Step Into My Office


Today I tried my hand at spoon carving courtesy of a birthday present of a Mora 106 paring knife and 164 hook knife from my special lady. I have a big box store hatchet that I bought maybe 12 years and so I sharpened that the best I could and grabbed a piece of recently split oak (Red, I think) from the wood pile. For fun I checked the moisture content and it was somewhere upwards of 35-40%, plenty green for this go-round.


Working with green wood is a totally new process for me and for some reason, I’ve been hesitant about going down that road. I have no idea why. Maybe since I’ve spent the past 7 years working with only dry wood and dealing with movement, etc., I was overly worried about what would happen with completely green wood. Who knows?

To split out the blanks, I just looked for a seam and setting the hatchet in line with it, took a whack with the mallet and voila.


It’s nice to split with the grain and in this case, this is some pretty straight grained stuff.


There’s a few steps missing here…after some exploratory hatchet work, I took a hand saw to the 1st blank and cut it to rough shape-my hatchet skills are still in the nascent stage.


With the basic shape down I drew out the general outline of the spoon and started carving from there with my new Morakniv 106 and my M-164 Hook Knife, also from Mora.


A bit more progress. There’s a point at which the blank all of a sudden becomes a spoon. All these subtle transformations, large amounts of material removal, and then out of seemingly nowhere, a spoon.


The neck is too delicate-try, live and learn. At this point the handle is essentially done, just the bowl left to refine.


And here’s a side profile-the Red Oak has an attractive grain from all angles. There’s kind’ve a wavy handle thing going on here. I’m sure I had something creative in mind-whether that was realized, well, hey it’s my first spoon.


And from the top.


Here’s the nearly finished piece. From here I cured it in boiling water for about 12 minutes and it’s been drying in a brown paper bag for the last two days. I’ll put a coat or two of linseed oil on it and start my spoon collection.


At this point I prefer the tool marks from the hook knife in the bowl. Not sure I want to call it “rustic”. I just like the pattern left behind.


For my latest project I had a couple rough pieces of walnut hidden away on a shelf in the garage from two different trees. Both were quite dry and looking for a new home so I thought I’d work on some chair building skills but with the forgiving nature of a small end table. This piece was destined for the legs and so some hand planing was in order.

After a few hours of flattening and smoothing-a nice piece of Walnut emerged.


And the process of ripping, squaring, and then rounding on the saw horse. A nice progression of steps and always fun to see a square turn into a circle. You can see the rather curious piece of walnut underneath the soon-to-be legs. One of the weirder slabs I’ve worked with.


Not sure where the soap opera dream lens came from but here’s a shot of test fitting the legs to the top. I eyeballed the compound mortises which meant that they didn’t end up exactly symmetrical but it was a good lesson in working by hand and eye.


And because of the numerous seams/checks in the table top, I elected to add several butterfly keys. I’m using a rather basic method to shape them but fun all the same and in this case, using Ash, which has a strong tensile strength and contrasts nicely with the walnut. You can see the relief cuts I made with a hand saw to facilitate chopping out the waste, before paring with a chisel to the line.


Test placement of the keys.


Once I set the keys, it was time for wedging and glueing up the legs. For the leg wedges I used some white oak that handles the hammering into place quite well.


Happy face? Sad face? Pretty neutral it seems…


Detail shot after the first coat of oil & wax.


Finished piece. One interesting note-the legs are quite darker than the top. I think part of this is that I slabbed out the walnut for the legs myself and they air dried for about a year and then spent a month or so in my makeshift attic kiln, so a rather gradual drying process. The table top on the other hand was purchased from a sawyer who kiln dries only-no air drying (about 5 years ago, as it happens) and to me some of the richness of the walnut faded out compared to the legs. Totally anecdotal on my end but my sense is that air drying first for a year or two depending on thickness, helps to preserve the overall color profile of the wood.


The Brute Squad Serving Board

Sometimes the simplest projects are the most enjoyable. Getting back to the basics with some hand tools and a quiet morning.

We cut this walnut last fall and after nearly a year of air drying, I put a couple slabs in the attic this summer for some experimental, ad hoc kiln drying. So far, so good.




