Monday, November 30, 2009

The Joiner and Cabinet Maker

When I pre-ordered The Joiner and Cabinet Maker from Joel Moskowitz, I figured I'd be getting a quaint little story about a young woodworking apprentice in 19th c. England.

What I got was a history book, a novel, and three projects all rolled into one captivating tome.

Joel provides fascinating details about woodworking trades in rural and urban England; and how they compared, from high end shops to garret masters (those who built and sold one piece at a time and worked from a room in their dwelling).

Also covered are workshop practices, including purchasing materials and tools; expectations and responsibilities of apprentices and journeymen; wages; and details about the hierarchy and differences between the specialized trades within the realm of woodworking.

The novel itself, first published in 1839, was part of a series of almost 100 books that provided an overview of various trades to help young people choose a vocation.

The Joiner and Cabinet Maker follows young Thomas from the start of his apprenticeship, as he learns about shop behavior and duties, including keeping the glue pot warm and the fire going; sharpening his tools; choosing lumber and laying out a project; and building three projects of increasing difficulty.

We learn about the interactions and pecking order between the master, journeymen, and apprentice, and what it means to be a conscientious craftsman.

The footnotes alone are worth the price of admission. Joel offers loads of information about tools, techniques, and woodworking trades in 19th c. England.

Following the novel, Chris Schwarz walks us through the 3 projects using only hand tools. He clearly explains how to build a packing box, a school box, and a dovetailed chest of drawers.

We learn the differences between wrought head, fine finish, and rosehead nails, and cut headless brads and sprigs; how to fit locks; woodworking techniques; and how to put an 8 year old girl to work without attracting the attention of the Department of Labor, Child Labor Laws Division.

The book concludes with notes on bound and cased books, how they were made, and how they were used in the 19th century.

The Joiner and Cabinet Maker not only shows you what it would be like to work in an English cabinet maker's shop in 1839, it may very well encourage you to unplug your own shop.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanks and Giving

Two benevolent woodworkers recently sent me some fancy wood to play with. Thanks guys!

One woodworker is Ethan Sincox and the other wishes to remain anonymous.

The woods include spalted walnut, pearwood, satinwood (which smells exactly like coconut oil and pineapple—according to Ethan—and indeed it does!), rosewood, and bog oak.

One kindness begets another, so I'm giving away a table saw book, written by Paul Anthony, which was given to those of us who attended the Fine Woodworking Finishing Showdown.

Anyone can enter to win this book, even if you are from Siberia, Tasmania, or Nepal. Don't let your location stop you. If you win, I will gladly mail it to you.

To enter the drawing, just write your name in the comments section. 48 hours from the time this is posted, I'll ask my partner to pick a random number from the total number of entries. The corresponding number in the list of entrants wins the book.

I'm not having any more question-related giveaways—you guys are too clever!


I printed off 49 individual numbers and my partner pulled one out of a bowl. And the winner is
Number 5: Justin Tyson!!

Justin, please email me your name and address and I'll mail the book to you asap:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Carved Stone Holder

I was crushing pretty badly on the carved oilstone holder I photographed at the Brown International Tool Auction and Dealer Show (at right), so I decided to make one.

I'm using my other current crush—Swiss Pear—for the carved section of the lid, and bacote for the box itself.

First, I carved a practice piece with pine and found that the carving doesn't need to be very deep—in fact, too deep doesn't look good—to achieve a 3-dimensional appearance.

I also discovered that it's best to sneak up on the final outline of each tool, otherwise you might chip out a section by mistake.

I used gouges that matched the curves and chisels for the straight lines to define the shapes of the tools.

Once I removed the waste from the background—only 3/32" deep—I cleaned up the cuts around each tool to create their precise shape.

Some edges of the tools were dinged up in the process, but they were to be beveled in final form, so no big deal.

