Full Chisel Blog

October 31, 2011

My Queer Creek Stone has a new home

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Sharpening,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:21 am

I bought this a while back at the local swap meet and gave the guy his asking price, something I normally don’t do.  It has remnants of the original Norton Abrasive Co label and I thought it said ‘Queen Creek’, but on doing some research I discovered it was in fact ‘Queer Creek’ and was the name of the stone/quarry from which it comes.

I decided I needed to make a box to hold and protect the stone.  I selected a scrap of pine and chopped out the mortises with a chisel and smoothed out the bottom with a wooden router plane.

There are points at the corners on the bottom to hold it in place on my workbench while I am sharpening or honing.  I used a square cut headless brad, pounded it in then snipped it off leaving a tiny point projecting.  One long nail took care of all 4 corners.

Now I need to make an appropriate box for the fine  Guangxi waterstone that I just acquired.  I want to cut one end off the stone to make an ink stone, then I will make the box.

I will mention my unusual method of sharpening on an oil/water stone in the near future.


October 30, 2011

A rope bed

Filed under: Furniture,Historical Material,Of Interest,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:01 am


‘For man never slept

In a different bed –

And, to sleep,

you must slumber

In just such a bed.’


I don’t know who said that but I like it.



October 28, 2011

Making the case for Liquid Hide Glue

Yes, Hot Hide Glue is better [whatever that means] than Liquid Hide Glue.  It has a greater strength.  However Liquid Hide Glue is better [and I know what that means] than any modern glues.
Hot Hide Glue is the benchmark to which all glues are compared as it was one of the first glues used by humanity.  Hot Hide Glue is mentioned in all Adhesive Technology references right up front, first thing and it is the adhesive to which all others are judged against.
Many groups like [I have been told] the Society of Period Furniture Makers and many luthier groups do not like liquid hide glue and only use hot hide glue, and there is nothing wrong with that.  However dismissing liquid hide glue out of hand is a bit much.
Liquid hide glue is a far better choice than any modern glue because of the many reasons that I have mentioned before here and in Hide Glue – Historical & Practical Applications.  Liquid hide glue because of the anti-gelling agents added has lost about 10% of the strength of hot hide glue.  Adding things like alum to make it waterproof, or glycerin to make it flexible, or bone dust as a thickening agent also reduces the strength of hot hide glue by 10%.  So altered hot hide glue and liquid hide glue still has a shear strength in excess of 2800 psi.
Old Brown Glue, Lee Valley Fish Glue, and Franklin/Titebond liquid hide glues are all available and are all very good.  People complain about the shelf life, but if stored at low temperatures the usable life of the glue can be extended for years.  The problem most people have with liquid hide glue is the stuff they used was too old.

Do the stringing, cottoning, legging test to see if it is fresh enough to use.  Place a small amount on your thumb and index finger of one hand and touch them together repeatedly.  Fine filaments will appear in an ephemeral looking smoke if the glue is fresh.  If not it has expired and can be thinned and put in the garden, high in nitrogen.
I use both in my work but to be honest I use more liquid hide glue than hot hide glue and I have not had any trouble with making furniture using liquid hide glue or for many repairs.  The stuff is easy to use, convenient and has all of the benefits of hot hide glue [less 10%] and none of the drawbacks of modern glues.
Easy to clean up, now, tomorrow or a hundred years from now, does not suffer from creep, is largely transparent to stains and finishes [glows under UV light for easy removal], is reversible and washes out of your clothes.  And it is organic and contains no petroleum distillates and is renewable.

Hot Hide Glue is great but so is Liquid Hide Glue, give it a try.

October 25, 2011

If you make or repair furniture, Please don’t use modern glues.

Because sometime in the future someone will be repairing what you make or what you repaired with modern glues and they will have nothing good to say about you.  I said something here.  I do a lot of repairs to furniture both old and new and when one comes in glued together with white or yellow or poxy or primate or instant or hot glue gun glue, I have to charge more for the work.

