I need your help

As many of you know by now, I am the author of four novels and a skilled furniture maker. Along with those qualifications, I can and do work with horses, goats and dogs, in that I care for them on a daily basis. I find them much easier to get along with than many people I know.

Much of my daily chores consist of mowing, spraying, tree trimming and bush hogging the property where I have lived for the past eight years. Now. at seventy one years old, I find it necessary to to move on. I can no longer remain here and have no resources to finance a place of my own.

What I am seeking is a Live-In property caretakers position, with or without pay ( so long as room and board are provided). I have reliable transportation. I do have a limiited income through Social Security, and a small royalty check each month from Amazon. That and Medicare/Medicade keep me healthty. Well, that and working outdoors, which I love almost as much as I do building furniture.

In case you were wondering, my dream of building a workshop on this property fell through, due to a lack of interest in my proposal. With that said, my only alternativeis relocating to another, caretakers position. I can provide a proper and complete CV along with References, to anyone who responds to this plea.

I have lived much of my life in the south, mainly Georgia and Florida, and prefer to reamain in the area, though I do hesitate to place any limits on my relocation. But be aware I have little love for snow and all it portends.

Posted in Furniture Making

“You don’t call, you don’t write…”

I am sorry for that, but my time is not my own. While I wish with all my heart that I could be busy full time building my workshop, setting up my floor machinery, building my workstations and studying blueprints, I can’t. It is downright depressing at times, but life is like that, I guess.

You’d think I know that by now, but the kid in me refuses to grow up. At any rate, while I could not do all that I wanted to, I did manage to finish repairng 150′ of fencing and a few other fiddly little things here on the ranch. And I did make a few critical decisions about the new workshop. Except for one very critical decision which I will have to make in the next few days. Where to put it.

When you first start to build a workshop, you start start with what you will use it for, what floor machinery will have to go where, how much free space you will need to work safely around each fixed piece of machinery, what sort of workbenches and assembly tables you will need and where they have to go. That sort of stuff will give you a good idea of how much floor space you will need. Then jack that number up by at least twenty-five percent to cover storage space for raw lumber, tool racks, clamp racks, dust collectors and so on. Then think about doors and windows…and electricity.

You should probably pause there, and take a hard look at your budget. Unless you are Bill Gates, you probably cannot afford to build a shop as large as your dreams specify. And that’s my problem in a nutshell. I can afford (not really, mind you, since I have no budget to speak of), a workshop that will be 16′ x 24′ outside dimensions.. This will have a shed roof, with the low side giving an inside height of 10′ at the header and the high side a 12′ height inside. The floor will sit on 2′ x 12′ pressure treated pine, which in turn will be held off the ground by contcrete cones resting on two 24″ square concrete pavers (and, since this is hurricane country, lots of hurricane straps all around). I will use 3/4′ plywoood  for the floor, and build a mess of torsion box girders out of 2″ x 4″ pine covered by 1/2″ plywood and  fastened by construction adhesive and t-nails. Those girders will avoid the need for internal posts down the center of my work space. The roof will be 1/2″ ply, two layers of roofing felt and the whole topped will sheet metal roofing. The exterior walls will be T-111 siding, painted red, of course.

That’s the plan, and I’m sticking to it.

Slipper Chair

Back in the bad old days, folks wore slippers in the house. They kept a rocker near the bed to sit in while sliding out of those slippers and getting into bed. I built this one for my wife many years ago, and made it wide enough that she could hold our children while nursing them.

It’s built from oak. Those pins you see sticking up from the ends of the arm rests were cut short and then sawn down the middle so a wedge could be driven in to spread the peg inside the arm rest to hold all the bits together. Then they were cut flush.


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This is a rocking chair, wider than usual as I stated above, and actually very comfortable to sit in. I had some Ash left over from that Shaker Bench I built, so I used that material for the two rockers. The back slats are straight, and flexible, with a large rib running along the back face to give a bit of added strength to the design.

