WIA – A behind the scenes account


Last weekend’s Woodworking in America Conference was a great time. The bloggers are all over the various moments they encountered. I wanted to give you a bit of the view from the other side of the coin as well as give you the step by step instructions on how to make the stringing tools I made for the event.

I was a bit busy to be taking pictures but I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the preparations I made for the event. I also wanted to give you some idea of my thoughts on all the presenters that I met.


My preparations began a few weeks ago. I already had the theme for my presentation (Stringing and Inlay…in case you didn’t know) but what I lacked was some focus. The subject is huge. Do I talk about marquetry or simply stringing? What about compass inlay and edge banding? In the end, given the time constraints, I chose to show several related inlay concepts. I dealt with stringing, compass inlay, edge banding and sulphur inlay. That’s still a lot to cram into an hour and a half lecture or a two hour hands on workshop.

First, since the conference was limited to hand tools, I needed a way to make stringing and then inlay it into the background material. Lie-Nielsen has a fantastic set of tools that my friend Steve Latta helped them design. The easiest thing to do would be to call up Lie Nielsen and ask to borrow a couple of sets for the hand-on workshops. Naturally, this means I decided to make my own versions just to make my life difficult. What follows is a step by step view of how I made the tools.

The first thing I needed to do was create a tool that would make the stringing. It had to be something that would make a uniform string. The answer was simple. There have been cutting, or slicing, gauges around for centuries. I looked at the commercially available gauges to see if any of them would do what I wanted. As you can guess, I took the hard route and decided to make my own.rough-lumber

The tools themselves are fairly simple to make. You really only “need” some wood. Most of the original gauges I’ve seen used wedges to lock their fences in place. I decided to add threaded inserts and knurled knobs (both of which can be purchased through Rockler). I figured this would make adjusting the fence position much easier than using a wedge. Besides, I had made a cutting gauge when I was in my teens that has a wedge so I knew that the wedges can come loose fairly easily and that things can get pretty ugly pretty quickly. Spend the extra couple of bucks and get a knurled knob.

My materials are basically some scrap maple I had left over from a job (mine happened to be some birdseye but you can use anything you like). I started by making a simple mechanical drawing of the gauge I wanted and figured I’d modify it as I progressed through the manufacturing process. I had a piece of wood about 40” long so I figured I could make multiple tools (I ended up making ten gauges since that’s what the stock would yield). If you want to make only one gauge, the amount of stock you’ll need will be dramaslot-jigtically reduced.

I started by making the fence stock. The material was already milled to about 7/8” so I decided not to complicate things and left it that way. I ripped the board to 2 – 1/2”, which was exactly what I had drawn for the height of my fence.

The next step was to figure out how to accurately mill the mortise for the beam. I knew I wanted my beam to be 7/16” thick by 1 – 1/4” wide. Using my plunge router and a 7/16” bit, I made a simple jig that positioned the mortise exactly where I wanted it on my fence stock.

The next step was tbeam with brasso mill the beam material. Once I had the stock milled to 7/16″ by 1 – 1/4″, I set up the router in my router table with a 1/4″ quarter round bit. I ran both top and bottom surfaces of both edges so the beam stock would fit snugly into my fence mortises. After milling the material for the beams to shape, I needed to cut an accurate 1/4″ groove the length of the material to receive the brass rub strip. Heading back to the router table, I set up the router with a 1/4″ end mill. Now I realize an end mill is a metal working tool but it is designed to mill a perfect dado without much chatter. You’ll see in the photo that the 1/8″ by 1/4″ brass strip fits perfectly into the groove.

rabbeting-fence At this point, I took my fence stock to the tablesaw. Setting up a flat top rip blade against a sacrificial fence, I cut a rabbet into the fence stock to receive the 1/8″ by 3/4″ brass rub strip. The reason I used a flat top rip blade was to insure my rabbet was cut cleanly into the corner.

Now that I had all my major milling complete, I needed to cut the fence and beam stock to length.cut-beam-strip Using my sled on the tablesaw, I set a stop block at the proper length. For me that amounted to about 5″ but you can make your beams and fences any size you like. Notice how I’m using an awl as a push stick to hold onto the piece between the blade and the stop block.cut-beam

Once the beams and fences are cut to length, it’s time to cut the brass stock to length. Brass is a soft material and, while it’s not ideal, it can be cut using carbide tipped woodworking tools. If you plan on using a metal other than brass, you should plan on cutting it to size with something other than your standard woodworking tools. I just drill-insert-holeset up a stop block on my power miter box and cut the strips to length. I saved lots of time and aggravation by purchasing three different size pieces of brass stock for these tools. All three brass bars were 1/8″ thick but the widths varied. I purchased one length each of 1/4″, 1/2″ and 3/4″ brass bar stock from McMaster – Carr.  Here is a link to the page where you’ll find the 1/8″ material I used. You don’t need to purchase much and fortunately, they sell shorter lengths.

Now it’s time to head to the drill press to drill the holes in the fence material for the threaded inserts and in all the brass parts for the screws that will attach them to the tools. From Rockler I purchased 1/4″ #20 brass threaded inserts as well as 1/4″ #20 knurled knobs. Using a fence on my drill press, I drilled the hole into the fence material for the threaded inserts. Then it was time to set up to drill the fence rub strips and the clamp at the end of the beam which holds the cutting tools. I used 5/8″ #5 flat head brass woodscrews to attach all mdrilling-rub-stripy parts except the 1/4″ rub strip in the bead which I just epoxied into place.

