Full Chisel Blog

April 28, 2010

Over Grinding and Over Sharpening

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Sharpening,The Trade,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 12:18 pm


It is no wonder that in the 1839 The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, mentions that many some Cabinet shops in the nineteenth century England did not allow a grindstone on the premises.  And why you might ask, well the masters of the shops didn’t want their tools needlessly ground away, nor their workman wasting time at the grindstone.

I am convinced that if modern grinding and sharpening equipment and mentality had been available in the nineteenth century that we wouldn’t have any useful tools today, they would have been repeatedly and unnecessarily ground to oblivion.  Modern wood turners seem to have their grinders running right next to their lathes, this I don’t understand.

As it is many old tools are being over ground and over sharpened and probably get more of their metal ground away in just a few years than in the previous 100 years.  This is not to say that our ancestors didn’t over sharpen, I have seen more than one plane blade that was ground up to the piercing for the cap iron.  Modern woodworkers are overzealous when it comes to grinding and sharpening, trying every new ‘system’ that comes around.

Changing the angle on the chisel or plane iron to match the wood they are using at one point and altering the angle for other woods, seems to me a bit excessive.  Also in the nineteenth century when a craftsman was grinding or sharpening they were not making money and as most worked by the piece, time is money.  Banning the grindstone saves both time wasted in endless grinding and money saved by preserving the metal on the tools, this idea should be reconsidered.

If you need tools with different angles on their cutting edge, then you should have tools dedicated to that purpose and properly ground and sharpened, instead of regrinding and re-sharpening the tool with every change in activity.  Find the proper angle stick with it and save the tools.  This is of special importance if you use old tools [they aren’t making them anymore].

I do have a grindstone, 15 inch diameter, two inches wide and on a direct drive to the hand crank.  After I clean off the cobwebs and dust, I use this to initially grind the tool to the proper angle and the tool almost never sees the grindstone again.  I then use a course Washita stone to work the edge to a burr then move on to English slate for the final hone.  I then strop on leather and am ready for work.

I use my tools until I determine that they are dull and not performing well.  I then take them to the slate and touch up the edge, then strop.  I may have to go the coarser stone if necessary but never back to the grindstone.  I never spend more than a couple of minutes at this process.  I don’t use any ‘secondary’ bevel and of course the ‘back bevel’ should never be done as it is a bad and lazy practice.

Do your tools a favor and quit grinding and sharpening them to excess.  All of that work isn’t necessary and while you may enjoy the sharpening process, [use it on new tools not old ones] it takes time away from woodworking.

Most of my tools are laid steel blades [hard cast steel forge welded to soft wrought iron, which does not harden], so my sharpening is much easier.  I only have a thin veneer of hard steel to sharpen and the wrought iron abrades away quickly.  I do have a few solid steel carving tools and they take longer to sharpen.


April 27, 2010

Swap Meet Tools, etc.

Filed under: Drilling,Hardware,Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 6:31 am

I picked these up at the local swap meet, spent all of the money I had $8.00.  The nice Butcher 1/4″ carving gouge, which I turned over to Richard McDonald for the $4.00 I paid for it, and a not shown is a small medicine bottle (in the acid bath) and a small tapered file, new made but a shape I don’t have.

Can always use another half mortise drawer lock, the counter sink is larger [7/8″] than anything I have and is marked STANLEY.  The center bit is in great condition is marked 3/8 in old mismatched type face stamp, marked Cast Steel and what looks like L&G, the G is very weak. [I did a search on the web and as near as I can tell it is a Lesbian & Gay drill bit.]


April 25, 2010

Tiffany Restoration

Filed under: Hardware,Hide Glue,Historical Material,Of Interest,Restoration,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:40 am

I believe that this is my only Tiffany restoration project I have ever done.  It belongs to a family member and I restored it back in 2002 and finally got some pictures of the piece.  It is a traveling/presentation liquor box, made of pine with splines at the corners that are mitered.  It is covered with leather and has gilt decoration.

The inside of the case is a deep blue velvet and the lid is lined with blue silk Morie.  Nice hardware that is possibly English, but not sure.  The stain on the front left corner was from the bottle leaking at some time in the past.  Looks like a cordial as there is some crystals that are probably sugar remaining in the fine folds of the leather.

