How to make a French marking gauge out of Southern Yellow Pine

… or how I made a sort of ok prototype, I’m really proud by the way, of instead of using the other awesome hardwood I have that would have worked much better but I didn’t want to screw up since I’ve never made one before.

Finished French Marking Gauge in Southern Yellow Pine

I like posts that start with the money shot, so I put the finished product here next to the instructions so you know I actually finished!

This was my hurricane IRMA distraction project. After making all the preparations, laying in supplies and tying down anything in the yard that might become an airborne missile I had nothing to do. but wait. I’m not a waiter by nature. Its one of my many faults, but that post would be too long and boring to read. So hurricane is coming, I couldn’t sit and watch the news like everyone else, I think its counter productive and only adds to the stress. So what to do. Ahh, woodworking project. I decided to build a French Marking Gauge.

I’ve always wanted one and I need more gauges. I have 3. My first gauge, a Harbor Freight combo gauge works fairly well. I sanded off all the coating and the unknown brown asian hardwood is actually fairly pretty when oiled up with mineral oil. Its my best gauge, the only thing I don’t like about it is that having pins on both sides means I poke my hand whenever I’m not using it carefully. I think this is common to any combo gauge. If, however, you ain’t got a gauge I would highly recommend this 10 dollar wonder.  Just try out a few at the store and make sure they fit and finish is the best of the lot. Still a solid buy. My next gauge was a single pin Marples in beech, that I got on amazon. The beam is too short and the pin was dull and rounded. I think I paid closer to 20 bucks and was unhappy. Don’t waste your time, build a french gauge.  My third gauge was an example of being a novice and being cheap. I wanted to ape the other woodworkers I was following at the time, but didn’t have the cash to buy the several hundred dollar wheel type  gauges, so I bought a Chinese knock off on amazon. I never use this gauge, all I can say for it is that it swore me off wheel gauges. I just don’t like them. Again, build some french gauges. Some more research, years ago, brought me to Bob’s video. I knew then that I would not buy any more gauges, I would make these and I would suffer with 2 gauges until I made some. As always, I think I’m a better woodworker now for having made one. My hand tool journey has always been improved when I force myself outside my comfort zone. Tool making is way outside my zone. But hey, hurricane was coming how bad could I do?

Ok, where to start, Conclusion first? Or is this a summary. I guess I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. One, I think the project came out very functional and I’ll probably have this marking gauge forever. That said, I think the main reason it came out at all is that I spent a fair bit of time on the layout and I left the blank over long. All this made it easy to work, even when I made my mistakes. Next, I think when I attempt this in padauk, I’ll go much much slower. My main problem, as it usually is, is that I lose patience and make a cut or a bore that I should have  done more carefully. For example, the mortises, were blown out on the sides and corners. My chisels were sharp, but I did a few things wrong. I would take cuts that were too large. This means I was losing precision. I was not paying attention to where I was when I was levering, this would blow out the sides and ends. Southern Yellow Pine is soft and hard in spots. If you don’t go slow with small bites and sharp tools the grain will tear and split in ways you don’t want, but if you go slow I’ve achieved very smooth and precise cuts in SYP. I know this. Why didn’t I go slower? Lesson learned.

Another item, when moving along the mortise, I was not paying careful attention to my layout lines. I was cutting a 5/8 mortise with a 5/8 chisel. Even the slightest tap outside the lines and I weakened the fibers and guess what, they blowout.  I ended up getting frustrated and getting out the brace and bit for both the beam mortise and the wedge mortise. Last, I have no rasps to speak of. My attempts at shaping were horrible, in the end it came out ok. I used a combination of a Stanley No. 4, a spoke shave, a chisel and sand paper. I think I’m ready for a real rasp. On to the build!


