Make a Joiner’s Mallet from Osage Orange

While attending the Video Woodworkers Skiatook Adventure, Ted Alexander milled some Osage Orange with his WoodMizer LT15 Bandsaw Mill.  He had a full length section of the tree milled to nearly 5″ thick and 13″ wide to cut into blanks for bowls.  On the day of departure, he cross cut part of that slab into 4 pieces and gave some to Ty Moser, Moy Perez, Braxton Wirthlin, and myself.  Initially I thought of turning 2 carving mallets from the section I had but I felt that it would have been a great waste of wood.  So I decided to retire my old chisel beater and make a new one, from ultra dense and heavy Osage Orange.

I looked around for some straight grained material to use for the handle and I found two pieces of white oak and a piece of black oak which was left over from a mantle I made for a client.  It had a nice portion which was straight grained and 1″ thick which would leave me with a minimum of 3/4″ material after milling.  I made 3 pieces of various length and milled it all to 3/4″ thick and 2″ wide.  This allowed for a good taper to fit into the mallet head and have a nice rectangular grip after shaping.  I prefer a rectangular grip as it is more familiar than a round handle so when I pick up the mallet I am sure to strike the chisel on the face (end grain) of the mallet and not the side (long grain).


Back to the topic at hand, I began by laying out and chopping the tapered through mortise in the head.  Some folks would first cut the taper on the handle and then use that as a template to lay out the marks for the mortise, but not I.  I have a tendency to do things the hard way so I made mine in the reverse order.  I started by laying out center lines and then marking the ends of the mortise on the top and bottom.  A bevel gauge set at 5 degrees helped determine the angled mortise and later the handle.  Using a 3/4″ auger in a brace I bored halfway through the mallet head, flipped it over, and bored through the other half.  You know you’ve done well when your holes match up.

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Now chop out the remaining waste with a mortise chisel by sighting down the markings on the side of the mallet.  If you aren’t confident in sighting down a line you can make an angled block for the chisel to reference on.  You only need to start about 1/2″ to 3/4″ using the block and then reference on the walls of the mortise.  Chop half way through, flip the piece over, and repeat.  Then shape the edges with a block plane or router bit to the profile that appeals to you.  I used a block plane and made chamfers on all edges.

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If you made the mallet handle first now is the time to test the fit.  Drop the handle through the top of the mallet head and drive the handle through until there is resistance.  Remove the handle and check the inside of the mortise for areas where the handle burnished the wood.  You can remove those areas with a file, flat rasp, or a float (my preferred tool for the job).  Keep checking until the handle slides in easily without too much coercion.

Apply a few coats of your favorite finish and complete it by buffing on some wax.  Now enjoy smacking your favorite chisels around.


Make a Scratch Stock

The Nicholson bench I will be building in the coming months require a profile on the edges of the ship lapped boards for the shelf.  Well, it isn’t required but I like the detail it will add to the bench so I am going to make it a requirement.  I want to build the bench with mostly hand tools and I don’t have any moulding planes so the solution is the scratch stock.  There are plans available for this and the Nicholson bench on the sidebar.

I searched the ether for a few minutes and finally came to a scratch stock style that I liked as it looked comfortable in the hands and functional for different sized cutters.  So the build began.

I have a sizeable scrap bin in my shop (as most may) and I rummaged through it looking for something that would pair well with brass.  I found a perfect sized piece of rift sawn 8/4 walnut I had left over from a coffee table build but it had a good deal of sapwood in it.  Not a problem as Dark Walnut Danish Oil blends it fairly well with the heartwood.

I pulled out 3 washers, 3 threaded inserts, and 3 brass knurled thumb screws to use as the holding power.  Some of the designs I saw simply used machine bolts and nuts that you tighten with a Philips driver each time you need to change the cutters.  I wanted something a bit faster and stylish, naturally.

To start, I sliced a 1/4″ off the material at the band saw and set it aside.  At the drill press, I bored a few 3/8″ diameter holes 1/2″ deep for the threaded inserts.  Changing out the drill bit for a 1/4″ bit, I bored the holes through until the brad point exited the other side.  Flipping the piece over and finishing the hole so I didn’t get any blow out.  I used a 1/2″ bit to mark the countersink for the washers.  Finally, I used a 1/2″ Forstner bit to flatten the countersink so the washers wouldn’t bend over time.

