• My 21st Century Workbench
  • Dry Erase Pen Holders
  • Roubo iPad Stands
  • Beer Stein Cabinet
  • York Pitched Krenovian Handplane

Periods that entail a lot of change (like say, moving where you live, for example) really upset the routine.  I left Italy in a state of woodworking homeostasis.  As I built up my handtool workshop from nothing, I had a power-shop to fall back on… experienced help there to learn from… and an easy supply of wood (from the experienced help) to feed to my projects.  This is probably a major contributing factor to my lack of motivation lately; I just don’t know where to turn to.  Online has been the best idea I can come up with.

In my world-wide-web quest to find a good hardwood supplier, I stumbled across a site advertising a Wood Fair nearby.  The timing was right, since it took place on the following day.  So I saddled up the ol’ motorcycle (why a motorcycle, you ask?  I can’t bring home big purchases if I’m on the bike… it limits the spending) and was off this morning to check it out… and hopefully gain a starting point to finding a decent wood supplier.

I was greeted by an open-air concession ground.  I made my initial round quickly amongst the tents, making mental notes of where I wanted to stop for more detail once I took a tally of the place.

an English Wood Fair

The majority of the Fair consisted of carvers and turners trying to sell their wares, neither of which I foster a huge interest in… wares-wise, not skill-wise.  I tend to see a lot of carved or turned pieces as tchotchkes (which means “clutter that distracts from clean unadulterated space” in the Snakeye Dictionary).  Don’t read too much into my meaning though: both of those skill sets are invaluable when used to complement furniture or other showcase pieces.

There were, however, 3 stands that I did spend a lot of time at during my second go-around:

RAMaking Contact, a plane expert:

Rich Arnold caught my eye right away for two reasons: he owned some immaculate old wooden hand planes, and I saw what appeared to be an Anarchist’s Tool Chest (only built well before it was known as the Anarchist’s Tool Chest) holding his tools.

We talked about both.  Though he doesn’t sell the tools (he just collects them), Richard is an invaluable resource to ask about old planes and tools.  The tool chest in the background was his grandfathers (if I’m not mistaken) and preceded the Schwarz edition by almost 200 years, even though it exhibited almost all of the design features of the Schwarz edition.  I guess it just goes to show you that Chris truly did his research before penning his tribute to industrial defiance.  It interests me because I have the wood cut, shaped and set aside in my workshop to build this exact tool chest.

Richard then pointed me to an old tool reseller that was in my neck of the woods:

Iles ToolsConnection #2, a tool manufacturer:

The Old Tool Store was represented with a stand of tools both old and new.  There was something familiar with the proprietor’s name, and then it dawned on me: I had seen Ray Iles’ tools on Tools for Working Wood (a website store I frequent)!  I spent a while talking to Ray.  It turns out he’s only a 5-minute drive from where I live!  And not only does he make chisels, draw knives and drawbore pins, but he also makes plane irons as well (which works for me since I’m starting to dabble in making my own planes).  Moreover, his heart is in old tools, so I also have a vintage tool supplier five minutes away, which beats the shit out of Ebay.

Ray gave me the name of the guy he buys hardwood from, but called the guy from the next stall over to confirm (or see if he had any better suggestions for a supplier):

Connection #3, a chair builder:

Peter Tree did, in fact, confirm that he buys good hardwood boards from the same supplier (who is probably two minutes down the road from me, who would’ve guessed?).  But even better, Peter lives about 25 minutes from me and has strayed from carving and turning tchotchkes to producing pieces that were more in line with my interests:


Chairs.  I’ve actually been in hot pursuit to build 3 chairs now… I just haven’t worked up the guts to try them on my own (not to mention I have three other unfinished projects in the queue).  So, my 3 4 future chair builds:

MorrisHal Taylor RockerAncient Irish Chair

And the 4th is the Welsh Stick Chair (like the ones you see in the picture from Peter Tree’s work above; I prefer the Gothic one with the point).  The Welsh Stick Chair came about as a conglomeration with Brian over at Toolerable and Jonas over at Mulesaw: to meet up at some point, start a Welsh Stick Chair together, finish it at our places and blog about it while doing it… call the joint-project a “chair off.”

