Tag Archives: hand tools

Walnut Dye and Clinched Nails

As my master saltbox slowly became a reality, sporting its lid, bottom, and half-blind dovetailed drawer, I took the time to apply a walnut-ish dye to darken things up. I think the darker color helps the carving to standout.

After a few coats of shellac, it was time to install the hinges. Having located and bored holes before finishing, I positioned the butterfly hinges and drove cut-nails partway in.

From the back-side, I then bent the nails to ninety-degree angles.

I then drove the nails in the rest of the way, and further bent them, embedding the points into the wood.

Using a small sledgehammer as an anvil, I flattened the nails, even more, creating what looks like staples on the back-side.

In doing so, the nails are rendered unusable for any other purpose. They would be difficult to remove and even more difficult to use again elsewhere. As you can guess, proper test fitting is essential. Clinching nails was a common practice on board and batten and multi-layered doors. A Nail bent in this fashion is commonly called dead, thus the phrase, dead as a doornail.


Throughout history, salt has been pivotal to civilization. Salt is essential to good health. Before the advent of electrically powered refrigeration, salting was one of the main methods of food preservation. As a flavoring, salt enhances the taste of food, making it more palatable. Salt has long held an important place in religion and culture. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans invoked their gods with offerings of salt and water, and some people think this to be the origin of Holy Water in the Christian faith.

In damp weather, moisture in the air interacts with salt, causing it to deteriorate. Salt is also caustic hence the necessity for suitable storage. A wooden container allows the salt to breathe, enhancing its quality and taste.

The saltbox was full of meaning, over and above its practical importance. It was a symbol of hospitality in Germany and suggested a well-run and comfortable home in Britain and Ireland too. Saltboxes ran the gamut from the primitive to the highly elaborate. Large receptacles were known as standing or master saltboxes, usually placed at the head of the table or on a buffet. From the master salt, smaller salt dishes were filled and positioned at each place setting.

Although in linden, my version of a master saltbox is inspired by a Charles II oak carved saltbox, circa. 1680, from Marhamchurch Antiques in Devon, England.

I decided to take liberties with the carving and have the running vine flow from the drawer front to the front and onto the sides. I am pleased with how it turned out.

All that’s lacking at this point is a lid and bottom. I am considering a dark walnut-ish dye, finished off with boiled linseed oil, and topped with a few coats of shellac.

Stay tuned!

Nailed It!

Oh my! The clinching of the nails went better than I expected. I was apprehensive at first. I have clinched nails before, just not on a finished piece. But with steady hammer blows my efforts paid off!

Some of the Tremont cut nails flattened out a bit too soon, but are clinched nonetheless. The hinges are quite secure!

I honestly love the primitive simplicity of butterfly hinges!

Now, on to the three tiny drawers. Stay tuned!

Top It Off!

Before the final assembly of the carcase with glue and nails, I decided to darken the poplar floor and till walls with a black stain. I’ve gotten mixed reviews, but I think it looks great. I can only assume the future owner will think so, too!

With a slight alteration to the centre divider and a few coats of shellac, the carcase was glued and nailed. Just wedged between the sides, the interior parts were quite the ballet. Fitting the drawer dividers was more difficult than one might think. The top is proud of the bottom shelf by about 3/8 of an inch!

William Maddox, an historical interpreter, made these awesome butterfly hinges. In their primitive simplicity, they validate the period look I was trying to achieve.

I intend to secure the hinges via clinched nails. But first, I need to position them just right. Temporary wooden pegs make this task so much easier!

Before clinching the hinges in place, I added a thumbnail detail to the top’s front edge. The lid has the same feature, but in reverse, it should look nice when opened. As I have stated before, results do vary when it comes to the wine bath. The board used for the top and lid did not take the wine the same as the one used for the carcase. I guess that’s good, in a way, it gives the appearance of wear and tear, on the horizontal surfaces.

Guess I best get to clinching those nails! Stay tuned.

Put it Together, Take it Apart!

After cutting grooves in the exterior pieces of the desk box, I selected a broad poplar board for the bottom. Having calculated the length with ease, I slipped the rule into the groove in one of the sides and read, eleven and three-sixteenths of an inch. I measured the width three times. Each time reading, eleven and three-sixteenths of an inch. I cut the board to size, ran a 1/4-inch tongue around the perimeter, and even chamfered the edges. Perfect! Well, not so much. Somewhere along the way, I lost focus and read the opposite side of the rule. My floor needed to be twelve and thirteen-sixteenths of an inch deep. Damn!

I quickly retrieved the cutoff and fashioned a spacer to fill the gap. The “spacer” appeared fine on the inside but left a rather interesting “valley” when viewed from the bottom. I can only imagine that 400 years from now, there will be some erudite paper written on the Aylor Expansion Joint. LOL!

With the bottom debacle resolved, I continued with grooves and dados on and for the various interior parts.

As with all boxes of the type, the till is the most challenging. Typically, the till parts are wedged in place by the box front and back. The back, in this case, is loosely wedged between the sides. It is quite the ballet to fit all the parts together at the same time with only two hands. But with the help of painter’s tape and a few colourful words of encouragement, things come together, eventually!

