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Just trying to leave something behind.
Updated: 1 hour 26 min ago

How I Apply an Oil/Wax Finish

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 11:03am

It is no secret that I prefer a hand-rubbed oil finish.  It is my go-to finish of choice.  I don’t think that I am alone in this fondness.  Judging by the blog posts and articles that I read, several others feel the same way.

Oil has a lot of things going for it.  It is easy to apply, easy to renew and easy to repair.  It can also be better for your health, depending on your product of choice.  An oil and wax finish does have some shortcomings though.  It’s not the most durable finish and if your after a high gloss, forget it, it is not going to happen.  Also, an oil and wax finish requires some maintenance. It will need an occasional buffing and reapplication once in a while.

Yes, an oil and wax finish is easy to apply.  Your don’t need any special training or skill, but don’t mistake easy application for quick or less work.  The finishing process can span several days.  Possibly even a week or more, depending on the size of the project and surface quality that you are after.  If you want a hand-rubbed finish…yep, your actually going to have to rub it by hand…a lot.

Since I’m just completed two large tables, I thought I would discuss the steps that I go through when applying an oil and wax finish.  I’m no expert, so this is not holy writ, just the steps that I have found to work best for me.  Please feel free to question or contradict any of all that follows.

Note: time on task in the following is based upon one face of a 30″x77″ table top.

First and foremost I want all surfaces to be from an edge tool.  I use sandpaper when I need to, but those areas are given more attention with oooo steel wool or burnished with shavings.  Why?  I want the surfaces to be burnished and that is what a cut surface from an edge tool is.  A burnished surface is basically a head start on an even luster from the finish.  I prefer to use Japanese planes, but any well tuned finishing plane will get the job done.  Push, pull, iron body, wooden body doesn’t matter.  It just needs to be sharp and finely set.

If I can’t get the burnished finish from an edge tool, I’ll use the alternatives that I mentioned earlier.  Rubbing a handful of shavings on the surface of the work piece is quite effective.  0000 steel wool will get the job done too.  Alternatively, I will use the uzukuri technique to both texture and burnish the surface.  This is what I did with the table top.

First using the rough and then the medium uzukuri brush, I went over every square inch of the table top.  I also employed a couple of different size gouges for areas that had deep tearout or that I simply wanted to have a more pronounced texture effect.  In all it took between seven and eight hours to complete the uzukuri treatment and bring this table top to the point of being ready for the oil.

Step two is an application of linseed oil only, no wax.  This is a penetrating coat of oil and for this I use Tried & True brand Danish oil.  Which is a polymerised linseed oil and contains no heavy metal driers and is completely food safe.  Also I have tinted the oil with “Raw Sienna” artist’s oil paint, which imparts a warm amber tone to light-colored woods such as pine, poplar and oak.  To apply this first coat of oil I use a soft cotton cloth and vigorously rub the oil into the wood.  The friction induced heat helps to drive the oil into the wood.  This application took between thirty to forty-five minutes.  I then let the oil “soak” in for five to ten minutes.

Below are side-by-side comparisons.  With tinted oil on the left, without on the right.

Once the oil has been allowed to dwell, I begin buffing the surface and removing any oil that remains on the surface.  I’ll continue this until the surface has NO remaining wet areas.  This step took about fifteen minutes.  After a couple of hours I go over the surface once more to remove any oil that seeps back to the surface.

Then I wait for twenty-four hours.  Technically the directions on the can say eight hours, but I almost always let it dry for twenty-four hours.

Step three begins with buffing the surface once again with a cotton cloth.  I repeat if necessary.  What I’m looking for is no color or oil coming up on the cloth.  Then I buff the surface yet again.  This time with 0000 steel wool.  This further burnishes and seals the surface of the wood.  All this buffing takes about thirty minutes.  Now I’m ready for the second coat of oil.

For the second coat of oil I use Tried & True Original finish.  This is a mixture of polymerised linseed oil and beeswax.  Again, it is food safe and contains no heavy metal driers.  Just like the first coat of oil, this is vigorously applied.  This took another half hour to forty-five minutes.  The product needs to “soak” in for an hour before buffing off, which took an additional fifteen to twenty minutes.

Then I wait for another twenty-four hours.  Buffing once more along the way.

Coat number three follows the same exact steps as the second coat.  Buff, burnish with steel wool, apply the oil and wax mixture, wait, buff, wait, buff again and wait.

Generally three coats will do.  One coat of the tinted linseed oil and two coats of the linseed oil/beeswax mixture.  After the third coat has been allowed to dry, forty-eight hours this time, a final buffing with a cotton cloth completes the finish.  I’ll typically add one more coat after a few months have passed.  From then on out, a periodic buffing is all that is needed to keep the piece looking fresh.

