A New Look On an Old Craft

By

Cree Vicar Dave  - SASS Life #49907 

Are you looking for a winter hobby to fill the void of “Cowboy Action Shooting”™ till spring?  Cowboy Action slows down during winter in Michigan so I spend a good portion of that time reviving an old craft, making wood log chain.  I enjoy building unique items.  Whether created out of wood or metal my best effort is always put forth to produce a quality product.  Some one asked a while ago to just throw something together for them out of wood. My response was “I don’t make junk.”  If it has the Cree Vicar’s name on it there are certain parameters involved.  It says in the Book of Proverbs Chapter 22 and verse 29, “Do you see a man diligent and skilful in his business?  He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.”  (The Amplified Bible)  It is not known to me if kings read the “Cowboy Chronicle” but you cowboys and cowgirls who conduct yourselves with integrity in the “Spirit of the Game” are as royalty to me. 

With that said I would like to show you the wood log chains, made out of a real logs, I have been making for the past decade.  In the old days these chains were carved by hand out of a single board or small log.  Many were made in the logging camps or yore at the end of the short winter working days.  My father carved a wood chain like that out of white cedar with a swivel link in the middle when he was a young man.  But I opt for the table saw, drill press and router power tools.  At my age I have more time than money thought time seems to go by much faster than it used to.  During winter I envision spring and “Cowboy Action Shooting”™ just around the corner when I am working in my shop.  These chains make an impressive gift.  I place one on the Cowboy Action prize table from time to time.

Red oak is my preference when working with wood.  All the small pieces left over from projects are saved.  When around a clothes basket full of ¾” thick scraps have amassed they are cut into2 3/16” x 3 5/8” pieces with the grain aligning with the longer measurement. Two7/8” holes are drilled on the center line running with the grain so as ¾” of wood is left intact on each end.  The wood between the holes can be removed with a smaller drill or a ¾” mortising tool. This leaves a little stock to be removed by the router bit.  Removing this stock between the holes makes it easier on the router bit.  The outside corners can also be rounded off a little with a band saw to promote router bit endurance.  The first chain I made was formed using a saber saw and file on the inside slot and a disc sander for the outside.  Then a router was used to round the inside and outside edges using homemade fixtures.  Since then I have made and remade fixtures to hold the pieces for each operation from start to finish using a router table.

The first set of fixtures used to hold the rectangle pieces to router the inter slot and the outside contour were handmade out of hard maple.  I also made fixtures out of wood to hold the pieces when rounding the inside and outside edges.  The design still works well but I found that the wood fixtures used to form the slots and outside contour wore down because of the constant bearing pressure of the ½” shear cut flush trim bit running on it.  The problem was solved by a toolmaker friend that goes to our Church.  He made me a set of fixtures out of brass that was mounted on a wood housing.  Chain links are now turned out like on an assembly line.

The router bits were purchased from Grizzly.   The ½” diameter “Shear Cut Flush Trim Bit” is used to form the inside slot and the outside contour.  The 5/16” radius “Roundover Bit” is used to round the inside and outside of the link.  The links are then dipped in water and stacked to dry.  This helps bring out the grain.  When dry they are sanded with a “Sand-O-Flex” wheel sander.  A coat of stain and then varnish are applied.  I clamp a long Quick Grip clamp on an upright and use the tail to hang the links on after staining and varnishing.  Next choose the links you want for a chain.  Every other one is broken in half, with the grain if possible, glued together and held with a rubber band to form the chain.  Hooks can be formed, finished and affixed to each end.  It is then resanded, stained and varnished to finish the chain.  Or use your imagination.  A wood anchor or padlock can be joined to the end of the chain.  Recently a friend at Church asked me to make a chain with an anvil on one end and a horseshoe on the other.  After a little diligent head work it was turned out “Fit for a king.”

I mentioned to the Vicar’s Wife that I might live long enough to see some of my works end up on the “Antique Road Show”.  She just laughed.  Hey, who knows, with God all things are possible.

Be sure to follow all safety instructions, wear safety glasses, dust masks etc and have proper ventilation.

God Bless,

Cree Vicar Dave