Full Chisel Blog

July 26, 2010

1835 New-York Book of Prices

for Manufacturing Piano-fortes by The Society of Journeyman Piano-forte Makers is a fascinating book reprinted by the American Musical Instrument Society.  It also includes a list of New York piano, musical instrument makers, etc. plus a translated leaflet of what German Emigrants should do when traveling to America from 1833.

The information contained is fascinating in that it delineates prices for the finest details of the various steps of making a piano.  The stuff on veneering is interesting and the book gives a good idea of what it cost to get things one.  And because it is piece work for the various parts it can give insight to the time it took for various tasks and the compensation for each step.

I recommend the book to anyone interest in the minutia of the trade, and at $25.00 including postage and shipping it is well worth the money, and you know how cheap I am.  I saw a flyer hanging on a bulletin board when at the Piano Technicians Guild convention in Las Vegas at the end of June and sent them a check.  Got the book this morning and have been pursuing it with relish.


July 23, 2010

Linseed oil on Metal

Filed under: Finishing,Hardware,Historical Material,Of Interest,Techniques — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:44 pm


This is spawned from a rather silly thread on a Woodworking forum on the Internet.  Someone asked if linseed oil could be used on metal, particularly woodworking tools to prevent rust.  The response was that linseed oil left a gummy film on the tools and they recommended all sorts of petroleum distillates to use instead.

Obviously some of the people responding have never learned to wipe off the excess before it dries.  This will indeed form a gummy film and cause problems.  The recommendations to use mineral oil [a laxative] or paraffin oil in one form or another to protect metals.  If you are going to use petrochemicals on metal use something cheap like 30 weight motor oil, it will protect the metal with a non drying oil.  People even recommend mineral oil for wooden food utensils, because it never dries it comes out in the food and is particularly harmful to wood which is a natural product and the synthetics are not.  Then there is that laxative thing.

Linseed oil has been used as a metal finish and rust protector for centuries.  Yes that is hundreds and hundreds of years.  Linseed oil is used to quench hot wrought iron to give it a nice black finish.  Linseed oil is also used to finish the iron by heating it up and dunking it in linseed oil.  Linseed oil is a long bond double molecule, and while it sounds big it is actually very small and will penetrate into anything from iron and steel to woods and other porous materials and even smooth modern plastic laminates.

When done properly linseed oil will offer fine protection from rust to any ferrous metal.  The key word is properly, that means wiping off all excess.  That means there is no extra oil left on the surface, and this is where people end up with a gummy finish, they don’t get all of the oil.  A thick coat of oil will dry from the outside in by forming a skin on the surface, preventing the oil underneath from drying, hence a sticky mess.  A very thin coat will dry quickly and not have that problem.

Living in the dry arid West, rust is not that much a problem unless using green or partially dried wood, in which case the wood and the shavings will cause rust if left in contact with unprotected metal surfaces.  Using wooden hand planes the only rust occurs on the irons so having some protection on the irons does help reduce the problem as does removing shavings completely before storing.  Also sawing damp wood can cause problems especially with the swarf left in the teeth of the saws.  My saws are all made from old, usually pitted blades that have been cleaned of surface rust, using a variety of methods.  The blades are then heated up and treated with linseed oil, the excess wiped off and allowed to cure.  The sharpening removes any oil from the teeth, so they can be vulnerable to rust.

The tools don’t gum up because they don’t have a thick film on the surface.  The old iron and steel are protected from rust, except on their sharpened edges.  Linseed oil was also used on firearms, on both the wood and metal parts for the very reason that if properly applied it offers protection to the wood as well as protecting the metal from rust.  It is also the traditional finish, again when properly applied, to much of the iron hardware used on furniture and other wooden objects during the nineteenth century.

For those of you whom are of the same opinion, I apologize for being redundant, for everyone else, I believe that you are all entitled to my opinion.


July 18, 2010

A piece I restored was on Antiques Roadshow

I restored the painted and grained secretary back in 1983, made of pine it was painted to look like curly maple and burl maple with a painted walnut desk top.  It had been in her family and had a stamp ‘Saint George Builders Union’ inside the top of the secretary.  I guess I didn’t see this episode of Antiques Roadshow when it aired back in 2007, just saw it on PBS a few days ago.