I resawed the material in two equal parts.  Initially I cut the piece leaving 1″ at the back to hold the stock together.  This made it so I couldn’t fully tighten the thumb screws at the end completely to hold the cutter fast.

Now the inserts were driven into the 3/8″ holes.  I used a machine bolt to help drive the inserts into the stock.  The machined slots are too soft for a slotted driver and will strip so using a bolt adds the ability to use a Philips driver for extra control.  After all three inserts were in place and slightly countersunk, I glued the 1/4″ slice back on keeping the grain aligned.  After the glue was dry I cleaned it up with chisel and plane, then cut the reference faces on the stock.

The bevels on the horizontal reference surface were marked and cut.  These allow you to tilt the scratch stock for the initial cuts to establish the profile.  I cut these by hand and then cleaned them up with a chisel.  You could cut them at the bandsaw if you tilt the table.  It was just faster for me to cut these with a hand saw.

Shaping was the last order of business.  I chose to round over the corners that were to be handled and then chamfer the edges.  I used a combination of rasps for the round overs and a block plane for the chamfers.  In the end, the feel and look of the scratch stock are great.

The cutters were made from pieces of my old Wood Slicer Bandsaw Blade.  I cut the piece to length, drew a profile on the face at the corner, and used a combination of flat and round files to shape the profile.  To sharpen the the cutters you can just rub the faces on a stone as you would a marking gauge cutter.

A little of the aforementioned Danish Oil was wiped on and it was ready to go.  Simple, quick, and a good use of the scrap wood and old saw blades you may have laying around your shop.

Up Coming Bench Build-Off

The Dusty Life crew (Brian McCauley, Kyle Toth, and Myself) is hosting a Workbench building event in the late weeks of August and into September.  The event is conveniently called the Bench Build-Off.  There is a sizable list of sponsors who are pledging prizes to be given at random to several lucky builders.  You can find that list here.

Brian and I will be participating and I plan on building a 19th century Nicholson Bench.  I have drawn up a model and put together a 24 page PDF set of plans for my bench which are available here.  This bench is 8′ long 27″ wide and 31″ tall.  It features a fixed crochet on the right side, a sliding crochet on the left, and a shelf for storing your planes during a project.

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Also, I have designed a smaller version for kids if you have any apprentices running around the shop.  Plans for that are found here.  Once the kids outgrow the bench it can be used as a place to sit.

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Keep an eye out for the announcement and if you are interested in making a dedicated workbench, start planning now.

Brass Chisel Hammer


IMG_8317A couple weeks ago I won this (above) brass mallet on eBay.  I really like the old, mushroomed faces, wear marks, and the patina on the brass.  The only thing wrong with it was the steel rod handle.  The solution: contact a local machinist to remove the handle and bore a 1/2″ through hole for a new handle tenon and a 3/16″ hole for a pin.  Costs: $17.33 for the mallet with shipping and $5 for the machinist (I gave him $10).  Total cost of $27.33.  Not bad considering brass rod retails for about $15/inch for this size.

With the holes bored i needed to choose a handle style.  While in Atlanta for The Woodworking Show, I went to Highland Woodworking (Highland Hardware) and saw David Barron’s Chisel Hammer.  I’ll admit to lust and covetousness for this inanimate object but the $74 price tag was a strong enough deterrent.   Loaded with that style in my memory, with the help of Google Images as a refresher, I sought a worthy wood species to compliment the aged mallet.  Enter a scrap piece of air dried walnut left over from me stool build 2 years ago.

Turning the handle was a straight forward process.  The blank was mounted between centers and turned with a spindle gouge and parting tool.  2 simple but necessary tools to have with the lathe.

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After the shape was finalized and sanded to 320, I used my Stanley Yankee push drill to bore a small through to prevent the wedge from splitting the wood.

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I then removed the blank and cut the handle from the waste.  Using my Dozuki Z-Saw I cut the slot for the Ebony wedge.

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This should be a substantial slot for the wedge to easily fit into with some coercion.  If you choose to glue in a wedge, remember to only glue one side to allow for wood movement.  If you glue both sides, one glue joint will surely split as the wood expands and contracts throughout the seasons and changes in humidity.

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Next a 3/16″ hole is drilled through the side of the tenon and a brass rod is hammered through.