So there you have it.  An oil and wax finish doesn’t require any great skill, but easy is a relative term.  This type of finish does require some hard work and time.  Sure, you could skip some of the buffing and burnishing steps, but the end result will suffer…trust me on this.

Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Table Trestles-Part 9-Complete

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 4:42pm

Finally!  After days of applying finish and buffing, these two staked dining tables are finally complete!  This project started as a simple idea from the “The Anarchist’s Design Book” for two easily moved “knock-down” tables.  That simple idea became a wealth of experience and learning.  I truly learned a lot while building these trestles and the accompanying tops.

I fashioned a new gauge for laying out tapered, octagonal legs.

A good bit of experience was gained at the shaving horse making the twelve (plus two spare) legs.

I also gained some experience effecting repairs when things didn’t go as planned.


I even “aged” some hardware for the first time.

My finishing techniques also received a workout.

Stamping texture and wood burning.


Surfacing with the uzukuri.

Finally applying the linseed and oil top coat (look for an upcoming post on that).

Anyway, on with the dog & pony.

The spare table will live most of its life as a work/craft table.  To enhance that function I drilled a hole and added a Lee Valley lamp bushing at one corner to hold an articulating lamp.  I still need to get a desk blotter to round out the look and utility.

Here is a look at the fender washer and wing nut arrangement that secures the tops to the trestles.

The other table will live its life as our main dinning table.

When a large gathering calls for it, the spare will be brought in to give us a little over thirteen feet of dinning surface.  I think we can get fourteen people seated in this configuration.

We can also arrange the long edges of table together and easily seat ten people.

Notice anything missing from the above photos?  Yep…seating.  So my focus will be shifting from tables to seating.  I’m thinking a combination of benches, stools and chairs is the way to go.  Before diving into the seating though, I’ll have a short detour in lathe making.

Until then, these old folding chairs will get us by.

I doubt that  anyone who knows me well would use the adjective “sentimental’ to describe me, but I have to admit that I got a little misty thinking about all of the family gatherings and holidays that will be spent around these tables in the years to come.

Thanks for taking the time to look.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Even better if I somehow inspired you.

Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Table Trestles-Part 8

Sun, 03/12/2017 - 5:13pm

Just a quick update on my progress over the past week.  With any luck, the next post will be the last in this series and these two tables will move into the complete column.  So, over the past week…

My attention was focused on the second top.  I first planed both faces flat.

Once it was flat, I trimmed it for width, length and mitered the corners.  Then I planed a wide chamfer on all of the edges.  One issue was that a small check had opened up at one end on the bottom face.  This occurrence was not unexpected.  I’m using construction grade SYP for this top.  All of these pieces were cut close to or contain the center of the log.  The offending board contained a center portion of the log and the pith that comes with it.  No big deal, I had been wanting to try inlaying dutchman patches anyway.

There are lots of ways to make a dutchman key.  Templates, careful layout with squares and bevel gauges, but where is the fun in that?  I just grabbed a scrap of white oak that was about a half inch thick and started cutting.  I produced two asymmetrical, more organic, IMHO, keys.

To install the keys I placed them where I wanted them and scribed around them with a sharp knife.  I then used a combination of chisels, auger and small router plane to remove the waste.

Then I added some glue and knocked the key into place.  Same for the second key.  Once the keys were installed I planed them flush to the surrounding surface.

Top two received the same decorative elements as the first one, uzukuri ect.

With all of the construction complete, my efforts switched to finishing.  Linseed oil and beeswax is my preferred finish.  I like the way it looks, how it feels and the ease of repair and renewal. The particular products I use (Tried & True brand) contain no heavy metal driers and are food safe.  The first coat of oil was my Hillbilly Pine Enhancer.  This is just the Tried & True Danish Oil with artists paint mixed in to act as a toner (see here).

Side by side comparison on poplar.

Side by side comparison on pine.

After twenty-four hours I applied the first coat of Tried & True Original (a blend of linseed oil and beeswax).  The combination made the poplar quite nice I think.

I’ll add one or two more coats of the linseed oil/beeswax and then call it done.  My next post should be the dog and pony show.

Part 7 Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Table Trestles-Part 7

Sat, 03/04/2017 - 5:35pm

As per my usual, every day after work this week I tried to get in half an hour to an hour of work on the tables.  After a nine or ten-hour day at work you would think I would just come home and relax.  Well that is exactly what I’m doing.  A little wood working is the best way to quiet my mind.  Anyway I made some progress.

Most of my attention this week was focused on getting the first tabletop ready for finish.  I could have just went with the planed surface.  Except for a few troublesome areas, the top was smooth, but a little boring to my eye.  Admittedly, I had planned to treat this top with the uzukuri technique.  Essentially an abraded and burnished finish treatment created with “brushes” of varying coarseness. The abrading action lowers the less dense (early) wood from the harder (late) wood.  Subsequent finer “brushes” further refine, as well as burnish, the surface.  I also used a couple of gouges to further deepen the effect here and there.  The resulting surface is much like polished driftwood.  The technique isn’t difficult, but takes time.  Plus you are never really done.  At some point you just have to stop.


