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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Shop Talk

Well, if there’s one thing I love, it’s talking shop.  I actually keep a blog almost specifically to allow me to talk shop.  I know no one else in close proximity to me that does this kind of woodworking, and sometimes the life of a loner; a rebel, just isn’t as sexy as Pee Wee Herman makes it sound.

Anyway, back to the shop.

Anyone who reads me regularly knows how much I love my shop.  Anyone new to this nonsensical babble can get a primer on what I think of my shop here (first) and  here (second).

At some time early in my foray into working wood, I realized that a shop doesn’t have to be all business. It can, and should, be a happy place.  A place where you can pause and look around, and like what you see.

This morning, kind of early, I did just that; paused and looked around.  And what I saw was, well, disgusting.

You see, I just finished a dandy little knick-knack of a project and, as I am wont to do, destroyed my shop in the process.

I looked around this morning, and came to the conclusion that my shop was a complete disaster.  Months of normal, day-to-day work in the shop along with the occasional fun project coupled with my habit of working like a slob has produced a condition heretofore unseen in this little 24’X24′ box of life ongoing.  Disaster. Utter.  Complete. I don’t even have the vocabulary of superlatives to describe the state of disrepair.

This will wind up a two- or three-part post on The State of the Shop.  I’ve never really done a “shop tour”, knowing full well that’s something most working-class guys love.  We love seeing how other people set up their shops, and bragging a little on the ways we do things in our own.

So, in the interest of keeping posts brief and to-the-point, some ‘before’ pics, with short descriptions, soon to be followed by The Great Clean and a shop tour, with ‘after’ pics and better descriptions.

Enjoy wallowing in my filth.

*These pics start at the man door and revolve 360 around the shop.


Welding table, bookshelf, torches


Anvil, sawbench, shavehorse


Table saw, drill press, bandsaw


Lumber rack, stove, jointer


Workbench, window, lathe







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Gallery in Progress

This gallery contains 3 photos.

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Tool Tote


 Believe it or not, I started this project about three years ago.  I know; me, procrastinate?

As I remember it, I was puttering around with something in the shop when the idea of compound angle dovetails popped into my head.  Sometimes things pop into my head like that when I’m bored or doing something that requires no thought.

Anyway, I had no idea how to lay them out, but in a brief flash of insight, it occurred to me that the dovetail angles don’t change; just the angle of the corner of the box.

Well, that was it.  Now I had to build something.

I started out by making a full-scale drawing to help me better understand what I thought I wanted to do.  I actually saw a small tote like this in an article on design and proportions.  It was really pretty; I think Jim Tolpin built it.IMG_0388


It turns out, as I’ve read, that a full scale drawing is immensely helpful.  These are drawn on some large pieces of cardboard that I have stockpiles of in the shed.  Truly helpful for setting your bevel gauge, getting real-world measurements and scaling.

Once I realized that you lay out your dovetails from a line square with your box, the rest was easy.IMG_0407

This was the first iteration.  Walnut, good size, great proportions.  Alas, this was as far as I got.  I cut the dovetails, dry-fitted, and hung it up.  The dovetails were O.K., I might have had to patch a few.  I just never got back to it.


This was number two.  Look at the curl in that cherry.  I’d been looking at the walnut one for a few years now, moving it here and there when it was in the way, and finally decided to finish one.  A bigger one that could actually be used as a tool tote.  In the grand (read: cheap) tradition of the Bronze Oak Leaf Workshops, I went with whatever I had lying around.  In this case, cherry.  You’re supposed to build these things from pine; it’s cheap, light, and you don’t have to worry about banging it up a little.

However, I didn’t have any.  I would have had to drive somewhere and buy some.

This particular box, however, was a product of my notoriously bad memory.  As in; I had no idea how I laid out the compound angles in the first one.

