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Rustic Pine Benches

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Last summer I had to have three white pines taken down in my back yard. The first two trunks got turned into the Pine Stools, leaving one trunk about sixteen feet long.  Being white pine, there are a ton of knots, the bane of the hand tool wood worker.  So instead of chopping it up into firewood, I bribed a friend of mine– who likes Greek food and has a chainsaw– into cutting the trunk into slabs for me.  We had tried to cut slabs earlier from a smaller section of trunk using a normal (crosscut) chainsaw blade; we eventually got it done, but it was very slow.  This time I got a ripping chainsaw blade and the process went much better. The blades don’t look that different, but the cutting geometry is different in the same way a rip saw differs from a cross cut saw.  Using a 2×4 as a guide, the cuts were all from the top down by eye; it’s not as accurate as a mill, but for nothing but the cost of a 2×4 and some nails. The results definitely exceeded my expectations.

The tree trunk’s shape necessitated working it three sections.  The first section of trunk nearest to the ground made two very nice slabs, between three and four inches thick, by twelve or so wide, and roughly three and a half feet long.  The next section was about seven feet long; we got one nice slab out of that, which I cut into two more bench tops.  There was a more-or-less half round piece that we could not figure out how to hold still, so we left it that shape.  The top-most section of trunk was about six feet long, but not wide enough to get more than one slab out of. So we decided to split it down the middle for two additional half rounds.

Normally, at this point in the project I would switch over to hand tools. The intended purpose of these particular benches is to be used at an outdoor SCA event for crowd seating, and the event date isn’t that far off, so I resorted to using power tools to speed up the process.   The legs are 2x4s run through the power planer to get them flat, smooth and all the same dimensions.  If I had unlimited time they should have been turned to better match the historical examples, which in turn would have made the mortising process easier.

I brought each rough sawn slab down to my main workbench to get the top surface prepared.  This process was done by hand for two reasons: First, my planer could not handle something that large; and second, they get a better surface texture when done by hand.  Using a strongly chambered iron and diagonal cross-grain planing I was able to remove the saw marks on the top pretty quick; the bottoms, other than sharp corners, were left rough.

For the flat slab benches (not round on the bottom) I mortised roughly two and a half or three inch deep at a 1:6 angle. I drilled out most of the waste first, using a timber framing trick; normally I would do that by hand, but to save my arm I did it with a one and three-eighths Forstner bit and a power hand drill.  I did the final sizing with a corner chisel and bench chisel, which is fairly straightforward work in the soft green pine.  Add the four legs, trim them off level, and the bench is complete.

Two of the sections with rounded bottoms were a bit more challenging to get that top surface flat, but eventually they got there.  I eyeballed the placement of the legs; they are a  more of a bold angle because there was less log to mortise into.

The last rounded bottom piece was a little smaller and thinner, so I decided to put in three legs for a change of pace. While it looks like it would be tippy, it is not: Three points define a plane.

All of the benches are finished with satin marine polyurethane as they are expected to be used outdoors and left to the merciless elements in between uses.  There is a surprising amount of surface area to cover, one and a half quarts worth.

I’m going to keep my favorite for use in my backyard.



Lace Pillow

On Lost Art Press’s blog there was a wonderful picture of a Renaissance woodworker– but that did not catch my eye, the lady working on the lace pillow did.  The original image comes from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.


I set about to make one and here is the results.

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Front (left), side (right).

The wood used on the sides and front are green oak; the top is pine.   The under side is open; the sides rest directly on the lacemaker’s legs, as shown.  The dimensions were made to roughly match the size relative to the original image.  The pictures don’t show it very well but the top is a trapezoid, with the front a narrower than the  back so that the bobbins can be fanned out as the lace is worked.  I changed the carved design to a simple bullet pattern because the samples I made, trying to learn the pattern in the inspiration image, just didn’t look right.

I got help with the upholstery from my lovely wife. She sewed up a shaped “bag” that is packed with sawdust and tacked to the wooden top, covered with batting, and finally with velvet for the lace pins to stick into.

The project was a success. The joinery on the angled sides was difficult; I think those joints could use a little improvement.  I wanted to not have end grain showing on the front, so I had to figure out a complex rabbited joint.  The top is nailed on to the sides and front, which provides more rigidity than the pegged corners alone.

16th Century Oak Stool

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The latest in the stool series, this one is made of American Red Oak, taken from land in southern Minnesota.

It was worked with hand tools for everything except for the turnings, those I did on a power lathe.

All of the stock preparation,  joinery and carving was done by hand.

The notable differences between this stool and the pair of pine stools is the legs do not splay out and there is more carving all over the stool.

I struggled a little to take a picture of it, the side on is not the most attractive pose.  The low relief carving looks best is strong day light so that you can see the interplay of the light and shadow on the piece.

All Oak Box

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This is the second in what will likely be a series of boxes.  The front (and back) carving is another pattern based off of the Follansbee carving DVDs.  The width of the board, my selection of tools, along with my design preferences add variety so that it is not an exact copy.  The side is based off of a pattern that I saw in an auction piece now in a private collect.  The till is full depth as opposed to having a bottom, because the box is only five or so inches deep putting a bottom on the till was not very useful.  That also dropped the time it takes to make the box.  The bottom and top are nailed together, but the sides are wooden pegged as opposed to nails.  Unlike the last box the top and bottom are out of oak.

