Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sindelar Tool Museum

Have tissues on hand because you are about to drool.

If you've never visited John Sindelar's website, Sindelar Tool Museum & Education Center,* you've been missing out on one of the finest collections of extraordinary handtools in the world.

John Sindelar has been amassing his collection of rare, one-of-a-kind, unique tools for decades. Enjoy!
*Since I wrote this blog post, John's website has been taken down, so the link is to an article written by Popular Woodworking Magazine which includes a slide show.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Handcut Dovetails Video

To view larger and in high definition, click here.

This is not the most expeditious way to cut dovetails and it's just one of several ways to make them. The video has been sped up; it actually takes me about 20 minutes to do what the video shows in 6 minutes 11 seconds.

You can quicken the process by not using a guide block, and you might be faster at chopping out all the waste with a chisel rather than removing the majority with a fret saw. A marking knife is great for transferring layout lines, but I use a pencil that's been bevel-edged on a sheet of sandpaper.

The double-folded piece of paper in the beginning of the video is used to offset the marking gauge about 1/64" so the pins and tails protrude a bit when conjoined. This provides some wood to shave off with a handplane so the mating surfaces can be made flush.

In my opinion, it's faster to cut tails first because you can saw both tail boards at the same time, plus transferring layout lines to the pin board is easier. But if you plan to make skinny, English-style pins, I suggest cutting pins first. It's nearly impossible to transfer the lines of thin dovetails if you cut tails first.

Always saw with the "show" side facing you. In the video, they are marked "Pins" and "Tails".

If you are careful with laying out, transferring, and cutting to your lines, and sawing perfectly straight, your pieces will go together on the first try.

For a write-up of one way to handcut half-blind dovetails, click here. It explains the use of a wide plane blade to assist in lining up the guide block, and lists the tools I use.

Music: Derek and the Dominoes (Eric Clapton) "Bell Bottom Blues" and the instrumental version performed by Vitamin String Quartet.

I used a 1:8 ratio dovetail marker because I had planned to use cherry. When I used pine instead, I forgot to use my 1:6 ratio marker. 1:6 works best with softer woods.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Lettercarving Video

Watch in high definition here.

I wrote a post on this a while ago but thought it might make more sense to some in video format. Plus this video shows how to carve the serifs on letters. (To be honest, I had nothing better to do today than play with my camcorder.)

The video has been sped up so you won't fall asleep, since I am the world's slowest letter carver. The music is "Closer to You" by Brandi Carlile.

Now that I know how to speed things up in iMovie, I'm tempted to create a "2-Minute Dovetail" video....

Friday, June 19, 2009

WIA Handtools Conference

Woodworking in America Handtools & Techniques Conference
October 2-4 2009 • Valley Forge Convention Center, PA

Registration is now OPEN

See you there!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Quaker Locks & Hidden Compartments

Chuck Bender, owner of Charles Bender and Company, Cabinet and Chair Makers, is a maker of exquisite period furniture and instructor/owner at Acanthus Workshop. His wife, Lorraine, is next to him in the photo above.

Chuck is an expert in 17th, 18th, and early 19th c. furniture. Recently, he gave a presentation to our woodworking club about secret compartments and locking mechanisms that were sometimes found in period furniture, such as spice cabinets, slant front desks, lap desks, and blanket chests.

Features like this gave cabinetmakers a chance to show off their skill and ingenuity. And who doesn't like a mystery? Trying to find all the hidden drawers and figure out how to open them was great fun for our ancestors. And by the response from the club, it's still intriguing to modern woodworkers.

Chuck showed us some of his pieces, which included handcut dovetails and hand carved ornamentation. The largest piece, a lovely, tall painted hutch, unfortunately suffered a broken pane as it was carried into the meeting place by club members. I was not the cause of this, even though—as an easy target who is forever without a comeback—I was pegged with the mishap.

Chuck also brought with him an explodable chest to illustrate locking mechanisms and hidden compartments.

One way to lock a drawer is to install a Quaker Lock (also called Spring Lock). Oak, maple, or some other springy wood "key" is slid into a shallow, sloped, bevel-edged dado on the underside of a drawer. A square hole is cut into the drawer support (shelf), in alignment with the key. By reaching underneath the drawer support and pushing a finger through the square hole, the key is depressed, and the drawer can be opened. When the key is not depressed, it pushes against the front wall of the square hole, so the drawer is locked in place.

