Colonial Homestead – Well Worth a Drive

I’ve been listening to folks wax poetic about Dan Raber’s Colonial Homestead for a couple of years, and I now know why.

Chris Williams, Christopher Schwarz, Terry West (Christopher’s mother) and I took a drive up to Ohio’s beautiful Amish region on Tuesday for cheese, broasted chicken and gorgeous scenery; we made a point of stopping in Millersburg to see Raber’s tool store and school, the Artisans Guild.

I was expecting a jumble of old tools through which to wade for the good stuff – but it was almost all good stuff, and nicely arranged. It was, in fact, a bit overwhelming. (I did walk away with a nice Starrett 4″ rule…of which one can apparently never have too many…)

Here’s a few pictures, to complement those posted by Christopher on the Lost Art Press blog – including my sentimental favorite, a well-used Nicholson bench in the school.

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Eat, Polish, Carve, Drink

We have slots open in four upcoming classes at Covington Mechanicals – what we call the not-a-school at Lost Art Press, 837 Willard Street, Covington, Ky. And it really is not a school; next year will seem a lot less as if it were, as we’ll be offering only a few classes. So now’s your chance.

In order, those Covington classes are:

Eating Spoon Master Class with JoJo Wood
June 18-19

The perfect eating spoon should be a balance of smooth aesthetic, and function. It should feel great in both hand and mouth, carrying food comfortably without any spills. JoJo’s spoons are at the top of their game, performing exceptionally and looking beautiful. In this course she will teach her technique for bringing out the best spoon from each piece of wood, with all her tips and tricks from years of carving.
This two-day course is aimed at people who have carved and would like to push it through to the next level.

French Polishing with Derek Jones
July 11-12

Despite the fact that we’ve all heard of “French polish,” it’s amazing to think that very few of us actually know what it is and how to do it. It has a reputation for being difficult to master, time consuming and not nearly as robust as some other finishes. Here’s the bottom line. None of the above is true. Sure, you’ll need to keep your wits about you when you’re doing it but if time spent taking care of the details is wasted time then just maybe it’s time to find another hobby. The fact is, a perfect shellac finish will be touch dry while the first coat of oil is still attracting bugs and dust. And as for fragile, don’t you believe it!

In this two-day course you’ll mix your own shellac polish from flakes and create your own blend of wax polish from raw materials. You’ll learn to assess and manipulate the colour temperature of a project, disguise undesirable features or faults in the timber and mask repairs. You will be supplied with enough materials to make approximately 250ml of Dewaxed Blonde Shellac polish. We will use approximately 100ml during the course so the rest is yours to take home and practice with. Your sample polishing boards will be two pieces of mahogany approximately 450 x 250 x 25mm. They are also yours to take home.

Make a Carved Oak Box with Peter Follansbee
July 29-Aug. 2

Explore the construction techniques and decorative carving styles of oak boxes made in New England during the 17th century. Using quartersawn red oak and white pine, we’ll size the materials, cut rabbets to join the corners and fasten them with square wooden pins. Fitted inside the box is a lidded compartment called a till. The white pine bottom is attached with hand-made iron nails. The lid, also white pine, opens on a wooden pintle & cleat hinge.

Much of the focus is learning the carving style. Using about a half-dozen different gouges and simple layout tools including an awl, square, compass and marking gauge, we’ll go through numerous patterns in practice sessions prior to carving the actual box. We’ll study reference photographs of period carvings, learning how to lay out and cut them based on the tools and some basic geometry.

No experience necessary. Some basic tools required; a list will be sent to participants. (Follansbee will have some extra carving tools for students’ use.)

Build a Wall Cabinet with Anne Briggs (aka Anne of All trades)
Oct. 7-11

Build a Whiskey Cabinet (or toy collection display or toilet paper cabinet – you can use it for anything really) as you refine your dovetailing abilities, cut dados, make a frame-and-panel door, install hinges and drive square-shanked nails.

The cabinets will be made of cherry and if time allows, a hand rubbed oil finish will be added. Note: The “Proud” style dovetails seen in the photo will only be an option for more advanced students since they add several degrees of complication to the project, as will the middle stile in the door assembly. Less experienced students should plan for a single door panel and flush dovetail assemblies.

Chip Carving with Daniel Clay
Oct. 19-20

In this two-day class, students will receive comprehensive instruction in the fundamentals of chip carving, a decorative technique in which faceted “chips” are removed from a wooden surface to produce geometric patterns, stylized images, lettering and ornamentation. Through demonstrations, guided practice, skill-building exercises, and the completion of a decorative wall hanging, students will leave class with all the knowledge, experience and confidence to pursue chip carving on their own. One of the most attractive aspects of chip carving (especially for beginning woodcarvers) is that it can be accomplished at a high level with minimal tools and materials; all you need to become a great chip carver is a sharp knife, some suitable wood and a little practice.

