No Tongue Twister

The following is based on an article first published in issue 248 of Furniture & Cabinet Making magazine.


Stopped chamfers are a recurring form in both architecture and furniture, and are used to add decoration as well as reducing the visual weight of a component. There are a number of ways to terminate a stopped chamfer but one of the most elegant, to my eye at least, is the use of a lamb’s tongue carving – effectively an ogee-shaped transition from a sharp corner to the flat of the chamfer. I recently built an oak “Moxon” style twin screw vise, and decided that a lamb’s tongue chamfer would not only add to the functionality of the vise but also add a touch of visual interest. Here is how I went about it.


The first step is to layout the chamfer on the work piece. Because the oak jaws of my vise were quite thick I went for a wide chamfer of 20mm from the corner of the work piece. It is important to mark out the edges of the chamfer using pencil rather than a cutting gauge, as the layout marks from a cutter will cut below the final surface of the chamfer and remain visible on the finished work. Next, strike safety lines 2mm inside each edge of the chamfer – these can be marked out with a bladed marking tool rather than a pencil.


Laying out the chamfer with a panel gauge

It is now time to layout the lamb’s tongue. For repeatable curved parts I prefer to make templates out of 2mm thick plywood. For the lamb’s tongue, I made a half template showing the curves as they would be laid out on one side of the work – the template can then be flipped over to lay out the other side of the lamb’s tongue.

For the template mark out a rectangle the length of the lamb’s tongue, and as wide as the distance of the chamfer from the arris of the work piece (in my case 20mm). Now divide the template in two by striking a line across the width to identify where the ogee will transition from a concave to convex curve. My template was 45mm long by 20mm wide, and the transition point was 22mm from the tip of the lamb’s tongue. I used French curves to draw in the curves of the lamb’s tongue, but you can also use a compass, or even draw in freehand, if you prefer. Once you are happy with the curves cut the template to shape – several light passes will make cutting smooth curves easier than a single heavy cut, and the final shape can be fared up with some 220 grit sandpaper.


Templates are essential if you want to layout repeatable curves

Use the template to transfer the curves to both sides of the work piece, at each end of the chamfer.

In the rough

Most of the material for the chamfer can be removed quickly and easily, allowing you to spend more time working on the detail of the lamb’s tongue. Using a fine carcase saw – I used the new Bad Axe Tool Works Luthier’s saw – first make a cut to define where the chamfer will transition into the lamb’s tongue, but be careful not to cross the safety lines. Then, cut a series of relief cuts along the chamfer between the two lamb’s tongues – my relief cuts were roughly 10mm apart. Again, make sure that the relief cuts touch the safety lines but do not cross them. The relief cuts allow most of the waste to be knocked out easily using a chisel and mallet. Because you are working on two faces of the work, it is easier to hog off the waste from one side while the work piece is in the vise, and then to clamp the work to the bench to remove the waste from the other face.


Relief cuts make removing the waste a quick and easy process

Once you have removed the waste down to the safety lines, swap the chisel and mallet for something a little more refined. I used a spoke shave to work the chamfer down to final depth, but a Stanley No. 65 chamfer plane (or modern equivalent) would be perfect for this job. The lamb’s tongue will block the sole of the spoke shave from reaching the very ends of the chamfer, so pare the ends of the chamfer level with a broad chisel, riding the back of the chisel on the finished par of the chamfer. I find levelling the ends of the chamfer to be easier once the lamb’s tongue has been carved, and it gives me a final opportunity to adjust the transition from the tongue to the chamfer.


Knocking out the waste from the chamfer

Carving the lamb’s tongue

If you are carving lamb’s tongues at both ends of the chamfer then one will be carved with the grain while the other is carved against the grain. To make life easier, start by carving the tongue that follows the grain, and then move onto the opposite end.


Carving the lamb’s tongue

To carve the lamb’s tongue, start at the chamfer end and pare the waste away with a broad chisel held bevel down. Once the majority of the waste has been removed you can carve the tongue. I find it easiest to start at the tip of the tongue. With the chisel still held bevel down, gently scoop out the waste down to the pencil lines, taking care not to bruise the convex portion of the tongue with the corner of the chisel’s primary bevel. On narrow sections of the lamb’s tongue you can carve the full width of the tongue in one go, checking to make sure that the chisel is hitting the lines on both faces of the work. If the widest sections of the tongue are wider than your chisel, work the each edge of the tongue down to the line, and then remove the material in the middle until a consistent flat connects both faces of the work. Any tool marks can be removed with fine rasps – I use a 13 grain, 7” modellers rasp – and 220 grit paper wrapped around a piece of dowel.


