I have a student who can’t make the Anarchist’s Tool Chest class that begins tomorrow morning (Aug. 2) at 9 a.m. If you’re local (or want to drive overnight) and want to join the class, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more about the class here.
The following is excerpted from Vol. I of “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Tools.” As editor of The Woodworker magazine from 1939 to 1967, Hayward oversaw the transformation of the craft from one that was almost entirely hand-tool based to a time where machines were common, inexpensive and had displaced the handplanes, chisels and backsaws of Hayward’s training and youth.
This massive project – five books in total – seeks to reprint a small part of the information Hayward published in The Woodworker during his time as editor in chief. This is information that hasn’t been seen or read in decades. No matter where you are in the craft, from a complete novice to a professional, you will find information here you cannot get anywhere else.
We have culled, organized, scanned, edited and re-edited these articles to create these hardbound volumes. This is not simply a quick reprint of old magazines. We have reset all of the type. We have scanned and cleaned every image (there are more than 2,000 drawings and photos). The entire project took hundreds of hours and a dozen people all over the country.
The first volume is on tools, and includes: Sharpening; Setting Out Tools & Chisels; Planes; Saws; Boring Tools; Carving; Turning; Veneering & Inlay.
There are three general classes of saws; hand-saws, back-saws, and those for cutting curves. The first, with the use of which we are concerned here, are for the preliminary cutting up of timber and for the larger joints, and at least one is essential in the kit.
Features of the Handsaw. A saw which will cut fairly rapidly without badly tearing out the grain, and one which can be used for cutting both across and with the grain, is desirable because it can be used for so many purposes. Choose one about 22 in. long (that is the blade length measured along the teeth) and having, say, 10 points to the inch. The latter detail refers to the size of the teeth and means the number of tooth points in an inch including those at both ends. In Fig. 2, for instance, there are 10 points to the inch. Many saws have the number stamped on the blade near the handle. If you propose to do mostly carpentry as distinct from furniture making you can gain a little in cutting speed at the sacrifice of fine cutting by choosing a saw with larger teeth, say 8 points.
Make sure that it is a cross-cut saw you get, not a rip-saw. There is an important difference between the sharpening of the two which affects the cutting. The cross-cut can be used for any sort of cutting, whereas the rip-saw is confined to sawing with the grain. It is a good plan too to choose a taper-ground-saw. It means that the blade has a natural clearance in the kerf it makes since it is slightly thinner at the back than at the toothed edge. Even with this refinement, however, a saw would jam in its kerf unless the teeth were given what is known as set. This is the slight bending over of the teeth in alternate directions so that, as the saw cuts through the wood, it makes a cut (kerf it is usually called) slightly wider than the thickness of its blade. Of course, this means that the resistance is slightly greater in that the saw has had to remove more wood in sawdust, but this is mostly offset by the reduced friction of the blade in the kerf. It does mean, however, that the taper-ground-saw has a definite advantage in that the set can be less owing to the natural clearance of the blade.
Using the Saw. Sawing is done on trestles, on the bench, or in the vice. In the first the wood is usually steadied by pressure from the knee, whilst for bench sawing the usual plan is to cramp down the wood. This is really important because it is impossible to saw properly if the wood is jumping about. Here then is a first essential. If you cannot hold the wood steady, fix it down with a cramp.
Square Sawing. Perhaps the chief difficulty that besets the beginner is that of square sawing, and this is entirely a matter of knowing when the saw is upright and of keeping it so throughout its stroke. If the cut is not square it means that at best there will be a lot of wood to trim away, and at worst the wood may be too small owing to its have been undercut. For a start place a trysquare on the bench against the blade and endeavour to keep the blade in line with it as at A, Fig. 3. We have known a case of a man, determined to cure a fault of sawing out of square, who stood a large mirror in front of himself and glanced at it occasionally to see whether the saw was upright. This is not usually practicable, but whatever method you use endeavour to get the feel of when the saw is upright. Put the square on the wood and hold the saw against it perfectly upright. Note and try to register your position. Move the saw into various positions in its stroke and again note your attitude. After a time you will no longer need to use the square as a guide, but even so, test the sawn edge afterwards to see whether you have any special bias, and endeavour to correct the fault.
