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Jesse's Finished Drafting TableThroughout my career I was fortunate enough to work with some of the brightest and most energetic young engineers. In my retirement that luck has continued with a string of woodworking apprentices: Amber Baker, Melissa Stylos and Jesse Moy. I call them my apprentices, though I am neither qualified in the traditional European apprenticeship sense, nor do I have an official apprenticeship program. “My apprentices” is a label of affection because I have grown to appreciate and respect each of them for their drive, desire to learn a traditional skill and the quality of labor they brought to the task.

Inside The Drafting Table Is Storage For The T-Square & Other Drawing ToolsToday Jesse came to pick up his completed project and so he graduated in a sense. I introduced you to both Jesse and Melissa in my March 29, 2012 newsletter (Amber in my December 1, 2010 newsletter). See the March issue for Jesse’s background.

Jesse and I met in December of last year when he was introduced to me by Steve Racz of CutList Ruby script fame. Jesse had just finished a timber frame program at The Heartwood School the previous spring and was a co-student with Steve. He told me he wanted to learn fine furniture crafting and could I help him. I said sure, can you spend about two days a week in the shop?

A SketchUp Sketchy Rendering of the Drafting TableThe plan was simple. Jesse was to help me build two cherry chest of drawers to learn fine furniture woodworking. He would be under my guidance each step of the way. We would start with rough lumber selection, then stock preparation, followed by milling, layout & cutting of joinery  etc. He would learn both power tool use & safety and hand tool use & sharpening. I am big on hand tool use and told him he would have to master the use of planes, chisels and hand saws during this first phase. Then Jesse would build a project of his own design, working on his own, getting help from me only when he asked for it. That was the deal.

A SketchUp Sketchy Rendering of the Drafting Table InsideI believe you learn woodworking mostly from doing it – and – having a project of value to work on. Jesse certainly had that motivation. Jesse and his woman friend, Christina, have plans to obtain graduate degrees in architecture. The project Jesse chose is a portable drafting table which he plans to gift to Christina upon her graduation this month from The Conway School’s Sustainable Landscape Design program. Certainly this is a project of value and a labor of love. What better way to learn fine woodworking.

Learning to Hand Cut DovetailsJesse didn’t just choose a project and design it himself. He had to learn SketchUp too, and then model his design and produce the shop drawings to work from. In the tradition of Swamp Road Wood Work’s SketchUp models, Jesse is making his SketchUp model available to anyone who wishes to build this drafting table, or modify his design for another use. At a later date I will place Jess’s drafting table on my Free Plans page.

As mentioned earlier, drawers and carcasses crafted at SRWW are almost always joined using hand cut dovetails. In the construction of the cherry chests Jesse learned not only through dovetails, but half-blind dovetails too. He started by practicing straight cuts on scrap wood; over and over and over until he could follow a layout line. Soon he was cutting tails and pins and putting together practice joints. As is typical, his first dovetail joint was almost perfect – beginner’s luck; his second and third not so much. But each one got better and better. Jesse built the first drawers of my cherry chest on his own and I was very pleased with the result.

Jesse's Hand Crafted DrawersThe design Jesse created was full of hand joinery, some quite complex. The carcass employed hand cut through and half-blind dovetails, the drawers through and half-blind dovetails. Several styles of dadoes – traditional and v-grove – were employed. In addition, many of the dadoes were of the stopped variety. While the dadoes and rabbets were cut with the table saw and router, some were formed, or cleaned up, using a shoulder plane & shooting board or chisel. Jesse learned both the value of fine tuning joinery as well as the cost if you skipped this step.

Dadoes, Both Stopped & Through, and Half-Blind & Through DovetailsJesse was taught the tails first method of hand cut dovetails. And he was taught to cut to – but leave – a line when cutting the pins, since pins are laid out by tracing the tails. If done correctly you should still see the pencil lines after tails are cut. The more difficult dovetail joint is the half-blind dovetail because you have to cut to – but leave – the line, and you have to cut a complex angle and keep from unsightly overcutting. The picture below left shows how well Jesse performed this task.

Jesse's Well Formed Half-Blind DovetailsAmong the many things about fine furniture design and crafting Jesse learned was the importance of taking seasonal shrinkage/expansion into account. His top is fairly large and hence subject to seasonal changes in width and cupping. To account for this Jesse employed breadboard ends. He learned to use a moisture meter, first calibrating it and setting it for a particular wood species. Then making a moisture reading and using it to calculate dimensional changes taking into account species, board type (quarter sawn verses plain sawn), area of the country and the application (breadboard). Armed with this information he knew how wide to cut the top such that the average width over the full season would be the length of the breadboard ends.

Further, he learned to elongate the pin holes in the tenons in a graduated way, the first hole in the front un-elongated and each subsequent hole elongated in a graduated way to allow for maximum expansion and contraction. If you look closely at the picture below right you can see this graduated elongation.

Mortise, Tenon & Haunch Joinery for Seasonal ChangesPlanning the inside layout of the drafting table was no small feat. Jesse had to provide storage for the T-Square, allow space and partitioning for the drawers, provide space at the ends for sticks that would hold the top open at the desired angle while drawing, and finally leave space for storage of other drafting tools, pencils, erasers etc.

