Broken River Joinery

File Cabinet Progress & Resawing

I’ve been steadily planing away at the pieces for the file cabinet and have now milled the top and bottom and the two sides. For the back I have a piece that is approximately 13″x20″x5/8″ and the cabinet itself will be closer to 22″H x 17″W x 16″D and so it’s not big enough to be used as one piece but it’s really too thick for that anyways. I also wanted as much of the lumber as possible to come from the same board/log. So I figured I’d try my hand at resawing. I don’t have a band saw and I thought this would be a good exercise in sawing to a line and sawing straight. What I didn’t anticipate was the energy I would expend to do it. But first a trip down memory lane…

Here’s a shot of the original board that I’m building the cabinet from-nice flame figuring:


And the rough pieces prior to milling (very cupped and twisted):


IMG_3832Post-milling (I still need to plane them slightly for uniform thickness and trim the ends and sides to exact length and width)



And now for the back. Once re-sawn I’ll shiplap the two pieces together and plane a groove on the two side panels to slide it into. Here’s the original piece planed and jointed (in addition to significant twist, etc, the grain on this board is highly figured, lots of chatoyance which makes it quite lovely but also challenging to plane w/o too much tear-out) :

IMG_3905To begin the resawing process I determined the exact thickness of the board and set my marking gauge to bisect this, marking the entire perimeter. Since I had not done this before I really wanted to make sure I did a good job sawing w/o drift so using my finest kerfed dozuki rip blade I began cutting on the line at each corner until all my kerfs matched up.


Next up was the ryoba. Unfortunately the largest one I have is a 240mm blade and so I was not able to saw straight through. This meant having to saw at angle for the majority of the process, working on one side at an angle, then back to the other side and so on. If I had to guess, I’d say the whole process took about 2 hours.


And here’s the final result (the back of each piece is a little rough but I’ll just clean it up with my fore plane). Most importantly, by taking my time I avoided drift and kept both pieces the same width. Once I plane it down, I’ll have two exact size pieces each 1/4″ thick with a beautiful matching pattern.


I stickered them last night as there will be some movement, but since they are so thin, it won’t be a problem after final assembly.

I could have just as easily used a piece of 1/4″ plywood and in fact this will be on the back of the cabinet where no one will see it, but it in my mind, I’d always be aware of it and that would have bugged me.

I’m still trying to figure out the design for the drawers and the face. I may use some elements of a shoji screen for the front, but I will still have to build the drawers, etc.

As I was sawing last night it occurred to me that this piece uses basically every major wood working skill, especially since I will be dovetailing the top to the two side. A good project to cut your teeth on.

Hand Milling Rough Lumber

Working through the process of hand milling all your boards for a project can be an enlightening experience, especially when the lumber is cupped and twisted to any significant degree. Fortunately there’s a lot of good information out there to help with this. One video in particular with Andrew Hunter, does a great job of condensing that process in about 8 minutes. You can see it here.

I’ve watched it a number of times as I’ve worked my way through the process and as long as your tools are sharp, I think you’ll really enjoy this approach as a nice complement or depending on your preferences, a complete replacement for power tools.

To Desire a File Cabinet Part I

Nothing says sexy like “I Need a File Cabinet”. But even in the digital age paper yet abounds so the desk I just built, wait for it…obligatory Apple product furniture shot…wait for it…


…needs a file cabinet because part of my cool modern design didn’t exactly include drawers. Anyways about six months ago I bought some walnut boards from our city arborist (they have a program now where they are milling urban trees into lumber) and even though they are a little wonky, twisted, etc, they’ve got potential and what better to hold a man’s papers than a modified tree trunk? Here’s one of the boards:


And cut into the top, sides, and bottom:


And then a planed board side by side with a rough sawn one after some dedicated hand planing (thickness went from 1 1/8″ to about 7/8″-there was significant twist):


I haven’t nailed down the final design but I’m guessing that the hours of planing that I’ll need to do just to get the boards ready will provide some inspiration.

Taughanock II – Putting it all together

After several hours in the shop, I’ve was able to get my new desk design together for the test fit. I’ll need to dis-assemble it, finish plane/sand all the pieces, and knock it all back together to apply the finish. I’m going with hand rubbed beeswax although not sure how many coats just yet. You might notice there’s a piece of walnut that magically appears at the base of the leg. The short version is that I screwed up the bridle joint so I had to cut off the bottom and rather than build a new leg, I laminated a piece of walnut to it. It’s a gentle reminder of the mistake and lends an element that I quite like to the piece that wouldn’t have otherwise been there.

On the design end, I wanted to use solid wood construction but not rely too heavily on the live-edge side of things. I still included some of the original edge from the sap wood, but pulled the bark and sanded the remaining edge trying to retain as much of the original shape as possible. I also liked the patterns that appeared from the inner layers of the bark. So I kept a vestige of the live edge but placed it on the floor on the two base structures, more of an elemental intent, and tried to keep the lines as they moved towards the top more stripped down, kind of simple and hopefully elegant. The top extends into a “waterfall” joint through the side vertical support. I included at least a sense of weight and balance through minimal use of cantilevers on both the top and bottom to counteract the heaviness of the overall piece.

