A Woodworker’s Bag of Tricks

In woodworking, there is much to be learned from books. But not all knowledge is to be found there. Many “tricks of the trade” never make it to print, but instead, exist as sort of a vernacular knowledge base that is conveyed from person to person “on the job”.
Adding to my “woodworking bag of tricks “has been a lifelong pursuit. I have never reached a point, nor will I ever, where I can say “I know it all”. What I can say is “This is the best way I know at this time, until I discover or learn a better way”
Every new woodworking acquaintance presents an opportunity to trade tricks and mutually advance. Many years ago, I had the very good fortune to work alongside a couple of extremely knowledgeable and skilled woodworkers. There was nothing these two guys could not do, and do exceptionally well – it was enough to give me an inferiority complex. I made a point to glean whatever information I could from them. At first, I was surprised when they were doing the same to me: constantly picking my brain. But after some thought, I realized this is how they got as good as they are. They were open and eager for knowledge at every opportunity. It was not just me adding to my bag of tricks, they were doing the same as well.
It’s the intermingling of woodworkers that keeps tricks circulating and alive. Early in my career I did not realize this on a conscious level, but used it to my advantage nonetheless. When a new employee would come into the shop, I would introduce myself and ask right away “what kind of woodworking have you been doing”? I was not trying to be nosy – I was on fire to learn and the new guy was potential fresh fodder in that regard.
Back then , I would also regularly apply for woodworking jobs, which I had no intention of taking. Typically, the shop in question was known for something that fascinated me and I wanted to learn how they did it. The interview (almost) always included a shop tour in which I would ask a variety of questions, trying not to sound as though I was on an espionage mission (which I was).
Writing and teaching has, not surprisingly, been a great source for adding to my bag of tricks. Although I am supposed to be the one teaching, it often goes the other way as well, with me on the learning end of the equation. This is especially true when I travel to somewhere new.
Earlier this month I made my first trip to the Northeast to teach at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. The northeast has a different woodworking tradition than the west coast, and therein exists a great opportunity for the exchange of ideas.
Upon arrival, Bob Van Dyke, (founder and director of the school) greeted me. I soon realized, (although it was not stated) Bob and I were both on the same mission: to add to our respective bags of tricks. As I unpacked my jigs for the upcoming class, Bob was eager to learn how they worked. When I asked about a router bit for one of my setups, Bob (with a smile) pulls out a bottom bearing flush trim spiral bit – and waits for my response. It took a double take and a few extra nanoseconds for it to hit. For some time I had wanted just such a bit for flush trimming (greatly reduces blowout) when using a router table.
The bit is not an “off the shelf “product, but its individual components are. Bob gives credit for idea to Will Neptune, who regularly teaches at the school. This is vernacular woodworking at its best: ideas that are freely passed from one person to another.

In that spirit, I now pass this trick on to you:

Bit : Onsrud ¾” spiral bit #40-141
Bearings: (2 each) Whiteside B19 ¾” OD , ½’ ID
Bearing Stop Collar: Whiteside LC-1/2

May you freely give and take in the exchange of new ideas – may your bag of tricks forever grow and overflow.

Using the Hollow Square Punches

Before starting give the punch a good sharpening. The sharpening cones available at Lee Valley are the correct angle for the inside surface.

Layout the location for the square hole.
Using a small square, center the punch on the layout.

Now lightly tap it in place to registers its position. Often the punch will stay put when you remove your hand – if not it is easy to relocate.

Now, using a bit that is 3/64″ under the size of the square hole (3/8″ square hole – use 21/64″ bit), drill out the center. Use an ordinary twist bit for this and not a brad point. The leading sharp corners of the brad bit will catch on the inside of the chisel and damage themselves.

To finish off – strike the punch with the hammer to its final depth. Before removing the punch use the drill once again to remove most of the wood chips.

Remove the punch for a perfectly square crisp hole!

The Hollow Square Punches will be available from Lee Valley Tools very soon.
Use the product code 50K5920.
For more on the Hollow Square Punches see my previous blog.

Hollow Square Punches

As a furnituremaker, working in the style of Greene & Greene, I have chopped out more than a few square holes for ebony plugs. The accepted method for this has been to drill a round hole and use the chisel from a hollow chisel mortiser (hand held) to square up the holes. This has worked to some degree, but with limitations. One of those limitations being that a 3/16” hollow chisel was not available. Since I employ quite a few 3/16” square ebony plugs in my designs, this meant chopping out those holes by hand, with a lot of patience (and time).
This prompted me to design my own hollow square punch – not only because I needed a 3/16” size, but also one that is specifically designed to be hand held.
My early attempts did not meet expectations, but after a few tries, the new tool was actually outperforming expectations. Dozens of these were machined and made for me, by my friend Bob Hadley. Thanks BOB!
Once I had a working tool in hand, I submitted the idea to Lee Valley Tools. They liked it and turned it over to their R&D department. The Lee Valley folks made improvements and sent me the prototypes for testing. My friend George Knutson helped me run the punches through their paces. I then returned them along with comments and suggestions. We went through this process twice. I was greatly impressed with the Lee Valley R&D people – they really brought the tool to perfection!

