Posts Tagged ‘Roy Underhill


Episode 15 – An Open and Shut Case

Think back to the times that you’ve been visiting a very cool historical old Fort, or a re-enactment village such as Old Sturbridge Village or Colonial Willamsburg, or something along that ilk. As your cup is coming near to running over with information overload and an imagination that’s lagging behind you 300 years or so (and perhaps the kids are getting antsy,) the next threshold brings you into a space where woodworking took place. In the midst of dust settling from generations-old rough-hewn rafters to the burnished floorboards there sits a tool chest, carefully arranged by loving curators to depict the Galoot’s dream. Suddenly your fatigue is gone and your attention is riveted.


Reproduction of Benjamin Seaton's tool chest. He didn't use it much, and that's why it's well preserved.

The tool chest was more than mere organization to the old ones. It was a sales brochure and an industry efficiency expert rolled into one. On the right, of course, is a reproduction of the tool chest of Benjamin Seaton, as described in the podcast. Notice the chisel tills in the top bin of the sliding till, and the fixed till securly holding the smaller saws. Also notice the rope handles — there is some conjecture that some chests were made with handles long enough that a pike might be slid through each and the chest carried that way. I suppose it’s possible, but then, I don’t need to carry this chest.

What is not visible is, of course, the fixed tills in the bottom of the chest. They often hold larger tools such as bitstocks (braces), and so forth. I use a Stanley No.-8 for my jointing plane; that takes up half of the cabinet, it seems!


The tool chest of H.O. Studley. I hope he was as good at finding the wall studs as he was at fixing pianos!

On the left is the famous tool chest of H.O. Studley. Not only would most Galoots trade their first born for the tool chest, there are a lot of insecure Galoots that would love to have is name, too! There are at least 300 tools in that box, and I’ve heard claims as many as 400, but I have no way of counting them all since a lot of them are nested. Certainly this is not the tool chest of the average home woodworker.

I recently ran across a photo of a rigger’s tool chest on the web. Perhaps my strongest passion is sailboats (ironic, being stuck in the Hill Country of Texas, don’t you think?) Tradtional sailboats in particular fascinate me, and when we limit ourselves to not using unstayed carbon masts and high-tech rod rigging we enter the realm of “the rigger”. Jamie White is just such a man, out of the Sausalito area, and has quite a bit of interesting information on worming, parceling and serving (pirate talk in background, arr.. arr…)


Tool chest of James White, the Rigger. Built with rigour.

Jamie is the real thing, spending a few years “before the mast” on “square riggers” – this should be intersesting even for the lubberly of you. Most relevant is his tool chest, and I’ve swiped a photo to include here. Even the able seamen of today require a tool chest, and no Snap-On for Mr. White, thank you very much. Notice his name inscribed in the front of the chest, and the coachwhpped handles – much more comfortable than hemp rope, to be sure. Notice also the photo background – below the weather deck of a wooden sailing vessel. (Arr… arr…)


Wall hanger. Lots more room for "customization" here, a couple of dozen more boring tools...

Our final exhibit is of a hanging tool chest. I’ve forgotten where I lifted this photo from, but this well-crafted tool chest is typical of the hanging tool chests many Galoots construct for their own use. If you are contemplating a tool chest at this point, consider that each of these and the photos of the hundreds of those out their on the web were all built as solutions to the individual Galoot’s needs. Your tool chest needs to be as personal as your shop space and your work bench — there is no right or wrong in tool chests. Let your tool storage be your sales brochure!

And here’s the podcast:


Episode 13 – The Bench Page

Schwartz meets Roubo

The Schwartz meets Roubo (that's French, you know)

Foundational for the Galoot, the subject of workbenches is eliciting a lot of attention lately, in large part due to dvd6Christopher Schwartz’ excellent book Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use. The popular western workbench falls into one of five basic patterns. On the right is an example of the pattern that seems to be most popular right now, the Roubo pattern. Note the massive top and legs, the robust leg vice, sliding deadman (the hourglass-shaped panel with all the holes in it), the holes in the right leg with a mechanical holdfast in it, and the traditional holdfast at the rear of the bench top. Note also the planing stop just behind the front left leg; this is adjustable, tapped up and down as a stop to keep stock put whilest one planes, and adjusts to be shy of the planed surface so that the plane is planing only that which needs to be planed, and not the planing stop. Get it? Shown prominently in this photo is one of the endearing features of the Roubo, the crochet, on the left front apron of the bench. Subtly appearing is the wagon vice in lieu (that’s French, you know) of the tail vice — you can just make out a slot at the heel of the very cool low-angle smoothing plane. Think of this as a bench dog that moves in a slot, because that’s pretty much what it is. The wagon vice solves many of the issues associated with other forms of tail vices.


