Full Chisel Blog

May 31, 2010

The Adventure continues

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized,Wood — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:12 am


The adventure started out in an attempt to find the mythical Western Red Pine ended in not having access to the area, which will not be free of snow until about the fourth of July.  But all was not in vain.  After talking with a Park Ranger first he laughed when I told him where we wanted to go, he informed us that it was still covered in deep snow.  When I told him what we were looking for, he summoned the National Forest Service Forester and assured us that she knew her trees.

A nice lady [Sir George was able to determine she was from New York, although she lost most of her eastern accent] and explained that we were looking for ‘Red Pine’.  ‘Doesn’t exist out here!’   She said that it was Douglas fir [Psuedotsuga taxifolia] that people called red pine and didn’t know the difference.  I explained to her that people now may have not known the difference, but the pioneers did and I sited some historic sources backing up my claim.  At this point she realized that I probably knew what I was talking about.

Then she pointed out the 130 year old Black Willow [Salix nigra] trees across the street that were planted by the pioneers of that area and was originally brought from Nauvoo Illinois when they came west in the mid nineteenth century.  She had a hardwood expert come in and evaluate the trees, at first skeptical when hearing of black willow that old, it wasn’t until he saw the trees that he believed that they were 130 years old.  Black willow seldom survives over 100 years.  The western climate seemed to be ideal for their long life. 

By the time we left she said that she was going to start looking for Red Pine and will keep in touch.  She also pointed out that while most of the people think the conifer forest are made up of pine trees, most of the ‘pine’ trees were actually Engelmann Spruce [Picea engelmannii].  She also said that while people call the other trees cedars they are all Junipers [Juniperus spp.].  She works with school groups, so hopefully in the future people may know the difference.

Speaking of pine she said they were hard to find and pointed out two Ponderosa pines [Pinus ponderosa] planted in the parking lot of the ranger station, to show people what the pines actually look like.  She said that the only pines you could find in the remote areas are Bristlecone pines [Pinus aristata].  She pointed out on the map the remote location where they grow.  So jokingly I said ‘well then you don’t mind if I cut some down?’  To wit she replied ‘if it standing dead and you have a $20.00 firewood permit you can cut down all you want if they are shorter than 4 feet.  Longer pieces require a ‘pole permit’ which cost a bit more money.

I was flabbergasted at that comment thinking they were all protected, not the case here.  She said that it is very remote and no one goes there but there are standing dead.  She also described how I could identify those even if dead, they grow different in this area and are not as windblown as most Bristlecone pines in other areas show.

So when the weather improves we will venture forth again in search of both the mythical Red Pine and with a saw and ax the legendary Bristlecone Pine.


May 28, 2010

High Adventure in search of a mythical tree

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized,Wood — Stephen Shepherd @ 6:34 am


In search of the mythical Western Red Pine continued yesterday with an excursion down south to the Manti La Sal National Forest to find the tree that everyone but me today seems to think is a myth.  Well that is not quite true all of the authorities that I have talked to as well as historians of the West believe that what the pioneers referred to as Red Pine was Douglas fir and the pioneers didn’t know the difference.  Hogwash.

I have worked on old pieces of pioneer furniture that was made of red pine, and after 40 years I know the difference between pine and fir.  I know most of the conifers, in wood and in tree form.  I even have corroborating evidence that the pioneers knew the difference as well.  Printed newspaper ads requesting white pine, for the flooring, fir and red pine for the supporting structures of a bridge built in Great Salt Lake City in the early 1850’s.

Botanical references have not included red pine since the late 1890’s, and this is not to be confused with the red pine [Pinus rubra] found in the eastern United States.  Form a dated chair ‘Public Works, GSL City, 1856’ shows sylvan characteristics unlike any other tree, the seat of a Windsor arm chair, painted and grained to imitate mahogany with gold stripes had the traditional bevels to the side of the seat to make it look thinner was actually the wane of the tree and included bark that was smoothed down and painted.  The underside of the chair was not painted, except for the stencil and had 22 sapwood rings and 88 heartwood rings.

So what happened to the red pine?  Good question, perhaps it met the fate of the Western White Pine which was destroyed by a blight, all of the white pine trees left in Utah were imported from the Black Hills about 60 years ago.  Brigham Young told the Pioneers ‘not to cut red pine for firewood, that it should only be used for furniture and building’.  There are several ‘Red Pine Canyons’ in the state but no red pine.  All of the Red Pine Canyons are on the north sides of mountain ranges with southern exposures.

Two years ago I did some consulting for the Museum of Church History and Art for the Mormon Church on the proper construction of a couple of large bents that were reconstructed in the museum to keynote the restoration project of the LDS Tabernacle.  Some of the scissor trusses [Israel Town’s patent called the Remington truss] and long beams needed to be replaced.  Some of the wood was used in the recreation of the structure of the roof in the museum exhibit.  As a result I was given a piece from the tabernacle’s original wood, it measured 3 inches thick by 12 inches wide and 36 inches long.  I got to select the piece and of course I took the red one, there were some of Douglas fir pieces as well, easy to tell the difference.  This piece also has a knot with some included bark [a dark red color].  The red pine is named for its bark but the wood is also a strong red color.