Regardless, I talked to Peter to see if he would be willing to take me under his wing (for a small fee, of course) so I could have a way of learning other than by DVDs.  I’ve never been to a woodworking class, but I think this will be even better because I get a 1-on-1 weekend-by-weekend apprenticeship with Peter to learn and build whichever chair I want.  This experience will be incomparable.

My point: this post is all about making connections.  Don’t be shy; seek out woodworking events (like Woodworking In America or European Woodworking Show or the like) and network with people that love the hobby like you do.  You never know when you’ll be reinvigorated… or when you’ll reinvigorate someone else.  From this one trip, I’ve found a tool expert I can rely on, a tool maker and supplier that’s five minutes from my house, a master craftsman that I can apprentice under, and a local wood supplier that they pointed me to.  I couldn’t have asked for a bigger “Win.”

Seriously.  After 3 months of waiting, the garage door has finally been repaired (it had been stuck open for decades apparently) to the new “home” I’ve designated for Snakeye Woodworks.  I’ll tell you what, though: after you haven’t done a thing for months on end, you start to lose your motivation.  I guess they call it “falling off the horse”?  You see, I now have all these projects that are in a  mid-build suspended animation.  Even worse, those months that have passed have brought new projects (like an outdoor table for the Big Green Egg grill/smoker I got).  With the accumulation of more projects, you almost feel paralyzed for action because you don’t know where to start.  I think a portion of the paralysis I feel is also attributed to truly being on my own now.   I have no industrial hobby shop (like the ones on US military bases) to fall back on and use.  It’s my shop or bust, and I haven’t had a shop for almost 5 months now.

Anyway, once my landlord had the the door repaired so it could open and close, the rest fell into place with an electrician and a flooring guy.  For a view of the hurdles I had to overcome (for comparison’s sake), it’s two posts back.

Presenting the new Snakeye Woodworks

Presenting the new Snakeye Woodworks (finally)

Now that the flooring and lighting are installed, I finally had some free time this weekend to start cleaning the area out.

Snakeye Woodworks

The first thing to do was to unpack all my tools that had been sitting in boxes since February.  It was almost like Christmas again!  Now the issue is where to put everything.  Those cabinets you see are pretty disgusting and need a good cleaning out.  For now, everything is sitting on the bottom shelf of the workbench… all the more reason to get off my ass and build the Anarchist’s Tool Chest I started in Italy.

Half of today was wasted going to the UK version of Home Depot to buy some brackets and pinewood shelves.  I haven’t installed them yet.  Though I also bought an 8′ long strip of pinewood; it makes an excellent (and inexpensive) clamp holder.

Clamp Organization

The window took me at least an hour to clean.  About 8 spiders and a decade’s worth of dirt and dust accompanied the window.  Now that it’s clean, it’ll make a nice companion to the workbench for woodworking during daylight hours.

A Workbench's best friend: A window
Snakeye WoodworksAnd when darkness sets in (as it’s starting to in the pictures), the electrician installed 2 fluorescent tube lights.  I just have to take care and shut the garage door if I’m working at night to stave off the moths and mayflies.

Hopefully the production of furniture will follow soon.  Next weekend will be dedicated to installing the shelves along the walls of the shop; hopefully that will provide a temporary resting place for my tools (chisels, planes, etc) until that tool chest gets built. Moreover, with the dampness of the UK, I’ll definitely have to keep oil on the tools… especially when they’re out and vulnerable.

The following weekend I’ll be attempting to tackle the short-notice outdoor grill table, because I can’t use my damn grill until I get it nested inside a table (it tips pretty easily without it).  And I really want to grill – the Brits just can’t do it like the Americans can, and I miss a good smoked brisket and ribs.  I’m still building my cutlist for it and trying to find a place that I can buy raw timber.  I think softwood is the way to go to get this done quickly, so I’m considering Cedar for this project.

Hopefully by then, the shop will be routine and I’ll regain the same level of motivation I had prior to leaving Italy.  Usually it just takes a little bit of re-exposure to get back on the horse…

Yes, I’m still waiting impatiently for a place to put my woodshop.  In the meantime, I’ve just been doing some easy tool refurbishing (really though, without a workshop, that’s about all I can do).

