Recent Pipes

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this summer making more pipes.  I learn a little bit (and sometimes a lot) with each one I’ve made recently.

Pipe #28 Briar CW Plateaux 2014 --4 Pipe #26 Briar Curchwarden Giants Chimney 2014- - 2 Pipe #27 Briar Gothic Ruin  2014- - 7

I’ve been experimenting with layering different stains on top of each other, and I think I’ve finally found a process that works.  The idea is to sand the wood to a fairly fine grit, apply a dark dye, and then once it dries, sand back the wood evenly but not too much.  Then I apply a lighter dye.  The result is that the darker dye penetrates more in some places than in others, highlighting the variations in the grain.  I then sand to my finest grit and apply a coat of Danish oil to prevent the dye coming off in the user’s hand.  Last comes a coat of wax.

I’m planning to try some traditional shapes next, just to hone my skills.  And while I enjoy working with briar, I hope to experiment with some alternative woods as well.

Some of the pipes above are available at my Etsy shop.

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The Memory Box

The other day, my oldest daughter, K, was reading a book that suggested she make a “memory box,” essentially a decorated shoe box in which to store keepsakes.  She mentioned the idea at the dinner table, and I asked if she would rather build it out of wood instead.  She brightened up at the idea, so after dinner we went down to my lumber stash to find some suitable boards.

Memory Box Build with K 7-14 - - 1I just happened to have some leftover 105 wood siding on hand that made perfect sides.  We also found wide boards for a top and bottom.  We opted for a “Bible box” design, with the sides joined together with nailed rabbets.

She held the boards while I cut them to length.  She helped split out the rabbets.  She drilled the pilot holes for the cut nails, and she drove several of the nails in.

The 105 siding has a cove routed into the top, which is supposed to fit into a rabbet on the bottom.  We found the rabbet very convenient for nailing in the bottom of the box.

Eggbeater Drill Yankee 1530 - - 2When we were drilling the pilot holes for the nails, she kept trying to spin the eggbeater drill the wrong direction, as she’s a leftie.  After a while, she blurted out, “Don’t they make drills for left-handed people?”

I paused, and then said, “Actually, they do.”

I reached into my tool chest and pulled out a little eggbeater drill, a Yankee 1530.

What’s special about this little drill is that it has five different settings:

Eggbeater Drill Yankee 1530 - - 1It can be spun left or right, or half-speed, among other options.  I had gotten a while ago in a trade for a mallet I made.

She found it a little easier to use when I put it on the left-hand setting.

It took us a couple work sessions to get the whole box put together, and she still intends to paint it, but she and I are both happy with the result.

Memory Box Build with K 7-14 - - 2

She doesn’t know it, but this will be a memory box in more ways than one.

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Three-Dollar Saw: Restored

Last month, I posted a picture of a Disston no. 8 handsaw I found for three dollars.  It took me some time to get the saw back in action, not because the work was difficult or time-consuming, but because other projects have been taking up my time.

Disassembling the saw was as easy as removing the nuts and sliding the handle off the saw plate.  The finish on the handle was nearly gone, so I sanded it down and applied a few coats of Danish oil.  These saws normally came with a film finish on the handles–shellac, I think–but I prefer an oil finish that doesn’t get slippery when my hands begin to sweat.

I Saw Sharpening Station Outdoors 2014cleaned the surface rust off the saw plate.  There was no pitting.  I decided not to try to restore the mirror-polish that the saw must originally have had.

The teeth were in decent shape, but it still took me a while to sharpen it.  It’s a 24″ long saw, and there are 9 points per inch.  (That’s nearly 200 teeth on this saw.)  To make the sharpening experience more pleasant, I brought the whole outfit outside into the shade of a big tree.  I clamped my little saw vise to one end of my sawbench and went to work with the files.  (I decided to touch up my big rip saw, too, as it was feeling a little dull.  It’s a Disston 12, which is the one in the vise above.)

Taking the saw for a test-drive in some soft pine, it left a pretty smooth surface, and the saw glided through the wood as if it were cutting nothing at all.  While the saw plate is bowed just a little along its length, it’s not kinked, and the saw tracks true to a line.  Testing a saw in softwood might seem like cheating, but it’s not.  For one, I work in softwoods a lot.  More importantly, the fibers in softwoods tend to tear and chip out when being sawn, especially across the grain, and that tends to leave a ragged surface.  If your tool can cut cleanly across the grain of a pine board, it’s plenty sharp for the work it needs to do, even in hardwoods.

Three-Dollar Saw 7-2014 - 1

This saw is a keeper, at least for now.

Three-Dollar Saw 7-2014 - 2


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Summer Reading: Kid-Friendly Woodworking Books

Summer reading isn’t just for grown-ups.  With the kids out of school, it’s just the time for everybody, young and old, to do some reading for fun.  As a woodworking father of four young children, I’m always on the lookout for good children’s books that relate to woodworking.   Here are a few good ones I’ve found.  These are not how-to books, but rather books that offer children a positive depiction of the craft.  (Click on the publisher’s name to get your own copy.)

Grandpa’s Workshop by Maurice Pommier–from Lost Art Press

If you haven’t yet seen this gem, you really must buy it, even if you don’t have kids.  It is the story of a little boy, Sylvain, awakening tools that have long lain asleep in an old chest in his grandfather’s shop. It is also the story of Sylvain discovering his family’s long history, as well as his own vocation as a woodworker.  There are tails of travels and fights and wars, and even a dragon!

The book is lavishly illustrated in full color, and both text and illustrations are absolutely accurate depictions of woodworking tools and practices.  (I reviewed the book on this blog awhile back.)


