Experiment in aging furniture

 Several years ago I made this little mule chest out of pine. Boiled linseed oil paint with black dry pigment, Horton brasses, and forged cotter pin hinges for the top. Neat, simple, useful little piece. As it turned out, it was the perfect test bed for an experiment in furniture aging. 

The technique was... nothing.

I did nothing to it aside from leaving it on my covered front porch for five or six years. 

Multiple harsh Michigan winters, spring thaws, summer heats, and a fair amount of road dust from our gravel two-tracker.

The brass patinated and the once-shiny paint crazed and weathered in a cool way. 

Now, I don't think I'd do this to something that took a long time to build or was made with expensive materials, but it sure turned out neat in my opinion. 

New chisel rack for my Lie-Nielsen chisels.

I put together this quick and dirty prototype chisel box yesterday. It is adapted from one that John Wilson included in his final book. This is part of my long-term shop infrastructure/storage upgrade plan, including getting rid of a large flip-top tool chest with external drawers for which I do not have a place (it currently sits on the floor and I hate it). I don't use these chisels often because they are typically buried in one of those drawers, but I predict this rack will change that.

I made a few tweaks to John's design, including permanently attached buttons to hold the box open (instead of the loose stick John had). The buttons also serve as a safety catch to prevent the box from opening up and the chisels falling out. I also added the second stretcher below the top handle because John's dimensions left too much room over top of my Lie-Nielsen chisels and they could come out without opening (obviously a safety hazard).

Now that I'm happy with the prototype form, I am currently thinking of making a few box/racks like this, in the same overall dimensions, to house other tools. Eventually this may be a modular way to store chisels, gouges, files, rasps, etc. basically anything of that same basic shape. More developments to come on this.

I don't know if I will be doing more demos or teaching any time soon but this will be a handy little thing both on road trips and for bench work.

Redux: Hand planed moldings for my dresser.

 Note from Zach: As I work my way back into the shop and find interesting tools and techniques to share here, I thought I would bring fresh light on a few of my most popular posts from the last 15 years of this blog. Here is a post about making moldings first published back in 2014.

 After a somewhat lengthy layoff from my woodworking (thanks to my equally strong passion for old cars!), I have returned to the shop for a couple of hours each of the last two days. I still have a rather large project to complete, namely my c.1720 Massachussetts polychrome chest of drawers. When I left off, I had completed the case and was beginning to sort out the drawers...

One of my favorite features on this piece, other than the wild paint scheme of course, is the molding on the drawer fronts. This piece will require about 32 feet of the narrow molding and about 16 feet of the bevel molding for the drawers. I had made one of these molded drawer fronts on Wednesday night but didn't take pictures of the process. I thought perhaps this would be an interesting thing for the readers, so I documented the process on the second shallow drawer.

The previous drawer front in place
To start, I took a piece of pine and jointed the edge. I then used a marking gauge to lay out the width of the molding to be struck (line darkened with pencil for photographic purposes).

Bench hooks and holdfasts make holding this 8 foot board easy
 After that, I grabbed my John Green molding plane (you can see it on the bench in the above photo) with a profile that is substantially similar to the original molding. Starting at the far end of the board and taking great care to maintain the spring angle, I began to stick the molding. You can see it start to take shape in this picture.

Taking shape

I then work the molding backwards along the length of the board, taking great care to maintain the orientation of the plane. This is one reason why I like to establish a deep section of the molding at the end; it gives me a reference to reset the plane if I should let the plane slip later on.

You can see some of the waviness inherent to handmade moldings

Even with this great care taken, the molding will not be precisely the same from one end to the other. This is one of the obvious hallmarks of truly handmade furniture and it is essential to make authentic looking reproduction pieces.

Molding ready for sawing
Now, the molding is removed from the mother board with a rip saw. The sawn edge will then be cleaned up with a plane.

Sawing 3/4" pine is quick and easy. I like to leave a
whisper of the line to take off with the plane later

Molding ready to cut into sections

Now, because the molding cannot be guaranteed to be absolutely the same down its length (even with a dedicated complex molding plane), it is vital to cut the mitered pieces in order from the molded stock. This ensures that the profile is substantially similar on adjacent pieces, minimizing the potential for visual discrepancies at the miters. Of course, the final corner will not follow this pattern, so some finessing of the fit there may be required.

