Repairing an Antique Lockset Return Spring

Given our house is 130 year old, it is not unexpected that some things are going to start wearing out. This is particularly true of mechanical components that get regular use such as locksets. The continued used eventually causes things like springs to fail due to metal fatigue. This entry discusses repairing an antique lockset return spring. I know this isn’t strictly a woodworking project but certainly peripherally related to restoration so I’ll include it in the category.

The lockset on the door leading from our kitchen to our mudroom began to fail to remain closed. The bolt was no longer extending automatically after the doorknob was turned,

As a result, it would no longer engage with the strike plate and the door would just swing open.

Diagnosing the Problem

Removing the lockset for repair requires removing one of the doorknobs and sliding the spindle out of the lockset. Then only two screws need to be removed from the face of the lockset and it slides right out.

Once you have the lockset out, there is a single screw that holds the side cover on.

Removing the cover lets you see the interior of the lockset.

If you are wondering what the white is, it is lithium grease. My first thought was that the mechanism simply needed lubrication but this was not the case. The actual problem was that the spring that returned the bolt to its extended position had failed. You can see the spring, a thin strip of spring steel, in both the relaxed and tension state at the bottom of case in the following images.

Repairing the Spring

Now here is the problem, how do you find a replacement spring for a 130 year old lockset. I’m sure that somewhere on the interwebs you could find someone that sells replacements. I’m cheap and impatient, however, so I went looking for something I had on hand instead. It turns out that an old hacksaw blade is the same thickness and spring as the original piece.

A quick trip to the grinder and I have a replacement piece for the lockset.

I then slip this into place in the lockset case and close it back up.

With the new spring in place, the lockset was back in working order. I expect that we can get another 130 years of use out of it now.

Thanks for reading!

Oak Doll Bed

Recently, my youngest daughter turned 9. One of the things on her list of requests for presents was a bed for her American Doll, Grace. I’m sure that these things are available for sale but I wanted something more personal. It seemed like a great chance to build something using some of the scrap pieces from around the shop. I used the following process to make an Oak Doll Bed.

Preparing the Stock

The wood that I used for the project was all oak. I used a combination of off-cuts from other projects and some parts (apron and legs) from an old end table. The plan was to create four posts with the head board and foot board stretchers as well as the side rails mortised into it.

The side rails were ripped from the aprons. I decided to keep the remainder of the aprons intact as they looked like they could be used later as handles for other projects if needed.

I used the table saw and jointer to square up the legs which would become the bed posts. To keep the dimensions as large as possible, I didn’t completely remove the tapers. I’d work the not squared areas into design details later in the process.

Finally, I cut the all the posts and side rails to size and got ready to do the joints.

Cutting Joints

As I mentioned, all the joints were mortise and tenon (1/4″ in all cases). I started by putting 45 degree chamfers on the corners of the top of the posts as a design feature. This was followed by cutting the various mortises after marking them out with marking gauge.

Then, before moving on, I decided to add some 1/4″ beading to the corners of the posts. The was probably overkill but gave me a chance to try out my 1/4″ side bead plane. I picked it up at the antique market a few weeks back. After working to tune and sharpen it, I wanted to test it out.

Aside from the design feature, there is something sort of magical in watching the profile of the bead appear more completely after each stroke. By alternately running a bead on both edges of each face, I ended up with the desired pattern running all around the post.

This was followed by cutting the tenons and tuning them to final size with my Veritas shoulder plane.

I have to give props to Veritas here as the plane is wonderful. It is easy to hold, which is not always the case with shoulder planes, and the set screws for the blade make it easy to control side projection of the blade.

For some of the smaller stretchers, I didn’t even bother to pull out the saw and just used a knife and the shoulder plane to cut the tenons to size.

The last step was to test the fit. Things came out pretty well though, with these very small parts, getting things to perfect square can be a bit of a challenge. Even very small errors cause very noticeable problems.

Aside from the final outcome, the project was a success in that it forced me to be more careful in how I cut these joints. I think this will serve me well in future projects.


