Full Chisel Blog

December 28, 2008

The Art of Joinery by Joseph Moxon {1703}

Filed under: Historical Material,Moxon,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 2:50 pm

I received a copy of The Art of Joinery by Joseph Moxon with commentary by Christopher Schwarz from Lost Art Press 2008, for Christmas and spent the day reading.  And I then made some comments over on WoodCentral and received some responses.

I had just started reading Moby Dick by Herman Melville and was awash in the language of the time and when I started the slim volume on Woodworking, I guess I was not in the right frame of mind.  Mr. Schwarz did mention in the introduction that the work had been altered, no long s (f) in the text, changing the run on sentences, etc., so I should have been ready.

I was also distracted to the modern references and photographs, I think that while it added a great deal of information it also took away from the early feel of the book that I was expecting.  His analysis will undoubtedly be of great help to those starting out in woodworking or expanding their interests into working wood with hand tools.

I am just happy to finally have an almost complete copy of the text and the plates were great.  I think there is still a lot of analysis that can happen to this work.  The section on plow planes is confusing at best and this is Mr. Moxon’s doing.

Sounds like my original response to Lee Valley’s Spoon Bits, which I first berated then bought a set and made a public apology.  I have read the book a second time and this time without reading the analysis and ignoring the [] but read the ().  I had to imagine the long s’s but if was a great read and a wonderful insight into early English woodworking.  So, thank you Mr. Schwarz and I wholeheartedly recommend this book as a great reference and a good addition to any library.


December 24, 2008

Twas The Night Before Christmas…

and all I can think about are hand planes.  All of this came about because of the Coffin Smoother that I recently finished and the second Smoother (after Moxon) that I started.  There are two issues; the first I feel is of great importance and forgive me if I am stating the obvious and the second issue may only be important to me.  The first is sharpening plane blades and the second is the Mass and Center of Gravity of hand planes.

With a bevel up hand plane, the angle of the grind of the bevel would effect the cutting angle of the plane.  The bed (frog) would remain the same and that angle together with the angle of the grind of the blade would result in the cutting angle.  Changes in the grinding angle would change the cutting angle of the plane.  Therefore much more care needs to be given to bevel up plane irons (blades), when grinding and honing.  Being as grinding is done only initially, then honed and with each subsequent honing the angle of the bevel up will change, if only slightly.

If there are many honing episodes between grinds, the performance characteristics of the plane will change with each hone, if just a little.  Sharpening bevel down plane irons therefore given the fixed bed, the grind angle only needs to be enough to clear the wood on the back side of the blade. (The perfect angle being say 30 degrees).

Given that, the number of honing episodes would not effect the cutting angle of the plane in any manner.  I have a hollow plane (or is it a round?) that has been ground, sharpened and honed enough times that the bevel just clears the wood on the back side (next to the bed), probably 45 to 50 degrees.  I thought about a re-grind, but the blade only needed a slight touch up on the stone, a bit of a stropping and it worked just fine.  Another similar plane had a much more shallow angle 30 degrees or so.  Both planes do what they do equally well, so the angle on a bevel on the bevel down plane doesn’t matter as long as it clears the wood.

This doesn’t mean that they would be easier or harder to sharpen or whether the edge last longer but try the old iron with the steep grinds first, before you think you have to grind them to the ‘perfect’ angle.  Looks like people in the past just kept honing and didn’t waste the irons with a lot of grinding.

It just occurred to me that this would only apply to parallel, rather than tapered irons.  Old laid steel/wrought iron plane blades are tapered, much thicker at the cutting end and thinning out considerably towards the end (where one would place the sneck).  Grinding to the perfect angle (30 degrees) to maintain that angle may remove excess metal from the iron.  This would explain why many old irons don’t have that perfect angle but are much greater, perhaps their owners didn’t want to waste the tools or didn’t want to change the cutting angle.

So think about those angles when you are grinding and honing your plane blades, new or old.

