Wherein, I make a slöjd knife

Good carving knives are surprisingly simple items.  They only require sharp, well tempered blades with uncomplicated handles.  Undoubtedly the world’s most popular folk craft knives (slöjd knives) are mass produced in Sweden and are surprisingly inexpensive.  While I cannot replicate the laminated steel blade of one of these knives, I can however do my best using a reclaimed saw blade.


Thanks to the kindness of a very unselfish neighbor, I came into possession of a half dozen used saw blades, suitable for conversion into knife blades.  Saw blade steel makes a good choice because it is tough, easily annealed, hardened, and tempered.


I started by annealing the blades, heating them on a propane burner and a 1/4″ plate of mild steel.  I then used a Mapp™ gas torch to get them to a bright red temperature.  Once up to temperature, I folded the blades and the plate into a ceramic insulation blanket.  The plate helps to ensure that the blades will cool slowly thus insuring that they will be as soft as possible the next morning.


The next step is (for a wood worker) probably the least pleasant task.  The teeth are ground off the blades, they are cut to length and shaped by laborious grinding, filing and sanding.  Personally, I find metal to be dirty, smelly and nasty stuff, but at the same time possessing intriguing properties.  I’ll spare you any photos of my mess and suffering and instead share this one of the finished shape.


Once the blade is the correct shape, the next step is heat treating to hardness.  The blade is again heated with a combination of propane and Mapp™ gas to the cherry red temperature, then plunged into warm oil to quench.  The blade is then brittle and hard as it can be.  The oil should be warm to about body temperature, so I used coconut oil which melts at about 75ºF; close enough for our purposes.  This makes it easy to tell when the oil is warm enough without a thermometer, and makes it easier to store (when solid).


After the hardening, the blades were brittle as glass and somewhat harder.  I again polished the blades to prepare them for tempering.

Tempering modifies the hardness to the extent that the steel is no longer brittle, but will still hold an edge.  To temper, I employed our household oven set to 460ºF.  I heated the blades for roughly ten minutes until they were a medium straw color, then quenched them in room temperature water. I also tempered the tang of the blades to a softer (blue) point to ensure that they wouldn’t snap off at the handle when pressed.


Next up, fashioning the handle, assembly and final sharpening.


Oh well

Sometimes things just don’t go as planned.  Today, I was just finishing off a new spoon that I was carving when the end of the bowl popped off.  I had been carving the spoon for a couple of hours, following a couple of hours work the day before.  It was nearly finished, so I was pretty near to the maximum time invested in it when it failed.


When it failed, I surprised myself by not unleashing the torrent of curse words and emphatics that usually accompany a failure of this sort.  In fact, it was kind of an “oh well” moment.


I said that I was surprised, but on second thought perhaps I should not have been.  Spoon carving is green woodworking and, as such, uses hand tools exclusively.  It is methodical, nearly silent, and above all tactile.  The piece is turned over and over in my hands before and after each cut.  And with each cut I can see, hear, and feel the blade slicing through the wood and removing the shaving.  It is very satisfying work, and creates a zen like feeling wherein the process becomes all consuming. I have no doubt that it lowers my blood pressure and calms my nerves.

That’s why I probably shouldn’t have been too surprised at my calm acceptance of the failure, when the spoon was so nearly finished.  Perhaps the spoon was my mandala; doomed to be destroyed at the moment of its completion.



I like making tools

For some reason, I like making tools.  They can be tools for my own use, or for someone else, it doesn’t matter as long as they are useful and made with enough craft to be admired, …at least a little.


One of the more useful tools in my shop is a small brass mallet which I purchased many years ago.  I like it because its heft and size allow me to apply considerable force with only finger tip control.  It is my go-to mallet for anything to do with chisels, short of a large mortising chisel.

So I contrived to replicate my old favorite, with perhaps a small evolution toward a more ergonomic handle.  The manufacture was simple enough, as brass is easily turned on a wood lathe with modern carbide tools.  A short piece of 3/8″ threaded “ready rod” holds the two parts together.  The handles are cherry, the heads are 1 5/8″ hardened naval brass.

