A Brief Practical Treatise on Hardwood Finishing

Of all the woods employed in architectural finishing and furniture making oak is the most popular, possessing as it does all the virtues looked for in a wood desired for those purposes. The kinds commonly used are the white, the red, and the black oak. Straight sawed and quarter-sawed oaks give us a great range of choice as to appearance and adaptability for finishing.

Birch, Mahogany and Ash

Birch comes straight and curly, and may be finished natural or stained to look like mahogany.

Mahogany may be had in several varieties, the finest coming from South America, but very much, some say 75 per cent, of what passes for mahogany here is “bastard” mahogany or baywood. Still, when the two are used together and finished together as in furniture, it is very difficult to tell them apart. Then there is a mahogany from Mexico and some that grows in this country. Also there comes from Africa mahogany, a very beautiful specimen being known as “crotch” mahogany. A fault of African crotch mahogany is checking in fine hair lines after the finishing. My attention was lately called to an advertisement of some pianos, which said: “These have just been received and are among the last lot that we shall get,” because of the checking here mentioned. The wood was beautiful, but frail.

American ash is a coarse-grained wood, useful either by itself for low priced sets of bedroom furniture, or in union with oak for the same purpose. Stained and filled antique, it makes a very good substitute for oak in furniture. Hungarian ash is of course in another class as regards beauty. It is beautifully marked.

Maple, Walnut and Redwood

Maple comes straight and curly grained. From time far back it has been a favourite on account of its beauty, its hardness and durability, and its abundance. There are many varieties of this wood, one from Oregon being very fine, but our Eastern maples leave nothing to be desired in the way of what the wood finisher requires of it. It is very light in colour, and takes a first-class finish.

American walnut, or more commonly called “black” walnut, one of the very best of native woods, is susceptible of the highest finish in several ways and when properly finished produces the handsomest effects known to the art. It is easily grown so there seems no reason why it should be so scarce.

Several woods and their scope for the finisher, the line between the hard and soft woods, preparing the surface prior to the finishing process, the methods of treating oak, matching the new and old oak, bleaching of wood

Redwood from California is thought by some to be the very finest wood in the world for interior finish and certain other purposes. In some respects, it is not much unlike mahogany. It should not be confounded with red cedar which is quite another species of wood.

Sycamore, Cypress and Pine

Sycamore or buttonwood is a hard wood of good grain. When quarter-sawed it is one of the handsomest woods the finisher has ever applied his skill to adorn. Cypress is a wood of great durability under exposure. It has a good colour but it is very hard to work and to finish, hence will prove useful only for the construction rather than the finish and adornment of homes. It is also difficult to paint, owing to its uneven and often spongy texture. Cypress is a member of the cedar family and is durable. Select specimens of this wood are very handsome and make very fine doors, etc.

Yellow pine comes from North Carolina and Georgia, mainly, and they are unlike one another. The former variety is known by its curly figurings, being very handsome; the other is of straight grain, making a very good flooring, especially when quarter-sawed.

White pine has become practically extinct in the East, but there are some very good specimens of it left in the great forests of the far Northwest. It is the most satisfactory wood for house finishing the world has ever known.

Poplar, Rosewood and Beech

Poplar or white wood is a fairly good substitute for white pine, having close texture and straight grain making it easy to work. Yellow poplar is the best, not being inclined to warp as is the other variety.

Rosewood, once so popular, has now nearly ceased to be used in furniture and cabinetmaking. It has its weak points, yet there is no denying its beauty under the finishing process.

Beech is one of the later introductions in the furniture factory and with it might be named several others also.

What are Hard and Soft Woods?

As another finisher has put it, it is difficult to draw the line between the hard and soft woods, so called, and really there is no need for making the distinction at all, it serving no practical purpose. It is well, therefore, to call them all by the name of hardwood, by that term meaning just woods that the finisher has to deal with.

When we come to the filling or surfacing of woods, we find that the lines overlap, so that on some so-called hardwoods, say oak, we have to both fill and surface to get a result. Any wood having a very open structure will of course require a paste filling, and often over this a surfacer or liquid filler, the same thing. In some cases, it will be necessary to apply two coats of paste, or one coat of paste filler and one of liquid filler. The paste is to fill or level up with, the liquid: surfacer is to saturate the cellulose matter with oil so that it will not rob the varnish when it goes on.

Preliminary Work

The first thing to do is to see that the work that is to be finished is smooth and clean, free of dust and grease. If we start the work smooth, it is easy to get the next coating smooth, and so on to the finish. It is a mistake to leave the smoothing until the last for it will save time and labour to make each progressive stage of the job smooth. Besides which; it is very difficult to make it smooth at the last if it has been rough up to that time.

Finishing the Oaks

Finishers know many ways for finishing oaks, and also there are ways that they ought not to know. Many of the sins of oak finishing may not be laid at the door of the finisher, however, for public taste, so called, is to blame.

Golden oak leads, of course. The very best effect is obtained with asphaltum stain, using the best that can be had. What a pity that asphaltum is not perfect, that it does not dry, or that it softens the varnish or sweats up under it. In colour it is perfect. It gives the best known golden oak finish. Its brown tint over the flakes is a true golden tone.

First the wood must be filled with a paste filler, which to darken with burnt umber. After this has dried and the surface has been prepared apply a stain, asphaltum if you will, or with Vandyke brown, a very transparent pigment, the most transparent of all the painter’s pigments, indeed, being also a very rich brown. The stain is applied liberally, then at once it is wiped off clean. This fills the pores of the wood, but removes all stain from the surface. When dry, sandpaper with 00 paper, getting the flakes bright.

Another method calls for staining the wood before the filling. Let it stand overnight, say, then sandpaper with 00 paper and fill with a filler made by thinning ten pounds of paste with one gallon of thinner, turpentine or benzine; the latter will do very well. Colour the filler with drop black in oil, making the filler only slightly dark. The stain is to be made quite thin and is not to be wiped off but allowed to remain on the wood overnight.

It is well for me to say here that pigment or colouring matter is not a filler, hence the less you put in the more paste filler can get in. The filler is to be rubbed well into the grain of the wood, which will make the wood very dark in its pores but the flakes will remain bright. After the staining and filling the work is ready for the varnish and finishing. Vandyke brown and burnt umber may be mixed together to get a certain shade of brown, or be mixed with asphaltum. In fact, many shades can be made by various admixtures of the colours, including drop black.