Hardware choice was a particularly daunting task. Many woodworkers don’t understand the value of selecting and acquiring the hardware before completing the design and beginning crafting. Jesse learned this lesson somewhat the hard way. He also discovered that he couldn’t have chosen a more labor intensive drawer pull than the ones he chose. If you look at the sixth picture from the top you will see what I mean. The drawer pulls needed to be set into the drawer front. Creating the precise opening required the construction of a jig for the router. That was followed by drilling a rather large hole using a Forstner bit and then manually scooping out a ball shaped volume.

The Inside Layout Took Careful ConsiderationNot shown are the 6-lb rare-earth magnets and associated hardware to keep the drawers from falling out when the drafting table is moved. These are mounted into the drawer backs and the partition just behind the drawers. Knowing where to place this partition required detailed knowledge of the rare-earth magnet hardware which Jesses neglected to order until late in the game. To his credit he figured out how to stage the construction and glue-up so he could rescue himself from this situation.

Shown in the picture below right are the spalted maple T-Square and the top with breadboard ends. Both the T-Square and the breadboard ends are attached using pegs. This project for sure employed a wide variety of joinery making it an ideal project for learning fine woodworking. Looking at these pictures, especially the two of the completed piece; I think you will agree with me that Jesse is no longer an apprentice and deserves to be called a fine woodworker. His “graduation” comes with mixed emotion. I am happy to witness his end product turn out so well and I am proud of Jesse and his efforts. But I will miss working with such a talented, dedicated and hardworking individual. A young man who has become a good friend.

Spalted Maple T-Square & Breadboard Ends Attached With PegsDuring the course of our working together I dropped my #5 Jack plane and broke the handle. As a going away gift Jesse gave me a replacement handle and a gift of a Shaker furniture book. Every time I pick up my Jack or refer to that book I will be reminded of a young man with a bright future who passed through my life and shop and gave me the pleasure of teaching him fine woodworking. Good luck Jesse.

Max Wonders When This Will All End I love New England three seasons of the year. There is one season that really tries my sanity – you guessed it; Winter. My shop partner, Max, comes from Austin, Texas. He is mostly Jack Russell Terrier but has some Mexican Chihuahua blood too. Winter is not his thing either. Well, just to kick sand in our faces, Old Man Winter served up two major storms this week. Not nice of him! We New Englanders are a hearty bunch, but even we have our breaking points.

Max On A Search For Summer Weather This week alone we have had over 36” of snow with 9” more forecast for the next 24 hours. The show came in two snowfalls with about three inches of rain in between. The rain mixed with the snow and froze. Then the second snowfall came. What a mess. My driveway has been plowed twice this week and needs it again. I have no idea where we will put anymore snow. Fortunately, we have had no power outages this year like we did in the Ice Storm of 2008; we were a week without power.

You Can Walk To The Roof On Snow Piled In Front Of My Garage Door The Swamp Road Wood Works’ shop, the red barn at left, is snowbound. As you can see you can walk to the roof on the snow that is blocking my second garage door. It will be the end of May before that pile is completely melted.

Ahhh! But, have no fear! Inside where the shop is toasty warm, we are surrounded by warm and loving tools. Max and I can loose ourselves and forget about the winter; thinking only of dovetail joints while we wait for those days when the large shop door remains open.

Only one small problem with that comforting thought. Between now and then we have to contend with mud season. Those few weeks in late winter/early spring when the days are warm and the nights freeze and the ground is still frozen underneath. Our driveway and roads are dirt and gravel. Mud season is a time when you can lose a truck in the ruts. But that is why we lovingly call it Swamp Road Wood Works.

Hunter Dressed As A Viking Barbarian This story begins on a sad note, but it ends with all the joy that is the hallmark of a Christmas season. My brother-in-law, Hunter, passed away on December 13th after a five year battle with Pick’s Disease, a type of dementia. He knew from the day he was diagnosed what his end would be like. But true to his nature he was happy, jovial and laughing throughout. I was with him on his last waking day when he laughed, joked and performed the funniest acts I have ever seen.

A Viking Barbarian With A Gentle Smile Hunter was a large man, a physical sign of his larger than life presence and personality. He had an infectious laugh that was somewhere between a jolly belly laugh and a roar. His life was full of adventure and mischievous play. He loved fast motorcycles, weapons of all kinds and dressing up in Viking costumes. If you didn’t know him and saw him approaching in his costume, he would scare the life out of you where you stood. But he was a gentle and loving guy, a supportive and caring father to his daughters, a best friend to his wife and a loving sibling to his brother and two sisters. There can be no doubt he will be missed by all who knew him.

But the point of this story is not the sadness of Hunter’s passing, but the joy he brought all who knew him – especially the joy he left me with this Christmas season. You see, Hunter had a very special friend called Max. A 20 pound, 10 inch tall, three year old Jack Russell Terrier. Max is now my charge. He is the cutest, most lovable and most loyal friend a man could have (save for my wife of course).