Just before I left Italy to move to England, Stefano gifted me a Bow Saw that had been in his family for a little over a century.  His great grandfather used it; it was 100% Italian-made (by hand!) and used.  Stefano said that he had no use for it since he doesn’t often use hand saws… it had just been sitting around.  I don’t know how I was worthy enough to receive such a storied heirloom, but I’m truly thankful for it!

I could tell it hadn’t been used in years (which makes it easy to honor a gift such as this just by using it).  All the wood was this drab brown color and it was dry as a bone; when I picked it up it almost felt as though I was holding balsa wood!

Here it is prior to me starting to tinker with it a lot.  (To come clean: I already started sanding the cross arm and the tightening pin in the picture below before I realized maybe I should take a picture… and then I reassembled the arms upside-down: they wouldn’t be able to hold the tightening string in the current configuration).

The Raw Bow Saw
Before I started lightly sanding it (and I do mean lightly), I glued up some areas that were cracked due to old age. In the meantime, Stefano showed me how to clean the blade with some cleaner and steel wool and, in the process, brought the blade up to 80% cleaned.  So now I have a little work left on the blade at this point.  Once the glue was dry, I used some fine-grit sand paper and tried to lightly erase that brown drab and resurface with the next layer underneath.  I took great care here because I did not want to take out the little nicks, the imperfections, the slight grooves from a century of use… I wanted to try to retain the life story of this remarkable tool.  When people see it, I want to have visual proof of a Jointer’s story from Italy who handed it down from father to son multiple generations.  I don’t want a brand new looking tool that is to the same specs and dimensions; that would just require some new wood and replicating the build I currently have in front of me.  I want the story.

I really don’t classify this as a huge project, because it consists of careful sanding and finishing, and not building.  After sanding, I could even tell what wood the saw was made from: the blade arms look to be of Elm, while the cross arm and tightening pin look to be of Yellow Pine.  The wooden nuts that hold the saw look like Beech.  With sanding complete, I use my standard working-tool finish: Boiled Linseed Oil.

Even the first coat of oil brought out the old beauty of the saw.  I overnight-soaked all the parts individually (including the tightening string) and let it dry, rubbing off the excess oil once a day.

Italian Bow Saw

I can’t wait to use it.  Thanks, Stefano, for such a wonderful gift.

Wow… I finally have a place I can call “home” again with a reliable internet connection.  Throughout the house-hunting process, a make-or-break for us was whether or not the home had a spot I could house ol’ Snakeye Woodworks.  Trust me, this unbending priority stopped us from renting a place or two that we otherwise liked.

Prior to moving to Britain, I felt like I was getting some good time in the shop.  Especially since I had this unyielding weight over my shoulders to finish about five projects in the time I could only finish one.  And I didn’t even make it that far; I still have at least two or three weekends of good work to finish my living room table (and that is just to get it physically built… not finished).  So my shop, and projects at various production stages, still sit in boxes for the time being.  Soon though, I will have all the time in the world to just sit and work without a deadline of moving looming over me.

Though I found a place to house Snakeye Woodworks, I don’t have anything remotely close to a working shop.  It’s a one-car garage:

Snakeye PreWorkshop

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be diverting the money and time I use for woodworking towards building a shop I would be proud to work in.  As you can see, I think I have my work cut out for me.

On the to-do list:

  • Replace the garage door (it’s broken).  The landlord agreed to cover this expense.
  • Broken garage door

  • Hire a flooring person to put down a floor.  I toyed with the idea of buying some plywood and setting it down, but the landlord knows all the people in town that do this type of stuff and said it would be less expensive and easier to get it done by an expert.  Time is money and my time is limited, so my landlord wins out.  I think I’m going with the cushioned vinyl floor that looks like a wood floor (it will probably be easier to clean up sawdust this way too).
  • Concrete garage floor

  • Hire an electrician to wire some plug sockets and fluorescent-tube lights.  I’d do it myself, but I guess there are safety codes in place that prevent this.  So I’ll need to install a few overhead lights, with at least two plug sockets to run a space heater, my shop vac, and my Bose/iPod speaker combo.
  • lack of good lighting

  • Replace the rotting wood shelves with something that is more interior-oriented.  This will probably hold my tools until I get my Anarchist’s Tool Chest built.
  • weather-rotted shelves

  • A thorough cleaning.  There’s spider webs, leaves, rot and bird shit all over the place.
  • Birdshit 'n' cobwebs

Until further notice, all woodworking projects are on a tactical pause until I have a facility that can accommodate them.  More posts on the progress later.  Luckily (unlike those websites where guys brag about how grand their shops are with all the electrical considerations and intricacies), I have no power tools to set up so this shop will be quite simple.

