How Slow-Grown Oak is Different


This is an excerpt from “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” by Jennie Alexander and Peter Follansbee. 

If you have a number of oak logs to choose from, then you can go through the checklist of factors that affect the work ahead. Once you find a straight grained log that’s nice and even with little or no taper, has a centered pith in a mostly round shape, and no twist in the bark – then you’re ready to work that log. But there’s one more thing. You can go even further and look at the rate of growth in the tree’s annular rings. Fast-growing oak has widely spaced annular rings; sometimes up to 1/4″ per year. This timber is exceedingly strong because it has fewer rings, which create a great concentration of the dense latewood that grows in the summer. But the resulting timber is visually distracting. Its radial face comes out looking heavily striped. It can also be difficult to work; it has an uneven texture resulting from the widely spaced transitions between the earlywood and latewood.


The most striking difference between the stripey-looking fast-grown oak and the even grain of the slow-grown example is the radial face. That this is also the principal “show” surface of joined furniture makes knowing the growth rate of your log helpful.

The slow-grown oak is more even textured, both visually and for working. While technically weaker than its fast-grown counterpart, slow-grown oak is still well-suited for joined work. This furniture is grossly overbuilt by stress standards, so the decrease in strength is not a factor. The benefit is the consistent texture, ease of working and a closer visual match to the timber used in 17th-century work done in New England. You can’t always get what you want, but if you are faced with two otherwise evenly matched logs, try the one that grew slower. The only thing better than riven radial oak is slow-grown riven radial oak.

Meghan Bates

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A Walk in the Woods in March

The weather this past March was kind of wacky. It didn’t exactly come in like a lion, nor did it go out like a lamb. Instead, it alternated on a weekly basis between much colder than normal and much warmer than normal. The net result is that the plants got pretty confused; the daffodils were very unhappy, and it looks like we’re probably going to have a poor crop of peaches and apples this year.

Some people have asked exactly where I walk when I walk in the woods, so here’s a map of Ohio (“The Squarish State”) showing the location of Athens County:



For those of you who either flunked geography or are from outside the U.S., here’s a Google Earth view:


And here’s a closer look at my neighborhood (also via Google Earth):


As you can see, when I say I find things walking around my yard, I’m really in the middle of the forest.

Many of the trees have begun flowering in March. Usually, the first trees to complete the cycle and drop their seeds are elms, followed closely by red and silver maples:


This is an American elm (Ulnus americana), which is a tree of riverside habitats (or city streets, as this one is). The other common species is slippery elm (U. rubra), which is more of an upland species. Large elm trees are rare in the wild in the eastern U.S. and Canada these days, having been devastated by Dutch elm disease, but can still be found where they’re under a watchful eye.

Most forest trees have small, inconspicuous flowers. One tree whose flowers are small but certainly not inconspicuous is the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis):


Redbuds begin to bloom right around the end of March here.

I mentioned Virginia pine last month. Here’s an eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). White pine is fairly easy to identify: The needles are long and very fine, in bunches of (usually) five. (Most pines have needles in bunches of two or three.) The foliage is slightly blue-green, and the fineness of the needles gives the tree an overall “soft” appearance.


Woodland wildflowers are starting to show themselves, although the non-native species are still outnumbering the natives. Here’s birdeye or field speedwell (Veronica persica), native to Eurasia:


If you saw these in the woods, you might pass them off as common dandelions, but they’re not:


These are coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), also Eurasian in origin. Coltsfoot tea has been used in traditional medicine as a cough treatment, but it apparently can cause serious liver damage. Life is full of little tradeoffs….

Coltsfoot is distinguished from dandelion by growing in areas that are heavily shaded by trees in summer, blooming before any foliage is visible, and having reddish scales on the flower stalks (dandelion flower stalks are smooth). Here’s an actual dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) for comparison:


Some of the earliest blooming native wildflowers are eastern spring beauties (Claytonia virginica):


Also blooming towards the end of March are cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata):


and azure bluet (Houstonia caerulea):


You might find these odd-looking things sticking straight up out of the ground in wet spots in the woods; they’re the fruiting bodies of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis):


The fern gets its name from being very sensitive to cold, dying back at the slightest touch of frost. The leaves will come up later in the spring, after any risk of frost is past.

