Sunday, December 29, 2013

Writing for Wood News Online

For over a year and a half now, I've been writing articles and, mostly, book reviews for Highland Woodworking's Wood News Online.  This has been a lot of fun for me, since it combines my twin loves of woodworking and writing.  But it has come at a price--I have not had the time to be a faithful contributor to this blog as a result.   I'll try to make up for that in the future.

In the meantime, it might be of interest to know some of the postings I've made to Wood News Online.  My first article  appeared in May 2012 and was called "Hand Planes: Unlocking the Mystery"; it was a review of techniques for using hand planes in woodworking.  This article draws on my experience in teaching handplane techniques at my local Woodcraft store.

This was followed by a series of book reviews.  You can find an index to the issues of Wood News Online at, which has links to all my book and DVD reviews.

In May 2013 I also published "Seven Steps to Peak Handplane Performance," which discusses setting and adjusting a handplane to get the best results from it.  This article also draws on my experience teaching restoring old handplanes at my local Woodcraft store.

Since the first article, I've published a review a month, sometimes about DVDs, but mostly about books.  A couple of reviews have dealt with woodturning but mostly they have been about woodworking techniques, with emphasis on hand tools.  Next month's review, which should be released the first week in January, will be about Marc Spagnuolo's new book Hybrid Woodworking.

I've really enjoyed doing this.  It's a good way to keep my woodworking reading regular.  I learn new techniques and skills through my reading.  And it gives me a chance to express myself in writing.  What could be better?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Visiting Grizzly Tools

Recently, I got wind of a special deal on a 3 hp, 8-inch jointer from Grizzly Industrial.  It was in their  outlet store and was discounted $250 because it had flaking paint on the cast iron portion of the tool.  I decided to make a special deal of it by driving to Muncy, Pennsylvania, to pick it up myself and save the shipping cost.  The result, I got a great jointer for under $600!  Sure, it was about an 8-hour trip but the experience of seeing the Grizzly showroom was also worthwhile.

The Grizzly store is truly amazing.  It is huge!  And they have samples of all of their tools, plus tools
from other manufacturers, on display. My friend Jeff Fleisher and I had a good time browsing all the tools and supplies and came away with a few things in addition to the jointer.  Fortunately, the jointer--which came in two large boxes--fit in my pickup truck.  The helpful Grizzly staff loaded them in my truck with a fork lift, essential since they were so heavy.

When Jeff and I got back to my shop, we opened the boxes on the truck bed and were able to carry the parts into the shop and install them without much difficulty.  It is a two-man job, but no more than two are needed.

I'm happy to say the jointer is fully adjusted and working very well.  It is so much better to have this tool to replace my previous Grizzly 6-inch jointer.  Although that jointer gave me no trouble, ever, it really was too small for many of my needs.  I'm glad I made the change.

And the paint problem?  Yes, there is flaking paint on the cast iron, mostly in areas that are not visible.  I ordered a can of touch-up paint and at some time I'll clean and cover those spots to protect the metal.  But it's purely a cosmetic issue; the jointer functions the same as any of the others.  I'm happy I got it.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Saw Till

I've been accumulating hand saws over recent months as part of my transition from a fully power tool woodworker to a hybrid woodworker.  What that means is that I'm starting to use hand tools more and more in my work.  I don't ever plan to change over to an exclusive reliance on hand tools.  Power tools are useful and have a good purpose, especially when processing large amounts of wood for larger projects.  Still, I like working by hand and am building up my skills in this area.  Hence the hand saws.

I now have three crosscut saws--two in serious need of sharpening, a skill I am working on but have not yet mastered--two rip saws of differing tooth configurations and several smaller saws.  Those saws are a Bad Axe Toolworks 18" tenon saw with a hybrid tooth filing, an Adria Toolworks carcase saw, a Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw and a Veritas crosscut saw. Each saw has its own purpose, so I feel justified in having them all.  I'm hoping they will meet all my hand saw needs for a very long time.

The problem with having this many saws is where to store them.  That led me to design and build a saw till so I could hang them in a small space on my shop wall.  As the photo shows, this turned out to be a simple affair, essentially three rectangles of birch plywood, two of which are attached at right angles to the back board and supported by a cleat on their undersides.  I sawed grooves in the horizontal pieces for the saw blades to fit into.  As you can see, the saws are held in place by their handles and a bit of gravity.  I screwed the whole affair into the concrete wall of my basement shop, where it hangs between some shelves and a large sheet of pegboard.

This simple design works well and was easy to execute.  But improvements might be possible for others who wish to build something similar.  I might have designed it so the handles are at the bottom and the blades facing upward, for example, but somehow the simplicity of this arrangement appealed to me more.  Another improvement would be to angle the top horizontal piece so it slopes upward toward the front.  This would have alleviated my fear that the saws will--given vibrations in the shop--gradually work their way forward in their slots and eventually fall to the floor.  My solution to that is periodically to push them backward in their slots to rectify any forward creep.  An angled board would have rid me of this concern.

Perhaps some day I'll make another saw till that incorporates improvements.  Until I'm caught up on all my projects--and that is likely to be a very long time indeed!--I'll use the one I have and be glad it is there to project my saws and keep them handy for use.