Hunter With Max Outside Their Bastrop, TX Home Jack Russell Terriers are working dogs. They need to have a job. So Max is going to apprentice with me in my workshop. As a beginning apprentice he will perform menial labor tasks such as fetching my lumber from the second floor of my shop where it is stored for drying. Max has already complained about lengths over 6 feet long, so I may have to shorten the longer stock. But hey, that is still easier than fetching the stock myself. Max can already identify cherry and maple but struggles with walnut, butternut and various figured woods. However, Jack Russell’s are an intelligent breed and in time he will learn.

Max & Chiefwoodworker In The Shop Apprenticeship European style, culminating in the title of Master Craftsman, is a long and arduous process. It will be some time before Max is trusted to use my Lie-Nielson planes and chisels. Like any apprentice he will have to work his way up the ladder, and that means mastering the preparation of rough stock on the power jointer and table saw first. Like all experienced woodworkers he will likely give up a few toes to the jointer and a piece of his nose to the table saw before he graduates. He will wear those scars with pride throughout his adult life. But in the end he will be ready to fill the shoes of Chiefwoodworker when I retire.

Please welcome Max to Chiefwoodworker’s Blog and Swamp Road Wood Works. You will be hearing more of his adventures in the future.

My Daughter, Summer My daughter and I visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame as a Father/Daughter mini-vacation over the Memorial Day weekend. Both halls, much to our surprise, took only a half day to see. We had planned a day apiece. So with the extra time available we decide to add one more stop on our way home; Hancock Shaker Village in Hancock, Massachusetts. I had been there three times prior, but my daughter had never visited a Shaker village and both she and I wanted her to see it.

basketmakingshop The Shakers are a significant part of my life. I was born at home, on Albany Shaker Road in Colonie, New York, approximately one mile from Mother Ann Lee’s grave and the site of the founding village in Niskayuna, New York. I spent my childhood ice skating on the Shaker Pond where the Shakers cut ice in the winter. I worked on a farm owned by the Engel family who were very close friends of our family, and to this day attend our family reunion each year. The family elder, Walt Engel, worked for the Shakers cutting ice during the winter when farm activity was slow. Working next to him in the fields he would regale my brothers and me with Shaker stories. I graduated from Shaker High School in 1963. Throughout my life I have always been attracted to simple Early American furniture with a special liking of Shaker pieces. To this day my own furniture designs are guided by my early Shaker influence. Some of you may not know, or heard of the Shakers. The following is a digest history.

A Family Dwelling With Kitchen, Dining Rooms, Meeting Rooms & Bedrooms Ann Lee, born February 29, 1736, was a member of a group derisively referred to as Shaking Quakers due to their spontaneous dancing that accompanied their worship. The group resided in Manchester, England where they were often persecuted, beaten and imprisoned. From early youth Ann believed she experienced “divine manifestations” and believed that intercourse and its sexual pleasures were sinful. However her parents convinced her to marry a blacksmith with whom she had four children. All died in infancy. This experience and her religious beliefs later led to her strong belief in celibacy, void of marital family structure.

A Unique Circular Cow Barn Improved Efficiency And Fire SafetyAnn herself was imprisoned in 1770 at the age of 34. While in prison she experienced Christ more strongly than ever. After being released from prison Ann Lee, with her strong belief in the second coming of Christ and a vision of what living a Christ like life must be, eventually became the leader of the Shakers, now formally called the United Society of Believers in Christ’s First and Second Appearing. The group bestowed on her the title of Mother and she was from then on known as Mother Ann. Members of the Shakers were called Sister or Brother.

An Adult Cradle Used In The InfirmaryDue to continued persecution, in 1774 Ann Lee led seven of her followers, including her husband, brother, niece and a wealthy financier to America arriving in New York City on August 6, 1774. Her husband abandoned the group shortly thereafter. Upon arriving they split up to find work but two years later bought 200 acres in Niskayuna located in the township of Watervliet, NY.

Crutches, Walker And Hearing Aid The Shakers practiced their religion quietly and without much notice. As a communal sect they farmed, made their own furniture, tools, equipment and built buildings. Because of their beliefs they opened their own schools. They remained under the radar until a period in colonial life when many people feared religion was being lost in American society. The Shakers offered what was considered a pure religion and was soon discovered by those seeking a deeper dedication. Mother Ann recognized this and from 1781 to 1783 traveled throughout Eastern New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut as a missionary seeking converts, who once converted opened new villages.

One Half Of A Symmetrical Dining Hall Shaker orthodoxy included celibacy, equality of the sexes and races, pacifism, communal living and property ownership, strict Christian worship and confession of sins. In support of these beliefs there were no marriages or children born into the Believers. Their numbers grew by converts and adoption, particularly of orphaned children. Upon entering the Shaker community converts offered all their property and belongings to the community. Shaker communities were governed by four elders, two women and two men, which served to support their belief in equality. Indeed after Mother Ann’s passing on September 8, 1784 the Shakers as a whole were led by Mother Lucy Wright and Father Joseph Meacham.