Here you see one of the trouble areas with some wild grain.


Much better…IMHO.


I did a little work on the trestles for this top as well.  If you remember, I had a couple splits that needed repaired.  The repairs worked out fine, but their visibility was wearing on me.  So I broke out my stamping tool and added some texture to the ends of the trestles and followed up with the wood burning tool.



Since I had the wood burner fired up, I had a little fun with the tops of the trestles.  Very few people will ever see this, but I think it will be a nice surprise for those who do.



I mounted the top with the carriage bolts and wing nuts that I “aged”.  Two bolts per trestle.  These are 1/2″ bolts and I needed to allow for any expansion and contraction of the top.  To do this I bored 3/4″ holes in the trestles.  Hence the need for a fender washer.  The tabletop received a countersink for the bolt head and a 1/2″ thru hole.  To create the countersink I employed my expansion bit and cleaned up the bottom of the hole with a small router plane.


I used a gouge and, you guessed it, the wood burner to ease the entrance and exit edges of the hole.




So the first table is complete and ready for finish.


Now onto tabletop number two.

Part 6 Greg Merritt Part 7

Categories: Hand Tools

Table Trestles-Part 6

Sun, 02/26/2017 - 4:18pm

It has been a long hard week in the shop.  I have the aches and pains to remind me of it.

Almost every evening after work I worked on getting the table tops together.  I continued my method of flattening one face and squaring an edge on each board.  Then glueing up two boards at a time.  I actually got pretty good at it.  I could prep two boards, add the alignment biscuits and have them in the clamps in about an hour and a half.  That is how my week went.  By Friday I was ready to assemble the first top.


Saturday had me assembling top #2.


Since I wanted each top to cure for a full 24hrs, I turned the remainder of my Saturday to working on hardware for attaching the tops to the trestles.  In his book, CW used a large wooden screw for attaching his top to the trestles.  An elegant solution, but a quality tap and die set, such as the set he used, is spendy.  Yes, there are much more inexpensive versions.  The reviews for those seem to be less than favorable.  Anyway, my solution is to use carriage bolts and wing nuts. I’ll use two per trestle and make sure to allow for any wood movement.  Plus I can easily get these from the big box store.  The only issue is that they are bright and shiny and this just looks wrong for furniture.


There are several ways of “aging” hardware to be found on the internet.  The simplest is to use a gun blue solution.  This product is typically used to oxidize the bare metal parts of firearms to protect them from rusting.  It also blackens or “blues” them as part of the process.  So I picked up a bottle and went to work on my bright and shiny hardware.  Following the directions, cleaned each part with denatured alcohol.  One extra bit of prep was a little file work on the heads of the carriage bolts.  These bolts have grade stamps on their heads.  A little file work removes them and give a bit of a faceted look.



No one will mistake these bits as blacksmith made, but they will at least look “right” when installed.


Today I began the final work on the first top.  The first thing to tackle was flattening the underside face.  During my two-board dance I had ignored the opposite face in favor of getting them glued up.  I’m not sure that was the best strategy.  The bottom face required a fair amount of work to bring it level and flat.  In hindsight, it may have been better to thickness all of these boards up front.  Live and learn.  It took me about three hours of continuous planing to get the bottom face flat and level.  It was a hell of a workout.


Once the top was flat and level, I clipped all four corners at 45deg and added a chamfer to all of the edges.  On the clipped corners I added my logo stamp, a little additional texture and finally some wood burning.


I ran out of daylight and energy so I had to stop.  Table #1 is starting to look like something though.


I have a bunch of work still in front of me, but the finish line is getting close.

Part 5 Greg Merritt Part 7

Categories: Hand Tools

Table Trestles-Part 5

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 3:15pm

Progress is being made in drips and drabs.

In my last post I reviewed my day of wood butchery.  I’m happy to report that my repairs were successful and the split tops are once again solid.  The second round of assembly went without incident and all four trestles are together.



Once the glue dried, the next step was to trim the tenon stubs and clean the tops up with a plane.


tables_seating_proportionsThen I leveled and trimmed each trestle for final height.  The final height of these trestles is dependent upon the thickness of the top.  In my design drawing I intentionally made these trestles tall enough to be used as a standing work table or to be trimmed to dinning or writing height.  I made a reference drawing and posted it a while back that I use to determine the heights of stools, chairs and tables.  These heights are based upon my own body.  Specifically my hand span (222mm).  The drawing is proportional and will scale to anyone.  (Hand span is distance between tip of little finger and tip of thumb when fingers are spread to their widest)

The point being is that I needed the thickness of the table top to accurately trim the height of the trestles.  After a lot of back and forth I settled on using 2x SYP for my table tops.  These tops should finish out at 36mm(1-7/16″).  To mark the legs I tried a method exampled in Peter Galbert’s book, “A Chairmaker’s Notebook.  The method is to tape a pencil to a bevel gauge.  This gives a pretty easy of way of adjusting the height and marking the legs.  Once I shimmed a trestle level I measured the distance from ground to the top of the trestle.  Then added the top thickness to that distance.  From that I subtracted my desired finished table height.  The remainder being the amount of leg to be trimmed away.