The back board of the box that holds the hinge of the lid had broken and the leather was torn but non was missing.  Not having fresh liquid hide glue, I used Knox Gelatin mixed up to the recipe in Hide Glue – Practical & Historic Applications.  I had contacted the manufacturer Kraft to determine the gram strength of their product and they responded that they didn’t endorse alternative uses of their product.  Silly.

I glued the wood joint together and applied a bit of glue under the leather where it was loose, making sure all surfaces were wet with glue.  I then bound it in string to act as a clamp to hold the box together as well as holding the loose leather down to the box. 

And here is what takes a nice little liquor box and makes it a very expensive little liquor box.  That label.

It was a fun restoration and I am glad I now have pictures.


April 22, 2010

Straightening a bent and broken laminated plow plane blade.

 I posted a thread over at WoodCentral and thought I should put it here as well.

I once owned an 1/8th inch plow blade that had been bent and the laminated steel on the iron had broken but the wrought iron backing did not.  The blade was straight when I got it so I didn’t have to do anything.

Well I recently acquired a 3/16th inch plow plane blade that was broken in a similar manner.  I talked the guy down on his asking price because as I pointed out the blade was broken so I got it for a dollar.  It happen to fit my plow plane a Willard from Roxton Pond in England [Canada] in the nineteenth century and I did not have one this size.

I cleaned the blade in an ultrasonic cleaner to make sure that there was no rust in the crack of the steel in the blade.  I then heated it up to cherry red and using a small hammer and a piece of iron I use as an anvil, I gently tapped the blade to straighten it out.  I had to apply two heats to get it good and flat and straight.  You need to work quick especially when you put hot iron on a cold anvil.  Perhaps that is why the Blacksmith would heat up a large piece of iron when starting the forge and placing it on the anvil to warm it up so it doesn’t act as a heat sink.  I made sure to get to a cherry heat both times and concentrated the heat toward the thick part of the iron that was acting like a heat sink.  Lacking tongs I wrapped a wet rag around the iron to hold it during this operation.

I then heated up about the first ¾” of the tip of the blade again to a cherry red heat and quenched it in brine.  I used brine instead of water to harden it as hard as I could.  [You can only do this with laminated blades, solid steel requires drawing the temper.]  I have heard you can quench them in mercury and make them even harder, but for some reason I didn’t want to breathe the deadly fumes.  It was too hard to be touched by a file, so I will have to work it over on the stone.  And the wrought iron cannot be hardened so it retains its flexibility.

Word of warning, you do risk breaking the part but if proper heat is applied and gentle force exerted then it is possible to straighten out old tools.  Use caution.


April 21, 2010

Swap meet finds.

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Sharpening,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:07 am

I had a good visit to the local swap meet and picked up a few items which I got for under ten dollars.  The first of which were three matching spatulas with carbon steel blades and brass rivets through Brazilian rosewood handles.  I sold one to a friend for baking purposes and I will keep one for making paint.

I also picked up a nice 8 inch [blade] butcher knife with an iron bolster/tang, antler handle and German silver butt plate.  The blade is marked ‘Superior Warranted and was not abused and easily sharpened up with a file.

And I am not sure what this is, a trivet perhaps, someone mentioned it was for a sad iron.  It is sand cast and the casting sprue was on the edge, which were all ground off in a nice taper, it has three peg legs cast into the body.  I think it looks Arts & Crafts.  I cleaned off most of the rust but it needs time in the ultrasonic cleaner or a vinegar bath.

I also picked up this small English cream-ware pitcher, I think it might be a toy from a set but am not sure, from the nineteenth century.

And finally I can tune my planes and other hand tools, providing the are tuned to A – 440.

4 1/2 inches long, marked Germany.


April 18, 2010

Hammer Veneering – paper backed veneer with liquid hide glue

I recently ran into a problem when I attempted to lay some paper backed veneer with liquid hide glue using the hammering technique.  The technique is simple, put a coat of hide glue on the substrate [that to which you are applying the veneer] and a coat of glue on the veneer on both sides to equalize moisture to prevent curling.  The sheet of veneer is then placed on the substrate and a veneer hammer is used to pressure squeegee the veneer to the substrate by close adhesion caused by the thin blade of the veneer hammer and the gripping power of hide glue.  And when hide glue dries of course it shrinks and holds the veneer tight.