It’s too early for most mushrooms and other fungi, but a few, such as this turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) are present year-round:


This fungus is one of the more common causes of spalting in wood.

Finally, the March entry in our sedge-of-the-month club is Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica):


It looks like a small tuft of grass, although the flowers are distinctive:


These are a bit past their prime; you can find better images online. Pennsylvania sedge is common in woodland where the soil is relatively dry.

April is the month for wildflowers around here, so take a walk in the woods, see what you can find, and next month we can compare notes.

–Steve Schafer


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Download Plans for the Staked High Stool

Several people have asked to purchase plans for the staked high stool design I’ve been refining for the expanded “The Anarchist’s Design Book.”

My answer: No, I won’t sell you the plans, but you can have them for nothing.

Here are the rules: You can download these. Build as many stools as you like. Feel free to sell the stools you build. Here’s what you cannot do with these plans: Sell them or represent them as your own. In other words, don’t be a deT and we’ll be cool.

The sheets were drawn up by reader Josh Cook, who also make this nice 3D render you can play with.

Here’s the cutting list:

1 Seat: 1-3/8” x 11” x 20”
3 Legs: 1-3/8” x 1-3/8” x 25”
1 Front stretcher: 1-3/8” x 1-3/8” x 20-1/2” (cut it long and trim to fit the front legs)
1 Mid stretcher: 1-3/8” x 1-3/8” x 14-3/4” (cut it long and trim to fit)

The resultant angle for the front legs is: 13°. The resultant for the rear leg is: 22°.

The sheets can be downloaded in pdf format here:


My stools are made using Southern yellow pine (a 2x12x8’ will make two stools). For the finish, I charred the parts before assembly using a MAP gas torch then brushed away the charred earlywood with a stiff acid brush. After assembly, I touched up the joints with the torch and applied two coats of a beeswax and linseed oil concoction (make your own using this recipe).

The techniques for building these stools are covered in detail in “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” So if you’re confused by talk of resultant angles, you might pick up that book or Peter Galbert’s “Chairmaker’s Notebook,” which also explains the geometry.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in The Anarchist's Design Book, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

In the Works: ‘Honest Labour’ by Charles H. Hayward


One of the great joys in creating “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years” was reading Hayward’s “Chips from the Chisel” column in every issue during its 30-year run. The column was a remarkable insight to the way Hayward viewed the world, the craft, his house and his garden.

The column began before World War II as tinged with insecurity. During the war years, Hayward kept a stiff upper lip and encouraged woodworkers to find solace in woodworking. And after the war, Hayward’s columns dealt with a craft that was being changed by technology and the old ways were disappearing.

The group of us who worked on “The Woodworker” books selected some of these columns for the books, and those appear at the end of book four. But I didn’t want to overwhelm readers with philosophy, so we selected only a few columns for volume four.

Enter Kara Gebhart Uhl, our managing editor, who wasn’t involved with “The Woodworker” books until the end of the final two volumes. She was delighted by the “Chips from the Chisel” columns and asked if there were more she could read.

So John and I began to wonder: Could the columns be a book on their own?

Thanks to Kara we are going to find out. For the last few months, Kara has been assembling the best columns from each year, plus vintage images from the magazine. She’s also preparing a timeline of important world events for each year, which will help put the columns in perspective.

And we’re seeking the help of the Hayward family in completing a biography of Hayward, who was the most influential workshop writer of the 20th century (in my opinion).

The working title of the book is: “Honest Labour: The Craft According to Charles H. Hayward.” During the coming months, Kara will share excerpts from the book here on the blog to give you a taste of what’s to come. I think you’ll find them well-written, thoughtful and as applicable to the craft today as they were 65 years ago.

