Early Woodworking Machinery


H.B. Smith Mortising Machine

The 2018 Early American Industries Association Annual Meeting is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, this year, and after a blue-sky day of visiting the Moravian Museum and sites, the Kemerer Museum and Bethlehem Steel, this evening we met up at the National Museum of Industrial History for ice cream and a private tour. (The museum is in a beautifully restored building on the Bethlehem Steel site.)

It is no surprise that I was most enchanted with the museum’s incredible collection of early woodworking machinery (though the printing collection runs a close second).

Below are just a few photos of this gorgeous equipment. If you like “old arn,” this museum is a must see.


C.B. Rogers No. 1 Dual Shaper

CB Rogers No. 6 TenonMachine

C.B. Rogers No. 6 Tenon Machine


Barnes Router Table


Barnes Lathe


Barnes Scrollsaw


Barnes Ripsaw



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The Square, Plate 13, Figure 11

SquareFig. 11 the square, a b c the outer square, d e f the inner square, a d e the stock or handle, b c f e the blade.

§56. The Square, Plate 13, Figure 11.
Consists of two rectangular prismatic pieces of wood, or one of wood, and the other which is the thinest [sic], of steel, fixed together, each at one of their extremities, so as to form a right angle both internally and externally; the interior right angle is therefore called the inner square, and the exterior one the outer square. The side of the square which contains the mortise, or through which the end of the other piece passes, is made very thick, not only that it may be strong enough for containing the tenon of the other piece, but that it should keep steady and flat when used; and the piece which contains the tenon is made thin, in order to observe more clearly whether the edge of the square and the wood coincide. The thick side of the square is called the stock or handle, and the narrow surface of the handle is always applied to the vertical surface of the wood. The thin side of the square is called the blade, and the inner edge of the blade is always applied to the horizontal surface of the wood. Squares are of different dimensions according to their use: some are employed in trying-up wood, and some for setting out work; the former is called a trying square, and the latter a setting-out square; the blade ought to be of steel, and always ought to project beyond the end of the stock, particularly if made of wood. The stock is always made thick, that it may be used as a kind of fence in keep­ing the blade at right angles to the arris.

§57. To prove a Square.
Take a straight edged board which has been faced up, and apply the inner edge of the stock of the square to the straight edge of the board, laying the side of the tongue upon the face of the board; with a sharp point draw a line upon the surface of the board by the edge of the square: turn the square so that the other side of the blade may lie upon the face of the board; bring the stock close to the straight edge of the board, then if the edge of the square does not lie over the line, or any part of the line, the square must be shifted until it does, then if the edge of the tongue of the square and the line coincide, the square is already true: but if there is an open space between the farther side of the board and the straight edge, that is, if the farther end of the edge of the tongue of the square meets the farther end of the line from the straight edge, draw another line by the edge of the tongue of the square, and these two lines will form an acute angle with each other, the vertex of which will be at the farther side of the board, and the opening towards the straight edge: take the middle of the distance between the two lines at the arris, and draw a line from the middle point to the point of concourse of the lines: then the blade of the square must be shot or made straight, so as to coincide with this last line. The same, or a similar operation, must be repeated, if the contrary way.

From Peter Nicholson’s “The Mechanic’s Companion.”

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‘Mechanic’s Companion’ Now Available for Pre-publication Orders



I’ve now sent to the printer Peter Nicholson’s “Mechanic’s Companion”; it is scheduled to ship to my driveway in late June, then a few days later out to buyers (just as soon as I train the cats to wrap books…then give up and do it myself).

So, the online store for Rude Mechanicals Press (RMP) is now live (please excuse any initial hiccups). My modest goal is to release only a book or two per year for now, all of which will be of high quality and printed in the United States.

“Mechanic’s Companion” is among the classic tomes (and among the most readable) on woodworking and other building trades in the early 19th century (the first edition was published in 1812). Yet, with the exception of the well-known workbench from Plate 12, it doesn’t get as much attention as other early English technical books. That’s a shame, because it’s an invaluable and thorough treatment of techniques, with 40 plates that provide an excellent and detailed look at the tools of the time, along with a straightforward chapter on the geometry instruction necessary to the building trades.

