Traditional Joiner’s Mallet

Ok, I know…this thing looks like a caveman’s club…

Back in the day, the joiner shop would limit as much waste as possible. It’s the same today in my shop…wood ain’t cheap. This mallet is made from the waste from one of the legs for the Nicholson bench. The handle is dowel stock wasted from the towel bar shelf. What is still left over from the workbench leg stock is currently under construction for use as my bench hook.

The mallet head stock was already square and true…not sure if that matters anyways. I just marked a line to what I thought would make a good mallet head. I still have yet to measure it…doesn’t matter. I cut an angle off both sides of the front of the head; then cleaned it up with a block plane and chisel. I left the back of the mallet as I found it…ugly.

The handle is just the dowel stock I mentioned earlier. I bored a hole through the mallet head and test fit the dowel. The length of the dowel was near perfect. What’s perfect? It feels nice in my hand…not too long, not too short.

The last thing I did was install a wedge to hold the handle in place. I cut a kerf using my tenon saw about and inch or so down the middle of the dowel. I split off a piece of red oak that I had in the scrap bin and trimmed it to fit the kerf. Then it was a little glue and a few whacks with the old hammer.

The next day I cut the wedge down with a x-cut saw and flushed it to the surface of the mallet head using a broad chisel. No finish used. I plan to use this puppy till I can’t use it anymore. It’s totally all about function…quick and dirty.

I use the back of the mallet on my holdfasts, as the front was taking a beating. I reserve the front for chisel work and other wood on wood contact.



I spit out my lunch

Ok…this is an exageration, but if I had been eating at the time I would have…

Today on lunch I was reading The Anarchist’s Tool Chest and I came across a passage that struck me. The passage is talking about assembly of the sawtill to hold your saws within the chest…

“I use this space for holding saw-files, my sawset and my saw jointer. If you don’t sharpen your own saws, you can keep your weed down there.” pg. 435

This last sentence, which provides a glimpse into where the author gets his writing influence, completely caught me off-guard. I had to read it back a couple of times.

What makes it a little crazy to me is the fact that he just keeps writing as if nothing has been said. Usually when Chris Schwarz jokes in his writing he follows up on it to bring it further to your attention. Not here…he is more nonchalant.

Is it possible this was general practice (where you put your weed) back in the 17th-18th century?

– JR

My favorite marking gauge

Some tools you could just make yourself…

I set out the other night with a goal to gather the necessary wood to make a shooting board. Somewhere along the way I decided to make this marking gauge instead…not sure what happened. Things pop into my head and I run with them sometimes. I still have plans to make a shooting board…I’ll blog about it for sure.

I’ve been doing some research lately and finding that many woodworkers keep saying it’s better to have more than one marking gauge on hand. After building the Nicholson workbench with all of its mortise & tenons, I get where they are coming from. It would have been nice to have a couple gauges set for the project…instead of moving the setting for each part of the mortise & tenon.

When the thought popped into my head the other night, the first thing I thought of was the podcast that Bob at the Logan Cabinet Shoppe had done on making a marking gauge. Yeah Bob! I quickly loaded it up onto my pod and took it into the workshop.

The gauge consists of only four parts…the beam, pin, wedge, and beam holder. The wedge puts the pressure on the beam to lock it in place during use, and unlocks the beam for adjusting.

wedge engaged

wedge disengaged

I think the hardest part was finding the pieces of wood from the scrap pile. I ended up with some nice cutoffs of red oak. I only had to trim the pieces to width and plane them flat and square. I marked out the mortise for the adjustable beam first according to Bob’s podcast. I cut the mortise with chisel and mallet coming in from both sides of the wood so as not to blow anything out.

I then cleaned up the piece of wood I had for the adjustable beam with some planing work. I finished planing with the smoothing plane to sneak up on the perfect fit in the mortise I had cut. I stopped there for the first night…I needed to contemplate how I would proceed with the wedge mechanism that locks the beam in place during use.

I decided to take the easy way out and go for the dowel method. I had an oak dowel left over from the drawboring on the Nicholson bench, which nicely matched the tone of the red oak in the rest of the gauge. I followed the podcast and cut the necessary wedge shape on the dowel. After a couple of trial and error…ok, more like ten, I had myself a functioning gauge…minus the pin.

