Building a Dining Table, Part 1: Shavings and Shaping

Our current dining table was built a long time ago by one of my wife’s relatives. (We’re still not sure exactly who built it.  Family lore was ambiguous, but after some genealogical research, my wife narrowed down to two guys, a great-uncle and a great-great uncle, both of whom were professional craftsmen.)  The table is something of a family heirloom, but it’s seen better days. It shakes every time one of the kids bumps it, and the top is nothing like flat. The removable leaves are all warped and don’t stay together anymore, and I can’t remember the last time we needed to remove the leaves to shrink the table down anyway.  Even fully extended, the table is still a little too small for us, especially when we have company.  And my youngest kids hate the table’s apron, which bumps their legs when they sit in their youth chairs.

I’ve wanted to build a replacement for several years.  So after some deliberation with the rest of the family, we came up with my directives:

1. Trestle-style legs.
2. Solid, hardwood top with no apron.
3. Big enough to seat 10 people comfortably (our family is now at 7).

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the project to a guy I know who owns a portable sawmill, and he offered me some cherry boards.  I gladly accepted, though neither of us were sure that he could provide me with enough for the whole table.  When I went to load up the boards, we found that they had been exposed to a little too much weather.  But the price was right, so I took all I could get.

Dining Table Build 7-2016 sm

This is what most of the boards looked like when I brought them home–rotted edges, bug holes, and other defects.  It was a little dispiriting at first, but the more I looked at the boards, the more I saw some potential in each one.

Dining Table Build 7-2016 sm

The damage on most of the boards was confined to ends and edges, so using a chalkline, I was able to mark out some pretty wide boards. I used Borax to treat it all for bugs, and I used the bandsaw to cut off the damaged edges.  Even using the bandsaw to do the hardest work, I still managed to bring myself to the brink of heat-exhaustion in the July heat.

One of the boards I had picked up–a short, thick beam–turned out to be cedar, not cherry.  It had a big wane edge and a lot of sapwood, but it was enough that I was able to rip it in half and edge-glue the pieces to make my central beam, which will connect the two leg assemblies that support the table top.

Dining Table Build 7-2016 sm

I wish I could share the scent with you as well as the image. My whole dining room smelled like cedar shavings for hours!

Dining Table Build 7-2016 sm

Once the two pieces were glued up, it was time to play my favorite game: Find the Glue Line!  You can see it only if you look carefully at the grain.

Well, in the interests of full disclosure, there were a couple little gaps in the joint further down the board, but nothing too detrimental to overall stability. And it’s not like anybody will see it under the table anyway, right? Right.

Next I spent a good bit of time shaping the feet and stretchers for the trestles. This was the fun part, though I had to get a little creative in order to work around a couple big defects in the boards I had. I just managed to do it without sacrificing the shape I had in mind.

Dining Table Build 7-2016 sm

First I made the inside radius with a big drill bit. I was silly enough to try this by hand with a bit and brace the first time around. My 1 1/2″ bit is NOT made for hardwoods. I gave up after one hole and used the drill press for the rest, and my elbows thank me.

Dining Table Build 7-2016 sm

After the drill press and the band saw, it was hand work. I used rasps and files for the convex work. Then I used a spokeshave and a file for the bullnose work getting into the radius.  On surfaces that would show, such as the tops of the legs, I removed file marks with a card scraper and sandpaper, but on the undersides of pieces that would never be seen, I left the tool marks visible, not only to save time but also to give future generations clues about how the work was done.

Dining Table Build 7-2016 sm

This is one of the feet.  I used a spokeshave for the chamfers, except on those tight, convex curves where a half-round file was called for.  I again cleaned up show surfaces with card scrapers and sandpaper.

Dining Table Build 7-2016 sm

The result is two top stretchers and two feet, which will be joined to each other by a central post.  The posts will, in turn, be connected by the cedar beam.

The table top, however, will require several glue-ups to get to the desired width, so next I will begin planing down boards and gluing them up.  While I wait for the glue to dry, I will continue to work on the leg assemblies in order to minimize waiting-time.

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This Is Why We Need Art

I was making dinner the other day, and I happened to glance out the window and see three boys walking home from the neighborhood swimming pool.  They were fooling around, as boys are wont to do, and I paid them little notice until I saw one stooping down in the middle of the street with a piece of chalk.  They all glanced around furtively, giggling a little as the boy finished.  Then they dashed away.

