Nathaniel-Russell House’s Furniture Collection

Nathaniel-Russell House’s Furniture Collection

The furniture history of Charleston, S.C., is both glorious and a bit sad. The city’s astonishing wealth fueled a top-tier level of craftsmanship before the Civil War. As the city fell on hard times, a lot of its furniture record was trucked away to other cities, losing its provenance and connection to the Holy City. On Thursday, a group of about 20 furniture-makers received a pull-out-the-drawers tour of the collection […]

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Thermally Modified Wood

Thermally Modified Wood

A remarkable drying process gives wood a new character.

By Chad Stanton

Some day, you'll be able to build an outdoor project with a new kind of wood, grown right here in America, which resists decay, stays absolutely flat and is totally free of chemicals. Sound too good to be true? Well, that day isn’t way off in the future— this wood is here, right now.

It’s called thermally modified wood, or TMW for short. I’ll go into the details later, but basically TMW is wood that’s been dried at a really high temperature. This turns it brown all the way through—like a chocolate cookie. But it’s a cookie that mold and fungus can’t digest. TMW won’t rot.

Any species of wood can be turned into TMW—hardwood or softwood.


Origins of TMW

Credit goes to Finland for figuring out how to make TMW. Actually, TMW’s rot resistance was an accidental discovery. Back in the early '90s, Finnish scientists were experimenting with a drying process that would make wood more dimensionally stable—that is, free from cupping, bowing and twisting. Good luck with that, you might think. But they hit the jackpot. Not only did they achieve their goal, but they found that the process made the wood rot-resistant, too.

Of course, baking the wood in a super-hot kiln changes it in other ways, too, not all of which are desirable. More on that below.

For a few years, TMW was an exclusively Scandinavian product. Today, a few American companies have licensed the process and are busy converting domestic woods into TMW.


How TMW is made

Making TMW is a complicated, four-step process. To start off, the untreated lumber is dimensioned at the sawmill. Then it’s brought to the kiln and the first step begins: slowly heating the wood to 212 degrees. In the second step, the wood is preconditioned by drying it to nearly 0% MC (moisture content). This wood resists decay, but it’s totally free of chemicals.

Now it’s ready for the crucial third step, where the temperature of the wood is raised to 374-482 degrees for several hours. At this high temperature the natural sugars in the wood are converted into substances that all the agents of rot—insects, mold and fungus—cannot eat. In the final step, the wood is cooled and some moisture is restored, bringing it up to around 6% to 7% MC.


Properties of TMW

I first heard about TMW from a friend who’s in the deck-building business. He buys thermally modified Southern yellow pine from PureWood, a company based in North Carolina (for more information, visit Their 2x6 lumber costs about $2.50 per lineal foot. I used some of that wood to build a large picnic table. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Color and smell. The TMW process darkens the wood all the way through to a cocoa-brown color. If left unfinished outdoors and exposed to sunlight, it will turn gray. TMW has a pleasant smell when you cut it—like toasted marshmallows.

Stability. TMW planks are exceptionally straight and flat. I resawed some wood into thinner pieces and they didn’t warp one bit. That’s a rare experience with any wood—and a welcome one.

• Strength. The drying process seems to make the wood more brittle. It splits and splinters more easily than wood of the same species that’s been kiln-dried. TMW is not recommended for use as joists and posts.

• Dust. Sawing and routing TMW creates very fine dust, like working MDF. It’s a good idea to wear a mask.

• Planing and jointing. No problem. Freshly machined surfaces take glue well, too. Old surfaces should be sanded or milled before gluing.

• Dimensions. The TMW I used was slightly thinner and narrower than standard dimensional lumber. Check before you buy.


The bottom line

Like any wood, TMW has its pros and cons. But it’s amazing stuff, and I hope it catches on.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker June/July 2011, issue #154.

June/July 2011, issue #154

Purchase this back issue.



Building Roubo’s Campaign Bed at Fort Ticonderoga

Building Roubo’s Campaign Bed at Fort Ticonderoga

Anyone who has read this blog for more than a week knows I have a thing for campaign-style furniture and the work of André Roubo, the 18th-century French woodworker and writer. Like many other 18th-century furniture writers, Roubo wrote a bit about campaign-style furniture, including beds, tables and chairs. I hope to build one of his chairs and a table some day, but the Roubo campaign beds look a little […]

The post Building Roubo’s Campaign Bed at Fort Ticonderoga appeared first on Popular Woodworking Magazine.


