Saturday, July 19, 2014

Building a Double Screw Without a Tap and Die

This is an experiment. I was recently putting in a materials order and I noticed in the ‘odds and ends’ department they had ¾” threaded maple dowel rod.  For a few dollars per lineal foot, I thought it would be worth putting in the cart. When it arrived, I set out to build a double screw.

I grabbed two pieces of cherry I had laying around and drilled holes for the screws. First I drilled a pilot hole where the screws would go. This gave me my alignment between the two jaws. Then the outside jaw was drilled with a ¾” hole so it would free float on the screw. The inside jaw was then drilled about ¾ of the way through with a 1” forstner bit. Before breaking through, I switched to the ¾”bit to exit out the back just big enough for the screw.

Now that I’ve got a gaping hole where I need threads, what’s next? 

I drilled some ¼” holes around the inside perimeter of the hole.  (Wait. More Holes?) These holes will get filled with epoxy putty and when the epoxy cures these “teeth” help keep everything in place. Once the hole was pretty well full of epoxy, I used my (liberally paste waxed!) threaded rod to turn my way through. Once it was through, I made sure to mash a bunch of epoxy back down in there to surround the threads. Over the next fifteen minutes or so I would turn the screw back and forth a few times just to make sure the threads were established well. As long as the screw is waxed, the epoxy won’t stick to it.

The next day I turned a couple simple handles, bore out an oversized hole in the middle, and used epoxy putty to permanently attach the screw into them. (Don’t wax that end of the screw! ) I toothed the jaws of the vise for better grip and the next day I gave it a go. It works wonderfully. For small work, the ¾” screws are fine and because the threads are epoxy they are super strong.

This may all sound convoluted. I know if I were reading this, I would be saying, “Why don’t you just get a tap and die set?” The answer is: this was a quick and fun experiment and it’s a way to use materials laying around the shop to make something that works just as well (hopefully... this is an experiment, you know). I will be getting a tap and die in the near future but this was fun in the meantime. The second answer is that I am curious to see the holding power of epoxy internal threads as I imagine this being useful information for my conservation work.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Writing, Writing, Writing

Besides the studio work, I’ve been busy writing and editing an article I’ve submitted for publication. Trying to boil down Fisher’s furniture production into 3,000 +/- words was hard, especially since this is my first go at a polished manuscript on the topic. With some revision help from a few colleagues, I think it came together. Perhaps one of these days you will see it... I’ll keep you informed.

I’m pretty much set to go for the lecture/tour on the 26th. That one is titled “The Fashioning Hand of Jonathan Fisher: An Inside Look at the Parson’s Furniture”. It will take place Saturday the 26th 1:00pm at the Fisher House in Blue Hill. I will give a brief introductory talk about how furniture making fit into Fisher’s life. The real meat and potatoes of this event though is the guided tour through the house. I will be taking the group through and pulling out drawers, etc.  I’ll be highlighting a few noteworthy features and discussing attribution issues.

I am also working through the powerpoint for my lecture in August at the Wilson Museum in Castine, ME. This one is on preindustrial Maine furniture makers.  It’s on August 13th at 1:00pm. More info here:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Lie-Nielsen Open House 2014

I spent much of yesterday at Lie-Nielsen's Open House. It was such a wonderful time. Woodworking is great but woodworkers are even better. These are all real down to earth great people. Thanks for hosting the event, Tom!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Friday's Fisher House Tour

L to R: Robin, Karen, Julia, Tom, Chris, and I

 Last Friday morning, Tom and Karen Lie-Nielsen, Chris Schwarz, Julia Kalthoff, and Robin Macgregor met me at the Fisher house in Blue Hill. Though Tom and Karen had visited a few times years ago, I gave the whole group a full tour. I shared the back story as we walked through the house discussing what the winter’s investigation has found. We pulled out a few drawers and looked at some construction details. There were definitely objects we passed by as they have no documented connection to the Fisher family. Besides the furniture and the 1814 house itself, we looked at some of his tools that are on display. 

Photo credit: Chris Schwarz

I showed them his turning tools, a few files, strops, auger bit, etc. We also looked at this interesting framed (tenon?) saw. None of us had seen anything exactly like it before. 6 tpi with a cutting depth of about 3” on an 18” blade. What do you think? Tenon saw?



Through tenoned tote

Fisher's workbench (you're looking at the back)

We also looked at Fisher’s only surviving workbench (of the many he made) with mitre boxes and backsaw. It probably won’t surprise anyone that Chris made a lot of keen observations about the bench. And now that he’s pointed some of this stuff out I am even more excited about it. I plan to replicate it in the not-so-distant future. After the bench and various vises, I brought them over to the recently discovered lathe. This piece I have not had a lot of time to examine yet because I only found it a little while ago. 

the lathe

Awesome use of  a tree crotch!