I have made a couple of walking sticks [canes], writing pens, knitting needles and tatting shuttles from the wood, I keep even the smallest of pieces of this precious wood.  It is a real pleasure to work and doesn’t behave like modern pines although it works like sugar pine but is harder.

This will have to be in two parts because the discussion I had with the National Forest Service Forester during this adventure made the trip a success, although I didn’t think the area would be inaccessible due to weather.  The place where I wanted to go will not be free of snow and open until July 4th.  Another trip is already in the planning stages.

 These aspen trees are on the open part of the Skyline Loop road at about 9000 feet and you can see how the winter snow has effected how these threes grow.

This is Sir George trying to get a reading on his camera at 9400 feet, and yes the wind was howling.


Here is one of my walking sticks made of Red pine.

More on the adventure later.


May 24, 2010

Oil & Water

Filed under: Historical Material,Nautical,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 6:59 pm


I am sorry for my late response to this timely issue, but better late than never.  The recent problem that has surfaced has prompted me to consider a solution.  Now I know nothing about the depths of the problem except the enormous pressure and temperatures that things don’t Behave Properly.

Since I cannot add to the technical problem they face, except did I mention the high pressure and cold temperature?  I do have some suggestions as to how to deal with the problem on the surface of the water in the Gulf.  For one and many of you may know this, Oil and Water don’t mix.  And oil by its self is fairly nasty stuff, useful but nasty.  It kills a lot of things from contact in a crude form, as refined products, etc., etc.  But did I mention it was useful, I like Asphaltum for making varnish and people are fond of Gasoline.

But I digress; a solution for the problem would be to deal with the problem that Oil and Water don’t mix.  Oil is lighter in molecular weight that Water, so oil conveniently floats on water.  If it were lighter than water it wouldn’t be a good hydrocarbon.  But I digress, how would a chef make an oil and vinegar salad dressing mix, he would add an emulsifier to make them mix together, mustard, egg yolks, soy, etc., there a number of ingredients that will do the same thing.

Or you could add surfactants, a fancy word meaning a surface reactant that is basically a soap that will cause the oil to break up into smaller little spheres of oil that will settle out of the water.  But the oil is still there.  Remember you can clean oil paint out of your brushes with soap and water, but the oil does go down the drain in suspension with water.

So how does one get rid of a lot of oil, I would suggest wood ashes.  When mixed with water and oil they become soap.  It is a simple soponification process that has been known for centuries. And soap is far less dangerous than crude oil.

Now here is an interesting bit of history, when ships were at sea and the weather was turning bad and the waves were increasing; they would put an oil soaked rope into the water to trail behind the ship and it would break the surface tension of the water and reduce the possibility of waves breaking over the stern of the ship.  Buckets of oil were placed on both sides of the bow at water line to help eliminate waves around the ship.  The oil would calm the sea.


May 19, 2010

They sure don’t make them like they use to.

Filed under: Historical Material,Moxon,Of Interest,The Trade,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:41 am


After some recent discussions around the internet on various topics has prodded me to start thinking about if things really got better.  Not that I need any prodding, I think about old stuff all the time.  There is also a great discussion about the quality of steel used in edge tools, many saying that modern steels are ‘better’ than those available in the past.  With all of the modern innovations; tempering ovens, atmospheric controlled and exotic new materials, people assume that the steel will be better.  What the hell does that mean?

Their argument seems to be that with modern techniques the material is more uniform and consistent from batch to batch.  I think we under estimate the abilities of our ancestors with this bit of arrogance and hubris. I have used ‘modern’ steel tools, there is nothing like a laid steel blade for a chisel or plane blade that were common on tools prior to modern times.

Moxon talks about the different types of steel that was available in the late fifteenth early sixteenth century in England.  If he could determine and delineate different steel types then he knew or was told by those who did, the differences.  Sounds pretty consistent to me.  The annealing [or as he called it nealing] process is the same as today, heat up the metal to a blood-red-heat and allow it to cool slowly.  His process of hardening appears to be the same [although he does mention hammer hardening for saw plates, etc.], but his description of tempering [to let it down] differs from how the process is done today.  ‘The light goldifh Colour is for Files, Cold-chiffels and Punches, that Punch into iron and Steel: The dark goldifh Colour for Punches to use on Brafs, and generally for moft Edge-tools; The blew colour gives the temper to Springs in general…’

Moxon is not the be all or end all when it comes to the trade, but it was the first English language description of the topics he included in Mechanick Exercises or the Doctrine of Handy-Works.  It is the foundation on which all subsequent publications were built.  It is a great resource and should be read with its original punctuation, spelling and type face, for the best effect.  When immersed in the text, I get a bit of the feeling of what it was like 300 years ago, and I like that feeling.

We think everything new is better, synthetic sharpening stones, synthetic glues and finishes are better than the real thing.  Our ancestors were not some sort of knuckle dragging sub humans, our brains are the same size.  Nor are they stupid hayseeds that just fell off the cabbage wagon.  I would venture a guess that if educated adults today had to pass the mid school curriculum of the early nineteenth century many wouldn’t qualify.