Antique, Flemish and Mission Oaks

Antique oak is simply plain oak made as dark as the fancy may dictate, using burnt umber, Vandyke brown, asphaltum or drop-black.

Flemish oak is a very dark effect, almost black, and is first stained with a chemical, as follows: Dissolve one-half pound of bichromate of potash in one gallon of water; strain, then apply with a bristle brush. Let it dry, then sandpaper with 00 paper. Now mix up some japan drop black to a thin stain with turpentine and apply it to the work. In a few minutes you may wipe off the stain, let it dry, then give a coat of thin shellac which is allow to dry perfectly. Shellac seems to be dry as soon as applied, really it is not as it requires some hours to get hard dry. Then smooth with fine paper. Finish with wax, made by mixing bees wax one pound to one gallon of turpentine, and adding four ounces of best ivory drop black. After waxing rub with cheese cloth, wiping off clean.

Another method calls for a paste filler made from equal parts of burnt umber and Vandyke brown, with a small quantity of lampblack. This is hardly a paste filler, however, though it will give a very dark effect. Any degree of darkness may be obtained by the increased use of drop black in the filling and staining.

Mission oak has many different colour effects so that no standard can be made. As a rule, it should show a dull grey effect, the flakes being a reddish cast, but the grain is a dull or almost dead black. To make the stain take one pound of drop black in oil and one-half ounce of rose pink in oil, add one gill (unit of volume in British imperial) of japan and thin with three half pints of turpentine. This will give you about a quart of stain. By using japan colours in place of the oil colours, you may omit the japan. Strain through cheese cloth. Finish with wax. Always when using japan colour add a little varnish as a binder.

Green and Primrose Oaks

Malachite or green oak may be produced with a green oil stain. Green paint will not do because it will obscure the grain. Dissolve aniline green crystals in boiling water, about an ounce to the gallon or stronger, and reduced according to depth of colour wanted. When the staining is dry, coat it over with white shellac to which add a little of the stain to tinge it green. Give one or two coats, according to body desired, and then wax it.

Forest green oak

Make and apply this stain: Mix together one pound of chrome green and one-half pound of chrome yellow, both medium shades. Now add together in another vessel three pints of turpentine, one pint of raw linseed oil, and a little white japan. Thin the colours with this and give the wood one coat of the resultant stain. Now colour some white shellac with a little turmeric and a few crystals of green aniline, then you may finish it with wax.

Plain green oak is an effect that may be produced by giving the wood a coat of the stain used for golden oak. When this has become dry coat with orange shellac to which has been added some aniline green crystals.

Finish with wax. Primrose oak is about the same as the green oak, only it has a more yellow cast. Bog oak is very much the same as Flemish, being a very dark, almost black, effect. Royal oak is produced by a staining with ammonia, bichromate of potash, and Vandyke brown. This will antique oak to a beautiful brown, and may be described as follows: Soak some dry Vandyke brown in liquid ammonia to form a paste. Thin this with a saturated solution of bichromate of potash. Apply as a stain in the usual way. Diluted to a certain degree, this solution makes a good walnut stain on any suitable wood.

Matching Dark Oak

If called upon to make a new piece of oak match the old, try a weak solution of bichromate of potash, say an ounce to five pints of water. Use a sponge preferably, though a brush will do. In this sort of work, as indeed in all staining, it is well to avoid allowing any part of the staining to become dry before all is done for there would be the danger of double coating and darker colouring. When doing say a chair, or any piece that has several small parts, to avoid getting some stain, as from running down, from getting on to the part already stained is difficult. The best thing to do is to go over all with a weak stain, apply liberally and work fast, until every part is wet before any part is dry; then wipe off with a cloth or rag.

It may be noted here, while I think of it, that when a surface has been wetted first with clear water it will not only take the stain more readily but will show up darker also. This latter result is doubtless due to the stain not getting so far away from the surface, owing to the fact that the wood has been well saturated with the water. Carved work and mouldings may be rubbed with a stiff brush after staining, as sandpaper cannot so well be used; for very small parts a tooth brush does very well. Sandpaper should not be used on mouldings and carved parts, on account of danger of cutting through the stain and also injuring the fine lines of the work.

Bleaching Dark Wood

Some time ago someone asked for a method of treating the black parts of gum, and making them less conspicuous. I then told him about the bleaching qualities of oxalic acid, dissolved in water and applied by a brush. This is sufficient to bleach oak and some other woods, and is a standby for the wood finisher. But whether it will bleach out the black heart of gum I do not know, but would like to learn from our inquiring friend.

Furthermore, right here it may be well to suggest that where such inquiries receive attention it would be useful to the readers generally to learn something of the matter afterwards and hence if the inquirer would be kind enough to tell us about it after he had made some experiments, with results gained, he would certainly confer a favour.

When using oxalic acid for bleaching out wood, add a little spirit of niter (ethyl nitrate) also called “sweet spirit of niter.” After the acid has become dry, wash off thoroughly with clear water. Apply the acid hot. Chloride of lime is another good bleacher for wood, and you might try this recipe, though it is intended for objects that can be immersed in the solution, yet its application to the surface of wood may also be efficient. It is worth trying. Dissolve 17 ¼ ounces of chloride of lime and 2 ounces of soda crystals in 10 1/2 pints of water. Wet the wood with this and see that it remains wet for at least thirty minutes. Wash off and neutralize with a solution of sulphuric acid, then wash again, and let dry. This we find in the “Scientific American Encyclopaedia.” Chloride of lime is a well-known and much used bleaching agent for other materials, and I see no reason why it should not bleach the black heart of gum, or any discoloration, whereby the beauty and intrinsic value of the wood may be enhanced.

Grinder Wheel Alignment

I recently bought a slow speed grinder as I’ve grown beyond weary sharpening A2 steel entirely by hand. If my plane irons were thin Stanley O1 blades, then I would never need a grinder even if the blade was nicked. However, it is what it is and life goes on.

