The Fuigo Joinery: Part V, The Finish


Sometimes I forget to show things that I think are too commonly understood, but the humble shooting board deserves a mention. When I first read of this tool in one of Tom Fidgen’s books it was like a revelation. Seriously, how does one get on in the shop without a shooting board? I’m still using my push style board on top of my planing beam because its already been made, no need to waste this one just to be pulling a plane across the work. And this little low angle block plane with adjustable mouth is exceptionally effective at end grain work. Here I’m trimming the piston head board to length.


I use the wedge from my shoulder plane as a template whenever I’m cutting mortises that will be wedged. For some reason I felt like laying this out with ink, sometimes the ink is more comfortable because its so easy to see, though a little less accurate than knife lines in theory. In practice the more accurate line to work to is the one that you can actually see clearly. I’ve taken to moving around a small work light just to get things properly lit in the shop on days when the daylight is missing.


After mortising the piston head board I roughed down the handle to a cylinder and drilled the hole for the piston rod tenon.  The handle has to be made first so that the tenon can be fitted properly at the lathe. I decided to make the hole blind, part of the clean look of the fuigo.


I struggle to make forms that are not ugly at the lathe. If you asked me what looks good in terms of curve and form I couldn’t tell you. Its much easier to say something is ugly and keep removing wood until it looks good, that’s generally my approach. I may have looked at half a dozen pictures of fuigo with these handles, but you don’t really see the form until you make one for yourself.


The piston rod, having previously been squared and cut to length, was mounted with a two jaw chuck. When I was drawing the plans for the fuigo, this is one of the design constraints for total length of the box. This lathe may suck but it does have some decent bed length.


The chuck is holding the wedged tenon end, with the handle end against the tail stock so that its easy to check the tenon fit on the handle without unmounting from the lathe. After roughing down to a cylinder I used my parting tool and caliper to cut down to 1″ diameter along the length of the cylinder.


The cut that defines the shoulder between the square cross section and the cylinder is a good example of the different quality of cut between the parting chisel and skew chisel. Basically the difference between cross-cut and rip-cut.  The tip of the skew chisel, although it makes me nervous to make this cut, gives a beautiful clean end grain cut without tear out.


The skew chisel, with hand as steady rest, was also indispensable for smoothing down the cylinder to final dimension. I made a gauge block for the bearing ID so that I could check the piston rod without dismounting from the lathe. The final bit of fit was brought in with 220 grit sandpaper, so that the bearing gauge ran smoothly over the piston rod.


With the lathe work done I cut the tenon and marked for the wedge that secures the face of the piston head board. I used the tenon cheek cut-off to support the tenon as I mortised.


Mortise cut, tenon chamfered, looking good.


I had a little scrap of walnut that was the right width for the 1/2″ wedges, so it makes some nice contrast, though you’ll never see it in use. The piston head board was from flat sawn stock, so it cupped a little. I placed the concave face on the side opposite the wedges, just seemed to make sense like that. Eventually the handle will be drilled for a cross-pin, but I don’t want to do that until the piston is fitted to the fuigo because the handle has to be off to take the rod out of the box. I also shortened the piston rod by 1/2″ from the plans so that it would actually fit in the box. As you can probably imagine, the piston rod and head board have to be wedged after assembly while inside the fuigo.


I would love to find some kind of fur to use as the gasket material, fur is probably the better material because of its natural slickness and fuzziness. As it is I really want to get this thing working, and I can always replace a thin gasket with a thicker one later. With a pair of calipers I measured this towel to be 1/16″ at full compression, 3/32″ in use. So each side of the piston head board was reduced 3/32″, with the exception of the bottom which I only reduced 1/16″ because the gasket material will compress more under the weight of the head board.


The fit turned out to be quite good with the clearances I guessed for the gasket material, perhaps a little tight top to bottom, but I’m going to see if that changes with a bit of use once the piston is “run in” a bit. All of the internal wooden surfaces in contact with the piston head received two coats of paste finishing wax to make the action nice and smooth. Even as careful as I was with drilling the piston rod bearing and dimensioning the piston rod I still had a little binding towards the back of the stroke (when the rod is pulled out all the way). I could have adjusted the bearing, but in this case just hand sanded the bearing rod until it ran smoothly along its length. I finished the piston rod with a coat of paste wax as well. The lid is simply held on with a snug fit, I didn’t see the need for fasteners.


And here it is, ready to breath life to a forge. It feels a bit tight, but I’ll wait to make adjustments until I use it a bit. I still need to pin the handle to the rod, but its tight enough at the moment that I’ll wait. It pushes some serious air! I am deeply satisfied with how this project turned out, I totally disregarded the length of time it took to complete. Now, looking at the finished object, it still amazes me that I have one of these, I almost don’t believe that it works so well.


