Matching Wood for Tabletops


Earlier this summer I finished a small table. The top, which I like a lot, was more luck than skill. All I had to do was not mess up the wood. Making a tabletop with pieces from the same board makes things easier. For one, the color is going to match. With straight(ish) grain it’s easier to get a nice pattern, too.

The only downside to this ribbon figure is that the stripes run in opposite directions. Controlling tear out took some work. Eventually a 12 degree back bevel and hand scraper did the trick nicely. And cross-grain planing only.

I hit up the lumberyard again recently looking for similar straight grained boards for a coffee table.

I failed to keep the simple objective of “straight grain” in my head as I moved board after board in the heat. Which is how I ended up with several striking boards that definitely do not have straight grain and are proving to be a real bear to piece together in a way that does cause a neural fit on looking at them together.



After laying them side by side and dealing with cruel reality that they do not match color-wise, grain-wise, or good sense-wise I ditched the idea.

However, I couldn’t let go of the idea of using the two nearly bookmatched boards as the center of the table

I then played with every conceivable matching permutation  with the other boards I have. Well over an hour of laying boards out and snapping pics so that I could go and look at them again. And again.

Finally, I settled on the combination below. It was the one that, strange as it may sound, made me feel at ease. That may just be the sense that I won’t hate it once it’s glued up.


smacks head, walks away muttering…

It has been suggested that I would benefit from adult supervision. Less a life coach and more a babysitter. For instance, I walked around the house in circles this morning looking for my phone then realised I had set out to find a book.


I’d ordered hardware for my camp stool a while back, not trusting that the local hardware stores here in the DR would carry what I needed. When it arrived I thought it looked a bit thin. Then I drilled the holes and did a test sit in the thing. The hardware is indeed too thin, or I too fat. Whichever, need bigger hex bolts.

As such, the stool is totally ready except for the necessary parts. I’ve been sitting on this project for a while already, and another delay is…well, another delay.

This brings a Chinese idiom (chengyu) to mind: 万事皆备,只欠东风. Roughly translated as ” Everything is ready except for the east wind.” If memory serves, the story is that a general, in preparing for the defence of a city, prepared such a complex and meticulous plan that every element was critical. Of course as the attack began there was no wind from the east, which was apparently a very crucial part of the plan. I want to say there were flaming arrows involved, too. Anyway, the town was SOL.

Exit wound

In training as a Peace Corps volunteer we had a Moldovan doctor who liked to intersperse pictures from his field days as a military doctor in his presentations. Including pictures of recent  amputations and exit wounds. Given his soviet bearing, I never asked why.

I’m making a workbench, and this was the fruit of my labor chopping, hacking really, mortises yesterday. More exit wound than mortise.


Clearly, chopping a mortise through a knot that size is dumb. But, I had to move my original mortise because of another mistake and really am too lazy to remake the entire leg. There is a long discussion of practice and not rushing into work in there, but I’ll keep that for myself.

So, I knew the knot was a bad idea, and as soon as I chopped into it realised the full breadth of just how bad . Didn’t stop me, though. For whatever reason, I powered through. Which wasn’t bright. Ended up having to come at it mostly from behind, as the leg is laminated and the other board was knot free.

The hard part about experience is all the stupid shit you (I) do along the way to getting there.

Part of me wants to ditch the leg entirely and make another so I have clean mortises. But, it might be a good reminder in the future to practice, warm up and go slow.

This arrived yesterday, too. Made me happy after that knot.


Had no idea what a beast this vise is until my wife, who carried it home from the DPO, told me to go get it from the car.

Three Legged

The seat of my camp stool has been done for some time and needing legs. Three legs. As such, I spent an inordinate amount of time making three different legs because I wanted to see what I could do without a lathe. This was something of a blank space in the internet. No clear directions on how to hand carve curves that taper in and out. Or end abruptly in the middle of the piece.

Legs in pine, sapele, and oak

Three legs – tapered and rounded sapele in the middle; rounded and tapered down then back out on the right in oak; and a rounded leg tapering to the flat top of a rounded foot in pine.

I didn’t bother keeping track of how I went about the rounded taper. I forgot with the taper in-and-out in oak.

So, on with the pine leg that tapers down to a flat topped foot. image-17

The process was draw lines, taper, draw more lines (as shown in this post on cabriole legs), chamfer and then round. I used a combination of chisel, plane, and rasps.

Initially  I’d set out some guide lines using a method for drawing an octagon from Chris Schwarz as seen here. Also, finding the centre at both the top and bottom and using a compass to draw circles provides other reference points.



