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Joel's Blog
Updated: 37 min 43 sec ago

I Am a Panda

3 hours 35 min ago

I am a panda. Or a great ape. Or any of a number of animals - I'll choose the cute ones - whose terrain is disappearing and are therefore endangered. Tut- tutting or telling me how cute, chubby, and fun to watch I am doesnt help much. "Oooh, check out that guy with the hand tools! Amazing!" Neither does lip service. On the face of it, our government agencies all love manufacturing and makers. They love to have maker initiatives, training, etc. They are even happy to make a small, zoo-like zone of a few blocks where manufacturers who already exist can try to still exist. But protecting the actual wild environment is another story.
Most of the energy in encouraging manufacturing in NYC is focused on "Maker Spaces," which are always well-intentioned and sometimes actually awesome. But the problem is that these spaces, much like a breeding sanctuary, is that it is not a real substitute for an improved wild environment. What happens to a fledgling business after you "graduate" from a maker space? If you have a prototype, you will probably will outsource your production to somewhere with enough affordable real estate to encourage manufacturing - a place that sometimes feels like anywhere but New York City. And what if you want to expand your business? That probably means not New York too. All the investment in maker spaces, incubators, and other startup support may pay off - but not for the people of the city.

Cabinet shops, which are TFWWs retail life blood, are dying in NYC. Many landlords don't want messy businesses. Even in neighborhoods with industrial zoning - places that are zoned for mess and noise - the trend is to try to rent to offices and commercial ventures. Even if the business does actual making, their primary work is clean and silent. Offices and design shops have a far greater density of people than a woodshop, and so higher rents are easier to achieve. And of course once your tenant is a fancy office, it will want like-minded businesses for neighbors, not a company with a screaming table saw or spray booth. And once a landlord realizes that it can get more per square foot by skirting the industrial zoning requirements rents shoot up. Even if the space is available for a cabinet shop, the cost might be unaffordable.

Now I should mention that not all landlords are opportunists who bought property that was discounted because of its use restrictions but now are trying to evade their responsibilities. ( See my blog from a few weeks ago about Industry City). There are a many landlord - and thankfully mine is one (My landlord has been incredibly supportive of what we do and truly fights for continued manufacturing in NYC) - that really want industry to succeed. There are bunches of reasons for this. The first is that many people, my landlord and others included, want a city that is diverse. They recognize that not everyone is a web designer or a stockbroker. We have thousands of electricians, plumbers, carpenters, cabinet makers, machinists, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, and a range of other craftspeople and tradespeople who need a place to go to work, like being in the city, and most important, make the city far more interesting and full of ideas than it would be without them.

Let me give you an example:
Once upon a time, on West 22nd Street in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, a tinsmith named Harry Segerman had a business two doors down from my grandparents luncheonette. Harry mostly made tinware, and later stainless fixtures, for the restaurant industry. In the years following WWII, Chelsea (nowadays an exceedingly trendy and expensive neighborhood) was a fairly rough part of town. A few blocks west were the Cunard Docks; the buildings were a mix of low rise housing and garment industry factories.
The area was inexpensive to live in, which attracted bohemian artists. Some of them wandered into Harry's shop and were enamored by the idea that you could take metal and bend it into interesting shapes. Harry, who was encouraging by nature and very interested in art, helped helped a lot of these artists make work in tin. Some artists took it a step further and developed expertise in sculpting with sheet metal because of his support.

On paper, this interaction is what cities do best. Art and crafts (and commerce) happen when a big city is a melting pot of ideas and skills. But it won't happen - and we will be the poorer - if New York City becomes solely a consumer of real things, instead of a designer, maker, and consumer.

The Unheated Workshop

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 4:00am

The temperature has been varying between really cold and OMG cold since the New Year, and unfortunately our indoor work temperature has reflected this. Our steel roll-up garage-style showroom door and super-high ceilings are major escape routes for heated air and our three gas powered reflecting heaters barely make a dent.

Are we part of a "proud" historic tradition? Amazingly, in days of yore cabinet shops in Europe and US, even in dank and chilly parts, were not heated.

Let's think about this for a bit. Iron stoves date from the mid 18th century, commonly available central heating from the end of the 19th. Light was essential for craft work, but glass windows were not common in Britain and the US prior to the middle of the 19th century. In the spring, summer and fall, craftsmen worked in front of open windows - a source of light and air. Rain was kept away by roof eaves. In the winter and in truly inclement weather, translucent oiled cloth over the windows gave some protection from the elements. Shutters secured the premises at night and when there was no work.

While fine sawdust from sandpaper wasn't much of an issue before the 20th century, sawdust from sawing and plane shavings did present a constant danger for a fire. And with all that dry wood around, any small fire could easily become a deadly conflagration. Thomas Chippendale's shop, for example. burned in a fire in 1755; although he rebuilt his shop, his personal fortune never recovered from the disaster. And so unlike those lucky blacksmiths who had forges and bakers who had ovens, woodworkers had to exercise extreme caution around fire. Even smoking was generally banned anywhere near the shop. Open fires of any sort were forbidden in shops -- and with that, no ready source of heat was available in shops.

Even in the 18th century, there must have been some small fires to keep the glue hot. The Joiner and Cabinetmaker (1839) describes the apprentice's job of preparing and maintaining the glue pot and makes note of the "serious accidents [that] have sometimes arisen" with improper care, such as when a "hot cinder sticking to the bottom has set the shavings and the shop on fire."

With the advent of iron stoves, it was possible to have some heat in a workshop. But the lack of insulation in the shop, and the probability of working next to the outdoor light meant that on a good day your back might have some heat on it but your front and hands would be freezing.

Fortunately, in the winter the workdays bowed to the reality of shorter daylight and were shorter too.

The funny part of all of this is that at the end of my workday I ride on a (mostly) heated subway and a centrally heated home. Up until pretty recently your frozen cabinetmaker went home to a house probably heated only by a fireplace in the kitchen and parlor. If he was lucky and well-to-do, maybe his bedroom had a small fireplace, but by and large, your workplace might have been freezing and your home was pretty cold too.

And don't get me started about the plumbing.

How to Cut a Groove in a Frame By Hand and Without a Plow Plane

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 4:00am

I own just about every hand tool every invented. My mentor, the late Maurice Fraser, used to say that in the old days you could borrow something from the next bench, but nowadays most woodworkers are on their own. If they don't own the tool, they won't be able to do an operation.

There is truth to this philosophy, but for beginners the idea that you first need to acquire a store's worth of tools before you can do anything is both misleading and discouraging.

When I need to cut a groove, I reach for one of my many plow planes (actually a Stanley 45 - no need to sharpen any of the others). But I was taught a perfectly good method, that is still very applicable for stopped grooves, and pretty fast for anyone who happens not to collect tools like I do.

The most common use for a groove I can think of is holding a panel in a frame and panel construction. Nobody sees the bottom of the groove, which is makes it easier. As long as the groove is at least as deep as needed to hold the panel, the bottom finish isn't critical. On the other hand, usually at least one edge of the groove will be visible next to the panel and unless it is clean, it will truly look awful.

How do I cut a groove without the plow plane? The first step is setting my mortise/combination gauge to slightly larger than the chisel I plan to cut the groove with. It just has to be a touch larger, and since panels are typically angled, you have a lot of leeway with width. I want a little extra width so that I can pare to a clean line (like I did on my mortise). With the combination gauge set, scribe the groove the length of the frame. In this case, I have centered the groove and stopped both ends. With this method, stopping is easy and it saves having to worry about an unsightly gap or plug at the end of the piece. I've also run a pencil line in the scribe lines so that I can see what I am doing.