Once I had all of the trestles trimmed, I moved them onto the sun porch so I would have room to work in the shop without fear of damaging them.  The trestles are not quite complete at this point, but the remaining work is dependent upon them being mated to the tops.


Which brings me to the tops themselves.  As I said earlier, I’m making these tops from 2x SYP construction lumber.  I waffled on this decision quite a bit.  A 2x top is heavy, but durable.  A 1x top would be lighter, but lacking in durability.  Either would work for dinning, but I know that these tables will be used for much more than simple dinning.  The “extra” table will spend most of its life as a craft/work table out on the sun porch or wherever it may be needed.

I went to the big box store in hopes of purchasing 2×12 lumber.  Three 2x12s would be enough for each top.  However, the offerings of 2×12 were pretty sad.  Boards that were full of knots, cups and twists.  The 2×10 offerings yielded a much better material and that is what I loaded into the truck.  Four 2x10s will make up each top with plenty of width to trim to final size.

These four will make up the better of the two tops and will be used on our daily dinning table.


The other four pieces are a little more rugged, but not by much.

The first task was to cut all of the boards to rough length.  To edge glue these boards together I need to plane one face true being sure to check for any twist.  Then square both of the edges to that face.  It’s a fair amount of work with hand planes and I decided from the start to tackle these in stages.  I’ll surface and joint two boards and glue them together.  This will eventually yield four two-board panels.  Then I’ll joint and glue two of those panels together to create a table top.  Much easier for a one-man shop than trying to tackle them all at once.

The result of working on two boards.


I’m using biscuits to aid in aligning the boards.img_2927


Two boards glued and in the clamps.


I’ll just keep plugging away at the remainder of the boards until I’m done.

 Part 4 Greg Merritt Part 6

Categories: Hand Tools

Table Trestles-Part 4

Sat, 02/11/2017 - 6:38pm

My day in the shop, henceforth known as the great wood massacre of February 2017, did not go smoothly.  All of my problems were of my own making however.  I was working with an unfamiliar material (poplar) as well as an unfamiliar tool.  To finish off the perfect recipe for disaster I changed one of my techniques.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I’ll start at the beginning.  The goal today was simply to assemble the trestles.  Add glue, knock in the legs and wedge them home.  It should have been an easy, relaxing day in the shop.  While my hide glue was heating up I cut the wedges for securing the legs.  Here is my first error.  Typically I cut short, fat wedges, but for some reason I went with a longer, thinner version.  I have no idea why.

To drive the legs into their sockets, I typically use my ~16oz Japanese hammer, but my dad recently gave me a 2lb sledge and I wanted to give it a try.  So I spread glue in the socket and on the tenon for the single leg of the first trestle.  I drove it into place and everything went fine.  Then I glued and installed the spindle between the pair of legs.  With glue applied to all the surfaces I began driving the leg pair into their sockets.  Everything felt good until the second to last hammer blow…it sounded a little off, but I went ahead and hit the other leg.  That’s when the pair of legs went loose in their sockets. Uh, oh!  (That’s the PG version).  Sure enough, the top slab had split from each socket out to the end of the slab.


I felt a little sick, but examined the damage.  With nothing to lose, I jumped in with an attempt to repair the slab.  I first cut out a slice of wood that contained the split.


Then I cut and fit new pieces of poplar to fill the gaps.  Then I glued and clamped them in place.


Trestle number 2 went together without incident


Trestle number 3 almost made it, but I split the slab at the single leg.  Son of a b####!  The same repair was made as before.


Trestle number 4 almost made it as well, but the last blow on the wedge of the last leg…I heard a horrible cracking sound.


Luckily I had the sense to make a couple of extra legs.  So I prepped another leg.

To add insult to injury, I had, in a fit of anger, slammed the hammer into the slab top.  Which left a pretty good donkey (jackass, in my case) mark.


So I fired up the iron and steamed almost all of it out.


Then turned off the lights in the shop before I did any more damage.

So what the heck happened?  All of my previous staked projects were either laminations of SYP or plywood.  A solid slab of poplar reacts differently than either of those.  Using a heavier hammer made judging the progress of the tenon advancing into the socket hard to judge.  The force of each blow was quite a bit more than those with my lighter hammer.  Finally, my changing wedge shapes allowed the wedge to advance too deep into the tenon.  Actually, I was lucky with most of them, they were thick enough to tighten before going too deep.  The last wedge was slightly thinner and I paid the price.

