Author Archives: Frank Strazza

Fighting Curl

Don’t Get Your Chair Wood From the Side of A Mountain!

I went up to Arkansas to find the white oak logs for these ladder back chairs I am making. The fellow that I bought the timber from let me go up and see where he was cutting the wood. I noticed that some of the logs were coming from the side of a fairly steep mountain. I had a feeling that the wood might be curly based on some of my past experience about hillside timber, more on that in a second.

I also looked at the end grain of the log and noticed a little wave to it. It was too nice a log to pass up so I just went for it.

It split fairly nicely for white oak, except I noticed some curl, it was especially harder to split along the ray plane. However the drawknife really let me know about the curl and yes it was curly. I just hope I can get the entire tear out of it with the spokeshave.

Curly white oak

Curly white oak tearout

I have experienced this same thing with a walnut tree that I harvested. When the tree is growing on a hillside, it is put under incredible stress as it is trying to grow straight. The stress is translated to the grain thus creating some very nice curl. Well, I am not sure if it so nice trying to rive it and work it with a drawknife! The walnut tree that I harvested a few years back yielded me some incredible curly walnut. I was able to make a few pieces from that walnut tree. I have posted a couple pictures of those pieces below.

Curly walnut in jewelry cabinet

Curly walnut in jewelry cabinet

Curly Walnut Desk

Curly Walnut Desk

The next log that I split for rungs, split so incredibly beautiful that I felt spoiled!

Next time I go get logs for splitting chair parts, I am going to make sure the wood has been growing on a perfectly flat plain. In the mean time I am going to go back to fighting curl!

Frank Strazza

Chopping out Chair Legs


Fore Plane

Since my return from Maine I have been hard at work shaping back legs for 10 ladder back chairs. Deadlines are real!

I have started with a white oak log and split out all the parts, riving the wood down. You can see more pictures here, and just scroll down to the post on July 2.

It is easiest to think about this in three steps, course, medium and fine. The first step after riving the wood is to use a hatchet and rough square the timber. This process goes very fast and is very effective for removing a lot of material quickly.

Hewing wood

Hewing the legs

Then it’s off to the drawknife to remove the hewing marks. All of these processes require an accurate eye. I am constantly sighting down the timber ensuring that it is straight and removing the high spots. I find the shaving horse invaluable for clamping my stock.

Drawknife work

Smoothing legs with drawknife

Then I use my fore plane, which is a great plane for removing lots of wood quickly. I use it for flattening the 4 sides, squaring and straightening the material up. The shavings are beautiful that come from this plane!

Frank handplaning oak

Fore plane smoothing

I do have a couple wooden blocks that I use to size the stock. I then mark with a template, the bottom and top tapers on the leg. Next plane the tapers before going back to the drawknife to create an octagon, and then finishing up with the spokeshave, making a nice round.

In the next couple days I will be steam bending the subtle serpentine curve in the back legs. In the mean time I’m going to go get a drink: it’s only about 100 degrees outside!

Frank Strazza

Surprise in the Shavings!


Josh in the shavingsYou never know what you will find down in the shavings! Sometimes I find missing tools, maybe a missing chair part, but today, I found my 4 year old son, oh what a ball of fun!

I have been working hard on shaping the back legs for 10 ladder back chairs. There are several steps to making the back legs. Check back as I have that reserved for a future post…

Frank Strazza

Trip To Lie-Nielsen Toolworks


Lie-Nielsen classroom

Jonathan and I had a wonderful time in Maine. We packed a whole lot in just a few short days. We met and reconnected with so many great people at Lie-Nielsen. We even got a personal tour of the shop and were able to see all the tools being made. Wow–what incredible detail! A lot of hand work goes into each and every tool! There were several demonstrators there, including Peter Follansbee, Mary May, Chris Schwarz, Chris Becksvort, Isaac Blackburn and Matthew Bickford, just to name a few.

Chris Becksvort

I built a little box and did some inlay on it, all during the show. It was made for a bronze number 4 plane and I presented it to Tom Lie-Nielsen at the end of the show.

Plane box

We ended the show with a traditional lobster bake and a great talk by Peter Follansbee, who is a wonderful speaker and a great craftsman.

A Maine Lobster bake


Follansbee giving a great talk

If you have never been to Lie-Nielsen its time you start planning your trip; you will be glad you did!

The following day, we took a 2-hour sailing trip out of the little town of Camden where we were staying. We sailed on a wooden schooner built almost 100 years ago. What a great Maine experience! I am going to write more about this in another post, it was just too impressive!

Sailboats Camden Maine

Then on to our friend Thomas Moser of Moser Cabinetmakers.

Moser walking into his personal shop

We had the wonderful oppurtunity to stay at his place which is on an island overlooking the tidal waters of the Atlantic ocean. It was a slice of heaven indeed! We then got a personal tour of Moser’s shop. It was a real treat spending time with Mr. Moser.

