One of my joys is teaching chip carving to church members and friends. I have a class coming up in May that will be held at the St. Olaf Retreat Center in Devils Lake, ND. Our Retreat Center is beautifully situated right along the shoreline of the lake. The class is being sponsored by the Lake Region Woodcarvers Club and will guide participants through the basics of chip carving. I have some students who are returning too. Lately, I’ve been teaching some 3 hour carving sessions at the local senior center and it is cool to see how some students can quickly grasp the carving technique. Part of my interest stems from the connection of chip carving to Scandinavia when it was applied to Viking ships, architectural elements, and household items of that time. I find it fascinating too how Peter Follansbee and others have included chip carving motifs into their fabrication of spoons. Make no mistake that my interest in woodcarving is not restricted to chip carving, as I’m also striving to progress in figure carving and acanthus carving as well. But for now it is cool to offer chip carving to those affiliated with the Sons of Norway organization and members of my congregation at St. Olaf. It gets one more inspired to carve when others share your enthusiasm and you can encourage each other. I am very grateful to serve at St. Olaf Lutheran Church and to be part of the Devils Lake Community.
What do you do with a discarded kitchen base cabinet from long ago. If you are like me you salvage it for your shop!
That is what I did. After moving into our new residence some five months ago, I pulled this cabinet from the wall in the basement and couldn’t wait to repaint it. The bright red paint slopped on it by a previous homeowner didn’t appeal to my shop sense. Once I did that, I immediately discovered that it was handmade. It has a face frame made of yellow pine along with some hardwoods like birch. The drawers were made from popular. Since the craftsman didn’t use particle board and very little plywood, it got me excited. I was further delighted to see some saw marks from a hand saw. The cabinet is solid and sports rabbet joints and nail construction.
To re-purpose it, I attached a solid wood top made from 3 salvaged 2 by 12s, edge glued, and made the width to be flush with the legs. The top of the bench is 27 1/2″ wide. The top once surface planed and sanded is about 1 3/8″ thick, but okay for my purposes. I’ve seen antique benches that sported thinner tops than the 3-5″ tops being advocated nowadays. To reinforce the base, I built two leg assemblies so each side of the cabinet has a solid mounting for the top. Carriage bolts were used to attach the top to the framing at each end. The cabinets rest on two 2 by 4’s that are half lapped onto the backside of the legs which are doubled 2 by 6’s. The half lapped joints are bolted together with 5/16- 3/8 diameter carriage bolts. The legs at each end are assembled with upper and lower stretchers (2 by 4’s doubled at top and 2 by 6’s doubled at the base. The legs and stretchers are held together with mortise and tenon joints that were drawbored. To stiffen the cabinet assembly I added a piece of 3/4 inch thick plywood that was screwed to the back. I also used steel corner braces inside the cabinet to beef up the structural integrity of the nailed together case work.
For clamping I made a leg vise on the left side of the bench using an antique wooden screw of 2 inch diameter and installed a used Columbia 5″ wide shop vise for the tail vise. I am sure that it will make for a nice bench that is located along the wall. I patterned my leg vise to have a chop of 10″ width at the upper part and then made it progressively narrower toward the base. I used 2″ thick cherry for the chop. This was following the vise chop design that Chris Schwarz sports in his woodworking book on benches. I still need to carefully fit the wooden vise screw to the leg vise chop, add some trim pieces, and then fabricate and add a thick vise chop to the tail vise. The drawers and knobs will be returned to the casework also.
Admittedly, it looks tall in the picture at 36 1/2″ and it is a few inches taller than my other benches. It will be less desirable for some hand planing operation too, but I think it will work for me. In defense of my lofty bench, I’ve noted that some woodworking writers have mentioned bench heights reaching this one or higher, so I though it worth doing. It is my belief that it will be quite useful for some woodworking operations, possibly chair making and woodcarving operations, and to also serve as a platform for some of my sharpening equipment. Maybe this will encourage you to build a workbench using your own creativity and by re-purposing some old cabinets too. If nothing else it will still function as a counter top.
