Broken River Joinery

Add lightness…and simplify. -J. Brown

Kanna in Bushwick

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit NYC with my lady and as part of that trip I got in touch with Yann Giguere of Mokuchi in Brooklyn, Bushwick to be precise, to see if I could spend some time learning about the Japanese smoothing plane or Kanna. Yann offers classes on several different aspects of Japanese woodworking throughout the year and for a few years now, I’ve been really wanting to get a decent grasp on the mechanics and usage of Japanese planes and this was the perfect chance.

During the class it became apparent that one could spend many, many years learning the fundamentals of using a Japanese plane and that my short time with Yann was just the beginning. That being said, having a true teacher, someone who is a master of their craft spend just a couple days showing you how to get started is invaluable.

The goal was to get a good shaving using only the dai or wooden body of the plane and the plane blade itself and without the use of the chip breaker to start things off. We did eventually get to the chip breaker but as Yann explained it is not necessary to use it and until the plane iron and plane body are properly prepared no use of a chip breaker will correct any deficiencies.

The details are too many to cover here, suffice to say there are many steps and getting to a good shaving that first time around takes some serious preparation. That being said, tuning the Japanese plane is not necessarily any more complex than properly conditioning a Western plane. It’s just a different set of steps that with enough practice become regular habit.

The shots below are the first pile of shavings that I got from on a stick of Alaskan Yellow Cedar. As I get more practice I’ll move on to different woods, particularly the ones that I use for my own projects which are Walnut, Cherry, and QS Sycamore.



Here’s a quick shot of my smoothing plane after the class. When I got home I actually made a few more modifications per Yann’s instructions to get it into proper shape including sanding the top down by about an 1/8″ to allow for proper sideways adjustment of the chipbreaker and soaking it in stable oil (olive oil in my case) to further protect and condition the dai.


And here’s a small box of my first shavings. Not something you’d find on everyone’s mantel but I think I’ll build a nice simple box to hold them and of course finish plane it using the Kanna above.


Shop Chalkboard

For some time now I’ve really wanted to get a chalkboard for the shop, a place to sketch out large-scale plans, measurements and just generally draw on a big wall type stuff. Call me old-fashioned but the plan was to get an actual piece of black slate. I figured that something would turn up from Craigslist or an old school being torn down but no dice. I’ve been looking for nearly 18 months and nada. But as fate would have it I was talking to my step-dad a month or so ago and he mentioned that he just happened to have few pieces of slate in the garage that he bought from his old parochial school when they tore it down over 40 years ago. And if I wanted I could have one of the pieces. The chunk I got is 3/8″ thick and 50″x60″. It is heavy. Loading into the truck and getting into the shop wasn’t too bad.


I built a temporary frame using plywood and a foot cleat along with a ratchet strap to keep everything in place and channeling the ingenuity of the Ancient Egyptians I used 1 inch dowels to roll it across the floor. This was a one man job and the possibility of getting crushed was about 10% so I didn’t want to take any chances.

Also the warning label on the back politely reminded me of this.


Note that the warning mentions using your car or wagon. Wagon. Anybody wanna guess a date on this thing?

So I handled with care and built a frame around the chalkboard using glue, screws, and lots of plywood. I designed a double french cleat on the back to attach it to the wall and decided on using 2 pedestals at the base to actually support the bulk of the weight with the french cleats keeping it affixed to the studs of the workshop.

Once the frame was constructed I had to figure out how to raise it up to it’s final height. Back to the Ancient Egyptians.


By using several old fence pickets that I have lying around I was able to lift one corner, slide the fence picket in and then move to the other side and slide the other end of the picket under the frame. Each picket was about 1/2″ thick so this took about an hour. I moved slowly and carefully. Once up and hooked on the french cleats that were bolted to the wall earlier I  put some temporary pedestals in place.


I didn’t fabricate the actual pedestals until the board was up so that I could make them fit perfectly under the frame to support it which took some fussing.

And here’s the final product.


Turned out pretty good. Only problem….no chalk. So that’s next on the list.

Chairmaking in Japan

Nice, short video from what I suspect is the Tokunaga Furniture studio.

