Tag Archives: furniture making

“He Who Hesitates……”

……procrastinates indefinitely.


It’s not that I am lazy, It’s more a case of having a lot of ideas and not knowing how to put order to them.

Since the first of the year I have been off to a good start with my level of productivity. I have discovered that I am quite adept at disgorging myself of various literary ideas now that I have cajoled an actual periodical to publish some of my ramblings. No shortage of copy for Highland Woodworking’s online magazine of blog.

Nor have I been lacking in the work to do in The Tiny Shop. Since the phonograph refinish, I have had a string of small furniture repairs and/or refinishes. Throw in another workbench build, and you are up to date with my current state of workshop projects.

Aside from a few model train display cases and the long promised step stool for my dear wife, I am starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Now what?

Well, that is where things are getting a little sticky. I really need to get some furniture built as prototypes and proof of concepts. I have been wanting to get some things built not only as a means of developing some design ideas, my take on some more traditional styles, but also as fodder for my photographer son to take some beauty shots of for a hypothetical website for The Tiny Shop.

Since I have yet to actually put pencil to paper in many months, I am relegated to my minds eye for developing ideas. This poses a bit of a problem, you see I tend to bounce from idea to idea and end up with a collection of fractured ideas bouncing around in my melon.

Best to choose one, and get on with it.

My intention is to build one of three ideas I have right now. The first is the glove table I had mentioned in a previous post. Next idea would be a blanket chest for my dear wife.

Last, and most fear inducing is the design and construction of a wall unit for our basement family room. Our house is on the verge of being too large for us, but with my 18 year old son having moved in with us this summer, the wall unit may be a good way of making the largely unused family room a little more warm and inviting for him during his stay with us, and an investment in our future use of the space once he moves on to his inevitable world domination tour sometime in the future.

Decisions, decisions.






As I work on finishing a draft of the first installment of the MADCAP MANIFESTO, I have gotten in the habit of switching over to Craigslist or whatever to peruse tools that I need, might need, want, would like to have, don’t need, but will eventually buy etc.  Work on the first installment of the manifesto has proven to be an exercise in writer’s block, as I have a great deal to say, but am struggling to sort it all out in an intelligent manner.

Anyone who has been following this blog knows what a hopeless woodworking tool … ahem …enthusiast I am. I use that statement as a qualifier because what follows is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me Rockwell Delta.

I stumbled on a post on Craigslist that was simple enough. “Woodworking tools” . These posts normally contain various bits and scraps of cheap throw away hobbyist tools. Sometimes though, they can contain pure gold…..

It seems that a man in a town about 30 miles from me lost his father, an engineer by trade and life long amateur woodworker, to the ravages of time and old age. (Rest in peace). The son and his brothers had all grown and established their own tool collections, so what the Dad had left behind was to be sold.

A couple of really choice machines were for sale at reasonable prices. A Grizzley 15″ planer, a 1955 Craftsman (built by the Atlas Tool Works) 17′ bandsaw, and…..drum roll please…..a 1948 Delta Unisaw..

The son mentioned that his post had been on Craigslist for the better part of 6 weeks with virtually zero interest. In fact, I was only the second person to contact him about any of the tools.

It was the Unisaw I was interested in. For the uninitiated, the Delta Unisaw, especially the pre and immediately post war vintages, are the undisputed Rolls Royce of table saws. They are built with old world attention to detail. Castings were poured into molds, then removed after cooling and buried in sand for two years prior to being milled flat for assembly and sale. This practice ensured that any movement that the table castings or arbor castings would suffer from (twist, warp, cupping, bowing) would occur prior to final milling and finishing and remain true for their life thereafter. Motors were heavy and powerful. They develop an enormous amount of torque despite their anemic horsepower ratings. Better in EVERY WAY than anything built today short of a saw from Germany or Switzerland.

So it was that I entered into half hearted negotiations with this man. Surely he would want to stick to his asking price of nearly $500. Besides, LOML, would never cotton to my bringing home another  dusty old relic that would duplicate what was already in the Tiny Shop.