EDIT Fish Glue from Lee Valley is also excellent.

Get some ground hide glue from Joel at Tools for Working Wood or some liquid Old Brown Glue in a bottle and use that for gluing your furniture together or if you are repairing furniture both new and old and everyone will be happy, including the next person that has to deal with broken furniture.

I know I have gone on and on about this, but it is a very important point.  If you have used modern glues for repairs or new construction in the past and you change your ways there is redemption.  If however you continue to use modern glue to repair old furniture [and some day the furniture you make will be old] then as someone suggested, there is a special place in hell.


October 22, 2011

Shaving Horse

Filed under: Clamping,Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 7:50 am


The shaving horse is a tool used by a number of trades including coopers, wheelwrights shingle makers and chair makers as well as a common tool used around the farmstead.  It is a bench on which the worker sits with an adjustable jaw that holds the work fast as it is being shaped.  While the shaving horses main use is to hold work while it is being shaped with a drawknife or spokeshave, it can also hold work being planed, drilled or any application where you need both hands free to do the work.  The tool is also called a ‘schnitzel bank’, a mule, dumbhead or a bodger’s bench, depending on the place of origin.

The design varies from maker to maker but there are two basic varieties: one with a center lever with a block to hold the work and one with two side levers and a center bar that secures the work.  The two designs have their advantages, the single lever can hold wider work but the double lever holds the work more securely but is limited to the width of the bench.  The double lever is easier to build than the single lever model.  The single lever is the most common type but both have ancient traditions.

The bench and ramp (working surface) are the same for both models.  The bench needs to be long enough to have an adequate room to sit and work in front of the ramp.  At times you want to sit a little closer to the ramp to do fine work and at other times you want to sit further back to work longer pieces.  The elevation of the ramp should be enough to allow you to work without your hands hitting the bench while holding a drawknife.

The shape of the seat should be comfortable with rounded over edges, as you will be straddling the bench as you work.  If you make the bench out of a wide board you can cut inward curves in the wide board to accommodate your legs.

The length of the benches legs should be long enough for comfortable seating so that your feet are on the floor and you can easily reach the foot peddle.  You want to be at a comfortable height.  Some old benches are slightly sloping with the seat legs higher and the ramp end a little lower.  If this tool is going to be used in a permanent location then it is a good idea to cut saw kerfs in the ends of the legs and use wedges (and glue) to secure the legs in the sockets in the underside of the bench.  This can be blind wedging (fox wedging) or the holes can be drilled through the bench seat and the wedges attached from the top.  If you need to frequently transport, move or store the shaving horse then the legs can just be friction fit into the sockets.  This allows the legs to be easily removed.

The jaws on the single lever model can be made of a large piece of wood and cut and shaped to the desired profile.  It can also be built up from smaller pieces and pegged together.  The lever connecting the jaws to the foot peddle should be constructed of a stout wood such as white oak or hickory.  The jaws can be constructed of a hardwood, which will take a lot of wear but may dent the work being held.  Jaws of a softer wood will not wear as well but will also not mare the stuff being worked on the shaving horse.  The jaws of the double lever model need to be strong enough to take the pressure exerted by the foot.  I prefer jaws on the double lever to pivot so the work of any shape can be fully engaged against the ramp.  Some examples of the double lever jaws have a V-shaped notch on one sharp edge to hold square stock as it is being worked.  The jaws on the single lever need to be rounded on the front edge to be able to engage any shaped piece that is worked.  The rounded edge also reduces dents and damage to the work pieces.

On the single lever model there is an elongated mortice cut in the ramp and bench behind the upright support.  There are a series of holes drilled horizontally in the ramp to allow the lever and jaws to be positioned either closer or further from the front edge of the ramp.  The lever also has a series of holes to allow the jaws to be adjusted for thinner or thicker work.  A pivot pin is run through the appropriate hole in the ramp and through the necessary hole in the lever for the thickness of the work.  The pin should be stout enough to take the pressure exerted when using this tool.  The foot pedal is a large stout dowel that passes through the bottom of the lever.  It should be long enough to extend out each side a sufficient distance to allow you to easily engage the pedal to exert the pressure and hold the work fast.