Levelling the end of the chamfer

If you have not yet levelled off the ends of the chamfer, now is the time to do so.

The Cabinet Maker at School… part 2


After breaking down the rough stock and flattening it all by hand, the next step for the School Box is to dovetail the carcase. I’ve written about dovetailing before, and I followed the same process for the School Box. Although I don’t intend to rehash that step-by-step guide again, there are a couple of points I will flesh out.

I suppose that had I been following the text from the Joiner & Cabinet Maker to the letter I would have cut my pins first. At some point in the future I will have a concerted attempt at getting to grips with cutting pins first, but not today. I learned to dovetail by cutting tails first, and that way makes a great deal of sense to me. As I’ve barely cut any dovetails since I finished the sliding trays for my Anarchist’s Tool Chest in December 2014, I thought I would use the School Box as an opportunity to refresh my preferred dovetailing method. In other respects I did broadly follow this section of the Joiner & Cabinet Maker – like Thomas I used five tails per corner, with the tails on the front and back of the box and the pins on the sides. I did however use a more striking 1:4 slope for my dovetails, as I find the strong slope to be very attractive.


Laying out the pins

Two experiences dramatically improved my dovetailing over the past couple of years.

The first was attending the Anarchist’s Tool Chest course with Chris Schwarz, partly because Chris’ way of teaching dovetailing is excellent and demystifies the whole process with clear, useful, techniques. But also because a five-day dovetail death march is the sort of intensive learning experience which always improves technique. The second experience is using the Moxon vise. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to press my Moxon into service, and having the work piece raised off the bench by an extra 5″ definitely makes for a more pleasant and comfortable experience. More importantly the increased height improves sawing ergonomics, which makes for a more accurate saw cut. I’m looking forward to experimenting further with the Moxon and will write more fully about the benefits of the vise once I have logged more bench-hours on it. One final observation for now is that the Moxon also helps create a really efficient workflow when fine tuning the joint – having a full 24″ between the threads meant that I could have boards in the vise at the same time for final paring and clean up, which allowed me to work my way along two edges before flipping the boards over and cleaning up the opposite ends.


The Moxon has sufficient capacity to hold two boards simultaneously, for efficient fine tuning.

To get a good tight fitting dovetail I aim to saw on the waste side of the pencil line of the pins, rather than on the line itself – this gives a tiny amount of additional material which will compress to fill the joint. In contrast, sawing bang on the line can remove too much material and result in a gappy joint. The difficulty I used to find with this is that the line becomes distracting, and my saw hand wants to cut on the line rather than against it. To encourage the saw to cut against the line, I press the tip of a finger nail into the knife kerf on my pin boards, and run the saw plate against that nail. In the photo below, you can see that the right hand side of the knife kerf has been removed by the saw, but that the remainder of the kerf (and of the pencil line) remains – this is what I’m looking for when I cut my pins.


I may never tire of workshop macro photography

The more waste you can remove with a coping saw from between the pins, the less there is to chisel away, which makes for a more efficient dovetailing experience. I’ve been trying to be more daring with how close to the base line I cut with my coping saw, with the target being a clean cut just above the base line without bruising it (as shown in the picture below). My chisel can now drop straight into the kerf of the base line and pare away what little waste remains, for a nice quick fit.


Be daring with your coping saw cut, and there will be minimal waste to pare away with your chisel

One of the keys to a good fitting dovetail is to ensure that there is no junk left between the pins or the tails, and that the baseline has been pared so that it is perfectly perpendicular to the face of the joint (a little undercutting in the centre of the joint is also ok). The Sterling Tool Works Double Square when fitted with the fine dovetail rule is an excellent way to check that the baseline is in good order, as well as confirming that the edges of your tails are parallel.


Finally, to remove the half-pin from the tail board, paring a ramp from the waste to the baseline will guide a fine carcase saw to remove the waste with no paring needed to clean up that part of the joint.


