So we start again

Today I started construction on a new commission. It is a tzedakah box done in a style I have never made before. Generally, I make these with solid wood sides, but since this particular box has marquetry on the front, I had to make the sides of the box very thin, since the dimensions of the box are rather thin itself.

I know this is an awful photo. My scanner stopped working!

I know this is an awful photo. My scanner stopped working!

The box will be 16″ tall, 10″ wide (yes, golden ratio), and only 3″ deep. It is meant to be hung upon a wall. I will use a french cleat system for that. (more on this later). To make this more interesting, instead of using a solid wood sides, I am going to veneer 1/8th” birch ply with a lovely Bird’s Eye Maple veneer. The marquetry letters will be done in cherry. Normally, I do marquetry with 3/32″ thick material, so it will be interesting to see how the scroll saw does with the thicker material. Needless to say, I am going to practice before I start on the real deal.

The construction of the box will be a solid top and bottom, with rails and floating panels for the sides. The top, bottom and rails will be made from cherry which will contrast nicely with the Birdseye maple. So let’s get started!

First, I had to pull some cherry out of the lumber rack, and I had a couple of chunks of rough cut cherry. I found four pieces and used a hand saw to get them to approximate size. Then I flattened one side with various hand planes, then made one thin side perpendicular to the flat size and made sure they were at 90 degrees to each other. With that done, I ran the pieces though the thickness planer to get all of them to 1″. And then I used the table saw to rip them to the proper width. To clean up any burn marks from the table saw blade, I went over the pieces with a smoothing plane. When I was done, I had the top and bottom, and four rails.

The rails are one inch square. To hold the panels in place, I used the table saw to make 1/8″ groves, 1/8″ away from the front edge of the rail. Easy! To attach the rails to the top and bottom, I am using mortise and tenon joinery. I cut the tenons by hand. See the photos:

Marking in the tenons for the first class saw cut

Marking in the tenons for the first class saw cut

Cutting the tenons using my bench hook

Cutting the tenons using my bench hook

Popping off the waste after the sawing was done

Popping off the waste after the sawing was done

There are a number of challenging steps to follow. Stay tuned….

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Grandpa’s Workshop – Book Review

I admit it, I am a fan of Chris Schwarz’s Lost Art Press publishing company, and I have enjoyed every book I have ordered from them. Months ago, they made an announcement about a children’s book to be published called “Grandpa’s Workshop” by Maurice Pommier. I knew right away this would be a great book for me to read to my son.

My boy is three years old and his is crazy for tools and building things. Before he was three, he could name most of the tools in the Woodcraft catalog. In the midst of a meltdown, I can generally calm him down by offering to look at a woodworking magazine together or watching a woodworking show that I have DVR’d. So this book was perfect for him (and me). BTW, my two oldest girls (10 and 8) have read the book and liked it too, so it is not just for boys.

Here is the official description of the book from the Lost Art Press website:

This 48-page book was translated this year for us by Brian Anderson, an American-born writer and woodworker who lives and works in France. It is ostensibly a book for children, though the stories, lessons and drawing style will appeal to anyone who has an appreciation for the natural and the fantastical.

Pommier paints an unbroken line of craftsmen from a French family, and he traces the history of their lives and their work through their tools and the stories of them being handed from one worker to the other – against the backdrop of colonization, the gold rush, World War I and the time when Dragomir the dragon wreaked havoc in the Black Forest.

The tale is told through the eyes of Sylvain, the youngest of the woodworkers in the family, as he spends his vacation in the shop of his grandfather, whom he calls Pépère. Sylvain wants to learn all about the hand tools in Pépère’s shop and the elves who hide amongst the shavings, benches and tool chests there.

As an added bonus, I am getting good practice with my French names. Thank goodness my wife speaks French!

I find the stories very interesting, but my son likes the pictures the best. There are loads of illustrations of hand tools, and he really enjoys identifying them. So not only does he know the name of all my power tools in my shop, he has now learned the names of tons of hand tools too.