Step 1. First of go watch Bob Rozaieski’s  video and get the pdf of the original article he references. These are what I used as a starting point. Then mill yourself up an overlong blank and do the layout. You will want the blank over long to make layout and all the operations easier. The longer blank can be held down with a hold down and fits better in the vise. To layout the faces and the edge USE THE ACTUAL chisels that you will use to mortise with. Here I used a 5/8 and 1/4 inch set of bench chisels. This is a mistake a often made before, I would measure and then wonder why my chisel was too big or too small. Used my combo gauge to layout the mortises using the actual chisels to set the width between the pins. The pins should just touch the outsides to the chisel edges. Like barely.

Face laid out. Take your time. Being accurate here will pay dividends with all the operations to follow.

Face laid out. Take your time. Being accurate here will pay dividends with all the operations to follow.

Step 2. Transfer all your lines around and then layout the smaller wedge socket on one side and then the larger wedge socket on the other. Mine were 7/16 on one side and 9/16 tall on the other. These are all in the plan. If your off, you can still make up for this when you come to make the wedge and beam. This project is forgiving if you size the pieces off the mortises.

Here's the 9/16 mortise laid out.

Here’s the 9/16 mortise laid out.

Step 3. Chop or bore out the mortise. Here I started in on the mortise. However, after getting down about 1/2 an inch and realizing it was going to be hard to follow the angle I got out the brace and bit.

Here I found it easier to follow the angle on the face with the brace and bit.


Step 4. Chop and Bore out the face mortise for the beam. After struggling again with staying in the layout lines. I went an got an auger bit.  Boring out was pretty easy. I should have, however, taken a break. I was getting frustrated with blowing out the edge of the mortise with my chisel so I grabbed the brace and went to town. See what happened next.

You’re supposed to stop halfway through and bore in from both sides. This keeps any error in the middle and keeps your bench top out of danger. Oh well, I needed to finish flattening the top of my bench anyway.  This will come out. But at the time It just added to my frustration. I should have taken a break. I pressed on and started chopping out the rest of the mortise sides. If I had stopped and come back I know I would have done a cleaner job. As with life, knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to keep going. In my defense this was my distraction project from the Cat 5 hurricane, IRMA that was bearing down upon us at the time. It was only a day away at the time I was chopping this.

Oops, don't bore into you're bench like I did.

Oops, don’t bore into you’re bench like I did.

Face mortise bored out.

Face mortise bored out.

So , Paul Sellers is always saying to keep your bench top clean when mortising or chopping so you don’t dent your soft pine. Guess what I didn’t do before I whacked down the hold down. You can also see the levering errors at the edges of the mortise. I’ll go slower next time.

keep your bench clean or get dents in your project.

keep your bench clean or get dents in your project.

More mortise blowout. Go slow and stay inside the lines.

Step 5. Make the beam. Here I use a wedge to hold the cut open while I rip. I like ripping in the vise. Paul Sellers says he does it because he’s always been a bench man. I guess I’m becoming one too. I always seem to gravitate to ripping in the vise if I can. Here I’m using my modified bench vise. My Eclipse is on order, but this $20 vise has gotten me by for a year or so. I can take it off when not in use. The hold downs keep it very stable. I cut, chop and plane in it without too much trouble. I don’t really like my crochet, so thats why I made this. Last week I finally broke down and ordered the 10″ eclipse thats patterned on my dream RECORD 53. I can’t wait. I can’t say enough about how proper work holding can make woodworking fun or frustrating. I should have bought a full size vise 2 years ago. When you make your bench, buy a vise. Don’t wait. You’ll only suffer.

Ripping out the beam

Ripping out the beam

Beam cut. No problem so far.