With every new grinder or with every new wheel replacement, you will need to balance or align the wheels. You also may have to periodically balance the wheels throughout the life of the wheel due to dressing, wear and profiling. The balancing of grinding wheels is essential despite dressing them! Skipping this step may cause chatter marks, excessive wheel wear and spindle head wear to name but a few.

When you start the grinder, you may notice that the wheel has a slight wobble. This can be due to the large flange washers not running true. Fixing this isn’t as difficult or time consuming as you may think.

First turn the machine on and look at the wheel to see if there is a wobble. The chances are high that there will be. If there is, turn the machine off, unplug it from the wall, wait for the wheels to stop turning and take the covers off.

Make a reference mark on each flange washer and the wheel to record their original location.

Next, loosen the shaft nut and rotate the flange washer clockwise and the other wheel counter clockwise by ½”.

Tip: If the wheel is new, you may notice the flange washer won’t rotate due to it being stuck to the paper. I used the tip of a flat blade screwdriver to strike the flange washer, a light tap is all that is needed to unstick it from the paper.

Tighten the shaft nut by hand and rotate the wheel by hand. If you don’t feel confident that you will observe any change, then tighten the shaft nut and turn the machine on. If there is still wobble in the wheel, turn it another ½”. Keep doing this until you’re satisfied. You could spend an eternity finding that sweet spot, but at some point you will have to stop and say it’s good enough for my purpose. A small amount of wobble is fine.

The final step is to dress the wheel. The centre bushings “roughly” centre the wheel on the shaft. Inaccuracies in the manufacturing process may cause fluctuation in the wheel and to address this, a wheel dresser can be used to make the wheel run true.

Place the wheel dresser on the tool rest angled upwards with the edge of the wheel dresser facing the wheel. Slowly bring the wheel dresser to the stone until you hear the untrue side touch the dresser. As you apply light pressure, the face of the stone becomes true.

Some things to be aware of:

The left side shaft nut has left-handed threads and so the nut is tightened counter clockwise. The right-side shaft nut has right-handed threads and is tightened by rotating it clockwise.

Do not over tighten the shaft nuts. Doing so can cause damage to the wheel and the flange washers. A light touch is all that is needed. The direction of travel will keep the nuts tight.

When buying a new wheel make sure the R.P.M. rating is greater than the grinder’s motor. The outer diameter of the wheel must be according to the size specification of your grinder. The bore diameter of the wheel must be the same as the original wheel.

Do not remove the labels on the sides of the wheels. They help to spread the holding pressure of the tightened nuts on the grinding wheel flanges.

Applying the entire face of the wheel dresser to the stone without the support of a tool rest may introduce deeper grooves and further untrue the stone.

Troubleshooting as is in the manual

If the adjustment of the flange washers does not make the wheel run without side to side oscillation, then remove the wheel and flange washers and check the shoulder on the motor shaft at the point where the flange washer seats against it. A slight burr on the edge of the shoulder can stop the flange washer from seating properly. The burr can be removed using a file to smooth the edge of the shoulder. Look for any roughness on the surfaces of the flange washers and smooth these spots on sandpaper placed on a flat surface. Then replace the wheel, re-adjust the flange washers, and dress the wheel.

With wheels properly aligned,this is a wonderful machine that serves its purpose in eliminating the drudgery of sharpening A2 plane blades. With the further aid of an after-market tool rest, you’ll have one powerful addition to your sharpening tool kit.

Dominos Case

I loved playing dominos with my dad when I was young and I still love playing dominos with my dad and now my son. I introduced him to the game not long ago, and he loves it. The box that the dominos came in was getting a bit tattered, so I decided to make for my old man a nice new one. I guess the original is a vintage box now and probably worth something so if anyone wants it before it goes in the bin let me know. I’m taking all the measurements off the original box and will provide them for you here.  My choice of timbers is NGR (New Guinean rosewood) for the sides and American black walnut for the ends, top and bottom.

Sides 8” x 2 1/4” x ¼” (make 2)

Ends 2 3/4” x 2 1/4” x ¼ (make 2)

Bottom 8 x 2 3/4” x 1/8” (make 1)

Lid undetermined yet – we’ll get to that part later (make 1).

Start by preparing the parts.  Rip the sides and ends over-sized.  Flatten one side and plane one edge and end square.  From the reference edge, mark 2 1/4” and rip and plane to the line.  From the reference end, mark the overall length, square a line around the piece and crosscut to the line.  Finally, mark and plane to final thickness.

In the photo below, you’ll see the two ends have been prepared as a single piece, to be cut apart and cut to length later.

Plough a ¼” wide, 1/8” deep groove that is 1/8” from the upper edge on the inside of the side pieces.  The lid will slide in these grooves. It’s imperative that the two side pieces are of equal width. If one of those pieces were wider than the other, the grooves could be out of alignment with each other.

When adjusting the plough plane, it can be helpful first to scribe a gauge line on the workpiece 1/8” from the upper edge.  Rather than setting the plane’s fence with a ruler, line up the left edge of the blade to the gauge line.

Using a rule, set the depth stop 1/8” from to the tip of the blade and lock it in place.  Verify the distance one more time for good measure.

If the wood has reversing grain, set the iron to take a very light cut. You’re only ploughing to 1/8” depth so it won’t take long.
Using a sticking board with an adjustable fence can help in ploughing the grooves. If you’re interested in making your own sticking board, plans are available in Issue IV, which can be purchased from my store. With an adjustable fence, making the piece flush against the edge of the sticking board is easy and this gives a much better surface for the plough plane’s fence to ride along.

Following these tips should result in clean, accurate results every time.

The box will have single dovetails at each corner.

Make the tails protrude by about 1/32” by setting a marking gauge to slightly more than the thickness of the pin board, as in the above picture.  Use that setting to mark the baselines on the tail board.

One end of the box will be higher than the other so that the lid can slide in and stop.  For this reason, the dovetails will be offset from centre.

On the end grain of a side piece, measure in ¼” from the lower edge and 5/8” from the grooved edge.  At these locations, mark lines straight across the end, then extend lines down the faces to the baselines using the dovetail angle you prefer.

Cut away the waste and pare to the lines to complete the dovetail.

To transfer the tails to the pin board, use a trick from Mike Pekovic of Fine Woodworking Magazine. He uses painter’s masking tape on the edge of the pin board (as shown above).  Knifing the outlines of the dovetail onto the pin board and removing the tape in the waste area reveals very clean, visible lines.

