Thagomizer 3

An element of frustration in woodworking will always smack you when you’d rather it not do that. Back around the beginning of the year, I broke the head of my “Thagomizer Jr.” mallet. This was not unexpected. I had not built the thing to last, but rather, did it in a hurry from whatever I had on hand at the time. It was just to get back to work after breaking my original mallet, and it lasted long enough. Still, I was pretty bummed about it at the time, though I’m not sure why. I think I was chopping some mortises and the mallet failure meant that I wouldn’t be getting any work done without a new mallet.

The biggest problem I had when building my first two mallets is that I did not have any appropriate stock in a thickness required for a single-piece head. It turns out that though wood glue is great at tension stress, it’s not quite as hot at the shear stress involved when you laminate a couple of pieces of wood together and smack it really hard. And really, I believe that’s what you want anyway, because a mortise-and-tenon joint would be awful to repair otherwise.

This third time around, however, I realized that I might have something that would work. Back when I was living on the San Francisco peninsula, a friend had a privet removed from their yard, and had the workers leave a sizable chunk of the trunk for me to peruse. Maybe that sounds weird, but hey, free wood. Aside from some slices that we took out of it with a bandsaw, I had a part of it sitting in my garage for years, drying and seasoning. Then I packed it up and had the movers take it when we moved to Maryland. Yeah, I know… that’s kinda weird, too.

And so there it was in my new shop when I was looking around for something, anything that could be used to make a new mallet. Looking it over, it seemed pretty hard, dense, fairly heavy, and just about the right profile for what I needed for a head. Cue the “seems legit” meme.

It was awkward to cut, compounded by its irregular shape. I finally managed to clamp it to the bench and saw off an appropriate length:

Crosscutting wasn’t so bad, but I still needed to get the excess material off the sides. Using the clamp again, I was able to rip it:

This was downright obnoxious to rip. I first went at it with my little rip panel saw (it was such a small piece, how bad could it be?), but it was such slow going that I switched to my big saw almost immediately.

After getting good parallel cuts on the top and bottom, and one on the side, I’d had enough and started to work on the slot for the handle. I used a brace and auger bit to get most of the waste out.

Because I had just destroyed the thing I normally use to beat mortise chisels, I grabbed a deadblow mallet and carefully finished the slot. After sawing the ends to the appropriate angles, I used my favorite brutal shaping tool, the Shinto saw rasp, to put a curve on top.

I reused the beech handle from Thagomizer Jr. in the new head, and had what appeared to be a success:

Well, one side of the head still had a waney edge. After looking at it and remembering how horrible it was to rip off the other sides, I decided that maybe I’d just try leaving that side alone:

Normally, I don’t care for any kind of rustic look, but this has grown on me, perhaps because it reminds me of some work that I didn’t have to do.

It’s been a few months now and I’ve cut dozens of mortises with it. So far, it’s performed flawlessly. The weight feels good and the ends have been durable.

If you have some yard wood that you think just very well might have a use, keep this sort of thing in mind. I already have a few ideas for the remaining bits of that privet wood.


I’m attempting to get the galoototron blog back on track. I’ve been active in my new shop lately, but it’s mostly out of necessity and I haven’t had much time to document anything. We’ll see how this goes.

At least a fair amount of the old content that I had here is out there somewhere, and I’ll try to get that imported, but it will take time (if it’s possible). Sorry about that. (The old content is back.)

In the meantime, here’s at least something that I worked on (and with) recently:

I will follow up with the build story shortly.

It Stirs

It took longer than I expected, but I have a shop again now.

This is a much larger space than I had anticipated. It’s also fairly rough at the moment, as nothing much is in place. I need to work on that, but there are many other things in this house to deal with as well. On the positive side, I can get to nearly all of my tools now, and the bench has already proved incredibly useful in just the month that it’s been there.

I need to find wood sources around here. Shouldn’t be too hard, since it kind of grows on trees around here. I know of one place in Frederick that seems popular. I do not know if all of the pieces to my car’s roof rack made it in the move.

The unfinished project on top of the bench continues to lurk. I really need to do something about that.

Switching Coasts

It sure hasn’t been a very productive three years since my last post, at least in the shop. I’ve done a couple of things, but haven’t finished anything of any note. I’m close on a few things and it’s really dumb that they’re not done.

