Ah for feck’s sakes…

I only just finished digging that sodding thing out!


And I’ve not been getting much done in there thanks to subzero temperatures and public transport making the work commute into anything up to a six-hour-a-day nightmare (yes, a foot of snow won’t slow down Canada, but Canada spends more on their snow clearing hardware and people than we spend on Varadkar’s Strategic Communications Spin Unit…). Mostly I’ve been putting together new tools for some things I’d like to try, namely stringing and carved arcading. So for the stringing, I already have the dead fancy radius cutter from lie nielson (probably the most bling tool I own), and a small perspex scrap to give it a pivot point when working on some of the usual designs:

But I haven’t got a straight line cutter because I figured I should be able to make one, they’re basically a marking gauge, see the lie nielson one:

Fancy, but basically just a marking gauge. So I ordered a spare blade from the lie nielson cutter to skip the whole metalworking bit because hell, learn one thing at a time. Then I laminated two scraps of white oak, cut and squared a stem from another scrap and chopped a mortice (and a rabbit on the base). Some test fitting, adding the blade in a little recess and…

Mind you, it doesn’t work. The mortice isn’t good enough so the beam isn’t at right angles to the fence, so the blade gets dragged along while skewed so you don’t get a nice thin cut line, you get a wider scratched mess. I think I’ll take out the beam, add a brass strip inlaid on it for a bearing surface and use the brass thumbscrews I have here as a lock. And I’ll remake the fence from a single thickness scrap piece of something; it’s too thick to cut a mortice accurately through (at least for me). Some guide blocks when morticing will probably help too. It’s not hard, but it does take a mite more care than I used on the first try.

Also, I’ll need to cut strips off the veneer to make the stringing, and I was finding my marking knife wasn’t up to it and neither was my heavier stanley boxcutter, both would be fine for a few inches and then wander off the line following the grain. So I got this:

Think pizza cutter. But with a tungsten carbide blade. It’s normally used for cutting cloth for quilting. Doesn’t get dragged off to either side by the grain as much as a normal knife that’s embedded in the grain would because with the wheel, the cutting surface is constantly coming out of the wood so the material hasn’t as solid a grip on the blade (which is precisely why we use these for pizzas and the like). Tested it already and it works like a charm. My veneer on the other hand, is too thin; I need to source better material, which I’ve had some pointers on from the UK forum.

And for cleaning out the stringing lines before gluing in the stringing, a dental pick is a pretty decent tool and dirt cheap on ebay. You get the oddest looks in the office when it’s delivered, mind you…

….but the looks you get when you order the syringes for putting glue in the stringing grooves surpass anything I’ve seen so far 😀

I also had to restock on glue and got a bunch of liquid hide glue in a sale on ebay so that should be all the glue I need for the next year or three (it’ll go off before I get through all of it I’m guessing). So I think I’m set right now for everything but the veneer for stringing; I’ll sort that out while I fix the straight line cutter and then start experimenting.

Meanwhile, Peter Follansbee did a nice blog writing up how he does carved arcading; I’d like to give this a go myself, it looks like fun:

It’s just damn pretty in walnut. And it looks terribly complex when finished, but like a lot of this period’s carving, it’s all geometric and done by leveraging the characteristics of tools rather than being some kind of sculpture that relies on twenty years of experience (which would be harder to try).

I do need to get one or two gouges that are larger than what I currently have so I got a nice three-quarter-inch one for a few euro off ebay again:

And between that and one that was a present from an old friend, had a go at the basic core elements to see if it was even possible (here in an oak scrap rather than walnut):

It’s somewhat easier than the v-tool work that I’ve been practicing (and not getting hugely better at, though having better sharpening kit is making a difference):

Something else to get back to, when I dig the shed out again…. this whole thing of letting the north pole melt and turning off the north atlantic current and ruining the climate is playing absolute hell with my shed time…

It’s not even for the birds!