In a nutshell, here is how to make the groove: Using a regular 1/4" bench chisel I am going to make a series of chisel cuts, none particularly deep, each lifting up a bit of wood. Then, as I do multiple passes, I can easily clear the chips I have raised, and then repeat the procedure to go deeper. I have a tendency to do work in sections as I go in steady progression along the board.

I have found that periodically reversing the chisel and chopping at partially removed chisels helps clear the waste, as does using the chisel parallel to the groove to also break up and clear chips. I have gotten into the habit of using a different narrow or even slightly wider chisels (to chisel parallel to the grooves) to break up waste. I do this primarily because normally I would have to do two rails and two stiles to complete a frame and it saves wear and tear on the main chisel I need. I don't have to stop and sharpen.

When I am done to depth I take a paring chisel - the widest I have available - and slice down at the scribe lines to give me a finished clean edge.

Your first reaction to this method might be that this is a really slow way of doing it. Compared to a plow plane, absolutely. This stile took me about 20 minutes. I could go a faster if I wasn't trying to take pictures, but not much. If you are doing a stopped groove like this and you have a plow plane it might make sense to use this method for the first inch or so at each end of the groove, and then plow the rest. Unless you have a router table, for one small box bottom it might be faster and safer to do the gooves by hand than trying to jig up a router for the grooves.

How to Mortise the Moxon Way: Part 2, Chopping the Mortise

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 4:00am

In Part One we laid out the joint and cut the tenon. Next up: I have to make the mortise. The first thing I want to do is check to see if the tenon I made is still the same width to which I set the mortise gauge. If not, I will have to adjust the mortise to the new width and possible change its offset from the edge of the stile. As it happens, [I cut the tenon pretty consistently- do you mean in general or in this instance?] and the settings I saved are still applicable. As an aside, I should mention that I own three or four combination gauges. None of them are fancy, but it's not at all unusual for me to use several at a time. For example, in this case I am making the mortise right after cutting the tenon, but if I were building something larger, I might have to size more material and work on some other part, and therefore need another gauge to transfer those measurements somewhere else. Since this gauge was taped over, I know that this measurement is safe and correct. I am ready to layout the mortise.

I want to make sure I have space in the bottom of the mortise for any squeeze-out of glue and also if the mortise bottom isn't perfectly flat. So I am setting the depth of my mortise to a little past the length of the tenon. I will also chamfer the edges of the tenon to make it easier to insert. To make sure I don't get carried away, I amI wrapping masking tape at the correct depth of the mortise chisel. I am using a traditional English Mortise chisel. The oval handle makes it easy to keep the chisel aligned with the joint. This style of chisel is as beefy as it comes and can take a lot of levering force.

Using a mortise gauge, I lay out the exact dimensions of the width of the mortise, and using a knife and square, I knife in the ends. I always worry if there isn't much distance between the end of the mortise and the end of the stile, I could blow out the mortise in the process of levering out waste. So if possible, I try to make the stile a little longer than final dimension to add stength to the top end of the mortise. It's easy to cut the stile to an exact length later.

When you mortise you lever out lots of material, so to avoid crushing the ends of my mortise, I draw a pencil line about 1/8" or 3/16" in from each end. I initially chop to these pencil lines so i don't damage the final edge. My mortise is about 5/16" wide - but my mortise chisel is a little narrower (1/4"). This gives me some wiggle room so I don't worry much about damaging the sides of the mortise while chopping.

With the bevel of the mortise chisel facing me, and the chisel edge on the far penciled line, I take my first blows. I'm not trying to go too deep. Then I wiggle my chisel back and forth, put it out and move the chisel about 3/6" closer to me. I make another blow or two and then tilt the chisel away from me. As the chisel is trapazoidal in section, this loosens the chisel in the cut, and pushes back at the chip I just made between my first and second cut. Then I pull the chisel towards me, prying out and ejecting a chip of wood. I am going to repeat this all the way to the end of the mortise. As I do this, I end up going a little deeper with each stroke. By the time I have reached the end of the mortise I am about 1/2" deep. The key to doing a successful mortise in this way is making sure that you do not go far enough between cuts, or deep enough, so that when you try to lever out the waste you can't and the wood fights back. If that happens, just take a smaller bite. If you aren't able to lever out the chip and continue trying to force the chisel towards you, the tip - which is fairly thin near the cutting edge has no place to go - might snap. So pay attention.

After I finish one pass along the length of the mortise, I repeat what I am doing until I get to my final depth. The deeper the mortise, the harder it is to eject chips. They do get stuck. If nothing else works to get rid of the chips, I try poking around with a narrow bench chisel to break up the stuck chips.

Finally I am at the depth I want. Then, and only then, will I chop the ends of the mortise to the final length.

The final step is putting a paring chisel on the each scribe line and pressing down. Long paring chisels are easy to hold vertically. Ideally you want one the width of your mortise. For this mortise I used a 1" bench chisel that I had in the showroom. I have wider and longer chisels but not with me on that day. More importantly, I think a 1" bench chisel is pretty typically the widest chisel in a lot of workshops. It just requires a few more passes.

I chamfered the edge of the tenon and then did a test assembly. The first time I tried to bang it together, it didn't go all the way down becauseI had not fully removed enough material out of the bottom of the mortise. End grain has no glue strength so it doesn't matter if the tenon is short a little. It's a good thing it leaves room for glue, but obviously the bottom has to be clean enough so that the mortise and tenon fit together all the way. In retrospect, I think I would have had almost as strong a joint but a lot easier time of chopping and levering waste if I made the tenon a little shorter and the mortise not as deep.

The main picture shows all the tools I used in this project - with the exception of a Starrett 12" Combination Square (I forgot I used it). For the mortise I ended up using the much smaller Starrett 14D Double Square - but both work. You can also pre-drill the waste. A Forstner bit in a drill press works really well for that. Totally hand done mortises have two real advantages. First, the number off tools you need are pretty minimal, and you also don't need a drill press. Second, if you can cut a mortise and tenon entirely by hand, doing joints at odd angles - perhaps for a chair, or for some modern design - is pretty easy. You have to pay attention but the basic skills of layout, accurate sawing and chopping are identical.

And basic skills of layout, accurate sawing and chopping are as essential to the woodworker as they were in Moxon's time, so long ago.

How to Mortise the Moxon Way: Part 1, Layout and Cutting Tenons

Sun, 12/17/2017 - 4:00am

Many moons ago I studied woodworking with Maurice Fraser at the Crafts Students League of New York. Maurice taught me a mortising technique that he had developed over time. Then, about five years after I stopped taking classes, Maurice called me all aflutter because he found the exact instructions for mortising that he had been teaching all these years. The instructions were in the first English book about woodworking: Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises (1678). The book was well-known in certain woodworking circles back then - I had heard of Moxon and had even glanced through the book - but it had nowhere near its current popularity. As Maurice discovered with his own reading of the book, Moxon championed the "Maurice way" of chopping a mortise. Here is my how-to based on Moxon's technique.

The Goal:

The goal in mortising is to join two pieces of wood, usually a stile - the vertical piece - to a rail, the horizontal piece. While there are hundreds of permutations of the joint (ones glued in, doweled in, mitered at the bottom, cut off or haunched at the top, etc.), at its simplest, a mortise-and-tenon joint is the end (typically rectangular), of a rail, stuck in a hole (also typically rectangular) that is chopped into the stile. Glue or a dowel is used to keep the two parts from disassembling.

Mortise and tenon terminology is at best confusing.