Anyway, tomorrow is a new day.  I’ll venture back into the shop and survey the carnage.  Hopefully my repair attempts work out and I’ll be back on track.

Part 3 Greg Merritt Part 5

Categories: Hand Tools

Table Trestles-Part 3

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 4:59pm

With the top slabs thicknessed, cut to size and squared it was time for the layout.  This was a simple task of transferring the layout from my design drawing to the slabs.

trestle_standard_tableThere are several ways that I can translate my scaled drawing into full-scale.  Sometimes I simply pull out a piece of paper and draw the project to size.  This is handy because it gives me something to continually check my actual pieces against.  Other times I may lay out a story stick.  For this project I simply created a full-scale version of the module block that is found on the drawing.  No matter the method, most of the work is done with dividers once the initial base measurement is established.  In this case that measurement is 180mm.

I first drew a 180mm square on a scrap of ply.  Then stepped off all of the required divisions with dividers.  Once I had the full-scale module in hand, I then had an instrument that I could use for either direct transfer of distance or I could set my dividers to.  At any rate, the layout was completed as per my drawing.


I’ll not bore you with the drilling and reaming operation.  I’ve done that in previous posts.  ;). After a good bit of work with the brace, all four trestles were legged up.


The next order of business was to make the spindles for each leg pair.  I sawed several blanks of white oak so that I could try a couple of different shapes and methods.  No matter the shape, each spindle needed a 1/2″ tenon at each end.  I struggled as to how best to make these tenons, but it finally dawned on me that I could use the same tapered tenon cutter that I used for the leg tenons.   When a piece is passed completely through the cutter the emerging portion is a constant ~9/16″ diameter.  So all I needed to do was run the spindles through the tenon cutter so that the required length of tenon was passed through the cutter.  Then it was a simple matter of using my knife to trim and fit the tenon to the 1/2″ mortise hole.


The first spindle shape that I tried was cigar-shaped.  It was easy to make, but didn’t seem right for the octagonal legs of these trestles.


The next spindle shape that I made was octagonal and I left them intentionally a little rough.  I like this shape much better for the octagonal legs.


It has become almost a signature of mine to add some sort of knot work to my projects.  Usually this shows up as knotted pulls for drawers, but in this instance I went with a turk’s head knot to add a bit of interest to the spindles.  The knot sits in a recessed area centered along the length of the spindle.  I made the recess with my carving knife and added a little wood burning to the corners of the octagon.


Next up were the mortise holes in the legs.  To mark them I squared a board and on it marked the distance of the mortise holes from the bottom face of the trestle.  Then set the board in place on the inverted trestle and marked the mortise holes.


In his book, “The Anarchist’s Design Book”, CS recommends a spade bit with an extension.  I had neither and when I went to the Big Box store I found an extra long spade bit and went with that.  I was worried that I would have chipout when drilling the holes, but found that the spade bit created a surprisingly clean hole.


I chamfered all of the edges of the top slabs and added a little wood burning embellishments to the tops and legs.


I hope to be able to assemble these trestles this coming weekend.  Then I’ll tackle the table tops.

Part 2 Greg Merritt Part 4

Categories: Hand Tools

Table Trestles-Part 2

Sat, 01/28/2017 - 4:13pm

I’m not what I used to be.  Desk work at the day job has made me soft and nothing proves it quicker than surfacing and thicknessing rough lumber by hand.  I’m sore, but I’m got the job done.

It’s not an exciting process to write a blog post about, so here is the gist of it.  I have four slabs of poplar to contend with for my trestles.  I have already cut these slabs to rough length and began the process by rigging up a way to hold them on the bench.  Nothing fancy.  I have a center board on my bench that can be raised to create a stop and one end of the slab can butt up against the planing stop of the bench.  To secure the other end of the slab, I simply screwed a block of wood to my bench.  That’s one of the nice things about having a simple bench.  I have no qualms about screwing or nailing stuff to it if the need arrises.


The actual process is simple.  Flatten a side, square an edge to that side.  To flatten a side I begin by working across the grain, then diagonally and finally with the grain.


I test for flat with my long straight edge.


Then test for any twist with winding sticks.


Then make corrections as needed and square a long edge to my freshly flattened side.

Then mark for width.


Then gauge for final thickness, trim and tackle the opposite face.


It’s a good bit of work, but a rewarding process.  So over the course of several days I managed to complete all four slabs.


Next up is the layout.  Then I’ll start drilling holes and fitting legs.

Part 1 Greg Merritt Part 3

Categories: Hand Tools

Table Trestles-Part 1

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 6:15pm

The List.