OSC4 001OSC3 001 The seat is black Morrocan leather, with thick cotton batting under, and the whole covers a plywood base.

It is remarkbly comfortable.

Posted in Furniture Making | Tagged ,

The New (Temporary) Workshop

It’s a bit of a drive from the ranch where I live and work, but a close friend of my boss invited me to visit his father, Bob, who would be happy to help me out with the loan of his workshop. So I drove up to his place (it’s about a twenty minute drive) and spoke with Bob, a very interesting fellow.

Bob served during the Vietnam conflict as an aircraft mechanic on an air base in Thailand. Apparantly, he had a lot of fun. I’m not sure if the ‘fun’ or service-related incidents did for him, but he has his share of physical disabilities as a result of his years of sevice. And he still smiles when he talks of those days.

My service was for the most part in Central America, with a few weeks’ TDY, once to Thailand and once to Cambodia. Other than a short stay in Singapore, there was nothing to smile about for me.

But Bob is a great guy. He has trouble walking and can’t stand but for a few minutes at a time, so his workshop has turned into a catchall for anything nobody wants to throw away.

The woodworking section is both small and cramped. The machine shop is larger, which tells you where he spent most of his time. I explained to Bob and his son that I would spend a week or ten days cleaning the place up and another week or so working on rearranging things so I would have room to work and then another week tuning up his floor machinery before I could start working on producing anything I could sell.

They smiled and said, “Ok”. After all, it’s free labor, why not smile? I will take lots and lots of of photos along the way.

Tomorrow I will be driving up to Waldo, Florida, to pick up an old lathe. It’s practically free, but still in good condition. I will spend about a week cleaning and painting it, maybe replace a few bearing races if necessary, and finalizing a ‘buy list’ of stuff to make the lathe truly functional. It’s not just the lathe – you need turning tools, a sharpening system (preferably a slow speed dual wheel grinder with shoft stone wheels), calipers and dividers, and an air hat, if you can afford one. That old lathe is priced to sell – it’s the other stuff that costs real money.

So far my buy list is right about three times the cost of the lathe. Good thing I don’t have a budget. Good thing I can’t afford to have a budget…

On the subject of that workshop I will be building here on the property. I’ve got an order in at a local saw mill for ten foot and twelve foot 2 x 4 pine lumber to frame in the shop. That should be delivered in mid-November. I still need 2 x 12 pressure treated pine for the floor framing,  and 4 x 4 treated pine to use as piers/anchors to keep the floor off the ground. Not to mention ten and sixteen penny framing nails, a pnumatic framing gun, an air compressor and a small generator, along with a radial arm saw to cut the lumber to size.
Then asgain, I do have a hand saw, tri-square and a few very good hammers, along with a very nice level if that other stuff never shows up. One does what one can with what one has, or one does without. Don’t one.

Don’t ever cheat yourself out of a future you want by wasting time complaining about what you don’t have.

Posted in Furniture Making, General Maundering, Woodworking tools and equipment | Tagged

A Short Intro and Three Chests

Before I get into the subject of this post, I want to express my hearfelt thanks to those who pledged their hard-earned funds to my workshop project on Kickstarter. The project ended today and my goal was not met. What this means is that I will be spending the next year building my own workshop as funds become available. Since there is no such thing as ready cash laying about waiting to become available, I’m figuring this particular project will take a bit more time than that. Be that as it may, I will be working on that building until it is finished and passes the county inspection. After that I will begin to shop around for the equipment. That spans the gamut from table saw, bandsaw, radial arm saw, drill press, planer, jointer, lathe, dust colletion system and so on all the way down to the electrical supply.

A little bit at a time, and eventually I will have my workshop.

In the meantime, I am already starting on the winter chores here on the ranch. Right now that means fence repair; replacing posts, repairing wire fencing, cutting and fastening the fence boards and getting my chain saw tree trimmer ready to start on the oak trees on the property. About fifty of them, I think. Really big, lush trees.

