Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Merganser in the Making

I roughed out a merganser decoy today. As I previously posted, I had some wood from my mother-in-law's property which I decided to use for my carvings. I finally got to use my shaving bench. I roughed in the body with power tools and the draw knife. I saw a picture of an old merganser decoy on the Internet which I used as a pattern for the head. I roughed out the head from a piece of 2" pine board. Like the primitive decoys I saw at St. Mary's City, I left some of the bark on the body to give texture to the wing feathers. The wood in the body is very green. I will have to it dry out before I can take this project any further. Once the body dries out, I will mortise a slot in it for the head, and then jump into the shaping of the body and the carving of the head. I will report back in a few months . . .

Tractor Time!

Yep. Its nearly that time. I dropped the mower deck, pumped up the tires, put on the plow blade, wheel weights and chains. Okay Ol' Man Winter - we are ready!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Primitive Decoys

We visited family in Southern Maryland this Thanksgiving. I stopped by historic St. Mary's City to look around and visit the gift shop at Farthing's Ordinary (an ordinary was a public house). St. Mary's city was settled in 1636. The historic city is a recreation of the original colonial city which is run by St. Mary's College. It is an active archeological site. There was a lot of history here. We love these type of historic villages (more on some of the places we visited in a later post).

I was looking for books on old barns and structures, woodcrafts, etc. in the gift shop. I came across some folk art primitive decoys. They had a variety of duck carvings, some geese, and a merganser-like bird. They were very simple, and still had some remnants of the bark on the bodies to suggest wing feathers. My mother-in-law had had some trees taken down to clear the woods by her driveway. I grabbed a few pieces of the green hardwood for a few projects. One will be a primitive decoy. Wish me luck.

By the way - one of my draw knives came in! I can start to use my shaving bench now!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Gift from Papa Claus and Christmas Carole

Noah's Ark Toy

My sister suggested I make an ark for my granddaughter. She has some little Noah's Ark figurines she had collected over the years that wanted to give to her niece. So as my first real project, I whipped up this toy over the weekend.

It is about 14" long and 5" wide. The sides are 3/8" plywood, while the base and the frame for the cabin on top are 3/4" pine. The roof is also plywood, but the deck is made of a piece of Pergo flooring. It is simply screwed together. I looked for pictures of ark toys on the Internet. I saw a few like this. I didn't have any plans, but the design is pretty straightforward.

The deck lifts off to allow one to store the ark figurines. I still need to add a coat or two of clearcoat. I also need to fashion a ramp for the animals to go on.

While rummaging around in the garage, we also found a box of small plastic toys that were our daughter's. In it were all sorts of animals. We will equip the ark with these animals. The figurines from my sister may be a little to fragile for our granddaughter, so the plastic figurines my be a good substitute for now. Maybe our daughter will recognize some of these toys.

We'll be bringing this gift at Christmas time. I hope the little one likes it. Now that I have the workshop up and running, there will be more toys from Papa Claus . . .

Monday, November 23, 2009

It Works!

I finished the lathe. I used a few bar clamps to hold a piece of 1x3 against the poppets to make a simple tool rest. It works great, but takes a few more steps to set up the piece you are going to work.

I ripped a few pieces of pine 2x6 down into square cross sections and started to turn them. The pine is very wide grained and prone to checking. I can see where rounding over the piece takes a lot of time on a lathe. I ordered a few draw knives, so I will be able to round over square stock on my shaving bench soon. As pine is a soft wood, the poppets have a tendency to slowly enlarge in the piece I was working as it was spinning.

I'll probably get some hardwood soon and give it a go. For now, I'll keep practicing on the pine.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I ordered a set of gouges from Amazon. They were a bargain. 8 gouges / chisels for around $45. They came in a decent wooden case. Good beginner tools. Nice long handles. They seem pretty sturdy. I bought some clamps and a 1x3 for the tool rest for the lathe today. Tomorrow I hope to try some wood turning. No - I won't be making anything yet. Just trying to get used to the lathe and tools. Still, it will be fun to work with my hands (working in front of a computer or a whiteboard gets real old . . . ).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It Has Started

Last week I was driving to the airport, and one of the local radio stations was already playing Christmas music. Given it was only November 8th, I thought it was a little early. However . . .

Today I made my famous Christmas fruitcakes. I know, most people don't like fruitcake. But I have to tell you - everyone who has tried mine likes it.

I use a recipe from Jeff Smith (aka the Frugal Gourmet). It is for a bourbon fruitcake recipe that has some melted chocolate in it. This is a real fruit cake - it has liquor in it (not like the store bought junk). The dried fruits marinate overnight. When the fruitcake are done and cooled, you dip each side in more liquor. I vary the recipe. Fewer walnuts and raisins more dried fruits, double the chocolate, and triple the liquor. Instead of bourbon, I use rum to marinate the fruits, and Grand Marnier for dipping the cakes.