This is the drawing he left on my street:


Well, it’s not exactly “street art,” despite its having been drawn directly on a street.  It’s what you might call a “representational” drawing, not at all observational–or, for that matter, particularly interesting even as graffiti goes.  Despite the fact that the artist must have seen a number of such objects in the real world (remember, he just left the locker room of a public swimming pool), he does not even attempt a proportional rendition, nor is there any attempt at the provocative exaggeration so typical of the genre.  Vapid and jejune, this drawing fails even to mildly shock to middle-class suburban proprieties that it was probably intended to transgress.  There is nothing even remotely unique about the drawing, nothing to arrest the attention of a passerby.  If it was meant as a protest, it is a remarkably feeble one.  If it was meant as a joke, it’s one we’ve all heard before.  We take in the banality at a glance and dismiss it with a shrug.

But that, I suppose, is only to be expected given its being executed in about twenty seconds by a twelve-year-old boy.  It got me thinking, though, that occasionally we all have the opportunity to express ourselves– to make our mark, to say something significant–outside of or even against the constraints of our cultural norms.  How do we respond to that opportunity?  If we could say anything and get away with it, what would we say?  How many people really have something more significant to say than this twelve-year-old boy did?

Such opportunities come seldom and without warning, and we are likely to react by reproducing whatever one of my friends calls “the artwork on the walls of our minds.”  Whatever images or objects we have contemplated, whatever songs or poems we have memorized, it is these that will naturally spring to our consciousness when we are summoned to make a public statement.  And when we fail to respond to that summons with anything substantial, it reveals how impoverished our memory and imagination truly are.  The average mind is cluttered with trash–advertising jingles, sentimental quotations, and (let’s be frank) pornography–that has become permanent by sheer force of repetition.

What would have happened, I wonder, had this young man spent some serious time in school (or even at home) contemplating the works of the great painters and sculptors?  What if he had memorized a few evocative poems?  Perhaps he might have left something really provocative on the street outside my house.  I know some poems from Catullus that he might find downright shocking.

My preference, though, is for irony.  So I grabbed a piece of sidewalk chalk and wrote an ironizing caption underneath the picture.


The quotation is from Proverbs 5:16: “Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?”  I don’t expect that the original artist would recognize or understand the quotation, let alone the sexual imagery of the lines.  I left off the source reference because, where I live, anything with a Bible-verse reference is generally taken as a criticism.  I wasn’t aiming to condemn; I just wanted to provoke a moment of puzzlement in anybody who happened to see the captioned drawing.

I happened to know this quotation because I teach sections of Proverbs as poetry in my World Literature class.  It’s part of the artwork hanging on the walls of my mind, alongside lines from Shakespeare and poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins and W. H. Auden.  (My stock of visual images is more limited, and consists mainly of furniture types and species of wood.)  I’d like to add more, so I’m working on memorizing a few Psalms, alongside poems by John Milton and T. S. Eliot.

It takes a lot of work to hang such artwork on the walls of our minds, but it will stand us in good stead when we are called upon to leave our mark on the world.


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Getting It Done: 4 Tips for Marathon Woodworkers

Most woodworkers I know fall into one of two categories: the Piddler-Putterer, and the Marathoner.  The Piddler-Putterer starts a lot of projects and tinkers with them from time to time, but he’s in no hurry.  He seldom finishes a project, either because he’s afraid to screw something up or because he genuinely enjoys the process more than the product.  His shop is a mass of pieces from half-finished projects.  The Marathoner, on the other hand, plunges into a project heart-and-soul, plowing ahead until the project is completed.  He’s usually in a hurry, and he never leaves a project unfinished.  His shop may be cluttered by offcuts and scraps, but you won’t find semi-abandoned projects anywhere about.  Because he can’t leave things unfinished, he is constantly tempted by shortcuts, especially late in the project, when “good enough” takes the place of “do it right.”Handplanes on Benchtop 2016

I suppose most serious amateur woodworkers fall somewhere between those two extremes, but as for myself, I’m a proud Marathoner.  According to my Marathoner nature, I  prefer to work 8-12 hours at a stretch, with perhaps a 10-minute lunch break when I wolf down a sandwich before racing back to work.  I have gotten projects done this way, but I haven’t always been pleased with the results.  Looking over a project a month or a year later, I begin to see flaws that, had I not been in such a hurry, I could have seen and corrected while I was in the process of building.