Mortise-and-tenon joint can be "blind" - the tenon ends somewhere in the body of the stile - or "through" - the tenon goes completely through the style and is either flush to the opposing face of the stile, or decoratively planned to stand proud. If you were to look at a piece of furniture with a blind joint, you would not ordinarily be able to see the quality of the joint, though a sloppy fit will fail over time because of sheer stress on the glue. With a through joint, on the other hand, the fit of the tenon in the mortise is visible on the exposed side of the joint. Sloppy work is noticeable right away.

The width of a mortise is based on the size of the rail material. Theoretically at least, you can make the mortise very, very thin in proportion to the rail thickness, but you would get a mortise only as strong as the actual section of the tenon that's left. You could also make the tenon very very fat, but reducing the shoulder size weakens the joints resistance to torque. Over the years the basic rule of thumb is that the width of the mortise should be about one third of the width of the rail. The height of the mortise should be about three quarters of the height of the rail. Obviously these ratios are for reference only and the dimensions can be modified based on other mechanical requirements of the project and the tools available. Usually the tenon is centered on the rail, but actual positions are very variable, again depending on the project.

Which Comes First, Mortise or Tenon?

The answer is whichever side of the joint will be more consistent. Supposing you are making a table with eight mortises attaching the legs (stiles) to the rails supporting the table. If you are using a table saw to cut the tenons in the rails, it is a pretty quick process, and the tenons will be consistent. However they might not be totally consistent to a standard measurement. .380" not .375", or .365" not .375". If you have previously chopped your mortises at .375 exactly, or if you used a 3/8" mortise chisel and they are a touch bigger, there is no guarantee that you will be able to assemble your joint without shaving all the tenons, or getting a looser fit than you would like. On a through mortise, even .01" can be unsightly. If, as in this case, you first make your totally consistent tenons, then set your mortise gauge and scribe your mortise to whatever the actual final thickness of the tenons actually is, you will get a perfect fit no matter what the actual tenon dimension turns out to be.

If you are sawing your tenons by hand, you might want to measure each tenon for finished thickness and then scribe the mortise to what you actually ended up with. I can easily hit any precise width with my mortise. Tenons are a lot harder for me to saw consistently. With machine-made mortises, of course the opposite is true.

But you say. "My mortise chisels are of a specific width. What do I do?" And this is what sets apart the Moxon method from other approaches. Scribe the mortise to the exact dimension you want and then pick the next smallest size of mortise chisel that you own. This is why, unlike any other type of chisel, mortise chisels were (and still are) sold in 1/16" increments, not 1/8" increments like bench chisels. Chop the mortise. (We will go into this topic in excruciating detail in Part 2.) With a slightly narrower chisel, you will end up with a tiny amount of material on the sides of the mortise inside of the scribe line that needs to be removed. What Moxon describes is that when you are all done chopping, you place a wide paring chisel on the scribe line and push down. It's a trivial operation, the excess material just peels off with a little downward pressure on the chisel. You're left with a perfectly sized joint. Another awesome advantage of paring is that with a little wiggle room in the joint, you do not need to be as precise in chopping as you would if the finished joint were intended to be the same width as the chisel.

Before I start chopping I need to lay out my joint.


In this case, I am making a simple blind mortise for a frame and panel. Depending on the joint and your mood at the time, you can cut the groove for the panel first or last. But in general you should do joinery first, so that you are working with beefy square parts. I'll write more about laying out the mortise later, but for now we are focusing on the tenon. If I were making a frame and panel to a specific size, I would have cut the rails to the correct size, leaving material for the tenons. It's important to pick one face and edge of the rails for reference; all measurements and square lines need to come off those reference edges. Otherwise if your material isn't perfectly parallel, you will never get your scribe lines to line up. First I will lay out the tenon shoulders with a knife. I mark all around with a square and knife.

Using the 1/3 rule, I set my mortise/combination gauge and lay out the tenon. Centering the mortise pins on the work is pretty easy. I wrote about the method a long time ago, in a blog here. Using a sharp pencil, I darken the scribe lines so I can see what I am doing. One important feature of working by hand is that there is no real benefit to laying out the mortise and tenon at the same time. Depending on how well I saw, I should be fine, but it's also possible that the final tenon will be a different dimension. But for now at least I put tape on both the mortise adjustment and the fence adjustment on my mortise gauge so that I don't mindlessly move them. When I need to lay out the mortise, they will be perfectly set if need be. In case you don't use a marking or mortise gauge much, check out this link to a blog I wrote on how to use a mortise gauge.


The basic concept of sawing the tenons is pretty simple. I have written previously about sawing straight and my goal is to saw the tenons obliterating most of the scribe line. While there are a bunch of ways to do this, what I do is clamp the rail at forty five degrees in my tail vise. You can also do this in a face vise but I love my tail vise. Then, with both the top and and sides in view at the same time, it's quick work with a sharp saw (in this case my Gramercy Tools Sash Saw) to saw a diagonal line from the end of the stile in the back to the shoulder line in the front. I am paying a lot of attention to ensure the saw is cutting where I want it to, and that I am not sawing past the shoulder line. While I saw I look over the end of the rail to make sure I am on track. If I am not, I can apply pressure on the saw to change tracking slightly, or ease a saw kerf to the line. If you are doing this for the first time, I would suggest practicing to get familiar with your saw and cutting straight. The operation is basically a ripping cut and any saw except one filed purely crosscut will do fine.

After sawing diagonally on the first cut I turned the wood around, tilted it the other way and sawed diagonally in the other direction. My first diagonal cut really helps the saw track properly.

Then with the rail vertical, I saw straight done to the middle. As on the last cut the existing diagonal cuts once again do a great job of keeping the saw on the straight and narrow, but I have to be vigilant in checking both sides of the tenon to ensure I don't overshoot the shoulder line. You might find yourself with a little belly in the center of the joint that cannot be easily sawn away without damaging the shoulders. Ignore the belly for now.

With the vertical cuts done, I go to a bench stop to saw the cheeks off. I want nice clean lines. Even with a sharp saw I get nervous so I very gently chop a shallow cut at the shoulder line. First light cuts at the scribe line with a wide chisel, then angled cuts from the waste to the scribe line, popping out a small "v" of wood. It's dead easy. Then I just saw the waste tenon cheek free. The most important thing is to pay attention so you don't forget to stop at the tenon. Chances are that even when you think you are done the cheeks won't pop out because of a little belly of wood left over from the saw cuts. Most of the time a little pulling on the waste frees it. Sometime I do have to go back with a saw (being careful not to get carried away). Any schmutz left by the cheek is trivially removed with a couple of paring cuts on the face of the tenon.

Finally, all we have to do is cut the tenon to length. I used a square to drop down saw lines from my original tenon layout. The typical proportion is that the tenon length is 3/4 of the height of the rail. In my case I am splitting the 1/4 shoulder space 1/2 on each side. I cut straight down but not all the way. I am careful not to accidentally saw into the shoulders of the rail. That would look very ugly, so I stop a little proud. Then I saw most of the waste tenon away. Using a chisel narrower than the width of the rail, so I don't damage the shoulders, I then chisel out the rest to a clean line. End grain has very little glue strength, so I typically try to undercut the shoulder a little so I know I will be tight at the visible edge.

With the tenon done, I am ready, in Part 2, to lay out and chop the mortise.

NB Incidentally, while it has taken hours to write this entry, in real life - as long as you accurately lay out your lines and can saw pretty straight without panicking - cutting the tenon, shoulders is a matter of a few minutes.

