Bronze Oak Leaf Down!


I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but have I got a story for you.

After a sudden, inexplicable, and super-scary health issue, I’ve been given at least a month off work.  I know; what’s the problem with that?

Well, sparing you all the gory details, let’s just say that the first couple weeks at home (after six days in the hospital) were difficult.  For now, I tire a little easier, and I don’t have 100% use of my right hand back just yet.  Forgive any typos; my backspace key is getting a workout.

The good news is I’m on the mend and getting stronger every day.  So what’s with the opening pic?  Well, I’m glad you asked.

Knowing that I was just 50’ from the happiest place in my own little wooded corner of the hills of southwestern PA, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist the alluring smell of freshly-made wood shavings, a little sawdust, and the pleasing warmth of a cozy fire in the stove for long.  I lasted about two hours on my first day of at-home recovery.

The tool above is the result of my stubborn refusal to sit still and a gorgeous piece of +++curly maple, courtesy of my brother.  It’s actually been sitting in the shop long enough to be considered mine, but I asked permission for a small piece of it anyway.  I know; big of me, right?

Anyway, this marking gauge is on the cover of a magazine I’ve had lying around for a while, and it looked like the perfect small project to keep otherwise idle hands (hand?) busy.  Not too heavy, no dangerous machine setups, and great therapy for my new “dumbhand”.  Yes, my left hand has been promoted.  It turned out so beautiful I just had to share a few thoughts about it.

While I was at it, I built two.  I also have some really nice hard maple lying around waiting for a purpose, and, while not curly, also very pretty.


It was a pretty simple and straight-forward project; probably only an afternoon’s worth of work.  It took me a week.  Not counting shipping of all the parts.

I ordered all the brass, the knobs, and the cutting iron.  I choked a little on the prices of some of it, so I dragged my feet a bit, ordering parts in dribs and drabs.  I’m an admitted cheapskate, and I’ve not yet learned that I’m going to order it anyway, so just get on with it.


Anyway, I carefully milled the heads, drilled holes and inlaid the brass wear-strips.  The beams were a little more tricky.  I didn’t want to buy 5/8” dowels and deal with inconsistent dimensions, so I thought heck, I have a lathe.  Small piece of advice; don’t do that.  A lathe is not the best tool to make consistent dowels.  It took forever, and I looked like a crippled three-legged cat trying to pull it off.  I eventually resorted to hand tools to get it right.

The second beam, also a piece of curly maple from Bro, was made much more intelligently.  I milled a square, then an octagon, then kept knocking down corners with a block plane until round.  I finished fitting by inserting it into the head until it stopped, then pulling it out and scraping off the shiny spots.  The textbook way to make a square into a circle.  You’d think I would’ve known that with the first one.


I handplaned the flat on the beams to seat the brass pressure pad, milled the pressure pad, then waited on the brass knobs to come in the mail.


This is what the brass knobs looked like straight out of the package.  Decidedly UNSAT.  So, a little filing and sanding through grits up to 15 micron, followed by a buffing wheel, and I have something I would use.


These cutting gauges actually work pretty well, although there is a bit of a learning curve.  They’re not as user-friendly as my wheel gauge, but they do cut nice, clean lines across the grain.

I got the cutter from Hock Tools (price-choke), cut it into three pieces, and profiled the cutting edge.  The original piece called for a spear-point; very sharp, but very weak.  It was bent and nicked after just a few uses.  I took them both and ground a slight radius on them.  Easier to sharpen, use, and much stronger.


The maple one went in the tool chest, and this is the home for the curly maple one.  It’s really just a show-piece, but sharp and ready for use.  I’m not one for making baubles and bangles, but I needed something easy to do, and made an exception just this once.


Oh- by the way- you might have noticed that the knobs are on opposite sides of each gauge.  The original one had the knob on the right side.  Inattention to detail caused me to plane the flat on the wrong side of the plain maple beam, so I made sure I planed the curly maple beam correctly.  It turns out that the knob on the side facing the user (right-handed user) is easier for adjusting.  Just a tip from yer old Uncle Bronze Oak Leaf.