Step 6. Size the beam. Marked out with a marking gauge the size taken directly off the face mortise hole. What I mean is I squared the beam, since I had cut it over size. I held one corner in the mortise and then marked the other 2 non fitting corners with a pencil. I then gauged these lines down the beam and slowly began to plane to them. I also drew them out on both ends so I could see progress there too. I was going for a tight fit, since I was expecting compression. After a few light plane shavings each time I would test the fit. Once the fit started and I could slide the beam in with force, I began to look for bruising on the wood and would take a very light shaving off the bruised area. This is how I snuck up on what I think is a pretty good fit. With the beam mostly extended from the face, ala all the way through to its max length without falling out, the beam was still square to the face. To be honest, I was surprised that I had done so well. I was expecting the gaps in the mortise edges to cause it to be out of square, but I’m guessing enough of the inside of the mortise was square Tobe keep the beam square.


Beam fettling. I think I spelled that right. I love that British term.

Square to the face. I was as shocked as anyone else!

Here you can see the end marks I’m using to help get the size. I’m working down the edge and end marks.

I was so worried that my mortise blowout would ruin the tool and waste the effort, but even with the gap it came out square. I guess I’m just lucky.

Here’s a shot of some of the brusing I was talking about. After each test fit I would look for this brusing and only take a light shaving off the face with the brusing and fit again. I had marks all over the beam and the face to make sure I was test fitting in the same orientation each time.

This is one of those magic woodworking moments. Working up to this point I had no idea if this was going to be a working project or a dud. When the beam went in and it was square, I had to step back an take a picture. It filled me with such happiness. This is why I do woodworking, for moments like this. It was at this moment that I knew I could a thousand of these if I wanted, when only seconds before I didn’t know if I could build one.

Don't be shy. Make lots of marks. Here you can see I am making sure the beam goes in form the back and that I know which side the front is.

Don’t be shy. Make lots of marks. Here you can see I am making sure the beam goes in form the back and that I know which side the front is.

My woodworking got so much better and less frustrating when I ‘got over’ drawing all over my wood. Before, I was afraid to make it dirty or mark it up for fear of ruining it. Little did I know that planing the wrong face, for chopping in a mortise in the wrong side ruins the work even more. Now, I draw all over my working pieces knowing I can plane, scrape or sand it off. And if I can’t I’ll paint it! Either way, I’ll have better joinery, which is what I’m after.

Yes, this arrow means UP. Hey, this all helps believe me.

Yes, this arrow means UP. Hey, this all helps believe me.

Step 7. The wedge. I started with an oversize wedge blank. This made it easier to handle. I marked out my shape and rough dimensions on the side and began to whittle. In retrospect, and after seeing Brian Eve make a wedge I think I’ll use his method next time. My wedge came out ok.

My Stanley knife, my swiss army knife and my bench hook. I worked on whittling the edge while everyone else watched a movie. At this point the hurricane is hours away.

My Stanley knife, my swiss army knife and my bench hook. I worked on whittling the edge while everyone else watched a movie. At this point the hurricane is hours away.

Close up of the wedge blank

Close up of the wedge blank

After the carving a sawed the wedge blank to the rough dimension and then planed down one side till it fit. You may have to use a knife to carve off a bit here and there to get it to fit. Take small bites and test fit often. I got a decent fit. Most importantly, it locks the beam in pretty solid. I had to hit the beam on the bench pretty hard to get it to slip. I think it holds better than any of my other gauges with screw hold downs.

Still Square with the wedge in. This makes me so happy.

Still Square with the wedge in. This makes me so happy.

Step 8. Round off the top. I guess this makes it French? I do know that now that now that I have one like this, the fit in the hand when marking is  better than anything I’ve ever used. Viv La France!  Sorry for the blurry pics. Bear with me. I’m trying to get as many in progress shots as I can. I hate projects that show three pictures and then the final product and you are like, ‘How the heck did they do this part?’ Here, I’m glad that I had the blank oversized so I could hold it in the vise to begin my attempts at shaping! I need a rasp. Here you need to mark out the curve on both the front and back faces. I did this and then proceeded to use anything that would abrade wood to get there. I only have a few Harbor Fright rasps and files. I tried my No 4, this worked ok for a little bit to round the corners. In the end the best thing I did was to take it out of the vise, lay it down on the bench and use a large chisel to work  the corners into smaller and smaller flats by paring in from the faces. Then I made an 80 grit rasp with a stick of wood and some sand paper.