Heres’s a few shots of the nearly-finished product.








A New Project

One of the benefits of living on the western most edge of the Eastern Deciduous Forest is an abundance of hardwood trees both in town and in the country. At any given time, it seems someone nearby has a Walnut or Oak that needs to come down or has fallen over in a storm and often times these beautiful trees get cut up for firewood or worse, sent to the chipper. And that in part is what motivated my good friend and I to invest in an Alaskan chain saw mill recently. We also are fortunate to have access to a number of fallen trees on some river bottom land on his acreage.

We had to preorder it as each bar and ripping chain are manufactured on demand due to their size. It took about 5 weeks to arrive. We went with the 36″ bar which gives us an effective cutting width of 34″. The bar itself is closer to 40″ and is double ended but with the mill cage, the workable length is significantly reduced. Nonetheless, the size of the bar is almost comical and gives one pause about what you’ve really gotten yourself into.

Once we got the mill assembled and the bar and chain attached and tensioned, we went for a walk on the land to locate a suitable first candidate for the trial run. We came across a large Red Elm that had fallen some time ago and most of the cork and cork cambium were gone with a little rot in the secondary cambium. To get the trunk to a manageable length we needed to cut about two feet off one end and this would tell us if the rot went much further.




Once we got through, it was clear that the trunk was still in really good shape so we set up our slabbing bracket to get the first cut. But before we could do that we needed to roll the log out to an area we could work in and also to get the optimum slab width on the trunk. This is where the lever and fulcrum are your friend. It felt a little bit like building the pyramids, but after about half an hour of levering and fulcruming we were ready to go. We used two 2×4’s that were as straight and level as we could find and attached them to two metal cross brackets that we then leveled from front to back and side to side and nailed in to the trunk.


IMG_3764Since there were only two of us and running the mill is a two person job, I don’t have any photos of the mill in action but here’s few pics of the process. This image shows the trunk after we pulled the first cut off. After that, as long as you make a nice flat cut, the tree itself is the guide for the mill and all you have to do is determine the thickness of the slabs (we went with 8/4 for the duration).

IMG_3765And here’s a few more in between slabs.


IMG_3768By the time we had 6 slabs cut we were losing daylight so had to call it a day. Here’s Johnny (and Lily) taking a break on what we have left. We should get about 3 more slabs before we hit the bottom. The trunk is just over 7′ long and 32″ wide at the widest part.


IMG_3770We had to close up shop for the night so we did a quick hack job of stickering and piling but we’ll get back to it and finish slabbing out the rest and coating the ends so it doesn’t dry out and check/crack unnecessarily. Then in 18 months we’ll have some slabs to work with…


Thinning Out

I’m paring down my tool collection (along with a few other things) and before I push them out via craigslist/ebay I want to offer them to my fellow woodworkers/followers. Right now I’m looking at pick-up and pay but if someone is interested in having an item shipped we can work through Paypal. I’m located in the Quad Cities so if you are close by we can arrange a time for you to stop by and take a look. I can only accept cash for in-person transactions and all prices are firm. If you are interested, leave me a note in the comments section and I’ll be able to contact you directly through email.

I will be adding a few more things in the next couple weeks so keep checking back.

Thanks for looking!


Delta JT160 Shopmaster 6″ Benchtop Jointer: $175.00

The new version of this falls under the Porter-Cable brand and retails new at $249. There are some minor blemishes on the in-feed and out-feed tables and on the in-feed knob adjustment stem. There’s also a small piece of plastic missing on the black button on the cutter guard which is entirely cosmetic. I replaced the knives about 6 months ago but only used it a couple times after that so they are in pretty good shape. I’ve owned the jointer for about 3 years and have moved to primarily hand-tools for jointing so I find I’m not using it any longer. It’s been gently used and runs fine. It comes with the original owner’s manual along with the two factory push blocks.













Grizzly H7583 Tenoning Jig: $45.00

This retails new for $88.59. It has a few cosmetic blemishes from general use but otherwise is in great shape. Comes with original owner’s manual. You will need to adjust the settings to fit your particular table saw and the owner’s manual details how this is done.








Mr. Heater Portable Buddy Propane Heater w/10ft Hose Assembly: $75.00

The heater and hose assembly retail for a total of $118.27. This also comes with a travel bag. It’s a great indoor/outdoor heater and packs a decent amount of heat for the size. You can buy the propane canisters at any outdoors or big box store. I ended up barely using this thing so it’s in nearly mint condition.








Epson Perfection 4990 Scanner: $500.00

This is a very desirable and dependable scanner among photog types and goes for around $800.00 bucks on Amazon as they don’t make it any longer. It’s a tough one to get rid of but I just don’t have the time to use it anymore.

The scanner is in superb condition and does an amazing job of scanning large format negatives (I was a photographer in another life) and comes with all the original accessories and software/cables. You can read a great description here. There is a very minor cosmetic scratch on the plastic lid casing (you can see it in the photo below).

