Steve Branam, MA, US

I'm a hobbyist in central MA, working primarily with hand tools.

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Walnut Mallets

I needed 3 more mallets for hand tool classes I'll be teaching at the New England Home Show. When I saw Michael Cullen's "Make a mallet" in the Fine Woodworking "Tools and Shops" Annual Issue Winter...

Queen Anne Foot Stool

Queen Anne foot stool in walnut, built entirely with hand tools. Read all about it at

Meranti Side Table

This is a simple side table I built as a wedding gift in 2007. The wood is meranti. The "Pair of Side Tables" project by ScottKingFurniture reminded me of it, similarly proportioned, though mine...


This tool wall, with plane and saw tills, replaces pegboards and random drawers and cabinets scattered all over the shop. Now everything is visible right there next to me, no hunting aroundDetails...

Cutting Gauge and Bowsaw

The gauge is based on Dean Jansa's copy of one in the Seaton tool chest. The design was a pin marking gauge, but I decided to make a cutting gauge after seeing how smoothly they work. The bowsaw is...

Recent comments

Re: Use your skills to make the world a better place

In a similar vein, I've started a free hand tool woodworking program for veterans in my basement workshop. You can read an update, with links to full details and a local newspaper sort on it, at

Re: 3 questions with Phil Lowe

As I said back on April 1: Arguing about woodworking is a more popular hobby than actual woodworking!

Re: Plane Irons and Chisels Need a Flat, Polished Back

This issue arrived just before I had to prepare 12 antique plane irons and 8 antique socket chisels for my booth at The Furniture Project at the New England Home Show.

I used this method on all of them, with fantastic results, fast and effective. After sharpening the bevels, all the tools not only had wonderfully sharp edges, the surfaces they left behind where silky smooth as glass.

You should have seen the faces on people when I demonstrated shooting a miter on a shooting board and passed the piece around.

I've updated my blog post about show preparation with the link to this article, thanks for making it publicly available!

Re: Like a Kid in a Candy Shop

I'm a huge fan of Phil's. His articles and DVD's are excellent, right to the point and full of information. His craftsmanship is superb.

Re: Legendary teacher Will Neptune wins Cartouche Award

It's great to see the continuity of knowledge here, from the young Phil Lowe to Will to Freddy, who studied under Phil at the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts. This is what keeps the skills and the craft alive across the decades and the centuries. These guys are all superb craftsmen.

Re: Peter Galbert's House of Windsor

I got a chance to try Peter's travishers at the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking last weekend. They are amazing, just a dream to use. We were standing around excavating a big chunk of pine for a seat without any need for adze or inshave. He now employs his friend Claire Minihan making them, and she does a fantastic job.

Re: Shop Talk Live 14: Who Needs Half-Blind Dovetails?

The discussion of half-blind dovetails is predicated on the premise that they're harder than full dovetails, but I would argue they aren't really. The techniques are very similar, just finished up differently. Doing tails first, it's only the pin boards that are different.

At the Lie-Nielsen 30th anniversary open-house, I saw Chris Becksvoort use a method for the full dovetails pins that was almost identical to the method I saw Roy Underhill use for the half-blind pins at a class there this summer (LN naturally being a bastion of hand tools).

The two sets of pins are sawn a bit differently, since the half-blinds can't be sawn through to the front face of the board. But clearing the waste was the same: chisel down across the grain, then in from the end to pop a chip, repeatedly.

The main difference was finishing up. Chris flipped the board to come in from the other side, while Roy took finer and narrower chisel cuts (using a really sharp paring chisel and a very narrow chisel, like the LN 1/10" mortise chisel) until he had cleared the waste.

While the last cruft in the corners of the half-blind is more fidgety to clean out, I would say both were able to make their respective joints in about the same time, with similar quality.

Chris and Roy are both highly experienced, and that experience shows, but I would argue anyone can learn to do both joints just as easily with practice. And I don't mean years of practice, I mean a few hours making each one repeatedly.

Do that a few times and you'll improve quickly, to the point that half-blinds are no more intimidating than full, and doing either by hand is easy. Repetition demystifies.

Re: Time to end the hand vs. power battle

I think we'll have as much luck ending this battle as ending the shaken vs. stirred battle!

But as you say, they are all ways to get the job done. It's a matter of user preference and priorities which methods to use.

Re: Part 3: A Violin is Born at Fine Woodworking

I've been enjoying this series, looking forward to more!

Re: Building wooden bikes

Very cool! I've done a little urban wood reclamation. It's a great feeling to know that a tree that would otherwise go to the fire or the landfill gets made into something unique. And this is particularly unique!

Re: Chris Becksvoort and David Yepez: Mano a Mano

Well, to be fair, much like open class sailboat racing, we should probably apply a handicap factor based on experience. Sort of like CB's 80' of waterline vs. DY's 20', on the run from Boothbay to Camden and back. So DY was about 120% of CB's time, but if you multiply each one's time by years of experience...

I'm jus' sayin'!

Re: The Bamboo Blog - Part 1

Nice! Bamboo is amazing stuff. I've seen pictures of construction scaffolding stories high in Asia made from bamboo. I believe it's just lashed together.

We had lots of damage in central MA from that same storm. Trees and limbs were snapped off and down all over, worse than the massive ice storm a couple years ago. It's good to see some of that debris being used as a resource.

Re: UPDATE: 2011 Fine Woodworking Archive DVD-ROM (1975 - 2011)

Sign me up!

Re: 10,000 tiny pieces of wood make one impressive bit of woodworking

And Matt, I'd also like to mention that some of the simpler patterns look like they could be done using many of the techniques you used for your tiny jewelry boxes, like your small shooting board. Much of the work appears to depend on precise shooting of angles, matched up with slots carefully cut with a dozuki.

Re: 10,000 tiny pieces of wood make one impressive bit of woodworking

Beautiful stuff on the blog at his site, too. I'll have to give some of this a try! I like his gift screens that are made up of kumiko coasters.

Re: Make Your Own Dowels

@tarsier: I believe what NM is referring to is a hole drilled through the diameter of the round, not through the flat ends, hence his recommendation for a jig to center the hole on it. The fluted sides of the hole then make better cutting edges than a flat hole, especially since spinning the peg with a drill causes a spiral cutting action. Interesting.

Re: Make Your Own Dowels

I use the LN dowel plate for all my pegs. I crosscut a short length of the stock I'll be using, rive off a section with a wide chisel, split that again if it's wide enough, then sharpen the end quickly with the chisel and drive it through from largest hole down to desired hole. This is a good use for old offcuts that have been sitting in the scrap bin drying for the past few years. You could also dry the stock a bit further with hot sand or a small light-bulb kiln (an old chairmaker's trick). Bone dry, they'll absorb any moisture in the workpiece or glue, and swell up snug.

Because it's riven, meaning continuous grain fibers for the entire length providing maximum wood strength, you don't really have to chamfer the edges with a block plane. The blank can be driven through the first hole quite fat and square without damaging it. Fast and easy (if a little noisy).

Re: Bonnet Top Highboys

Magnificient! Shows the value of persistence and perseverance in an ambitious project.

Re: Pair of Side Tables

Nice! How did you attach the shelf? Is it doweled in place, or some other method? I built a similar table a few years ago out of meranti, but no curves. They lend a nice elegance.

Re: UPDATE Caption contest: Win a CommandMax Sprayer

Ah, just a touch above high C.

Re: Wall-O-Tools

I've completed my shop reorg and posted a part 4 entry to the blog link above. It includes a brief shop tour video.

Re: Wall-O-Tools

Thanks, all! The layout was not too difficult. I did it mostly by tool group, laying them on my bench and trying a few different arrangements. The chisels I did in small batches of same-type sets. Once I came up with a hanger method I was happy with, I just repeated that, and attached them to the wall. The key was doing things in modules, rather than trying to do one master layout.

The saw till layout was based on some others I had seen, I just had to work out a way to have them sit securely in place. The 2x3 blocks make great spacers, so things are straight and not in each other's way.

I did have to rearrange a few things as I went. That's what makes the cheap pine wall so nice, a few extra screw or nail holes don't make a difference, unlike if I had done some fancy work with expensive wood. Once I have more experience, I may be able to plan it out more ahead, but this method allows some flexibility and experimentation.

Re: shop wall

Love the window! I had thought of doing something similar for my dreary basement workshop after admiring the windows in the background of the Lie-Nielsen videos. Also thought about removable seasonal pictures, or maybe make it sized for travel posters. Then I can do my woodworking on tropical beaches or alpine meadows!

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