I don't use a traditional miter box in my shop. Instead, I simply have a opposing pair of 45 degree cuts in my sticking board fence. I used these to make the cuts as needed to complete first one side of drawer, then the other. The moldings are nailed into place with headless brads from Tools for Working Wood.

We don't need no stinkin' fancy miter box!

First side complete at 8:18pm

Second side complete at 8:45pm

Despite the apparent complexity of this work, it is quite fast. The time stamps from my photos say that I took nine minutes to stick the profile on 8 feet of molding, 3 minutes to saw the molding free and clean up the back, 41 minutes to miter and install the molding on the first side, 27 minutes to do the second side, and nine minutes to plane the edges of the molding flush with the outside edges of the drawer fronts. I'm not sure a power tool could speed up any part of this process and using the proper vintage tools gives the right feel to the completed pieces.

Drawer fronts sitting in the case

Next up is making the beveled moldings for the deeper drawers, followed by more of the narrow molding for the same. Then its constructing drawers (simple since these are just nailed to together), and then on to paint!

Still need to decide on the front feet...

Redux: Another use for the sash fillister

 Note from Zach: As I work my way back into the shop and find interesting tools and techniques to share here, I thought I would bring fresh light on a few of my most popular posts from the last 15 years of this blog. Here is a post about sash fillisters from 2019.


I don't usually need anything more than a gauge line to work to for bringing a board to thickness but, on jobs that require abnormal precision, sometimes a more distinct visual reference is called for.

One technique that I have used in the past is to bring a board to width and rough length, flatten a reference face then use a sash fillister plane to cut a rabbet into the opposite side across the two ends and along the two long grain edges. The rabbets can then be used to guide my final thicknessing efforts. This is similar to the technique of gauging flooring for historic buildings, where you only adze away the waste to a common thickness where the board crosses a joist. Thanks to Roy Underhill for this and countless thousands of other tidbits of information.

The sash fillister is used because it "hops" over the wood to be cut and references the already flattened reference face while cutting the other side of the board. As long as your fence locks down tight, the resulting distance between the reference face and the cut edge of the rabbet should be the same all the way around the board.

The benefits of this technique when planing a board to thickness are obvious but where it really shines is in resawing. The rabbets give a positive reference surface, rather like a fence, to guide the saw plate.

This is a very useful technique as it makes a precise surface along the edges where precise thickness often matters most for aesthetics and for cutting joinery.  Plus I just like using my sash fillister plane and I don't get to make sash as often as I'd like.

- Zach Dillinger

New tool rack for axes, adzes, and froes

 Many years ago, on a visit to coastal Virginia, my wife and I stopped at both Historic Jamestowne and Jamestown Settlement.  The former is a haunted place, the actual site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World, while the latter is a modern recreation of the fort and associated buildings. Both are amazing places to visit and I highly recommend them.

While at the Settlement, in a barn, I spotted something quite useful.

A useful tool rack from Jamestown Settlement (apologies for the quality.... 2010 cell phone cameras weren't the best).

I then promptly forgot about it for 13 1/2 years. In the process of adding on to my shop, I've been deep cleaning and organizing my old shop. This left me with a pile of axes, adzes, and other associated tools (why did I buy three bisaigues again?!?!) that need a safe, yet accessible, way to display them.

I vaguely remembered a long-forgotten option but had to struggle to remember where I had seen it but eventually I found it in my archive. Some 2x4, a 2x2, some fence staples, and 3/16 steel rod left me with this:


These are 1 1/4" fence staples driven into the 4 inch long 2x2 stock (which is what I had on hand). Those are nailed and glued, spaced 2 inches apart, onto the 2x4 backer, which is itself nailed into the framing of the barn. 3/16" metal rod is then routed through the staples to provide an easily removable safety catch to prevent these rather heavy, sharp implements from crashing down on an unsuspecting victim.

I still need to paint this wall and will paint the racks at the same time but I wanted to get the pile of stuff off the floor and up on the wall where they belong. Mission accomplished.

Redux: The care and feeding of the wooden plow plane

 Note from Zach: As I work my way back into the shop and find interesting tools and techniques to share here, I thought I would bring fresh light on a few of my most popular posts from the last 15 years of this blog. First up is my most viewed post of all time, first published back in 2013.

