Did you know that many pieces of furniture you can buy at IKEA come with a Plane Adjustment Hammer™?
If you didn’t know this, please read on.
The IKEA Plane Adjustment Hammer™ is usually found in the see-through bag of hardware that comes with your piece of furniture. The only thing you have to do is make a handle for it. If you have (old) furniture from IKEA that has fallen apart, it is still possible to salvage several plane adjustment hammer heads from it. You just have to know where to look.
This is the hammer head we are looking for:
Making the handle
Start by selecting a suitable piece of hardwood that has straight grain (grain running straight through the piece from front to back). I used a small offcut of birch. You can use pretty much any wood that is straight, like ash, oak, or hickory.
It is not really that important what shape you make the handle, as long as it lies comfortably in your hand. I like to taper the handle so it is a bit thicker at the end to balance the hammer head but it is entirely up to you. In my example I made the hande using a handplane but you can also use a drawknife, spokeshave or pocket knife to shape the handle. Using a handplane will however give you the best results.
I tapered the handle and chamfered the edges, making it roughly octagonal.
Shaping the tenon
Once you have shaped the handle it is time to make the tenon that will fit in the hammer head. You can use a pocket knife for this, or a dowel plate. If you have a lathe you could turn the tenon on there. The tenon should be about 7mm / a little over 1/4″ in diameter.
Once you have shaped the tenon, do a test fit to see that everything lines up. It should be a pretty tight fit. If things don’t line up because you messed up the tenon, just saw it off and start a new one (the hammer can be as long or short as you want).
Interesting note: IKEA Plane Adjustment Hammer™ heads are threaded on the inside. This is a pretty brilliant Swedish invention, as the wedge will push the sides of the tenon into the thread making the joint nice and strong.
Turn the head clockwise to thread it onto the handle. To remove the head, turn the head counterclockwise.
Make a small wedge
When you are happy with the dry fit, make a wedge roughly the width of the tenon, preferably out of oak. Making a small wedge is difficult so what I do is make a normal sized wedge and split it to the correct width.
You can keep the offset and use it for a future plane adjustment hammer.
This is how I make my wedges: with a chisel and a block in my vise.
Glue it up
With the wedge done, put the handle in a vice and saw a small kerf for the wedge. Next, add some white glue to the tenon and thread the head onto the handle. Line the head up with the handle, paint some glue on the wedge and hammer it home.
Let it dry overnight and cut off the excess in front of the head, leaving it a little proud in case you need to make adjustments later.
Oil the handle and pat yourself on the back. Make these for your woodworker friends and give them away to other people who might want them. They make excellent Christmas or birthday presents. Woodburning an IKEA logo on the handle is of course optional.
The idea that lies at the origins of this carving goes back many years ago when I had the inspiration to carve a book. Combining my love for books and my love for woodworking into carving a book seemed like a great project. But I abandoned it at the time because I had no particular book I wanted to carve.
In the last few weeks the idea crept up on me again, possibly subconsciously influenced by a blog entry on Lost Art Press announcing the upcoming 10 year year anniversary of the Anarchist’s Tool Chest.
I found a small note on my workbench a couple of weeks ago, on which I had hastily scribbled ‘carve anarchist tool chest’. Not remembering having written this down, I must have been in a rush on my way to a crying kid or a burning pizza in the oven.
Coming across the note again made it all click, carve a solid wood Anarchist’s Tool Chest book. Good idea.
I had been carving some relief carvings lately and the English Square that adorns the front of the book (the big ‘A’) would be an excellent subject to carve.
In relief carving you have the choice to make the carving above or below the surface of the wood. I sketched the two possibilities to see which one would look better. The front of the original book has the Square set below the surface. After sketching both, I decided that the one set above the surface looked better – almost as if there was a real English Square glued on there.
I started by laying out the general shape of the book onto a piece of birch wood and made the first saw cut, right through the middle, followed by adzing out the waste. I smoothed things out with a wide chisel and sloped the edges down.
Using the real book as an example, it was easy enough to get the general shape to be convincing.
The things to carve on the backside of the book were the spine and the front cover with the English Square. I sawed two notches next to the spine and adzed out the waste around them until getting the desired shape.