We just got one of the mowers back from repair, so I may get the chance to mow the property one more time before the first freeze.

OK. Enough of that. The first photo was supposed to be a portable “Aron Kodesh” or Holy Ark for a new synagogue in the north east Atlanta area back in the late 1970’s. The Rabbi wanted a portable cabinet he could carry to visits in hospitals and bed-ridden members of his congregation.  But it grew somewhat, as you can see. I chose a commercial brand of mahogany (probably Aformosia, but who really knows anymore). and finished in yacht varnish to provide a hard, durable finish that would stand up to a lot of moving around.

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The cabinet is in two sections. The lower section has shelves for prayer books, skull caps and shawls and so on and the upper section has room for three Torah scrolls. The ladies of the congregation did a very nice job of dressing up the interior. Sadly, I do not have a photo of their work.

The entire piece is panel and frame construction, using mortise and tennon joinery to connect the rails and stiles of the sides and doors. All of the panels float in the frames.

The handles along the side are scooped out on the inside to allow members to lift the upper section off and carry it around with some measure of comfort.

The next cabinet is a glass-front display case for the mother of an architect, and was built some time in the 1990’s. This piece is in white oak and finished in polyurethane, brushed on and rubgbed down to a satinGlassFrontDisplayCaseInOak 001 finish.
The architect requested I build a false ceiling that would hold a light fixture, which he installed at the front to light up the interior. Between that and the full length mirror on the back, it is a stunning piece that shows his mother’s crystal and silver collection to its max.






The third piece is something of an anomoly, but still deserving of your attention. It is in fact, a tool chest. The box is a simple affair of cabinet grade plywood, glued and screwed together. At the time I had a slew of dividers, compasses, trammel points and assorted measuring tools and delicate setting up tools and a few very expensive Nova chucks for my lathe and their wrenchs and other such just getting bashed around in the top drawer of my large tool chest. Shop07 001I spent a lot more time fitting out the interior than I did glueing up the box. There are two large spaces on the bottom with one divider wall between and then two lift-out drawers above that, fitted to whatever tools needed their own space.

The box was finished in orange shellac with black analine dye as a coloring agent. I suppose there are eight or ten coats on that box, each rubbed down before the next was applied. I wanted a very deep finish.

The handles and corner protectors are brass, cut, fitted and soldered by me. Once I had them made I cleaned them up, filed and sanded them smooth and then found a coloring agent that would “age” them to where they looked as if they had been lost at sea for a century. Then I attached them to the box.

Wood work of the sort I do is a challenge; that is what keeps me entertained and satisfied. I don’t skimp on the hours it takes to do a job, and I never tolerate short-cuts if it means cutting down on the quality of the finished piece. I will never get rich working like this, but I don’t have a driving need for wealth. Lucky me.

Posted in Furniture Making, Woodworking tools and equipment | Tagged ,

Three Cradles

Things have been hectic here on the property over the last several days. With the weather starting to cool down we were in a rush to finish up the summer work and prepare to get into the winter cycle of heavy fence repair and tree triming.

Along with that I have to start buying the equipment I will need to build my workshop, survey the location, lay out the blocksthat will support the framing and start buying the lumber for the floor.

There are only eight days remaing on the Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds for workshop  and I am still short $29, 194.00. I have little hope the project will succeed. With that said, I am here to tell you that I will have a workshop up and running by the end of 2019.

So, on to the cradles.


In the lower left hand corner is  a traditional colonial style cradle in walnut I built for my sister’s children at the very start of my woodworking career, sometime around 1976. It marks the first time I ever had to deal with any angles that were not ninety degrees. I suppose in many career paths the old saying “fake it till you make it” works more often than not. That does not apply to woodwork, however, as I can attest.