I guess as you delve into the art or wood creativity, it’s easy to start making friends through blogs, woodworking classes, or conventions that share the same interests.  It’s even cooler when, by off chance, you happen to make that friendship and it crosses paths throughout your woodworking saga.

I was looking up hand-built wooden handplanes one day, and came across a blog called “Toolerable” where he made his own Jointer Plane (of the Krenovian style out of Maple).  I was intrigued and began following his blog.  Brian: thanks for meeting me out in Tegernsee!

A toast to Toolerable

I also received a consolation prize, hand-built by Brian himself (in his series to encourage beginners to hand-tools with only the most fundamental of tools): a half-lapped Square (in my hand above and shown, in its full glory, below).

The Toolerable Square

I haven’t gotten around to building one of these yet (nor do I have a square that’s over 4 inches), so this is the perfect addition that I needed.  I only wish I would’ve had the same forethought to build something in return.  Brian: it will get continual use in my shop… just wait!

Of course, Brian wrote up a better post than I, which includes his finish that I was grilling him about… finishing is something that I’m still trying to find my way.  I’ve been wanting to do an almost purely wax finish, and that’s exactly what Brian did with this; his instructions provided here.


I realized, in the process of packing up my hand tool shop to move, that I still have 3 projects in various stages of completion (except, of course, the last stage… which is complete).  To maximize my efficiency, I have to make the decisions of an overbooked hospital: what can I actually accomplish with my time and tools available?  In other words: Triage.

So.  The Anarchist’s Tool Chest?  Packed and enroute to England.  The Table that I was so close to finishing?  Packed and enroute to England.  But the Bubinga block I set aside to mold into a York Pitched Hand Plane?  Saved and still with me!

There’s an upside and downside to doing this project during these stressed times.  The bad: I’m a complete hypocrite… I used 100% power tools to complete the project, because that’s all I had at my disposal.  The good: I knocked off a project that could have joined the others in a 6-month hiatus.

I measured and cut a 50° blade angle (and 62° front angle) using a table saw… I would’ve used a band saw (in accordance with David Finck), but the woodshop already had a jig that measured out and cut accurate angles via a table saw.  The jig (believe it or not) brought it flat and true.

Hand Plane sides

HandPlane-Blade-and-BevelI jumped a step and, rather than set the pegs to keep the sides (and mouth of the plane) set at a certain distance, I routed out the slot for the chip breaker screw.  After I routed the slot, I checked it and started closing the mouth until the blade was about two millimeters shy of the opening.  So far it looks good…

Now to jump tracks.  So far I’ve been using this awesome figured Bubinga… but I wanted a little bit of contrast, so I used Italy’s common weed-wood: Beech.  Cross Pin - cutting the shouldersI cut a square strip of it and, with a hollow bit used to make plugs, I drilled the pegs for the cross pin.  Then it’s just a matter of carefully using a bandsaw to take down the shoulders (at left).  I stress carefully (that’s pretty close for fingers with a bandsaw – I would’ve much preferred my back saw).

Now it’s just a matter of putting the blade in place (above right) and measuring out where you will center the cross pin.  I did this per David Finck’s guidance.

With the cross-pin set, now it’s just a matter of glueing it up.  I honestly used about 10 clamps to make this happen.  It was semi-tedious to ensure the temporary pins and the cross pin line up as you tighten… and you don’t want to get glue on the blade bed/throat of the plane!  Consider yourself forewarned.

After 24 hours of setting and flattening the soul of the plane (again, I cheated and used the base shop’s big drum sander for this), it’s time for the fun part: shaping the plane.  Ok, really I would’ve preferred to make some test cuts with a sharp blade, but I didn’t have a way to sharpen the blade and I had accidentally dropped it, putting a nick in it on one edge, as I was building the plane.