Once the joints had been cut and cleaned up I knocked each corner together individually to check that the fit was not too tight, and that the tails wouldn’t crumble or the boards split. The joints were then coated in hide glue which I’d warmed in a mug of hot water, and knocked together using the leather covered face of my 24oz Blue Spruce Toolworks joiner’s mallet. The assembled box was then put to on side so that the glue could cure.



Suedehead – now with 100% less Morrissey


There is a lot of activity in the workshop at the moment, which meant that somehow I forgot to post the last part of my series on the Moxon vise build. With the woodwork completed, and the last coat of Danish oil applied to the oak, the final stage of the Moxon build was to fit a layer of suede to the inner face of the front jaw. This suede greatly increases the clamping force of the vise, and also protects the work. Benchcrafted kindly provide as part of their kit a piece of suede large enough to cover one jaw of the vise, although if you want to have both jaws lined you’ll have to find a second piece of suede large enough yourself.


As the suede was a little oversized for my jaws, I first taped round the edge of the front jaw with blue painter’s tape to protect the finished surface from any glue squeeze out. I also lined the holes for the threaded rod with blue painter’s tape to stop them becoming gummed up with glue. I then coated the inner face of the jaw with a thin and even layer of Titebond, making sure that there were no dry spots. Although you can buy upholsterer’s leather glue, I found that the Titebond held the suede in place without any bleedthrough.

To fit the suede in place I treated it very much like I would wall paper (clearly all the decorating last year paid off) – folding the suede loosely in from the edges, and placing the middle section of material on the gluing surface. I then gently unfolded the suede a little at a time, smoothing it out with palm pressure but being sure not to over stretch the material. Once I had ensured that there were no wrinkles or bubbles, I placed the rear jaw on top of the suede as a clamping caul, and pressed the whole assembly together with wooden clamps.


Once the glue had cured, I trimmed the excess back with my Bluespruce Joiner’s knife and a rule (for the long edges) or (tri-square for the ends). Several light passes with the knife was enough to cut through the suede and leave a clean edge, and I cut away small squares of material to allow the threaded rods to pass through. Then it was a case of re-assembling the vise and checking everything still worked smoothly. The heavy cast iron wheels glide along the acme rods, and work is held in a rock solid grip.


The suede is flush to the edge of the jaw, as can be seen here.

I have a couple of dovetailing projects coming up this summer, and am looking forward to pressing the vise into use.

Moxon, because my biggest vice is history… part 3


With construction of the Moxon complete, the final stage was to apply a finish. I always enjoy projects which introduce me to new techniques or materials, and building the Moxon vise introduced two new finishes – Danish Oil for the oak, and liquid gun bluing for the metal hardware.

I ragged on three coats of Liberon Superior Danish Oil to every surface of the oak, save for the inside faces of the jaws. The Benchcrafted kit comes with enough suede to line one of the jaws (assuming that like me you build a vise with 24” between the screws). Ultimately I intend to line both jaws with suede, just as soon as I can locate a supplier of quality suede large enough for the rear jaw. And so prior to applying the first coat of Danish oil I covered all four edges of both jaw faces with blue painter’s tape to guard against any oil build up, as this would prevent the suede from successfully adhering to the oak jaws. I left each coat of Danish oil for a minimum of 6 hours, before briskly rubbing down with 0000 grade steel wool and wiping clean with a spritz of white spirit. Three coats gave a good build-up of Danish Oil, and really brought out the figure of the oak, especially the medullary rays on the top edge of the jaws.


The Danish Oil has really picked out the detail of my maker’s mark stamp

Finishing the hand wheels and nuts was an entirely new experience. I followed the very useful video on the Benchcrafted blog to apply a single coat of Birchwood Casey Super Blue (which by happy coincidence Chris Schwarz also wrote about on his Popular Woodworking blog a couple of days after I had tried out the gun smith’s brand of chemical warfare). Essentially, after cleaning the hardware with denatured alcohol, I liberally brushed on the bluing and put to one side for a couple of minutes. A quick wash in clean water, followed by buffing with 0000 grade steel wool and a final clean with white spirit and I was done. The bluing has darkened the metal a little (although I think the sand cast finish of the Moxon handwheels makes the effect less noticeable than the machined Glide handwheel shown in the Benchcrafted video) and will protect from the horrors of rust for years to come. The bluing was straight forward, although the dash to peel off the slowly dissolving tips off my nitrile gloves added some unexpected excitement (memo to self: invest in better quality safety kit when playing with chemistry). And who would have thought that an Early-Modern text would introduce me to modern gunsmithing finishes!