Later this month Lee Valley Tools will have available for purchase the hollow square punches in six sizes -3/16” – ¼” – 5/16” – 3/8” 7/16” – ½”.
Use the product code 50K5920 to check on the punches availability.
I will follow up soon with a blog that details the use of the punches.

Sam Maloof

It was a very sad day last week when I got a phone call from Kevin Lerma telling me that Sam Maloof had died the night before.

Sam well deserved his position as one of the most influential and well known woodworkers in the world. But as much as Sam was a master woodworker, he was an even greater human being.

My Meeting with Sam

In February of 2007 I was teaching a class at William Ng’s in Anaheim. One of my students (Jim) was a docent at Sam Maloof’s. Since I was not available during the day to tour Sam’s house (museum) Jim arranged for myself and two others to have a special after-hour’s tour. I was told there were no guarantees of meeting Sam. After arriving, Jim proceeded to give us the tour,but few minutes later, Sam came walking in, and upon seeing us took over as tour guide.
This was incredible – not only did we get to meet Sam but he was taking the time to personally give us the tour! I could not believe our good luck – I was blown-away!
At one point Sam pulled the velvet rope aside and said “let’s set down for a moment”!


Afterwards Sam invited us down to his house (where he actually lived). We visited for another hour or so while setting on Sam’s furniture.
Sam had no idea who we were – but made time for us nonetheless. Sam was very humble and easy to talk to – as if he were just a regular guy. He was unaffected by his fame. I have heard many stories similar to mine – Sam was always willing to give of himself. He was an extraordinary human being!
I bought Sam’s book and had him sign it. He wrote “To Darrell Peart – Blessings/Peace – Sam Maloof – February 2007”.

Blessings and Peace upon you Sam – you will greatly missed.

A Weekend at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking

This last weekend we (myself and the Port Townsend School of Woodworking) invited a few of our friends to attend a trail run of my new workshop – Greene and Greene Details II.
(With a Thanks to Tim Celeski – you can view 360-degree images of the class – here and another image again here ) In attendance were:George Knutson( who assists me), Gary Hall (grandson of Peter Hall) , Clay Curtiss, Bob Hadley, Bob Anderson, Tim Celeski (who took the 360-degree images), John Markworth (co-owner of the school), Tom Moore (alias Tom SoCal),Tom Casper (editor of American Woodworker and Woodwork magazines), Josh Green, Michael Hamilton and David Radkha. Jim Tolpin (author and co owner of the school) popped in and out and also joined several of us for dinner at the Sirens on Saturday night.
After setting up for the class on Friday, Gary Hall, Bob Hadley and I went on an Architectural history adventure – in the pursuit of a carved panel in the Jefferson County Courthouse (located in uptown Port Townsend). The carving in question may have been carved by John Hall (Gary’s great uncle) as mentioned in Randell Makinson’s book Greene and Greene: Furniture and Related Designs. I had tried several times in the past to locate any carving whatsoever, but to no avail. Apparently I was not the only person looking though – there is a carving now pictured in the courthouses’ pamphlet. It is located in one of the courtrooms directly behind and slightly above where the judge sits. Too bad we can’t have a look at the backside to see if it was signed!
Gary Hall continued his Architectural/ Family History adventure Saturday with a visit to a house that has a magnificent spiral stairway built at the time his grandfather, Peter Hall (known as a master stair builder), was in PT. Neither the carving nor the spiral stairway can be confirmed as being made by John or Peter Hall but it is entirely possible given the timeframe and that these were their specialties.
Getting back to the class: We all gathered Saturday morning with what was probably a bit slower start since there was a bit of catching up among friends. We finished up pretty much where I thought we would be at the end of Saturday. Sunday we took a break at noon for brunch at the Commons, which is only a very short distance from the school. We finished up the day around 3 o’clock and said goodbye to our old friends and some newly acquired friends as well.
Port Townsend is a wonderful and rare place. It is sort of an artist community that has not lost its identity. Franchises are not permitted in the downtown business district. The school itself is located in Fort Warden State Park on beautiful grounds near the water among many historic buildings. I enjoy teaching there not just because of the setting, but also because it’s an excuse to visit my Uncle Aubrey and Aunt Margot who live there.
I will be leaving Friday to teach the Details II workshop at William Ng’s School of Fine woodworking in Anaheim. The workshop is sold out but I believe there is still room in the 6-day arched aurora nightstand class.
I will return to PT in April and then again in July to teach both Details I and Details II. Both of these dates are sold out but we may add a couple of dates in the fall – stay tuned!