HandPlane Shaping

I found the best way to shape it was by drawing on the side of the plane and cutting to the line with a bandsaw.  Of course, that keeps everything very square and not too comfortable to hold.

Wedge-test-FitSo to get to a more organic, comfortable shape, I fine tuned the basic shape with a Disc Sander.  Of course, I started with a Random Orbital Sander you see above (using 60-grit paper), but that was taking me forever!  Once Stefano showed me the disc sander, it made quick work of the final shaping: about 30 minutes to get the final shaping.  For the wedge, I used the scrap triangular piece of Bubinga (cut from making the throat of the plane) and added in a Beech stripe.  This was shaped the same way: cut on the band saw, sanded to final shape on the disc/belt sander, then fine tuned with an orbital sander.

Then back to the Random Orbital Sander with a fine grain for final sanding.  A little bit of Boiled Linseed Oil, and viola.

The finished Bubinga York Pitched Jack Plane

One project finished via triage; two more to go once I get my feet under me in England.  Of note, I got to hang out with the guy that originally inspired me to do this project while in transit to England, but that’s for the next post… gimme a little bit to get back on my feet!

Rather than woodwork the last two weekends, I had to prep the shop to be shipped off to Britain. I took apart and cleaned each tool and put a coat of Jojoba oil on prior to them all being packed up. Because I didn’t feel like breaking down the workbench, I told them that it needed to be shipped as-is. They had to build a special wooden crate just to hold it – have fun moving that beast! As with all my valuables, I took a photo (for insurance purposes) that catalogues what I own in case of damage or loss. So here’s Snakeye Woodworks in a nutshell:

Woodshop in a Nutshell

Bummer, I never did finish the table I was working on. Hopefully what I’ve done so far makes it to England ok and I can pick up work where I left off. But I’ve learned one thing from delving into the realm of hand tools in the past 3 years:

Enjoyable woodworking, like a fulfilled life, is not about the reaching the destination… it’s truly about the journey that takes you there. Sure, I love seeing the end product when I’ve finished, but I enjoy the therapy involved in creating with wood so much more. And hand tools (for me) has made it more enjoyable because I can listen to music or enjoy relative quietness while I work.

Even though I started building things from wood back in 2003, I’ve learned almost everything I now employ during the past 3 years.  Granted, I do owe a lot of gratitude to my Dad; he was always building things with his Shopsmith when I was a boy, and planted the “woodworking seed” in my head.  Unfortunately when I was a boy, I didn’t have much of an interest in it… I thought electronics were the bee’s knees back then.  Granted I still like my fair share of electronics, but I’ve come to realize that good electronics last only 10 years at best… good woodworking lasts centuries.  I’ll take the latter!

Train Table for my sonSo my learning curve started accelerating when, on a whim, I went to the military base wood shop to build a birthday present for my son.  A local Italian guy, Stefano, ran the wood shop and helped me out (perhaps initially more to keep me safe than to ensure it turned out exactly as I’d wanted it!).  It was then that I realized that I didn’t know much of the craft: the expanding and contracting of wood during the seasons, the joinery, and how to use the machines without killing yourself (you ever try to run end-grain through a jointer machine?).

I took a 7-month vacation to Afghanistan after that and, while there, had the revelation of switching to hand tools.  My wife was a little reluctant to let me spend every Saturday at the base wood shop while I was building my son’s toy table.  Hand tools were my solution to wood working at home (besides, power tools would’ve instantly blew the fuse to my house).  That quest detailed here.  After a lot of research, I came home on a mission… and I quickly enlisted the expertise of Stefano in order to stand up a home woodshop.  The first tool to obtain?  A personally-built workbench.  I executed my plan while Stefano checked everything I did.  And when Stefano was out for quite some time from back surgery, two other regulars stepped in and imparted their knowledge to help me: Mark and Mike.

Nowadays, I think the three of them look at me like I’m crazy because I’m a fervent hand-tool believer, but they still continue to mentor me and help me out… and I can actually now counter with ideas of my own to help them out.  Like in medieval times, I owe these guys a lot for taking me into apprenticeship.  They may have the last laugh here soon though… when I move to England, I will be no where near a US military base (that typically has a woodshop for use)… and British bases aren’t armed with the same morale luxuries.  I may very well have to put my money where my hand-tool-toting mouth is.

