Safety mortising

I have always rather struggled with making mortices. Tenons are less of a problem.  Getting the waste out of the mortice hole and avoiding bruising the shoulders was always a challenge. Having made a couple of handfuls of M&T joints on the joined stool following P Folansbee Esq’s advice, I have more confidence in setting out and bashing away at the chisel, and now I can produce a reasonably sharp mortice chisel.  However, I have refined my own technique a little.  Following an expensive break out of the side of a stool leg mortice I now cramp the sides to avoid accidents.

SAMSUNG CSCLooks a little industrial I realise, but essentially the wooden screw cramp is holding the sides of the stool leg in its grip.  Because the leg is pentagonal (more later) I need a V-block (thanks David) in the cramp as well.  Then one holdfast is pinning the cramp to the bench.  Just to make sure everything is good and solid I have another holdfast pinning down the leg itself. (Blimey!  That chisel edge looks rather close to the holdfast – Ed).

Now then (as we like to say in Yorkshire), the softener under the second holdfast comes in very handy as a sacrificial fulcrum for the chisel, thus saving the edge of the mortice.

SAMSUNG CSCThis gives me leave to get some muscle into the mallet and extract large amounts of waste in one go and speed the whole process up.

SAMSUNG CSCOK that’s actually the top end of the mortice which is not seen as it will be inside the joint.  I now also appreciate how important it is to start off using the chisel with the bevel facing the ends of the mortice, makes levering out the waste much easier, and then using the flat side when approaching the shoulders and then turning it round again to lever out the waste at the ends, so the fulcrum is the top end of the bevel which is down in the hole, not at the shoulder.

I have also filed a mark on the chisel at 1 and 3/8ths for 1 and 1/4 inch tenons.  This makes getting the correct depth much easier.

SAMSUNG CSCSeems to work.

SAMSUNG CSCIt was quite a worry working out what the shape of the legs should be for a joined three-legger.  I did lots of drawing on charcoal bags and test leg end grain, but finally reverted to schoolboy geometry, or what I remembered of it.

SAMSUNG CSCThe angle of the nose is very off-putting when starting from square timber and using one only of the square corners.  I have about 2 weeks to finish this stool for a competition, but at the end of today I have all the aprons fitting properly  and the top nearly done, and the rails ready for making the second tenons.  Phew.

It was Harlow Carr‘s Taste of Autumn last weekend, which was a really good event, lots of visitors and fine weather (apart from a little rain on the Saturday morning, which we won’t mention).

Owen Jones MBE was there making his beautiful and very practical swill baskets.  I must say his shelter is very enviable for its small size (mind you he doesn’t have to accommodate a flippin’ pole lathe).

SAMSUNG CSCWe were also delightfully entertained by the Barrow Band singing their hearts out about fruit and veg.

SAMSUNG CSCIt was a grand taste of Autumn (even tastier if I can get the Shitake inoculated log to bear fruit).


New headers


I’ve been working on a new display stand to use at shows.  Above is the header which will have turned hangers fixed in the holes and it will be fixed above a new trestle table.  As you can see I’ve been having some fun decorating it with 17th century-style carving.  OK there are quite a few mistakes in the execution, but it is a learning piece.  These are only the second to fourth S-scroll designs I’ve cut.  I’ve been using Peter Folansbee’s excellent DVD on S-Scroll carving.  I’m going to have to do something about either my stance or the height of the bench, or the ever-changing depth of the floor shavings because I’ve been getting an aching back whilst carving.  I suppose this is partly because of it’s being a new thing and getting tense trying not to make mistakes, like especially when removing the background from around the last letter!.  The most tiring part was matting the background with a punch, even though I did it in four sessions.

I’ve made it from a piece of sweet chestnut left over from an epic milling session making feather-edged boards for a counter front in a cafe.  The big Stihl 66 I am running the Alaskan mill with gradually got slower and slower at cutting , even though I sharpened it, made sure there was oil in, and made sure the cut was level.  Eventually I gave in a bought a new guide bar (24″) and chain (3/8ths, chisel).  This improved matters amazingly, and no wonder. The new Oregon bar has a sprocket at the nose, like my little 18″ thinning 260 machine, it also has to be greased manually daily.  Whereas – the crappy worn out bar that came with the second-hand 66 doesn’t even have a sprocket – no wonder life was getting tough!

Here’s a picture of my newly discovered way of holding the thing in the vice whilst sharpening the blade, much better than trying to balance it on top of the timber I’m milling.

So less of this mess for a while …


I milled some oak for this job (while the old bar was working pretty well) a picnic table with benches (note the drainers at the rear of the seats).

And this weeks quiz. What is the significance of this number sequence?

It runs: 1,2,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,14,14,15,15,16,16,17,17. Hint: you may need to look back to an earlier post on this channel.

Carving – it’s real.