As far as the pin…I was able to find a small finish nail. I have no idea what size it is. It was in that bin with all the other randomly sized nails that just about everyone has. I clipped off the head and super glued it into a pre-drilled hole on the bottom of the beam.

I gave the marking gauge a run about a half hour later with success. A little shaping and a few coats of shellac and I called it done. It should make the next project just a little bit easier. I could see myself making some more of these…could you have too many?

– JR

Google SketchUp for Woodworkers

I recommended to start with the Harwood podcast for Google SketchUp here

Once you get to that point, or maybe you already are, think about reading Fine Woodworking’s ‘Google SketchUp for Woodworkers’. It should take your skills in this program to a higher level.

I flew through the first 10 chapters of the book. If you watched all the Harwood podcasts, you should be able to do the same. After this point in the book, you begin to pick up some extra skills…or a different way to apply them. As an example, there is a nice section on designing a cabriole leg. Using the technique described in this book would save me a few steps.

There are a few more techniques that can speed things up a lot. However, they are techniques that I would use only on occasion, which makes it difficult to remember. Therefore, I would be spending time going back to the book…so for me, not really beneficial.

If you are into using cabriole legs and some of the others techniques in the book, such as intricate turnings and creating shop drawings, the book should benefit you. I would still start with the Harwood podcast…it has given me everything I need for the projects I build.

I received my copy from a friend. You could do the same, check the library, or just flat-out purchase it.

– JR

I’m becoming and anarchist

Don’t worry, I’m not going off the deep end…

I’m currently reading, “The Anarchists Tool Chest” by Christopher Schwarz. Basically, you get to the point where you are tired of buying junk. Everything is mass-produced, and usually by someplace known as ‘China’. They know that we are a throw-away society…ask them, they’ll admit it happily.

This is why I’m a woodworker. I would rather spend my free time toiling away making something that doesn’t suck. Something that won’t be at the local landfill in a couple of years…that’s right IKEA, I’m talking about you. I’m tired of accepting what our society is accepting…this throw away mentality.

Even when you think you are buying something of quality, it might not be up to standard. Let’s take one example that coincidently happened at the same time I am reading The Anarchist Tool Chest. We have an ash dresser in my older son’s room that was bought from L.L. Bean. This company stands by all the products they sell…I like that very much. However, everything at L.L.Bean has been going down hill fast since they started outsourcing to this ‘China’ place.

The ash dresser was no small chunk of change, and it is made of solid ash so we figured it was most likely the higher quality that you can get today…of course I wanted to build it myself. We should have known when the first dresser arrived damaged that the life of this piece of furniture would not be long. The second dresser arrived usable…it had a couple of imperfections, but we could live with them.

It’s been a couple of years since we purchased the dresser. Last week, I noticed what looked like a scratch in the top. As I moved to take a closer look, my heart stopped for a moment. It was no scratch…there is a huge gaping split in the top. It split right at the glue line of two boards about four inches in length. You can literally see all the way through the top into the first drawer. The glue line just completely let go.

We have had a crazy winter this year in the northeast. There have been large fluctuations in temperature and humidity in short periods of time. Obviously, the construction choice was not able to withstand these fluctuations and the movement of the wood.

Upon closer examination of the dresser, I immediately saw three reasons for the split. First, they didn’t allow for wood movement when they attached the top; second, they only finished one side of the top; third, the glue joint wasn’t closed properly. These are all things you must think about when designing and building furniture.

This is what you get these days…shortcuts. It most likely will cost the company less money to replace pieces than to slow down the manufacturing process to build correctly. It is very hard to find furniture that is built with traditional methods like dovetails and mortise and tenon joinery. A lot of people will look at the drawer and see dovetails and think it must be good, they used dovetails on the drawers. You have to look further…this is a scam.

This is why I am becoming an anarchist. I am tired of buying junk that ends of filling our landfills and wasting our hard-earned money.

I may get the commission to build a replacement for the dresser. If so, you will be able to follow the construction here.

– JR