From time to time, we get asked about our “professional setup” for dust collection. It’s not what you might expect from a (semi) professional shop…or maybe it is exactly what you expect, given that we’re known for hand-tool stuff.
But we do use machinery – particularly for stock prep and rough cuts. Plus, there’s a fair amount of sanding in making stick chairs. Our machine shop (aka “The Electric Horse Garage“) is, however, quite small; there’s no room for 6”-diameter piping or a large cyclone. Instead, we have two Jet Vortex dust collectors for the large machinery. One is hooked up to the jointer and planer, with manual gates that we open/close to direct the suction to the machine in use. The other is for the table saw. I don’t know about Chris, but before I turn on any of these three machines, I first poke the bag to make sure the dust level isn’t too high. Trying to birth an overfull garbage bag full of fine dust between the uprights is a bear, especially on the table saw (that dust is heavy!).
For the spindle and belt/circular sander, we have a small Ridgid unit hanging on the wall (which reminds me – I’d best check it given last week’s chair class; the collection bag doesn’t hold much).
On handheld machines such as the random orbit sanders and the Domino Joiner, we hook up Festool dust collectors (I bring mine in from home during classes so that we can set up two stations). Key is the addition of a 98-cent hose clamp to keep the collar from slipping off the machine’s dust port. (You can just see it in the image above.)
In the bench room, the only stationary(ish) machines we have are two bands saws. One, Chris’s venerable Delta/Rockwell, predates dust collection ports, but on the new Jet band saw we hook up the shop vacuum if we’re making anything more than a short, quick cut. Might as well go through the teensy bit of trouble of hauling out the vacuum, given that we use that same vacuum to clean up the machine and floor after using the band saw. Every time.
For larger stuff, let it never be said you can’t find a broom around here. We have plenty – all from Berea College in central Kentucky.
P.S. This is Chris, chiming in. This year we are going to add an electrostatic air scrubber to our machine room. We are serious about keeping the dust down. Also, the only sanding on the stick chairs is on the saddle. I sand about 5 minutes per chair. Beginners have to sand more. So it can seem like a lot when six beginners build chairs.
Typically when we announce an open house I get three or four complaints along the lines of “why didn’t you let us know sooner.” So for those three or four people:
The 2023 Summer Open House at the Lost Art Press storefront is on July 29. We’ll open the doors at 10 a.m. and lock them behind you at 5 p.m. We will probably have a special gift, guest demonstrations, etc. But I don’t know anything more than the date at this point. (And we will of course let you know more when we figure it out.)
Joint stools are a fascinating piece of British and early American furniture. Made from riven – not sawn – oak, their legs are typically turned and angled. The aprons and stretchers are joined to the legs using drawbored mortise-and-tenon joints, no glue. And the seat is pegged to the frame below. Because of these characteristics, the stools are an excellent introduction to the following skills.
• Selecting the right tools: Many of the tools of the 17th century are similar to modern hand tools – you just need fewer of them. “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” introduces you to the very basic kit you need to begin.
• Processing green oak: Split an oak using simple tools, rive the bolts into usable stock and dry it to a workable moisture content.
• Joinery and mouldings: Learn to cut mortises and tenons by hand, including the tricks to ensure a tight fit at the shoulder of the joint. Make mouldings using shop-made scratch stocks – no moulding planes required.
• Turning: Though some joint stools were decorated with simple chamfers and chisel-cut details, many were turned. Learn the handful of tools and moves you need to turn period-appropriate details.
• Drawboring: Joint stools are surprisingly durable articles of furniture. Why? The drawbored mortise-and-tenon joint. This mechanical joint is rarely used in contemporary furniture. Alexander and Follansbee lift the veil on this technique and demonstrate the steps to ensure your joint stool will last 400 years or so.
• Finishing: Many joint stools were finished originally with paint. You can make your own using pigments and linseed oil. The right finish adds a translucent glow that no gallon of latex can ever provide.
Now we can return to the framing parts, starting with the stiles. The first step is to lay out the mortises. We’ll outline these steps one at a time because it can get confusing. We will call the mortises for the front and rear rails “straight” mortises, those for the canted ends of the stool we will call “angled” mortises.
Stack the four stiles together, with their beveled inside corners touching, and with radial faces up.
These radial faces become the “front” and “back” faces of the stool. Take one stile, and work on its radial face.
To lay out the stiles’ square blocks and the straight mortises, it’s easier to use what a carpenter now calls a “story stick” that is marked with the stiles’ details, rather than working from paper drawings or patterns. This shop-made stick records the markings that are then transferred to the stile. We have made these sticks to record different stools. The locations and heights of the squared blocks, turning details and positions of mortises can all be taken from the stick to the stile. It is best to mark ONE stile from the stick, then the other three stiles from that first stile.