And I still have room in two of my classes elsewhere:

Build a Dutch Tool Chest
June 24-28, Port Townsend School of Woodworking

With dovetails only at the bottom, this chest is less of a dovetail death march than a full-size ATC, and it teaches more joinery lessons. The basic shell goes together in two (long) days…or three more relaxed days. Then, we’re going to dress it up both for good looks and longevity by making a top with breadboard ends and a hand-tool-cut fingernail moulding, as well as a hand-raised panel on the fall front and a hand-cut tongue-and-groove back. Time allowing, we’ll use casein-based milk paint to add color, and while that dries, kit out the interior to store chisels, panel saws, planes, layout tools and more – all the core furniture-making tools. Finally, we’ll install the hinges and lifts. While our goal is to complete this chest in five-days, it is likely that will be challenging.

The skills that you learn – dovetails, dados, rabbets, cut-nail joinery, breadboards, mouldings (along with rules for carcase construction) – will serve you well for all your projects to come. 

Four Hand Tool Corner Joints
July 20-21, Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

While there are myriad joints suitable for boxes and drawers, four of the most common for hand-tool woodworkers are a simple rabbeted and nailed joint (perfect for workaday pieces such as tool chest tills and kitchen drawers), a finger joint nailed with decorative iron (a nice touch when you want a relatively quick but handsome look), through dovetails (for the ultimate in joint strength) and half-blind dovetails (the classic drawer-front joint). In this two-day class, students will learn layout and techniques to cut each, using a small kit of hand tools.

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All is vanity…

I searched high and low for a bathroom vanity that fit my aesthetics, space and budget, but found nothing I liked at any price point. I refuse to settle (which is why, says Chris, I’m single), so I designed and built what I wanted (or it will be what I wanted, once I make the drawers and the top and sink are installed.)

But “designed” is perhaps too strong a term; really, I “combined, modified and re-purposed.” Chris Becksvoort fans might recognize the underlying plan for my asymmetric door and drawer layout from his “Cherry Work Counter” in “Shaker Inspiration” (page 110), and fans of Shaker furniture in general will see in the underlying structure a traditional “tailor’s counter”…with the tapered legs typical of many side tables.

Christian Becksvoort’s Cherry Work Counter.

I’d originally sketched out something closer to Chris’s piece (with his permission), with two banks of smaller drawers above a long bottom drawer…but then realized I had no suitable place for my (now rarely used) hairdryer and hidden plug, so I replaced two drawers with a 10″-wide cubby. And I’d planned on turned legs to match those on the Shaker-inspired stepback and coffee table I built for my living room. But I decided to make my life a little easier – I get along better with the bandsaw than the lathe.

I made the joinery a bit easier, too. Were this a freestanding piece of furniture, I’d have used solid wood for all the exterior bits and drawbored mortise and tenons. But it’s a bathroom cabinet that will be attached to the wall, so to keep costs (and time) down (a little) and to combat wood movement, I used cherry plywood for the side and back panels, and pre-finished maple ply for the interior dividers and bottom. (The door panels are solid cherry.) I used the Festool Domino for the carcase joinery, and pocket screws for the dividers, with all the pockets oriented so as not to show once the drawers are fit.

And, because all my nearby friends with trucks have stopped taking my calls, I cut all the joinery and dry-fit everything at the Lost Art Press shop (it’s nicer than my basement), then took it all home as a flat-pack and assembled it in the bathroom. Kind of like IKEA…but more difficult (no pictograms to guide me, and a cat to help).

There was just enough room to maneuver around the glue up.
I’m sure JJ thought he was helping.
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Mirth, Making … and another word starting with M

Lost Art Press

Hang out with six (and in a couple cases a few more) of your new closest friends as you learn woodworking in our upcoming classes. Below are listed and linked those in which there are one or more bench spaces available, both at the Lost Art Press (LAP) storefront and at other locations in classes taught by LAP regulars.

Building a Krenov-style Handplane with Brendan Gaffney
LAP, May 25-26

Intro to Spoon Carving with JoJo Wood
LAP, June 17

Build a Dutch Tool Chest, Inside and Out, with Megan Fitzpatrick
Port Townsend School of Woodworking, June 24-2

French Polishing with Derek Jones
LAP, July 11-12

Build a Krenovian Wall Cabinet Using Traditional Handskills with Brendan Gaffney
Marc Adams School of Woodworking, July 8-12

Four Hand Tool Corner Joints with Megan Fitzpatrick
Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, July 20-21

Staked Furniture with Brendan Gaffney
Port Townsend School…

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‘Go wisely and go slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.’