This is especially useful on dark timbers like this walnut.  Saw and chisel out the waste and fit the tail board to the pin board.

To allow the lid to slide in and out, one of the ends will be reduced in height.

Choose an end to be the front and knife a mark from the lower wall of the groove onto the end piece. Extend the mark across the end piece and rip and plane to the line.

Reassemble the box and verify that the top edge of the end piece is flush with the bottom of the grooves.  When satisfied, glue the box together, clamp it up and check for square.

When the glue has set, pare the protruding ends. Plane as close as possible to the surface and finish it off by paring with a chisel.

Flatten the bottom using a plane or by rubbing on sandpaper adhered to a flat surface.

Just a few strokes is all that is needed.

Prepare the bottom piece, planing to about 1/8” thick, but keeping the length and width oversized.  Glue the box to it and when the glue has dried, plane the ends and sides flush with the box.

The box can be clamped in a vice to give good even clamping pressure all around.

All that’s left now is the lid.

For the lid, prepare ¼” thick stock.  Then plane the edges to fit into the grooves.

A shooting board saves a lot of time and minimizes potential errors in making the edges parallel.

The fit shouldn’t be too sloppy or too tight. There should be just enough slack so the lid can slide in and out freely but not so free that if tipped on its end it will slide out.

With the lid slid all the way to the back of the box, place a mark on the lid at the end of a groove.  Square the mark across the lid and crosscut to length.  The lid will have a lip added to it that will hide the two grooves on the ends and will also act as a pull to open the box.

Rip a small piece whose width is equal to the difference between the height of the front end and the height of the sides.  This measurement can be obtained as shown in the picture above.  The length of the piece should be slightly greater than the width of the box.

Glue the lip onto the end grain of the lid, ensuring the bottoms of the lip and lid are flush with each other.  Gluing end grain to long grain may not be as strong as gluing long grain to long grain, but if the end grain is coated with glue and allowed to dry, the lip can be glued as normal and the bond will be strong. This applies to all types of glue.  When attaching the lip, ensure that the ends on both sides are slightly proud of the box sides. Trim them flush to the sides after the glue has dried.

That’s all there is to it. The box is now ready for light sanding and finish. I used three coats of shellac, followed by a coat of paste wax.

While computer games become out dated almost as quickly as they are released, dominos has continued to be played by friends and families since the Song Dynasty in China (1232-1298). 

The pictures below show the original box and the new box.  What a difference!

Nature of Glue and Various Kinks in Gluing

Glue differs from many other adhesives in that it is of animal origin. The varnish gums, shellac and resin, all have adhesive qualities and are all derived from trees of this day or of past ages. None of these last, however, are suitable for joining wood in the manner commonly known as gluing.

Diversity of Adhesives

All the vegetable gums are reduced to powder under shock or pressure. They are not soluble in water. Most of them are slow-drying. They also lack the quality of penetrating the surface of wood readily when used thick enough to form a good cement for uniting the parts. All of the gum or resin classes of adhesive materials depend upon the oxidation of certain ingredients or the evaporation of special oils or other volatile fluids to harden them so as to form a binding material.

There is still another class of adhesives to which belong the materials from which the various adhesive pastes are made. These include dextrine (Dextrin T.W. is wheat starch. Dextrine is used as a thickener for different textile techniques. Needs to be heated (cooked) to generate full viscosity. ) and the various starch compounds. But all of this class are from their nature unsuitable for making joints in woodwork. The starchy nature of the paste prevents its penetrating the surface of the wood so as to get a good grip and the joint formed is not flexible or strong. This is due largely to the fact that as the paste hardens it does not possess elasticity. As the moisture dries from paste, the latter always tends to crack.

Let us consider wood and see what is the nature of the material we have to contend with in the glued joint. Wood does not change much as to length but it

Relation of glue to the surfaces on which it is used, flexibility of glue, veneering, the effect of the seasons and climate, selecting a suitable glue, and the preparation of the materials to be joined

may change a surprising amount in width or thickness. The grain of most trees is not straight and so when the board is cut from the log it is separated from the rest of the structure that helped to hold it in place. Strains are at once set up and they continue as long as the stock seasons. If the stock is so piled as to hold it straight and is thus left for a number of years, the parts of the piece finally come to rest and stop fighting among themselves. The board is then said to be seasoned.

Even seasoned lumber if it is subjected to a change in the amount of moisture in the air will shrink or swell and may warp proportionately.  

But the foregoing is not the modern method of seasoning lumber. The tree of today is to be the furniture of a period only four to eight months removed from the time the log started for the mill. Our modern dry-kilns remove the moisture but they do not season the stock in the old way. The removal of the moisture, including the sap from wood, sets up strains in the stock that are adjusted only as the wood finally comes to have the same amount of moisture in all parts, and also when the tension in the different parts finally comes to a balance.

On this account the makers of high-grade furniture and chairs usually dry the lumber in the plank, cut it to the proper sizes for making the individual parts and then dry it again. This reduces the trouble by drying the second time when the stock has been cut to small units.

Bent stock is always given a good drying after bending and in some cases after the first drying a certain amount of machine work is done on it and the material dried again. From this we see that the manufacturer does all he can to remove the strains from the various parts of a piece of furniture before the glue is applied. Even then, when two pieces are united, moisture is introduced with the glue and it takes time for the parts to become adjusted.

Flexibility of Glue

A good glue, as has been said, must be flexible. This is necessary on account of the fact that the pieces united may in some cases change in width or thickness, but the glue must form a continuous and hence flexible joint. There are some instances where greater flexibility in the glue is required than in others, but as a rule one grade of glue will do for a certain line of furniture.

When glue is applied the stock should be warm so as to prevent chilling the glue before it has time to penetrate the pores of the wood. By the advantage of this precaution we thereby establish a firm bond between the glue and wood. The warming of the stock for gluing naturally has a tendency to extract the moisture from the surface of the wood and this in turn introduces strains in the pieces. The excess of moisture in the glue is absorbed by the stock and this introduces moisture in one side of each piece.  Those who do veneering know that if one side of a piece requires veneering it is necessary to veneer the back of the piece. Certainly, this is advisable if permanent work is to result. The back or inside is generally covered with a cheaper veneer. There are two reasons why both sides of the stock have to be veneered. First, making a glued joint on each side of the stock establishes uniform conditions on both sides of the stock at the time the gluing is done. Second, the covering of both surfaces with veneer with its underlying glue joint establishes equal conditions on each side so that any change in the amount of moisture in the air of the room where the piece is will have equal effects on both sides of the piece.