Nicoholson's entry into the Ugly Bench contest. Cheap gimmick to try and use colorful floor mats, but you can't fool the judges.

Second in popularity is the Nicholson bench, as shown on the left. Here we have a top that is not massive, but that is compensated for with supporting cross members. This bench also sports front AND rear aprons (Peter Nicholson drew his bench with a mere front apron.) Note that the apron in the front has a series of peg holes in a “Z” pattern. These holes permit the Galoot to insert dowels to support stock when jointing, replacing a deadman (which is a good thing, because a deadman wouldn’t fit well under there.) The splayed legs were something that The Schwartz added to increase access to stock in the leg vice. This bench sports a couple of metallic folding planing stops inlet into the bench top (in line with the left front leg.) I guess these are a matter of personal preference, but just seem to be a stark anachronism to the tradition of this bench. The Schwartz added a wagon vice to his Nicholson bench as well, which may defeat the purposes of economy and expediency in building the bench, but never, ever the purpose of use. As I’ve emphasized all along, the Galoot workshop is an acutely personal place, and one is crazy to think that because The Schwartz, The Wood Shepherd, or anyone else sets something up one way that that is the only way; Don Weber (the Welch bodger) likes this pattern for its ease of assembly, so that one can get on with the work. I like the pattern because you can use Big Box dimensional lumber for a much smaller investment than other patterns.


The Shaker bench, so named for the Religious sect and not for any instability in the bench design.

The third pattern we look at in the podcast is the Shaker pattern. This is a pattern that came to my attention in Scott Landis’ The Workbench Book. The photo on the right shows a brilliant execution of the design, incorporating many of the best features of other patterns: solidity, cool leg vices (note the wooden screw in this one, constructed with the ability to be removeable,) a beautiful maple top with a row of dog holes hear the front, a sliding deadman, and a tail vice. The typical shaker bench reclaims the lost space beneath the bench in the form of cupboards and drawers. This one even has contrasting and wonderful milk paint. I have to say that this pattern is near and dear to my heart because of my many forays to Pleasant Hill in Kentucky (we called it “Shakertown,” but I don’t know why.)


Klausz shoulder vice, the dovetailer's dream

To name our fourth pattern we use a somewhat universal name, “The Continental.” Several years ago Frank Klausz published material expounding the benefits of this pattern and for many years the Klausz bench was the vogue. Since that time many of these benches have been built better than a lot of fine furniture, using exotic hardwoods that contrast. And why not? This is an extremely functional bench and can be pretty versatile; and if the Galoot has the time and inclination along with the desire to showcase his or her joinery skills, why not in a bench?


The tail vice on a Klausz bench. I hope the builder signed the vice!

Two of the defining features of the Klausz bench are visible in the photo at the right; the tool tray in the back, and the distinctive shoulder vice. Tailor your choise of benches to the work you do a lot of; if you don’t need to use a lot of clamps in strange places all the time, you need to be less concerned about under-bench storage interfering with clamping points. If you cut dovetails every day (some of them taking only 3 minutes, rasafrackin!) then this is the vice for you. Some prefer square dog holes with a retractable dog in each hole, some prefer the ease of boring round holes after the bench is assembled. There is no right or wrong. I absolutely love the look of this tail vice, no questions. I find it to be a very versatile vice as well.

The fifth pattern is not a pattern at all, really, it is just all those other non-woodworking vices out there. This is my entry in the Ugly Work Bench contest. Send your entries to me, and I’ll publish them in this blog, just for the fun of it! We’ll vote to see whose is most gruesome!


My entry into the Ugly Bench contest. It does keep all the junque (that's French, you know) off of my woodworking bench, so that makes it a decoy!

