Quick interruption. I have set this website up in chronological order. If you’d rather jump to the latest posts, please use the archive links to the right.
My introduction to woodworking was watching Norm Abram on the New Yankee Workshop and Roy Underhill on the Woodwright Shop on my local public TV station. At the time I was also watching This Old House (when Bob Vila was still on). Even though I did grow up around construction (grandfather was a carpenter, father was an electrician), I went in a different direction until much later in life.
Like most everything else I’ve been curious about, I was very academic (read nerdy) in how I pursued woodworking. Before I purchased any tool or lumber, I read about furniture making and woodworking in general. I followed Norm, Bob, and Roy and then through them, I learned of other woodworkers and scoured the Internet for content. I picked up on Tom Fidgen, Paul Sellers, Elia Bizzarri, Curtis Buchanon and many others. I lurked on dozens of woodworking forums, watched videos and bought books until I was ready to start buying tools.
I loved my job in IT but knew I needed something to take the edge off after a tough day/week/month, so as I chose my first tools I already knew that I would be primarily unplugged as my intent was to have a quiet (as opposed to the loud datacenter) and relaxing introduction to my new hobby. That said, I did follow the recommendations of a few online and fitted my shop with a 14-inch bandsaw, a 12-inch planer (thicknesser) and a benchtop mortiser and drill press. Of those power tools, the only one I really ended up using on a regular basis was the bandsaw (and to a much lesser extent, the planer).
This blog is about the path I’ve taken as a woodworker. I’ll talk about projects, books, videos, pretty much anything related to woodworking.
My first piece of furniture was a Mission (Arts and Crafts) style Prairie Settle that I started in 2014 and finished in 2016. I had been reading about the Stickleys and was drawn to the American Arts and Crafts so I wanted my first piece to be of that style.
I had been through the old Stickley catalogues online and did some searches for mission style plans. I waffled between chairs, bookcases, tables, and couches (settles). I thunk and thunk and thunk some more, then I talked to Holly incessantly until she said, “just do something and stop talking about it!” I took that as a mild suggestion that it might possibly be time to stop thinking about it and just make a command decision.
I ended up purchasing several sets of plans from Popular Woodworking, Wood Magazine, and one from a website dedicated to furniture plans. I then took bits from each plan and some bits and bobs from other plans I’d seen and came up with my plan. I didn’t want it to look like every other settle I’d seen, so I modified the spindles, length, and seat frame.
I didn’t want to spend the extra on White Oak, so I chose Red Oak. Even though it was good lumber, I didn’t like working with it nearly as much as the Ash I’d worked with earlier. A lot splinteryer than the Ash.
I started this before I had finished the rocking horse, so it began its life in the basement. One thing about choosing something this size was that I could not do any final glue up in the basement because then I would not be able to get it out, so it ended up being a good thing that it took 9 months to finish.
I started with my very favorite part of any project, prepping the lumber.
Since this was a piece of Stickley Mission Style furniture there were many, many mortise and tenon joints.
I had been planning to make a chair in the same style of the Prairie Settle because I wanted to fix a few mistakes I’d made with the couch and I just wanted the chair because it’s cool. I still went for the Red Oak because I’m a glutton for punishment. Actually, I don’t remember why I still went with Red Oak, but I’m sure I had a very good reason. There were some measurements for the chair that came with the original plans I’d bought for the Prairie Settle, so I basically made it as a very short version of the Settle.
The build process for this one was rather sporadic, as we moved twice while making it. I started out with the spacious and wonderful garage and basement combo that was a dream.
We then moved to a smaller place with no basement. This was not too much of an issue except in the winter. The garage was not insulated and we were not allowed to heat it (we were renting).
When the temperature drops below 10 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period it is difficult to use iron or steel tools. That winter we had snow and cold snaps so I ended up bringing the chair into the house to work on. This introduced some interesting obstacles but also got me thinking about what woodworking and furniture making meant to me and how motivated and dedicated I might or might not be.
But that was not the last move in this build. Alas, we had one more move to go before I finished the chair.
Our final move before the chair was finished was into an apartment. This kind of downsizing introduced so many new challenges and compromises that I honestly think this is where I cemented my love of woodworking.
Our downsizing was all part of a grander scheme so it was all self-induced and not due to a personal crisis or anything.
I’m going to use the constant moving as an excuse (not a legitimate reason, but an excuse) for some of the issues I had with the chair build. Lack of decent lighting was a constant obstacle and unfortunately, it reared its ugly head during the worst time possible, while I was sanding and finishing. I wanted to try something different and the plan was to use some amber shellac and then a brown wax to kill the orange. As you can already see, my plans went awry and my time limitations kept me from getting the wax on. This was one of those moments where I really questioned some of my life choices. In the badly lit apartment it looked very nearly like I wanted, but as soon as I got it outside and into some halfway decent light, I damn near cried.
But I get ahead of myself. The build itself was fairly uneventful.
Again, prepping and dimensioning the lumber by hand was the fun part. I cut the grooves and spindle channels with mallet and chisel, like the Settle project.