If you have a child or grandchild who likes being in your workshop, then get this book and enjoy a good read together. I have included a link for the Lost Art Press above, so order the book for a holiday or birthday gift, and enjoy some good story time with a child you love.


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Keepin’ up the skills

Well, I am still commission-less, and I am still broke, so I can only work with the scraps I  left on the lumber rack. As you well know, you must practice to keep your skills sharp, so a bit of practice I had.

I received a copy of the “Fine Woodworking, Tools & Shops” annual magazine issue, and whilst flipping through the pages, something caught my eye. There was an article entitled: “Make a mallet, build a great one while honing your hand tool skills” by Michael Cullen. This looked like a great little project to keep my skills sharp.

Now I already have an antique jointer’s mallet that I really like, but one day, my son might want his own mallet, so why not make another one?! To me, mallets are like tongs, which begs the question, if you need tongs to make tongs, who made the first set of tongs? The same with this project, to create the through mortise in the mallet’s head, I really needed a mallet. So who made the first mallet? Thank goodness I already had one!

It just so happened that I had some pieces of hard maple that were the perfect thickness to make the head, and I had to use red oak for the handle. I’m not going to bore you with how I made the mallet because you could look it up for yourself on-line, besides there was nothing special about making this. That being said, you did have to have a wide variety of hand tools to make the project (by hand): Rip saw, cross cut saw, tenon saw, a small cross cut back saw, brace and bit(s), mortising chisel, a variety of firmer chisels, jack plane, smoothing plane, block plane, and a spoke shave.

The design of the mallet handle will prevent the mallet head from “flying off the handle” and once I had the handle set in place it was in there like a rock, but I was still afraid it might “move a bit” and slide down because of my non climate controlled workshop. So I drilled a hole all the way through the head and handle and made an oak pin to hold the two parts together for sure. Better to be safe than sorry later.

Before I did the final sanding, I branded my logo onto both sides of the mallet head to mark the tool as mine and give it a little touch of flair. After it was sanded to 320 grit, I applied a coat of Danish oil, then shellacked it.

It is a little bit heavier than my other mallet so the handle shape was important, thus I used the spoke shave to make the handle fit my hand nicely. Boy, I did enjoy using a spoke shave! I don’t know what it is about that tool, but it is fun to use.

Just like making the dressers and chests you use to hold your own clothes, making your own tools give you a sense of accomplishment and pride. I like eating off the table I made, and sleeping in the bed that I made, and I can’t wait to use my new mallet, that “I made!”

Just me and my mallet







Do you feel that sense of pride too?

Till next time,


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For the birds

First, I am sorry about the lack of material for the past month. Between Rosh HaShannah and Simchas Torah, it is really hard to get any serious shop time. Then we have had house guests for more than a week after Simchas Torah was over. To further decrease my shop time, I have been running and working out to improve my health and control my weight. I have gone from 190+ pounds and a 38″ waist to 155 pounds and a 34″ waist, and I have more weight to lose. An hour of excercise a day really adds up in hours away from the shop. I hope to be finished up with the exercise and diet by the end of January and look forward to working on all the ideas I have cooked up, and I hope that a commission or two will come in.

So what have I done lately? I’ll tell you. The wife and I have always enjoyed looking at birds, so the day after Yom Kippur we became official Birders (yes, Bird Watchers). If we weren’t odd enough, now we are big time into birding. Therefore, since I have no commission work right now, I have been making bird feeders and bird houses. I had enough scraps to make a platform feed, a fruit feeder, a suet feeder, and a bluebird house. Think I might make another platform feeder or bird house if I get bored enough. Although they are simple projects, they are fun to make, and at least I was doing something in the shop.

Here is a photo of me and my work. I have attempted to see the birds more closely by mounting the bird house to my head whilst standing next to a tree. No luck yet, but I have seen this in a cartoon so I know it will work.