Okay, the podcast:


Episode 2b — Woodworkers ARE strange people

You can take the title different ways, but I have a specific “way” in mind. Over the last couple of days, I have rubbed elbows with (in no particular order) Adam Cherubini, Chris “The Schwartz” Schwartz, Roy “St. Roy” Underhill, Frank Klausz, Brian Boggs, Mike Dunbar, Robin Lee, Thomas Lie-Nielsen, Joel Moskewitz, Mike Wenzloff, Clarence Blanchard, Glen Huey, Robert Lang, John Economaki… the list could go on. I’m not dropping names here. I want you to understand the caliber of people giving presentations, demonstrating their products, and offering their knowledge. In some industries this would predictably be enough for significant competition of its own. In our community, it makes for great camaraderie. I had the opportunity to speak with each of the names above, some at length. Why would any of these individuals need to talk to me? They don’t of course, and yet a number of them earnestly desired to speak at length with me. How cool is that? I continue to assert that woodworkers of their very essence tend to be the nicest people as a group and as individuals, always ready to teach or to learn equally, and certainly share always.

This morning (Saturday, 15 November 2008) I had the chance to hear a presentation by Adam Cherubini on Western chisels, particularly those of Moxon’s period and slightly later, up to perhaps our revolution. Adam has found evidence that the Galoot of the period, of English/Colonial persuasion, would startlingly position a chisel over two fingers of the left hand (they were all right handed then, weren’t they?) and under the other two fingers, steady the chisel with the right hand, and provide forward thrust with the inner part of the shoulder just below the clavicle. He also made an interesting case for having a chisel handle that tapers from narrow at the metal to wide at the top—providing you with a better grip.

Next up was my first hands-on clinic: chopping mortises with Frank Klausz. Frank was, as usual a very clear and effective educator in communicating his way of chopping mortises. I’ve made probably hundreds of mortises and tenons, many of them by hand. My usual MO is to bore them out and pare them with chisels until they are cleaned up. Part of my reason for doing so is that I do not own a set of mortising chisels, and until this morning I never wanted to subject my Sorby’s to chopping. I was sort of on the hook, however, and realized I was starting from behind as we all tried to implement Frank’s teaching. Knowing that I was pretty severly handicapped by my equipment choices, I wailed like crazy until my hands hurt and my back hurt and I had to complementary mortises chiseled on my “table leg” (poplar blank.) Then, using my crispy Independence Tools saw (predecessor to the LN saws,) I did a pretty fair job of cutting out the tenon. I fitted them with just a slight cheek paring, and then realized I didn’t leave any reveal on the leg. Sigh. I didn’t let Frank see the final.

Over lunch, I had the opportunity to sit with Craig Stevens of the Woodworkers Resource and to meet and talk with Robin Lee of Lee Valley Tools. Robin and I were able to compare notes on racing sailboats on Lake Ontario.

I’ve noticed that woodworkers tend to have well-defined senses of humor. My first stop this afternoon was supposed to be a comparison of Frank Klausz, Mike Dunbar, and Roy Underhill’s personal methods for cutting mortise and tenons. I say “was supposed to.” We got one of Frank’s immaculately logical and carefully didactic instructions on how to properly cut this joint at the top of a table leg which is joined by two skirts. Mike showed us how to bore and pare a mortise using a variety of bits—auger, spoon, and center. Roy showed us the besengue, talked about the history of certain tools, and usual antics. The thing is, the other two joined in the mirth with their keen wits, and once again my sides hurt. I think I’m so fatigued because we’ve spent our entire trip laughing.

From there, I attended another hands-on clinic offered by Adam Cherubini and Roy Underhill. Once again, despite his indefatigable knowledge, St. Roy deferred to Cherubini. Our task was to implement the chisel holding techniques of the colonial joiner. One of the biggest learning points: make sure your bench is situated at the right height for you. My bench was not.

This evening we were treated to a Barbecue supper which was very good. Topping it off were words from Steve Shaughnessy (Publisher of Popular Woodworking,) Chris Schwartz, Thomas Lie-Nielsen, Robin Lee, and the keynote speaker, Roy Underhill. Roy had us all rolling in the aisles with laughter from stories of historical truth to fantastic fiction (YOU look up the Appalachian Hoop Snake.) He topped it all off with a letter from a disgruntled Grandmother he is supposed to have received chiding him for not wearing his safety glasses and taking proper safety precautions while handplaning. You know how this letter went… it started out very politely, thanking her for her kind letter, and wound up with suggesting that she and her fictional grandson Timmy watch that guy who comes on TV after him “where the only thing not electric in his shop is his personality!” Roy finished with a Charismatic Preacher imitation calling each of us to police the young and raise the moral standards of woodworking; ”’Own a skil saw? Spend a month in jail!” on every 7-11 and Quick Pantry in the country!” He finished with a shout, “LET’S TAKE A BITE OUT OF NORM!”

Amen, Brother, Preach it. Well, he OUGHT to preach it… he’s St. Roy!

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