Moser describing the chair making process to Jonathan

Moser holding a mini chair


I can’t wait to return..


The view out our window

More sailboats Wooden Schooner

Frank Strazza







Setting Up Shop, Part 2: Power Tools

Many of our students ask what machines they should buy. Because I am building furniture for a living, I mill most of my wood using large machines, but I do most of my joinery and finish work by hand. I have given much thought to what machines the average woodworker, working in his home shop, really needs. I have come to the conclusion that you really only need a couple of machines, and those are primarily for roughing down stock to close dimension prior to working it. In the day before those machines existed, this would have been the work of the apprentice, using hand tools.



The first machine I recommend is a bandsaw. With it you can rip down stock, cut large curves and do light re-sawing. Get at least a 14″ saw. A bandsaw is fairly safe and does not take up much room.

Second, I would also invest in a planer. You can find a new 13″ planer for around $500. You will need to get a small dust collector for the planer. You can get one that is fairly portable.

Although a tablesaw is pretty handy for the serious woodworker, there are several reasons I hesitate to recommend it. The first is safety. It is the number one power tool in terms of causing shop accidents. It also takes up a lot of space. Instead of using a tablesaw, you can rip your boards on either the bandsaw or by hand.

Tablesaw with outfeed table

Tablesaw with Outfeed Table

On the other hand, if you do decide to invest in a tablesaw, you must, and I will say it again, you must have an outfeed table. Do not run the saw without an outfeed table. An outfeed table supports the stock so that when you are ripping, the piece you are cutting does not fall off the back of the saw. Without the outfeed table it is very easy to put your hand into the blade while trying to hold up or catch your stock.

Tablesaw Crosscut sled

Tablesaw Crosscut Sled

If you decide to get a tablesaw, take some time to build a crosscut sled as well. A simple crosscut sled will enable you to make crosscuts easily, accurately and safely.

Remember that you can mill rough wood using a few simple hand planes. I have two #5 Stanley planes for roughing my stock. I think you can pick these up for around $30 to $40 each. If you sharpen one with a convex blade, you can use it for “hogging” off stock rapidly. You then come back with another more finely set #5 for getting the high spots off. After you get one face flat, and free of any bow, cup or twist, you can run it through the planer to make both faces parallel. The whole process goes pretty fast. If you don’t have access to a planer, you can plane your wood flat, square and free of cup and twist using hand planes, a marking gauge, a straightedge and winding sticks. This is how boards were flattened for many years.

To sum up, you really don’t need thousands of dollars worth of woodworking machinery—all you need is the right hand tools, a few machines to speed things up if you need to, and above all, skill to use your tools. Check out our woodworking courses here on

Frank Strazza

Setting Up Shop, Part 1: Hand Tools

bench-and-toolsSetting up your woodworking shop can be a daunting task at first, with advertising ploys coming at you from every direction. If you have been to even one woodworking store and signed up for their e-mail newsletter, the next thing you know, your inbox is filled with advertisements for every imaginable gizmo and gadget, along with promises to make you a better woodworker! Or maybe you have come away from another woodworking show with more wonderful jigs and tools . . . . The question is what do you REALLY need to get started?

The answer depends on many variables. First consider how much space you have, then consider your budget, what you are planning to build and how much time you have to devote to your craft. I will assume that you have limited space and that you will mainly be using hand tools with a few selected machines. What I write here may not directly apply to your particular situation, but I hope you can glean some useful information from it.



The first and most important thing to have in your shop is a sturdy bench with at least one solid vise and a surface that does not shake or move when you work on it. Although a tail vise is not a must, it is very handy because it enables you to clamp your work on the face of the bench. I could write a whole article on the subject of workbenches alone, but as the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. Don’t skimp on your workbench, whether you build it or buy it. You want a heavy bench—one that would take you and all your neighbors to move; and you want a heavy top that will not vibrate when you chop mortises and dovetails. On the other hand, don’t let the lack of a good bench hold you back. Many fine pieces have been made on something as simple as a bench built from dimensional lumber from the home improvement center and joined together with good joinery. That’s what I use in my home shop—it is not pretty, but it is very functional.

After you get a good bench, I recommend starting with several hand tools. Spend as much as you can afford, but don’t let cost stop you from buying something to get started. You can learn to do beautiful work with very inexpensive tools. If you have the means to invest in high-quality new tools, you won’t need to spend as much time fixing up old tools. On the other hand, if you are willing to spend some time fixing up used tools, you can save a considerable amount of money, and you’ll be amazed at what you can find at antique stores, flea markets and even on Craigslist.

