Fun with Chisels and a Stanley 271 Router Plane

In my last blog I went thought the process of making a small, dovetailed box from Red Oak and Chechem — some small pieces of wood from my shop.  I’ve never had a large supply of wood on hand and with the Covid-19 crisis of course I can’t just run down to Woodworkers Source to get more.  The dovetails turned out okay and the box will be added to my inventory at the Store at Mesa Art Center.  Here’s how it looks, the lid design is based on a series of boxes I did quite some time ago and called the A River Runs Through It:

Red Oak has never been one of my favorite to work with, seems as if in the 80’s and 90’s every cabinet job I had was out of that material.  Although good for cabinetry I’ve always found it difficult to work with hand chisels since it tends to be grainy even with the sharpest of tools.  For this little box I could have easily had a lift off lid but decided it would be a great time (socially distanced as we are) to spend the time to install stop hinges from Rockler.  Could have been done rather quickly by making a jig and using a router but enjoy hand tools and the challenge much more.

Scribing on the Masking Tape

Lay out was difficult because of the graininess of the Oak. Scribed lines quickly disappear, especially with older eyes!  I remembered a trick way to lay out dovetails using masking tape and decided to give that a try — it worked so thought I’d share it with you.  It starts by putting down a piece of tape and then locating and scribing the hinge locations directly onto the tape.

Beginning Chisel Cuts


Once they’re on, simply peel back the tape outlining the hinge location and chop it out with your chisel.  I use the same technique here as you read about in the dovetail blog, after severing the fibers of the wood across the grain I take a sliver of wood from the back edge to get a sharp edge for the hinge to reference to.  If you’ve chiseled hinge mortises before you’re probably wondering how did I set the depth?  My technique for this is to use a small router plane, in my case an old Stanley 271.  I set the depth off of the thickness of the hinge and use the edge of the blade to score the depth. Just like cutting a larger mortise, the ends are squared off and a series of shallow chisel cuts are made along the length. First pass is with a chisel to about half the depth. After another series of chisel cuts the router plane is used to remove the waste and the hinge is ready for installation.  The same technique is used on the box.

The lid lift was installed the same way, you can see the mortise for it on the picture above.  Anyway, that’s my trick for the day and hopefully you’ll find it useful in your own work.



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Another Dovetail Tutorial: Social Distanced!

The Covid-19 virus really changes how we go about our daily business I figured another tutorial on hand cut dovetails may be something my followers would be interested in seeing and hopefully sharing with their fellow woodworkers and friends virtually since our normally isolated manner of working is now even more isolated.  I’ve always referred to all of my contacts I have on Facebook, WordPress, Instagram, etc. as my imaginary friends — I hope you’re all well and healthy.

This subject is almost like sharpening tools, ask 10 woodworkers the same question and you’re likely to get 12 different answers!  My clients are unable to complete some orders they have with me because of their work layoffs and artists I have frames for have had their shows cancelled.    Checked my limited supply of wood and found a piece of Chechem and also some Red Oak so decided to make this little box.  Any project is a good one to hone and keep your skills up is my philosophy. This is the way I’ve been cutting dovetails for decades and for sure not the only way but here goes.  For starters, I’m a “tails first” dovetailer.  I won’t get into all of the various ways of  laying them out but these are a bit different in that I’m starting and ending with a half tail.  It’ll be a small, lidded box and I like to see a continuous piece of wood when the box is opened.

I start by rabbeting the ends, similar to the old Stanley 140 trick.  I used to use the tablesaw but now use a skew rabbet plane for this operation. My preference is to cut both boards at the same time.  For the tail lay-out I use a pencil since the pin board will be cut to what is scribed from the tail.  Regardless of what type of saw you use for this it’s a good practice to wax it.

Think about the chisel bevel, it will tend to force the cutting edge back.  To compensate for that I always cut a little pocket as shown in picture #1.  The first 3/16″ or so of the cut is 90° to the face but after that it’s okay to do a slight undercut.  I don’t use a coping or fret saw to remove the waste between the tails and rarely need to pare the base.  It’s crucial that your cuts are square, adjust them before you lay out the pin board.  I’ve found that a small double square like the one from Lee Valley works great for this.