You see, I’ve been kinda cheating: I buy the wood from Stefano and use his shop’s power tools to clean, square and dimension the wood; then I take it home for the joinery and finishing with my hand tools.  I think wood purchasing will be easy enough (after all, I’m in England), but with no power tool shop available, it looks like I’ll be even cleaning and dimensioning wood by hand.  So the journey continues…

But in reflection: thanks boys, for arming me with the know-how that I use today… and giving me a memorable 3 year journey.

Mike, Mark, me and Stefano

from left to right: Mike, Mark, me and Stefano

Like that promiscuous animal, a multiplying joint in my table project appears to be the rabbet joint.  The prevailing mantra that is permeating this project is that it’s never as easy as it seems.  A while back ago, I wrote about why I like hand tool work over power tool work: you have time to correct mistakes.  The flip side of this?  It can be slow… like really slow, going sometimes.

Unless it just hasn’t hit my Neanderthal brain yet, I’ve been tackling rabbets with my Veritas plow plane.  If you’re planing the entire length of the board, rabbets should be brainless right?  Wrong… not when they need to be ¾” deep. After about 30 minutes worth of marking depths and coming up with a plan, I started the cuts with the plow plane.

The rail-rabbet plan

An aside, I don’t think I’m a giant fan of the Veritas plow plane because I get mixed results with it (that could very possibly be attributed to being a beginner).  It can only plane in one direction: the left handed direction.  I don’t feel like spending the money to buy a left and right handed one either.  To be honest, I’d prefer a simple shoulder plane of the Lie-Neilsen variety with a fence on it that you can move from one side to the other.  I guess the pro’s can use their thumb or something as a fence for a pretty accurate rabbet cut; I’m not there just yet.

So once the rabbet is distinguished with the plow plane, I switch over to Old Faithful: my shoulder plane.  I planed the 5-foot long rail shaving by shaving.  And after about 30 more minutes and 10% into my ¾” deep rabbet, I threw in the towel. There has got to be a better way to remove waste.

So I fallback to my caveman’s club: the chisel.  After about 10 minutes of chipping away at an inches-length of the rabbet (and being extremely careful to avoid splitting… which is damn near impossible for something like this), I realized that this wasn’t such a good way to go either.  It would take me forever with an extremely high risk of splitting the entire rail.

With a sigh, I started setting the pieces aside to bring to the power tool shop nearby my house.  With a table saw or router, these cuts would be over in a matter of minutes.  So much for aspiration of building my first project entirely by hand tools.

Enter my ultra-stubborn brother-in-law (and trust me, I do mean this in the most flattering of ways – he ultimately saved the virginity of this project).  He’s recently gotten into wood working too, using this chest as one of his launching boards into the hobby.  He is currently cut from the power tool cloth, but was interested to see what hand tool work was all about.  Brother In Law doing my workSo, in a vain effort to prevent the wood from “winning”, he took up the plow plane.  (This is almost like Tom Sawyer getting all his buddies to white-wash the fence he was tasked to do!).  Using the example I’d shown him in my impatient, defeated attempt at one of the rails, he grabbed the other rail and started planing.  He didn’t like the plow plane too much either, so he switched to the shoulder plane like I did.  He planed, and he planed, and he planed…

And about 1½ hours later, he surfaced with sore hands, a built-up sweat, and a ¾” deep rabbet across the entire 5 feet of the rail!  All done by a single ½-millimeter shaving at a time.  Unbelievable.

A deep rabbetPerhaps I was ready to switch tracks too soon.  Because of him, I now had my motivation back; I will still be able to brag that this table was done completely by hand.  I grabbed the other rail and continued where I left off… taking one ½-millimeter of waste at a time.  After another 1½ hours, I had two 5-foot long rails with a ¾” rabbet cut into their length.  With the cuts now at the proper depth, I flipped both the rails on their sides and used the shoulder plane to clean and square up the walls of the rabbets.  Total time spent today doing this (including planning the joints, marking them, and cutting them)? We were probably near the 5 hour mark.  So perhaps this could’ve been done by a table saw in 30 minutes total, but burning a day to cut these rabbets gained me greater experience with that joint and saved the “hand tool only” virginity of the project.