Nicholson – unlike other technical writers of the time – was a trained cabinetmaker, who later became an architect, prolific author and teacher. So he writes (and writes well) with the authority of experience and clarity on all things carpentry and joinery. For the other trades covered – bricklaying, masonry, slating, plastering, painting, smithing and turning – he relies on masters for solid information and relays it in easy-to-understand prose. (The sections on wood-related trades are by far the most robust.)

There are, of course, online and print-on-demand versions of this book available, but I wanted a well-made, affordable copy that would last, and that one can take into the shop (but that still looks good on the shelf). This one is a scan of an 1845 edition that has been cleaned up in Photoshop, then printed a bit larger than the original for legibility.

This book is 6″x9″,  416 pages and printed on a natural acid-free paper, with just a hint of texture to evoke the look and feel of the original. The interior signatures are Smyth sewn (so the pages are durable but can be opened to relatively flat) and the hard cover is wrapped in cotton cloth and stamped in silver foil. The book is produced and printed entirely in the United States. It is built to last.

The price for Nicholson’s “Mechanic’s Companion” is $34, which includes domestic shipping.

P.S. For now, I cannot ship outside the U.S., but select retailers, including one in the U.K., have expressed interest in stocking this book. Please stay tuned! And know that RMP books will only ever be available direct from me and from reputable partners.


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New Woodworking Classes at LAP


Registration will be live at Eventbrite Wednesday morning (5/9/18) at 9 a.m. EDT for the classes I announced here a couple of weeks back, as well as for two sector sessions from Brendan Gaffney and a chip carving class from Daniel Clay.

If you’re one of the first six to register, I (or Brendan or Daniel in the case of their classes) will be in touch regarding payment and tool lists. If you’re number seven or after, sign up for the waitlist –  I filled an empty slot in my last class from said list, so it’s worth it!

You can read more about the classes at the links below, or on the Lost Art Press Blog.

Note: All proceeds go directly to the instructor (in my case to various bills, the cat food store…and in a good month, the human food store). They are not a money-making enterprise for Christopher Schwarz or Lost Art Press; he’s just incredibly generous in letting me and others teach there (and in all things, really).

Chip Carving Class with Daniel Clay
July 7 & 8
Cost: $300, materials included (Click here to register: Will go live on 5/9/18 at 9 a.m.)

Dovetailed Shaker Step Stool with Megan Fitzpatrick
July 28 & 29
Cost: $340, which includes all materials. (Click here to register: Will go live on 5/9/18 at 9 a.m.)

Build the Cabinetmaker’s Sector with Brendan Gaffney
August 18-19, 2018 ($300, includes all materials)
(Click here to register: Will go live on 5/9/18 at 9 a.m.)

Boarded Bookshelf with Megan Fitzpatrick
August 25 & 26, 2018
Cost: $340, which includes all wood and Rivierre nails. (Click here to register: Will go live on 5/9/18 at 9 a.m.)

Build the Cabinetmaker’s Sector with Brendan Gaffney
September 15-16, 2018
(Click here to register: Will go live on 5/9/18 at 9 a.m.)

Dutch Tool Chest with Megan Fitzpatrick Sept. 22 & 23
September 22 & 23, 2018
Cost: $340, which includes the wood and nails/screws. (Click here to register: Will go live on 5/9/18 at 9 a.m.)

Make a Coffin-Shaped Bookcase…for use Now & Later with Megan Fitzpatrick
October 20 & 21, 2018 (just in time for Halloween!)
Cost: $340, which includes all materials. (Click here to register: Will go live on 5/9/18 at 9 a.m.)



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On a Fox(ing) Hunt


Among the more time-consuming (and eye-straining) tasks in preparing Peter Nicholson’s “Mechanic’s Companion” for publication has been digitally removing the “foxing” from the 175-year-old pages. It’s a balance of taking out the staining while simultaneously rendering the text legible in black and white, with enough contrast to “pop” off the page but not so much that the fox ghosts show through.

