Alburnam's Archive

Ó 2000-2001  Stephen A. Shepherd

Chemical Staining

                This method of staining differs from regular staining in that no pigments are used, rather chemicals and chemical reactions are used to change the color of the wood.  These methods are not to be attempted as your first staining method.  They can be tricky and difficult, some of the chemicals dangerous and caution must be exercised.  The process of mixing some of these stains can be dangerous, reactions can be volatile and explosive.  Some are simple single applications while others require mixing, applying, and adding heat, sanding and finishing.

                Certain precautions must be observed and you must be very careful.  Use adequate ventilation when mixing and using these stains, some are not a problem others are harmful.  Wear eye protection and use a respirator.  Use a heavy-duty apron and wear good quality rubber gloves.  Do not put acid in a metal container and when you mix acid and water always put the ACID INTO THE WATER.  If you do it the other way it will explode or react violently.  Acids and caustics will cause severe skin burns, irritates the eyes and can burn the lungs.  Use caution with these chemicals.

                Just in case you are interested in making your own, the following is from Shepherds' Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Woodworker, 1981, 2001:


“Spirits of salt or marine acid

 “Take of common salt, 10 lbs.  common clay, 20 lbs., water sufficient to make into balls.  Distill while moist, with a violent heat, and rectify by re-distillation.”


“Common aquafortis” “Take nitre, and green vitriol, not calcined, each 6 lbs.  green vitriol, calcined 2 lbs.  Distill.”


“Simple aquafortis” “take of green vitriol 2 lbs.  nitre 1 lb.  Distil.”


"Aqua regia ‘”*

Take of spirit of nitre, 16 oz.  common salt, 4 oz.  Dissolve”



“ Take of spirit of nitre, 16 oz.  sal ammoniac, 4 oz.  Dissolve”

  *These formula are also said to be capable of dissolving gold (Au). 

 Acids - One of the best acids for stains and one that imparts a wonderful color is nitric acid.  Mixed with water in a ratio of 1 part acid to 7 parts water is a good start.  Remember acid to water.  You may adjust the proportions as you see fit to change the properties of this stain.  This stain will raise the grain so you will need to sand when you are done, but nitric acid will stain deep into the wood fibers.  When you apply this to wood it will turn it yellow.  When you apply heat it will turn a beautiful golden brown color, more heat and it will turn dark brown, too much heat and it will turn black, even more heat and it will catch on fire.  This works well on maple and is perhaps the best stain to get fancy grain to stand out or to use on wood that does not take a stain well.  Because this stains deep within the wood, unusual grain will tend to show up better with this type of stain.  After you have reached the desired color, you must neutralize the acid/water mixture with a mixture of water and baking soda (bicarbonate of soda).  Allow to dry, sand and finish.  Another method of using this acid is to dissolve iron filings in the acid / water mixture, the iron imparting color to the solution and the wood.  Vinegar and iron fillings (I save the fillings from sharpening my many hand saws) is a nice water based stain that imparts different colors to different woods.  The heating and neutralizing is the same, the color is just different.

Other acids can also be employed as stains and as with all chemical reactions, it depends on the relative acidity of the wood that is being stained.  Oak is high in tannic acid and reacts to vinegar turning the wood a rich dark color.  Acids have a low pH (below 6) with a pH of 7 being neutral.

Caustics - Chemicals on this side of the pH scale (8 plus) can have remarkable effect upon woods.  While Caustic Soda (sodium or potassium hydroxide) will turn mahogany a deep red, it will turn oak and sycamore gray.  Common lye is dangerous to use but can have remarkable effect upon woods.  After staining, the caustic soda can be neutralized with a mild solution of vinegar, an acid.  This staining will also raise the grain, so it will need to be sanded.  This type of staining usually goes into the wood, so light sanding will not remove the stain.  The stain will react differently with acid woods such as oak and walnut.  It will stain certain woods and bleach or gray others.  Quicklime (calcium hydroxide) dissolved in water will turn mahogany a rich red color.  It can be used in conjunction with inlays, as the lime will not color the inlays.

Other Chemicals - Several chemicals are used for staining wood some are relative new to the trade and if their first use date is known it will be given.  Potassium dichromate (or bichromate of potash) is a red orange crystalline salt that is an oxidant and will stain most woods red or red / orange.  Developed in 1885 and used thereafter it will turn mahogany a brownish color and turns oak brown as well.  Potassium permanganate (Permanganate of potash) developed in 1869 is used to impart a fine purple stain to wood when mixed with water.  Will stain oak a brown color

Botanicals - This is a group of natural plants that because of their chemical makeup, they will cause certain woods to change color.  Some of these are hard to distinguish from dyes but the line is obscure and there is a need for a discussion of these under used materials.  Most of the botanicals are fugitive and will fade with time and exposure.  If protected from Ultra Violet radiation these colors will last a lot longer.

Alkanet Root - The root of the (Alkanna tinctoria) or (Anchusa officinal) when soaked in linseed oil will impart a deep purple red color to the oil and a wonderful stain.  When used on mahogany it reacts and turns a deep color.

Annatto Seeds - The seeds of the (Bixa orellana) produces a seed that when made into a decoction will produce a yellowish red dye.  The effect on mahogany is to turn it a red color, other woods will stain more of a yellow color.

Cochineal - This is normally considered a dyestuff for textiles but it will dye certain more porous woods like poplar, basswood, aspen and alder a rich red color.  The dye is made by crushing the dried bodies of a beetle  (Dactylopius coccus), it only takes 7000 bodies to make a pound of this fine red dye.  This should be called a Biological rather than Botanical.

Dragon’s Blood - a dark red sap which oozes from cracks in the bark of the Dragon tree (Dracaena draco), was a favorite to make rich, dark-red varnishes and stains.  This resin is soluble with water or alcohol.

Fustic – a tropical wood (Chlorophora tinctoria) that produces a beautiful yellow dye, mostly used for textiles it will impart its color to lighter woods.

Indigo- An excellent blue dye from the plant (Indigofera tinctoria) used to dye textiles and can also be used to dye light colored woods.

Logwood - The heartwood of this tree (Haematoxylon campechianum) produces a beautiful magenta color that is suitable for staining and dying of certain light colored woods such as sycamore, poplar and basswood.  Also used for dyeing textiles.

Nut Galls - Galls are growths on plants caused by insect or fungus that produces Gallotonnic acid from nut galls and the tannic acid from the nut galls are used for ink and stain, usually a dark brown color.  Oak galls produce the finest stain materials.

Pernambuco - Brazil wood (Caesalpinia brasiliensis) is a wood used to make violin and other stringed instrument bows.  The shavings of this wood will produce a beautiful deep red color.

Saffron - Saffron (Crocus sativus) produces a beautiful yellow color and can be used in varnishes to produce a rich golden color.  A rather expensive natural stain.

Tea - The leaves of a shrub Camellia sinensis can be ground into fine powder and soaked in vinegar to impart a rich old looking brown color to light woods such as basswood, pine, spruce, sycamore, aspen and birch.  Will raise the grain can be neutralized with water and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).  Instant tea works almost as well.  Tea is high in tannic acid.

Woad – A blue dye made from the crushed and fermented leaves of the plant (Isatis tinctoria) largely replaced by indigo

The following is from Shepherds' Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Woodworker, 1981, 2001:


Tree                     Scientific Name             Part Used                 Color

Chokecherry         Prunus spp.                    inner bark                 red dye

Red Cedar              Juniperus spp.                      Do                   mahogany red

Black Walnut        Juglens nigra                nut husks         dark brown-acidic

Hazel                      Corylus americana        inner bark               black dye

Hemlock                 Tsuga canadensis                do                      red dye

White Birch           Betula papyrifera                do                      light red

Dogwood              Cornus florida                     do                           do

Wild Plum              Prunus americana               do                     bright red

Red-Osier              Cornus stolonifera              do                           do

Magnolia               Magnolia virginiana          do                      yellow

Alder                      Alnus incana           pounded inner bark          do

Bur Oak                  Quercus macrocarpa          do                      black

Butternut               Juglans cinerea     inner bark and root            do

Maple                     Acer spp.                      rotted wood                blue


Here a few traditional recipes from Shepherds' Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Woodworker, 1981, 2001.


“ ¼ pound madder root (Galium tinctorium)

1/8 pound fustic wood (Maclura tinctoria) (Chlorophora tinctoria)

 ½ gallon water”


And still more receipt for stains:

“ ½ lb.  Madder

 ¼ lb.  Buckthorn berries (Rhamnus spp.)

1 gal, water”


1 ounce Dragons Blood (D.  draco or Daemonorops draco)

1 pint spirits of wine”


“1 oz.  Tumeric root

 1 pint alcohol.”    This receipt gives a yellow stain.


