Quran Desk Carved

I have finished finalising the design of my Quran Desk. I am more than happy with how it has turned out, and I am now ready to build them for sale for my online shop https://etsy.com/au/shop/woodnwareshandwork Everything is entirely handmade, which is why everything takes so long to build, but it’s worth the wait.

I’m no longer going to be taking custom orders. I’m going to concentrate on building the online shop. These are exciting times for me, as I’m doing projects I actually enjoy building.


Fine Work with Few Tools in Oman

By Wayne Harris, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

"Turning" without a lathe- After adzing a rough billet round, a craftsman in Oman trues up the cylinder for a bed leg with a bench plane.

My biggest reservation when I was asked to accept an assignment in the sultanate of Oman was the prospect of leaving my well-equipped workshop behind in Canada. I began scheming: The power in the Middle East is 240v, 50Hz. I could get the equipment with universal motors to work if I took along a transformer. But the induction motors would all have to be rewound or replaced. Faced with expenses, I decided to pack a chest of hand tools. I told myself this would be an opportunity to improve my hand skills. But I found myself wondering how much I could accomplish without the machines I’d come to rely on so heavily.

After I’d been here a while, I met a building consultant who took me to some woodworking shops. The first shop we visited was in an open-air compound in a busy industrial sector filled with East Indian and Pakistani expatriates. I was totally unprepared to see the pieces they were building.

The level of work in cabinetry, marquetry and carving was breathtaking, I don’t believe you can find examples of workmanship like this in North America or Europe today; The cost of assembling the required large team of highly skilled woodworkers would be prohibitive. But here, in the scalding heat, in roughly equipped shops, craftsmen were producing glorious doorways, furniture, shelves and cabinets. The experience repeated itself shop after shop.

Run of the mill in the Middle East- Oman craftsman working exclusively with hand tools regularly produce even more elaborately carved work than this piece. The carving is seen as an embellishment to add to sales.

Most shops had photo albums full of flawless work in styles from around the world and through the centuries. The attitude was consistent from shop to shop: “if you want it, we can make it.” If they didn’t have a design or copy on hand, no problem. Just bring a photo from a magazine. In each shop, I would ask to see the craftsman’s tools. Each time I asked, the tool junkie in me faced disappointment. The beautiful inlay, the joinery and the intricate, fluid carving were always done with a small kit of nondescript, beat-up tools. Gouges and chisels were invariably handmade and rough. A plane and an adze or two would be in evidence on the battered bench, and perhaps a screwdriver (though rarely any screws). I felt inadequate. They were producing heirloom-quality goods with next to nothing for tools. I watched a man produce legs for the base of a bed. The plans called for them to be turned and carved. Amazingly, he did the work without a lathe. He marked the blank on both ends and proceeded to waste stock with an adze. Once the majority of excess wood was removed, he hand planed the stock to a smooth cylinder and began to carve. I guessed it would have taken me at least 20 or 30 minutes to set up my lathe, mark the stock, rough out the shape and smooth to final dimensions. This man got the same results in 5 minutes without leaving his bench. He carved with the few chisels and gouges he had. When he needed a special cut, he held his chisels in some of the most awkward positions you can imagine. I would have left my bench and gone downtown to buy the right tool to make the cuts. He compensated for having the wrong tool with his skill.

With every shop I see here, my admiration rises. We western woodworkers have been led to believe that professional tools will save us time and get us professional results. But my experience here leads me to believe that those very tools might be holding us back from gaining the skills we so greatly desire. I have resolved to learn from my new neighbours and to try to do more with less.


This was a great article, but sadly not long enough to give us a more in-depth insight as to how they work. I would have loved to see more examples of their work and practices. No doubt poverty has forced them to work with less and their sheer will to survive has made them into master craftsmen. We can easily visit YouTube to see how things operate because we have the power of the internet at our disposal. Unfortunately, it is insufficient to achieve the same level of appreciation that the author did. You have to visit their businesses to obtain a thorough understanding of how they operate on a daily basis and, ideally, to pick up a few tips without getting in the way. Despite their abilities and attempts to create exceptional furniture, they are underpaid with the goal of keeping them below poverty levels but are given a lifeline, so we can enjoy their wonderful handicrafts for a pittance of the price. Unfortunately, that is the nature of human beings.

Commentary on flattening a board

In this short video, I’m covering a few small things I missed out in the video “Flattening a board.”

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Stains and dyes from The Cabinetmaker’s Guide

by Robert D. Mussey

The Cabinetmaker’s Guide, possibly the first finishing guidebook
printed in America, was a workshop standby throughout the 19th century.
It hasn’t been reprinted recently, but may be available in major
libraries. Note the worker polishing a tabletop by the fire, which is a
good way to keep the wax flowing freely.