In talking with the son, he discussed how weary he was of waiting to move this piece of iron. He said he is just looking for the right person to come along, someone who knew what a gem this machine was. Someone who would use it, not just resell it or *GASP* part it out. It was his intention at this point, he said, to let the saw go for the first reasonable offer to such a person. I was beside myself.

The FIRST thing I needed to do was delicately explain to my sainted wife, WHY I needed…not wanted….neeeeeded, this saw. She must have seen the desperation in my eyes since she made a deal with me. If I could sell the General now installed in the tiny Shop, I could have the Unisaw. No disposable income was available for a purchase like this, and whatever funds I could get for my General, were all we had for an offer on the Unisaw.


In 24 hours, I had the general sold for $50 more than I had paid for it originally, and was locked in to a price with the Unisaw seller that allowed me to remain on speaking terms with my beloved wife.


Above is a picture taken moments after the arrival of the “table saw de tuti table saw”. 430 pounds of purring smooooooothness. This is prior to any clean up, I have only gotten the extension wings re-attached and the motor rewired by the time I snapped this picture.


Lovely clean and dead flat top.


Behold! An all original Delta miter guage


The Bullet. 90-some pounds of torque, ummph, and coniferous carnage. Just not made like this any more.


Can I get an…..AMEN!!!!


Just a little art deco to bring some class and panache into the Tiny Shop.

Ok, I should go now. I have honey-do’s to do, and also need to chip away at the first installment of The Madcap Manifesto. Stay tuned for that!!!!!

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After all the mental gymnastics, after all the dithering over wood selection, after all the work to laminate a 5″ thick x 8′ long, x 22″ deep bench top, after hand cutting 16 mortises and 16 tenons, after assembling, flattening, and nit-picking, my bench is FINALLY together and resting comfortably in it’s new home.

I had the day set aside today to join a friend of mine and go pick up my bench. He has a truck with a trailer, so this was a huge boon to me. We got it loaded, and commenced the ENDLESS 6 mile sojourn to my house and Tiny Shop.

Once home it was right to work setting the top, and tool till. First, the till got a nice coat of home brew wiping varnish, as did the tops of the top rails of the trestle base and very back edge of the bench top along with the bottom of the top. Then it was on to the rest of the bench.

I had to resist the temptation to just slather on a coat on the top, no……I was methodical, and patient. Starting from the very bottom, I worked my way up the bench until every surface had been coated with the homebrew. After the excruciating agony of having to actually work through each facet of the benches base, I was ready to coat the top.

Heavens to Mergatroid….what a transformation. I took the above picture about ten minutes after finishing the application.

The last bit of hand wringing to be done, is going to be over the vises. I think I have settled on Lee Valley’s offering(s) for both the front vise and end vise. High quality, well built, and no question among fellow woodworkers regarding their longevity. Add to that the ease of installation, and it’s a no brainer. That will be a separate blog post though. I need to put the capitol together first, so it may be a while before that post graces this blog.

In the meantime, here are a couple of more pictures to close out this post. Im off to go sit in the Tiny Shop, and just admire the bench.



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Almost brother James, almost.

This weekend, I posted that I had been making headway on putting my “Tiny Shop” together. I can say with only a little reservation, that I can indeed SEE THE LIGHT.




I still need a whole grip of things to get done before I can say that it is actually a “Shop”, but I’m here to tell you, this little building is a damn sight closer to becoming the realization of a working woodshop.

While things get shuffled here and there, I can start to see how things are going to need to be arranged in order to get efficient use of this space. I can also see that machine upgrades may need to happen sooner, rather than later.

But that is a different post.

For now, this is shaping up to be a nifty little place to birth the shop of


The Madcap Woodwright.


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A Day In The Life … or … The spirit of James Krenov is alive and well and living in Denver.