We spent a good two hours at the house. That’s better than the three I spent with Freddy Roman. Somehow I’ve gotta boil this tour down to under an hour for the 200th Anniversary Event in two weeks. I’ll keep working on that. They all seemed to genuinely enjoy their time at the house and I was grateful to have them take an interest in my research. 

After lunch, most of the gang went back to Rockland but Chris and I drove over to my studio. I showed him my little space and we discussed the benefits of small shops. I also got him to sign the bottom of the traditional cabinetmaker’s tool chest I’m making. Now that the thing is Schwarz Certified, I will be able to finish it up and bring it to Leonard’s Mills in fall. Thanks, Chris.

From there we drove out to the Hull’s Cove Tool Barn. Chris wrote about the visit here. We each got a few things but Chris didn’t get a certain item he was pining after. He did, however, show me a delightful Millers Falls mitre box. The former owner babied this thing and even built a custom base for saw storage. Pretty cool, I’d say. I have been looking out for one of these for a while so I‘m glad Chris pointed this one out to me. (My apologies to Ric “Canadian Gravity Latch” Archibald who we ran into while shopping. He also wanted it but I guess I was closer. By Ric’s request, here are some shots of the carrying base.) 

Mitre box

Slot for saw storage

Small built-in drawer on the other side

All packed up and ready for travel

Chris and I had a good time talking about his work, my work, and the Jonathan Fisher research. There have been so many things uncovered thus far but I know there is still so much more to go. I look forward to bouncing thoughts and ideas off of Chris, Don Williams (whom I’ve been consulting), and the readers of this blog. It looks like this thing has taken off and I anticipate a fun ride.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Congregationalist’s Tool Chest


One of the interesting twists in my research into the furniture making of Jonathan Fisher is learning who his descendants are. Though the archives are jammed full of documents, letters, and journals from Fisher, it’s been on my list to contact his posterity. It was about half way through this winter I was discussing the research with Brad Emerson (former president of the board) when he relayed to me that one of Jonathan Fisher’s descendants was Thomas Lie-Nielsen, owner of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. I was dumbstruck. Wait. What? You mean Fisher is Thomas Lie-Nielsen’s great, great, etc.. grandfather?  I wasn’t sure if he was pulling my leg. Turns out, he wasn’t.

Tom and Chris discussing the JF Tools

To make a complicated story simplified, I was working on plans for two separate visits. The first was a visit to the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, ME to see the extant tool chest of Jonathan Fisher. The second was a trip with Chris Schwarz to the Tool Barn in Hull’s Cove as well as the Jonathan Fisher House. I invited Tom along as well and he not only agreed to come along to the Fisher House but was interested in coming along to the Farnsworth to see the tools. In the end, Chris made it up to Tom’s on Thursday morning. Then I met up with Tom, Chris, Deneb, Kirsten, Robin, and Julia Kalthoff (of Wetterlings Axe Works) at the Farnsworth to look at the tools. Once we were all assembled, registar Angela Waldron and and assistant curator Jan Bianco led us back into the room.



Truth be told, it was better than I had allowed myself to hope. I did not know if there were five or fifty tools surviving. All I knew is that there were “some old tools in storage over there”. Though I had a 1990s photo of the chest, I had no idea how many objects were inside it. 

Wooden Squares


When we walked into the room I was pleasantly surprised to see 53 tools laying out for viewing. Not only are they definitely of the period (first half of the 19th century) but a number of them are stamped “J. Fisher”. This is a goldmine for my research. It took me a few minutes to be able to think straight while I stared at the table overhearing the observations of Tom and Chris and company firing back and forth. I was just trying to soak it all in at first.

Molding planes

Screw box and taps

Compass saw
"Bitts" for a brace

Wooden square joinery

Stamped "JF 1799"

Plane iron made by Matt Ray of Blue Hill, ME

Overall, the tools are in good condition. There are numerous planes, a mallet, wooden squares, a screw box and taps, bits for a brace, a compass saw, a spokeshave, a large wooden screw, and various other things. We spent about an hour combing over the collection gleaning what we could from this introductory visit.

Plane iron purchased in Boston


Mysterious stippling on the sides of all the long planes


After working our way through the Farnsworth’s excellent Shaker exhibit, we all went to get something to eat. Over fried food and beer, we conversed about everything from the Fisher story to the founding of Tom’s company. Chris even told tales of a helicopter chase involving a runaway bear cub. You never know what a day may bring forth.


The tool chest

Detail on the chest

It was an exciting visit and I cannot wait to get back there for a much more thorough examination of the tools. I will be taking countless measurements and photos, and begin working out the mysteries in the collection. Plans are already in the works.

The next morning, the whole gang met me up at the Fisher house for a tour but more on that later…