other way, but that tends to lift the stuff being planed.  By planing as above it forces the work down on the shooting board making the stuff easier to hold.

I guess lazy pays off, for longer boards I use a long plane but for most of the short stuff the coffin smoothers are easier to use and a skew cut with no ramp on the board.  Now together with a ramp (a slight wedge along the length to hold the stuff being planed at a tiny skew.

I can get a great skew cut using this techniques, as long as the smoother is square and you keep the side on the board, the edge will be square, give it a try.


May 12, 2008

Grinding tools

Filed under: Sharpening,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:09 pm

Fortunately grinding is not done that often so it is not that much of a grind.  When one grinds tools, one takes those fine expensive laminated steel blades, be it planes or chisels and puts them to a spinning abrasive wheel to remove the metal that is preventing the tool from being sharp.  All the time trying to prevent the tool from overheating, spoiling the temper of the tool.

I have a 30 inch diameter Indiana limestone grindstone, hand cranked.  And I have found it impossible to turn that wheel and grind a tool and heat it up enough to prevent me from having my fingers near the end.  The tools do warm up, but they don’t get hot and certainly don’t get hot enough to change color.

It also helps that I keep my fingers near the grinding so I am forewarned if any undo heat is being developed.  Do I have problems turning a crank with one hand and holding the tool freehand in the other against the face of the grindstone, well I have learned how and it isn’t much of a problem.

Another advantage of slow speed grinding is that things happen a little slower than with high speed grinders, however one must pay close attention, but at least with my grindstone, it doesn’t take much time at all to get a tool ready for flat stones.

Now unlike flat stone work, I do on occasion use a water bath to lubricate the stone.  I have a dripping water can, it is a mess but keeps the stones clean and of course the tool cool.  The water isn’t necessary and I don’t use it all the time unless it is a great deal of grinding that needs to be done.

I had a 15 inch diameter modern stone, that I mounted on a hand crank and it worked well, but sold it when I was offered more money than it was worth ( I like that when it happens).  I never used a lubricant on that stone and it worked fine, never glazed and never burnt a single tool.

Stones can glaze and need to be dressed, the easiest way to dress a limestone grind stone is to saturate it with water then use a piece of hard steel as a scraper and smooth off the surface.  A flat piece of sandstone or other abrasive stone can also be used to dress an old stone.

Limestone grindstones should not soak in water, as a cooling trough, as it will soften the stone producing an eccentric grind stone.  The sides of the stone if somewhat dressed can also be used for grinding and the variable speed of hand cranked makes that process easy.

Hand cranked small geared grindstones are also very helpful as they can be cranked slowly and are much safer than those powered by water wheels or steam engines.  It is difficult, but I am sure not impossible to injure yourself using a hand cranked grinder, but somehow I think the injuries will not be as severe.

I do not know what grit my grindstone would be.  And I don’t think I need to know what it is, it just works, then I go to my coarse flat stone, then the medium then the fine.  Do I know what the exact grit is?  No.  Do I care, well maybe, well not really, it doesn’t matter.  The grind stone is rough, the coarse flat stone is not as rough as the grind stone.  The medium stone is not as rough as the coarse stone and not as fine as the fine or hard stone.  And the fine stone is finer that all of the others.  Then there is the tripoli impregnated leather strop for final finish, which I am sure is finer than the stones.

It is like the grit of sandpaper, numbers like 220 and 600 are applied today to indicate grit, in the nineteenth century (yes, we have sandpaper, although it is expensive and has to be imported from the States), 0, 1, 1 1/2, 2, etc indicate what?

Grind slow then move from coarse to fine on the flat stones and heating up during sharpening should never be a problem.  Adding high speed to grinding really didn’t improve anything, but it did create a lot of tool burning and ruined temper and ruined tempers.  Sometimes faster isn’t better, I think I may have said that before.


May 11, 2008

Laid Steel Tools

Filed under: Laid Steel Tools,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:43 pm

I will keep this short, as I think I am violating blogging rules by posting too much, so for that I appologize.  Now as you may well know I do like laid steel tools.  Laminated plane ‘irons’ are truely unique tools that combine a soft wrought iron substrate with an exceptionally hard thin veneer of steel, nothing like it that I have found.

Laminated chisels are a pleasure to use and easy to sharpen as only a thin veneer edge of steel supported by a thick wrought iron backing produces the perfect combination of super hard edge and soft backing.  The steel can be hardened in brine to an exceptional hardness and not tempered without problems because of its thiness and backing with wrought iron that doesn’t harden in the quenching process.

