Wooden Tote as a Birthday Gift

Wooden Tote Yellow-Poplar

While still working on surfacing materials for a shaker side table (hopefully an update soon, you can see dimensioned leg stock in background), I had a small side project to make a present for one of my children. It is a small tote designed to fit the painting set that was given as the gift. The tote is made from yellow-poplar, ¾” material for bottom and ends with ½” for the sides. Bottom and ends are screwed together with #8 screws and headless brad cut nails fastened the sides. Finished with Danish oil. The dimension were dictated by the sizes of the paint bottles. Turned out pretty nicely I thought.


Visiting the Woodwright’s School

Woodwright's School

In August I had the pleasure of visiting Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, NC. It was a great escape for me and a beautiful drive through the heart of the central Appalachian mountains of WV, NC, and VI, passing enough oak trees to even satisfy a forester and woodworker. Pittsboro is an intriguing town lying somewhere between rural NC and the influence of the Raleigh/Durham metro area.

Given I started watching Roy’s show the Woodwright’s Shop in the early 80’s as a boy and have seen 100s of his PBS episodes, it was a surreal experience to arrive in the classroom on that Sunday morning. As an homage to my previous self, a hangover added to the storyline. My trip was much anticipated and it turned out to exceed my exceptions. He and co-instructor Bill Anderson make quite a team, are great instructors with amazing body of woodworking knowledge, and are two remarkable men. I feel privileged to have met them. The experience left its mark on me and I took much home with me to aid in my woodworking and perhaps even in the wider breadth of my life. I hope I can make a return trip for their week long class, Bench Week. The visit to the tool store upstairs owned by Ed Lebetkin was also worth the trip. Returned home with a refurbished, pre-civil war moving fillister plane.

The world would be a different place if all weekends for all people followed such a narrative.

Me at Woodwright's School

An Auger Bit Roll Tests My Sewing Skills

In my travels to a number of antique stores in search of usable tools, I have nearly gathered a complete set of Irwin auger bits. They are a bit cumbersome to store without a tool roll. While some of the auger bit rolls I have seen for sale are quite remarkable in terms of craftsmanship (i.e., Texas Heritage Woodworks), I thought it would be a good project to sew my own. We have a heavy duty Singer machine and I bought some brown duck cloth and red denim thread; I thought it would be an easy evening project. It turned out to be quite a challenge of my sewing machine skills and patience. Two rolls of thread later and plenty of practice with the seam ripper I was able to finish the roll.

Auger Bit Roll

I laid out the auger bit pockets with my framing square and marked the seam lines with a disappearing fabric pen. The piece is usable and I think will be quite durable. I made the bit pockets 1” wide for the small bits, 2” for the wider ones, and 3” for the 16 and 20 bits. I would recommend sticking with 2” wide pockets for bits sizes between 7 and 20 (note: these are sizes in 16ths of an inch, e.g., size 8 is 1/2” diameter). I plan a future sewing project to make a roll to hold my assorted Stanley 45 cutters.

Panel Gauge after Hayward

The next large project I am working on is a yellow-poplar side table (currently dimensioning the rough sawn lumber I picked-up at a local saw mill).  But before I could complete that project, I wanted to build a panel gauge.  This gauge is used to mark out wide boards to a desired width prior to ripping or planing.  Several are available by current tool makers (Lie-Nielsen Toolworks,  Hamilton Woodworks), but they are at least $85.  In reviewing the historic books available at the Toolemera “museum”, I found a book by Charles Hayward titled How To Make Woodwork Tools (1945).  In this reference, he provides the plans included below for a wooden panel gauge with a wedge style locking mechanism (many have a wooden or metal screw locking the fence to the beam).

Hayward Panel Gauge

For my version, I used a scrap piece of cherry for the fence and wedge.  The beam was made from a scrap piece of red oak which I ripped from the board to approximate a quarter-sawn straight grain pattern to hopefully increase the stability of the piece.  My first step was to mark and chop the mortise in the fence for the beam and the wedge.  Note that the upper part of the mortise is tapered to match the slope of the wedge.  I then marked and cut the rabbet on the fence bottom using a cutting gauge and chisel.  The fence was finished by cutting the miters at the top and chamfering the edges.  I drilled a 9/32 hole for the pencil and the pencil was secured to the beam using a brass screw insert (8-32) with machine screw inserted perpendicular to the pencil hole.  Total material costs were about $5.  The tool works pretty well, but takes a little adjustment to get it all square as you tap the wedge to secure the beam.  Checked for squareness with a framing square and it is ready to mark some lines for one of my favourite tasks, ripping with a handsaw.