If you are a woodworker with a significant other, than you are well aware of the list.  It is that list of things that our significant other wants us to build.  Sometimes we make excuses why we don’t build this or that.  Other times we use the list to score a new tool or two.  Not me of course, but I have heard stories.  Luckily, management’s list is typically short.  Although she reserves the right to make a last-minute addendum (demand) to it.  Anyway, the absolute number one on management’s list is a couple of, easily moved, dining tables.  Oh, and seating for said same.  So nothing too much.  LOL

So a little background.  Management and I spent the first 19 years together in a very small home.  This smallness made hosting big family dinners (her dream) at our house impossible.  So when we moved to a larger home a little over a year ago, she jumped at the chance to host big family dinners any chance she gets.  To seat all of these (15-20 people) I cobbled together a 12ft table from 2x and plywood. It gets the job done, but is a PIA to take apart, put together and store.  That single use table has now seen two Thanksgivings and at least a half dozen other functions.  I’m afraid that if I don’t do something soon, that this piece of crap will reach heirloom status and I will be stuck lugging it around for the rest of my days.  So tables it is.

Table design has been on my mind since we moved.  (Management has made sure of it…LOL).  Once I read “The Anarchist’s Design Book“, I knew what the basic design would be.

Sourcing material was a challenge for me, but just before Thanksgiving this year I found a lumber yard and picked up enough oak and poplar to get me started.


With the material piled up in the garage, I needed to nail down the design.  Yes, I could have used CW’s design out of the book, but I just cant help myself.  Besides, I work in proportions.  After a little work at the drawing board I had a working drawing.


I finally got started by crosscutting the bits that I needed to rough length.


I set the poplar aside and milled the oak into leg stock.  I first surfaced and squared two adjoining faces and then ran the oak thru my old portable table saw.  I did have sense enough to install a new blade and tune up the old saw before all of this, so the milling went smoothly, messy (no dust collection), but smoothly.


I then laid out the legs using my new purpose built gauge.


I spent the past several days working on the legs.  I roughed out all of the tapered octagons and their tenons.


Cleaned them up with a plane and refined the transition from leg to tenon.  These are relatively thick legs and I wanted a cove transition from full-width to the base of the tenon.  Creating this cove on a lathe would take a matter of seconds, without a lathe it took a little bit longer.  I hogged most of the waste away working the drawknife with the bevel down for control.  I followed this with some carving knife work and finished with a half-round file.


Next I’ll tackle the poplar tops.

Greg Merritt Part 2


Categories: Hand Tools

Saddling My Horse

Thu, 01/12/2017 - 8:07pm

Through a strange sequence of events and serious risk to my health and wellbeing, I was able to work at my shaving horse for several hours yesterday.  Sounds great and it was, but the back-of-my-front is pretty dang sore today.  I have a good bit of work yet to do at the horse so a remedy for comfort was now top priority.

Let me back up a bit.  A while back I built my shaving horse using Jeanie Alexander’s plans that can be found on the Greenwoodworking site.  I remember that the plans mentioned something about a sliding seat…I won’t need that.  I was waaaay wrong.  Way wrong!


Straddling a board, for hours on end, takes a toll on the backside.  So I did a little research on my lunch hour today.  I wanted to see what the folks who make a living using a shaving horse do for a seat.  The general consensus is that you need one, it should be tilted forward slightly and cushy is a good thing.

As soon as I got home this evening I went straight to the shop to see what I could come up with.  My plan was to make a seat with two guide rails that would slide along the main beam of the horse.  I came up with a piece of plywood and a few bits of pine.  I sketched a simple seat shape on the plywood and went to work.


To achieve a slight forward tilt, I planed a piece of pine into a wedge shape.


I sawed the rough shape of the seat and refined the shape with a plane and sandpaper.



Assembly was simple.  The wedge was glued and nailed in place.  The two 2x guide rails were glued and screwed.



To get the cushy, I used the last bits of my upholstery foam and a piece of black vinyl.


I have to say, it is very comfortable and I cant wait to put it to use.  To keep the seat from sliding when in use, I simply cut a small square of shelf liner to put between the seat and rail.  It locks the seat down solid.


Anyway, just a quick little project and public service announcement. Saddle your horse, trust me!

Oh yeah, the risk to my health and wellbeing.  Yesterday the shop was cold and I was home alone, management was at work.  So I took it upon myself to move the whole shaving horse operation into the house on the nice warm sun porch.


I did put down a couple pieces of ply to protect the carpet.  Anyway, management took it pretty well and working on the sun porch is now sanctioned.  Who woulda’ thunk it?

Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

The Octagonizer Gauge

Sun, 01/01/2017 - 4:04pm


The most recent episode of “The Woodwright’s Shop” has Roy Underhill and Christopher Schwarz discussing staked furniture.  Part of the discussion is how to layout and cut octagonal tapered legs.  Just before CW starts the explanation of how to layout an octagon with a compass, Roy pulls out a gauge that he jokingly refers to as a “Octagonizer”.  Of course my ears perked up with interest.  The gauge seemed to work much like a center marking gauge in that it registered on either side of the stock. The difference being this gauge had two marking pins and established the extents of a regular octagon.  Not much more than that was presented in the show and I was left wondering about this gauge.  I have several octagonal tapered legs in my future and a gauge such as this could prove handy.

After consulting the Google, I found that this gauge is a common boatbuilding tool referred to as a “spar gauge”.  The gauge is used to layout a regular octagon on a spar blank to aid in the rounding process.  It is also quite large.  Much too large for working on small leg stock for staked furniture.  So I did a little more digging.

Turns out the pin arrangement on the gauge is based upon the proportional relationship of the corner of the square that is removed to create the octagon.  More in-depth information can be found here.  Using the Pythagoras’ theorem, you find that the proportional relationship of the sides and diagonal of this waste corner if, 1 : 1.41 : 1.  So with a little math you can make any size gauge you desire.


With this information in hand I sat down at the drafting table and worked out a design for a scaled down gauge for furniture sized legs.  This morning I put that design to the test in  the shop. I scrounged up a small piece of maple, a couple of finish nails and made myself a octagonizer for laying out octagonal legs for my staked furniture projects.



It’s really simple to use.  Place the gauge on the wood and rotate it until the guide pins make contact with opposite sides of the stock face you are marking.  Then either press down to create marks or slide the gauge to scribe in the extents of the side of the octagon on that face of the stock.  Repeat for the remaining three faces of the stock.  Then connect the points on the end of the stock to delineate the octagon.  In the photo below I used a compass to layout the octagon and verify the accuracy of my new gauge.

This thing is fast and accurate.  You really only need to mark points on one side.  Then take a pencil and set your finger gauge to one of the dots and quickly mark all faces of the stock with that setting.  If you like to taper your legs before creating the octagon, this gauge will automatically adjust for the taper as you scribe down the stock.  How slick is that?

Anyway, of course I made a construction drawing.  I included a chart with a few different sizes that will handle varying thicknesses of stock.


I also dipped my toe into the cold, deep, dark video making waters.  Depending on feedback and interest I may attempt to put together another video on the making of one of these gauges.  Constructive criticism only, please don’t mock my piss-poor video skills.  LOL

Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Hot Hide Glue-New Setup

Mon, 12/26/2016 - 10:24am

IMG_2403A few months ago I purchased the Lee Valley small hot hide glue pot.  I really like it.  Yes its small, holds about an ounce of glue, but that is more than enough for most projects.  The thing is extremely well made and will last generations.  When I purchased the pot I also purchased the warming plate.  It does exactly what it is supposed to do, keeps the glue at the proper working temperature.  So I have been happy with this setup, but…a set of circumstances has led to my experimenting with a new, larger capacity setup.

img_0263Several days ago Roland Johnson, of Fine Woodworking, put up a blog post about using a wax warmer as a hide glue pot.  I read the article, thought it was nice solution, but I was just fine with what I already had.  In the post there was a link to Amazon’s listing of a wax warmer.  I clicked it, thought the price was reasonable, but, again, I’m happy with what I already had.

The next day I had to place a last-minute Christmas gift order on Amazon.  Since I had previously viewed the wax warmer, Amazon made a point of showing it to me again.  Well their marketing ploy worked and I spent the $29 on the wax warmer.  It showed up on Christmas Eve morning and I went straight to work setting it up for hot hide glue.

What I received was a temperature controlled heating unit with a lidded, removable aluminum pot.  Just like the commercially available, purpose built electric glue pot (Hold Heat), the warmer uses an air jacket instead of a water jacket to heat the contents of the pot.  The removable pot has a 20oz capacity when filled to the brim.  That’s waaay more glue than I would ever need to heat at any give time.  So I needed a smaller container to place within the removable pot.

Management had, at some point, picked up a 3-pack of small lidded glass jars.  The little jar has a capacity of 30z, a screw on lid and a chalkboard on the lid as a bonus (I can date the batch).  So now I had a secondary container that I could place in a water bath in the larger pot.


After a little thought I hit upon a plan.  The glass jar will thread into a 2″ diameter whole.  Just so happens I have a 2″ hole saw.  So step one was to remove the existing knob from the aluminum pot lid that came with the wax warmer and drill a 2″ hole in the center of the lid.  After a little cleanup, the jar threaded into place without any issue.



A little trial and error revealed that the best arrangement for suspending the jar into the water bath of the larger pot, was to invert the lid.  This created a better seal between the lid and the larger pot.  It also created a dish that should serve to help contain any mess.  I then reinstalled the original plastic knob onto the aluminum lid.





