A new mantelpiece (iii) – the end product

The last step in the mantel build was gluing on the top panel. This involved a Herculean amount of clamps. Here is a picture of the completed mantel.

The top of the mantel also received a piece of trim where it intersects the wall, and because the wall wasn’t exactly straight it required a bit of ingenuity to ensure it was straight with the front of the mantel. And a further bit of out-of-the-box clamping to hold it in place while the glue dried.

Here is one end of the mantel before the finish. Just required a bit of sanding, and three coats of finish.

For a finish I used General Finishes, ENDURO, water-based urethane (satin). The cheery will darken up over time, and hopefully the mantel will last another 90 years!





An interesting honing guide

Sometimes you find things just by accident. I downloaded the latest copy of Australian Wood Review, and there was a review of a honing guide made in Australia. Over the last few years there have been a bunch of tools that have appeared, designed and manufactured in Australia. There include HNT Gordon & Co., and Colen Clenton marking out tools. I bought tools from both toolmakers in the late 1990s, so it’s nice to see they have flourished. This honing guide comes from Henry Eckert Toolworks, and is manufactured in Adelaide. These are modelled on the old Eclipse guides, but are manufactured using “solid cast gunmetal bronze, marine grade stainless steel and brass”. It looks like an amazing tool, (selling for C$133), well designed, with three different clamping jaws to accommodate chisels and plane blades as small as 3mm (1/8″).

It looks like a nice competitor to the other two major players on the market: the Veritas Mark II honing guide, and Lie-Nielsen’s honing guide. Both have pros and cons – the Veritas guide sometimes seems overly complex, and the LN guide can get expensive as more guide jaws are added. This honing guide is well designed, and seems like a quality product, that harks back to a more simple design. They also sell an angle setting jig to help easily set up blades for sharpening.



Gift guide Xmas 2017

What to buy a woodworker/artisan/craftsperson as a gift? Sometimes it’s hard because some of us like what we like. But there are plenty of small gifts that just about any woodworker would love to get. I’ll split these up into reading and tool related:


  1. An issue  of Mortice & Tenon magazine.
  2. Robert Penn‘s book, “The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees”.
  3. Just about any book from Lost Art Press, like The Anarchist’s Design Book.
  4. One of the myriad of books on spoon carving, and there are a *lot* at the moment. I am yet to find a poorly written one.


  1. A Japanese mill-tooth file (Lee Valley). I wrote a brief review on these, and I can’t get over how incredibly useful this tool is.
  2. A wooden rule. Available in 24″, 36″, 48″, 60″, and 72″ lengths (Lee Valley, Highland Woodworking). When is it not useful to have a long wooden rule floating about?
  3. A Lie-Nielsen No.102 bronze body low-angle block plane. A great little worker!
  4. Some Camellia oil for tool care, from The Unplugged Workshop.
  5. A tool carrier. One of the best presents I ever got. It’s the place where all the none-woodworking tools hang out. Pliers, screwdrivers, allen keys. Easy to lug about, and keep everything in one place. My carrier is made by Kuny’s (they’re in Alberta)
  6. A carving knife to go with a book on spoon carving, and maybe a piece of easy-to-carve wood. I bought a couple of Mora knives from Bushcraft Canada. Also available from Canadian Outdoor Equipment.
  7. An axe. Yeah sure, a zombie apocalypse may not happen tomorrow, but an axe is something everyone should have at least one of. If you’re into carving then maybe more. Bushcraft Canada has a great selection of axes, including the Djarv handmade axes from Sweden.
  8. A Japanese saw, like maybe an all-purpose Nakaya Kataba BIG-1 from BigBear Tools.
  9. An Unplugged Workshop saw bench kit.
  10. A dripless glue bottle (Lee Valley), because everyone needs a better way of dispensing glue!

My tool carrier, filled with screwdrivers, electrical gear, pliers etc.

Why I “dislike” 45 degree mitres

Re-doing some of the baseboard trim in the basement, I decided to go with a 1×8 poplar baseboard (really 7¼ × ¾). Weird yes, because it’s not *really* a moulded baseboard. But it goes well down in the basement, and doesn’t seem out of place. There are a couple of places that obviously need outer corners, the type of corners that ultimately need a 45° mitre. But I hate 45° mitre joints. They are okay in small pieces of wood, e.g. frames, but on a 7¼ × ¾ things never go well. I tried making one joint, and because the board had an ever-so-slight warp, it just didn’t mesh well – and it doesn’t take much to get out of alignment slightly. In all that are just a pain – and large mitres can’t realistically be done by hand (I’ve tried). So my alternative is to join the board with  ¾×¾ corner piece, dowelled in place. Now, yes, it is more work, but there are no unsightly gaps to be filled in because the 45° faces don’t align 100%.

