“Mr. Gorbachev, Pare Down This Wall”

It has been a long time since I have written anything on this here blog.  I don’t really know where to begin.  The time has been very rewarding to me in the last few months:  the birth of our daughter Odetta (what an amazing thing to watch a little person grow!) in May, 2nd knee surgery in July, recovery, volunteering in a return to work program, moving to town and moving workshops, and always learning, watching, thinking about woodworking and how I want to do it.  I have been listening to everything I can get a hold of on YouTube by Noam Chomsky.  He makes me believe that there is hope for the struggle to become autonomous from the established system.  Not completely maybe, but to have a degree of that.  To live outside the auspices of wagery at the mercy of the masters of mankind and in my case to make things by hand with methods that are centuries old in some cases.

The first picture here is of my old workshop in the country.  It was a great little place to work while my leg was healing and is still healing.  I am building a new work bench.  His name will be Milcho, named after my favorite Macedonian director the man who brought us Dust.  Here I am planing the saw marks off the boards that will make up the work bench slabs.  It is all out of construction grade lumber.  Save the nice wood for furniture.IMG_20150903_094850636_HDR IMG_20150923_192443956 IMG_20150923_192452077 IMG_20150923_192525699_HDR IMG_20150923_192531577_HDR

This is a Russian icon which I helped restore.  Brian Matthew Whirledge Iconography a fellow who paints Orthodox icons brought it to me to take on the woodworking side.  It is from the 19th century and the wood smelled of the vast Russian forests.  The paint is etched which I cannot show very well here.  Just take my word for it that it is a piece of astounding beauty.  Wish I could bottle that up.


IMG_20151011_125537818 IMG_20151011_125609970 IMG_20151011_125617085 IMG_20151105_205121129 IMG_20151105_205214881 IMG_20151105_205230878 IMG_20151109_193906728_HDR  I am excited to get going in my new space and get it set up to work efficiently for me.  When we moved to town I got a workshop space for now in the basement of where we live.  This second workbench is a little bit more portable than the last one that I built.  The bar was low considering that  a dead rhino is more portable than that bench was.  It is patterned after the Nicholson bench I guess and the bench that Paul Sellers swears by.  I think it is going to be great to work at.  My hope is to have the baby crib done by Christmas.  The one that I almost was able to finish before my surgery, but not quite.

Tutelage,  That is an interesting thing.  To thoroughly invest your mind’s energy in something that is challenging to master it.  In my case it is woodworking.  Learning the skills and the skills within skills to develop the confidence needed to keep learning more.  For this YouTube has been such a great resource.  Obviously I would have preferred to have one on one instruction in person, but it does not seem as though that is to be.  At least not right now anyways.  So I slog along on my own.

(The first part of this post was written a month ago.)  I have the work bench done and it is great!  Thank you Mr. Sellers for providing a free resource to building a great workbench.  Now, I spent all of 90 dollars on this thing.  I already had the vise and it is a nine inch vise, an old craftsman.  I strongly recommend older vises whether B/G, Woten, Record, Columbia, Craftsman, etc.  The reason is the quality of the steel parts, I mean they really grip strongly.  There might be some good newer models as well, but I don’t really know about them.  They can get prohibitively expensive unless you make your own wooden one and get good at it but you still have to buy a good threader and tap to make a quality one.  Here is the bench.

You do not have to spend a lot of money to have a good bench.  I am very pleased with this one.  I have to figure out a few things with it and maybe make some minor tweeks here and there and I think I am going to start using hold fasts but I have not decided yet.  In the pictures I am chiseling the mortises for the spindles on the crib.  I hope it is cool when I am done with it.  I think it’ll be alright.  I am going to try and get back to regular writing as the new year approaches.  I am having a great time right now learning the ropes of using primitive methods of woodworking.  When combined with a few power tools like a tablesaw and bandsaw, you can cobble together a good system that is effective and fast and does not need a lot of space.  It is very satisfying to put together a tool kit that you know is not quite the same as everyone else’s.  That is how it is in the world on underground woodworking.  There is a wonderful array of variety in methods and tools out there, some good joints being made.  Peace to all.

Third hand, third eye, Third Man, man

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the woodworking concept of the third hand.  I know, it sounds creepy.  Sounds like some sort of mystical malarkey.  Sounds like a mutant carpenter.  I wish I had a literal third hand that served as a clamp, and a bench stop.  Actually, I do have that.  It is a bench vise, bench dogs, bench hooks, and a tail vise.  Two of those things I made from scratch and two of those things I bought for a total of 60 dollars, but I will let you decide which.  In four hundred years (including the bench) if they are properly taken care of they will still be usable as I pass them down or around to future carpenters.  These are all components of my work bench that help me hold things so that I can have two hands free to steady the plane.  Another third hand I have is also a thing I made from scratch: the shaving horse-one of my favorite possessions and cost 15 dollars, materials for free.  At this point if you are counting, I now have seven hands, but whatever, who is counting?  There are actually hundreds of ways to hold things, using all manner of clamps and such.  In the Eastern hemisphere, for instance they sit down to work a lot and hold stuff with their bare feet.  Their feet become a third hand, but don’t even go there, it is mind blowing.