So, there are a bunch of things I could say on this, primarily centered on the way that “Craft” is the latest fad in certain industries (looking at you, Silicon Valley) and how most people you hear using the word can be safely written off as asshats who think you should “follow your dream” (which is lovely but the bank still want their mortgage paid at the end of the month). I’ve read otherwise apparently sensible people talk about how it’s easy to “pursue your craft” and how you only need to have twenty thousand or so in the bank as insurance against most of the things that can go wrong; people talking about how it’s a shame that today’s consumerist world builds everything with machines (hey, I like working with hand tools as a hobby but it’s only suitable for mass production if you’re not in favour of human rights or people being able to live a decent life); and a small host of other things that would force a polite person to bite their tongue and go read something else.

But instead of that rant, just go read this. It’s one of the best, most romantic-bullshit-free bits of writing I’ve seen on the topic in a long time.

Craft by Alexander Langlands

And then if you want to get depressed, go read some of the older books on things like woodwork and see what the living conditions were like and how badly the industry treated workers who reached the end of their working lives through old age or accident.

“Craft” is a word with a lot of hidden nasty sharp bits. Use with care.


Very calm and quiet last night thanks to the snow (and funky lighting too from streetlights reflecting off the snowclouds)

Terribly pretty but that’s all due to thaw and melt in the next day or four and the stuff that’s right up against the shed door will melt and then run down the door, find nowhere to go because of the snow and may wind up flowing over the lip and into the shed (and they didn’t leave a corner uncut when making the shed – they never treated the floorboards for water, so that’d lead to trouble even if it didn’t destroy stuff sitting on the floor in there).
So this morning….

Right. Shouldn’t be too bad…

Jaysus. Okay, that sucked. I remember this from when I used to grow vegetables thirty years ago – every spring, you dig up the garden and it’s the only time you use the shovel a lot in the year so your muscles never get used to it. Ow. But!

All clear. About 18″ of snow at the deepest point up against the wall (maybe three feet over in the corner on the far right out of frame). And no water damage inside, happily.

Even the robin’s looking happier now.

2.2C in the shed today. Might give it another day or so before going back out there again. Cold fingers and edged tools are a bad mix… plus I need to leave the kitchen door open for the power to the shed, and that’s divorce territory you’re talking in this weather.

Mucking about

So no major new projects taken on yet, I’ve been tidying away some new toys and getting the shed back to a working state instead. For example…

I now have two pairs of hollows and rounds (4’s and 6’s) as well as a 7 hollow, the reeding plane and a spare 6 hollow. According to Mouldings in Practice that’s all I need to start off with for the scale of stuff I build. A pair of 2s and 8s would be the next on the list if this works out. I don’t like this storage solution though; you don’t really want to have a moulding plane tip over and fall on your head from two feet up. I’ll build a rack for them seperately later .

I also wanted to increase the final grit of my sharpening setup (before the strop), and while waterstones seemed the obvious choice, they’re messy as all get-out. Also, the way I work I don’t have a huge amount of time in the shed so waterstones that you don’t have to soak for 15 minutes before sharpening would be mandatory (whether that be solved by storing them in water or having the shapton type that you can just squirt water onto and get going), and those are not that cheap. But if you want 20,000 grit, they’re you’re only real choice.

Thing is, okay, I do have a japanese chisel or two but most of my work isn’t done with A2 or PM-V11 steel or anything that esoteric, so waterstones aren’t really mandatory; and diamond plates will go up to 8000 grit if you buy from DMT. Okay, the 8000 grit one isn’t cheap, it’s nearly ninety quid, but the things last for a decade and they’re very low fuss, so I cried once and bought one.

Swapped out the 1200 grit Ultex and in went the 8000 grit DMT. The Ultex went into just-in-case storage. I’ve only sharpened the new japanese chisel on the DMT so far (it’s been a quiet week) but for such a fine grit, it visibly cuts quite surprisingly well.