You need to let the wrapped fruitcakes rest a few weeks before you cut into them. So I started this Christmas tradition today. The cakes will be ready by early December.

I guess the season has started! (We also signed over 6 dozen Christmas cards - we'll start addressing them this week so we can mail them right after Thanksgiving).

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Spring Pole Lathe

Base pieces (left), rails (top-center) and side supports (right).

I have a new addition to the workshop. I've wanted to build a spring pole lathe for years after seeing one on the Woodwright's Shop on PBS. I found a simple plan here which I used. Unlike actual spring pole lathes which use a green pole as a spring to let-out and take-up the cord which spins the work, this design uses a piece of bungee cord. It takes less height and uses somewhat less floor-space.

The plan is pretty simple. You get an eight foot 2x6, 2 eight foot 2x4s, 3 six foot 1x3s, two 4 x 5/8 lag bolts, some wood screws, a 4' bungee and some thin cord (~ 10 feet). Cut the 2x6 into two 4' pieces to use as rails. I figured I wanted the work height at 41". I wanted the poppet centers to be 8" from the rails. This meant that the supports would be 41" - 8" = 33".

I cut a 2x4 to give two 33" pieces. I also cut the 2x4s to give me two 29" bases. I notched supports to allow each base to be recessed into the support. I then screwed the bases to the side supports.

Base pieces attached to side supports.

I put the rails on my workbench and flipped the support bases upside down. I then assembled the rails to the side supports using screws, making sure the rails were square to the side supports.

Rails being attached to the supports.

I had some leftover 1x2s from another project which I cut down to act as diagonal bracing for the side supports. I had to leave some room for the 1x3s to act as the uprights which hold the bungee. I cut the angles into the bracing and screwed them to the rail assembly.

The poppets are the working part of the lathe. They sit on the rails, and have sharp points on which the material to be worked spins. The trick is getting the poppets designed correctly so that the system is rigid, but adjustable.

The poppet height (the height from the rail to the point the material spins on) is to be 8" (i.e., the biggest piece I could work is an 8" diameter - I'll never work anything that big!). I have to leave 1" of material above the poppet point. As the rail is a 2x6, the height of the rail is then 5.5". The poppet has to extend down below the rail so I can mortice in a slot for the adjustment peg, so I left an additional 6". The length of the center part of the poppet is then 1" + 8" + 5.5" + 6" = 20.5". I cut two 20.5" pieces from 2x4 material, along with four 9" pieces from the 2x4s to act as the "shoulder's" of the poppets.

I drilled a 1/4" hole thru each poppet piece 1" from the end. I counter-bored the holes 5/8" thru most of the poppet pieces. I then screwed the lag screws through the poppet holes to act at the turning points (aka centers).

Center pieces for the poppets with lag bolts inserted.

I cut two 6" sections from a 1x3. I ripped these pieces at a slight diagonal along one edge and sanded them. They will act as the pegs to hold the poppets in place.

Pegs to be used to hold poppets fixed on the rails.

I measured the width of each peg at their midpoint, and used that distance (2.25" in my case) to establish the bottom of the mortise which accepts the pegs. Given the poppet is 9" above the rail, and the rail is 5.5", and the mid-point peg height is 2.25", the bottom of the mortise is then 9" + 5.5" + 2.25" = 16.75" from the top of the poppet. The top of the mortise has to be above the bottom of the rail (at 9" + 5.5" = 14.5"), so I put it at 14" from the top of the poppet. I mortised out a 1" slot in each poppet between 14" and 16.75".

A peg loosely fitted into a poppet mortise.

Nearly done. I took 2 of the 9" shoulder pieces and screwed them to each side of the poppet center. I then had a T-shaped piece which drops between the rails. One slides the poppets along the rails, and then lock them in place by hammering the pegs into each mortise.

Poppets with shoulder pieces attached and fitted to the rails with the pegs.

I attached the six foot 1x3 uprights on each side of rail assembly. They extend above the rails by ~ 4 feet. The bungee is stretched across the end of the uprights and act the the spring for the lathe. The cord is tied to the middle of the bungee, and then attached to a ~4' section of 1x3 (or 2x4) which acts as the foot treadle. I filed the lag screws down to remove the screw threads leaving them as simple points.

The final lathe (with support bracing, uprights, bungee, cord and foot treadle attached).

To use the lathe, the cord is wrapped around the piece to be worked. The piece is positioned between the poppets, and then the pegs are pounded into the poppet mortises.