Two years ago, I moved (again) and the shop never quite recovered. I didn’t have enough space, I had a lot of trouble finding any tools, and time passed. The only thing that really improved on that move was my wood storage; I got a lot better at that.

Now I’m on the move again, this time back to my native east coast! This should really make things interesting. I won’t be able to set up a new shop right away, but the plan is to get started on that in about 6 months or so.

So here’s my shop, ready to be packed up and hauled three time zones east. (Note the unfinished project that really should be finished at the far end of the bench.)

File Box

Let me introduce you to Joe. He’s a rather talented dude:

At BAGathon 2013, he showed up with this little cabinet that he’d made from a wine box. It’s his “file cabinet,” because it contains files.

Well, there’s almost no idea of Joe’s that I wouldn’t steal, so I decided that this would be a pretty good one for that particular crime spree.

First, let’s take a look at where these wine boxes come from. This is the scene around Greg H’s truck about a minute after he arrived at the same BAGathon:

He’s hiding behind the other Greg. Anyway, it’s always a nice feeding frenzy, as we do enjoy the boxes.

Anyway, so I decided to make my own file box. It took me a few months to get around to it, but I finally decided on this box:

As with all of the wine boxes, they usually aren’t made with terribly good wood, and they’re usually tacked or stapled together. The staples holding the front of this one were a pain in the butt, so I eventually ended up sawing next to them to get the front off:

Then I yanked out the staples and planed the endgrain of the front with some hokey workholding techniques:

With all of that destruction out of the way, I set out to make slots for the drawer runners. After fussing with a number of saws, I realized that I had a monster hanging from the back of the bench, and used that:

Finally, I cut out the runners from pieces of another wine box and glued them in:

So then I made the drawers (out of the second wine box). You’d think that I would have remembered to take some photos of the drawer-making process, but all I have is this shot of me making the rabbets on the drawer bottoms for fitting into the grooves on the sides:

Oh well, you’ve all seen me make dovetails before, so whatever. What is new here is that the bottoms are segmented, and I used shiplaps on them to prevent gaps, rather than gluing everything up.

When all was said and done with the drawers, I had these, complete with some quickie pulls that I shaped (also made from a wine box, of course):

Now, It may sound like I did this in a few sessions, and that’s not far from the truth. However, the absurdity of it was that after the drawers were made, it took me about a month to get back to the shop to saw off and glue the fronts on, another month after that to find time to make the handles, and then, finally, another month to find time to tack some little strips onto the sides and put some stupid bevels on the edges.

When it was all said and done, I had this:

Joe’s is probably nicer, but mine’s got stars on it! Anyway, the only thing left to do was put some files inside:

Mission accomplished. I should mention that the fudge factor was very high in this project–whatever I could do to work around the self-destructing properties of this wood, I did. Also, I used an obscene number of tools on it. Why did I use my #45 with the 1/8″ blade to make grooves for the drawer bottoms when I could have probably just tacked them on? I don’t know.

Now maybe I can concentrate on making a real piece of furniture again.

New Large Tenon Saw

In my previous post, I briefly mentioned that I’d filed the plate of a new saw. I have now completed that saw; it’s a large tenon saw.

This particular project has been lagging for a long time. I’d gotten the plate and back from Mike Wenzloff several years ago, but they sat in a box for years. Finally, I filed the plate back in April. It’s 19″ long, and I filed it at 10TPI rip, with zero degrees of rake. Then it sat for a few more months until an informal gathering with some friends in June.

I decided to get started on the handle then. The wood is allegedly “Peruvian Pepper Tree” (Shinus molle); it comes from a piece that a local brought to a BAGathon several years ago and has been bouncing around several subsequent gatherings. I don’t really know if this is actually the wood here or not, but whatever; here’s a photo of the roughing-out process at my friend’s (awesome) shop:

(Later on in the day, I would get to use his Versa Vise. Very nice!)

This wood isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever worked, but it’s certainly got its quirks, namely wavy, reversing, interlocked grain (much to our amusement, as we initially tried to rive it with a froe). It’s about as hard as beech. I found it easiest to smooth it out with a scraper. Even then, I didn’t take a whole lot of care smoothing out the final surface, figuring that it would get dinged up anyway. (This hypothesis was quickly confirmed when I dropped it on the floor as I was just completing the rubout of the finish.)