Built-ins Were Functional, Efficient And Often ColorfulMother Ann died from frailty largely as a result of her missionary work from 1781 through 1783, where she often met with violence and beatings from those who viewed Shakers as troublesome. This was particularly true in Shirley, Massachusetts. But Mother Ann almost always succeeded in her mission. The Shakers survived and thrived well beyond her life to become the America’s most successful communal sect. At their peak there was 19 major communities with a population between 4 – 5 thousand members and stretched from Kentucky to Maine. A community sprung up even in Shirley, MA, where Mother Ann was tormented and beaten. Mother Ann never lived to see the completion of a village but her convictions and guidance remained the focus of Shaker life.

One Half Of A Symmetrical Meeting Room The Shaker contribution to American society went well beyond beautiful and simple furniture to the creation of the circular saw (table saw), the flat broom, packaged seeds, clothes pins and many other inventions.

Wooden Hand Planes Of All Shapes & Sizes - Notice The Long Jointer The Shakers were good neighbors, they paid taxes, obeyed the laws, sold their wares to the community and purchased goods and services from the community. They took in workers who were unemployed and gave them jobs, took in abandoned and orphaned children and gave them homes and love, and yes, most importantly to a woodworker gave us a clean, beautiful in its simplicity, furniture style.

A Shaker Version Of A High Boy The Shaker orthodoxy, their beliefs and Mother Ann’s strong guidance shaped their furniture with a simple principle, simplicity of purpose, that is, form follows function and nothing more. Mother Ann instructed her followers to “do all your work as though you had a thousand years to live, and as you would if you knew you would die tomorrow.” To the woodworker this meant build it to last and don’t procrastinate. Father Joseph Meacham wrote “All work done, or things made in the Church for their own use ought to be faithfully and well done, but plain and without superfluity.” To the woodworker this meant well joined, simple trim and no ornate pieces or carvings. It is stated in the Millennial Laws that guided the Church that “Members of the church of God…are forbidden to make anything for Believers that will have a tendency to feed…pride and vanity”. Indeed, signing a piece was not allowed early on, although in the 19th century many Shaker woodworkers did sign their work but always hidden from plain sight.

A Shaker Built Shoulder Vise - Note The Dovetails Despite the avoidance of “superfluity” and simplicity of purpose, Shaker furniture is beautiful, it is elegant in its simplicity, and it is nothing else if not well constructed. Thumbnailed drawer edges, mushroom shaped pulls, dovetailed drawers and carcasses, brilliantly arranged and proportioned doors and drawers, functionally configured desks, sewing benches and tables all combine to give us this unique and beautiful style. Perhaps never again will there be such a distinctive style tied so closely to so few a people as Shaker furniture is to the Shakers – and their beliefs.

A Shaker Woodworking Bench To anyone who wants to know more about the Shakers and their works I highly recommend a book titled “The Complete Book Of Shaker Furniture” by Timothy D. Rieman and Jean M. Burks. I also suggest you visit the websites of Hancock Shaker Village, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village or Shaker Villages And Museums.

Merry Christmas Well it never fails. I just returned from a Lie-Nielsen tool show in Sturbridge, MA. An LN-62 followed me home like a new puppy.

I had it in mind to buy the large scraper plane for finishing figured woods such as tiger maple. I actually bought it. But Chris Becksvoort was at the show and after a long conversation he convinced me that a better option was the Low Angle Jack and several blades.

With each blade sharpened to a different angle, from the stock angle to 50 degrees (62 with the bed angle of 12 degrees), I would have several well tuned tools in one and could then select the best one for the job. I had actually heard this argument before from Chris Schwarz. So I gave the LN 62 a go, right there at the show, on some particularly tough grained tiger maple. It worked beautifully. It left the surface smooth as a baby’s bottom.

I canceled the Large Scraper order and substituted the LN-62. I am happy to report that both Chiefwoodworker and LN-62 are doing well.

Now the saw is a different story. I am known in my family as a hum bug kinda guy (it’s not really true, I just like to pretend). My family is always trying to find ways to get me in the Christmas spirit. So my son and daughter-in-law gave me this saw, intended to be a welcoming sign for my shop during the Christmas season. But I thought I might clean it up (get rid of all that paint), sharpen it and add it to my fine tool collection. I have some sawing I have to do this week and this saw should work just fine.

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Home of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks I was scheduled to pick up my new Lie-Nielsen workbench on Monday, October 6th. (See The Tool Worth Waiting For for background.) I had waited for this moment for nearly twelve months; Lie-Nielsen has a large backorder on this popular bench which I learned when I ordered it in the fall of 2007. The combination of my excitement, the beautiful October colors and a desire to visit the Lie-Nielsen facility suggested I pick it up in person. I invited Willow along so that we could spend a weekend in Maine – sort of a short vacation.

The Chisel Group, in the background are the milling machines used to manufacture chisels.We departed early on Sunday morning, October 5th, from Lancaster, MA after spending and evening with our grandchildren – and their parents too. We guessed it would take about five hours driving time but were pleasantly surprised when it took only three and a half. I had two requirements for the trip. First, I didn’t want to miss the Patriot’s football game which began at 4 pm, and secondly, I wanted to spend most of Monday touring Lie-Nielsen and ogling their tools. Willow also had two goals. First she wanted to stay in a quaint B&B – she abhors motels and hotels – and she needed to participate in a board meeting conference call Monday morning.