I’ll be going back to work soon, and this sad, pathetically slow pace I’ve been keeping in the shop will come to an end.  It’s been fun, but honestly, I’m ready to reenter the land of the living.

Bronze Oak Leaf out. Continue reading

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The “Iron Oak Leaf”?



Plain Jane

Well, how do I begin?  This is not sawdust.

No matter how much I try, I just can’t get away from the “greasemonkey” side of The Bronze Oak Leaf.  And even when the work is fun, I still get dirty.

This is “Blueduck”, my ’04 Sportster.  Bone stock, except for the 883-1200 conversion kit, complete with the gray motor and two-tone paint job that is standard on this particular model.  I know; kind of ugly.  That’s what I thought, too.

And this is what happens when you stop over to your brother’s shop for 30 or 40 beers on a Saturday night.

Brother: “Hey, I want to build this, this, this, and that.”

Me:  “Hey, when is it my turn?”

Brother:  “What do you want to do?”

Me:  “Pull the motor off the bike and paint it.”

Brother:  “See you at 8:30 tomorrow morning.”

11:30 the following morning:


Sick, right?

And just like that, my shop is now to be devoid of sawdust for the next several weeks.

So here’s most of the motor.  We stripped it down, degreased, primed and painted.  We used VHT Wrinkle Plus paint, and it turned out better than expected.  It went on glossy, and after a couple hours it wrinkled up beautifully.

We let the paint cure a good long time, and that allowed me time to polish.  I polished every piece of shiny stuff on that bike.  It took several evenings after work, and it was worth it.  As Paul Sr. says, “it just ain’t cool if the chrome don’t shine.”

My son and I also took the opportunity to degrease, wash and wax the frame.  Hey, you came this far, right?


Now, on to the blue in “Blueduck”.  Through a fortuitous phone call to one of my brother’s friends, we found out we could have the tins painted for what seemed like a pittance.  Up until now, I just figured body paint was out of my reach.  I’m not afraid to spend a little money for aesthetics, but I don’t usually break the bank on such things.  Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough.

So while the tins were out for paint, we had plenty of time to put ‘er together.

She was already shining pretty good before the tins came.  We even got it running before we put on the gas tank.


Yep, that’s our fuel tank

Well, we had to wait awhile for the tins to come back, but it was worth the wait.  The color was perfect, the paint job excellent, and, well…

…I’m happy.  Oh- one more thing; I’ve never liked the staggered drag pipes on a Sportster.  I didn’t like them on my ’79, and these weren’t any better.  So, a little overtime and…


…BAM!  They look great, but will require some tuning due to the larger diameter.




Complete with leather

Well, it was  a lot of fun.  Naturally, as soon as I got it put back together it snowed.

So, time to push it back into the shed and get busy being busy again (until it warms up).

Oh, by the way; here’s a quick pic of the latest stool I promised my brother-in-law before I got hip-deep into this project, next to the stack of lumber reserved for my niece’s hope chest.  I know, right?


Don’t worry John, it’s coming.  I just got a little distracted.


















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Shop Stools


Okay- dude; I can’t make this stuff up.

Another great day in the shop, sitting on my second prototype; and this is the one I think I’ll keep.

A brief history of my way of building:  I’ve never reproduced anything I’ve built.  Ever.  Not for friends, not for family, and not for paying customers.  Ever.

Until  now.

I saw this stool built by Chuck Bender in a magazine and had to have one.  And I must say it is the most fun I’ve had to date here in my own little ‘lee of the stone’, The Bronze Oak Leaf Shop.

This was originally going to be a lengthy piece on the construction of these stools, complete with 8 X 10 colored glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explainin’ what each one was  (for you fans of Arlo Guthrie), but I decided I would rather just put it out there and see what you thought.

I must say I can’t be more pleased with my results.  The first one, the prototype I mentioned in my last post, I was very happy with.  The second, the one upon which I now sit, sends me to the moon.