Now you are ready. You step on the treadle board. It pulls on the cord, spinning the work, and pulling the bungee down. As you let up on the treadle, the bungee retracts, spinning the work the opposite direction. You only cut on the down stroke.


I still need to fine-tune the treadle. I also need to add a rest to the lathe (a rest is a rail which supports your tool when turning). I need to get some gouges and chisels to actually do anything. I'll start looking . . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's a Well!

And the answer is . . .

35 feet!

The well is dug and it is running clean. Geologically, the area here is glacial moraine. The drillers found gravel all the way down. There are hills right across the street and on the other side of the creek, so they were worried that they may hit rock ledges. Luckily, the pounding went easy.

The well drillers were able to pump 10 gpm for 2 hours with no problem. The drillers have capped the well for now. They will be back in the next few weeks to trench the line to the house and run the plumbing and power.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Well, Well, Well . . .

It started today. The well driller setup up the rig yesterday and started to drill the well. Actually, they are pounding the well (aka as a driven well). Pounding tends to be somewhat easier and better (you don't have the drill tailings and the pounding operation packs the walls tight). We have a lot of gravel here, so I hope the well drillers can move fast. We were both away from the house today, and when we came back the rig was still there. Not sure how they are doing. I'll get a few pictures and post them. I hope they are making good progress!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Bodger's Bench

The original 8 foot 2x10 used as the base for the bench.

I've wanted to make a shaving bench for a few years. A shaving bench is a type of vise where you can sit and use your feet to hold the wood you are working while keeping your hands free. Typically, it is used with a draw knife to carve spokes, furniture spindles, etc. When working such items, you are constantly flipping the work over, so a regular vise is very cumbersome. Shaving benches are also known as bodger's benches. A bodger is an English term for a traveling woodworker. They would travel around and carve furniture on demand. Portable versions of such benches would be used as the bodgers would travel. Look at the blogs I follow to see various 'bodger blogs'.

I am not planning on a portable shaving bench, so I found a plan for a more adjustable one using standard size lumber. I also want to carve decoys, so a larger bench for holding larger blocks of cork and wood is needed (you will see below that I also opted for a particular design of the 'dumbhead' in the bench for larger items).

I started by getting an 8 foot 2x10, an 8 foot 2x6,two 8 foot 2x4s, a 4.5" door hinge, two 7" angle brackets, two 1/4" x 5" lag bolts, four 1/4" diameter washers, and 1.5" and 3" wood screws.

I cut the 2x10 down to 6 feet. The 2' remnant from the 2x10 is used later. I then chiseled a slot in the 2x10 for the 2' remnant to act as the front support for the bench (more later).

The slot for the forward bench support.

I ripped the 2x10 down to 22", and also cut a 2x4 into two 25" lengths for the rear supports.

The pieces for the supports.

I cut notches in the two 2x4s pieces and the 2x10 base. After figuring how high I wanted the bench, I then cut the 2x10 and 2x4 pieces to give an 18" height.

I attached the forward 2x10 suppot into the slot in the 2x10 bench and 2 2x4 supports into their notches. I added some additional 2x4 pieces tothe 2x4 supports to keep them from splaying using 3" woodscrews. I used the brackets and 1.5" woodscrews to secure the forward supports.

The base with the supports.

I cut the 2x6 down to ~ 50" as the bridge for the bench. I attached a door hinge to one end and also attached the hinge to the front of the 2x10 base. I wanted the bridge to be hinged as I can then adjust the height of the bench for different height pieces.

The bench with the hinged bridge piece.

I sat on the bench and determined where my feet would be located and the height I wanted to have my arms at when I worked on the bench. For me, that meant I needed the dumbhead-support (i.e., the vise part of the bench) around 27" long.

Some dumbheads are mortised into the base. Such dumbhead configurations looks like a 'T". These types of dumbheads are good for spokes and spindles, but not good for larger work. I went with a English dumbhead design. In this design, the dumbhead is supported on the the sides of the bench - not in the center of the bench. The English variant allows a greater work area which is better for larger work, like decoy carving.

I estimated the pivot point for the dumbhead would be at 14". I cut a notch in the bottom part of each dumbhead-support to accept the foot brace, and then put a 1/4" hole at 14" for the pivot point. I used a few washers and the lag bolts to affix the dumbhead-supports to the base.

I then attached a section of 2x4 as a foot rail to the bottom of the dumbhead-supports, and put a 12" piece of 2x4 to the top of the dumbhead-support as the actual vise head.

The English-styled dumbhead and riser block.

I cut three 8" pieces from the remaining 2x6 and nailed them together in a block. This gave me a block of wood which was 8" x 5.5" x 5.25". The block then becomes the riser to support the bridge.

The finished bench!