Why Schlep? - A Look at Tools Baskets and Bags

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 4:00am
Charles Nurse 1893
Probably the classiest thing we have in our entire catalog (Colen Clenton Tools excepted) this year is our new Gramercy Tool Bags. They're elegant solutions to the challenge of schlepping tools around - a challenge that crafts people have forever faced. I have a collection of tool sellers' catalogs from the late 19th century on, so I thought I'd check in and see how tool-carrying has evolved.
The Chas. A. Strelinger & Co. catalog* framed the issue well, way back in 1896:

When a "Yankee" carpenter has a little job to do a few squares or a few miles from the shop, he takes his toolbox with tools (about 30 lbs. of tools, 15, sometimes 25 lbs. of box ) shoulders it, and starts off to his work. Now, we do not mean to quarrel with him for doing this, but it would suggest that it was about time to do away with the box business and use a Tool Basket. The middle size weighs about 18 ounces, and while the difference in weight between box and basket (from ten to twelve pounds) is not much for single lift, it certainly makes a big difference in a walk of a mile or two.
This basket can be carried over the shoulder by a stick shoved through both handles, or piece of sash cord, but when is only a few tools used, it can be carried the same as valise. The middle size measures when round, about 21 inches in diameter and when flattened sidewise by the shape and weight of the long tools (as jointer and saws), about 33 inches. They are soft and pliable, very strong, and with fairly decent usage will last for years.

Now I love the idea of a wooden toolbox (shown here in the 1912 Rd. Melhuish catalog) but I cannot imagine carrying it on my shoulder. Another possibility: a tool basket.
Rd. Melhuish 1912
Baskets have limited space, but they are certainly a lot lighter than a big box. They don't seem to have died out until after WW II, and all the tool basket vendors (here the Charles Nurse catalog from 1893 and the 1912 Melhuish) seem to have sold similar versions in different sizes. The engravings for all these retailers look the same and could even be from the same plates.
Charles Nurse 1893 - on the last pages of the catalog it was a late addition
Rd. Melhuish 1912 - by 1912 everyone seems to be carrying them
Various trades used different sized specialty baskets or bags. (The Melhuish catalog doesn't draw much distinction between the bags and baskets - some are made of the same materials.) There are bags for Engineers - a general title for what we would call mechanics. And a bag lined with carpet for plumbers. My guess is that the lining was to absorb any water on the tools.
And the Tyzak catalog from the 1930s included a bag and basket (same material) that by its illustration was simpler than those of earlier catalogs, but might also be the same product as Melhuishs specialty Engineers bag. Melhuish might not have had Instagram, but he obviously understood marketing. )
Samuel Tyzak c. 1930's
Rd. Melhuish 1912
This large canvas bag from Melhuish 1912 is not only "improved" but in elements and structure seems to be a older cousin of a modern leather bag.
Rd. Melhuish 1912

The Strelinger catalog makes a good point when it says that the tool box itself is pretty heavy, making a lightweight basket an improvement. But a basket is also open, not protected from rain, and vulnerable to spilling when put down. What is interesting is that unlike regular baskets for regular consumers, these tool baskets (and the ones in Strelinger) are reinforced. Without reinforcement, the material and stitching of the basket or bag will inevitably be stressed by the tools, and likely even cut or punctured. Leather bags were probably made in the era of these catalogs, but by and large they were too expensive for casual use by craftsmen, which could explain their absence from the catalogs I have.** Leather of course is the most waterproof of the natural materials, and most resistant to cuts and bruises. Klein Tool Bags, an American company that has been around since 1857, continues to make a wide range of tool bags today, including a mass-produced bag similar to ours. But by and large, tool bags and baskets seem to disappear from the tool catalogs, although I have not made an exhaustive search. My guess is with the advent of the automobile, the number of tradesman lugging tools around declined sharply and the concept of the milk crate filled with tools began to make lots of sense. And - ask anyone who routinely works on-site - the art of tool transportation can either be done efficiency or chew up half the day. For moving a lot of tools the Festool Systainer system is a great approach, I am seeing more and more of them on the streets in the morning as craftsman go into buildings to work on-site. (I will write about transporting buckets of tools another time.)

But sometimes you don't need a warehouse full of tools. Sometimes - oftentimes if you live in NYC - youre taking public transportation. Sometimes you are going to a class or an office. Sometimes you not only have to earn a living but you have to impress a client at the same time. Plaster and paint coated milk crates don't leave the reassuring competence than a nice bag does with a client. They just don't want the mess tracked into their apartments.

This need inspires a return to the basics. Yes, if I have a couple of tools to cart, I just dump everything in my backpack and hope for the best. Anything with a sharp edge gets carefully wrapped. My backpack is tall enough for a dovetail or carcase saw but a sash is too long and risky and I worry about the handles getting busted if I put down the bag too roughly. I just brought back two valuable short saws home in my backpack and I wrapped them in cardboard for safety. I can't imagine doing that every day. As I have gotten older, my tools have gotten better, and so is the care I take.

So that brings me to our new Gramercy Tools Leather Tool bags. We also stock Leather bags by Occidental - here and here. Occidental bags are wonderfully made, but too short for a hardware store saw, or a longer plane. One thing I like about tools bags in general is that they have a bottom, designed to have a place for heavier tools so that jostling wont cause something to shift. I don't wrap edge tools other than in a rag so that the cutting edges are both protected and can't do damage. We made sure in designing the Gramercy bags that the hardware and straps are robust (a Klein bag that I loved years ago had strap issues) and the cover really covers. The straps are anchored inside the cover which looks cool but more importantly prevents the leather straps from catching and wearing over the years. I live in fear of a collectible tool falling out. The traditional hand stitching of the Gramercy Bag will wear better than machine stitching and that with the heavy leather should mean that the stitches won't be the first thing to go (the source of my Klein bags strap problems). We use vegetable tanned leather because I discovered that I have a tendency to leave tools in my bag for ages without special oiling or waxing and I don't want to worry about rust caused by the leather.
The Gramercy Tool Bag in dark brown. We also stock a lighter Whisky brown version

.* Note: While I quote from the 1896 Chas. A. Strelinger & Co, I don't show any engravings from their catalog because I don't own an original and the reproduction I have isn't at high enough resolution to do justice to the original.
** I have other American catalogs of the period but they are currently in storage.

Saw Sharpening Essentials - Gramercy Tools Saw Vise (Back in Stock) + Vallorbe Saw Files (They Finally Arrived)

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 4:00am

I've said many time that a poorly sharpened saw is better than a dull saw. For some people, saw sharpening itself is tedious, although you can get into the zone and find your zen in sharpening. I have the additional challenge of declining vision, which translates into trouble with close work, so I use an Optivisor so that I can see the saw teeth. Overall I think doing a good job on a saw is a lot easier than sharpening a chisel.

The characteristics of a good saw vise is that it holds the saw rigid with no vibration. Vibration might not always come off as chattering noise, but it always will shorten the life of your files, and in general make the job of sharpening take longer.

