Taking home the leftovers…

one of the great things about working with the arboretum is the wood available… last spring I got some black walnut that was very nice.

Black Walnut


this fall I got some Amur Cork tree… I had never heard of it before, the fresh inner bark is blind you bright neon yellow! the wood just under it is bright yellow and it goes to dark muddy yellow in the center… it splits amazingly well, and this piece has almost no twist to it.

I am going to try to use the slabs as tall stool seats and some of those pieces as a book stand… stay tuned

be well

just taking home a few leftovers… 😉

tools of the trade 10 Hand Planes

In most of my work the next step after the drawknife, is the hand plane. [Why do we call them “hand planes” instead of just “planes”] NOT a planer! a plane.

my plane till #s 1, 2, 3, 4, 604, 4, 5, 5, 5, 606, 7, 608, and 10 (one 4 and one 5 missing from the picture.

[pet peeve:  ebay people; a plane with a wood body is NOT a block plane! ALL block planes have iron bodies! you calling a coffin plane, a smooth plane, a foreplane, a block plane because it is made from a wooden block just makes you all look dumb!]

The working principles are the same no matter if you are using one with an iron body or a wood body or transitional or infill or European or Japanese or whatever!

The body of the plane rides on its sole, and holds the cutter at the right angle and at just the right amount of protrusion to make a thin slice of wood. leaving a smooth surface behind it.

keeping the blade still and in place is it’s entire purpose.

tools of the trade 09 Workbench

Working on the ground or floor is not comfortable for most of us, if you wish to work that way, find and follow someone who works in the Japanese tradition. (don’t leave me! but follow them also 😉 )

So the workbench was invented!

A workbench is a sophisticated work holding device designed to hold the work above the ground at a height that is easiest to work at.

look at it! practically oozing sophistication! 😉

OK that is my outdoor bench that I take with me for demonstrations and teaching classes. And it actually is a good bench, it does all of the things a good bench does, and it demonstrates to my students, who sometimes want to say they can’t afford a really good bench, that an expensive fancy bench isn’t what you need. This is a slab of soft maple @ 14″ wide and @ 6’6″ long, it’s on horses here, but it now has legs of its own that just pop out when I want to move it.

So what does it DO? Well mostly it does nothing 😉 It doesn’t bounce when I drive a chisel to make a mortice. So I don’t waste effort making it spring up and down. It doesn’t wiggle or walk across the floor when I am hand planing or sawing. It sits there and doesn’t move. there are a few holes in it so that I can use hold fasts, and there is a planing stop on my left as I stand in front of it. And the top surface is fairly flat so that I can use it as a reference while planing (to check another surface against).

And that is what you need in a workbench. Something that does not move and keeps your work at the right height.

What is the right height?

Well, newer people who haven’t tried the “right height” will argue extensively that the right height is too low and they would hurt their backs if they tried it… and then they hurt their backs at benches that are too high and say that this just proves them right…

Stand up straight, arms down at your sides, make a fist. the right height for you is just high enough so that your knuckles of your fist will touch the top. IT WILL SEEM TOO LOW. at first, then when you put a board on it to plane it you find that the strain that your back experienced at a higher bench goes away! why? Because you are now holding up your weight by leaning on the bench. (from your hands to the plane through the wood to the bench). And your weight on the plane makes the planing less effort. (imagine trying to hold the plane down and push it forwards if it was level with your shoulders while standing up, THAT would give you a back ache)

So when you plane or mortice or saw anything this height lets you put your weight into it and makes the work easier.

While it is very popular to make workbench tops out of solid slabs these days, you can make a very good bench out of thinner stuff (2 x 12’s) if you back it up with structure.

“in the absence of superior timbers, use superior construction” I don’t remember who said that but it is correct

Chairmaker Michael Dunbar starts a YouTube series on making Windsor chairs

The man who taught me most of what I know about chairmaking retired last year.  I was afraid that his knowledge and humor would be lost to us. This week he has announced that he is posting to YouTube a series of instructional videos on chairmaking starting with the first chair that he has(had) his students make, the Sack Back Windsor.

check him out on FB and YT:



Once upon a time, long ago and far away, I was in the shop of an older gentleman who made staircases and only staircases. He could make ANYTHING as long as it was a staircase.

The shop I worked for had sent me there for several months so that he could teach me how to make staircases.

see, he was retiring and he was also refusing to sell his shop and business. He wasn’t retiring because he was too old, he was retiring because the new mass producing staircasing shops were taking all of the business away. The shop that I was in wanted to continue to offer handmade staircases (which he used to make for us).

So one day I asked him if there was no longer any prospects of running his shop as a stair making shop why close? Why not switch to cabinets? Our shop was always way too busy with cabinets. And he already had all of the tools and machines.

He replied that even though he could do that, he said that trying to do to many things can ruin a business, so years ago he set his limits on and around stairs. and it paid off!  most of his men would retire along with him, his business had paid them very well.

when he explained it to me I thought he was nuts, I wanted to do EVERYTHING!!! but eventually I realized that doing too many different things can prevent you from doing any of them well.

set your limits and soar within them!

be well

tools of the trade 08 knives

Sloyd knife, curved knife, mill knife, North American crooked knife, Twca Cam, marking knife, carving knife, all sorts of knives are available.

We all need a knife at some point in our work.

Left to Right, whittling knife, chip carving knife, spoon and bowl knife, mill knife, short Morakniv.


the main thing about knives is keeping them SHARP!!

my favorite for carving and having “at hand” to use is currently the mill knife above.

be well