My new system for seeing birds close up

If you are wondering how we got into this Birding bit, it was because we saw the movie, The Big Year. We liked it so much that we have seen it three times in less than a month. And yesterday, we say an HBO documentary called; Birders, the Central Park Effect. I stupidly thought that Birding would be an easy, no money involved hobby. I could not have been more wrong! Binoculars, field guides, membership to the Baltimore Birding Club, and now we both have the hots to get a good digital camera, but that’s not going to happen unless we win the lottery! Why can’t I pick easy, no cost hobbies like tic tac toe, business card collecting or masturbation? (oh yea, that is not allowed). No matter what I do, it is always “Full Steam Ahead”! Ah the joys of being me.

My next real project is in the works. I have a holly bowl that will be decorated in a very asian style with a nice little pedestal. More on that later.

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Genesis of an idea part 3

All the ideas I had finally came together and now the piece is finished, but let me tell you how it all came about.

The most challenging part for me was figuring out how to attach the shell strings to the bowl. Since June I have been walking (to lose weight), and running since August, and on the biggest hill, I focus on a topic that helps me take my mind off my burning tired legs. And the main point of focus for me was figuring out this problem. Here is what I finally figured out.

The first problem was getting even spacing around the bowl especially since it had ovaled a bit. I took a piece of blue painters tape and put it around the top of the bowl and marked a beginning and ending point. Then removed the tape and cut it off at the marks so I had a piece of tape that was the circumference of the bowl.

The next problem was figuring out how to make eleven evenly placed holes. Even with a ruler that would be a challenge, so I used an ancient tool to solve the problem easily. I used a pair of dividers; set a distance that looked right to the eye and stepped it off. After five adjustments, I got it! I marked the tape and had the eleven evenly spaced points.

Making the copper leaf ring with the tiny holes

So here is how I decided to attach the shell strings to the bowl. I ditched the idea about making a big necklace of shells because I really did not have enough jingle shells and I did not think they really needed to be connected horizontally. I drilled a tiny hole using a pen vice drill (.85mm), then I could slide a piece of wire through the hole and through the shell string loop, then loop that around the lip of the bowl. To disguise the copper loops that hold the shell strings up, I used copper leaf to make a copper ring around the top of the bowl. This idea worked perfectly.

The next problem (for me) was that I had already decided to call the piece “The Shell Pot”, but I did not think the hanging shells and outside decorations were enough to really connect the title. So running up that hill, I figured that out too! I knew I would not have enough jingle shells to go all away around the bowl, I decided to tie the theme of the bowl to making it literally a bowl for shells! I used pretty white scallop shells to make up for the lack of jingle shells for the shell strings, then filled the bottom of the bowl with nice sea shells that me and my children found during our beach vacation! Yes, perhaps I could have gone on-line and ordered more jingle shells, but then the project would not be as personal for me. For me, it would have been cheating somehow to buy shells.

Completed at last!

The shells in the bottom






For the finish, I applied a clear acrylic spary to the metal work on the bottm. For the rest of the outside and the inside of the bowl, I used shellac. On the inside of the bowl, I also applied a couple of coats of furniture wax to help prevent the shells from scratching the inside.

The piece is about 6″ high and about 6.5″ wide. Now I need to get some better photographs of it. My photography leaves a lot to be desired, so once I get a couple of good shots, I post them on the blog.

It’s interesting how ideas come and go, get used and get disgarded. The whole thing started with an idea for a shell necklace while walking on the beach, then developed further while in half a dream state, then finished out while in a runner’s mental zone. I guess you could say the whole idea started with walking and finished with running! And best of all, I have lost about 15 pounds in the process!

I hope you enjoyed this series. Tell me about how you get ideas.

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Genesis of an idea continued

Saturday mornings are generally the only time I get to stay in bed past 6:30am. Notice how I did not say sleep, the kids are usually up around 6:00 to 6:30am, so sleep is pretty much impossible once they are up. But on this particular Saturday (Shabbos) morning, I did not have to get out of the bed until 7:30am so I was wallowing in the bed and I started thinking about the shell bowl and the next thing I know, my muse tapped my head and the ideas started to flow.