Once I had all the holes drilled, I installed the threaded brass inserts into the fence material. Then I laid out the shape of my fence. In my original mechanical drawing I had the fence drawn in at around 6″ in length. I decided that around 4 – 1/2″ suited my hand better. Once I sketched out a shape that suited my hand, I headed to the bandsaw to cut out the fences.

Leaving the material rough sawn from the bandsaw, I headed back to the bench to attach the rub strip to the fence. At this point my wooden fence is only roughed out and my brass rub strip is just cut to rough length. Now that I have the rough fence assembled, I take the whole thing to my disc sander. grinding-fence-rub-stripI can shape the entire fence assembly as a single unit making modifications to the assembly as I work so that the fence feels comfortable in my hand.

Once I’ve completed the shaping on the disc sander, I head off to my edge face-sanding-fencesander to smooth things up and make all the surfaces flush.

The only thing left for me to do is grind the clamp on the end of the beam to shape, polish up all the brass and attach my cutters. Since the clamp on the end of the beam is so small, I had to figure out a way to shape it accurately for the beams. I did this at my disc sander with a fairly simple jig. grinding-endcap It basically consists of a board into which I screwed a #5 wood screw. I then cut off the head of the wood screw and used it as a pivot point to grind the clamp to size and shape. Attaching the board assembly to the table of my disc sander, it was easy to shape all the clamps.

slicerOnce everything was sanded, buffed and finished, it was time to make the cutters. To make the gauge into a slicer, for cutting the stringing, I just used an exacto knife blade.

In order to cut the groove for the stringing I had two problems to tackle. The first was how to make the groove. Since the whole basis of these tools was a tool that was available in the period, my thought process ran along those same lines for the groover. It has always been my contention that many early craftsmen used scratch stocks for many varied purposes. String inlay is perfectly suited to a scratch stock. Now that I had a gauge made, I just needed to figure out what to use to scratch the groove into the wood. The answer was simple, a drill bit. This way I can control the exact width of the groove. The bit is hardened so it will hold a sharpened edge.


The scratch stock only left me with one problem to solve. It didn’t work very well on cross grain grooves. Rather than try to set the slicer up to score the interior and exterior lines of the cross grain groove, I decided to make a pair of scoring cutters. For me, the bulk of the stringing I do measures 1/16″. When I was searching for something from which to make the cutters, my shop scratch stock came to mind again. I’ve used it to make simple moldings for antique restoration for years. When I make a scoringmolding cutter for the scratch stock, I cut up a piece of a card scraper and grind the profile I need into it, mount it in the scratch stock and away I go. Using the same logic, I cut two small strips from a card scraper, beveled them and then sandwiched them together in the clamp on the end of the gauge. My card scraper measure a pretty accurate 1/32″ thick. By sandwiching them together, I get a perfect 1/16″ score line. Once I’ve scored the piece of wood, I take the gauge with the drill bit and remove the waste.

Now that the boring part of this is out of the way (and that is in NO WAY a reference to the PopWood challenge match that took place Saturday evening), I can get to the part I’m sure that interests you the most…the behind the scenes dirt.

Unfortunately, like most woodworking events, there just isn’t much to tell. I finally got to meet Roy Underhill. I’ve been trying to meet him for more than 25 years. He’s a wonderful, energetic guy with a great sense of humor.

I also got to meet Mario Rodriguez. Although we didn’t have much time to talk, he struck me as a quiet, thoughtful person. His work is top notch and he just seems like a great guy all around.

I got a brief opportunity to catch up with Adam Cherubini. What can I say about Adam? He’s full of energy and just plain like-able. I even got to heckle him a bit during one of his hand-on workshops.

My partner in crime for the weekend in my hands-on workshops was Don Williams. It’s the first time I’ve run into Don. He was a blast to work with during the workshops. He’s very knowledgeable and as I looked over some of the work he was doing in the workshop I was extremely impressed. He told me a few things about hide glue that I didn’t even know. It was a great pleasure having him as my assistant in the workshops.

I finally got to meet Megan Fitzpatrick and all the stories you’ve heard are true. That’s all I’m going to say on that subject.

I got to meet Konrad Sauer, Dan Barrett and Ed Paik. All three are excellent tool makers. I’d describe them further but I’ve run out of adjectives. The one common thread I’ve found in woodworkers is they’re generally really nice people. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about professional woodworkers, amateurs, tool makers, bloggers or magazine staffers, everybody qualifies as a nice person. The kind of people you wouldn’t mind hanging out with even if you didn’t work wood. Fortunately, we do and that makes it even better.

As always, I want to toss a bone to my friend, Glen Huey. He worked the entire conference without being a headliner. From the time he arrived in PA, the man was a dynamo. From carrying benches to making sure folks had electric in their presentation areas to filming segments of the conference, he just didn’t sit down once that I saw. He even found time to introduce me at my first seminar on Friday, then he sat in on the lecture. His introduction was way over the top and I’m honored to count him as a friend.

If you missed the Woodworking in America events for 2009, you certainly missed something special. If the magazine sponsors another event or two in 2010, I’d drop everything I was doing to make sure I was there. As far as I can tell, a great time was had by all.



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4 thoughts on “WIA – A behind the scenes account

  1. I agree was a great conference………BOB LINDH FROM W.PA.

  2. […] Make sure you check out Chuck’s blog for complete instructions on how to make your own set of Bender inlay tools. […]

  3. […] WIA – A behind the scenes account “I dealt with stringing, compass inlay, edge banding and sulphur inlay. That’s still a lot to cram into an hour and a half lecture or a two hour hands on workshop.” […]

  4. […] Make sure you check out Chuck’s blog for complete instructions on how to make your own set of Bender inlay tools. […]

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