I reformulate original stain and dye recipes to determine what the original colours were like. But I use alcohol soluble aniline for restoration or conservation work because they dry quickly, don’t penetrate as deeply, or rapidly as water-soluble aniline, and because they are reasonably lightning fast. I want my conservation to last more than ten years.
One of the first principles of conservation is to make any repair reversible, so it can be redone if a better technique is discovered. Original colours are dramatic, and not yet completely accepted for conservation, so when I colour a piece I put down a barrier coat first, then colour the finish that goes over it. The stain has not soaked into the wood, so the colouring is reversible. On new work, the choice of colour is my own; furniture makers have much more freedom than conservators. I think original colours will become acceptable for furniture conservation, used where appropriate to show people what the maker saw when he had completed the piece.

These recipes are from The Cabinetmaker’s Guide:

Red dye. Take 2 pounds (907.18 g) of genuine brazildust, add four gallons of water, put in as many veneers as the liquid will cover, boil them for 3 hours; then add 2 ounces (75.6 gram) of alum, and 2 ounces (75.6 g) of aquafortis, and keep it lukewarm until it has struck through.

Brazildust ; dust of brazilwood, Caesalpinia echinata, gives a very bright red dye. It was such an important item of commerce, that the country was named after the tree.
Aquafortis is nitric acid, reagent grade concentration.

Fine blue. Take a pound of oil of vitriol in a clean glass phial, into which put 4 oz (151.2 g) of indigo, and proceed as before directed in dyeing.

This dye, and others of similarly unusual colours, would have been used for marquetry or by musical-instrument makers. Oil of vitriol is sulphuric acid.

To stain beech a mahogany colour, take 2 ounces (75.6 gram) of dragon’s blood, break it into pieces and put it into a quart of rectified spirits of wine; let the bottle stand in a warm place, shake it frequently, and when dissolved it is fit for use.

Dragon’s blood has been used for centuries, it is a dark, red resinous exudation from the fruit of the rattan palm, Calamus drago. Spirits of wine, is alcohol distilled from wine; rectified means purified. Ethyl alcohol or shellac thinner from a paint store is the same thing. My reformulation of this stain came out a very bright red.
Dragon’s blood, when compared to other reds, is fairly lightfast. If you stain the wood directly, it is fugitive; but if you dye shellac with it, it is much less so, because the shellac locks the colour in.

Another method for black stain. Take one pound of logwood, boil it in two quarts of water, add a double handful of walnut peeling. Boil it up again, take out chips, add a pint of the best vinegar, and it will be fit for use; apply it boiling hot. Note-This will be much improved if, after it is dry, we take a solution of green copperas dissolved in water, in the proportion of an ounce to a quart, and apply it hot to the above.

Logwood was an important dyestuff from Haematoxylum campechianum, a tree found in Central America and the West Indies. It gives a range of colours from red to purple to black and was used as dust, shavings, or chips.

I have obtained materials for these and other recipes from the following firms: H. Behlen and Bros., Rt. 30 N., Amsterdam, NY. 1 20 1 0 ; Laurence McFadden Co., 7430 State Rd. , Philadelphia, Pa. 19136 ; A. F. Suter and Co. Ltd. , Swan Wharf, 60 Dace Road, Bow, London E3, England; James B. Day Co., Day Lane, Carpentersville, Ill. 60110. For further information: The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques, Ralph Mayer, Viking, New York, rev.
ed. , 1982. Painting Materials, A short encyclopedia, Rutherford Gettens and George Stout, Dover, 1966. — R. D. M.