My first attempt with the Harbor Freight Rasp took a chunk out of the face. I guess I need to piny up and buy an Auriou Rasp.

My first attempt with the Harbor Freight Rasp took a chunk out of the face. I guess I need to piny up and buy an Auriou Rasp.

Here I took a few plane shavings, very thin, off the face in an attempt to fix the damage form the shaping. After this I went straight to slicing down from the face with a 1 1/4 inch chisel. This worked really well, and I knew from watch hundreds of hours of Paul Sellers videos that this is how I should have started. He can do just about anything with a chisel. He shapes many curves with just a chisel.

Much better. Starting to look curvy and french! Ohh, La La.

So here’s my make shift rasp. Actually, its 80 grit wrapped around a cut off from making the beam. It actually worked great. This too, is where I should have started the shaping.


Step 9. Drill the hole for a large trim nail. I decided to use a trim nail to get me started. The point is shaped and its hard enough. I found a drill bit just undersized to the name and then used my other gauge to work in from each side and try to find the center. At this point I was so excited that I had a gauge I got sloppy. You can sense a trend here. I think I always need to go slower. So guess what I did. I drilled the hole crooked. Not a deal breaker. The nail went in and it marks out perfect lines square to the face and at the right dimension. It just looks off. Guess what, I ain’t gonna fix it. I’m just gonna use it. When I go to make the next one, however, I will use this lesson to take my time with the egg beater drill, OR, I may break out the drill press.  The drill press, like Bob Rosieski’s , is one of the only power tools I couldn’t seem to part with when I got rid of my table saw, router table, and chop saw. I still use it occasionally to hold a wire wheel to clean off parts for old planes or other metal tools. I don’t drill mortises. I tried that once and it did more harm than good and it was faster and easier for me to chop them or bore with a brace. Precise drilling with a small drill bit is another story. We will have to see if I break down and do this for the next beam.

So, I drilled in the larger hole. Obviously, I should have realized this was NOT in the center of the beam. Luckily, this project is forgiving and the gauge still works great.

So, I drilled in the larger hole. Obviously, I should have realized this was NOT in the center of the beam. Luckily, this project is forgiving and the gauge still works great.

Here’s my hodge podge of assorted bits.  I have a drill index, somewhere, but since these are in a neat little box I always seem to reach for these. If I was smart I’d buy a small set of nice bits, throw these out, and put the nice bits in this box.


Step 10. Cut off the extra wood you’ve been using to hold your gauge in the vise. I did a pretty good job here. I knew I wanted it really clean off the cut so I went slow. The Japanese Z saw leaves a very fine cut with its tiny teeth. Thats what I used here. Its also what I use for Dovetails. I have two Western Dovetail saws awaiting restoration, but I haven’t gotten to them yet. The Z saw works very well and got me started in sawing. Chris Schwarz had an article years ago that said to get into Dovetails and case work you didn’t need $1000 worth of saws you just needed s Stanley Sharptooth saw and A Japanese Z style saw.  So for about 60 bucks I was able to build my Bench and all my projects since then. I was lucky, when I went to do this years ago you could still find a wood handled sharptooth at the home center with some nice wheat carving and a decent shaped handle. They are gone at my home center now. No wood handles at all. I had this same issue looking for a decent wood handled hammer. I ended up with the cheapest one they had. Sanded off all the lacquer, took a file to it to dress it up. Polished it, oiled the handle once a week for about a year and its beautiful. I prefer raw handles with just an oil finish, they feel great in the hand and don’t cause the blisters and sores I used to get from repetitive use in a hot and wet climate.  This gauge is just getting oil.

Here she is right after the cut. The end grain looks good, I think. Sorry for the blurry pics, but the small board behind it is where I marked out on both edges from top to bottom. If you look real hard you can see where I tried to quickly darken them in with pencil.

