Saturday, February 27, 2010

Stalled Horse

I've been talking about making a shaving horse for a while now. So what's the hold up?

It's because I keep finding images of benches with features that I'd like to incorporate into mine and because of woodworkers like Ian McLeod from Australia (pictured with his shop dog, Woody), who sent me photos of his functional and beautiful shaving horse.

Ian used reclaimed iron bark wood from a 1904 foot bridge for his self-designed, multi-use bench that functions as a shaving horse, saw horse, planing bench, general work table, and metal bending jig.

The bridge can be removed by knocking out wooden wedges and removing the spindle on which it pivots. At that point, the four short spindles that sit beneath the bridge can be used for bending light metal rod.

When the bridge, the head/footrest assembly, and the seat are removed (all attached with wooden wedges), the top surface of the side rails can be used as a workbench. The rectangular post that hangs beneath the shaving horse is used as a bench stop.

Ian hand carved the decorative designs. The color and texture of the wood is natural and is finished with Danish oil once a year.

Ian's shaving horse is an impressive example of where form and function are equally important.

The group photo page below shows shaving horses and bowl benches I found on the internet. I don't remember where they were originally posted, so if you see one that belongs to you please let me know so I can give you credit. Or let me know if you prefer that I remove your image(s) from this post.

Here is a link to a clever cutting bench for bowl making.

At some point I'll need to commit to a design so I can finally get my horse out of the starting gate.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Woodworking is Truth, Truth Woodworking

If only the poetry we studied in high school had been like the following, I might have actually enjoyed it.

As it was, reading poetry at best bored me and at worst frustrated me. I was like, "Geez, get to the point!"

But in Drew Langsner's latest newsletter from Country Workshops, he included some poems that 6th and 7th grade students wrote in a class taught by his friend, a teacher in Saudi Arabia. The exercise was to write a poem about handmade spoons and butter paddles:

I enter the room

And see the wood blocks

Waiting to be carved.

~Haiku by Riya Benoy


plain, brown

chiseling, sanding, chiseling

It is almost done.

sanding, oiling, admiring

smooth, finished


~Diamante by Phillip Parent


Creativity comes in every way –

A block of wood might

Really be important,

Varying in shape and size –

Never ending forms, each spoon

Getting better each day.

~Acrostic by Taylor Bell

A rough block of wood,



Beautiful with walnut oil,

First light, then dark.


~Free Verse by Kaily Saltaformaggio

Making things with our hands is a form of poetry. And I was lucky enough to enroll in a hand tool class being taught by Jögge Sundqvist this summer at Country Workshops where we'll learn to make bowls and spoons, Swedish style.

Hopefully, I'll come away from the course well versed in making them.


The spoons in the top photo were carved by Jögge Sundqvist.

The spoons in the second photo were carved by Drew Langsner.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Real Puzzler

Above is a photo of:

A. A hampster duvet.
B. A close-up of Howard Stern's hair.
C. An inexhaustible font of fun for my dog.
D. A pile of wood shavings from Hans, my scrub plane.
E. Hors d'oeuvres from the Annual Bevy of Beavers Convention.

If you answered C or're correct!

At our last woodworking club meeting, I helped give a presentation on handplanes to a group that is mainly comprised of power tool guys.*

I wasn't quite sure how to start, but then it came to me.

"Okay, say you have a large, rough cut board that you just know has gorgeous grain underneath all that fuzz, but the board has an insane twist. It's too wide for your jointer unless you first rip it in half. What do you do?"

From the crowd, my favorite heckler shouts "Throw it out!"

I was counting on that.

Really? You'd throw away a 10" wide, 6' long piece of black walnut because of a twist? With that, I tossed a short, rough cut board onto the bench, grabbed Hans, and in 20 seconds was showing the group some lovely (albeit, scalloped) wood grain.

I explained that as fast as that, you can knock high spots off your twisted board and make it stable enough to run through your power planer. This way, you keep the board intact and it's much faster than ripping, jointing, gluing, and then running it through the planer. (The last two photos are after power planing.)