I smoothed it out with a wide chisel, carved the big ‘A’ on the cover and turned the book around to look at it.
Something was missing, it was too empty. But what to add to the middle pages? I initially had planned to print out two pages of the book and glue them to the carving but I abandoned that idea fairly quickly. The book is filled with a lot of text and images, hard to carve these…
Relief carving a tool chest on the left page crossed my mind (I might still do that one day).
When I browsed the book a bit more I remembered the beautiful technical drawings near the end of the book. I have always loved the simple lines and stark contrast between the black ink and the white paper. Could I somehow woodburn these drawings onto my carving?
I printed out all the pages of the book that had technical drawings and, together with my wife, picked out the ones we thought would look the best. We both picked page 404/405.
I used carbon paper to trace the drawings onto the wood, using a bendable ruler. After this I fired up my woodburner and used a metal ruler as a guide to get straight and even lines.
The result looks much better than I had anticipated. I love how the black burnt parts look striking and contrast nicely with the birch wood.
The back spine needed the author/title and the Lost Art Press logo which I considered carving out at first but I decided to woodburn these as well. The result is more readable than carving out the letters would have been.
I added some final details to the book: I used the iron of a toothing plane to simulate the pages in the end grain and used a tiny v-tool to imitate the pages on the sides of the book. I carved the binding of the pages as well. These are subtle details that you won’t see at first glance but them being there adds something to the overall appearance of the carving.
All in all this was one of the most fun projects I have completed. It combined many of the things I learned in my woodworking journey so far into one project.
One of the more peculiar things about some chairs by Chester Cornett is the cursive letter carving that he sometimes decorated his works with. The big rocking chair he made for president Nixon in 1973 has every back slat covered in cursive writing (Chester’s handwriting – but then carved).
At some point recently it occurred to me that it is actually very hard to carve cursive words in wood. Getting constant flowing curves and constant depth is also quite a challenge in cursive. Though initially I thought that cursive carving is more forgiving than normal “Roman” carving, I actually think cursive is a lot harder to get right.
So why did Chester Cornett decide to carve cursive letters into his chairs? And what technique did he use? My theory is that it makes his chairs look personal, spontaneous and charming (and he may have thought so too). Plus when you start carving it gets addictive. It may be a mixture of both, in any case I get the feeling he carved primarily for himself and not to please his customers.
As for how he carved the letters, it is a mystery. I have scanned through many pictures of Cornett at work but have found none where he is carving. Normally, people use a set of carving gouges for letter carving. Since reliable sources indicate that no carving tools were found in Chester Cornett’s tool kit, the theory that he used a set of gouges is out.
Another theory is that he used his general purpose knife (pocket) to do the carvings.
Studying some high resolution photos of his chairs, I could spot several small straight(ish) incisions.
Carving with a pocket knife would give you one flowing line and not these kinds of small stubs.
Carving into hardwoods with a pocket knife, you will end up really hurting your wrists. Chester Cornett did not use basswood for his chairs. Chester’s Nixon rocking chair from the top of this blog post for example was made out of sassafras.
My theory as to how he carved these is something completely different:
With a straight chisel and mallet.
The best way to test a theory is to try it out in practice. I carved some cursive letter carving into a piece of hard birch wood using one of Cornett’s examples (“Hand carved”). I carved it one time with a chisel and mallet and another time with a fixed blade (sloyd) knife, similar to Cornett’s knife in the above picture..
Carving the lettering with the sloyd knife was hard, irregular and potentially dangerous.
Next, I used an 8mm single bevel chisel and a wooden mallet to carve the letters. Carving like this was, quite surprisingly, very easy.
They don’t look all that different (though I think the chisel/mallet one looks superior) but with the chisel/mallet combination carving was a breeze compared to the life-threatening carving with the solid knife.
You wouldn’t think carving round shapes is possible or even easy with a straight chisel but it is. After all, you often use straight blades to shape the outsides of rounded objects in woodworking, like spoons or bowls.
We may never know the way he really did it, but I do believe that Chester Cornett carved his cursive lettering this way. It is fast, easy, and very fun – exactly what woodworking should be about. Carving into hard wood is not fun with a hand held knife, doesn’t produce good results easily and is not intuitive. Apart from that it is far more dangerous.