I had to conduct a workshop to teach a half a dozen woodworkers how to hammer veneer.  I was assured that they had the substrate material and some veneer to work with.  The veneer was a sheet of hickory and white oak, both with resin paper backing.  Rolled up for storage, the hickory had a real memory and proved difficult to handle.  The white oak was better but after my first attempt it failed.  Fortunately this was discovered before the class and we had time to pick up some un-backed alder veneer, un-backed veneer is getting harder to find.  While alder is not the best wood and this stuff had knots, it worked out well and that is what I used in the workshop and all had success.  Because of some extra time on the last day many built their own veneer hammers and plan on using them.

The upper veneer hammer is the one I made about 12 years ago, hickory handle, maple head and boxwood blade.  The lower one is typical of the hammers made in the class, it has a maple handle, mahogany head and lignum vitae blade

I mentioned that some old examples had turned heads and one of the fellows in the class made this one with a mahogany handle, walnut head and lignum vitae blade.

I however was not about to let this paper backed veneer get the best of me.  Upon examining the veneer I discovered that it was a resin coated paper, something new to me, but then most modern innovations are.  The hammer veneering technique just didn’t work, while it went down, it soon curled up on the edges of the long grain of the veneer.  So following tradition and heeding my own advice, I toothed the paper back of the veneer and scratched the hell out of the paper until it was completely toothed.

I sold my other steel glue comb so I had to make one for the class, it is about 2″ by 3″ , made of pure zinc sheet with the notches filed with a triangular file.

I used a notched glue comb [like a notched mortar trowel] to apply a uniform layer of glue on the substrate and spread glue on the rosin/paper and smoothed it with the flat edge of the comb to make sure it was wet.  I also spread glue with a bit of water on the top of the veneer to prevent curling of the veneer from uneven moisture and to provide some lubrication for the hammer.

And after hammering down the paper backed veneer and allowing it to dry, it worked well.  So if you are going to use rosin paper backed veneer, make sure to tooth or key the paper before hammering the veneer down.


April 14, 2010

Varnish Furnace after Tingry

Filed under: Finishing,Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:35 am


P.F. Tingry published Painters’ and Varnishers’ Guide, in Geneva in 1803 [1804], in which he illustrates a varnish furnace and a description of melting no more than 6 ounces of resin at a time.  A small brass screen (to hold the gum/resin) is placed in the hollow cone (which is glazed on the inside and covered with a lid to keep out ashes and debris.  Below the cone sitting in the base is a glazed dish which holds water and receives the molten resin/gum as it is heated, fused and drops through the screen.

Charcoal is placed in the upper brazier, the resin/gum in the screen with the cover in place then the charcoal is ignited providing the heat necessary to cook, fuse or run the resin.  A simple and elegant solution to the problem of preparing resins or gums to solve in oil or other solvents.

Some resins like hard copal and amber require cooking [fusing or running, are traditional terms for this process] before they will dissolve.  Tradition has it that this was the best method of making varnish in smaller batches.  By the nineteenth century commercial varnish manufacturer was a growing industry and tons of gums and resins were being imported from around the world and imported into Europe and America.

I have yet to fire this up as I am in need of some brass screen to make a holder for the resins and I still need a lid to cover the cone.  The lid will also cover the hole in the bottom of the brazier and I can use it without the cone as a simple charcoal brazier.

This thing is impressive and I would like to thank my potter friend for making this for me, it took several conversations to work out the details and I am very happy with the results.  As soon as I figure out the shipping costs I will be offering these for sale, please enquire.


April 12, 2010

Heisenberg Woodworking

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:05 am


Based on the Uncertainty Principle described by Werner Heisenberg in the early twentieth century, keeping with my philosophers theme I seem to be on at this moment.  He is the fellow that threw the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project under the bus by intentionally derailing the physics, but I digress.

