Friday, September 11, 2009



I'm saddened to write that James Krenov passed away this week at the age of 88.

"When we discover what wonderful things our eyes and hands are as they seek fine lines and use sharp tools, when we listen to wood and not just use it, then cabinetmaking can take on a new meaning." JK

Almost six years ago I quite literally stumbled over a small pile of books in a Halifax library. Looking down I noticed one of them had some furniture shots on it so I picked up the hardcover book and read the title: The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking. The front cover photographs, three rather unique looking pieces immediately grabbed my attention enough that I decided to borrow it.
James Krenov eh?...never heard of him but the title alone seemed to conjure up a kind of curious discovery into some alternate path through the craft that I was only beginning to discover and understand. I had been building wooden boats at the time and had come off of about 8 years of set building. Screws and glue, some plywood and lots of smoke and mirrors I'd never felt any connection between working wood and art. I was an established writer and musician and was fortunate to have been exposed to all forms of art and craft growing up on the East coast of Canada but for some reason never felt the connection between the two. This Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, again suddenly hit me like a hard maple mallet; Krenov eh?
I read the book from cover to cover and then started to read it again and again. I wasn't aware of any 'on-line' wood working community at the time and the name Krenov really didn't mean all that much to me. I certainly didn't know about any of his unique philosophies nor had I ever heard of the College of the Redwoods; all I knew that as someone who has always enjoyed writing and was starting to begin my own personal journey into wood craft that the words that curled up and out of the pages were more powerful than any of his pieces ever could be. Yes, his cabinetmaking is second to none but it was his words that pulled me into this new path of working wood.
Not too long after that I noticed Lee Valley Tools were selling strange little plane irons and again the Krenov name rang a bell. That's him, that's the guy who wrote the book! I ordered an iron and following the chapter on making a wooden plane I built my first Krenov style hand plane. I think it was that same year that I really started to notice this Internet world of wood working and soon discovered his web site. This would have been around 2006 I believe and there I read that Jim's eyes were failing and while he would no longer be making his cabinets, he would continue working with his hands and making his hand planes available for order. I immediately sent off a letter and waited for a response.
In my mind at the time, still not realising just what kind of man Jim was I suppose I was expecting to get a letter back from perhaps a secretary or something with an order form or a credit card bill. I figured maybe he had an office somewhere at the college and someone would be answering his hand plane requests but this couldn't have been any further from the truth. If not the following day then it was indeed the same week I checked my e-mail to find a letter.

Tom, Thank you for the nice e-mail. I know the plane you need for building your boats. Before all: don't send payment before you have the plane and like it. If you want to call me, my telephone number wishes, Jim Krenov

I can still remember the feeling I had after reading this letter, I ran down and told my wife about it and she also thought it was pretty cool that this author and seemingly famous cabinetmaker had written back to me himself. This was who he was and the kind of personality he had. The plane arrived a few weeks later carefully wrapped up in Californian news papers and packaged inside an old sneaker box. Perfect! I've used the plane ever since and I'm happy to say that I still 'like it'
Fast forward a few more years when I started to write my own book on working wood and I again contacted Jim. This time it was to show him my 'Cabinetmakers Tool chest' design. While drawing the chest I wondered if he used to lug around a tool box with him, full of his hand planes from client to client. I wondered how he would have built it and if he spent any time on it? I wondered if he would have just tossed his tools into a make shift box too busy to waste time on something as utilitarian as a tool chest?
I told him that my design was indeed inspired by his work, from the split dovetails down the front to my choices of hardwoods for the carcass. "I don't recall ever being much of a tool box man" he told me! This made me laugh. We corresponded again in February this past year about the design and he always found the time to answer my letters and take time to consider my questions and thoughts. "It's a very beautiful piece." I'm proud to say he wrote. I asked him about his writing and if he was planning on any more books. "I'm an old man now" he wrote and I left it at that but again it brought a smile to my face when I read it. He's a funny old crank that has influenced thousands of wood workers all over this planet, myself being included in that list. He is missed already. I'm happy to have connected with him those few times through this 'on-line' platform and I'll think about him and his words again when I hold his plane in my hands while I work. Perfect indeed.