Slab O’Walnut

About 2 years ago, my friend and I went in together on an Alaskan Chainsaw mill-we knew we wanted to start cutting our own lumber, but beyond that, we really didn’t have any green/fresh wood experience to speak of, other than splitting firewood. But we went for it anyways and as it happens my sister had a big, old, freshly dropped Black Walnut tree in her back yard that was ours for the taking, so we took it. We got our gear together and set out to make some magic. Turns out the magic trick was all the metal hidden in this particular urban tree, so…lesson learned.

All the same and partially because of all the nails, we cut pretty thick slabs, mostly 2″, but a couple 3″ ones and then the real behemoth, a 4″ thick, 28″ wide, and 8′ long megalith. The idea being that down the road I would build my dream workbench out of it. It also has some possibly real, possibly imagined sentimental value to it. My dad grew up across the alley from this Walnut tree and while he undoubtedly would have seen the tree (my guess is it was about 75-80 years old), I like to think that he was the kid who pounded in the nails in a randomly spaced pattern about 4′ up from the ground those many decades ago. In either case, it’s a part of my family now.

Here’s the delivery vehicle…today was my luck day, we were also gifted with a beautiful, rustic, Red Oak bench built my sawmill comrade. It weighs about as much as the 4″ workbench slab on the bottom of the pile.


Here is one of the 3″ slabs. As you can see, it has some wonky parts from insect damage (and nails), so I’ll be able to use this piece to make the legs and hopefully the stretchers. I wonder what other metal bits are hidden in there? You’ll note a nice long crack at the bottom, which given the ultimate use for this slab, won’t be a problem.


And here’s the real gem. She’s in great shape and holding at about 15% MC. That’s with around 2 years of drying in a horse trailer. It really could use a couple more years of air drying and moving it into the garage should help but I’m still deciding what type of work bench it will be. I’m really interested in building a chairmaker’s bench similar to what Greg Pennington built in his shop.

That however would involve cutting the slab in two as you want something you can move around 360 degrees. I think Greg’s bench top measured 26″x48″. And that sounds about right to me. Conversely some might view it as a crime to cut up such a beast of a slab and go the Roubo route instead. The jury is still out for me and so while she continues to dry I’ll draw up some different versions to see what works best.


And everything back in it’s place, like nothing ever happened, other than sweating through 3 shirts getting it all moved around.IMG_6903

Simple Pleasures

Late last summer I milled a decent sized walnut trunk into 2″ planks, plainsawn through and through on the LT15. The rest of the slabs are closer to 6′ long but a couple came out closer to 2′ for various reasons. The slabs were air drying for about 9 months which isn’t nearly long enough for 2″ thick walnut but since we don’t have the solar kiln set up yet I thought I’d try my luck at “kiln” drying in the attic.

I wasn’t properly prepared for this in that I don’t have a thermometer up there to measure temp/humidity but if I had to guess I’d say it’s around 110 up there during the day at least during the last few months that I’ve had the wood up there. MC was around 20% when the wood went in and today the reading was closer to 7-8%. Not too bad. It was definitely a lot easier hauling the pieces down.

I need 4 legs for a small hall bench I’m building out of an old walnut slab and thought this chunk would work nicely for that.

After crossing cutting the ends to get it to length (approx. 17″) I ripped one edge to get rid of the last gnarly bit. The off-cut was kind of cool, with the insect damage so I set that aside to use at some point down the road maybe as a decorative piece.


Once cut to size I brought out the trusty Jack Plane and started cross planing to flatten the first side. Always a treat to plane off the sawmill marks and see the grain and figure appear. Never gets old.


And after about 2 hours of handwork I had a lovely 2″ thick 14″x17″ chunk of walnut from a tree more or less in my own backyard. There’s some nice chatoyance when the light hits it right and I’m looking forward to ripping the 4 legs for the hall bench in the next couple days. For now, I’ll let the wood rest and see what kind of movement occurs before proceeding.



Traditional Japanese Boatbuilding. In Rockford Illinois.

Visiting the Anderson Japanese Gardens has been on my to-do list for some time and since it’s only a couple-hour drive from home, this summer seemed like a good opportunity. As would luck would have it, Douglas Brooks was slated to give a short afternoon workshop and evening lecture at the Gardens last Thursday and so it would seem like the perfect storm had arrived.