Drill presses used by the Shoulder Plane Group in the making of shoulder planes.So we set out to find a B&B with cable TV that received the Patriots game. This didn’t take long because there are numerous old houses which offer B&B services. We were particularly lucky to find the Weskeag Inn, located on Route 73 in South Thomaston, situated on the edge of the Weskeag estuary near the reversing falls in South Thomaston village and not far from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks Inc. The Inn was built in the 1830’s and is filled with antiques, many of which are furniture pieces that I admired and thoroughly examined for construction.

A member of the Shoulder Plane Group making sure the machine is grinding the side of the shoulder plane properly.We had a quick lunch in the combination general store/post office next door and read the local papers with particular interest in the local political races. With our famine quelled we retired to the Inn’s living room to watch the Patriots beat the San Francisco Forty Niners 30-21. Watching that game must have burned a lot of energy because immediately thereafter we had dinner at Amalfi’s.

A member of the Bronze Group lapping the sole of a bronze plane by hand on a belt sander. All LN planes are held to a .001 inch tolerance for flatness.The couple that runs the Inn are our contemporaries and over a delicious breakfast the following morning they regaled us with the Inn’s history including stories of how he acquired it, its disrepair and repairs and their meeting – and discovering they were high school classmates. The stories were interesting and humorous, so much so that I almost forgot we were supposed to be at Lie-Nielsen’s.

One of the best Bronze Polishers in the world polishing bronze caps for LN's Low Angle Block.Lie-Nielsen Toolworks Inc. was founded by Thomas Lie-Nielsen in 1981. The company manufactures and sells high quality hand tools for woodworking at a premium price. It currently employs about 90 people. Corporate headquarters, shown in the first picture above left, resides in Warren, ME. This building houses a showroom and corporate offices including sales and marketing. Manufacturing is in a building about 200 feet away where nearly all Lie-Nielsen’s tools are made. Lie-Nielson workbenches are made in a separate facility in Waldoboro, ME – about 10 miles from corporate headquarters.

A member of the Bench Plane Group grinding a lever cap for a No. 5 Jack Plane.We pulled into the parking lot and Willow sat in the truck where she was able to acquire good reception for her conference call while I went inside for a tour of the facilities. To this point most of my communications with Lie-Nielsen had been through Andrew Dix in the Sales Department and Darren Gilbert of the Workbench Group. After announcing myself I was introduced to Matt Blazek, also of the Sales Department, who took me on a guided tour of the manufacturing floor – safety glasses required. The pictures you see here were taken by me while on that tour. Hold your mouse over a picture to read a description or click the picture for an enlargement.

Bar-stock used to make various plane parts, such as the screws for the tote, lever caps and other miscellaneous parts.After the tour I went to the showroom to fondle and try out some of the new tool additions such as the progressive pitch dovetail saw. There is an old bench in the showroom for just this purpose. Lie-Nielsen’s entire line, including the workbench, is available in the showroom for the customer to examine and try. I fell in love with the progressive pitch dovetail saw and vowed to get one to accompany the Lie-Nielsen Independence Saw I currently use.

The Blade Group is where all LN’s blades are ground flat and honed.Willow joined me in the showroom. While I was looking at tools I noticed her talking to Andrew and filling out some papers. When I inquired what she was doing she said “I am giving you a $400 gift certificate for your birthday”. I knew I invited her on this trip for some specific reason, but wasn’t sure why until that very moment. Willow insisted I spend it right away. She said “I know you have a list in your head, so just pick the next item on the list”. I did. I got the Iron Miter Plane which coincidentally will partner quite nicely with the bench I was about to pick up.

Part of LN’s heat treating system. These ovens are used to heat treat blades. They are subsequently removed and dropped into a cryo-bath.While we were converting the newly gifted gift certificate to a purchase Thomas Lie-Nielsen walked in. I had met and talked to Tom on a number of occasions at woodworking shows but this was an opportunity to introduce Willow to him. We talked for a while. I was curious about the practical use of floats and Tom demonstrated their use to me. I told him I was there to pick up my much anticipated bench. He told the story of their surprise when they started offering custom benches and receiving a response which quickly swamped their ability to fill orders. They are catching up now, but still have a backlog of nearly 200 benches. We discussed the benefits of tools made in America and Tom indicated that he is thinking of making his own line of vises to some day replace the high quality German vises now used on his benches. You can always make improvements he said.

All LN's blades are tested on the Hardness Machine and must fall between 60 and 62 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale.Famine hit again and Willow and I made for Moody’s Diner in Waldoboro, ME. I didn’t realize the history of Moody’s until I began writing this post. Moody’s is a family owned restaurant and motel which is apparently 75+ years old. It has its own cookbook called “What’s Cooking At Moody’s Diner: 75 Years Of Reminiscences” by Nancy Moody Genthner, the daughter of the founders Bertha and “P.B.” Moody. I ordered a favorite meal of mine – liver and bacon with mashed potatoes and gravy. It was delicious. The liver was tender, the bacon crisp and the vegetables cooked just right. Even the coffee seemed exceptional.