Back in my shop, I'm preparing boards for a shaving horse. Every single board that I retrieved from my lumberyard (garage) is severely twisted. But I took my own advice and spent about 15 minutes with Hans on one particularly nice board and then ran it through the planer.

Once I trim the sapwood and ends, I'll have a nice pair of legs for the shaving horse.

So, why would anyone throw out or burn a beautiful piece of walnut like this when it's so easy to prepare it for milling?

Now there's a question I can't answer.

*I am in no way trying to cut on power tools or people (like me) who use them.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wooden Planes: Personality Plus

Since I mainly use wooden planes in the shop (four I made, one I bought), I've gotten to know them better than the couple of metal ones I use. And by getting to know them, I mean just that—each one has its own personality.

I believe that no two wooden planes, even the same style of plane, made with the same materials by the same planemaker, will work precisely the same way. Not only that, but the same plane used by two different people will handle differently.

My quirky crew consists of a block plane, a smoother (masquerading as a jack), a jack (masquerading as a smoother), a jointer, and a scrub. Each one has different capabilities and each one has mood swings (no doubt affected in part by the user’s state of mind).

New wooden planes (at least the ones I've made) seem to have a break-in period, where the parts—wedge, pin, iron, body—get settled into their optimum positions.

Your hands and the wooden body also have to get to know one another, and the more you use it, the more the plane will start to feel natural, like an extension of your hand. In use, it’s slowly being rounded and shaped to fit your grip. Have you ever seen an old, well-used wooden plane with an indentation from a thumb on its side? I have. And I hope my planes develop similar marks someday.

Over the years, I've come to appreciate my planes' particular characteristics.

Take Eddie, my overly-sensitive block plane. He’s a tough little sprite on the outside, but gets choked up at times. Chuck, the bruiser, who started life as a smoother but turned into a big mouth, proudly wears a scar on his cheek, takes on the toughest grain and says “Knot on my watch!”

Then there’s Jack, the jack. He’s a smooth operator. He shoots, he glides, he talks nicely to the workpiece and makes it shine. Hans, the scrub, is a scrappy fellow. Feeds on wood fiber like piranhas on a cow.

And last but not least is Devereau, the jointer. The only female in the bunch. She’s sleek and attractive, but the least predictable. One day she’ll produce a gossamer shaving and the next, she’ll take a wicked bite out of your board. Or conversely, completely ignore it and refuse to remove even a whisper of wood.

I use only two metal bench planes in my shop and haven’t experienced any attitude problems with them. They’re trusty and stable, like Ward and June Cleaver.

Who ever said woodworking is a solitary hobby?*

*Or is it a sign that you need solitary confinement if you anthropomorphize your handplanes?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sharpening & Honing Gouges

There was a time I was afraid to use my gouges and chisels, not because I feared a skewered hand, but because I knew that once they became dull, I'd never be able to resharpen them.

I loved using the tools, but like an exquisite dessert that you savor 'til the last, all the while dreading the sorrowful clink of your spoon at the bottom of the empty dish, I'd limit myself, using them only bits at a time.

Well I was just being silly. You should always indulge yourself with things that make you happy. (I say this merely to reassure myself that my post-holiday physique doesn't look as bad as I think and that perhaps someone might have installed a funhouse mirror in my home while I was out.)

A friend came to my shop on Saturday to learn my sharpening tricks. I think he was surprised at how easy it is to create and maintain sharp edges on gouges.

If you buy a new gouge, do yourself a favor—hone it right away and hone it frequently during use. Do this, and you'll never have to sharpen it with anything other than a strop.

If your gouge is in bad shape, it's still easy to bring it back to its original form. You'll just need to use a more abrasive approach with sandpaper or files before you reach for your strop or slipstones.

The trick is to first make sure the cutting edge is straight across, devoid of chips or waves, and second, maintain the bevel angle as you sharpen and hone. There are lots of sharpening methods, more than what I've shone here, so feel free to offer your own advice.

Now, where did I set that bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowmageddon Got You Down?

If you live in one of the states that's getting pummeled with the white stuff, perhaps an interesting article will take your mind off what you'll be doing once the storm quits (shoveling).