4.) Bottom Groove

The final step in my process is to plow a groove for the bottom to fit into using a small plow plane.  The rabbet made for that 140 trick is 1/4″ so a 3/16″ deep groove won’t cut into the tail — much easier than a stopped groove.  That takes care of the front and back and the Red Oak was pretty easy to work with.  The Chechem was a different story! This piece has been in my stack for some time so besides its inherent hardness, baking in the Phoenix heat didn’t make it any easier to work.  Here’s a technique I use when I question how well a board will react to dovetailing.  I knew the box would be around 5″ deep and I only had 13″ of the Chechem.  Cut it in half, do the pins on one end and if they fail there’s enough to trim them off and start anew — did that twice on the first piece!

Two tricks here, the first is pretty straight forward and that is to use a piece of chalk in your scribed lines to help you see the piece.  The other is this transfer jig I found years ago on the net from I believe, a British woodworker.  You can see it in better detail in this BLOG.  It’s much more secure than using a block of wood or your plane (traditional way) to support the tail board as you balance it on the pin board. I raise the pin board up in this jig to do the cuts.  It’s a minor issue but flip the board around when sawing so that you always have the cut line in your vision.

In picture #1 you can see the jig in use, everything is securely held while scribing the joint. Be mindful of cutting on the waste side of the line, for this small piece the outer pieces were sawed off.  Same technique to remove waste between the two pins, relief cut for the chisel bevel then chopped out — a mistake many make is trying to take out huge chunks of wood, better to remove smaller ones and have less work cleaning up.

Clamped up till morning, yea; it’s square!

Last of all, it’s time to glue up.  My preference is Old Brown Glue and since it’s a hardwood using softwood cauls covered with packing tape allows the wood to protrude into them.  Sorry, as usual I got a bit long winded but hopefully it was a somewhat enjoyable read and you where able to get something from it.  I do glue ups on a piece of Marlite which is fairly easy to scrap the glue off of afterwards.


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Frame Talk #2: Sherri Profile

Establishing myself as a local “boutique” frame maker means I need to let Phoenix artists know and understand what I can do for them and their art.  Of course I have some prejudice but I look at the frame and the art as a package deal.  There are many reasons an artist doesn’t look for that special frame to compliment their work but the main one is budget. The goal I have is to help them overcome that.

I have several artists that I do work for and have created their own profile.  Sometimes they ask for a one of a kind creation like a tabernacle frame but most times they have an upcoming show or client and just want their works to have a cohesive look that sets them apart from the mass produced, probably imported frames the big box stores and internet have to offer.  In most instances, if I’m asked to make one frame it may be priced at let’s say $85.00 but if I do 3 of them at the same time the price will lower to maybe $65.00 or less.  If you understand the process of making them you’ll see that much of the time is spent setting up my equipment but once it’s set up I can run 30′ of material for several frames in just  slightly more time than it would take to run 6′ for one frame.  Allow me to explain the process without getting too technical as Diane says I tend to get!  Here’s the completed Sherri Profile frame:

The process of frame making is to start with Basswood, in this case 1 1/16″ thick.  The first step is selecting wood that will let me get as many pieces of the required width without a lot of waste.  For this frame we wanted about 3″ wide and the stock I found was slightly less than 6″ but that was fine with my client.  Once in the shop the wood is hand planed to give a straight edge so it can be ripped on the table saw.  I also hand plane the faces to remove all mill marks.

The next step for this particular frame was forming the beads.  I prefer doing this with a hand plane but in this instance I set up a cutter in my “almost antique” Rockwell shaper and then sanded them with tadpole sanders to remove any mill marks.

After mitering the pieces they are joined with glue and clamped overnight.  I cut a slot for what’s referred to as a biscuit.  This reinforces the joinery.  Commercial frames will only be joined with metal fasteners driven in from behind — no glue.  My technique is referred to as a closed corner frame and is much stronger and better appearing than mass produced frames.  The frame will be finished after the mitered joint is planed/sanded as smooth as possible.  This particular frame was finished with a traditional red burnisher/sealer followed with black Japan black paint which is hand burnished.  The sight edge has been oil gilded with composition gold leaf.  The over-all goal is to replicate some aging and patina to the frame which will expose some of the base coat as well as crackling of the gold.  This aspect of frame tends to be somewhat flexible, you can never predict how the gold leaf may crack or fault or how much of the base coat will be exposed during the process — fingers crossed!

At this time the frame is complete and delivered to my client.  She pleased with the final product and now has a custom frame profile named after her!  I look forward to working with her in the future to frame her art.  I believe this frame and her art is destined for an upcoming show in Sedona.