So, I laid out and cut the dovetails,  went to dry fit and couldn’t figure out  why they wouldn’t go together. Turns out I neglected to make the compound cut on the ends of the boards.  Sheesh, what a moron.

Well, after toying with it a bit (it was ruined, there was no saving it), I did a quick search on Roy Underhill’s tool tote.  You know, the one he carries at the beginning of his show.  I wanted a better idea on size and shape.

That actually helped me design a better tote.  One with better proportions, and big enough to be useful.

However, I had to dress it up a little.  I couldn’t help myself.

I didn’t want to cut the tops of my boards straight.  It just looked too boxy and boring.  So I decided to add some curves, and boy did that dress it up.

I also rounded over the tops of all the sides and the handle.  It’s the little touches that make a small, understated piece like this pop.IMG_0413

It turns out I’m much happier with this design and its proportions.  Hated to waste that cherry on a mindless foul-up, but, as they say, there are no mistakes, just opportunities to reevaluate your design.



Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to load this up with tools and bang it around the shop.

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Well, I couldn’t sit still too long.

I knew I had some 8/4 poplar sitting at a friend’s house, drying in the field.  I couldn’t remember how much I had cut; I don’t usually earmark too much of a log for 8/4.  I’m starting to change that way of thinking, but last year, when I had this cut, I just blurted out some numbers to the sawyer.  It turns out I had just enough cut to build this most essential of work-holding tools.

It started, interestingly enough, in OCM.  It was beautiful this time of year, and I got to spend some time reading on the beach.  I had Peter Galbert’s new book, and I eventually got to the part where he talks about building a shavehorse.

As the three or four of you who read the ramblings regularly posted here may know, I just finished my first chair, and I’m hooked.  All of the romanticizing about working the wood from the tree with minimal power tools aside, there really is something to the beauty of shaving sopping wet wood on the shavehorse with a drawknife.  In fact, I didn’t realize how much I missed it already.  Luckily my hands didn’t forget the work, and they went right back to the skills I learned at chaircamp without missing a beat.

The legs are the only thing a little out of the ordinary.  I decided to go with tapered octagons.  The big-on-bottom small-on-top shape is different for a leg, but I like the look.  The octagonal shape falls more in line with the right-angle, straight and square nature of the thing.

To make a tapered octagon is really pretty simple.  Decide how much taper you want, then taper the leg.  Lay out the octagon on both ends of the leg, connect the lines from top to bottom, and cut to the lines.  Sounds simple, right?  The devil is in the details.  How do you taper four sides of a leg symmetrically?  What’s the best way to cut to the lines?  Where the heck did I set my beer?


What I did was lay out the octagons first.  Find the center with diagonal lines, set a compass to reach from a corner to the center, then make a mark on each side.  do this for each corner and you have an octagon.

On the small end, you have to lay out the size the leg will be after tapering, then lay out the octagon according to that square.IMG_0318

First you taper all four sides.  There is a very slick trick to this on the jointer that I can’t explain here, but you can watch it here.  Glen Huey is the man.

After you taper all four sides, you connect the lines on both ends, then cut to the lines.  I started wasting material with a jack plane, but that took too long.  I set up the jointer fence to cut at the right angle and cut mostly to the lines, then finished up with a jointer plane.IMG_0317IMG_0320IMG_0323IMG_0324

I can’t believe I didn’t take any pics of the finished octagons.  You can see them on the horse.  A little labor-intensive, but the effect is worth it.

The rest of the horse was just milling, cutting to size, and assembling.  I used The Country Workshop’s plans, found here.  They are a little vague on some things, but some inferences and intuition are all you need to complete it.

It took me two Saturdays and a week after work to finish it, mostly because I had to mill and glue up stock for thickness.  I really only had enough 8/4 for the bench, legs, and head.

My family wasn’t sure what to think, looking warily at it like cavemen seeing fire for the first time, but I got two of them to come around.IMG_0336IMG_0342IMG_0331IMG_0332IMG_0334

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