If you use hand saws of any kind in the workshop, having a saw sharpening strategy is as important as a chisel or plane iron sharpening strategy. Since I hate fighting my equipment, I went from an old Disston saw vise (which was a little warn out and slipped a lot - we fixed it) to a larger Wentworth saw vise. It was the bee's knees for us, until it broke. It inspired the last stop on this line, our own Gramercy Tools Saw Vise, which is patterned after the Wentworth. Our vise is make of thick sheet steel, not a casting, so it won't break. I've never been a fan of the two-pieces-of- wood-clamped-in-a-vise substitute for a saw vise. I know it works; it's not as rigid as a steel vise, but it works fine in a pinch. I personally always figured that - just as I have upgraded by chisel sharpening over the years - a good saw vise was worth the investment. (Yes, I know I get the employee discount, but I work long hours and I've earned it!)
From top: 3-square, regular 6" saw file, needle file
While we were busy perfecting the Gramercy Tools Saw Vise, options for great saw files disappeared. First we stocked Nicholson files, but they moved offshore. Then we stocked Bahco. They were okay but they didn't have a wide enough range. Then for years we stocked Grobet. Grobet was never a manufacturer, just a brand. Their Swiss-made files were actually made for them by Vollorbe, a huge company located in Switzerland with a modest profile in the US. A couple of years ago Grobet and Vollorbe had a dispute and ended their arrangement. Grobet sourced all their files from Italy (from Corradi) and from India (from an unknown company). Corradi makes a pretty good file, and I soon realized I didn't need Grobet to sell Corradi files. If I am going to sell Corradi files they might as well say "Corradi" on them and we began to import them. We have been pretty pleased. However, in our shop we discovered that the arises - the flat bit between the sizes of a triangular file - are pretty wide on a saw file (by any maker) and to get better performance we started filing our fine toothed dovetail saw with needle files. This works great and really speeds up the performance of the saw. On our hardware store saw and also our carcase and sash saws we got so disgusted with the inconsistency of the Grobet files that we started using 3-square files - which are seriously more expensive than saw files but have beautiful tiny arrises and gave us the best results. When we could not get them anymore from Grobet we began to order direct from Vallorbe. Even after we switched to Corradi files we ended up sticking with the 3-square files. The larger saw files work fine but the narrower arrises on the 3-square makes for faster cutting. It would be a no brainer except for the cost, and I suppose now that we are importing a range of Vallorbe files we really should do a test. So now, in addition to a full range of Corradi saw files, we are stocking a small range of Vallorbe files for sharpening saws.

How to Choose the Best Dovetail Saw for Yourself

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 4:00am

Today I had the opportunity to chat with a customer about dovetail saws, and he asked me the same question that I get all the time: what makes one saw better than another? Of course, since TFWW makes the Gramercy Dovetail saw, I have a pony in this race. Were lucky to live in a time in which people have a lot of good choices. There are many great modern makers of dovetail and backsaws. I know a lot of thought went into the Gramercy Dovetails design, so I end up talking a bit about those features, and what they mean to woodworkers.

We tout our saws high hang handle and its light weight, which makes it easier to saw straight. This isnt a useful feature for anyone who has spent a lot of time with other designs and has learned to saw straight accordingly. The Gramercy Dovetail has the smallest handle on the market, but we think it helps with the sawing. Its rare that anyone has an issue when using the normal three fingered grip - most people find it very comfortable, just different than what they expected. A review in the woodworking press noted the small size of the handle as if it were self-evidently bad, which I found very frustrating. The handle isnt cramped or uncomfortable to use. It would be a shame if this design feature puts people off unnecessarily. By the way the picture at the top of the blog is my saw atop a pile of student practice dovetails left over from the class.

Earlier this year I began teaching a class called Mastering Dovetails and its been fun to explore the concepts of sawing dovetails with the students. Most students use our Gramercy Tools Dovetail Saw but others bring in a variety of saws by other makers. It gives us a chance to play with different models and understand the design features of each better. Im gratified when students gain the satisfaction of gaining a skill and find it fun to make dovetails well. The Gramercy saw is designed expressly to make woodworking more fun.

Gramercy Dovetail Saw is not the most expensive dovetail saw you can buy, but at $240 it is still a chunk of change. We totally get that its an investment decision that almost no one makes lightly. Remember if you purchase a dovetail saw from us, or in fact anything from us, you have a lengthy six months (and, if you live in the US, free return postage) to decide if the saw is right for you. And of course the best judge for this would be you yourself, not some pundit (like me).

Here are the criteria that seems to guide choice:

Does it look pretty?

Some people profess not to care about how a tool looks, but I think most of us do. Our tastes may differ. I happen not to like the modern streamlined look. I love classical detailing. For other woodworkers, its the reverse. But either way, I think every time you look at your saw, you want to be able to smile and say to yourself, "Wow."

Does it inspire you?

The main reason I don't like modern saw design is that my thinking about woodworking is deeply influenced by history. Every time I cut a dovetail I am thinking of some 18th century apprentice. I love the brass and wood or period designs that keep me in the mood. I constantly am reminded by my tools that I am not as good as my equipment. Nice tools keep me striving. In the case of our Gramercy Dovetail Saw, the handles are made of black walnut - which I love. I know many makers like to use exotic woods: Duncan Phyfe had a small saw with a zebrawood handle. I get the appeal, although an exotic handle can really throw off the weight of the tool.

How is the fit and finish?

There is an old saying among metal finishers, "Highly polished and deeply scratched." No matter who makes your saws, you want over the years to have honest battle scars, not simplifications because the maker didn't know how to fit a back, polish some brass, or make a handle without tearout. For me also - and the reason we have those nice decorative file lines on the handle is that it looks much better than a curve cut by a router - I don't want crude lines and corners, or a square handle with barely rounded over sides. We chamfer the brass on our brass backs and chamfer and round the nose. I like the finished look. I don't even like most historical backsaws post-1820 or so because the workmanship is just cruder than the earlier saws. I find the 18th century elegance that we copied inspiring. Ive already written about our saw etch, and while saw etching uses a later technique (post-1860 or so), I love the what it brings to the tool.

Is it easy to start?

This is an actual important feature that shouldn't need mentioning, but everyone seems to report on it. Most modern saw-makers use foley saw filing machines to do their teeth. Foley machines are great but finicky and can't really reliably files saws finer than 15 tpi. In the era in which tools for handwork reached their peak - around 1800 - 1820 - dovetail saws were typically of much finer pitch (18 tpi and up) and pretty aggressive rake (zero). Starting a 15 tpi saw is a lot harder than a 18 tpi (or finer) saw, and I'm not a fan of the various schemes that are used to get around this problem, such as making the teeth less aggressive. sawing backwards, etc. I'm of the starting school of placing the toe of the saw on the wood, maybe tilted up a touch, and pushing forward, keeping as much weight off of the wood as possible so that the teeth do their job without jamming. Works like a charm with a fine tooth saw. THe only drawback to a finer pitch is that in thick material 1" or more the saw does cut slower as the gullets fill up.

Can you control the saw - and saw straight or at any angle you so desire?

We honestly think that the Gramercy Dovetails high hang handle and ultra light weight make it easier for a beginner to saw accurately. Ive gotten to see a lot of beginners give our saw a try at shows and now in the dovetail class, and its easy to observe how quickly and easily beginners find the saw to control. A lighter saw influences the cut the least. Woodworking shouldn't about fighting your tools.


9" is about average. You can go shorter or longer. Some people like a longer saw. In my class one student used a Gramercy Sash Saw that he purchased because he wanted a more versatile saw. It's a light saw for its size. It took a little getting used to, but it worked out fine. Fast too.

Is there a break-in period?

No lie: our saw has a break in period. This has gotten us into trouble with some reviews in the woodworking press. As far as I know, we are alone in echoing not just the general appearance of a traditional saw but also th4 way it is sharpened. This means aggressive filings and zero rake. When you first get your saw, it has seen only a few strokes when the shop tests it to make sure it tracks correctly and cuts fast. But those teeth are like needles. When you first use the saw, they will want to catch in the wood, especially in open pore species like oak. But after 10 minutes or so - the break-in period - any burrs and bits from the filing should be worn off have worn off and the teeth should be thoroughly evened out. At this point your saw will work smoothly and FAST.

Will the handle stay true over time?

We use Black Walnut because it is stable. I would guess that all of the mainstream materials used by everyone in the industry are fine, but if you do get a saw that is made from an exotic wood, make sure the maker says it will be stable. You wont find much to admire in a gorgeous handle that is heavy and unstable. Nothing is more frustrating than a warping handle - especially on a premium saw.