Recently I’ve worked on pacing myself, breaking the worst Marathoner habits.  Here are four ways I’ve been able to moderate my Marathoner tendencies (somewhat).

1. Take Coffee Breaks

After about two hours of work, it’s time for a 10-minute coffee break.  Sitting down and staring at my work in progress often feels like a waste of time, but mentally it’s some of my most productive shop time.  Coffee Break 2016The coffee break allows me to look at what I’ve done, think about what I’m about to do, and get a different perspective on things–literally–because I can see objects from a different angle than I do standing up.  It also gives me time to consider design choices as I think several steps ahead in the project.

I learned the value of the coffee break when I worked on a maintenance crew at a summer camp.  We took coffee breaks every two hours, and at first it felt like a waste of time.  Why were we just sitting around when we could be out there getting the job done?  I didn’t even drink coffee back then!  As the summer wore on and the work became more physically demanding, I understood.  We were pacing ourselves.  Now that I’m no longer 17 years old, my body appreciates regular breaks–and my brain appreciates the coffee.

2. Sharpen, Sharpen, Sharpen

Diamond Sharpening Stone Box 2016It’s all too easy to get my head buried in a project and neglect the preventive maintenance that my tools require for optimal performance.  The most important is sharpening.  A Marathoner is prone to thinking “just one more board,” “just one more cut,” “just one more piece” before pausing to sharpen, even though he knows that he should have resharpened his plane or chisel long ago.  I still hate having to interrupt my work to hone an edge, but I have learned the law of diminishing returns from letting tools go dull.  Dull tools are harder to push, so I tire more quickly.  Tool marks from dull edges are more likely to leave jagged tool marks, and they are more likely to stick, slip, and cut me.  There’s nothing like profuse bleeding to bring the work to a standstill.

Now I keep my sharpening equipment perpetually on the bench.  My strop is always at hand, and I regularly refresh chisel edges.  Every couple of boards, I strop my plane irons, too.  The tools are easy to push and less likely to injure me.  And the more frequently I refresh edges, the quicker each sharpening is.  As one wise woodworker has said, “Sharpen more to sharpen less.”

3. Sweep Up

Chips and shavings collect on and around my workbench at an alarming rate, and it’s easy to just let them pile up as I move from task to task. Pile of Shavings 2016 It is better, though, to stop and sweep up the mess periodically, usually each time I change tasks.  When I’m done planing a set of boards, I sweep up the shavings.  When I’m done sawing dovetails or chopping mortises, I pause to sweep up the dust or chips.  Not only does it keep the workspace clean (I’ve been known to misplace tools under piles of shavings!), but it also gives me some breathing space–time for my body to relax and my mind to wander.

A clean workspace is also safer, both for myself and my workpieces.  Sawdust on the floor is slippery, especially when there are shavings on top of it.  And chips on the bench top all too easily get under workpieces and dent them.  Taking just a minute to sweep the bench top and the floor prevents many problems.

4. Don’t Work Late

Beautiful Waste Fall 2015When I was in school, I pulled a couple “all-nighters,” but I was never proud of the results afterward.  As a Marathon worker, I am sometimes tempted to work long into the night in order to finish a project on a self-imposed deadline.  But I’ve learned that it’s usually best to go to bed instead.  In fact, I try hard not to do any serious woodworking after supper (though I will allow myself to leave clean-up for the late evening).  It’s not just that after supper is family-time, either.  If I try to do demanding physical labor when I’m tired, I’m more likely to get frustrated or angry when something doesn’t go right, and because I’m tired, I’m that much more likely to make mistakes in the first place.

I realize that some amateur woodworkers do their work primarily in the evenings, and I don’t object.  But when I’ve put in a full day at the workbench (say, on a Saturday or during summer vacation), I don’t allow myself to work after supper.  My mind and body need time to relax before bed time, especially when I’m going to get up the next morning and do it all over again.

Becoming a better woodworker is not just about learning to work.  It’s also about learning to rest.

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Build a Cedar Bench in an Hour

One summer afternoon not long ago, my wife and oldest daughter had gone out, leaving me to mind the little ones.  We decided to make a fire in the fire pit and roast hot dogs for supper.  We lit the fire and sat back in our lawn chairs.


Soon, though, I got to thinking that I’d rather not have the buns, hot dogs, and condiments just sitting on the ground.  For one thing, little kids don’t always watch where they step.  For another, the ants are really good at finding food this time of year.  If only I had some sort of low bench or table to put everything on.

