Friday, February 27, 2015

How I Got Green Woodworking

Green woodworking. It's a term that's batted around quite a bit nowadays. Trouble is, what does it really mean?

Yes, in general the term refers to working wood while its still "green" or wet. But what I never had a clear idea on was the exact reason to work it wet. Maybe I'm thick. Or maybe the literature out there didn't give a clear reason why.

Back when I was cutting my teeth on serious woodworking, I'd read up on every aspect of the craft. Langsner, Alexander, Dunbar, among others. But none of it stuck with me, so I ventured down the road paved with kiln-dried planks and started building stuff. But what about chairs? They were a sort of mystery in my early days. Sure, I could use my skills to build them with kiln dried woods and furniture joints, but as I got more interested in making them, I discovered Galbert and couldn't get images of his work out of my head. Can't make those with planks of wood from the lumberyard. Or could I? When I bought two stick chairs from Chris Schwarz and asked how he got the stock, his answer sort of shocked me. "It's just regular lumber." I knew he'd studied with professional chair makers, so his answer carried some weight.

I decided it was time to take decisive action, decidedly. A week-long, intensive class with Galbert cemented the principles in my mind, and it's affected my woodworking much like the first instrument I built. My woodwork will never be the same.

Here's why you work green wood. It's easy. That's it. There's nothing more to it than that. There's no magic in the moisture. There's no mojo in the medullary. If there's a single reason to build stuff out of green wood is that you can, with a tiny, cheap tool kit, get furniture parts from a tree. And not rustic furniture parts either, but the best furniture parts. You are your own sawmill.

And if you think you have to split green wood because it gets you strong parts, well, that's mostly true, but it's also not entirely accurate. One thing I learned from luthiery is how soundboards are produced. Chair parts need to be strong. But you know what else needs to be incredibly strong? The soundboard on an oud or lute. See, on a typical oud (or again, most any lute) the soundboard is made of spruce that is only about 1/16"-3/32" thick. This isn't oak mind you, its a soft wood. To the soundboard is glued the bridge, to which is tied 11 strings, which when brought to pitch exert over 100 pounds of constant, unrelenting, levering tension through the bridge and the glue-only joint (no pins, tenons, or joinery of any sort) to the soundboard. And if that soundboard has any grain runout, if the grain lines don't flow virtually uninterrupted from the bottom of the sound box to the neck, it will fail. The bridge will find the exiting tubes of lignin and rip a hole in the face in a violent, explosive instant. Bam! And the crowd goes wild. So how are soundboards produced? By sawing. The spruce logs are first split, then each soundboard is sawn from the split face to keep runout to an absolute minimum. The same principle can apply to harvesting chair parts from straight, sawn boards.

Here's the other thing I learned about chair joints from Galbert that took away all of my past frustration. There is no such thing as a dry piece going into a wet piece. This always threw me for a loop. How do you stage parts? How do you keep them "wet?" Do you have to make a chair in a certain amount of time? Do you have to build a whole dining room full of chairs in a week before the legs dry out? The answer is no, because no matter what you do in your shop, a nearly finished chair part can sit in storage for years and still become part of a perfect chair joint. And that's because you're joining a dry part to a super-dry part. And the beauty of all this is, you control when the super-dry part becomes super-dry. It's all in your control. I think of my drying kiln as a shrinking machine. It makes stuff smaller, then it gets bigger when I remove it from the kiln (but not immediately.) That lets me make tenons that can't, under any circumstances, shrink and become loose, unless I put the entire finished chair back in the kiln. I shape the tenon when its in its shrunken state. After it hits glue and lives in the non-kiln environment, it gets bigger. Forever. For me, this was the key that unlocked the understanding of how green woodworking relates to how chairs are joined. Theoretically, you could process enough chair parts for the rest of your life while they are green (again for ease of work) then store them in your shop and build chairs with them at your leisure. When I figured this out, I realized that one could use dry wood, even well-sawn straight-grain lumber and extract chair parts successfully from the planks. Remember Schwarz: "it's just regular lumber." Of course there is a bit more to it than that, but at its core, this is it.