Assembly was straight forward.

It was at this point that I realized I’d need some supports running across the bottom of the frame to hold the “mattress”. I hadn’t actually thought through what to do for that yet though.

I set the supports into notches in the side rails so that they were flush with the surface. Then it was just a matter of gluing up and clamping.

You may also notice some lighter patches along the side rails. As the wood for these was scavenged from the old table aprons, they had screw holes through them at regular intervals. I used epoxy wood putty to fill the holes as I was doing the glue up.

Mid-course Design Change

After I had sanded everything and put a coat of orange shellac onto the bed frame, I started trying to figure out how I was going create the mattress.

While the 3 middle supports worked well, there was no support at the head and foot of the bed. To rectify this, I took a piece of 3/16″ plywood that I had laying around, cut it to size and notched the corners to fit around the bed posts. I then gave it a quick coat of shellac to help it blend with the rest of the bed.

The shape of the piece allows it to drop on to the bed from the top. The notches and the bed posts keep the panel in place.

I still haven’t figured out exactly what to do for a mattress but this will have to do in the meantime.

The Finished Product

The final result was a success and Anneliese is very happy to have a bed for Grace now. She seems to be quite comfortable sleeping on it with her pet dog.

I love the fact that Anneliese left her an apple and made her a tiny box of tissues. It’s there beside the bed in case she needs to use one during the night.

For now, all seem to be happy. I’ll post an update later if I figure out a way to make a mattress for her.

If you’re interested in seeing any of the other woodworking projects that I have posted, you can find them here. Thanks for reading!

Cat Themed Birthday Cake

Well, my little girl has just turned 9 and in the tradition we have been following for many years, she was allowed to pick what she wanted her birthday cake to look like. Her decision was a cat themed birthday cake which is not surprising as she’s asked for a lot of animal themed cakes over the years. If you are interested in seeing any of the others, have a look here.

As you can tell, the design is pretty tall so it wasn’t very feasible to make the whole thing out of cake. Instead, I turned to one of my favorite sculptaple materials for cakes – Rice Krispy Treats!

I started with a base of chocolate cake covered in chocolate icing. I sculpted the cat out of warm Krispy treats and then popped it in the freezer to firm it up. Finally I dropped it on the top of the cake leaving room for the lettering.

From that point, it was just a matter of piping on icing to form the fur, eyes, lettering and other details. I used a comb tip while piping on the white base layer. This allowed me to use the direction of the piping to suggest the shape of the body and fur. I then used a fine tip with chocolate icing to simulate tabby markings on the cat.

Overall, I think it turned out pretty well – and it was delicious.

Of course, the birthday girl got to have the first piece. Her selection was perhaps a bit morbid but appropriate given how close to Halloween we are.

But don’t worry, it rest was handled pretty quickly and I can assure you there was no suffering! Just lots of happy, full tummies!

Thanks for reading!

Scary Brownie Eyes for Halloween

Halloween is upon us as are the parties that people have at this time of year. We were invited to a party this weekend where we were asked to bring along some “scary” food. So we are bringing some Scary Brownie Eyes for Halloween!

Here is how we put them together.

The Ingredients

The ingredients are pretty easy. You’ll need the following:

Some Two Bite Brownies…

Some Candy Eyeballs…

Chocolate Icing…

And any assorted other colors of icing for details I’ll discuss later…

Putting Things Together

The idea is to make the brownies look like they each have eyes peering out of them. Doing this is actually pretty easy.  Start with the brownies and put a dollop of chocolate icing to hold the eye in place.

Now drop the eye on and press to adhere.

Next, we piped chocolate icing on to form the upper and lower eyelids.

For the final touch, and to make the eyes as creepy as possible, we used a variety of different color icings to simulate blood, pus, or other bodily fluids dripping out of the eyes. Delicious!

As you can tell, this is well suited to assembly line production and, using that, the girls and I managed to put together a lot of these in very short order. So we have a good collection of brownie eyes for the party and some extras on top of that.

Happy Halloween!



