Change is good, right??



I find myself facing yet another chapter in the long, varied saga that is my health, and yes, changes are afoot. I’ve been getting too many serious infections related to the dialysis treatments I’ve been doing, so I’ve started the process of switching over to a different treatment mode. The most significant change is that it will be harder to travel. Because of this, I need to significantly reduce my out-of-town teaching for next year. My hope is that this will give me a chance to heal up, and that I can go back to my current treatment regimen – and busy teaching schedule – after a break.

I’m also hoping that this gives me the opportunity and the time to concentrate on writing my next book! The original target deadline for completion has already passed, and I’ve still got a great deal of work to do. The work on this book has been exciting and extremely challenging; I’m trying hard to map out the design process in a way that makes sense for someone who is not a designer.  I’m hoping that the book will be truly enabling.

This will also give me more opportunity to develop some of the new chair designs I’ve been playing around with; ideas that have been vying in vain for my attention over the past couple of years.

I also plan on doing a lot more teaching in my own shop next year, although I haven’t put together my schedule yet. Too much is still up in the air. I won’t know what my treatment schedule is until late November, and it would be foolish of me to schedule classes before I know that. I will post that schedule as soon as possible.

Handworks: the place to be this weekend

This is the place to be this weekend if you are at all interested in hand tools. Almost all of the important hand tool makers will be there, the setting is fantastic, Roy Underhill will be talking, and in nearby Cedar Rapids, you can check out the Studley Tool Chest and Workbench at their only public viewing for the foreseeable future. For more information, go to:

Studley Calipers
I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at the shop March 20-21

Daed Toolworks Large Miter PlaneIt’s time to welcome back the folks from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks for their annual Hand Tool Event in my shop. Joining them will be Raney Nelson from Daed Toolworks and his extraordinary planes, and Matt Hicks from Plate 11 Workbench Co. (there may be others, but I tend to be one of the last to find out). Everyone is bringing their A-game.

Hours: Friday 10 – 6, Saturday 10 – 5

I hope to see you there! I’ll be working on a new Chippendale chair, which is the subject of upcoming classes and a new video I’ll be recording this summer for Lie-Nielsen. I’ve also got a new rocking chair under way.

Plate 11 Workbench Co.

Wearing out another keyboard….

It’s a good thing I tend to forget how much work goes into a book.

I’m now in the thick of writing my new book, tentatively titled (in my mind, at least) A Furniture Design Companion. Despite going through this process four times previously, I had forgotten just how much work goes into writing a book. Writing, writing, and rewriting over and over again, only to rewrite some more. And all this before an editor even sees it and starts the process going again. I really do tend to wear out a keyboard per book. But despite all of this work, it’s been very exciting.

This is obviously a book about furniture design. And in the first chapters, I’m attempting to describe how it is that we can create new and interesting things. The first chapter in particular deals with some of the mental processes that are at the root of creativity. And much of what I talk about, although geared towards designing a piece of furniture, is just as relevant to many other creative endeavors, including writing a book.

One of the most important aspects of designing something is becoming fully engaged in the process. You don’t design casually. You have to dive headlong into the process, and commit to doing a fair bit of work in order to find a creative solution. Designs don’t come to you unbidden; you put in your blood, sweat and tears to find and develop them. Of course, this is as true of writing (and any other creative endeavor) as it is of design.

Although I had plenty of ideas about where I wanted this book to go (and had outlined it thoroughly), I had to start writing seriously to make real sense of my ideas and to get them to take shape effectively. Not only that, but the first draft was something of a mess. But even that was a necessary step towards writing (or designing) something that works. It’s just as important to sift through all of the ideas and pick out the best ones as it is to come up with the ideas in the first place.

Another of the things I talk about in the book is that you often find yourself frustrated during the process of design. As painful as this might be, this frustration actually has a role in the creative process; it helps to engage more of the brain in the search for creative possibilities. There’s a catch, though. To access this additional processing power you usually have to step away from the struggle and stop thinking about the problem that’s causing the frustration. And that is often when you find a solution.

I’ve had many of these moments of frustration as I struggle to express my ideas. And most often, I make important breakthroughs not when I’m writing, but rather, when I’m doing something else: on my walk to work, before falling asleep, or even when planing a chair part smooth.