Straight Sawing. A common experience for a beginner is to find that the saw is either drifting away from or bearing towards the line along which he is sawing. He tries to put things right by twisting the handle (C, Fig. 3), and, after a few strokes finds that the saw is bearing the opposite way, and so it goes on until the end of the cut, the resulting edge being a long and wavy line as in Fig. 4. Clearly the important thing is to start right with the saw blade parallel with the line.
Now in normal sawing the blade is held so that the line of the teeth makes about 45 degrees with the wood, as at A, Fig. 5. This makes it a little difficult to judge whether the blade is in alignment with the line, because when the saw is low the handle does not extend far enough along the line to enable you to judge the matter, and when it is high the handle is so far above the line that it is just as difficult. The best plan is to start the cut with the saw held at a very low angle as at B, Fig. 5. Then, if the toe of the saw is used to start the cut the handle will extend a long way along the line and it will be low. Once a reasonable start has been made the saw can assume the normal 45 degrees. If you start right there is no reason why you should not keep right—assuming that the saw is in order. Bad sharpening can cause drifting, but the drift will always be in the same direction. It may be due to unequal setting, to the saw having been sharpened from the same side throughout, to one side having been caught on a nail, or to the blade being buckled. Do not try to cure it yourself. Take it to a proper sharpener and explain what happens. He will know what to do. Sharpening and the correction of faults is a skilled operation calling for experience.
General Sawing. Assume that you are going to saw along a board, the latter held on trestles or boxes. Start the saw at a low angle as already suggested and give a few short strokes, the blade bearing against the thumb of the left hand to steady it as shown in Fig. 1. This enables the saw to make a start in the right place. As the blade cuts more deeply into the wood you can gradually change the position of the handle so that the blade makes about 45 degrees with the wood, and the short starting strokes can be changed to long ones embracing nearly the whole length of the saw. Note from Fig. 1 how the index finger of the right hand points along the blade. This is a great aid to control and applies to almost every saw. Keep the left hand with either the thumb or side of the finger bearing against the blade until the saw has cut a fair way into the wood—say about the width of its blade. Apart from steadying it at the start it helps to prevent an injury in the event of the blade jumping from the kerf. If the left hand is merely held at the edge away from the saw the latter might jump out and jar the hand.
Don’t force the blade. Keep it moving steadily in long, even strokes with light or moderate pressure. It used to be taught to apprentices that a saw should cut merely by its own weight, and the underlying idea that forcing must be avoided is sound; but you need something rather more positive than this. Give just enough pressure to ensure firm control and you will find that the saw will cut freely. If it doesn’t, it needs sharpening.
In practically every case the saw is used to the side of the line rather than on it. The point is that the line represents the finished size, and the saw cut is made on the waste side to allow for final trimming with the plane. Many men tend to saw well away from the line for fear of making the wood too small. This is natural enough, but it exemplifies the lack of confidence of a man not sure of himself. Learn to cut accurately therefore, and you can then cut close to the line, leaving just enough for trimming.
The following is excerpted from “The Workshop Book,” by Scott Landis (first published in 1991), which remains the most complete book about every woodworker’s favorite place: the workshop. This new 216-page hardbound edition ensures “The Workshop Book” will be available to future generations of woodworkers. Produced and printed in the United States, this classic text is printed on FSC-certified recycled paper and features a durable sewn binding designed to last generations. The 1991 text remains the same in this edition and includes a foreword by Roy Underhill.
Like a house, the workshop is a complete environment. It provides shelter and basic human needs like heat and light, comfort and safety. The shop must therefore account for all of the same structural requirements as a house – a floor, walls and ceiling (along with a foundation, windows, doors and a roof, if it is freestanding). Beyond that, the dedicated, functional nature of the workshop and the equipment that is used in it embrace a whole range of issues and specific requirements – electric power, dust collection, task lighting, solvent storage and vapor extraction – that are only peripheral in most houses.