Speaking of sharpening, I needed something for the inside of the gouges, so some black arkansas slipstones got bought along with the DMT. Seem nice enough, and not too expensive. Not used yet though….

And I got some 1-2-3 blocks. I’ve been meaning to get some for a year or so now. For woodworking they’re not as useful as they would be to a machinist, but not having to measure off 1, 2 or 3 inches, being able to set up the bandsaw or fences with right angles, clamping odd things, they’ll be bloody handy for that I suspect. Need to put a mount on the wall for them (I suspect a pair of dowels in the nonthreaded holes will suffice). Pain in the fundament cleaning all the storage grease off them though, but when you do, they’re nice and shiny…

This radius cutter isn’t new, I’ve had it for 18 months or so but I haven’t used it (look, life gets complicated sometimes, okay? 😀 ). I finally got to watch the line-and-berry video this week and dug this out, I have an idea for a project I want to use it on. More to come but I need to make a tool or two first…

One tool down, another to go yet. I also need to find a source for 1/32nd holly veneer, which in Ireland seems more difficult than expected.

Wanted to finish this up as it was sitting around (it’s planned to be a salt box). It’s a bit… drab as is though. If only I had something to jazz it up a bit…


Well, that was… intense. Left it overnight, sanded lightly to knock back grain and re-stained it today and gave it a coat of spray laquer.

It’s not terrible, but it’s a bit more blotchy than I was hoping for. Hmmm….

Also, I had another bandsaw box waiting to get a hinge and get finished so I wrapped that up as well but with just a coat of BLO…

I have no idea what it’s for by the way, I just wanted to use up a scrap and play with making a brass hinge (learned I can’t really do it in my shed unfortunately, I’d need a proper anvil I think. Oh well).

I’m almost done with the last of the tidying up at this point. Just need to sort out this guy and that’s the last big task I think. There are other things, magnetic rails and move some tools about and other small stuff, but this one’s the awkward one I think…

Cleaning down

So it’s the usual post-project loss of traction time; I do still have a few half-finished projects to be getting on with, but I thought I’d take a little time first to clean down after the chest, given that it’s left things a tad messy (especially given the pace of work on stuff leading up to xmas). The shed’s a mess, to be honest:


Buying a small bunch of things over the weekend didn’t help, but I was out of Osmo 1101 after the baby blanket chest and having corner mending braces is always useful for shop jigs and the like.

It’ll take a while to get this done; partly the problem is down to putting a litre of stuff in a pint pot sized shed. There just isn’t room for everything *and* all the wood 😀 I also want to replace that blue drum on the dust collector to get some space back, and some more tools need to go up on the walls and all my paintbrushes need to be cleaned (and some may need to be thrown away as too far gone). But at least I made a small start today.



Last stretch now. Start off by cleaning up from the glue-up last night. Trim the pegs with a flush-cut saw and run a chisel over the surface until it passes the fingerprint test. Use the plastic razor blades to get any glue squeeze-out I missed last night.

Those things are remarkably useful for this by the way, particularly in hard-to-get-at spots.

Gets right in there, doesn’t mar the surface at all.

Then saw off the horns so I can see what I’m working with.

Right. Test fit that on top of the chest and centralise it, make sure I have enough room for dust seals on either side plus the width of the dust seal again, and then mark off that point as being the final width of the lid. And then, very careful sawing. I got lucky and didn’t hit any of the mortices or crack anything from the stress of sawing (clamping cauls helped enormously here). Then I paused before putting away the chest again to decide on the hinges.

I went with the black in the end. I’m not sure why, but it just seemed to match the wood more.

Then on to the lid again, and shaping the front (where it’ll be grabbed most often) to be comfortable to hold.

First time that gooseneck has come in useful for me, but it more than earned its keep tonight. I broke all the other arisses as well, and then I sawed one of my pieces of material for the dust seals in half to give me some dust seal blanks, planed them to be matching – or close to it – and shaped a curve at the front.