On the double lever model there are also holes drilled horizontally in the ramp and in both levers.  This allows for the same sort of adjustments as to position of the lever and thickness of material.  The pivot pin goes through the hole in one of the levers, through the ramp hole and engages the lever on the other side.  The foot pedal is secured between the two levers and can extend out on each side to give additional foot room.

There are several methods to make the jaws open by themselves when pressure is released on the foot pedal.  A wooden spring can be attached to the end of the bench and a string is attached to the tip of the bow and the top of the jaws.  The string is adjusted until it pulls the jaws open with no pressure on the foot pedal.  As the pedal is pushed to engage the work, the bow bends a bit putting tension on the string and as the foot pressure is released the jaws will open to allow the work to be repositioned.

Another method is to balance the design so that the jaws fall open automatically.  This can be difficult as the jaws usually stick out ahead of the lever and by nature causes the jaws to close when there is no pressure on the pedal.  This requires that you open the jaws before the work can be inserted rather than being open all the time.  You can also put an extra weight on the foot pedal, which will cause the jaws to open with no foot pressure.  By positioning the weight in front of the foot pedal to compensate for the center of gravity the jaws will open when pressure is released.  The position of the counterweight depends on the design and center of gravity of the jaws, lever and foot peddle, and this can be done after this part of the bench is complete.  This allows you to position the work without touching the jaws, which is an advantage when doing a lot of repetitive work on the shaving horse.

There is no greater pleasure than sitting astride a wooden bench you have constructed and working wood by hand.  You can place the shaving horse outside and enjoy the weather and surroundings as you are shaping chair rungs, roughing out turning blanks, tapering shingles or just making pegs or dowels.  If you have been doing any of these operations at the workbench in a vise, it will immediately become clear how much time you can save using this wonderful tool, besides you get to sit down and work.



October 20, 2011

Glue Comb for Hide Glue

This is not a comb to remove glue from your hair.

I have mentioned the Glue Comb before here, and after a couple of requests they are now available in the Store.

Made of Zinc they do not rust and are easy to clean up.  The combs are 2 1/2 inches by 4 inches with 6 notches per inch.  The notched side is to get a uniform amount of glue on the surface and the smooth sides can be used for insuring the joints are properly ‘wet’.  Works with hot hide glue or liquid hide glue.

I use this for most joints including veneer and substrate, especially when hammer veneering to keep from making a mess with excessive glue.  Of course you can make your own from a variety of thin materials.



October 18, 2011

Fat over Lean

Not only my preference for meat [apologies to my vegetarian friends] but also my preferred method of applying linseed oil.  This tradition dates back centuries and the Old Masters would follow this rule while oil painting.

The basic rule is using a ‘lean’ oil first.  Lean oil is linseed oil that has been thinned with turpentine [Moses T’s Reviver is my most lean oil, followed by Moses T’s St. John’s Oil].  After this has dried [at least 24 hours] then a ‘fat’ oil [Moses T’s Gunstocker’s Finish is a fat oil finish] is applied.

The reason for this is because a fat oil will adhere better to a lean oil rather than vice-versa.  This has to do with the available bonding sites and some other alchemy, but it works and has been a standard for several hundred years.

So when applying linseed oil as a finish or to pop the grain of the wood, thin it with turpentine for the first coat, then it can be used undiluted for the successive coats.


October 14, 2011

Traditional Putty for woodworking

I needed some putty for a large scale restoration job, the woodwork on a building constructed in 1850.  This is for exterior application on sills, lintels, bargeboards, moldings, etc.  Mostly for covering cut nails used in the restoration, but some to fill seasoning cracks.

Here is my recipe based on traditional formulations: 1/2 cup whiting [calcium carbonate], 2 tablespoons of zinc oxide [metallic dryer] and 3 ounces of Moses T’s St. John’s Oil and mixed together.

It takes a while to dry and does remain flexible for wood movement.


October 5, 2011

Animals and Woodworking

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Techniques,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 8:41 am


‘There is nothing like the sound of a logging chain snapping taught behind a good team.’


For centuries man has used animals to help in the process of woodworking.  If you were lucky you could get a cat to keep rats and mice from the shop, but that is all they will ever do.  Dogs can be trained to operate treadmills, which in turn will operate flywheels, jackshafts and tools.  Sheep and goats have even been used for similar purposes especially on the frontier or rural locations.  Oxen are also used for certain aspects of woodworking.  However the most commonly used animals for woodworking are horses and mules.

The most common method of utilizing animals for woodworking is for draft.  Animals trained to harness is critical for being able to control them in the work environment.  A well-fit harness is necessary so the gear works properly and doesn’t injure the animal.

Oxen are fit with a yoke and are usually used in pairs.  The yoke and bows are made of wood.  The yoke is fashioned out of a strong yet lightweight wood and from the center is attached a loose ring to attach the yoke to the rest of the harness that does the work.  The bows are usually made of green hickory saplings and are bent green using the yoke as a clamp and form to hold the hickory until it dries.  These are fairly easy to make, do get damaged and having a few extra bows lying around is a good idea.

Because of their large size and strength horses, mules and oxen were used to snake trees out of the forest to the river and onto the sawmill.  Using a choke chain or timber hitch at the end of a stout rope the logs were skidded to their final location.  A trip in the river would wash off some debris that the logs may pick up from the ground, but most sawmills removed the bark before sawing the green logs.

When pulling logs with animals, you need to make sure that the logs won’t injure the animals.  The harness needs to be properly fit with good traces and a single tree to concentrate the force of pulling.  The single tree needs to be balanced to pull equally on both traces and against the rest of the harness and color.  Ox yokes with their single pull ring in the middle will pull straight providing the team works well together.

A sufficient length of chain or rope keeps the log well behind the animals and teamster.  Wooden stakes are pounded into the ground on the downhill side to keep logs from rolling on hills.  The route out of the woods should be as flat as possible.  Uphill pulls are better than downhill slides which can be dangerous.  Small log rollers and skids can be used in troublesome areas to keep the large log moving along.  Paths should be cleared of underbrush to make the work easier on man and beast.

Animals need to be well treated, the harness should fit properly, horses and oxen require proper shoes for the particular work, they need to be watered and fed on a regular schedule.  The animals need to be brushed down at the end of the days work and needs adequate rest for the work preformed.  Their shoes need to be cleaned and tight and their manes and tails need regular combing.  When it is real hot or real cold precautions need to be taken to prevent excess exposure to the elements.

In the past, our ancestors relied exclusively on animals for added moving and working forces, there weren’t any trucks back then and these animals were important and well taken care of.  Many barns were nicer than the dwellings for the humans.  The animals were always fed and taken care of before the people took care of their own needs.

Whether plowing the back 40 with a wooden moldboard plow, snaking timber from the woods, pulling the wagon to the local saw mill or pulling the sledge through the sugar bush to collect syrup, animals have been involved in woodworking in one way or another for centuries.

The Roan

He was a strawberry roan from the Navajo reservation in Arizona and had been ridden by Jeff Hengesbaugh from there to Henry’s Fork of the Green River on the 150th anniversary of the first Western Fur Trade Rendezvous held in 1825.  It took Jeff, Mike York and Greg Guyman 3 months to make the trip.  I first saw the roan on the side of the road in Colorado as the boys were on their way to the AMM Rendezvous.  A month later we had a great gathering and celebration in Wyoming.

At the time the only horse related paraphernalia was a pair of hand-forged stirrups.  By the end of rendezvous I owned a horse, I even had to borrow a halter.  I left the horse at a friends ranch in Wyoming until I could arrange transportation and lodging for the roan.  He got his name because that is what the Indians call their horses, by their color, so the name stuck.  Within a couple of months I had made a reproduction of the Starks/Grimley 1825 contract saddle.  I later picked up a packsaddle and a harness.  That led to a Canadian Cariole Cutter sleigh and I broke the roan to harness.

