Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, from the Maryland overlook. I hiked a 6.6 mile loop today, which included a stop to take this photo. It was relatively crowded on this cold and windy day, so I imagine this is a trail to avoid in the warmer months! What a nice view. 📷
Turkey Point light station, Maryland. This is one small inlet of the Chesapeake, gives a sense of just how large this bay is: largest estuary in the U.S. 📷
Remember Letterpress? I began a match in March that is still underway. We have yet to use 3 letters on the board (Z,M,K). We are avoiding these tiles at all cost. I don’t know why. It was an unspoken, organic decision. We just hit 401 words. This match may not end. 🕹️
Tiny Tenkara for Tiny Streams
I deployed my Tiny Tenkara rod (4’ 11”) on a small mountain stream in Pennsylvania today. Worked great on brookies, until I unexpectedly caught a big brown. I lost that fight in seconds.
After that, I switched to my (much) longer and stronger Dragontail Mutant Tenkara rod in a bout of optimism… and then caught only trees and bushes. For those who Tenkara, just want to share that such a tiny rod exists — it’s the only rod that works in many tight spaces and folds up small enough to keep in a pocket.
I experimented with night shots using my iPhone 13 Mini while at Savage River. I took a shot as the near-full moon rose over the mountains on a cloudy night. This is a shot at 9 PM with a 10-second exposure, handheld. It was very dark, so I wasn’t expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised.
While I was fishing at Savage River, I came across a giant chicken of the woods. I took about three pounds home to eat, which wasn’t even half.
Been a long while since I posted. I had the chance to do some fly fishing up in Western Maryland at Savage River last week. I was expecting brown trout, but the first fish I caught was a beautiful brookie in full fall colors. I took a quick shot and put him back.
Adjustable Cat Feeder
This one is odd, but it serves a purpose. We have an elderly cat who has bad joints so has trouble eating. I set out to create an adjustable tray so he didn’t have to bend down to eat. Here’s what I came up with. I made it tall enough to plan for the future (in case we end up getting a really large cat or a small dog someday in the future). Our cat can now comfortably eat while seated. The trays easily move up or down depending on the size of the bowl.
The inspiration for this: I had two Harbor Freight bar clamps in my shop, shown below, which I never use because I don’t like to use them for work holding. But the one thing I like about these is that the bottom clamp ratchet is very easy to move up and down. So I thought, what if I cut these clamps up and used the parts to make a cat feeder that could be adjusted?
This is the end result, with a touch of decorative cord wrapping. This was all made with wood scraps and it’s mostly poplar. I’m happy with how it came out and I believe it a one-of-kind design. I mean, really who is going to make something this weird?
Each tray is attached with four screws (and glued) to the aluminum clamp ratchets. I framed the trays so each has a lip so the cat can’t push the bowl off the edge.
I added bumper feet on the bottom of the stand to keep it off the ground a bit in case a water bowl is tipped. I made the top removable so each tray can be removed and cleaned. The tops are capped with scrap leather just to ensure we don’t cut ourselves on the cut aluminum edges. Each bar is set in the poplar base with deep mortises, glued, and screwed in. Also, I added wood inserts to the inner part of the bars for more sturdiness.
The top is shaped so it’s easy to lift off. I cut tiny mortises to fit these bits from the bar clamps and they just rest on top of the aluminum arms. I glued them in.
And here is the final. The apparatus is sized to fit nicely on a standard cat mat. I finished all the wood parts with three coats of Osmo TopOil High Solid.
My First Kumiko
I decided to try my hand at making a small Kumiko ornament for the tree, as a first step in learning this process for later larger projects. This one took way more time than expected, because I needed to first create the jigs to cut tiny Kumiko strips. I figured out what I needed to do with an excellent book, Shoji and Kumiko Design: Book 1 The Basics by Desmond King, and very helpful YouTube videos from Adrian Preda. So I bought a big chunk of 5’‘W x 36’‘L x 1-1/16’’ basswood from Rockler and went to work. Here’s the finished piece.
And here are the basic steps, starting with some pics of getting the basswood cut down to size. I started by cutting the board into thirds.
And then cutting those boards into thirds.
And then resawing all of those thirds.
I used two-sided tape to hold the wood while I cut the small strips out of the resulting boards, after planing them down.