Unfortunately, in too many workshops, these critical support systems are accorded scant consideration. After spending so much time, energy and money on the workshop structure and equipment, we’re too often willing to put up with an inadequate, even unsafe or unhealthy, work environment. But, as Donald Williams, furniture conservator for the Conservation Analytical Laboratory (museum support center for the Smithsonian) told me, these systems should be nonnegotiable. “They may seem extravagant to the person who’s scraping by in the basement,” he said, “but for me that’s where it starts. You do without a table saw if you need to.”
In this chapter I will outline the basic systems that are common to most shops. To attend to them all would require the diverse talents of a small corps of professionals – an architect, a builder, a mason, an electrician and a plumber, among others. You may have some of these skills yourself, or be able to crib enough information from the literature to undertake much of your own construction. If not, you may prefer to hire (or barter for) a professional to do the job. Electricity, in particular, can be dangerous – even deadly – so do not undertake any electrical operation about which you are at all uncertain.
In any case, entire books have been written about each aspect of the subject, covering everything from roofing and insulation to electrical wiring; and there are federal, state and local building codes that apply to just about any structural situation you can imagine. Refer to these sources (a few of which are listed in the Bibliography) or to a licensed professional for more detailed information. And contact your local fire marshal or insurance representative to make sure that what you are about to do is not only safe, but legal, and will not adversely affect your insurability.
Structure Purpose-built workshop buildings come in every shape and size and in every conceivable type of construction, from poured concrete and rammed earth to log, timber-frame and standard balloon framing. Converted shops are at least as varied. In this book you’ll find comfortable shops that are located in a pole shed, several old mill sites, the granite bowels of an industrial building, a Chevy bookmobile and hewn out of a chicken coop. I know of one Arizona sculptor who works in a hogan, the traditional earth and timber longhouse of the Navajos.
So many different types of buildings and construction methods are used to build shops successfully, that I won’t attempt to discuss them all here. There are, however, several structural considerations worth mentioning, whether you’re building from scratch or working in your basement.
Insulation Insulation is as important for comfort and energy efficiency in a shop as it is in a home. What’s more, insulation absorbs machine noise, making the shop a more pleasant place to work in and to live next to.
After roasting for much of six years in an uninsulated tin garage, Roger Heitzman took action before moving his California workshop into a corrugated-steel, light-industrial building. He attached a separate 2×3 stud wall to the inside of the steel frame with screwed-on brackets. Then he stuffed fiberglass insulation in the furred walls and ceiling and he sheathed the inside with 1/2-in. drywall. The effort paid off. Heitzman’s half of the 2,400-sq. ft. building hovers around a pleasant 70° F during most of the summer, while it sizzles at 100° F in the uninsulated cabinet shop in the other half. During the three cool months of the year, auxiliary heat is supplied by two portable kerosene heaters (10,000 Btu).
Different construction situations and budgets call for different insulating materials. Fiberglass and polyurethane foam are two of the most popular, although Homasote panels and ceiling tiles are also used to advantage. A few timber-frame shops I visited were fitted with stress-skin panels, in which foam insulation forms an unbroken vapor barrier around the skeletal frame, effectively reducing drafts and heat transfer through the walls. Stress-skin panels are expensive but they are installed quickly (the interior wall covering and exterior sheathing are built into each panel), and reduced heating costs will make up for at least some of the initial investment.
Interior paneling contributes to the sound and thermal insulation of the workshop, and several shops I visited were either completely paneled or combined a wood-sheathed wainscoting on the lower portion of the wall with a drywalled surface above. Wood paneling creates a warm, cozy atmosphere and provides a rugged, puncture-resistant surface to which tools and shelves may be easily attached. Drywall is relatively inexpensive, easy to install and is usually painted white for a bright working environment, but it is readily gored by an errant swing of a board, and fastenings must be driven into supporting studs or attached with special anchors. (I always feel more secure with a nail, screw or dowel in wood than with an anchored screw in drywall, particularly if the fastening must cany any amount of weight.)