Wood Moves Update

Two years ago I built a trestle table for our home and I incorporated bread board ends into the design. When building with bread board ends it's vital for the main cross grain surface to be able to expand and contract, moving freely within the bread boards. Last February I posted a blog showing how the main surface had shrank in it's width by 1/4"! (you can see that original post here:
At that time I mentioned that my hopes were the table would expand back to its normal size and the bread boards would keep everything nice and true.
Well I'm happy to report that the surface has indeed swelled back to its original width ( God knows it should with all of the humidity here in Southern Ontario) and all is right in the world of wood movement.

The table was built in the summer so when I originally posted the picture in February it had really shrank back. Here's a another great example of wood movement from one of the pieces I built this past winter for my book, Made by Hand.
It's some Cherry wood and the same bread board procedure was used. It's interesting to see the opposite happening from a piece built in the summer to a piece built in the winter. The top of this piece has also swelled but because I made it in the winter, it's now substantially wider than the ends.

So my point to all of this?
Wood moves...get over it!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Door Update

Fitting the Panels and Cutting Rabbet for the Glass

These last few days I've been busy with the door project; with the main frame essentially complete I focused on the four door panels. These are solid Oak about 1 1/8" thick and needed to be rabbeted on all four sides to slide into the 1/2" door dados. The dados were cut about 1/4" deeper than needed to allow the panels to expand and contract as all solid wood will do over time. A straight forward procedure that first establishes the width and depth of the panel rabbets with my marking gauge and then starting the cut with my skew rabbet plane by Veritas. I've read a few reviews of this plane and it seems like most have been good but to be frank, I still can't seem to find a rhythm with it. Maybe it's just me but this plane never quite lived up to expectations. After using it for a year or more now I still seem to get inconsistent results.? Perhaps it's the angled front knob that throws me off or the uncomfortable side profile while in use...could be the knobs that hold the fence in position have come loose on me a few times while in use and I find when I really tighten the little turn screws down to keep things tightly in place, I need a pair of pliers to get them open again.? anyone else have any thoughts on this plane? Whatever the reasons are it's not my favourite plane to use for the entire process of cutting rabbets. (as a side note I should say that my small plough and large router planes by Veritas are great tools that I use daily; just seems the skew block has some issues-at least in my hands!)
So with that in mind I begin the rabbet with the Veritas and once a shallow groove is established I'll switch over to my medium sized shoulder plane to finish off the cuts. I get better results with this approach and clean things up with my side rabbet planes to complete. Again I apologise, no shots of these last few steps...been so busy trying to get this project done that the camera is sometimes an after thought! Sorry...
With the panels cut and fit I'll lay out the larger rabbets around the window section. This is basically the same procedure as the last and I did remember to turn on the camera.
To begin, a nice deep scribe line with the marking gauge on the back of the door.

With the rabbet widths and depths nicely scribed into the Oak I'll go ahead and dis-assemble things to begin the process. Again it's a combination of the skew rabbet plane to start, followed by my shoulder plane. These are all stopped rabbets so each end of the channel needs to be cut with my large router plane. I work my way down through the fiber until I reach my desired depth. This procedure is generally the same for the four components but after I did the first two I started to remove the waste with a little more gusto. In the photos you may notice a large Japanese style chisel on my bench top; for removing this waste in a hurry I resorted to the bash and crash of the 1 3/8" wide steel and my heavy mallet.

Once the bulk of the material is removed I clean up the bottom and sides of the groove with again the shoulder plane and router to get tight into the corners...
another dry fit to check and I can move on.

I follow these same steps and complete the other three rabbets getting a little more aggressive with the mallet and chisel as I go; these rabbets are big and deep and in this small work space the simple task of taking a style, cutting a rabbet, fitting the rail and then taking it apart and fine tuning things is a real workout. As the door gets closer to completion my shop is feeling smaller and smaller. I can safely say that this is the first and the last door I'll attempt to build in this workspace.
From here it's on to some more hand planing but my spirits are lifted because I'm very happy with the results so far. This planing session should be one of the last and my smoothing plane is taking paper shavings off of the stock. Another dry fit and I can start to get set-up for the mouldings...