“Diluted sulphuric acid

Dogwood”                            purplish-red





Tincture of Brazil wood”

 Here is another 'biological' from our colorful historical past:  “urine that was slaked with lime and laid on hot for a red color.”

 For more information on changing the color of wood see Staining and Historic Pigments & Dyes.  

Use caution with these chemicals please.

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Traditional Lumbering

 The schedule for harvesting timber is a well thought out, logical process.  A cool fall day is chosen for felling the trees.  In fall the ground is generally dry and the sap is moving down in the trees as the forest approaches its low-energy dormant period.  The dry ground eases the lumberman's toil.  As winter draws near the sap is stored in the roots, a state of internal partial drying has begun its annual process. With the sap mostly stored in the roots, the commercial timber above the butt swells and below the first major crotch is at it's prime and ready for harvest.  If the timber is cut at this time the wood will dry out (season) more readily, less bound and free moisture in the form of water will be left to dry out or season. Tall straight trees are the first to be harvested, but as demands increase any tree becomes the target of the woodsman’s ax or saw.  While ease of removal is an important consideration, with the improvements in timber extraction, even the most remote tree may befall the ax.

Sizing up a tree

Most lumbering was done just with the ax.  The bark is removed with a bark ax, which is taken to the woods to remove the bark, that may contain sand and dirt that can dull a felling ax.  First the tree was notched, the notch controlling the line of fall, the shape of the notch could also add rotation or "English" to the tree as it fell.  Felling is usually done at chest height, which is a comfortable height for chopping and is above the difficult grain of the butt swell.  With the exception of the Midwest, trees in North America are rarely encountered on flat ground.  They grow on mountains or hillsides and the loggers take advantage of gravity to slide or roll the logs down to the river, flue or directly to the sawmill pond.  This was done later in the winter.

Chopping above the butt swell

Once the tree was felled, it was bucked to length.  This means that a bucksaw or frame saw was used to cut the logs to a length that the local sawmill could handle on its mill carriage.  The carriages were wheeled devices, usually on tracks, traveling back and forth carrying the log repeatedly through the saw blade.  Early mills used up-down frame or sash saws.  The straight, wide (5" or better) saw blade was held taught in the frame or sash (the teeth on the blade pointing down).  Water from the millpond traveling through the millrace would turn the water wheel, turning the main power shaft.  This power shaft turned a crank directly below the sash or frame.  Connected to the crank was the pitman (a throwback to when the human pitman (pit-man) powered the pitsaw).  The pitman was in turn connected to the frame or sash that traveled up and down within the framework of the sawmill.  Sometimes a flat spring is attached to a tiller (from the tiller man (tiller-man) on the upper end of a pit saw).  This spring pulls the frame or sash back up at the end of the power stroke instead of relying on the pitman to do all the work.  The more water let through the head gate, the faster the shaft turns and the quicker the saw repeats its reciprocating cycle.  As the blade moves up and down the carriage travels back and forth cutting the log into boards as it passes.  Frames or sashes can be equipped with multiple saw blades set parallel to each other to produce several boards with one pass of the carriage.  These carriages were moved forward past the saw blade using every power source from simple ropes, pulleys and gravity, to complex advancing drive mechanisms with indexing ratchets and pawls .The size of the carriage determined the size log it could handle. And their length determined the size of the lumber, scantlings, boards and timbers that a sawmill produced.  Local builders, using locally available lumber, often built according to the timber lengths available or multiples thereof.  Buildings can be used to determine the size of local saw mill carriages by measuring the longest sawn lumber in those buildings and vice versa.

De-Branching a tree

Now, back to the mountains in the fall after the tree is felled and bucked to length.  All branches are removed by chopping from the bottom of the log towards the top, as the tree grew.  This prevents the branches from ripping out the grain of the wood, its also easier.  The large logs are handled with long poles sometimes with spikes or pikes on the end, these used to lever and roll them where there is a downhill gravity assist.  The logs are stored in piles for transportation in the winter when the ground is covered with ice and snow. In some cases flues were used to transport logs in areas where flowing water could be diverted for this use.  Constructed of wood, rock or just dug into the earth, these courses were filled with diverted water, the logs floated down.  This emptied into the waterways or millponds, which served to store both the logs to be cut and the water to provide power to do the cutting.  A more frequent choice was waiting for winter.  The accumulated snow and ice made for a slick surface along which heavy logs can be easily dragged.  Horse, oxen or man provided the power to drag out the timber.  Standing trees were used for guides together with properly laced poles driven firmly into the ground on the down hill side of the path to help guide the logs down the steep mountain side until they could slip freely to the bottom of the mountain.  Here they would wait for the spring thaw to fill the streams, creeks and rivers so the logs could be floated to their destination at the sawmills.  Some old installations as well as historic records indicate that waterways were also used to float cut boards down to more convenient sites for sale and distribution.  The ice in the millponds and frozen rivers and streams, prevented any activity at the mill during the winter.  This was a time for repair and maintenance work to be done.  Once the spring thaw came the sawing could begin as soon as the water could safely flow over the water wheel.  Floating ice can cause damage to the race and wheel so the work was usually begun when the water was clear of ice.  With the logs on hand, precut to finished lengths that fit the carriages, and a good head of water, the timber could now be cut into lumber.  The head gate is opened and the previous night's accumulation of water in the millpond rushes through the headrace and strikes the wheel forcing it to go around.  The greater the volume of water the faster the wheel turns.  The head gate was used to control the flow to operate the mill at an optimum rate.  Some mills used governors to control the speed of the wheel.  If a surge of water turns the wheel too fast, the governor would disengage the power shaft allowing the work load to slow it down, then as the rate decreases the spinning weights of the governor re-engages the power wheel for smooth operation, a kind of centrifugal clutch.  An additional safety clutch near the blade could disengage the power if the saw or carriage became fouled.  The clutch engages the saw and it begins its repeated up-down motion.  The carriage is engaged and the log is forced gently into the moving blade(s).  As the cut is completed the board(s) fall free from the log, the carriage is returned to its starting position and the cutting continues.   

 Using a cant hook to move large timber

When the spring run off supplies the mills with its necessary water, the ground is muddy and prevents overland transportation of the lumber.  As the summer progresses the mill cuts and stacks the boards for future sale.  These boards are stacked flat with stringers (square sticks) in between to allow air circulation.  In late summer overland transportation is possible into the mountains, up narrow winding cuts of right away along the hillside.  The boards were then loaded into the wagons or carts and brought down from the mountains to be used in settlement areas as furniture and building materials. This completes the yearly cycle and in the coming fall the trees are again cut and the process repeats.  The new wood was usually put up to season for a year or two (season or two) and wood cut last year or the year before was used first.  This is to suppose that there was any wood left.  Early settlement patterns established concentrated areas of high demand and the nearest timber was quickly used up.  The first requirement for a mill is the proper site, a place where there is a sufficient head (a distance of fall) of water and of course, timber.  Mills were fitted into precarious perches in steep canyons or in convenient valleys in the mountains.  However this is not always the case, some mills were sited in areas where water was the only reason for building and in a few rare cases not even that, the mill being powered by animals.  In some cases more than one millpond was built to supply enough water to power a mill through its day's work.  If water dried up, the mills were shut down and reopened when enough water was again available.  In other rare cases, one large millpond supplied enough water for two mills. Spring run off water was not always impounded because the natural flow was sufficient, one river could supply countless mills.  Millponds were equipped with diversion gates that circumvented the headrace and wheel and emptied directly into the tailrace.  Surprise rainstorms and flash floods could destroy millponds and in some case the mill itself.  If disaster struck they were rebuilt and back in service soon after.    

Log Cart, 8 foot diameter wheels

Introduced in the 1820's the popularity of the circular saw blade was limited by the size of the available blades, a 4-foot blade can only make a 2-foot cut.  Larger blades were introduced in the mid nineteenth century as the Industrial Revolution progressed.  Sometimes two blades were mounted one above the other allowing for cuts from larger logs.  As the size of circular saws increased the size of available trees decreased so the technology fit.  Some frame or sash saws were capable of cutting trees of 10 feet or greater diameter.  The size of the local trees determined the size of the saws needed to be in order to render them into lumber. The circular saw requires sophisticated blade axles, mandrels and bearings to operate at proper speeds.  Balance is very important with a spinning tool.  Any excess heat can easily warp a circular blade, which renders it useless until it is repaired.  Frame or sash saws require simpler technology and can be built with few metal parts.  In some early installations only the blade was metal all other parts such as shafts, blocks and cranks were fashioned of the hardest woods available.  Band saws were introduced with great success to lumbering when the technology improved after 1859.  During the Civil War little progress was made, but afterwards the band saw was in common use.  Capable of cutting very large logs, in time the technology improved and the thickness of the blade diminished.  With each 1/100th inch of width reduction, millions of board feet of lumber are saved each year from becoming sawdust.  The early sawmills were all of the up / down type.  Circular saws were first employed to cut the boards to length and to cut the edges square on their lengths.  In the early mills, the logs were cut into as large of square timbers as the round log allowed and then these square timbers were cut into boards.  This provided square edges without any trimming.  Boards that were used for sheathing on buildings were not trimmed and were used just as they came off the carriage. 

