Edgy Bulgarians Strike Again

Bowl Time, and not of the Football Variety

I never knew much about Bulgaria until I bought these two Bulgarian made curved adzes. The country has a fascinating history, as they were ruled by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans, and the Russians, in that order. The architecture in the capitol Sofia is mind blowing–think Unesco World Heritage Site quality. I know this because I am a card carrying member of Nerdlandia–I have two plastic coated UA degrees in my wallet.

The Bulgarians are especially known for smithing work, as far back as the thirteenth century. They haven’t slowed down any, as those two adzes prove. The big adze is a triple threat, as it works as an adze, a hammer, and a nail puller. It must be a common tool, as it was factory made. It is a wood butcher’s delight.

Mini-me on the right is blacksmith made. This needed a special handle, so I made one out of walnut. The smith who made this is a Mensch.

By contrast, there is also a spoon knife made by Hans Karlsson in Sweden. It cost more than the two adzes combined. Worth the money, as probably the finest spoon carving tool in the world. I just wish he had been born in Bulgaria.

Favorite Woodworking Tools, Part Who Knows?–Spokeshaves

All Metal

US vs Germany again, but in this case it is all good. The two old guys on the right are Stanley, while “die grünen” or the greens, on the left are Kunz. They all required a little tune up to work properly, but they are cutting machines now.

The double cutter spokeshave is the old Stanley Number 60, which has a concave and flat sole. It can be fiddly to adjust, but cuts fine. The top one is my favorite, the flat sole Number 54 Adjustable Mouth Spokeshave. It will cut shavings that are from thick to see through, and I paid a whopping two bucks for it.

The bottom two on the left are all-arounders. The small is the Kunz Light Flat Spokeshave, which means it has a flat sole. It’s great for spoon work. The obviously concave shave makes anything from spoon and spatula handles, to chair rungs and legs.

The top two are more specialized. The second from the top is the round spokeshave number 151R, a near exact copy of the same models made by Stanley and Record. The most specialized, the Number 65, also has a round sole, but is designed to make chamfers–hence the two adjustable fences. I’ve only had it for a couple of months, but it looks very promising.

The tune up is simple, get the blades as sharp as possible, and file flat the beds that they sit on. After that, learning to use them is the same way you get to Carnegie Hall–practice, practice.

A Stropping Lad

No Pun Left Behind

Here we have two strops, one retail and one home made. The older I get, the more of a stropping lad I become.

The strop for carving tools on the left is still available from the excellent Flexcut tool company. It also comes with some super fancy stropping compound, and will eliminate the need for sharpening with a micro-abrasive, if used regularly. The back side has a flat surface covered in cork, and a wide curved groove to sharpen the backs of gouges. All around groovy!

The old school large strop is home made from scrap leather and scrap wood, and yes, have a scrap leather pile to go along with my scrap lumber pile. I just glued the leather on with Gorilla glue, and clamped it down with two large wooden Jorgenson clamps. The stropping compound is not as fine as the Flexcut compound, but it gets the job done. Great for everything from plane blades to kitchen knives. It results in a scary sharp edge.

Contrary to myth, a sharp edge is much safer than a dull one. And if you do cut yourself, it leaves a neater wound. The two walking staffs in the background were made by our local friendly beavers, who thoughtfully cut them exactly to the right length. The top one appears to be River Birch, and the bottom one with bright green bark is something I have never seen before. It must taste like yuck, because the beaver stopped gnawing on it about one-fourth of the way down. Which makes me wonder–do beavers strop their teeth?

First Low Workbench

Old Sawing Bench gets New Life

This is my first effort at making a Roman style low bench, and it turned out great. It is a bit short in both height and length, but it will do until I get two more made. More on those plans later.

This was an old sawing bench made from scrap. All I did was add a 2×4, and drill some extra holes in the bench. The bench will still function as a sawing bench, but it is now a real multi tasker.

The V joint boards on the end are called “Doe’s Foots,” and are used as a planing stop. They allow you to plane a board in any direction, all while sitting down. They can be used with bench dogs, the little metal things on the bottom of the picture, or either of the two mechanical holders, which are a holdfast and a hold down.