Four of the plows in my collection
The wooden plow plane is truly the workhorse joinery plane of the hand tool or hybrid shop.  It cuts grooves for a panel door faster than you can set up a router table.  It can be used to cut rabbets by burying the iron in the plane fence, rather like setting up a sacrificial fence on a table saw. It can be used to mark out, and even begin, a long and accurate rip saw cut, whether you make the cut by hand or band saw.  Even if you aren’t committed to working entirely by hand, a vintage wooden plow can be a great fit for your shop and a complement to your power tools. Here's how to make sure you buy a good one. 
Skating By 

Square along the wide side
The first, and most difficult to correct, thing to check is the skates. Like an NHL defenseman, a plow needs a good pair of skates.  These are the strips of metal that protrude out of the bottom of the plane. They are usually two to three inches tall and sometimes feature brass trim.  Like an ice skate, this is the bearing surface of the plane, meaning that this is what actually touches the wood.  It is vital to the operation of the plane that these two skates are straight and lined up with each other.  Over the years, the wood in the plane body moves with the seasons and can cause these skates to go out of alignment, sometimes quite severely. Check this with a straightedge before you buy the plane.  The skates should be aligned, both along the wide side of the skate and the bottom.  They should also be at a right angle to the bottom of the wooden plane body.  If they fail these tests, leave this one be and hunt for another plow.  
Square along the bottom

However, if it is just the bottom edges of the skates that aren't lined up, and you aren't working on a historic plow with real value, you can file the bottoms until they line up.  Work slowly and carefully until the edges line up with each other and are parallel to the bottom of the wooden body of the plow.  This will be easier if you remove the fence from the body and hold the body in your preferred vise.
On the Fence

After you are sure your skates are square and true, the next step is to make sure that the fence is as well.  Depending on the age and national origin of the plow, you will either have a threaded screw arm system, a wedge-arm system or a “Yankee system”, in which the arms slide through the body and are held in place with wooden thumb screws that thread in from the top of the body. There are other, more exotic, methods but you are unlikely to find them on a plow that you should be using.  All lock systems can be made to work well, but my personal favorite is the wedge-arm plow (see my personal plow), as these are easy to change settings and don’t require tedious turning of 
sometimes-sticky wooden threaded nuts.

This fence is square enough
To check the fence, set the face of the fence close, about ½” or so, to the skate.  You should be able to “eye-ball” the gap between the skate and the fence and determine if they are parallel along the vertical axis.  The horizontal axis doesn't matter, as this is adjusted when setting up the plane to cut.  In my years of working with wooden plows, I've only had one where this was an issue, but if yours is out of parallel, you will have to shim the arms where they attach to the fence.  This is touchy, sensitive work that isn't possible on some types of plows, so finding another plow is usually a better alternative. 

Once you've confirmed that the fence is square, you need to check the depth stop hardware.  Make sure it is complete and turns, even if it turns with some difficulty.  This is usually grimy and stuck up with old grease and detritus that works its way into the thread mechanism.  Never, for any reason, remove metal wood screws from wooden planes.  You will only cause damage to the screw heads, potentially snapping them off.  Rather than take the stop apart from the top, you can take the depth stop out of the bottom of the plane by turning the adjustment knob all the way out.  Sometimes these will be quite stuck, again by the detritus and grease.  You may have to slightly rock the stop body, front to back, to get it to pull out.  Once you have it out, polish the brass body to remove the old dirt and wax it with paraffin so that it operates smoothly in the stop mortise.  Put a drop or two of lightweight machine oil into the threaded hole, put the stop back into its mortise, and turn the thumbscrew to reengage the threaded adjuster rod. 

 The heart of the matter: the iron and wedge

If you can't find one, make one
Assuming the plow passed all the checks, or you feel confident that you can make the repairs, bring it home and start to address the iron and wedge. Originally, these plows came with a set of 8 irons, starting at 1/8” and going up to 5/8”.  These irons are usually long gone, which is a shame.  Because of the wedging action necessary to keep the iron set properly, the bedding angle, wedge angle and iron angle all have to fit together very precisely.  Therefore, it can be difficult to make a plow work if you are missing the proper irons.  The best thing to do, should you find yourself in this situation, is to make a new wedge that will work with replacement plow irons, which can be obtained from vintage tool dealers and, very frequently, at flea markets and auctions.  If you can only have one iron, pick a ¼” iron.  This will be the iron you use most often; in my plow the ¼” iron is often used and rarely removed. 