Ah the challenges that come with moving and setting up shop again. I guess it took a snowy day in North Dakota for me to realize how much fun and creative juice I experience in preparing a new workplace. Call me the experiential woodworker, but I like to organize my stuff as I go. Not surprisingly, I’ve been known to sometimes enjoy reading Soren Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism. More importantly though, I find it ironic that with all the planning tools available via books and computers, it suits me more to layout my saws, planes, braces, and assorted hand tools based on my gut than to automatically repeat something from the last residence. Take my set of hand saws, I can’t settle this time for hanging my go to saws on four Shaker pegs. No. This time they’ll reside on a till of some kind. Even though I don’t have a specific till design in my mind, I find it refreshing somehow. There are certainly many nice tills featured online as examples. What I have is a space on the wall next to a cabinet and a desire to store about 10 panel saws efficiently. So as silly as it might seem, I am really enjoying this experience of how a simple saw till might become part of this wall. Two basswood corbels, leftover from earlier moves, were my starting point. I can imagine a till resting on those corbels and that is about it for now. I know that I will use 3/4″ thick pine or poplar as stock for construction and the rest will be delightfully figured out as I go. Plain and simple I am imagining what I might view as a low budget saw till. My Design criteria is to not let it look like a piece of furniture. If you know me you know already I don’t mean it. Frankly, I like what I’m seeing already and if you have limited shop time, as I do, this approach might appeal to you. This is certainly a family thing as my dad was more of a carpenter than me, had less woodworking resources at his disposal, and routinely savored his woodworking experiences. I’ll always remember that. If you saw my Victorian Scroll Saw in the April 2016 issue of Woodworker’s Journal, I can tell you that I developed the design in the same way. I enjoyed developing a design through a series of refinements. This former geologist can say that the design wonderfully evolved.
I confess I’ve never used a gimlet bit in a brace. I acquired these over the years and had planned to ultimately use them in an 18th century demonstration. Today I took a good look at them in their current state. I’ll be careful in cleaning up the original rust. There is quite a range in condition. From the photo you can see that I have a good variety in size also. I’m not sure how to straighten these bits. I tried several braces to test out the bits. My quick trial showed me that these babies will bore quite nicely. The fourth bit from the top has a bend in it and I’m wondering if I should try straightening it. Let me know what you think!
My hope is that I can use them for cutting wedge mortises in molding planes. Larry Williams made a great point of encouraging their use in his DVD on making side escapement planes.
Here is how three of the bits cleaned up this afternoon.
Dear woodworking friends,
It has been quite awhile since I made a post and I owe you some explanations. Barb and I became North Dakotans in August. I accepted a new call to serve in a Norwegian American Lutheran church community in Eastern North Dakota. It is quite fulfilling work and also exciting to be closer to two of my favorite places: the Milan Village Art School in southwestern Minnesota and also Vesterheim in Decorah, Iowa. Needless to say, being a pastor and a woodworker has added challenges when it comes to moving 1100 miles north of the Toledo and Bowling Green area. However, everything worked out great in the big move and we are making strides in passing on the boxes to others who need them. That will help in housing Barb’s car before the snow falls. I am grateful for the support of family and friends, and even more excited about living in the upper Midwest.
While my progress in setting up the new workspace has been slowed somewhat by some recent surgery, I hope to be working at the bench this winter. I look forward to being active in the local carving club here in Devils Lake and really getting into Norwegian acanthus carving over the next year or so. A recent experience of attending the annual Hostfest in Minot, celebrating all things Scandinavian, was really a hoot! My dad would have loved it! It was especially great to eat lefse and see numerous woodcarvers there and talk to them about acanthus, flat plane, and ale bowl carving. In particular, my friend Harley Refsal, an internationally known flat plane figure carver, is always a joy to spend time with and he has been wonderfully supportive of my new assignment at St. Olaf.
Some of my current interests involve eventually making a few side escapement (molding) planes, like hollows and rounds, based on Larry William’s DVD that I watched this week while recuperating from surgery. I also recently enjoyed watching an episode (2015), “hollows and rounds”, on the Woodwright’s shop that featured making a molding plane with Bill Anderson. I look forward to using plane making floats and hopefully filling in the gaps on the partial set of hollows and rounds I’ve acquired over the years. Stay tuned as I eventually post about those plane making adventures using different wood blanks. I’d be happy to make and put to use a few side escapement molding planes. They’ve held my interest since I first got my hands on a couple antique molding planes in the early 80’s that were missing irons.
