Full Chisel Blog

February 26, 2011

Charcoal, the dark side of wood, et al.

Filed under: Finishing,Historical Material,Of Interest,Techniques,Uncategorized,Wood — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:41 am

 Calling all colliers.

Charcoal is not the first thing you think of when thinking about wood.  Charcoal is the very last thing you think about wood in the smoldering fire.  However, charcoal has served and continues to answer a good purpose.

Charcoal is made from many different high carbon containing material such as wood, leather, bone, grape vine, peach pits, cork, natural fibers to name a few sources for making charcoal.  These materials are calcined, heated in the absence of oxygen, which drives off the volatile gases in the form of smoke and leaves pure carbon.

I simply put the material tightly packed into a metal container with a tight fitting lid.  In the center of the lid is a small hole to relieve pressure and allow the gases to escape.  It can be a small round tin or a large metal bucket with a proper tight fitting lid and a gas escape hole.  The container is then placed over a fire source.  Putting them in outdoor controlled fires such as a fire pit allows the gases to be consumed.  Cooking the stuff indoors is not recommended without adequate ventilation.

As the container heats up smoke will start coming from the gas escape hole and will ignite on the outside of the container.  The hole needs to be small enough to prevent the fire from going into the container, but I have never had a problem.  A well packed container helps prevent that problem.

After the smoke subsides, the container is removed from the heat source and allowed to cool before opening, which should be done away from any open flames, just in case there are gases that might ignite. 

After it has cooled, I open the container and make sure everything is black.  I may have to rearrange the contents and repeat the process if some of the material is left unburned.  Be careful when using cork as a material because it can expand its volume and pop open the container.  Also make sure you don’t use composite cork, the stuff that is real cork ground up and glued back together.

Some materials like peach pits require a long cooking time, but there is a reward of a particularly sweet smell when burning.  Some materials like bone, ivory and leather have very disagreeable odors and these are best burnt outdoors with good ventilation.

Hardwoods do make the best charcoal, but softwoods can be made into charcoal, the yield is just less.  Alder is the choice for making the charcoal for gunpowder and willow [the twigs] are used for making artists and drawing charcoal.

Animal charcoal is made from bone and called ‘bone charcoal’ or ‘bone black’, made from ivory it is ‘ivory black’, ‘char’ or ‘spodium’, it is also made from natural sponges which contain a small amount of iodine.

Grape vines and most herbaceous plants can be made into charcoal.  As mentioned before cork is an excellent material, called ‘Spanish black’ it is very fine black powder pigment.

Charcoal has many uses from the mesquite hardwood charcoal that fires up the barbecue to the charcoal filter for your drinking water; you can even brush your teeth with the stuff.  Used to deodorize cisterns and can be used to deodorize smoke damaged furniture.  

Charcoal was the fuel of the nineteenth century industrial revolution; heating the forges, smelters, steam engines and furnaces.  Charcoal has had a long history of providing heat, it is a more convenient way to store wood and when consumed produces a lot of heat and little smoke.

It is a writing and drawing material, great in place of graphite that might interfere with gluing or finishing. By dipping the charred willow stick in beeswax it produces a black crayon. It can also be easily and finely powdered for a pounce bag to lay out pounce wheel perforated paper patterns and it is a good black pigment that mixes with any binder to make paint or stain, as well as being colorfast.

By burning pure cotton or linen fabric in a small container with a hole, you can make ‘char cloth’ that easily catches a spark for flint and steel fire-making.

And do not forget a light toasting to the inside of a wine barrel adds to its flavor and the charring on the inside of whiskey barrels adds to the flavor and color.

Store charcoal in an airtight container because it will pick up and absorb all odors.  This is why you can put it in the drawers of a cabinet to remove cigarette or smoke damage smell.  When you are done, the charcoal can be used on the barbecue as the odors are burned off before the food is cooked.

I am curious how the scraps and shavings of Kauri will char up?  Would be nice to have some paleo-pigment, other than dirt.

Wood may be the fuel that heats you twice; once when you cut it and again when burned.  Charcoal is the fuel that heats you at least three times, when you cut it, when you char it and when it is finally burned.