 Like most hand tools, sharpness is vital.  Sharpen the iron, with your favorite method, as sharp as you can make it. These often will not fit in a honing jig due to the extreme taper of the iron. Freehand honing is an important, and not difficult, skill to learn.

A clean plow is a happy plow

Most of the wooden plow planes you will find “in the wild” are about 100 years old.  They have seen the insides of barns, garages and basements, not always protected by a tool chest.  Like many wooden planes, some of them are downright funky.  The best thing you can do for a plow is clean it up.  The worst thing you can do is clean it up too much.  The plows we will use are, and always have been, working tools.  They have been used by many different sweaty, dirty hands.  Getting the grime off the plane, but leaving the patina is the idea.  Often, you can see patterns in the surface coloration, showing you where the past users put their hands when using the plane.  You can tell how they used the plane, by the discoloration of the plow arms. You lose all of this information if you clean it too much. 

My favorite method for cleaning is simply a good rubdown with a quality paste wax and a soft cloth.  The solvent in the wax is usually sufficient to eliminate most of the grime and the wax leaves a nice tactile sheen on the wood.  Never polish the brass too much; just do enough to get the grime off.  No need to make these old guys shine like new.  Too shiny, and you’ve ruined the look that it took 100 years to create.  Remember, you can always remove more patina; you can’t really put it back on.

For the truly dirty planes, I’ll use Gojo, or similar orange oil based hand cleaner.  The kind with pumice works the best, but you have to be very careful not to damage the wood.  Wipe the plane down with a damp (not wet!) cloth, then take a small amount of Gojo and rub it around lightly with a rag.  This should strip the dirt without going too far into the surface, if you are careful.  Once you are satisfied, wipe the plane down again with a damp rag and apply the paste wax of your choice. 

The plane should now be clean, have a square fence, a straight skate, a smooth depth stop and a properly fitting wedge and iron.  It is now ready to adjust and use.

Plowing ahead

Ghost-planing the groove.
Using your newly tuned plow should be a joy.  This means proper stock selection.  Unlike a bench plane, the front skate does very little to hold down the wood ahead of the iron.  This means that the plow cuts like a plane with a very wide mouth; not a problem with cooperative wood but it can be rough if the wood wants to fight you.  So choose your grooving stock carefully, orienting the grain to run with path of the groove. Set the plane to take a moderately heavy shaving, something between a try plane and a jack plane.  You want to work quickly with thicker cuts, but not so heavy that you tear  everything up.  The wood will let you know how thick you can go.

Always mark out your groove with a marking gauge.  You can use a mortising gauge and mark out both shoulders, or you can just mark one shoulder, relying on the cutting iron to cut the groove to the proper size.  I tend to mark out both shoulders to avoid any potential chipping, and this helps me to ensure that my plane’s settings don’t slip in use.  Either way, the point is to have a straight line, parallel with the reference edge, so that you can set your plow fence.   These lines also make setting the fence to the proper width a simple matter.

To use the plow, place your off-hand, left for a right-hander, right for a left-hander, on the fence.  This hand has only one job; to push the fence against the reference edge of the stock and keep it there. It should not be used to push the plane through the cut.  This is the job of your main hand, right for a right-hander, left for a left-hander.  This hand should not be used to keep the plane square to the work.  Your two hands must never fight each other or try to do the job of the other hand; you will never cut a square groove if you allow this to happen.  Trust the fence, trust the skate, and trust your eyes. 

With a properly tuned plow, you can make grooves and rabbets quickly, lay out rip cuts efficiently, and do all of this work in a nice, quiet area, free from the scream of a universal motor and free from a spray of choking router chips.

Roy Underhill Nail Cabinet


After deep cleaning and reorganizing the shop, it was clear that my previous hardware storage solution, i.e. piles of boxes and bags of nails and screws, was going to be inadequate going forward. I have admired Roy Underhill's nail cabinet for many years and decided to take the opportunity to build Chris Schwarz's version of it (with a few modifications).

As a nod to Roy's original, which features several different species of wood, I used pine, ash, and poplar for the dividers since that is what I had on hand.

As a further nod to Roy, I included a nicely matted print of the Hamm's Bock Beer ad which has adorned the inside of his cabinet door for decades. I also tracked down an Ohio Blue tip match box and glued the matchbox front to the side, honoring the fact that his original cabinet was built from a wooden crate once filled with that company's product.

