One Old Exercise for Growing Skills

Yesterday’s post on developing basic skills generated a lot of response. In addition to the comments, I received several e-mails. One that got my attention came from saw-maker extraordinaire Mike Wenzloff. Mike included an image from Franklin Gottshall’s Making Antique Furniture Reproductions. I’d seen this exercise before, but never tried it.

Mike has used it as a teaching tool:

“I have used that “simple” block of wood from the opening chapter as:

  • A two-day class for hand tool novices. Yep, takes two 6 hour-days of actual working and begins the first day with a 2 hour encounter with chisel and plane sharpening.
  •  A one-day class for people who have built furniture a little bit and want to “get better,” “hone their skills,” and so forth.

It takes me a half-day to turn out an acceptable piece. I have never turned out a perfect specimen. One starts with an over width, over thickness piece and takes it all the way to the stage of the scan using hand tools only. It takes a relatively small but decent kit of tools; from dividers, marking gauges, bevel gauge and or a combination square, striking knife, a brace & bit, saw, planes and chisels.”

The book is still in print, you can buy it from Amazon or see a preview on Google Books. The Google Books preview contains an online version of the chapter titled “Some Useful Fundamentals of Cabinetmaking”. In addition to the illustration, Gottshall works through the exercise of making this block, starting with a rough oversize board. Of course I had to make a SketchUp model of the thing, and put it in our 3D Warehouse collection.


I’m heading out to the shop to start laying out one of these, and tomorrow there will be photos of that here on the blog. One of the challenges of this is where to begin. Do you start with the easy parts or the hard parts? Is that drawing as straightforward as it seems, or has on old shop teacher thrown in a curve or two.

Stay tuned, and thanks again to Mike and all who responded.

–Robert W. Lang

8 thoughts on “One Old Exercise for Growing Skills

  1. Shannon

    I have Gottshall’s book and I vaguely remember seeing this exercise but had completely forgotten it until now. What a great exercise and it is worth a try. I’m sure it will humble even the most prolific Galoots. Methinks I see a new event for the hand tool Olympics at WIA

  2. Bob Lang

    I also neglected to include the dimension for the distance from the far edge to the tangent point on the 1-3/8" arc; 3/4". I’ve corrected both in the 3D Warehouse model.

  3. Paul Stine

    You sketchup image would seem to be missing the dimension of the distance between the long edge and the through mortise. The drawing is correct, the dimension has just been left out.

    Perhaps putting in the dimension has been left as an exercise for the reader.

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