The second matter will have to wait.



December 22, 2008

Winter Solstice

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:04 am

I hope everyone had a Happy Solstice, a perfect time for an all night party, being the longest night of the year.  It is now officially Winter as the sun enters Capricorn and is as far south as it will be for the season.  Of course it is summer time in the southern hemisphere.

Back in Reno, the trip over the Sierra’s yesterday was interesting, with road controls there was a bit of a backup at the chain up areas.  Once on the leeward side of the mountains and in the rain/snow shadow, the weather was much better.

Scars from the forest fires that have burned along the interstate was evident in the snow, when you could see the mountains.  These fires have been increasing in intensity ever since that Bear survived that fire in Arizona I believe and became a beloved icon of fire prevention.

While the road to hell is paved with good intentions, this was a really, really bad idea.  Without seasonal fires, undergrowth and dead fall that were periodically removed by those fires, are now allowed to build up until they burn with catastrophic results.  Also the ash from fires neutralizes acid rain and the fires prevent infestations such as the pine needle borer (The Red Death) that is destroying thousands if not millions of evergreen trees.

Unfortunately with this stupid approach we have created a tinderbox and ecological disaster that is going to difficult to rectify.  Without massive cleanup of the underbrush and dead-fall and adopting a policy of ‘let it burn’ we will continue down this path until we don’t have any more trees.

And when we don’t have any more trees, we don’t have any more oxygen, we don’t have any more worries.  I do apologize for bringing this up during this festive time of the year but with the Christmas trees and Hanukkah bushes around it did get me thinking about this condition.


December 19, 2008

Oh, the weather outside is frightful

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 10:08 am

But here in the train speeding along at 70 miles per hour, with a cup of the finest Amtrak coffin varnish, it is quite pleasant.  I awoke just before 6 am this morning after a short rest, the train actually left on time and despite the blizzard raging outside it looks like the train will arrive on time in Reno.

The lounge/observation car opens at 6:30 am and the attendant is a character named Johnny and I was first in line for coffee.  Having nearly completed my coffee, the train stops in Winnemucca for those of us that need to condition our lungs with fresh air or smoke.  It was snowing and the wind blowing at the stop.

Back aboard we ran into the brunt of the storm (do storms have anything other than brunts?) and the visibility was down to about 50 feet, but that doesn’t stop a train.  It cleared slightly, saw a sliver of blue sky then clouded up again and it is snowing as we speak.

I checked the local weather radar and it looks like the storm is behind us. 

This got me thinking about what the California bound emigrants when through traveling this time of year.  But then of course most of them were smart enough not to travel through the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter months.  One unfortunate group was the Donner-Reed party that set out too late in 1846 and didn’t make it over the mountains before an early snow storm stopped them near Donner Lake.

But some folks did need to travel in these conditions and of course that would have been difficult.  Even during good times the trip was arduous, hard on man and beast.


December 18, 2008

Annual Pilgrimage

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 4:17 pm

It is time for my annual pilgrimage to visit with family in Nevada and California.  I will catch the train this evening after I am finished working Candle Light Christmas at the Park.  I have been greeting people at the gate as they enter, it has been fun but cold.

However, I am portable and wireless, so I shall continue my web log while on the road.  I will get to visit the University of Nevada Reno and their excellent libraries, especially their physical science library.  Also be shopping for a sash plane and visiting a Rockler Store and a Wood Craft store there.  I also have some fellow woodworking friends to visit and drink a pint.

Well I must unplug and pack this up into a haversack.  I have my portmanteau and riggers bucket, so all of my luggage is nineteenth century or earlier.  And traveling in period attire does attract looks and strikes up some interesting conversations.  Last year there were Mennonites on the train and they asked me if I was ‘plain’?

Happy Christmas.  The word Merry before the early nineteenth century meant to be intoxicated.


