I've made some changes and saw much better results. One of the biggest problems is that I was cutting the mortises very close to the edge of the work piece. This is a recipe for disaster. On my second set, I knocked out the mortises BEFORE cutting the tenons, this left me more than an inch away from the edge. This allowed me to not only be more aggressive with the hammer, but also to switch to steel. Over time, the punch will mushroom, but for now, there is a bevel on the inside edge that should keep things in check for this project. I'll look into a brass or replaceable wood faced hammer later.
Another issue I think is that I am using the 1/2" punch. It's the largest one they make. Compared to the 1/4" punch, the surface area is 4x larger, which means my feeble hammer wacks need to be harder to drive the 1/2" punch the same distance. I can see how the smaller punches would be easier and less likely to blow out the end of the board.
As gee-dub said, this isn't designed for through holes, so I picked up some ebony for plugs. I'll use mortise & tenons to join the parts and then ebony plugs on the other side of the holes. I had some compressed fibers on one of the mortises that unfortunately won't be hidden by the ebony plug. I'll put this side to the back of the piece, assuming I don't screw up any more, I should be fine.
Progress! Also, Triton's import office happens to be about 20 minutes from my work. So I will be driving over today to pick up the parts for my router instead of waiting all week for something to be shipped. That worked out rather well.
Agreed. I like the larger shapes in #11
#8 has all those little tiny triangles which are difficult to carve.
That's a really cool effect. I hadn't thought of wrapping a design around the two sides of the leg, though I have considered something like that with fluted "pillars" at the front corners of the upper case.
To make the corners rounded like that I would have had to plan it out from the beginning.