Sunday, March 17, 2019

Vernacular Furniture

I posted something similar to this on SMC yesterday and it had a few interesting replies. BTW, "vernacular" is art speak for folk, untrained, or "outside of the Academy" work.

 I've been watching C.S.'s journey into making vernacular furniture with great interest for the last couple of years. I find the form interesting maybe because I've always been interested in folk, outsider, and vernacular art. Back in the day when I was spending time doing post baccalaureate studio art at the university much of my study was outsider art. I'm drawn to the form. It is the same with furniture.

For the past year or so I've been making stick furniture, both chairs and tables and while there have been a few useable pieces made there have been more failures than not, but even the failures can please my eye. Some of the failures even work in their own strange way. An example was a child's chair with one rear leg that went off in a different direction. At first I thought about making a new seat and redoing the seat mortises but the more I looked at the chair the more I liked the weird leg. Perfect whimsy for a young child and it has a life lesson built in: Even if you are imperfect you can be beautiful and useful.

A photo of the child's chair with a full sized chair before it was painted:

The child's chair is a prime example of a common failure if not using jigs. A small misalign can make a huge difference in rake and splay. Splitting of the seat/slab is also too easy and common. One hit pass the "that sounds about right" will usually result in a split. The other day I split a slab when driving a cross grain wedge into a leg tenon. It shouldn't have happened but it did. Sometimes the split can be repaired with a butterfly key.

I've been using  a 12* reamer and tenon cutter for making the seat/slab mortise and tenon joints. I now have a set of 6* reamers and tenon cutters. My hope, and I expect I'm correct, is the 6* M/T joint will be more forgiving and not as likely to split the slab.


Friday, March 15, 2019

MsBubba's Desk Version II

The desk changed a little 😀.

I made a measuring mistake on the first build and it didn't fit well in the space available. I made a couple of small changes to make it fit and it did but damn it was butt ugly. The base is now in the back garden, where it will live while waiting for a top or a trip to the fire pit.

I don't know if the mistake was subconscious or not but it allowed me to build the desk I wanted to in the first place. This time with MsBubba's blessing.

The desk with a coat of Danish oil, waiting for it to cure.

Over the last year or so I've become a fan of vernacular furniture. To my eye it just looks right in our house. There may be some argument from MsBubba but I think she is coming around.

In Casa Chaos news: The wall (kinda a retaining wall but not really) between the pool and the gully fell the day of our big snow. The bids are out for the repair job but none received yet. I don't think I really want to know but whatever it has to be done.

After years of being deaf as a post I got a hearing aid yesterday. I didn't realize what a beautiful, pleasant world I had lived in for the last 20 or so years. Damn the world is noisy, even turning on a light switch sounds like a gun going off and this morning I could have sworn the washing machine was defective. It may still be but whatever it seemed to have washed the load. If it wasn't for being able to understand MsBubba when she talks to me and the wonderful sound of music from the radio I'd go back in a heartbeat. Oh, one other thing, the sound of a sharp plane on wood is beautiful.


Monday, February 25, 2019

MsBubba's Desk With Top

The desk is coming along. The slab is sized and needs clean up and beveling. I'll start on the drawer tomorrow or Wednesday.

The joys of home ownership. I expect because of the amount of rain we have had the pool retaining wall fell this weekend. The original contractor is out of town, so no idea what the repair cost will be but I bet I don't want to know. Oh well, it's only money.

BTW, because of the problems of Unplugged Shop I'm building a reading list. I'm digging through my history to find blogs I like to read. It is a PITA to do it that way and I expect some will be missed. If you would like for me to read your blog please either reply with your URL or email me with the URL so I can add it to the list.


Unplugged Shop

The last post I received on Unplugged Shop was posted 02/21. I've cleared my cache but still no joy. Any suggestions? BTW I assume Unplugged Shop is still working and posting new links for others just not for me. Well, maybe not. I just thought of trying Unplugged Shop on my iPad and same story the last link was from "Endangered Alphabets" on 02/21/19.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

MsBubba's Desk In Glue Up

The desk is in glue up. At this point it is what it is.

MsBubba wanted the base painted, the reason for Poplar, so once out of the clamps I'll turn the panting job over to her.

A couple of days to make and fit a drawer and trim the top and this sucker will be out of the shop. My work schedule next week is a late afternoon show with a finish at 2200. Those couple of days may not come until next week.

I used Old Brown Glue for the glue up, it needs a good 24 hours to set. I expect the rest of the day will be spent sharpening iron, having a whiskey or two, and a afternoon nap. Life in the desert is good.