— Christopher Schwarz

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The Return of the ‘Baby Anarchist’ Class


Mike Siemsen at the Mike Siemsen School of Woodworking is now accepting students for his third Hand Tool Immersion class on May 29 through June 5 at his shop in Chisago City, Minn. This low-cost, all-in, communal-cooking experience is designed to jump-start the hand skills of woodworkers who couldn’t normally afford a class.

Mike is an outstanding teacher. Funny (especially if you love corn). Very skilled. And a blast to hang out with. Just don’t get in his van (just kidding; John and I love his van).

All the details are below. If you can make it work, I promise you will not regret it.

— Christopher Schwarz

Hand Tool Immersion 101

  • Date: five days May 29th through June 2nd
  • Cost: $650
  • Materials: Included
  • Skill Level: Intermediate/all
  • e-mail

Course Description

Back by popular demand!  An intensive 5 day all-out immersion into handwork. The goal is to tu­ne up your hand skills to as hig­h a point as pos­sible in five da­ys. You will tune up your tools and use them to build a tool chest in which to haul them home. For those of y­ou on a limited bud­get, we will be cam­ping on the grou­nds of the scho­ol (please brin­g your own ge­ar) and cookin­g communally in my house. There is a shower an­d places to camp. If you choose to sta­y in a hotel, that’s t­otally cool and understandable. Know that you­ are always wel­come to hang ou­t late into the e­vening workin­g on your pro­ject. The school is o­pen 24 hours a da­y for you. This class is limited to 12 people and is aimed at, but not limited to, 30-somethings needing a jump start into woodworking.


I’d like every­one in the cl­ass to have a com­plete tool kit when t­hey finish the cou­rse. Below is a lis­t of the tool­s needed for the c­lass. If you wan­t to purchase to­ols that you need for the c­lass and would li­ke help selec­ting tools or ne­ed recommenda­tions on where to  buy them e-mail me and I wi­ll be happy to hel­p.


  • No. 5 jack pla­ne, such as a p­re-war Stanley wit­h a clean iron (no rus­t) and a tight chipbreaker.
  • Low-angle bloc­k plane, such as S­tanley 60-1/2 with a cle­an iron and mo­vable toe piece.
  • Wooden rabbet pla­ne (skew or s­traight iron)­. Wedge needs to wor­k.
  • Card scraper.
  • Large router pla­ne, such as S­tanley No. 71 or No­. 71-1/2.
  • Hand drill, so­metimes called an “eg­gbeater,” such a­s a Millers Fa­lls No. 2 or 5 wit­h a 1/4” chuck an­d intact chuc­k springs (i.e­. the jaws are sprin­g-loaded and wor­k)
  • Brace with a 10” swe­ep. Good chuc­k with its sprin­gs still intac­t and a tight pad­.
  • Bevel-edge chi­sels with woo­den handles (1/4”, 1­/2” and 3/4”)­.
  • 16 oz. hammer wit­h a wooden han­dle. Striking fa­ce should be smo­oth and slightly crowned.
  • Squarehead jo­iner’s mallet. We can make these during the class.
  • 12” combinati­on square that is s­quare, locks tig­ht and has cle­ar markings.
  • Marking gauge­. The metallic o­nes, such as t­he Stanley No­. 90, are pre­ferred.
  • Backsaw with a 10”- to 1­4”-long blade. Stra­ight saw plate, com­fortable wooden han­dle and little or no rus­t.
  • Coping saw that t­akes pin-end bla­des and locks tig­ht.
  • 10” cabinet ras­p (older and shar­p is better).

Materials are included in the price of the class.

Posted in The Naked Woodworker DVD | 7 Comments

‘Making Things Work’ Now in Store

Making-Things-Work-dust-jacket-300I am pleased to announce that you can now purchase Nancy R. Hiller’s book “Making Things Work: Tales From a Cabinetmaker’s Life” in the Lost Art Press store. The price is $33, which includes shipping in North America.

We rarely carry books from other publishers in our store. Why? Well, we sell goods made in North America only, and most publishers print their books overseas. While we don’t have anything against Chinese printing plants – many of them do good work – we believe in supporting our neighbors first.

Second, we are picky about content. We have to love a book to be willing to carry it.