The foot was a completely experimental. It rounds horizontally and vertically. Basically whittling a ball. Finally I sawed the bottom off to flatten it and arrived roughly at the point I had intended. image-21




Camp stool seat

Just a few pics of the seat I made for the camp stool from Chris Schwarz’s Campaign Furniture.

One thing to point out, Chris mentions that quick rivets can be used instead of brass rivets. I was tempted into that, especially since they are a lot cheaper. There’s a reason. They are thin, flimsy, hard to set right and, for a 6’1″ 200 lb meat bag like me, they don’t inspire confidence.

I got fed up with them and ordered brass rivets. Much different, much better. Thicker, easy to set, appear like they’ll hold up, and more importantly, hold me up.

Cutting the leather out goes pretty quickly once you have the templates. I was going to post some pictures of the veg tan leather cut outs. Little too reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs.

Templates and veg tan leather.


Dyed leather with first corner done up.


The seat all riveted. It needs a bit of cleaning up around the edges and burnishing, but otherwise good to go. With a punch set, dividers, and rivets the whole seat took about half an hour to put together.


PS Book Case

The bookcase is done except for final clean up and a coat of paint. This is going into my daughter’s room, which needs some color – thinking light blue. This was done entirely, step for step, off of Paul Seller’s design from his Working Wood: The Artisan Course book/DVD. As such, I’m not going to get into details of how it was done.

Starting point - big boards
Starting point – big boards
Step 2 - Smaller boards
Step 2 – Smaller boards
Step 3 - Boards with holes and stuff
Step 3 – Boards with holes and stuff

Hotwash-light on the bookcase:

  • Need to improve QC throughout. Too many dings, dents and scratches on boards. Doesn’t help that the jequitiba I used has a fair amount of reversing grain and water/sweat spots oxidise. All avoidable with a modicum of care.
  • I might try purposely undersizing the dadoes and then shaving edges to get a fit to eliminate some of the trial and error.
  • Leave well enough alone. I find myself cleaning up edges and faces after I’ve prepped the stock, which gets things out of square, out of parallel and matching size.
  • Make every cut with the same level of attention. Mid-project blahs made me speed through some important cuts resulting in gaps. Should’ve backed off, warmed up and gone at them slowly and carefully.
  • Otherwise I was happy with the results. First 10 dadoes I’ve cut, first mortises and tenons. Not perfect, but considerable learning experience. Paul Seller’s book/DVD combo is great for someone new to hand tools like me. A thorough level of detailed instruction that I feel makes it possible to go out and replicate the techniques.

Get a handle on it (2)

photo-3 No good tote puns came to mind.

That was the tote for me #5 Stanley. If it had just been one break, I’d have glued it backed together and muddled through. But this was a combo of an old break giving way and a new break. Seemed a lost cause.

So, with much trepidation I carved myself a new tote. Sure, I could have bought one, but that doesn’t seem right. Lee Valley has a good template and directions here.

I was worried most about getting boring a straight hole for the handle rod. But I was successful.


After a few tries.


Shaping the tote was more fun than I thought it would be, and something that I’d been meaning to do more of. There’s the silver lining on breaking the tote in the first place. It was the first time I’d really used rasps for a lot of the work, and I now love rasps.

To get the rough shape I used stop-cuts and a chisel. It’s way more effective and much safer for the work piece than my coping saw skills. I then refined with rasps: a 4-in-1 with 6 and 9 grain and a cabinet rasp with 9 grain. The half round on the 4-in-1 was particularly useful in the tighter radii.


Next, I used a spokeshave and rasps to make a 1/4″ chamfer on the thicker parts and a 1/8″ on the thinner bits. Those were then rounded over using the rasps.


If it looks chunky, it is. Side-to-side width is around 1 1/4″, which is considerably more than what I had before. Only after boring the handle rod hole did it dawn on me that I’d either committed to the thickness as I had it, or to very, very carefully removing waste from each side so that the hole stayed centred.

So I left it thick. Which I actually like. It feels better in my hand, maybe even a bit softer, if that makes sense. Or I just like the feeling of rationalisation.

And it fits! Of course I did a few trial fits throughout the process. There’s a little hiccup in the handle rod not getting 100% tight. There are several variables that might be causing that. Counterbore may not be deep enough or too deep. Tote height too short. But I also noticed that the rod does not want to screw all the way in, and somewhere along the line the rod developed a curve.


A practice run felt great. Light and frisky. Shavings flying. I’m pleased with it.

Like I said. Thick.