Then it struck me.  I could build  one!  We had just started the fire, so I told the kids the plan: I would build them a little table in the time it would take for the fire to burn down to coals.  We would build a simple “staked” bench: four legs stuck into tapered holes in a single-piece top.  And it would be a race!

I went down to my lumber stash and pulled out a short, thick plank of knotty cedar that I had kept for years.  (I had picked it up for practically nothing at a sawmill in Texas before we moved to Alabama.) Staked Cedar Bench 2016 In my firewood pile, I had some short cedar logs that I had salvaged when I helped a friend clear some brush at his house a couple years ago.  The sapwood had all rotted away, but the heartwood was perfectly intact.  I sawed the log into four sections on my bandsaw and then brought the pieces up to the workbench.

Using a drawknife, I shaved the weathered surface off the leg pieces, and oh my!  The cedar heart wood underneath was beautiful!  I almost hated to use it for roughly shaped legs, but the fire was burning down, and I had a bench to finish.  I roughly tapered one end of each leg and shaped a round, tapered tenon with a tenon cutter–essentially a giant pencil sharpener (shown at right).  The cedar shavings smelled wonderful.

Then it was time to bore and ream four holes in the bench’s top.  Using a sliding T-bevel as a visual guide, one of my daughters and I bored four holes with a brace and bit.  Then I quickly reamed them out with a taper-reamer to match the tenons.  I put some adhesive in each hole and pounded the legs in tight.  (The top cracked a little bit on one end, so we reinforced it with a couple strips of pine nailed to the bottom on either end.  My son bent over a nail or two with his little hammer.)  I sawed the legs flush, flipped it over, and there you have it: a staked bench!

Staked Cedar Bench 2016

It was ready just in time to roast the hot dogs.

Staked Cedar Bench 2016

And the marshmallows, too!

Staked Cedar Bench 2016

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Selecting a Vintage Hand Plane: Deal-Breaker vs. Deal-with-It

If you went with me to a flea market or antique shop, I could pick up the hand planes one by one and tell you exactly why I would or wouldn’t buy them based on make, model, and condition. I probably have an elaborate, internal flowchart that I follow, but I’ve never bothered to write it out.  So this is the next-best thing: a list of what I am willing to clean/fix versus what I consider to be deal-breakers.


First, you have to learn to see through grime and surface rust.  It takes practice, but you learn to pick out the outline of a well-made plane (usually old Stanleys, but also Sargents, Keen Kutters, and others). I can pick these out pretty quickly.  The planes in the photo above all turned out to be good tools, but for the record, it was my wife who picked them out.

There is a lot of third-rate junk out there, mostly hardware store brands and cheaply-made crap, which I would estimate makes up about 75% of the vintage tools I see at flea markets and antique shops.  I pass on plastic handles and stamped (not cast) frogs, but I actively look for dirty/rusty hand planes with good bones, mainly because they’re priced lower than the comparable shiny ones–or I can point out the rust when I start haggling.

Bluegrass Smooth Plane 3-10 - 1

For the right price, I will gladly deal with the following:

  • Dirt
  • Surface rust
  • Chipped iron
  • Broken/damaged wooden tote
  • Bent lateral adjustment lever

These, however, are deal-breakers:

  • Bent blade
  • Warped or cracked sole
  • Poorly fitted frog
  • Damaged screws/threads
  • Missing/broken hardware (screws, chipbreaker, lever cap yoke etc.)

That’s not to say that you can’t fix this stuff if you’re determined enough. If you have enough time, materials, equipment, and/or money, any hand plane can be fixed. I’m just saying that there’s seldom a good reason to. Tools in better condition can be found pretty easily. I stick to the stuff I know I can fix without much trouble.

Jointer Before 08 1

This jointer plane had a broken handle, and the blade didn’t hold an edge.  Broken wooden pieces are no problem–I’m a woodworker, after all!

Plane Tote Repair 6-09 018

I repaired the break with a contrasting piece of wood, and I eventually replaced the blade with one made from better steel.

I’ve only ever replaced the blades in two hand planes.  The steel in most vintage blades is quite good, and aftermarket blades, though very good quality, are also expensive.  A top-quality replacement blade for the jointer plane above cost me about $50.  Normally I keep the vintage blade, and restoring the plane is only a matter of a couple hours’ work with sandpaper and a wire wheel.