The cauls I’m using here are actually all that remained from a coffee table we got from World Market. A lot of their furniture is made of Rubberwood. When Rubberwood trees are finished providing latex, after 20 to 30 years, they used to be burned. Now they are being used in furniture, especially those in the plantations in Asia. What I saw of the wood in this furniture (that I destroyed and used for cauls) is that the colour could be interesting, but not necessarily pretty. It’s a fairly tight grain and not as splintery as Red Oak. It works easily with hand tools and sands well. Since the colour can be kind of offputting, it’s usually heavily stained.
Just as I was getting ready to start my dry fitting of the frame, the temperature dropped and I was forced indoors. This is where I had to be creative and compromise on some things that I would normally do. Without a large surface on which to rotate, flip, support, and clamp, I had to make sure that I had clearance whenever I wanted to move the chair because the clamps might bang into or damage something in the room. This meant that my clamping was not as aggressive as I would have liked and eventually required modification (fixing).
Once again, the 1/4 sawn Red Oak was beautiful.
I made sure to get the medullary rays to flow away from the chair on each arm. Kind of a nice effect.
This is where we moved once again, so the next piece of the puzzle was done at the aparment. Here I started with the seat frame, doing the same weaving and materials as last time. If something works, go with it.
We’re currently living near Edinburgh, Scotland where I am attending the Chippendale International School of Furniture, something that my wife and I had been planning for a while. This has been a dream come true for me and I’ve been drinking from the firehose since class started. I’m enrolled in the professional course that includes the following:
Timber identification & timber technology Tool and Machinery induction Sharpening 3D/Perspective drawing The fundamentals of joinery Woodturning Cabinet Making Carcass construction How to make a dovetailed drawer & hang a cabinet door Restoration/conservation of antique furniture Steam bending & Laminating Veneering techniques Fretwork Marquetry & Parquetry Oyster & Boulle work Inlaying (Brass, Ivory & Mother of Pearl) Woodcarving Gilding Windsor chair making Leatherwork Finishing techniques (Oil, Wax, Shellac, Spray lacquer, Staining & Colour matching) Business skills, pricing & customer care Branding, PR & Marketing, and website development & management Machinery maintenance How to set up a workshop
I didn’t realize it at the time, but furniture restoration and repair are the most challenging, fulfilling and enjoyable activities related to woodworking that I’ve found so far. That doesn’t mean I won’t find something else along the way but for now…
The school is also a working business that does restorations and repairs and I was given the opportunity to fix a chair that was brought in. At first, I was quite a bit nervous that I would screw something up that was irreparable but with Graham and Clare’s wonderful tutelage I was able to take this project on. Graham and Clare are the school’s repair and restoration experts and it is a very common sight to see them working on pieces. We all know that all we have to do is ask and we can take part in any repairs or restoration that comes in.
First thing I did was to remove the front frame to enable easier access to the damage.
The next step was to create a mortise into the portion of the frame where the tenon snapped and then to remove the broken portion of the tenon from the leg.
After the loose tenon had been glued and set overnight, I fit the front section to the rest of the frame to see how the break would come together.
The next step was to go ahead and glue this up and let it set overnight. I then took a bit of scrap mahogany and fit it to the opening.
Next, I began colouring the new patch with water-based dies and sanded (exposed) old material to help blend.
I used Yellow, Van Dyke Brown, and Walnut.
I then put 3 coats of shellac (dewaxed) on and blended with the french polish mouse (3 swipes with the mouse over the repair and into the old part of the frame).
The next day I roughed it up to take the shine off. Used some pigments with shellac and coloured wax to blend in and fill the smaller areas. Then White Wax over the repaired area and buff.
I’ve recently (within the past year) become interested in Military Campaign Furniture. This is something that could, and has, filled books. The one that I have is now very well worn as I have been using it almost every day for a project I’m working on. Campaign Furniture by Christopher Schwarz at Lost Art Press has been indispensable for most of my research on Military Campaign Furniture.
That said, I’ve also chatted with Simon Clarke at Christopher Clarke Antiques, who specialize in Military Campaign and Metamorphic furniture. They have a blog as well that I’ve used quite a bit, but more than that Simon has been very helpful in answering questions I’ve had about the furniture.
And I’ve also found that Pegs and Tails has quite a bit of valuable information on Campaign furniture as well. You’ll see that I refer to Pegs and Tails quite often as it has become my source for period furniture construction techniques and antique furniture identification more than any book or any other website.
So before I even knew what my Campaign piece would look like, I had already been researching the style and construction for a while. I knew I wanted to make something that I could take up and down narrow stairwells without too much trouble. I knew that I wanted to use brass hardware. And I knew that I wanted something very sturdy, which is what Campaign Furniture was designed for. After that, I had to figure out what it would look like.
I started out with something closer to a side table. It was high enough to use as a writing surface, which started me thinking about a desk.
I then added a second chest, slant front, lopers and a gallery for my desk.
I was almost ready to start prepping the lumber.