Monday, September 7, 2009

Unplugged Summer Part Four (and final)

A Few Feet To Finish...

The stock for the feet is cut and planned flat, I left them slightly long so I would have the option of trimming back later. The stock is also left square until I chop the mortises and on this day, is where I began ...

Because the legs are quite thin on this little project and the tenons are sort of long and skinny, I decide to use my brace and bit to remove the bulk of the material before turning over to my mortise chisels. The brace is fast and the material bores away in seconds; the ends of the mortises still need to be squared up and the depth cleaned a little.

These mortises are a relatively painless and fast process using this method and I'll do a test fit to see if I need some more fine tuning.
Another dry fit...

I'm pleased with the look of the piece with the feet attached. It's rewarding to see it coming together and finally standing on the shop floor in front of me. Until now it was only an idea, curiously being watched and studied as the form was taking place.

I decide to shape the feet beginning with the long tapers from the front leg to the toe and again a shorter, quicker slope down to the heel. I begin with the taper and my smoothing a minute or two I get down into the Khaya and meet my scribe lines to reveal the lines of the feet. From here I take my coarse rasp and do some more shaping at the toe to round things over. I follow with a finer rasp and again stand back to see if I like where things are going.
I decide to add a bottom stretcher to add some stability to the frame. Again with a brace and a bit and the mortise chisel dance, I'm there.

I place the box and stand on the bench top and decide to leave it there for tonight. I'll dismantle everything in the morning and go over all of the surfaces with my smoothing plane followed by my low angle block plane to gently chamfer the edges and make things inviting to the hand...

5 a.m. sunlight pouring into the wood shop makes those tiny chamfer shavings come alive. Like a camp fire dancing across the bench top I'll break all of the edges and decide to add a small bead detail to the mid-stretchers just under the drawer box area. This is one of those details that you'd only find when you really stop and take a closer look at a piece of furniture. From a standing perspective you'd never see it do to the overhanging drawer box section; but when we crouch down to look closer at the lines in the hardwood, only then may we discover these tiny little details, hidden treasures kept away from eyes that are simply wandering by. These are the elements and reasons we work the wood; it's these small trophies we keep hidden away for others to discover.

My beading tool, an older model from Veritas is simple in use, easy to set up and a pleasure to work with. A gentle touch to begin I slowly work my way down into the wood grain being careful not to tear as I go. When the beading is done and the final surfacing completed I'll go ahead and glue things up. I leave the wood shop for the remainder of the day and this evening I'll come back and remove the clamps, clean up any squeeze out and fine tune the joinery.

The next day came and went and maybe a few more as well...getting sidetracked away from the project for the far more important things in life: sand castles on the beach, destined for higher tides to come and wash away those tiny little foot prints left on the strand. My children, 3 and 4 years of age, having the most incredible time of their young lives; through the campfire ghost stories and summer songs being sung- visiting friends and family all come to enjoy these days that we spend time in our home out there on the coast in Cape Breton.
When I finally arrive back in the shop I like what I see...this strange little table affair, 'a side server' I now call it; do to the fact that is what it became. A natural progression not following any rules- a kind of evolution in design. I rummage through some off cuts and find a great piece of Angelique just big enough for a drawer front. I'd also discover some Poplar and fit it to size, the first step in making a traditional drawer is to get the drawer sides to fit the opening. I'll plane the Poplar so it 'just fits' and from there I'll have to re-saw the stock.

Funny now thinking back to a year or two ago, the thought of re-sawing a piece of lumber by hand was so far from my mind. I don't know exactly when it happened but at some point over the past 14 months my mind shifted from..."How am I ever going to do all of this or all of that with only hand tools?" to these long summer days of simply doing the work and never giving it a second guess. Working with hand tools now is so natural and for anyone out there who is still at those early stages where you still may want to talk yourself out of dimensioning all of that lumber by'll get there, believe me-it'll come sooner than later. These days it seems just another quick process in getting the wood ready for joinery.