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Cut the excess rod off leaving 1/16″ proud on each side to be rounded with a ball peen hammer.

The final step was to apply the finish.  I chose Dark Walnut Danish Oil to blend the light and dark grain yet accentuate the natural curl and figure in this piece of walnut.  When that was dry I rubbed and buffed in some of the Beeswax polish that I made in a previous post.  The handle has a nice satin finish and the color of the walnut compliments the patina on the brass wonderfully, in my opinion (which is all that matters here).

Split Top Saw Bench with Downloadable Plan

As I progress in my woodworking skills, my interests are persistently moving me toward more frequent hand tool usage.  I will never give up my machines (with the exception of the table saw) because they perform the bulk of the preliminary work, milling lumber to S6S.

In the coming months I will be building a Nicholson Bench and I plan on cutting all the joinery by hand.  Since the bench will be made entirely from home center 2 x 12 construction grade lumber, I will need a spot to break the material down into manageable sizes prior to milling at the Bandsaw (rip to width), jointer (flat face and square edge), planer (parallel face), and finally, the table saw (parallel edge).  Enter the saw bench.  This bench will support the boards as I cross cut and rip them to rough length and width, respectively.

There are a few different styles of saw benches to choose from but mine was inspired from Billy’s Little Bench.  Upon further inspection of Billy’s construction I saw that he made the tails on the two top pieces.  I don’t know the reasoning for that orientation of the dovetail joint but I made mine with the pins on the top pieces instead.  In my thought process I will be moving this bench by lifting the top so I want the pins to pull and wedge between the tails as not to pull the joint apart.  In any case, I don’t foresee any issues down the road with this joint orientation.


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I have detailed plans available.   Keep in mind the height for your bench, if you choose to build one, should be at your knee height.  I am 5’9″ so the height of my saw bench is just over 18″.   This allows me to pin the workpiece between one knee as I kneel on it and with one leg and lean into it with the other during a crosscut.

This saw bench is made entirely from one 10′ length of 2×12 material and two 8′ lengths of 2×4 material, though a single 16′ 2×12 would probably be sufficient for this saw bench with a little material left over.

The material list is as follows:

Feet: (2) 3″ x 3″ x 17″ (laminated from 2×4 stock)

Uprights: (4) 1.25″ x 5″ x Overall height you need* (height – foot width + tenon length)

Top: (2) 1.25″ x 5″ x 32″

Lower Stretchers: (2) 1.25″ x 2″ x 32″

Aprons: (2) 1.25″ x 3″ x 32″

*Mine was 18″ high so my uprights were 17″ as my tenons were 2″ long (18 – 3 + 2) = 17

The video below is intended to be an over view of how I made my bench.  Billy does a fine job showing how he made his so I will not reinvent the wheel…just my own bench.  Enjoy!

Coming up…a build of this Kids Nicholson Bench.  It could be used as a workbench or converted into a bench to sit on when a child out grows it.

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Back Saw Restoration

I purchased this Back Saw on eBay at a good price.  The points that sold me on the saw were the following: the handle was in good condition, no broken horns or cracks; the plate was already cleaned of rust; Tom Fidgen has a saw from the same maker and he said it was a gem.


The down side of this saw is that it has a steel back.  It is a little light for my liking but for the price I paid and it’s intended purpose (my son’s future tool chest) it will do job just fine.

Upon arrival I noticed a significant curve in the spine which caused the saw plate to have a bow, a detail the seller neglected to mention.  4 star review for his description.  The curve could have been due to the saw being dropped on the toe causing the plate to look as it were canted.  This could be a difficult issue to solve if the plate had been kinked.  After I removed the handle and spine it was evident that the plate was in good shape  just needed proper tension and adjustment once the spine was replaced.

I followed the directions from various articles and videos (just search “back saw restoration” on YouTube or Google) on how to straighten a saw plate.  It was merely a case of using two adjustable wrenches in opposition to each other to twist the spine to manipulate the saw plate back into alignment.  I am not going to go into detail here other than say it took a bit of practice to figure out how to get the plate straightened.  Once the toothline was straight I began sharpening for a rip configuration.  This saw has a 12″ plate 2″ cut depth and 12 points per inch.  Sharpening is simple and straight forward.