Dry-fit face frame for my bathroom vanity.

I’ve heard many folks say that the difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional knows how to hide her or his mistakes. I guess I do know how: Don’t write about them.

But I would never consider myself a professional woodworker. I don’t sell much work; most of my income is from editing and teaching. And though I’m an otherwise fully lapsed Catholic, my guilt and need for confession is ineluctable. (Plus I think it’s good to share mistakes; it might help others avoid the same.)

So here’s my painful truth: In a rush to get the dry-fit done on the front frame of my sink base (before I lost the use of my bench for four days because of two classes), I didn’t take two extra minutes to think.

I want the rails and internal face frame members flush to the front of my legs, so I flipped everything over on my flat benchtop to register together those surfaces as I marked out the joinery. I did get the legs – tapered on two sides – in the correct orientation, and marked, cut and fit the loose tenons for the top and bottom rail. So far so good. But it was there that I should have taken a moment.

You probably know where this is going. I located and fit the vertical rail…with my 20″ opening for the sink basin (doors beneath) on the wrong side, then proceeded to laboriously locate, mark, cut and fit each member, dry-fitting the entire assembly after with each piece as I fit them to make sure the next was in the right location. Everything is square and closes up nicely; too bad all the dividers are on the wrong side. And too bad I didn’t stand it upright sooner…perhaps I’d have noticed before I thought I was done. I guess I’m just thankful it was too late in the day to glue up.

So what was intended to be the front will become the back – in which there is only the vertical divider inside the legs and top/bottom rail. As I refit the drawer and door dividers on what are now the front legs, I will work slowly; it’s faster.

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Getting a Leg Up

Yesterday morning, I picked up some nice 8/4 cherry at Paxton Lumber (thank you, Greg, for searching through the back for the perfect stick); today, I milled it down into eight 34″-long x 1-7/8-square sticks and stickered it on my bench.

And there the wood will sit for a few days in hopes that it remains straight and flat – but if it doesn’t, I have a little wiggle room to correct that. My leg dimensions as drawn are 1-3/4″ square, but if I can leave them a little heavy, I will.

My plan calls for four legs, though I’m considering adding two more (at the stile that divides the door section from the drawer section) to beef up the construction. The base will be topped with a 1-1/2″-thick x 64″-long soapstone slab, a 4″-wide soapstone backsplash and a carved soapstone sink. I don’t know the weight of those, but I imagine they’re not light. My initial thought was a recessed leg at that location to help bear the weight – one that wouldn’t show.

No matter my decision, I’ve six nice rift-grain sticks, which is what I want for the legs. The other two are to play around with.

The cherry for the frame members and drawer fronts is in the basement – I picked that up from Frank Miller Lumber a couple months ago. The basement is semi-climate controlled…so it’s semi-acclimated. So tomorrow, I’ll bring that up and cut it to rough size.

My hope is that I’ll be done with the base by the end of the month…then it’ll be a four- to six-week wait on the top and sink. (I’m afraid to place that order until I know the exact sizes on the thing on which it will sit.)

I look forward to being able to shower and brush my teeth in the same bathroom. And I look forward to my en-suite bathroom project being completely done…after I also make the plumbing-access-panel cover for behind the toilet, install the wood-frame window and hang the door.

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Garanimals for Old House Owners

I’m not usually too proud of my shavings vs the work…but these were particularly nice and fluffy.

I bought some architectural columns and knee walls to go in the large opening between my front hall and the living room, but instead of creating a frame around the space, the columns will butt into the door frame – so I was able to repurpose that frame wood for other things – including the drawer fronts for my second-floor-hall built-in cabinet.

Yesterday, I finally got around to cutting those to size, milling them to about 3/8″ thick, and planing them nice and smooth. That was the easy part. Finishing them to match the rest of the woodwork in my house was a bit trickier.

I’ve been playing around with various recipes for a while, and the closest I can come (without going to crazy amounts of trouble,. e.g. a violin finish) is four coats of garnet shellac (I like the Tiger Flakes from Tools for Working Wood (TFWW)) followed by a coat of Behlen’s Jet Spray Lacquer Toner in Dark Walnut (which is currently also available from TFWW, but Behlen has been sold, so it might not be available in the same formulation for long), with a topcoat of Liberon’s Black Bison black paste wax.