The bottom shelf of Chuck's demo piece tips upward when you push down on the back edge, and reveals a shallow compartment. When this shelf is removed, you can see a small, sliding dovetail key that slips into a matching mortise inside the cabinet's back. By sliding the key toward you, it releases the back, which slides up, and provides access to hidden spaces behind the drawers.

For 17th, 18th, and early 19th c. cabinetmakers, there were no standards for making these concealed compartments and locks; they just used their imagination. Sometimes, heavy crown moulding camouflaged a shallow drawer behind the ornate profile.

Planning ahead is paramount to successfully including hidden drawers and locks to your furniture. Trying to retrofit them after your piece is built is nearly impossible. Don't do what I did.

Today, we have bullet catches, rare earth magnets, metal springs, and other items to help us include secret spaces in our furniture.

We can also follow on the heels of our ancestors and come up with our own clever ways to add a bit of mystery to our projects.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

David Savage / Black & Decker Event

All are welcome to this FREE event. You just need to email one of the coordinators (listed below) to let them know you're coming so they have enough food for lunch.

When: Saturday, July 11, 2009.

10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Where: Black and Decker University, 8701 Mylander Lane, Towson, MD 21286

Cost: No charge. Pizza will be provided by Black & Decker.


10:00 a.m. – 12 noon: Delta – Porter Cable – DeWalt Product Development team will give a briefing on new tools they have under design and development, and will ask for our feedback to help them improve their ideas.

12 noon – 1:00 p.m.: Lunch

1:00 – 2:30 p.m.: David Savage, a British furniture designer and maker of international stature, will be the featured speaker. Not only is David highly successful in his own business, but he has a multi-decade history of teaching other woodworkers to be successful in their own businesses. David will talk about The British and Irish Studio Furniture Movement. He will focus on how British and Irish furniture makers have developed a way to stay connected with one another. For more about David Savage:

2:30 – 3:00 p.m.: Talk on Setting up and tuning a bandsaw by B&D University

3:00 – 4:00 p.m.: Round Table on “How to make your woodworking business successful”

Raffle/Drawing for a free school seat from Jeff Headley and Steve Hamilton

Contact: Mel Montemerlo at; Stu Crick at; or Alan Garner at

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

3rd Ward

3rd Ward, an art facility in Brooklyn, contacted me about mentioning their woodworking department on my blog.  

I have never been to the facility, but I noticed on their website that Joel Moskowitz is teaching a Sharpening class on June 25 (read his write up here), so I asked him about the woodworking programs and instructors.  He told me that although he has never taught there before, he believes there is a need for this type of facility that provides basic training for designers and furniture makers.

He said that 3rd Ward rents shop space to woodworkers and professionals who are just starting out and that the shop contains the normal machinery and benches you would expect.

So if you live in the surrounding areas, this might be a really good opportunity for you.  If you have any questions about the woodworking programs, please email

Monday, June 8, 2009

Supersize It!

As a kid, I used to love to borrow my Dad's little magnifier to inspect everything from flowers to bugs. We'd take it along with us on camping trips and I admit to more than one time, trying to fry an ant by reflecting brilliant sunshine through the lens and onto the hapless creature. Never worked.

In the chip carving class I took with Wayne Barton, the knives we bought from him required some sharpening before use. They came with a blade shaped like the Washington Monument, and it was our job to flatten the sides on ceramic stones. (See illustration at left).

Over an hour later, I tried carving with my knife, which tore the wood instead of producing a crisp cut.

It sure looked sharp to my eye. So I handed it to Wayne, who reached in his pocket for a little monocle-type magnifier. He inspected it and, without a word, slid the blade in rapid-fire motion back and forth on my stone. He looked again through the magnifier and handed the knife back to me.

It cut like butter.

After that, I asked Dad if he still had his pocket magnifier. And while he no longer had the cool one in the little leather case I played with as a kid, he was happy to give me another, which has a permanant place in my shop apron.

The first blade close-up is my chip carving knife. You can see how clean the edge is. And although the sides could be flattened a bit more, it cuts great.

In contrast is my pocket knife (second close-up), which I thought was sharp until I looked through the magnifier. (Did I mention I need bifocals?)