December 14, 2008

Making Moldings

On occasion, I need to match a piece of old molding on a piece of furniture.  I repair mostly nineteenth century pieces built in the classical style of the period.  Many of these moldings are composites of two or more pieces of shaped wood in conjunction with each other.  This can be as simple as a square (or rectangular in profile) piece of wood together with a cove to form the desired molding.  It can also be just built up of different size coves, beads, fillets, ogees, etc.

Now some of these are made with dedicated molding planes and a few have been made with hollows and rounds to make a unique molding.  There is a lot of talk about using the H&R’s together with a snipe bill plane to make complex moldings unavailable in molding planes.  While the plane may exist to make that molding, if the furniture maker didn’t have a dedicated molding plane they could use the hollows and rounds to make the molding.

I do have a few of each in various widths and sweeps (profiles) of hollows and rounds.  Although I don’t know which is which, as a hollow plane would make a round molding and a round plane would make a hollow (cove).  I don’t know if the planes are named for their shape or the shape they make?

However the ponderance of moldings I have examined on old pieces from the mid nineteenth century are made with dedicated molding planes.  The most common is the bead plane of various widths.  The second most common element is just a square or rectangular piece added to another molding.  When it comes to complex moldings by far the single most common is the cove and bead.

This type of plane was made in various sizes and can also be used in conjunction with other elements to make more complicated moldings.  It appears in early nineteenth century tool catalogues in a variety of sizes.  I have seen one example where the bead was probably removed and the exaggerated cove used with good effect.

In Smith’s Key to Various Sheffield Manufacturers published in 1816, there are listings for 3 different types of Hollows & Rounds in the various sizes and were sold in pairs.  There are 5 different types of Snipe’s Bill planes, used to delineate the molding in conjunction with H&R’s.  Here is the interesting statistic, the same catalogue offers 68 different molding planes.  Beads, side beads, cock beads, coves, cove & beads, ogee,  reverse ogees, astragals, quirks, ovolos, reeds, toros, Gothic, etc.

Things may have been different in other parts of the country, but out here in the Wild West and having a much later pioneer and settlement period and a great number of British Cabinet Makers, dedicated molding planes were in common use.   I think that maybe one of the reasons for this is the fact that almost all of the furniture made out here was of pine and painted and grained to look like other woods.  Now not all of this pine is clear straight grained stuff, many pieces have knots.  Any chips would be filled with putty (linseed oil and whiting [calcium carbonate]), allowed to dry then painted and grained.

While planing a molding can be a bit problematic with knotty pine, it still makes an acceptable molding.  Planing a piece of knotty pine with hollows and rounds is a nightmare.  If I have to use these planes for moldings I make sure that it is clear without knots.  Knots also present problems for other molding planes, but with the set width from the fence and the set depth from the stop it is possible to produce a relatively smooth and acceptable molding.  If you have tried this you know of the additional strokes it takes to get the knot area down to the rest of the molding.

When reproducing moldings for old furniture, I can usually find a molding plane that will fit the profile and on the rare instances that I can’t, I will resort to the hollows and rounds to make the required molding.  Because I am restoring old pieces or making reproductions I use what they had to make the proper piece.

If I were making new pieces then I am sure that a full set of hollows and rounds would be handy, but they are not high on my list of acquisitions, although I do pick them up if they are cheap.  I am not saying that they are not useful, they are for certain applications, but if I am going to make a molding I like it done with one plane if possible.



December 10, 2008

Boat Shape, Coffin Smoother

Coffin Smoother

It is interesting, these theories as to why the coffin smoother has its unique boat shape.  Prior to 1700 smoother planes were rectangular in shape.  Moxon illustrates both types in 1703.  {Traditionally the actual coffin for burying people was that shape to: save wood, the hole is easier to dig and the coffin is easier to carry being that particular shape.}

Moxon Smoother

A suggestion is that it would have been easier to hold in the hand than a rectangular block of wood.  Another is that it reduced the area of the sole of the plane that is in contact with wood, thereby reducing friction.  One of the best and well thought out is that of movement of the wood due to seasonal changes in temperature and humidity.  The contention is that the reduced wood on both front and back will adjust better compared to the thin side walls of the escapement, which would exchange moisture more readily.  But the blade is covering the end-grain of the bed/frog, so this presents a problem.  Also there is much more wood behind the blade in the heal than in the toe of the plane.