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Right now I am in the process of turning my little cutting benches into a sit down work station to go along with my shaving horse (top left, left side of picture; I will do a feature post on this piece of equipment later).  In the picture on the bottom right is an amazing clamp called a Bessey clamp or a handscrew clamp, and I have seven of them in two different sizes.  There are many ways to use this clamp to hold work pieces.  Yesterday I was experimenting with clamping it to the cutting horse to use it for edge planing and ripping with a hand saw.  The results were encouraging.

Last Saturday I loaded up my truck with my tools and lumber so that I can stay closer to home as we await the coming of our little babe.  One of my goals over the past two years has been the development of a completely mobile workshop that is easily transportable.  For me that means no miter box and miter box stand.  I should amend something from my last post.  I said I don’t like power tools.  That is incorrect.  I do like some of them.  I love and miss my table saw quite often and I may own one again someday, though my band saw can do most of what a table saw can, only slower.  I still have my Makita circular saw.  I could not bring myself to get rid of it.  It has been with me now for 13 years my workhorse, and because who wants to rip through 3 inch by 8 inch by 8 foot 150 year old red and white oak seasoned barn floor joists by hand?  I do.  But I don’t too.

I like old power tools quite a bit like the panel saw at my old job that took up approximately an acre of room (I am exaggerating here but it was quite large and weighed about two tons and was made of solid steel and cast steel) but would cut a perfectly straight edge on an 8 foot piece of plywood.  It was faster and more accurate than the more modern CNC Router for that task.  Ah yes the CNC machine.  This is where I stop in my tolerance of advancing technology.  I think these diabolical machines take quite a bit of technical know how to run properly and use them to their full capacity which is quite large.  But the operator (me) stands there and watches that robotic arm do the work.  It is not like something out of a sci-fi nightmare:  it is that.  But I don’t hate them, I avoid them.

As I loaded up my tools I suddenly saw with my third eye that I had accomplished my goal of a mobile work shop, without even really trying.  Before I injured my leg I had a dream to build a trailer shop that I could pull around with me.  I am not going to do that; at least not right now.   In those pictures above you can see most of my tools.  With those tools I can build pretty near anything given time.  This to me is freeing.  There is room for a few more tools that will enhance my ability, and those tools will still be around 80, 100, 200 hundred years from now but so will my Makita circular saw.   I guess that is one of my top values:  stuff that lasts.  Not stuff you use for a day or a week or a year and then it is obsolete without you having any control over it or say in the matter.  I like old things and I think a lot about times past and what it would be like to live and work in those time.  But I am not living in those times;  I am living in these times and they are crazy.  I love these times.  I think these days we are learning to operate with more understanding than at any other previous, though there is a long way to go.

Every religion in the world has a concept of the third eye, some sense that is not always (only part of the time) very tangible that helps us to see things in ways we would not otherwise be able to see.  Things that cannot be seen with our physical eyes.  Perception.  Weird.  Strange.  Beautiful.  Intoxication.  Love, peace, joy, hope, tranquility, feeling.  These are the reasons why the establishment cannot be allowed to rule over all.  Those are the reasons I want to not follow the established order.  That is why we are going to attempt to have our baby at home paying homage to the natural process that occurs when a woman bears a child.  What wonderful things will happen if we can find a way to all love each other.  Peace out, my brothers and sisters.

Old World Carpentry

Old World School of Making

Old School to New School and the Perplexity of Power Tool Worship

Not that there is anything wrong with them, but I simply do not like power tools very much.  This is the 2015 version of me speaking.  Last year I was in Alpha Building Center (a local lumberyard/hardwarestore) and I saw a miter box unlike any other miter box I had ever used.  I will not tell you the brand.  It was German made.  As I stood there admiring the components of this beast, my boss walked up and I said “now that is a damn good miter box.”  He ended up buying one a month later (the yellow one he used previously was not a miter box for trim work but more for heavy duty carpentry) and I still say it is a damn good miter box.

