End Grain: ‘Put Yer Ass Into It’


A boring task turns into a history lesson.
By Roy Underhill
Page: 64

From the April 2010 issue #182
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One day in Williamsburg, a message reached me at the carpenter’s yard that the cabinet shop was shorthanded and needed help. I figured it was some high-end task like dovetailing a chest or shaving cabriole legs, so I dropped my adze and headed to the cabinet shop across the creek.

I eased into the visitor-crowded shop and waited for a couple of Japanese honeymooners to get their photograph. Along the wall, I spied the work ahead – a great stack of heavy walnut spindle blanks, waiting by the lathe.

Well, I’m a pretty good turner, so I happily worked my way through the visitors toward the rack of polished gouges. Then I noticed that David, one of the shop’s journeymen, was already at the lathe, nodding toward the great wheel that drove it.

Oh, fair enough, I thought. I stepped over the rope, set my hands on the drive handle of the 6′-diameter wheel and began to crank. Slowly I worked it up to speed. The first 10 minutes were fine. I watched the leather drive belt pour from the top of the wheel over my head, run along the wall to the headstock pulley, and then rush back toward my feet. I counted the spindles in the stack. I watched the faint drift of brown shavings feathering to the floor.

Online Extras

* Read about our visit to Roy Underhill’s school.

* Video – Roy contemplates the axe.


From the April 2010 issue #182
Buy this issue now