A Roorkee Footstool


The principles behind the Roorkee chair can be easily adapted to other forms of furniture besides chairs. Its loose-tenon joinery has been used to make beds and even tables on occasion.

Today, however, I saw my first Roorkee footstool.

This weekend I visited the new Lee Valley store in Vaughan, Ontario, to deliver a couple talks on workbench design and campaign furniture. For my talk on campaign furniture, I brought along five campaign pieces (Me to border guard: “No, I am not invading your country”). But I didn’t have a Roorkee chair with me – my last one sold to a customer.


So I was happy when local woodworker Vincent brought along two Roorkee chairs he had made – plus a Roorkee footstool that was built using the same principles.

Made using purpleheart, the stool had a thigh strap and a slanted seat cover, just like a Roorkee chair. The rest of the attendees were gaga over it, taking photos and trying it out.

Vincent also made some nice modifications to the original Roorkee plan. Instead of turning round stretchers, he made his stretchers octagonal and terminated with a tapered tenon. They looked very nice – I’ll have to try that on a future chair.

Also, the “grip” turning at the top of the chair bowed out slightly in the middle instead of being straight. It looked nice and felt nice in the hand as well.

All in all, the new Lee Valley store is quite nice. The company is trying out some new things with this store. So if you are ever driving north of Toronto on the 400, be sure to stop and chck it out.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Books in Print, Campaign Furniture | 1 Comment

Animal Locomotion


Last year we discussed the work of 19th century British photographer William Henry Fox Talbot. A print attributed to Talbot circa 1844, known as ‘Carpenter and Apprentice‘, may be the oldest surviving photograph of woodworkers.

The subject of this blog entry is the work of Eadweard Muybridge, known to many as the man who provided photographic evidence that a galloping horse could have all four hooves off the ground at the same time. You have probably seen his photographs whether you recognize his name or not. Many are not aware that Muybridge also photographed woodworkers. His studies may contain the oldest images of woodworking in action.

Muybridge had a penchant for photographing his models in the nude. His woodworking images depict semi-nude and fully nude males. If you have a problem with nudity, or are browsing this blog from work, you might want to skip this post.

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Time to Stop and Smell the Sapele


Tucked between my trips to both coasts and editing Peter Galbert’s in-fricking-credible book on chairmaking I’ve been building this folding campaign bookcase in sapele for an article in Popular Woodworking Magazine.

The bookcase looks so simple: two boxes that are hinged together. Truth is, this has been one of the most challenging pieces I’ve built in a long time. Most of the joinery is just dovetails, easy-peasy. But the backs of the cases attach to the carcase with a wack-a-doodle joint that has no name. I call the joint “banjo.” If you think that is a reference to the film “Deliverance,” you might be correct.

But what’s been even more mind-bending have been the mechanical aspects of the piece. For everything to work, the adjustable shelves and drawers have to clear the glass doors when pulled out. The hinge barrels of the glass doors have to be placed precisely to allow them to open fully without binding against the case and yet allow the two halves of the bookcase to close tightly.

And all the hardware (there’s a buttload) has to co-mingle, sometimes in unexpected ways. I destroyed the edge of a chisel while mortising the strikes for the door locks. I kept trying to lever out a little piece of waste that wouldn’t budge. Turns out the “waste” was a screw.


Like many campaign pieces, this one has more than 30 pieces of hardware that have to be mortised flush. After writing a book on campaign furniture, that’s easy. What was hard was what happened when I opened a new bag of brass screws that were decidedly soft. Within a few minutes I had four screws that were buried in the work with broken heads.


Good thing I have this screw extractor. I bought this in the 1990s from Woodworker’s Supply and it is the only one I’ve ever used that works (for me).

Today I’m dovetailing the two drawers and cleaning up the exterior for its finish (shellac and wax). I am sure I’d make my April 15 deadline if I didn’t have to go to Canada on Thursday.

Yup. I’ll be at the new Lee Valley store west of Toronto this weekend to conduct a couple of seminars and hang out with our northern neighbors. The address of the new store is: 167 Chrislea Road, Vaughan, ON L4L 8N6. Here is my schedule:

Friday, April 11, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Everything You Need to Know About Workbench Design

Friday, April 11, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Book Signing & Meet & Greet

Saturday, April 12, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
An Introduction to Campaign Furniture

Megan Fitzpatrick, the editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, will also be there conducting a seminar on her recent adventures in kitchen cabinetmaking. Reading her accounts of it on her blog make me want to move into an apartment where I never have to work on my kitchen.

So all this is the long way of saying: Sorry I haven’t answered your e-mail during the last few months. I do answer all e-mails. But I still have about 40 in the queue.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Campaign Furniture, Projects | 20 Comments

My favorite finish (for now)

About two years ago, I hatched an evil scheme: I intuited that Chris would be writing about polissoirs within the next six months. I also figured that he would eventually invite me to write on his blog. And so I slipped him a small mahogany board that I had finished to look like it had been polissoir-ed, but was in fact finished using more modern techniques. Last week, my plans finally came to fruition, as he mistakenly put forth my sample board as an example of polissoir-ization. It was all very reminiscent of Armand LaMontagne’s Brewster Chair.

Actually, it didn’t go down quite like that, and I apologize for inadvertently leading Chris astray. The irony is that I really did give him the board because I thought that the finish I used looks a lot like a polissoir-ed finish, but I didn’t intend for him to get his boards mixed up.