I have not attained the level of skill with hand tools that I want to have.  I have not completely left power tools behind me.  The reason for this is that I have not completely let go of the convenience aspect that power tools offer.  There are certain power tools that I probably will never use again or at least not very much at all:  the router for instance.  I am on my way though.  Learning is slow because I have not found myself a flesh and blood teacher.  I watch Youtube videos as I have written about previously and read books.  The books I read have a lot to say about the encroachment of power tools into the carpentry trades.  Mostly they are not in favor.  Others (not the ones I read really) are completely in favor of it and scorn the use of handtools as being unamerican.  What am I some kind of sissy or communist?  If you don’t handle a big machine you are not a real man, man.  $^&*((%$### that mentality.  Give me hand planes, chisels, draw knives, the shaving horse.  I want high carbon steel, dude.  I want to feel the chisel cutting through the wood, to see the plane shaving come quietly off the surface of a piece of pine.  I love pine.  It is one of the most versatile woods and completely underrated.  I dig the work, the process and the tools in my hand that shape things before my very eyes.  No, I don’t like power tools anymore.  Less and less.  I dig going to places to find tools some of which were made over a century ago and still do the job they were intended for.  I dig the new hand tool makers who are holding it down, dude.  There are so many good hand tools makers out there right now in Europe, the United States, Korea, Japan, and China.  There is something about hand tools.  Does it take more time?  Maybe in some cases though not all.  There are people out there who have attained an amazing amount of speed using only hand tools.  I am not one of them though I hope to some day be.

I ask myself all the time what it is I hope to accomplish by this.  I second guess myself daily as I struggle to learn but I have determined not to give up the struggle.  Even if this will never net me a lot of money, and even if I have to do something else for a day job, I do not have any desire to revert to the new school and enslave myself again to technology when it comes to woodworking, by buying more power tools.  I can fit everything I need to build anything into a box that is 32″ long x 17″ deep x 18″ tall.  Maybe this will lead me away from computers as well some day and into a print newsletter rather than a blog.  I think I would like that.  Others can have their CNC routers, I do not want one.  Churning out parts night and day while that robot arm does the work for you.  I want ideas and I want freedom.  Freedom from the oppressors who say “it must be done this way.”  I want to build things and to have time and space to do it:  things that will last.

I am no longer a carpenter in the strictest sense of the word.  Now there are other things involved.  I am an anthropologist, archeologist, designer, carpenter, soon to be father, recovering the old ways of all sorts while gathering and soaking up all the skills I can get my hands on and pack into the next however many years I have left.  And I live with an awareness that I am not alone in this, that there are other crazies out there, who want to build stuff by hand and be close to the work.  It is spiritual and an addiction.  It is philosophically becoming ingrained into the various processes of my being.  Someday.  Here’s to the peacemakers.


Jeremy Stoltzfus

When Dovetails Cry

My dovetailing progress has been quelled by circumstance lately as I deal with an injury to my right patella, which is to say kneecap.  What happened was some ice went gangster on me and showed out some slippery dealings.  Tomorrow my lovely (and pregnant) wife will drive me to Indianapolis to have a surgeon look at it.  Apparently they cannot deal with it in the city in which I live so I have to go down there.  Despite this I have managed to hobble around my workbench a couple times since and have dovetailed the frames for a drawing box and the bottom till in my tool chest.  The drawing box is for my drafting supplies and the top will fit a normal size piece of paper on it so I can draft out designs and such on the days when I am stuck at home, since I cannot drive right now.  I will have pictures of these things in the future and they will be excellent examples of what not to do when dovetailing.  Hopefully I can manage to get better at it.  I have plenty of time to keep my tools sharp now though, so that is good, and hopefully I can get into some woodcarving, learning that medium in the near future.  We shall see.

One of the things I have been able to do lately is watch and subscribe to a lot of woodworking channels on the you tubes.  Have you heard of it?  It is an amazing cultural phenomenon.  I give you my top five woodworking channels on you tube for your perusal not necessarily in any particular order.

1)  Paul Sellers.  He really is my favorite right now because of the simplicity with which he approaches all of this.  He will really help you get started in hand tools with the bare minimum of tools.  He has saved me a lot of money by showing me how to make some of my own things from scratch.  One does not need to go out and buy the fancy new tools that some of the companies peddle.


2)  The Homestead Craftsman/Square inch.  He built a beautiful trailer house on wheels, making his own windows and doors from spruce lumber from the yard.  Plus, I love his accent.  I borrowed a lot of elements from him in the design of my shaving horse off of his video about his.  He uses a mixture of power and hand tools, and his style is very unique to him.


3)  Past and Present.  This fellow plies his trade in Trinidad and he really knows what he is doing as you will know if you look at the video of his finished products.  No one I have watched approaches it with the panache he can.


4)  Chanhyeok Song.  These are videos of Korean craftsmen doing amazing things with hand planes, other hand tools, and homemade rope clamps.  It is fun to see things done a different way.  Their planes and saws cut on the pull stroke and they do not really use woodworking vices in their work that I have seen so far.  I am fascinated by their techniques and hope to one day be able to go learn from Korean craftsmen in person.


5)  Tom Fidgen.  His drafting table video blew my mind.  Few are as exact and precise as Tom Fidgen.  And where most people in this world of hand tool woodworking are making European style tool chests, his is Japanese style!  I like people who go against the grain.