Old Finishes

What put the shine on furniture’s Golden Age
by Robert D. Mussey

Finishing is the least studied and most inaccessible aspect of our antique furniture heritage. The proportions and workmanship of a Philadelphia highboy are direct and observable manifestations of the skills of its maker. But what of its finish ? Is the mellow patina, much admired today, anything like the finish that left the workshop 200 years ago?
We can’t learn much from the pieces themselves. Most museum conservators agree that perhaps only one percent of our antique furniture bears indisputable remnants of its original finish. Scientific tests may inadvertently detect later refinishing or modern materials indistinguishable from the originals : there’s no way to tell new beeswax from old. When we turn to historical documents, much obscure, ambiguous or mysterious material conceals the pearls of hard information. The old craft guilds guarded their trade secrets as closely as the independent finishers who proudly, and loudly, announced the discovery of the “perfect” finishing potion. Formularies, cabinetmakers’ and varnishes’ account books, bills, histories, and dictionaries of the period are difficult to interpret. Account books, for example, so rich in information about woods used and prices charged, say little about finishes.
When materials are mentioned, the names vary from region to region: 2 to 5 different words may describe just one material. And more than 200 different resins, oils, fillers, waxes, and pigments were used in 18th and early 19th century furniture finishes.
It is equally difficult to say who did the finishing in 18th century American workshops. I haven’t found a single reference to finishers in any of the hundreds of account books I have examined. Finishing was not a specialised trade in the U.S. as it was in Britain, though there were one or two well known specialists in large cities, like Thomas Johnson in Boston, who did Japanning, graining, marbleising and gilding.
Fancy painting, as on the Baltimore chair, was done by fine-art painters. It seems probable that cabinetmakers, particularly in small shops, did their own finishing, aided by various guide books and formularies. I have spent the past five years negotiating these obstacles, comparing and analysing some 5000 documents, reformulating many of the recipes for stains, dyes and finishes, and applying them using original methods to see how they work and to watch how they age. I have placed more emphasis in my research on books that were frequently reprinted. Any of ten reprinted books was probably a popular one with working craftsmen. The first furniture-finishing guidebook known to have been printed in America, The Cabinetmaker’s Guide, (Greenfield, Mass. ,1825), was reprinted numerous times, and parts were pirated for other books throughout the 19th century. The Guide was pocket-sized, easy to use. I have two copies, from 1827 and 1837, both are dog-eared, paint splattered and muddied signs of a well-used book.
I have formed some broad conclusions from my research; several of these have surprised me. I started out wanting to prove that shellac and French polishing were widely used during the 18th century. Instead, I discovered that French polish was not invented until about 1810, and that oil and wax were the predominant finishes of the period, favoured even on many high-style pieces. And I found that the finish that left the shop was not mellow and glowing, but probably brilliantly coloured, bright and shiny.
Stains, dyes, oils, and waxes will be discussed here, limited to the period 1700 to 1830. Before that time, references are too scattered to be of use, and after 1830, mass production, chemical advances and burgeoning world trade profoundly changed furniture finishing. I’ll discuss the varnishes of the 18th and 19th centuries in a subsequent article.

Surface preparation-The quality of the piece determines how much surface preparation it received. No elaborate smoothing practices were used on ordinary pieces, and many table tops clearly display the corrugations left by hand planes. Finer furniture requires more careful preparation. Andre Jacques Roubo’s three-volume treatise, The Art of the Woodworker (Paris: 1769-74) suggests this elaborate sequence for veneered and marquetry pieces: smoothing planes followed by a variety of hooked cabinet scrapers, a hard rub with bundles of rushes (shave- or saw-grass), abrasion with solid pumice-stone blocks lubricated with water, further abrasion with sealskin, and finally, burnishing with slightly rounded blocks of hardwood. 

The Cabinetmaker’s Guide recommends glass-papering the surface after careful scraping. The author complains that glass-paper was being cheapened by adding sand, then gives his own instructions: pulverise broken window glass in an iron mortar, put it through sieves of appropriate fineness, and sift onto the glue-covered surface of heavy cartridge-paper.
Early in the 19th century, many recipes appeared using plaster of Paris, “hartshorn”, and other natural clay-like materials to fill open grain before finishing. These could be dyed or stained and were mixed with a binder such as linseed oil or honey. Such fillers were previously used only on japanned and gilded pieces, where intensely pigmented varnish-paints were laid over a thick filler-ground. If clear finishes were applied over plaster-type fillers, the stain would eventually fade, and the filler would appear as unsightly white speckles. In an earlier grain-filling method, the surface was covered with a thin coating of linseed oil and then abraded with a flat block of solid pumice stone. With enough pressure, the resulting paste of oil and fine wood dust would at least partially fill the grain. After dyeing, the excess was wiped or scraped off.