Nortel Baystack 5520 Fan Rescue

This post is a bit out of the ordinary as the subject is more on network tech issues (albeit old tech) rather than my usual woodworking or renovation topics. I’m going to describe the work I did to extend the life of my main network switch by talking about my Nortel Baystack 5520 fan rescue.

As some of you may remember, when I did the renovation of our main bathroom, I put in a wireless access point. If not, and you’re interested, you can see the post here. I had the wall open so it was a good time to run some cat-5 cable up and get some additional Wi-Fi coverage for the upstairs.

Some background on the setup

I use Ubiquiti Unifi AC Pro access points, which are PoE, so I need a switch that supports that. In typical overkill fashion, I picked up a pair of old Nortel Baystack 5520-48T-PWR switches on ebay for a song and use them in a hot/cold configuration as my main switches. As Nortel came apart, Avaya picked up the switches and manufactured them under the ERS 5500 designation.

Fans are the Weak Spot

The 5520s are pretty bomb proof in general but do have one specific weakness. In order to deal with the heat generated by supporting PoE over 48 ports, they can produce a lot of heat. As a result, they have a row of 6 40mm x 40mm x 20mm fans running along one side to draw air through.

These fans move a lot of air, which is not a problem but is noisy. The issue is that given the switches are over a decade old, the fans are well past their average failure date. As a result, it is not uncommon for them to just fail and stop spinning. Sometimes you can coax them back into life temporarily but, that is temporary at best and you’ll find they simply grind to a halt later. That’s where mine was at. In the period of about a week, I dropped from having 6 functioning fans to only 2. The switch never hiccuped but, with heat and electronics, it was only a matter of time. Something needed to be done.

My first stop was to look for some replacements and there are good options. Unfortunately, a set of 6 fans new would run me around $150. That was more than I was willing to put into my $25 ebay finds. I though maybe I could do something to refurb the existing fans. Maybe get them running for a while longer until I decide what to do.

Lubricating the Fans

The fans are a mechanical device so it made sense to me that maybe I could just lubricate them to get them running smoothly again. A bit of a long shot but total cost for the experiment: about an hour of my time.

First job is to pull the case open. Takes a total of 20 screws to get the cover off. A bit of a pain but relatively easy to do – no fancy fasteners,  just good old Phillips head screws. Once it is off, you have full access to the fans.

Two more screws release each fan.

The fans are pretty self contained. However, if you peel the sticker off the center, you can get access to bearing for the fan.

I gave a little spritz with pot control cleaner and lubricant followed by a spin of the fan. I then fired it up to see what happened. To my surprise and pleasure, my previously unresponsive fan immediately spun up to speed and continued on happily. I gave it a little more lubricant to be safe and then moved on to do the rest of the fans. In the end, I had 6 of 6 spinning along happily again.

Modifying the Case

I’ve left things running for a couple of hours to make sure that they don’t just grind to a halt again. I’m not so naive to think this has fixed my problems. These are my main switches so it is rather inconvenient to have to disassemble just to refresh the lubrication. My solution to this is to make a modification to the case to allow me to re-lubricate the fans without disassembling things.

First use a punch to set the center of each fan cover.

Now drill a hole large enough to expose the bearing section of the underlying fan.

I know that the holes are pretty rough but, after grinding the edges smooth, they serve the purpose.

Finally re-install the cover on the now revived switch.

Final Thoughts

Before anyone gets upset that I’ve exposed the bearings, or am using the wrong lubricant, or such, keep a few things in mind:

  • The switch is over a decade old so I don’t feel like I’m reducing some future resale with my modifications.
  • It only cost me $25 in the first place so refurbing for over $100 is not very palatable.
  • This is not a production environment, just a lab. If things fail out, it isn’t the end of the world.

In the end, it provides me with a simple way to get a bit more life out of my switches. I’ll have to replace them but, in the meantime, I can keep that money in my pocket. There is also a certain sense of satisfaction in having got things back in working order. Whether that last is another question but I’ll post an update later to document the longevity (or lack of) for the project.

Thanks for reading!