When I was happy they looked okay and matched, I drilled for two screws, countersunk, painted the mating surface with hide glue and screwed them into place on the lid. Then I turned to the last job, fitting the hinges.

I don’t like this job much, I’m not terribly good at it. First I attached to the chest, and then using wedges and cauls to hold the lid in the right position, attached to the lid.

And then I spent the next twenty minutes refitting and fiddling with them to get the damn lid to sit flat.
They’re enough to make you tear your hair out.

I suppose it could be worse, these hinges are definitely not 17th century pieces (or even replicas of it). Period correct hinges would be these things:

Depending on who you talk to, these are snipe hinges, gimmel hinges or something even odder-sounding. But they’re not terribly pretty on the inside of a chest when fitted:

And even Peter Follansbee can’t make them look good on the outside:

Oh well. Count your blessings I guess.


And with that last job done, that was it. Build complete.

Well. The lid needed a coat of osmo, so I did that. But that was it then, nothing to do but wait for the osmo to cure (which it’ll do in the house tonight so the panels can start drying – if they’re going to do something weird on me I’d rather they did it now instead of after I deliver the piece).

You know, it didn’t come out too bad in the end.


Even the dust seals look good.

Oh, and for those who were wondering what it was for…

A friend at work and his wife are expecting their first in the next few days. In the 17th century, chests like this were four feet wide and three feet deep (or even larger) and they held a household’s linen or blankets. Today they’re called blanket chests. But this one is a baby blanket chest; the name is a bit of a pun in both construction and intended usage. It’s sized so that you can take four to six cellular blankets from mothercare, fold them the way you’d normally fold a blanket when you’re tired and in a hurry, and they’ll drop right in here. It’s also a baby version of the full-blown blanket chest, which would never fit in my shed 😀 (There are examples of miniature chests like this from back then, so they’re not unheard of – just uncommon).

Plus, I had wanted to make a chest for a while. They’re a fun build. Might do another one during the year.

Next up however is: tidying up the shed after building this. There are shavings everywhere

Lidding up

So the last part of the build is the lid. Though if I had to do this over, I think I’d start with the lid, or at least with prepping its parts because that can set the dimensions of the rest of the parts (but in this case, I had a preset idea for what the contents of the chest would be so that dictated everything). I had a nice piece of oak for the lid but it wasn’t wide enough to act as a single-piece lid (since the lid’s not an inset door, you can do the one-piece bit if it’s not likely to warp – so quartersawn or riven stuff). So it’s frame and panel time again.

First though, need to move the chest off the workbench while I work on the lid.

And now I can take the piece of oak I have, and mark off the final thickness for the piece (in this case there was some edge damage so the thickness was set by how much planing I had to do to remove that).

The hashmarks on the edges are because the bevelled bit is the bit that’s getting removed and the hashmarks make it easy to see what progress you’re making (far more than just a line to plane to). Time to get sid out.

Nothing now but the pushing…

…cross-grain first though because there’s a lot to remove. This took about 15 minutes in total.

And done. And flattened using the #05 on the reference face – the back face is actually left pretty rough (not jagged or anything, but there are still some faint toolmarks to give character 😀 ) And then I shot both ends on the shooting board with the T5, and got out the #043 to plane a groove on the long edges of the board. The bottom of the board then got feathered up into the groove with the #05. The plan was to do the same on the endgrain as well, but the plan did not go well, cutting a groove through endgrain with the #043 is… a bit too delicate a task for me 😀 Especially under time pressure. So, we go with this… less than optimal idea. But needs must.

Now to the frame. The #043 did the grooves and its iron matches the morticing chisel more exactly so the mortices here were much easier than in the chest.

The cross-rails are much shorter than these raw pieces, but the cutoffs are due to become dust seals. Offset shoulders again for the tenons, fitted everything (with a bit of fiddling on one joint as always), then drilled for drawbores, glued up the tenons and assembled (working quickly because time’s so pressing and therefore not many photos…)


Those pegs will get trimmed tomorrow when the hide glue’s more cured, and the horns get removed then as well, though I may need to remove some of the cross rails as well, and some of the back stile because of the barrels of the hinges (not sure about that one).