MsBubba's Desk

The desk build is moving very slowly but at least it is moving. I'm doing the final fitting and prep for gluing up the base this AM. If MsBubba doesn't have other plans the base should be in clamps by afternoon.

The bench build itch is strong this morning. As I've posted before, even though I've never given birth I think building benches is similar, six months to a year afterwards you forget the pain and only remember the joy. For some reason the joy is there this morning. It could be because of an online conversation I've had with a possible Moravian bench builder about his vise choice.

If portability is not important it opens up the types of vises that will work, everything from English QR to even Pattern Maker type vises as well as different end vises if you are an end vise person. With a little thought the core ability to break the bench down for moving or even shipping could be retained but I expect it would take more than one person to handle the slab with a couple of metal vises hanging on it.

Anyway it got me to thinking about what changes would be needed to use Benchcrafted vise hardware with its "crisscross" and the wagon vise hardware. Would either vise improve the bench as a shop bench? I have my doubts but there is only one way to find out.

Of course there are one or two major problems with that. Where would I put that sucker when finished. I could sell one of the current benches if the new bench worked out to be better but what if it didn't and frankly the Lake Erie wood screw leg vise on the current benches would be very hard to beat.

I expect this madness to pass but I hope the woodstore doesn't put either its Ash or Beech on sale any time soon.

A couple of chairs and some short stools up once the desk is out of the shop.


Friday, February 22, 2019

Snow in Tucson

I'm moving south.  This Winter has been Winter. We have been in Tucson for just under thirteen years and this is the first snow at our house. Snow in the surrounding mountains is not unusual but in the valley, it doesn't happen.

Of course Sweet Maggie Dog and MsBubba loved it and it seemed half of Tucson was driving over Gates Pass to look, photograph, and play in the snow.

The good news, by the time MsBubba and I had  done Gates Pass, finished lunch and picked up my cleaning it was gone. Maybe I'll stay in Tucson a little longer.


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Why I Love Moravian Workbenches

As posted earlier we had the Challenger program's instructors and SO's over for BBQ on President's Day. The plan was to serve in the back garden. WX had other plans. Just before setting the food on the table (Portable Moravian workbench) a cold front blew through and we moved everything inside. I know laugh at us old desert rats the front brought the temps down from the high 50'sF all the way down to the 40'sF, BRRR, it was the wind :-).

The Portable Moravian was apart and stacked in a conner of the shop. I carried the parts except for the vise out to the back garden and after a quick setup I had a very stable serving table. Beats the hell out of a folding table and was just as quick and maybe easier to set up. Can you tell I love my Moravian workbenches.

BTW, it could have been dinner at the nursing home, even with the Intern and her husband included the average age had to be over 70. 

Here is a photo of the brisket finished and ready to serve.

I was too busy to take photos after that one. You just have to take my word, the brisket had a beautiful smoke ring and was moist and tender. We finished off most of the two briskets. I'm not sure which was better, the brisket or the "There I waz" lies told.


Monday, February 18, 2019


Today is one of the rare days the Sim is shut down so all the instructors in my program are off. I figured it is a good time to have food and drinks together, it doesn't happen often.

I have two briskets, a half gal. of Luling sauce, close to a cord of Oak and Pecan, and I'm making a bed of Mesquite coals as I type.

Once I have a coal bed I'll finish bringing the pit to temperature (210F-215F) with the Oak and throw the briskets on for about 8 hours. 

There are two pounds of beans cooking, my co-cook is bring the potato salad, slaw, and sourdough bread (although not authentic, it should be "Wonder" bread or soda crackers and served on butcher paper and there isn't a "Big Red" to be found in Tucson). Beer and sodas will be in a tub of ice. The only downside is today will be cool (50's F) and it may rain this afternoon. The cool can be taken care of with a fire in the firepit and the back garden has a large roof.

Photos of the brisket to follow,


Sunday, February 17, 2019

More Photos of The Bench Tool Rack

Andy asked for some more photos of the tool rack.

The tool tray is removed so you can see the rack.

Looking down the rack from the left end of the bench.

From overhead.


Friday, February 15, 2019

Tool Holder For The Shop Moravian Bench

The shop Moravian bench has a quick and dirty tool tray that I keep telling myself I'm going to replace with a nicer one, someday. You know how someday never gets here if the butt ugly thing is working. Whatever someday I'll make a nicer tool tray.

What I have missed on the bench is a tool holder on the back side of the front slab. All my other benches have one because they have split slabs and no tool tray. While I've grown to like the tool tray I still miss having a tool holder for my squares, chisels, and saws that are in use.

I was looking for an excuse to not work on MsBubba's kitchen desk and what better is there than making and installing a tool holder for the bench.