Colouring- Craftsmen of the 18th century experimented with a vast range of materials for colouring wood and wood finishes.
Documents of the period complain that colours “flee with the light,” and the search for permanent natural pigments and dyes, not only for wood but also for fabrics and paints, spawned an entire industry and vast “scientific ” research. The American colonies were a major source of colourants, such as logwood, indigo, oak bark and walnut bark, all of which were exported in quantities of hundreds of tons. 
Craftsmen then used the terms “stain” and “dye” as imprecisely as craftsmen today. We define “stain” as a thin layer of coloured pigment lightly penetrating the surface of the wood. “Dye” is any substance producing colour changes by chemical reaction with the wood fibre or by diffusion of the coloured dye-stuff deep into the cellular structure of the wood.
Most 18th century stains and dyes would have coloured the wood in several ways at once. Stains with strongly acidic vehicles, like uric acid, or stains containing material like iron filings, would have coloured by chemical reaction as well as by pigments contained in the stain. Likewise, many dyes contained pigments which lodged in the wood fibres. 
The Cabinetmaker’s Guide distinguishes stain from dye by degrees of penetration : Staining differs from the process of dyeing, inasmuch as it merely penetrates just below the surface of the wood, instead of colouring its substance throughout, as it does in dyeing; and one is used for beautifying the face after the work is finished, while the other is employed on the wood before it is manufactured, in the state of veneers, to be cut into strings or bands for inlaying borders and which has of late years got much out of use, principally owing to the fault so much complained of the colours flying.
Nearly all the stains and dyes of the period were extremely fugitive by modern standards. Some would not have lasted more than a few years. Often a museum piece displays only the faded glory of the finisher’s art. Red and yellow colourants, frequently used, faded quickly. Brown stains, mixed with reds, greens and blacks, soon faded to the faint green tint we see today on some antiques. I have found bright red areas preserved beneath the brass of mahogany pieces, a far cry from the brown, red-brown or yellow-brown stains used for period reproductions. Some of my reformulations of the original mahogany stain recipes come close to this brisk hue. 
There is strong documentary evidence that staining of furniture before finishing was much less common in the 18th century than we assume. Thomas Sheraton, in his 1803 Cabinet Dictionary, wrote, “The art of staining wood was more in use at the time when inlaying was in fashion. At present, red and black stains are those in general use.” It is also possible that staining was more common in America than in England, but the documents I’ve examined from throughout the colonies infrequently mention staining and staining materials. 
Rural cabinetmakers may have used stains more often than their city cousins. Rural clients couldn’t afford the finely figured woods or expensive mahogany favoured in high-style Boston or Philadelphia work. So exotic woods were imitated by graining, mahoganizing and staining, or they emphasised the wild grain of a favourite wood, like tiger maple.
Nearly all colourant formulas were based on water or alcohol. These have great clarity and penetration, and deeply accentuate the structure and figure of wood. The rather muddy oil- based-pigment stains common in today’s hardware stores were unknown in the 18th-century finishing shop. Likewise, only a very few period stains resemble the modern class of chemical stains, in which colourants or acids in the wood react with chemical counterparts in the staining solution. 
More than one hundred different materials were used in the 18th century in the making of stains and dyes. These range from the exotic to the mundane-like old files or walnut husks in solutions containing vinegar, urine, or wine.
The Cabinetmaker’s Guide calls for chipped logwood, a source of a valuable red-black dye, verdigris (copper acetate), copper (iron sulphate), and barberry root among other ingredients for dyes. Stains might require archil, a Canary Island lichen, or dragon’s blood, a resin from the fruit of the East Asian rattan palm. A red stain was made from brazilwood extract soaked in quicklime slaked in urine and painted hot onto the wood. If the customer only knew!
Attempting to give more brilliant light fast colours, many of the recipes use such strong vehicles as sulphuric, muriatic or uric acid. Unfortunately, these acids contributed to the decomposition of varnishes applied over the stains. The resins and oils used in the 18th-century varnishes were very sensitive to acids and alkalies, and may be rapidly degraded in reaction with these. This helps account for the survival of so few original varnish finishes.
Besides staining and dyeing the wood directly, finishers also coloured the spirit varnishes they applied to the wood. 
Used to match the colours of diverse woods or to improve drab wood, they were called” changing varnish,” and were coloured with various unusual substances as well as with wood chips and bark of oak, chestnut, walnut, or sumac. Similar mixtures applied to tinware, brassware or furniture brasses were called “Iackers.” Shellac was the dominant resin in these “backers,” its reddish or golden colour heightening the golden effect desired from brass. Shellac is a spirit-soluble resin that Polymerises significantly, the process speeded by heat.
Shellac-based “lackers” were often baked onto metals, giving a very hard, lustrous surface, resistant to oxidation, discoloration, and the formation of copper acetates. Original furniture brasses were probably bright and “brassy,” not at all tarnished like those favoured in today’s reproductions. 

