Full Chisel Blog

August 31, 2009

Fish Glue

Filed under: Hide Glue,Historical Material,Nautical,Of Interest,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:46 am

Fish Glue is a form of Hide Glue in that it is made out of the hide (or skin) of non-oily fish.  Details of this glue is discussed in Hide Glue – Historical & Practical Applications.  Fish glue has a couple of unique characteristics, one being it is more flexible and the other is it has an aggressive tack.  In other words it is real sticky.

There may be more suppliers but one good one, the one I use is Lee Valley that stocks Fish Glue in sizes up to 34 fluid ounces (1 liter) and has a good shelf life of two years.  Of course you can extend this by keeping the glue in a cool, dark place.  The glue is a bit more runny that liquid hide glue like Franklin/Titebond Liquid Hide Glue (you have to scroll around on their site) or Patrick Edwards Old Brown Glue, which is an excellent liquid hide glue.

Many people don’t like liquid hide glue and prefer to use it hot.  I like hot hide glue it works great in the summer time when the shop temperatures are high and the open time is extended.  Liquid glues, have chemicals added to them to allow them to be liquid at room temperature.  Liquid glues are very handy as there is no mixing and heating and can be used in a cooler shop with a good open time.  The long open time is also another benefit of animal glues.

Because of the high tack of fish glue it can be used in conjunction with slower setting liquid or hot hide glue called glue stacking.  This is where the high tack glue is used to secure an object in place while the slower setting glues take their grip.  This is good for vertical applications where hide glue may not become tacky enough initially to hold a piece in place where gravity is a concern.  But then gravity is always a concern.

First thing I did with the new bottle of glue was repair the sole on my reproduction Jefferson Booties.  I have repaired another pair with liquid hide glue, glycerin and alum.  The glycerin keeps the glue flexible and the alum makes it waterproof.  I have also repaired shoes with just hide glue and glycerin and when it was dry I treated the exposed edge with alum and water.  This in effect tans the glue making it waterproof.  I tried this one sole with just fish glue, nothing added, as a test.  If I have a problem I will add some glycerin for flexibility.

I have gone through three (17 ounce) bottles over the course of the last ten years and been very happy with the results.  I use it for repairing antique furniture as well as new construction.  I now have a big bottle (34 fl. oz.), which should do for a couple of years.  I go through about a gallon of liquid hide glue and a couple of pounds of ground hide glue for the glue pot and hot applications, per year.

And of course this stuff is superior to modern white and yellow glues in every way.


August 29, 2009

Proper Rope

It is a pleasure to work with proper rope and I recently received a couple of samples of rope or cord from Trevor Tutt of Texas.  This is rope he makes and there were two types.  A softer larger rope made of hemp as were most ropes during the nineteenth century and before.  He also sent me a sample of rope made from flax or linen which was smaller, harder and more tightly made.

The ropes were wrapped with a small piece of the tighter flax cord and I tied a Matthew Walker knot in the end then seized the end with some linen thread, the stuff works well.

I decided to replace the rope on my bow saw tension device, the original was made of jute, which was alright but nothing like what it should have had if it were made in the time of its style, the early nineteenth century.  So I chose the flax or linen rope to make a replacement.  I removed the original and used it to layout the proper length for the end splice.

The above is the before picture with jute rope.

The above picture is the after with the flax rope.

Here is what the splices look like.  There is no comparison.  I untwisted about 8 inches from each end to a mark on the rope giving me the proper length, I then started the short end splice.  A long end splice is not necessary for this application.

The flax rope is much tighter than the jute and required a fid to open up the strands so I could finish the end splice.  The first couple of weaves are full size strands (it is three strand or yarn rope).  I then trimmed off a couple of cords in the strands and continued to weave a couple more times, then reduced it again by removing a couple cords of each strand.  This produces a nice taper to the splice.  I then placed it on the ground and with my foot rolled it back and forth to smooth out the splice.  I also used an alcohol torch (lamp) to singe off any arrant fibers.

I am also going to replace the rope on the 17th century style bow saw (one of three I made, the other two are at Plimoth Plantation) with the hemp rope.

Mr. Tutt also sent me a bottle of walnut ink that he makes, now I have black, brown, red and sympathetic ink. 


August 28, 2009

Fun with Triangles

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 6:50 am

I don’t know if this is obtuse or acute but it is a matter that I must address.  I have made a number of 45/90 degree triangles for drawing and layout work especially on miters to be very useful.  I had always thought that the 30/60 degree triangle was not of much use.

But lately when doing a lot of work with compasses and dividers and after doing some research, I decided to take a new look at the 30/60 degree triangle.

Here are a couple of pair, while a single triangle of this configuration is somewhat useful, two of them has got to be twice as useful.  Then after looking at the first smaller set, I realized that I could make a larger ‘pair’ by adjusting the orientation on the piece of mahogany that I had.  So I made a couple of more.  Not that I need four but now I have a couple of pair, I just use two at a time.  I will keep a set at home for layout and drawing and another set in the shop for the same purpose.