My rip saw makes quick work of the challenge and from there it's a frenzy of bench hooks and hand planes. Surfacing the freshly sawn surfaces and then shooting board to ready. My Bad Axe saws arrived around this time and I was so excited to finally get them in my hands.

Again, the little side server would have to wait a few more days while I put the new back saws through some tests. The saws as I mentioned in an earlier post are two of the nicest I've ever had the pleasure to work with. They're really everything you'd need in a handsaw. Another week passes and suddenly we're closing in on our vacation time, I think about the Oak door waiting back in the city. Almost time to shift gears and make tracks but I did want to finish the project at hand.
I made a traditional style drawer as I always do, half blind dovetails in the front with through dovetails in the back. Solid poplar for the sides and bottom and a thin piece of Khaya for the back. The front as mentioned was Angelique. I didn't put a back on the box when I made it, no rabbets or dados, grooves or blocks. I didn't put anything back there because I wanted to leave it open. This also led to the decision of not adding any drawer pulls. Why bother right? You simply walk over to the piece and gently push out the drawer from the opening in the back; the piece is so small that this is not a problem. I decide now that it's officially been labeled a side server to build a tray for the top. I again used some Khaya and made a bread board style top. This is removable so when in use you walk up to the server, push out the drawer from the back and place it on the tray at the top. Then you simply lift off the tray, holding the drawer and can bring it along with you to the table or work area. In my infinite wisdom though, I'll have to tell you that the entire process of building the drawer and top removable tray I didn't take any pictures! Sorry...
This being vacation time (as you all know) I didn't bring along a computer; so when my camera would get full I'd go visit my parents who are nearby and upload the pictures into their computer. Then I'd simply dump them into my little zip drive thingy...well over the last week of building this project my parents left the Island-my camera was full so I couldn't get any more way to dump the memory card! Well, you'll have to take my word for it that the drawer turned out really great-one of my best fitted drawers to date. (of course Mr. Murphy, no pictures eh?)
The top tray was pretty straight forward, the main tray with two wide ends attached by split mortise and tenons. What I did end up doing, that I thought was kind of cool, and again another Krenov thing, was before I attached the bread board ends I rabbeted a small groove along the inside edges of them where they meet the main top surface. This created a shelf that supports the drawer when it comes to rest on the tray. The drawer in turn, never touches the tray top but sits firmly in these little rabbets. The idea came from Krenovs 'silver ware cabinet'. His piece is designed so the drawer will rest, just floating above the surface...his silverware case doesn't have a removable tray and besides this obvious detail there's nothing about the two pieces the same. I should also mention how the tray connects to the top? I simply ploughed out some deep grooves to correspond with the two top stretchers on the main frame. I was hoping that these two stopped dados would be enough to balance the top and the tray would kind of 'float' when in place. This never panned out. When I placed anything on it, it would fall slightly forward touching the drawer box. A quick fix...I drilled a small hole in the top center of the drawer box and inserted a dowel. This dowel is enough to keep the tray balanced and secure when it's placed on the upper frame assembly.
So that's basically it, that's where I left it. I really wanted to do some more on the interior of the drawer, make another little box that slides on some runners. I think this design will develop further and I'll be building another version of it over the winter. (I left it there in our summer room in our Nissan to fit it..suppose I could have left the children instead?)I really like the idea of a side server sitting in a corner of a formal setting or perhaps in a kitchen. You could make the drawer interior into a spice box so when you're cooking at the stove you can go over and again, push out the little drawer, place it in the grooves and carry the whole tray over to your work space. Then remove the drawer with all of it's nicely fitted interior components and use the tray as a work surface...a cutting board perhaps?
I'll leave it at that for now and promise to get a few shots of the piece next summer...the way time flies it won't seem too long. I apologise for taking you so far into this piece and never having a final picture of it. Here's a sketch I did before I left, hopefully it'll get the ideas across and you'll see what I did.

Thanks for reading...