Finishes-Once the wood surfaces were levelled, smoothed, filled and stained, one of several types of coatings was applied. These fall within four broad categories: oil finishes, wax finishes, varnishes, and combinations of these Eighteenth-century writers on finishes list a whole array of criteria for the ideal finish: preservation of the wood from decay and insects, preservation of the colour of the wood, and exclusion of atmospheric moisture . It should also be hard, shining, transparent, and flexible, should not yellow or crack with age or turn white with spills, and it should hold up to hard use. The same qualities are sought by coatings manufacturers today, and no finish, then or now, fills the entire bill. Finishers experimented with an amazing range of materials in the 18th century, and some of their solutions were excellent.
Indeed, some are still used today. Since ancient times, craftsmen have known that various animal, vegetable, and seed oils help to preserve wood. A wide selection of these was offered for sale by American merchants and manufacturers in the 18th century. Linseed (flaxseed) oil, the vehicle for most house paints, was by far the most frequently used furniture-finishing material. Poppy seed and walnut oils were preferred for their light colour and transparency, but they were expensive. Since the men who finished furniture were also gilding picture frames, Japanning tea waiters and painting houses and carriages, it is not surprising that, where possible, they used the same materials throughout their work.
Linseed oil finishes were widely used-despite their disadvantages: they were not durable, waterproof or alcohol proof, and they darkened with age, though they were repaired easily with fresh oil and some rubbing. Free from tariffs imposed by the English, both boiled and raw linseed oil were cheap and widely available. In lists of hundreds of furniture types, several influential English and American trade price-books quote prices only for oil finishing and polishing.
Pressed cold, linseed oil has a very light colour; pressed hot, it is more plentiful, but considerably darker. To bleach out this colour, fresh-drawn linseed oil was placed in shallow pans or bottles in the sunlight. Alternatively, the solid impurities were precipitated by adding fuller’s earth (a naturally occurring aluminium silicate) which absorbed the brownish colouring matter. Egg-white was sometimes added as a purifier. Linseed oil dries very slowly on its own. Coatings of raw oil
may remain tacky for years. Over the centuries, many methods have been tried to make it more siccative , or fast drying. In the late Middle Ages, oil was merely boiled. Later, burnt horn and bone, garlic, powdered lead-crystal glass, or alum were added to the boiling oil to try to enhance its drying properties. Most recipes of the 18th century employed lead compounds as siccatives: litharge, massicot or minium, all lead oxides long used as artists’ pigments. Once boiled, filtered, cooled and bleached, the oil was ready for use. The boiling and purification of linseed oil provided considerable income for many painters and varnishes in New England, but the occupation carried with it the danger of fire. Fire and lead poisoning were the bane of the finisher.
Oil finishing was as simple then as it is today. The oil was applied with a rag or brush, full strength or thinned with turpentine, and allowed to soak into the wood. The excess was wiped off with a coarse rag. After a day’s drying time, another coat was applied, and ideally this was repeated until the wood would accept no more oil. In practice, a few superficial coats were probably all that were used. The total oil-finishing time for a desk may have amounted to only two to four hours. Prices for oil polishing formed a small proportion of the total costs recorded for making a piece. 
Basic oiling practices varied. Sheraton, in his Cabinet Dictionary, outlines a method using brick dust and linseed oil, plain or stained red with alkanet root. Brick dust and oil formed a slightly abrasive paste which was rubbed on the surface until the wood warmed, then cleared off with wheat bran , leaving a bright surface. For off-colour mahogany, or better grade mahogany that” wants briskness of colour,” Sheraton recommends a reddish polishing oil including alkanet root, dragon’s blood, and rose pink, a pigment made with brazilwood dye.
I was surprised to find that wax finishes were also among those commonly used by 18th-century cabinetmakers. Wax, like oil, was cheap, available, and easy to use. It was frequently listed in account books and mentioned in the literature of the period. 
Other natural waxes were known, but beeswax had been favoured for centuries as a finish on wood, a medium for paint, a waterproof stopping for boats, an embalming resin, and a flatting agent and final moisture barrier for varnishes. It is probably the natural organic finish most resistant to destructive oxidation. A modern analysis of beeswax used on a Punic warship showed that the wax remained chemically unchanged after 2, 000 years. This extreme longevity was noted repeatedly by 18th-century writers on finishes. Beeswax was produced in large quantities in New England, where bee culture was a highly developed art. Samuel Grant, a prominent Boston upholsterer and merchant, bought up to 450 lb (204.12 kg) at a time for use in his own shop, for sale to other cabinetmakers and for export to England.
The purification of wax by extraction of the honey impurities with water was cheap and simple, and two forms of purified wax, yellow and white, were known. The yellow still contained some impurities and was less expensive. The white, or clear beeswax, carefully filtered and bleached in the sun, was preferred for the finest work. 
Thomas Sheraton describes two methods of wax polishing he says are typical. “Sometimes they polish with bees wax and a cork for inside work. The cork is rubbed hard on the wax to spread it over the wood, and then they take fine brick-dust and sift it through a stocking on the wood, and with a cloth the dust is rubbed till it clears away all the clamming. At other times, they polish with soft wax, which is a mixture of turpentine and beeswax, which renders it soft, a cloth of itself, will be sufficient to rub it off with.” For chair polish, Sheraton mixed wax with a small quantity of turpentine, heated this in a varnish pan (a double boiler), added Oxford ochre for colour and a little copal varnish. The cooled mixture was worked into a ball and applied with a stiff brush, forced into the grain, and then rubbed off.
Wax finishes were widely used on high-style 18th-century French furniture. The only complete description of this process that I have found is in Roubo’s The Art of the Cabinetmaker. For veneered cabinetwork, the finest quality wax was melted into a polisher, which was a bundle of rags bound tightly with wire, and with which the whole surface was rubbed. The heat generated melted the wax, and the rubbing forced it into the pores. Roubo cautions against using cork polishers, which can get too warm and loosen the veneer. 
When the wax was evenly spread, the excess was scraped off. Roubo’s wax scraper was similar to a cabinet scraper, but with a slightly rounded edge instead of a burr. Cleaned and polished with a rag, the work was “extremely even, and glossy as a mirror.” For porous or reddish woods like rosewood or amaranth, powdered shellac was spread over the wax and rubbed in vigorously with the polisher to fill the open grain and heighten the colour. Colophony (rosin) was used to stop up open grain in black woods like ebony.
A high-gloss finish was typical of nearly all high-style furniture finishes of the 18th century. Experimenting with Roubo’s wax finish, I found that it gives a much higher gloss than we associate with wax finishes today. Roubo built a wax finish in the same way as a varnish finish, and the wax became a fairly thick, coherent body on top of the wood. And he used only 100 % pure beeswax, which has better refracting qualities than today’s wax emulsions. 
Roubo prescribes a different process for common furniture: the wax was mixed with one-third tallow and rubbed off with a serge cloth. In order to spread the wax better and drive it deeper into the open pores, one uses sometimes a sheet-metal pan in which glowing coals have been put, and this is held as close as possible to the work in order to warm the wax. In place of the pan, one can also use a glowing red-hot piece of iron, which is even better, because it makes the wax liquid which flows into the open pores more easily.
Though it was possible to get a high gloss finish with wax, most finishers probably found the required method too time-consuming. Wax also has many of the same disadvantages as oil finishes. An 18th-century writer summarised the advantages and disadvantages of the common wax finish, noting: “Waxing stands shock; but it does not possess, in the same degree as varnish, the property of giving lustre and of heightening its tints. The lustre it communicates is dull, but this inconvenience is compensated by the facility with which any accident that may have altered its polish can be repaired, by rubbing it with a piece of fine cork.” 
Easy to obtain, fast and easy to use and repair, oil and wax finishes were ideally suited for 18th-century finishing needs.
Though pure beeswax finishes are rarely used today, the many virtues of oil finishes, particularly their low sheen, are once again appreciated and have made them a finish of choice, as they were 250 years ago. 