After carting around some hand split sections of logs that were cut down at a previous ministry assignment, this woodworker now pictures those as billets for molding planes. It isn’t beech or cherry, but none other than figured maple. Truth be told, I’ve had this wood aging in my shop now for six years and it is time to use it somehow. Thank you Caleb James, Larry Williams, Popular Woodworking, and Lie Nielsen Tools for talking up plane making. I have marveled about molding planes for years. I’ve had an appreciation for those planes dating back to my college days in the late 70’s and now I want to make ones to enjoy. Yes I’ve sharpened the irons on antique ones, but now want to take things to the next level.
So here I go. Even though I’ve been planing to do it for years and purchased books on plane making, I finally bought some mild steel just to give float making a try. I ordered the Larry Williams DVD on making side escapement planes and I sense that Lie Nielsen will get some more business from me. But hey I’ll try making floats first and see if I catch the bug to make quite a few of those side escapement planes.
Here are a couple pictures of the billets. Enjoy! My goal is to have more hollows and rounds in the tool kit!
I don’t build workbenches that often, but I do enjoy optimizing my existing workbenches to get the most out of them. Take my recent bench project, just a couple months ago I acquired a woodworking vise at an antique mall. It is now reconditioned, attached to my bench, and fully functional.
How cool to have all those dog holes even if it was a pain to machine them with a spiral up cut router bit and finish drilling them with a brad point bit. Let me tell you the plywood top was the challenge with all the glue to gum up the bits. Lowering the speed on the router and frequent cleaning and honing of the bits didn’t help enough. The next bench will definitely have a hardwood top.😀 The good thing is that I can use this bench for now until I save up money for a bigger bench with a solid top.
Even still, to have a rapid release vintage vise that has a 3 inch thick red oak vise chop is an awesome addition to my bench. Now I can hold a Windsor chair seat in the twin screw vise and easily hold chair spindles in the newly installed end vise. Believe me the twin screw vise is a sweet way to make Windsor chair seats. By having all the bench dog holes I have every possibility of using 2 or 4 point hold down configurations with the bench dogs in either vise and also have gobs of holes to use for securing stock with holdfasts. I love the freedom it gives me. You might like roughing it more with a handful of dog holes. However, with my bench I can work on either chairs or just about any kind of carving project. There is reason to celebrate here!
Thanks for looking!
My tale picks up with the vintage vise I recently bought at an antique mall. My purchase of $27, as you’ll soon see, has been rewarded. I am happy to say that the evaporust application, light sanding, and wire brushing made it look like new. I treated the clean metal castings to Rustoleum primer and then a Rustoleum black semi gloss oil enamel coating. I’ll make a new handle out of some scrap walnut. The dog slot will be left empty for now since it made no sense to fabricate a steel one. Perhaps I’ll mill a chunk of wood to fill it for esthetics.
What I opted to do with the vise was to use it on my chairmaker’s bench. This bench is an evolving bench project. In my mind a workbench doesn’t have to be a thing of beauty, but just function well. Practicality and economy kinda dictate that route for me as a woodworker. I still plan to build a nice Roubo bench based on a Chris Schwarz design when time, money, and situation allow. But for now I will tweak the design of this chairmakers bench. The centerpiece of this bench has been the Veritas twin screw vise, but due to the smaller footprint of the bench top, the design didn’t include a tail vise. I admit that I favor having two vises on a bench for a host of reasons. One of which is that I often use my vise for holding spindles so that I can shape them with drawknife and spokeshave for Windsor chairs. So buying this antique vise, and reconditioning it, got me wondering how it might become part of this very stout but smaller bench. By beefing up the dimensions of the undercarriage it showed me that pine/fur stock offers plenty of mass for any hand tool work I’ll do. Bottom line the bench doesn’t move.
With no bench top overhang on the end, I cut a 10 inch by 3/8 inch deep mortise in face of the top stretcher (4 by 4 inch stock) and then mounted the rear jaw flush with the side of the bench. This also required me to cut another mortise about 10 inch by 1 1/8 inch deep on the underside of the stretcher. The only negative that I have with the installation is that the chops have to be fairly wide, 6 inches, to accommodate the installation of the vise. Alternatively, I could have made the chops even wider and passed the vise screw and guide rods through them. The tail vise is mounted at the base of the stretcher versus installing it directly underneath the 3 inch thick top. Judging by the trial fits the rear vise jaw will also include a 3/4 inch thick chop. When I designed the chop for the front vise jaw I realized that it could now include several dog holes in it to give me multi-point hold down capability on the bench from end to end.