One of the nice features of this design is the return curve on the rockers. The tips of the rockers are curved down to keep the craddle from tipping over. Sadly, I do not have a photograph to show that detail.

But when it was  – finally – completed, she loved it, and it survived all three of her boys. She still has it, in fact. At the time, tung oil was fast becomming popular, so that is what I used to finish it.

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I built this hanging cradle in Beech some time around 1984, in preparation for the birth of my first child. I was In Israel, working for the man who would later receive that Holtzapffel Lathe I described in two earlier posts, and getting ready for my first stint of reserve duty with the Israel Defense Forces.

So I was in a bit of a rush. I could only spend an hour or so early in the morning before the owner arrived to start work and another hour or two in the evening after he left for the day. There are thirty-two spindles around the body of the cradle, and each had to be turned to the same pattern. So I needed to fabricate a copy mandrel and secure it to the back of the table top lathe (an old Crftsman tube lathe) of the shop owner. All of that took a lot of time, but once it was done the spindles turned out just fine.  The wood iBeechCradle2 001s beech. Beech is not a particularly beautiful wood, but it is even grained, glues up well and accepts a finish with no fuss or bother.

As you can see in this photo, the cradle hangs from spindles on either end. These pass through the hanger plate fastened to the head/foot boards and a turned collar on the inboard provides a bit of added thickness to keep the spindle in place. You can’t see it very well (if at all) but there is a wedge on the inside face of the shaft to lock everything in place.


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The stand for this cradle is quite simple; there is a mortise cut along the centerline of the foot  which receives the tennon on the end of the leg. The crosstree between the two legs passes through the legs and is held in place with two opposing wedges, one dropping in from the top and the second comes up from the bottom. There is not much meat around the mortise for these wedges, so the end of the slot has to be carefully cut away and the wood replaced with a patch running crosswise to the grain of the crosstree to add some strength. It works well, those I was never really comfortable with it.

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The third cradle is made from cherry, and is slightly diferent from the one I made for my children. The shape of the legs and the design of tthe spindles along the body of the cradle have been changed to suit the client, and I modified the design of the leg and crosstree to allow for a more robust wedge and socket. That sticky-out pin above the top of the wedge is another feature of the hanging cradles. If you follow that pin through the leg you will see that it closes onto the lower frame member of the end of the cradle. There it fits into a socket bored into the lower frame member to lock the cradle into place. But most of the time this remains unused.

I can remember my wife on many cold winter nights sticking her foot out from under the covers to give our hanging cradle a gentle nudge when the baby started to whimper. The babe when right back to sleep, every time.

Building this piece allowed me to do a bit of carving and shaping on the legs along with improving the wedge and socket. I finished this piece in gloss polyurethane and then rubbed it down to a satin finish.

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The wedges (photo above) and the collars (photo opposite) are shaped or turned in lignum vitae. It is not only an extremely hard wood but oily to boot. You must swab the area where you hope to apply glue thoroughly with acetone to pull the oil out of the wood priot to applying any glue. All oily woods will accept glue, but only after cleaning with acetone.

Every piece gives the builder many opportunities to learn. Either from his or her mistakes or by looking ahead and anticipating a problem that can be solved or avoided. I love that aspect of this work.


Posted in Furniture Making, Wood Turning | Tagged ,

The Holtzapffel Lathe in use

I recently posted on the restoration of the Hotlzapffel lathe owned by my former employer. I know there was little in there about the actual trials and tribulations of the work, but for those of you who have restored old mechanical stuff you probably don’t need to read about my trials and those of you who never have done any such restoration, well, you probably wouldn’t find it any use at all. Suffice to say I found the whole thing abssolutely fascinating. I had spent years of dreaming about one of those machines and here I was restoring and eventually, actually operating the thing.

That really was a dream job.