It turns out some of the poplar is spalted as well… not something you see too often.


A new mantelpiece (ii) – the core build

The first step was replicating the mitred-butt joint. This seems easy, but actually requires a fair bit of precision, as it’s not possible to clean the end on a shooting board. I use a Japanese crosscut saw for making the crosscut and the mitre. I then added the extension to form the “L” on either end using dowels, and added the end mitred trim piece.

The top and bottom plates are separated by a 3½” vertical piece with corners joined by 1″×1″ posts instead of 45° mitres. Internally, the box will be supported by 1″×2″ poplar structural components. With a mantelpiece it is all about the forward view, as it is rare that the top will be directly viewed from above, nor the sides. My approach to this project is to semi-construct the mantelpiece as it progresses, to be able to obtain an appreciation for its dimensions and make appropriate changes to the design.

Next, I used two Tapcon screws to seat the base on the mantel. The 2×4 blocks behind were glued on initially to allow the top of the mantle to be secured, but I didn’t end up actually using them.

Mounting the base layer.

Next I added the front panel. Now this piece developed a slight crook, which had to be fixed. I remedied this by gluing a second piece of ¾” cherry behind it, and clamping out the crook. Then it just needs some glue and a bunch of clamps to attach it to the base.

Gluing the front panel

Next I glued on the end pieces (which already had the 1″×1″ corners attached at either end). Attaching the end pieces was a bit of an acrobatic clamp assembly. Before gluing them in, I  glued a scrap 3″×3″ oak block on each corner to help facilitate attaching the ends (and make it ultra-strong).

Attaching the end pieces.

Once the ends were attached, I filled the inner portion of the mantel with a series of torsion supports, made of poplar. They are glued to the base layer of the mantel. Now I planed and sanded the outside of the panels.

The inner workings!

This is what the corners of the mantel looks like inside. The back corner does not touch the wall, but I continued it around to allow more gluing surface for the upper panel. Also note the block of wood (on the left) in between the 2×4 on the back wall of the fireplace, and the lower panel. I added these in and glued them using Gorilla construction adhesive.

The inner part of the corner.

Finally I glued a ½”×½”, trim piece under the lower panel, to help hide the gap between the brick base and the wood.

Adding the lower trim.


Tool review – Japanese mill-tooth file

One of my favourite tools at the moment is the Japanese mill-tooth file, which I really prefer to call a rasp, because it has a similar effect – its capable of hogging off a lot of material (or even more effectively, a planing rasp). I like it because it works as though the face of the file is covered with hundreds of tiny plane edges, essentially shearing material off. These files are made by Japanese company Iwasaki, and are considered sculpting tools.

The face of each tooth on the file is formed to allow for a mini chip-breaker. This helps break the shavings off and helps prevent the file from clogging. Here is a close-up of a tooth from the Iwasaki website:

The type of shavings produced depends on the type of wood being filed. I have noticed that harder woods like Ash tend to produce small shavings, whereas softer woods like cherry produce long spiralled shavings.

Ash versus cherry shavings

Supposedly, the files produce a surface equivalent to using 280 grit sandpaper. Below is a piece of ash which has been filed. The surface is extremely smooth. The file works well moving 90° across the grain, or diagonally. They work well in places too tight for a  plane can’t get too.

I have one flat file, but will likely get a couple more. Lee Valley carries a bunch of different types, but for more sculpting oriented tools head over to Dieter Schmid Fine Tools, or Highland Woodworking.

The magnetic knife holder

Apart from the long knives in my kitchen, I also needed somewhere for the paring knives etc. to live.  Enter the wooden magnetic knife holder from Beau Grain in Quebec. I have one of the older ones, with two pieces held together by a sliding dovetail. The question was always how to attach it to a backsplash made of stainless steel tiles. I honestly didn’t want to drill through the tiles and mess them up, so it took a while to come up with a solution.

The solution? Build a frame to attach the knife holder to the bottom of the cabinets, thereby avoiding damaging the tiles and allowing the knife holder to be offset from the wall, making it easier to grab the knives. It also makes the knife holder more of an object of interest, rather than *just* a knife holder. The holder is made of cherry, the knife holder birds-eye maple.