I was initially going to use a Kenyon pattern for the handle, but decided on a Disston pattern at the last moment because I’ve been very happy with the comfort of the Disston-based patterns I’ve used in the past. I modernized certain parts (as I always do), but left this one mostly alone.

As usual, the finish is varnish. I used about five coats this time. The wood has some strange inclusions, but you can redefine those as “character.” Here’s a closeup of the completed handle.

The saw hardware is my usual (see here whoops, cross-reference broken for now). Here’s the whole saw:

All of this is fine and good, but does the saw work? I picked up a piece of the wood that I like to hate the most (some really hard birch), and checked to see if it could saw straight and quickly:

Hey, it wasn’t so bad at all. I came to my senses and switched to a bench hook to finish off this test cut:

Then I tried it on some less horrible woods. It slices through yellow-poplar like butter.

So it’s done. It would have been nice to have had this saw for the big tenons on the workbench project last year, but that’s the way it goes.

Saw Sharpening Equipment Changes

It’s been saw season around here lately. A few months ago, Lee Valley introduced their saw filing holder (or as I like to call it, “a doo-hickey that you put on the end of the file”). I bought one almost as soon as it came out. Unfortunately, an injury to my finger (not induced by woodworking) and other matters have kept me from doing much in the shop this year. However, I did get a chance recently and because I had a number of saws that needed help, I thought I’d start there.

Strangely, the last thing I did in the shop in the previous year was also to sharpen a pair of saws that ended up in Ethan’s workshop in Taiwan. I did those with the old “block of wood on the end of the file” method. For those, I also made myself a quick-and-dirty saw jointer:

This is another one of those things I should have done a long time ago. It took maybe 20 minutes.

Now, the only real reason that I bought the Veritas holder was being fed up with the million little saw file blocks that accumulate over time:

Not only do those blocks take up a lot of space when I’m not using them, but it’s hard to keep the angles consistent on both sides, and trying to keep track of them all is irritating.

The first saw I worked on was a small crosscut saw for a friend. I said that I would do this saw last year and thought I’d better get it out of my queue first. This saw also featured another first: The first time I ever hammered out a kink in a saw. I’m amazed that it worked. Then I jointed and shaped the teeth. The shaping was the first time I used the handle, and because I just used it straight across to establish a halfway decent tooth geometry, there isn’t much to write about other than that it seemed reasonably comfortable.

Then I set the teeth. Here’s another departure from the norm. I’ve been using a Millers Falls saw set for a long time, and although it works fine, it’s a little uncomfortable to use for a long period. I thought about a replacement such as the famed Stanley 42X, but that has the same kind of grip as the MF. For whatever reason, I decided that I’d try to figure out a Disston Triumph saw set (Stephen Shepherd has written about them here):

It turns out that these things are not bad at all. It’s got the height and depth adjustments that you want on a set, and has a little “gripper” to grab the saw plate just before the plunger presses the tooth into the anvil. One size doesn’t seem to fit all, though; the plunger on the one I have is much too wide for fine-tooth saws (there are smaller versions, and I think you could file down the plunger, too).

With the set done, I could apply a final light jointing, and sharpen the teeth:

The Veritas handle was still reasonably comfortable, but now that I was filing to create fleam and sloped gullets, I noticed that the rake angle setting on the handle was really no longer realistic (the protractor that sets the fleam angle guide was slightly better, but read on). So instead of trying to figure out the correct angle, I just placed the file in the gullet with the fleam and slope that I wanted, and rotated the rake angle setting until the protractor guide was parallel to the saw. However, I did take note of the rake angle setting that resulted on the file holder, because I reversed it when I filed the second half of the teeth from the other side.

The resulting saw worked as well as any I’ve filed before:

Of course, it only worked well once I glued the beautiful apple handle back together after I’d cracked it trying to take the picture above (sigh).