From the back side:

From the front side:

MsBubba's desk base has been dry fitted and is taking up room in the shop. I needed to figure out how much to take off the legs. After rough trimming of the legs they will need shaping and all surfaces planed before glue up. Get a drawer made and cut the top to size and I'll get that sucker out of the shop.


Sunday, February 03, 2019


The earlier post about butt scratching over maximizing the strength of M/T joints in a thin leg led to this solution. I'm still not sure if it is the best but wood has been chopped and there ain't no going back.

I decided on using double tenons separated by a stub tenon as a way to minimize loss of wood in the leg. That decision meant a fairly complex markout. I've found the best way to attack that is to make a jig with the markout included.  The jig has an additional advantage of insuring at least one wall of the mortise is vertical.

It is easier to show the jig that to explain how it works:

The blue lines are for working one side of the leg, the red lines are for the other side.

The last mortises I had chopped were on the just finished Moravian workbench. I will not say you lose the feeling for chopping with a layoff but at least I do. The first couple of mortises were slow and ugly. With a little paring they will clean up and be usable.

That slow and ugly begs a question, why? That answer, I think, is too much force. If it has been a while it is easy to forget "go slow to go fast" and you lose your "ear". By the third set of mortises the "ear" had returned and the muscle memory had as well. Then it was narrow cuts, tap, tap, tap, to the "sound" and the mortises went very quickly with one pass to depth and with clean walls.

As with most things in life, going Conan on it isn't the answer and is usually counter productive.

I took a day off from work and the shop yesterday. It was a fine Winter day in Southern Arizona with temps in the valley in the low 70's. A perfect day for a short hike in Madera Canyon. Madera Canyon is about halfway between Tucson and the US/Mexican border in the Santa Rita Mountains. The canyon is a major resting stop for migrating birds so we saw lots of cameras with huge lens and not many migrating birds although there were a few. BTW, I'd hate to carry one of those huge suckers up and down the trails just for a few really bad photos. Anyway a beautiful day for a walk in a beautiful setting.

MsBubba by a stream while still in the lower Juniper-Oak area:


Monday, January 28, 2019

Paralysis by Analysis

I've had the stock prepared for MsBubba's kitchen desk for well over a week but the title of this post says it all. I didn't want the legs to be too massive so I've used 8/4 stock and that is where the stop, don't pass go has happened. There isn't a lot of meat in the legs for the short stretcher tenons and I at first had planned on no lower stretchers. That plan is out the window but still the lower stretchers will only be on three sides with the fourth stretchers, if used, biased towards the back.

So I'm still left with how do I make the short stretcher M/T joint strong enough without weakening the leg too much. The best I've come up with is a near full width double tenon separated by a shallow stub tenon plus glue blocks and lower stretchers on three sides.

If after a few weeks of use it starts to wobble it will be back to the drawing board and a new base with thicker legs.


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

LV Pencil Marking Gauge

I've been without a pencil marking gauge for awhile. I had a Philly Tools gauge that had a pencil holder on the off end of the beam that I sold a little over a year ago without thinking it through. Since that time I've used a panel gauge with a pencil holder or one of the combination squares while marking with a pencil when a pencil gauge was needed. While both work, neither is the best option.

I'd been thinking off and on about making a gauge. It is easy to do, you just need some scraps and a little time. Scraps I have, time not so much.

LV to the rescue. I received a flier from them the other day and on the inside front cover was a listing for a "second" pencil marking gauge. I couldn't whip out the AMEX fast enough. Today the gauge arrived and while maybe it is a "second" it is perfect and much better than one I would have cobbled together.

I expect the supply is limited and once gone they will be gone. It is a good pencil gauge for under $30 USD.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Day Job and Government Shutdown

I'm one of what I suppose is the lucky few who has always enjoyed their work. Back when, to borrow an airline phrase, I "flew the line" it was always a joy to see what was just over the horizon, what new foods and culture I could experience and/or revisit familiar places. While those days have passed I still enjoy what I hope is paying back an industry that brought so much to my life.

Times like last week try that enjoyment. Once a year we instructors are "clients" and undergo our personal annual training. Last week was my literal turn "in the box". Our recurrent training footprint is three and a half hours of ground school, a break that depends mostly on Sim availability, and five and a half hours of Simulator training  (one hour brief, four hours in the Sim, and thirty minutes debrief) for four days.  With the best schedule it is close to a twelve hour day for the four days. When younger it made a tough week, today it kicked this old farts ass.