With the teeth sharpened, set, and the brass nuts polished it was time to remove the old finish from the handle.  I used a bit of sand paper starting with 100 grit to remove the old finish, then 150 to clean up from the 100 grit paper, 220 to smooth the handle, and 320 to finish it off.


To finish the handle I used a simple wax/oil blend consisting of Beeswax, boiled linseed oil, and a thinner.  An article on how I made that can be found here.  I simply rubbed the finish in with a cotton cloth and rubbed off the excess.


Then with a heat gun I melted the wax finish into the surface and gave it a final rub down for a smooth feel.  A video on that finish style can be seen here.


With the handle fixed back onto the properly tensioned saw plate and a few test cuts it was evident that this saw was going to be a nice addition to my, er, my son’s tool chest.


The Idiot Stick

About 6 years ago, my wife and I flew to El Paso, TX, to visit her Grandfather.  He loved tinkering in his shop, making copper wire art and other small wood mind puzzlers.  When we arrived at this house he pulled out a small rectangular piece of wood and asked me if I had ever seen an “Idiot Stick.”  Immediately, I thought of a way not to look too stupid in front of my new Grandpa, whom I had just met, but to no avail, no thoughts came to mind.  He began demonstrating how to play with the wood puzzle and he showed me the parts; the cap and rod, the hook at the end of the rod, the block with the hole, and the rubber band that was plugged into the bottom.  He then gave the toy to me and I began looking like, well, an idiot, as the toy suggests.

After several minutes of attempts failed, Grandpa showed the trick to make the toy work.  How remarkably simple a toy this was.  So after many years, I finally made one for my shelf at home.

Here’s a video on how I made it.  You will need the following things: a small piece of wood (3/4″ square x 5″ or so), a small dowel (I used a bamboo skewer though I suggest using something else), a drill bit to match the dowel, a saw to cut the wood, a sander to shape the cap, glue, a rubber band, and some sort of finish (though it isn’t necessary).


Make a Bootjack

I received a book for Christmas titled “Weekend Woodworker: 101 Projects” or something along those lines.  When I saw it I immediately thought “Great! 101 videos.”  Sadly, many of the projects just aren’t something I consider myself interested in making (e.g. silhouettes of old ladies doing yard work).

However, my sister-in-law and her family came to visit a couple weeks ago and her son takes Equestrian lessons.  I asked him if he had a bootjack and he said “no.”  Naturally I headed into the shop, opened the aforementioned book, and began making the bootjack with a modified design.

Once it was completed, my kids said they wanted one too so I made a second one for our house.  My oldest son enjoys using it when he comes in from playing in the back yard so the bootjack, or shoejack in our house, resides by the back door.

Here is the video of the making of the bootjack.

Custom Handle for a Coping Saw


One of the first hand saws I purchased was a cheap coping saw from my local Do-It Best Center.  I purchased it so I could make a 3-piece burr puzzle for my Father-in-Law for Christmas.  I used it for that project and haven’t touched it since until recently, when I was removing waste from the dovetails on my chisel rack case.  I considered selling it or giving it away to my church’s rummage sale but then lighting struck my brain.  I could make this cheap, poor feeling saw into a cheap, better feeling saw just by changing the handle.

I cut the handle from the threaded insert after unscrewing the frame and removing the blade.  Then I took the threaded insert that was encased in the wood and split the wood with a chisel to get the insert out.  This was much easier than I anticipated.

Most parts of the saw minus the threaded insert.
Most parts of the saw minus the threaded insert.

First, I drilled a hole to match the diameter of the threaded insert for the screw that holds the saw in the handle.  I mounted the blank between centers at the lathe and used the roughing gouge to true it.  This was the perfect exercise for me to use my new skew chisel.  I pulled out a piece of cherry left over from the screwdriver handles I turned a few weeks ago and went to work.

New P&N Tools skew chisel and a cherry blank.
New P&N Tools skew chisel and a cherry blank.

I made a tenon to fit the ferrule that came with the saw.  I had to repurpose the ferrule since I didn’t have a brass or copper ferrule on hand.

Ferrule fit onto tenon.
Ferrule fit onto tenon.