What this boils down to is that I’m writing about creativity as I create. And much of what I talk about is actually comforting as I go through challenging process of designing, developing and refining my book. And as I get closer and closer to expressing what I would like to say, I find these early chapters to be helpful in my own struggles. A good companion indeed.

Shaker Nightstand Online Class

Shaker Nightstand


I spent some time over the summer shooting a video class on building a Shaker style Nightstand (or side table) with the folks from Craftsy. The class is now up and running on their site.

This is a class on using hand tools to do the joinery and shaping on the table. I cover jointing and gluing up a top, and then flattening it by hand. I talk about hand chopping the mortises, sawing the tenons, and then fitting the joints properly. Also covered is shaping the bevel on the underside of the top and tapering the legs with hand planes, cutting table buttons and mortising the aprons for the slots so the buttons can attach the top, and assembly and finishing techniques. Underside of Table

The table itself is incredibly versatile. I think we have eight or ten of them (with some variations) in various places around our house. They work next to traditional as well as contemporary pieces. And although the design is so subtle as to be spare, done well, the piece has a lot of impact.


Click here to get $10 off on this class!  










Completed French Oak Roubo Project Bench

French Oak Roubo Project Leg ViseIt’s been only 8 months since a group of us got together in Barnesville, Georgia to build reasonably close replicas of the workbench described and illustrated in A.J. Roubo’s L’Art du Menusier. And I can finally report that my bench is now complete. It would have been finished much sooner, but… well, there were lots of reasons. I did decide that I wanted a tail vise (a wagon vise, actually), and I needed to design it as a suitable complement to the massive leg vise with a vise screw from Lake Erie Toolworks and ironwork from Peter Ross. French Oak Roubo Project Bench; tail viseI went back to both of these craftsmen and had Nick at Lake Erie make a somewhat smaller (2” diameter, 3 ½ tpi, reverse threaded) vise screw and traveling dog block, and commissioned Peter to forge a smaller ring and handle. After a little bit of fitting my sliding dog block to the bench, I’ve gotten the wagon-style vise to work perfectly.

The reverse threading on the vise screw means that with clockwise rotation of the handle, the dog block travels away from the end of the bench and tightens against whatever you’re clamping on the bench-top,

Underside of Wagon Vise

Underside of Wagon Vise

Thanks to Jameel at Benchcrafted for pointing this out before I ordered the screw! I devised a hidden garter to secure the vise screw in place; it bolts on from the inside of the end-cap and is completely hidden under the end of the vise hub.

Other details: I’ve set too much of a precedent to not use hounds-tooth dovetails on the end cap of the bench. This now makes four benches with that detail (I think I can stop now). I also shortened up the vise handle for the leg vise. I felt that it was a little long in use, and then I noticed that on Roubo’s Plate 11 it seemed much shorter than what I had, so I went ahead and cut it down.

The bench functions beautifully, and looks great. It’s exciting to add this to my collection of great benches. Will it stay perfectly flat? Probably not. But I’ll just flatten it again when it needs it.  I’ll have more information after another couple changes of season.


Workbench BaseNow that I’ve got yet another killer bench, I’ve actually got some spare bench stuff available for sale. I made rock-solid a trestle-style workbench base out of ash a couple of years back. The base is 28” by 59” and 33” high. It bolts together, and is easy to transport. No top. $250


Garrett Wade Bench


I also have a bench that I purchased from Garrett Wade many years ago. The vise is a little wonky, but the bench 16¼” by 53” by 34¾” high) is in decent shape. Base also unbolts for easier transport. $150

I’ve also got what is essentially a butcher block top with two Jorgenson vises on it, with a row of ¾”dog holes drilled in it. 30” by 60” by 1¾” thick). (not pictured) $425

30 years!

Toccata Chair from J. Miller Handcrafted FurnitureIt’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that I started building furniture full-time 30 years ago.

But in another sense, it feels just about right. There’s great confidence and satisfaction at having come so far from my early efforts. And the past few years have been particularly satisfying and full of exciting changes.

The recession certainly had an impact on my furniture orders, but the writing and teaching portions of my career have grown dramatically. I have been teaching at most of the country’s top woodworking schools and have increased my workshop offerings at my shop here in Chicago as well. I wrote a new book (my fourth), The Foundations of Better Woodworking, and released a companion video as well. I’ve recently written more than a dozen articles for major woodworking magazines, including a cover article for Fine Woodworking.