Final assembly. Each plane is assembled by hand with careful attention paid to 100% perfect assembly.Finally we arrived at the Waldoboro shop to pick up my bench. Darren greeted us and gave Willow and me a shop tour. I recognized much of the equipment; Bridgeports, Jets and numerous dust collectors. Workbenches in various stages of build were throughout the shop, as well as large blanks and other raw material used in their manufacture. The glued up bench tops are purchased from and American supplier and customized for Lie-Nielsen. There, up against a wall, under an old factory paned window, sat my bench. I actually felt a chill when I was told it was mine, my anticipation so long and great.

A group of No. 4 ½ Irons and Scrub Planes ready to be packaged and shipped.Darren supplied some cardboard for the bottom of my truck to protect the bench. The trestle was disassembled and placed on the bottom, more cardboard, and then three guys loaded the top. I brought along a plastic tarp, purchased just that morning, which we strapped to the bench and truck. Rain was forecast for the trip home.

An old bench in the showroom available for customers to try out LN products.The following morning I was back at my shop with the bench in the back of my pickup. I was alone, no one around. The bench weighs 250-300 lbs. I wanted it set up and usable – now! I tried to contact my usual list of likely helpers with no luck. I committed myself to do it alone. My shop was designed with a garage door and a floor raised in loading dock fashion. With the help of an assembly bench with wheels I was able to set up the trestle and move the top in place. To place the top on the trestle I had to turn it over because it was loaded on the truck topside down. It wasn’t easy, I was careful, and it required a lot of awkward hefting. But I managed.

Dovetail saws displayed in the showroom.After approximately six weeks of use I couldn’t be more pleased. This bench is heavy, stable and flat. The vises are smooth and precise. The bench came with two sets of dogs; one metal and the other wood. They work great.

LN's family of planes and accessories on display in the showroom.I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t find a few things I would do differently if I were to make a reproduction of this bench. First, I would probably add a few more coats of finish. It came with two coats of a 50/50 mixture of boiled linseed oil and turpentine. However, I have noticed that pencil and crayon marks that I make on milled pieces are wearing off on the bench. Maybe a few more coats would at least keep them from wearing into the top. Second, when the tail vise is fully closed there is a gap. This is apparently traditional as I have noticed when researching benches. However, looking at the bench it appears the gap width is arbitrary. I would choose a gap of 3/8″ instead of the nearly 1″ it now has. This is because most drawer sides, backs and even some fronts are 1/2″ thick and this 3/8″ gap would make it easier to cut dovetails using the tail vise. These are minor issues that can be easily remedied by the user. The bottom line – this is a top notch bench, well worth the $2,500 sticker price.

My bench on the LN shop floor, ready to come home.With a career in electrical engineering behind me and an avocation of cabinetmaker I am ill prepared to fully understand the metallurgy, machinery and mechanical engineering that go into the manufacture of quality hand tools. However, I have been around hand tools all my life; my father and brothers were all craftsman in the carpentry, plumbing and electrical trades (I come from a family of twelve siblings). As a child and teenager I used numerous pre-war Stanley tools and planes as well as many other quality brands. I was always taught to purchase a quality tool; tool purchases are not a time to be frugal, for good ones will last generations. With that background and my own woodworking experience I consider myself qualified to discern quality as I use such tools. Lie-Nielsen tools are second to none in design, fit-and-finish, quality and results. That, combined with the fact that they are American made is why I use almost exclusively their products.

Nearly comleted hand tool cabinet next to LN bench.The bench is home in its corner of my shop next to the tool cabinet that holds my hand tools, mostly Lie-Nielsen. You will notice that my tool cabinet has some space for planned future purchases, but space is not planned for a complete family. I doubt I will ever have all the planes, chisels, floats etc in the Lie-Nielsen collection. I am not a collector. I am a user who generally purchases a tool only when it is needed or will improve some facet of my work. I try not to fool myself into thinking I need a tool only to see it take up space in my shop but serve no useful purpose. But when I do purchase a tool I am particular about the brand. Lie-Nielsen has proved to meet or exceed my expectations.

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The Sears, Roebuck 1902 Catalogue In 1969 Bounty Books republished the 1902 Edition of the Sears, Roebuck Catalogue. The forward was written by Cleveland Amory, a well known American author and animal rights activist. The first sentence of his introduction reads:

“A glance through the pages of this catalogue provides a view of the American scene at the turn of the century with an excitement and an accuracy that would defy the most eminent historian.”

Many people today don’t remember that Sears, the anchor store in major malls, was once Sears, Roebuck, the largest catalog company in the world. Over time Roebuck was dropped and the stores became known simply as Sears. Sears also became famous for their Craftsman line of tools, which were once held as a standard in tool quality. But in 1902 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue offered brand name tools of the day – Stanley, Bailey, Buck Bros., Siegley, Fales & even their own Sears, Roebuck Tools; Craftsman was far in the future.

The 1902 catalog cover, shown above left, begins with:

Cash Must Be Sent With All Orders – No Goods Shipped C.O.D.