Here are the jigs I made, which took the most time in this project by far. The first one in the image below is for cutting the angles needed. I made this design up and I’m proud of it because it is all self-contained and can hang on a wall. You’ll see how it’s used shortly. The second jig is for planing the basswood down to uniform strips of 1/2" by 1/8"
Here’s the planing stop in action. The stop is 1/2" and two inserts are added as needed, one is 1/4" and one is 1/8". The side piece of MDF is used to cut the strips to length, after removing the inserts. So it does double duty.
Here’s how the angle-cutting jig works. The two short pieces of hard maple can be flipped around so each has two angles available. These fit into the jig with an adjustable stop for longer pieces. I hope to make larger Kumiko projects later on, so this gives flexibility. I can just cut new maple blocks if I need other angles to make other Kumiko patterns.
And here is my first Kumiko pattern (in the classic asa-no-ha shape). It is not perfect, but I’m happy how it turned out. I stuck it in the Christmas tree. Next year, I aim to batch produce a number of these for gifts. It was fun to learn how these work and was a challenge for hand tools only. Learning to do this with buttery basswood is a good way to go. I may next try one with walnut.
This is another going-away gift for a work colleague who left for another job. I’m incorporating a lapel pin in the project from my place of work, as I’ve found that cutting off the back pin part and insetting the small metal logo looks really nice. The box is poplar with a bubinga top and bottom. The gift is for someone who appreciates quality pencils, so this project was a great fit. The instructions for this box come from Renaissance Woodworking. This is a great, easy-to-do project. The pencils I bought for the box are Mitsubushi 9850. As an aside, I’ve found Mitsubishi 9800 pencils to be perfect for woodworking because the graphite is strong and makes dark lines.
Herb Drying Rack
Here’s a project using scrap walnut tongue-and-groove boards I was given by friend, which I used to create a small tray to dry herbs — my wife does a lot with herbal tinctures and such and needed a rack to dry some of the plants and mushrooms she collects while foraging.
This is the final drying rack:
The biggest challenge in creating this was the small size. Here is the walnut board I started with:
I used a holding tool I previously made called a Raamtang to keep all the small bits held firmly while I worked on them. This small wooden vise has proven invaluable over the years and is worth the time and effort to build if you create a lot of smaller projects.
I decided to make this a simple mitered box, but will add splines for strength. I cut the angles free hand and then dialed them in with this 45 degree shooting board I made. The final pieces are shown here resting on top of the shooting board.
I added a fancy curve to the four edges of the tray. I drew the curve on paper then traced it onto the wood. I used a backsaw to cut the to lines of the curve.
Then used a coping saw to get near my lines.
Then cleaned it all up with files and a spokeshave.
Here are the final curved edges.
After glueing up the frame, I added the splines with a contrasting wood (scraps of oak). I cut out the corners, cut the splines, then planed them flush with a block plane.
Then the final step was adding the chicken wire, for which I used some mesh from a big box store. The wire mesh is attached to the underside of the frame with wood strips half-lapped, glued and strengthened with small screws. That’s it.
A short article in the September/October 2021 issue of Popular Woodworking called attention to retired pattern maker Bill Martley’s project to reproduce the bronze head of the classic Studley Mallet, named after Henry O. Studley (1838-1925) that many woodworkers know from his famous and mind-blowing tool chest.
A member of my woodworking group spotted this article and suggested we embark on a group build. The bronze casting for the mallet cost $69 with shipping included. What an amazing opportunity and bargain! I received my bronze mallet head in the mail a couple of weeks ago and here’s the mallet I made with it using bubinga, bocote wedges, and a handle with inset waxed cord. I just love how this came out and I’m so grateful that Martley made this possible.
Here’s the mallet I made with the casting:
And I’ll briefly document the steps I took to make it.
First off, here’s the bronze casting as it arrived in the mail, along with the wood I selected to make the infill and handle. I went with bubinga.
Here’s the infill block sized to fit through the hole in the bronze head.
Next I chop out the through-mortise to match up with the hole where the handle will fit.
Here’s a view of the wooden insert with the mortise completed, mostly to show what the top and bottom of the casting looked like before I polished it up.
Now I began to shape handle, drawing out what I wanted in pencil.
Here’s a view of the handle, where I’ve cut out the slot to fit into the bronze casting. I used my large tenon saw for this. I squared it all up with chisels.
Here it is all rough fit together. Looking like a mallet now.
Next, I shined it all up using a Dremel. Wow, what a difference. I left it rough, because I liked the look of it.
Now, onto the handle. I cut it out roughly with saw work, then filed down with my beloved Auriou rasps.