One other modification I made was to add a brush wipe to the glass jar.  I cut a length of copper electrical wire and removed the bare copper ground wire.  I then shaped the wire to fit down into the glass jar so that it created a wiping bar across the opening of the jar.  Supposedly copper has an anti microbial effect on the glue, at least there should be no adverse reactions on the glue as could be had with other metals.


The last thing I needed to do for this setup was to discover the heat setting on the warmer that generated a consistent glue temperature of ~145deg.  Basically I just added water to the pot and jar.  Then heated everything until a meat thermometer gave me the reading I wanted within the glass jar.  Marked that setting on the dial of the wax warmer and then verified with another heating cycle.

So for about $30 I have a faster heating, larger capacity hot hide glue setup.  The addition of lidded glass jar makes storing of unused glue in the refrigerator a little easier to get past management too.


Both the wax warmer and Lee Valley systems work perfectly well and are about the same cost, at least in the US.  I didn’t need this new system, but here we are.  Hopefully this will be of help to some of you who are wanting to make the change to, or experiment with, hot hide glue.

For those of you who are interested, my glue brush making technique also works just fine with a flat handle.


Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools

Build Yourself a Hide Glue Brush

Fri, 12/23/2016 - 11:51am


Spreading glue is a necessary task in woodworking, no matter your choice of glue.  If you use PVA glue then a disposable brush is probably the best choice.  You may not even use a brush, I have spread a lot of PVA glue with a sliver of wood scrap.  Hide glue is different though.

When hide glue is at its proper working temperature it is much more viscous than PVA.  This viscosity necessitates the use of a brush for applying the glue.  The brush doesn’t need to anything fancy.  The bristles need to be stiff enough to push the glue into the joints and the brush needs to hold enough glue so that you are not constantly going back to the glue pot.  I like to think of it as a glue mop more than a glue brush.

You can purchase a purpose-built hide glue brush, here and here.  They are not too expensive, but it seemed to me that making one or two shouldn’t be too difficult.  So that is what I set out to accomplish.

The first thing I needed was a source of bristles.  Traditionally horse hair or hog bristles were used.  I don’t have a source for either of those, so I headed to the Home Center.  There I found a $2, natural bristle paint brush.  These are the el-cheapo, throw away brushes.


Once home, I dismantled the brush to get at the bristles.  First I removed the metal ferrule.


This revealed that the bristles were glued around a small rectangular wood core.  Using a knife, I separated the clumps of bristles from the wood core.


Hide glue brushes are traditionally round.  So now I needed a handle.  I have lots of small bits of pine and oak in the scrap pile.  I ruled out the oak for fear of the tannins causing a reaction with the glue and discoloration.  Ideally I would have had some bits of birch or maple, but pine should work fine.


I used a spokeshave and knife to round and taper my handle blank.


I searched far and wide on how these brushes are traditionally made and came up utterly empty.  So my method may or may not be correct, but it works just fine.  I left the scavenged bristle clumps in their original glued together state.  To fit them to my new handle a carved a recess in the handle.  The shape of this recess allows the glue clump to sit flush with the surface of the handle.  The recess is also shaped in such a way that the bristles will be positively secured to the handle.  The remaining core, that the bristles surround, will create a hollow area within the bristles that will hold a fair amount of glue.  This it what the recessed area should look like.


I then simply applied enough of the bristle clumps to fully encircle the handle.  I then secured them in place with a constrictor knot tied just below the original clumps of glue.  This draws the bristles down below the bulbous tip of the recess as well as flaring the bristles outward creating the hollow, glue holding center.


Using a sharp knife, I trimmed any bits of glue clump the were proud of the handle surface.  The smoother the transition between handle and bristles, the easier and neater the next step will be.


To complete the joining of the bristles to the handle, I applied a common whipping.  This is simply a bit of string tightly wrapped around the joint.  I used unwaxed cotton sail twine, but any strong cotton string will work just fine.  Most grocery stores in the US have cotton butcher’s twine which should work just fine.  I wouldn’t recommend any coated or nylon string.  Coatings could contaminate the glue and nylon tends to react unpredictably to heat.


I also added a hole and loop of string at the far end of handle so that I can hang the brush from a peg/nail.


I trimmed the bristles of my new brush to a shape that I think will work best for spreading glue.  This will be trail and error as to what shape of brush actually works best for spreading glue into joints though.

The last step was to coat the wrapped joint with a bit of hot hide glue.


There should be no need to clean the brush after every use if you are using hot hide glue.  Simply allow the glue to dry.  Stick the brush back into the pot on the next round of glue up and the hot hide glue will reconstitute the glue on the brush.  If liquid hide glue is your preference, then cleaning of the brush after every use will be the way to go.

Here is a reference drawing that outlines the steps.


Obviously you can make these brushes any size you desire.  You could also refine your handles to the nth degree, if that is your inclination.


At any rate, I hope that you found this useful.

Greg Merritt

Categories: Hand Tools