Leigh Keno did the appraisal [$4500.00] and there was no mention of any restoration work which would effect the value of the piece.  The porcelain knobs were on the piece when it came in and those were left on.  The base of the table was loose and needed to be re-glued [with hide glue of course] and the top of the desk was completely repainted as the original finish was worn off.  There was enough to determine that it was a walnut graining.

There was also damage to the graining, some was flaking off and the finish was very dry.  I treated it with Moses T’s Reviver then did the infill painting of the base coat color [a light yellow oil paint] allowed that to dry and in-painted the missing grain with shellac and burnt umber pigment.  Still looks good.

I will have to dig through my slides and find the pictures when it was in the shop 24 years ago.


July 13, 2010

Sea Chest

I have wanted to make one of these for some time now and at last I have an order to build one.  I may have to make two as I like the design.  The sailor’s sea chest was his seat, table, tool box, strong box, food locker and the only place on board that was uniquely his.

I will be making it from pine, dovetailed at the corners.  The top and bottom moldings will be attached with glue and nails, the hinges are simple offset strap hinges secured to the inside with rivets or clinched nails, the lock will be a double lug half mortise lock with a self escutcheon.  The box will be painted blue with Prussian blue oil based paint, not as bright as the drawing and interior decoration to be provided by the new owner(s) as will the beckets [the rope work handles].

The side handles are attached to the box with long clinch nails and the rope work ‘beckets’ will be done up through the round holes provided.  Some of these are quite simple and some are incredibly complex, occupying many hours of work during long voyages.

The chest is 31 1/2″ wide on the bottom, 28″ wide at the top; 24″ deep at the bottom, 16″ at the top and 18″ high.  These are approximate sizes, pending approval of the sailor that placed the order.  I got the design and dimensions from a photograph and it was difficult to scale, but I think I got the measurements close to the original.


July 12, 2010

Tiny tenons on a Distaff

A spinning wheel came into the shop today, made mostly of curly maple with an oak base.  One spoke is missing, no pitman, the flyer needs repair and wire hooks, the whorl needs to be fit to the mandrel and one leg needs some attention.  I need to repair the treadle replacing the missing or broken square pegs.  I will also treat the wood with thinned linseed oil, the wood is suffering from worm damage, the probable reason the leg failed, as did the ‘repair’ made of plastic wood.

The Distaff (the part that holds the fiber being spun) is usually missing on old wheels, this one is a fancy three piece distaff, made of maple, but the bent parts are hickory and probably bent green.  One was broken off on both ends and required me to make the smallest tenons I have ever made.

The replacement tenons are made of some split hickory, the split I used is in the foreground and the tenon on the left is ready for glue.  I hand whittled them and drilled the holes for the tenon with a small pin vise with a twist drill bit.

As you can see by the one inch square on the gnomon that it is quite small.

The new tenons are fit and I used liquid hide glue to secure the smaller tenons into the small holes I drilled in the original piece.  Fortunately hide glue shrinks as it dries as there was no real good way to clamp these.


July 11, 2010

If you are making furniture, remember at some time it will break and need to be repaired.

Every piece of woodworking be it furniture or other wooden objects will be damaged and require repair and restoration.  So with that in mind, use a glue that will be friendly to whoever has to do the repairs in the future.  And the only glue that will not make the restorationist curse a blue streak, is animal glue, hide glue, either hot or liquid or fish glue.

Here is a table that I am in the process of restoring that was originally glued together with hide glue, but was broken, as always happens and unfortunately repaired with modern glues, both white glue [PVC] and the cursed polyurethane foaming crap.  A copy of an older style table it was made during the late nineteenth or early twentieth century in the revival style that was popular then.  Had it been original it would have mortise and tenon construction, this one is dowelled together.

The above photograph shows the upright [upside-down] with the stretcher to the left.  Remnants of the top of the leg are still attached and the yellow brown crap is poly glue that I began to scrape off.  It was like removing fresh sponge cake from a plate with a fork, it was soft foamy crap that just didn’t stick.  Touted for its gap filling properties this plastic material fills those gaps with hundreds of tiny bubbles, which in my book are voids or gaps

This photograph shows the leg with the remains of modern white and poly glue, both slathered on, little evidence of clamping and oozing out on the surface of the leg and on the upright support and no attempt to clean up the ooze out.