Here’s the handle, showing the cuts for the wedged tenons that’ll go in the top to splay the wood out and hold it firm. The infill wood has not yet been cut to length.
Next, I decided to go with a wax cord wrap for the handle. I wanted it to sit flush, so I chiseled out the beginning and the end so it slopes inward from each side, so when I wrap the cord it’ll gently slope upward. This will form a nice place to hold it.
This image shows the beginning of the cord wrap, using tape to hold the ends in place. I wrapped the cord so tight, my hands cramped up.
And here a few glamour shots of the completed mallet, which I finished with boiled linseed oil. Oh, and I forgot to mention, I’ve added the wedges here. The two top wedges are tiny slices of bocote, which I think contrasts nicely with the bubinga. It was a fun project, and now I have a small mallet with a lot of mass. It’ll be a useful shop tool that I hope will still be in use by someone long after I’m gone.
Beautiful brook trout caught (and then released) on #16 caddis fly at Savage River in Western Maryland. Such a lovely river for fly fishing / camping.
Final Bench Build!
The small bench is complete. We’re going to use this for putting on / taking off shoes in the mudroom. It’s been an interesting hand tool project, and I’m happy with how it came out. The main issues I had with assembly were some small joinery gaps, but I fixed these with hide glue and matching sawdust, and those gaps are not noticeable in the end. I have to say I’m not crazy with the sapele choice for the aprons, in retrospect. In the right light, the sapele looks kind of orange, so I think that’s what is bugging me. But it will mellow with time and I think it will age nicely.
I’m really happy with how the grain shows in the walnut, and the top of the bench really in particular shows some interesting light/dark contrasts with strong gray streaks. I also added a slight bow to each long side of the bench top, which gives the top a gentle tapered (subtle) curve at each end. I finished it with Osmo Polyx-Oil.
Here are some final assembly shots:
Here’s a shot documenting the tenon cuts for the legs.
And the mortises for the bench top.
I tapered the legs on the inside to help give the bench a slimmer profile from the front.
I locked in the knots on the bench top with some 5-min epoxy and it worked well. Since I just needed a little bit, I used the epoxy that I use for fly tying. I did this so that the knots don’t crumble over time.
Here’s the dry fit of the frame.
And here’s some shots of the final bench after glue-up and finishing:
And here’s what I started with for reference: some old, incredbily warped slabs of walnut … and a new sapele board for the aprons. This transformation of chunks of wood to useable furniture is just magical to me. With some simple tool work and a plan, amorphous slabs can transform into something useful and beautiful.
Bench Build, Phase Two
Making progress on the walnut bench. I’ve cut most of the mortise and tenons to connect up the legs. I’m using sapele for the aprons. This is the rough cut of the aprons using my rip and crosscut handsaws.
This image shows all of the markup for the tenons. I mark the lines deeply with a wheel marking gauge and then trace the lines with a pencil so they are easy to see.
And here are the cut tenons … couple of hours later. I used a carcase saw to first cut the cheeks, then cut the tenons out. Afterwards, cleaned up with chisels to ensure the lines were straight.
Then I started on the mortises. I marked it up so that the aprons will be flush with the edge of the walnut legs. The hand drill is used to cut out most of the tenon waste, then chisels to clean them out and square the edges.
And … an hour or two later, all the mortises are cut in the legs.
Here’s the dry fit of the bench, but the top is just sitting on top. In other words, I haven’t yet cut the mortise/tenons to attach the top.
Next, I moved on to the front/back apron design. I decided to go for a big wide curve. To create that curve, I attached a string and pencil to my shop bents, then moved it to the right distance to get the desired arc. It took some trial and error (need to hold the pencil straight and taut) but it worked well. As you can see, I dressed up for the photo shoot to document the work.
Next, I decided to create a nice profile so it wasn’t just a plain curve. I marked out proportions that looked nice to me by marking up three 10mm sections with two 5mm steps, and then using the base of a marking gauge to draw some circles until I liked the look of it. While I typically use English units, I often switch to metric for mark up for things like this because for me it’s just easier.
I started out using my bow saw, but I soon decided to saw to the line in segments across the curve just to help get rid of waste as I cut with the bow saw; cutting out little sections makes it easier for me, at least psychologically.
Here’s what that looked like about halfway through:
After it was roughed out, I started getting closer to the line with a spokeshave. Once I was happy with that, I moved on the fancy profile.
