The wooden anniversary of Je Ne Sais Quoi Woodworking


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I kid you not, it seems that the 5 year anniversary is supposed to be celebrated with gifts of wood!! My address is …..

Just kidding of course, but funny that hey. I realised about a week ago that it is the 5th anniversary of JNSQW this year. It is probably an opportune time to take stock and assess what happened over half a decade. In order to do that I had a look through the site and especially the statistics gathered by a plugin.

The first and probably most interesting thing from a personal point of view is that I published my first post entitled ‘My journey 1’ on the 31st of March 2013. That is my father’s date of birth. As you might know he sadly passed away earlier this year, but what makes this so weird is the fact that he was without a doubt the most influential person on my woodworking journey. The date of publishing the post was definitely not deliberate as I remember writing the it while attending the St John’s Easter Schools Rugby Tournament in Jwanasibeki. By the way, if you click the link you can listen to the most iconic song ever written in honor of that cruel, crazy, beautiful place.

Another interesting thing I have noticed is the gradual change in my style of writing. In the early years I focused on describing/documenting every minor step in the shop in a fairly insipid manner. Slowly over time it has evolved into the current style that I can only describe as a verbose pompousness. I am pretty sure it does not appeal to everyone’s taste, but I like it and it reflects my sense of humor, so don’t make your problems mine. Most of it is tongue in the cheek of course, but might also be a subconscious attempt to impersonate my ultimate hero David Charlesworth? Not that David is pompous in my mind, that bit is me.

The gradual change in style took place in the process of writing 273 posts (including this very post). In terms of content it seems that there were a few distinct phases which overlapped somewhat. Early on most of the posts dealt with setting up shop and building shop made tools. It slowly progress to posts on building furniture more recently. I think it can be rather helpful for someone who is starting out to read the posts chronologically, as it reflects an actual journey in terms of changing priorities, developing skills and finding reading/teaching resources. I might therefore created a page where it would be easier to find posts in chronological order.

The first comment I received from a reader was one sent by Gordon on 23/10/2014, thus more than a year and a half after the first post. It read “That is one massive bench! I admire your dedication and I’m sure it’ll give you lifelong satisfaction. My woodworking philosophy is similar to yours. I made 2 machines (a saw guide for a Makita 9″ circular saw and a router table for a Tritan router) and I bought 2 machines (a band saw and a pedestal drill press) before I started to understand that hand tools are not only more satisfying to use, but are often quicker and more economical ($ and space) for the hobbiest. Have you read or watched Paul Sellers?”

Again, it is incredible how things turn out. In October 2016 JNSQW was nominated by readers as one of the five most popular hand tool woodworking websites on the web, in a competition ran by the Woodworkers Guild of America. The winner was then chosen by allowing another week or so (cannot remember exactly) of voting by readers. Guess who won … yes, Paul Sellers did. To be honest, I am honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Paul Sellers, but that is not the point. The first comment JNSQW received asked whether I have read Paul’s stuff, funny that!

Anyway, back to comments, so far the plugin recorded 492 comments. It seems that it also counts my replies, so in actual fact we are looking at a number closer to 250 or so as I try to reply to most. I am pretty sure that guys like Christopher Schwarz receive more comments on a single post, but that helps a pompous person to stay grounded (always a silver lining hey). Although, I am pretty sure that my revelation on my home page that as a psychiatrist I can read minds, must surely account for most of the lack of comments. It is simply a waste of time typing what I already know you are thinking!

I rest my case.

Before we get to more boring statistics, I want to mention the most rewarding thing about setting up a website like this. It was most definitely not something I anticipated or aimed for when considering the process. It is the fact that I met so many legendary craftsmen who share this ancient pursuit with me in their serene hideouts all over the globe. I would like to mention a few names while realising that I am omitting most.

Jonathan White is a woodworker I have the utmost respect for.  Besides that, we have become really good friends without ever laying eyes on each other. I really encourage you to go and check out his site The Bench Blog. You will not find a craftsman with more attention to detail anywhere. Thank you Jonathan, I hope we can continue to share this wonderful craft.