Smoother in Shavings 2012 - - 1

This is one of the planes from the first picture in this post: a WWII-era Stanley smoothing plane.  All it needed was the grime and rust cleaned off, plus a small repair on the tote.  I’ve since replaced the blade and chipbreaker with better ones.  I originally bought the plane for $2.50.  The replacement parts set me back another $75.

The plane works like a charm now, and it’s worth every cent I’ve put into it.  But it’s not the kind of investment I’d want to make every day.

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A New Tenon Saw to Match

This is the old backsaw I had been using as a tenon saw for the last few years.  It’s not a pretty sight.


I’m tempted to say that this saw had seen better days, but that would be completely untrue.  It’s an old no-name backsaw that my brothers and I used to build tree forts when I was little.  It used to live in a bucket with hammers, crowbars, and rusty nails.  (You can read the whole, sad story here.)  Since then, however, I’ve been treating this old backsaw better than it’s ever been treated in its sorry life.  The sharp edges on the handle got relieved with a file, and I’ve been keeping it sharp and rust-free in my tool chest.  So it is with some regret that I consign this old saw to semi-retirement alongside my other seldom-used saws.

The occasion of its replacement was a Christmas gift: a tenon saw kit made by Isaac Smith of Blackburn Tools.  (A couple years ago, I bought a dovetail saw kit from Isaac and made myself a nice little dovetail saw with a spalted pecan handle.  While not perfect, I’m pleased with how the saw looks, feels, and cuts.)  It’s been a busy year, so I worked on the tenon saw only periodically over the last few months, and this week I finally finished it.

The kit consisted of a saw blade (already toothed), a slotted brass spine, and the bolts and nuts.


That left me to make the handle, fit and shape the spine, drill the holes in the blade, and put everything together.  Oh yes, and sharpen the teeth.

If you’re looking for instructions on how to make your own saw, you can do no better than reading Isaac’s own series of in-depth, how-to blog posts.  I’m content to share a few highlights of my own saw build.

I’m not much of a metal worker, so all my interest lay in the handle.  Thanks to my friend Dominic at TGIAG Toolworks, I had a large number of templates from which to choose.  I decided to choose a handle style that fit my saw best: a Disston D-4, 14″ backsaw.  I dug out a nice piece of spalted pecan that I had been saving for a special project and went to work.


The work actually begins at the drill press, cutting out the top and bottom radii with various large drill bits.  Then I connect the holes with a coping saw and cut out the rest of the handle.  There are a number of other delicate operations involved, such as sawing the slot for the blade and cutting a wider slot for the spine.  After that, it’s all rasp-and-file work followed by sandpaper.

So after five months of picking this up and putting it down again, I finally have a working tenon saw.

Tenon Saw 2016

I do all my saw sharpening outdoors (at my wife’s request–she hates the noise). So I clamp my saw vise to one end of my saw bench, perch myself on a lawn chair, and go at it.  The blue tape on the jaws improves the grip and dampens the vibration from the file.  It took me only a few minutes to set, joint, and sharpen the teeth.

Tenon Saw 2016

My new tenon saw is now ready to go live in my tool chest with the other saws–and occasionally do some work to earn its keep. I’ve only made a few test-cuts with it thus far, but it cuts smoothly and quickly.

And I now have a tenon saw to match my dovetail saw.  They’re a fine pair of rippers.

I blame my college-aged daughter for the selfie with the saw.  She also thought I needed a picture of me as my alter-ego, Backsaw Man.

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One-Day Bookshelf: By My Daughter

Yesterday my wife and I were sleeping in.  But at about 7 a.m., I heard a quiet “zzzzzip. . . .[pause] . . . zzzzzip. . . .” outside my bedroom door.  It was my oldest daughter.  With a tape measure.

She had woken up early and decided that she was going to build a bookshelf for her room, so she was measuring the bookshelves in the hallway.  By 9 a.m., she and her mother were at Home Depot buying lumber.

After a bit of work with a hand saw and a hand plane, she was ready to lay out the joinery.  Mid-morning, my wife texted me at work asking where the split-nut driver was.  They needed it to adjust the stair saw for cutting dadoes.

N Builds a Bookshelf 2016

That afternoon, I came home to find nearly all the dadoes cut.  My daughter asked me to cut the last two shelves to length, as her arm was tired from sawing.

Just before supper, we glued up the top and bottom shelves.  We ate, went to church, came home, and put the smaller children to bed.  By that time the glue had set up, so we glued in the middle shelves.  We would have done the glue-up all at once, but I don’t own enough long clamps.