Nakashima Peace Alter and Other Tiny Musings

During a recent visit to NYC I was able to stop by the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on 110th St. in upper Manhattan. If you are ever near Central Park, have a visit as it is well worth it. Inside are numerous old and contemporary works of art including George Nakashima’s Peace Alter, which if you are not familiar with, is one of 3 current Peace Alters built from a  300-year old Walnut tree. It was Nakashima’s goal to have one on each of the 7 continents. You can read more about it on the Nakashima Foundation website. It’s been something of goal of mine to see the table in person and it does not disappoint. To give you a sense of scale the table is maybe 8’x10′ and the top is about 2″.








And my favorite sign of all time…or at least of all the signs I’ve ever seen at a church.


On a side note, this is the 4th anniversary (approximately) of starting this blog. Here’s a link to my very first post, Bookmatched Walnut Slabs. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by. It’s been a fun 4 years!

Finishing Up Milky Way 3-Legged Stool

I finished the 3-Legged Milking Stool this weekend, i.e. the Milky Way. This was my second stool that I’ve built and my first solo stool/chair build from initial drawings to last coat of oil. It unsurprisingly looks similar to the stool I built at the workshop with Fabian at ffhandcrafts in August. Using Walnut for the seat and Ash for the legs adds to the likeness. I did however use Cherry for the stretchers on this most recent one. More important for the design in this case was making sure I remembered all the steps from that first build.

On a side note, when I first started woodworking, I faithfully studied and executed an already published project with it’s set of plans. For the stool build with Fabian, it was entirely teacher to student instructions (no written word/sketches/cut list/etc). And for this second round, it was almost entirely from memory, save for a few very helpful suggestions out of Peter Galbert’s, “The Chairmaker’s Notebook”. As I spend more time in the workshop, that evolution towards being able to complete a project from start to finish with only the ideas in one’s head, is supremely satisfying.

Moving forward I plan on continuing the exploration of stools, chairs, benches, i.e. things we sit on and ideally develop an aesthetic that is uniquely mine. And that comes with time and practice and a comfort level with the building techniques themselves. For example on this build of the second stool I’ll share a list of things I screwed up on and that I will happily live with as long as the stool supports me, as it is doing now, along with the table that I built a few years ago. And there is something to be said for being able to sit down to a home-cooked meal at a table and chair built with one’s own hands.

List of screw-ups on build #2:

  • drilled three holes for the tenon of the back leg-1st one was too close to the edge, 2nd one was the opposite rake, and the 3rd one was just right.
  • the seat bowl was scooped out too deeply. it’s still comfortable but not a smooth enough transition to the where the sitter’s legs drop off…
  • …which leads to the next design flaw where the sitter’s leg drop off was not properly faired for comfort.
  • the seat itself leans too far back and I should have adjusted this more carefully when shortening/leveling the legs.
  • the stretchers and tenons were not properly positioned to accept the wedges in a symmetrical fashion.
  • the legs were not shaped correctly so they look a little wonky and the stretchers are not as straight as they could be.

All these mistakes are ever present in my mind and will not be making an appearance in the stool. Which I will start on in November-time for some shop improvements first. And after this 3rd stool, I hope to venture into the next step of putting a back on and building my first chair.






3 Legged Milking Stool

Here’s a few images from my most recent project: a 3-legged milking stool made of Ash and Walnut, very similar to the one I made when I took a stool making class from Fabian Fischer at FFHandcrafts in Wisconsin this past August. I wanted to try to design my own seat from scratch and come up with my own undercarriage construction. I also came across a book by the late John Brown, Welsh Stick Chairs, and while I’m not yet up to the challenge of a piece of that caliber, I wanted to meet somewhere in the middle.

The old style of Welsh furniture making is really one of complexity and understated elegance. There a simplicity to it as well, although the initial rustic appearance belies a deeper understanding of the craft. So in mixing those things together I came up with an idea and am now putting it to the test.

Here’s the initial stock, including the Walnut seat blank I glued up from 8/4 Walnut. I’m using Ash for the legs and maybe White Oak for the stretchers, maybe Walnut. I haven’t decided yet.


I made 4 of the legs and stretchers knowing that I’d probably screw up somewhere and need an extra.


Here’s my design. It’s kind of cross between a Windsor Chair seat and some Welsh vernacular.