On a visit to Ilkley I took a couple of photos in the Manor House museum and the parish church next door. I should have taken my tripod, it was very dark in the church. Old buildings do have smaller windows.  Both these buildings are in the very old centre of Ilkley, in fact the Manor House is built on the site of a Roman fort and incorporates some of its stonework.

It’s good when you can find solid examples of work read about in books.  Here is a joined chair from the Manor House.  Not heavily decorated, and maybe unfinished?  The middle of the ‘flower’ designs on the top rail of the chair back seems vague compared to the other six.  The first initial on the crest rail seems barely more than marked out and the second initial and the ‘1’ of the date are rather shallowly defined.


The turnery and mouldings are bolder and crisper.  I’m going to have to look at this again and take better photos, there looks to be a decent zig-zag or dog tooth design on the front apron below the seat.  The panel in the back looks like it might have been repaired.

What I particularly like about these kind of pieces is the informal way the pattern is set out with no slavish adherence to symmetry.  This is a fairly basic design and execution compared to this beauty at Bolton Priory near to where I work.



This rather finely executed chair has a high regard for symmetry and those leaves on the panel are beautifully done.  The crest has great power, supported by the scrolled brackets.  It must be almost like wearing a crown sitting there in state.


This is the only stick of old furniture in the Priory, a little disappointing considering the priory , but The Victorians seem to have had a field day and all the woodwork is modern gothic, very dull to my taste.

Back in Ilkley The Victorians had also ripped out all the family pews, except for one:

Family Watkinson's pew dated 1633

Family Watkinson’s pew dated 1633

I need to go back and get a better picture as the whole thing is a pretty well preserved box pew.  It’s an enclosed pew which looks like this:

ilkley pew

© Copyright Alexander P Kapp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Quick body swerve back to the Manor house and here’s a real example of a table made to be set against the side of a room rather than in the middle.

Wall side:


SAMSUNG CSCOnly carved where it will be seen, otherwise just a nice bit of moulding. Interesting box there too.  Ah so much to discover and so little time.  I must return (well it’s about 10 minutes walk away!) to my village church where there are some very fine pew fronts (on 19th century working parts), I knew I remembered some good carvings from my choirboy days.

choir deskingKildwick

© Charles Tracey,Evaluating English Pews.

And what have I been doing?

SAMSUNG CSCTurning pigs’ noses, for Goodness sakes!



Linenfold panels – more words and parchment.

LF chair

Ham. Is parchment made of sheep-skinnes? Hor. I my Lorde, and of calue-skinnes too. Hamlet v. i. 111 Photo credit Reijksmuseum.

I was looking through the collection at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, to decide whether to attend a visit being run by the Regional Furniture Society, and found an odd translation of the panel decoration on the above magnificent 1500s chair. Google translate described it as “decorated with panels letter”.  My translator app gives ‘letter fillings’.  Our local church has some linenfold work, and I have often wondered how the linenfold design came about, so I thought I’d look into it a little further.

Eventually I came across an excellent article: “Medieval wainscoting and development of the linen panel.” Written by Nathaniel Lloyd in The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs  Vol. 53, No. 308, Nov., 1928.  This six page, fully illustrated (in B&W) article starts with another discussion of the origins of wainscot the word and then goes through earliest stuff of the 13th century called clapboarding (of which no 13th century work survives), which gave a smooth finish, through to highly decorated later paneling familiar in 15th century work onwards.

It was interesting how the decoration developed in two different directions.  On the one hand stylised cloth and on the other stylised paper, and the latter is from where Google is deriving its translation of the Dutch briefpanelen or briefvulingen my Dutch is non-existent, I’m afraid.  Linenfold was not called such in medieval times, references seem to be to lignis undulatis Latin for wavy wood.  Decoration in the cloth line ended up with the edges decorated to look like stitches and embroidery some carved and some punched.

The other line became known as ‘parchemin’ in the 19th century because of it’s resemblance to an open book, or maybe parchment.  It looks like this.

parchmainThe design seems to become very stylised so that if you could imagine the linen laid out flat, there would be a very wavy edge, as the design seems to ignore perspective. This is because the top and bottom edges are mirrored making the foreground folds appear narrower than the background ones.. Try imagine unfolding this one:

Photocredit: St Thomas Guild

Courses – in stone.

SAMSUNG CSCToday’s topic is walling stone in courses.

As any bricklayer will tell you, walling material of equal courses is faster and therefore probably more efficient and economical than walling random stuff (although the later may be more satisfying and fulfilling).

Our practical object is a disused barn on The Chevin, West Yorkshire, UK.  It’s in the progress of being converted into a kitchen and dining room, but that need not concern us here (however, the proprietors of the existing eatery make a mean orange cake, which I can recommend).