In a large space, a dropped ceiling will aid significantly in retaining heat and absorbing sound and will reduce the risk of fire that comes with the accumulation of fine sawdust on studs, wiring and lighting fixtures. Of course, these advantages must be balanced against the loss of headroom.
Doors It is important to remember that workshop doors frequently must accommodate more than just people. A standard 2-ft. 8-in. wide interior door is too small to comfortably allow movement of machinery and materials, much less a large piece of furniture or a small boat. Even a 3-ft. wide exterior door will prove too narrow for many workshops. The best access is provided by an insulated, custom-made door at least 4 ft. wide, or by a larger sliding door, such as the one shown in the photo above. In many garage workshops or freestanding structures, a standard overhead garage door makes it possible to open up an entire wall of the shop. This access to fresh air creates a pleasant work environment during mild weather and makes it easy to move equipment and materials in and out of the shop.
Garage doors and large sliders are difficult to insulate and seal, however, so they may create problems in cold weather. Since most heat loss in a building takes place around the windows and doors, good insulation is important not only in the construction of the door but in proper weatherstripping. A tightly sealed door will also help contain noise and dust, which is especially important if the shop is located inside the house.
Martha Collins’s versatile door-within-a-door design (shown above) offers several different options for access. Daily entrance is provided by either of two 28-in. by 83-1/2-in. double-glazed doors. Opening both doors creates a 56-in. wide opening, big enough for most large objects. These doors are, in turn, hung within a pair of larger doors. Though Collins rarely opens them now, the big doors proved useful when she moved in; the 94-in. by 94-in. opening was almost as large as the end of the 45-ft. trailer that delivered her shop equipment. Unlike most overhead garage doors or horizontal sliders I’ve seen, these doors are well insulated and sealed, and she only has to open as much door as she needs.
Floors Debate persists among woodworkers over the ideal workshop floor surface. Most shops have either a concrete or a wood-frame floor. The former is the rule for basements, garages and many small outbuildings. It has the obvious advantages of ease of construction, low maintenance and great strength, and its smooth, solid surface makes it easy to roll machinery or other carts and fixtures around the work space. What’s more, the concrete stays cool in the summertime and it is one less combustible material in a shop full of dry tinder.
But concrete has some serious disadvantages over the more forgiving plywood or solid-wood surface. Concrete is often cold, damp and slippery, and it’s hard on dropped tools (and coffee cups) and harder still on feet, legs and back Without a substructure of floor joists, there’s no way to run wires or dust-collection pipes beneath the floor, unless they’re installed in the slab, thus committing you to the original layout. And last but not least, because concrete is a poor insulator and a good conductor of electricity to ground-a much better conductor than wood-it increases the risk of electric shock if your machinery leaks power.
To cope with these realities, the people I visited who work on concrete have adopted several strategies, which vary greatly in their complexity and expense. Some simply cover the concrete with vinyl floor tiles or with rubber-mat runners in high-traffic areas, such as the bench/tool-chest corridor and in front of machinery and assembly tables. You can purchase hard rubber or cushioned mats, which are easier on the feet, but I know of at least one shop that does just fine with oversize truck mud flaps. Of course, any kind of floor mat will interfere with rolling carts and machinery, but this is a small price to pay for the greater comfort they provide.
If you are installing a new concrete floor, it can be made relatively warm and dry with proper site preparation and the addition beneath the slab of gravel, foam insulation and a good plastic vapor barrier. For the ultimate in thermal comfort, consider installing radiant-heat pipes in the concrete when you pour.
A number of woodworkers I visited covered their concrete floor with wood. Curtis Erpelding laid 2x2s on 16-in. centers, insulated between them with sheets of Styrofoam and covered it all with particleboard. (Plywood would make a more rugged, if more expensive, alternative.) He ran conduit between the 2x2s to service outlets on short posts located at each machine. Erpelding wanted to use flush-mounted electrical fixtures, but the Seattle fire department specified off-the-floor receptacles that would not be vulnerable to a splash of coffee. In practice, Erpelding figures they’re also easier to keep clean and easier to reach.