The very bottom of the cover reads:

We Have No Agents or Solicitors – Persons Claiming to be Our Representatives are Swindlers

An assortment of Plow Planes - mostly Stanley These two lines encapsulate the corporate strategy Sears, Roebuck employed at the time. Sears, Roebuck was nothing more or less than a low price supply house that took orders and delivered via their catalog and US Mail on a cash only basis; no credit cards or credit purchases and no door-to-door salesman which was so popular at the time. Their closest competitor was Montgomery Wards, which was more popular in the east, but never seemed to succeed like Sears, Roebuck.

An assortment of Block & Bench PlanesI have a copy of this 1902 reprint given to me by my late mother-in-law. The original catalog was published two years before my father was born, and three years before my mother’s birth. Cleveland’s first introductory sentence is personal in that context. But the reason for this article is quite different. Recently I have been mulling my next hand tool acquisition which is a plough plane – or a plow plane here in the States. While researching them and trying to decide whether to buy an antique (pre-WWII), or purchase a new one, it occurred to me to look at my 1902 Sears, Roebuck Catalogue. There on page 513 was the most wonderful assortment of plow and combination planes, mostly Stanley manufactured. (Click on the picture at right above to get an enlarged view of this page.) Stanley had a series of plow and combination planes that includes the 45, 46, 47, 50 and 55. These came on the market about the turn of the century and were modified and offered in variants through the forties.

An assortment of Hammers & ChiselsIn the lower right hand corner are two Stanley Router Planes similar to those offered by Lie-Nielsen today. In the upper left hand corner are the Stanley 98 & 99 Side Rabbet Planes, also offered by Lie-Nielsen. However this pair went for $1.09 from Sears, Roebuck, whereas I paid $225.00 from Lie-Nielsen. Heck, replacement blades cost $35.00 today.

On page 512, left above, are an assortment of block and bench planes. There are also a range of wooden fore and jointer planes up to 30 inches long. Notice the sub-one-dollar price on most of these planes. Specialty planes like the Stanley Adjustable Circular Plane broke the one-dollar mark selling for as high as $1.70. The Combination and Plow Planes, of course, reached the remarkably high price of $9.80. On page 517 is an assortment of hammers and chisels, shown right above. It is curious to me that chisel price ranges were similar to that of the planes on pages 512. Perhaps the steel and technology used to make them was leading edge at the time (no pun intended).

The Heidelberg Electric Belt - Great for aches and pains!

I think it’s time we let Lie-Nielsen and Lee Valley know they are ripping us off. Next time, before placing an order, I will show them the competition and see if I can get a better price.

Tools are not all that you will find in this catalog. Everything from barber chairs to ladies corsets to wood burning stoves to horse pulled wagons can be found. I found an item that may be particularly useful to male woodworkers who complain of aches and pains after a long day in the shop. Shown at left is the Heidelberg Electric Belt. I’ll leave it to you to read and discover how it works. Ladies, fear not, there is something in this catalog for your aches and pains too – but this being a “family show” as they say, you will have to view the catalog in person if you wish to place an order.

Two StoolsIn a previous blog titled Play The Hand You’re Dealt I discussed a strategy for acquiring and using inexpensive rough lumber. My woman friend and partner, Willow, put that strategy to use in building the foot stools shown at left.

But first a little background. In the fall of 2003 Willow was pondering what to give our grandchildren for Christmas. Our children and their families visit us for a few days each Thanksgiving. It is my favorite holiday of the year. During that 2003 Thanksgiving visit one of my granddaughters wanted to join Willow in baking pies. We have a Shaker style step stool we keep handy just for such occasions. Our granddaughter used it to reach the counter so she could join in the fun. This particular type of Shaker stool can be unstable if not placed against something to keep one from stepping too close to the back and going beyond the stool’s center of gravity. My granddaughter did just that and fell to the floor, thankfully unharmed. Willow decided there and then that grandchildren needed a more safe step stool design. This, she decided, would be their Christmas present.

Christmas StoolThe job of designing one fell to me. The Shaker stool, stability aside, was light and perfectly suited for the desired purpose. It was made of pine which made it light so that kids 3 years of age could pick it up and move it into position. All it needed was legs that splayed to keep its load within its center of gravity. I drew up some plans and provided Willow with some poplar. She set about making four stools; one for each of our three grandchildren, and one for our college aged daughter for use in her dorm. Each stool was painted, including their name in a contrasting color. They were a big hit. Each time we see the kids grab a stool and move it into place we get a warm feeling, because we know they will have those stools well into their adult life. At right my grandson is sitting on his stool while opening additional gifts he received that year.

One Stool Showing DetailsBack to the present. Willow has wanted to make a few more of these stools to keep at our homes in Worthington MA and Eastham MA on Cape Cod. So recently she again asked for the drawings and some reject lumber. I have a stack of black cherry that is loaded with pitch pockets and is a mix of sapwood and heartwood. It is structurally stable and when finished with a natural finish is quite attractive. I often use it for the backs of furniture when the back is not visible, such as the back of a chest of drawers. This time Willow built three of them. Being made from cherry they are quite a bit heavier than the originals, but fortunately our grandchildren are older and able to handle them.

The design is simple. The end pieces are a trapezoid which provides the stability. The cross brace is attached to the ends with biscuits. The top slats are attached using long wood screws with large thread. All joints are also glued. The top slats have a handle shaped into the slats so the stool can easily be picked up with one hand. The screws are countersunk and filled with wood filler to provide a contrasting image.