Make sure the foot of the stile is trimmed square. Line up the foot of the story stick and the feet of the stile. With an awl, mark the limits of the square blocks and scribe these marks across all four faces of the stile, with one exception – the top of the stile is marked only on the radial face and the corresponding inside tangential face (where the straight apron mortise is located).
Now line the stick up on the inside face and mark the locations of the mortises on this tangential face.
One thing to keep in mind is that the top of the apron mortise is not at the same height as the top of the stile. This mortise drops down about 3/4″ from the stile’s top end. Eyeball the top of the apron mortise and scribe it with the awl and square.
The next step is to mark the mortises with the mortise gauge. To set the gauge, make a mark with your chisel’s edge perpendicular to, but right against the stile’s arris. Next, move over one chisel width and bear down hard enough to make a mark in the wood. Then set the pins of your mortise gauge according to the location of this second chisel mark. The result is a mortise that is set in from the face of the stock the thickness of the chisel. Our mortises are usually 5/16″, set in from the face 5/16″. This spacing is based on studies of period work; 5/16″ is almost a standard from what we have seen.
The Angled Mortises To find the location for the angled side mortises, use an adjustable bevel set to the desired flare angle. A slope of 1:6 is what we have used on several stools. Our studies of 17th-century stools show flare angles right around that figure, some less, none more. To set the bevel, set a straightedge on a framing square, positioning it at 1″ on one leg, and 6″ on the other. Then adjust the bevel to this angle and lock its nut to secure the setting. You can then scribe this angle on a piece of wood, or even scribe it on the wall. Like the adjustable gauges, the bevel can lose its setting if bumped. Having the angle scribed somewhere makes it easy to reset it. Alexander turned an adjustable bevel into a fixed one by threading a bolt through its stock and blade.
To lay out the side mortises, you must carry the line that designates the top of the stool from the front radial face across the side tangential face. Set the bevel with its handle on the front face of the stile. Line it up with the marked top of the stool, with its angled blade pointing upwards on the other outside face of that stile. Scribe this line with the awl.
Then use a square to carry this line across the other inside face. So the sequence is square, bevel, square. Remember that it’s best to carry the lines across the outside faces; the inside faces are unreliable. This layout is both simple and complicated at the same time. Sometimes it helps to stand the stile up and tilt it as it will be in the finished stool. Then you can easily visualize where the angled mortises are and how they rise up higher than the straight mortises.
You can repeat this process for the top edge of the stretchers’ mortises. Or you can mark this from the story stick, this time lining up the top of the stool with the scribed line that designates the top of the side apron.
Now mark the mortises’ height and width on these faces of the stile. After you mark out two stiles, lay them side by side and check that they agree. A front or rear pair should have their radial faces matching, with the straight mortises aiming at each other, and the side, angled mortises rising up toward the top of the stool.
Mortising Once you have struck the layout of the mortises, secure the stile on the benchtop near its edge. Shove one end of the stile against the bench hook then secure the stile with the holdfast.
Begin mortising by holding the mortise chisel with the handle tilted away from you, leaving its bevel just about plumb. Position the first cuts with the mortise chisel about in the center of the mortise’s length. A blow from the wooden mallet drives the chisel downward. Turn the chisel around, and make another chop aimed at the first. The result is a V-shaped opening at the middle of the mortise’s length. Alternate the chisel’s position in this way, enlarging the V-shaped cut; the goal is to reach the depth at the center of the mortise as quickly as possible. Then the rest of the work is just cutting down the end grain to lengthen the mortise. As you get to the ends of the mortise, bring the chisel upright so that its back surface is perpendicular to the stile’s surface.
There are a few stances and postures we use that increase the efficiency in mortising. For most of the work the chisel is driven with a mallet, but sometimes hand pressure is useful as well. When using hand pressure, it helps if you rise onto the balls of your feet and come down with your whole body to drive the chisel. Lean on the top of the chisel handle with the front of your shoulder to help drive the tool into the wood. Then you can pry the waste up from the bottom of the mortise. In fig. 4.12, the left hand is used to position the chisel, and the right hand and upper body are driving the tool into the wood.
It is critical to keep the mortise chisel parallel to the face of the stile. You can sight against a square positioned on the benchtop. Drive the chisel into the mortise, then step back and sight it against the blade of the square. With practice you will learn to sight this against the face of the stile, and not need the square.