My shop no longer generates wood scraps that need to be disposed of.  I now convert them into charcoal and cook up a pork chop on my charcoal brazier.



February 23, 2011

Pipkin, Alembic and Tingry Varnish Furnace for sale

These are all items that will be featured in my new book Shellac, Linseed Oil & PaintTraditional 19th Century Woodwork Finishes coming out in a month.  Bud made these for me to include in the book and he will be offering them for sale as well.  He has some other great traditional pottery.

The pipkin, two piece alembic, curcubit and four piece Tingry Varnish Furnish are for sale.  Just go to the web site of Mecham Pottery and they will gladly take your orders.  These are based on traditional designs and are marked ‘Full Chisel’ on the bottoms.

Pipkin – $6.00 each (they make great hot beverage mugs, just remember what is in the pipkin!)

Alembic – $45.00 (Mine is in use and does not come with the fancy towel.)


Tingry Varnish Furnace – $125.00


 Shipping will be calculated for the order.

High quality products at reasonable prices.


February 15, 2011

Shop Window II

Here are some progress shots in the long process of making a simple window.  I have a much greater respect for the tenacity of our ancestors.  After having  joined and glued [with liquid fish glue] the sliding window sections together, I used some small square birch dowels to peg the saddle/bridle joint at the corners, they are put into holes made with an awl.  This does not remove any wood and when the moisture from the glue is introduced they swell back around the square peg, making for a most secure joint. 

I wiped the completed frames down with a mixture of alum and water to make the fish glue waterproof and to raise the grain.  I allowed it to dry then sanded down the raised grain.  A coat of Moses T’s St. Johns Oil and allowed to dry for 24 hours.

I then cut a couple pieces of glass in preparation for glazing the windows.  I laid down a bead of oil based glazing putty in the rebate and pressed in the glass until it made a tight but thin seal between the wood and the glass.


I then cut some triangular glazing points from some sheet zinc.  Zinc is preferred for this application and I happen to have a sheet of the stuff, which I also used for the dividers between the windows.  Easy to cut with tin snips.  Using a flat ended putty knife, I gently pushed down on the glass then pushed in on the points.

Then another coat of glazing putty finishes the sash and it is ready to install.

Unfortunately, I deleted a couple of photographs of the process of using a stringing cutter with a single serrated blade to cut the thin slot around the inside of the window jamb that accepts the 1/2 inch wide piece of zinc.  It was set in half way, 1/4 inch.  This piece separates the two windows and because it is zinc it will weather well.

The view from outside.  I still have to remove the tape residue and the door could use a coat of paint.

I will probably add some trim pieces, a small wooden awning to shed the rain.  I will also have to make a screen for the window when the weather warms up.

It was well worth the effort as I now have light and passive ventilation in my new shop.


February 8, 2011

Three Years On

Filed under: Finishing,Historical Material,Of Interest,Publications,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:49 am

My web site has been up since 1999 and I started this blog Feb 8, 2008.  Just saying.  It also happens to correspond with me finishing my next book on Traditional 19th Century Woodworking Finishes.  It is tentatively titled ‘Shellac, Linseed Oil & Paint’, what do you think?  As for the book cover, I still don’t know.  A friend suggested making it look like an old book then having paint splatters and drops of dry varnish and shellac all over the cover.  What are your thoughts?


February 5, 2011

Gilder’s Tip

I made one of these years ago and don’t know where it went.  So I bought a badger knot [for making a shaving brush, which I obviously don’t use] from Woodcraft and am cutting it up to make gilder’s tips and badger hair brushes.

I used a hair stacker than laid out a single file of hairs and glued them using fish glue to some nice laid card stock paper and put it under clamp.  I add a bit of glycerin in the fish glue to keep it flexible.  I am going to make more of these tips in case anyone is interested. 

My gilding kit is compleat again; gilder’s cush, with parchment wind screen, leaf knife and dog tooth [agate] burnisher {with leather sheath} and a gilders tip.  After I took the picture, I brushed the gilder’s tip in my hair to develop the static charge and flattened out that piece of gold leaf that had rolled on the corner when I opened the book of thin metal leaf.


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