Foxing (apparently so-called after the red/brown foxy color of some of the stains*) is a common problem in vintage books, and there is no one explanation for its cause. The American Institute of Conservation’s (AIC) site says there are “currently three major explanations” with a fourth one proposed: “a) fungal activity b) metal-induced degradation, and c) multiple causes.” The proposed cause – which must mean it’s not yet accepted – is “general discoloration of paper caused by the interaction of moisture and cellulose.” (There is – and I find this fascinating – a Classification of Foxing, including “Bullseye” (small, round spots with a dark center surrounded by concentric rings) and “Snowflake” (which is mostly what I’m dealing with – “spots with scalloped edges and/or irregular shapes which can measure inches across”).

There are numerous treatments to arrest and reverse the process on the paper, but I’m going the electronic route; like all good things, it takes some work. Every page presents a different stain pattern, distribution and color, and thus I’m attacking them one by one rather than writing an “action” (basically a script that applies the same steps to every file in a folder). I tried that early on, but applying the same criteria to every page simply resulted in different problems that then had to be separately addressed.

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 10.08.54 AM

Raw scan

And of course, I want to maintain as much detail as possible on the gorgeous engravings – so I can’t remove too much gray, or else they won’t be nice and crisp.

I’m about done with the page cleanup, and will soon be setting up a template to get started on the layout – but it will look a bit like this, though with more subtle transition from the placed images to the page:

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 10.25.13 AM

* The AIC site mentions the term was first used in 1848 and refers specifically to Reynard the Fox – which would make sense; he’s a troublemaker!

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In the Works: Nicholson’s ‘The Mechanic’s Companion’


In about three weeks, I’ll be sending to press the first Rude Mechanicals Press (RMP) book – a high-quality reprint of Peter Nicholson’s 1845 edition of “The Mechanic’s Companion.”

As soon as it goes to the printer, I’ll be taking pre-publication orders at rudemechanicalspress.com. When the books arrive, I’ll be offloading them from pallets dropped at the end of my driveway and moving them into the dining room RMP Shipping Department (it will almost certainly be raining that day). The RMP packaging team (me, JJ and Viola) will then wrap, box and label each package, and send them out via USPS (just as soon as the RMP transport team [me] hauls them to the post office).

My modest goal with RMP is to bring back into print a handful of important woodworking books – at the moment no more than one or two per year – in hardcover editions that will last for generations. Most of these will be books you can find in either poorly scanned web editions and/or with glued bindings on cheap paper from print-on-demand publishers. (Or if you can find them and have deep pockets, you can buy the valuable and/or rare period originals.) I’ve scanned and painstakingly cleaned up every page of this book, removing heavy foxing, dirt and, when necessary (as when the type in the original was broken), replacing words and letters, so that it’s easy to read.

But why am I doing this if the information is already out there? Well, I like good books, and good books should be made to last. Every book RMP publishes will be on acid-free paper with sewn bindings, and for now, all will be hardbound with cloth covers (though it’s possible a special project down the line might demand a different – but still top-quality – cover choice). All will be produced and printed in the United States, available direct from me and, I hope, select sellers at a firm and fair price.

Why start with Nicholson? He is, after all, the third (that we know of) English woodworking writer: Randle Holme gave us a glimpse at woodworking tools in 1688 in his “Academy of Armory,” and Joseph Moxon’s seminal “Mechanick Exercises” was published circa 1683. So why skip the first two? Well, Holme is an easy “no” (for now!). It’s almost impossible to find, hugely expensive…and very little of it is about woodworking tools. (But you can see a lot of what is about woodworking at the Lost Art Press blog – search on that title. I checked out the 1972 reprint years ago from the University of Cincinnati library, and Christopher Schwarz offered snippets therefrom on his blog.) And Moxon, well, he although his is the first English-language book on woodworking, he borrowed from the French (André Félebien), plus his instruction is sometimes lacking in specificity. (Moxon, unlike Nicholfon, ufes the medial “s,” which is one reafon “Mechanick Exercifes” can be a bit troublefome for the modern reader to underftand.)

And Nicholson, unlike Holme and Moxon, was an actual practitioner – at least for a while. He was the son of a mason, apprenticed as a cabinetmaker and was a journeyman in the trade before becoming a writer and architect. (I’ll write more about him soon.) So he offers the authority of experience (and the clarity of a good writer) on woodworking and carpentry (the two longest chapters), and includes shorter chapters on stone masonry, bricklaying, slating, plastering, painting, smithing and turning, for which he clearly must have relied on competent craftsmen.