Robert Mussey, of Milton, Mass. , trained as a cabinetmaker and wood finisher, then served an internship in furniture conservation at the Henry Ford Museum. He is head of the furniture conservation workshop at the Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities in Boston, Mass.

Sharpening Screwdrivers

by Michael Podmkaniczky

In 1964, I was blessed with a Latin teacher who was as happy to avoid the drudgery of classical studies as his charges were. His nonacademic interests were wide and varied, and he was easily sidetracked by his resourceful students. On one such ram bling day, while discoursing the development of the internal combustion engine by BMW, he observed that in order to make some vital adjustment, a properly sharpened screwdriver was necessary. This brought a back-row dozer to sudden, albeit sleepy, attention: “Sharpen a screwdriver, sir?”

“Indeed, scholar Westcott. . . Sharpen a screwdriver.”

I don’t remember just what tangent we managed to steer the screwdriver tale toward, but the vignette came back to me the other day when I was asked about the same thing.

The first requirement for a screwdriver is that its blade positively engage the slot of a (wood) screw well enough to re­ main in place while you turn and tighten the fastener. The second is that this must be accomplished without mangling the surrounding wood, or, if the screw is to be countersunk and plugged (as is usually the case in boat building), without de­ forming the bunghole. Screwdrivers straight from the hardware store don’t perform either task very well, but with a little “sharpening” they will.

Since the screw manufacturer kindly provides a slot across the whole width of the screw head, you might as well take advantage of it. You therefore want a screwdriver tip that’s exactly as wide as the screw head and that fits tightly in the slot, so as to bear along its entire width. Thus, you really need a set of drivers, individually matched to each and every screw size you use.