Making a precision tool takes a little time.  I cut out the blanks with a rip saw, even the crosscut areas but that is a different post.  I then used my Moxon Smoother to true the edges while holding them on a shooting board.  This required a lot of hand pressure to hold it in place as the points did not engage the stop on the shooting board.  I kept checking the angles and when I was close I checked for straightness along the edges.  Once they were to the proper shape I scraped the surfaces with a card scraper, drilled the holes (two triangles clamped together) with a Duck Bill Spoon Bit.  In both cases the drill bit did an excellent job even the exit hole was clean.  I then chamfered the edges of the hole, stamped in my name and gave them a coat of linseed oil/turpentine.

When the two are placed in conjunction with each other along their hypotenuse or along the 90 degree sides then they produce parallel edges.  And these can be adjusted to various widths.  I also have a parallel ruler that will do the same thing but that is all that it does.

Another interesting thing about the 30/60 triangles is that if placed in one configuration 6 triangles form a circle, in another configuration 12 triangles makes a circle.  I don’t know why I find this so intriguing but I do.  I should have paid more attention during Geometry class in High School but math was not my strong subject.


August 19, 2009

1824 Receipt Book – recipes

Here is an interesting page from the book.  Page 36 has some information about metal working.  Page 37 starts on varnishes.


August 18, 2009

1824 Universal Receipt Book

Which is actually an 1835 edition with the addition of 22 pages of school curriculum (which by itself is worth the price) published in London.  This book contains 6000 receipts or recipes from everything from varnish, stain, paint (oil color, water color, etc.), glues, cements, metallurgy, leather, glass, ink, medicine, food, beverage (fermented, distilled, brewed, etc.),  husbandry, horticulture, Domestic Economy, &c., &c.

It is 850 pages and a small format, but the information contained is of importance to history and contain many obscure, archaic and obsolete recipes together with treasures like ‘cold tinning’ and ‘turpentine varnish’.  More of a formulary than a recipe book, there is some amazing stuff in this work.

The original had been rebound during the mid nineteenth century and the new cover was created by Kari Hultman of the Village Carpenter and based on traditional book designs influenced by the books on Joel’s blog at Tools for Working Wood in New York.  Gary Roberts at Toolemera also contributed suggestions.

I showed this book to Richard Oman at the Museum of Church History and Art and he was of the opinion that the book was probably brought out West by the Pioneers.  A friend of mine George Stapleford found the book at an antique/book store in Bountiful, Utah and paid $115.00 for it, knowing full well I would give him that value at least in trade for this cornucopia.

I will be offering this {treasure} book in paperback for sale for $40.00 plus $4.00 shipping.  That is just over a half a penny per recipe or receipt, the traditional term for recipe.  I expect to have books available in September of 2009.  Because of the interest I am making this edition available by pre-publication subscription at a special price of $40.00, shipping (in the U.S.A.) included!  Please send a check or money order for $40.00 to:


August 16, 2009

Brigham’s Destroying Angel: Wild Bill Hickman

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Publications,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:14 pm

My next venture into publishing will be a reprint of an 1870’s autobiography (1904 edition) of the ‘Notorious’ Wild Bill Hickman, Chief of the Danites*.  A colorful character of the American West, this work has more local interest, but I feel it is a worthwhile effort to tell a bit more of the story.

It contains 230 pages with 20 engravings telling the story of William A. Hickman, in his own words of a personal ‘bodyguard’ of Brigham Young; lawyer, U.S, Marshall and Indian Scout and fellow compatriot of Orrin Porter Rockwell, Lot Smith and other notable individuals in the history of the West.

A sensitive Foreword written by Barbara Mila, an interpreter at This is the Place Heritage Park, who portrays Bill Hickman’s seventh wife, a Shoshone Indian, in the original Hickman Log Cabin that was relocated to the Park.  Barbara also owned the original edition that I scanned and has great personal insight from her research and meeting, at first the reluctant descendants, now to those who happily include ‘Wild Bill’ in their lineage.

I had to reconstruct the cover as the original paper cover was in bad condition.  It also should be noted that the original publisher is not related.

The book will sell for $18.00 plus $3.00 shipping, wholesale prices are available.  This will also be the first book that I publish that will have a bar code, a part of doing business today.


* The Danites or Sons of Dan was created in Far West, Missouri by Dr. Sampson Avard as a secret society that went on to do work for the L.D.S. Church.  Also called the Brothers of Gideon (after Sampson’s dead brother), Daughters of Zion, Avenging Angles, Fur Company, Threshers or Mormonites.

August 12, 2009

Brigham Young’s Tool Chest

I went on an adventure and took a quick tour of the Beehive House, Brigham Young’s residence in downtown Salt Lake City, then ventured over the the Museum of Church History and Art with camera in hand.