Having said that and having typed up this blog post, I decided to watch “hand carved” once again.
Chester Cornett is using a knife at around 49 minutes in to shape a tenon. It is not completely clear what knife it is because you only see part of it but I recognised it as a pruning knife, a folding knife used to harvest mushrooms or trim you garden plants. It has a slight downward curved edge at the tip that is similar to a chip carving knife.
I am going to try to order one of these knives online to see if I can carve cursive letters with this blade shape. It would still not explain the straight marks that are present on the larger letters in Cornett’s carvings though…
To be continued!
I have had this block plane for about two years now after I bought it at a flea market (back when there still were flea markets… ).
In my workshop I initially avoided it because it needed some work before becoming operational. Yesterday I decided to have a go at it. I though perhaps it would be useful as a rough “scrub” block plane, for roughing out chair legs.
The plane was in fair condition to begin with. Though it didn’t have much rust at all, it was in need of some work.
However (and I should have realised this from the beginning) the block plane itself was of very mediocre quality.
The 1.5mm thin blade had sharp edges at its back, making the plane painful to use:
I filed the corners round which made a minimal improvement.
Then I sharpened the blade to razor sharpness, only to find that the blade did not fit in the plane correctly. The lever cap presses down on the blade in the wrong spot, making the entire thing skewed.
All I could think was, why would anyone ever manufacture such an crappy tool, and why did I just waste my precious time on it? It probably never worked correctly to begin with.
I know there are vintage quality tools out there worth restoring. But this certainly was not one of them. It’s a pity I don’t own a forge so I could at least melt it and blacksmith it into a large black C for Capitalism.
A typical example of a tool-shaped object, but vintage. Cost-cutting has been done for a long time, I was just surprised to see how low the quality of this vintage tool was.
At least I didn’t pay a lot of money for it. But I wasted time on it, which is in some way worse. Then yet I learned something and will make sure to never attempt restoring something not worth restoring…
There has been much talk about furniture “outliving the maker”. And that chairs currently made could still being around in several hundreds years. A romantic view that has a nice soothing feeling for the egos of the makers currently alive. After all, what is better than feeling that your life was not in vain, your legacy still lives on, there is a tangible piece of “you” still in this world after you are gone.
The view expressed has its basis in the repulsion of the current throwaway culture. When a store-bought chair doesn’t live as long as it should because it is not well-made, it is a waste of workmanship and resources. Even if the chair was cheap it is frustrating.
Many people who make their own furniture these days therefore feel a righteous feeling about the quality of the things they make. Though this is understandable, there is one hole in the argument:
The survival of your furniture does not solely depend on how well it was made.
People forget the possibility of future idiots owning their furniture after they are gone. Sure your spouse and/or children may find your work special and treasure it in their homes during the rest of their lives but what about when they are gone? At that point your work is in the hands of the world and will likely be judged upon its appearance more that on how “well made” it is. And they won’t care about it on the same personal level because they have never known you.
Sometimes it already ends sooner. The day after you die your spouse throws out that one chair they always hated. But at least the chair outlived you!
I am a strong advocate of making things as well as you can, using the best materials and techniques at your current disposal. But there also is a danger in design and fashion, two areas furniture has historically been very susceptible to.
The furniture you make has its roots in the current time. It doesn’t really matter what you build, it will at one point likely look dated. This means at one point your creations could (temporarily) end up in a damp cellar or a non-climate controlled barn or attic when they go out of fashion. So much for that strong staked leg joint when your chair is under attack by worms or termites..
But after that the chair will have that true antique-y look so it may become attractive again.
The bottom line is, people need to care for your creation after you are gone, or the piece may not have the long life that you intended for it.
How do you make people care for your furniture? It helps to give or sell your pieces to people who value them. Their ancestors or friends will likely have a similar mindset. There are many examples of Welsh Stick Chairs having been in a family for generations. And this is where the quality of materials and workmanship comes in again.
I do feel that it is remarkable that, to stay with the Welsh “peasants” that built Welsh Stick Chairs several hundreds of years ago, their pieces survived for this long even if the makers’ intention never was this.
The makers back then needed something to sit on and they made it the best they could. They never meant for the chairs to be around this long – why would that be their intention?
