Round and round…

Round and round…

On a chair leg’s journey from square to round (for the pedants: from cuboidal to cylindrical) there are several options for marking it out to get to octagonal. I’m a big fan of the spar gauge; they’re handy for any piece that tapers along its length. But for building the occasional chair a dedicated tool may be a bit much.

Here’s another way – one that I use a lot even though I have a couple of spar gauges in a draw.

  • Plane the future chair leg square to a hair shy of the final diameter.
  • On one the end of the workpiece mark the centre using the 45 degree fence on your combination square.  
  • Draw a circle (or just a quarter of a circle) with a pair of compasses.
  • Mark a tangent using your combination square.
  • Set your marking gauge to the point where the tangent meets the edge.
  • Use this setting to mark the length of the workpiece.
  • Set the leg in joiner’s saddles and plane until the marks just disappear
  • Draw a line on all eight sides.
  • Plane a few strokes until your piece is an even 16 sides. No need to gauge anything here – trust your eye and the length of the ever decreasing pencil lines.
  • Scrape with a concave scraper.
  • Sand in a saddle
  • Repeat until fade…

Or you could use a lathe.

Repeat until fade…

The Slick

The Slick

NB: This post will contain no puns. It’s an exercise in self-control.

The renaissance in chairmaking has breathed new life into the drawknife. I’ve got two and use them a lot. But I’ve been neglecting my slick. It’s a beast of tool, more suited to timber framing or big boats. Every once in a while I find an excuse to use it just to stay in practice. And because it’s so much fun.

It’s capable of hogging off great ribbons of wood. Catch the grain in the wrong direction and you can do a lot of damage very quickly. In the video you’ll notice I’m very cautious at the start; I’m testing the grain direction. There are a couple of knots and I want to know what I can get away with.

I use two hand positions. For big movements both hands are on the handle. I keep the edge at an angle and simply push it along the bevel.

For finer work I wrap my left hand around the side of the blade and use my finger as a fence. This gives me more control and I can make finer cuts.

There are diminishing returns as I get closer to the lines. It quickly stops being worth taking smaller cuts with the slick and I turn to a heavily set jack plane.

Endgrain is less fun but still possible.

Several companies are making drawknives. Is anyone manufacturing slicks?

End vice

End vice

I’ve been using the end vice on my newish bench for a couple of months. I’m delighted with it but it could have been easier to build.

The construction was ludicrously complicated. I used massive dovetails at the front and back of the bench to hold the end cap on. I don’t think I needed to; three beefy draw bore pegs through a clamped (breadboard) end would have been sufficient and cut the construction time down.

The vice screws were a very good price but I couldn’t get them with square section nuts so there is a bit of dust trap at the end.

I’m working on some drawings; they’re getting complicated.

Sharpening a router plane iron

Sharpening a router plane iron

I just watched a video by Vic Teselin and Fine Woodworking on sharpening a router plane blade. I do it differently and thought I’d stick my oar in.

‘My method’ (I’m sure others do it the same way and have done for longer) reduces the strength of the iron a bit though I’m not sure it matters much. But it’s everso easy and doesn’t require jigs or sanding drums. Vic sharpens the upper part of the iron which is probably the manufacturers’ intention. I don’t. Sorry manufacturers.

Sharpening seems to be very contentious so just for the record: I don’t mind if you don’t do it this way. I don’t want you to change if you like your way. I’m not a terrible person because I do it this way and I’m happy to concede that your way may be just as good if not better. Has that covered everything?

Vices: Part 1 – double screw leg vice

Vices: Part 1 – double screw leg vice

The modular nature of the Moravian workbench was one of the many reasons I built this bench. If I don’t like the tool tray I can replace it with a flat board flush with the bench top. Don’t like the position of the vice screw? It’s not through the leg so I can change the back piece without messing up the rest of the bench. I’ve built two sets of legs so that I can have a taller carving bench and a shorter joinery bench.

AC528B6F-B022-4241-8C88-478F88AD01F2It’s given me the opportunity to play with a couple of ideas. Two years ago I saw one of Douglas Coates’ Ad-Vices at Oliver Sparks’ ’shop. Earlier this summer I got to examine it in a bit more detail and take some photographs. It has a clever double screw mechanism. Instead of a parallel guide at the bottom with holes and a pin it uses a threaded rod with a nut between the vice chop and the back piece. This keeps the chop parallel to the front plane of the bench.

Building one into my new bench been a rather lengthy diversion from all of the other projects I’ve got planned and I’m not sure it’s a huge improvement over the traditional guide but it’s an interesting feature. The Ad-Vice has a greater distance between the small, lower screw and the large, upper screw than between the workpiece to be clamped and the upper screw. This gives it a lot of mechanical advantage and means that the smaller threads of the lower screw aren’t under so much pressure. I couldn’t achieve this ratio and it will be interesting to see how long the lower screw lasts. If it breaks I’ll just replace a couple of components – the joys of a modular workbench.