Step 11. Oil it. I use a 50/50 mixture of Ballistol, a non-toxic mineral oil based general purpose lubricant and cleaner thats been around since before WWI and straight mineral oil. This is my goto finish. I’m scared of BLO and the fire hazard so I just oil alot. I think, the Ballistol helps the oil penetrate and cure faster. It doesn’t stay oily like when I’ve tried straight mineral oil. You’re milage may very. I’ve been exposed to enough toxic chemicals to last 3 lifetimes, so I try not to add anymore than I absolutely have too. I also like the idea of using what they would have in the pre-industrial era of woodworking.

All oiled up and French. I have to say this is a sexy gauge ;)

All oiled up and French. I have to say this is a sexy gauge ­čśë

Here’s the final product in a glamour shot. I’m pretty proud of myself. I didn’t think this would come out, but it did. Its a fairly forgiving project. Despite all my errors it came together and the wedge really holds the beam in a fixed position better than the screw type gauge. That’s my opinion. Take ti for what you paid for it. Now go make yourself a gauge. You need more than you think. Thanks for reading.


Chris Barnes

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How to make a french marking gauge. Part 1.5

… or how to sort of make a prototype in Southern Yellow Pine because you’ve never made one before and don’t want to ruin your expensive hardwood that you have to drive 180 miles round trip to get.

My nice piece of Padauk patiently waiting to become fancy french gauges.

If you really want to know how to do this go to Google now and search for french marking gauge and watch Bob Rosieski’s video. You’ll then want to watch all his videos and listen to all his podcasts because Bob is a master craftsman who uses traditional methods. If you’re still interested after consuming his digital content read on.
So I’m working off the plans Bob mentions in his video. A quick Google search will yield up a pdf from a popular woodworking article. I used the plan to roughly layout my head.

Here is the face view with the angled mortise for the wedge drawn in. Bob says it’s a 6 or 8 degree angle

Here’s the wedge mortise side view on the long side. About a 1/4 inch wide.

I carried all the face layout lines around, paying attention to the different heights of the wedge mortise on each side. Here’s the short side.

I swear it’s square.

After the layout I started the chopping. Bob started with the beam mortise in the face, but in the article he starts with the wedge mortise. I started with the wedge mortise. I hope there’s no blowout in the beam when I go to chop it. Also, I’m using a quarter inch bench chisel. It’s slow going. I may still get out the brace and bit.

Here’s me chopping in and trying not to lever on the edges. It’s not working.

Here’s most of the narrow hole. I started on the narrowest side. My thinking is if I make mistakes it will be less apparent when I flip over and on this side I don’t have to worry too much about following the angle yet. We’ll see if I was just fooling myself.

More chopping.

Ready to flip. I used a tiny flat head screw driver to clean out the waste.

Here’s me starting on the longer mortise.

That’s it for tonight. I’m gonna go check on the hurricane track. I’m in North Florida, but the eye is supposed to come right for us. Wish me luck. Although, I don’t think anything will move my bench. It’s only 5 feet long, but the top is 5.5 inches of laminated syp and the legs are 2 laminated 2x6s and the aprons are 2x12s. She’s a stout girl.
Take care,
Chris from hurricane alley.