Wavy lines start to blur your vision as we go back in time….I was relaxed with my head on the cool side of the pillow half asleep when that magic time started. Thinking….how do I tie the shells to the bowl? Idea grenade goes off! Shells – ocean, what’s in the ocean? Fish! Fish? Yes, David J Marks did fish in metal leaf. How do I make them stand out against the cherry? Color, color… black! What fish is black? Killer whale! Killer whale done in Eskimo style. How do shells tie to killer whale or Eskimo art? No. New Zealand Maori style. Yes! Shells work with that culture. Maori style whales and turtles! But how? On the lower part of the bowl paint it black, then use frisket to make black animals with white or silver leaf accents in a copper leaf ocean background. It ties! It is another piece for my Tiki series. Yes! Yes….. ye….sleep…..

That’s pretty much how it happened in a span of a couple of minutes.

The execution:

Making the design in metal leaf is pretty straight forward, but it just takes time. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Draw a line around the bowl to be the top edge of the water
  2. Paint the lower section black with acrylic paint
  3. Press the Frisket on the black part of the bowl
  4. Draw the whales and turtle
  5. Use an X-acto knife to remove everything around the animals and remove that frisket
  6. Apply sizing then cover with copper leaf for the ocean water.
  7. Cut out the designs within the animals with knife to remove the frisket
  8. Apply sizing and put silver leaf in those sections
  9. Peal off the last of the frisket – Viola!

Frisket applied and image drawn

You get a basic idea of the process






This is all done in small sections at a time and I have to allow for cure time. As of right now, I am still working on Step 8.  I hope to have this part done by Sunday, then I will use spray lacquer on this part of the bowl to protect the metal leaf. No chemical patinas for this project. I will just let the copper get a tad darker on its own.

For me, the next part is the hard part. And what is that? Well you are going to have to wait for that. I have an idea as to what I am going to do, but perhaps my muse will drop by pillow again and give me a better ideal during the Sukkot holiday when I get to stay in bed longer.

stay tuned……

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Genesis of an idea

You never know when or how an idea might come to you. I now have an idea for a new turned piece that is a mix of different ideas, but how it all came together is the interesting part.

The Start:                                                                                                                                       You now see wavy lines as we go back in time to last August. It is the start of my beach vacation and I see a sea shell called a Jingle Shell (Anomia simplex). So named because a handful of these thin, translucent clamshell halves make a jingling sound when shaken together.

The shells are 1″–2″ in diameter and show a range of colors. Their surface is shiny like frosted nail polish. (Another name for the Jingle Shell is “Mermaid’s Toenails.”). As I was looking at the shell, I thought about collecting a bunch of them stringing them together in some way. I like to do little art projects on my beach vacation. So I spent about nine days looking for these shells and I managed to collect enough to do something with. But what? The wavy lines now take you back to the present.

The Now What Idea:

Now that I had all these shells, how would I connect them, and what would I do with them once I connected them? I thought and thought and got the idea to string them up like a pendant necklace and drape the necklace around a turned bowl.

The copper connectors

Once I had that idea, I started hooking them together. I used a small gauge copper wire to make loops that hooked together. I called one of my Maryland Artisan Guild clients who is a jewelry maker and asked her what type of adhesive I should use to connect the copper wire to the sea shell. She recommended the Amazing E6000, so I ordered a tube online and it worked great! So I started making vertical chains of shells. I didn’t want to attach them horizontally until I had a bowl to measure the layout against, so that would have to wait.

Now the bowl:

Not long after I got home from vacation I made a vessel with a Southwest Indian bowl shape. It had to be kinda big with a long neck, but my first attempt had a neck that was too short. Attempt number two blew up on the lathe. Attempt number three was once again too small, and finally attempt number four was the right shape and size.

An example of a chain

I really do try to turn almost everyday (except for Shabbos and holidays) and I can finally really tell that all that practice is paying off. It is good to see that my investment in education and tools is paying off.

Okay, now what:

When I held one of the vertical chains of shells against the bowl it looked pretty boring. So how am I going to make this thing look like something other than a plain bowl with a necklace of shells? Something has to tie the two objects together, and color coordinate them in some way. The plain cherry is not enough. Then, in one magic moment it all fell together…

stay tuned……..

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