Then of course we have a tool historian of note in Bob Demers, who is my go-to guy for information on any old tool. Again we became very good friends over years even though we do not talk every day and has never met in person. Thank you Bob.

Don Williams has been one of my personal heros in terms of woodworking for a long time. Like the infamous Mr. Charlesworth, he has that admirable gift of being exceptionally good at what he does and the linguistic skills to make very complex stuff seem quite obvious. When Don first contacted me a few years ago, it was probably the biggest compliment I have ever received that someone of his stature would take the time to read my drivel. Since then Don has helped me with so many different things. He really is a legend of note and has one of the premier woodworking websites (The Barn on White Run) on the net. Thank you Don.

So back to statistics then. In the first place I have to say that I have no idea how accurate the statistics are that the plugin collects. I also have an idea that all the stats pre-January 2017 got lost when my site disappeared into thin air for a while, but that might be wrong. What I am trying to say in a roundabout way is that you should take these stats with more than a healthy amount of salt. To add to that, I also do not know what the different terms mean. For example they distinguish between visitor and visit. JNSQW has to date recorded 4 962 024 visits and 351 287 visitors. That sounds like heaps to me, but might just be spam robots for all I know?

On average the site records between 200-400 visitors and 4000-5000 visits per day. It looks like around 75% of the visitors are from the USA, followed by China in a distant second place.

Well that concludes my five-year-anniversary-celebration-post. Thank you to every reader that finds something useful here. It makes it all worthwhile.



Reuleaux Table – The Hors d’oeuvre


You might say, just not another table project that will drag on for three years. That would be very understandable given my most recent project that necessitated 14 posts. You will therefore be happy to hear that this project is currently almost at the halfway mark and this is the first post. The date above was when I loaded the first set of pictures. At this point it is probably also pertinent to warn the suffragettes amongst us that this post might contain sensitive material.

The Marx family needs a kitchen table able (rather like that two-step) to withstand the eternal destructive forces directed towards every wretched object in our household. The destructive forces are also known as our “offspring” or more specifically Didi and Aoife. To be fair, no piece of furniture including my Roubo workbench will last indefinitely under their perpetual onslaught, but I do not want to have to repeat the exercise within 12 months. To add to the complexity of the brief, I wanted to build something that has a (wait for it …) certain je ne sais quoi.

I rather liked the sort of pagan simplicity of a table design advanced in The Anarchist’s Design Book. Herr Schwarz describes a table that has two thick beams (running diagonally with regards to the grain of the top) under the top into which Windsor-style legs are savagely inserted. This, I am sure, will work exceptionally well if you have a top of reasonable thickness as there are no aprons in his design if I remember correctly. Seeing that I wanted something that would appear more diaphanous, I had to develop the design a wee bit. The other challenge with the peasant design (meant as a compliment rather than derogatory) in Herr Schwarz’ book lie in the lack of inherent stability of my preferred feral African hardwood . Some of the boards I work with will make a late luteal phase female look stable (listen, I warned you, OK!)

The panacea for the stated conundrum seemed quite obvious to me. I needed to incorporate two heavy(ish) beams into a torsion box that would support a light top adequately and resist all other forces such as twist, warping, etcetera. The idea is that the brute strength of the torsion box will be almost invisible to the casual observer while being well hidden underneath the top. All that is supposed to meet the eye is a thin floaty top with four understated yet sophisticated legs protruding (at a barely discernible angle) from it’s belly.

In order to test my ideas on shape and size, I built a very basic model. In terms of proportions, the top is 900 x 2100 mm which makes it a 3:7 ratio. This was dictated somewhat by the space the table is destined for. Seeing that the height is around 770 mm it means that the height is about 1/3 of the length, which seemed like a good ratio. I then added very slight curves to all four sides.