One original addition to my cabinet is a quick rack for a new set of wooden handle screwdrivers to which I treated myself. The set was purchased from Tools for Working Wood.

The finish is linseed oil thinned 50/50 with turpentine, over which paste wax was applied.

Overall, this was a lot of fun to build and a great way to get back into the shop.

I'm back!

 After a somewhat lengthy delay (OK, three years...), I'm back in the shop again. First order of business is deep cleaning, though I have managed to flatten and refinish my bench top. 

My return is predicated on a couple of agreements with myself: no customer projects, and no more books. I enjoyed writing the two I put out but I don't mind telling you that doing them was a major source of my shop burnout. 

So... going forward: I will only build things that interest me. If I build something for someone else, it will be because I like the person and I want them to have something from me. No amount of money will get me in the shop again.

My first official project is yet to be determined, but I'm currently leaning toward a Roy Underhill nail cabinet like the one written up by Chris Schwarz a few years back. I'll probably make two, one for my father-in-law and one for myself.

If any of my old subscribers are still here, please speak up!

New Shop Space Build part 2

 I've made pretty good progress on my shop addition. It's a simple shed roof frame, nothing fancy, but will add another 50% in floor space and, perhaps more importantly, a ton of wall space for storage. My hope is to have my entire woodworking library stored in this space, along with a smaller bench and perhaps a permanently installed pole lathe. How it will be used isn't fully planned yet but, as you can see, the space itself is nearly finished.

I still need to enclose the rafter tails.

A normal entry door (with screen door!) which will become my new main entrance

3/4" OSB subfloor with joists on 16" centers. Very sturdy.

A nice view to the East

I can't wait to finish this up. I'm as yet undecided on how to finish the inside walls. This entire space will be insulated but I really like the bare wood look, so I might put up some honey pine paneling or the like. What would you do?


New Shop Space Build

 I've been working in my 12x16 timber frame shop for the last five or six years. I love it but a little extra has always been high on my list. I finally decided to do something about it and framed up this 8x12 shed roof addition over the weekend.

Originally it was going to be just a porch but I decided to go whole hog and frame it in. This portion of the shop will be insulated and heated so I can comfortably work year round. Also high on the list is one central storage location for my entire library of woodworking and furniture books, which will make my wife very happy. 

I'm very much looking forward to finishing this space off and moving in. I will probably still build a porch on the South side (aka the side with OSB sheathing as siding since it was supposed to be a temporary fix... five years ago).

Also, firewood stacking continues, one of my favorite house chores (yes, really).

Till next,


Upcoming article in Mortise & Tenon Magazine


I'm happy to let you all know that I'll have an article in Mortise & Tenon Magazine Issue 9. I wrote for the very first issue of the magazine (now out of print and in high demand) and was featured in an interview in Issue 2, so the magazine holds a special place in my heart. It is, without a doubt, the finest publication on pre-industrial woodworking in existence today... and it is perhaps the best that has ever existed. 

You can find more information on my article here. 

Thanks again for the opportunity, Joshua. I'm honored to be part of the M&T family!

A highly recommended YouTube channel

I cannot recommend the TA Outdoors channel highly enough.  I've been watching these guys basically non-stop for several weeks now. They have a hugely impressive library of historic shelter videos, all built with hand tools. Truly enthralling and definitely inspiring.

Ye Olde Traditional Storm Hat

 My dad always used to wear a storm hat. It was a beat up, old, nondescript thing that he only ever wore when we were in for bad weather. Being a crazy man, he would stand outside in the worst of it as if he could keep bad things from getting to his family by sheer force of will. Considering we rarely if ever experienced significant storm damage, maybe he could...

After he died, I lost track of "the" hat. I'd give anything to have it or to spend five minutes talking to him to learn his storm pushing secrets. Since neither of those things are possible, I make do with another hat that once belonged to him. I only wear it during storms and, through a few storm seasons, it seems to be effective.

We had a bit of a blow yesterday (the tail end of what got Chicago, as I understand it) but nothing too awful bad. Guess my hat worked yet again. Thanks for the hat and the tradition Dad.

I wonder... what cool family traditions like this do you have?

Also, it's firewood time here in Michigan. The first batch of about 5 cords is done, with more in process. Pretty stuff.