Actually ‘splitting wood’ more accurately describes what I do each winter in order to maintain a two year supply of cured firewood for my woodstove. [All photos Max Vollmer, Click on any photo to enlarge. ]
A year ago I felled a red oak tree on my property that had succumbed to a pest locally referred to as the ‘green ash borer.’ The base of the tree was a little over 24 inches in diameter and I cut the bolts (log sections) into approx. 24 inch lengths to fit my cast iron, airtight stove from Ireland. I let these bolts sit all summer to begin to dry and will split them into sections left to dry another year. I fell trees and split firewood when the days are cold to avoid breaking a sweat. Temperatures in the low to mid-40’s Fahrenheit are perfect for splitting, while temperatures in the mid-30’s are better for felling and bucking.
I’ve been splitting firewood since I was 11 or 12 years old. As a kid I used a Plumb ax to split wood for the family fireplace. For the last 40 years I’ve been using a maul which is much more efficient! Currently I am using an 8 lb. maul which is needed for these large oak rounds. When I bought my current property it came with a gas-powered log splitter that I used for one season. It was fast, but I sold it because I prefer to split the wood by hand. It’s naturally much harder work by hand, but it is part of what keeps me in shape at 73. Through the years of using a heavy maul, I’ve learned how to put biomechanics to work for me. I’ve perfected something like a full overhead, figure-8 swing that employs gravity, momentum, a pendulum motion, and centripetal force to do the work. My arms and arm muscles don’t really do the work of splitting, so much as they direct the mechanical motion and application of force (mass x acceleration = force) that does.
I made this small, wall mounted cabinet to hold my layout tools for measuring and marking. It puts them within easy reach and keeps them organized. I used some off-cuts of red oak, black cherry, American elm, and sugar maple that were too good to throw away. And I used some of the same tools that are now housed in the cabinet to make it. [All photos Max Vollmer, Click on any photo to enlarge]
I’m going to illustrate the step-by-step process I use for hand cut dovetails, both the through dovetails on the case and the half-blind dovetails on the drawers.
Step one: having determined the dimensions for the cabinet and cut the component pieces to size, I started the through dovetails for the case by marking the length for the tails based on the thickness of the board to which they will be joined, using an adjustable marking gauge made by Veritas Tools in Canada.
Having decided on my dovetail spacing, I then marked the tails with a brass dovetail guide made by an Englishman, Richard Kell, many years ago.
The next two steps were to cut alongside the marked tails and then chop out the waste between them.
To align the dovetails with matching pins, I clamped the board with the finished tails in my bench vise and lined up the board that will have pins and marked their location. With the spacing marked in pencil, I used a marking knife to inscribe the outlines of the waste between pins. I go to all this trouble to get the narrowest pins and finest fit. There are always slight variations in hand cut dovetails, unlike those made with a router and jig. It is not possible to get the very small pins you see in fine, antique furniture with a router and I want my furniture to reflect the skill required for hand work.
Next, I fully outline the pins with a pencil to guide my cuts. This is slow work but yields good results.
Since I planned to have a recessed back panel for the wall cabinet, after cutting the tails and pins for all four of the case frame pieces, I took this opportunity to cut the stopped rabbets around the back edges of the case pieces as well. See Below.
The six drawers, with American elm sides and Black cherry drawer fronts, have through dovetails on the back corners and “half-blind” dovetails on the front corners. “Half-blind” means that the tails do not go all the way through the adjoining boards so that they do not show on the face. My technique for the half-blind dovetails was basically the same as that for through dovetails. See below.
After cutting the 3/16″ oak plywood for the drawer bottoms, I cut and shaped a piece of Sugar maple with the table saw and a router to be cut into individual lengths for drawer pulls. Then I cut stopped dadoes on the outside faces of the drawer sides before final assembly, and made and attached matching wood drawer guides on the inside faces of the case pieces .
What remained was assembly and finishing with clear/natural Watco Danish Oil.
To hang the wall cabinet, I used a piece of oak with an angle cut mounted to the back of the case that mates with another oak piece, with the complimentary angle cut, that is mounted to the wall. In this way the cabinet can be hung and removed as needed.
I designed my tall bookcase with a small footprint to hold a quantity of books without occupying a lot of floor space. The case is just under 83″ tall, but is only 31″ wide. No one wants a bookcase toppling over on them, so I designed the lower cabinet section and base to project forward, thereby bracing the upper portion. The sides of the case are primarily made from two full length, 14″ wide, clear, 1″ thick, red oak boards . . . too nice to be cut down. I started with a simple but scaled drawing to guide my work. I worked out the details and made separate drawings as I went along. [All photos Max Vollmer, Click on any photo to enlarge]
Because the wide oak boards were very slightly cupped to begin with and would have a tendency to do so with changes in ambient humidity, I decided to restrain that tendency with a 14″ wide solid top that is attached to the sides with dovetails (see photos below). To create the basic rectangle that makes up the case, I also cut dovetails into the bottom edges to accommodate two small cross pieces. At this early stage, I cut dadoes for the shelves and for the oak plywood back to come.
Having cut tongues on the individual 14″ wide, 1″ thick shelf boards, including the extra deep shelf that doubles as the top for the lower cabinet, so that they would slide into the dadoes on the sides, I was faced with the initial assembly of the long case. As you can see, I set the two sides on edge on two sawhorses, then affixed the solid top and two bottom cross pieces, using four very long pipe clamps to hold everything in place while the glue dried. [Aside: an option would have been to join the shelves to the case sides with sliding dovetails, but I don’t have a shaper or router table so I opted for saving time.]
With the shelves glued in place, the basic case took shape. The shelf spacing is graduated from bottom to top: approx. 13, 12, 11, and 10 inches respectively. The dovetails joining the solid top to the sides can be seen in the photo below.
I made and attached the trim pieces at the top of the case and installed the oak plywood back. The back provides rigidity (i.e. 90 degree corners) for the whole case. I also applied trim pieces to both front edges of the upper case to hide the shelf dadoes and to generally improve the overall appearance.
To finish off the raw bottom edges of the sides and to provide some of the stability envisioned in the original design, I cut long grooves, technically “stopped dadoes,” into two pieces of 2″ thick oak to make what look like “shoes” to cover the “feet” of the cabinet. I then applied a face frame for the lower cabinet section.
For the cabinet doors on the lower section, I made panels out of a streaked and water stained piece of red or black oak that I rescued 40 years ago from the mud of John Root’s sawmill yard in Fishersville, VA, where it had been driven over multiple times by a forklift. It had “character” and had been hanging out in my wood stash all these years just waiting for the right application.
The doors, with brass pulls, were installed with brass leaf hinges. An adjustable shelf was added in the lower cabinet section. All that remained then was to finish the bookcase with one coat of Minwax (natural) for a sealer and two coats of Watco Danish Oil (clear).
To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable; and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly… this is my way. (Anonymous)