This sort of in-floor wiring is rather permanent, but Erpelding explains: “I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted things laid out.” Plywood ramps bridge the height difference between the wood platform and surrounding concrete floor and make it easy to roll his shop vacuum and production carts around. The built-up floor underlays the entire bench area and part of the machine space, thus retaining the practical advantages of concrete in the assembly and storage areas and around some of the machinery.
A wood floor makes a “friendlier” work surface than concrete, but it is not without drawbacks. When built above bare earth, it is also subject to moisture. Covering the earth with a good vapor barrier and perhaps a skim coat of concrete over gravel will improve drainage and reduce moisture infiltration. The insulation must not be exposed or it will eventually deteriorate, either as a result of moisture or nesting critters. Wood is obviously more susceptible to fire. Aware of this danger, Peter Axtell poured 2 in. of concrete atop the plywood floor in his spray booth.
Considering the weight of machinery and the activity that takes place in most workshops, a wood floor must be heavily built. Kelly Mehler’s wood floor supports heavy industrial machinery with full-cut 2×12 floor joists on 12-in. centers, sheathed with three layers of tongue-and-groove oak flooring. The floor creaked a bit when Mehler installed his 2-ton planer with a forklift truck, but it never sagged. Mehler’s shop was a car dealership in another life, and the floor is overbuilt for most workshops, but 2×10 joists on 12-in. centers (and more support posts and beams than you think you need) would probably not be excessive. Plywood floors should be protected with a good-quality epoxy paint or a porch-and-deck enamel. (Choose a light-color paint to keep the shop bright.) Solid-wood floors can be oiled, painted, varnished or left bare to develop a rich patina.
“Slöjd in Wood” is the first English translation of Jögge Sundqvist’s classic Swedish book. It’s a gorgeous peek into a work that is dominated by saturated colors, crisp bevels and handmade work. In addition to introducing you to the pieces you can make for your home, Jögge shows you how to grip the knife to produce the cuts shown in the book safely and efficiently. And shows you how to replicate the deep colors on your pieces that are positively mesmerizing.
“Skureut” is an older, colloquial word for a pattern carved in wooden surfaces. The word skureut was used in dialects in Härjedalen, Hälsingland and Jämtland. When the more strictly geometrical patterns of the Renaissance became popularized as handicraft, this carved ornamentation was named chip carving. Skureut fits nicely with slöjd objects with its free-form folk-art style.
Make your slöjd unique and personal by mixing wise sayings, commentaries on life’s complexities, signatures, names, dates and years with patterns made using chip carving, nail-cut patterns and shallow relief carving. There is great inspiration to be gained from slöjd artifacts at open-air museums and museum collections. Forgotten treasures that glitter in the dark.
Tools: Chip carving knife, straight gouge No. 9, 5mm and No. 3, 14mm, center punch.
Material: Use deciduous softwoods such as lime, alder, sallow and aspen, but soft birch also works. Avoid knots, which are hard and difficult to cut.
PATTERNS ARE PART OF THE WHOLE When I work with slöjd, I make quick, rough sketches in green wood to get a three-dimensional feeling for how the shape will be. I make many prototypes before I decide on a basic functional form. The decorations should be part of the overall design and communicate something personal, adding a heightened feeling. A pattern shouldn’t overtake or compete with the basic form. For that reason, I sketch a lot and try out different varieties of decorations before I decide. A useful strategy is to arrange pieces of paper with your drawings on the work before you carve it.
FOUR BASIC RULES Apart from practice, these ingredients allow me to produce my best work:
A really sharp chip carving knife. Hone and strop carefully. Feel for nicks by running the edge along your nail. If it grabs without slipping, it is really sharp.
Raking light. Use a strong lamp or spotlight shining from the side opposite your knife hand onto the carving surface. The shadow helps you see the width of the line of the second cut.
A good, essential grip. The thumb and the knuckle create fixed angles for the knife, 45º to the wood and 45º slanted backward toward you. They rest on the work and support the cut.
A peaceful setting so as to concentrate.
