Nicholson’s Indices & ‘Explanation of Terms’

Plate36.2400Among the valuable lessons on offer in “Mechanic’s Companion” are the “Explanation of Terms used in…” at the end of every section – quick definitions of the jargon, with reference to where they’re covered in the text for further reading and elucidation.

Below is the “Index and Explanation of Terms used in Turning:”

N. B. This Mark § refers to the preceding Sections, according to
the Number.

Axis, an imaginary line passing longitudinally through the middle of the body to be turned, from one point to the other of the two cones, by which the work is suspended, or between the back centre and the centre of the collar of the puppet, which sup­ports the end of the mandrel at the chuck.

Back Board, that part of the lathe which is sustained by the four legs, and which sustains the pillars that support the puppet bar. The back board is only used in the best constructed lathes. In the common lathes, the shears or bed are in place of the back board, § 5.
Back Centre, See Centres, and § 5
Band, § 5. See also Cat-gut.
Bearer, that part of the lathe which supports the puppets. § 5
Bed of the Lathe, the same as bearer, which see 3.2.
Boring Collar is the machine having a plate with conical holes of different diameters ; the plate is moveable upon a centre , which is equidistant from the centres or axes of the conic holes; the axes are places in the circumference of a circle. The use  of the boring collar is to support the end of a long body that is to be turned hollow, and, which would otherwise be too long to be supported by a chuck. See Plate XXXV. Fig. 2.

Callipers, compasses with each of the legs bent into the form of a curve, so that when shut, the points are united, and the curves being equal and opposite, enclose a space. The use of the callipers is to try the work in the act of turning, in order to ascertain the diameter or diameters of the various parts. As the points stand nearer together at the greatest required diameter than the parts of the legs above, the callipers are well-adapted to the use intended.
Cat-gut, the string which connects the fly and the mandrel, § 5.
Centres, are the two cones with their axis horizontally posited for sustaining the body while it is turned, § 5.
Cheeks, the shears or bed of the lathe as made with two pieces for conducting the puppets.
Chisel, a flat tool, skewed in a small degree at the end, and bevelled from each side, so as to make the cutting edge in the middle of its thickness, § 9.
Chuck, a piece of wood or metal fixed on the end of the mandrel for keeping fast the body to be turned, § 6.
Circular Turning, § 2.
Collar, a ring inserted in the puppet for holding the end of the mandrel next the chuck, in order to make the spindle run freely and exactly, § 5.
Collar Plate. See Boring Collar.
Connecting Rod. See Crank Hook.
Conical Points, the cones fixed in the pillars for supporting the body to be turned; that on the right hand is called the fore cen­tre, and that on the left hand, the back centre, § 5.
Crank Hook, sometimes called also the connecting rod, as it con nects the treadle and the fly, § 5.
Crank, the part of the axle of the fly, which is bent into three knees or right angles, and three projecting parts; one of the parts is parallel to the axis, and has the upper part of the crank hook collared round it, § 5.

Drill, § 14.

Elliptical Turning, § 25.

Feet, the horizontal pieces on the floor which support the legs of the lathe, § 5.
Flat Tools, § 17.
Fly Wheel, § 5.
Foot Lathe, § 5.
Foot Wheel, or Fly, the wheel or reservoir for preserving and continuing the motion when the force applied by the foot is not acting, § 5.
Fore Center, that on the right hand. See Centres, § 5.

Gouge, the tool for roughing out the work, § 8.

Inside Tools, § 15.

Lathe the machine for holding and giving motion to the body to be turned, when the requisite force is applied.
Lathes, in general use, § 3.
Left-side Tools, § 11.
Legs, the uprights mortised into the feet for sustaining the upper part of the lathe, § 4, 5.

Mandrel, that part of the lathe which revolves the body when turned in a chuck: the pole lathe has no mandrel, § 5.
Mandrel Frame, the two puppets which hold the mandrel; a hardened steel collar being fastened in the fore puppet, and a screw with a conical point in the back puppet.

Nose, that part of the spindle of the mandrel which projects over the puppet to receive the chuck, § 5.

Oval Chuck, § 25.

Parting Tools, § 21.
Pikes, now called conical points, which see.
Pillars, the uprights fixed at the ends of the back board, for supporting the bed of the lathe or puppet bar, § 5.
Pitched, is the placing of the work truly upon the centres.
Point Tool, § 13.
Pole, an elastic rod fixed to the ceiling of the turner’s shop for re-acting by means of the string upon the treadle against the pressure of the foot; the foot draws the string downwards, and the pole exerts its force in drawing it upwards, and consequently should have no more elasticity than what is sufficient for this purpose, as the overplus would only tire the workman, § 4.
Pole Lathe, § 4.
Pulley, § 5.
Puppet Bar. See Bearer.
Puppets, the upright parts for supporting the mandrel, the one on the right being called the fore puppet, and that on the left the back puppet; the screw is fixed on the one, and the mandrel collar on the other puppet, § 5.