Here is a list of tools that should set you well on your way:

  • A set of sharpening stones and a strop—You’ll use these to sharpen all your edge tools to a razor edge. $50-155
  • An accurate combination square—Don’t buy a cheap combination square at the hardware store, as they tend to not be very accurate. Since accuracy is essential in woodworking, I recommend the Starrett, which is accurate and built to last a lifetime. $75
  • A set of chisels—1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″ and 1″ will do to begin with and will handle any kind of joinery including mortise cutting. You can get a good set of chisels for $70-275.
  • A strong layout knife—A chip-carving knife is adequate to begin with, although I prefer to use a marking knife that we make here at the school. $20-65
  • A combination marking/mortise gauge—You’ll use this in laying out nearly all your joinery. $37-60
  • A small saw (dovetail or gent’s saw)—I recommend the Lie-Nielsen thin plate. You’ll use this for cutting dovetails and doing other fine work. $25-125
  • A tenon saw—You’ll use your tenon saw a lot when doing hand-joinery, so I recommend getting a well-made saw. Working with a sharp saw makes a huge difference. Although many saws don’t come from the factory sharp, they can be sharpened easily with a few simple tools. (We teach how to do that in our one-day sharpening class and our new online course at $85-170
  • A panel saw—Often you can find these at antique stores. Look for Disston, if getting a used one. $10-220
  • A small hammer for joint assembly—I recommend a 10 oz. Warrington-style hammer. It has a flat head that doesn’t mar your work easily and is just the right weight. $10-25
  • A solid joiner’s mallet—At our shop, we make high-quality joiner’s mallets by hand. These are quite a bit larger and heavier than the carver’s mallets that are commonly available, and they are much more effective for joinery work. $45
  • Bech Plane

    Bench Plane

    A #4 or #4 1⁄2 smoothing plane—The smoothing plane is the first plane that I recommend and is one of the most used planes in my shop. I use it for smoothing the surfaces of the wood after it has come out of the planer. I also use it to shape wood. I recommend the Lie-Nielsen, or you can find a used Stanley on eBay. $75-325

  • A low angle block plane with an adjustable mouth—This plane is very handy for trimming end grain and easing the edges of your work. The adjustable mouth enables you to do very fine work. I recommend the Lie-Nielsen. $165
  • A Stanley #5—for roughing stock down. $25-275
  • A jointer plane either #7 or #8—Make sure that you get one that is flat. I recommend the Lie-Nielsen because it’s the only one that I know that is perfectly flat; or you can buy a used plane and flatten it. You’ll need this for getting edges perfectly flat and square in order to join larger pieces like table tops and dresser sides. $80-475
  • A brace—these are a “dime a dozen” on the used market. $20-100
  • A set of bits for the brace—I prefer the Russell Jennings. $40-100
  • A router plane such as the Stanley #71—Although you can do a lot of joinery without the router, it is really handy for cleaning out the bottom of dados. A smaller version of the traditional router plane can be used for small dados and inlay work. $55-80
  • A flat-bottomed spokeshave—You’ll use the spokeshave for shaping curves and spokes on different furniture elements. You can also use it for other types of carving, including spoon-carving. The old Stanley #151 is great. $28-97
  • A card scraper—I use this tool for all my finish work. You can smooth wiry grain and figured woods. This tool is quite inexpensive but invaluable in the shop. I recommend either the Lie-Nielsen or the Bahco. $10-15
  • A Stanley #80 cabinet scraper—This tool works wonders when smoothing out a glued-up tabletop where you have differing grain direction. You can also use it to smooth wild grain where a plane just will not work. The only good ones are the old used ones. $25-55
  • A burnisher—for sharpening scrapers. $21-45

The simple list of hand tools above is a good place to start; then as you progress you will find you need more tools for specific projects. Some of those could include a plow plane, a low angle jack plane, a travisher and a drawknife.

As I mentioned before, buy the best tools you can afford, but don’t let the high prices of the best tools hold you back. I have purchased most of my personal tools in used condition from antique stores and estate sales. Even though I think there are some very fine tool makers now, every time I pick up one of my old tools with its rich patina and the well-worn feel of the handle, I feel a sense of connection to the craftsmen of old. It makes me aspire to do my best to carry on the craft.

Remember, if you are using only hand tools, you can turn a spare bedroom in the house into a workshop. Working with hand tools is quiet and doesn’t require much space. When you work with hand tools you don’t make much dust, just shavings!

Here’s a list of good tool suppliers.

The above was originally published as “Setting up Shop” in the SustainLife Journal. Check back soon for Frank’s take on woodworking machinery. Learn how to use your new (or old!) woodworking tools here on

New Online Courses

I am sure most of you know by now about our online woodworking series that we just launched. We are very excited about this new venture, as it really is a way to reach out to so many new people all across the country and even abroad. Not only that, but for all of you that have taken classes with us, I think you will find it very helpful to be able to go back and refresh all that you have learned.