image Now that I have made some headway on sorting the shop, my thoughts turn to just what it is exactly, I intend to do with it. Obviously, there will be much lolly gagging, and pondering over steaming cups of coffee. There will be plenty of tinkering, and tweaking, and fussing about with the machines. I can also imagine a period of building jigs, and shop cabinetry, not to mention those pieces promised to the Love of my life (LOML) once the shop is operational. After that, it is a little foggy. If I were asked what my fantasy life would be like, I would have to say that I would be quite content to stroll out to the shop early in the morning, smelling the lilac as I passed by, coffee cup in hand. I can clearly envision opening the shop up, turning on some music (perhaps Bach, or Brahms. Maybe some Miles Davis, or Duke Ellington.) and sketching something from the catalogue of project ideas I have stored up in my minds eye. Once a suitable direction has been selected, the rough dimensions and scale imagined, it is time to saunter to the lumber rack and select from the gobbs and gobbs  of North American hardwoods or perhaps something European and mysterious. Something I have yet to cut into or work with yet. Perhaps some Olive wood, or Steamed Beech. Running my hands over the rough sawn boards, I wait for one or two to speak to me. As esoteric and deluded as this may sound, I have ALMOST felt this experience as described by James Krenov in his books, from time to time in my career. The experience of being patient, and waiting for the wood to “Tell” you what it wants to be. Once the boards have been selected, it is time to begin the day by bringing these precious pieces of wood into square so that they can begin their metamorphosis from rough sawn stock, into something fine and pleasing to the touch. The anticipation of the finished piece is present, to be sure. However, there is great joy in handling the boards, discovering their grain and figure as they are milled carefully. As the day progresses, a break for a drink from a refrigerated water bottle, and a bite to eat. Mustn’t forget to feed the Koi also. I can imagine spending 20 minutes or so, munching on a sandwich, drinking cold water, and watching the Koi Hoover up every last morsel of food tossed in their pond. Once snack time is over, it is back to the shop to lay out joinery, or to take glue-up’s out of the clamps and scrape the squeeze out from the joints before preparing them for their intended use. As mid day turns to late afternoon, good headway has been made. The piece is ready to be dry fit. With the remaining time in the day, perhaps even getting the piece into glue up is possible if executed well. Should I? Or shouldn’t I? Will I have to rush through the glue up process? Or can I take my time, and allow the piece to come together, rather than bullying it into submission? Maybe there would be someone waiting to buy the piece. Someone who knows what went into it’s construction. Someone who sees the same synchronicity  between the wood itself, and the piece as a whole. This would be the ideal way to spend my days. Yes, this would be an ideal day in the life of the Madcap Woodwright. A day spent exploring my imagination, and making useful things for people to enjoy. Definitely something to work for…no question. Like me on Facebook @ Madcapwoodwright Follow me on Twitter @ mdcpwoodwright

Some Thoughts On The Modern Woodwright….OR……Chris Becksvoort Is My Hero.


As of late, I have found it a bit difficult to sit down to tap out a post here, as has become my habit. Suffice to say, the muse has not been upon me.

That is until I began researching clamps (of all things) to use in the soon-to-be-new-to-me shop.

I remembered reading an article in Fine Woodworking Magizine some time ago, that had some pictures of one of their long time editor’s, Christian Becksvoort in his home shop.

The article was about small shops of different sizes and scale. In one of the pictures that described Mr. Becksvoort’s shop at his home in New Gloucester, Maine, there was a wall full of sturdy looking clamps. These were clamps that I had never seen before, and felt that I simply MUST have them……..as I have mentioned before, it’s a sickness.

Me being…well… “Me”, I Googled Mr. Becksvoort, and through his website sent an e-mail asking him if he would be kind enough to send me any information on those clamps if he could. (NOTE: please notice the request by him to direct any “woodworking questions” to his contact info at Taunton Press. He provides a link. I must confess that in my zeal, I did not notice this little request until AFTER I had sent the email to his business email…lessons learned, and he still took the time to respond to me. Nice guy)

Now, Christian Becksvoort is a well known name in woodworking circles. He has written books, gives workshops, edits a well known and established woodworking journal, AND finds time to produce fine, handcrafted furniture in limited quantities. In short, the man is a woodworking God to many….myself included.

So, imagine my delight when, in ten minutes time, I had received a reply from him graciously forwarding to me the contact information for the company that made his clamps. We traded a couple of emails, and that was that.

Or was it?

You see, in this day and age, it can be difficult to find a Woodwright like Mr. Becksvoort. Successful, well known, self employed, and solvent. Granted, he, like so many talented Woodwrights out there, supplements his income giving lectures, and writing, but that is only because he had made his name by hand crafting such fine pieces in the first place. The man is truly living the dream after having paid many, many dues. To me, having any expectation of getting a response from him, let alone within ten minutes, was a lot to ask. At least in my mind it was.