Barrister Bookcase Restoration – Shelf Repairs (Part 2)

You can find part 1 of the Barrister Bookcase Restoration here.

The first piece of work I decided to take on was replacing the missing piece of wood on the front edge of one of the shelves.

Luckily, I had picked up a number of pieces of white oak for a couple of bucks each. This dimensions and grain just happened to match up nicely with what I needed here. The remainder will also be useful for the creation of the replacement cover frame later.

Preparing for Repair

When you are trying to splice in a broken piece of wood during a repair, things will go a lot easier if you can remove ragged edges first. By cutting a flat reference plane at the damage site, it is much easier to shape a replacement piece. So, out came a wide chisel and I formed a flat surface at the break.

It probably doesn’t look much different but it is. The flat surface allows me to use a plane to shape a matching surface on the replacement piece of wood.

Choosing the Patch

I could use almost any piece of scrap oak if this repair was on the side or back of the shelf. Since it is on the front of the shelf, it is important that the patch not only matches in shape but also follows the grain of the original piece. This will make it much easier to disguise the repair later during finishing. I cut a wedge shaped piece of oak on an angle that attempted to align with the grain of the shelf.

You can see that I was lucky enough to find a piece where the grain has a very similar character to the wood it is replacing.

Shaping the Patch

The next part is the tedious one. It involves the shaping of the patch to match the damaged area of the shelf. I do this with a combination of planes, chisels, rasps, and files. Th process is hold the patch in place, look for high spots where it meets the damaged area, shave off a little, and check the fit. Lather, rinse, repeat, and repeat, and repeat…

I’m sorry I didn’t take more intermediate photos but I got so caught up in getting things to fit that I forgot. In any case, here is a picture of the roughly shaped patch.

At this point, the flat angle on the back of the patch was mating well with the exposed surface of the repair while maintain grain alignment. Next step was to glue it into place and begin trimming it to align with the shelf surface.

Final Shaping

At this point, it is a matter of shaping/carving the patch to blend into the existing wood. Again, I use a combination of a block plane, chisels, and various rasps and files (conveniently held in my ABS Pipe File Rack). The front of the patch was actually pretty easy to deal with as it is mostly meeting flat surface to flat surface. The outcome looks pretty good and I think the refinishing should hide the patch nicely.

The bottom of the patch was a bit more of a challenge. There is a curved cavity under the front edge of the shelves. This is to provide clearance for opening the glass front of the shelf stacked below it. As such, I had to do a bit of carving to match the patch to the curve of the shelf to make sure there will not be any interference when it is complete.

I know there is a gap but that is only on the underside, it shouldn’t be visible once things are finished up.

One challenge down, a bunch more to go…

Barrister Bookcase Restoration (Part 1)

Quite a few years ago, my wife picked up a set of barrister bookshelves because we needed some shelves for the many books that we had collected over the years. The condition of these particular shelves left much to be desired but were still functional.

Only two of the sections actually had covers and, of those, only one with glass in it. Even that one pane of glass is missing a piece. There were also plenty of scratches, cracks, and missing chunks of wood. That being said, the price was excellent and they were still extremely solid so we used them without the covers for years as regular book shelves. As we’ve started to clean out some of our library, we’ve found that they aren’t needed anymore so I thought I’d take the opportunity to do a barrister bookcase restoration to get them ready for sale.

What are Barrister Bookcases?

Barrister bookcases are a specific kind of bookshelf characterized by their modular nature. Each shelf, as well as base and top, are individual sections. As such, you can stack as many or as few together to build shelf of the size that is needed. This has the added advantage of making them portable. Each section is quite compact and light making moving less of a chore. In fact, the original design came out of a need to move books in an efficient manner. The individual shelves could be moved as is without even removing the books.

A second defining feature is the presence of a glass cover on each shelf. These covers lift up and then slide in over the top of whatever is on their shelves. This provides protection for the contents from dust and helps keep the shelves looking tidy in general.