The next saw to work on was a new rip saw that I had on my list for a while. A while back, I had found yet another Disston No. 7 with quite a lot of blade left (but not in the greatest of shape rust-wise). After removing the rust and waxing the blade, I set about making the large teeth by removing every other tooth, converting a 7TPI saw into a 3.5TPI saw. I was a little worried about setting this saw, because I might be trying to bend every other back against its original set, and that could break a tooth. But it turned out that once I’d filed out all of the new teeth, there wasn’t much set remaining anyway, so it worked out fine:

It was during the filing of this saw that I determined that the Veritas handle was helping me file a little faster. This had nothing to do with the angle adjustments. It was because I could pull the file with my left hand as I was pushing with my right. This was possible because the file holder grips the file tightly (as opposed to the block of wood, which does not). It made a difference on this saw because there really was quite a lot to file away to create the new teeth.

But I also determined that you really do have to take the measurements on the saw file holder with a grain of salt and make adjustments as necessary. The large teeth on this saw require a large file, and this is what it looks like when the file holder is on the end:

Because there’s an increased taper at the end of the file, the file holder grips slightly askew from the file’s line. So if you want to keep this file perpendicular to the saw plate by using the protractor, you have to adjust the protractor off the zero mark. There is less of an effect on smaller files, but it’s still there.

In the end, I don’t think this matters much. It would be a tricky (but not impossible) engineering problem to fix it, but the worst part would be an additional adjustment on the handle that would be far more confusing than the ones already there.

The third saw that I filed was my Winchester crosscut saw. I did not need to shape the teeth because I wasn’t starting from scratch. I lightly jointed the saw, set the file holder angles by eye for the first half of the saw, then reversed the angles for the other half. It went quickly.

I also used the filing handle on a fourth saw, a brand new one. That one isn’t finished yet; I’ll post when it is.

A summary regarding the Veritas file handle is as follows: I don’t think that the accuracy of the rake and fleam angle measurements are important. Consistency is more important, and it works fine for that, but not any better than a paper fleam guide and blocks of wood (and remember that practice trumps all). It also won’t help you with the most important part of saw filing: keeping the tooth height uniform (just use a jointer; if you want to throw even more money at them, Lee Valley can sell you one).

For me, it does what I want it to do. There are no more blocks of wood cluttering my saw sharpening supplies, and it’s fairly comfortable to grip. The extra force that I can apply to the file stroke when shaping new teeth is a welcome bonus.

Bookshelf 2: Finished

This is sure to be one of the most anticlimactic posts ever; the second bookshelf is done and has been pressed into service.

There isn’t much to say about it other than the finishing technique that I used. Rather than building up a film to complete filling the pores as I normally do, I decided to apply only two coats of varnish over the gel stain. This was primarily to reduce the sheen even more than the diffusers in the “satin” varnish already do.

The glue-up and finishing stages were difficult because this thing is so tall. SWMBO helped me here and I’m really thankful for that. It would have been very difficult otherwise, especially given the comparatively small space I had to work in.

It also turns out that you can get away with murder with a dark stain and just a little care when you apply varnish.

I didn’t really bother to take decent photos of the finished bookshelf. It’s just not a showcase piece; it’s there to hold books so that we don’t have to put them into boxes or just leave them on the floor all over the place. Somehow, I felt that this is a piece that should blend into the background; you shouldn’t notice it’s there most of the time.

So here’s the top corner, where you can see some of the figure of this exotic yellow-poplar and the highly esoteric literary tastes of this 100% Ph.D. household:

You can barely see the half-blind dovetails at the top. (And, again, I prefer it that way for this piece.)

But wait, there’s more. If you thought that was unimpressive, wait until you see the whole thing in its final location, jammed up against a wall and next to a cheapo particleboard bookcase that I’ll make a replacement for one day:

Hmm, it’s really difficult to get those wide-angle shots to look square. Well, off to the next project.

Bookshelf 2: Glued Up

There are times when I feel like I’ve gotten nothing done, and this past month was one of them. It’s not entirely, true, though, as I have the new bookshelf glued up now:

Getting to the glue-up point was nontrivial. I had all of the joints cut more than a month ago. However, I decided that I would try to stain this thing dark, and because of this, there were some components that I should probably stain and varnish before final assembly. I spent a considerable amount of time doing so.