This info was transmitted to me by Pete during our class. But you don't have to take a class with Pete (although I highly recommend it) to get access to his savant-like knowledge of this craft. His new work, Chairmaker's Notebook published by Lost Art Press is now available. I've been reading the PDF for a couple weeks now, and have come to a conclusion. This book isn't about chair making. It's woodworking Kung Fu.

Even if you don't plan to make a chair, this is the #1 book on how a tree is put together, and how best to take it apart.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reason #2 - Why You Should Come To Handworks 2015

The Foreign Invasion

Short of gassing up your Piper Cub and spending two months braving airport security in places like Timbuktu, there's only one practical way to see the fine wares from great toolmakers the world over. And that's in Amana, IA at Handworks 2015, less than three months away.

From Canada


Rob Lee and the Atlas of the hand-tool world: Lee Valley and Veritas. Imagine if you will, that the Lee Valley catalog was no more. Would you feel like you lost a family member? Yeah, I thought so. And Lee Valley is very much a family business, and they treat their customers like it too. Here's to hoping they bring something new and shiny to the old barn.

Sauer And Steiner

Konrad Sauer is arguably the most accomplished infill planemaker to have ever lived. And he's still alive! Konrad's planes are not just works of art, but are also the most highly functional and satisfying planes I've ever laid my hands on. And I've tried them all. Literally. Every infill plane ever made has crossed my bench. That's a complete lie of course, but there's no joking about Konrad's planes. They are the pinnacle of the toolmaking craft. If you're new to infills, don't be shy. Konrad is a woodworker just like the rest of us, and there's nothing he likes more than sharing the craft with fellow enthusiasts.

From England

David Barron

From Southampon, England, furniture maker and tool maker David Barron will be showing his work and tools in America for the first time. We first became acquainted with David a few years ago through his blog. When if you hear "English woodworking" you imagine impossibly fine dovetails, incredibly figured timbers, a precision in wood that you thought impossible, then David is the embodiment of that tradition. His toolchest with piston fit tray is something to behold. See more at David's blog. 

Philly Planes

Phil Edwards is a wooden plane maker who we last had the pleasure of meeting at the very first Woodworking In America in Berea Kentucky. Phil works in the classic English tradition, and offers a full line of traditional wooden planes from hollows and rounds to full size jointers. Check out Phil's Facebook page for more pics of his gorgeous work.

From Ireland

Daniel and Sally Shaw-Smith

The creators of the legendary "Hands" series on traditional Irish crafts will be in the Festhalle Barn to offer the entire original series on DVD and answer questions about their incredible documentary produced in the 1970's and 80's before many of the traditional Irish crafts and trades died out. As we've said many times, and can't emphasize enough, the Hands videos are treasures of humanity from a time and place when superficiality and shallow pop culture barely existed. A glimpse of life from a more meaningful era than our's. You can preview their documentary excellence here.

From Australia

Vesper Tools

Chris Vesper makes the finest bevel gauges and squares we have ever seen. They are flawless in every way. I use a Vesper bevel gauge almost on a daily basis. It is not only perfectly crafted, its also built like a tank and although I've dropped it on more than one occasion, it's not only weathered the fall perfectly, but didn't loose its setting.

And just in case you missed it:  Reason #1 Why You Should Come To Handworks 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hand Forged Holdfasts - In Stock

Our hand-forged holdfasts are once again in stock. If you'd like one, or many, the only way to order is to send us an email State how many you'd like, and provide your full shipping address, and we'll send you a bill. Price is $189 per. 

These are made entirely by hand, using traditional methods. 

For video, and more info, click me

Monday, February 16, 2015

How To Install Barrel Nuts

We have a love-hate relationship with our barrel nuts. On one hand, they offer a really quick, solid and cheap way to put together a knockdown workbench base. On the other, if you don't get the holes lined up, you can easily crossthread the fasteners and ruin them. I know this firsthand because I've done it myself, both when building benches commercially, and during a class I taught at Kelly Mehler's school a few years ago. I even had a student run to the hardware store for a tap to fix his nuts. So I snuck away to the local tap to sob with some other nuts.