  Though now we are tempted to think of pioneer lumbering as having been primitive, in fact an examination of their efforts to mill lumber from the surrounding forests reflects a high degree of ingenuity, with huge resolve as well.  When resources ran low, mills were disassembled and moved to areas of greater material concentration.  The sheer amount of work involved should at least give us reason to thank our ancestors for their efforts.

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Unusual Tools

These are some unusual and unique tools that I have encountered and I think you might find them interesting.  These are also tools that you can make, use and show off to your friends. 

Square Hole Drill - Known as the bifurcated bit, it is capable of drilling a shaped hole.  The shape can be oval, square, diamond, shield, heart almost any polygon shape that can be cut in a die plate, the bifurcated bit will cut the same shape in the material below the die plate.  As the name implies the bit is divided into two identical opposite parts.  The bit was traditionally used with a bow drill as the action of the cutter necessitates it cut in both directions for optimal tracking.  This drill bit cannot drill that deep but it can drill a square hole.  The bits are round or half round with the flats toward each other.  On the bottom of the bit it is ground square on both half rounds and there is a shoulder machined on the drill bit, up a predetermined distance from the bottom.  This shoulder is the depth stop that limits the how deep the bit will cut, less the thickness of the die plate.  The bit looks like a round piece of metal that has a round tenon machined on the lower end.  The bit is split at the bottom cutting edge and is attached or secured together at the top by welding or the spool of the bow drill.  This can be used in a brace but must be turned back and forth.  The bow drill turns the bit much faster and its reciprocating action doubles the effectiveness of the cut.  The bit is spread out at the bottom and the springy qualities of the metal should hold these two parts of the bit splayed out from each other. The second part of this tool is the die plate, through which the desired shape opening is fashioned.  The hole cannot exceed the outside cutting diameter of the bifurcated bit.  The thickness of the die plate need only be enough to guide the bit in its reciprocating cutting path.  Because of the extensive wear that these plates get they should be thick enough and hard enough to take the repeated contact from the drill bit.  They also can’t be too complicated as the cutting action of the bit is somewhat limited.  The die place with the selected opening is placed over the work and secured in place.  The tips of the bit are squeezed together until they fit into the opening and the bottom of the bit(s) is resting on the work.  The grip is released and the natural tendency of the bit is to spread out.  As it is rotated back and forth, the outside of the bit rides around the inside of the opening of the die plate and the sharp inside and bottom edges of the bit(s) do the cutting.  They continue until the shoulder reaches the top of the die plate and the cutting is stopped automatically.  As you can tell this tool is basically used for inlay work, as the depth of the shaped hole is limited.  This is a bazaar little tool to watch and the results will astound you, as you can drill a square hole

Single Cut Mortise Chisel - This is a European tool and was used to install hinges in cabinets and is roughly called a fish tail mortise chisel.  This tool can cut a complete mortise with a single cut without pre-drilling.  The mortises are thin but they are cut and finished with one motion of the tool.  However it might require several plunges to clean out all of the chips but the tool is amazing in how well it works from its brilliant design.  The blade of the chisel is the thickness of the mortise and the width of the blade is the width of the finished mortise.  It can make longer mortises but it is difficult, but not impossible to make the mortise wider.  Designed to cut thin mortises in woodwork through which the leaves of hinges are inserted and secured with nails through the wood on the edge and the holes in the hinges and into wood behind the hinge.  The chisel is made of stout metal, traditionally wrought iron with thin veneers of steel ‘laid’ or forge welded to the outside edges of the chisel.  Steel will do.  Stock is selected to make your chisel, and you will have to make it because as far as I know they are not in production at this time.    A hole is drilled toward the end of the chisel.  It is back from the cutting edge a sufficient distance to allow for the tails to be cut.  The hole should not be too big as to weaken the metal blade, the hole is there to ease in chip clean out.  From each corner of the blade a cut is made on an angle to the hole in the center, this forms one of the bevels of the chisel.  A similar cut on the other side produces the inside bevel and the straight square and parallel outside edges of blade form the back or flat part of the blade.  You in effect have two chisels with their bevels facing each other.  The inside bevels are sharpened, the sides dressed flat and the back honed smooth.  The chisel is driven into the wood and will make all of the cuts on the ends and the sides as it goes through the wood.  These are primarily used for working with the grain but with effort you can mortise cross grain.  You do not want to rock this chisel as you use it, you want to pound it in and pull it back straight out together with the chips.  The shavings tend to crumble toward the center and the hole in the blade forms a hook to help remove the shavings.  I have examined many European antiques that have had this tool used on them and on the insides they just explode through the back and the chipping out is usually excessive.  If you are not concerned with what can’t be seen, make sure to back up your work with a piece of scrap that will minimize tear out.   

Triple Cut Plane Iron - This tool is also one that can be fabricated in the shop.  This plane iron is similar to the Single Cut Mortise Chisel in that a hole is drilled in the flat side of the iron almost at one end.  This iron is held perpendicular to the sole of a wooden plane body and can be secured with a wedge or a threaded bolt.   The width of this grooving or dado blade is determined by the thickness of the material from which this is made.  Good steel that is flat, square and rectangular in shape. It needs to be at least 5 times wider than the thickness. The hole is drilled almost at one end in the center of the flat part of the blade.  The inside should be smooth as this forms the inside bevel of the plane iron.  The hole also provides the back of the metal left in front of the blade.  The end is ground until the hole is encountered.  This is where the cutting edge of the tool is made.  Determine which side is going to be the blade and which side is going to be the scoring spurs.  The blade side is sharpened like a blade iron, flat on the outside or bottom with the bevel, hollow ground by the inside of the hole.  Filing a hollow half round on the outside bottom narrow edge of the blade creates the spurs.  Take care not to file into the blade that is already sharpened.  Filing it larger can increase the throat opening.  The hollow creates two sharp cutting spurs just at the outside edge of the blade, which will score the wood at 90° ahead of the blade, which will remove it as it passes.  This is a cool tool.  The bottoms are sometimes filed with a shallow outside radius to ease the blade during cutting.  The front spurs can be feathered up to provide deeper scoring.  This gives the proverbial skew cutting angle that always, makes cutting easier.  The sole of the wooden plane to which this blade is secured acts as a depth stop for the cutting.  A fixed or adjustable fence can be incorporated with this tool. This tool can also be set in a square shaft with an adjustable fence looking like a marking, mortising or slitting gauge.  Also the hole will fill with chips and they need to be cleaned out, as the shavings are jammed into the hole.

Unusual Tools


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Antique - refers to any object at least 100 years old and 80% original.  The standard is set by U.S. Customs.

Bead - a small rounded decoration molded on the edge of boards.  Used to prevent beams from warping by beading all four edges of the beam.

Bevel - an angle cut on a corner or edge of a board.  Any angle other than 45 ° , which is a Chamfer, and 90 ° , which is Square.

Butt Joint - a joint where two pieces of wood are joined edge-to-edge, edge to face or edge to end where no other mechanical joint advantage is used.

Butt Swell - is the portion of the tree at ground level to about chest height where most large trees are cut when they are felled.  This wood usually contains interesting grain.

Carcass - is the case or box of a piece of furniture, it is the rough framework and structure of the item.  Referred to when veneering or applying decorative moldings or carvings.  (Carcase-British term)

Chamfer - is a bevel cut at a 45 ° on the edge of a board or timber.  It can be through, in other words along the entire length or it can be stopped, run short of the end.  Stop chamfers can have simple rounded ends or more elaborate carved ends.

Clamp - is a device to hold two or more objects together during construction or gluing.  An indefinite amount of clamp types exist from heavy rocks to fine spring hand clamps.

Cock Bead – is a term for a beaded molding that is applied such as around a drawer front or door that is proud of the surface it surrounds.

Conservation - is the practice of stopping the deterioration of an object of material culture.  Only enough work to stabilize the object and allow it to be maintained in an un-restored state.

Cramp - a British term for a Clamp.

Cresting Rail - is the top rail of a chair that connects the two back uprights.

Cross banding - is a method of veneer decoration when the outside of a field is framed with veneer with the grain running perpendicular to the outside of the framed area.  All grain goes from the outside edge in to the field with miters at the corners.

Cross Cut - is a term used when sawing to indicate that the cut is across the grain of the wood and the type of saw that should be chosen to cut across the grain.  See Rip.