A screwdriver tip that’s too wide will overhang the ends of the slot. When driving a counter­ sunk screw, it will ream out the bunghole, resulting in a poorly fitting and unsightly bung.

If you’re trying to tighten down a screw flush with the surface, that last turn will score the wood around the head, or raise nasty burrs on brass hardware and fittings.

Most manufacturers make screwdrivers with spade-shaped tips, which means that the blade will make the hole even bigger as it goes deeper into the wood. You can prevent this by grinding the tip to a constant width.

A screwdriver tip that’s too thin will bear only at its corners, defacing the screw slot and increasing the likelihood that the tip will jump out of the channel and gouge the woodwork. This problem, bad enough with flat-head screws, is even worse with round-heads because the slot is so shallow at the extremes. Ask yourself why you push so hard when tightening a fastening with a stock tool. The answer is that you’re trying to keep the tip from parting company with the slot.

Because the threads of a screw do all the work, pulling it-

tightly into the wood, you should have only to apply torque; forward pressure should be unnecessary. But the faces of a stock screwdriver taper slightly, preventing the blade from squarely contacting the slot’s sides, and the tip therefore tends to ride up and out when torque is applied. The harder you twist, the greater the tendency of the tip to pop out, and the greater the force required to keep it jammed in place. If the tip does jump out, all the force you’re exerting will be directed at the surrounding wood, too bad ! Yankee-style screwdrivers can apply only as much “push” as the spring is strong, and they invariably pop out if not dressed properly. The result is a less than-decorative “Yankee Doodle” across your pride and joy.

The solution is to dress the tip of the screwdriver so that its faces are parallel to the sides of the slot. Bits designed to be power-driven with an electric drill are invariably ground this way by the manufacturer-they would be lethal otherwise. You can grind a screwdriver to the correct shape as easily as you would hollow-grind the bevel on a chisel. The tip will wear in use, and now and then you’ll have to go to the grinder to square up rounded edges. Such touch-ups will gradually shorten
the blade, but you should be able to drive a few thousand screws before you have to hollow-grind the blade again.

For major league screw installation, such as in boat planking, maximum torque is supplied by a brace and screwdriver bit. Once in a great while, this may even break a screw, but a properly sharpened screwdriver bit will engage the slot so well that even a screw that’s been broken above the threads can be coaxed Out of the bunghole by turning it counterclockwise with the brace and gently pulling it. Try that with a stock bit. The ultimate touch, the pièce de résistance of the craftsman’s ego, is to ever so slightly grind away the corners of the sharpened tool to make the tip conform perfectly to the bevelled edges of the screw slot.

Michael Podmaniczky is a boat builder and Windsor chair maker. He lives in Thomaston, Maine.

Donations Cart Episode 4

This will be a four-episode build series on how to make a donations cart using only hand tools. This a rush order that I only had a few hours notice to build it. I was very stressed out.

Tools for the Making

The author makes tools for several reasons-to recapture the quality of days gone by, to meet the demands of special applications, and to improve on the designs available from mass producers. The objects shown on the facing page recapture the combined elegance of function and appearance that every first-rate cabinetmaker once expected from his tools.