Future boxes will continue with the full depth tills and the pegging of the sides.  I also cut down the length of the nails to make it less likely to cause the pre-drilled holes to poke through the sides and that seems to have worked well. The wooden hinge on this one installed much easier than the last box, the trick is to get the pin as close to the back of the box as possible.  I tried the stippling texture and was pleased with the results.  The tool that I made is out of brass and is too short (if you make a mistake you hammer your fingers), the next one will be steel and about four inches, still only 8 teeth.  The boards that make up this project are all rivened oak, but got run through the power planer, that allows me to use boards that are too twisted to be planed manually.

The “Pretty Firewood” Box


I have been trying my hand at low relief carving.  Part of the learning process was to do some of the sample exercises from Peter Follansbee’s DVDs.  I just used some random planks of green oak left over from the joined stool project.  Once I had made a few I declared them to be “pretty firewood.” After receiving a stern glare from my wife, I promised not to toss them out, but to make a box out of them.

This is the results of that process. I patterned it off of the boxes that Peter F. makes; there is no risk of confusing the two.  There are 1500s boxes generally called Bible Boxes that are carved in the same manner, although they tend to be only carved on one face (front), or sometimes three faces (front and sides).  The top and bottom are pine in the colonial American fashion.  It looks a little strange to my modern eye.  I thinned out the pine with planes and then chamfered it using a rabbet plane .

The box is nailed together with cut nails because the carved planks are too thin to use wood pegs.  They are rabbeted and over all seal pretty well.  I really like the pattern on the top of the till: A row of bullets, centered on the piece.  The parallel lines are done with the scratch stock that I made.


The “front” has mostly V tool carving (it was an exercise in using that tool).  I added little U shaped cuts one the corners, a detail that I really liked and have seen on several pieces in auction catalogs.


The sides are “S Leaf” patterns from the second DVD by Peter F.  I like this design; it is a bit more complex, so the design uses all 5 of the carving tools that I own.  The wooden peg hinge was pretty easy to make. I did run into trouble because the back is not flat so a little of the top of the carving got removed.

The finish is a linseed oil, no stain was used on it.

The sides are roughly an hour each to carve. The front and back were quicker, about twenty minutes each.  It takes longer to square up and plane the board to prepare it for carving than it does to do the actual carving.  I’d guess that whole box has 10 or 15 hours of work it in.

This was a successful project using mostly leftover or reclaimed pieces. I’ll do more carved boxes in the future.

Peter Made Planes


The long plane on the left is my joiner. I made it a few years ago using the “Philly Method” of laminated bodies. The shape is a “Razzy” plane; the tote is a step down from the top of the plane.  The balance is not the greatest– the blade should be further towards to the toe– but all in all it works so well that I have not messed with it.  One side note: When making this plane I tried an “easier” method that involved gluing in the cheeks; I will never do that again as it was a pain in the neck to line up.

The little plane in the center is a “smoother” based off of the profile from the Mary Rose. This is the most recent plane that I have made.  It works well, but is almost too small for my hands; it feels like it was made for a child.  With a little bit of tweaking it will shave off very thin shavings.

The mid-sized plane on the right is my general bench plane.  I have done a lot of experimenting on it.  This was the first plane I made with the laminated method. The mouth was very wide so I closed it up with a small piece of wood.  The next major change was to thicken the blade.  Previously I was using a cheap Buck Brothers plane blade from Home Depot.  I found that gluing an 1/8″ or 3/16″ piece of steel to the blade allowed the plane to be adjusted by whacking on the back and front of the plane body.  Previously the only way to adjust it was by tapping the blade directly.

While the laminated method of making planes is not historically correct, it works so well that to date I have not ventured to try to cut the mortice out with a chisel.  Now that I have better practical skills I’ll need to give that a try.

Things that I have learned over time:

  • Laminate the store-bought blade to make it heavier, 1/8″ hot rolled steel works well.  5 min epoxy is all it takes to bond the metal forever.  The extra weight is needed.
  • The wedge is the hardest part to get right. Make the first one out of pine so that it is easy to work.  Then, some day, you can remake it in a hard wood.
  • It is better to have a too wide mouth than too small; you can always correct a too wide mouth with an insert, you can’t do much with a too small mouth.
  • Just do it. There are a number of sets of directions out there, so pick one that makes sense and try it.  You’ll need a blade and bar stock from a home improvement store, two pieces of 1/4″ wood, something to make the body from and a tote (handle).  If you are concerned about cost, make it all out of pine and use 1/4″ plywood; it will still work.  Start with a “jack plane” because it is the most forgiving.

Scratch Stock


This tool is a re-purposed early attempt at a marking gauge.  It is used to grab a thin steel scraper blade for scratching moldings.  This blade is a U shaped one that helped make the bullet trim on the second joined stool.