Therefore I make my chairs for the here and the now, to be enjoyed by the people who sit in them and look at them. Not for the future. I need a place to sit and I enjoy making chairs. That is enough for me.
I hope that when my chairs get burnt they will be providing warmth to a cosy home and hopefully accompany a nice philosophical conversation.
We all start somewhere. We all practice. We all have our reasons to practice.
When your technique improves, it helps you achieve your goals.
For instance, when you can play scales on the piano without errors, or saw to a saw line without going off to the side, it lays a good basis for successful creation.
Technical expertise comes in handy when you want to create something, be it learning a new piece on the piano, or building a Whiskey cabinet with 150 dovetails.
But what about inspiration? Maybe you started studying scales because you wanted to play the Chopin Polonaises on the piano. Maybe you wanted to learn how to carve wood because of an amazing sculpture you saw. Maybe you wanted to learn how to ride a bicycle because you saw people doing cool BMX tricks on TV as a kid.
If you don’t remember these original inspirations that drove you to go through all that effort, you may end up just practicing scales – but super-fast.
You may end up making sculptures in a traditional Southern-German style – because your sculpting teacher told you so.
Or you may end up just riding your boring city bike from point A to point B – without doing any BMX tricks at all.
And that would be a pity.
To avoid this loss of inspiration, I have made it a habit to write down any idea that comes to my mind. Not matter how silly, weird or impossible it seems. I don’t put pressure on myself except to outline the idea as clearly as possible.
I therefore have a big collection of paper notes, scribbles and drawings.
Sometimes I go through my notes and find an idea that was previously impossible to execute due to lacking technique, tools or knowledge but has now come into my reach due to my increased skills.
When I first started whittling wood with a pocket knife, around 2014, I had an idea for a sculpture. I wanted to carve a sail boat. Not a still model but a sail boat on the water leaning to the side in the wind, the sails bulging, waves around the bow. A very lively scene with lots of movement.
Somewhere later that year I attended a two-day woodcarving workshop and on the second day I pitched the idea to the teacher. I sketched the sculpture and he just stood there and grinned ‘’good luck buddy, that’s way too hard for you’’.
So I made a lizard instead on that day.
My technique and skills were obviously lacking at the time. But I did not forget the idea of the sail boat. Some months later, after much carving practice and making many sculptures, I decided to grab a piece of birch wood and came up with something that was close enough to the inspiration I originally had.
I made many more of these in the months that followed, each one a little closer to the idea I had in my head.
I have piles and piles of sketches, ideas, drawings. A lot of them will probably never be executed. But I keep them around and go through them from time to time.
If anything, I can have a laugh at some silly ideas I had when I was younger.
I bought an antique German ‘Brettstuhl’ from 1832.
It is in great condition and only cost me 39,30€ shipped (I guess not a lot of people want to buy these?)
Though the traditional Brettstuhl style doesn’t speak to me as much as Welsh armchairs, I am still fascinated by this one.
What I particularly like about the chair is the carving in the back rest.
A Brettstuhl often has a hole in the shape of a heart carved in the back rest. The reason for this hole is to me unknown but it could be to hang the chair from a wall when it is not in use (I have come across a picture that shows this).
But this back is different, there is an abstract carving that to me looks like a half-open eye. This gives the chair a weird appearance (good weird). The chair is looking at you with one eye, how cool is that.
Dating the chair was easy as the maker put the year and his initials in the back rest. He was a better chairmaker than he was letter carver, but I think his messy carving only adds to the charm of the chair.
The wood used is oak for the back, cherry for the seat and beech for the legs.
The chair is constructed in the typical German way of adding cross battens to the seat using sliding dovetails for extra strength. The legs are then mortised through the batten and the seat, making a very solid construction. If the seat would split, the chair would still remain together because of this.
The legs taper in towards the floor, as is common in German chairs (as opposed to Welsh chairs that usually taper out to the floor).
There is one thing that puzzles me about the leg mortises visible from the top of the seat. Somehow there are larger holes surrounding the actual wedged legs. I don’t think it was a repair because it is present on all four legs in the same way. Perhaps the specialists can shed some light on this?