Voila - my bench is done. I can adjust the riser height using the 8" side of the riser block, or flip the block around and use the other sides of the block to adjust the opening size of the bench. One sits on the bench, puts the work in the bridge, and then pushes on the foot braces to firmly hold the work still.

Using the foot braces to use the dumbhead as a vise.

I can't wait to get a draw knife and see how well such a bench works! I've already ordered a few duck decoy kits. While I wait for the decoy kits, my next project will be a spring-pole lathe . . .

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Times They be a Changing

I came across a website which overlays house tax and sales data onto aerial maps ( When I put our address in, I was surprised to see that the aerial photos could be viewed from the north, south, east and west. The photos appear to have been taken just a few months after we moved into the house. I can see the original location of the arbor. I have since rebuilt it and moved it across the yard. The birdbath was also moved over by the east side of the yard. The barn still had missing siding and missing glazing. The south-eastern side of the yard once held a double-wide trailer. The footings are visible in the photo, but you can see the large dump truck bringing clean fill in. This part of the yard is now a large grassy area. Lot of changes since we have been here. There will be more . . .

What Church? - Part 4

I got a copy of the 1904 topographic map showing the house of worship down the street which no one seems to know about. I gave a copy of the map to my wife. She goes to a history meeting with Ray S's wife. She gave it to Ray. Soon after, Ray called here to let us know who the property used to belong to. When he contacted them, they knew nothing of the house. Their family was not religious, nor was there any type of burial ground there. Ray suggested I look to see where the other churches are on the map. He thinks they have misplaced one of the churches when the map was drawn up . . .

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Tamarack - American Larch

We have 3 tamaracks (also known as American larches) on our property (we had a fourth, but had to have it it removed this year as it was dead).

Tamaracks look like evergreens. They have needle-like leaves and seed cones. Unlike regular conifers, they will drop their needles in the fall.

I never paid much attention to the tamaracks in our yard. They are somewhat non-descript in the summer, and I always thought they looked a little weak in the winter without their needles. Today, I noticed their fall colors. They were clad in a mustard yellow. Strange - I never seemed to notice their needles on the ground. I never seemed to catch them changing color. I need to pay more attention to the trees, their names and their lives.

The New Man Cave


General Workshop Layout

As promised, I moved my workshop from the main barn into the second floor of the old milk shed. I am really happy with this space. It gets a lot of light, it is not too big, and the new flooring is smooth and easier to sweep than the old barn floor.

I moved the work benches to the new space, ran the power, set up the tools, and arranged my tools.

I enter the workshop from the first level of the milk shed. Though bringing wood up from the first level could be cumbersome, there is a door from the main barn that is perfect to bring raw material into the workshop.

Work Area with Access to the Barn through the White Door at the Left

Unlike the main barn the space is smaller and gets a lot of light. It will be much warmer. It is not heated, but a kerosene heater is perfect to warm it for work in the winter. It has great views of the creek and the driveway.

Creek View

Driveway View Looking to the South

I already have plans to build a few woodworking tools (a shaving bench, spring-pole lathe). I hope to start on a few fun projects soon (I always wanted to do some decoy carving, and I need to think about a doll house for my granddaughter!).

It has been a lot of work to get this space ready, but I am very happy with the results. I hope I make good use of it.


wonder [ˈwʌndə]
1. the feeling excited by something strange; a mixture of surprise, curiosity, and sometimes awe
2. something that causes such a feeling, such as a miracle

Yesterday was an exciting day. My nephew and his beautiful wife had their first child. We went to see them and the new one in the family. One of these days Great-Uncle Tractor will have another little one to drive around the yard.

A cold front was pushing in, and we drove through scattered rain. As we crested one hill and an opening in the clouds revealed a piece of a rainbow. As it was a grey and dark day, the bit of color was quite unexpected. As we drove back home past the northern end of Seneca Lake, we drove by stately homes and vineyards. One stretch of the road was lined with maples. They were all yellow. The cold front brought strong winds, and the ground was covered in yellow leaves. It was a beautiful sight. As we drove further, we came across one vineyard whose vines were a deep red. I had never thought about the leaves of grapes changing colors like the other leaves during the fall. As we neared our house, we encountered another rainbow.

It amazed me we can experience wonder. Each of these scenes is readily explainable and a logical progression of the conditions. Of course you see rainbow when weather fronts collide, yellow-leafed trees will drop yellow leaves, the leaves of deciduous plants change color in the autumn. Still, we find wonder and awe in such occurences.

Of course the greatest source of wonder was the new baby. I watched my sister at her amazement of her grandson. I thought about the birth of my granddaughter and remembered how I felt. Right now there are now 6 billion people on this world, yet the addition of a single little one is still a wonder!

I hope we all find something wonderful each day of our lives.