For the top, I showed my daughter how to cut rabbets.  (We sawed the shoulder with a back saw and split off the waste with a broad chisel.  It’s probably the fastest joint you could cut.)  We glued and nailed it to the top.

N Builds a Bookshelf 2016

She was pretty excited to see it all come together only 14 hours after she had decided to build it.

The next morning, she put a couple coats of lacquer on it.  By lunchtime she had positioned it in her room.  Because of the uneven floor, we had to shim one side to make it stand straight up, and we used an L-bracket on the top to secure it to the wall behind it.

N Builds a Bookshelf 2016

She spent the afternoon shelving her books.  Looks like she might have to build a second one soon.

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General Tools #820 Marking Gauge: A Review

I want to make one thing clear up-front: if you’re a woodworker, you should make your own marking gauges.  With only a few scraps of wood and some simple tools, you can make a functional tool in a single afternoon.  You can make them to your exact preferences, and the precision work required will build your skills.  The problem for beginning woodworkers, however, is that it’s really hard to make a marking gauge if you don’t already have one.

So most serious woodworkers have at least one mass-produced marking gauge.  There are many types on the market today, from rosewood-and-brass works of art to slick “wheel” gauges, at widely different price points.  What to begin with?  A beginning woodworker (especially one on a strict budget) will be looking for a simple, functional, and affordable gauge.

Here’s one option to consider: The #820 marking gauge made by General Tools, which retails for about $15.  (Disclosure: this model was provided to me by the manufacturer for review.)  It’s available from several online retailers, including Amazon and Wal-Mart.

It’s a small gauge, inexpensively made, but functional once you tune it up.  The fence locks securely.  The fence itself is well designed, offering a generous reference surface (1 1/2″) given the overall size of the gauge (about 6″ long).  My only initial complaint is that, when loosened, the fence is a little too loose on the arm, making precise setting finicky.

General Marking Gauge 4-2016

It fits reasonably well in the hand, or in a tool chest drawer.  For myself, I prefer a gauge with a bigger fence, but the trade-off is that storing several of them in a drawer becomes difficult.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot.  Like some other mass-produced gauges, the General Tools gauge has graduations up to 5″ in 1/16″ increments.  The look nice, but they’re pretty useless.  You don’t use a marking gauge for replicating numerical measurements.  You set them according to the actual dimensions of a physical object–say, the thickness of a board or the width of a chisel.  The beauty of a marking gauge is that it is more precise than any ruler you could easily read with your naked eye.

General Marking Gauge 4-2016

This is a pin-style gauge, which I find useful for marking stopped lines.

General Marking Gauge 4-2016

So let’s see how it performs out of the package.

General Marking Gauge 4-2016

I’m testing it against one of my own pin-style gauges, which is tuned and reliable.  Each of the parallel lines above was scribed with a different gauge.  Scribing with the grain is no problem–you probably can’t tell the difference between the two.  (The General Tools gauge is the one closest to the edge of the board.)

But across the grain, there’s a big difference.  My shop-made gauge sliced across this soft pine nicely, but the General Tools gauge tears the wood instead of slicing it.

But that’s exactly what all manufactured pin-style gauges will do out of the box.  Many woodworkers don’t know this, but you have to sharpen the pins correctly in order to be able to use them across the grain.

The pin is ground to a point, but to slice across the grain, you need a blade.  The way to achieve this is to hone the front and back of the pin, forming a rounded knife-edge.

General Marking Gauge 4-2016

This pin is nice and hard–I couldn’t easily cut it with a file–so it should hold an edge once honed.  I honed the pin on a whetstone using a side-to-side motion. A little on one side, a little on the other side, until a burr is formed.  A little on one side, a little on the other side, until the burr is gone.

Now let’s try it again on that soft pine.

General Marking Gauge 4-2016

A properly sharpened pin and a light touch results in a much cleaner line.  It’s not perfect, but serviceable.

Pine is difficult to cleanly cut across the grain anyway.  So let’s see how it does on a cabinet-grade hardwood.

General Marking Gauge 4-2016

On this scrap of claro walnut, you would be hard-pressed to distinguish the marking gauge lines from a line struck with a marking knife.  (Answer key: the bottom line was made with my own gauge, the middle one with the General Tools gauge, and the top one with a marking knife.)  Any of those lines would be clean enough for workmanlike joinery.