As you can see no attempt was made to clean the surface prior to the attempt at repairs and you can see both the white and brown residue that passes for glue.

The modern glues stick fresh broken wood together better [unfortunately] better than it did at the joint, but because it is not properly aligned nor clamped it will require that I take all apart, clean off the new glue and do a proper repair with animal glues.

In order to help remove the remaining pieces I used an insulin needle to inject vinegar into the joint and splits to soften the white glue.  I used the small knife and larger glue scraper to remove the crap modern glues, it will require much more work than if proper glues and clamping techniques were used.

I will need to add new wood where the old wood is missing and also to the areas that are destroyed by using modern glues.  Have I mentioned that I don’t like modern glues and there is a special place in hell for those that used modern materials for repairing antique furniture?

I will continue to curse until the repairs are completed and show the progress in future with expurgated blog posts.


July 6, 2010

Ink Erasure, not a Civil War Surgical Scalpel

Sometimes these appear on the Internet as Civil War Surgical Scalpel, they are not, rather they are used to remove ink from paper or parchment.  This is before the time of very abrasive flexible ink erasures.  Gum rubber [natural latex] pencil erasures were available during the nineteenth century and are very similar to the Art Gum pencil erasures available today.

These are the tools I used to form the handle for the iron blade.  The blade was made by Mark Schramm, the Blacksmith at This is the Place Heritage Park.  Sometimes smaller items are more difficult to make.  The handle is a piece of curly maple, which I planed with the Moxon Smoother, then because the wood chipped out I went over the surface with a toothing plane which does not chip out the wood.  I then used a scraper to smooth off the toothing marks.

Using the Fray & Pigg brace and my smallest gimblet bit, I drilled a hole, then with an 1/8th inch chisel made the mortise in the end of the handle to hold the steel blade.  It took a bit of trial and error but I got it to where I liked the fit.  I then used some side cutting pliers to put barbs on the edges of the tang of the blade.  Then after making all parts of the steel blade bright by draw filing, I sharpened the edges and gave it a good buffing with some white rouge.

I raised the grain on the wood with water then scraped it down again.  I then burnished the handle until it was shiny.  I drove the blade into the mortise and gave it a coat of walnut oil.  I will repeat this a time or two until it has a nice polish.

I now have two originals and this reproduction.  Not that I make any mistakes and need to have three.


July 4, 2010

Old Glory

in all its tatted splendor.  These Bookmarks are made by a lady at the Park, they are tatted [fancy knot-work] on a tatting shuttle, like this one in dogwood.  There are 51 round knots, one for each State and the District of Columbia.

The shuttle is made of rips of dogwood, drilled, carved and sawn to shape.  It is then scraped smooth, burnished and finished with walnut oil.  It measures 3 1/2 inches long.

And it is the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.


July 3, 2010

German Piano

Filed under: Furniture,Historical Material,Of Interest,Techniques,Uncategorized,Veneer — Stephen Shepherd @ 6:56 am


This piano was at the Piano Technicians Guild convention and got my attention.  It is from Germany and made in 1840.  The casework on this piano is extraordinary, the crotch mahogany veneer is beautiful and the construction techniques are of note.

I took a photograph of the front with my gnomon on the top for scale, but alas the photograph is out of focus, so I have included a photograph that appears on the PTG web site, their photograph has the lower front panel in place.  When I took my photograph the right panel had been removed to show the frame and soundboard.

I was particularly interested in the curved sides with the scroll top and took a photograph from the back side to show the construction.  The long curved side pieces are plywood in that they are built up of three layers of wood [with the center ply running perpendicular to the face and back ply] that were undoubtedly made by gluing them up on a curved caul.  Then the surface veneer, all of which is crotch mahogany, is applied after the top scroll substrate is added.  It looks like the case [at least the curved side and scroll] was completely constructed, then the veneer applied.

As can be seen a saw kerf was made at the intersection of the long side curve and the underside of the scroll.  This is used to capture the top end of the veneer.  Then a saw kerf is cut into the side scroll, and into the ‘plywood’ that captures the end of the veneer for the tight scroll of the top.  I think the top scroll was veneered first then the veneer on the long side curve was applied.


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