All Dressed Up!

The “building” phase of a box is somewhat uneventful – cut a few rebates, level the cheeks, apply a bit of glue and nail things together, all the while praying that your initial saw cuts were square. To curtail that excitement for perhaps a while longer, I cut “boot-jacks” in the sides and shaped the front feet. Next up was attempting the little “skirt” on the front. First, I needed a 3/8″ x 1-1/8″ x 15″ stick of walnut. Not wanting to retrieve that stick from being flung across the yard while planing down a 3/4″ thick piece, I opted for resawing!

After quite a bit of sawing, drilling, and filing, my walnut “skirt” became a reality.

I think it adds a nice flair to the box, especially with the shape of the feet.

Well, I guess it’s time to see if the initial saw cuts were indeed square. Stay tuned!

A Thistle in Walnut

I love the aroma of freshly worked walnut lumber; it has a certain richness like none other. It brings back fond memories of my high school woodshop class. Walnut was always the premium choice of lumber for projects and just about always commanded an A+. Although cherry, especially gummy cherry, resides at the top of my list of favorite lumber to work with, walnut comes in at an extremely close second. With well-sharpened tools, it’s a dream.

Before cutting into my stock of walnut, I rummaged through my book collection and poked around the Internet, hoping for inspiration. I happened upon the most intriguing design for a box and a lovely pattern of a thistle. I had never carved a thistle before, and that scalloped skirt looked like it would be fun.

Having determined the overall dimensions of my walnut box, I hacked off the appropriate length to begin the carving phase.

Not wanting to attempt a direct copy, I opted for one thistle on the front of my box. The carving went well. I just had to stretch things out a bit.

Although carving is absent from the sides of a lot of extant 17th-century boxes, I feel compelled to add at least some. The sides of this box will be sporting not-so-simple quatrefoils.

With the carving accomplished, it’s time to start building a box. Stay tuned!

Putting a Lid on Sydney

All that remains of the 38-inch-long Merbau board is a tiny pile of sawdust and a plethora of thumbnail-shaped chips. Syndey was slowly becoming a box. With the carcase resting quietly out of harm’s way, I scoured the shop looking for an appropriate bottom and lid. My search ended with a nice piece of 3/4-inch thick Poplar long enough to produce both pieces.

Wanting the bottom to appear but 3/8-inch thick, I decided to cut a rebate around its perimeter. To assure a consistent depth to this rebate, I called on my old woman’s tooth. Consisting simply of a wooden body with a 1/2-inch chisel wedged in place at no more than 20° out of the vertical, it is perfect for leveling the bottom of a groove or other recess.

I decided to leave the lid 3/4-inch thick with 1-1/4″ end caps. I also thought a bit of carving appropriate. I hope I didn’t get too carried away. LOL!

For contrast, I applied a shop-made black dye. The bottom is held in place with cut nails while the lid is sporting snipe hinges.

Once I get the shop cleaned up and ready to go again, I’ll see what I can do in walnut. Stay tuned!


I am fortunate to live in one of the most diverse areas of Atlanta. From food to furniture, the availability of international goodies seems endless. Several years ago, on a dumpster diving expedition looking for discarded pallet lumber, I discovered part of a packing crate with a label reading Sydney. I hadnʼt a clue as to what wood it was. At first blush, I thought Iʼd found a piece of lumber from Australia. But later, as I was researching the species, I learned that there are seven cities on this rock we call home with the name Sydney.

The slightly marred packing label made it impossible to determine if Sydney was the point of origin or the port of call of that particular shipment. Frustrated, I named the board Sydney and tucked it away for a season. Over the years, I considered using this board on several projects. But not knowing the type of wood, Sydney remained a permanent resident of my cutoff bin.

Recently, I made a ratcheting bookstand from a long-forgotten piece of pecky cypress. Once again, I thought of Sydney. Armed with a bit more wood savvy, I revisited that list of cities. I knew enough this go-round to eliminate North America as the boardʼs birthplace, leaving me to consider the cities in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Since finding the board, I’ve joined a few Facebook groups, conversed with many folks on Instagram, and made some friends while writing this blog. I decided to introduce Sydney around and see what folks had to say. Almost within seconds of texting, Salko Safic, a friend in Australia, came back with Merbau. I got the same response from a few friends on Facebook and Instagram. In researching Merbau, I was confident that Sydney was indeed from somewhere in Southeast Asia. Now that I knew what I had, I decided to build a box.