The moisture content of the oak is important at this stage; usually it’s fairly wet inside when you chop these joints. The stock in the photos was planed wet from the log less than a month before cutting these joints. The straight-grained nature of the riven stock makes mortising easier than ever. The same principles that apply to splitting apply here as well. In effect the chisel is entering the wood directly on either the radial or tangential plane.
Chop the mortise to a depth of about 1-1/2″. It’s easiest to get that depth at the middle of the mortise; at the ends it requires a little more attention. There is a tendency to pry against the end grain of the mortise – this will bruise and deform the wood there. Stay away from the final ends of the mortise at first, that way you can pry against the end grain that will end up as waste. Finish up by taking cuts straight down the end grain with the back of the chisel perpendicular to the stile.
To get the last bits out at the bottom of the mortise’s ends, chop straight down into the ends, then turn the chisel around, and with the bevel down, drive the chisel into the midst of the mortise, and come toward the ends. Now bring up the chip on the back of the chisel.
We’re closing out our reprint of the “Stanley Tools Catalogue No. 34,” and are selling remaining copies for $10 each, simply to free up space on the warehouse shelves. Every purchase comes with a free PDF copy – once the 450 (or so) print copies are sold out, we’ll continue to offer a free PDF of the 1914 catalogue here on the blog.
This catalog shows nearly every tool needed in a hand-tool shop 100 years ago, from the chisels to the butt gauges to every sort of plane in the company’s line. The text explains what each one is used for and how it functions differently from other similar tools.
The catalog also has fantastic exploded views of many of the complex tools, such as Stanley’s miter boxes, the multi-planes and handplanes. It’s a great resource to have on hand at a tool meet or antique market – not only to identify vintage tools, but to see if all the parts are intact.
If you are just getting into hand tools, we think you will find this catalog a delight to read, hold and learn from. The information in it is factual and straightforward – not the puffery you get from many modern catalogs. And if you collect or appreciate vintage hand tools, we think you will love this catalog, which reproduces the vintage drawings with remarkable clarity.
Once these are gone, we are not reprinting. So get it now or forever hold your (Harvey) peace.
This is the finish Chris uses on his chairs, and that I use on everything that isn’t painted. I particuarly love it on walnut and cherry – it warms up the grain and brings out its beauty (as well as offering just enough easily renewable protection), plus it softens my hand and smells good.
Katherine cooks up this wax in the Lost Art Press machine room using a waterless process. She then packages it in a tough glass jar with a metal screw-top lid. She applies her hand-designed label to each lid, boxes up the jars and ships them in a durable cardboard mailer. The money she makes from wax helps her make ends meet at college. Instructions for the wax are below. You can watch a video of how to use the wax here.
Instructions for Soft Wax 2.0 Soft Wax 2.0 is a safe finish for bare wood that is incredibly easy to apply and imparts a beautiful low luster to the wood.
The finish is made by cooking raw, organic linseed oil (from the flax plant) and combining it with cosmetics-grade beeswax and a small amount of a citrus-based solvent. The result is that this finish can be applied without special safety equipment, such as a respirator. The only safety caution is to dry the rags out flat you used to apply before throwing them away. (All linseed oil generates heat as it cures, and there is a small but real chance of the rags catching fire if they are bunched up while wet.)
Soft Wax 2.0 is an ideal finish for pieces that will be touched a lot, such as chairs, turned objects and spoons. The finish does not build a film, so the wood feels like wood – not plastic. Because of this, the wax does not provide a strong barrier against water or alcohol. If you use it on countertops or a kitchen table, you will need to touch it up every once in a while. Simply add a little more Soft Wax to a deteriorated finish and the repair is done – no stripping or additional chemicals needed.
Soft Wax 2.0 is not intended to be used over a film finish (such as lacquer, shellac or varnish). It is best used on bare wood. However, you can apply it over a porous finish, such as milk paint.
APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS (VERY IMPORTANT): Applying Soft Wax 2.0 is so easy if you follow the simple instructions. On bare wood, apply a thin coat of soft wax using a rag, applicator pad, 3M gray pad or steel wool. Allow the finish to soak in about 15 minutes. Then, with a clean rag or towel, wipe the entire surface until it feels dry. Do not leave any excess finish on the surface. If you do leave some behind, the wood will get gummy and sticky.
The finish will be dry enough to use in a couple hours. After a couple weeks, the oil will be fully cured. After that, you can add a second coat (or not). A second coat will add more sheen and a little more protection to the wood.
Soft Wax 2.0 is made in small batches in Kentucky. Each glass jar contains 8 oz. of soft wax, enough for about five chairs.