All in all I am very happy about my purchase and I will learn a lot from studying this real-life specimen that soon enough will celebrate its 200th birthday. It still sits excellent, nothing is wobbly or loose and it is in good enough shape to survive another 200 years
I am not sure if I will ever build a Brettstuhl myself but I will take a lot of inspiration from this chair.
It has been a little over a year since I started shifting my attention from sculptures and spoons to furniture as an endeavor to improve my lacking precision skills.
In early 2018, I had set myself a deadline to complete several Acanthus leaves. But instead of completing this challenge (I stopped after 2 acanthus leaves) I realized something.
There was a better way to improve my skills in the way I wanted to, and that was by making furniture.
I wanted to become more precise in my woodworking and care about planning in advance of a project rather than just diving in, like I used to do. Furniture is nearly impossible to execute without a clear plan – perfect!
The main thing that was driving me in those times remains. My main motivation is to improve my skills. I don’t go to a woodworking school so I have to be my own mentor, which is tough at times.
But all the hard work certainly has paid off. I feel happier with my creations than I did before and I think they look more professional.
My sawing skills have greatly improved, I can plane a board flat, I can sharpen much better than I could one year ago, etc. Setting yourself some goals can have a big impact on the quality of your work.
But it doesn’t end here, this is a mere reflection-and-looking-to-the-future moment. Making chairs was my favorite thing to do out of the projects I completed last year. Joinery and measuring my least.
Thus I will set myself the goal for the next 12 months to make more projects that involve my marking gouge and my square.
Because inside the comfort zone one slowly dies away.
Though I will still be making chairs and stools on the side, I find it important to remain on top of improving my skills and techniques and not fall into the trap of doing something you love over and over again. Challenges pave the path for becoming a better woodworker.
I am thinking about making a shaker table on of these days as a first step in that direction.
But I think I’ll make the legs taper out the opposite way.
Off to the lumberyard!
Please click here for part one of my Welsh Stick Chair build
Let’s make some sticks
With the undercarriage done, I moved to the second level of the chair – the sticks and armbow/comb.
Shaping the sticks took a lot of time. I don’t have a straight tenon cutter so everything had to be done by hand. Experimenting with a dowel plate to make the tenons made it a bit easier but the bulk of the 26 tenons in this chair was made with my Slöjd knife. It worked fine but was a lot of work.
Test-fitting the tenons is best done in a separate piece of wood and not directly in the armbow, as I found out when my armbow snapped, right at the tenon. I glued the armbow together again and made a tenon-testing-block with a 15mm hole in it.
Drilling into the seat
Drilling the mortises for the sticks in the seat has to be done at the correct angle. How do you find the correct angle? By using a long spade bit that fits through the mortise in the armbow and extends all the way to the seat. You basically pretend that the drill bit is a stick. I started with the four long sticks in the back, after those were in drilling the six short sticks was easy.
For drilling the four long sticks I held the armbow in place with a jig that keeps the armbow 8” above the seat (jig is not in this picture).
With the chair now mostly done, the last thing to make was the comb.
I made the comb out of a piece of firewood (pine). First I marked the mortises using the long sticks and drilled them using a 15mm bit. Then I shaped the comb using a single bevel hatchet for the convex area and an adze for the concave part, followed by a draw knife and spokeshave.
Testing if all pieces fit together
With all the pieces done, it was time for a dry test-fit
With the chair complete, I glued up the undercarriage and let it dry overnight. When hide glue is too cold, it reduces the opening time a lot. I found this out the hard way.
When I glued in one stretcher, the glue dried before I could adjust it. Trying to turn it anyway made the tenon snap. So I made a new stretcher and went ahead with the glue up. A stretcher is easy to make but the next time I will make sure my glue is hot enough.
The next day, I leveled the chair, trimmed the wedges, and glued up the sticks / armbow / comb.
Painting the chair
I decided to paint my chair with milk paint. Though I am a big fan of natural wood finishes, I wanted to paint this chair black over green. With time, the black paint will wear off and expose the green paint, making a nice contrast.
After the green paint was dry, I painted the chair black.
The next day, I sealed the chair with linseed oil, followed by some awesome wax I got from Brian Eve, who says he will start selling it soon (and he should).
The chair is very comfortable to sit in and I like the shiny glossy black finish a lot.
I hope you enjoyed my build, please feel free to leave I comment, I would love to hear from you.