We have well over 36" on the ground, all major highways are closed, and I'm thinking about heading out to shop to build a large plow that can be rigged to my dogs, who seem to have boundless energy and are unencumbered by the ever-mounding precipitation.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Going Overboard

When relying on screws to support a lot of weight, I tend to go overboard and use more than necessary. Call me skeptical, but I'd rather play it safe.

My dad, a retired nuclear projects engineer, told me about an experiment he and other students conducted in his college's shop class where they calculated and tested the strength of rivets using the knowledge they acquired in strength of materials courses.

They hooked a chain through the license plate holder of a '43 Ford. Dad remembers the details about the car because 1) he's an engineer, and 2) he's a dude.

The two 1/4" rivets of the license plate holder supported the car as the students used a hydraulic lift to hoist the front end about 7" off the ground. They came up with the idea for this experiment because 1) they were dudes, and 2) they were dudes.

Granted, rivets and screws aren't exactly the same thing, but I remember that car experiment every time I use screws for support, as I did when hanging my hand tool cabinet. Despite my Dad's left brain wisdom, I still sank about 30 screws into the French cleat on the back of my cabinet for fear that it would otherwise crash to the ground. The mating cleat is secured to wall studs with 6" lag bolts.

Overkill? Maybe. But I do this every time I use screws because 1) I'm overly cautious 2) I've heard enough ideas-gone-bad stories from my dude friends to question the results of their "experiments," and 3) learning how to calculate screws' tensile, shear, and compressive stress levels is about as interesting to me as watching a fresh coat of paint dry on a restored '43 Ford.

The following video illustrates my method for hanging a small family portrait. It enlists the help of a backer board in the event that you have trouble locating a stud. The stick figure is meant to be pulling a cordless drill out of her pocket, but I realized after watching the video a few times, it looks a little...odd. Ah, well.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Antique Inspiration

All out of ideas for a new project? Suffering from woodworker's block? Wishing your spouse would give you a honey-do list?

Snap out of it! You're a woodworker. So head to a place that features feats of woodworking.

Some favorite places that help spark my electrons are museums and antique stores.

And if you live in my area, you don't have run-of-the-mill antique stores, you have the Antique Capital of South Central PA: New Oxford, Pennsylvania.

There you will find lots of pieces to inspire and invigorate. And by the end of the day, you'll be itching to get into your shop.

I asked permission to take photos at three antique stores, and all said yes. So if you plan to go antiquing or to museums, be sure to take your camera. Many places will allow you to take photos.

The PA German painted dower chest top right was dated 1807. This one was unusual for the amount of remaining paint on top, the vibrancy of the paint, and the three lower drawers.

Another piece that caught my eye—a PA German hanging corner cupboard—was also 18th c. and had its original paint and hardware.

Other items were a double-lidded pencil box, reminiscent of Roy's grease box, a chip carved serving tray, a chest that reminded me of 18th c. New England furniture, a large cupboard on desk, and a workbench.

The bench had been used well but was well preserved, and by the shape of the feet, may have been built by PA Germans. The sliding deadman no longer slid, which may have been the result of the massive 3" top having sagged a bit. The pinch dogs were pretty neat—just a sharp point driven into two tall bench dogs that can hold a spindle or other long piece of wood. Still a useful addition to today's benches.

So, don't despair if your woodworking idea-well has run dry. Visit an antique store or museum. And if you have none nearby, visit your local library. But that's for another post.

Thank you to the three antique stores that granted me permission to photograph their pieces:
1. Collector's Choice Antiques Gallery, email:; phone: 717.624.3440
2. New Oxford Antique Center, email:; phone: 866.333.NOAC
3. Golden Lane Antique Gallery, email:; phone: 717.624.3800

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Roy's Grease Pot

Ever since I saw Roy Underhill's grease pot at the WIA conference in October, I've wanted to make one. Roy puts tallow in his box, but you can also use beeswax to lubricate your saws and handplanes.

Roy shows you how to build this box on his show, and I basically followed his suggestions step-by-step. But for a drill press, I used only hand tools.

It's a neat little project and one that can be made in an afternoon when you're trying to get out of doing housework or cooking dinner.