It’s easy to think that there aren’t any secrets left in woodworking. But I don’t think that’s true.
While a lot of the basic hand and machine skills are widely discussed and disseminated (thank you, Internet), a good deal of specialized and advanced knowledge is still frustratingly obscured. Here’s one small example.
When I was a junior editor at Popular Woodworking Magazine I was assigned to work with a prominent furniture-maker to help him develop his article ideas and get them into print. Standard stuff. I won’t use his name because I was raised right.
During a visit to his shop I noticed he had a lot of complex moulders and hollows and rounds planes. At that time, there were maybe four articles written about these planes that I could find. I was personally desperate to learn more, so I assumed that our readers would be as well.
The guy refused to write an article or even demonstrate how to use the tools.
“That,” he said, “is what makes my furniture special. I’m not going to show others how to do it.”
I think there’s a 50/50 chance that the guy actually had no idea how to use the planes and was embarrassed that he had them up on the wall. And if that was the case, then I totally forgive him for being human.
But if he really did know how to use them, then he’s no friend to the craft.
Most woodworking (even the complex stuff) is pretty simple once someone shows you the tricks that break the process down into logical and predictable steps. So I bristle when someone throws up a stone wall. That usually means the process really is exceedingly simple.
My search for an author who could explain hollows and rounds didn’t end that day. It ended several years later when I met Matt Bickford at a woodworking show. At the time he was thinking about becoming a full-time planemaker. He showed me two tricks at his pink-painted workbench that day, and I knew I had found the answer.
My years-long search eventually ended in us publishing “Mouldings in Practice” by Matt. It is one of our books I am most proud of because it is the first real text on making mouldings by hand. It makes the process incredibly simple. And it flips the bird to that furniture-maker I encountered many years ago.
Bottom line: If you know something, say something.
Many woodworkers struggle when designing their own mouldings, and that’s because they haven’t studied enough of the most common forms. Imagine trying to build a chest of drawers if you had only seen a few of them.
To become fully aware of mouldings, it’s best to study their forms from about 1400 to the present. That’s outside the scope of this particular blog entry. But we can help you with the more recent stuff.
Thanks to Eric Brown, we are accumulating a nice collection of hard-to-find references on moulding shapes. Eric has a bad/good habit of picking up woodworking ephemera when he sees it and sends a good deal of it my way so I can share it here.
Thor Mikesell has digitized three of these catalogs for us. Thor is a new student to traditional woodworking, with a background in trim and finish work as well as scenic construction for the stage. He lives in Eugene, Ore., with his wife, Holly and their two dogs.
There are three catalogs for you to download, study and enjoy. All are in pdf format.
The first is the 1938 “Arkansas Soft Pine Handbook,” which was published as a way to promote use of Pinus echinata, a shortleaf pine that is technically a yellow pine but was being promoted as great for interior trim.
Despite word from Tibet from my milk paint supplier that Agnes the yak was busy assembling her hope chest and flirting shamelessly with a certain strapping young specimen of yakhood, I decided that I needed to take the bull by the horns and get on with painting my six-board chest.
I poured a liter (quart) of skim milk into the soup pan, let it warm on very low heat to the point where there were just the faintest hints of steam coming off it, and then added 4 cl (1.5 fluid ounces) of vinegar –stirring a few swipes, enough to mix, but no more. This is not a critical thing, the curds will form in one way or another. You can even just let it sit at room temperature, but that will take hours. The important thing is not to bring the mix to a boil.
I did this twice, and the second time I ended up with much less cohesive curds. No matter. After washing, it looked the same. If you substitute whole milk and maybe a little cream, and lemon juice in place of the vinegar, the same process will yield a fabulous farmer’s (or ricotta or quark if you want to be fancy about it) cheese.
You pour out the “cottage cheese” into a strainer lined with cotton cloth, and then rinse it under cold water two or three times. Given that vinegar is an acid used to curdle the casein milk protein and separate it from the whey, this is an important step in that a basic powder in the form of slaked lime or chalk is often added to the cheese, which if not rinsed could cause a chemical reaction that would spoil the mix, at least. Then I added water to a handful of slaked lime with a couple of pinches of borax mixed in. In place of the slaked lime, you could use various kinds of finely ground chalk powder, or nothing. The lime or chalk powder is a filler, and results in a more pastel color. But some just add the pigment directly to the cheese and go from there. The borax is to help break down the casein protein in the fresh cheese, increase the adhesiveness of the paint, and adds some anti-microbial protection.
It took a while to mix all of the lumps out. Would have gone faster with an electric mixer, but that would have been too much for even my remarkably tolerant better half. “Darling, you know I love it when you whip up a new recipe, but if you even think about serving rusty nails and hinges braised in vinegar this evening, you will be sleeping in the rabbit hutch tonight.” We don’t have a doghouse.
The other thing was I used a natural hydraulic lime, NHL3.5, instead of the non-hydraulic lime usually recommended, because that was what I had. It worked OK, but you have to use the paint quickly and stir often because the lime will start into its hydraulic set after a while, and the paint becomes useless.
It doesn’t show in the photo, but I used a little more lime and a little less pigment for the second coat and it gave the chest the slightly two-toned look I was aiming for.
Mostly people use linseed oil for a topcoat over the milk paint to give it a little depth and a slight gloss. I wanted to finish the inside of the chest, too. You can’t use linseed oil inside a chest, especially one that will be used to hold clothes or linens, because it starts to stink after a while. So I opted for some lovely natural shellac I picked up a while back. Just the ticket.
All in all a good experiment. Start to finish, making the paint is about a 20-minute process. There are a number of recipes online. Lots of different permutations, but the upshot is that it really isn’t that critical what you do or which ingredients/quantities you opt for, as long as you make enough for the whole job, or are looking for the slightly two-tone effect.
We now have 30 copies of “Mouldings in Practice” available for sale in the Lost Art Press store. The books are hand-bound in brown calfskin by the artisans at Ohio Book Store in downtown Cincinnati. The cost is $185 postage-paid to anywhere in the United States.
As with all of our leather-bound books, these feature a rounded spine and hand-colored end sheets. The brown calfskin cover the boards has been gently aged, which gives the books a slightly broken-in look. The spine on this edition also has a classy detail debossed into the leather.
These books are available to ship immediately. Click here to go to our store.
The book turns a set of complicated mouldings into a series of predictable rabbets and chamfers that guide your hollow and round planes to make anything – anything – that has been made in the past or that you can envision for your future projects.
During the last several months, we had many proofreaders edit this book and the universal reaction was much like this:
“Well crap. Now I want to buy some of these stupid planes.”
During the past 14 months, Matt and I have been working to make “Mouldings in Practice” into a book that is accessible for even the beginning hand-tool woodworker. It uses more than 200 color illustrations and dozens of photos to explain how to lay out, prepare for and cut any moulding you can draw.
The first half of the book is focused on how to make the tools function, including the tools that help the hollow and round planes – such as the plow and the rabbet. Matt also covers snipes bills and side rounds so you know their role in making mouldings. Once you understand how rabbets and chamfers guide the rounds and chamfers, Matt shows you how to execute the mouldings for eight very sweet Connecticut River Valley period projects using photos and step-by-step illustrations and instruction.