Handle size and shape.

Think about golf. The amount of effort that goes into designing a handle and club that let's someone driver further is insane. And of course what a pro does is teach you to exploit the tool, not force the tool into your current posture. Sawing is exactly the same. The goal should not be that a saw handle feels perfect from day one. It might - hopefully it will, but it should not under any circumstances just mimic whatever you are used to, it should make you a better craftsperson.

Is it within your budget?

This is a tricky one. In theory, even the most expensive dovetail saw on the market is less than a trip to Disney World. And over time, per use, it's inexpensive. But a budget is a budget and all the dovetail saws worth buying are a healthy chunk of change - with two exceptions: The Veritas saw is well made, inexpensive (1/4 of the cost of ours), works very well, but way too modern for my tastes. I don't think it is as easy to use as our saw, but it's the best deal in well-made pistol grip saws. We also stock a straight-handled gents saw that I recommend to students all the time. It could use a sharpening out of the box but even so it works well, albeit slowly.

As you might imagine, I think the Gramercy Tools Dovetail Saw does well according to these criteria. But I admit I'm biased. If I didn't like the way our saws performed we would be making them differently. The real good news is that with so many modern makers to choose from, all of whom make fine saws with differing characteristics, no matter which saw you pick, you will end up with something pretty excellent.

Woodwork at City Hall

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 4:00am

I was at City Hall on Monday morning, testifying in front of the City Council subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises. This was a slightly different subject than the one I testified about a few weeks ago, but the concept is the same - resist intrusion on what little manufacturing space is left in New York City. This was the first time I had ever been in City Hall and the first time I was in the Council Chambers. Built between 1803 and 1812 and remodelled several times since, New York City's City Hall is actually a pretty small building and isn't used much for the day-to-day running of the city. That happens across the street in the giant Municipal Building.

I don't know how much of the wood, stone, and plaster architectural details date from the original building and how much is from a pre-Civil war rebuild, but it is all awesome!

The hearing was about the merits of allowing as-of-right self-storage units to be built in Industrial Business Zones, areas in NYC that are specifically restricted to manufacturing uses. Currently it is legal to do so, but a new zoning law would ban it. The Council was holding a hearing about an amendment to the law that popped up recommended by the City Planning Commission to allow self-storage as-of-right after all, negating the law. Thankfully, most, if not all, the City Council members present felt that manufacturing jobs are better than self-storage dead space. They also expressed their views that sneaking in an amendment to the new zoning law (which was carefully debated and then approved by almost all the City's local Community Boards, neighborhood advisory groups that weigh in on issues like zoning) is kind of dirty pool. The sentiment was against the amendment.

My testimony was the same as before - you can put self-storage units anywhere in the city, but we are desperately short of manufacturing space. And by dangling possible exceptions in front of developers, you just drive up the price of property and rents based on anticipated speculation.

What I really want to do in this blog entry is just show off the woodworking and architectural detail of the space. My (ancestors') tax dollars at work! It is wonderful and worth every penny!

It's actually stonework but this is a really graceful spiral staircase
The white paint makes the doors pretty sedate but the detailed carving is amazing
In the old days the windows would be open. There is an abundance of paneling and wainscotting. Sort of Federalist - but not really.
Look at the huge book-matched paneling, the columns and the Captain America shield chair seat.
Sitting in the public speaking chairs - in the gallery are visiting students from a local school
View from my seat giving testimony
More details about a door. I assume the mirrors were there to increase the room light in pre-electric days. A candelabra might go on the stand in the center.
Wonderful carved insert placed in various intervals along the molding atop the wainscotting around the room
Carved detail above the podium
Desks for the Councilmembers - a traditional design - probably from day one. Not in use today we sat on folding chairs. What a comedown.
Large panels of book-matched wainscotting are everywhere
Some of my favorite details - the crown molding.
Not to be outdone by the joinery, the ceiling has stars all over it with giant low relief panels in each order. The detail is wonderful, I am not sure if the carvings and stars are plaster or applied wood carving.
I'm not big on selfies

The Marquetry Plane Shows Up In England 1760-1780

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 4:00am

In Febuary 2010 I wrote a three-part blog entry showing that the earliest illustrations and texts about the planes we call "mitre planes" were in the marquetry sections of various books. My theory was that these planes were most likely used for leveling and planing the surfaces of marquetry panels and materials. The exotic woods used in marquetry are sometimes very hard and can easily tear up the soles of any wooden plane. You can read my blog here, here, and here.

David Lundqvist, a woodworker who lives in Sweden, just sent me a "missing link" in support of my thinking. The painting above, called "Die Ebenisten" [The Marqueters], was painted by Elias Martin in England between 1768-80. The painting shows two marquetry journeymen, George Haupt and Christopher Frloh (anglicised as Furlong), working for John Linell in London. I'll talk in a moment about why two Swedish journeyman were in London, but first focus your eyes on the metal plane located pretty much in the middle of the painting.

I think this is the earliest contemporary image of what we now call a mitre plane in England, and it comes just before the period when plane makers such as Gabriel and Moon were entering the metal plane market. The plane itself doesn't look dovetailed and seems to follow the European technique of brazing the body to the sole; admittedly the scan I have isn't perfectly clear, so I am not positive about this. David's research on Swedish cabinet makers led him to this painting. David also found two contemporary citations of the phrase "Rabot du Ebniste," or "Marqueter's plane" -- not "plane of iron," the term that the few earlier references in marquetry tool pages use for these planes, nor "mitre plane," a later term that shows up around 1820. We finally have both visual proof and documentation that the plane was recognized as a marquetry plane, not a mitre plane. Well done, David!!!

Another interesting question is why two Swedish marquetry journeyman were in England in the first place. My assumption was that England at the time was starting its rapid economic expansion with the advent of the Empire and the Industrial Revolution. The country was growing in wealth and an attendant demand for European-trained craftsman to create fancy furniture for the country's nouveau riche. David took a different approach in answering this question. David observed that by the middle of the eighteenth century the closed guild system of crafts, which was still thriving in Continental Europe, was starting to vanish in England. The craft guilds - groups of master craftsman in England - still certified new masters and still gave a seal of approval, but no longer had the power, legal or otherwise, to restrict trade. They were mostly social societies for the richer craft classes. Anyone could be a cabinetmaker, and a cabinetmaker could set up shop and hire apprentices. The loosening of the guild restrictions allowed new ideas to mature, which attracted talented immigrants. New blood and ideas became established in England, along with employment and training for immigrants. Trained Swedish craftsman could find good work and advancement in England, and not have to fight to get guild permission back home.

The painting currently hangs in the National Museum in Stockholm.

The Marquestry Plane Shows Up In England 1760-1780

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 4:00am

In Febuary 2010 I wrote a three-part blog entry showing that the earliest illustrations and texts about the planes we call "mitre planes" were in the marquetry sections of various books. My theory was that these planes were most likely used for leveling and planing the surfaces of marquetry panels and materials. The exotic woods used in marquetry are sometimes very hard and can easily tear up the soles of any wooden plane. You can read my blog here, here, and here.

David Lundqvist, a woodworker who lives in Sweden, just sent me a "missing link" in support of my thinking. The painting above, called "Die Ebenisten" [The Marqueters], was painted by Elias Martin in England between 1768-80. The painting shows two marquetry journeymen, George Haupt and Christopher Frloh (anglicised as Furlong), working for John Linell in London. I'll talk in a moment about why two Swedish journeyman were in London, but first focus your eyes on the metal plane located pretty much in the middle of the painting.