Small gap, but the dust seal will be right below that so it shouldn’t matter… much….

So still another half-hour to an hour of work to do here. But that should be the end of the construction and it’s just finish after that.

And now I’m second-guessing myself. I don’t remember the colour being that off, is it just my camera playing silly buggers with white balance? And I worry about exposing the tenons on the edges as I remove material so that I get a reasonably proportional lid rather than this mini-coffee-table thing. But that might just be parallax. It might not be that bad. And if it is a bit wide, maybe a bullnose or some other profile will soften the appearance? We’ll see tomorrow.

Until then, ragged on another coat of osmo on the chest body and left the lid to finish curing.

Almost done…

So I had a 2330h callout last night after finishing in the shed and got to bed around 0100h; and then had another callout at 0430h that wrapped at 0530h and then went into work about 40 minutes later than usual because the last remaining scrap of the morning routine was blown out of the water when junior came down with a temperature (he’s caught the cold Claire and I have had for the last week). So I was a wee bit braindead for most of the day, came home early, and all three of us had an hour’s nap. After that, and another quick call for work (on-call is turning into much fun this week) and dinner, Claire and junior packed it in for the night and I headed to the shed to try to finish the chest.

Right, first order of business, those pegs need to be trimmed with flush saw and chisel.

A bit finicky in places, but mostly this was straightforward. There are still some dark lines in places where the pegs weren’t perfect, but the surfaces pass the fingertip test. With that done, the next job that had to be done in order was the floorboards.

But first, I wanted to take a minute to look at options for hinges for the lid to see if I could mortice in the hinges before finishing started.

I had gotten a few choices of hinge in the sales over xmas (and those are just the ones that would take the weight of a lid this size), but that oddly wasn’t making this much easier. I don’t like the shiny brass ones much, not on oak. They just look out of place, far too bright even against what the wood will look like when it’s finished. The bronze effect isn’t bad (and it’s definitely just an effect unless bronze sticks to magnets now), but that black effect one is I think the best match (especially as I think it’ll look blacker when I oil it). But I didn’t come to a final decision because the barrel of the hinge being where it is on those two means a cutaway at the back of the lid which is extra faffing about. Not the end of the world, but sod it, I don’t have to choose today so I’ll sleep on it. Unless work calls, of course.

Then I checked the levels of the sides against the front and back.

The top levels don’t match, they’re out by just over 2mm (all around). I suppose I could saw them down to match but there’s not a lot of point in that – the disparity will be hidden by the lid, which will have a dust seal around it. And it’d spoil the look of the carving.

The bottom levels don’t match either, they’re out by 4mm all around, but that’s useful – the front and back will hide the floorboards partially. It’s still a bit untidy though. Something to do better next time. And with that checking done, on to the floorboards. The width on them was mostly fine already, but the two outermost needed to have their excess tongue and groove removed, and had to be shaped to fit around the stiles.

Not a hard job, but time consuming because after the initial rough cut it’s a cycle of test fit and then adjust with chisels and test again until you’re sick of it 😀 And you can’t just hack it out or there’d be a great big gap inside the box letting you look down at the floor. Next time, I do the grooved side/front rails and narrower back rail with floorboards running front to back and nailed into the back rail, it’d be less work.  But eventually, they were fitting well enough to go with.

Next, prepping for nails – I’m going to use the Dictum cut nails for this, get that nice medieval-ish look in there even if it’s hidden away a bit. But the last thing I want at this point is splitting.

I was worried that the smallest drill bit I had in that index wasn’t small enough and the nails wouldn’t have any meat to grab onto, so I tried using my pin vice to hold a smaller drill bit and hammered some nails into a test piece.