The Redneck Polissoir

The Redneck Polissoir

Whenever I teach a class that involves turning, I like to show them how well the French “polissoir” can finish off your work on the lathe. A polissoir (say it poly-swaar) is a bundle of broom corn that is used to burnish a wooden surface to produce a tactile, low-lustre finish. While the polissoir has been around for centuries, Don Williams recently rediscovered the tool for modern woodworkers while he […]

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Work in Tight Spaces without Special Tools

Work in Tight Spaces without Special Tools

When you have to work inside a carcase, there are a wide variety of specialty tools on the market – such as right-angle drills and drawer-lock chisels – to make your life easier. I try to keep a small tool kit. Not because I’m a tightwad. I’m not. But I travel a lot and I prefer to have fewer tools to take care of and keep track of. Buying fewer […]

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I Never Tire of Staring at Chests

I Never Tire of Staring at Chests

If you are considering building a six-board chest like the ones shown in the November 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, we have a great link for you. Mark Firley of the blog The Furniture Record, has assembled a set of more than 140 photos of chests he has collected on his journeys through auction houses, antique shops and museums across the country. The chests cover a wide range of […]

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Handles for Turning Tools

Handles for Turning Tools

Customize their fit for comfort and performance.

By Alan Lacer

Decades ago, woodturning tools came without handles, and turners would simply fashion their own. This makes perfect sense, because a handle that fi ts and feels “right” gives a turner confi dence. And who better to custom-fi t the handle than the person who’ll use the tool?

Turning and installing your own handles is a great exercise in designing, turning to fairly tight tolerances, and drilling wood on the lathe. To get started, you can buy tools unhandled (still an option) or remove their commercial handles (really easy).


Use strong, dry wood

Select stock with straight grain, especially for the tool end of the handle (use the strongest grain orientation for this critical area). Traditional hardwoods, many exotic woods, and even local woods that you harvest and dry yourself are all good options. Do not use weak woods such as pine, poplar, butternut, willow, spruce and fir.

Make sure the wood is dry. If you have any doubt about the moisture content, let the handle stabilize for several days (or longer) after roughturning and drilling the initial hole.

I make each handle unique, by using diff erent woods and fi nish colors, so that I can immediately identify each tool. I normally start with stock that’s 1-3/4" to 2" square (Photo 1). The length of the blank depends on a number of factors, including personal preferance and the tool itself. Figure A (below) lists handle lengths that work well for me. It’s always better to make a handle too long, rather than too short.


Ferrule stock

Every woodturning tool handle must have a metal ferrule to reinforce the joint between the handle and the tool’s shank, or “tang” (Photo 2). Hardware stores and salvage yards are good sources for ferrule stock. Copper couplings (used to join copper pipe and tubing) are some of the best. They’re available in a variety of diameters and each one can be cut in half to make two ferrules. Choose a diameter that allows plenty of wood between the tool’s shank and the ferrule, usually at least 1/4"–if there’s any question, go with a larger diameter.


Make a handle

1. The fi rst step is to drill a 3/8" dia. x 3/4" deep pilot hole for the tang in the blank (Photo 3). Note: If the tang is smaller than 3/8", match the pilot hole’s diameter with the tang. The end you choose for mounting the tang should have straight grain and be free of checks and knots. Clamp the blank in a vise and use a hand-held drill.

2. Install a live center with a cone in the tailstock (see Sources, below). The cone will automatically center the pilot hole when the blank is mounted on the lathe. If you don’t have a cone-type live center, turn a tapered piece of wood to fi t into the blank’s pilot hole and protrude about 1/2" beyond it. When you mount the blank, center the live center’s point on the protruding end.

3. Turn the ferrule end–or the entire blank–to round, using a spindle roughing gouge.

4. Turn a tenon on the end to match the ferrule’s length and inside diameter–go for a driven-on fi t. Slightly taper the tenon’s end to help get the ferrule started. Drive on the ferrule, factory end fi rst, all the way to the tenon's shoulder (Photo 4). This orients the ferrule’s rough-cut end with the end of the tenon. Turn down this rough edge after reinstalling the blank on the lathe. If the edge is very rough, use a mill fi le, off the lathe.

5. For safety, turn a bulb over the part of the handle that will house the tang (Photo 5). This provides maximum strength in the event of a catch or dig-in.

6. Turn the blank to a diameter slightly larger than fi nal size. Then use a detail/spindle gouge to round the back end of the handle.

7. Turn the gripping area of the handle into a shape that you like (Photo 6). Be sure to test the grip with the hand that you will use to control the tool. As the gripping area nears perfection, shape the transition to the bulb to create the optimal feel and balance, but beware of making any portion too thin.

8. Finish-sand the handle and ferrule to 150 grit, with the lathe running. Turn off the lathe and sand with the grain to fi nish the job.

9. Remove the tool rest to drill the tang hole (Photo 7). For round-tang tools, the hole’s depth should be one fourth to one third of the tool’s length. For fl at-tang tools, the hole should house the entire tang—almost to the tool’s shoulder. Mount a Jacobstype drill chuck in the headstock (see Sources) and install an ordinary tapered-point bit (other types of bits won’t enter the pilot hole accurately). Place the handle’s pilot hole against the bit, bring up the tailstock, and lock it. Advance the live center to engage the center hole on the waste end of the tool handle. Put on a fullface shield and set the lathe’s speed between 400 and 600 rpm.

