December 2015 #222

Our December issue features an Arts & Crafts bookcase inspired by an early 20th-century wardrobe from noted English furniture maker Harris Lebus – but the time-saving construction techniques in this power-tool build are thoroughly modern. Author Nancy Hiller drew on her experiences in a professional shop to develop a design that uses straightforward joinery without sacrificing sophistication. You’ll learn an innovative way to install a bottom in large cabinets and discover how she mimics (sans ammonia fumes) a classic Arts & Crafts finish and more.

You don’t need an expensive custom handplane – surprising words, especially when they come from Raney Nelson, a maker of, well, expensive custom handplanes. Top-quality manufactured planes do just as well for most jobs, so why would you want to spend the extra money? In “Apologia for the Custom Handplane,” Raney dispels myths and misconceptions about custom handplanes to show you how these tools are optimized for superb performance of a single task.

Christopher Schwarz teaches you the secret of hand-cut finger joints as you build a “Japanese Sliding-lid Box” based on a toolbox owned by a Japanese carpenter. Christopher presents a simple way of thinking about finger joints (think dovetails), tells you why it’s a good idea to secure the joinery with hide glue and how to “dovetail” nails to keep a box bottom secure through years of use.

Toshio Odate’s life has been a study in change and contrast. Monumental sculptures, delicate shoji screens. Precise movements of a chisel, slicing giant logs with a roaring chainsaw. Quiet mornings with a cup of tea, onstage at Café Wha? laughing and singing. Toshio Odate, now 85, went from a teenage apprentice in postwar Japan to wild days in the New York art world to his place as a world-renowned artist and woodworker. John Kelsey looks at how Odate has traveled full circle to his roots as a simple shokunin, or craftsman.

In “Tool Test,” the editors put the Grizzly G0790 benchtop planer through its paces, test the Vesper Double Square and try out Tools For Working Wood’s Jennings-pattern auger bits.

In “Arts & Mysteries,” Peter Follansbee shows how the pounding of a sledgehammer can turn a billet of ash into splints for baskets; Bob Flexner teaches you four things you need to know about finishing in “Flexner on Finishing;” George Walker reveals drawing strategies for design in “Design Matters;” in “End Grain,” Kenneth Royal ponders how to stay true to the conditions of his grandmother’s gift, and more.

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Arts & Crafts Bookcase

Dramatic details showcase leaded glass and English style. by Nancy R. Hiller p. 24 Some of the most aesthetically compelling pieces of furniture I’ve seen in the Arts & Crafts style were made by an English company most Americans have never heard of. Between 1890 and 1910, the Harris Lebus Company of London exploited...

Apologia for the Custom Handplane

The best rationale for these ultra high-end tools might not be what you think. by Raney Nelson p. 32 Over the past decade, I’ve made somewhere approaching a couple hundred custom handplanes, both for my own enjoyment and (since 2010) as my full-time occupation. I’d like to take some time here to tell you...

Japanese Sliding-lid box

This clever and simple piece is great for storing tools, toys or a kimono. by Christopher Schwarz p. 37 While picking though a table of vintage Japanese tools for sale in 2013, I spotted this sliding-lid box under the vendor’s table; it was blackened by age, soot and rust. Despite its scars, however, the...

Toshio Odate

As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. by John Kelsey p. 41 In his unusual life, Toshio Odate, now 85, has not only stepped from one continent and culture to another – from rural Japan to urban America – but also from one historical epoch to another, from the feudal era to...

Tool Test: Grizzly 12 1/2″ Benchtop Planer

Lightweight but solid, this two-knife model is a decent starter machine. by Megan Fitzpatrick p. 16 I admit to some skepticism as I unboxed the Grizzly G0790. This benchtop planer has only two knives, and at just $285 (plus $49 for shipping), I wasn’t expecting to be impressed. And while I’m not completely blown away by...

Tool Test: Vesper Double Square with Mini Blade

by Christopher Schwarz p. 18 Many of the difficult measuring jobs we face are too big or too small for us to accurately assess. For big jobs, I end up making my own giant wooden straightedges or try squares. For the tiny problems, I reach for the Vesper Double Square. This beautifully machined adjustable square...

Tool Test: Jennings-pattern Auger Bits for Braces

by Christopher Schwarz p. 18 Finding good auger bits that work in a brace is almost impossible in places of the world that don’t have a lot of vintage tools (such as the Midwest and West). And even if you do manage to get some of these bits, they are frequently bent, misfiled, used...

Design Matters: Drawing Strategies for Design

It will take more than one drawing to get it right – and that’s OK. by George R. Walker p. 20 My best days in the woodshop are with my 4-year-old grandson, Seth. He’s just tall enough to see over the benchtop and quick to grab every scrap of wood or curly shaving before...

Arts & Mysteries: A Disappearing Favorite

Will our grandchildren ever get to work with lightweight, versatile ash? by Peter Follansbee p. 50 My kids are often telling me that this or that toy is their favorite, but it seems that there are several that get this descriptor. Maybe they are rubbing off on me, but I find that I have...