I was lucky enough to have drawn a very good Sim partner, young and very sharp on his first recurrent after getting his type rating in the aircraft. The Sim instructor was also good and it was valuable as always to experience the technique of different instructors. I picked up a few things I will be able to use. No matter how long you instruct there is always something you can do better or different. Perhaps the best part, my check ride was scheduled to be "observed" by our FAA Inspector because the TCE (Training Center Evaluator) was due his annual reinstatement. Not that it is a big deal as far as I'm concerned but it can be a PITA for the TCE.

Thanks to the government shut down The FAA Inspector wasn't able to show and I was able to finish my training a day early.  The TCE needing reinstatement, not so lucky. He is a pumpkin until the government reopens and an observed ride can be scheduled. 

I spent most of yesterday recovering lost sleep and doing all the things put on hold. One of the "hold" things was buying wood for MsBubba's new desk. I found some nice 6/4 and 8/4 Red Oak at the woodstore. Two hundred and fifty USDs later it is stacked on the wood pile ready to start the desk Sunday. I'm giving a check ride to a client this afternoon.


Saturday, January 05, 2019


Ralph posts about refurbishing, I post about stones and sharpening. Ralph's are at least interesting, I expect mine not so much. Everyone it seems has their own way of sharpening and never should other ways intrude.

I also have sharpening round heels. C.S. posts that sharpening should be like a marriage, one system for life, As I said I have round heels, I not sure if I'm a cad or a slut but whatever I like different types of stones, but I'll pass on sandpaper and films. The different types of stones all lead to the same place but get there in slightly different ways.

The greatest differences are in the feel of the steel on the stone and the amount of monkey motion needed to use. There is not much need to revisit oil vs. water, it has been beat to death. The only thing I'll add is neither is quicker than the other, with oil stones you spend a little more time with steel on the stone. With most water stones you spend more time working on the stone. It is usually a wash.

JNat stones will kinda fall in the middle, they are slower than man made waterstones but faster than oil stones and their maintenance needs tend to be between as well. What JNats bring to the table is better "feel", better feedback as to what the steel and stone are doing. I know all touchy feely and unable to quantify but it is there. The other advantage of JNats is the grit can break down in the sury and as the steel and stone work together you can have a fast stone give a nice finish.

Posting about the finish of natural stones, oil or JNat, is where you can call B.S. but I prefer natural over man made. A man made stone like a Shapton will give an incredible shine but when you look through a lope you will see many small scratches lined up. Most JNats will not and no Ark stone will give that mirror shine in fact when you look with a lope the surface appears almost matt like when using either type stone with a very random scratch pattern. The shine looks great but I think the matt is a very slightly better working edge.

Here are four chisel sharpened with different techniques. You can't see the differences in the photo but I can tell you about them.

The chisel on the left is a #1 White Steel sharpened on JNats with a flat bevel. The steel has a "smokey" appearance with a well defined intersection between the steel and the backing iron and a fine matt finish when looked at with a lope. The next chisel is a A.I. O1 with a grinder bevel and also sharpened on JNats. The cutting edge also has a very fine matt finish. The new production Stanley 750 was sharpened on oil stones. The finish stone was a Washita and the chisel was stropped on leather with green stuff. It has a hell of a shine and under a lope a very fine scratch pattern. The last chisel is another #1 White steel sharpened on Shapton man made waterstones. There is not much difference in the shine between it and the 750 but under a lope the scratch pattern is more defined. One of the other differences is the definition of the line between the steel and the backing iron is not well defined like it is on the chisel sharpened with JNats.

The real question is: Is there much difference when steel meets wood and the answer to that is nope.

All four chisels are very sharp, all four hold their edge as well as can be expected for the type of steel. The next question is do I have a preference and that answer is not much, The JNats give great pleasure when steel meets stone, The Shaptons are wickedly fast, The oil stones make it very hard to screw up an edge. Each type of stone will give a good working edge.


Thursday, January 03, 2019

Workbench II

I hadn't planned on an immediate follow up post but some links came up in the comments that need to be in the main body.

The first from Sylvain taking you to "A Woodworker's Musings" blog. In that posting are several other links of interest,

While here we might as well talk about some of the things that make a good bench, especially for a first time builder. Those factors can be summed up easily: Simple, easy and quick to build, cheap, and stable. Easy to state but as always the devil is in the details.

Simple and easy and quick to build kinda go together but not necessarily. A Roubo bench can be very simple, four legs, six stretchers and a slab and you have a basic Roubo. Even in that simple state it can be difficult to build with lots of laminations to get the needed size timbers and the joints while they may be fairly simple are large and require precision. When you start adding the extras such as leg vises, wagon vises, sliding dead man and so on the bench go from simple to build to very complex and time consuming. I've seen builds posted that stretch on for years.