Old-growth pine (or possibly fir) with one coat of garnet shellac (top) and bare (bottom).
Four coats of garnet shellac (top), one coat of the dark walnut lacquer toner over four coats of shellac (bottom).
I buffed out the black paste wax with a hertofore unused pollisoir. Good thing I’ve another to use with untinted wax!

The finish is not a perfect match for the old mouldings – it needs a touch more red and a touch less brown (and a shiny topcoat – the original, now patinated, finish is likely a pine-resin varnish), so I’ve ordered some dark red walnut lacquer toner to give that a try on the replicated three-part mouldings I’ll be installing in the kitchen and first-floor hallway…when I get around to that project.

But for a second-floor back hallway built-in, my current recipe is wholly acceptable.

They all fit perfectly left to right, but I’ll have to take a couple swipes off the bottoms of each for the top-to-bottom fit. Then I’ll glue and screw them in place from behind, and install these bin pulls. Then there’s the paneled doors for the upper part…

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An Actual Dutch Dutch Tool Chest

Just…wow. On the block at the Martin J. Donnelly Nashua spring auction is an actual Dutch tool chest – complete with carpenter’s tools, brought to the U.S. from Holland by Marinus Steenland. According to Jim Tolpin in “The Toolbox Book,” Steenland emigrated in the late 1800s, but the chest is “thought to have been built several generations earlier.”

The estimate is from $2,500-$5,000.

p.s. You can build your own Dutch tool chest for a bit less with me in Port Townsend, Wash., in June…though I admit it might take a few decades to look quite as cool.

p.p.s. Thanks to John Cashman for the auction link.

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Three Dirty Letters

“Beetle kill pine.”

Get your head out of the gutter. I mean three letters of alphabet: S, E and O. Now I have nothing against search engine optimization; if done properly and in a way that legitimately reflects what’s on one’s website, and honestly supports the mission of the content you publish, then sure – optimize away.

But whenever I hear those three letters, I cringe. And some things in particular make me reflexively shudder (one of which is pictured above…though actually, at a relatively far remove, it made me both laugh and shudder simultaneously).

A company for which I used to work had always been big on SEO (which is reasonable) – but a few years after the SEO bandwagon first rolled into town, they hired a “team” of “experts” that (among other SEO-related things) made spreadsheets of the top internet “keywords” and phrases searched for all the fields in which said company had an interest. Then that team dictated the various “communities” write content that included said words – never mind if it wasn’t the kind of content that community typically wrote. The internet had spoken.

I’m pretty sure were I to get that list shoved down my throat now, I’d have “epoxy pour” running through my waking nightmares. At the time, it was “beetle kill pine” (followed closely by “whelping box”) atop the list of things about which I refused to write. It simply didn’t fit with any of the content we were producing…or that I thought we should produce. (In hindsight, I’m surprised I didn’t get shown the door sooner…)

But today, I actually found some blue-stained pine. So: “We’ll use beetle kill pine backboards in a weekend woodworking class on making a bookcase.”

That ought to move me right up the list at Google! (I even got it within the first 250 words – barely.)

But that probably doesn’t work anymore, so here’s a cat video:

P.S. The most maddening edict along these lines of which I heard was to a community in which I didn’t work: spell Stephen King as Steven King. I still can’t laugh at that one.

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Lath, Now Lathe

I awoke this morning in a destructive mood, so I grabbed my dropcloth, pry bar and a lot of garbage bags, and finally got around to finishing the tear-out on the front of my staircase (it’s been in the same state of not done since I took down the dividing wall in September/October of 2015, and rebuilt the bottom landing in July 2016).

I really only wanted to remove the weird 1950s plaster board over the original plaster…but the plaster was in terrible shape, so I stripped everything back to the bearers (as I think the stud-like supports are called in this stair construction). And gosh did I make a mess (twice).

I had to get it done in one day with no breaks, because my elderly male cat, JJ, enjoys relieving himself on dropcloths – so I can’t leave one down and unattended.

No one needs or wants a step by step on using a crowbar, so below is my day in pictures.

With the tear-out done, I’m almost out of excuses to put off rebuilding – or will be, as soon as I finish the sink base and get it up the stairs. I’ve designed that and purchased the lumber, so it won’t be long now. Then, it will be to the lathe to turn the balusters…or turn to someone who has a lathe to do them for me.

How it’s looked for 18 months
Plaster almost gone
Plaster dust cleanup.
Considered stopping here…but sucked it up and kept going.

Yay. Another mess.
Done for now. (The cats love the new hiding place.)

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