Only three little tools are finished and some rough areas in the background need to be smoothed, but I can see why someone would want to carve the lid on an oilstone holder: It's fun!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

VC's Top Ten Tips for Wives of Woodworkers

1. Sitting in the shop and staring at a pile of lumber counts as woodworking.
2. When your spouse says, "Don't buy that armoire—I can build one for you," just smile and say "Great!" Then go back to the store in a month and buy it. Because he's either forgotten all about it or has been feeling guilty for not having started the project, and you will be letting him off the hook.
3. Sometimes your husband will buy wood just because it's pretty and he has no idea what he plans to do with it.
4. Expect a Sammy Sadface when you hand him a Honey-Do list.
5. Yes, he does need 5 routers. And 6 marking gauges.
6. Heaping mounds of partially- or un-read woodworking magazines are a fact of life.
7. Never ever EVER remove anything from the shop unless under close supervision. No, not even a screwdriver.
8. It takes exactly 3 weeks to make a small trinket box.
9. Plan a shopping trip, go for a walk, meet friends for coffee—just get somewhere safe—if he's getting ready to glue up a project.
10. What might look like a junky old tool at a flea market is really a monumental find and source of joy for him. Harness that happiness. Now's a good time to ask him to take you to dinner.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Visit to Fine Woodworking

Last week, Fine Woodworking presented a live stream competition between Asa Christiana (armed with a random orbit sander and sanding block) and Michael Pekovich (equipped with a #4 LN hand plane and block plane) to see which method prepares a finished surface the fastest.

I was invited to twitter and blog about the event, and even though I had to take a day off work (tragic), I decided to go.

I was welcomed with warm greetings, introductions to all the FWW staff, an opportunity to peruse the workshop, and a tour of the cubicle farm. Do most cubicle farms have a nice stash of wood in each person's work space?

Both Asa and Michael were given parts for a small cherry side table that had been milled with a jointer, planer and table saw. Complete with burn marks.

About 24 other woodworkers and I watched and asked questions while the men prepared finished surfaces.

Part of Michael's time included sharpening his plane blades on 1000, 4000, and 8000 grit waterstones. He used two jigs as bench stops (photos 1 and 2)—an offcut from a leg was used to support the angled part of the legs as he planed them—and took time to resharpen his blades before final passes.

Asa started with 100 grit sandpaper and worked his way up to 220 with the orbital sander. He doubled up the legs so he could use the power sander without rounding over the edges, and on small parts, he used a sanding block. A jig with a hacksaw blade (photo 3) handily sliced the sandpaper to the correct width.

Michael chamfered all the edges, even the bottoms of the table legs, with a block plane. Asa knocked off the corners with a sanding block.

One thing seemed obvious: it's easier to plane away burn marks than it is to sand them away, especially on end grain. However, Asa said that if you have difficult grain that doesn't plane well, sandpaper wins. Even Michael uses sandpaper (and scrapers) on areas that tear out no matter how sharp your plane iron.

Both men prefer not to put a final finished surface on the non-show sides of a piece, like underneath the table top; they like to see tool marks.

After the competition, they each put a coat of oil on the table tops and the audience voted on the best looking board. The planed surface (at left) won hands down, although not with a unanimous vote. The sanded surface did not have the same sheen as the planed surface and also appeared darker. However, both men said that if a surface is sanded to 600 grit, you cannot tell the difference between a sanded and handplaned surface.

They also agreed that sanding to 600 grit has a burnishing affect that acts as a blotch inhibitor on woods, like cherry, which can appear patchy when an oil finish is applied.

In this particular case—regarding the type of wood and project—a handplane won in speed and appearance. But the bottom line is that both handplanes and sandpaper serve a purpose in our shops.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Kick Back With a Good PDF

Have fun perusing this huge library of downloadable woodworking books (some very old) online.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fine Woodworking: Finishing Smackdown

Fine Woodworking hosted an event with Asa Christiana and Michael Peckovich going sander to handplane to see which tool creates a finished surface the fastest. Anatole Burkin emceed the event and two dozen woodworkers from the local community were invited to watch. This video shows some highlights, plus a few of the beautiful pieces of furniture on display at the Taunton Press building, where Fine Woodworking is located.

So who won the event? Let's just say a collective galoot sigh of happiness was heard round the world.

*The video above is one that I made for fun. It just shows some images and footage to give you an idea of what the event looked like and a sense of the friendliness. To see the actual live streaming, please visit the Fine Woodworking site.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Duct Tape of the Magnet World

Rare earth magnet, is there no end to your usefulness?

This walnut mailbox with bloodwood flag has seen better days. But considering it's weathered the elements (though under a covered porch) for the last 9 years, it's not too shabby.

When I built it, I was going for a mission style—simple and sturdy—something nice to greet the mailman. And I came up with all kinds of elaborate ways to attach a flag that would tell him when we had outgoing mail.

Then it occurred to me that rare earth magnets might function as a pivoting mechanism. It worked, and still works perfectly. In fact it has just as strong a pull as ever.

The wooden flag cracked, the mailbox cracked. But the magnet is a real crackerjack.