Monday, December 31, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

Big News From PopWood

Please join me in a warm round of applause for Megan Fitzpatrick: the new Editor at Popular Woodworking Magazine!

I had the good fortune to work (remotely) with Megan for two years and witnessed her hard-working, attention-to-detail, nose-to-the-grindstone, and grace-under-pressure demeanor.

She will make an excellent Editor and I'm looking forward to her vision for the publication.

Congratulations, Megan!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sliding Lid Box

Making a sliding lid candle box is a fairly easy project. Still, decisions need to be made regarding joinery.

If you research boxes from prior centuries, you'll find ones that are mitered, rabbeted, dovetailed, and butt-joined.

Then there's the question of how to attach the bottom.

Pennsylvania Germans normally nailed or pegged the bottom board onto boxes and drawers, but if you prefer the look of a concealed bottom, you'll need to cut grooves.

If you cut the groove with an electric router, you can make stopped cuts, which means the groove will be completely hidden.

You can also make stopped cuts if you use a chisel, scratch stock, or router plane (and probably a bunch of other ways).

However, if you want to use a plough plane, you'll need to think about the inevitable holes that will result from cutting the full length of the side pieces.

I used a rabbet joint for the back of the box, so the holes disappeared in the groove. However, cutting a rabbet joint in the front of the box is a little tricky when you factor in the groove for the lid.

So, I chose to use a butt joint instead, which left two square holes right in front of the box.

Shape the pegs to fit with an inverted
plane. You'll want to be careful with
that exposed blade.
It's not difficult to cut perfectly square pegs by hand. But if you don't have a plough plane, you can saw or split pegs, then invert a block plane in your vise and shape them to fit.

The box above was made for a friend who loves chip carving and PA German pieces, and who wrote a nice article about me in a local paper (below).

The editor of the paper removed a couple key things that I feel are important lest it give readers the impression that I build high-end pieces, which I obviously do not.

So, I edited the attached—thank you, Photoshop—and my revisions are in red. The text that's been covered with a red bar toward the end of the article is a statement that a good friend made that was way way way too generous. Thanks just the same, Alan.

The dovetailed box in the last image was one that I made at a demonstration, so it's not perfect, but certainly good enough to house scratch stock in my shop.

Feel free to share your methods for concealing the groove—preferably without the use of electric—and another way that you would make these boxes.

I can't think of an easy way to cut a rabbet joint at the front of the box because of the groove for the lid, so I'd love to hear your ideas.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Relief Carving: A Novice's Observation

As I learned nearly three decades ago, one of the unexpected benefits of being an art student is that your friends will readily disrobe for you.

Let me rephrase that.

Willing models are always close at hand for the sake of art.

Case in point—my friend Kevin. With his athletic and sinewy physique, it was very easy to envision the skeletal and muscular structure beneath the surface, which made him easy to draw.

His figure (just like everything else in nature) can be broken down into simple shapes. Sketching basic forms first creates volume; adding details later provides interest.

Similarly in carving, if you break down the structure into general shapes—rather than focus too soon on the details—it will provide a solid foundation for your project.

Unfortunately, I'm a gal who "can't see the forest for the trees," so I must force myself to ignore details when I begin to carve.

In art school, we were taught that if you squint, the details are obliterated and you see only basic configurations. We used that technique in typography class in order to determine whether or not characters were well-spaced. It forced us to focus on negative and positive relationships rather than nuances between letters.

Maybe that's why Shaker furniture is so appealing. Their furniture is the "squint" version of the fancier pieces of the age. They still hold up to design scrutiny because they're perfectly balanced, the dimensions are pleasing, the overall shapes are simply correct.

If the squint version of furniture isn't working, it's unlikely that ornamentation is going to save it.

Similarly in carving, if the basic shapes don't seem right, the details probably aren't going to give you the results you want.

This is what I've noticed as I'm trying to get a grip on relief carving. I am not completely able to put this observation into action as I have not yet mastered control over the tools (and may never). But it's an enlightening learning experience.

It reminds me that all the arts share a common thread.

And sometimes those threads wind up on the art studio floor. Thanks, Kevin!

....and Janet, and Roger, and Bob, and Nancy, and Mickie.....