As I explained in that post, I set it up to work off the treadle. It worked beautifully. Once you had your workpiece set up on the faceplate and you knew exactly what you were going to do, you used your left hand to reach down and pull the top of the flywheel toward you, briskly. Then you used one of your feet to pump the treadle at a steady pace. Not fast and not slow. Just steady. That flywheel had lots of options to choose from regarding the diameter of the drive wheel you used, and the transfer drum  on the hanger above the lathe also had a few diameters to choose from. By the time that energy reached the drive pully on the tool you had chucked up on the tool rest (you did sharpen it, right?) you had better have everything exactly how you wanted it.

Here is a close up view of the overhead transfer drum. There are a few things to note: first, that drum is Cuban Mahogany. Second, there are four diameters of pully wheel to accept the drive band running up from the flywheel. On the drum itself there are three diameters to transfer power down to the  cutting tool on the bed of the lathe.  The long smooth surface of the drum is available to the drive band if you are working on a piece chucked up between centers. Also, again there are no bearings. If you look at the ends of the drive shaft you will see they are taper fit into cones bored into the suspension arms and lubricated with light machine oil.

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Even before you got down to ornamental details on your work piece, the lathe has inumerable options to deal with in setting up your work – face plate turning, turning beween centers, locking the work into place and using the dividing head to position your work in segements for drilling or cutting. And a number of different chucks unique to the Holtzapffel Lathe. Examine the books by Mr. Holtzapffell and if you are any sort of turner, begin to dream.

What have you got to lose?

In the photograph below, a decorative piece was glued to a waste block and chucked up to the lathe to be turned round.

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In the phto below, one of six ebony bowls is being trimmed to final dimensions using a plexiglass pattern as a guide.

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Above is  a Maccassar Ebeony Seder Plate sixteen inches in diameter. The pierced knot work just inside the rim of the plate is inlaid with legal Ivory after the receptacles are carved using chisles. Between the two closest “bowls” you can see clear through to the turned base (hence the term ‘pierced work’) that raises the plate off the table.

Below is a photograph of the truned base for the plate.

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Below is the completed seder plate with the bowls attached after turning on the holtzapffel lathe. We had silver bowls turned to rest inside the smaller ebony bowls but I don’t have that one available right now. In all, I can say I would not have been able to to work like this as easily as I did without that lathe.

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Folks, I truly loved that kind of work. The challenges were downright stimulating and the rewards for getting the work done were immense. Not fincially, mind you, but in every other way they were truly immense.

I will be building a new shop starting later this year and hope to be working again before mid-year next. Please take the opportunity to leave a comment if you enjoy these posts, or even if you don’t.

Posted in Furniture Making, Hardware Review, Wood Turning, Woodworking tools and equipment | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Restoration of a Holtzapfell Ornamental Lathe

Back in the 1980’s and – 90’s I had the pleasure of working at my dream job. In Jerusalem, Israel, building incredibly detailed and very fancy ornamental pieces for a discerning clientel. I should tell you that I was not the owner; but I was one of only two employees, and I got to do lots and lots of really challenging jobs.

Holtz 001The owner met with the clients, made sketches and passed them on to me with some details the owner expected to see. I then drew up the technical drawings and worked with him and our resident silversmith/goldsmith to coordinate our efforts.

We worked in ornamental woods, abalone, Mother-of-Pearl, legal ivory (stripped from old piano keys, believe it or not) and silver and gold to produce some truly stunning work.

Most of the exotic hardwoods were imported from South Africa, where an old friend of the owner ran an export business selling – you guessed it – exotic hardwoods.  I had a ball. For someone who loved working in wood, that really was a dream job. Truth to tell, I spent many nights thinking about the piece I was working on and how I could improve it. I woke up in the mornings and could not wait to get to work.

One morning, when I unlocked the shop door, I found several crates in the middle of the sales floor with lots of metal bits scattered about. When the owner arrived he told me his friend had picked it up at a yard sale in Capetown, South Africa, the remainder from an estate sale nobody knew what to do with. So, it was to be sold to a recycling company to be melted down. Until my bosses friend showed up and purchased it as scrap metal. And that is how an extremely rare Holtzapffel Ornamental Lathe was shipped into israel – as several crates of junk.