The lesson learned so far?  Don’t set such a high goal to accomplish a lot in little time.  I assumed that I’d have the entire base glued up by the end of the day.  Far from it.  But this “lesson” will be a separate post for a different day.

I lightly chamfered the edges of both the shell and the base board and clamped them together just to see the work that was accomplished:

2 rails complete

This was supposed to be the easy part: I have the glass that I’m re-using from the original table top, and I’m building a new top around it.  The joinery is simple!  Half-laps using a saw and jack plane to join the boards, and rabbets using a plow plane along the inside to drop the glass into.

Only I wish it worked out like that.  The problem?  Well, first off, the boards for the front and back of the top were slightly shorter that what I needed.  So to lengthen the table, I could not do the direct half-lap; I needed some spacing built in.  See the image below for explanation – the arrows point to where the spacing is for added table top length (which completely complicates the joint).


Since this joint isn’t a quick fix, I pushed forward with the rabbets first.  The long boards were easy because I could plane the entire board.  But the short boards (the darker brown boards in the diagram above) proved a little trickier because the rabbets had to have stops; they could go no farther than where they met the lighter colored board.  So I chiseled out a small portion, maybe an inch or so, from each end to act as a “safety” to ensure I didn’t plow any farther than that.  And then I got to plowing the rabbets – but I noticed that for some reason, I kept making banana passes (ie, the middle of the rabbet was deeper than the outsides), and I just couldn’t correct it no matter how much downward force I used.  I was starting to put a LOT of muscle into it until I realized what was going on.  rabbet-noseThe blade wasn’t meeting the wood because the straight-edge of the plane was preventing the blade from doing so due to the raised surfaces.  That’s a mouthful, but the picture at right should sum that mouthful up.

So to correct this, I pulled out the jack-of-all-trades tool: the trusty chisel.

Honestly, the chisel can perform almost every task, by brute force, which any other tool can do.  About the only exception I can think of off the top of my head is sawing (as in re-sawing), but in some circumstances the chisel “chop” can replace a saw cut as well.  Of course, there are more refined tools out there that specialize in various tasks which, in turn, increase the efficiency and speed of your work.  But if you think about it, the chisel is much like the caveman’s club. Over the centuries, mankind eventually develops the spear which improves efficiency… then the bow and arrow… then gunpowder and guns… but when it just comes down to it and you just need to get the job done, mankind still falls back on the trusty caveman’s club.  Hell, if I’m not mistaken, police officers still use it regularly to this day!

So, it took me a little extra time cleaning up the first stopped rabbet with a chisel, as well as increasing the length of my stops on my other board.

halflapNow onto the half laps that I purposefully detoured.  The long boards were easy enough, because the cut was your standard half lap.  Just like cutting a tenon, the key is maintaining an accurate saw cut to your line on the cheeks, and then make the shoulder cut and clean with a plane as required.  A test fit (at left) with the glass shows that everything is lining up.

Using the thickness remaining on these pieces, I used a marking gauge to transfer that thickness onto the cross boards (the same ones I made the stopped rabbets on).  This is what I was dreading.  I tried to cut as much away as possible with the saw, and then it was back to my caveman roots using a chisel and taking on the remainder of the joint by brute force.  It was slow going and a little rough at first, but my work sped up by the time I was on my third joint.


bevelOnce they were cut, it was just a matter of fitting them together and continuing to clean out waste (with plane and chisel) until the two boards were mated relatively flat.  Some glue, clamps, and about 12 hours, and I had myself a table top.

If it’s exactly flat or exactly square, I really don’t care, as long as it holds things (they won’t slide off the table) and the glass drops into it accurately. I did, however, take a jointer plane, followed by a smoother, along each of the seams where the boards were mated to ensure an absolutely smooth transition from board to board.  Otherwise, I have a perfectly good table top where my beers and feet can rest.

Prior to setting this aside, I flipped it over and using my jointer plane, I beveled the underside edges (shown at right).

All that’s left now for the top is cutting four through-mortises into it.  But that will be the very last part of this entire build.  For now, it’s back to the base to finish the bottom shelf, cut the tenons into the posts, and do its final glue up.