I happened to have a piece of walnut 1-1/2″ thick lying around, and I thought, “well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs”.  And break them I did.

I sawed it into four equal pieces and began my diabolical plan.


I began with the article containing the original stool, but needed to come up with some measurements.  I contacted Chuck Bender of 360 Woodworking and asked for some guidance.  He graciously pointed me to a Sketchup model of his own design based on the work of Wharton Esherick, and wished me luck.

Having a Windsor-style chair under my belt, I figured this couldn’t be too hard.  Well, I struggled mightily with the angles and overall measurements of the type of stool I wanted.  Chuck was a big help.  I finally settled on a stool that incorporated some elements of a Windsor chair.  I didn’t want a stool with equilateral angles and measurements between front and back legs.  I wanted it to more closely resemble a Windsor chair; I wanted the back legs to be closer together in the seat and at a steeper rake (the front-to-back angle), so I broke out all the tools, a big piece of cardboard, and came up with this.  It took some doing, but I think I finally came up with what I was looking for.

The prototype was built from a birch tree I felled out on the back 40 (actually it’s more like 10, but who’s counting?).  Nice and straight; I was able to split some usable billets for legs and stretchers.  Remember; I don’t always work the easiest way here in the shop; I enjoy the process as much as the result.


So I split some stuff, shaved it close-round on the shave horse, and began work on the lathe.  Any chairmaker worth his salt knows that if you split your pieces, you’ll follow the grain and have stronger pieces, allowing you to reduce their sizes and come up with delicate-looking but strong chair legs and stretchers.  Which makes for elegant, non-clunky-looking chairs or, in this case, stools.  This particular birch had a little twist to it, but not enough to worry me.img_0467

Well, I’m not that good on a lathe, so I got them close then finished them on the horse.  It’s a much more controllable way to remove stock, and one with which I’m a little more comfortable.  I was able to tweak the overall shape and the tenon sizes.  img_0456

I do, however, shrink the tenons before final sizing.  It ensures that the tenons are drier than the seat, so they soak up the moisture from the seat and swell to make a nice, tight joint.img_0463

Having the legs under control, it was now time for the fun stuff.  I bought a travisher from James Mursell from over across the pond, and was introduced to my new favorite pleasure: carving a seat by hand.

The very first seat I attempted was from cherry, and with a wicked-aggressive wheel for a 4″ angle grinder.  It worked o.k., but was much less controllable and made a lot of dust.

It took some convincing, but I pulled the trigger on this relatively small purchase, and couldn’t be more impressed with the performance.  I highly recommend this travisher.  Combined with standard- and low-angle spoke shaves, I was able to make quick work of shaping a seat entirely by hand.  I’m not a hand-tool-only romantic, but there is nothing, nothing, like whiling away the hours with sharp edge tools, producing piles of wood shavings at your feet.

Anyway, that was my first try.  The next one is the one I’m really fond of.  One of the pieces of walnut had some beautiful figure and some even more beautiful colors combined with a touch of sapwood.img_0528

How many colors can you pick out in this seat?

I also modified the frame on this one.  I wanted to try a taller stool, so I added three inches to the bottom.  I kept the distance from the stretchers to the seat the same because it was perfect.  Believe me, I had roughly a dozen rear ends on this stool, testing the shape of the seat and the comfort of placing the feet on the front stretcher, all while carefully observing how people sat on it.  They didn’t know it, but I wasn’t paying attention to their trivial conversation.  I was watching their posture, watching how much they fidgeted, seeing how long they could sit that stool until they had to move.  Happy to report: it was comfortable.

Secondly, and most important, I used white oak.  The birch was alright; straight-grained, tight-grained, and easy to shape; but I just can’t get past the beauty of white oak.  It was tough.  I had no white oak logs from which to split out the parts, so I had to saw along the grain from an air-dried plank.  White oak is hard, and even harder when dry.  I had to  sharpen lathe tools often, but it was worth it.