If one side were not veneered there would be uninterrupted pores or ducts leading from just under the varnished surface completely through the main portion of the stock from the side that was not veneered. On the other side these conditions would be broken by the glued joint under the veneer. The result would be that the stock would warp if exposed to such changes in the amount of moisture in the air as occur in an ordinary office or home during the course of a year.

Influence of Furniture Design

The manufacturer of the glue is likely to be hastily blamed for many troubles that in reality arise from the carelessness in manufacture or from faulty design in furniture. Sonic suggestions are therefore offered in regard to due care in gluing. For very accurate and delicate work it is of great importance that the grade of the glue used be uniform, that when applied it always contains the same amount of moisture, and that the temperature of the glue and the stock be kept the same at all times.

There is liable to be more trouble from irregular work in the glue-room in warm summer weather when the windows are open than in the winter when the plant is closed and the temperature and moisture conditions are kept more uniform from day to day.

In selecting a glue suitable for a given class of work the treatment the finished piece is to be subjected to should be taken into consideration. If the stock is thin and is to be subjected to bending strains a very strong and flexible glue is required. If the parts are heavy or massive and not subjected to sudden strains or rough handling a strong glue is required but it does not need to be so flexible.

In selecting the glue, it is also necessary to take into account the character of the stock to be glued. There are certain hard fine grained woods that do not take glue well as it cannot enter the surface of the wood sufficiently to affect a firm base for the joint. On the other hand, there are some woods the grain of which is so open that the glue is immediately absorbed and conducted away from the surface before it has a chance to form a joint. This is always the case when trying to glue most woods on their end grain. In such cases the surface should be given a priming coat. It is usually possible to use a lower grade of glue in the case of coarse-grained woods. The manner in which the surface to be glued is prepared is also of great importance. If some woods are sanded the pores on the surface become so filled with the wood dust that the glue will not adhere. The stock to be glued should be left with the grain open. In the case of stock that is cut with knives as in planing it is usually best to glue soon after cutting. If the planed stock is left for some time the ends of the pores seem to become stopped up. For many classes of work material direct from the saw can be glued better than stock that has been planed. In this case the grain of the wood appears to be open and there are many almost microscopic irregularities in the surface that tend to bond the wood to the glue and make a secure joint. 

The Composition of Glue and Its Chemical Action

To the readers of this journal I would offer some talks on glue concerning its composition and its behaviour toward the different salts, etc. Glue is an animal product but does not in reality pre-exist in the animal organism. As there must of necessity be several transformations to take place in the process of manufacturing, therefore we distinguish glue yielding substance, crude glue, jelly, and glue.

By glue yielding substance we understand the raw material from which glue is made. Crude glue is the raw material free from all foreign matter and put in condition for boiling. Jelly is obtained by boiling the crude glue. After drying the jelly, we have what is commercially known as glue.

Chemistry of Glues

Chemically speaking, glue is composed of carbon 49.1 per cent, hydrogen 6.5 per cent, nitrogen 18.3 per cent oxygen and sulphur 26.1 per cent. Independent of impurities and accidental constituents glue consists of two distinctly distinguishable combinations: gluten and chondrinid. Experiments have shown gluten to possess much greater adhesive power than chondrinid. Pure gluten, when dry, is almost colourless, transparent, hard, and endowed with great but variable coherence according to the kind of material from which it is obtained. It is odourless and tasteless. Its specific gravity is greater than that of water. It exerts no influence whatever upon vegetable colours. It has a neutral reaction. It is insoluble, in spirits of wine, ether, fat and volatile oils. In cold water it softens, absorbing as much as 40 per cent.

The character and behaviour of glues, steps in the process of manufacturing, practical features of the constituents, comments upon glue factors of importance

 A liquid which contains one hundredth part of its weight of gluten becomes sticky on cooking but when it has only the one hundred and fiftieth part the mass remains fluid. According to examinations made by skilled technologists the quantity of gluten contained in different kinds of glue varies between 68 and 81 per cent. Chondrinid, as regards its chemical composition, is poorer in nitrogen than gluten and contains more sulphur. Its formula approaches more closely that of albumin a substance which forms a constituent part of both the animal fluids and solids and exists nearly pure in the white of an egg.

Glue as found in commerce is a mixture of gluten, chondrinid and other substances not positively agreed upon. Its quality depends upon the crude glue and glue yielding material from which the jelly is produced. The jelly, no matter whether gluten or chondrinid, possesses before drying to glue different properties from a glue solution. It has less power of adhesion and spoils more quickly. At a temperature of about 72 degrees Fahr. jelly putrefies inside of 24 hours and decomposes while the glue solution will keep longer without deterioration. It is a known fact that glue from hides differs from bone glue in adhesive power, elasticity and fracture and a larger percentage of glue is obtained from the glue yielding tissues of old animals than from those of young animals. The older the animal from which the skin has been derived the more solid the glue will be. Glue from fish bladders though consisting mainly of gluten differs materially in its behaviour from hide or bone glue.

The behaviour of the glue solution toward different salts also deserves attention. By adding Epsom salts to a lukewarm fluid containing 15 or 20 per cent of glue the latter coagulates in consequence of the salt withdrawing the water from it. A lukewarm solution saturated with common salt, Sal ammoniac, saltpetre or barium chloride does not gelatinize. By adding to a glue solution, a large quantity of alum, the glue is precipitated as a transparent mass. Boiling with slaked lime deprives glue solution of its power of gelatinizing and changes it on evaporation to a gum-like colourless mass soluble in cold water. Tannic acid is a valuable and delicate test of the presence of glue and when added to a solution containing only one five thousandth part of glue the solution immediately assumes a cloudy appearance.