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gothic Stool: Part IV

For the gothic stool I'm working on, I plan to chip carve a design on the outside of each leg, carve the handle for the seat, and carve a scene on the front of the stretcher.

I have a ways to go, but here is an update on my progress.

The chip carved designs I'm using are right out of one of Wayne Barton's excellent books. The handle is based on a tiny graphic I found in a book about gothic furniture. The design for the stretcher relies heavily on carved scenes I found on medieval panels.

It was a humbling experience while searching for references for the stretcher. It seems as though every wooden surface from the middle ages had something carved on it. The apparent speed and skill of the craftsmen is mind boggling.

I can't imagine how it would feel to be among a team of carvers that was asked to embellish the entire interior of a church when I can't seem to peddle any faster with this tiny little project I'm working on.

For the relief carving, take my process with a grain of salt. I'm figuring this out as I go along, so if you really want to learn relief carving, you might want to invest in some good books or DVDs from folks who've had training.

Basically, I draw the design, make stop cuts straight down along the outline, use shallow gouges to pare away and level the background, then start on the design.

To do that, I also outline the pencil lines with stop cuts, and then carve away portions that should appear to be further away in perspective. I start with basic shapes and then work back in with finer details. No sense getting too detailed in case you find you need to make certain areas lower as you go along.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Hallowoodworker!

My Halloween costume as a fledgling woodworker 20 years ago. 

By the look of the handsaw and table saw blade—and the apparent reference material on hand at the time—I had not yet developed an obsession for hand tools. 

I did, however, have a penchant for liquid latex.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Hurricane Sandy tore up and flooded the east coast yesterday and today, and many folks have long term clean up and rebuilding ahead of them or are experiencing the tragedy of having lost a loved one. Some of those who were in her path had been forced to evacuate and were only able to take necessities with them.

We were in the line of fire and although our house is not in a flood plain, I took precautionary measures due to our neighbor's huge maple tree that looms over the back half of my house and my entire workshop.

The impending 60 mph winds had me a tad bit concerned that the tree, with its full canopy of leaves, would topple in our direction.

At times like this, what would you save? (Aside from the obvious—family and pets.)

My number one priority was my workbench because 1) I love it and 2) I sure as heck don't want to build another one. Ever.

So, I disassembled all the parts and brought them to the front of the house.

Second priority was all the hand tools I had made, followed by any projects-in-the-making. After that, I brought in all the modern hand tools I had purchased.

I was satisfied with that, thinking that insurance would replace any of the machinery and small power tools, but I decided to cover them with heavy plastic tarps anyhow. It wouldn't prevent the tree from crushing the contents of my shop, but if it only damaged the roof, the tarp would keep the rain off my tools.

Two bedrooms were also in the path of the maple tree, but I perused their contents and thought, "meh."

Sandy has passed, we did not lose power, the maple didn't budge, and it's time to put my shop back together.

But while looking at my workbench's legs (that were lying on the floor in my office) and the tools I had laid on top of them, an idea popped into my head of where to stow my saws when I take my bench on the road.

I hope that if Sandy roared through your neighborhood, you fared as well as we did.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Honing Gouges Video

As I'm working on the carving for my gothic stool, I decided to show you the technique I use to keep my gouges sharp. This is not the only way to hone your tools, it's just the one that I use.

I posted a short write up about this two years ago, but sometimes it's easier to explain in video format.

To view this in HD, click here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fort Hunter Day

Dan showed how to make a framed
panel by hand.
Two friends and I set up shop at Fort Hunter Day this past Sunday. We had a steady stream of interested folks stop by our tents throughout the day.

I demonstrated chip carving and dovetailing and learned a few things from the experience.

One woman who was a quilter mentioned that a particular knife cut I was making was called "pumpkin seed" in quilting. It's not surprising to hear that there's a crossover between crafts. In fact, many of the same patterns found in chip carving are also found in fraktur paintings.
Alan did some carving and
sharpened handsaws.

Another woman with an eastern European accent asked where I had seen the design that I had carved on my gothic stool. I told her it was from a book, and she said that she recognized the pattern. "Is traditional Transylvanian rosette," she said.  How cool is that??