CUTTING LINES In general, cut along the fiber direction. It is possible to cut across the grain in short-fibered woods such as alder, linden and sallow, but the wood can tear out when you cut round forms. If you angle the knife 45º toward yourself, it slices the wood surface first, preventing tear-out. It is sometimes necessary to turn the knife and push with the other hand’s thumb. When you cut round shapes such as circles and S-curves, both the blank and the knife turn throughout the cut. Make large arcs with your elbows during the cut. As this rotation transfers to your knife and to your work, the movement is smooth and without nicks.
Make each cut deep enough so the cuts overlap at the bottom of the V-shaped groove. If done right, the waste pops out cleanly. It is difficult to clean-cut afterward. If you cut parallel lines, the partition walls are fragile so use less power. Think through the pattern you have drawn and the order of cuts to prevent tear-out and other flaws.
TRIANGLE CHIP Triangle chips, together with cut lines, are the most traditional ways of carving decorations in wood. These patterns are triangular. The basic one is made with two 90º cuts and one 35º cut. I call this the single-sided triangle chip. The 90º side cuts appear as deep shadows. The other one, the three-sided triangle chip, has the deepest recess in the center. This is done with three 90º and three 45º cuts.
The triangle can also have sides of different lengths or even be curved. If you place these three-sided triangle chips in a circle, they become a sun circle or can be a component of a rosette.
Three-sided triangle chip. Start by cutting the fibers at a 90º angle from the center. Press the tip of the knife into the wood so the edge stops at the point of the triangle. The cut is deepest at the center and becomes shallower until it stops at the tip of the triangle. Now cut away the material between the 90º cuts using a 45º angle. Cut toward the center to the same depth and angle. The chips come out easily if the 90º cuts are slightly deeper. The surface will be nice and clean.
This pattern is simple and quick to make. Fingernail cuts can be found on objects dating to the 9th century Oseberg archaeological collections in Norway. The length of each cut is approximately 12mm (1/2″). Leave a narrow border between the individual nail cuts.
Use a straight gouge Pfeil No. 9, 5mm. It is reground with rounded corners to be able to cut deep enough in the first 90º cut.
The first phase is to make a cut at a 90º angle and repeat in a row with an interval of 10mm to 12mm (3/8″ to 1/2″) between cuts. Hollow out the fingernails on your way back to the start. For the hollowing phase, hold the gouge near the edge and support the thumb and index finger knuckle on the blank. Start cutting at a 90º angle then carefully scoop and level out as you cut toward the next 90º cut.
SHALLOW RELIEF CARVING A shallow relief is a form or motif surrounded by a lower layer carved a few millimeters into the surface. This makes the carving dynamic with nice shadow effects.
First cut the borders of the shallow relief to a 45º angle with a chip carving knife. Then cut the motif at a 45º angle away from the motif into the background. Use extra power to cut as deep as you can.
Then use a straight gouge No. 3, 14mm to cut the lower layer flat to the depth of the first cut. With a split blank, you get straight fibers; that makes it possible to cut from two directions into the background. Use the thumb of your non-gouge hand to press on the gouge’s bevel, increasing friction so it doesn’t slip as you cut toward the border.
To emphasize the motif, make markings in the background. For example, small nicks with a knife tip. Punches or stamps also make interesting marks.
LETTERS AND NUMBERS Signatures, names, years, dates, sayings or poems make slöjd articles personal and unique. The letters are cut with the same technique as the lines and the triangle chips, depending on how wide and deep you want them. Study your favorite fonts to understand how to transform the letters into lines that can be carved.
The beginning and ending of lines that make up letters and numbers can be finished in three different ways. Pointed is two cuts coming together at a point. Sans serif letters such as block letters need a stop cut. Serif letters get triangle chips at the beginning and end.
The following is excerpted from “Joiner’s Work,” by Peter Follansbee – in effect a doctoral thesis on processing furniture-shaped chunks of lumber from the tree using and axe, froe, hatchet and brake. Follansbee dives into deep detail on how he festoons his pieces with carvings that appear complex but are remarkably straightforward – plus lessons in 17th-century casework. His approach to the work, which is based on examining original pieces and endless shop experimentation, is a liberating and honest foil to the world of micrometers and precision routing.