Anyhow, I may sound a little surprised by the personal response by one of my hero’s.  The truth is, if I really thought about it,  I shouldn’t be. Chris has a long standing reputation as a true ambassador for the art of woodworking, and also as a thoughtful and well respected “stand up” guy. I have followed his work for as long as I can remember, and can attest to this. Granted that my endorsement means very little, and that on a personal level,it is based only on three or four gushing emails traded with him in the span of an hour. Still and all, he did respond personally, and was just as gracious, encouraging, and friendly as a hero SHOULD be.

So, this begs the question, “Why so few Woodworkers like Mr. Becksvoort?” Why is it so, that so many aspiring woodworkers either never move past the hobby stage in their woodworking, or if they do try to strike out on their own professionally, fail to make a living at it? How do the Sam Maloofs, Christian Becksvoorts, and James Krenovs “make it” and others do not?

All good questions. All questions that I wish I had an answer to.

If you listen to some, you may get the idea that fine woodworking as a trade, is dead. That it is relegated to being a craft or hobby only, and that mass production and the IKEAs of the world have replaced it with disposable furniture. In some respects, and for some people, this may be true. However, for me at least, I do not think that it is asking too much of the world to make room for and appreciate finely crafted furniture. Pieces that started as a tree, and were lovingly, respectfully, and honestly worked into a table, book case,chair, or cabinet designed and built to last several lifetimes, and the people whose hands make them, surely still have value and an audience.

One of the keys to advancing this mindset, and thus securing the livelihood of present and future generations of Woodwrights,  is through connection to folks like Mr. Becksvoort. Connection with like minded artisans. It used to be that trade shows and guilds were the mainstays of this connection. Over the years, the guilds have either died off, or are only barely there, and the trade shows/craft shows have degenerated largely into not much more than living commercials for … gasp … tools and jigs that are not really NEEDED.

There is one area that has brought hope though. The internet.

The internet has been a wonderful resource not just for researching woodworking, but also for connecting like minded artisans. I belong to a handful of quality online woodworking forums. (sawmillcreek.org , woodworkingtalk.com , lumberjocks.com, etc.)These forums are an absolute treasure trove of folks who, of vastly differing skill levels and woodworking interests, gather to shoot the breeze, talk about tools, and generally be there for one another. I doubt very highly that you could ask a question on one of these forums, and not get a researched, and thought out answer. More likely, you will get several. Even more likely, you will get several DIFFERENT answers. While it may sound like getting a bunch of different answers to a question is like spinning your wheels, think about this…..

In getting several different answers to a question, you are presented not only with differing opinions and options, but also with little morsels of information  that you can use to further your search, should you not find a satisfying answer initially.
A word to the wise, if you ask a question, and get several different answers that don’t really satisfy you, go out and research what morsels you get in those answers. If you come up with an answer all your own…. go back to your original post and SHARE THAT INFORMATION.

It is through the continual sharing of information that we help keep woodworking alive. Sure, you really DO need to go out to the shop and build stuff. To spend your days writing blog posts and researching tools and blabbering about workbench design, is an exercise in mental masturbation. It feels good, but produces very little.

However, sharing information, and helping fellow woodworkers develop and grow their skills and knowledge base, is a foundational move to keeping the trade moving forward, keeping it from dying. It is through this connection with one another that we help to evolve the art of working wood in that, methods and processes, both old and new, are passed on. Questions about various joinery techniques are answered. Help with applying finishes can be had. Critiques of design ideas are available for the asking. Discussions of forestry and responsible timber harvesting, renewable forestry, and general knowledge sharing on the subject of the proper management of our forests for future Woodwrights, are all facilitated  and made much more available via the internet now.

Therefore, a simple personal response to a very simple question, asked by a VERY simple Woodwright, is indeed a hallmark of someone who values working wood not just as a means to provide for a family, but also as something worth sharing and passing on to future simple Woodwrights.

Thanks Chris.

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“Shop Shopping”

One of my absolute favorite pastimes is mental “shop building”. I dearly love shopping for tools. I love researching which ones are the best performing, longest lasting, best made.