The Uncertainty Principle is simply that you can’t know things for certain, and philosophers have a real strict idea about what ‘absolutely certain’ means, like the position of atomic particles and some quantum physics stuff and the truth, at least anything meaningful.  And that the observer changes that which they observe, like a thermometer itself altering the temperature of the material being measured.

And I don’t know that I need to explain how this is relevant to woodworking, because anyone who has attempted it would not know apriori how a project will turn out, however they would know a posteriori the outcome.

Maybe I should digress, Aristotelian logic was the groundwork on which many built and I base my furniture and woodworking design philosophy on Plato in that there is nothing new under the sun so why not just copy something that has already been done.  Much as others plundered Vitruvius’ work.  And I am sure the Mycenaean’s copied the Minoans and the Romans copied the Greeks.  Pythagoras’ work on geometry helps and Euclid is put to work on figuring out how to lay things out.  Ptolemy gave us fancy cyclical circles and Kepler simply described the ellipse.  Roman numerals are very handy for marking on wood and I am glad the Arabs introduce the Zero, arithmetic got easier.  Spinoza and Newton fought it out and gave us the calculus

The dimensions get better with Descartes and out of hand with Einstein.  As much as we would like Hume’s determinism and Mill’s logic, Locke’s understanding and Kant’s reasoning; then the cats of Schrödinger and Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) makes chaos and entropy look like the obvious winners.  Camus showed us the rock and Satre told us we couldn’t leave.

You can approach woodworking logically, we can know with absolute certainty that all A’s are A’s, however when applied to the real world (empiricism) all oak is oak, logic and reason flies out the window.  The realm of possibilities are endless [well indeterminate] from woodworking solipsism to Zen, from existentialism to phenomenology, from practical to spiritual, from theory to reality, from the physical to the metaphysical, etc.

So as you contemplate your next woodworking project don’t forget to consider the ‘chairness’ of your next ‘ideal chair’.


April 7, 2010


Filed under: Finishing,Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 4:06 pm

Well another one of the treasures I picked up last weekend from my potter friend were some pipkins.  I had some of these made back in the late 1970’s when I worked at Conner Prairie Pioneer Settlement in Indiana and used them for their intended purpose as a paint and varnish pot.

Little did I know they would become a popular cup for hot and cold beverages.  But it caught on and many were made.  But I haven’t had any for years and finally had some made.  And now have a signature line with the name Full Chisel inscribed in the bottom of each.

I selected this one to keep for the craquelure  glaze and light color.  The light color is good for paint and serviceable for varnish as well as coffee.  I must be careful not to take a sip of varnish.  As soon as I figure out shipping and postage, I will offer these for sale.


April 4, 2010

Alembic & Cucurbit, Elementary Alchemy

Filed under: Finishing,Historical Material,Of Interest,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 5:21 pm

As some of you may know I dabble in the Alchemy Arts and Archaic Science and have a fairly good collection of proper tools to carry on this ancient trade.  And now I have an alembic and curcubit of my very own.  This is a very old design, the name is Arabic and the Mycenaeans and everyone after used them.

The above is a drawing I did for my next book and for my potter to make me a copy.  The alembic is the general name for this contraption when in fact the alembic is the lid with the internal gutter and external spout and the lower part is called the curcubit.

The inside of the curcubit and alembic are glazed and the outside is not.  This allows me to keep the lid wet to help condense the vapors produced from the heating of the contents of the curcubit.  When it condenses, it collects in the internal gutter and out through the spout into a receiver.  If you haven’t figured this out yet it is a simple still. 

I have got a container of corn meal and brown sugar now warming up to produce a mash.  In the mean time I was impatient and a friend of mine gave me a bottle of very bad wine.  So I put it in the curcubit, put it on the hot plate [I apologize that I didn’t use my charcoal brazier, just couldn’t wait], soaked down a cotton towel with water and wrapped it around the alembic and turned the temperature up, it never got above 160 degrees F.  Alcohol boils off at 172 degrees but at this altitude at a lower temperature.

This is the first ounce of pure alcohol out of the alembic.  Now I can say that I have made ‘spirits of wine’, the old term for alcohol.  Of course all of the alcohol will be used for shellac thinner and for making spirit varnishes.   I will be offering these for sale, please inquire.

I got some other goodies and I will post on them soon.


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