My tale of adding a tail vise is to install a vise chop of red oak that is roughly 3 inches thick by 20 inches long. That length gives me 3-4 dog holes for clamping. I would have opted for a shorter length on the vise chop however the installation forced me to mortise the vise dead center on the top stretcher so that the bolts holding down the 3 inch thick bench top were left alone. By using 3 inch stock it eliminates any issues with the depth of the chops.
All it took for me this past week to get hooked on acanthus carving was to learn it through the instruction of Norwegian carver Hans Sandom. Of the ten students at the Milan Village Arts School (MVAS), I was one of two beginners to acanthus carving. It was humbling to be around all the talent. It was also great to see progress on their projects and appreciate their commitment to master this form of carving. It’s contagious I think. Kinda like finding old woodworking tools, you want to keep searching for them.
On day one you have to learn the basics and variations of carving acanthus leaves. So after carving practice leaves for about two days, I started on a bread board carving project that looks deceptively simple until you start carving it. You quickly realize how much goes into carving the elements of the acanthus design. During the last day and a half I worked on a small shelf project. I completed half of the carving so I could complete the project at home.
Of all the things to bring, I left my larger V tool at home. If you carve acanthus then you know that the V tool is critically important in helping to define acanthus carving as you work into greater relief. Fortunately for me, Hans provided a V tool for me to use. Some of the virtues of acanthus carving is that it comes with the challenge of maintaining your concentration, and taking the necessary time to cut smooth continuous bevels on the leaves. It takes patience, and, then when you get into it, you can loose track of time which is a good thing. It offers a needed respite from what many have as occupational stress. Since I have wanted to take a class in acanthus since 1997, this has been a real treat for me.
You might ask why did I opt to learn acanthus at MVAS? Aren’t there some other carvers that you’d think of right away? Well, MVAS is a lesser known jewel in southwestern Minnesota that offers classes in Scandinavian folk arts. I recommend that you check out those opportunities. For one thing, Hans Sandom and Bob Yorburg are among the few carvers to recently publish anything on acanthus wood carving. Get their book Acanthus Carving and Design and you’ll see that not all acanthus is the same. It isn’t all the same even in Norway or Scandinavia. Having the last name Paulson (it was spelled different ways over the generations), has inspired me to also celebrate some aspects of my Scandinavian heritage. I have ancestors on my dad’s side that can be traced back to the New Sweden Colonial settlement in Delaware around the 1600’s.
Another great school of Scandinavian folk arts is at the Vesterheim National Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center in Decorah, IA. I have been to Vesterheim and have become a member of the museum, but this was my first time to MVAS. I look forward to pursuing this style of carving with all it challenges including the art of painting those carvings in the Scandinavian tradition. Like putting on the veins of the leaf, one has to be careful not to ruin the whole piece by rushing the completion. Careful and deliberate effort pays off in accenting and not detracting from the beauty of the piece.
Let me introduce to you a Stanley 10 1/2 carriage maker’s rabbet plane that might have a new life in my shop. Some time ago I purchased this 10 1/2 along with a set of old woodworking tools. It was already broken and the owner had repaired it with a mending plate that was attached with small screws. Perhaps it fell from the bench and hit a concrete floor, I’ll never know. The point is that it sat for many years waiting for someone to restore it to usable condition. Recently, I took it off my plane till and decided to check it out. I enlisted a friend to repair it in a machine shop. I wimped out in trying to go the silver solder route on my own. To my surprise my friend found not one, but several fractures in the plane body that were caused from that earlier fall. You can see the fracture locations based on the repairs. Now that I have the plane repaired I hope to give you a follow up post on how the plane performs after lapping the sole and sides with multiple grits of sandpaper. Remarkably the frog was not damaged in that earlier fall and the plane is complete on parts. I am excited that this repaired carriage maker’s rabbet plane might help me move one more step toward an unplugged shop.