Testing by Tannic

Add The skins of animals, or that part from which glue is made, is composed of two parts, the corium or cutis, and the cuticle or epidermis. The latter consists of separate and distinct cells and constitutes the exterior covering in which the wool, fur or hair of the animal is rooted. It is of no importance to the glue maker. The corium or cutis is the portion which furnishes the material for glue. Beneath the corium are cells which often contain fat when falling into the hands of the glue maker. This fat must be removed otherwise it exerts a disturbing influence upon the manufacture of glue. To remove this fat is one of the objects of the lime bath used in preparing the glue stock.

Handcrafted Jewellery Box

Here is a box I made for my niece’s 18th birthday. It’s different from the usual antiquated stuff I like to make, but it’s not my design. I was inspired by an article in the Woodcraft magazine Vol.12/No.68 Dec/Jan 2016 by Jim Downing. The title is “Asian Inspired Jewelry Box.” I have made several changes but minor ones to the dimensions and the layout of the internal trays. I also decided not to put the handle as I felt it was harder to do by hand it being so small and finicky.

The timber of choice was Canadian Poplar, and white oak heated to extreme temperatures in an oven. The timber mill did this I bought the wood from and I feel it is a mistake as it’s too brittle and dry. There are far better and more effective ways of darkening timber. Have a look at ebonizing oak on Matt’s blog or you could go directly to Richard Maguire’s page and buy his video on the subject. I bought the video just to see exactly how it’s done because this is something that I have missed in the history books and yes, this potion of his is exactly how it used to get done.

The build is pretty much straightforward. The author used floating tenons while I cut mine out. I also ploughed a groove for the mitred lid and slipped in a tenon so it’s not a key you see.

The feet are tapered on the side about 2° and are wider than the author’s version.

The bottom panel is notched, which I still struggle with getting an exact gapless fit. One of these days though, I feel I will get it right. The internal trays are just a friction fit and can be taken out if she so desires, which is why I made it like that.

The hinges are a solid brass; the glue used was hide glue, and the finish was a natural oil finish that is food safe. I’m not one for promoting brands but I’m sure you will be curious what I used so as not to torture you, it’s called Kunos Livos Natural. It’s a German brand. Here are the same photos but in Black & white.

From the Wood Finisher’s Point of View

By A. Ashmun Kelly


It is not every hardwood that one can take and make it look like mahogany. This may sound strange to the expert but I have known an architect to take a piece of birch stained mahogany colour and declare that no one could detect the imitation. As a matter of fact, any wood finisher with experience with staining knows that it is not at all difficult to pick out the real from the sham in a lot of good samples of both. The best we can do is to approximate the appearance and this can be best done with birch and cherry. I prefer the cherry to the birch, for it is naturally a closer approach to mahogany in its finer

Mahoganizing cherry and birch, choice of woods for finishing, fillers for turned Work, transparent filling, polishing, finishing cheap furniture, importance of the filler, Vogue of Mission oak

markings and general texture.

But why the imitation? Surely both birch and cherry are beautiful woods in the natural finish. Where one can choose between the natural wood and the stained wood, as in furniture, it is wise to take the natural finish for then it is not so easily marred and far easier to renovate when necessary. When a piece of mahoganized furniture is scratched or otherwise marred, it is next to impossible to make it good again, certainly not without doing the whole thing over. And no stained wood looks like the wood it is intended to simulate. The best woods for staining mahogany are, as stated, cherry and birch, but we might add maple also to this brief list. In fact, any hardwood of close texture and not pronounced grain will answer the purpose. It is the colour more than the wood that counts, though of course pine and poplar would not do. The wood must be perfectly dry and made as smooth as possible with plane and sandpaper. Here are some formulas for staining the wood:

In one quart of alcohol put two ounces of dragon’s blood, which must first be broken to pieces. Use strong alcohol, say 90 percent. Place the ingredients in a bottle and in a warm place, shaking it occasionally, to facilitate the dissolution. When this has occurred, it may be carefully strained and then used.

Rub the surface of the wood with a solution of nitrous acid. Having previously made a solution of dragon’s blood, one ounce to a pint of alcohol, add to it one-third ounce of carbonate of soda and mix all together, then filter it. This gives a very good colour and a finish with linseed oil may be given.

Usually wood stains are applied hot, for in this condition they penetrate the wood better. If a wood on account of its colour does not lend itself readily to the stain, you can bleach it first, using this solution: nine ounces of chloride of lime, one ounce of soda crystals, and two and one-half ounces of soft water. The surface of the wood must be given repeated applications of this liquid so that it will keep wet for one-half hour, or until the bleaching is accomplished. Then wash off with a solution of sulphuric acid, which follows with a washing with clear water. Let it dry, then it will take the stain clearly. A very simple and most excellent mahogany stain may be had by boiling two ounces of Bismarck brown in one gallon of water, continuing the boiling until the brown has dissolved. Let it cool, then strain it well. When about to use it, make it hot again, and add one-half pint of ammonia and one-fourth pint of turpentine.

Fillers for Turned Work

A firm in New York state manufacturing reels and bobbins for cordage and wire mills asks for a filler for its goods, saying by way of explanation that in turning the wood for spool barrels it often happens that there is a check in an otherwise sound piece, and it is this that they wish to fill. I presume that the filling could be done while the wood was on the lathe, after completion of turning, in which case the ordinary paste and liquid fillers would not do. Something like beau antique would seem to be the article required. This is simply a filler with some wax in it, coloured to suit the wood.

Without understanding exactly what it required in the premises, it is rather difficult to solve the problem. Wax, I think, would be as good as anything, made into a paste with turpentine, for it would fill the checks and not discolour the wood. In fact, there are many things that would fill the wood satisfactorily and we would suggest that some experiments be made. Cooked corn-starch with some whiting in it is sometimes used for wood filling. If the filling is done on the lathe, it is only necessary to place some of the filler on a rag and hold this to the revolving wood, just as turners fill cabinet wood articles on the lathe with oil and shellac.