There may be better ways to do this, but this works for me. I cut down to my lines with my carcase saw and then use my files to finish the job. Here’s the before:
And the after:
And the following is the front apron all finished up. Next, I need to do this for the back apron so it matches. I think I’ll just leave the short side sapele aprons as they are (squared off), but I want the front and back to match, even though the back of the bench will be against a wall (it’s going to be a bench for the mudroom to put on shoes). It may not always be used in this fashion, so it should look good from any angle. It’s getting close to completion!
Shoe Horn with Hand Tools
My wife asked if I could make an extra-long shoehorn because she’s having some knee trouble. So I knocked out this project in an evening and it was a lot of fun.
I grabbed a scrap of cherry and roughly cut it to size using a rip saw and a spokeshave. Then it was mostly an exercise in filing.
I had a small shoehorn (store bought) to use as a reference. It occurred to me that this is kind of like spoon carving, but easier because there is no “front spoon edge” (so to speak) to a shoe horn, so I could just file it right down to get the desired shape. I had my significant other test it out several times to ensure I got the shape just right. The hardest part was ensuring it was as thin as possible at the edges of the “spoon,” but still strong.
I shaped the handle with block plane.
And finished it off with some Osmo wood wax, then wrapped the handle with blue waxed cord. I also added a loop to the end to hang it up out of the way. The lovely cherry wood grain was a happy accident. I had no idea that beautiful grain was hidden in that scrap of wood.
Wading up a river while fly fishing offers up interesting views. Imagine the raging waters over the years that led to this pile-up.
Bench Build, The Flattening
So I went on vacation after my last post about the bench build, and this weekend I finally got around to flattening the funky boards. I used my scrub plane for the rough work, which made it bearable. Next step: come up with an actual plan to make a bench…
Bench Build, Phase One
I’m starting a new project to do something interesting with two warped and oddly cut walnut slabs I acquired … of unknown age and provenance. They must have been rejects from some long ago project and then shelved in a barn?
Here’s an edge-view:
And laid flat to get a sense of how NOT FLAT these boards are:
I have never worked with wood that is this funky, so it’s going to be a challenge to flatten them. So far, I have cut each to length, getting rid of the worst (most warped) parts of each slab. I have started flattening one of them. It’s going to take time, clearly.
I started with a scrub plane to get rid of the worst of the peaks:
And moved on to a #6 fore plane:
That’s as far as I got this evening. Time to sharpen blades before I continue. I plan to have two flattened boards and a plan to make a bench within the next couple of days. Details are still being worked out.
I am often amazed with the image quality that a casual photographer like myself can get from a pocket computer. This was shot with a 12 mini. The bee and echinacea reside in Frederick, Maryland.
200+ board feet of sapele and cherry and I’m ready for some new projects. First up: a new end table.
Split Keyboard Base with Trackpad Rest
My new keyboard set-up:
Here's a weird little project that took only a few hours and solved a unique problem. Here's what my computer keyboard set-up looked like before my project:
Backstory: I use an ErgoDox EZ split keyboard with an Apple trackpad in between (yes ... I use a trackpad and a mouse, for reasons). One problem: I'm pretty particular about my keyboard layout, so I like to have the angle of each side of the keyboard and the wrist rests just so. But each wrist rest and each keyboard half are free floating so they are always moving around. This is especially annoying when I need to move this stuff out of the way to clean underneath, or to use my secondary mechanical keyboard. Another problem: the trackpad in the center is too low, weirdly placed, and is just not great. So I came up with this odd thing:
This was an interesting little challenge to create using hand tools. But it was worth the effort. Now when I need to move my rather elaborate keyboard set up out of the way to clean underneath, or when I want more desk space for a non-computer task, or to switch keyboards, I can quickly set things back up with the exact spacing and angling I want. I start by placing the wrist rests:
And then place each keyboard half against the wrist rests:
And then place the trackpad on the raised, angled stand in the middle. The cable that connects the two keyboard parts tucks neatly under the trackpad. I wanted to keep this as minimalist as possible, so I made it so that the trackpad front edge rests on the stand, but it's angled so that the trackpad back edge rests perfectly on the keyboard edges. This is the minimal width to fit the trackpad and the spacing is just right (for me) for typing. It is very stable and feels solid.
So I'm going to use this for a few days and make sure I like it, then I'll finalize everything, glue it up, give it a coat of Osmo. Based on a few hours of usage, I think this will be a good solution. Everything lines up just so and it just takes a few seconds to get all assembled. It also looks much neater.