I am probably the only active woodworker with both a Norris and Primus smoothing plane gathering dust on a shelf. The reason for this curious circumstance is that I have built replacements that come much closer to my personal vision of what a plane should be. l make guitars, working almost entirely with hand tools: a comprehensive collection of planes, saws, chisels, scraper blades and miscellany accumulated over 30 years. The scale of my instrument building does not call for heavy power tools, with their concentration-shattering din. Making musical instruments is essentially a quiet activity, a calming ambience in which I draw great physical and metaphysical pleasure from planing, sawing, scraping and otherwise working wood by hand. My idea of a good tool is a solid, well-made object that does the job it was designed to do. It should be comfortable to use and, I hope, look attractive. Finding hand tools that fit these particulars is not as easy as it once was. Power tools have pushed out many hand tools, and manufacturers have dropped others because turnover is too small by today’s high-volume standards. Lightweight plastics are fast replacing wooden handles (to the detriment of a handsaw’s balance), and high labour costs in industrialised countries will l increasingly shift manufacture to low-wage countries, where price will be more important than quality.
The whole ethos of merchandising has changed since the days when tools of durable excellence streamed from the factories of Victorian Britain. Tool manufacturers then shared the universal assumption that having a good product was the high road to competitive success. Skilled journeymen, the” marketplace” back then, demanded fine quality; lesser tools made for dilettantes were whimsically described as “Gent’s” tools.
Today, competitive pressures focus on that end of the market where the preempt I’ve word is not so much “good,” but “right”-the right tool, the right price, and the right merchandising. The appeal is aimed at the great mass of basically unskilled led buyers who are building shelves in their garages. The choice of colour for a plastic handle (involving market research and colour consultants) is counted a weightier matter than the alloy in the blade. For these and other reasons, I came to understand that if I wanted my dream plane, I would have to make it myself. I wanted tools that would not only function better than those on the market but look beautiful too. Using planes as much as I do, I soon realised their shortcomings. The Norris smoothing plane, a famous example from the golden age of British tool manufacture, has deficiencies that make it less than wonderful today. The front grip is a brief stub of wood offering a restricted handhold, and the closed handle is designed for the three-finger grip favoured by British woodworkers but alien to me. The screw adjusted cap is inefficient-a half-turn too little can affect the plane’s functioning. The cutting edge is concealed from view and can easily strike the bottom of the fixed screw cap or the top of the mouth, and the mouth is not adjustable. The things I really like about the Norris are its heft, coffin-sided shape, thick blade and the configuration of the wooden frog. My own design for a metal bench smoother was based on these Norris features.
The wood-bodied Primus plane is a well-made German tool with a cumbersome adjusting mechanism. Removing the blade for sharpening is an above average bother, and replacing it involves complete repositioning of the blade using two knobs. I find the Primus’ horn-style tote unsatisfying in terms of comfort and control. As a plus, the mouth opening can be changed by simple adjustment of a wooden insert. I wanted my plane to have an adjustable throat, depth-adjustment without slack, lever-action blade cap for fast blade removal, and a lateral adjustment by means of a concealed device that could not be knocked askew. I made many sketches and tried different styles of tote and handle before constructing the metal bench smoother shown on the facing page. The patterns for the brass lever cap and malleable iron body casting were made of wood, with the bent sides made of maple veneer laminated over a curved form. Both of these, plus the pattern for the sliding toe piece, were sand castings. The regulating mechanism parts, and cap lever, were built of boxwood and cast by a lost-wax foundry using inexpensive silicone moulds. Steel regulator shafts and knurled brass knobs were turned by a machine shop. Precise hand-fitting of all the regulator parts eliminated slack motion. Wooden parts are Brazilian
rosewood, the handle being a three-piece lamination. The blade is a 2-in. chrome vanadium replacement blade, 1/8 in. thick (available from Woodcraft or Garrett Wade).
For the wood-bodied plane, I used a laminate construction to avoid the difficult job of mortising the throat out of a solid block. Quartersawn teak was chosen for its dimensional stability, and the sole was lined with stainless steel. The metal lining is epoxied to the sole and secured with a “key” mortised into the front and back end of the body. These keys are hard soldered to the sole plate. Loosening the screw in back of the tote permits movement of an insert in the sole to open or close the mouth. This plane is a joy, comfortable to work with for long periods, and has the balance and heft that make it a good all -around plane. It holds a 1/3/4, -in. Chrome vanadium blade, 1/8 in. thick.
My total cost for four planes (jack and jointer in process) will average out to about $65 per plane. Not cheap, as planes go, but certainly a worthwhile investment to me. So far, I’ve built 22 tools-planes, try squares, mortising gauges, bevels, and spoke shaves.
Good commercial chisels are not in short supply, so my chisel making has been confined to special-purpose kinds. I particularly like the exceptional comfort of a chisel-handle shape based on the handle of an engraver’s burn in, used in conjunction with a square instead of round ferrule. A square ferrule automatically orients the hand in its proper working mode. I plan about 10 more tools, including block plane, instrument-maker’s vise, level, hand router, and hand drill of improved design. The time is not far off when China, India, and other developing countries will be shipping basic hand tools of very acceptable quality to world markets. It is interesting to speculate that domestic producers may then abandon the homeowner market and choose to focus on tools for the skilled woodworker. We might see a bench plane that is not a Ford, but a Mercedes. In the meantime, I’ve found that it’s entirely possible to make your own tools using the best materials available, and without the cost constraints manufacturers have to live with. Not the least benefit of surrounding yourself with elegant tools is the constant stimulus to do work that measures up to the tools.

Irving Sloane makes guitars in Brussels, Belgium. He has written several books on guitar construction, and these, too, focus on the benefits of making special-purpose tools. Making his inlaid bevel gauge.

Donations Cart Episode 2

This will be a four-episode build series on how to make a donations cart using only hand tools. This a rush order that I only had a few hours notice to build it. I was very stressed out. After many years of not recording, this is my first video project, and I am optimistic that there will be many more to come. If you haven’t already, please show your support by liking and subscribing to my channel.