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Hurricane’s a coming …

All the prep is done, now I’m trying to distract myself by making a french marking gauge. It’s hard, since a giant hurricane is bearing down upon us. Oh, well. Anyhow, I’m making the prototype out of a 3 year old off cut of Southern Yellow Pine from my bench build. It’s pretty hard. I love syp, because its cheap and easy to work. It also gets VERY hard the older it gets. We’ll see how it comes out. I have a beautiful 8/4 piece of Padauk that will make 8 or 10 gauge heads. I’ve realized,unlike other tools that you may want multiples of, you really do need like 6 or 7 gauges. You should leave them set during a project so they can be reused for acurrately and repeatably marking. I struggle along with a harbor frieght combo gauge and a crown marking gauge. They work fine, but I have to think twice about unsetting them during a project to use them to layout a cut of some other part. I really do need a bunch, but I’m forcing myself to make them. Once I started down the hand tool route, I told myself I would do everything by hand to get as much practice as I could. Frustrating, yes. But after a few years I can see myself progressing. I’m a better sawyer now, because I cut every 16 foot long 2×12 for my bench with handsaws. I made myself a saw bench by hand and learned you need really sharp chisels to work in pine. Anyhow, if you want to get better don’t take the easy route. And yes, I gave away my table saw and chop saw to friends to remove ┬áthe temptation to go fast. Call me crazy, but it made me better.

I’m following Bob Rosieski’s build video. I’m having trouble centering and locating the 5/8 mortise that needs to go through. I’ve left the piece over long and a little wide so I can clean it up. I’m probably fussing over nothing and I should just layout a hole and chop it. I’m not going to drill, at least that’s the plan now, since I’m only slightly better at drilling straight holes with my brace than I am cutting curves with my coping saw. Thanks to Paul Sellers, I’ve gotten pretty good with my chisles. So far I’m getting pretty good at mortising and cutting dados with just my chisels. Anyhow, here’s the start of the layout.

Please ignore the dirt marks. I went ahead and cleaned up the old square that seems to be the only square in my shop that is actually square. I’ve wiped it down a dozen times, but it seems to be oozing rusty mineral oil every time I pick it up. Glamour shot here.

Thanks for reading.

Chris from hurricane alley.

Posted in Hurricane IRMA, woodworking | 2 Comments

Royal Game of UR game board.

Just sharing a quick pic. Thanks to Brian Eve over at my family and I have been obsessed with the Royal Game of UR. Go to his blog and see all the great videos and posts of game boards and dice making. Here’s our makeshift board below, we us buttons for pieces and I’m working on dice.

Here’s is mark 1 mod 1 of our family board.

Here’s the dice in the making. You can see I haven’t gotten far.

Take Care and thanks for reading,

Chris Barnes

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How to tell if your combination square is square.

… or when it’s not. Arghh!

That photo is a teaser. The square I made those beautifully parallel lines with looks like it was in the ocean for a few centuries.
Anyhow, the story in a second. The traditional method for checking your combination square , or any square for that matter is to place it against a face edge and then draw a line. You then flip the square over and try and draw a parallel line. You’d be surprised, your eye can tell parallel pretty acurrately. I think the human eye can discern upto a 64th. Don’t quote me on that, but that piece of trivia is kicking around my noggin.

So here’s where things started to go wrong. I’ve been making the carcass for a laundry cabinet so I can get rid of mdf shelves over my washer and dryer. I was making knife lines on the tail board and I noticed the knife line severely deviated from my pencil line.  This could have been me not holding the square right. So I grabbed another combo square and things began to get fishy. Here’s the pin board.

Notice the lines begin to diverge. So I decided to check my squares. I have a box store Swanson that I considered my best square, then I have a Stanley I got on Amazon with a nut that sticks all the time for some reason. I did the parallel test on both and they were BOTH off. Arghh! The stanley was slightly better than the Swanson but man, you can’t trust a not square square you know. This is where the fun part comes in. A month or 2 back a buddy of mine came by with a truck load of junk from helping clean out a barn. He saw a plane and some breast drills and thought of me. He was so kind I couldn’t tell him I already had enough rusty junk. I politely took all the handtool looking items including two socket chisles that looked like king Kong had worked then over with a sledge during a bad Friday night bender. Anyhow, in the pile was a strange looking combo square with what looked like a cast head. I tossed it in the maybe save and restore bin and promptly forgot about it. Here it is. It looks better because I hit it for a minute or two with 220 grit sanding disks to see if it had a manufacturer name on it. No luck. I was hoping for a Brown and Sharpe or maybe a Starret. Here it is.