The holdfast, which is the iron one, is an old Jorgensen. The mallet is used to whack it into place. The hold down, which is the one with the screw down end, is a Sjobergs, designed by the Swedish workbench company. I have one of their Swedish made benches, but this clever item was made in Taiwan, the source for many great bicycle parts (Along with Japan, Italy, and Switzerland. And don’t leave out Wald in Kentucky, which makes the best bike baskets.)

The spacing of the holes in the center is based on the Roman bench that was recreated by Christopher Schwarz. That allows this to be used as an edge planing bench as well, with some dowels, and those hornbeam wedges as holding devices.

I’ll make a proper bench eventually, but I have plans to make a PT wood outdoor bench first, which will live outside, and double as a garden bench. This is a real multi tasking idea.

Woodworking Planes Part ??–Rabbet Planes

“Them Lallys, You Want Them Rabbeted, or No?”–Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

This motley crew of planes are from three countries on two continents, and made by three companies. I’ll start with the bottom column and proceed from there.

Bottom left is the finest of the crew, an Ulmia Ott plane made in Germany. It also has an adjustable throat, so it will take as fine a shaving as you need. Typical German quality.

Speaking of US quality, the one to the right is a fine Millers Falls #85 plane. It is missing a depth gauge, but I have another plane that has one. This thing could last for many more decades.

The shiny silver guy in the middle is technically a shoulder plane, a Stanley #90 that was made in England. Another quality piece of work, designed to do fine woodworking. Too bad I don’t do any.

Top left is a really old Stanley 191 plane. It also has lost the depth gauge, but things like that happens. These came in various sizes, and are all over fleabay, though seriously overpriced.

The mack daddy at the top right is a Stanley #45, that can cut just about any sized rabbet. The catch is, you have to have the right sized cutter. However, it has TWO depth gauges. Doesn’t do the finest work, but gets the job done.

A rabbet is not a thing with floppy ears, but a groove cut to make furniture/woodwork fit better. It’s a groovy thing.

Boxwood Rules

USA Made

Alas, these are no longer made in this country, but fleabay is full of them. These are some seriously classy measuring tools, made of boxwood and brass.

The folding rule is Lufkin, and extends to two feet. That is my go to measurer.

The smaller caliper is four inches, made by Stanley. It’s perfect for my foot powered lathe. Too bad Stanley dumped products like this for cheap screwdrivers.

Boxwood rules! Literally.

Beetle Juice

Shellac Flakes. Don’t say Beetle Juice Three Times in a Row.

Most people don’t know that they eat one of the main ingredients in one of the best wood finishes regularly, and that it comes from a bug, but that doesn’t bother me that much. Like my man HD Thoreau, “Yet, for my part, I was never usually squeamish; I could sometimes eat a fried rat with a good relish, if it were necessary.” It all depends on how good the relish is.

The wood finish I am referring to is shellac, which is essentially the secretions of the Asian Lac beetle, dissolved in denatured alcohol. There are a thousand recipes for proportions to be used, and I would refer you to Shellac.com. They also list eight main colors of shellac flakes, though most of those shades can be made with just these three.

People who eat sweets are the main ones who are likely to be eating beetle juice. US manufacturers of sweets use all manner of euphemisms for bug juice, such as confectioner’s glaze or candy glaze. It’s really bug juice, but people like to eat things that are bright and shiny. Why, I don’t know.

Also check for Natural Red #4 on the ingredient list. That’s squashed Cochineal bugs, which get the red color from cactus. The Aztecs used them for red dye.

Bugs. It’s what’s for dinner. And the dinner table.

Great Woodworking Books–Old School Edition

I attended the New College at the University of Alabama before I became decidedly Old School. In our Humanities seminar, we did things like break boards with our bare hands, and rappelled down a bluff on the Warrior River. As the only former High School ath-a-leete in the class (three sports), I was put on “belay,” so I had to hold the rope at the bottom of the bluff, and was responsible for everyones’ safety. One young sorority woman showed up to the rappelling exercise wearing a very short skirt. She slipped, flipped upside down at the top of the bluff, and showed everyone a nice pair of legs. Despite the distraction, I got her down with no visible harm.