 When using this plane Mercer suggest that the plane could wiggle into corners and while this plane will not get you any closer to the edge than one of a rectangular configuration, the boat shape of the plane would allow a bit of a skew when working near and obstruction such as a molding.  Now this would be a rare occurrence as the smoothing would be done before any moldings were applied.

Durer Melencholia

Durer illustrates a boat shape (coffin shape) plane in Melencholia in 1514.  The smoother from the 1596 ill fated Dutch expedition to Nova Zemlya is rectangular in nature and horned as well.  Mercer suggest the engraving is representing carpenter’s tools, but it looks more like cabinet maker’s tools to me.

Shorter length planes do not flatten boards or panels, other bench planes like a joiner, jack or fore plane are used for that purpose.  The short body follows any troughs or ridges relative to its length.

So here is my take on why the smoother is this shape.  I will preface this by saying that our ancestors weren’t stupid and did things for a good reason.  And if something comes into common use and in many parts of the world then it must have been a good design.  This design theory falls apart in the late 19th century when business and marketing had more influence than practicality.

The smoother is used to remove ridges left by longer bench planes and to bring the surface smooth.  So why the coffin shape?  Perhaps for all of the suggested theories, so I will add mine to the fray.

The curvilinear lines of the coffin/boat smoother allows this plane to have a shorter configuration by using the plane on the skew.  When the blade is askew the grain of the wood along which the ridges and valleys formed by longer bench planes, the geometry of the plane changes making the overall length effectively shorter that if it were of a rectangular format.  This would allow the plane to get down further into the valleys and troughs to smooth out any problem areas.

I also think that the shape allows for its use in conjunction with a side rest (bench hook) and shooting boards.  The shape also allows the plane to be held at a skew angle to make a smoother cut with a side rest or shooting board.  It is possible to grasp the plane in one hand while using it with these bench appliances.  I do use a fore plane to straighten the board then change to a coffin smoother to produce the final finish on the edge.

So there are the theories I have heard of and a couple of my own.


December 7, 2008

Putting it all together

Now after all of the work it took to make the replacement sash, I had to glue it all together.

Sash apart

There are 23 individual pieces of wood, the rails and styles and the mullions or sash bars.  I could count the joints but that would be too much work.

Mullion detail

The joinery is fairly simple, after I looked at the original.  The cross pieces were cut to the size of the rabbit on the reverse side and the notch was coped on the front or narrow edge to accommodate the cross pieces.  both the width of the wood remaining between the rabbits and the width of the sash mullions on the front are the same size, so the notch starts at the saw cut and goes back at the proper angle.

Well with all of those joints to glue together at one time, it was a challenge.  Had this been an exterior sash, there would be no glue involved.  The original remaining sash appears to have been glued, so I glued this one together.  Now that is a challenge because there are a lot of surfaces to get glued at one time.

Lacking a heated glue room, I used liquid hide glue and chose to glue it up in a cooler shop to extend the open time.  It was around 60 degrees (F) during the glue up.  The liquid hide glue was warmed to about 70 degrees just to make it a little less viscous. 

Now come glue time things get a bit sticky.  Prior to glue up there are countless hours of preparing everything to fit.  Careful planning and marking each piece with infallible markings to get things in their proper place at the same time.  With all of these parts it is important to get part A to part B and so on well through the alphabet.  With this type of assembly there are no ‘do overs’.

Now the logistics are interesting, the rails need to be a bit flexible to allow the vertical sash bars (mullions, wait what are muttons?).  This is an interlocking piece that requires precision for all of the parts to go together in a neat and proper manner.