So what is this miracle finish? It’s something that you’ve probably never heard of: Polyx-Oil, from Osmo (a German manufacturer of wood flooring and wood-finishing products). Polyx-Oil is one of a number of finishes known as hardwax oils. As the name suggests, hardwax oils are a blend of a hard wax (typically candelilla and/or carnauba) and a drying oil (soy, tung, linseed, etc.). Hardwax oils have become popular in Europe in recent years, but they’re still relatively unknown in North America. Until very recently, the only products imported to the U.S. were those from Osmo, but some of the other manufacturers have started to show up. My experience is only with the Osmo products, so from now on that’s what I’ll be talking about. There’s a list of Osmo dealers available on their web site (you can also buy through the company named after a mythical female warrior nation).

While Polyx-Oil hardly qualifies as a Lost Art, it’s interesting that it really isn’t that different from old-time finishes: just oil, wax and a pinch of drying agent. It would seem that much of modern finish chemistry uses the same materials as always, and that the main differences are in molecular micromanagement.

Polyx-Oil was originally developed as a finish for wood floors. While neither “Foolproof!” nor “The Last Finish You’ll Ever Need!” it is easy to use and does a good job of protecting wood against everyday spills and such, but it isn’t truly waterproof. I think it’s fine for most furniture, with the possible exception of dining tables. I wouldn’t use it on bathroom cabinets, and I’d think twice about it on kitchen cabinets. It’s also not recommended as a finish for oily tropical woods. (Osmo recommends against using it on mahogany, but I haven’t experienced any problems with either real mahogany or its African relatives.)

Osmo makes three variations of Polyx-Oil, the original Polyx-Oil, Top Oil and Polyx Pro Oil. All three are very similar, with the only significant difference being the amount of solvent. Top Oil contains more solvent, and is supposedly optimized for furniture and countertops (as opposed to floors). Polyx Pro Oil contains virtually no solvent, for situations that call for a very low-VOC finish.

I’ve used both original Polyx-Oil and Top Oil, and have to say that if there is a difference, it’s hardly noticeable. Top Oil does come in a container with a screw top, making it a bit more convenient for touch-ups. I haven’t tried Polyx Pro Oil, mainly because it only comes in very large containers and is therefore rather expensive.

Through trial and error, I developed a finishing schedule that deviates from the Osmo instructions but is well suited to furniture and casework. The resulting finish is silky and semi-matte. It looks and feels like paste wax over oil, but is more durable. You can download a PDF of my finishing schedule here.

Osmo Polyx-Oil

Four out of five African Hoopoes endorse the use of Polyx-Oil (the fifth is currently busy trying to eat a beetle)

–Steve Schafer

Posted in Finishing | 17 Comments

A Correction to my Entry on Polissoirs


My recent article on the new polissoirs from Don’s Barn and a long-term test of the burnishing effect from the tool had a significant error: The photo showed the wrong sample board.

That similar-looking sample board was given to me by woodworker Steve Schafer – he’ll be blogging about the finishing schedule on that sample board in the near future.

Last tight I rooted through my wood rack to find the mahogany sample that I prepared 18 months ago. I made it halfway through the rack without finding it; when it turns up, I’ll post a photo of it.

In the meantime, here are photos of two projects that I finished with a polissoir about the same time I made the sample board. These two stools were finished with a polissoir only on the lathe. Like all properly prepared polissoirs, it had a little wax on the tip, which was applied when I first got the tool. But I wouldn’t call this a wax finish. It’s a burnished finish, much like the burnishing finish you get when you use shavings to polish a piece spinning on the lathe.

So the result isn’t wrong – just the photo.

Apologies for the error. I should have marked Steve’s sample board as it is very similar looking to mine.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Finishing, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation | 2 Comments

A Great Variety of Useful Tools


American Industries—No. 9, Small Tools

The industry under consideration is peculiarly American. It is representative of a class of establishments that have given our manufacturers a world-wide reputation for goods that are both cheap and reliable. This success is mainly due to the system of manufacture inaugurated here some years since, and which seems to thrive better in this country than anywhere else. But for the special machines, the system of inspection, and assembling we should still have the old-fashioned tools, with the defects consequent upon fitting one piece to another, and the prices would be far higher than the more perfect machine-made article now demands.

The Miller’s Falls Company, of Miller’s Falls, Mass, manufacture a great variety of useful tools, most of them being of the smaller sort, such as are of the most general utility. A few of these, shown in the title page engraving, will be recognized by most of our readers as familiar objects. Among these are breast drills, bench drills, Barber’s bit brace, the ratchet brace, parallel vises, the miter box, the screw jack, all of which are so well known as to need no special description.
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Hamilton’s Tree-Felling and Cross-Cutting Machine


This machine is specially designed for felling trees. It is well known that in chopping down trees with an ax, two or three feet, according to the size of the tree, of the most valuable part of the lumber is lost. By this machine the tree is felled within five inches of the ground; and by removing the soil sufficiently to avoid dulling the saw, it can be cut as low as desired. Four men can do the work of ten men with axes in the forests.

It will be recollected that the butt must be squared, or cross-cut, before the log is ready for the mill; but the single operation of felling the tree with this machine leaves the log already squared. The land is left smooth, thus facilitating cultivation, and greatly increasing its value. The surface of the stump being left flat and level, is porous and spongy, so that by the action of moisture and air it soon decays; but when cut by the ax, its pores are sealed up and its surface rendered smooth, and the stump will not soon decay, but remains for years an unsightly and inconvenient object.
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