I cannot, for the life of me, find a proper name for this shape. It is basically a rectangle with four convexly curved sides and sharp corners. I will therefore call it a reuleaux rectangle’ (simply because of the enticing alliteration of course), although that is certainly not a formally recognized term. Be that as it may, it is one of the most pleasing shapes in the eye of this humble observer. You might recall a chopping board I have built with the same basic shape.

The lines on the top represent my experiments to find the best rake and splay angles for the legs.

I decided to build the table using Witpeer predominantly and Kershout in very limited amounts to add accent to cardinal curves only.

The legs will have a very slightly tampering (from top to bottom) octagonal shape. The shaping was done by hand planing, in the first place with my shop made scrub plane followed by a no. 606 Bedrock Fore plane. The stock for these legs were made up of two laminated strips of Witpeer. In order to hide the lamination, I marked out the octagon in such a way that the lamination lines run exactly on two of the edges.

19/6/2017 (second set of pictures loaded)

At present (5/2018) the top is in two pieces of the below size …

… and three of the legs are roughly shaped.

I used Tasmanian Blackwood (intruding pest as it is in this part of the world) for that part of the torsion box that will be completely unsighted and Witpeer for the rest. It might sound as if I do not like Tasmanian Black (TB after this), but to the contrary I have a lot of respect for it. My African hardwoods are obviously close to my heart, but the TB did grow on this continent so it is very much local.

Come to think of it, it is very much like my distant German relatives from pre-1710 and I. Not that your average populist majority politician in this part of the world has the intellectual capacity to get this.

Anyway although I find the TB rather difficult to work with (the former being another similarity to my ancestors and I) it has a tenacity second to none. It reminds me of an Australian sports team, although it does not tend to tamper with the ball quite as much (sorry just had to through that in there). The only problem is that I do not have the top end stuff, but rather crappy warped light coloured boards for the most past. The top end stuff can be absolutely spectacular, but mine not so much. Hence why I use it for the unsighted structural parts.

In the picture below you can appreciate one such board. Once you liberate appropriately sized chunks it tends to move, twist, warp etcetera all over the place. I then re-saw these, flip one of the two pieces and laminate them back together so that the apposing forces cancel each other out.

Here I used a Witpeer beam from another project to ensure that the two aprons gets glued absolutely straight. I added a thinner strip of TB to the inside of each apron for strength.


My torsion box will have two heavy beams at it’s ends. These beams will accept the legs as joined in the same fashion as Windsor chair legs. They are clamp together in the pictures below to mark out the joinery.

Torsion box has four components running longitudinally and five (including the two heavy beams) running diagonal to the aforementioned. The longitudinal components are joined to the beams with through tenons, which will be wedged. The shoulders sit in a rabbet (pictured) to prevent twisting.

This is what the longitudinal components look like. The outside pair (left one in the picture below) is slightly heavier and has a Witpeer face side. The inside (right) pair is made up completely of TB.

Here you can see how the tenons extend through the Witpeer beam and how their shoulders are located in the respective rabbets.

In these two pictures you can hopefully appreciate another cardinal aspect of the way I designed the joinery. Seeing that the legs will be joined to the heavy beams by means of a tapering round tenon fitted in a round mortise reamed to the same angle of taper, it is likely to exert force that might split the beam. A leg mortise will be located between the 1st and the 2nd through tenon on the near side and the 3rd and 4th on the far side. The two wedged through tenons on each side of the leg joinery should (to my mind at least) go a long way towards resisting a potential split.

Next up are the diagonal members of the torsion box. They are joined in exactly the same wedged through tenon fashion to the outside (apron) longitudinal components. Where they cross the two inside components I prepared a type of half lap bridal joint aided by two rabbits to resist twisting.

Chopping out the mortises in the apron components.

This is where we are at for now. Two of the three cross members fitted with one more to be done between them. The two in the picture slide in from the top and the one to follow will slide in from the bottom, which creates a nice mechanical lock once the aprons slide in to place.

I hope you enjoyed the entrée that took us half way through the meal.