Seemed to work well enough in cedar (but that collet was useless, I just put the 2mm bit in the chuck and the bosch held it just fine). But when I went to hammer in the first nail, there was so much resistance when the nail went from cedar to oak that I was worried the pilot hole wasn’t big enough to prevent splitting so I redrilled the oak hole with a larger bit and did that for all the other nails (2mm in cedar, then widen to 3mm in the oak, then nail the floorboard in place). The first board, the back one, also got glued to the back rail because why not. That edge is the only secured edge for that board and glue’s cheap (and it won’t be expanding across that joint, just away from it).

Might not be the best job in the world (that cedar really does look a bit too thick to me now, plus it’s western red cedar, and I thought it was cedar of lebanon when I bought it – doh 😀 ). But it’ll do.

And with the floorboards in place, the next thing is to cut the bottom horns off and to cut the legs to length and eliminate the small amount of rocking the chest has at the moment (it’s square to within 1mm corner-to-corner, but the legs are uneven by 3-4mm or so).

I keep a sheet of thickish MDF in the shed for this task (I don’t like to make stuff from it, but it’s handy when you need a really flat surface and aren’t going to load that surface). I put the chest on it, let it balance itself (two legs up in the air at this point by different amounts), and wedged them carefully, checking that the stiles were vertical when wedged (you don’t want to just shove the wedge in under one leg and wind up cutting the legs so the chest sits nice and stably at a cant). Then I picked out a piece of wood of suitable size and used it as a reference to mark off where to cut the legs to get them even; and then out with the ryoba and crosscut across the knife lines carefully. Hold your breath and put it back on its feet on the bench…

And phew. No rocking. Got it the first time, nice and solid. Well, next up is just removing the top horns. Already have pencilled in the lines, so away I cut with the ryoba…

Not bad. I went over it one last time with an eraser to remove any pencil marks and generally just tidy things up…

And out with the chisel and just chamfer the new sharp edges, make sure there’s no arises to hurt hands or anything, and did a fingertip check over the whole surface to see if there was any last little thing to take care of.

And that’s now ready for finishing.

I went over the edges and corners with some 240 grit sandpaper just to soften them a bit, and in some of the groove lines in the carving to clear out any last fuzzy bits, and the inside corners of the chest as well. Then I laid down some parchment paper (I’m not being prissy, but I have a lid yet to build so not dousing the bench in finish would be useful), decanted the last of my Osmo (Hmmm. Need more. Not sure where to get it fast enough. I may need to switch brands of hard wax oil which is never a good idea) and donned some nitrile gloves (because I have about fifty cuts in my fingers at the moment thanks to the #778).

First coat will be heavy and brushed on, left for 15 minutes and then the excess ragged off.

Nice. And now back inside for a cup of tea, and 15 minutes later I came back out and ragged off the excess, and it’ll cure overnight.

Gotta say, it doesn’t look too bad.

The project’s not done yet – I need to make a lid and install hinges yet. But still. Look! Pretty! 😀

And I do like how the carving draws the eye away from the imperfections in joinery and alignment 😀


  • Rip out lid frame parts
  • Groove lid frame parts
  • Cut lid frame M&T joints and drill for drawboring
  • Measure out lid panel size
  • Groove lid panel
  • Shape lid panel
  • Cut box tenons and drill M&T joints for drawboring
  • Groove bottom box rails for floorboards
  • Crosscut floorboards to width
  • Plane panels
  • Cut panels to final size
  • Bevel or rebate panel edges to fit grooves in rails
  • Plane away inside corner on stiles
  • Cut edge floorboards to fit around stiles
  • Clean up drawbore pegs and any missed glue squeezeout
  • Saw off top horns
  • Plane top of chest so all four sides are exactly level
  • When floorboards are fitted, stand chest on legs on a flat surface and mark off base of legs to eliminate any wobble
  • Cut legs to size
  • Shape legs
  • Assembly
  • Hinges
  • Finishing with Osmo (three coats at least)

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