Making the stool taller, though, required some changes to the shape of the legs.  The measurements changed, and therefore so should the proprotions.img_0531

As you can see, the first stool has thicker feet.  But that thickness just didn’t look right with the longer distance from the feet to the stretchers.  My son pointed out that, with the feet at the same thickness as the original, the legs looked like baseball bats.


I took the feet from 1″ down to 3/4″ and went with a more gradual taper, and that did the trick.  I also thinned the overall diameter of the white oak legs, and what I came up with was the elegant and delicate look I was after.  Overall, it was the result I was looking for with the first stool.  If at first you don’t succeed…img_0529

I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten a lot of use from this stool, and so far have no complaints.

A friend of mine sniffed at the label of “shop stool”.  “A shop stool is some 2×4’s screwed together with a seat”.  Well, not in my shop.

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Shop Tour II


Doesn’t look like much.  Needs sided, but it’s home

These are the kinds of days I live for.

It’s a beautiful, white, and chilly day, and here I am, nestled in my own little wooded corner of the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania, where a man’s handshake is as good as his word.

I’m enjoying the season’s first fire and a little shop time occasionally interrupted by visits from my daughter and the dogs.  That’s alright with me; I just stop what I’m doing and enjoy the company.

There is so much good about these times, rare as they may be, that I just can’t help but stop and be thankful, truly thankful.  Peaceful quiet, with the radio playing.  The calm joy of making smooth, silky shavings with well-tuned hand tools interspersed with the occasional, senseless slaying of millions of defenseless electrons.  Let’s face it; this is 2016, and we (thankfully) don’t do everything with hand tools.

Anyway, I’m sitting here on my latest project, a prototype I’ll share with you on a later date, and I thought, with how the shop looks just now, that it would be a good time to post the second batch of pics and thoughts on the State of the Shop.  There’s been much clamoring for the aforepromised second post on how the shop looks when clean.  As previously mentioned (here), I know guys like to see other shops and how other guys set them up.  I love nebbing in other shops to see how different people work, and sometimes glean some new ideas for myself.  So, without further adieu, some pics with accompanying thoughts.  As before, these start at the man door and rotated 360 around the shop.


Uncle Bill’s old anvil, a great tool.  That’s a 12′ door-great for letting in the outside in the summer.  That wall had two big windows when I bought the place and job one was cutting in this door.  Also, shave horse and outfeed table.


Project bandsaw; an early 1900’s model that I can’t wait to rebuild.  Alas, real life always slows down the fun stuff.  Shelving full of crap, including the welder, and lumber rack.


Sturdy old drill press, tool chest, wall of lumber, 8″ jointer.  The jointer was one of my first purchases.  It is the single most important tool for surfacing rough lumber.  I often reflect on how lucky I was to start reading before I started buying.  I bought the right tools at the right time to do things the way I want to do them.  By the way, my first real tool was a Shopsmith.


Wood burner, metal bandsaw, auxiliary propane, big window.


Another great early 1900’s tool; a tank of a Delta lathe.  Workbench, benchtop planer, grinder, and my air and dust collection ports.  This was one of my better ideas: I built a small room onto the back of the shop and put the compressor and dust collector in it.  No noise from the compressor and no dust from the collector.  I have a remote for starting and stopping the dust collector.  Oh, and FRIDGE.


Another tool chest, accompanied by my son’s starter tool chest.  It’s sitting on the original workbench for the shop, reserved for greasy, oily, messy work.  Welding table that I built, another great idea.  You can’t have too many workbenches.  That’s a set of forks leaning on it that I’ll eventually fit up to the tractor; it’s all about cutting, loading and transporting wood here at The Bronze Oak Leaf.