Curl - is a term to describe what happens to wood as it grows.  Curly wood looks like sand on the beach or river bottom with repeated ripples in the grain.  The grain goes up and down causing the unusual look in the wood.  Also called 'tiger' grain or fiddleback.

Dado - this is a term for a groove that is cut across grain in the wood.  It is also used to describe a chair rail that goes around a room.  See Groove.

Diffuse Ring Porous - These are the types of hardwood that do not have groups of pores in one plane with distinct grain but rather wood with the rings dispersed through out the wood in no distinct visible pattern.  This includes woods such as maple, beech, cherry and basswood.

Dovetail - is an interlocking mortise and tenon joint, which flares out at angles to produce a beautiful and strong joint.  The flair resembles the tail of a bird.  I guess hawktail sounds too aggressive.  See Pins and Tails.

Fiddleback - describes wood, usually maple or mahogany but can be any wood, with Curl or Tiger grain material with fine grain used in the manufacture of violins, hence the name.

Finish – is the last thing you do to woodwork (other than sell it).  A finish is a coating that applies and dries on the surface of the wood to provide protection.  If it doesn’t dry it is not a finish.

Fix - is a term to describe attaching something to something else, giving a narcotic injection or having and animal spayed or neutered.  It is not a word to describe REPAIRING anything!

Flame - this word is sometimes confused with 'tiger' grain.  Flame is the exposure of medullary rays when the tree is quarter sawn.  All woods have medullary rays but only a few are prominent such as white oak, beech, sycamore and lacewood.

Flat Cut - is lumber simply cut from a log.  It produces the arch grain in the boards on both sides of the center and the center cut will be a quarter-sawn piece of wood.  Also called plain cut, slash cut or bastard cut.

Flush - is when two adjoining surfaces are perfectly even with one another.  See Proud and Shy.

Flute - a concave detail running linearly along a piece of wood, opposite of a bead. 

Fox Wedge - is a method of securing a blind tenon into a mortice by placing wedges in saw kerfs made in the tenons.  When driven home the wedges secure the tenon by spreading it out into the mortice.

Go-bar – is a flexible piece of wood used for clamping by bowing and wedging it between the ceiling and the stuff being clamped on the workbench.

Groove - is a square bottomed U shaped recess made along the length of a board.  Can accept another board or a Tongue of a board.  When it is made across the grain of the wood it is a Dado.

Groundwork - is the framework on which other work is done especially the application of Veneer. This should be flat and stable.

Hardwood - any angiosperm that has its seed contained in an ovary such as a fruit or nut.  This term has nothing to do with the hardness of the wood.  Usually broad leaf deciduous trees.  See Softwood.

Lacuna – is a term used to describe missing pieces or voids, that which needs to be replaced.

Lap - a simple wood joint where two boards are joined with opposite matching notches cut in the ends or along the board and the two pieces over lap one another.

Level - indicates that something is parallel with the surface of the earth in relation to gravity.  A perfectly flat imaginary horizontal plane.

Money Side – is what the customer gets, it is what shows, the good side, the primary surface.  You want the ‘money side’ to look its best.

Mortise - is the female part of a mortise and tenon joint.  Either a square or round hole that accepts the tenon cut in the adjoining piece.  The mortise and tenon joint is the strongest joint in woodworking.  See Tenon.  

Mullion or Muntin - are interchangeable terms for a vertical piece in a door or window that separates panels or lights of glass.

Open Ring Porous - This refers to hardwood that has rings that are concentrated in the annual rings in distinct planes.  These include woods such as oak, ash, hickory, elm and chestnut and have distinctive rings of pore groups.

Pin - Both pins and tails are tenons, the spaces between being mortises cut so as to receive either a pin or a tail of the mating board.

Plow - This describes the process of removing material when making a groove or dado.  This is usually done with a plow plane, groove plane or dado plane all of which may be one tool.  Coach maker’s routers and other router planes also plow material.

Plumb - a term used to describe something that is perfectly perpendicular to the earth relative to gravity.  A plumb bob on the end of a string will give you a line that is plumb or straight up and down.

Primary Wood - This is the wood that is on the main or primary surfaces of a piece of furniture.  These are the premium or money woods of the cabinet.  Woods of lesser value, that are on the sides or not seen is called Secondary Wood.

Proud - something is proud if it is just above another surface, just sticking out a bit. See Shy and Flush.

Quarter Sawn - describes how wood is cut to produce the best looking grain.  The tree is cut into quarters and along those quarters boards are sawn.  The quarter-sawn board will display the medullary rays, which show up on woods like white oak and sycamore.  The wood is most stable, cut into this configuration.  This type of sawing produces the most waste but the best wood.

Rabbit - is a joint cut in the edge or end of a board.  It is an L shaped notch taken off the corner of a board to accept another board to form a rabbit joint.  Can vary in size.

Rail - is a horizontal member between chair legs or between styles or vertical members of a door frame.

Rake - is a term to describe the angle at which something leans forward or backward from the perpendicular (front to back).  See Splay.

Rebate - is the English term for Rabbit.

Refinishing - something that should NEVER be done to antique furniture unless the finish is completely missing, otherwise it should be restored.

Repair - is work done to a piece that returns it to serviceable condition.  May be more than Conservation and less than Restoration.

Restoration - is the process of returning an object, usually an antique to its original condition.  More work than Conservation and Repair.  Proper restoration uses original tools, materials and techniques.

Rift Sawn -refers to wood that is cut from a quarter balk of wood where the angle is about 45 to the annual rings.  Rays that show up best when quarter sawn are larger on rift-sawn wood than on flat sawn wood.

Rip - is a type of cut made with a Ripsaw that is made with the grain of the wood as opposed to Cross Cut.

Rub - a method of attaching glue blocks to inside corners with hide glue.  The blocks are covered with hide glue and placed in the inside corner and rubbed back and forth.  As the glue thins into a uniform coating the friction increases and the cohesive properties hold it in place until the adhesive properties develop as it dries.

Rung - is a horizontal member of a piece of furniture such as a chair.  It connects and strengthens the legs of a chair.  Also called a Stretcher.

Seasoning - is the time it takes for wood to dry.  Wood air-dries and takes one year for every inch of thickness.  It refers to a year, a season.

Secondary Wood - These are the woods used in furniture that are not seen or on the sides or back of an object.  These are the materials that make up the drawer sides, dust panels, backs and other parts that are not view.  While relegated to a lesser position, these woods are essential to the overall results and final presentation.

Shoot - describes the act of making a molding with a hand plane.  To Shoot a molding is to run a molding plane along the edge of a board until it forms a molding.

Shy - is a term for an adjoining object being below the object it is next to.  This means a little below the surface. See Proud and Flush.

Size – is a mixture of hide glue thinned down with water and used to seal wood or other materials such as canvas and leather.  It seals the material and prevents bleed through or stain penetration.  Other binders such as starch or thin varnish can be used to size materials and fill pores.

Slab Sawn - refers to cutting boards directly from a tree, it will produce one quartersawn boards and several flat or rift cut boards.

Socket - is a round mortice made with a drill, into which a spindle or rung is inserted.

Softwood - any gymnosperm whose seeds are exposed or naked and contained in a cone.  This has nothing to do with the softness or hardness of the wood, merely a botanical distinction.  Usually evergreens. See Hardwood.

Splay - is a term to describe the angle at which something slants out to the side (side to side).  See Rake.

Square - describes two objects at exactly 90 ° to each other or that a box is square with all corners at 90 ° and the diagonal measurements, identical.  Also the tool used to determine squareness.

Stickers  - are pieces of inert wood, which will not react to wet conditions or other woods and are used for stacking lumber during the drying process.  Placed every 16” or so across the board being dried and one directly above the other to allow for uniform air circulation of all surfaces of the wood that is drying and to keep it flat.

Story Pole - is a piece of wood that is used as a measuring device for repetitive work.  Marks are made on the story pole where joints such as stretchers, joints or other elements are located.  Used to build houses, the pole was one story tall.  When used for cabinet work it tells the whole story.

Stretcher - is another term for rung but also applies to tables, it is any member that connect and strengthens the legs of a piece of furniture.

Strong - see Proud.

Stuff - is a term that was traditionally used to describe what you are working with, usually boards or pieces of wood.  It is a convenient term and it is used extensively.

Style - is a vertical member of a door framework attached to the horizontal rails.

Tail - . Both tails and pins are tenons, the spaces between being mortises cut so as to receive either a pin or a tail of the mating board.   

Tenon - is the male part of a mortise and tenon joint.  It can be a square, rectangular or round protuberance that is fit into the mortise receptacle.

Tiger Grain - See Curl.

Tongue - is the part of a joint that fits into a Groove.  It is made by shooting two rabbit joints on opposite sides of the same edge of a board.  Can also be cut with Match planes one that cuts the tongue and one that cuts the groove.