What this can create, is a situation where many different configuration options become available to you. I can often times, put together at least three different “Plan A” variations on a collection of tools that would be ideal for my shop. It can be a great way to learn the different levels of quality and the different levels of  versatility that the various tooling options can provide.

In my original shop set up, I had a wonderful European combination machine.


The above photo is not my old shop, but it is a picture of the combination machine I used to have. The Robland X31 is a Belgian made, 5 function combination machine. It is the combination of a 10″ table saw with a sliding table that makes cutting 4’x8′ sheet goods much easier. Sharing the fixed table with the saw, is a nice 3 horse power shaper. Next to that, is a 3 horse power, 12″ jointer which shares it’s cutter head with a 12″ planer. At the end of the jointer/planer’s cutter head is a chuck for a horizontal boring machine that works very well as a mortising machine. In a 6 square foot footprint, I had five, 3 horse power machines, that were of production level quality. It was a really nice machine.

This time around, I am building from the ground up once again. You may be asking yourself, “Self, why doesn’t he just buy another combination machine?”

While I would love to re-equip with another machine like my old Robland, there are a couple of factors that nix that idea from the get go. The first is that to buy another combination machine like my old one, is in the neighborhood of ten thousand dollars.
The next is that the size and scope of my new shop space is such that, separate machines makes much more sense.

This actually makes things much more interesting for me. I now can research MULTIPLE MACHINES!!!! Oh Happy Day!!!

There are three, main machines that are “must haves” for a woodworking shop. Actually, there are about six or seven, but three that are the foundation of what is needed to efficiently work wood. The table saw, the jointer, and the surface planer. These three machines are what is required to mill stock into square, usable material. If you have these three machines alone, you could mill and dimension rough stock to the point where nearly everything else that needed to be done to the stock, could be done with hand tools. This is actually my plan moving forward. Until such time as I have my larger shop space either built, or leased, I plan to use a well thought out combination of machines and hand tools.

The first machine I was able to get my hands on was a really high quality Contractor’s table saw. Table saws come in a wide variety of sizes and capabilities. My ideal table saw is a three horse power General Canada 350, table saw.


Unfortunately, General Canada has moved most manufacturing operations over seas, and no longer makes the 350 the way they used to and finding a used machine in the states is both very difficult, as well as cost prohibitive.. So, I was relegated to Craigslist to try to find a serviceable machine.

As I thought out my situation, I settled on finding a contractor’s model table saw rather than the cabinet saw pictured above. Cost, size, and availability were determining factors. Initially, I was focused on finding an old Rockwell Model-10 contractors saw.


It would have enough power to do most of what I would be asking of it, and they are fairly plentiful. Trouble is, the owners of these saws on Craigslist, felt their machines were worth far, far more than they really are. plus, the “wings” on either side of the cast iron main table are made out of stamped steel…not ideal, but usable.

Finally, finally, I found the perfect set up. The perfect set up and it was so inexpensive, I t was like robbery buying this machine. After much patience and daily Craigslist stalking, I found a used, but not abused, General international 50-185M1 contractors table saw.


Two horse power, a FULL cast iron table, with a 52″ Biesemeyer rip fence. Yes, yes, I know all that sounds like gobldygook. All you really need to know is that this was a really, really well equipped saw for next to nothing.

Right around this time, I also found a machine that I never in a million years thought I would ever be able to afford, let alone own.

The Inca 510 – 550 – and 560 are all combination jointer/planers. 10″ jointer sharing it’s cutter head with a 10″ planer. Guitar builders, marqueteers, Turners and furniture makers have long been enamored with the little jointer/planer for years. It is Swiss made, finely built, and wonderfully engineered. This goes especially for the first generation 510.

So it was a Godsend to me when someone responded to my request on the Inca Yahoo group. The original owner was retiring and willing to sell for a price I just…could…not…pass up.



What a great machine.

So there are  my three, foundational machines. In hand, and waiting for the rest of the shop to be cleaned out and for power to be brought over from the house.

Yes, there are a whole lot of other tools that need to procured. Hand tools, and some light duty machines too. But these three machines are a cracking good start to my new shop.

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