Here’s the technical deets with photos following below:

Detailed item info















On Time

“Indeed, it occurred to me that Erik had an absolute respect for time, to the point that he was able to exist inside any particular moment with tangible contentment. He understood that the value wasn’t to be extracted by rushing to get to the next project, but rather by truly inhabiting each and every moment he was fortunate enough to experience.”

-Ben Hewitt, from “Saved”

Something I will take with me on the next foray in the woodshop (and hopefully beyond)


Form and Function and Design

A recent article in the New York Times, “Simplifying the Bull…“, discusses a series of 11 lithographs by Picasso, as a tool to model product designs in order to reduce them to their most fundamental and functional aspects. It’s an interesting piece that delves into the design and decision making process at Apple Inc., and that opens up a broader discussion on design itself.


Picasso’s “Bull” Christmas 1945

(The progression moves from top to bottom beginning with the far left-hand column-click on the image for a more detailed view)

Much has been made in the art world and beyond regarding the psychoanalytic vestiges inherent in the particulars of this work, which I’ll gladly leave to the post-modernist critics and anybody else who may be interested in trundling down that path. My intent here is to examine the evolution of the above drawings in relation to the design process as exemplified through the craft of wood furniture production, particularly of the type generated in garages and basement workshops every day, from tinkerers to professionals and beyond.

Let’s dive in.

Initially, through the first two drawings there is a growing complexity to the bull, whereas beginning with Plate 3, a progressive deconstruction ensues, rendering the final plate a seemingly simple line drawing that in fact exhibits the primary elements of the idea, encapsulating both the rudimentary nature of the design and espousing the power that is the essence of the thing itself.


Plates 1, 2, & 11

This brings up a fundamental question in the art/design process; namely, what is the first step? Does the artist/designer imagine the final piece (subject to revision) initially (Plate 1) or do they construe something more basic (also subject to revision) in their mind’s eye (Plate 11)? Take a dining room table for example: is it the finished product that first appears mentally or rather a flat surface with 4 legs to support it? Ultimately, I assume it varies widely from person to person. However, we woodworkers possess what I would consider to be an additional advantage, i.e. function. More specifically, I would guess most woodworkers wouldn’t place themselves in either of the above camps which both subscribe to Form/Idea as the maximal origin and conclusion. Rather a woodworker tends to be cornered by the constraints of their predicament, such as, “I need a place to eat, and this cardboard box just isn’t doing it”,  and voila….a dining room table results. Of interest, once the impetus is established, is what’s the most effective method to arrive at the end result, i.e. a dining room table.?

As a side note, it’s important to add that there are several if not countless additional components that feed into this design recipe. Items like skill set,  awareness of past and current design trends, aesthetic preference, the size of one’s dining room, the size of oneself and one’s family, availability of material, associated cost, time available, each of which merit their own further discussion.

So when we look at Picasso’s Bull, what we are really privy to, are the stages of an accomplished master artist’s thought process from initial spark to final conclusion. It is curious to note that there is a degree of increasing complexity from Plate 1 to Plate 2 at which point the series gradually distills down to its more fundamental elements. This may indicate an intimate look at the initial idea (a bull for whatever reason), an exploration into what that fully represents (Plate 2), and then ultimately a paring down to the basic and final most effective form (Plate 11). Regardless, the end result is the same.

In some ways, the medium of sculpture would seem more closely related to the woodworking idiom instead of a 2D representation of a 3D object (drawing of bull versus actual bull). Like Michelangelo reducing a block of marble to something as incredible as David. But this still leaves out function. At least in the practical sense. Functionally, David, may in fact bring a certain mental satisfaction to the viewer that they then carry with them and that too is grist for another conversation, but functionally speaking methinks trying to balance a dinner plate on David’s kneecap would prove entertaining at best. But I digress.

Where then, does that leave the inspired woodworker? True, the sketch pad, scrap paper, napkin, etc.  seem like an obvious first choice. But to really get to the heart of the matter, one cannot leave it at that. The inspiration, the need is there. The image presents itself in the mental/visual landscape. The 1st drawing materializes. Then what? Some latitude is necessary here; each woodworker processes the making manifest of an idea differently. A cardboard mock-up for some, a scaled down model for others. Even a rough version of the intended piece. While critical, the details of this stage do not matter so long as one takes the step itself. Beyond this there is the actual piece. And pleasant it may be. But finished it is not. For at the end of the day we are a different person than the face that greeted us that same morning in the mirror. And so our work follows. And thus life. That dining room table then, is never quite finished. Especially when we are faced with it each day. We see where it may have been a little lower or a bit wider or the base less heavy. We see where we might have made it better. But we do not lament. We instead make a promise. To build that table again, to change what need be changed as we have changed and the world along with it.

(this essay was revised at least  17 times prior to publication)

778 Sq. Ft. Japanese Small House

778 Sq. Ft. Japanese Family Small House by Alts Design Office

-note the 4-panel sliding shoji divider. Also note, there seems to be a “Put a Bird On It” theme throughout these photos. And lastly, and I could be wrong but I get the distinct impression that someone likes Ash furniture; note the coffee table, dining room table, etc.

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Images ©

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On Ash

The simple joy of planing the end grain on an ash board.








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