Broken River Joinery

There’s a lot of beards and suspenders at Handworks


Handworks 2015

Just in case you haven’t made plans yet for Handworks 2015, it’s only five days away. And there are still a few tickets for sale to see the Studley exhibit at the Scottish Rite Temple in Cedar Rapids.


Two years ago the first Handworks was a great experience and this time around will have even more to offer. I’m delighted that we have this fantastic event in my home state of Iowa and kudos go out to Benchcrafted for making this happen.

Hope to see you there!

May the Fourth Be With You

Thought it would be nice to share my favorite blogs on this most auspicious of day of days, since I don’t keep a running blogroll on my site. Many thanks to all below for much inspiration.


Shaker Bench

In choosing to begin fresh with a more direct intent, I wanted to try my hand at a basic Shaker Meetinghouse Bench. Christian Becksvoort has a nice how-to in Fine Woodworking 231 that I used for my first try. Eventually I’ll use Cherry for the later benches, but for this first attempt I used a single piece of Poplar. The final dimensions ended being approximately 18″ x 9″ x 7″. The most difficult step was fitting the corner braces accurately.

I started with the legs, cutting out the arch with a fret saw and smoothing it out with a rasp and then successive grits of sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. After that I cut out the two tenons that mate to the bench top.


IMG_4468Next was clearing out the 1/8″ dado and then chopping the mortises in the bench top to receive the tenons.



IMG_4484Moving along, the fit of the tenoned legs to the bench top was a bit tight and I ended up cracking the top but overall the fit wasn’t terrible and was a good reminder of why it’s a smart idea to build a mock-up first. It makes the mistakes that much easier to live with.




Fitting the braces was next and was the most challenging part of the process. My first brace was pretty awful but the second (after forcing myself to slow down) came out much better.





…and the second attempt…




IMG_4541The the dry-fit and finally glue-up and planing/sanding down. I didn’t apply a finish and this ended up making a nice gift for a friend’s son.






One Step At a Time

I began woodworking just over 5 years ago, with a sofa table made of Red Oak salvaged from a long forgotten pigsty that had been sitting outside for several years and in that time I’ve managed to tackle any number of different projects, some more successfully than others, each one an incredible learning experience. Often frustrating, always rewarding. I’ve explored the Occident and Orient traditions, gone back and forth on whether to use only power tools or only hand tools; in both cases I ended up using both and continue to do so, i.e. A place for everything and everything in its place. I’ve bought tools, sold tools, discovered some small part of the pantheon of craftspeople, artists, designers, with more always around the corner. Our detached, 1925 two-car garage has slowly evolved into a 1-car garage, the other half being transformed into an ad-hoc workshop, not to mention the sharpening station that has magically appeared in the basement and with any luck a small photo studio for project shots in the near future as well. I’ve tested my mettle with the self-imposed trial of building a Roubo-style workbench with inadequate tools and even less know-how and I have continued to feed my hunger for a sizable collection of project wood to have on hand at all times.

The point being, there are so many aspects to woodworking, to any craft or art or vocation, that it’s quite easy to get caught up in the rush to go down every path at once, making a little progress here, a little progress there, but never coalescing around one particular area of focus. I think in the beginning, especially for the self-taught craftsman, this is inevitable and not entirely negative. But at some point, in order to progress to the next level, I believe a person has to find one thing they can devote their time and energy to. To quote Minamoto Musashi, “To know 10,000 things, master one”.


After much thought, several abrasions, and many poorly fitted joints, it occurred to me that relying on the history and culture of woodworking in this country, this place, was perhaps the best place to begin if I were to achieve a sense of consistent accomplishment and not feel as though I’d spread myself too thin. Specifically I have settled on the heritage of Shaker furniture design and construction. Within that tradition lies everything I need to move forward. A reliance on hand tools and skills, a design aesthetic based on function determining form, the intent to remove all superfluous ornament, and an emphasis on quality and durability. Simple, thoughtful design. I’m certainly not the first person to be enamored with this tradition nor will I be the last. But getting back to the basics, relying on the work and know-how of those who have gone before me…what better way to honor the past and continue the culture of woodworking and design right here, in this place, at this time.

How to Flatten a Board Part 3 of 3 (box inside a box)

How to Flatten a Board 2 of 3 (and build a box)

I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure this guy is cutting dovetails completely by feel/memory, no marking whatsoever.

The Will to Live

Came across this while walking the timber this morning. It looks like half the trunk fell off and rather than give up, the old gal doubled down. Incredible.IMG_4494

How to Flatten a Board 1 of 3

This first video gets going at about 2:46 and is part one in a three part series. Be sure to check out the enormous marking gauge at 7:48.

Mastery of the simple is the name of the game here. I’m a big fan of the use of basic concepts coupled with utter skill, i.e. slab of wood on ground = workbench; piece of wood the size of a stick of gum = bench stop; and bowl on ground = ashtray.

Milling Red Cedar

This weekend we tried our hand at milling up a decent sized Red Cedar trunk. It was about 10′ long by 16-18″ in diameter. The Red Cedar goes by many names, Eastern Red Cedar, Aromatic Cedar, Pencil Cedar, etc. It’s in fact not a Cedar tree at all, rather a species of Juniper native to this region and beyond. Some people see it as a weed in that it’s so common and thrives in many different soils. I personally find it to be beautiful, especially the older trees. When young, it resembles a bush and will often appear to grow along fence rows as if planted. It’s one of the first species to appear in damaged, disturbed or open areas, say a fallow farm field that used be a prairie here in Iowa 150 years ago. So to me it’s a sign of recovery although I take the long view in this. It’s nature just slowly reclaiming land that we modified. If say we let enough altered land to itself, eventually wildfires would return which would then keep the fire intolerant Red Cedar in check. And on it goes. Whether these areas would return to their native systems if left alone will take more years than I have on this planet to observe. Incredibly, these trees can live to be over 800 years old. My guess is the trunk we slabbed out was about 60-70 years old.

The fence row phenomenon is a result of the digestive system in Cedar Waxwings which will shoot a Red Cedar/Juniper berry through in about 12 minutes and if they sit on a fence for that time, might just deposit of few of those digested berries in a nice straight line.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of beginning to saw my own lumber is getting in touch with the land around me. I spend a lot more time looking at the trees as I drive down the road, paying attention to environment and what it can provide. To think that with a small amount of effort and decent amount of time, I can procure my own supply of lumber from the very trees that have been growing up around me, with me, is an incredibly subtle and eye-opening realization.

Here’s a few photographs from yesterday’s work:









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