This is a tool chest belonging to Brigham Young which he used when he was a carpenter in the mid nineteenth century.  After 1844 when he started leading the Mormon Church, I am fairly certain he didn’t do much carpentry work as he was a bit being busy as the Territorial Governor, Indian Agent and the President of the Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints).

Young was from Vermont and while I couldn’t get close enough (yet) some of the tools may be English or European but I am sure some of them are American made.

The pad is missing from this brace, one of two, the other looks like  to be a Spafford style iron brace.  Protecting his tools many of them has his distinctive brand ‘BY’.

Here are the tools, numbering 20 pieces, although there are a couple of others in other museums.  Nine hand planes, two joiners, one smoothing, one rabbit, one plow and 4 molding planes.  One spokeshave, one marking gauge, one mortise gauge, one pair of compasses, one square, two bit stocks, one wood, one iron and two twist augers.  One awl handle and one large mallet.  The chest has 4 separate tills, some of which are missing dust lids.

I will be doing some further research into this tool box as its history is well documented.


August 9, 2009

More Compasses

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Techniques,The Trade,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 3:23 pm

It is not that I am obsessed with compasses, but I certainly have developed an interest in these overlooked tools.  Here is an interesting ‘pair’ that has the ability to hold a wooden pencil as well as what appears to be its original scribe.  It has a mark of 8 stamped on one arm, it has been sharpened and is now just a little over 7 inches in length.  The scribe appears to have just been moved up and may be more like the original point.

The pivot rivet has brass washers on both sides, all parts are original, but it will need a cleaning before it is in working order.


The next one took me a minute to figure out that it was a scribing compassse or dividers.  The crooked blunt end rides against the side and the scribe makes a mark parallel to the edge.  The advantage of this is that it can scribe around irregular or curved surfaces and transfer a proper score line given the arms are held in the same position throughout the scribe.


August 6, 2009

Mariner’s Compasses

I was inspired by the brass Mariner’s Dividers offered by Lee Valley.  I decided to make a pair out of wood and I have a brass pair coming.  Why is it called a ‘pair’ as there is only one?

These are made of maple with a brass rivet at the axis.  It is a small piece of 1/8″ soft brass with a peened head on each end.  The wood at the pivot is slightly countersunk and I took great care with a small ball peen hammer to turn the head of the rivet after the two arms are assembled.

I cut it out with a coping/fret saw, using fine fret saw blades and ended up breaking a half a dozen blades in the process.  I am not sure what the problem was, I usually don’t break blades that often and this little project should have been easy.  The wood is not that thick and it was properly supported in the patternmaker’s vise.  I can’t blame the blades or the tools and there was no one around to blame, so I guess it was me?

The major advantage of this design is that it can be opened wider and closed narrower with one hand.  It is extremely easy to get just the right dimensions between the points.  I have started using compasses for all of my measuring transfers, so a couple of extras will be of great help.


August 2, 2009

Jonathan Fairbanks

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Publications,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:10 am

Yesterday at the Park was hectic with a wedding and several family reunions including the Fairbanks family.  They hold it in the family home, an adobe I-house that was relocated and rebuilt at the Park.

My good friend Jonathan Fairbanks attended, flying in from Boston.  I only get to visit with him once a year and last year I had him autograph his tome on American furniture and he bought a copy of Shepherds’ Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Furniture.  Jonathan founded the Department of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston.


I have known about the family for years as Avard Fairbanks had done a monumental sculpture of my Great Grand Parents the Peterson’s on my fathers mothers side of the family.  It is in a museum in Fairview/Mt. Pleasant, Utah.

I met Jonathan when Nancy Richards Clark introduced me to him in 1976 when I first worked up at the Park, then called Pioneer Trails State Park, I had my workshop in the Basement of Brigham Young’s Forest Farm Home.  We have been friends since that first meeting.  When I told him of my background and that I had studied philosophy at the University of Utah, he commented that now I could make the ‘Ideal Chair’, still working on that one.

Yesterday, I also got to chat with Glen Fairbanks a sculpture who did the replacement bronze for Ralph Ramsey’s Eagle Gate in downtown Salt Lake City.  He got my address and said he had something to send me, I wonder what it may be?

I also met another Fairbanks (it was easy as there were a couple hundred of them were at the reunion), Daniel, a botanist (I thought all the Fairbanks were artists) and interested in woodworking.  He bought a copy of Shepherds’ Compleat… and the Hide Glue book and Jonathan bought the Hide Glue book.

 It was great seeing Jonathan and talking of American Furniture and the depressed prices for original painted and grained furniture.  I told Jonathan and Daniel about an oak grained secretary that a friend has for sale in his antique store and couldn’t get $1500 for it in the current market.  They got his address and I think it probably sold yesterday afternoon.


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