Progress so far:

Table top


While others are out enjoying their Martin Luther King, Jr three-day weekend, I got called upon for alert duty.  Unless there’s something hot going on, this amounts to sitting around and doing nothing… and that, unfortunately, was what I was anticipating on doing.  So much for using the weekend to work on finishing my table (among the other 3 projects I’ve started).  But wait…

Then I recalled reading a post that Shannon did over at the Renaissance Woodworker where he brought the work with him to stifle off boredom.  Hmmm, this may very well be a great idea.

For Christmas I got a set of carving chisels – the Chris Pye set.  I have never carved, and I started spawning an interest in it because I want to customize the Tool Chest that I’m about to tackle (by carving an insignia on the front of it).  So, in case nothing happened during my 12-hr shift on both Saturday and Sunday, I packed up two hand-clamps, a few small scrap pieces of wood, a small mallet, and my carving chisel set.

Watch Carving the Camellia Woodcarver on PBS. See more from pbs.

Sketch your carvingArmed with only a brief glimpse of Mary May performing her magic on the Woodwright’s Shop (above), I set about to replicate her work – it looks pretty easy. Well… not so much… but I did learn a few things along the way.

With a projector, I set up my block of wood to trace the image.  Since I have a branding iron of my Snakeye Logo (pictured in the sketch at right), I decided to attempt to replicate that first – and I use “attempt” in the heaviest of terms.  The wood blank that I’m using is Elm, my favorite wood for furniture building.

I clamped it down, and began (as in the video) cutting out the lines with the V-chisel.

Tip #1: Beware the grain.  As you cut with the grain, it will tend to run (especially if you’re grooving against the grain).  Moreover, as you transverse the grain, especially over thin protrusions like the border or letters that stick out of the wood, take care not to chip the entire thing out. This happened to me once or thrice.

Carving halfway doneAs you can see at left, Tip #1 was hard-learned through experience; I chipped out part of the border as well as a little bit of the cursive signature.  But, you learn more from mistakes and defeat than you do from wins and doing everything exact the first time… (as I say this through gritted teeth).

All in all, it took me maybe 5 hours total (condensed time – I stretched this out over my 12-hour shift).

It came out all right.  It sucks that it got chipped out here and there, but I take a step back and without light, it looks just too busy to me.  I think I needed to use a flatter carving chisel to gouge out the background and prevent the busyness.  So I guess the next thing to figure out is how to chisel out, accurately and smoothly, the little details.  I’m at a loss.  But perhaps with experience, I will figure it out.  But for the time being, let me tell you, those protruding letters were a bitch!

Finished Snakeye Logo

So day 2 of weekend duty: to correct the mistakes from day 1.  This time, I wanted to do something with a little less protruding detail.  Perhaps I tried to build the Eiffel Tower as my first ever building.  This time, I used a scrap piece of Mahogany (rather than Elm) and a different image/logo.  So back to the same litany: project the image onto the wood, sketch it out, grab the V-chisel and start carving out the lines.  Chisel out the interior and start to fine tune…

Tip #2: Your choice in wood will make a pretty big difference.  Elm is very stringy… at least the Elm that I was working with – it was pretty hard to carve with.  Choose your wood wisely.  Mahogany was a dream to carve with (especially after doing my first piece on the Elm), and I think it shows below.

Tip #3: When it comes to lettering or other fine details, female “inny” carving is much, MUCH easier than male “outy” carving.  I think this is perhaps why most letters you see are carved into the wood, rather than protruding from it.  The stars (below) were WAY easier to carve out than if they were carved to be protruding.  For further expounding on why male “protruding” letters are tough, see Tip #1.

The Triple Nickel

I am definitely satisfied with how the patch (above) turned out.  Since I’m moving soon and need a gift as my “going away,” perhaps I will turn this into the top of a Mahogany cigar humidor .. if I only had the time.

So, in two days I’ve gone from not having ever carved a thing, to carving something at least somewhat recognizable.  Next is to see how Beech takes to carving (since that’s what most of my Tool Chest will be).  So far in the tally: Elm = 0, Mahogany = 1.  Most of all, I’ve learned a lot that you can’t replicate… unless you do it.  Go carve.

Twin Carvings