Before the last test fit before final assembly, I took time to “stain” the exterior with a 50% reduction of red wine. I used this same colouring technique on a small jewellery box and a prie-dieu some time back.

I am considering even more contrast by darkening the poplar bottom and till fronts with my homemade walnut dye. So, I guess I need to take it apart, one more time!

Next time it goes together with glue and nails. I guess t’s time to attach a top and lid. Now, where did I put those butterfly hinges?

Follow the Line!

Having thrown caution to the wind and experiencing the slightest bit of resistance from the grainy red oak, the carving phase of my desk ground to a halt.

Excepting for some wild grain on the right side, things turned out quite well. At least I think it meets muster!

With the carving under my belt, it was time to start building a box. First up rebates were cut on the edges of the front and back.

Keeping the rebates square surely helps when it comes to maintaining a level fit. That piece of granite counter-top comes in handy, too. Even if my bench is slightly unlevel, at least I know the granite is perfectly flat!

Before nailing the box together, there is a great deal of work to be done on the interior. Lot’s of grooves, dados, and pintle holes for the various dividers and tills need to be laid out and cut.

Some folks might think a mortise gauge the perfect tool to layout a groove or dado. After all, they are the go-to tool for laying out a mortice. Right? I own three mortise gauges; one I made decades ago, a fancy new one with brass inlay, and a strange one found in a thrift store a few years back.

Want to know a secret? To date, I have not used any of these tools to layout a groove, dado, or mortise. Seriously, my go-to tool for all that is the combination of a marking-gauge, and of course the mortise chisel, itself.

Why make matters difficult? If you can follow a line with a chisel, why do you need that second line?


Back in a few, stay tuned.

Decisions, Decisions

As I stated earlier, the slope of the desk-box offers a bit of a challenge when it comes to the carving. Typically, I wrap a carving pattern around the corner from the front onto the sides, but here that would leave a great deal of blank space. I decided to carve a portion of the pattern from the front and take up the remaining space with a rondel. Filling that space was now my new challenge.

While at the drawing board, I played with a few possibilities. Firstly, I thought, why not do something that accentuates the motif on the front.

Then I thought, how about something more traditional?

Or perhaps something unique.

Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to let the rondel dictate the carving!

Looking back, I’m quite glad I did! What are your thoughts?

Hopefully, I can repeat all of that on the right side and get to work on the interior. Stay tuned!

Back to the Drawing Board…

As I pondered the intricacies of the desk’s interior, tills, drawers, secret compartment, I decided to knock out the exterior carving. I chose a strapwork pattern for the front and determined the tools needed to lay it out.

Touted as being challenging to carve, the inconsistencies in red oak’s soft and hard grain can be somewhat annoying. Fortunately, this red oak cooperated nicely!

With the carving on the front completed to my satisfaction, I added the cutout at the base. I intend to carry this detail around to all four sides, creating the appearance of feet.

Ordinarily, I bring a carving pattern around the corner onto the sides. The slope, however, offers a bit of a challenge. I’d like to have the strapwork transition into a floral pattern. I will need to spend some time at the drawing board.

Stay tuned!

Just Relax and Build Something!

Despite our best efforts the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage forth. The political climate remains maddening, bringing out the worst in people every day. The weather has been chaotic with unprecedented storms. And now there is talk of possible food shortages, as our farmworkers take ill. Yet one thing is clear. I have no control over any of it. Perhaps I should relax, leave things in God’s hands, and go about my day.

Being presented with such a beautiful day, I moved my saw bench outside and started my next project, an oak desk box.

The carving pattern is still up in the air, but there is plenty of time left to decide on one, as I rough out the individual parts. I’m sure working out the design of the interior will take some time. How many tills? How many drawers? Should there be a secret compartment?

I drew inspiration from an Elizabethan table desk pictured in John Fiske’s book When Oak Was New. Salmon “paint” reportedly adorns the original. Therefore, I might stain my desk reddish, as well. We’ll see.

Stay tuned!

Now What?

With a freshly tuned rip saw, I worked my way through a piece of walnut, for a bottom and the two tops, 1/4-inch and 7/16-inch respectively.

After a bit of creativity with a coping saw, and a great deal of tweaking with chisel and rasp, I had a box!

Unable to leave a blank surface, I grabbed my carving tools!

I think the S-scrolls compliment the cutout at the bottom quite well. You?

Intending for this to be a jewellery box, I decided to add a small sliding tray. The tray is still a work in progress, so please don’t be too critical. LOL! With a bit more futzing and the usual slathering of boiled linseed oil and turpentine, I’ll call this box done and add it to the wareroom.

It’s been a rather productive seven weeks. My bench has seen the completion of the sliding top box, a small picture frame, my “End of the World” box, and this little jewellery box, and all the while warding off the indignant stares coming from the 8/4 red oak waiting to become part of a three-legged joined chair. I’m just wondering what else I can build before giving in to the inevitable?