That’s a Steel City 3HP cabinet saw.  It’s not a Powermatic or Delta, but I have no complaints.  The all-important bookshelf/ fluid storage/ coat rack.  The “catch-all” corner; every shop has one.  It also houses the second-most important tool in my shop (second to the fridge, of course): the stereo.  It’s a 100W receiver with 100W speakers hanging on the wall.  Nothing special, but I could not live here without it.  That’s a set of torches in the corner, another indispensable tool for a well-equipped shop.  Also, above the door, is the thermometer and hygrometer.  Any woodworker worth his salt pays attention to relative humidity, which fluctuates wildly here in PA.  The picture board on the garage door has since been replaced with a much larger picture frame for pinning all sorts of conversation pieces.  When I have friends over, we often spend time in front of it.

If you haven’t noticed, all of my big-ticket items are on wheels.  This shop has many faces, and I have to reconfigure often.  All tools are plug-and-cord connected, and get moved back to their homes when I’m not using them. You’ll also notice a lot of metal-working tools.  A well-equipped shop has tools to work on tools.  I’ve spent years acquiring tools.  I’m not a tool junky, I just have been fortunate enough through the years to buy tools as I need them, and fortunate enough to come from a family that works on everything.

I love when the shop’s clean and organized, but it usually means I don’t have anything going on.  Anyone who knows me knows that those periods don’t last long.

If you need me, I’ll be in the shop.


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Wasting Wood


img_0458Perish the thought.

We don’t waste anything here at the Bronze Oak Leaf.

This was a fun little project I conceived when I saw this plank come off the top of a red oak log I was having sawed.  This was a squaring cut, and when I saw it was 2″ thick, I knew what I would use it for.

As I’ve written before, I love these simple little quick-turnaround projects.  They’re perfect for the Dad-on-the-go.  There’s just never quite enough time for the full-blown complex project, so I have no problem building something a little less refined.

Actually, this was a great reminder for me that what we do as woodworkers can be very simple, when we let it be.

I really liked the shape of this plank, and it just screamed “three-legged bench”.  So when I looked around the shop, I spied a couple red oak logs I kept from the firewood pile because they were fairly straight.

Since building the Windsor chair, I’ve been happily experimenting with some of the skills I learned, and having a lathe is kinda helpful, too.

I split the leg blanks out, shaved them on the shave horse, then set to turning them down on the lathe.

I wanted this bench to be sturdy, strong, and bulky, so I decided to go with 1-1/4″ tenons.  I happened to have a 1-1/4″ bit, but no tenon-cutter.  Well, time to learn to use that lathe.

It wasn’t so bad.  I turned the tenons down to a heavy 1-1/4″, then put them in the crock pot full of sand to super-dry them.  The idea is to make them drier than the seat so that when they’re installed, they eventually absorb moisture from the seat and expand to make a nice, tight joint.

After the legs are attached, I just cleaned it up a bit.  I wanted it to still look rough, and it does.

Well, nothing gold can stay, and that includes most things I build for no real purpose.  My brother took one look at the bench and decided it would make a good horse for shaving powder horns.  So much for that.

Anyway, this little project opened the door to a much better, more refined project, coming soon to a blog near you.  It’s a doozy of a project, and I think you’ll like it.

Stay tuned…

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By: Sam Rametta

Why I love woodworking:  It’s clean.

The End.

This is one of the “Sundry Other Avocations” you’ve heard tell about.


This has been an ongoing project for awhile.  Actually, it was an ongoing project, then, like so many other things in life, it got pushed to the back of the shed.

I blew ‘er up a couple years ago, fixed it (not very well), and then blew ‘er up again.  Don’t get me wrong; I knew how to fix it right the first time, I just didn’t.  So we got one good day of riding out of it, and back to the shed it went.

Anyway, I was elbow-deep in dirt and kerosene when I realized- I hate this.  I used to enjoy working on cars, bikes, quads, you name it.  But I seem to have grown out of it.

O.k., I don’t hate it, I just would prefer doing anything else.  Something cleaner.  More refined.  Something at which I cuss less, and away from which I walk with fewer bloody knuckles.  Something like, I don’t know, dovetails?  Hand planing?  Surfacing rough stock?  Sniffing wood glue?  Anything?