Hiller’s book satisfies both of those conditions, and we are thrilled to offer it. It is funny, thoughtful and terrifying, especially if you’ve ever considered trying to turn furniture into food. Her tales of trying to make ends meet, to stay warm and to find a place to use the restroom – all while building well-made furniture – will inspire you to take the plunge (or keep your day job).

Highly recommended.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Some Interesting Lesser Used Joints



This is an excerpt from “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Volume III” published by Lost Art Press. 


The cross-halving joint, with notched or housed shoulders (Fig. 1), is only rarely used in actual practice. In ecclesiastical woodwork it is occasionally seen on a cross, and at times (though less frequently) in outdoor woodwork framing when the timbers are fairly stout.

The cutting of the joint is shown at X. The notching (or shoulder) is never more then one-sixth of the width, and is sometimes less. Although the cross piece is slightly weakened by the shouldering, the joint is really a strong one as in gluing there is an extra hold at each side. The joint moreover is a neat one and has been used effectively for high-class joiner-made estate gates.




For this Joint (Fig. 2). the name “saddle” is distinctly obvious, especially if it is turned the reverse way; the V-shaped aperture in the post fits saddlewise on the triangular projection in the notching. The joint is used to connect upright posts to sills, or to the head horizontals of similar framing.

In everyday outdoor work it may be hardly worth the additional labour, but for indoor joinery it is a good joint. It weakens the framing much less than a mortise and tenon joint, and there is little effect of shrinkage on it. Its great advantage is that the saddle (the V) keeps everything in alignment. Depth of notch in sill should not exceed one third or two-fifths of the thickness of the timber.




This (Fig. 3) is a joint which, in former days, was used in better class interior woodwork when pieces of timber had to be lengthened.

When accurately marked and cut the double dovetails ensure against any gap showing. In Fig. 4 the separate parts are shown in plan and elevation. Sections at both ends of the joint (A and B) are also indicated. From these diagrams the setting out of the joint can be followed. For general building the double dovetail involves too much work to justify its general use and it is rarely seen. In the Handicraft Centre, however, the joint has often been used as an exercise, and the home worker who has a flair for accuracy in marking and cutting would enjoy a couple of hours on it.


The rather complicated three-way halved joint at Figs. 5-8 is one of the most troublesome to mark out and construct with flawless accuracy. It has always been widely used by pattern makers, chiefly for the lap-jointed arms of pulley patterns.

In former days, however, the village carpenter knew it and used it for barrow wheels. Fig. 5 shows a wheel with built up rim (the joints probably bridled). Fig. 6 shows the three arms, or spokes, lap-dovetailed to the rim and “three-way lapped”, or, as it is sometimes termed, one-third lapped, together. The separate arms cut and ready for assembling are shown at A, B, C, Fig. 7. For clearness piece C is shown reversed—that is, upside down.

If the centre joint part of Fig. 6 is drawn full size it is worth while setting out the parts. Take the width of arm as, say, 2 ins., and the thickness 1-1/2 ins. Two points may be noted as a guide.

On the width face all the lines can be set out with T square and 60 degree set square. The thickness (1-1/2 ins.) is divided into three in order to get the three planes or steps of the joint. Hence the term “one-third” lapped.

Fig. 8, in conjunction with Fig. 7, will show how the parts are assembled. The “step” of piece A is 1/2 in. thick, the edges of the cut part above being 1 in. Over this B lies at an angle. It covers the flat step of A, but leaves two little triangular gaps (x) (Fig. 8) which are later filled by the corresponding triangular steps marked on C, Fig. 8.



Piece C (shown reversed) rests at the correct angle on the halved upper face of B, the little mid-step projections fitting into the gaps (x) left on Piece A. The piece C is the same as A except for these extra triangular steps (x).

When the parts are glued it will be seen how firmly they are interlocked. Incidentally, if the reader can lay his hands on a medium-sized turnip, it is an interesting study to make a small experimental model joint with a penknife. The parts need not exceed 1 in. by 3/8 in. It is not the first time that turnips have been used for model joints.

Meghan Bates

Posted in Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker | 5 Comments