Transparent Filling

This leads up to the subject of trans- parent wood filling. This is sometimes very desirable yet very difficult of achievement because the oil or other fluids used in the filling discolour the wood more or less, even when the filler is comparatively colourless. A new German process would seem to solve this problem for us. It undertakes to fill the pores of the wood with a trans- parent material which will prevent oil from striking through. First the wood is rubbed with oil, either raw linseed or polishing oil, then the superfluous oil is wiped off with a piece of soft paper wet with alcohol. Now the surface is ready for a coating of shellac, purified and clarified by filtration, this being sprayed on, using an atomizer. Then it is polished with a solution of celluloid in alcohol, rubbing with a regular pad. The pad parts with its liquid, which is then pressed into the pores of the wood; this celluloid solution dissolves the shellac in the pores of the wood and attaches itself firmly to the walls of the pores; it is of course perfectly trans- parent. This filling is also very elastic, on account of the celluloid, and it is said to become perfectly incorporated with any subsequent finish that may be placed on it. In this important respect it is even better than anything we have heretofore been using. The usual method of filling wood calls for mineral filling material, silica being commonly employed, though whiting and silver white also are used. The only possible objection to a mineral filler is that it will show up in the pores of the wood, more or less. Silica does not do this to any great extent, yet it does it a little. Whiting is very bad in this way, and corn-starch is still worse, if possible. A mineral sub- stance penetrates both the coarse and fine fibres of the wood, and, being opaque and of a different colour from the wood and the polishing coat which follows, both the colour and the grain Again, it is pointed out that while the mineral fillers are greedy of oil they do not hold the oil permanently, so that, while the oil in the polishing is taken in by the pores, it comes out of them later, under the influences of temperature. This is worth thinking about. Some troubles with finished furniture and cabinet work may be due to this very thing.


There are two processes of polishing that may be described here. By the quick method we take a handful of raw cotton and dip it in a mixture of equal parts of sweet oil and alcohol, rubbing the surface of the work with this in a circular manner. After a time, the polish begins to show. By the slow process we first bring the work to a perfect level by rubbing, then flow on a coat of flowing cabinet varnish, and when ready for rubbing rub it in with 4F pumice stone powder, after which clean up. Rottenstone powder also may be used in the rubbing, using a chamois and rubbing in a circular way. The rottenstone powder is always a good thing after the rubbing with pumice stone because it will rub out any fine scratches made by the pumice stone powder. Allow the rottenstone to dry on the work, then rub this off with the palm of the hand, in a rotary manner, wiping the hand every time it passes over the work.

Artificial Shellac Varnish

While not nearly so costly as it once was, owing to the denaturing of grain alcohol and consequent lowering of the price of both grain and wood alcohol, yet for some purposes it is too costly to use where its use would be very desirable. It can be bought in the market under another name as a substitute shellac varnish at a correspondingly low figure, but many of my readers will no doubt be interested in learning just how a clever imitation may be obtained. There are several ways or formulas, of course, but one may adequately indicate many. Here is a very good formula, published by G. B. Heckel of Philadelphia. Mr. Heckel states that this is a new and valuable material placed in the market by a New York man. It is a hard gum and like shellac dissolves readily in the usual solvents. It can be mixed with rosin and gives as a result a most beautiful lacquer or orange alcohol varnish imitation that has already found many uses. The formula is thus: Shellac, 100 pounds; French artificial kauri, 50 pounds; common rosin, 50 pounds; camphor gum, 1 oz.; acetone, 5 gals; and wood alcohol, 30 gals.

It is difficult to get the true colour of orange shellac in an imitation shellac, and there is only one substance that has been found to do this. That is aurine. One ounce of the tincture of aurine, which is of mineral origin, will colour one gallon of the shellac. It is dissolved in either wood or grain alcohol. The gums and liquids named are placed in a mixer and revolved until perfect dissolution ensues. I do not give this with the expectation that any consumer will try to make it, for he could not well do it without the usual varnish factory apparatus, nor would it pay him to do so, as the ready-for-use article may be bought cheap enough. Considering that at least three-fourths of the cost in finishing cheap furniture is in the labour, it would seem to be a matter or reducing this cost, rather than in using cheaper materials. In fact, neither would be the best thing. Cheap labour is not usually a good in- vestment where one seeks to produce goods at the lowest cost. Poor materials are not cheap excepting in price, for they will not do as much as a better article will, that is, as a rule. Of course, it is true that a filling with glue size will bear out a finish of one or two coats of varnish very nicely but then you will want to get rid of the goods as soon as possible.

Economy Based on Good Stock

 If you are building a business on reputation, even where cheap goods are the basis, you will need to satisfy the customer, not only in the matter of price but also in the more important matter of quality. You want to make a three-coat system answer the purpose and to do this it is necessary to use good, not poor, materials. A poor filling with two coats of rosin varnish will look as smiling as a summer morn when done, but in a very short time, maybe before you ship it, and certainly in the dealer’s shop, it will part from its gay lustre and look like an outcast. Rubbing varnish may be bought for less than a dollar, I imagine, but one costing will be the cheaper of the two. With it one thin coat will be better than one very heavy coat of the other. The thin coat will hold its gloss and look all right for a long time.

It surely is a bad thing to put a greenhorn at work filling wood. Of course, you explain it to him so clearly it would seem impossible for him not to do the work right, but you will find that the filler he has applied will have been mostly pulled out in the rubbing off. Without a good foundation, you cannot get a good finish. If, then, the filling has been pulled out by ignorant cleaning up, what is the condition of the work when it comes to the varnishing room?

Again, often when the filling has-been well done, the job is spoiled by the way the rubbing off of the surplus stuff is done. Carvings, etc., will be rubbed out with a whisk or some equally un- suitable tool. The filling had better be rubbed with a pad of tow, which will enable you to press or work the filling well into the pores of the wood, working across the grain of the wood. After cleaning up the job let it stand for a day or even two, which would be better still. For cheap work we will not sand- paper the filling after it is ready, but the same is very good where it can be done, using fine or worn sandpaper for removing the grit that is always on after the filling has been rubbed off. This makes a very hard and smooth surface for the varnish.

Now we are ready to apply a sur- facer, which may be had on the market in varying degrees of quality and price, but which I think is better than varnish because it has a mineral base that will form a very hard foundation for holding out the varnish. A good surface is easily put on, rubs well, and dries quickly. Also, they cover a great quantity of surface for a given quantity of material. On this surface apply a coat of rubbing varnish, and give it a good heavy coat, too. Rubbed, apply the polishing varnish, is the next step. A good tight, dust-free varnishing room is needed now. The cleaner you can keep the job, the better the work and the less time it will take. There are polishing powders on the market that make the polishing a very easy as well as quick matter. Cutting nearly as fast as pumice powder, yet they will not scratch the work. Wet the surface of the job with polish, sprinkle on some of the polishing powder, then rub with felt on a block. This removes grit and specks. Now take some cotton waste, dampen it with the polish, and rub briskly for a few minutes. Follow by cleaning up and wiping dry using clean waste, and you will have a good polish job with the expenditure of little time or work.