But the slant front wasn’t doing it for me so I thunk, and thunk, and then thunk some more and decided on a pull out gallery. From this point I don’t have drawings as I had putzed away so much time up to now I had to get started.
I had already figured out the gallery portion and knew the height and depth.
I was finally ready to start constuction. In my next post.
One thing about building Campaign Style chests is you gotta love the dovetail. Alot.
The dovetails were easily the most intimidating part of the carcass build, so I wanted to practice before I started on the project. I had some scrap pieces of beech that I thicknessed to be the same as the chest would be. I found an excellent tutorial for full blind and secret mitre dovetails at http://www.mikes-woodwork.com
There are so very many videos and blogs that show and/or describe how to make standard through and half blind dovetails, but there are surprisingly few that show how to make full blind and secret mitred dovetails. Even so, I did find several to choose from and always came back to the mikes-woodwork site. His instruction really worked for me and I used it for all subsequent dovetails for the project.
The reason I was looking into the full blind and secret mitred dovetails is that they were used in period pieces, mostly for the top corners. I checked some pieces locally and found that some had half blind and some had full blind, but I haven’t found a secret mitred carcass yet.
And just a warning. I’ll use “half blind” and “half lap” dovetails interchangeably so if you see me change from one to the other in mid-thought I’m still talking about the same thing.
Several years ago when I was just beginning to play with joinery, I learned to cut pins first. Not because I watched Frank Klaus or anything like that, but because I found it to be much easier to transfer the pins to the tails. At the time I thought I was cheating or doing it wrong, so I then learned to cut tails first. Since the question, Pins or tails first, has become such a volatile debate, I don’t usually say which way I think is best. That said, I haven’t made enough dovetail joints to even be considered a beginner.
With full blind dovetails you don’t have to worry as much about the proportions of your tails to pins, so make them both big.
Even though my trial run on the hidden mitred dovetail went OK, I decided not to use them in the project. Instead, the two top corners are full blind dovetails (without the mitre). I didn’t take pictures of that procedure but will do so for my next Campaign piece. I did take a picture of the pins though.
For the backs of these pieces (Chests and Secretaire) the norm was to use a simple boarded back that was screwed into the rebates in the carcass. Another method was a frame and panel. I chose a modified version of the frame and panel for mine. I used mostly offcuts for the frame and panel, but for the frame I needed non-spalted straight grain.
The back frame is 12mm thick (about 1/2 inch). I used a half lap here since I didn’t want to fiddle with mortise and tenon that small. The panel is slightly thinner and goes into a 5mm groove in the frame.
I had some leftover bookmatched flame beech but it wasn’t long enough to use for the backs, so they ended up in the webbing between the drawers. The web frame is the same thickness as the carcass or 18mm (about 3/4 inch). For this, I used mortise and tenon.
While searching for scrap beech I could use for the frames, I came across some oak that was the right length and thickness, so I laminated a piece of flame beech on the front and called it a day.
And I have a couple of boxes. Getting ready to build the drawers and gallery next.
One of the most valuable (to me) skills that my furniture making course has taught me is the core fundamentals of furniture restoration and repair. Graham and Clare, who are both as great at teaching as they are at repair and restoration, have allowed me to look over their shoulders (and incessantly ask questions) as they have worked on pieces. I have also been able to work on some of them myself, which has not only been a great and challenging experience but has been extremely fun as well.
Graham and Clare have both been with the Chippendale International School of Furniture for more than 2 decades and are easy to talk to and wonderful to work with on these great pieces of furniture.
The goal was to fill/replace the missing pieces and to make the repairs sympathetic to the age and blend them into the overall condition of the piece. If we decided to make the repairs perfectly flat and shiny with no gaps, then each repair would have stood out and looked out of place.
First thing was to lightly clean the areas that needed repair.
Each of these spaces was cleaned with scalpels, awls, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on that was small enough to get into the crevices and cracks. The bottoms of these spaces needed to be relatively smooth so when I fit the replacement pieces of wood in there they would sit flat and have a good stable glue surface.
The next step was to put tape over each of the empty spaces and lightly shade with a pencil to get the outline of the missing area.
After I had a good tracing of a missing piece, I put the tape on a piece of (in this case) walnut that I’d be using to patch with. I made sure to orient the grain with the existing veneer.
Anselm and Graham believe the table is from around 1760 and the veneer is several times thicker than any you can buy today, so the repair pieces were resawn on a bandsaw to be just a bit thicker than the old veneer. This way we could pare down the patches to the correct level.
Next, I cut out the pieces oversized and then fit them using small files, sandpaper, and scalpels.
The next stages were to glue the pieces into their respective spots
Once the patches were in and the glue dried, I used a combination of water dies to get the patches to blend with the background. I then used coloured wax sticks and melted a mix of colours to fill and blend the repairs. (I don’t have pictures of these steps because once I got into it I was so engrossed that I forgot). Next was a light going over with some black wax, to blend all of the repairs with the rest of the table top.
As always, the repair and restoration is just a wonderful experience.