Making a Brace


Since I am involved in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) and I teach woodworking classes there, I am constantly trying to make a more “medieval like” kit.

I do not think that there is anything “wrong” with using modern hand tools, the wood cuts and behaves the same as it always has, It’s just that I feel for the look of things the tools should look correct for the venue.

So I am finding many examples of braces from sunken ships and items that were thrown into wells… these places seem like you couldn’t possibly retrieve any artifacts so old, and yet… From the Vasa and From the Mary Rose and from Wells all over England and Germany we do get artifacts. Strangely in salt water the metal tends to be lost to corrosion and in fresh water the wood tends to be lost to rotting…

thus at Birka we get a lot of iron or steel tool edges without handles and from the Mary Rose we get hand planes and braces without blades or bits.

I have stated when discussing saw handles that handles are a matter of fashion while blades (blade geometry) is dictated by the wood and the metal available.

A spoon bit made in England will be almost the same as a spoon bit made in Scandinavia. But the T handles in England were one solid stick firmly attached to the auger and the ones in Scandinavia have a swivel arrangement so that you can lean against them and still turn them.

But I am talking about smaller braces just now. the kind where you hold one end still and crank with the other. like this one…

my spring pole lathe when it was brand new!

So after scanning through the internet looking for ideas I made the one in the Photo of my springpole lathe when it was new.

I was a bit intimidated at first about making holes in both ends that would line up, but it ended up being not that hard. You need to start with a piece of material that is big enough to saw it out from and is straight on one edge. That will be the edge you end up gauging off from to layout the holes. And it doesn’t need to be more than 7/8″ thick.

mark the center of your holes, if you will be using a “pad” (a separate piece that has an auger bit fastened permanently into it) draw out the square hole and drill as straight as you can a hole a little smaller than your finished square, that way if you drift you will be trimming it up with a chisel anyhow. drill the hole for that other end, from your first hole! viola! you knob wants to be loose so that hole can be a little oversized and slightly off. And your other end where the auger bit goes will be trimmed up/straightened by hand with a chisel or a reamer.

bob’s your uncle. or not 😉

be well




Dangerous Edges

twas a dark and stormy night…

Well, not really. But unprotected cutting edges in a tool box can be a bit of a scary story.

Way back when I was young and rocks were soft I signed up to take a chair making class at the Windsor Institute.

Among the many tools listed as being needed for chair making was an inshave. So I bought one, and it didn’t work right so I returned it…

I had a box full of damaged drawknives, handles missing, backs bent and mushroomed out from being pounded on with a hammer to split kindling wood (angry face for the bad words person who hits tools with hammers that are not supposed to be hit).

And I had a small farriers forge, a busted anvil, and some hammers…

so I lit a fire and “fixed” one of the wreaked drawknives by turning it into an Inshave! new handles. and it was a chrm to work with, I still use it!


BUT it sits in my tool box with a rag wrapped around it that doesn’t always stay where it belongs! So it’s like a shark waiting in the depths of my tool box, is it going to bite me today or is it satiated already?…

I got this great book by Peter Galbert, “Chairmaker’s Notebook”, last year, and in it (and on his blog) is a picture of this elegant little sheath or case that he keeps a drawknife in…

inspired by it I made a case for the inshave..


a thick block of wood @ 1/2″ thicker than the depth of the blade, this is slightly spalted soft maple. then I cut 1/4″ or more off the bottom, I drew an outline of the blade on the thick part, and bandsawed that to fit the blade into it. then I glued the bottom back on.

Then I layed out the dovetailed recess sawed down the sides (hand saw) and cleared it out with my hand router.

then I made a lid from White Oak, @ 3/8″ thick. to fit once I got it into place nicely (contact all along the edges) it was too far into the slot so I cut 2 strips of ebony (waste from another project long ago to “shim” it.

a nut insert and a brass thumb screw secure the lid. a bit of sanding and a coat of finish and it will be protecting my fingers for years to come.


be well



getting back to chairs…

selecting seat stock… If it doesn’t cleave flat it is leg stock 😉


this is Amur Cork Tree.. this specimen split out very flat…

designing an appropriate shape to suit the material


you can see the scrub plane I made back in @ 1986 in back . it took about half an hour to get this nice and flat on both sides. Now I need to decide to saddle it now or wait until it is dryer…

I have a choice of white ash or white oak for legs.

be well




Tools of the Trade 12: Chisels

Whenever discussion of what chisels to get “first” comes up, there seems to be a debate about getting individual chisels or sets of chisels..


If buy a set you will usually get a good price (much lower than the combined individual prices) but you might end up with chisels that you never use… If you buy them individually as you need/want them you have to wait for delivery after you decide you need one more…

set of rosewood handled RSORBY and odds and ends collected as needed

So the question is really one of what is needed. You need One chisel of moderate width for cleaning up joints, you need one that is fairly wide for all sorts of chopping splitting and cutting and beveling. And you need one for mortising if you are going to be making mortise and tenon joints.

One that is @ 1/2″ wide, One that is 1 1/2″ to 2″ wide, and a 5/16″ mortising chisel.

flat chisels come in several styles. Paring, Firmir, and Bevel edge, as well as But chisels…

A paring chisel is usually thin and is never driven with a mallet.

A Firmir is usually more robust and can take quite a bit of pounding.

a Bevel edge is nice to get into tight corners.

and a But Chisel is a short chisel.

A mortise chisel is usually thicker face to back than it is wide, to enable it to withstand extreme pounding with a heavy mallet.

crook neck paring gouges on the left, mortising chisels on the right

there are also many different types of specialty chisels.

you can see I have a set of 4 mortising chisels, I use the 5/16″ out of that set the most. and I use the 1/8″ on the right and the 5/8″ to the left of them… the other 3 are mostly never taken out of the drawer.

so I say start with a couple and add to the bunch as you go.

be well



Tools of the trade 11: the Lathe

Now we come to the first tool that you do not need at all. a lathe.

my spring pole lathe when it was brand new!

you might use a spring pole lathe or

My old Delta in my donjon

you might go with an electric powered one. but if you want turned spindles or bowls you are wanting a lathe… The best advice I can give you is that you get someone to show you how to use one…

Taking home the leftovers…

one of the great things about working with the arboretum is the wood available… last spring I got some black walnut that was very nice.

Black Walnut


this fall I got some Amur Cork tree… I had never heard of it before, the fresh inner bark is blind you bright neon yellow! the wood just under it is bright yellow and it goes to dark muddy yellow in the center… it splits amazingly well, and this piece has almost no twist to it.

I am going to try to use the slabs as tall stool seats and some of those pieces as a book stand… stay tuned

be well

just taking home a few leftovers… 😉

tools of the trade 10 Hand Planes

In most of my work the next step after the drawknife, is the hand plane. [Why do we call them “hand planes” instead of just “planes”] NOT a planer! a plane.

my plane till #s 1, 2, 3, 4, 604, 4, 5, 5, 5, 606, 7, 608, and 10 (one 4 and one 5 missing from the picture.

[pet peeve:  ebay people; a plane with a wood body is NOT a block plane! ALL block planes have iron bodies! you calling a coffin plane, a smooth plane, a foreplane, a block plane because it is made from a wooden block just makes you all look dumb!]

The working principles are the same no matter if you are using one with an iron body or a wood body or transitional or infill or European or Japanese or whatever!

The body of the plane rides on its sole, and holds the cutter at the right angle and at just the right amount of protrusion to make a thin slice of wood. leaving a smooth surface behind it.

keeping the blade still and in place is it’s entire purpose.