So for kicks I did a parallel test on this boat anchor. Guess what. Perfect. I laughed our loud. I figured it might happen when I grabbed it. I have luck like that sometimes, plus I figured it was made during a time when a machinist square had better be well made or its manufacturer would go out of business. Apparently, today you can happily go along making shitty hand tools and stay in buisness. Here’s a shot of the parallel lines they all make right next to each other. S is for swanson, u is for unknown and the other is the stanley.

Here’s all three together. 

Oh yeah those two lines in the first pic are from the boat anchor. Looks like first thing tomorrow I’ll be sanding and oiling  new square and deciding if I just toss the other squares or waste time trying to figure out how to square them. 
Thanks for reading.


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How to chop out the pin board.

… cause I still don’t like my coping saw skills.

My son Ethan, whose 6 feet tall at 12 and taller than me, came out to the shop and said “what are you doing?” I said I was chopping out tails and asked if he wanted to try it. To my suprise he said yes so I let him at it. He did a great job. I just had to sit and hold my breath so I could savor the moment. My kids, like most kids, have only a passing interest in woodworking. I don’t force them to do it, so when they show interest I just let them jump in. Worst that can happen is I have to make another pin board. Totally worth it. I treasure these small moments.

I follow the Paul Sellers method and I have ok results. Any errors are mine.
Step 1. Mark out the tails. I have a long side that didn’t fit on my joinery bench that’s up against the wall so I resorted to my scab bench. This is my first bench. It’s a scabbard together collection of 2x4s and plywood. It wobbles and squeaks, but I can’t bring myself to ditch it. I have a small vise mounted on the front and I used it to hold the pin board while the grill holds up the tail board. Hey, you use what you got. I’m pretty much of the mind to get a vise and mount it on my joinery bench, but a Record 53, which is what I’m holding out for, is harder to find than unicorn fleece.

I use Paul’s method of clamping boards to the faces to deal with the skinny pine cupping on me.

Take your time. The trick, as I understand it, is to line up the tail edges it’s a frog hair onto the tail board or you Will have a gap. I also made sure I had the faces out. It pays to triple check. I’ve cut them wrong before.

Step 2. Cleanup the marks and carry the vertices lines down to your depth mark amd then saw them out straight across focusing on staying verticle. I try to make a few swipes across to form a kerf and then keep my eyes on the vertices line as I saw. Paul says to use pencil on pine since it will compress and this will ensure tight joints. I also read recently, “if in pine, leave the line” so I’ve been repeating this to myself and focused on leaving the lines in.

I tried to make sure I had the angle without forcing a wobbly line from any variance in the tail. I then went back in with a square as a straight edge and drew in a straight line across the endgrain.

I sawed down. I’m still amazed at the little curly q shavings that come out of the cut. I don’t know why, but it usually means I’ve made a good clean cut.

Step 3. Sharpen up.

I went to my 600 arkansas stone and worked the back and then the bevel then I stropped and got back to work. This is just my procedure. It gets me shave sharp. Some folks say it causes uneccesary wear on the back and that may be true, but I do it for 2 reasons. One it’s a habit and I can do it fast without dreading sharpening. So whatever ritual you have to develop to encourage yourself to sharpen often, do it. If you need to sing a song or dance a jig, do it. Reason 2, is that I didn’t spend a whole day flattening the back of my narex chisles. Its not worth it. I just worked on the quarter inch closest to the edge, so working on the back a little every time I sharpen up seems to be getting the back flatter. I can see the flat moving ever so slowly away from the edge. I have also been forcing myself to do this freehand. I have an eclipse style jig and I use it. It’s great, but I think if I every want to be able to do a good job sharpening gouges and carving tools I need to get good at freehand sharpening my chisels. ┬áSure there’s a whole Internet of people out there to tell me I’m an idiot and don’t know how to sharpen, but I’ll tell you this. One day when I accidentally, ┬áand I mean accidentally because I didn’t really understand sharpeneing, got a chisel really sharp it was like the sky opened up. The wood I was cutting sliced so easily. It was from then on that I knew the difference between sharp and what I had thought sharp was. It made the work fun. Anyhow, end of rant. Learn to sharpen, if people say handtools suck it’s because the aren’t using sharp tools.