The cast iron was covered in rust and corrosion had turned the brass green. The Cuban Mahogany wooden chests and drawers were intact, but filthy from years of neglect. Yes, Real honest to goodness Cuban Mahogany. Does not exist any more. But there it was, along with one of the most beautiful lathes ever built. In pieces, all over the sales floor.

He was smiling and shaking his head. I was giggling like a school girl. I had a set of John Jacob Holtzapffel’s books right beside my workbench, in the loft above our heads. And right there on the shop floor, in many, many pieces, was the lathe itself. “Can we keep it?” I asked.

“Can you fix it?” He asked. “How long, and how much?”

“Two months of steady work to clean it all up, build a stand for it and maybe some repairs to whatever’s broken or missing. Wn’t know about that for a week, maybe.” I replied.

That flywheel weighs 90 lbs and required nearly a week to clean, polish and paint. One of the interesting facts about that era and these lathes you may not know. Bearings were not common, and there are NO bearings on these lathes (this lathe was manufactured in 1865). Instead, mirror-polished cones were matched up with receptacles and light oil was added through a small cup. These mating points were adjustable to keep things spinning along smoothly. Brilliant. Truly brilliant. Who needs computers, anyway.

While working through the assortedd bits and pieces that came with the lathe, we learned that sadly many of the chucks that should be in the tool chest were missing. Replacing them would be nearly impossible, and if they could be found would cost an arm and a leg.

So, we would be getting along with what we had. Which, considering that we now had an ornamental lathe, would be absolutley stuuning compared to not having anornamental lathe.

Building the bench to hold the lathe took about a week. I took the time to fashion mortice and tennon joints for strength. That flywheel had me concerned and I did not want any imballance showing up and shking hings to bits. Our in-house smith fashioned some lovely brass corner covers for the bench, which abssolutley set everything off very well

My boss and I had a brief discussion about motorizing the lathe. I wanted the treadle and he wanted the electric motor. I explained that I would be using it far more than he would, so he agreed tot he treadle for completeness’ sake. I knew the day I left his employee (right about the time hell was planning to freeze over) he would have a motor put on. He could do that; it was his lathe, after all (darn it!).

What you see int hephoto below is one of the most fascinating features of the Holtzapffel Lathe. That dividing head is used when you need to space elements around an object. Dividing heads are not uncommon today, so its existence is not surprising. What is surprising is that this dividing head has, along the outer rim of that brass plate, 360 stops bored into it. One for every degree of the circle. THAT is unheard of, even today.

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There enough afficianados of ornamental turning that some small manufacturers are producing chucks and other parts and fitting to turn a ‘normal’ lathe into an ornamental lathe, and even one or two who build ornamental laths for the market.

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What you see in the photo above is the drive band running from the flywheel to the overhead transfer drum and then down to the pully on the cutter bar mounted on the bed of the lathe. Just behind that pulley is one of the chucks mounted on the headstock. Each chuck also has a small dividing head attached on its rear face.

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The photo above shows the serial number of this machine, located on the back face of the headstock. Mounted on the left side of the headstock is the detent, used to lock the dividing head into place as you work on a facet of your project. Note, too that the detent can be adjusted up or down to perfectly center your workpiece (preferably before you actually do anything).

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John Jacob Holtzapffel built a truly wonderous machine, and sold them to the crowned heads of Europe in the years before the First World War. He aimed for perfection in his work, and he achieved it. That allowed his clientel to achieve perfection (or at least to dream of achieving perfection) in their work, as well.

In all truth, that just about all we can hope to do, isn’t it.


Posted in Furniture Making, Hardware Review, Wood Turning, Woodworking tools and equipment | Tagged