My latest mock up

Usually, before I spend a lot of money on quality wood for a new project, I make a mock up from cheaper construction grade lumber.  The mock up allows me to learn, and make mistakes at relatively low cost; but just as importantly, it gives me the courage to proceed with a new technique or design because I’m not using expensive wood.

I can’t emphasize enough the value of making a first off, throwaway version of a new challenging project.  Often, having served their purpose, these mock ups end up in the woodstove.  Sometimes, more rarely, they get a coat of finish and end up either in the shop or the front room as useful but less than ideal end products.

This particular chair is not suitable for use, for a number of reasons, and so I have dubbed it, “le chaise d’enfer” (the chair from hell).  But instead of the wood stove, I have a more interesting immolation in mind.  Stay tuned.


Making Octagons

So…, my beautiful staked leg tables aren’t selling.  Despite their beauty, practicality and bargain price, they just don’t generate any interest.  Kris has suggested that it’s because no one buys a table alone, but as part of a dining set.  Therefore, chairs are next on the list.

The chair that I’m hoping to make is Christopher Schwarz’ “Staked Chair” from his book, The Anarchist Design Book.  As per my usual method, I’m making a mock up from inexpensive construction lumber in order to fine tune my technique. The chair has staked in legs without stretchers, so the grain has to be dead straight with zero runout.  Fortunately, I had some CVG (clear, vertical grain) douglas fir 2×4 leftover from a previous project.  I roughed out the legs to 1 1/2″ square, then tapered them to 1 1/8″ at the end using successive passes on the jointer.

Once the legs were tapered, I laid out the facets for making them octagons, and started planing.  However, the temperatures in Seattle today peaked at 95ºF (35ºC); too hot for much bench work by an old Northwest mossback.  So after finishing one leg, I left the other three for another day.

Next up, boring the tapered holes in the seat pan to accommodate the legs.

I have always admired…

…the hexagonal wooden tool wrap mentioned in Jim Tolpin’s, The Toolbox Book.  Since I needed a place to keep the new knives that I made plus the other spoon making tools, I thought to re create it in my own fashion.

In the book, Jim encourages the reader to adjust the dimensions to fit their own tool collection.  In my case, I made the box just a bit larger in order to accommodate my carving axe as well as my knives.  Other changes were using douglas fir instead of cherry, making the carry strap detachable, and adding a short carry handle.

I used #14 ring nails wherever fasteners were required, and finished it with boiled linseed oil.  For me, there is something magical about the combination of doug fir and linseed oil.  It’s like the two were made for each other.

The leather bits are simple vegetable tanned leather, stained and oiled with neetsfoot oil.  The plans call for tool loops on the inside to hold tools onto the three wrapping panels.  I haven’t added those yet as I want to see how I end up using the box first.  I also intended to put a buckle on the shoulder strap to allow length adjustment.  However, the buckle I want is back ordered, so that’s still to do.


My initial impression is that the box is easy and comfortable to carry, and allows quick and easy access to the tools. Time will tell if my impressions are justified and if the box provides the protection the tools deserve.

A cutler’s vise…

… is used to secure a knife or other tool while a handle is fashioned.

Although I’ve said before that I dislike working with metal, that is somewhat inaccurate.  More to the point, I dislike working with metal in my shop.  My shop is a wood shop and every time I have to work with metal, I feel like I need to detox, decontaminate, or perform some sort of ritual cleansing.  I’ve also said that I like making tools, and that usually requires working with metal.  Out of this paradox I have fashioned a cutler’s vise.

This all started with carving spoons.  In order to better carve wooden spoons, I started making left handed hook knives and slöjd knives.  Now, to better make knives, I’ve made a cutler’s vise patterned after one made by D. Comeau.

The vise started with four pieces of iron pipe cut at the local pipe yard.  The bird’s mouth of the upright piece was cut with a carbide hole saw.

After some sanding, a local welder helped with the assembly (thanks Dan). The knobs on the adjustment screws are fashioned from trimmed carriage bolts and brass channel with wenge wood infills.

The wooden jaws are white oak, lined with cork.  They have magnets imbedded to hold them open and in place when the adjustment screws are backed off.  I indulged myself by having it covered by a local powder coating firm.


Although I do like making tools, I think that I’m also a bit fed up with the metallic mess for awhile. Time to start the chanting, the burning of incense, …or maybe just the vacuum cleaner.