Waste - is what is left over, the off-falls, the drop-offs, the parts you can’t use.  Waste Side is the side of the line to which you cut or work.

Witness Marks - These are marks put on boards or pieces to keep them on order during gluing, joining and assembly.

Wood Butcher - a term no true craftsmen cares to be called.

Veneer - is wood that has been cut into thin sheets and is glued to a Groundwork.  Usually cut from fancy woods that would be expensive if used in solid form.  Also for unstable woods such as burls and crotches that tend to split and crack when in solid form.

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Take a few minutes to read this and then take an hour to make an inch.  I make my own tools, therefore I have to make my own rulers, I don't have to but I can.  This is a copy of an antique original in the collection of a friend.  I have made several of these over the years, some how I need to make another.  It is not that they wear out, people just talk me out of it when they see it.

You will require a hacksaw and a triangular shaped file, also a cold chisel and a hammer.  You need a rectangular piece of metal, soft steel, wrought iron, any easy to work hard ferrous metal.  It needs to be 1 inch wide, its thickness can vary as can its length.  One-quarter inch thick is a good size and 5 inches is a good length.  One end needs to be flat, square and smooth.  Dress the end on all sides to form a perfectly square rectangle with sharp edges.  Next mark out 8 equal spaces on the top edge and make a nick with the edge of a triangular shaped file.  In the nick, saw a kerf in the metal, squarely across the thickness of the stock about 1/8” deep.  Use a hack saw to make these cuts.  Next with a triangular shape file, shape the 9 projecting nibs to sharp pointed teeth.  They should all be 1/8” apart.  The cold chisel and hammer can be used to set the teeth in their proper place.  Once you are close you want to file the height or size of the teeth.  This is done on one long edge and all teeth except each end is reduced in height or size by about 1/16”.  Next all teeth except the ends and the center are reduced another 1/16”.  Next the teeth in between are reduced another 1/16”.  This makes each end largest in size, the ½” is next largest, then the ¼” and ¾” are the same size and the 1/8”, 3/8”, 5/8” and 7/8” are all the same size.  This produces a distinctive easy to read pattern when stamped into wood.  If you need to know 1/16” measurements, they are the ones directly in the middle between the adjoining marks.  One side will be straight and the other will be stair stepped or crenellated.

Finish sharpening and shaping the teeth and test the inch stamp and adjust the teeth with the cold chisel and hammer.  This method is trial and error, sometimes when you set one tooth right, you move the adjoining tooth inadvertently.  Check the teeth repeatedly to make sure they are all on their mark.  Use a scrap of wood that you will be using most and test the teeth for a proper mark.  The marks show up better on lighter colored harder woods.  The sharp teeth will cut the wood fibers and these cuts can be stained to make the marks more distinctive.  Slightly round and dress the other end of the stamp where it will be struck with the mallet.

When using the stamp it is a good idea to mark out your marks with a known accurate ruler on the one-inch marks.  The stamp can crawl or creep while you are working down the length of a ruler you are marking and will end up too short or too long, usually too short.  Use a sharp cold chisel to make the marks at each one-inch location; this will give you a positive reference point for stamping.  Use a mallet instead of a hammer; it produces a better blow without the bounce.  I always place a punch mark on the flat side of the punch so I can always have the same register when in use.  Now if your measurements are off you can’t blame the ruler.  After you have used this stamp 63,360 times you will have stamped a mile.  Give them an inch and they'll make a mile.

Inch Stamp

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Traditional Oil Finish

The linseed oil finish has been in use for centuries to treat and finish woodwork and furniture.  The source of linseed oil is the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum), two varieties are grown, and one with long stems and few seeds are used to make the textile linen and the other shorter with more and larger seeds for oil making.  Pressing flax seeds with their high oil content to make an amber colored drying oil produces linseed oil in the raw form.  This product comes from the seed of the flax or linen plant.  The seeds are collected and pressed to remove the oil.  Cold pressing can be the best method of extracting the oil.  If the seeds are ground first before pressing it must be done at slow speed to reduce heat from friction that can affect the oil.  It is used in both the raw and boiled form.  The raw oil is much slower drying, taking weeks or months to dry and cure.  Boiling purifies the oil causing it to dry in as little as 24 hours.  The raw oil is heated until is just starts to give off a whiff of vapor or smoke, the heat is turned off and the oil is allowed to cool.  Just heating once to the point of a whiff of smoke and allowed to cool will decrease the drying time of raw oil.  Too much heat can darken the oil.  Also after heating the oil can be allowed to stand and age.  Aged oil or stand oil dries quicker than just boiled but may be darker.  Modern techniques use chemical boiling, instead of the tedious process of actually boiling the oil; filtering and adding chemical like metallic drying agents that act as dryers that cause the oil to polymerize or dry.  A food grade of linseed oil called flaxseed oil is excellent for finishing kitchen utensils and cutting boards.  It is renewed, as it is mechanically worn from the surface.  This is a drying oil unlike mineral oil that is popular today.

Chemically, linseed oil is a long bond double polymer.  While it sounds like it should be big, it is actually a very small molecule that will penetrate wood and most other materials.  Beeswax on the other hand is a huge sticky molecule that cannot penetrate wood and remains on the surface and does not dry.  Beeswax alone is not a finish but can be applied over a finish to provide a wax sheen and protection from water damage.  Linseed oil will penetrate deeply into the wood and enhance the grain of any wood.  This is the best method to ‘pop’ the fancy grain woods.  The oil 'excites' the grain of the wood, it causes it to exhibit iridescent qualities and glow from within because of the oil making the fibers translucent.  As the oil dries it will also harden weaker woods such as pine, basswood and poplar.  Once linseed oil has completely dried it can be finished with virtually any other finish such as shellac or varnish.

Whether you make your own by carefully boiling raw linseed oil or you purchase boiled linseed oil, this discussion will be focused on using boiled linseed oil.  Linseed oil can be a complete finish without using anything else.  A single coat or two will produce a satin finish on most woods.  On some very hard woods such as rosewood or ebony a single coat will produce a high shine.  Repeated coats will build up and can produce more of a shine. The wood need to be worked to its final stages before any oil is applied.  Some sanding or scraping can be done after the first coat to remove any undetected defects or glue that might have been missed but the wood needs to be ready for the oil.  It should be brushed down and wiped and free of dust prior to applying any oil.  The oil is applied with a rag and allowed to soak into the wood.  Apply in a circular motion to help deposit the oil into the pores of the wood.  The amount of oil the wood takes varies depending upon the species and the cut of the wood.  Any excess that remains on the surface needs to be wiped off with a clean rag, thick accumulations will be sticky and not dry quickly.  The oil is allowed to dry, at least 24 hours or longer depending upon temperature and humidity.  Good air circulation also promotes a quicker drying time.  Once dry, the surface can be lightly scraped or sanded and any dust removed, the next coat of linseed oil is applied in the manner described above.  The surface is coated, it is given an opportunity to soak in and the excess is wiped away.  The work should be done in as dust free environment as possible as the oil will take time to dry.  Oil soaked rags are a spontaneous combustion hazard and must be disposed of properly, carefully and religiously.  Any drying oil can cause this problem.  The rags should either be placed in an airtight metal container and can be stored and reused or the rags are placed in water and then placed in an airy place to dry or they can be hung to dry in the breeze.  They must be laid out flat to prevent them from catching on fire.  It doesn’t take long for an oil soaked rag to catch on fire, so you must deal with these rags immediately after use.

Some open ring porous woods like oak, ash and chestnut as well as diffused rings woods like walnut and alder will ‘bleed’ oil back out of the wood after the excess has been wiped from the surface.  The oil swelling the fibers of the wood causes this and any oil in the pores is forced back out to the surface.  Always check the work from time to time while it is drying to check for bleeding which should be wiped off immediately.  If this happens and you do not wipe off the bleed out, you will be left with little sticky beads of oil that will need to be scraped and sanded smooth; it can be a real hassle that is easily averted by monitoring the work for an hour or two.  This can also happen with other types of hardwoods and some softwoods as well.

The first coat will take the most oil, as the fibers began to fill with dried oil, the wood will take less and less oil with each subsequent coat.  You want to build up the finish to produce the best results.  You cannot get the same results with one thick coat, it takes too long to dry and the results can be wood with little oil finish and other areas with thick and possibly wrinkled sticky film.  Work the finish up slowly to saturate and fill the grain evenly, remember the wood will take up the oil it needs

Polyurethane has been around since 1944 and Acrylics since 1954, so there isn’t much of a history to work from.  I have encountered polyurethane used on mahogany that because of a chemical reaction that turns the polyurethane a lovely green color, the reaction takes up to 7 years but it does happen.  With a linseed oil has been around for centuries and in common use as a finish for 600 years, which is quite a history.  No surprises, we know how linseed oil behaves, there are no chemical reactions other than the drying or polymerizing of the oil as it cures.  Tung oil from a tree in China and is a good drying oil and has been used by oriental craftsman for centuries but it is not a traditional American finish.