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Frame Talk #1

Picture Frames: The Why’s and Wherefore’s

As a custom framer, whenever I go to an art show, museum, or gallery my eye tends to go first to the frame and then to the painting.  This section of my blog will be dedicated to a short narrative of why a frame was chosen for a particular painting.  Too often frames are  purchased from a big box store and slapped on an artist’s work with very little thought as to the overall effect.  I read an article by an artist who compared putting a cheap frame on a painting to going to a fine steak house and getting instant mashed potatoes and frozen peas as a side for your premium steak!

This is what is referred to as a closed corner frame, meaning it is assembled before it’s finished. This way any discrepancies in the corners can be corrected.  Something not possible with a cut and join type of frame.  The addition of the Walnut splines are not only for design but for strength in the miter joint.  A frame this size (16″ x 22″) was $135.00 and although a bit more than the imported, proverbial big box stores this frame truly elevates the over-all presentation.

The painting is by Julian Miranda and is titled “The Sojourner”.  Follow this link to see it  on his Facebook page.  He did an interesting documentation of his work which is on a         1 1/2″ cradled panel made by Alejandro of TruArt Canvas.  When he approached me to make the frame and mentioned wanting to use hardwood I jumped at the chance.  It allowed me to use my furniture making roots and create this unique frame for him.  By the way, if you’re interested in one for your work it’s been called “The Julian Float”.

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Frame #185 Completed — Clavos!

Alejandro by Diane Eugster. Ebonized Oak frame with Clavos

Here’s a picture of the completed frame I blogged about recently.  One of the things I really enjoy about WordPress is not only can is it a way to share my work but it also opens up conversation from like minded folks — great way to counteract the isolation that seems to be part of all artistic endeavors.  It was fun having so many comments about the ebonizing process, thanks for all the comments and questions and hope many of you decided to try it yourself.  Really pleased with the final project, notice how the grain follows the miters; especially on the top corners.

Lets talk about the clavos, knowing I wanted something special my first place to search was Etsy. There was an interesting store  called Sons Leather so placed my order.  I should have read more carefully but only noticed that “orders ready to ship in in 5-9 days”.  Great I thought, plenty of time to get them installed and ready.  Whoops — they’re located in Jordan so shipping was actually 3-4 weeks but thank goodness they came in time and are perfect and well priced.  They specialize in leather and decorative upholstery nails and answered my emails quickly which is a good thing with internet sales.

Spacing for them is 3/4″ on center seemed to work out and was easily accomplished using graph paper.  Setting a fence on the drill press insured that they were aligned and pre-drilling made the installation easier.  To protect the finish on the clavos I attached a cabinet door bumper to the tack hammer.  They were inserted into the pre-drilled hole with hand pressure then eye-balled to 45° and hammered into the frame.

Before installing the painting I rubbed on a very light coat of the OSMO Polyx oil which had an additional benefit of removing just the slightest bit of the finish on the clavos, exposing the copper or brass metal of the clavo for an additional bit of patina!  All in all, very pleased with the outcome.  The painting size is 12″ x 16″ and it’s oil on panel.  The molding is 4″ wide.


Posted in Artist, custom profile, custom profile, Diane Eugster art, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Picture Frames | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mesa Art Center Demonstration 12-7-2019

Outside demonstration 12-7-19. The Store at Mesa Art Center

Part of being a juried artist with the Mesa Art Center Co-op is the requirement to give demonstrations during the time the store is open.  These are usually monthly and last 3-4 hours depending on the schedule.  On this particular Saturday I was outside from 9:00am until 1:00pm.  It was a little chilly by our desert standards but nice enough.  What makes doing these demonstrations worthwhile is when people stop, talk, and ask questions about what you’re doing.  On this day I had decided to show how to cut dovetails using hand tools.  That’s the traditional way they’re done and what I use in my furniture work.  If you should decide to do a Google search on dovetails you’ll find tons of information and “the best way” to cut them. There is  a lot of mystique around them and they’ve  become the hallmark of fine woodwork.  You can check my blog for various tutorials I’ve written about my method which is tails first!

