Full Chisel Blog

February 8, 2008

Full Chisel Web Blog

Filed under: — Stephen Shepherd @ 4:10 pm

Full Chisel   Web Log


First Tool 1956

It is my interest here to discuss the technology in America of the nineteenth century and of course the earlier and foreign influences and contributions to the state of the Trades.  Events and advancements after roughly the unpleasantness between the States are well documented other places.  My concentration here will be mainly the first three score decades of the nineteenth century.

Expanding to the West in search of new lands and resources, explorers, pioneers, settlers and military all moved into new areas and brought with them the technology to ‘tame’ the wilderness.  By studying life among the early settlers, their technology and material culture one can examine more common and everyday life, as opposed to studies mainly of urban and coastal areas.  Museums tend to show the best of what was available; not necessarily reflecting what was available to the common folk.


Other sites deal with the fine fancy furnishings available to the wealthy.  This is of course important to save those skills and document the high end culture.  As for the rest of our ancestors and the vast majority of wooden objects produced were meant to be used.


Topics will be limited to any tools and trades used in North America up until ‘the recent unpleasentness between the states’, ‘the war of Southern Secession’, ‘the war of Northern Aggression’, or the American Civil War.  So anything after 1865 is of no interest. The only metal planes discussed are Knowles Patent Cast Iron Jack Plane and Block Plane and those nice infill Miter Planes.  Stanley, Bailey, Bedrock are discussed elsewhere.



  1. I have had the good fortune to have gone through a fairly traditional apprenticeship training. The Cabinet Shop were I got my training was full of European Craftsmen, German and English and others that each had their own tradition. The Germans had gone through WWII and after with no electricity did all their work by hand. I bought many of their old tools that got me on my present path.

    I also went through a Cabinetmaker’s Apprentice Program at the local Community College for 3 and a half years plus the experience of working in a hight end cabinet shop. I was also assigned to a Master Journeyman who got all of the best work that the shop produced and he took a personal interest. After a short period of not really sharing his knowledge, I had to earn his trust, he taught me a great deal during the time I spent working with him.

    I also had a good mentor in my first father-in-law, an architect, blacksmith, gunsmith, cabinetmaker, &c., so I was exposed to traditional books and methods. I began to buy, use and sell old tools all the time increasing my collection. I also had a friend who had an antique store and started repairing and restoring pieces for him.

    I started working for museums and private collectors and began my studies of traditional American woodworking and the history and material folk culture of our ancestors.

    This is why I shudder at the suggestion of attempting to do something that is not traditional, or ‘making it better’. When repairing, restoring, conserving or reproduceing traditional woodwork, only traditional tools, materials and techniques should be used. It is our job to preserve the past not improve upon it.

    It is easy to preserve the material culture, the objects and the tools and to some extent the materials, it is the techniques that are only being actively preserved by a few. The objects and tools are tangible, while the techniques are ephemeral and if not preserved will be lost.


    Comment by admin — February 17, 2008 @ 9:07 am

  2. Hi Steven,

    I would like to draw your attention to the first three posts on my new blog. They mostly deal with the 19th century furniture that my grandfather salvaged and restored.He was no craftsman but my family thanks him. The blog is called “One-off and running” and my website is http://www.ticovogt.com.

    I really enjoy your writing.


    Tico vogt

    Comment by Tico Vogt — March 25, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

  3. Hello,
    I would like to ask your advice on how to get a rebuild/replica of a door to fabulous walnut legal desk. I have some digital photos (not ideal) of the matching door. the desk is in Wisconsin, so perhaps you know of a craftsman in that region?

    We might even have the walnut planks to do it with.

    if you could email me, I can send more info


    Comment by Tys — June 30, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

  4. I Stephen, I bought some hide glue for Lee valley. I was just wondering is it normal for it to skin on top, I figured the heat range I needed ect. Thanks to your book!!

    Comment by Gerald John Nykamp — January 30, 2014 @ 11:48 am

  5. Gerald,
    Yes the glue will skin over on top, just mix it in or skim it off.

    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — January 30, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

  6. Hi: I bought a clock reel and cleaned it up but as I turn the wheel – bits of sawdust are coming out. It had been full of paper – probably an old mouse nest and we got that out but it turned easier before. I’m thinking when I washed it down that something got wetter than expected. I had wiped it off and also used a hair drying to get it dry right away but as it sits, it has tightened up. I’m thinking to put bees wax on the gear when I can reach it. Any info would be helpful.


    Comment by Chris — November 9, 2014 @ 8:04 pm

  7. Chris,
    Beeswax works, so does lard soap. I have a section on repairing clock reels in my new book The Spinning Wheel Repair Book.

    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — November 18, 2014 @ 9:10 am

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