I think this is the earliest contemporary image of what we now call a mitre plane in England, and it comes just before the period when plane makers such as Gabriel and Moon were entering the metal plane market. The plane itself doesn't look dovetailed and seems to follow the European technique of brazing the body to the sole; admittedly the scan I have isn't perfectly clear, so I am not positive about this. David's research on Swedish cabinet makers led him to this painting. David also found two contemporary citations of the phrase "Rabot du Ebniste," or "Marqueter's plane" -- not "plane of iron," the term that the few earlier references in marquetry tool pages use for these planes, nor "mitre plane," a later term that shows up around 1820. We finally have both visual proof and documentation that the plane was recognized as a marquetry plane, not a mitre plane. Well done, David!!!

Another interesting question is why two Swedish marquetry journeyman were in England in the first place. My assumption was that England at the time was starting its rapid economic expansion with the advent of the Empire and the Industrial Revolution. The country was growing in wealth and an attendant demand for European-trained craftsman to create fancy furniture for the country's nouveau riche. David took a different approach in answering this question. David observed that by the middle of the eighteenth century the closed guild system of crafts, which was still thriving in Continental Europe, was starting to vanish in England. The craft guilds - groups of master craftsman in England - still certified new masters and still gave a seal of approval, but no longer had the power, legal or otherwise, to restrict trade. They were mostly social societies for the richer craft classes. Anyone could be a cabinetmaker, and a cabinetmaker could set up shop and hire apprentices. The loosening of the guild restrictions allowed new ideas to mature, which attracted talented immigrants. New blood and ideas became established in England, along with employment and training for immigrants. Trained Swedish craftsman could find good work and advancement in England, and not have to fight to get guild permission back home.

The painting currently hangs in the National Museum in Stockholm.

Joel's Blog Ten Ways I am Doing Things Differently - Part 4

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 4:00am

I've been working with wood since I was a kid. I took my first woodworking class at the 92nd Street Y when I was 6 years old. I've been taking classes and building stuff for over 35 years. For the last 17 I have been working at Tools for Working Wood. In that time, new tools and new techniques have come on the market. By and large I have ignored them in my personal work. However, I haven't ignored everything, and my methods of work have in certain areas changed dramatically for the better. I've broken up my list of ten things into three posts so I don't drone on and on to long. This is Part 3. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here

The Moxon Vise

As I have gotten older it's been harder and harder for me to see anything. And bending over isn't much fun either. This isn't a joke. Sawing joints has always been problematic for me and I currently wear magnifying glasses for any close work. My bench (Frank Klausz style made over 30 years ago) is the right height for just about everything except cutting dovetails. It's just too low. So I hunch over thinking "there must be a better way." About ten or so years ago I found out about Jeff Miller's Bench on Bench. I built one and it was a big step in the right direction. Basically a Bench on Bench was a little table you put on top of your main bench and it has a double vise in the front.

Then along came the "Moxon Vise" popularized by Christopher Schwarz. The vise gets it's name from Joseph Moxon's "Mechanick Exercises" But as I wrote last week the actual connection between the wood press illustrated in Moxon's book and how the Moxon vise is used to today is at best tenuous.

Many vendors now sell complete vises or just hardware kits. We used to offer the entire vise but currently we are only offering hardware kits which we are very pleased with. Our kit came about initially from a joint project with the . They came up with the ears on the sides, a cambered jaw, and the little shelf for clamping tails during layout. We added acme screws, washers, big nuts that don't wear out their mortises and spin, and handles that can be moved out of the way. You can read all about how to design your own Moxon Vise here.

The big reason the Moxon Vise made my list of ten is that I feel that by raising the overall height of where I saw I can see better, bend over less, and the whole process feels so much less jury-rigged. I am sawing better and more accurately - partially at least because I can see what I am doing , but also with the work clamped pretty low in the vise I can still easily saw uphill and have the work solid and vibration free. Not to mention my posture is better and it's less tiring.

The picture above is me in the middle of sawing out tails using one of the showroom / class benches where we have fitted Moxon vises at each end.

So that's my list of ten ways my work has changed. I hope to be able to say in a few years that my skills have gotten better, that I am still learning, and maybe have an even better list.

Has your woodworking changed over the years too? I welcome your comments.

Where Moxon Got His Mojo

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 4:00am

For over a decade I've been looking for a copy I could afford of Andre Felibien's masterwork, "Des Principes de l'Architecture, de la Sculpture, de la Peinture et des ..." [Principles of Architecture, Sculpture, Painting and ..] A copy finally popped up on the internet and I grabbed it. I have been spending the last week studying it. The book is well known, and you can get a scan on Google books here. I collect books. While it's wonderful to be able to read the book online from practically anywhere, I find having a real book in front of me is far more satisfying. The book's woodworking section starts at page 170, with all the plates are in the following pages.

There are several editions of the book, the first from 1676. This is the book that Joseph Moxon used to copy drawing from when he published the woodworking section of "Mechanick Exercises" two years later in 1678. If you haven't read Moxon, we stock the Lost Art Press version, or you can read the 1703 third edition here.

Moxon's "Mechanick Exercises" is important because it is the first book in English that tries to be a handbook on how to make things. Beginning in 1677, every few months or so Moxon released a chapter on a different subject. Blacksmithing, carpentry, house-righting were a few of the topics. In 1683, after a hiatus of several years while England was in turmoil, Moxon resumed the series, this time writing about something he know about personally: printing and typemaking. Whereas Felibien's book was really an encyclopedia of tools and objects - this is a hammer, this is a nail - Moxon pioneered the "How-to." The point of Felibien's book, in my view, was to give rich, educated people the ability to find out the basics of the world around them. Studying Plato at University was fine and dandy, but an educated person should not be confused by the real life going around them.

Moxon took it a step further. "Mechanick Exercises" tells a little about the tools; instead, it instructs. Here is the way to grind a tool, how to chop a mortise, etc. Fairly short in length, and written by someone who was far from an expert or a craftsperson in anything except printing, the book falls short of being comprehensive. But Moxon gets full marks or trying, and it's exciting to read his result.

It is pretty obvious - and has been known for a long time - that Moxon used Felibien as a source for all his tool illustrations. Seeing the original engravings started me thinking. First of all, if Moxon's book used French pictures, then one can assume that what is in Moxon are actually drawings of French tools. And in fact, many of the few surviving English tools from that era look different than the tools illustrated in Mechnick Exercises.

Another point I am pondering: the vise that we now call a Moxon Vise is hanging off in space on the side of the workbench, but are shown much larger hanging on the wall in Felibien's workshop. I love my Moxon Bench because the modern incarnation sits on top of my bench, raising the height for dovetailing and other joinery. But Moxon doesn't mention it in the text and neither book shows the vise in a modern usages. Felibien calls it a wood press, or vise, but that's doesn't help much, although the size of the vises in his book suggest that they were used for clamping things together, not as a vise raiser.

Probably the most obvious conclusion I can reach from comparing the photos is that Moxon really did a crappy job. The images are all crammed together on one plate, and two of the tools - the workbench and the frame saw - are cut off at the edge. The engravings are crude compared to Felibien's.