The last two images are the torch lillies that are blooming in my backyard. Unfortunately, there was not an ant in sight when I took the photos.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Workshop Video Tour

Watch in High Definition here.  (click on the HD button on YouTube)

My shop has never been cleaner since I'm having an open house on Saturday, and I'm taking advantage by documenting it on film.

It looks a little disorganized since so many cabinets either need to be built or need to be finished. My assembly table still needs a work surface (it's not meant to have unattached strips of 2x4s as a top) in addition to doors. But hey, it's my little slice of heaven.

I'll walk you through the land of unfinished projects and show you the world's cheapest store-bought workbench ($139 at B.J.'s Wholesale Club).

And if you watch the entire video, you'll get to see a scruffy little dog wearing wellies.

Music is "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

See You In St. Charles

Join me at the Woodworking In America Conference August 14-16! It will be too hot to do yard work anyhow, and unless your shop has AC, it will be too uncomfortable for woodworking.

Plus the resort* has both indoor and outdoor pools. And I hear that Marc Spagnuolo and Matt Vanderlist wear speedos.**

Interactive workshops and Q&A sessions on Early American, 18th century, Arts & Crafts, Shaker, and Contemporary furniture will help you learn new techniques and discover the details that make each style unique.

Unleash your creative energy by learning how pieces were made, how to successfully include combinations of mouldings, carving, and inlay, and understand proportions to make an aesthetically appealing product.

Learn methods to recreate Greene & Greene furniture, how to design with wood grain, and how the popular software program Sketch-Up can help you through the design process.

Q & A sessions with expert woodworkers will offer an informal chance to have all your questions about joinery, finishes, and ornamental details answered.

Check out the schedule here. Read about the impressive line up of presenters here. And view the list of exhibitors here.

Not only that, but the keynote speaker for the Saturday night dinner is Thomas Moser, who relied on historical influences to develop his own internationally known brand of furniture.

The Saturday dinner, the Marketplace, and the in-between seminar times are excellent opportunities to meet other woodworkers, make friends, and speak directly with presenters and exhibitors. If it's anything like last year's conference, it will be the best, albeit exhausting (but I'm a wimp), 3 days you've had in a long time.

It's easy to copy a plan from a book, but making your own original piece based on the knowledge you acquire at the conference can be more personally rewarding.

See you there!

*The resort looks pretty sweet and a section has been blocked off for conference attendees to make the stay affordable.

**I'm aware that this is a potential deterrent.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Civil War Woodworking

"A hundred rifles rattle as they are simultaneously cocked and brought to the shoulder. I train my rifle on the man in the kerchief, waiting. The man is clearer now, exhausted from the heat and the trek up the hill. He doesn’t fire. None of the men advancing on us are firing. Yet." —A. J. Hamler, Civil War Woodworking

Ever since I read A. J. Hamler's article on Joe Cress in Woodwork Magazine (sadly, a discontinued publication), I've been hunting for books with decent images of campaign furniture and have found nothing, until now.

A. J. is finishing up his book "Civil War Woodworking" with a publication date of September 1, but you can preorder it on Amazon.

The book is geared toward amateur to moderately experienced woodworkers with easy projects, like a 5-board bench and hard tack crate, that are well within a beginner's reach. At least two projects are a bit trickier: an officer's folding camp chair and a pine field desk with simple joinery.

A.J. is planning a more advanced book as a follow-up to this one which will include projects with more complex construction.

A. J. spent extensive time researching and sleuthing, since there are so few photos and actual pieces of campaign furniture. For the officer's folding chair, he made paper and foam board prototypes to make sure all parts fit correctly, because estimating sizes and angles from old photos was challenging.

He explains how you can build these pieces authentically—and what it means to be "period-correct"—and provides other options if you are more of a Normite than a follower of St. Roy.

In addition to the projects, A. J. also explains the differences between hardcore and mainstream reenactors and those called "Farbs"— people in period attire who might be sporting a wristwatch and sunglasses while talking on a cell phone. He also includes cool photos of reenactors and 19th c. soldiers.

I've read a few excerpts and it's a great book. Well written • engaging • Civil War woodworking projects. What more could you ask for?

*All images are from A. J. Hamler's "Civil War Woodworking."