Hopefully, they will be as useful as their inspiration has been.



A pair of Limbert Tabourets

Hey Folks,

Between the holidays, travel and teaching, I have finally found time to finish a pair of Limbert tabourets #238.  I usually make these in pairs because they are so popular and it takes about as much time and effort to make two as it does one.


In this case, I finished one with blond shellack and the other with garnet shellack.  The garnet shellack is perhaps more traditional and has a more orange color to it*.  Both pieces are buffed with dark wax and have two top coats of wipe on polyurethane for durability.

Both pieces have some beautiful ray fleck in their grain.  I should point out that the ray fleck is a product of the sawyer’s art and not mine.  However, I should also point out that finding the few pieces of beautiful ray flecked lumber in a full stack takes about an hour of unpacking, sorting and re stacking lots and lots of board feet of lumber.  It also takes a dedicated helper (thanks Kris) and an indulgent lumber purveyor (thanks Edensaw).

If either of these pieces interest you, stop by the shop or send me an email because they rarely stick around for long.


*Ps. The blue background unfortunately accentuates the orange color of the garnet shellack.  It is much less pronounced when viewed against a brown carpet.  Come to the shop and see for yourself.

Class Photo


Which is to say that this is a photo of BARN’s first Shaker Bentwood Box Making Class.  The fellow with the confused look on his face is the instructor (yours truly).

Although there were four slots for the class, only three lucky folks signed up.  Everyone had a great time and I’m confident that they all walked away with the skills to reproduce  the great work that they did in class.

While working alone in my own shop is both satisfying and rewarding, there is nothing like the feeling that comes from passing on how to do what you know and love.  I’m looking forward to teaching the next class.


Persistence pays

Hey Folks,

I’ve been of several minds over the title of this post because it covers a number of different reasons for a recent success.  The success was finding some beautifully ray fleck  figured white oak for my next set of Limbert tabourets.


Ray flecks are slices through the radial, medullary rays of the log.  These rays look like the spokes on a wheel when viewed from the end of the log.  Only logs that are quarter sawn will slice through these rays.


Any other orientation of the log to the saw, and the rays become invisible. In any quarter sawn log, only about 25% of the boards will have any visible ray flecks at all.  This is all a product of the art and skill of the sawyer (as a woodworker I have no part in this), and so one idea for the title was to write an homage to the sawyer.

Thus, in any batch of quarter sawn white oak, there is a chance that some of the boards will have ray fleck figure.  So, if you have an indulgent reseller, or a good relationship with a sawyer, they might let you pick through their stock and select all the best pieces. That thought prompted the idea that I should acknowledge my supplier, Edensaw Hardwoods, and their very patient forklift operators.

But ultimately, unstacking, selecting and re stacking bundles of lumber is frustrating and physically hard work.  It’s really only possible with the help of a dedicated assistant who is truly supportive and believes in your vision of success.  So here’s to the persistence (and patience) of my best assistant ever (thank you Kris).


It’s always sumpthin’

It sometimes seems as though no matter what you’ve got planned, there’s an alternate reality looming ahead.  Take for instance prepping thin stock for the shaker style tray making class.  Just pull the drum sander out from the wall and get started then…  Aaurgh! the casters under the carriage collapse.

Okay, so the drum sander is insanely heavy, and the casters have always been inadequate and there is never a good time for a failure, but…  Aaurgh anyway!


So instead of the too small (3″), too weak original equipment, I went ahead and ordered a set of  heavy duty 4″ cast iron casters with premium urethane tires.  Only problem is that the mountings for the 3″ casters don’t allow the 4″ casters to caster, that is swivel a full 360º.  It’s always sumpthin’.


A few pieces of scrap plate steel, and some help from my friends at BARN (thanks Jamie), and a day’s work putting it all together and the drum sander is mobile again, only this time much more smoothly and easier to push around.


Now, what was I doing before I was interrupted?