I took the roan to the Midwest when I went there in the late 1970’s and he enjoyed the belly deep bluegrass, a stark contrast from the deserts of the West.  He was able to pull a plow, unfortunately their wasn’t any experienced farmers that could handle the plow, so no straight furrows.  He handled the sleigh well and was trained to operate a clay mixing pug mill at a living history village.

Mostly I rode him to the village everyday but I did on a several of occasions pull logs around as well as snake fresh cut timbers from the nearby woods.  It was an experience, the horse didn’t even work up a froth, barely a sweat, as for me I was yanked around way too much and I did break a sweat.  I learned the advantage of a long chains and long reins.  The roan liked to work and I had to keep him calm when he got logs behind him because he wanted to see how fast he could get them out of the woods.  Once we came to terms it was a joy to work behind the roan, well most of the time, I did watch my step.

When I moved back West I just couldn’t bring myself to transport the roan away from all the attention he got from the visitors to the museum and the deep Kentucky bluegrass.  I sold the roan and harness to the museum and have sold off most of the tack, I still have the elk antler quirt that he never needed and I also still have the memories of a great horse.  Twenty years later he is no longer working, doing well and enjoying his retirement.  That is my horse story.


When writing this article I was struck by the number of animal related terms having to do with woodworking.  I have compiled a list with some help from my friends at www.WoodCentral.com, thanks to all of those who contributed.

Bench dog


Cats paw

Claw hammer

Crow bar

Crow’s bill plane

Dogleg chisel

Dovetail saw

Duckbill’s gauge

Fawn’s-foot handle

Fishtail gouge

Fish tape

Fox tail tenon

Fox wedging

Frog (in an iron plane)

Goose wing ax

Grasshopper gauge


Jack board

Marquetry donkey

Mules ear shooting board

Pinch dog (Joiner’s dog)

Ram’s Horn Sweep

Rat-tail file


Saw pony

Shaving horse

Shell bit

Side snipe plane

Snail auger

Snipe bill plane

Spider gauge

Swans neck chisel

Termite hollowing gouge

Wing nut




Bees Wing’s Satinwood

Birds Eye Maple


Crab Apple




Monkey Pod


Pignut Hickory


Tiger Oak

Turkey Oak

Zebra Wood


Ball & claw


Bird’s beak (bird’s mouth)


Butterfly key

Camel’s back trunk


Feather edge

Gooseneck pediment


Hound’s Tooth dovetail

Lamb’s tongue

Lion’s paw foot

Scallop carving

Serpentine front

Shell carving

Tusk Tenon

Wagon Hounds

Wing Back Chair


I am not an advocate of rodeos or horse pulls where the animals are subject to un-natural stresses.  I do think animals can be kept if done so properly with the well being of the animal of prime importance.  Animals like to work and draft animals love to pull and if done properly all benefit.  They are beasts of burden, take care of them and your work will be easier.

October 4, 2011

Woodworking Unplugged – 2000

I wrote this back in 2000 and thought it might be worth putting out to the web.  I do have to say that I no longer use power tools, as I don’t own any.

This is a collection of works describing an original way of working wood. Away from the scream of modern power tools, the whine of the Industrial Revolution, removed from the fast pace of mass production is wood working, pure and simple. You can go to the store and buy a maple table that is just like tens of thousands of other maple tables or you can take a few boards of hard rock maple and fashion by hand an antique of the future, an heirloom and a unique piece of furniture. If you use power tools you are further removed from the work. They isolate you from the work. When you rip the boards with a saw, join the edges and plane the surface by hand you are much closer to the process. You pay attention to what is going on, you are involved. And after all that is what is important here isn’t it? I love wood working, I am in no real hurry to get it over. It is exactly like fly fishing, it’s not about fish. I enjoy the process. Sure it is nice to have a finished piece, but those are ephemeral, the memory of fine craftsmanship lasts a lifetime.