I should mention that Sydney was 38 inches long and 5-1/4 inches wide. Just enough for a box carcase measuring 11-1/4 inches wide by 8-1/4 inches deep by 5-1/4 inches high.

Now, back to the cutoff bin to find an appropriate top and bottom. Stay tuned!

Happy Birthday, LG!

My precious granddaughter, Lillian Grace, turned a year old last week. Oh my, how time flies. It seems as though just yesterday she said hello to the World. I realize that one’s First Birthday with photos of icing in the hair and cake up the nose is mainly for parents and grandparents, but I wanted to do something meaningful for LG’s first besides simply adding to her college fund. Just a few months ago, I received a note from her that set the plans in motion.

Equipped with Lily’s highly detailed instructions and a 4/4 cherry board, I immediately started cutting, shaping, and of course, carving!

I drew inspiration from one of Mary May’s Instagram posts of a similar family heirloom and a photo of an extant 17th-century example reportedly belonging to Charles I. I remember posting cryptic photos of my progress on Instagram, asking folks to guess what I was making. Yet, no one was able to. Perhaps that’s because my typical fare is boxes, chests, stools, and the like.

After a few days, the rocking horse became a reality, making for one happy little girl and one proud grandpa. Happy Birthday, LG!

Swamp Thing

Years ago when I built my carpenter’s tool chest, I used cypress for its base. Cypress was a good choice since the tool chest sometimes rested on damp surfaces. Yet, in addition to its resistance to moisture and rot, cypress has long been a favorite wood species for furniture making because of its unique grain pattern of false annual rings. The false growth rings occur when multiple tree rings are produced in a single year, making it difficult to determine the tree’s exact age. My favorite feature of cypress is not these false rings but a rare condition known as Peck. When the fungi Stereum taxodii attack the heartwood, a peck is the long, narrow burrow or cavity left behind in the wood. Once felled, the fungal attack stops, leaving the beautiful, unique pecky patterns. As I was applying the tool chest’s base, I shied away from the Peck, positioning it out of sight.

Fast forward some twenty-five years. As I was once again rummaging through the old cut-off bin, I found a few pieces of that very same pecky cypress. With not enough to do anything with, I thought I’d try another ratcheting book stand. Here I’m laying out the top rail, trying hard to miss a huge knot!

Carving did not produce the disastrous results I had anticipated. I just had to go slow and be aware of what lies beneath. I never knew when a peck was going to appear.

Things went well until using the file box on the 3/4″ square crosspieces. It was at this point I decided to accentuate the Peck, making it a focal point. That was harder than one can imagine, but I prevailed nonetheless!

The real challenge came as I resawed a piece for the shelf. I could feel the voids in the wood as I gently sawed through. The results, however, were spectacular!

So, there you have it, one ratcheting book stand in pecky cypress!

16″ wide by 15-1/2″ tall by 14″ deep at its maximum (12″ minimum). I’ll let it get used to being a book stand for a day or two before giving it an oil finish. Now, I wonder what else is in that cut-off bin? Hmmm…

Standing On Its Own

Continuing with my ratcheting book stand, I cut 1/4″ wide by 1″ long by 3/8″ deep mortises for the ratchet parts and then “turned” the crosspieces in the file box.

I love the look of the spindles out of the file box. It most assuredly offers a handmade verification.

Next, using yet another nifty add-on to my mini-Roman workbench – a twin-screw or Moxon style vise, I bored holes in the stiles to receive the crosspieces. But first, I needed to divide the stile into thirds. Using a shop-made sector, I locate a line from the center of the shelf to the bottom of the top rail, between the numbers nine. Then captured the distance between the numbers three on the sector with dividers. Nine divided by three equals three, right? I located and bored 1/2″ diameter holes for the crosspieces and a 1/4″ diameter hole for the shelf tenon.