When walling a building such as this, the practice is to build the corners first.  Building the corners entails ensuring that they are square and plumb on two faces, then the courses can easily be run across using the corners as guides by running a string across and walling the courses between the corners to that line. The cornerstones are clearly visible at right and left of this elevation of the former barn.  You may notice that, starting from the courses above the massive lintels above the ground floor doors and windows, the corners are alternately tall and broad.  If you were able to see the righthand or indeed lefthand elevations you would see that the tall on this elevation becomes broad on the gable elevation and the broad on this elevation becomes tall on the gable.  OK, so far so good.  The corners are made hefty as they are important to the stability of the building.  Turning now to the walling between the corners, starting low down, you will see that the courses run across two courses high for each corner stone. The run across is interrupted by the ‘door’ in the middle.  This would have been where hay etc was forked up into the barn from a cart, but I digress.  This forking hole also has cornerstones, one to every two courses.


The lefthand courses do not add up exactly to the number of cornerstones and a smaller stone lies beneath the lintel of the hole.  This should not have happened.  I can hear the cursing now.

Stand back a bit and imagine the building going up a couple hundred years ago.  Men are working from a wooden scaffold.  They have lime mortar and stone on the scaffold.  Their tools and themselves.  A couple of craftsmen and labourers.  One craftsman works from left to right (the natural and easy way)  and one works from right to left (easy for a scaevola but uncomfortable for a right-handed waller).  The waller working from left to right “gets a pig in it”  that is his courses don’t level through to his mate’s.  This is corrected with the narrow stone under the lintel.  Phew.

But.  It now gets worse.  Because of adding that extra stone his second next course ends higher than the top of the cornerstone.  The cursing gets more fierce.  I’ll wager the man working on the left was either an apprentice, drunk, or hung over.

The fault actually starts above the fourth course of stones. In fact the third corner up at each end are unequal in height, and throw all the rest of the work out, because the lefthand one is too short.

It’s not as though these cornerstones are just any old pieces of stone that came to hand; they have worked margins.  Not very clear, but below you may just be able to make out a narrow band of smoothed stone about an inch and a half wide, running up the arris (or corner) of the lower stone.  In fact all the corners have been thus worked, time consuming.  Just a little more concentration by whoever was on the banker bench working the corners would have made pairs of equal height.










Anyway, they managed to get level across at the eaves for the roof to sit on, but not without a right lash up involving the third last course being out at BOTH sides.

What a story – frozen now in time, and probably ignored by all, except maybe the men who have just repointed the whole building.

The door may open with a string







Last Summer I wrote a post which included the above verses by John Clare.  I should have noted his words – particularly “The door may open with a string” I guess I didn’t appreciate what he was talking about. However, I have just made a former problem door open with a string.


This iron sneck was part of the problem, reducing, as it did, the door opening by just enough inches too catch your elbow whilst passing through with a tray, ouch! Again!  The real problem wasn’t the sneck but the door opening which was 2 inches narrower at the sneck side compared to the hinge side.  So after 20 years of putting up with it, I decided to sort it out.  I called my bother down to have a look at it and advise whether altering the opening might cause any structural problems, there is a ceiling beam quite close to the door lintel.  He cunningly suggested that it might be easier to change the door handle.  Well thought.

It rang a bell that I had seen a wooden door mechanism somewhere, had a bit of a search online, found a very interesting book: Shelters, Shacks and Shanties, by D.C. Beard.  This had lots of plans for scouts to make shelters in the Great American Outdoors in 1916.  There were interesting foot operated latches and hidden ones concealed behind a nail.  All more suitable for a cabin external door than our dining room.  But there was one operated by a string that hung outside, but which was pulled inside if you didn’t want visitors barging in.  I’d seen this before somewhere – ah yes Eric Sloane!

Sloane latch


Again it was for a barn door, but our house is a cottage so still in keeping.  I started a prototype (which ended up being the actual) from 1/4 riven green oak.  All a bit fiddly as I had no dimensions to go on, apart from the restrictions of the existing door and its frame.


May God blind me if that isn’t a dodgy chisel – Ed

The spring was fun, you can adjust the strength by the length of the thin section and by adjusting the height and angle of the spring fixing block. As above, I rigged it on a piece of scrap to get the latch to open in the keeper without jamming.  However, could only really arrange the string live on the door.  Made a handle for the string, as we don’t really need to lock people in the kitchen, and it’s a lot easier to work.

SAMSUNG CSCThis is made from an interesting piece of dying hawthorn, it is almost purple where it is dead in the centre of the stem, then a band of black melanin – so presumably there’s a fungus at work in there.  The white stuff is the live sapwood (now dead, of course!).  I had to adjust the handle until it balanced level (not as above).

So it ended up like this:


Just about level, even though a little out of focus.

SAMSUNG CSCI’m leaving the screw holes in the door, to remind us to be thankful we don’t bash our elbows anymore.  I’ll fill and paint the one in the frame though