The book features six projects, starting with a simple box with a hinged lid. Follansbee then shows how to add a drawer to the box, then a slanted lid for writing. He then plunges into the world of joined chests and their many variations, including those with a paneled lid and those with drawers below. And he finishes up with a fantastic little bookstand.
Punched accents often enhance carved decoration throughout the design. These punches are sometimes just a textured effect, often called “stippling,” in the background, or extended to include stars, crosses, floral patterns and other designs stamped onto the solid foreground of the carvings.
Here’s my main set of punches (Fig. 3.41). From right to left, a 5/32″ nail set, a Maltese cross filed from a large cut nail, a background punch, and a small flower design. All but the nail set are shop-made.
Working metal is one of my least-favorite shop tasks, but I can usually worry my way through making some punches. It only takes a few minutes. The stock is usually pretty soft; the hardest stuff I file is when I use an old cut nail. I have no hack saw, but one would be handy if you’re going to do much of this work. One place it would help would be trimming the length of something like the cut nails if their point is too small a cross-section for the intended design. Otherwise, a grinder of some sort, or some coarse filing brings the end down to a clean and finished blank.
I start the background punch with a piece of stock about 1/4″ x 1/2″ x 3″ long. Make friends with a blacksmith; they have this stuff around. I file a row of lines dividing the punch across the wide dimension (Fig. 3.42). First in half, then half again etc. I use a feather-edge file to start these lines; you could use the hacksaw first.
I angle the feather-edge file by tilting the handle down to start this line. Then I gradually bring the handle up, lowering the file into the cut. I think of this as scoring the lines. I’ll finish them with a triangular file.
Then flip the piece in the vise, and file a couple of lines to define the other rows (Fig. 3.43). In this example, I filed two lines one way, and four the other, creating a punch with three rows of five teeth.
Don’t worry if your lines aren’t perfectly parallel. Get them close and then you’ll work on making things even out with the next filing.
Once I’ve defined the layout with the feather-edge file, I switch to a triangular file to bring the teeth of the punch down to size (Fig. 3.44). Drop the triangular file into one of your slots you just made, and start to work it along. Check your progress frequently – things can change shape quickly. I find I have to tilt my point of view this way and that to catch the teeth in the right light. Aim for small “heads” to the punch’s teeth, evenly sized. Evenly spaced is good, but not as big a deal as size. If some teeth are too big, they won’t make as deep an impression. The triangular file is easy to guide. Keep the top surface of the file level and the other two sides will be symmetrically aligned as they work mating sides of the row.
Variation in tooth size is expected, but teeth that are too big keep the punch from working well. The outer rows on this punch are both too big, especially the one on the right (Fig. 3.45). This is easy to fix. There wasn’t enough room to file another row, so I beveled off the outer corner of the punch, until I brought those teeth down to size. Periodically take the punch from the vise and strike it in a piece of scrap wood. It’s good to be organized so you can keep track of your progress. I wish I were.
Make the accent punches in a similar manner. For the round flower punch I angle the feather-edge file so it’s just hitting at the corner of the punch’s end (Fig. 3.46). I file a notch from the outer edge to the middle, then turn the punch in the vise and file another notch across from the first.
Tilt the file to come across the end of the punch. Sometimes you have to then tilt your head so you can see where you’re going. File a little, look a lot.
Keep splitting the spaces in half as best you can. If it gets off-kilter, split any thicker spaces in half again. At this point, my pattern is out of whack (Fig. 3.47). What’s more important than symmetry is that the remaining “petals” are narrow. The wide parts in this view got filed to split them into smaller bits.
It’s surprising how small the remaining parts are to make the pattern work. It’s mostly negative spaces in the metal to create the impression in the wood.
Some find and use leather punches; I have no experience with them. If they are large enough they should work fine. If the business end of them is too fine, they might not make an actual impression in the wood. An easy way to see if a punch will work is to smack it on various pieces of scrap wood. Lightly on softer woods, harder on hard woods.