Staining is a nontrivial process. I read Flexner’s book about a hundred times, tried out many samples, and finally jumped in. Because the shelf is made entirely of yellow-poplar, and blotching is a problem on that wood, I decided to use a gel stain, topcoated with the usual varnish. As Flexner will tell you, gel stain doesn’t penetrate much. If you sand it, you’ll cut through in a flash. I used a full-strength coat of varnish right on top of the gel stain to build the initial coat of protection. Because the stain raised the grain and left a fairly rough surface, I wasn’t worried about adhesion problems, especially because I applied the varnish just one day after the stain. At that point, I was able to sand without worrying so much about cutting through, and a couple more coats went on after.

For me, one of the strangest things about using stain (well, pigment stain, that is) is that it seemingly went against everything I’ve learned so far. Normally, I just plane the wood smooth and apply varnish. However, a very smooth surface makes it difficult for pigment to find the nooks and crannies that it needs to stick in the wood. That might be OK if you don’t want much stain color, but I wanted a lot.

So, with this in mind, I did something that might make you cringe. After I planed the surface smooth, I sanded it with #120 grit sandpaper to rough it up a little (in the direction of the grain, of course). The strangest thing about the whole process was that the planing probably made the sanding faster.

There is another thing that I wanted to write about, but I somehow forgot to take photos. You might recall how the joint for the rear panels went in for the first bookshelf that I made; there were just a bunch of cross-members in the rear of the shelves that housed the tops and bottoms of the panels entirely. That worked, but it left me wanting more, mainly because the cross-member would stick up behind the shelf at the rear:

I came up with a way to keep the cross-member (which I like, for added strength), but hide the top of it and instead slip the panel in directly behind the shelf:

(I guess you can see the famous stain color here. Also, I didn’t bother to make the grain vertical in the panels, since it’s unlikely that anyone will really see them anyway.)

This isn’t complicated, but when put into words, it sounds complicated. There’s one rabbet on the top of the cross-member, with the high side being on the back, and then another rabbet is cut into the rear underside of the shelf, so that rear of the shelf rests on top of the cross-member. This forms a gap between the protruding end of the cross-member and the rear of the shelf, and that’s where the panel slips in.

In any case, now the hard part begins: I have to stain and varnish the rest of the piece. It’s taller than I am and barely fits in the shop.

WIA Pasadena Wrap-Up

I decided to go to WIA West this year to attend some talks and to meet some of the people I’ve chatted with over the last few years. It was great meeting all of you (you know who you are) and I hope to see you again sometime!

One of the first things I had a look at was Michel Auriou hand-stitching rasps at the Lie-Nielsen exhibit:

Watching him do it in person is remarkable. You get mesmerized at the pace he sets when punching the teeth.

One of the highlights for me was one you might not expect from someone who doesn’t do any carving and has no real plans to start–Mary May’s Acanthus leaf-carving demonstration. I’d seen her do this as Roy Underhill’s guest on The Woodwright’s Shop, but seeing it in person was something else altogether.

I can’t really put my finger on why I find this so fascinating.

Of course, speaking of The Woodwright’s Shop, I went to St. Roy’s talks. Now that guy has charisma. For some reason, I didn’t get a photo op with him.

Speaking of wild stuff, here’s a bentwood lamination clamped up in a jig from David Marks‘ talk:

You can never have too many clamps.

And yes, I did two of the events in the Hand Tool Olympics. I did the dovetail faster than I expected I would–something around 10-12 minutes, if I recall. I generally don’t do so well when I’m being watched, but luckily, when I started mine, Wilbur Pan was doing his on the other side, and then Chuck Bender went over there, and so all of the attention happily went over to that side of the bench.

That was just in the nick of time, too, because I accidentally snapped the blade to the Knew Concepts saw I was using and few people noticed (I shouldn’t have been sawing so quickly). I will say this about that saw (the 5″ woodworker’s): it’s fantastic. I’d never used it before. Using it was probably the biggest thing I got out of the whole Hand Tool Olympics thing.

I used three other tools making the dovetails. One was a new Veritas chisel, and I thought that it was really good (too bad I already have too many good chisels). Another was the Cosman dovetail saw. It worked fine–I can’t say much more than that, because nearly all dovetail saws perform the same to me when they’re sharp. I think I still like mine the best because I made it. Finally, there was a “Mongo-style” mallet. I think I like my larger wooden mallet better, but I can’t say that it didn’t work.

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