Panel Gauge after Hayward

Five-Board Bench

After building a number of boxes of different styles and uses, I wanted to build some furniture pieces. I thought I should start pretty simple and I decided to build a five-board bench. These are classic utilitarian pieces with straight forward boarded (nail joinery) construction. The design involves, wait for it, five boards, a top, two ends, and two rails. The rails are inset into the ends for better stability. I chose to make mine 18” tall to match our dining chairs. It was 38” long and 11 1/8” wide with the width being dictated by the widest pine board at the home center, 1×12 gross dimensions. I bought the clearest, straightest 1×4 (rails) and 1×12 spruce-fir-pine (SPF) boards I could find that day at the home center. I let them acclimatize to my house for more than a month before dimensioning each piece.

Sidebar: I store all my project wood (before, during, and after construction) in the house. This helps to keep the materials at a more constant moisture content than they would stay in my shed workshop. A more constant moisture content means better stability to resist further cupping or warping. My house remains between 40-60% relative humidity while the shed fluctuates from 30% to 99% depending on the weather. I read about this storage approach in Jim Tolpin’s book The New Traditional Woodworker: From Tool Set to Skill Set to Mind Set.

This project started where all hand woodwork starts by cutting the boards to rough length (1” longer than finished) and planing them so they have at least one true face and one true edge. Probably my favourite description of this planing process is in Joesph Moxon’s book The Art of Joinery. It seems that SPF boards from the home center always need significant work to get them flat even though they have already been surface planed at the mill. In fact a considerable pile of shavings was needed for these boards and they started at 3/4” thickness and ended as flat boards as 5/8”.


Once the boards were flat I marked and cut the notches on the ends for the rails. Then I made the cuts on the ends that defined the “feet” of the bench, basically these are large v-notches. I could have ‘gang-sawed’ (pieces clamped together and joints sawed simultaneously in both pieces by sawing through both boards at same time) the notches, but as my hand dimensioned pieces were not all the exact thickness I cut them separately to insure a better fit. With the dimensioning and joinery cuts finished, assembly was done using 6d cut nails. I used 3/32” pilot holes (pilot hole depth was 2/3 nail length) for the cut nails. I affixed the piece to my bench also using my twin-screw vice and clamps to aid in the tightness of the nail joints as I nailed the piece together. Nails were set using a nailset I filed to match the pattern of the cut nail’s rectangular head.

The finished piece before painting.

five board bench, unfinished

I painted the piece using two coats of ‘Lexington Green’ milk paint followed by an application of Danish oil. My references for learning to use this type of paint were articles by Mike Dunbar and Christopher Schwarz.

five board bench milk paint cut nails

Damn Those Mosquitoes – Building Screen Panels

As my woodworking space is in a shed, I get to not only experience the sites and sounds of hand tools working but also the ups and downs of the seasons. This winter the cold made building a little difficult. I think I managed to work on my workbench build until it hit 8 degrees in the shed. The hot just requires a beverage and shower. The mosquitoes are another story. So one of my goals this summer was to build screen panels for the doorway of my shed. That way I did not have to contend with many of those little devils any more.

The screen panels were a pretty simple design. I did not go all out and use mortise and tenon. They were built using 1×4 yellow-pine and half-lap joinery. The half-laps were glued and screwed. I had read about half-lap joinery and seen how others have sawed the shoulders and split out the waste (cheeks of the half-lap) with a chisel. I learned very quickly that splitting yellow-pine yields a frustrated woodworker and poor joints. Thus I did some additional reading and finished the remaining six end joints by sawing the shoulders and cheeks. That worked pretty well and the two panels turned out solid and pretty square. Actually much squarer than the doorway of the shed so some planing with my Jack plane was needed to get the fit finalized. The fibreglass screen as attached to the panels using a staple gun. The panels have been a great addition to my workshop and now the mosquitoes I see are flying outside behind the screens and not in my ear as I try to saw or chop.

Wooden screen panels half-lap joinery

Dull Saw to Sharp Saw – Building a Saw Vise

One of my skills I wanted to develop this year was sharpening handsaws.  Since the availability of new, well-made handsaws is limited, the ones I have acquired are used (via antique stores, ebay, etsy, and Second Chance Saw Works) and date to before 1950.  Currently, I have some of the common Disston models D-23, No. 7, and D-8 with 26″ saw plates and a variety of tooth patterns.  As a reference, Matt Cianci’s post on WKFineTools gives a great overview on saws required for hand woodwork.

Before sharpening saws, one must have a proper saw filing vise.  Gramercy Tools makes a great vise; one can also use a vintage vise or a shop made one.  The plans for a wooden saw vise in Popular Woodworking (June 2010 issue #183 p. 52-53) seemed like a good route for me.  I made mine of 3/4″ thick yellow-poplar.  It was joined with SPAX no. 8 wood screws (not to be confused with Spanx woman’s ‘shapewear’) .

Saw sharpening vise

Now that my saw vise is done, I will begin the more difficult part, filing several of my rip and cross-cut saws.  Here I am ripping a pine board with a Lakeside (Warranted Superior medallion) 5 1/2 ppi saw.  The first that I have filed.

Ripping on saw bench