Well our ancestors didn’t limit themselves to sharp working edges for laminated steel and iron combinations.  Hammers with wrought iron bodies, steel faces and laminated claws, axes with steel blades and polls as well as a variety of other tools incorperated laid steel on the business end of tools of the trade.

Here is a Hooped, Socket Cooper’s Hoop Driver, of wrought iron with a laid steel face, made in Philadelphia in the late 18th or early 19th century, to drive wooden and iron hoops on oaken barrels.  The little metal working vise has laid steel jaws, no evidence of screws, pins or rivets, it is welded on, as is the tiny face on the anvil.  Now the steel on the jaw vise face will mare the hardest metal, I have some scraps of leather to grip pieces as this little toothy bugger has quite a grip.

Laid Steel Tools

Were these laminated because of economy?  Absolutely not.  Economy had nothing to do with it, it was actually more expensive to laminate these instead of making them of steel.  The reason they were made this way is that the steel could be hardened beyond what it could if the tool was made entirely of steel.

Look at what is available on the market today, quality laminated tools of both Western and Eastern sources are superior to solid steel tools.  And they cost more, and why, because they are better tools.

I am beating this like a rented mule.


Un-building a Chair

Filed under: Furniture,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:53 am

I do make a lot of furniture and chairs are one of my favorite projects to build.  I make copies of nineteenth century styles so I don’t need to come up with anything original, I just rip off the past.  The difficult design part is replaced with mechanically reproducing the piece so I can concentrate on construction rather than what it should look like.

Over the 35 years I have been doing this, I have had to repair hundreds and hundreds of chairs.  Chairs are the most mobile piece of furniture, hence it recieves the most damage and abuse.  Broken rungs, spindles, tenons, legs, seats, all parts of the chair break and I have repaired every part at least once and some repairs are so common, broken tenons on the end of spindles and rungs that I have extra tenons turned to the right size with a small tenon to go into a socket repair hole.

A mule ear ladder back chair came into the shop, flat cane seat almost completely gone, the chair loose and of course those nail ‘repairs’ to tighten up a loose chair (didn’t work).  I would like to tell everyone that nails and screws don’t work, but they have earned me a great deal of money over the years removing them, cursing whoever did the ‘repair’, questioning their lineage but reassured that there is a ‘special place in hell’ for those people.

Mr. Buss, my able assistant on Saturdays in my shop, he likes doing repairs and has put dozens of broken chairs for the Park in ‘good order’.  Most of the repair work is on Windsor side chairs and this was the first ladderback that he had repaired.  He spent 4 hours removing the nails, and while Mr. Buss does not curse like I do, he also questioned their lineage and muttered things under his breath.

The chair is similar to this one with another slat in the back and round turned front and back legs and one more set of rungs on the legs.

Quebec Ladder Back Chair

The construction techniques are identical with the rungs on the front and back are below the rungs on the sides, but the holes overlap a bit.  This means that one socket will slightly intersect the adjoining socket.  During original construction the front and back legs are assembled, then the holes for the angled rungs drilled.  This will catch a bit of the tenon already in the socket and cut a small notch on the tenon.  When the other rung tenon goes in the socket it will lock the front and back tenons into the legs with the other rungs acting like locking wedges.

Mr. Buss was disassembling the chair to re-glue and I pointed out to him that the chair was probably made as I described above and that the front and back needs to be removed from the side rungs before the front and back can be taken apart.  He said he had not seen that before (his first ladderback repair) and was happy to know that bit of information as it made the disassembly real easy.

I told him if he tried to disassemble the front and back first that more damage would occur as the front and back rungs are probably locked into the sockets, so damage will occur to the tenon or socket or perhaps split the leg.  He also knew to mark the pieces as the chair will be totally disassembled and because it is hand made each socket and tenon are unique, so it is crutial to get the right parts back in their right places.

He suceeded in his quest, picked up some good information and the chair is sitting quietly under a couple of his favorite ‘new’ clamp, a piece of rope and a stick.  I showed him the tourniquet rope clamp method and he has perfected it, I have seen him put 5 rope tourniquets on one chair.  Next week he will use bungs to repair the nail holes and I will put a new seat in the chair and it will go back into useful service.  The chair will hold together with just hide glue, no nails or screws necessary.

When taking furniture apart to repair it, it helps to know how it went together and in what order the pieces were added.  This is then reversed to un-build the piece prior to repair.  Repairing furniture has given me an insight into how the furniture was constructed, so it is very helpful for making reproduction furniture.  Also repairing furniture gets you inside the furniture so you can see what tools were used to make the piece in the first place.


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