If you’re into these fuigo you’ve probably read about the gentle woosh of air, the calming click of the valves. The only thing I can compare it to is the meditative quality of shishi-odoshi used in Japanese gardens.  This bellows is the quality of a professional tool, part of me knows I’ve made something too good for me, I aspire to be worth using it.

Next comes making a charcoal kiln for proper softwood charcoal. And perhaps, if my vision stays clear enough and I can train enough carpenters, a small building to house the forge, like Mark has imagined here.

15 thoughts on “The Fuigo Joinery: Part V, The Finish”

    1. Thank you! This all started with a link to the John Burt video you sent me. Were all casting stones into a pond and seeing what the ripples create, its impressive from both ends.

  1. Dude… mad props.

    Your right, that is too good for you! You’ll just have to ship it to me!

    I rushed into my bellows having a vague idea and a go-lucky approach, just using pallet wood and scrap plywood. My bellows were too small to pump enough air as a result.

    You took your time, went slowly over the details, did way more research, and succeeded as a result.

    Seriously thought that thing is beautiful. What’s the plan on a finish? Paint, lacquer, charring?

    1. Thanks Steven! I rubbed on a coat of Danish oil last night, just to seal up the grain a bit so that it cycles moisture more evenly. Other than that I’ll just have to wait for the patina of use and age.

  2. That’s a beauty. May it breath life into countless tools for the years to come.

    Train carpenters and hopefully they become your friends, then make a big minga. I’d love to drop by to help with the building.

    1. Thanks! You know, we had gotten a quote from some pro timber framers to do just the upper story front gable of the house, nothing too complicated, at $50,000. As a woodworker I can understand why they had to ask that price, and it probably could have been negotiated down a bit. That cost would have been half the total cost of the building the house, totally unacceptable. If were really going to make an impact we need to train as many people as possible. If only one in ten people I meet are capable of developing the skill do this work I think I can have half a dozen in two years capable of building structure, myself included. I know its a ways out, but these things simply can’t be rushed to success.
      Getting the fuigo set up, doing some basic tool forging, that’s not only materially useful to me, but a great draw for everyone that comes here. I’m still going to focus on making yasuri, its just taking a while to get the right stuff together. If I can make some decent charcoal I’ll be 75% of the way there.

      1. Hey, I got some charcoal kiln plans for you, will send copies next week, fuigo looks good, looks like you need a raccoon skin for a proper gasket. Three raccoons broke in through a window screen last week, at night. A big one and two little ones, pretty fracking cute. They love catfood!

        1. Thank you. That’s funny! I thought you were going to say you now have an abundance of raccoon fur for gasket material. You’re right, the towel I used is just a stop gap. Raccoons aren’t too common up here in the mountains, I know they’re in town along the front range. I’m wondering if bunny pelt would work, they’re hopping around everywhere this year and their harvest season is coming up.
          Charcoal kiln plans! That would be most appreciated. I’ve been looking at doing a horizontal kiln, insulated with earth and made from 55gal drums connected together. My mother is a potter and would love it if I could make a wood fired horizontal pottery kiln, but the high temp process that needs requires better construction, materials, better everything.

      2. 4 to go then, count with me. Need to get some new files by then. Do you have drawings of the gable? I’d need to bring Julia though, she can help with the cooking and the garden. And sewing, if you got a machine.

  3. looks nice, glad to see someone in north america aiming for the proper joinery and solid materials of the historical ones! keep it up!
    (i vote for the sliding dovetail top and bottom for 2.0 …are you going to offer custom sizes for order?)

    1. Hi Island Blacksmith, I’ve admired your work online for quite a while now! Cool of you to run across my sawing video. I haven’t seen an example of sliding dovetail for the top or bottom on a fuigo, but then I’ve really only seen examples of a few. Do you have any pictures of what you mean? I had thought of attaching the top battons on the lid and the battons that make the feet at the bottom with a sliding dovetail, but lack a side groove trimming plane, so I’m limited to smaller sliding dovetails at the moment if I care that the fit is good.

      I’ve thought about offering fuigo for sale, but the market is tiny, and most of the people that understand why they should want one have enough skill to at least screw one together from plywood. If I was to offer it for a price under $400, which I feel is a reasonable price point, I fear it would mean router templates and Baltic birch ply. All that hand planing on wide panel work is time consuming! I can certainly find decent enough vertical grain lumber to make them out of, its just a matter of how badly someone wants one. Interestingly enough I’m trying to sell my fuigo on craigslist, just out of a morbid curiosity to find what price it would bring, but I have no thought that it will actually sell, haha.

      1. thanks! i was stoked to see a big saw in action this side of the pond! yes, that’s what i meant about the dovetails, but i actually haven’t seen any with dovetails so best stick to traditional! (if it ain’t broke…)

        keep me posted!

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