Assessing the Damage – Covers

First step is to have a look at the various issues that will need to be addressed. As I mentioned, only two of the original 3 covers survived so I will have to build a third cover to complete the set. In addition, the glass will need to be sourced for all three as even the one that has glass is missing a piece in the corner.

There are some additional problems with one of the shelf unit’s hardware. The runners for the cover appear to be missing. You can see in the pictures below there is a metal rail for the covers to ride on for two of the shelves.

On the third one, there is only a strip of wood present.

It is possible that this third one is older and the wood is original while the metal slides were only introduced later. Given the three are currently together in a set, I think it makes sense to try and recreate a third metal slide here if possible. I’ll have to think more on this one before undertaking it.

Structural Issues

The next challenge is the damage to the front edges of a couple of the shelves. One is only cracked and can be glued back together followed by a bit of finish work to hide the split.

The other is actually missing a significant chunk of wood. I’ll have to patch in some replacement wood and try to blend it in so it’s not so noticeable.

Addressing the Finish

There is a significant stain on the top that I will try to bleach out and refinish to make it less of an issue.

The finish on the faces of some of the shelves has been damaged. I’ll address this as well. Should be an easier fix than the top I think.

Finally, there is a general mismatch in the finish on the sides of the three shelf sections. The grain and finish is very different for each section but they all look like oak. They may have all came from different production runs and later been put together as a harlequin set.

I’m actually not sure that I’ll attempt to do anything with this. The finish on the darkest shelf is badly orange peeled. I may strip the sides of it. I’ll see if I still have energy for it at the end of the restoration.

Next post I’ll get down to work…

Part two of the restoration can be found here.

Building an ABS Pipe File Rack (Part 3)

This is part 3 of my ABS pipe file rack build. You can find part 2 here.

After looking through my scrap pile for an appropriate sized piece for the bottom of the rack, I found another section of Chinese elm that I could use.

It was just long enough to use once the ends were squared off. I ripped a 5/8″ strip off one side to use as a lift strip to keep the tubes up off the bottom. If that doesn’t make sense now, you’ll see it better once it is complete.

Cutting Slots for the Bottom

I started by taking a measurement for the slot off the bottom piece using a Veritas Dual Marking Gauge.

I then use a wide chisel to further define and deepen the outline of the slot.

At this point, I can use my beloved router plane to clear out a layer of wood.

This cycle of chisel to router plane is repeated until I reach the desired depth. I suppose that I could use a chisel to hog out more wood in a single pass as I do with a dado but I find it hard to control. The router plane takes a bit longer but the end results are much cleaner.

Prepping the Bottom

More for practice than for need I decided to put the lift strip in a groove in the bottom. To do this I marked out the edges with a knife and then ran the router plane down to make the grooves.

I was then able to glue the strip into the groove, ready for final assembly.

Final Assembly

As everything is sitting in slots or notches, I simply needed to glue the joints and clamp everything.

To finish up, I trimmed the ends of slats flush and put a coat of orange shellac over the entire file rack.

Finally, I fit the ABS tubes into place and filled them up with the files and rasps.

Here is a close up of how the lift strip on the bottom holds the tubes up. This allows any dust on the files to clear the tubes rather than collecting in their bottoms.

Hope you enjoyed it – thanks for reading!

You can find part 1 of the build here.



Building an ABS Pipe File Rack (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my file rack build using ABS tubing. You can find part one of this project here.

My design for the file rack is to contain the ABS tubes with two solid end pieces attached by strips at front and back. These strips will sit in notches in the side pieces. At the bottom will be a flat panel with a set of 3 small strips running lengthwise across it. This will provide support for the bottom of the tools. It will also have a gap where saw dust and such can escape the bottom of the  tubes.

Cutting the notches

I started by laying out the notches. No measurements here, just laying things out so they look good. I made my marks directly from pieces using a knife and a Veritas marking gauge.

The lines are a little hard to see but here they are cut in below.

Given that this is just a utility piece, I could go straight to the saw now. However, I like to take advantage of a chance to practice my “first class cuts”. I do this by taking a chisel to cut a trench to the waste side of the knife line that forms a trench for the saw to ride in.