The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean–from Eerdmans

Although this is a Christmas-themed book,  you can read it any time.  A crotchety old woodcarver is hard at work in a church, carving out a Jesse Tree, and every day he is pestered by an inquisitive little urchin.  Reluctantly, the woodcarver tells the Bible story represented by each of his carvings.  In the process, we learn a little about the boy, a little about the woodcarver, and a lot about how Bible stories build on each other.

The woodworking content is not strongly developed–it is mainly a frame for the Bible stories that the old man retells.  Overall, though, I am impressed with the quality of these retellings.  The stories are recast imaginatively, but they retain many the originals’ essential details.  Plus, woodworkers who get interrupted frequently in the shop will come to sympathize deeply with the frustrated narrator who just wants to go on carving.

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli–from Scholastic

Winner of the 1950 Newbery Medal, this charming novel tells the story of young Robin, a 14th-century nobleman’s child.  When Robin’s legs become useless, he falls in with a kindly friar who teaches him to use his hands to carve wood.  Through a series of harrowing adventures, Robin comes to understand the value of persistence, fidelity, and courage.

I am impressed with how faithful the story is to its Medieval setting.  While the depictions of Medieval crafts are not highly detailed, they are certainly believable.  The story and characters are themselves well-crafted.  Children as young as first grade will enjoy hearing this story read aloud, though older children will probably get more out of it.

Early American Trades and Early American Crafts and Occupationsfrom Dover (here and here, respectively)









Who doesn’t like a really good coloring book?  These two coloring books include detailed illustrations of many wood-related crafts, including pit sawing, carpentry, coopering, and furniture making. The illustrators have taken pains to make each detail in the pictures historically accurate, and each book covers a wide variety of trades and crafts.  (For readers who would like a little more explanatory text to go with the pictures, I think that A Reverence for Wood by Eric Sloane and Country Furniture by Aldren Watson are excellent counterparts to the images in these books.)   If you have children, get two copies of each–one for the kids to color and one for yourself.  Then get yourself a good set of colored pencils and get started!

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A Three-Dollar Saw

A few weeks ago, I and my oldest daughter were picking through an antique mall looking for old tools.  One of the tools we found was this mid-century Disston handsaw for $3.

Three-Dollar Saw 6-2014

It’s a 24″ saw, marked at 9 ppi, and the plate is very nearly straight.  The teeth are dull, but I don’t think this saw was ever sharpened. The saw plate has some grime, paint, and surface rust to clean off, and the handle needs some refinishing, but this should turn out to be a fine saw.

The handle-less saw plate at the bottom of the picture has a different story.  My daughter K literally dug it out of a trash pile and brought it to me.  It looks like it was re-handled at least once before the replacement handle went missing.  I already have some walnut selected for a new handle, and I plan to make the handle 3/4 of the regular size, so as to fit kids’ hands.  I will probably also cut it down to about 22″ so as to be easier for a child to use.  But it’s going to have to get in line behind several other projects, including the bigger handsaw above.

I’ll post pictures of the cleaned-up Disston saw soon (I hope).

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Building Bunk Beds in Burma

Not long ago, my brother led a small team of Americans as they completed a major woodworking project for an orphanage in Myanmar (formerly Burma), in Southeast Asia.  The orphanage, which houses approximately 120 children, had no proper beds for the children–only mats on wooden floors.

The plan was simple: source enough suitable lumber and construct 60 bunk beds using simple power tools, primarily a chop saw and cordless drills.  Even here in the USA, where building materials and electricity are plentiful, it would be a grueling project.  But in Southeast Asia, there are some additional challenges.

Pickup truck

The “pickup truck” got the lumber to the worksite, albeit slowly.  They were also able to rent a generator to run the chop saw and charge the battery packs for the cordless drills.


The bucket is the generator’s cooling system: fill it with water, and the water drips out through a small hole in the bottom onto the generator, preventing it from overheating.

Drilling Bunk bed wood.





The available wood was not softwood, but a local hardwood called “piniadon.”  (That’s our best guess as to its English spelling.)  It has beautiful color, and it smooths nicely, but it’s very hard on drill bits.  The chop saw was also kept very busy.

Chop saw at lunch

Except during lunch.

Each frame was topped with plywood and then trimmed flush with a router.

Trim router

It may seem miraculous to Westerners, but nobody lost any digits during this project.

Here’s the outside of the orphanage, with bunk bed components leaning against the walls:


Orphanage with bunk bed pieces

After a week of very hard work, 120 children had new beds.  Now they don’t have to sleep on the floor where the insects crawl around at night.

Bunk beds built

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Last Week’s Spoons Finished

Last week, I had roughed out some spoons from cherry and then set them aside to dry a little bit.  Last night, I finished shaping them with a spokeshave and smoothed them out with a card scraper.  This afternoon, I sanded and finished them.

Cherry Spoons 4-2014 - - 1 Cherry Spoons 4-2014 - - 2

The wood did twist a little as it dried, so I’m glad I left the handles thick enough to make adjustments to the handles.  There was no checking or cracking to speak of, which was a relief.  I’m also glad I was able to capture some of the natural curves of the wood in the handles.

I should point out that the three oddly-shaped spoons on the left represent my latest attempts to carve spoons Sloyd-style from some mystery wood.  It looks a bit like soft maple, but I don’t think it is, as the wood came from across the street, and maples don’t grow widely here.  It’s also significantly softer than soft maple.

Not counting the wait-time between coats of finish, those eight cherry spoons probably took about 5-6 hours from start to finish.  I’m pleased with how they turned out.

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