Being out there that day was enjoyable because I had several groups of younger folks (12-25) watch me and ask questions.  As a retired woodshop teacher I love that part of demonstrating.  Woodworking, especially traditional work as I do isn’t very common these days.  Can’t tell you how many times someone will stop and say: “my grandfather used to do that” as they watch me!  Anyway, the project of the day was a small box made out of some common Pine a friend of mine had given me.  It was well seasoned (dry, cupped, and cracked!) because is came from his fathers garage — they ran across it when they were in the process of moving and he thought maybe I had some use for it.  Well, it was good for this box which will be available at the store after Christmas.  Here are some pictures of the completed box.  You would assume that since Pine is a relatively soft wood it would be easy to work but it requires very sharp tools.  If the chisel is slightly dull it will crush the fibers of the wood rather than cut them cleanly.  The box is lined with brown pigskin and I decided to experiment with the hinge — it’s fashioned from a piece of brass rod and inserted into a pre-drilled hole.  My preference is for clear finishes that are smooth as silk, come visit the store and see it in person.  The measurements are 3 1/2″ tall by 5 5/8″ wide and 9 1/4″ long, the perfect size for holding your remote controls and other treasures.  Here are a couple of pictures:

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Frame #185: Ebonized Oak

Alejandro by Diane Eugster

As a framer, my goal is to have the frame compliment the brush strokes, texture, and palette that the artist put into the painting.  This is a painting my wife (Diane Eugster) recently completed which is 12″ x 16″ and titled Alejandro. It’s from a recent open studio session of the Portrait Artists of Arizona.  When I first saw it I just knew it needed something more fitting than the black finish or gilded frame that I usually do.  This painting evokes words such as rugged, dangerous, dark, rough, better not  mess with me in my mind!  I remembered making a couple of frames quite some time ago from Red Oak and then ebonizing them with a solution that was made by dissolving steel wool into vinegar.  I got quite a response on my Instagram about this frame and the process so figured it’s worthy of a blog.

Design Sketch #185

To do this ebonizing process you need a wood that has a lot of tannic acid in it — this makes Oak a good choice.  The painting is on 1/4″ panel so to get any type of visual weight I selected some 5/4 Red Oak from Woodworkers Source.  When I design a profile it’s initially done on graph paper where I add my notes, when the frame is done I’ll usually cut a thin slice of the profile, scan it onto a piece of paper and type it up so I can read it later.  After planing a working edge the Oak was ripped to a width of 3 3/4″.  Next was creating those two  1/4″  beads on the outer edge.  This was done with Veritas’s small plow plane with a bead cutter installed.  This was also used to form the bead on the sight edge, 1/8″ here.  A 1/2″ wide dado head was installed  on my tablesaw to create the area between those beads, there will be a line of Clavos nailed around the perimeter — I found these on Etsy and have been shipped, hope they look as good in person as they did on the site!  Next was cutting the 2° angle on the face, accomplished on the tablesaw then cleaned up with the smooth plane.  Here’s some illustrations to make it a bit clearer:

Vinegar/Steel Wool solution for ebonizing

Let’s talk about the finish,  it is made by using distilled vinegar and either steel wool or rusted pieces of metal.  I prefer steel wool and only the oil free type I get from Liberon — any oil could mess up the finish. Not sure how critical it is but thought I’d note the formula and used about 3.5 cups of vinegar (way more than needed) and measured out 10″ of the steel wool.  In the picture you see me cutting it into small pieces which seems to help it dissolve quicker.  Also putting it in the sun seems to accelerate the process.  It was about a week before all of the steel wool was dissolved.  ** You shouldn’t cap the bottle during this process, I’ve been told that it can explode due to the reaction of the vinegar and steel!  Once dissolved I strain in through a fine mesh filter with a couple of layers of cheesecloth added for good measure.

Sorry, glad I do better woodwork than videography!!  Since there was quite a bit of interest in the process I thought I’d make a video.  My battery in the camera died before the video finished so it’ll stop abruptly.

It’s truly magic what the solution does! It’ll vary depending on the wood but at first it’s a very flat, almost deep bluish color.  Cheap chip brush and just put on and allowed to soak in.  This frame has 3 coats applied and allowed to dry at least overnight.  I suggest making a test piece out of the same wood you use for the project to see how it reacts to your finish. My preference is always an oil, surface coatings will eventually chip, peel, scratch, etc.  Since Watco Danish Oil has changed formulas to meet EPA requirements it’s no longer my go to finish, instead I’ve discovered Osmo Polyx Oil which I’ve been using as a finish for my furniture work too.  I use a white scrubby to work a thin coat into the frame then wipe completely dry.  Two coats will be sufficient, don’t get too carried away rubbing applying it as you’re never sure how deep the solution colored the frame.

That’s it for now, I’ll post the results once the clavos arrive and the painting is in its new home.

Posted in Artist, custom profile, custom profile, Design Process, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Picture Frames, YouTubeVideo | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment