Sculpted Walnut Stool – Beginnings

Walnut slab broken down for easier hauling and handling

In 2013 I built a sculpted stool based on Charles Brock’s Bow Tie plans. It has received many positive comments over the years. Now I am revisiting that project as a gift for a friend. I found a large slab of walnut at Santa Barbara’s Rob Bjorklund operates this business high in the Santa Ynez foothills along the old pass road. You may wish to use the link to learn more about his operation.

I was able to find the components in the longer/narrower sub-slab. The many artifacts including extensive worm holes may cause me to change the selections as I cut into the material. We shall see. Worm holes can be small on the surface and lead to major cavities as you dig further.

Stool with lumbar support, 2013

This “simple” stool [photo on left is the first version] consists of four legs, a seat and a back rest. Easy. But the joinery is more complex than traditional mortise and tenons or dovetails. Then the fun part is sculpting. I will finally be able to use my Claire Minihan travisher that has patiently awaited its first serious mission.

I marked the components then used a jig saw for rough cuts. When possible they are well over-sized to allow adjustments. These elements were further cleaned up at the band saw. 

First up is the seat consisting of five elements. One face and one edge were jointed. The center seat section (S3) was too wide for my six-inch jointer so I jointed it with some overhang. That proud material was brought to jointed face level with hand plane. A power planer let me create flat reference faces and the table saw used to rip the opposing edges. To save material I did not make the faces perfect, just clean enough to work on the joinery. There is no need for super clean surfaces with all the shaping to follow.

After this milling I restaged the seat components and identified orientations for subsequent steps.

Small table, p3 – Ready to deliver

The table is completed other than glue up. I will be doing the final glue up when I visit Michigan this summer. The legs and stretchers are from a different log than the top. The top is quite dark, with marvelous figure. The missing chunk on the underside and edge will be a conversation starter for many, many years.

I was pleased to be able to use the plank remnant for this small table. 


Small Table, p2 – Legs & Stretchers

Shaping leg tops, using back saw, chisel, rasps and sandpaper.

The legs were milled to size (1 x 1-1/4 inches x 22-1/2) and mortises cut with router and edge guide. A spiral uncut bit was used for that operation. Before the stretchers were shaped, tenons were cut at the table saw. Left a tad fat, then finessed to fit mortises with shoulder plane.

Once the stretchers fit their respective mortises the curves were cut at the band saw, followed by rasp clean up. Flats were left on the upper stretcher for the top to rest on. Bevels created on legs with block plane. Edges eased and finish applied. Five or six coats of wipe on oil/varnish, wet sanded as each coat was applied.

Small Table, p1 – 2017

Honduras Mahogany off cut for table top

I love small tables for many reasons. Their small footprint is easier to fit in a small home and are readily moved. Several years ago I designed a minimalist computer desk. Looks great, but no drawers and only moderate surface for spreading out relevant materials [such as at tax time]. Multiple small tables make perfect temporary surfaces.

Small tables are great for beginners and even experienced woodworkers looking for a project with real joinery (mortise & tenon and half lap in this case) with minimal material expense. Handy to have around the house, and they are perfect gifts for those living in cramped spaces.

Sinker Honduras Mahogany from Greener Lumber, LLC.

As I look at my off cut collection, it is mostly long, skinny pieces and stubby wide chunks. Neither are suitable for cabinet work. Yet, wide stubby pieces can be made into small tabletops and skinny pieces might work for legs and stretchers to go with a small top. That is the ideal. In practice, I usually end up using good-sized boards to cut out legs. That is guided by my search for rift sawn, fairly straight grained material with all legs consistent in color and texture.

The top for this project is from a leftover piece of sinker Honduras Mahogany []. The finished size will be 1 x 12-1/2 x 15 inches. This scrap has a punky area on what will become an edge. I cleaned up the lose material with a carving gouge. That area will be visible on the edge, but does not come to the top surface. The thinnest area will be somewhat fragile, but should hold together for the use such a table will receive.

The plank scrap was pretty flat so I was able to run it through the drum sander to level the top and bottom surfaces. It would have fit my bench top planer once trimmed to final size, but the drum sander worked fine.

I created a round over (top and bottom) on the left and right edges. I guess that might be called a bullnose. The front and back edges are flat but have a nice curve into the bullnose ends. I cut a 45 degree corner with a back saw, then used rasps to create that blended curve, which comes to a point on the bullnose.

The Buhl diamond was roughly carved on the underside using a V-chisel. Final sanding was followed by multiple coats of a wipe on oil/varnish blend. 

Next up are the legs and stretchers.

Tales From the Tavern Carvings


Signed Sam Baker carving in Mahogany
Signed Sam Baker carving in Mahogany

I have created a couple of shallow relief carvings from photographs taken at the Tales From the Tavern series in Santa Ynez, California. The first was of personal favorite, Sam Baker.

Singer/songwriter Dave Alvin in Mahogany
Singer/songwriter Dave Alvin in Mahogany

Next up was Dave Alvin. At his Fall 2016 show, producer, Ron Colone, showed the carving to Dave prior to going on. Dave was smitten by it, so it was his. I met him after the show and signed the piece, which was carved in Mahogany (as was the Sam Baker carving).

Carving is my go-to rainy day activity. Hopefully, a wet winter will give me the opportunity to expand this series.



Tom and Dave after his Fall 2016 Tales From the Tavern show.
Tom and Dave after his Fall 2016 Tales From the Tavern show.


Early stages of the Sam Baker carving, 2015. The blue lines indicate areas which go under the adjacent surfaces.
Early stages of the Sam Baker carving, 2015. The blue lines indicate areas which go under the adjacent surfaces.

Janet’s 80th Birthday Celebration

Gastil Family December 22, 2016
Gastil Family December 22, 2016

Friends and family gathered to celebrate Janet Gastil’s 80th birthday on the rainy evening of December 22, 2016.

Stories, music, food and friendships were shared. Many hands made the setup a party in itself.

Nan Couts Cottage, part of the La Mesa Community Recreation Center, was a perfect setting for the special occasion.

The smiling birthday girl.
The smiling birthday girl.

Over the years, Janet has performed and taught music, been active in politics, real estate and with Friends (Quakers) – all while raising a family. Children Garth, Gastil, George and John were with her on this evening.




Book Cabinet — Completion

img_0869This cabinet project was begun back in February 2016 and finally completed in November. A number of other, less involved projects interrupted the process. as well as my desire to savor this build.

I wanted to showcase the stunning sinker Honduras Mahogany I purchased from Rick Petty of Greener Lumber. He salvages sunken logs from rivers in Belize. These old-growth gems sank while floating down rivers to awaiting ocean going ships. I first discovered their story from a series of blog posts on the Popular Woodworking web site and a subsequent magazine article by Kari Hultman. Over the years I’ve built numerous pieces from this treasured material.

IMG_0450A 2015 Fine Woodworking Magazine article by Hank Gilpin showed his “Gilpinoid” leg design. I loved the design and the various ways he used it over the years. It produces great shadow lines and visual depth. From any one view, the appearance is subtle, but it becomes more and more interesting the closer one looks. That said, these legs add to the overall impact even when one does not “see” the specific details.

Motivation for a proper bookcase came from my treasured collection of Lost Art Press books on woodworking, design and history of the craft. They create books of the highest quality and give voice to brilliant contributors, contemporary as well as our legends.

img_0870All of my sinker Mahogany is 4/4 stock, which is great for most casework, but thicker material is required for legs. Rather than mix in current harvest Mahogany, or select a contrasting species, I decided to use poplar painted black with milk paint. The intent was to create a background setting off the highly-figured Mahogany. The shelves and back slats also received this treatment.

Honduras Mahogany from the rivers of Belize
Honduras Mahogany from the rivers of Belize

The asymmetrical top used the plank’s shape as it came from the mill. Numerous cracks required filling with epoxy. The most obvious are on the right corner, but there were numerous smaller, but significant cracks elsewhere.

The bookcase is in our front room looking most pleased with itself. There are many details to amuse close inspection and this piece encourages taking it in from various perspectives.

Earlier blog posts discuss many of the elements, techniques and decisions that went into this piece. I was not pleased with a few of my construction decisions, but overall it works to my eye. A big thank you to those who supplied feedback and encouragement as this journey unfolded.

Book Cabinet — Install Glass

Glass secured with thin Mahogany strips
Glass secured with thin Mahogany strips

The door panels have glass inserts. I am not fond of open bookcases with all the dust floating (and settling) in our home. This is only my second cabinet with glass. It allows my Lost Art Press books to be seen, but protected.

The thin strips are flush with the rails and stiles. In general I like them to be a bit proud, but in this cabinet this doors close flush to the shelves, eliminating the opportunity to create shadow lines of proud strips.

Strips were cut slightly oversized at the band saw, then taken down to final dimensions using a block plane. The strips were slightly rounded over on the outer edge and fit snug to each opening with a small backsaw (dovetail). Each piece was labeled on the non-show surface and given a few coats of finish.

A thin bead of silicone applied to the rabbets, the glass cleaned, put in place, and the strips were secured with 23-gauge pins. I wanted to use escutcheon pins, however, even my smallest drill bit (1/16″) was too large to make a suitable pilot hole. The old-growth, figured sinker Mahogany was too dense to risk driving those pins without pilot holes. I did try a few samples and decided it was not worth the risk. So 23-gauge pins it was.

The doors were installed with the Brusso knife hinges and pilot holes were drilled in the top to be secured with #8 by 1-1/4-inch brass-coated screws.

Book cabinet — Details

Straight edge and 3/4-inch guide block used to determine fit. A bull nose plane was used to trim up to the leg.
Straight edge and 3/4-inch guide block used to determine fit. A bull nose plane was used to trim up to the leg.

There are numerous details to attend to before the cabinet is ready for use. When checking the door fit, I realized that the shelves were not properly positioned. They were too far forward in some instances which interfere with the doors. I used a long straight edge (referenced on top and bottom shelves) to indicate the inset door desired position. A 3/4-inch guide block (same thickness as door frames) guided material removal. This was one of many times during the build that I questioned my decision to pre-finish.

The door pulls were created similar to the drawer pull shown in an earlier post: These were made from sinker Sapodilla from Belize.

Locations marked and drilled for magnets
Locations marked and drilled for magnets

To secure the doors I embedded rare earth magnets in the shelves. One at the mid-rail location and the other on the bottom shelf where the proud stiles protrude. After drilling those holes I used dowel center finders to mark corresponding points on the door assemblies. Too late I discover that something didn’t work on my magnet placements. Luckily, the outer door works well and holds the non-secured door in place. Record another vote for the value for rabbet doors…assuming the outer door is done properly. Epoxy secures the magnets and plugs in their new homes. The proud plugs were taken flush with block plane, followed by sanding.

Shallow mortises are cut in the doors with router and edge guide to receive the long stub tenons of the pulls. Two screws each, no glue, to hold the pulls in place.

Next up: Install glass in the door assemblies

Book Cabinet — Shaping the Top

Double arcs roughly cut with jig saw. Later spokeshaves and rasps will refine the edge.
Double arcs roughly cut with jig saw. Later spokeshaves and rasps will refine the edge.

A plank of nicely figured sinker Honduras Mahogany will become the cabinet top. I will mostly follow the shape as it came from the river (Belize) and sawmill ( The back left corner will be perpendicular, the left front an obtuse, indeterminate angle and the right side irregular with free-form arcs. The straight sections terminate with small diameter rounds (created with rasps).

Hand plane, spokeshaves and rasps create the edge treatment.
Hand plane, spokeshaves and rasps create the edge treatment.

The edges have a flat on top and slight bevel on the lower portion. Edges also eased with rasps and sandpaper. The right front edge arc has a number of large cracks to be filled with West Systems epoxy. Epoxy is also used for numerous internal cracks.

A blend of varnish/boiled linseed oil/mineral spirits is my go-to finish and will be used on this project as well. The poplar components (legs, shelves and back slats) are given a few thin coats of black milk paint followed by top coat of the oil/varnish blend. Wet sanding of the top coat removes black pigment  from some edges and transition points to give the piece a lived-in look.