Yes, more beading shots – showing the detail on the rear jaw and the stabiliser bar.

All that remains now is to press the Moxon into use, and I fully anticipate that it will be as useful for fine detail lutherie work (particularly shaping guitar headstocks at a comfortable height) as it will for the standard dovetailing duty.

Moxon, because my biggest vice is history… part 2


I’m back from a field trip to the Auriou forge in France (more of which in an issue of Furniture & Cabinetmaking later this year), and so progress on the Moxon vise has continued.

At the rear surface of the back jaw is a stabiliser bar made from 2″ x 1 3/4″ oak, which I trimmed square and to length with the mitre box and Bad Axe mitre saw. The stabiliser bar provides a means to clamp the vise to the benchtop, and also helps add mass to the back of the vise and so offset some of the weight of the iron handwheels. Because the stabiliser bar is used as a clamping surface, the top corner is likely to take some abuse over the years. Similarly, the back top corner of the rear jaws will also be at risk of knocks when laying tail boards an top of the vise when transfering dovetail layout to pin boards held in the vise. To provide protection (and because I don’t really need any excuse) I beaded both corners with my 3/8″ Philly beading plane.


I’ll probably never get bored of photographing the profile left by my 3/8″ beading plane

I decided to fix the stabiliser bar to the rear jaw with Titebond and four very nice 6d cut nails by the Tremont Nail Co, the position of which were stepped off with dividers (far easier than measuring with numbers!). The nails are partly to add extra hold, and partly for decoration – although this is a workshop appliance rather than fine furniture there is still no reason why it should not look good. And having taken delivery of a selection of cut nails from Tools for Working Wood I was keen to make use of the (frankly gorgeous) wrought head nails as soon as possible.

It is critical that the stabiliser bar is fitted flush to the bottom of the rear jaw, and so to drill the pilot holes for the cut nails I fixed the rear jaw between two sets of bench dogs, along with a large piece of scrap against the bottom edge of the jaw. The stabiliser bar was then clamped in position, snug up against the scrap, and the pilot holes for the four cut nails drilled with an egg beater drill. The stabiliser bar was glued and nailed in place, and and once the glued had cured, trimmed flush to the underside of the rear jaw with a No.3 smoothing plane.


The stabiliser bar and wrought head 6d cut nails

I also took the opportunity to carve a lamb’s tongue chamfer to the top edge of the front jaw, although you’ll have to wait for an issue of Furniture & Cabinetmaking later this summer to read about that part of the build. I cleaned up all of the show surfaces of the vise with a card scraper, just to remove any remaining tool marks and fuzz, in readiness for finishing.

The final touch before applying finish was to mark the front jaw with my new maker’s mark from Buckeye Engraving. After experimenting I’ve found that a 24oz mallet gives a good crisp impression from this 1″ stamp.


Maker’s mark stamp by Buckeye Engraving, and 24oz joiner’s mallet by Blue Spruce Tools – the perfect combination

Moxon, because my biggest vice is history… part 1


History was one of my first loves, specifically early modern English and North-European religious and political history. It’s what I studied for four years before I went to law school, and I still have my History PhD research proposal (and primary source material) saved on my laptop hard drive. One day I will attend to the siren call of the PhD. Which is an unnecessarily long winded way of saying that of my favourite titles published by Lost Art Press is Joseph Moxon’s  17th century text ‘The Art of Joinery‘. Moxon is mostly known for his description of the double-screw bench-top vise, which as a consequence is commonly referred to as a ‘Moxon vise’ (despite not being invented by Joseph). It seems like building a Moxon vise was pretty much an inevitability – a historic form of vise, which reduces the amount of bending I have to do at the bench (I’m 6ft2)? How could I resist? So recently I picked up the hardware from Benchcrafted (via Classic Hand Tools) and set to work.