But the alternative is equally as fussy. We've long considered changing the barrel nut to a flat tapped plate that would slip into a square mortise and slide around very easily to find the end of the bolt, eliminating the self-jigging of a round nut. The problem with this is two-fold. First, you have to cut a square mortise. It's time consuming compared to banging out four holes on the drill press. And the cost of cutting, refining, drilling and tapping square plates is much higher than turning round barrel nuts. The former would require lots of machine time and human involvement. The latter are turned automatically on a bar-fed CNC lathe, which is why we can sell the set for less than $30 (and that price has remained the same for several years, even undergoing a price reduction at one point.)

Here's the sequence we use to install barrel nuts. It applies to both our main barrel nuts, and the end cap barrel nuts. These instructions are also available soon in PDF form on our downloads page.


The barrel nuts come with a zinc plating to prevent rust. Sometimes this coating builds up inside the threads at the plating facility. Before trying to install fasteners in your bench, thread the bolts fully in and out of the nuts a couple times to test their fit. As with any mechanism made from metal, a couple drops of oil will help lubricate the threads and ensure a smooth installation. We bias the fit tolerance on the nuts a bit tight so they hold well. Don’t be alarmed if you can’t thread them by hand at first. A few cycles with a wrench will loosen them up. Your leg and rail joinery should be cut and ready to assemble. A short stub tenon (1”) is sufficient.

Drill the holes in the legs only

Drill a ½” hole through the leg using a drill press (if possible) for the bolt. For looks, you can counterbore for the washer and bolt head if you want it recessed into the edge of the leg. Position the hole so it’s centered on the rail in both directions. Barrel nuts work well in material no thinner than 1-3/4”. This allows you to leave enough material at the bottom of the barrel nut hole so its not visible from the front of the rail. But if your rail is thinner and the barrel nut hole needs to go completely through the rail, it’s fine.

Next, assemble the workbench base (clamp it if possible, or brace it against a wall or bench) and use a long ½” drill bit to drill the hole in the end of the rail.
The hole in the leg acts as a guide bushing so the hole goes straight into the end of the rail.
Drill an inch or so at a time at most, backing out frequently to clear the shavings. Drill as deep as you can. If you need to go deeper (depending on your particular leg’s width and drill bit length) remove the leg and continue drilling the rail only.

Barrel Nut Layout

To find the position of the barrel nut hole, you’re going to use the position of the hole you just drilled as a guide.
Place a bolt deeply into the rail and carry the position of the exact center of the bolt up and across the mortise and just onto the face of the rail.
Next, place a straightedge on the mark, sight from above, and line it up so it’s dead parallel with the bolt. Mark a line against the straightedge.

 Thread the barrel nut onto the bolt so the bolt protrudes about ¼” past the nut, and while holding the bolt in the correct place for your leg width, mark the center of the barrel nut on the bolt line.

Drill a 1” hole on the mark, drilling 1/8” deeper than it needs to be to allow for some clearance.
In a 1-3/4” thick rail there will be enough barrel nut protruding that you can easily grab it with your fingers and thread the bolt in with your other hand. The bolt should end up right in the center of the barrel nut hole.

The final step is to enlarge the ½” bolt hole in the leg and rail. Because of seasonal movement you want the bolt to always fit loosely. This does not compromise strength at all. It also allows a bit of forgiveness if some of your holes aren’t as precisely located at they should be. Enlarge the holes to 9/16” or even 5/8” with a twist drill. If you’ve also mis-located the barrel nut hole enough that the bolt won’t thread in easily by hand, you can correct your error by enlarging the barrel nut hole, or simply drilling out some waste on either side of the existing hole using a Forstner bit. Make sure you clamp the rail firmly to your drill press table when cutting this partial hole.

If you feel resistance as you’re threading the bolt into the nut, stop and examine what’s happening. The fasteners should thread together easily and smoothly, and only require a wrench for the final turn or two.You may need to tighten up the bolts in mid-winter when your bench parts dry and shrink. This is normal.                

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Today I'm A Strapping Lad

This weekend I'm finishing up a Roorkee chair from Lost Art Press's book on Campaign Furniture.

I've built in a lot of different styles over the years, from Shaker and Craftsman to Mesopotamian River Valley and beyond, but this is my first piece of campaign furniture. This is the only thing I've worked on that has made me want to spey cast for steelhead, take a cape buffalo, pull in a marlin on a handline, and win the 24 hours of Le Mans. Simultaneously.