Resurrecting a dinosaur

Here’s a closeup of the motor.  The head, jug, and piston are removed, along with the carburetor, gas tank, side panels, seat, etc.,etc., etc.

I just got the bottom end cleaned out (the kerosene), and am already ready for reassembly.

It really isn’t that bad of a job, I just have better things to do.


The new parts:  piston, rings, gaskets, along with the old parts:  the jug and the head.  The cylinder in the jug was oval’d enough that I needed some machine work done.  I had it bored out .010″ over stock, so it came back to me honed and ready to go.  Thank goodness.


Isn’t that my shave horse?

I have parts everywhere.  The only thing really holding me up is my son.  I want him around to learn this stuff, but he usually has something better to do.  That’s o.k.; he can run, but he can’t hide.


Meanwhile, on the other side of the shop; what I’d rather be doing.

This is a rabbeted and nailed utility box much like the maple one I finished a little while ago.  I just couldn’t bear to use the dovetailed one for my chainsaw tools, and I couldn’t justify cutting dovetails on this box for the same reason.  There’s no shame in rabbeted joinery, it’s just a quicker and simpler means to an end.

I won’t be updating you on this.  I just got a laugh out of the myriad things that go on at The Bronze Oak Leaf, and thought I’d share.  Hopefully I’ll soon be able to wash off the grease and get back to something cleaner.



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Fool’s Gold. . .


Fool’s Gold

…and color me foolish.


Not so foolish now, huh?

Okay, these pics are a little out of order.  I actually built the box, then dug out the soft maple from the lean-to a couple days later.

I saw something like this box in a magazine, and its simplicity captivated me.  Sometimes we’re so busy making complex things, trying to figure out the next joinery or assembly problem, that we forget how simple what we do really can be.  We build boxes.

So when I saw a simple, utilitarian box that wasn’t shy about showing off top-notch joinery, I couldn’t resist.  Which brings me to the reason for this post.

I had no intention of writing about this little project.  It actually started as a solution looking for a problem.  I had to build this box, so I needed something to put in it.  Well, my… chainsaw stuff needs something other than a cardboard box?  O.k., that’ll work.

So I (in the original Yankee tradition) look at whatever I have lying around the shop, and decide to build it out of some scrap soft maple that somehow made the cut for my in-shop lumber rack.  I have no idea why it was there, but it was dry and fairly wide.

I cut this soft maple several years ago because the trees had to come down, and, what the heck, lumber is always useful to have around.  However, this particular species seems to have an abundance of powder post beetles.  Heretofore a rumor I’ve read about in the lumber drying circles, powder post beetles are a real nuisance.  You don’t know they’re in the wood until it’s cut, dried, and stacked long enough for them to bore their way out, making slightly-larger-than-pinholes all over your hard-earned material.

So, I stacked a good bit of it out in the lean-to and decided that some day it may burn well.

Yes, I’m getting to my point.  As I surfaced this lumber for my box, some of the prettiest wood I’ve worked with began to appear.  A wonderful contrast between heartwood and sapwood that I didn’t expect just got deeper and deeper as I got deeper into the project.  Truth be told, I didn’t exactly pay a lot of attention to it until I began finishing.  I viewed the project, most of the way through the process, as one made from scrap that otherwise didn’t really have a good use.

Only after the finishing process began did I realize the beauty I had uncovered.  I was thrilled.  The rich brown heartwood tones rivaled that of walnut.  The silvery-shimmering sapwood had a creamy color that made you want to eat it.

Some of the figure was unexpectedly nice, too.

Anyway, it piqued my interest in what else I had out in the shed, so tonight I went and had a look.  I was happy to find some nice wide soft maple boards that I, only a few years ago, dismissed as probably not very useful.  Needless to say, that stack of maple moved indoors to continue drying to a more user-friendly moisture content, and I can’t wait to see what else I can get into with them.

The moral of the story?  Almost nothing as inherently useful, and inherently beautiful, as wood can be junk.  I think I need to reread my “Wood Snobbery” post.



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