I’ve also built an end vice, but more on that next time.

Think like a machine

Think like a machine

Production work isn’t my modus operandi. I’m not averse to jigs and stops and repeatability but it’s not usually what I do.

Fifteen bench dogs made it worthwhile. I’m not channelling Jarrod Dahl’s Mastery through Production Work. Rather than improving skills I think I’m probably avoiding the need for them. But it’s all worth it.

Bench dogs - 1

I usually mark every cut and then cut it. Today I made many cuts using a stop on the edge of the bench and the saw in line with the bench hook and no marks. Setup time: a couple of minutes. Time saved: not as much as writing a blog post about it.

Bench dogs - 2


With the dogs cut to length I set a shim in the bottom of the vice, a joiner’s saddle to hold the dog and another shim to mark a consistent height for the flat at the top of the dog.

To quickly put a chamfer on the top I set a low angle plane with a very fine mouth upside down in the vice and ran the dogs over the blade. Very effective. I’ll use this again for other work.

Bench dogs - 6I had a bright idea about gluing the suede to the faces by ganging them in the vice but it was a false start. The tiny inconsistencies in my cutting and the vice jaws meant that some were tight and others loose. But it makes for a better photograph than all of them clamped individually!

Working out a consistent, quick system for counterboring and drilling the holes for the bullet catches took a bit of time and was worthwhile for the repeatebility rather than the time saving. I wanted to get the bullet catches at a slightly different angle on each dog so that once they’ve worn away a groove in the dog hole I can swap them over and they won’t run in the same track. Gang marking the holes achieved this.

Having a selection of braces meant that I didn’t need to change bits and got all of the holes bored very swiftly.

Notes to self about ‘production’ work:

  • Break the work down into small, discrete operations.
  • Do one operation to all work pieces before moving on.
  • Keep only the tools needed for that operation on the bench.
  • Test all jigs, stops and techniques on scrap before applying them to the workpieces
  • Having a cup of tea between each operation negates all of the time saved.


Clamp front chest 7: the spreadsheet!

Clamp front chest 7: the spreadsheet!

The consumer may assume their consumption pattern sets them apart from the rest of society, marking them as an individual, but this is a fallacy. Consumption is one of our most creative and most restrictive practices. Due to this fact it must be concluded that consumer driven production of self is less to do with “who am I” and more with “who are we” or “with whom do I belong.” There is no such thing as individualization no matter what we may think.

Todd, D. 2012

 I don’t like cutting lists. Many amateurs, myself included, work wood to have something individual, something that says something about us (who knows what?). Building from a cutting list or a set of plans in a book or magazine gives us the illusion of creativity. But that creativity is restricted by the choice available.
Ultimately we are building someone else’s design. What kind of individualism is this that we conform to someone else’s notion of individualism?
But what is the alternative? A thorough grounding in the principles of design? Will this liberate us from the “restrictive practices” of buying furniture from the multinational corporation or building it to the designs laid out by other woodworkers? Or are we then just subject to the same set of principles by which they operate?
Let’s break free from the cutting list!
And how shall we throw off the shackles of our corporate overlords? With a spreadsheet of course!

This spreadsheet will enable you to enter dimensions for a clamp front chest of your own ‘design’. You might not be able to enter your desired dimension into the embedded sheet above (it’s a little temperamental).  If you want to try it out click here to go to the full, unabridged Google Sheets version.

If the figures you enter are changing it’s because someone else is using it. If you want to keep your own dimensions use the link above and download the spreadsheet (File/Download as…) or open a copy in Google Sheets (File/Make a copy…).

You can select the outside dimensions of the chest you want to build, decide if you want to make clamped (breadboard) ends for your lid and choose the length of the legs in relation to the rest of the chest. As you enter this data the spreadsheet will work out your cut list and spit it out in an easily digested table. Voila, instant liberation from the strictures of design dogma and the restrictions on your identity of consumer culture. You lucky thing.

But it won’t draw it for you.

Bear in mind that the spreadsheet doesn’t care about proportion or aesthetics. It has some concept of the required thickness of planking for different sized chests but it’s not very bright (I shouldn’t anthropomorphise my spreadsheets, they hate that). Magazine writers/woodworkers are better at this sort of thing than spreadsheets (there’s feint praise!).

Caveat utilitor

I don’t guarantee the results of this spreadsheet in any way. If you use it to design a series of chests to sell from your burgeoning Etsy store and have several cubic metres of timber cut to length only to discover that the I haven’t calculated the tenon length correctly or included the lid overhang it’s entirely on you.

Last word

Please don’t use this. Draw a chest using your own hands and eyes. It will be better and it will be yours.

But if you do use it please let me know how it goes!