Seven stools later we and the grandchildren still enjoy this handy little home tool. If you are strapped for a gift for someone of any age, think about a foot stool. It takes only a day to build several, they are very useful in the home, they will serve the recipient throughout their lifetime and they are likely to be passed on to other family members. Not to mention, it is a good way to use otherwise scrap lumber.

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72If you are reading this blog – either for the first time or as a return visitor – you are likely aware that I have posted here an eight part SketchUp tutorial for beginners. Recently, one of my “students”, a beginner who completed every tutorial, sent me a copy of his first design modeled from start to finish in SketchUp. I of course, was pleased that he learned enough from my tutorials to conquer a complete model, but what really struck me was the designs simple elegance. With his permission I am making the SketchUp file available on my blog. Click here to download it. I have also placed it in my Free SketchUp Furniture Plans page for downloading.

The designers name is Earl Creel. I have seen many pictures of Earl’s completed projects; enough to know that he is an accomplished woodworker. I think you will like this 72″ HDTV Console inspired by Green Design’s Neehi Collection ( I particularly like the detail; bowed top with chamfered ends and front, chamfered drawer fronts and tapered legs.

The design can be easily adjusted to fit available space and accommodate components that may be placed in the console. To change the length only the top, back and bottom lengths need to be changed. The spacing of the divider frames can be adjusted to allocate the space available for drawers and shelves differently. The drawers can be eliminated and all space used for open shelving. Alternatively, the center speaker of an audio system can go where the lower drawer front is in the model. The design breaks down into 4 frames plus the top, back and bottom. If these parts were joined with joint connector bolts or other quick knock down fasteners, the console could be disassembled for easy transport, repair, refinish or modification.

This model is well laid out and textured. Earl got most of the texture files from the SketchUp Community Forums, though he spliced some end to end to account for the long nature of this design. The model’s file size is rather large owing to these textures (approximately 2 MB).

This is quite some Graduate Project for someone who only started learning SketchUp a matter of weeks ago.

Bill Guidi, a native of Pittsfield MAFrank Klausz, master cabinetmakerWhat do Bill and Frank have in common? From these photos a good guess might be they both carry an AARP card in their wallet. Maybe, but that is not what this article is about. You might guess that they both grew up together. Nope. Frank and his wife immigrated from Hungary in 1967. Bill was born and raised in Pittsfield MA. Ahhhhhh! They are both woodworkers you say. Well……. sort of.

Frank Klausz is a master cabinetmaker, schooled in the Old European apprenticeship system. He began his apprenticeship when he was 14 years old. Frank has cut as many dovetails as there are stars in the sky. Christopher Schwarz says Frank is one of two living dovetail savants.

Bill's version of the Frank Klausz's tool chestDrawers packed with measuring devices Bill Guidi, well Bill cut his first dovetail about six months ago, and that is where this story begins. Bill has always loved woodworking, but it is the kind of woodworking that houses are made of. He built his first home himself. He has spent countless hours in the woods hand hewing beams for post and beam structures, including hand mortise and tenoning. Give Bill a few pine boards and he will return you a crafted bookcase with carvings of trees. But Bill has never attempted hand dovetails until he picked up Issue #156 of Popular Woodworking.

Tool chest left viewTool chest right view There on the front cover was Fank Klausz standing behind a tool box. Frank authored the article and described the many tools a cabinetmaker needed for his craft. He talked about how, in his youth, he collected hand tools and how they needed to be protected by a useful and portable tool chest. The tool chest was stuffed with all sorts of hand tools. Most of them Bill never acquired because they were not useful in hewing a tree. But he was smitten by Frank’s earthy chest and its practicality. Bill decided he had to build it.

But wait! No tools. Being an internet junky, a story for another day, Bill set about quickly ordering new tools, very much like those Frank had in his box. Lie-Nielsen, Lee Valley and Woodcraft saw their revenues soar – as did UPS and FedEx. Soon he had everything he needed. Time to make the chest.

Tool chest front view open The chest didn’t come quickly. Bill never practiced a single dovetail. He went right at it; but very painstakingly and very, very slowly. I would stop in from time to time to check on the chest’s progress. That was akin to watching paint dry – in slow motion. But eventually the chest was completed – the shell at least. Still there was the internal nooks and crannies to craft. This is exactly what Bill loves, and what drew him to this box in the first place. He has never told me that, but I am sure of it.

Tool chest front view with trademark tree carving Each tool was gently placed, re-placed, re-placed, re-placed ….. You get the idea. Each time he placed a tool and made a holster for it he had to make modifications. I continued to check in on progress. More drying paint – very slowly. But eventually it was completed – uhhhh, except for the finish. What to use for a finish?

Well this story is beginning to drag on like the tool chest. So I’ll tell you the short version. Shellac! Bill fell in love with shellac. Everything he has done since has been shellacked. I guard my shop very carefully; I expect to arrive one day and find it shellacked.

Well, I have roasted Bill enough. I think it is time to say – "This is a tool chest Frank Klausz would be proud of." – don’t you?

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