This helps to keep the edges of the joint crisp and clean since they will be visible in the finished piece. As I mentioned, the Chinese elm is not working as well as I’d hoped. You can see that even with the knife and chisel work, the edges are not particularly clean.

A quick cut with a back saw forms the edge of the notch.

I put a couple more kerfs into the waste section and then use a chisel to clear the bulk of the wood. It’s important to work from both sides here and at an angle moving up and away from the base line.

The result is a slight ridge in the center of the waste. This can be subsequently removed and smoothed with a router plane.

Note that I’ve clamped a second piece next to the one I’m working on. This provides the needed support for the base of the router plane when bridging the notch. In this case, I was using the other side but any offcut with a straight edge will do the trick.

A quick check of the fit of the notches. You can see the checking that I talked about in my earlier post. Doesn’t look great but this is for the shop and shouldn’t impact the function.

Finally do a dry assembly to check things. The tolerances are tight enough that it holds together by friction until I insert the tubes, then I needed clamps for support.

Next steps are to build the bottom, assemble the file rack, and put on a finish of some sort.

Thanks for reading!






Apple Pie!

As fall is making itself known, with cooler weather and trees starting to dress themselves in red and gold, it is the perfect time for pie making! A few weeks ago, we visited our local orchard to do some apple picking. Among the haul was a bag of Cortland apples. The level of flavor and acid in these apples makes them perfect for baking. And so, that’s what we did.


I actually made up the pastry last night and neglected to take pictures. Nothing special, I just look up a recipe on the net (for this time this is it) and follow it. Haven’t followed the same one twice yet they always seem to work. What that says to me is that technique trumps over recipe here. For me that means keeping things cool, not cutting the lard (always lard, not shortening) too finely, and not overworking it once you add in your liquid.

Our counter top is soapstone. In my opinion it is the best counter material you could ever ask for and does a good job of keeping things cool. In any case, pastry was made and wrapped up in cling wrap over night.

Prepping Apples

Getting the apples ready is the main job in a good apple pie. You can never have too many so it is good to have tools to speed along the peeling and coring. We actually have two implements, one traditional metal one and one modern plastic Starfrit one. The Starfrit is an amazing peeling machine removing only a thin layer of apple. It does not do any additional functions however.

The  traditional metal peels, cuts, and cores the apples. The peeling action is less than efficient, however, often resulting in missed sections. Even when it does peel, it takes a thick layer of flesh with it so a lot of the apple is wasted.

The answer is to first peel the apples with the Starfrit and follow that up with cutting and coring on the traditional machine. With the help of two of the girls, it is a very efficient production line. They had all the apples ready long before I could get the pastry rolled out and placed into the pans.

To the apples, I added a couple of heaping tablespoons of flour, some sugar (3/4 cup?), salt, vanilla extract, and some spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves). I don’t really have any measurements as I just do it by eye. Every pie is a little different – it’s a nice surprise!

The End Result

Once the apples are ready and the pastry is rolled, it is just a matter of putting the pies together, brushing with egg wash, sprinkling a little sugar on, and popping them in the oven. Any left over pastry can be re-rolled, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, cut into pieces, and baked.

First, this gives a nice little treat that gives you a sense of how the pie is going to turn out. Second, and more important in my opinion, is that it reminds me of growing up where my mom would do the same thing when making a pie. My brother and I loved to eat the baked pastry.

So, after about an hour in the oven at 400 degrees F, the pies are ready.

Based on the look of the crust at the edge combined with the off-cuts we had earlier, I’d say that these will be delicious and very flaky!

For those of you that are wondering if I make all our pies, I don’t. Here is a picture of one of my pies sitting next to a giant pumpkin pie from Costco that we are saving for supper tomorrow. Yes, the pumpkin is bigger and I’m sure will be good but you gotta admit, my apple pie looks much more delicious.

For all my fellow Canadians – Happy Thanksgiving!

EDIT: For those of you that were wondering – the pies turned out great!