I use stones because I got tired of tearing sandpaper and I didn’t want to have to flatten a water stone everytime I sharpen. I also worried that as a novice I’d end up gouging my delicate waterstone. So I ponied up 99 dollars at woodcraft for a set of 3 stones. I think I got lucky since prices seem to have gone up. If my stones aren’t cutting quickly enough in drop back to my combination India stone and work back up through the grits. Once sharp though, I rarely have to go down too far in grit. WATCH Paul’s video on YouTube on sharpening to 250 grit and you’ll be a convert. I don’t think you need 20000 grit stones. The strop with green honing compound does that for you. Watch the video. I use a mineral oil, non toxic, oil called ballistol. It’s pretty awesome. Google it.

Step last. Chop out the pins ┬álike you do the tails. Knife in lines using the actual mating side as a reference. Do the fingertip trick to line up the edges. One thing to watch out for is not chopping into the angled side of your pins. Cut from the middle out and look at the endgrain to follow your lines. Go slow and you’ll get it.

Go half way from each side.

Thanks for reading.

Chris Barnes

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How to chisel out dovetail waste.

Or how much I hate my coping saw and my inability to saw with it. 

I really have tried the coping saw method. It’s just not for me. I also refuse to buy a 100 plus dollar fret saw, which would be more than all 5 or 6 of my old distons combined, just to go faster. So instead, again, I follow the sage method of Mr. Sellers. In all his dovetail work I see him use a knife wall and then slowly chop and chisel. Flipping the board to go half way through from both sides. Works fast enough for me and I don’t have to use curse words for sawing into one of my tails. Now here’s the glamour shots.

Step 1. Knife in the waste using the face edge of the board. Lay the actual pin board flush to the edge. Use your fingertips to ensure the flushness. Reach in with a marking knife and make a nick like your trying to reach almost under the pin board. Then use your square to mark just the lines under the waste going around both sides while registering your square on the face edge and face. Some people I’ve seen just mark all the way across or use a marking gauge. My work is bad enough so I don’t want a line across the tails making it look worse. Also, go shallow with the first knife lines and then go back in and deepen them. Less tendency to wander this way.


Step 2. Go in with a small chisel, mine is 8mm, and make a tiny cut to relieve the edge of the knife wall so it doesn’t move too far back. I’m working in pine and my wall will compress if I don’t do this. If the wall moves back too far this will show as a gap.

Step 3. Chop and chisel out the waste. Only go half way from each side. If it’s pine, take shallow cuts or you will blowout the end grain inside the pin socket from chopping down too aggressively. Don’t ask how I know this. I’m not telling. Eventually the waste pops out. Try not to force it out. You may have to push it back in from the end to get them to slide out.

Waste right after chopping through.

I used a small screw driver to tease out the waste. 

One more case side to do and then on to pins… whoppie! 
Ps. I don’t have to tell you to sharpen up your chisel and strop it before you start right? I mean I sharpen up before I tie my sneakers in the morning. Another lesson I learned was that it is really true that sharp tools make the job easier. For me it let’s me focus in making the cuts. Before I got the sharpening religion I would be distracted from the work. I would be thinking about why my cuts were off or why I had to push so hard or do I need a bigger mallet. It never occurred to me that if my chisel was sharp I wouldn’t even be thinking about it I would be focused on the wood I was trying to remove. Now I sharpen alot and keep the strop on the bench next to me and touch up often. With the strop touch up I find I dont have to go back to the stones during an operation very often. Anyhow, just food for thought. 
Thanks for reading. 

Chris Barnes 

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