Linseed oil is a fine finish when used just out of the can, however I always prefer to thin with turpentine.  You can use other modern thinners, but why?  Turpentine is more expensive but it is made from living trees and I like that fact.  Always use adequate ventilation when working with turpentine, it unlike linseed oil (a spontaneous combustion hazard), turpentine is flammable and care must be exercised when using.  The advantage of thinning linseed oil with turpentine, a 50/50 mix, is that this allows the oil to penetrate even further into the wood fibers and help with the drying process.  The method for applying the oil/turpentine mix is the same as straight oil, liberally apply the mixture to the work and allow it to soak in for 10 minutes or so and all excess is wiped from the surfaces.  Make sure to get all of the excess off, as it can become a sticky film.  If this happens and it occasionally does, simply reapply the mixture as soon as you have noticed the problem, allow it to stand for 10 minutes or so and wipe off all of the excess this time.  A little turpentine on a rag can also work on the film as long as it is not completely dry.  The 50/50 mixture is easy to use and works well for most applications, if you need to build the finish quicker then try a 75% linseed oil and 25% turpentine.  Make sure that the finish dries for at least 24 hours between applications and the work can be sanded lightly between coats.  As I apply and remove the oil I rub it into the surface with my hands.  I do this because the heat of friction helps to cure the finish and produces a smooth flat finish.  It also helps to have your work warmed prior to finishing and you can also carefully warm the oil mix just before using.  The hand rubbing technique gets you really involved in the finishing process, you get a feel for the finish, your hands have been all over the surface and you can feel the heat of the friction you create and know that the finish will turn out right.  All of my wooden hand tools are always finished with linseed oil.  I usually remove any previous remaining varnish or lacquer that may be on the handles or tool and treat with linseed oil.  It just has a better feel.  With use and occasional re-application they develop a fine hand worked shine and wonderful patina.

Linseed oil is an excellent finish for bring out the best in the grain of almost any wood and is also a good initial coat for varnish, shellac and other finishes.  Once dry it has no known solvent and can be difficult to remove.  It forms what is called a linoxyn film that is very tenacious.  It is durable albeit a thin finish, it must mechanically wear off the surface through exposure but it is easy to repair or renew with additional coats of linseed oil.  Build up the finish slowly and it will produce a beautiful and traditional original finish.  It is my humble opinion linseed oil is the finest and easiest to use single finish available.  It has a tradition that dates back centuries and many fine antiques we have today were protected and preserved using this original finish.

Even on new work, linseed oil can produce a unique hand rubbed finish that will enhance the look of any wood.  The material is natural like the wood itself; it is from a renewable resource and it smells so good.  After you have taken the time to make a fine piece of furniture or woodwork take the time to carefully apply several coats of linseed oil to bring out the best in your work and get you involved in producing a durable, repairable and renewable fine original finish.  The hand rubbed linseed oil finish is hard to beat, it is relatively easy to use, will provide protection, wears well and is easily brought back to its original look.  Remember you are using a finish that has a history of several hundred years; woodwork for centuries has been finished, protected and maintained with nothing but linseed oil.  It is the finish our ancestors used when they made and maintained their furniture, it is part of the fabric of our material folk culture.

Always dispose of oily rags properly.  Place them in water and then in an airy location (outside) where they can air dry.  A pile of oily rags can spontaneously combust and cause a fire, so always dispose of oily rags properly.

 See Staining and Traditional Varnish for other information about linseed oil. And for traditional oil finish try Moses T's St. John's Oil and Moses T's St. John's Wax see Product Line.

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On Maple

Maple Burl

Maple is perhaps the most common wood used for furniture in the nineteenth century and earlier in America.  The most popular is also the hardest, sugar maple (Acer saccharum), also aptly called Rock Maple.  It is called sugar maple because it is a member of the group of trees called ‘sugar bush’ that include maples and some birches which produce a sweet sap that is cooked down into sweet syrup.  The tree is tapped just above the butt swell on the south side of the tree and preferably under the largest branch.  During sugar season, in the late winter, early spring and late fall, early winter the sap moves.  This is when the sap is running, when the temperatures freeze at night and it warms up above freezing during the day.  The sap, while slightly sweet needs to be boiled to remove the excess water leaving the sweet amber colored syrup that we enjoy on our flapjacks?

Curly Maple

There are two basic types of maple, hard maples and soft maples.  Red maple (A. rubrum) is appropriately named as it shows some part of it in red, whatever season.  Its leaves are a striking red when the cool weather and shorter days of the fall starts turn all the trees.  Silver maple (A. saccharinum) has silver undersides to its leaves that turn a pale yellow.  Both trees belong to the soft maple group and are found growing in the moist areas of swamps, lowlands or riverbanks.

Both Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) and Box elder (Acer negundo) can produce beautiful burls as does most members of the maple family.  Burls are advantageous growth that occurs as a result of trauma to the tree such as disease, insect, fire or abrasion that causes the tree to produce this unusual convoluted distinctive growth pattern.  I have seen a maple burl bowl at an antique shop in the Midwest in which I could have taken a bath.  These can be as small as a fist and as large as a bathtub.  Because burls are unstable they are most often converted to veneers or carved or turned into bowls, noggins or other objects that are not as susceptible to slight amounts of distortion.  Burls in solid form are best worked while green, as seasoned dried burls are quite difficult to work.  Another unusual growth pattern of some maples, especially sugar maple is birds eye pattern.  While the cause of bird’s eyes is disputed it appears that close growing patterns of this wood could contribute to this unusual characteristic of maple.  If this pattern appears in softwoods, and it does it is called bud scars formed by the trees attempt to cause bud growth.  The pattern usually appears in a closely arranged pattern and is always ‘pointing’ out from the center of the tree.  In other words the tops or points of the ‘eyes’ are small concentric circles of wood that protrude out from the center of the tree and when the wood is cut they appear as small circles within circles.  This wood can be particularly difficult to work and it is always best to orient the wood so the ‘eyes’ point out.  It is easier to plane without creating divots if the wood is worked on the ‘inside’ orientation of the tree.  This is called working with the eyes up.  Difficult to plane because of the changing grain direction, a scraper will produce the smoothest and best finish.

The maples also produce another characteristic that appears in other trees as well and is very probably caused by windy growing conditions, and that is curly grain.  This is also called Tiger maple, striped maple, quilted maple, fiddleback maple or simply curly maple.  This looks like the ripples of sand on a beach or dune and these fine ripples are the grain waving or undulating and when the wood is cut it produces this particular repeated pattern.  It is sometimes possible to determine curly grain in standing wood as the grain is frequently telegraphed to the surface and is visible through the bark.  Some of the finest furniture manufactured on this continent in the nineteenth century and earlier was constructed of curly maple.  Another particular of maple is that of ‘spalding’, a natural discoloration streaking that is caused by insect damage, fungal attack or mineral uptake within the wood.  These can be black, green, blue, gray, brown, red and colors in between that are usually streaks running with the grain of the wood.  Originally considered a cull, this has been used to make furniture and other wooden objects in the past and continue to be popular making this a premium feature of maple and is reflected in its current pricing.  ‘Spalding’ generally weakens the wood and care should be exercised when working this wood, as the dust can be irritating especially if the coloring is caused by fungal attack.

Soft maples have many of the same characteristics as hard maple with the exception that it is softer and tends to fuzz when worked.  The look when finished is generally the same.  Hard maple is hard, dense, strong, resistant to shock, does not seasons well, has large shrinkage during drying, is fairly stable once dry, works well, is an excellent turning wood, capable of taking a burnish and is a choice wood for carving.  Maple holds details well, stands up to wear and develops a beautiful yellow color with age.  Maple is a superior wood for making eating and cooking utensils as it has no odor and imparts no taste.  Used for butcher blocks, especially end grain.  Hard enough for use as flooring this wood does not stand up to exterior applications without a protective finish.