Cheap is another place where a Roubo sucks hind tit. Wood costs, even Big Box construction grade mystery wood, and a Roubo uses a lot of wood as built by most makers.

Stable, there is no question a well made Roubo at several hundred pounds or more is about as stable as you can get. My Roubo made from Beech could hold a Peterbuilt and not move. The same with the SYP one. I'm pretty sure I could say the same about my much lighter shop Moravian not that I would want to test it. Again while weight is a factor in stability it isn't the only thing that affects stability.

I know it sounds like I'm picking on the French bench but it is the bench that is in fashion today and the point of these posts is to think about what makes a good bench for both the first time and experienced builder.

More to come,


Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Workbench I

One of the more interesting threads to follow on woodworking forums are ones dealing with workbench builds, plained, in progress, or finished. Many times for the train wreck aspect. While a workbench is or at least should be highly personal and fit the users workflow and projects, most builds I see posted tend to be of the Swiss Army Knife variety.

My early benches fit that pattern as well. Another aspect is "fashion", over the years I've seen different types of benches come and go in and out of fashion. This year it is a French style bench, yesterday it was Scandinavian or German. I'm not sure if one of the better benches, the English bench, has ever been in fashion which shows just how fickle bench fashion can be. Full disclosure on this one: I'm guilty of advocating for Moravian style benches for reasons that will be covered in a later post.

Bottom line, style of build makes little or no never mind. Each style build has pluses and minuses what is important is have you thought through those factors and fit them to your needs, As an example a French bench can be very stable, heavy, reasonably easy to build but expensive to build when compared to other style benches. Where the English bench can be as stable, but not as heavy, a more complex build, and a much cheaper build.  Working on either bench is not much different, they both work but sometimes with slightly different means of holding the workpiece.

That brings up the Swiss Army Knife. This isn't much of a problem with most English builds, it seems most folks who choose an English bench do so for the simplicity of the work holding. The bench works fine with no vises. The French is another story. BTW I'm not picking on the French bench because in its pure form work holding can be almost as simple as that of the English bench. But for some reason many builders of the French bench go for the gold and try to make the bench into that Swiss Army knife.

I've seen benches with a different type vise on every corner along with a pattern makers vise hanging on one end, a leg vise, a metal QR vise, a shoulder vise, a wagon vise, a Scandinavian style tail vise, a sliding deadman on one side and a bench jack on the other. Add in dog holes lined up with every vise.  All this on one bench and with three or four different woods for contrast and you have a thing of beauty, Damn impressive as a work of art but I'm not sure it would be a functioning workbench. I expect most of the vises would just get in the way of working as would all the contrasting woods and maybe even the dog holes.

That's the train wreck, the next post on this subject will be about getting to a simple functional bench. 


Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Butterfly Key

I ended up making four three legged stools. The first two seats split, the second two I finished and gave to the boy child and SIL while we were in Houston. One of the first two with a split seat I threw away, good firewood, the second just had one split that could be saved with a butterfly key. I made the key and knocked it home tonight, Tomorrow I'll plane it flush and the stool should make a nice shop stool. It is perfect height for working at the bench.

I couldn't have planned it better.


Here's Hoping All Have A Good New Year

First post of the new year. I wanted to start the year off with a post and I'm expecting to up my output this year, not to Ralph standards but more than in the past. Of course sometimes there will be difficulties such as now, Sweet Maggie Dog is nosing my elbow followed by Sam the Wonder Dog and his very wet stuffed critter being dropped in my lap. My guess it is treat time, they usually work as a team. Treat given, all is well.

Today is piddle time in the shop, I've finished installing the lower shelf on the Moravian and now working on new wedges for the tusk tenons. The original wedges were quickies and too small. The new ones are longer and wider at the top.

Here is a photo of the new wedge and the old smaller wedge:

The new larger wedge installed:

Today's other piddle job was finishing up the lower shelf install, here is a photo:

I expect this is the last time you will see the shelf this clean and uncluttered.

I'm working on a long form essay on workbench builds.  It may never see the light of day but I would like to formalize some of the things I've learned about workbenches after many builds starting with the first I built trying to copy the photos of the benches in early issues of Fine Woodworking with no knowledge and no skills. As I have posted before it was kinda like a Russian copy of a western airplane, if you squinted it almost looked the same but that was about as close as it got. BTW that bench is still working as a shabby chic table/plant holder in the back garden.

It is early in this build's life and there is always a chance something will show up that drives me bat shit crazy, so crazy I have to build another bench to fix but the early reviews say there isn't much chance of that happening. The bench has been nothing but a joy to use. About the only thing I expect to change is the tool tray, it was a quickie to get the bench operational. It works fine but is uglier than granny panties.