Here’s my attempt at hand-drilling the compound angles needed for the legs-I’m using a set-up described by Peter Galbert in his most excellent book, A Chairmaker’s Notebook, from Lost Art Press.


And here I’m using a travisher to hollow out the bowl of the seat. Usually an adze would be used for this part, but I don’t have one so I set the travisher to take a thick cut and rolled up my sleeves for a workout.


And the roughed-out bowl. It’s kinda tricky getting used to grain direction but it’s really enjoyable uncovering the grain pattern, especially when it comes from two pieces glued together. I like to think this one looks a little like a spiral galaxy. Maybe I’ll name this milking stool the Milky Way…


And here’s is the bowl smoothed out with a travisher set to a very fine cut. I gotta say, this is probably the most enjoyable part, carving out the seat. It gives me the chance to try my hand at sculpture which is extraordinarily gratifying. Just you, a blade, and a relatively hard material. Symmetry is challenging here.


And here’s the transition to where the sitter’s legs will rest over the seat.



You’ll notice there’s some Oak in there by that leg mortise. Two plugs of White Oak, in fact. The first hole I drilled was too close to the edge of the seat. And the second one I drilled in the wrong direction so that the rake was directed towards the front of the chair rather than the back. That’s the reward for not paying attention.


And here’s a shot from this morning after a few hours of using the drawknife and spokeshave on the Ash blanks. Those little ribbons of wood will make for some nice kindling this winter.


And here’s the legs dry fit to the seat. It’s kind of a Fred Flintstone type of chair at this point. I now need to design the stretcher set-up to tie it all together. When all is said and done, this will go at the dining room table along with the new Shaker Meetinghouse Bench and the stool I built with Fabian in August.


Walnut Shaker Meetinghouse Bench

After making the smaller Cherry Shaker Style bench, I scaled up to make this Walnut version to sit at our dining room table. It will be about  5′ long by 13″ wide by 19.5″ tall.

Here’s the rough lumber getting measured for the first cuts and jack-planing.These two boards will be joined to form a 13″ wide bench top.

After edge-jointing the pieces and some rough jack-planing the edge surfaces are placed together to ensure a completely flat fit, sans any gaps.


A close up of the edges dry fit for accuracy.


Planing down each piece of the bench top for flat and square prior to glue-up.


And glue-up, complete with 3 sets of cauls to ensure flatness. The clamps aren’t too tight-just enough to push the glue out.


And now for the two legs. The lumber for the bench top was kiln dried and from somewhere in the Midwest. The wood for the two legs and the four knee braces came from an urban tree in Davenport, IA, and has been drying in my garage for about two years. I did an initial planing of it about a year ago and there was some slight cupping. So now a second round of planing to level it out.


After everything has been cut to size and rough planed, it undergoes a couple of days of sitting flat with some Osage Orange and White Oak for weight.


Cutting the sliding dovetails on the legs to be joined to the bench top.



And removing the mating space for the sliding dovetail joints on the bench top. Getting the matching angles just right takes some time and patience.


The two legs and the top dry-fit to check for square. The piece is quite elegant without the knee-braces but given the size of the bench and the assumed weight of three adults, necessitates a bit more support.


Sizing up the knee-braces.


Dry-fitting the four knee-braces to the tops and legs.


And everything dry-fit prior to glue-up. The knee-braces sit proud on purpose. They will be planed down with a low-angle block plane prior to applying the beeswax finish.



Knee-brace end prior to trimming…


…and trimmed flat with the bench-top.


The bench is now ready for the wax finish.


But first, a slight chamfer on the top of the bench.


Gotta love those long curly-cues from chamfering.


And the beeswax finish applied and drying.






A Bench You Can Sit Upon

Finished up the Cherry and Walnut Shaker Bench this Labor Day Weekend. The corner braces are still proving to be the most difficult part, more so than the sliding dovetails. Here’s a few final photos.

The first two are prior to assembly and applying the finish respectively.









More Cherry Bench

Router planing out the leg and top mortises for the diagonal braces on the Cherry Shaker bench.





…and dry-fitting the legs and 1st black walnut corner brace.


Cherry Bench Beginnings

Putting together a small Shaker-style Cherry Bench with sliding dovetails to connect the legs to the top, including a small poplar test-joint.DSCF9345 (1)







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