Reconfiguring the workbench one more time, I resawed a length of beech for the shelf and removed saw marks with a coffin plane.

After smoothing the ratchet mechanism parts, I chiseled in the actual ratchets and pinned the pieces to the crosspieces with 1/8″ pegs.

And there you have it, a ratcheting book stand!

Okay, okay, here it is assembled. I still have to glue it up and slather on some boiled linseed oil and turpentine, though. Thanks for following along.

My File Box

A recent post of mine seems to have sparked some interest in my file box. So, I thought I would pause my current project, taking the time to write a bit about this handy little contrivance. I first learned of the file box from my grandfather. It wasn’t until, 1984 when Aldren A. Watson and Theodora A. Poulos wrote Furniture Making Plain and Simple, that I learned it was also called a lathe box. I will, however, stick to calling it a file box, given its use in conjunction with files and rasps. I apologize for any confusion I may have caused along the way!

I have two file boxes, one for workpieces up to 3-1/2″ square and 34″ long, and a smaller version made especially for my mini-Roman bench used exclusively for cross-pieces of ratcheting book stands. The larger of these two devices came in quite handy while making split barley twist spindles on a Reformation Era prie-dieu. You can read more about that in my e-book An Ambitious Endeavor if you’d like.

Ultimately, this workholding device consists of two finish nails driven into either end of a workpiece secured between a headblock and moveable puppet. You rotate the workpiece horizontally with one hand while shaping it with a file or rasp in the other. Rather simple. This method is somewhat time-consuming, but without electricity or access to a traditional lathe, the results are just as pleasing. My shop is devoid of electricity, yet I do have a spring-pole lathe. Small pieces are somewhat difficult to turn due to their lightness. In this case, the file box is just what the doctor ordered.

Please stay tuned for more on the mini-Roman workbench version of the file box as I continue my ratcheting book stand.

Something Different

I had full intentions of taking on another box for my next project. But while digging through my cut-off bin, a couple of pieces of 3/4″ thick beech caught my eye. These boards were leftovers from a project quite some time back. I had completely forgotten that I had them. After a quick measure, I realized that they were too small for a box, so I quickly shifted gears and decided to build another ratcheting book stand. Grabbing a rip saw, I cut two 2-1/2″ by 15-1/2″ stiles, a 3-1/2″ x 12″ top rail, and two 3/4″ by 12″ cross pieces.

Every time I make one of these book stands, I try to do something completely different with the top rail. I knew I wanted a series of lunettes across the top. And perhaps for the lunettes to flow onto the top of the stiles. A layout like this first requires a bit of assembly. I took the time to form tenons at either end of the top rail and mortises in the stiles. With the three pieces together, the layout was much clearer.

Losing myself in the carving, I found that I ended up with flower heads in the center of the lunettes, leading to adding running vines with stylized leaves to the stiles. Yep, something completely different!

With that little bit of carving out of the way, I attached my newly made file box to start “turning” the cross pieces, more on that next post.

Stay tuned!

Fun in the Sun!

Loving this new mini-Roman workbench, I only wish I hadn’t procrastinated for so long. When the temperature in the shop tops 90°, I move outside. When the evening sun drops below the treeline, I move outside. How cool is that? Being able to sit through a lot of operations has also been good for my back. Not to mention that it puts me in a better position for planing and mortising. If you have been toying with building a low bench, toy no longer. I do believe you’ll like it!

Since getting my latest eBook up and running on Smashword, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books, I managed to carve a couple of serving boards. I need to replenish the old Wareroom for the upcoming Art from the Heat – Artist Market this November. The first is a breadboard in maple, with a central guilloche and thumbnail edge.

Then a serving board in poplar. Yes, I know, poplar is a secondary wood, but poplar needs love too, right? I carved S-scrolls on this one. I think I laid them out in reverse, but I do believe I recovered well. Your thoughts?

Having so much fun outside, I even started a ratcheting book stand in beech. I was going to build another box, but while rummaging through the cut-off bin, I came across a bit of beech from a project some fifteen years ago. There is not enough for a box but an ample supply for a book stand. I figured I’d better use it before it gets old. LOL!

Thanks for stopping by. Stay tuned!