Actually, the only reason I'm building this chair is that my twelve year old nephew caught a glimpse of it on my monitor last year and begged me to help him build one. How could I say no?

The other reason for the build is that Schwarz has an uncanny knack for making me want to build nearly everything he builds. I can't explain this. I think he may have slipped me a mickey in his basement a couple years ago. All I remember is a glass of yellow liquid, some guy who looked like a genie, and glitter.

After assembling the ridiculous amount of extra tooling,  hardware, and cow skin needed to build this ridiculously expensive thing, I realized I'd forgotten to buy an essential tool. The leather strap cutter.

So this morning, a day after our latigo arrived, I headed out to the shop to whip up my own cutter. I took a peek at how the commercial ones are made, then started to make my own.

Here's what I came up with.

After rooting through my hardware bins I couldn't find any metal bits for locking the adjustable arm. So I simply cut an angled mortise and fit a wedge. Quick, easy, and it holds perfectly. I love wedgies.

The arm itself is just two sticks of beech, screwed together at one end with a 3/16" beech spacer.

To the business end of the arm is fit a #2 Xacto blade. I simply clamped the joined arms in a vise and cut about 1/2" deep with a Dozuki. The kerf of the saw was just a tad less than the thickness of the blade, which I simply pressed into place. It's held only by friction. The cutting force is completely against the bottom of the kerf, so the blade stays put just fine. We cut about 20' of straps today with the tool.

The arrises in the slot we relieved with a knife so the leather can enter easily. Likewise, the ends of the arms are scooped out on the entry side to help guide the leather at the beginning of the cut, which was for us the trickiest part of getting the cut started.

The body of the tool was mortised out after turning the handle down on the lathe. Then we sawed and planed one side flat to act as the fence.

The tool works great and took less than 2 hours to make. And lots of that was spent rooting through my hardware bins looking for stuff I didn't use.

I don't recommend you waste your time on building one of these, since the commercial ones are fine (so I read) and only cost about $25. But if you forget to buy one like I did, know that you can throw a perfectly good one together with stuff you likely already have laying around the shop.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How We're Handling The Knobs

Due to a fire at Rutland Plywood in 2014, the availability and manufacture of Dymondwood has ceased. We turned our last knob from the material a couple weeks ago and all those knobs are already spoken for. Plus, we're in the red on a few, which has caused our lead times to grow a bit from our standard 1-2 weeks (in which we usually ship within a couple days) to 3-4 weeks.

We tried our best to hold out until Rutland rebuilt, but its not happening.

Our vises were fitted with rosewood knobs from the very beginning, but when Cocobolo was put on the CITES list, we decided to abandon its use and move to Dymondwood. Cost was a factor, but the future instability of the species was the the nail in the coffin. So it's difficult to move from a high-class material like rosewood to anything else. With the loss of Rutland, we were forced to take a closer look at what we wanted to do in the long run. Our goal is getting our vises in customer's hands in a timely manner, and dealing with uncertain materials is an enormous pain for us and frustrating for customers. Who wants any of that?

So here's what we're doing.

From now on all of our M-series vises (Glide M, Tail Vise M) will be fitted with knobs made from acrylic-infused American black cherry. While new cherry knobs might have a similar tonal value to the infused beech knobs of our C-series vises, with UV exposure the cherry will darken nicely. Why cherry? It's abundant and it looks good. The acrylic infusion process renders the wood entirely stable, and incredibly durable.

For a short period while we're tooling up for producing cherry knobs, M-series customers may receive infused beech knobs with their vises. If you are one of those customers, and would like to outfit your vise(s) with cherry knobs once we have them available, drop us an email and we'll sell you a set at a special price. This offer is only for those who received beech knobs with M-series vises. We won't be offering knobs of either species ala carte, or the option of choosing a different species.

UPDATE:  We're ahead of schedule and barring any unforeseen snafus, we won't be shipping any beech with M series vises, all orders will receive the infused cherry.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Plate 11 Benches In The Rough

Boules of French Oak destined to become Plate 11 benches at the French Oak Roubo Project II.