Recently I was called upon to carve rope molding in knotty red alder. The moldings were for a rather nice kitchen and were matched pairs of opposite twists, 1 ½” wide, 30″ tall and ¾” thick. There were 68 of this length with another 36 longer matched pieces. Instead of thinking I had nearly 300 feet of molding to carve, I devised ways to make the process easier. I first hand planed the stock to a half round, then made a gauge that gave the correct taper, it was reversible so it worked for left and right hand twists. I next cut the kerfs then rough carved the rope, first in one direction then in the other. Then the final finish carving again in one direction then the other and the molding was completed. Then again and again, then I thought about how many times I had to push the carving chisel to cut a single molding, how many saw strokes to do one molding then how many to do 104 moldings.

While it only took 2596 strokes with the dovetail saw to do the lay out kerfs, it took 103,784 strokes with a chisel to finish the moldings. Sometimes math is fun, sometimes it is several barrels of wood chips. I also carved 6 large full round drawer and door handles with matched rope twists. Alder, the chisel and me, we are one. I can deal with that wood in any way it comes to me, I have looked closely at its very nature, I know its grain, I am aware of its working characteristics, I can make that wood do anything. Why would I do this, you can’t find 1 ½” match rope moldings and carved handles in knotty alder but you can spend some time, with a few simple hand tools and make them. Besides, there is nothing else in the world like it. And the only sound was the saw cutting the kerf and the steady low hiss of the wood slipping past an extremely sharp chisel. It was a quiet moment, no it was a quiet several days.

It is not that I have anything against power tools, I use them when it is difficult to do something by hand, but those are rare occasions. I use power tools for production work, but that is not what we are talking about here. This is about doing woodworking by hand. Using hand tools to produce unique hand crafted creations in wood. The closer you are to your work the more you appreciate that work. The more you know about the wood you are working, the easier your labor. Having a relationship with the cutting edge of a tool, always knowing where that edge is and what it is doing, not only eliminates cutting oneself, but gives you control over the work and how it is progressing.

If you are using a wood new to you, get to know the species, read up on where and how it grows, its working characteristics and how it is best finished. Then take pieces of the wood that you are using and note where the board was cut from the tree, which end was up, how the grain is in the board and which side is best for show, the money side. Look closely at the end grain, see if you can find the medullary rays, sight down the board and check for twist, imagine where it will go in your finished piece. How will the nature of the woods movement effect your final project, what is the best way to join the pieces together, how will the wood age. Slow down and smell the wood. You don’t need to hurry through this.

Select your boards with care for your projects, then sharpen and tune your tools and you are ready for one of the more pleasant experiences in life, making something unique from wood by hand that will last for generations. Your only connection to this project may just be in its creation, it may be a gift or built for hire. You may only own it for a while and someone else will be able to appreciate it in the future, but you will have this pleasant memory for the rest of your life. You have created something of greater value.

I do not get that attached to anything I build because the act of designing and especially building are reward enough. While it is nice to be surrounded with the fruits of my labors, I would rather others could have that enjoyment as well and the physical possession is secondary. For me the real joy is building, the physical act of working wood with hand tools, of starting with rough sawn boards and ending up with a fine piece of furniture. Who ever ends up with the piece will enjoy having it, but I will always enjoy having built it.

Your tools are extensions of your hand, your whole body and they should be extensions of your mind as well. The more experience you have with hand tools the closer you become to the work you are doing. Your tools need to be clean, sharp and well tuned. They should feel good in your hands and your hands need to feel how the tool is working. You need to watch how your tool is working, how the shavings look as they come off the blade. You need to listen to your tool to hear how it sounds as it cuts. This sensory inputs give you clues as to how the work is going. You can always afford to pay attention. Subtle changes in any of these warn you of changes in the wood or the tool or how you are using the tool. Be aware and you will be a better craftsman.