This change in the balance of my work has also given me a little more time to develop new designs, and these efforts has been very fruitful. My new rocking chair and the Toccata Chair (above) are both from this period. Lots of other exciting ideas are percolating along in various stages of development.

I’ve made major changes to the shop as well, most notably with the construction of four terrific new workbenches that help me in my work and provide better work stations for students in my classes. I’ve also added and upgraded some of my other equipment, which has improved shop capabilities, speed, and safety.

On a personal level, the kids are now both off in college. What might have been a tough transition (for us, the parents) has been made easier by their delight in being on their own, and our delight at having them out on their own.

So many thanks to my family, friends, customers and students for 30 years of support!

French Oak Roubo Project: Days -2, -1, and 1

Banner for the French Oak Roubo ProjectI arrived in Georgia Saturday afternoon, after driving down from Marc Adams School of Woodworking, where I taught last week. Jameel Abraham, Don Williams, Raney Nelson, Jon Fiant, and Ron Brese were already at Wyatt Childs amazing millwork shop, and had been at work cutting up the wood for the 14 workbenches we’ll be building this week. Cutting lumber of this size (the planks are 6″ thick, up to 24″ wide, and 16 to 20′ long)

6″ thick French Oak slabs, with Ron Brese (for perspective)

was a dance with two forklifts and a Wood-mizer bandsaw mill, with occasional turns with a chainsaw. I joined the fray for the last few tops.

Milling one of the bench tops on the Woodmizer

Cutting one of the benchtops to size with a Woodmizer

Today, we did the same dance cutting up more boards for the legs and vise chops, then spent some time getting the shop ready for the build. We also got to fire up the Straitoplaner, a massive machine that face joints and then thickness planes all in one operation.

The Straitoplaner

The Oliver Straitoplaner milling one of the bench tops

This is woodworking unlike anything I’ve done before, but amazing fun.

Sunday evening the other participants showed up, Jameel welcomed everyone, and Chris Schwarz gave a talk on how workbenches have evolved.

Monday we planed the workbench tops, jointed, planed and cut the legs and chops to size, glued up some of the two-board tops, and started in on the leg joinery. It felt like a very productive day.

Jointing one of the halves of a bench top was a group effort!

Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event

It’s time once again for the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tools Event at my shop. It’s taking place on Friday, April 19th (10 am – 6 pm) and Saturday, April 20th (10 am – 5 pm). No need to call; the event free and open to the public. In addition to the good folks from Lie-Nielsen and all of (and I mean all of them) their great tools, we’ll be joined by Kevin Glen-Drake from Glen-Drake tools (who promises to bring his new line of turning tools), Raney Nelson and his drool-worthy Daedworks planes, Tico Vogt and his extraordinary shooting boards, and Lost Art Press, and one or more of the tall guys who run the place. I look forward to seeing you there. If I can finally finish it, I’ll be showing off a new chair design, as well as demonstrating some great hand tool techniques.

Crisscross – installed and in use

I’ve got a Crisscross from Benchcrafted mounted on my newest bench and I must say, I never really liked adjusting the parallel guide pin, and now I don’t have to any more. The vise is still smooth as silk (if I spin the hand-wheel hard, it will rotate up to 15 times – I counted), and the grip is still as tenacious as ever. And no setting of the parallel guide pin!

Crisscross from Benchcrafted

The Crisscross mounted on my bench with Benchcrafted’s Glide Vise

Did I mention that I didn’t like setting the pin?

There’s another benefit as well; installation was easier than dealing with the parallel guide as well, and there’s less to go out of adjustment with seasonal changes to the wood (or clamping with the pin set incorrectly).

What’s different? Other than not having to set the pin (!), the vise has a slightly more nuanced grip. With the parallel guide, the vise would grab with a great deal of force right away. Now, there’s about a quarter-turn between first contact with the workpiece and fully tightened. That actually makes it easier to grip something lightly, not much harder to grab all the way. There’s a little bit of toe-in built into the mechanism, and that quarter turn seems to take the chop from toed-in to parallel with the leg. I haven’t had any issue with the bottom of the chop pulling in too far (I tried).

It did take a few days of use to get as smooth as it is now. That may have something to do with a little bit of breaking in on the threads, or perhaps it was a slight misalignment in how I set the acetyl bushing. In any event, the vise has gotten better as I’ve used it.

I’m going to retro-fit the Crisscross onto two other benches, but that may have to wait until over (or after) the holidays.