Photos by Wyatt Childs

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Nate's STR

Dear Benchcrafted,

Last winter I purchased your "bench makers" package and built myself a splittop Roubo. The plans you provided were excellent and the hardware is prettydarn sweet.

I am a joiner producing a full spectrum of work - furniture to architecturalelements. I specialize in exterior living spaces (ie, historic porches,fences, decks). Since building the bench I've had plenty of time to test itin a variety of ways. I won't bore you with the normal holding prowless theleg and tail vices exhibit over furniture components. This is obvious.

However, I have run into a couple of interesting scenarios with curves thatthe leg vice excelled at holding. The ease of use and rapidity in which Icould move components around on the bench brought a smile to my face. Thisis getting long winded. The Roubo is awesome. The vises kick ass. Keep upthe good work!


Nate Plasha owns and operates Black Locust Craftsmen in Burlington, VT.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Knobs And The Lead Times

UPDATE:  There seems to be some confusion concerning lead times.  We've always had lead times, clearly posted on our Store page.  Most of the year the leads are 1-2 weeks.  Our lead times do not reflect and have never reflected anything other than a waxing and waning of demand as pertains to the time of year, i.e. Christmas and especially post-Christmas demand was quite unexpected this year. The addition of overseas dealers has also had an impact on lead times. 

We've been a tad behind lately in our order fulfillment. For this we apologize. Here's the story behind what's happening.

First, the holidays. People buy more stuff, obviously. We try to anticipate sales, but the last guy who got it right is sitting on a beach in Tahiti right now. We're sitting elsewhere.

Second, Hollywood. Paramount Pictures is filming an epic docudrama about the construction of the Statue of Liberty, and the set designer is recreating a late 19th c. French carpentry shop for the movie. So we're building 40 benches in French Oak, outfitted with Classic leg vises for the studio. This has taken enormous amounts of time.

Third. Dymondwood. Rutland Ply, the makers of Dymondwood have not rebuilt. We've been told that another facility is being readied for production, but when is still a question mark, in addition to all the other question marks associated with getting something new up and running. We've used up all we can find. For now we'll be filling some orders for M-series vises with beech knobs. Yes, it looks nothing like Dymondwood, but it's functional. We're also hesitant to use any sort of actual rosewood, due to supply issues, and the problems it poses with drying and turning. So we're looking into different materials which should alleviate much of the lead time issues in the next couple weeks. Although a departure from our traditional rosewood look, we're considering doing something completely different for the M-series vises. Ceramic-coated aluminum (sort of a modern, tactical look) Micarta, and if the price of red metals works out, solid bronze.

We'll have an announcement in the near future about what we end up doing. But for the time being, if you order a vise now, you'll likely be getting beech knobs. If you'd like to upgrade later to whatever we end up using, we'll make that option available.

Oh, the part about the movie was not true. But it would be pretty neat to see that in a movie, wouldn't it?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Cutting Huge Dovetails For Benches And Other Stuff

A few years ago I wrote an article for Popular Woodworking Magazine on how I cut very large dovetails for joining the end cap to the benchtop when installing our Tail Vise. But the technique applies to any large dovetail joint you might encounter. I've always been fascinated by these large joints since I first saw Frank Klausz's bench in the early 90's at a woodworking show in Chicago. Frank was off teaching a seminar, so I pored over his bench, virtually alone. That bird's eye skirt that formed the tool tray was burned into my memory that day, along with Frank's signature under the gloss of the Waterlox. That was also my first exposure to Odate and Lie-Nielsen. Odate was sitting in his booth completely alone, sharpening a plane iron on the floor. No one seemed interested in him. I do remember watching him for some time and feeling a great sense of awe and mystery. A few years later I got my first Lie-Nielsen plane, a 164, which I paid Thomas for in beeswax. I didn't have enough money, so we traded. I still have that plane, use it regularly, and will never sell it.

The thing I like about the technique is that it doesn't require much skill in using a backsaw. In fact, I don't even use a backsaw to cut the joint. It's done almost entirely with machines, guided by very precise (but easy) layout by hand. If you're careful, you get results like the example above. We all know the dovetail is overhyped. But a crisp, well proportioned example still gives me a buzz.

The article is available for free directly from the Popular Woodworking Magazine website.

Condor Tails Article