Marking the oak to width with my Hamilton Tool Works panel gauge

This also marked the Apprentice’s first trip to the timber yard, and she helped me pick out a 6 foot long board of 1 3/4″ thick, 6 1/2″ wide oak, perfect for a Moxon build. I’m keeping my Moxon pretty much in line with the Benchcrafted instructions, although I did decide to make the front chop the same depth as the fixed jaw. This is something of a trade off – the Benchcraft plans call for a front jaw which underhangs the fixed jaw to help align the vise with the edge of the benchtop, so as to increase clamping power. However this disparity in the lower edges of the jaws makes the vise less easy to store when not in use, and means that the vise can only ever be used at the edge of the bench. On balance, I’m happy to trade the benefits of a deeper front jaw for a more versatile (and easily stored) vise.


I cut the two jaws to width with my new Bad Axe mitre saw and vintage mitre box, which resulted in very clean and square ends right off the saw. At 6 1/2″ wide the jaws were over width by 1″, which is more than I’d care to plane off oak if I can help it. Instead, I clamped the jaws to the bench and hogged off most of the waste with my 116 year old Disston D8 rip saw using an over-hand grip. Although not a widely used technique, over-hand ripping is very efficient at removing waste very quickly, although it tends to leave a rougher finish than more delicate ripping on a saw bench. As a guide I lined up my layout lines for the final width of the jaws with the edge of my bench, so that the bench acted as a fence and stopped the saw crossing the line on either side of the workpiece. Ripping nearly 6′ of oak felt an awful lot like work, and while firing up the bandsaw would have probably been a faster way to remove the excess stock it would definitely have been less fun. The jaws were then taken down to final width with my No.8 jointer plane.


Having foresworn the ease of the bandsaw, I decided to stick with the handtool-only theme. Which mean that drilling the holes for the vise threads was an excellent opportunity to break out the 1920s era North Bros. brace and a 3/4″ Jennings pattern auger bit. I drilled the holes for the front jaw first, flipping the board over once the screw thread had started to emerge from the back of each hole. When it came to drilling out the fixed jaw, I clamped the two jaws together and used the holes in the front jaws as guides to ensure that I was drilling perfectly plumb and that the would be no minor variances between the two sets of holes which could foul the working of the vise.


The Benchcrafted hardware requires a bolt to be mortised into the inner face of the fixed jaw. This mortise can either be shaped precisely to fit the bolt, or simply an oversized round hole drilled with a large forstner bit. I didn’t have a large enough drill bit to hand, but in any event, I figured that if something was worth doing it was worth doing properly (even if no one would see the mortise). Which meant shaping the mortise to fit the bolt. With the vise rod passed through the fixed jaw, I threaded a bolt into position and marked the sides of the mortise round the bolt using a fine marking knife. If you are clever you can position the bolt so that all six of its sides run across the grain, which is what I did for the second mortise. If you have one or more sides of the bolt running along the grain (as I did on my first mortise, before I got clever) then extra care must be taken when chopping the mortise to avoid splitting the workpiece.


To start the mortise I defined the edges by placing a 1/2″ chisel into the marking knife kerf and giving a couple of sharp taps with a heavy mallet (I used the 24oz joiner’s mallet by Blue Spruce Toolworks). For mortises which have sides running along the grain, I chop all of the sides running across the grain first, and only then the sides which are with the grain. Chopping the sides in this order means that the sides running across the grain will act as a stop if the cuts with the grain start to split the workpiece. I then carefully pare away the fibres up to the edges defined by my chisel, using the same chisel in a bevel up position. Once a shallow mortise has been created it is possible to be much more agressive with the paring, turning the chisel bevel down and taking larger cuts to clear the material out swiftly. As I work my way round the mortise I chop the sides, followed by paring out the waste material, followed by another round of chopping then paring. Paring across the grain makes for very efficient waste removal, as wood is far weaker laterally (across the grain) than it it longitudinally (with the grain). Consequently it takes far less effort to pare even quite a deep mortise when working laterally than it would longitudinally, and I was able to chop these deep mortises (20.6mm, or 13/16″ in old money) in little over 15 minutes each.


The bottoms of the mortises were cleaned up with a small router plane to ensure that the bolts would be flush and square to the top, and the bolts fitted nice and snuggly with no rotation or slippage. Assembling the vise for the first time showed that the front jaw moved smoothly, and clamped with excellent pressure thanks to the heavy cast iron handwheels. Although it would be tempting to call the vise done at this point, there are a few finishing details I want to implement first, and I will write about these next time around.