Here is an overview on how it works:

We are posting a series of videos every two weeks. We are starting out with the basics, the essentials, which as you all know is sharpening. Then we will move through our foundational course, beginning with the three basic joints. Then we will start introducing the three projects that you make in the foundational course, starting with the box and then the shelf and finishing up with the table. We are then going to offer a series on different projects.

The other advantage of the online membership is that you can post questions, including photos and videos of your work as you progress throught the different series.

Now some of the videos are free but in order to gain full access to the online membership you will have to sign up either monthly or yearly. More information can be found right here:
Online Courses FAQ

View the courses here:
View Online Woodworking Courses

Trip To Maine, Lie-Nielsen Open House


Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

It seems that time has gone by way too fast as the last blog entry was on the April Lie-Nielsen hand-tool event in Dallas.

This morning I find myself sitting in the mid-coast region of Maine. Today is the first day of Lie-Nielsen’s annual open house and Jonathan Schwennesen and I have had the great opportunity to come up here to put on some demonstrations with several other presenters. You can find more information here on Lie-Nielsen’s page.

I will be doing demos on needlepoint dovetails as well as tapered sliding dovetails, fortunately my tools made the flight! We will keep all of you posted and if you want a quicker update check out our new facebook page.

Lie-Nielsen Open House

If you have never been up here, it is worth the trip to see the facilities and how all these wonderful tools are made!

After a few days in Warren, we will head about an hour south to visit our friend Thomas Moser. We are really looking forward to seeing his place.

Please look for more articles in the very near future on this blog as I hope to get a lot more articles up and posted.

Lie-Nielsen Shop

Frank Strazza




Lie-Nielsen Show This Weekend, Dallas TX.

Cherry Shavings

Are your planes producing shavings like this?!! Come join us this weekend in Dallas Texas at Woodworld for a Lie-Nielsen Handtool event and learn how you can produce shavings like I was producing just a couple days ago, planing cherry for a table base.

First you need a good plane, and in my opinion Lie-Nielsen is one of the best out there. Then you need some good advice on how to sharpen and use the tools. We will be there to offer advice on how to sharpen and use handtools. You will find the Lie-Nielsen staff to be extremely helpful and knowledgeable in helping you choose the right tool for your woodworking.

We will also be demonstrating how to hand-cut half blind dovetails and the best way to use your hand planes, we will even do some inlay work as well.

You can see some of the different projects that you can make in one of our upcoming workshops including the blanket chest.

You won’t want to miss Lynn Dowd, who along with his wife Tracy, bring a great collection of vintage tools, come early to pick through the lot. Tracy always has a fresh pot of coffee going and she might even bring one of her homemade pies too!

Woodworld will be hosting the show. This is a great opportunity to stock up on some of that special hardwood for your next project!

The show is this Friday and Saturday, April 11 and 12. It will be held at Woodworld next to Texas Instruments off of HW 75 in Dallas. Click on the Link for Directions.

Lie-Nielsen Planes


Frank Strazza

Craftsman Rocker


Well we survived another Craftsman Rocking Chair class! Now there are five more people who understand why quality furniture costs so much! We pushed hard the whole class so we wouldn’t have to leave at midnight on Saturday.

I’ve been realizing how much the majority of people have absolutely no idea how much work it takes to build a handmade quality piece of furniture. It’s a good thing this kind of furniture can pass from generation to generation! (It’s not something your going to find at the local furniture factory). Not only can you keep the rocking chair in the family for generations, but you made it yourself with your own hands! I find that very rewarding.

Also you will probably be happy to hear we just installed a piece of non-glare glass to go in front of the video screen. It’s going to help a lot when you can actually see what the camera is focused on instead of the reflection of the front door every time a visitor walks in!

Finished rocking chairs

Monday we made the front frame; mortises, (some were done on the machine… sorry Frank) tenons, the tenon that passes through the arm, cut the arch, planed, scraped and sanded all the parts, then glued up.

Cutting the top tenon on the front post

Glueing the front frame

 Tuesday we started on the back frame, doing mortises, tenons and fitting.

Wednesday was spent cutting the mortises that house the back slats and fitting them in place, final fitting of the tenons, and finally glued it up.

Trimming the shoulders of the support rails

 Thursday was angled tenons! If you want to get confused come learn about them! We cut and fit each angled tenon, checking and double checking to make sure they had been laid out correctly before cutting.

Laying out the side rails

Humm… What’s for lunch?

 Friday we glued up the side rails connecting the back frame with the front frame, and started the arms.

Shaping the arm

 Saturday we finished the arms, cut the legs to length and made the tenons that fit into the rockers. Then cut the mortises into the rockers and fit them.

Planing the rockers

Cutting the legs to length

Finally get to relax!

 A happy chair owner!

Enjoy your chairs,

Jonathan Schwennesen