Rest, the part of the lathe which sustains the tool while turning, § 4, 5.
Right-side Tools, § 10.
Roughing Out, is the reducing of the substance by means of the gouge, to prepare the surface of the body for smoothing.
Round Tools, § 12.

Screw, the conical points or centres as made with a screw, in order to tighten the work; the screw or screws ought to be kept so tight, that there should be no play, otherwise the work may be in danger of flying out, § 5.
Screw Tools, § 16.
Sheers. See Cheeks or Bed of the Lathe.
Slider, § 25.
Square Tools, § 18.
String, that which connects the treadle and the pole in the pole lathe, and in the foot lathe it passes round the fly-wheel and the pulley of the mandrel in order to turn the latter.
Swash Work, § 29.

Tools, § 7.
Traversing, is moving the gouge to and fro in roughing out the work.
Treadle, the part of the lathe by which the foot communicates its force, and gives motion to all the other moveable parts, § 5.
Triangular Tools, § 19.
Turning in General, § 1.
Turning Gravers, § 20.

Wabble is the shaking of the work in the act of turning, because it is not fixed truly upon the centres.

There are several other terms which are common to smithing and turning. See the Index and Explanation of the Terms to those articles.

Excerpted from Peter Nicholson’s “Mechanic’s Companion.”

Editor’s note: “Wabble” is charming.

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2 Openings in Oct. Coffin/Bookcase Class

IMG_4139 copyBecause life sometimes gets in the way of woodworking (sad but true!), I had two students have to cancel for the Oct. 20-21 Build a Traditional Pine Coffin Class  (we’ll turn the coffin into a bookshelf for use until you need it for its intended purpose). Click the link to register.


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Nancy Hiller in Town Aug. 11!


Nancy Hiller and her Harris Lebus sideboard.

Nancy Hiller is among my favorite people. She is not only a talented woodworker and designer, she’s a good friend and a hilarious one – I always laugh a lot when she’s around. So I’m excited that Nancy will be in town on August 11 at Lost Art Press to sign copies of her latest book, “English Arts & Crafts Furniture” (where I suspect you could cajole her to sign copies of her previous book, “Making Things Work,” too).

The book is a good one – like Nancy, it’s erudite without being stuffy, funny (when appropriate) and full of excellent information. Christopher Schwarz agrees, which is why he’s hosting this event at his storefront, even though “English Arts & Crafts Furniture” was published by Popular Woodworking (the last project I championed there).

Nancy is bringing one of the projects from the book, a C.F. Voysey Two-Heart Chair, for your inspection (another of the projects, a Harris Lebus sideboard is pictured above in the background, on location in the PW photo studio). She’ll also give a short reading from the book…and rumor (rumour?) has it there will be an England-themed piñata filled with English goodies (give me any and all toffee, please!).

The event starts at 7 p.m., and is free, but tickets are required (so that we can stock the fridge and snack table with enough food and drinks for everyone). Click here to register.

I’m hoping I can also entice her over to my house. I could use her expert help in thinking through some design challenges for my bathroom sink!


That damn awkward drain! ARGGGHH!!!! (The sewing machine table is but temporary.)

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‘Mechanic’s Companion’ – Where to Buy Update

JJandBookJJ, Viola and I would be happy to pick, pack and ship to you (if you’re in the U.S.) a copy of “Mechanic’s Companion” (a favored few might even get a bonus cat hair or two under the packing tape!) from the palatial Rude Mechanicals Press warehouse and shipping department (my hallway and dining room), but you can also find it at the following stores:

 Outside of the U.S., you can purchase RMP books from:

• Canada: Lee Valley Tools (the book should be on the website soon; for now, call the appropriate # at this link, and ask for “26L0235   MECHANIC’S COMPANION” )
• United Kingdom: Classic Hand Tools
• Sweden: Rubank Verktygs AB

In the U.S., you can also purchase RMP books from:

Tools for Working Wood
Highland Woodworking

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The Curious Case of the Missing Holdfast


Nicholson’s workbench, from Plate 12 in “Mechanic’s Companion.”

We know the English knew about the holdfast by the early 1800s; Joseph Moxon shows it in “Mechanic Exercises” in 1683. Yet Peter Nicholson (who trained briefly as a joiner) neither shows nor mentions it in his 1812 book “Mechanical Exercises” (later titled “The Mechanic’s Companion”).

For workholding, Nicholson offers only a “bench hook” (we call it a planing stop), a “bench screw” (face vise) and a series of holes in the front board and leg “so as to admit of a pin for holding up the other end [of a long board], at various heights, as occasion may require” (p. 88).

“The bench hook is sometimes covered with an iron plate, the front edge of which is formed into sharp teeth for sticking fast into the end of the wood to be planed, in order to prevent it from slipping; or, instead of a plate, nails are driven obliquely through the edge, and filed into wedge-formed points” (p. 89).