Can you get a better manufactured marking gauge?  Of course you can–much better, but for a good deal more money.

If you are looking for a basic, affordable gauge, or if you need  a worksite marking gauge that you wouldn’t be heartbroken (or bankrupted) to lose, you might consider this tool.

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Last Chance: Pipes for Sale

Today I’m featuring some of my handmade pipes for sale.  They’re nice pipes–genuine briar, well-fitted stems, precisely drilled for a good smoke.  I’d love to send them off to some good homes.  These pipes and more (along with a number of spoons and spatulas) are available at my Etsy shop.

Keep reading to find out why this would be a GREAT week to buy something from me.


Churchwarden pipe. $129  Here’s a pipe for all you Tolkien lovers.  It has a wide bowl and a very long stem, even for a churchwarden.  Overall length of the pipe is just under a foot long.



Diamond-shank billiard with metal infill. $119  A fun, faceted twist on a traditional shape. It’s a fairly big pipe at 6.5″ long.  The bowl is deep and should deliver a good, long smoke.  The void near the top is filled in with metal filings stabilized with CA glue and sanded flush with the surface.



Diplomat pipe. $99  The shape is traditional if somewhat uncommon.  This pipe would fit comfortably in a jacket pocket.



Dublin freehand pipe. $119  A small, freehand shape with a lucite stem.  This just might be a lady’s pipe, though smoking it won’t get anybody’s Man-Card revoked.

Here are two great reasons to pick one of these up soon.

First, some of these have been in stock for a while now, and their listings are just about to expire.  Most won’t be available by the end of the month.

Second, here’s an incentive: through Friday, 4/15, use the following (case-sensitive) coupon code at checkout for free shipping to anywhere in the continental USA:


The offer is good on anything from my shop, not just the items featured above.

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Daughter’s Dutch Tool Chest

This guest-post is by my newest oldest daughter, N.

For Christmas I was given several nice tools and all I had to put them in was a majestic plastic purple crate.


Okay, so a crate in the corner of my room isn’t exactly a majestic place to keep tools, and my dad knew that, so he told me my project was going to be to make a tool chest. He pointed to his (giant) collection of Popular Woodworking magazines, a copy of The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, and various other tool chest guides, and told me to pick one I liked. As an amateur woodworker—and by “amateur” I mean I could work a spokeshave and occasionally saw a seemingly-straight line—I had to be realistic about my skill set as well as conscious of how much space I really needed to have.  And after researching, I decided on a Dutch tool chest. (We followed Chris Schwarz’s plans from a Popular Woodworking article.) I began practicing sawing straight lines and making dovetails, and although I was nowhere near what I considered to be capable of building a tool chest, we began working on it over Spring Break.

The first step was cutting the sideboards and baseboard to size. I was scared to cut the diagonal line so I let Papa do it, then we cut a dado for the shelf, and after that, it was my turn to make my first set of real dovetails that would have to hold the weight of the entire chest…no pressure or anything. My first few attempts at dovetails prior to the tool chest were on scrap pieces and they did not turn out too incredibly well, but I must admit that I was relatively pleased with how they turned out on the chest, and even more pleased to know that my joinery skills were not quite hopeless. When we pieced it together, we only had to use three shims along the bottom!


We then made a quick sprung joint to edge-glue the two pieces for the lid together, and while that dried, we worked on the tongue-and-groove joints for the back panels.

N Builds a Dutch Tool Chest 3-2016I cut the panels to length, and cut them straight while wearing a golf skirt! (I was about to leave for the driving range with a friend.) It was quite a victory and I learned that the saw benches are my best friends. However, I ended up letting Papa do the actual tongue-and-groove joinery because I’m left-handed and struggled using a right-handed plow plane. I nailed the boards into place on the back, and cut the boards for the front and the door for the bottom shelf. The design in the magazine showed a drop-front for the bottom shelf, but I knew I couldn’t do that on my own, so I just used hinges and a latch.

Papa attached the top lid with hinges while I drilled holes for screws in the handles, and then it was ready for tools.

But I wanted to decorate it a little. I painted a Gothic-style “S” on the top of the lid and painted the base of the handles black to match, and after a few coats of lacquer, it was done!

The chest ended up looking beautiful, and I can now say that I can cut a straight line, successfully operate planes (the tools not the aircrafts), and make functional joints.

A very special thanks to my dad for all of his help and patience, and to the people on WoodNet who sent more tools to fill my new chest!

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