Next it was time to shape the handle.  I’ll admit this is a new larger skew that I was not yet use to compared to my Crown 1/2″ oval skew I use for turning pens.  I did get a catch at the toe and it startled me.  Not much damage was done though, a quick pass cleaned it right up.  I took a little more precaution by ridding the bevel first and then tipping the handle up to engage the cutting edge to finish up the job.  I made some guide lines and shaped the handle to my liking.  When I was finished with the shaping, I sanded to 320 grit, and waxed it for a nice shine.

Finished handle is a bit longer and feels better than the original.
Finished handle is a bit longer and feels better than the original.

If you have an old tool that you don’t like, put new life into it by turning or shaping your own custom handle.  I think I will be looking for reasons to use this saw now.  I see more dovetails in my future.

Heirloom Screwdrivers


While cleaning out some of my shop drawers I came across my screwdriver shanks I purchased from Lee Valley (unfortunately, they have a limited supply and no longer stock the shanks, I believe) along with the brass ferrules and the 5mm brad point bit (I had a 6mm and 8mm already).  I purchased the screwdriver shanks after I saw a great video on youtube by Shawn Graham (wortheffort) called Screw the Skew.  If you want to make your own screwdrivers I suggest you purchase these.  The price is great (around $57 for all 9 shanks, ferrules, three drill bits, and shipping) and you will have them forever.  Shannon Rogers of The Renaissance Woodworker also has a great video on making handles for files and rasps.

Since I don’t use slotted screws often I chose to use the remaining cherry blank I used to make the Awl from a previous post.  I mounted the blank between centers and started making chips fly.  I used a carbide roughing tool by Harrison Specialties LLC to true the blank.  I have their rougher and finisher and I used both to make these handles but I can honestly say I do not like the finisher one bit.  I got more catches than I care to admit.  I prefer to use traditional turning tools but mine are all dull so I had to suck it up and practice.  Hence the slotted screwdrivers and the cherry handles.  I am saving my better turning blanks for the other handles.

Cherry blank, ferrule, and screwdriver shaft.
Cherry blank, ferrule, and screwdriver shaft.
Truing the cherry.
Truing the cherry.

One thing I have not quite figured out yet is the best way to part off and finish handles that do not have finials as the Awl did.  I just left about 1/4″ of material at the end, finished the handle, cut the handle off the blank with a saw, and pared the remaining material away with a sharp chisel.  Then, I sanded by hand from 150 to 600 grit and finished with the Hut Crystal Coat.

Shaping the handle.
Shaping the handle.
Shaping the cherry blank.
Ready to sand.

While the handle is on the lathe I sand and finish all but the small portion holding it to the blank.  I then part the handle off, sand by hand, and finish the end on the buffing wheel with carnuba wax.  This seems to work just fine but I will continue to seek out better options.

Finishing the parted end on the buffing wheel.
Finishing the parted end on the buffing wheel.

I am pleased with the feel and shape of this handle.

The finished small slotted Screwdriver.
The finished 3/16″ slot Screwdriver.
The 1/4"  slotted driver.
The finished 1/4″ slot Screwdriver.

Here are the three slotted screwdrivers with cherry handles.

Set of 3 slotted screwdrivers.
Set of 3 slotted screwdrivers.

The process was the same with the Roberts screwdrivers.  I used African Mahogany for these and changed the shape of the handles slightly.  Also, the smallest shaft was 6 mm vs. 5mm on the slotted drivers so keep note of that when making your own if you choose to do so.

African Mahogany handles on Roberts screwdrivers.
African Mahogany handles on Roberts screwdrivers.

For the more commonly used Phillips screwdrivers I used Curly Kamani I purchased from islewoods on Ebay.  They have a great selection of interesting turning stock from pens to bowls.

The Kamani (Calophyllum inophyllum) tree’s sap is poisonous and was used by the Samoans as a toxin on their arrows.  The wood was used to make the keels of their canoes.  While I was working with this wood it has a similar working property as cocobolo and bubinga.  It is slightly oily and polishes very well.

Kamani blank from
Kamani blank from
Kamani waxed and polished.
Kamani waxed and polished.
Handle finished.
Handle finished.

I am not entirely satisfied with the large Phillips screwdriver handle.  I feel it came out too narrow and had a bit of defects in the wood.  I may remake it some day but for now it will do.

3 Kamani Phillips screwdrivers.
3 Kamani Phillips screwdrivers.
Set of 9 drivers.
Set of 9 drivers. Kamani, African Mahogany, and Cherry.