To ahh, elevate the conversation, I declare that Lost Art Press, which published these two tomes, is a national treasure. Based in the South (Kentucky), they edit, typeset, and publish everything in the US. And these are some quality hardback books.

Their first famous book was actually written by an Estonian scholar named Ants Viires, and the full title is Woodworking in Estonia: Historical Survey. The strange and literally bizarre story of it’s translation and dissemination alone are worth the price of the book. The key players were the USSR, Israel, the USA, and the Soviet Socialist Republic of Estonia. Just another day when I wished I could make stuff like this up.

The book itself is thorough, readable, and best of all, it has pictures. Therefore I don’t have to do things like visualize how you can hand plane a board on a bench without a vise.

I Swear that’s not Me in the Picture. He’s planing Left Handed!

The publisher of this book, and co-founder of Lost Art, Christopher Schwartz, was obviously inspired by this classic. Here’s the cover of an equally fine book that Schwartz wrote.

Now We’re Talking really Old School

I’m making projects out of this book I got for Christmas like crazy. I’ll write about those later, but I see three more workbenches in my future. Schwartz, and his researcher Suzanne Ellison, go all the way back to Imperial Rome, and the oldest known workbench illustrations. Strangely enough, those benches work as well, or better, than modern ones. This design comes from a fresco from Herculaneum, buried in AD 79 by the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius.

Legs Again. Get your Mind off of Legs.

I will be forced to make one of these eight legged benches. Hopefully our local sawmill hasn’t closed yet. I’ll need a good sized slab of wood.

Flexcut Tools

American Made, and Made to be Sold, and Used

After the Stanley company turned into a seller of screwdrivers and hinges, I soured on US made woodworking tools. There were fantastic tools being made here, but they cost as much as a car payment. As I always had a car payment already, I turned to German and Swedish tools, as well as the occasional English one (Oops, I forgot about the spectacular quality of Canadian tools, and the value of Eastern European ones).

Then I ran across the smaller manufacturers like Gramercy and Flexcut. Flexcut blew me away with quality and value combined. I already had the carving tools sharpener (superb), when MJ surprised me with the gift of the folding carving knife, after I was commissioned to carve a spoon for the book A Gathering of Spoons. Wow. It was love at first cut.

Then last summer rolls around, and I have a large walnut bowl to carve (it still isn’t finished.) If I had not found the 2″ Flexcut gouge on the Highland Woodworking website, it probably never would have made it to the stage where it is now. And I had intended to mortgage the house and buy a Swedish gouge made by Hans Karlsson. Now I have a gouge and a house.

At any rate, I also have a re-vamped carving bench. More on that later.

Moocher’s Compost Bin


The mooching lifestyle is far more under appreciated in the US than it should be. A person could practically live off of discarded items, and I am certain that many people actually do. There’s no tax on throw aways, either.

I am only a part time moocher, but I have dumpster dived and mooched in numerous locales. I pulled a fancy desk chair out of a dumpster, worth several hundred dollars, and then spend my time at the computer sitting in an old post and rung oak chair, that I mooched for $5 at a flea market. My latest mooch could prove to be my best: a flat bed truck full of cinder blocks, and the wood pallets this compost bin are made of.

The story is this. We have been have been showering the in-laws with free eggs, and one couple had just had a retaining wall replaced, and needed to get rid of the left over and used cinder blocks, more commonly known in these parts as “see-mint blocks” (cement blocks.) As my mooching has become a valuable reputation enhancer, they offered us the blocks, and with free delivery. We countered with an offer of thirty eggs. It was a deal.

The sweetener was that the blocks are to used in the construction of a smokehouse, and we offered free use of that as well, once it is completed. The blocks arrived quickly after that offer. I helped unload them, and they had been sitting on two pine pallets on the truck. My brother in law asked if I wanted them. He didn’t know I been looking to mooch two wooden pallets as well.

Three deck screws later, and I had a new compost bin, attached to the back of the chicken run. It is now being filled with table scraps, leaves, and chicken manure in various states of decomposition. It will be half full in no time.

Free Fertilizer

Next spring we will have mooched fertilizer as well. Which reminds me that it is almost time to grab a shovel, and get to work.