Cherry Tool Handles, Part One: Backsaw Handle


Having found myself with enough (free)Black Cherry to replace every handle on every tool I own, I began with the neediest–an old Disston backsaw that has spent years in the spare parts bin. The broken Apple handle was/is usable but unsightly, and it was the first candidate for replacement. If I had known how easy the handle was to make, I would have made one years ago.

While the saw rested in a miracle product called Evaporust, I researched how to make a replacement handle with a Google search. The best post I found was the one that advised the simplest approach–just trace a handle that you like on graph paper, and copy it. I traced the remaining piece of the old handle, and went with it.

The handle itself was split from a much larger chunk of Cherry, and then planed to size. I rough cut the shape with a bowsaw I also made from Cherry and Maple. Then I made my first mistake–I cut out the back end of the handle first, and when I went to rough out the inside of the handle, I promptly snapped off the top. It glued back on easily, but the note to self is rough out the middle first, and then the outside.

With that repaired, I moved to final shaping and finishing. I started out with the universally suggested tool, a rasp, but found it both tedious and seriously slow. After an hour of that torture I said screw it, and pulled out my roll of spoon carving tools. That decision saved the proto handle from the firewood pile, and myself from much more work. A good Swedish Sloyd knife can remove wood much faster than a rasp, and is ideal for the curves on the handle.

The fitting of the handle to the saw blade was simple enough–cut a slot for the saw blade, and mortice out for the iron back. The finish here is super blonde shellac. My last criticism is that the connecting section where the saw blade joins the handle should be beefier, but the function of the saw is unaffected. Overall, for a first attempt at saw handle making it is acceptable, and should last through many years of sawing.

Montreal Style French Bagels

Not Exactly Southern

Not only is this recipe not Southern, it is only half North American–but it is still very tasty. As usual, it involves a transatlantic dispersal of culture and food.

This is essentially the Canadian version of a Parisian Jewish recipe for water bagels, which means the bagels take a swim in boiling water before baking. Here’s my method for making these.


This makes six extra large bagels, or ten-twelve normal sized ones.

For the Dough:

1 1/2 cup “00” style flour

1 tablespoon Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Sea Salt

1/2 Cup warm Water

Mix these in a stand mixer, or use whatever you have.


2 tablespoons warm Water

1 teaspoons dry Yeast

1 tablespoon Maple Syrup

Let the yeast mixture rise until it increases by a factor of three, and then mix with the dough. Let the dough rise until doubled.

This step is where the French and Montreal styles diverge. The traditional French additive is Malt syrup, which was not widely available in Canada. Maple syrup was, and still is. I should learn how to make Poplar syrup one year, and turn this into a Southern bagel.

Forming and Boiling

The home baker’s method of forming bagels is simple. For monster bagels, divide the dough into six pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, and then flatten with your palms. I use my thumb to poke a hole in the middle, and then widen out the hole to the desired size. Jo Goldenberg of Jo Rosenberg Restaurant in Paris makes the hole large enough for her palm to fit through. Place the finished bagel on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and let rise while the water heats up to boiling.

Two things are important about the boil: the pan needs to be large enough so the bagels are not crowded, and the bagels need to boil long enough so they will not collapse while baking. I use an enormous fourteen inch skillet for the boil, which is still barely large enough.

For the Boil

Enough water to float the bagels

1 tablespoon Brown Sugar

Here is the most important step in the whole process, for which eternal vigilance is needed. As the bagels boil and expand, they will crowd against each other, and one side of a bagel will try and submerge. If you let this happen, that part of the bagel will become inedible soggy pasta bagel. With that said, the bagels should boil at least two minutes on each side. After that, remove the bagels with a slotted spoon, place them back on the parchment paper, and bake at 400 degrees F until light brown. Cool on a rack, and decide if you want cream cheese or a bagel sandwich.

It takes some practice to get this right, but when you do, it’s goodbye supermarket bagel, or even deli bagel. I make these about every two weeks, and they improve just a little with every batch. It’s a stretch to eat just half of one of these, but the dogs love the leftovers as much as we do.

New School Gumbo Paddles

Get Out the Gumbo Pot

Having finally found a decent quality bandsaw (Rikon) that cost less than a car payment, I decided to break it in by making three Gumbo paddles. The handles on all three are Yaupon holly, a Gulf coast species, and the paddle blades are Black cherry. I made two of the bottom ones, for myself and one Brother in law. The large one is for another Brother in law, who cooks ten and twenty gallon batches of gumbo for St John’s Church in Cullman, which was founded by town father Johann Gottfried Cullman. Said Brother in law’s Son in law just happens to work there.

The paddles blades were cut with the bandsaw from the stump of Cherry tree in our front yard. It had been wind blown for about a year, so it didn’t need much drying. The handles as well were band sawn from wind blown Yaupon, and then turned into ovals by planing first with a Jack plane, and finishing with a Block plane. They were left smooth enough that they needed no sanding.

The mortises in the handles were likewise sawed out with the band saw, and then the waste was chiseled out. Final attachment was with a glue joint held into place with French diamond head nails, which serve a double purpose as decoration.

The larger paddle was finished with straight Walnut oil, while mine was finished with a Walnut oil wax finish. I broke mine in on Sunday cooking Beef stew in our fire pit in the Outdoor Kitchen. The paddle is long enough to have kept me away from the heat, and more importantly the smoke, which was whipped up by a ten mile an hour Southwest wind. The final addition was an accessory cord hanger, which in the case was made from some old worn out boot laces. Waste not, want not.

Favorite Woodworking Planes–Partner Planes

Stanley #3 and #5 1/4

Partner planes are planes of different lengths that have interchangeable parts, from the blades on down. The most common example is the Stanley #4 and #5, both with 2″ wide cutters, which make a versatile duo at 9″ and 15.” Less common is the Stanley #3 and #5 1/4, which makes an attractive alternative to the 4-5 combination.

What we have here is a closer match in the length of the two planes, at 9″ and 11 1/2″ (the #4 and #5 are 9″ and 15″ respectively). The idea for the 11 1/2″ inch length, often referred to as the “Junior Jack,” actually came from the Ohio Tool Company. Logically it makes good sense, as the gap between the standard Smoothing and Jack planes is large at 6.”

With either combination you can do the following. I deep sixed the #3 low quality standard cutter, and replaced it with a Lee Valley 1 3/4″ one–a considerable upgrade (Lee Valley just purchased Hock Tools of California, giving them a huge market share for quality blades.) I took the also not-so-great factory cutter from the #5 1/4, and reground it to an exaggerated camber shape, turning the plane into a long scrub plane. I also have a #5 with a re-ground blade as an extra long scrub plane.

At any rate, I can just switch cutters on these partners and have a really long smoothing plane (or a short Jack plane), and a short scrub plane. The best thing about the #5 1/4, no matter how it is used, is the weight–it’s a full pound lighter than a #5. To me it’s a case of bigger is not necessarily better.

Winter Vegetable Container Garden

Most gardeners in USDA Zone 7 or higher could easily have a set up like this.

For our Winter garden this year I went with all container plantings. It was a good thing too–when the bomb cyclone hit in December, and our temps went down to 8.9 degrees F, I just wheeled three cart loads of plants into our 60 degree basement, left them there for a couple of days, and then brought them back out. We will now have fresh greens until spring planting, which actually begins this week.

Pictured is a mixed planting of lettuces, spinach, boy choy, radishes, onions, chard, collards, kale, and one container with a mesclun mix that includes arugula. The potting soil is 95% composted chicken manure, a by product of our egg layers, that produce a more than steady supply of it. The spinach quiche we made was the perfect combination of their products.

Grand total of the expenses for this garden was $20 for seeds. I’m going to splurge and spend $40 on the summer version, which will easily be double this size. You won’t hear any complaints about the price of lettuce from me.

College Board Celebrates Black History Month by Removing References to Black Alabama Farmers From AP Black History Course

The war on independently verifiable information (history) is on a roll in Floriduh, the state that is run by head Florida Man, Goobernor Ron DeSanctis. German studies are fine, but African-American studies are verboten, especially when it involves Black farmers from Alabama. And some of those farmers happened to have been communists as well.

While you may think that I have broken into the medical marijuana stash, the book that has been banned from the African-American studies course, first by DeSanctis and then by the College Board, is titled Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. Worse still, the author is a distinguished history Professor at UCLA, Robin D. G. Kelley. To people who have survived the Alabama public school system, such as myself, the book was mind blowing, as it is the perfect example of history having been erased.

The history is both simple and understandable. Black workers, deprived of any other form of political representation, turned to union organizers who were affiliated with the Communist party. The great oral history by Theodore Rosengarten, All God’s Dangers, is about one branch of the party, the sharecropper’s union. Sharecropping was the system that replaced slavery, and it was designed to replace chattel slavery with debt peonage–a person perpetually in debt can be coerced into obedience. Sharecroppers saw the union and the party as their quickest way to freedom and prosperity.

The industrial workers in the steel mills of Birmingham, who were mostly Black, unionized as well, for better wages and working conditions. The result was predictable–US Steel and other corporations paid the local KKK to terrorize people, to the rate of 50 bombings in 40 years. The biggest was 54 sticks of dynamite, laid at the foundation of Temple Beth-El in 1958. It failed to detonate due to a rainstorm.

When the national media discovered that Birmingham existed in 1963, they often commented on its resemblance to Berlin in the 1930’s. Maybe that’s why the Goobernor prefers German history to American.


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