So while the “bench hook” bites into the wood a bit at one point, there’s no holdfast to help keep things in place from the other end. Nicholson’s approach does work, but it requires skill and practice to keep a wide board balanced against a stop as you plane. I’ve tried it a number of times, but can successfully and reliably use this approach only with narrow stock – thick stock inevitably goes spinning off the stop if I can’t get my plane stroke directly toward it. I’d feel bad about myself…except that Christopher Schwarz and Adam Cherubini (click that link – he’s back!) have experimented at some length with finding the proper angle of attack with the plane to make it work – and they also find other approaches to be more effective.


Moxon’s workbench, from Plate 4 in “Mechanick Exercises” – note the holdfast (d) on top of the bench. (Image from “The Art of Joinery” (Lost Art Press)).

So either Nicholson missed discussing some common mechanism, or the English were (are?) simply better at this approach. I’m eager to find out in a few months from the guys at “Mortise & Tenon” what they think – they just finished building one almost to the plan.

Me? I’ll stick with my holdfast coupled with a “doe’s foot.” Luckily, it’s easy to bore holes as needed. (Although, if using thin stock as in the Nicholson, it’s best to do so on the “transverse bearers” – more on those and construction thoughts in general in a future post.)


Christopher Schwarz’s adaptation of Nicholson’s bench…with holdfasts. (And angled legs, square dog holes, a leg vise instead of a face vise, plus a wagon vise at the right end.)

But, as exhibited in Christopher’s 2006 bench above, it’s easy to adjust this simple English workbench to fit your bench theories and workholding needs – and you can do it mostly with home center stock.

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Cauls – Fancy Cauls – to the Rescue!


For no particular reason, I decided to make some shelves for the bathroom on which to store towels, extra toilet paper and the like. Sure, on my to-do list there’s a hallway linen cupboard in which those things can eventually go (and for now they’re variously in bins under my bed and in the guest bathroom), but I wanted a little wood to warm up the black, white and grey of the bathroom, and open shelving provides me an excellent excuse to buy new towels for the first time in more than a decade.

Really, I just wanted to build something.

So I raided the stash of cherry in the Lost Art Press basement and took the worst pieces that were wide enough – stuff I didn’t think was likely to be used for anything else – then sized everything to match the available stock, as close as I could get to my napkin-sketch sizes. I had to make a few adjustments, but so what?

But “bad” wood can be a challenge.

I’ve done battle with the two side pieces before – and I lost. They came from some wide stock I’d bought about 18 months ago for a magazine project, and when I surfaced it (properly – I swear it!), it decided what it really wanted to be was a potato chip (a Pringle, to be precise). Yet I hauled it away when I left last December, so I had to use it.

So for this project, I ripped about 3″ off both edges to remove the worst of the cupping, then planed the remaining cup from the middle. But it still cupped (again!) a little bit, and ended up shy of 3/4″ thick. But oh well; towels don’t weigh much.

The challenge was how to pull out the cupping while using Dominos to join everything. I probably could have pulled it flat if I’d through-dovetailed the top and used sliding dovetails for the shelves, but with no PTO, well, I didn’t want to spend that kind of time. So I oriented the convex side out (of course), and planned to use cauls to pull everything tight during glue-up.

But Christopher Schwarz offered a better solution: fancy cauls (if Southern yellow pine pulled from the trash can be called fancy). After I cut the scrap to the same width as the sides (11-1/2″), he ran the first couple of inches of either end over the jointer to create a raised middle section (or, really, lowered ends) on each caul.


With those clamped under the cabinet clamp heads, it put the pressure in the middle, right where it was needed to pull everything tight and remove the cup while the glue set  (I left it in clamps overnight).

Today, I cleaned everything up with planes and sandpaper, then sprayed two coats of “Super Blonde” shellac (I typically use garnet, but the blonde was already in the spray gun), followed by a light sanding then another sprayed shellac coat. After an hour to let the shellac fully harden, I gave the shelves a rub-down with kraft paper to remove any dust nibs. Done.

IMG_8861 copy

(Pay no attention to the glitter glue; no, I didn’t really use that.)

Sure, it was a few-hours’ hooky from “real” work (about eight hours spread over a couple of days), but it was a joy to make something for myself that wasn’t on my to-do list, wasn’t a great necessity, didn’t have to be done by X date for a magazine shoot, was fast and fun, and that no one asked me to make. Glorious!


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Anyone Free for Dinner in Syracuse, N.Y.?

I considered making the 16-hour drive from Cincinnati to Warren, Maine, in one day next week for the July 13-14 Lie-Nielsen Open House…but then remembered I’m almost 50 and one really ought not be that foolish beyond the age of 25 or so. So I think I’ll stop in Syracuse, N.Y., which is a little more than halfway. Anyone in Syracuse free for salt potatoes (which Google tells me is the local signature dish) on the evening of July 11? (And what are salt potatoes, and do I really want to eat them?)

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