The Feel of Woodworking

This will be a difficult thing to communicate in words because it goes beyond semantics, syntax and usage and gets to a deep understanding of the trade. This is the Zen of woodworking where you go beyond the tools, materials and techniques and transcend the mechanics and comprehend the philosophy, the very foundation of making things from dead trees. This is where you Gestalt what you are doing, where you have a deep fundamental basis for the art and science that you are practicing. What an interesting choice of word we have to describe what we do. So many things that we do are classified in categories, we go by definitions, conventions, rules, guidelines, regulations and parameters that we forget that we are suppose to enjoy what we are doing.

Too many things have either black or white explanations as to what to do, when we fail to look at the gray areas, we do not read between the lines, we miss the subtle nuances, we miss an opportunity, we fear the unknown. Sometimes an uninformed observer, a naive apprentice or an independent point of view can add new dimensions to a point of consideration. A fresh viewpoint can come from some one who isn’t hobbled by all of the knowledge in the world. We can be so set in our ways that we fail to see all points of view. When we take a position we might be willing to defend it to the death, when in fact if we consider all opinion we might be willing to capitulate just to save our skins. If we are unwilling to consider other options then we have become stagnate in our outlook.

But there is nothing wrong with being right. There are certain constants with woodworking, wood and finishes behave in a predictable way, tools work well when sharp and well tuned. Just as soon as you are confident in your methods, a project, a piece of wood, a method of working will present a fresh new problem for you to consider. I had read that elm is difficult to split because of there interlocking grain, and that is generally the case. In a discussion with a seasoned woodworker I made the comment that elm couldn’t be split into shingles. The next day he brought in an armful of split elm shingles and I reconsidered my position.

You are held to a higher level as a woodworker that other endeavors. If you are a Doctor and you do not heal your patient, you still get paid. If you are a Lawyer and you loose a case, you still get paid, if you are a Weather Reporter and it snows when you say it will be clear, you still get paid. If you are a woodworker and your work is not 100% you do not get paid.

This is an honorable profession, remember Jesus was a cabinetmaker. A carpenter, I don’t think so, Joseph made furniture. Ludwig Wittgenstein gave up his study of Philosophy for working with wood.

Why would I choose to join the edge of a board with a wooden jackplane instead of running it across a power joiner, because anybody can use a power tool. When you take a sharp well-tuned hand plane and produce a perfectly square and smooth edge on a piece of wood, there is something about that. The scream of the power joiner cannot compare to the sweet song of the thin curl of wood, as it is gently coaxed from the edge of the board.

I am not certain that I can prove that wood is affected by the tools that are used to render it into furniture but the more gentle you are with the work the better it turns out. If the boards are cut by hand, planed with hand planes and worked only with hand tools the work somehow turns out with a gentler appearance. You are not subjecting the wood the extreme forces and high speed of power tools. The sound that is generated from power tools is not good for the person using them and probably is not good for the wood. I believe that it sets up vibrations in the wood and alters its characteristics, this can be important if you are making a violin or other musical instrument. The power tools are harsh and attack the wood at high speed, while hand tools are a gentle touch and if the wood has spirit it will remember its treatment.

When I carve wood, I think of Grindling Gibbons, Samuel McIntire and Ralph Ramsey. When I build a fine piece of furniture, Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite, Thomas Sheraton, Duncan Phyfe and William Bell are foremost in my thoughts. When building a traditional piece of woodwork, I try to imagine what the original craftsman had on their minds as I use the same tools, materials and techniques as our ancestors.

When repairing a piece of antique furniture, I want to know what the originating craftsmen was thinking when they created this particular example of their work. Is all of this necessary? Well, no but I am in a better place for doing so. I try and think what they would have said about my work, how accurately have I done my job? Have I kept the spirit of what they did alive by doing what I am doing? Would what I do be acceptable to them? Have I preserved their tradition, have I accurately reproduced their work, would they be proud? These things might not be important to others but it is to me. I need to sleep at night, I need to know that I have not destroyed or distorted history by my work.


Powered by WordPress