I’ll be writing more about this book in the weeks to come (including the trim size, cover color, page count, price, etc.), but for now, I hope you’re as excited as am I to look forward to an excellent edition of “The Mechanic’s Companion.”

And in closing, know that I could not – or in any case would not – do this without the invaluable help and blessing of Christopher Schwarz and John Hoffman at Lost Art Press (for whom I hope to edit until my eyes or fingers or both give out). This very small publishing effort from me is simply an adjunct to what they do, and is in addition to my teaching and other editing work.

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Sneak Preview of Upcoming Classes

SilverwareClassShopShotFirst, I’m not yet committing to an on-sale date for the classes below (with one exception – the Dovetailed Silverware Class at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks), but it will be soon – before the end of April. (I’ll announce the go-live date/time here first, with at least two days’ notice.) I’m currently navigating the setup of my new online storefront (and popping lots of ibuprofen as a result), and integrating therein course registration while also making the process simple for you, for me, and for class offerings from other instructors at the Lost Art Press storefront. It’s proving a bit of a challenge.* Plus, I’m working on a few other yet-to-be-revealed projects for said store, and busy with freelance editing for Lost Art Press (which I’ll keep doing as long as they’ll have me – I hope it is forever).

But I promised an update of new classes I’m offering later this year, so here it is (along with my eternal thanks to Christopher Schwarz for allowing – nay, encouraging – these classes, and for helping out with them):

stepstool-e1524365957842.jpgDovetailed Shaker Step Stool – July 28 & 29
At Lost Art Press, Covington, Ky.

Learn how to cut dovetails by hand as you build a classic Shaker step stool (with two steps) that will withstand decades – lifetimes, really – of use.

The cost is $275, plus a materials fee (likely around $40).
Limited to 6 students.

ADB Bookcase copyBoarded Bookshelf – August 25 & 26
At Lost Art Press, Covington, Ky.

Build the Boarded Bookshelf from Christopher Schwarz’s “The Anarchist’s Design Book” as you learn how cut dados and tongue-and-groove joints by hand, and drive tapered, square-shanked nails without splitting your work. And of course, plane up your work for a perfect finish.

The cost is $300, plus a materials fee (likely around $35). Limited to 6 students.

1-ww-mf-image2.jpgBuild a Dovetailed Silverware Tray, Sept. 8 & 9 (Open for Registration)
At Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, Warren, Maine

Learn how to lay out dovetails with dividers and cut the joints by hand as you build a classic Shaker dining room tray, adapted from an Ejner Handberg drawing in his Shop Drawings for Shaker Furniture & Woodenware Vol. 1 (Berkshire House).

The cost is $350, including materials. For more information and to register, visit the Workshop Page at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. Limited to 12 students.


Dutch Tool Chest, Sept. 22 & 23
At Lost Art Press, Covington, Ky.

During this intense two-day class you’ll build a Dutch tool chest (from either pine or poplar, depending on what’s good, available and inexpensive that moth) using dovetails, dados, rabbets and nails. Because of the demands of the project, this class will likely run into the early evening to ensure everyone completes the chest. The Dutch chest is an excellent introduction to handwork and the result is a fine place to store your tools.

The cost is $300 plus a materials fee (likely around $35). Limited to 6 students.

CoffinMake a Coffin-Shaped Bookcase…for use Now & Later, Oct 20 & 21
At Lost Art Press, Covington, Ky.

Build a traditional kerf-bent and nailed pine coffin (which we’ll then make into a bookcase for interim use).

The cost is $300, plus a small materials fee (likely around $40) to be collected at start of class. Limited to 6 students.

Apologies to John Hoffman for the coffin image – but it makes me chuckle every time!

Again, I’ll announce the date and time registration will go live here, at least two days in advance.

* Yes, I know one can connect EventBrite to Shopify, but I need a solution that shows all class offerings at the LAP storefront, yet doesn’t connect all class payments (those from Brendan Gaffney, for example) to my bank account, and that also offers waitlist functionality. I/we might simply stick with EventBrite, and I’ll link to my classes from Shopify. Not ideal, but there’s only so much I can read about plugins/apps/custom solutions before the ibuprofen runs out. I’d rather be planing or editing prose.

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