Persistence Pays

I firmly believe that if you expect to learn anything in this life, you have to be able to rise from failures.  So in the wake of some rather humbling opportunities for growth, I can now boast of having completed a small number of left handed, hooked carving knives.


The top knife in the photo is the original Robin Wood, Woodtools™ knife that was the inspiration for the project.  The next one down is my first completed attempt.  You’ll note that the curve is slightly tighter.  The curve is also not as fair as I would prefer, it has a couple of hard spots, or kinks in it.  The handle is cherry and was a close match in size and shape to the original.

The next knife that I made is the fourth from the top, also with a similar sized cherry handle.  The curve of that knife is more fair, consistent and open; a better match to the original.  I am much happier with that knife than with the first attempt.

After I was able to reproduce my inspiration, I decided to customize a bit.  The third knife from the top is my interpretation of a decreasing radius hooked knife.  The hook gets tighter toward the tip and allows for deeper hollowing of spoon bowls.  I also enlarged the handle a bit to better fit my own hand.  The wood is black walnut.  All of the handles were burnished and finished with Kukui nut oil.

I also made leather sheaths for all the knives including the slöjd knife.


How do you sheath a curved knife blade?  The tip of the blade fits into the stitched pocket at the strap end and the top is folded over and wrapped.  Like this:


These sheaths were inspired by legendary spoon carver Willie Sundquist, in his book, “Swedish Carving Techniques”.

I am nearly finished making knives for the time being.  Although I do want to make one more slöjd knife, and perhaps a scorp for making kuksa (Sámi wooden coffee cups).  Then I need to get started on some spoons.


Oh Boogersnot!*

Okay, so not all failures are met with the same degree of equanimity.  Today, I had nearly completed the manufacture of a new hooked spoon knife when it failed.


I was inspired to try and duplicate a Robin Wood, Woodtools™ hook knife that I recently bought.  The knife is a wonderful tool and has really made carving the bowl of spoons much easier than before.  I used a recycled saw blade as I have for previous knives.  This time I made a sharpening stick jig with which to grind the bevel.  The stick is essentially a temporary handle with a square edge that provides a reference.


The problem occurred while polishing the blade following heat treating for hardness, and before tempering.  The tang of the blade was weakened because of the mounting hole drilled for attaching the blade to the sharpening stick.  Once the blade was hardened it was too brittle to withstand the pressure against the buffing wheel.

I was really looking forward to finishing and using that blade.  It was my best so far.

* an expletive once recommended by my grandmother, in place of the word my father would use in similar circumstances.

Finishing the slöjd knife

The handle of a slöjd knife should fit comfortably in your hand and should orient naturally via an oblong shape, or by facets carved onto the handle.  The handles of most slöjd knives are usually quite plain. The finish is also usually simple, an oil finish or often no finish at all.


With all that in mind, I again looked to the Swedish Morakniv™ for inspiration.  Since the  Morakniv™ handle has an oblong cross section, that’s what I strove for.  Initially, I attempted to turn an oblong handle using offset centers.  I found however, that turning such a small piece with offset centers would not work well on my bench top lathe.  A rather large and bulbous handle was the result, as seen in the photo above.  Although the handle fit okay, I don’t think that it will be comfortable over long periods of use.

On my second attempt, I added a piece of wenge to the cherry handle, separated by a thin piece of maple.  I then turned the handle cylindrical. Using the indexing feature on the lathe, I locked it in place and used the lathe as a vice while I carved facets into the handle with a rasp, scraper and sandpaper.  Once I had the shape I was looking for, I softened all the ridges, sanded and buffed the entire piece.  A coat of tung oil and I was ready to add the blade.


I used a 3/32″ drill on center, then worked it side to side along the wide axis of the handle to create the initial slot.  For the final fit, I heated the tip of the tang to cherry red (keeping my fingers on the blade to ensue that it didn’t overheat), then I plunged it into the slot in the end of the handle.  I had to press the tip of the blade against the bench and repeat the process three times before the blade finally seated.  Sixty minute epoxy finished the job.

I gave the blade a quick honing and it’s ready to go to work.  I haven’t decided yet whether or not to buff off the straw colored coating left by tempering.   I’m generally pleased with it, but I’m pretty sure that my 7th grade metal shop instructor, Mr. Gillespie, would have handed it back, without a grade, and said go back and remove those scratches and I’ll grade it.

Next up, a well fitted sheath will complete the piece.