The actual gluing process is easy as long as you make sure there is glue on all contacting surfaces, in this case there are a large number of contacting surfaces, if my old math serves me well better than two score.  With a few deep breaths, proper offerings and a prayer or two and I was ready to proceed.

Using a Lee Valley bristle glue brush, I applied liquid hide glue to all contacting surfaces starting on one side and gluing both rails into one style.  I started on the off side so I wouldn’t have to reach over the work (and get glue all over me [I was wearing an apron]) then started putting together all of these parts.

Did I panic, I had every opportunity and almost did as I was pounding on the final style, aligning up all those last little parts without damaging anything as the main framework came together.  That happened rather quickly and I spun the sash around and looked at the front and everything looked fine, the panic subsided.

I could adjust a couple of the cross pieces for better horizontal alignment and tap a few to get them to the same plane on the front (the money side) any excess of width of the sash bars are on the back side and don’t show.  I did add three bar clamps, one on each end to hold the rail and style frame and one in the center, that did little but after I observed its inefficients, I left it until the frame had dried.

I did check on the diagonal to insure its squareness and as near as my eye can see it was so.  The overall length is longer than necessary and the width will need to be planed down as it is slightly wider than necessary.  This will remove any mallet marks, although I did put pieces of scrap wood before smacking it with a hammer or mallet.

Then things were good again, I cleaned off the excess glue with a wet cloth and the excess sweat with a dry cloth.  I was happy with the outcome and there was little I could do at that point if I weren’t.  I could have heated a joint to adjust a badly aligned part, that wasn’t necessary, but an option with hide glue.




December 4, 2008

Building a Coffin Smoother

This is not, I repeat not a tutorial on plane making.  I am not a plane maker, although I have made a dozen planes or so.  I can make a decent plane but they just don’t compare to Clark and Williams, they are plane makers.

Lacking the proper beech, I ended up using hard maple for this small coffin smoother.  It is a copy of an old single iron smoother with a 50 degree pitch blade.  I am using a standard block plane blade (replacement blade for metal block planes), as it is about a 16th inch larger in width than the original.  The original blade is also a bit thicker.


I start out by laying out the shape of the smoother and located the mouth and opening for chips, wedge and blade.


I then drilled with a fine LV Duck Billed Spoon Bit to remove excess in the throat.  This only worked for a while then it was all chisel work.  I noticed that the firmer type chisels worked much better than those with a bevel on the top like a bench chisel.  The flat sides gave better registration on the wood to make more precise square corners.


Here are some of the tools including two saws, not made for this purpose initially they worked well in forming the slots for the wedge and blade, especially the larger saw.  The float was for bedding and end grain work.  To get the angles correct, I would check by placing a straight edge on the outside line drawn on the side with a small straight edge placed on the inside and when they were parallel, the inside angle was correct.


The wide thin (square or rectangular in profile) blade chisel worked well for initial shaping, the float for end grain and the tapered file, using its edge to clean out the throat of the plane.  The original plane has a large throat and works fine, so this one is wide, not quite as wide as the original but I made no attempt to make a fine mouth for this plane.

Note at the top edge, the small red spot, yes that is blood, that sharp piece of maple is very sharp.

I used soot on the back of the blade to mark the high spots on the wood, worked them over with a wide flat chisel then took the float to finish up.  This part has to be flat.


I cut it from the long blank, which help hold the plane while I was working on the throat and mouth.  I did the initial shaping and I have sanded it smooth.  Now I violated a rule here by sanding before scraping, that is not good for the scraper.  I needed to round the edges and top edge and coarse sandpaper (80 grit) did the job. 

I still need to add a bit more bevel and some rounding to the top edges and I need to fancy up the throat a bit to remove the sharp edges. When I am happy with the shape I will scrape the surface smooth.

I still have to make and fit the wedge, but the hardest part of the plane is completed so I can turn my attention to the wedge.