For the afternoon workshop, Mr. Brooks gave a two hour demonstration on how the planks of one type of traditional Japanese boat were edge-joined. In this case he was replicating the joints used on the tenmasen canal cargo boat that he built for the Gardens a couple years back.

A caveat: this entire process is new and quite unfamiliar to me and so my description is only as accurate (or inaccurate) as I can remember it. To really learn how this process works, you would be advised to acquire Mr. Brooks’s new book, Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding.

To begin the process, the first two planks needed to be prepped to be nailed together and that meant creating a perfectly tight edge joint. The method to do this was one I had never seen. It starts with stabilizing the two planks by wedging the four poles you see below between the ceiling and the planks which are then resting on floor sawhorses. Mr. Brooks, using a hammer, lightly tapped the planks together and then began ripping a “kerf” between the two using a typical ripping motion. He then traversed the slot between the planks back and forth several times, allowing the folks in the class to have a try. For the last pass or two, using the rip saw in a horizontal sliding motion he essentially rubbed out the angled saw marks from the previous passes creating horizontal saw marks on the edges of the planks.


After the final pass with the rip saw a hammer was used to pound a concave shape along the entire edge creating something of a “U” shape so that when the boards are joined together the 4 remaining points of the two “U” shapes compress and when submerged in water the hollows expand back up to their original shape creating an extraordinarily tight seal. Watertight you might say.

Note the way the board is wedged and subsequently stabilized into the floor horse. Reminds me of the compression joint in traditional Japanese sawhorses.


Once the edge work is complete, notches in one plank are chopped out to eventually accept the curved nail that will hold the planks together.


Here are the notch keys that will be wedged into the mortise after the boards have been nailed together to cover up and seal the nail and mortise.


Before driving the nail a pilot hole of sorts is chopped out of the 1st plank to accept the nail. If you look closely at the chisel being used you will see that there is something of a cross guard where the tang enters the handle. This is to facilitate the use of the hammer in pounding the chisel back out of the mortise, essentially performing the reverse operation of pounding the chisel into the mortise. In effect the chisel resembled a small sword.

For the other plank, the chisel was driven into the corresponding hole which rather than create a receiving mortise simply compressed the wood into something of a “pilot” mortise to make room for the nail and which would then swell back out, clamping the nail, once exposed to water.


After the planks were nailed together and the covering wedges placed, Mr. Brooks used a Japanese adze to trim the wedges flush with the planks-this is delicate work to say the least. This was the end of the workshop portion of the day (about 2 hours). But it was a lot to take in, even in that short amount of time.DSCF9740

Here is a similar 1:10 scale model of the canal boat that was built and placed at the Gardens a couple years ago.DSCF9742

A few pictures of the nails used (which were hammered into curved nails prior to nailing the planks together and a few of the chisels used, including a curved chisel at the bottom for creating the pilot mortise mentioned earlier.DSCF9743

A selection of rip saws used in the jointing of the plank edges. The blades were close to 18″ long.DSCF9744

And the weirdest curved plane I’ve ever seen.DSCF9745


And finally, a photo of the boat as it sits in one of the ponds at the property.DSCF9777

Table Turn Table Pt. III

Finding homes for all the butterflies I carved the other day. In some ways this slab of Black Walnut was a marginal piece of wood but in others, it’s quite nice. Took a lot of work to get it flat going from 1 1/4″ thick to about 3/4″. That’s a lot of hand planing across the grain. And it’s full of cracks, etc that kinda need some help and kinda just need some of my killer aesthetic vision…anyways, there’s nothing finer than chiseling out butterfly key mortises on a lovely afternoon.




For the round post that will support the far end of the piece, I decided to use some Osage Orange that I’ve had lying around. It too has a few issues but all in all is OK for this project. Good practice for the frame saw as well.



To get it to round I’m using the jack plane to create a hexadecagon, that’s right, a 16-side polygon. Bam!


The grain is outstanding. It feels/looks like there’s a decent amount of oil in the wood as it has this incredible polish after even a rough cut with the jack plane.


Another gratuitous grain shot.