And now for the matter of staining and finishing maple.  Most woods turn either red or yellow with age, maple takes on a beautiful yellow color with age.  Maple is a beautiful that can be stained and finished to good results if certain things are taken into consideration.  Finishing is relatively straightforward however staining can present problems.  Most modern finishes do not give good results tending to make the wood look muddy or shallow.  Maple demands a deep penetrating stain or finish to really bring out the depth that the wood naturally exhibits.  Linseed oil will penetrate deeply into the wood and enhance the grain of maple.  This is the best method to ‘pop’ the fancy grain woods. The oil 'excites' the grain of the wood, it causes it to exhibit iridescent and glow because of the oil making the fibers translucent. This is even more important when the wood has unusual grain such as curl as a surface stain or finish will not enhance the natural beauty of this fine wood.  A mixture of 50% linseed oil and 50% turpentine together with fine dry powdered pigments will produce a stain that will penetrate (depending upon how fine the pigments are ground) and not raise the grain.  Water based stains such as gum Arabic and pigment work well and will raise the grain, so it requires sanding after the stain has dried.  If the stain is not deep enough, sanding will go through the stain leaving raw unstained areas, so use caution.  My favorite finish for maple is 1 part nitric acid and 7 parts water.  Remember the acid goes into the water, if you do it the other way it will explode and that will be very unpleasant.  This mixture will raise the grain, but the stain is so deep that it is almost impossible to sand through the stain.  This mixture is brushed on the maple and you will notice that it immediately changes the color of the maple to a bright yellow color that maple can get with age but a bit brighter.  Cover all the stained surfaces evenly and allow the acid/water stain to dry.  Then by applying heat to the maple it will change the color of the stain from bright yellow to a fine light golden brown color.  The more heat the darker brown the stain will turn.  The color, richness and depth of this stain are truly amazing.  This stain needs to be neutralized or it will continue to darken with time and this is best done with water and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).  The wood is allowed to dry and sanded to smooth the raised grain.  Other stains can be used on maple but my first choice for the most beautiful stain is nitric acid.   See Chemical Staining and Staining for further information about staining.

Maple can be finished naturally without any stain and a good finish is linseed oil/turpentine.  It is applied to the maple, allowed to sit on the wood for 10 minutes or so and any excess is wiped off.  Additional coats can be applied after the previous coat has been allowed to dry for 24 hours.  A good quality Marine Spar Varnish is also an excellent almost clear finish and can be applied over the linseed oil to provide added protection.  The linseed oil will penetrate into the grain and bring out the beauty of the wood.  Shellac is a good traditional finish for stained maple and can produce a beautiful finish adding an orange hue to the wood.  When maple is fashioned into eating or cooking utensils, the best finish is pure flaxseed oil; this is an edible version of linseed oil and is completely safe.  See Traditional Varnish, Traditional Oil Finish and Shellac Finish & French Polishing for additional details on finishing.  

Always dispose of oily rags properly.  Place them in water and then in an airy location (outside) where they can air dry.  A pile of oily rags can spontaneously combust and cause a fire, so always dispose of oily rags properly.

See The Nature of Wood, Historical Cabinet Woods and Shepherds' Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Woodworker, 1981, 2001, for more information about this traditional American cabinet wood.

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The Matter of Cherry

Cherry Suntan-upper section exposed for 6 hours    Cherry Suntan-upper section exposed for 12 hours    Cherry Suntan-upper section exposed for 24 hours

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One of the most beautiful of domestic hardwoods, Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) has a prominent place in American tradition.  Closely related to the orchard cherry trees, however it grows to much greater height and girth and comes largely from the northeastern part of North America.  Orchard cherry trees are pruned to keep the growth low and dense, wood from these trees can have dense wild grain.  Cherry like all fruitwoods does not season well in the log.  Once the tree is cut down it should be quartered and the ends sealed with wax, tar or paint to minimize end checking.  It can also be immediately converted into boards.  Cherry has a propensity to distort as it is drying and must be carefully stacked to dry properly after it is cut into lumber.  Stickers, uniform pieces of inert dry wood are placed between the boards no further apart than 18 inches and one directly above the other as the stack of wood is piled to dry.  It should be out of direct sunlight and in a place where there is free air circulation for the wood to dry.  The stickers allow for air to get to all sides and edges of the wood.  It might also be necessary to weigh the stack down to help minimize any distortion that might occur during seasoning.  Sealing the ends of cherry and other fruitwoods is a good idea to prevent end checking.  The rule for air-drying is one year for every inch of thickness.  So a piece of hardwood takes a year or ‘season’ to dry or ‘season’, oh that is where that comes from.

Cherry is a hard and dense diffuse ring porous wood that tends to be brittle yet is capable of bending.  While cherry has a proclivity to distort as it is drying it is quite stable once completely dry.  The wood can contain gum pockets that produce darker marks or streaks within this fine textured wood.  Cherry oxidizes when exposed to oxygen and ultra-violet radiation such as the sun.  The heartwood is a deep red color that will darken with age.  The sapwood while not too wide tends to be a light tan color contrasting sharply to the dark heartwood.  The sapwood does not darken appreciably.  The wood of cherry contains small amounts of strychnine and the shaving should not be used for bedding of animals.  The inner bark of the tree contains higher concentrations of this substance and is used medicinally especially as a treatment for a cough as a tea, and as a stimulant.  Cherry is a fast burning firewood and can be used for smoking meats.

When you start with rough, dry boards, make sure you work both sides of the board evenly to maintain the balance.  As wood dries the outside cells tend to collapse and when the rough boards are worked new cells are opened up and all rough surfaces need to be worked in order to open up the cells to insure that the wood is uniform and stable in the environment.  This is true for cherry and all other wood; you need to keep the balance.  Some pieces of cherry will work without any problems and others will be some of the most difficult wood to plane smooth.  When curly grain is encountered it is a good idea to use a hand plane with a double iron with the chipping iron set very fine with a narrow throat and the blade sharp.  Also planing across grain can smooth out particularly troublesome wild cherry grain.  A sharp cabinet scraper will also handle difficult grain and will produce the best-finished surface.  Molding planes should be honed very sharp in order to produce smooth moldings.  Select the wood so the grain is running in the proper direction for shooting the molding.  A scratch stock can be used to make flawless molding on cherry that is curly, wavy or with difficult grain that would chip out using a molding plane.  It helps to pre-drill any holes for nails to prevent cherry from splitting.  Cherry is an excellent carving wood but care must be taken with delicate details due to the brittle nature of cherry.  Cherry is a first rate turning wood again taking care not to split the work by excessive tailstock pressure.  This wood can be burnished on the lathe to a high shine.  Cherry should be scraped and not sanded.  If you have to sand parts of your work, sand it all to insure that the finish is accepted by all of the parts equally.  Scraping gives a different surface finish than sanding.  Scraping leaves cleaner pores while sanding is inclined to fill the pores with sanding residue.  Once new wood is exposed to the atmosphere it immediately starts to oxidize and darken.  Placing the work in direct sunlight or other UV source can accelerate this change.  There is no way to prevent cherry from darkening, some will darken right away while other pieces change slowly over time, but it all eventually darkens, that is its nature.

And now on to the matter of staining and finishing cherry.  I never recommend that cherry be stained.  Unless you want a very dark finish that will obscure most of the beauty and grain of cherry DO NOT apply stain to cherry.  Cherry has such beautiful grain and such a wonderful natural color that a clear finish is all that is necessary.  Unless the grain is perfectly flat, any stain will take to different parts of cherry in varying degrees.  On flat grain the stain will not penetrate very much and on end grain (such as where the curl comes up or goes down) will take much more stain.  If you are going to stain cherry, apply un-pigmented linseed oil and turpentine, mixed 50/50, first and allow to dry.  Then any stain will be accepted in a much more uniform manner.  You can also use hide glue size (or other type size) to seal the wood prior to finishing in order to obtain a more uniform finish and less absorption in end grain.

Oils will somewhat darken the cherry at first, while a varnish will maintain a lighter initial color but it will invariably darken no matter what the finish.  I prefer a linseed oil finish to start the darkening process, followed by an oil-based varnish.  Repeated applications of linseed oil will produce a beautiful finish on its own, the varnish is used if more surface protection is required.  There are some instances when you will need to stain the sapwood to match the heartwood.  I use a red iron oxide in linseed oil/turpentine and apply it to just the sapwood.  This is allowed to dry, lightly sanded and additional coats of the red stain might be required or it can be darkened with burnt umber and/or black iron oxide to tone the stain down to the correct color.  You might consider staining the sapwood just slightly darker than the surrounding heartwood, as the sapwood does not change color as it oxidizes.  I sometimes do the initial stain with oil and pigment and then apply a glaze of the darker color mixed in shellac.  Water based stains such as red iron oxide in gum Arabic will also work to stain the sapwood.  These grain-raising stains require sanding after staining, as it will cause the grain of the wood to rise up.  If the stain is not deep enough the sanding may remove the stain.  This type of staining must be done prior to any application of oil as water based stains will not penetrate the oil.  It is easier to achieve the desired color by applying layers to build up to the final color.  Wood color is seldom made of just one color, it is usually two or more colors in combination, so do not try and get the final color in one application, it just looks shallow.  Initial stain followed by a darker glaze applied over the top will give you much better results and a more natural look.  Shellac is also a classical finish for cherry.  The color of shellac enhances the natural color of cherry.