I am considering a nitric acid/water stain on this as that concoction does so well on maple.  Then again I might just slather on some Moses T’s St. John’s Oil, a little burnt umber pigment and call it good.  A final finish will be some Moses T’s Gunstocker’s Finish


December 1, 2008

Cutting Old Glass

Filed under: Hardware,Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:42 am

My weekend project was to collect enough old glass to glaze the sash doors.  I almost have enough and got more than half of the pieces cut.

I have 40 small pieces of glass that I need to cut to fit up the sash doors on the secretary.  I have selected antique glass for the restoration and that presents certain situations.  For one thing the glass is old, not that that is a bad thing but it is not flat nor is it the same thickness throughout, let alone the contained seeds and grains.  There is also the putty, paint and dirt that must be properly dealt with.


Now I was instructed by a professional Art Glass Master, with a speciality in Glass Restoration, and his name I will not mention as he probably doesn’t want this type of association.  He instructed me that the best glass cutter has carbide wheels which should be replaced on a regular basis.  He said that the cutter should be lubricated (the only instruction I followed).  Cut one continuous cut and don’t go back over the cut.  He uses a marking pen to mark cutting lines on his glass.  He also said that it was important that the glass be clean with all surface accumulations removed.  This can be easily done with a sharp blade such as a single edge razor blade.

Some of his instructions and recommendations are simple things that we may not think of, such as having a flat surface to work on, keeping it clean, throw the scraps away immediately, don’t brush the work surface with your hand, use a bench brush and keep some bandages close.

Well as you may be able to tell, I do it a different way.  In the first place I own currently (I have sold some nice old ones) a fine diamond glass cutter.  It has a 1/4 carat industrial diamond set in a copper bezel set in an iron head on a brass ferrule and birch handle.  I do use oil to lubricate every cut and that little piece of paper towel has a few drops of light machine oil, but bear fat or lard work fine as well.

And I don’t bother cleaning the glass unless I can’t lay a straight edge on the glass and only clean off glass that actually survives the cutting process.  No reason to clean of glass that is going in the garbage.  And because the marking pen didn’t exist in the nineteenth century I used a stained glass technique of making a cartoon (full size drawing) of the glass I need on some white paper.


I place the glass over the drawing of the size I need, position the straight edge so it is offset the distance of the diamond point is from the edge of the iron head.  Get comfortable with the offset of the diamond and it becomes easy to just visualize the proper distance, then hold the straight edge down tight and make the cut from the far end to the near.  I am going to try to cut some freehand without a straight edge, I have seen this done on smaller pieces.

Sometimes the cut doesn’t start just at the far end but cuts to the end just fine.  I was told not to try and finish the cut, but I didn’t listen.  Instead, I reverse the glass, register the point of the diamond in the existing cut, just like placing a chisel in a gauge line, and continue the small cut off the edge of the glass.


After the cut is made the glass is reversed and it is struck with the end of the cutter on the opposite side of the cut.

I tried tapping it with the iron head with its rounded edges and it did work but took some time.  So I tried turning the glass cutter around and used the round wooden end to do the fracturing.  I was amazed how easy this process worked.


On these small pieces a tap or two and the waste just pops off.  Sometimes you end up with a cross fracture or wayward crack that ruins the piece or that runs out requiring some nipping with a pair of pliers



Here is what the fracture looks like if it doesn’t go completely across the piece.  The fractures usually start at one end, but that can start in the middle of the piece, the unusual characteristics of glass.  Watching the fracture move along is fun, until it runs out and ruins the piece.

I cut 24 pieces and still need to cut another 16 pieces.  I ruined about a half a dozen pieces, about half of which I could get smaller pieces from.  I start out cutting the larger panes then cut the smaller.  But there is more waste when cutting antique glass, modern single and double strength glass being more uniform in nature usually get better results.

Once I have them cut then I will use a flat chisel to remove the putty and paint that is still remaining, clean with alcohol then vinegar.  The glass in the sash doors will be held in with triangular points and glazier’s putty.


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