One guy stopped by and asked me (tongue-in-cheek), "Where's your husband? He does nice work!" From that I learned to not set up my booth next to my friend (Dan) who had no doubt put him up to it.

My Transylvanian Gothic Stool.
We borrowed the spill plane that I  had made for the York Agricultural & Industrial Museum and shaved spills for the kids. After we explained what they were used for (the original matchstick), we told them that they were also Harry Potter wands. It was a big hit.

I had two boxes sitting near one another in my booth. One was a walnut and spalted maple sliding lid box with fine, thin dovetails. The other was a chip carved pine box with chunky, awkwardly large dovetails.

Without exception, every visitor who noticed the boxes reached for the chip carved box. Not one person commented on the walnut box. I think that most people look for furniture with dovetailed drawers because they've been told they're a sign of a well-made piece, but perhaps only another woodworker actually admires dovetails.

It seems to me that most non-woodworkers will notice ornamentation or interesting figure or a nice finish, but not joinery.  It makes sense.  We might not know what makes a good quality quilt, but we would certainly notice the fabric and colors.

We set up our booths at 7:15 that morning and broke down our tents by 6:30 p.m.  We were completely exhausted. The woman in charge of our area asked if we would consider doing it again next year and I said we'd think about it.

Yesterday, a friend sent me photos that he had taken that day. When I saw the last one, I forgot all about how tired I had been and decided right then I'd do it again. How could I say "no" to those faces?

The three photos from Fort Hunter were taken by Robert Newmyer. Thanks, Bob!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

On The Road Again

John Harris/Simon Cameron Mansion
Greta is going on the road for the third time since she was completed in April.

Last week, I demonstrated chip carving at the John Harris/Simon Cameron Mansion. This Sunday, I'll dovetail candle boxes at Fort Hunter Day along with two friends—one of whom will make Shaker oval boxes, and the other will build frame and panel doors with hand tools.

Greta's still plenty gappy.
You might wonder how Greta's holding up and breaking down with the change in humidity. Surprisingly, she's hardly moved at all. That gap between the two top boards to allow for wood movement has only shrunk about 1/32".  The only other difference is that the top boards have gotten a wee bit thicker—about 1/64".

Other than that, she still knocks down and goes together just fine.

The benchtop is a tad thicker.
We'll be outside this weekend in the grass, so I thought of a way to ensure that Greta's feet won't wick up any moisture from the ground: Duct tape.

I'll line the bottoms of her legs with blue painter's tape (which isn't as sticky), and then put duct tape overtop of it. Should make for a good moisture barrier.

And, I learned a couple things from last week's demo that I'll keep in mind for this Sunday:
1) You can never have too many packing blankets.
Packing for Fort Hunter.
2) I talk too much.

The latter of the two was revealed to me by my partner who said that I should cut more, talk less.

Not a problem. I'm bringing duct tape, remember?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Gothic Stool: Part III

Just like everything else in woodworking, shaping your piece can be done with a number of different tools.

Generally, I rough-cut pieces on a bandsaw and then finalize the shape with chisels, gouges, spokeshaves, rasps, files, sandpaper wrapped around dowels, and a lot of time.

I haven't found a quick way to shape pieces.  An oscillating spindle sander can come in handy, but you wouldn't be able to reach tight corners and you'd still need to do final sanding. 

However, just like sanding, you can speed up the process by starting with your most aggressive tools—coarse rasps and files, deep cuts with chisels and gouges—to remove the bulk of the waste. 

Working under a raking light reveals parts that need more attention, and using a square to check that your edges are perpendicular to the faces ensures that both sides of your piece will be identical.

After I shaped the legs, I trimmed the tenons that pass through the seat. At this point you have a workable stool.

Ah, but what good is a stool without a little carving? 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Gothic Stool: Part II

After you fit the legs on the gothic stool, it's time to move onto the stretcher and tusk tenons.

I left the stretcher longer than necessary and will trim its tenons to length once the stool is completely built.

The shoulders of the tenons on the stretchers will be angled, just like the legs (in this case—7º), so you'll need to keep that in mind as you cut them.