How were the engravings done? And who was the engraver? We really don't know. At the time of publication, Moxon was a successful printer so he would have had staff, but he also probably had enough skill to do the not-so-great engravings himself. I consulted by phone with my friend Jeff Peachey, a noted book conservator (who hasn't seem this copy in the flesh yet) His guess is that the engraver (whoever it was) just propped up the Felibien up and then directly sketched out the tool images on the copper plate. This would explain why the images are all reversed in the final print. We suspect the engraver might have used some sort of optical aid to help with the copying on some of the images. Moxon's image are greatly reduced in size from the original French ones, probably because he was trying to fit about 4 pages of tools onto one smaller page. That being said, and the reason why I suspect the involvement of an aid of a sort, is that planes drawings are a pretty good copy of the original image, but one of the saws is missing a little off the right side. The problematic saw would have been the last one engraved if the engraver worked from left to right (as you would if you were right handed). I think that if he was drawing freehand and just using the book as a reference he would have scaled it to fit. As it is it looks like he was in a rush, started off doing a pretty good engraved copy, but then ran out of space. Some of the smaller tools are pretty crude, as if he didn't see the need for a careful copy. The biggest change from Felibien is on the workbench. The wood press on the wall became something hanging in front of Moxon's bench. One interesting fact is that Moxon's bench has a hook front on the left and Felibien's doesn't. This suggests that Moxon might have copied the images but he was trying at least on some level to do more than just condense and copy a picture.

While I find the facts of the case interesting, and speculation on how the books came about fun, the real thrill for someone like me who loves history is just seeing these real-live books together. We don't know for sure how Moxon got the idea for "Mechanick Exercises," but I can tell you it is very possible that being a printer he had a copy of the French book soon after publication in 1676 and got the brainwave to take it one step further. I know when I was looking at Felibien and starting to understand some of the text, I found myself wondering: Okay, I know it's a woodpress, but describing it isn't enough. How do you use it? And, nice chisels! What do you use them for?

I guess that's the same question Moxon asked himself. But unlike me, he got off his duff and published a book about it.

Industry City Wants a Handout as it Kills Woodworking Jobs

Wed, 10/25/2017 - 4:00am

I spent this morning at NYC's Department of City Planning exercising some civic duty - participating in a rezoning meeting. Industry City, my former landlord, wants to get a zoning change for its large Brooklyn complex which is currently zoned for industry and manufacturing, enabling it to have more retail, commercial and office space, and a hotel.

Their main public argument is that they have pumped millions into the complex, which has about 6.5 million square feet of space, and have increased the number of tenant businesses from a hundred or so to over 450 tenants, and they want to continue expanding.

I decided to testify because Industry City is extremely savvy and great at public presentations. They typically frame their approach as that of job creation and opportunity. Very clever! Who would be against this? Politicians and other civic leaders generally don't hear from people like me (and meetings that take up hours in the middle of the day are not going to attract many small business owners). My main point was that you can build commercial and retail space almost anywhere else in the city, but there is a real shortage of industrial spaces. Industry City in general doesn't like real industrial companies. When I moved to the complex in 2007, there were - by their count - over 60 cabinet shops. That's a lot of woodworkers and for us, potential customers. Now there are way fewer, and my customers are disappearing to places outside of NYC. Slowly but surely the infrastructure that makes our business, and in fact any hardware or lumber business viable, is vanishing. At some point critical mass will be gone.

Industry City was acquired by new owners a few years ago, and to their credit they did invest money in the buildings. As folks who visited us back in the old space might remember, we had only a freight elevator, and if you came when the operator was on lunch, you earned bragging rights to the 5 story stair climb. Our wires were all exposed. The new owners put in an elevator, improved the wiring and made many cosmetic improvements. These improvements warrant rental increases, but that is not what animated the sale.

Instead, it was the hope of a handout. In NYC, zoning restrictions mean that landlords and property owners cannot do whatever they wish with a property. Industrially zoned land is the cheapest kind of land in the city, relative to other uses (residential, commercial, mixed). The restrictions depressed the valued of the complex, which was reflected of course in the sales price. As new owners, the new Industry City team spent millions not only on building improvements, but also on lobbying to get pesky rules - their zoning restrictions - waived.

I thought it was important to remind the City Planning Commission about a few salient points. Industry City might brag about jobs that they say they "created," but they aren't actual job creators. The jobs that are now in Industry City now were mostly moved from other parts of the city, or would have been created in other parts of the city. This is not true of the manufacturing jobs. Losing industrial space means losing industrial jobs like cabinetmaking and set building, both of which have made a steady march upstate or out of state. Creating more commercial and retail space, which could go almost anywhere, out of rare industrial space seems like a bizarre goal given the large number of vacant storefronts NYC now has because of on-line shopping.

Another important point for the City to consider. Most of the investment money for IC and other large developments comes from international sources. The results of their hoped-for windfall resulting from a rules change won't even stay local. The billionaire that makes the huge return isn't living in NYC, their taxes and donations will end up supporting some other place somewhere.

Did my comments make a difference? It's hard to know. Sometimes these public presentations are window dressing on decisions made long ago. But I don't regret speaking up on behalf of woodworkers and other industrial workers. If I don't, who will?

People all over the country read this blog and many of you will think - why don't you just move here - rent's cheap. But we like it here and if the Government would just enforce the zoning laws we have and not let any big company with a pile of dough for lobbyists challenge the law - we would be fine. All the industrial space in NYC is under constant attack from big investors and foreign money who know with a stoke of the pen they can make a killing.

Our jobs are at stake.

An Introduction to Hand Tools - The Instructor Confesses

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 4:00am

Tomorrow night (I am writing this on Monday evening, October 9th), I will be teaching dovetailing. This Saturday I will be teaching a free class called "Introduction to Hand Tools" for the first time. So I have teaching on my brain. I've taught the dovetailing class before, so I know what's on tomorrow night. It's the second session, and we'll be learning about body movement and sawing straight. This afternoon I checked to make sure that all the wood we need is ready, and Tuesday need to double check that class saws are ready to rumba.

It's the Saturday class that preoccupies me a bit. The class is in response to the many people over the years who have come to our showroom, for themselves or looking for a gift, who are trying to wrap their heads around the idea of using hand tools. They sincerely want to expand their horizons. Sometimes they are familiar only with what Home Depot stocks and hand held power tools. This applies to professionals and amateurs alike. Many are perplexed by the idea what you can actually build anything by hand. Of course, misconception about hand tools are formed by never seeing the tools in efficient operation. You can drill a hole with an electric drill even if the bit is dull and the drill is noisy. But it isn't patently obvious how to work a brace or a bit so it's fun. We have a reputation and a lot of showroom and warehouse space devoted to hand tools, so the curiosity is natural.

What can I do to give people what they've come to discover? I have to get and hold people's attention. I have to make hand tool skill look like obtainable. I have to show the distinction between cheap knockoff tools that don't work well and quality hand tools. And - particularly for the amateurs - I have to show that the basic operations of woodworking by hand, operations that can be performed in a small apartment or shop, don't have to be painful, and can result in good results.

I try to be practical, not (just) philosophical.

I should teach how to measure accurately but I am afraid it isn't sexy enough to keep a class engaged. People want to see sawdust!

I think I want to teach people how to start a cut with a handsaw. That's a big problem people have. They try cutting something and since they can't start the saw they never get to the joyous moment when they can advance easily through the wood.

I think I want to teach people how to set a hinge because that gives me a chance to demonstrate marking out and chiseling to a line. And it's easier than setting up a router.

I think I want to show people how to clamp their work. It's not very sexy but it's pretty useful. I know some tricks with a few clamps that let you set up anywhere even at the kitchen table.

I will have to plane something - wood shavings are sexy. And if I rub the shavings on the wood I can show a wonderful burnished surface.

And of course I plan to drill a big hole with a brace and bit, showing how to not splinter out at the end and also how a ratchet brace really helps with those large holes.

I think that's all I can do in a couple of hours. My main goal, of course, is to inspire. I hope that at least a few of the attendees will look at what I am doing, try it themselves and then go home, take the plunge and start building stuff.

If you are in the area this Saturday, you're invited to the class! For more details click here.