Greene and Greene Wood Finishing

The techniques and processes I use (in furniture making) evolve over time. Sometimes a better method is found and other times change is forced upon me.
When I wrote my book, “Greene and Greene: Design Elements for the Workshop” I listed an aniline dye, English Brown Mahogany #43, for coloring the wood . Little was I to know that said aniline dye was about to be “no longer available”. This precipitated numerous emails and phone calls from my readers asking for an alternative.

What started out as misfortune turned into good fortune! I have not only found an alternative – but an improved process as well.
General Finishes dye stains come in several colors and can be infinitely mixed to achieve the desired results. I found that mixing 7 parts of their Orange dye stain with 4 parts of their Medium Brown Dye Stain produces a beautiful brown with orange overtones.
The dye stain is more user friendly than traditional (water base) aniline dyes. Whereas the traditional water base aniline dye would streak easily – the General dye stain does not streak nearly as much.
You will still need to raise the grain and scuff sanding with 320- grit. Three applications should produce the desired results although I would test first on scrap wood.

For the top-coat, as in my book, I recommend the 3-5 coats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal satin.
Instead of the Bri-wax I used in the book, I now prefer Renaissance Wax. Use this stuff sparingly, not only because it is pricey, but because not much is needed for each application. Follow the instructions on the tin. Only do small areas at a time – if it dries and streaks before you can wipe it clean – use a little 0000-steel wool.

A related side note: An original hand written recipe for finishing the Thorsen house bedroom furniture can be viewed at the G and G Virtual archives. The original finish calls for Bichromate of Potash (potassium dichromate) which is nasty stuff.

A Very Subjective Matter

Design, or for that matter, any creative enterprise, is a very subjective matter – and rightly so. I certainly do not expect everyone to agree with me or share my vision. The fact that some people do understand and/or appreciate my viewpoint is a real thrill for me.
But if the world were populated with people who thought exactly as I do – then the world would be a boring place indeed. It is those differing points of views that make life so very interesting. Everyone is “tweaked” a little(or a lot)differently – whether you were born under a different star or because of your particular set of life experiences – your perspective is unique to you alone.
I consider it one of my greatest achievements as a parent when my (now adult) kids respectively disagree with me (they may wonder while I am smiling while they proceed to tell me I am crazy!).

My designs are an expression of my personality. They will not appeal to everyone, but I do hope they are accepted as valid expressions.
There are many styles that don’t necessarily appeal to my taste – but I can appreciate many of them. Often-times, if we look beyond personality, we can learn from these “other “perspectives. Chippendale is a good example of this. At first glance Chippendale is far too busy for me. But when I look past all the “frou-frou” – I see a master of balance and proportion. There is much to be learned from Chippendale!

Furniture Design – Intuition, Inspiration, and the Rules

I have been giving some thought to furniture design as of late. It is not a simple black and white matter. The rules of design, when followed religiously, tend to produce designs that may be acceptable, but somewhat sterile and lacking in passion.
For every rule of design there exists an exception to that rule. Every new art form, at its inception, breaks the rules in one way or another, and then proceeds to set up its own set of new rules.

On the other hand, if the rules are given little or no respect, chaos will rule instead and there is likely to be neither cohesion nor balance.

That is not to say every great designer started by making a rigorous study of the rules. I am sure there are many gifted artists whose innate sense of balance and proportion is such that a study is not necessary. Their intuition is their only guide.

For the rest of us mortals I think it necessary to make a serious study of the rules, but at some point in time – when the rules are infused into our consciousness – we must let them go. If our designs are to have fire in their souls we must allow our inspiration to ignite the process and our intuition alone to be the guide.

Last year I was reading about Louis Sullivan and came upon this quote:

“……formulas are dangerous things. They are apt to prove the undoing of a genuine art, however helpful they may be in the beginning to the individual. The formula of an art remains and becomes more and more rigid with time, while the spirit of that art escapes and vanishes forever. It cannot live in text-books, in formulas or in definitions.”

Some of you may be interested in a related essay I wrote and posted on my website:
Regulae Stultis Sunt
(Rules are for Fools)