Once the tenons are fitted to the mortises in the legs, you need to cut the mortises for the wedges that will go through the ends of the stretcher and will pin the entire stool together. This creates the tusk tenon joint.

Because the wedge goes through the stretcher sideways, the mortise will be wider on one side of the stretcher than the other.

I used a 5º slope for the mortise—enough of an angle that the wedge won't slide all the way through, but not so much that it wants to pop loose.

Next up: shaping the legs.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Gothic Stool: Part I

This project reminds me a bit of the meditation bench I built because of the splayed legs and through mortises. But this stool has a stretcher and tusk tenons whereas the bench did not.

I drew a pattern in Illustrator based on an image I found in a book, then I located some thick cherry in my lumber stash, printed out the patterns full size, and made a plywood template for the curvy legs.

I was all set to start cutting the legs because the decorative elements of any project are always my favorite, when I realized that it would be much easier to layout the joinery if the boards were square.
Whew. Disaster averted.

The benefit to working from full size patterns is you can take measurements right from the printout. And for those of us who are baffled by simple geometry, it makes it easy to determine angles.

I drew a pencil line down the center of both leg boards and seat. This helped align the pieces when laying out the joinery.

It's a pretty straight forward build. The one thing I did differently than the meditation bench was to cut the leg tenons first rather than the mortises just to see if it was more efficient and/or produced better joints.

And the result of my in-depth experiment? I didn't notice a bit of difference.

Next up: cutting the stretcher and tusk tenons.

Those corners on the front of the legs
will be removed when I cut the
scrolly pattern. And the tenons
will be sawn flush with the seat.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Woodworking for Your Inner Knight

This will be the first project in my new book*, The Forgotten Realm of Gothic Woodworking, which will feature not only projects with which to outfit your manor, but will answer age-old questions about the period such as: "Did they buy black nail polish or make their own?" and "Does this flying buttress make me look fat?"

I'm all up in the Goth grill these days and have been finding loads of fun projects online, thanks in part to those of you who have commented on the last couple blog posts and those who have emailed me directly.

You might be wondering what the difference is between Gothic, Medieval, and Renaissance. According to Wiki, the Medieval Period is from 400 - 1500; Gothic (a pejorative term meaning barbarous or crude) is from 1150 - 1500; and Renaissance is from 1300 - 1600.

I'm currently reading The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, by Ian Mortimer, which is wildly interesting. It recounts a time when mullets didn't make you cringe.

As you read the book, you can't help but wonder where you would fit into the social hierarchy—royalty, knight, merchant, peasant, mead-swilling friar—and be forever grateful that you're living in the 21st century. The 14th century doesn't have indoor plumbing and Barbie Foosball. I don't want to live in that world.

The book is what got me interested in researching the types of furniture that were made back then.

One piece that caught my eye is a 15th century stool from Normandy. I found it in a free book online. My version will be a little different, but the basic design is the same. The stool had me at tusk tenons.

Before tastes in furniture starting changing in the 17th century, much of the furniture was adorned with elaborate carving. Google “gothic furniture” and you’ll see what I mean.

So, this weekend I’ll get started building my collapsible stool and hope that no one drops by unexpectedly. Perhaps there’s still time to build a moat around my shop.
An interesting write-up on 15th and 16th century stools can be found here
*I'm not really writing a book about gothic furniture.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Have You Seen This Table?

I bought a book over the weekend for one reason only: this photo.

The description says it's "A Gothic Walnut and Pine Center Table. Related examples appearing in Switzerland and Rhenish areas. South German 15th-16th Century."

The book is A Directory of Antique Furniture by F. Lewis Hinckley, published in 1953.

Have any of you ever seen this table or one like it? It's going on my to-build list and I'd love to find out more about it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Looking For Resource Suggestions

I'm looking for resources (books, museums, websites) for unique, folk, European furniture, preferably 17th and 18th century. 

Nothing high end, but not too simple either. Some carving and decorative elements would be great. German, Scandinavian, Austrian, Dutch, English....any suggestions?

Here are some pieces that sort of reflect what I'm looking for, but I'm open to any and all suggestions. 

Tables, chairs, cupboards, any kind of household stuff.

Thank you for your help!