10. Turn on the lathe and check to see that the handle runs true. There should be little or no “ghosting” at the ferrule end. If you see ghosts, stop the lathe and re-center the drill bit in the pilot hole. Once all is running well, take two simultaneous actions to drill the hole: Grasp the spinning handle about halfway back with one hand while cranking the tailstock’s handwheel with the other. Go slowly. If you feel too much resistance, slowly back out of the hole, to remove chips.

11. If the hole must be made larger, to accommodate round tangs that are larger than 3/8" dia., simply repeat the drilling operation, using the appropriate larger taperedpoint bit. Drill stepped holes to accommodate tools with fl at tangs. Drill the small dia. hole the full length of the shank; drill the larger hole only as far as necessary.

12. Finish the back end of the handle off the lathe. Simply cut off the waste with a handsaw and then sand.

13. Set the tool into the handle. This step is critical. I’m a fi rm believer in using epoxy to anchor the tool, so start by pouring a generous amount into the hole. Drive the handle onto the tang (Photo 8). Stop about every quarter of the way to check for alignment—sighting the tool and handle much as you would sight a gun. Look for misalignment left or right and up or down. Tap the tool with the mallet to make corrections.

14. My favorite tool-handle fi nish is the one that comes from hard use: sweat, dirt, wear–and maybe even a little blood. A pure oil fi nish is another option, but any fi lm-forming fi nish (including wipe-on oil-varnishes) will make the handle too slick.


(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Oneway Manufacturing,, 800-565-7288, Live Center with Cone (#2 Morse taper), #2064.

Packard Woodworks,, 800-683-8876, Jacobs-Style Keyless Chuck (#2 Morse taper) , #111022.

Fig. A: Suggested Handle Lengths

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August/September 2010, issue #149.

August/September 2010, issue #149

Purchase this back issue.

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. Choose straightgrained hardwood for the handle. Use brass, copper or steel fittings to make the ferrule, which reinforces the joint between the tool and the handle. Copper couplings make excellent ferrules.

2. Turning tool shanks (or “tangs”) are either round or flat. Both types mount in holes bored in the end of the handle. Flat-tang tools require stepped holes to accommodate their tapered shape.

3. Start by drilling a pilot hole for the tool's tang in one end of the handle blank. Then use a cone-shaped center to mount the blank on the lathe, so the pilot hole will be centered when the blank is turned round.

4. Drive on the ferrule after turning a tenon to fit. This ferrule is a copper coupling that's been cut in half. If the tenon is longer than the ferrule, use another ferrule (the other half of the coupling) to drive the first one home.

5. Turn a bulb directly behind the ferrule, to provide the greatest support for the tool’s tang. Most of the handle’s shaping can be done with a spindle roughing gouge.

6. Shape the handle to fit your grip, gradually and selectively reducing the diameter, until it feels just right. Remove the handle often, to check the way it feels in your hand.

7. Install a chuck in the headstock to drill the tang hole. With the lathe running at slow sped, simultaneously grip the handle (so it doesn’t turn) and crank the tailstock, to carefully drive the handle onto the spinning bit.

8. Drive the handle onto the tang, using a waste block to protect the edge. Check frequently to make sure the tool and handle remain properly aligned.


If You Haven’t Tried Full-blind Dovetails, It’s Time

If You Haven’t Tried Full-blind Dovetails, It’s Time

  When beginning woodworkers rank the difficulty of the different dovetail joints, they usually think of the through-dovetail as the “bunny slope.” The half-blind dovetail is the “expert slope” – perhaps a blue or a black trail if you are a snow skier. So what’s the full-blind dovetail? Or the secret-mitered dovetail? Throwing yourself off a cliff without a parachute? In my view, the through-dovetail is actually the most difficult […]

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Make Quartersawn Picture Frame Stock

Make Quartersawn Picture Frame Stock

If you’ve got some spare 8/4 (2-in.) lumber lying around your shop, it’s easy to transform it into stunning quartersawn wood for your picture frame. Quartersawn figure in almost every wood is really something special, and quite different from species to species. Even an ordinary piece of thick oak, maple or cherry has a surprise waiting within it.

Mark both ends of a milled 8/4 board with a series of parallel lines that run at right angles to the growth rings. Tilt the blade to match the angle of the first cut—just eyeball it. Move the fence and make the second cut at the same angle.

Next, turn the board around and repeat the same procedure for the other outside edge. Continue to work your way from the outside in, so the last cuts you make are for the center pieces, where your drawn lines are almost vertical.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Return the blade to 90 degrees and saw off the angled edges. Make sure the edge that runs along the fence has the point facing up. If it faces down, it could get trapped underneath the fence. Run the pieces through the planer, and you’re ready to make a very special picture frame.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker January 2005, issue #112.

January 2005, issue #112

Purchase this back issue.



The Mistakes of First-time Bench-builders

The Mistakes of First-time Bench-builders

If you’re about to embark on building your first workbench, you might want to read this blog entry. I expect you to discard every piece of advice in it (most bench-builders do) and build the crazy contraption you’ve planned out in your head. Here, in my opinion, are the most common missteps woodworkers make when they build their first workbench. 1. Too many workholding devices I’ve built workbenches with more […]

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