Explanation of Mission Oak

We have been asked to explain just what is Mission oak. First, it is oak stained to a greenish-black hue with a reddish tinge to the colour. That is as near as we can put its colour in words. The stain is made with lampblack, which is modified a little with chrome yellow and a trifle of rose pink. Thin with turpentine and add japan driers. After the stain has become dry, the wood may be filled with a paste filler stained with some of the mission stain. On this may be applied varnish with such subsequent finishing as may be desired, all in the usual way. If the finish is not wished as here outlined, simply stain the wood and oil or wax it. This is done by many, who prefer the simple finish. But either way will be good Mission style, which, by the way, does not appear to lose its popularity.

A video on box making with hand tools

Have you heard of Richard Maguire, I’m sure some of you have and some of you haven’t. He used to make work benches and I’m not entirely sure what he does now. He started a woodworking blog called The English Woodworker where from time to time he makes excellent instructional videos for sale on building furniture entirely by hand.

This small video above I’ve shared with you from his YouTube channel is a pleasure to watch. The box he makes is nothing fancy in fact I care very little for it. But what’s captivated me is how the tools he uses just sings in his hands. You can truly say that the tools are an extension of his body, that and his tools are one. I love the wooden planes work so beautifully in his hands and btw the try plane and coffin smoother he made them himself. Richard is a phenomenal craftsman and an excellent informative teacher.

Something I’ve noticed though is the similarities in the style of work between himself and Paul Sellers. The way they plane and feather off their strokes or their ripping and cross cutting in the vice and chopping a mortise with a bench chisel. I could be wrong on this but it may be a British thing. The Americans work differently without going into any detail and us Aussies who are few left that still work by hand are a cross between the two nations. It may interest you to know that only 2% of Australians nationwide continue to work wood by hand. The largest in the world being the Unites States then England. Unfortunately the rest of the Europe is just as disinterested in hand work as Australia. I can’t remember where I came across these statistics but it was by chance that I did. If I happen to come across them again I will post them here for you to look at.

Enjoy the video.

Discrimination in the Buying of Stock

Discrimination or careful selection in the purchase of stock for manufacturing purposes does not mean that a man should buy the highest grade of stock on the market or anything of that kind. It is imperative that we understand this distinction at the present time because there is being offered to and urged upon the furniture manufacturers and other users of hardwood in various forms low-grade stock in hardwoods. It does not follow that because a furniture manufacturer, for example, buys and works up low- grade stock that he will produce an inferior article of furniture or even have inferior wood.

Grade of Hardwoods

The main distinction between low- grade and high-grade stock in hardwood is that mingled in with the good material in the low-grade stock is a lot of defects that must be trimmed out in working to make it clear. When these are trimmed out and clear stock is secured, this clear stock is just the same as stock from a board that is clear all the way through. In other words, the clear stock and the low-grade quite commonly come from the same log, a certain percentage of one and a certain percentage of the other. The material is all the same. Indeed, if there is any difference it is probable that lots of the low-grade is superior in strength and of the finest grain, because quite frequently it is the interior or heart of the wood. Lots of the clear stock comes from the outside and is either

Distinction in grades of hard woods, trimming out the defects, selection and grading, and other profitable pointers for purchasers

sappy or close to the sap and consequently is more open than the interior of the tree. It is from this interior that lots of the low-grade comes. Of course, there is a lot of low-grade from the outside, trimmings from cutting timbers and ties.

Stock Cut to Specific Dimensions

Where a furniture manufacturer buys his stock cut to specific dimensions at the mill in buying stock quite naturally implies buying the highest grade of material offering, because the stock is already trimmed to size and should be clear and of proper grain. Then the matter of selection is simply one of grading. However, when a furniture factory goes to buy lumber to be cut up and refined at its own plant then it is a different matter. It will be found here and there that certain kinds of defects may cause more waste than others or make it more difficult to get clear stock in the dimensions required. It is seldom that there are any really large dimensions required in furniture making. No ordinary piece of furniture ever calls for a piece of clear lumber as large as an ordinary clear board. It may be as wide but it will not be full length. Consequently, one may either buy clear short length stock or buy rough lumber that has knots or other defects and by trimming these out get clear short lengths or small dimensions and when this is properly done the resultant product is, as stated above, just as good as if it came from an entirely clear board. The main point for discrimination aside from that of selecting the kind of timber wanted is to discriminate in selecting such lumber as will cut the greatest percentage of clear stock into the dimensions wanted, that is to give one the most good stock for the same amount of money. It doesn’t matter whether that stock is No. 3 common oak, No. 2, No. 1 or log run, by getting sample lots, making a note of the cost per thousand feet in the rough, trimming it up and measuring the exact amount of good stock gotten out of it for furniture and comparing this with the cost per thousand one can soon arrive at a demonstration of which is the best to buy. Of course, there must be taken into consideration the cost of doing the trimming and reducing to dimensions.

Utilisation of Material

In following out tests or experiments of this kind, if the work is carried far enough, it may be found that stock from certain mills of an even grade with stock of other mills will work better because of the grade of timber or nature of the defects, and it is out of this knowledge, knowledge gained through careful attention to experiments with different grades and kinds of lumber, that one gains knowledge for use in buying lumber with discrimination. This knowledge is becoming essential for other small and large workshops including factories consuming lumber now, because the great burden of the mill man is that of low-grade stock and more of this must be utilised in such work. Otherwise the price of the clear stock will have to be raised beyond the reach of many purchasers in order for the mill man to make a profit out of their stumpage. The great need is utility, devising ways and means to use every bit of our hardwood stumpage to the best advantage. We can do it by experimenting and carefully discriminating and selecting stock. They can do this and not only help the mill men but quite frequently the furniture manufacturer might be able to further his own interest at the same time.