If you decide to build one of your own, leave a comment and tell me what you did.  I just might want to borrow from your ideas if and when I rebuild my own.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Shenandoah Mallets

My friend Jeff Fleisher and I recently started a business we're calling the Shenandoah Tool Works and we've started manufacturing our first wood tools.  Called the Shenandoah Mallet, they are steel-headed mallets for use by woodcarvers .  We are producing them in two weights
Carving a Newport Shell with a Shenandoah Mallet
--1 lb. and 1
½ lb.--and fitting them with comfortable handles turned from domestic and exotic hardwoods of especial beauty.

We personally select the lumber for the mallet handles and turn each handle individually, which makes each handle unique.  As a result, specific mallets may be chosen from the Shenandoah Tool Works catalog at  We have a wide selection of handles available for immediate order.  In addition to these, we have other hardwoods available for production.  We are also able to produce mallets  from a user's own special wood.  The address for information is  A four-page brochure is available from us at that address or on our web site.
Shenandoah Mallets in crotch walnut and tiger maple

 We've created the Shenandoah Mallets as premium tools for discriminating woodworkers who value both the functionality and beauty of their tools.  The mallets are durably designed for a lifetime of productive use.  They will bring continuing pleasure to the woodworker who chooses them for both their comfortable fit in the hand and their delight to the eye.  We've made the Shenandoah Mallets surprisingly affordable; they are priced in the mid-range between run-of-the-mill mallets and those sold at higher price  points.  To keep our prices low, we are offering Shenandoah Mallets only from

Why call it Shenandoah Tool Works and name the mallets the Shenandoah Mallet?  It's where we live.  Jeff's woodshop, where we do our production, is located near New Market, Virginia, in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.  I live in the Blue Ridge mountains only minutes away from the Shenandoah River and the northern entrance to the valley.  So it's a natural.  Besides, we think the name has a ring to it.
Meems Bottom Covered Bridge

Wish us luck as we get our new venture underway.  We think we've got a good product that will be attractive to woodcarvers the world over.  We hope you and our customers agree.  Send us a comment to let us know.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Carving with Mary May

Mary May demonstrating the convex Newport shell
 Just recently, I returned from a five-day class in wood carving with celebrated carver Mary May.  I was joined by six other aspiring carvers, including three whom I already knew and three others who soon became new friends.  The class was conducted in Mary's light and airy workshop in Charleston, SC.  I drove down from Virginia with Jeff Fleisher, with whom I've taken classes before, first as his student and later as his classmate.  The class was organized by Charles Neil, who wanted to learn more about carving the details on the John Townsend Tall Clock he is currently building on his web-based Mastering Woodworking  classes.

In case you don't know about Mary, she too has a regular on-line class series on carving furniture details, in addition to a line of DVDs and other products.  And of course, she teaches in both her own shop and at various locations around the country.
Some of Mary's many chisels

During our week with Mary, we worked on four projects.  The first was a Philadelphia-style ball and claw foot.   That was followed by a finial that will be used by some of the class participants on the John Townsend Tall Clock they are building with Charles Neil, the Newport convex shell, which will also be used on the clock, and a cabriole leg with acanthus leaves.  All our work was done with basswood blanks, as it is easiest for beginners to carve.

Jeff Fleisher gave us a demonstration of chip carving

I learned a lot during the week.  Here are some of my take-aways, in no particular order of importance:

  • A mallet gives you better control of the chisel, especially when cutting on curves
  • For stability of action, keep your opposite hand (the one not holding the chisel) in contact with the board at all times, even when working with a mallet
  • Learn to hold the chisel in either hand and to work with your non-dominant hand; it will help especially in awkward situations and avoids the need to keep reversing the position of your work
  • Use your body motion with the chisel action and not just arm movement; this reduces fatigue and increases control
    Carving the convex Newport shell
  • Cutting a curve with a V-chisel can cause you to be cutting against the grain on one side of the V-cut; to avoid this, lean the chisel so you are always cutting with the grain; otherwise you will get tearout on the off-side
  • Carve the ball on the ball and claw foot with a flat chisel, such as a #2 chisel or a paring chisel
  • Good lighting--especially side lighting--is essential when you are carving; Mary bought LED panels inexpensively at Lowes and mounted them on adjustable arms
  • Pfeil chisels come with secondary bevels cut at the factory so they are sharp right out of the box; but when they dull, you have to grind off that secondary bevel in order to re-hone them; also, the secondary bevel affects the angle of cut somewhat so they may not be ideal choices
  • If you darken the end of the chisel blade with a black marking pen, you can see your progress when sharpening it

Mary also sells various things, and while there I purchased some of her wares: a couple of Dastra gouges, which she is beginning to sell (if they aren't on her web site yet, they soon will be); a brass-headed mallet with cocobolo handle; plaster castings of four of her carvings to use as models; and a couple of Mary's DVDs.  I already subscribe to her on-line program for the low fee of $10 a month.

Carving acanthus leaves on a cabriole leg
Charles Neil brought along his Koch Thermal Reactive Carving Tool system, which has four wheels for honing carving chisels and gouges .  It's thermal-reactive, which means that the honing paste becomes active when it reaches a certain temperature.  He convinced nearly everyone in the class to buy one, and we ordered them from Woodcraft.  In the process, we bought out all Woodcraft's remaining stock, so it may be a while before this German machine is back in supply.  I set mine up the other day and it works wonderfully to quickly hone chisels to a razor-sharp edge.  It will be a joy to use and it will make the carving so much better.

Jeff and I brought our wives with us to Charleston and they had a great time touring, shopping, eating  and generally kicking around that historic city.  In all, a fun time and wonderful learning experience.