That is all for now, signing off.  May peace come to this world and may strife between races and religions end.

Jeremy Stoltzfus

Old World Carpentry

Hey there, Mr Tambourine Man.

” I am ready to go any where, I am ready for to fade, into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it,” -Bob Dylan, “Mr. Tambourine Man.”   Whenever you are learning something new, there are days when frustration digs its dirty claws into you and refuses to let go.   The thought comes that you will never be able to learn this thing. In those times it is good to step away from it and go on to something else that you can immediately do with some level of success, then come back later to the thing that is so frustrating.  Music often helps me through those times when I am working on a something and  cannot seem to get it.  “Mr. Tambourine Man” is one of those songs that always seems to cheer me up.

Yesterday I had a breakthrough day in regard to dovetailing.  I was making the sliding tills (trays) that are going into my tool box.  I have been frustrated by dovetails in the past but on this day I started to grasp the concepts I needed to do good ones.  The first corner I did was difficult because I had mistakenly milled one of the pieces with the corner coming out on a knot.  This is very important.  Don’t ever do it like this.  It is hard to cut joints right on a knot.  I already knew this but I decided to go ahead with it anyways since I already had the board cut.  Simply put, the other corners only got easier and better looking from there.

Dovetails signify togetherness.  They draw the corners together with a strength that they would not otherwise have.  If they are done right that piece is never going to come apart.  This whole world can use a little more dovetailing in it, a little more togetherness.  More dovetailing + more “Mr. Tambourine Man” = better world.  More of those things equals better furniture pieces in any case.












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My workbench. His name is Wolfie.  The idea for this thing came about studying the benches of Lost Art Press, Roy Underhill of The Woodwright’s Shop, and countless others.  I conceived the design while I was running a CNC routing machine for a trailer parts factory. and we had these seven inch leftover pieces of quality OSB 1″ thick plywood.  I turned them up on end gluing them together with Titebond III and there you have the meat of this monstrosity.  Throw in some one by eight pine placed at strategic intervals and you get the dog holes which the lumber goes up against for planing.  I glued some two by fours together to make four by fours for the legs then squared them on all sides.  I then cut mortised and tenons for the frame that it sets on and notched the thing then ran eight teen inch bolts through those legs and bolted them down twice on each side.  He is seven feet long and eighteen inches wide after I added the skirt board on the sides to give it even more stability.  I then planed the top and sides down dead square with each other added the bench vise and eight months after I had started I had my first real work bench.  It weighs as much as I do but it gives a good solid foundation on which to build stuff and there on to chisel, cut, plane leaning into the work with every thing I have.  You see, if you could listen to this thing for a little while you could hear some of the thoughts and aspirations that I confided into it some prayers sent up to the Great Spirit, and every Bob Dylan and John Prine song that there is played back to you soaked into its fibers from countless listenings.

The tail vise on the end there, I finally installed the other day, and it has greatly enhanced my endeavors as I continue to build my tool chest.  More on that in the weeks to come.  Also coming up is a baby crib though I do not have a fully conceived notion of what that will look like yet.  I am thinking maybe a place for a baby then a kid to sleep on top and a bank of drawers on the bottom but we will see.  I look forward to the things I will build on my bench and the various shops it will sit in, places to make into spaces where I can feel fully inspired to make things (where it is now being the first such place).  Old tools tell a story; everyone who uses them says that.  To music, to laughter, to love, peace, the ending of all war, strife, and hardship I raise my mug, and give a smile, a wink and a nod to all and sundry.

Jeremy Stoltzfus

Old World Carpentry and

Restoration School of Woodworking

Seeking with my companions to restore a sense of yesterday’s skills to modern sensibilities.


Question: which wood is best?

Wow.  That is a good question.  There are many answers to it and that, my friends, makes it a good question.  Wood is good.  Good for building things.  Good for adding aesthetic beauty to our lives.  Good for practical purposes like storing things.  It is one of those things that merges the practical and the aesthetic into one.  Those sorts of things are interesting.   Wood is also good for making appropriately timed jokes a million times a day, and that, you can be sure, has been the case for millenia.

With this space I intend to lay out (ha!) the process by which I have learned this trade, and the ongoing process through which I continue to learn, with pictures and words about what I am up to at the workbench.  Maybe there will be some book reviews along the way, maybe some top five lists, and maybe some venn diagrams, and some tips on getting ready for the apocalypse.  At some point in the near future hopefully there will be a lot of posts about building a big toolbox/shop on wheels which can be brought to a town or a crafts festival near you.

Here is a picture of the screen door that I built out of recycled materials.  I finished it late last spring just before the coming of the flies.  It added a nice shape to our doorway for the summer months and kept flies out, sort of.IMAG0033

Happy New Year, and here’s to many successes and overcoming of obstacles for everyone!