If you look at metal turning lathes from L’Art de Tourner by Charles Plumier in 1792, the only difference between those and modern lathes are the power source.  They were sophisticated machines that could cut threads, had slide rests and in some instances have more options that are now available.  Look at the ornamental turning lathes of the nineteenth century produced by Holtzaffel are quite sophisticated.

A friend of mine called this ‘White Man Syndrome’ in that today people consider that they know more or when making reproductions they make ‘improvements’, using newer ‘better’ materials, etc.  I have heard that inane comment ‘well if they would have had it they would have used it’, to which I reply well they didn’t have it, so they didn’t use it, so stop [explicative deleted] messing with history.  You can’t improve upon the past.


May 12, 2010

Cooking Pine Resin

Filed under: Finishing,Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 12:47 pm

Or pine sap or tree squeezings, it is the sticky stuff that exudes from the conifers Pinus spp.   I have a quantity of pine pitch so I am doing some experiments.

First of all, it is soluble in alcohol, almost completely, so it can be made into a spirit varnish.  It is also soluble in spirits of turpentine, so it can also be made into a spirit varnish.  But in this form [dissolved in turps] it can be easily mixed with linseed oil to form varnish.

It can also be cooked and this process will darken and harden the resin.  How dark will it go, I am not sure but the darker one has been heated about a half a dozen times to the point that it was giving off visible fumes and a delightful fragrance.  As for the temperature, I am not sure but it is at least 300 degrees F [I need to get a good thermometer].  Don’t try this at home, unless you do the cooking out doors or have adequate ventilation, the fumes are flammable.  The sample on the right has been just heated once and melted.

I will cook this sample until it becomes very dark and then test its properties.  There are opinions as to how long things need to be cooked.  Running, fusing or cooking the resins is done to make them soluble in oil, also to harden the resins and to add color.  This particular experiment is to determine how dark I can make the resin and if the excess cooking effects the properties of the resin.

The stuff is not as hard as the Spruce Resin that I cooked up.  I am currently powdering up the cooked spruce resin I made and am dissolving it into spirits of turpentine, to which I will add some kettle boiled raw linseed oil, which I will be boiling up soon, to make oil varnish.


May 5, 2010

On the Importance of Proper Sharpening


I do not want in any way to suggest that the proper sharpening of tools is not of fundamental importance.  My point of an earlier post Over Grinding and Over Sharpening was meant to bring to people’s attention of the over emphasis of grinding and sharpening.

Early on in my apprenticeship I was given a book How to Sharpening Anything, given personal instruction and schooled in the proper sharpening of tools.  I do when necessary actually grind and sharpen tools, but I don’t put much time into the process.  I know what it takes to make a keen cutting edge, I once sharpened a knife for a friend and he said he would never have me do that again, because every time he used the knife it cut him three ways; long, deep and frequent.

I was taught to keep the flat back of a tool ‘flat’ and the bevel one plane and not use any tricks or shortcuts as these wasted the tool and was a bad habit to start, because once they are started these can be difficult to quit.  Secondary and back bevels were never brought up. 

If I get a small chip or ding on a chisel blade or plane iron, I don’t immediately stop and sharpen it out, unless it will show which it usually doesn’t or flat surfaces are scraped or sanded so a small mark isn’t critical.  I continue using the tools until I have some down time to sharpen, usually after a glue up or some process that stops the normal work.  I also have several chisels, so I can grab another if one has a problem and the end results will show.  I can also use another hand plane for the same reason.

There are many good sources for sharpening, there are books written and information on the internet that can be valuable.  I would just avoid any shortcuts or procedures that waste the steel in the tools or contributes to bad practices.  Once you learn good sharpening habits just don’t let it turn into an addiction.


May 3, 2010

Got Hobnails?

Filed under: Hardware,Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 2:33 pm


Well, I do. Just bought a pound of steel hobnails about 220 count per pound, 3/8” square and 5/8” long.  I had some of these years ago, but my source dried up until today.  I have two pair of Jefferson Booties and a pair of boots that need heel protection.  My other shoes and boots have iron heel plates, held on with one inch brads with about a 1/4:” cut off the end.  They hold up well and protect the leather heels from excessive wear.  These are all reproduction leather foot ware based on traditional design.  I even have a pair of straight last shoes, neither left nor right foot. These were easier to make and were common until the nineteenth century.  The rest of the shoes and boots are left and right footed. I will only be using them in the heels and it will take about a dozen nails per heel.

And what does this have to do with woodworking? Well I do woodworking in these shoes, I use a brad awl to make the holes in the thick leather heels and use a hammer to drive them home.   I also use wooden shoe pegs to attach and repair the soles or heels.  I can also still buy wooden shoe pegs from a local supplier, along with fine linen thread [albeit expensive], nice traditional pegging awl handles in American and French patterns [great for brad awls], cut steel shoe nails, round leather belting in various diameters, for sewing and other machines.

Because of the rugged nature of these nails, I will have to avoid those establishments with signs that say ‘NO Hobnails or Heel Plates’.  I do traditional woodworking from the ground up.


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