Cherry is an excellent wood to use as a primary wood in furniture and poplar as a good choice for a secondary wood.  Cherry is also a good wood for a secondary with mahogany as the primary wood.  Cherry has occupied a predominant place in the history of American woodworking, fashioned into some of the finest high style furniture as well as simple and beautiful folk objects.  From the cheerfully hand crafted cherry wood cradle to solemnly produced cherry coffin our ancestors were surrounded by this wood from cradle to grave.  Not only are we treated to the sweet fruit of this fine tree we are also pleasured by the fine wood this tree yields.  Cherry is the wood of the heart and a symbol of love and affection.

Always dispose of oily rags properly.  Place them in water and then in an airy location (outside) where they can air dry.  A pile of oily rags can spontaneously combust and cause a fire, so always dispose of oily rags properly.

See The Nature of Wood, Historical Cabinet Woods and Shepherds' Compleat Early Nineteenth Century Woodworker, 1981,2001, for more information about this the finest American cabinet wood: wild black cherry.  

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Coloring Metal

During the antique restoration process metal hardware and ornamentation needs to be returned to its original color or the patina needs to be replaced or the worn silver-plating needs to be redone.  This is a procedure that can be accomplished in the shop.  There are many recipes for coloring of brass, copper and bronze.  A few of the easier ones are listed here.  Some of the materials required are dangerous and precautions should be followed in their use.  Proper protection, adequate ventilation and common sense are required.  Also included is a method of cold silver plating that does not require any special equipment and can be done in the kitchen.

The following are recipes for coloring brass and the colors are relative to that alloy.  These will also impart color to copper and bronze.  They will also color or tarnish silver.  These should be applied to metal that is clean and free of oil, grease or other surface accumulations.  The metal doesn’t need to be bright, just clean.  Wiping down with vinegar will prepare the surface for coloring and will actually begin the process of patination.  Coloring metal is usually done more than required and the tarnish or discoloration is gently buffed out to the desired color.  Scouring rushes or horsetails (Equisetum spp.) can be used to scrape and polish the work prior to coloring and can be gently used to remove excess color.  I use a leather burnisher with a red or white jeweler’s rouge rubbed into the leather and then gently buff the surface until it is brought to the desired color and luster.  Also rough paper, not sand paper; just rough paper can be used to polish the metal to the proper color.  A light coat of linseed oil, shellac or varnish will prevent the metal from any further tarnishing.

Nut Brown

1 Cup Water

1 Tablespoon of Trisodium phosphate

½ teaspoon Liver of Sulfur

Cold Brown

1 Cup Water

1 Teaspoon Sugar of Lead (lead acetate)

1 Teaspoon Sodium hyposulphate (hypo)

Warm Brown

1 Tablespoon Liver of Sulfur

1 Cup Water


Undiluted Butter of Antimony

From Mackenzie’s 5000 Receipts, 1829:

“To brown gun barrels.

After the barrel is finished rub it over with aqua fortis, or spirit of salt, diluted with water.  Then lay it by for a week, till a complete coat of oil is formed.  A little oil is then to be applied, and after rubbing the surface dry, polish it with a hard brush and a little bees’ wax.”

The following recipes require simple products to achieve a beautiful silver plate that is applied by hand.  Old barometers and other scientific or philosophical instruments of the nineteenth century and earlier have engraved brass dials that were plated with a thin coat of silver, probably done with the recipes below.  This can wear off with age and this process can be used to reapply the missing silver.  The metal to be plated, brass, copper, etc. must be clean, they do not need to be bright and shiny, just clean.  It is possible to spot cold silver plate in selected areas without having to redo the entire piece.  The solutions are applied with a cloth, linen is the best and it can be prepared like a pad for applying shellac by using the small piece of linen cloth to hold a ball of cotton fiber.  This allows you to control the amount of silvering solution that is applied.  Dip the cotton ball into the solution and squeeze out the excess and wrap it in the cloth. This solution will discolor your fingers.  Use a circular motion similar to applying shellac during French Polishing.  The more you rub the solution on the surface the more silver you are applying.  Build up thin even coats for best results.  It is truly amazing to watch this process unfold right at your finger tips, the silver starts to plate as soon as you start rubbing it on.  If you are re-silvering an engraved piece of metal like a clock face, you can keep the plating from going into the engravings by holding the cloth tight and applying just to the flat surface, not allowing the solution to go down into the engraved areas.  Silver Nitrate can be expensive but the results are just as the originals in restoration work, and a little bit of this stuff goes a long way.  A special piece of craftsmanship can be marked with a nicely engraved brass plate with a fine hand applied pure silver coating as the finishing touch.

Silvering Solution

½ teaspoon Silver Nitrate

1 teaspoon Tartaric Acid (Cream of Tartar)

1 teaspoon Common Salt

1 teaspoon Whiting (Calcium Carbonate)

1 ounce Water


Another Cold Silvering Solution

Silver Nitrate 1 to 64 by weight with water

Few drops of pure Ammonia


From Mackenzie’s 5000 Receipts, 1829:

                To silver in the old way,

                Take two drachms of each, tartar and common salt; ½ a drachm of alum, and 20 grains of silver, precipitated from the nitrous acid by copper; make them into a paste with a little water.  This is to be rubbed on the surface to be silvered with a cork, &c.



                Silver Nitrate


                Add enough distilled water to make a thin paste and apply with soft cloth in a circular motion.  Areas that are missed can be gone over again with a fresh charge of the paste.  Build up layers until you have the desired silver finish.  It is slow to build up.

Use caution with these chemicals please.

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·         Always give dimensions of a board in the cabinet shop in Width (across the grain), then Length (along the grain) and Thickness (depth). A 6” X 12” X ¾” is a board 6 inches wide, 12 inches long and ¾ inch thick.  If you are in the carpenter shop give thickness, then width, then length.  A 2" X 4" X 8' is a board 2 inches thick, 4 inches wide and 8 feet long.  When giving dimensions of a piece of furniture give Width, then Height and finally Depth.  Got that straight now.

·         The simplest way to square a box is to measure diagonally; if it is square the measurements are identical.

Checking for Square       

·         If you have to divide a board into equal parts, try using a ruler.  If your board is 6 inches wide and you want to mark it into 8 equal sizes, place a ruler diagonally across the board.  Place the 0" end on one edge and held there and angle the ruler until the 8" mark is on the other side.  Mark the 1-inch divisions and transfer these marks square to the end.  You board will be divided into 8 parts without doing any calculations.  The ruler has done the math.

·         Keep your hide glue fresh in the pot by keeping a twig of willow in the glue.  Any willow will do, simply gently remove the outside bark to expose the inner bark.  The salicylic acid will kill any microbes or other growth.  An aspirin will also work.

·         Figuring miter angles for polygons: 180 degrees divided by the number of sides minus 90.    (90-{180/#})

·         Water weighs 62 pounds per cubic foot, 1728 cubic inches.  The specific gravity (density and mass) of a cubic foot of wood is compared the weight of a cubic foot of water.  Everything that is heavier than water sinks, everything lighter than water floats.  Woods specific gravity (SG) is a number given as a relation to water.

·         You can add a small amount of glycerin to hide glue, varnish or paint to make it flexible when dry.  You can add castor oil to oil based varnishes and paints to make them flexible.

·         When examining antique furniture, use a clean paper towel and rub the surfaces gently.  If any color comes off on the towel, a pigmented shoe polish type paste wax has been used to cover problems with the finish.  That effects the negotiations.

·         You can turn a gloss varnish or shellac to a satin finish by adding calcium carbonate (whiting) or rottenstone (fullers earth) to the mixture before applying.  Build up the finish using gloss and the final coat is satin to prevent a milky or cloudy finish.

·         Filling nail holes and other voids after the finish is applied to the wood so it is easier to match the color, rather than trying to fill first.  The fill will stain and finish different from the surrounding surfaces.

·         A small amount of beeswax, tallow or soap on a screw will ease it being driven, on a nail it will help it go into the wood and on the bottom of a drawer’s side bottoms smooth the drawer’s operation.

·         Joints secured with hide glue can be loosened by injecting alcohol into the joint, which will crystallize the glue allowing it to be separated.  Injecting vinegar into the joint will soften the hide glue and allow the joint to be disassembled for restoration work.  Always renew hide glue joints with hide glue.

·         You can straightened cupped or warped boards, or warped table tops, etc. by placing the piece cup side down on an unfinished concrete floor and allow it to sit overnight.  This will straighten most warped stuff; you will need to deal with the fact that it will recover so battens or other methods must be used to keep it straight.

·         Always work and finish both sides of a board to maintain the balance and prevent warping.  Working only one side or finishing only one side will invariably cause distortion of the work.  Keep the balance.

·         You can remove non-drying oil such as motor oil, from wood and other objects by covering with corn meal or cornstarch.  This is rubbed into the oil stain and allowed to stand to absorb the oil.  Repeat as necessary.

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