Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Drywall Screens in the Shop

I use Japanese waterstones in sharpening my handtools and here is a simple way to keep your stones flat. Lay a sheet of fine drywall screen on top of a thick sheet of glass, marble or other hard, flat surface, spritz your waterstone with water and scrub it on the screen. It doesn't take long to bring your waterstone back to a perfectly flat surface.

You can also use drywall screen to flatten the backs of old chisels and plane irons. By lapping the back and keeping firm pressure on top of the blade, toward the cutting edge, drywall screens will very quickly remove gunk and flatten a blade.

It took literally 20 seconds to achieve just this amount of polish and flattening.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Snippets on Shakers

A friend and I are giving a presentation on Shakers (or, the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, as they called themselves) to the Howard County, MD Woodworkers Guild this Saturday, so I'm busy preparing notes and organizing photos.

I have a special affinity with the Shakers, whose religious movement began in 1747 by a woman named Mother Ann (Lee), maybe because some of their basic tenants are in line with my own: honesty & integrity, industry & diligence, prudence & economy, humanity & kindness, cleanliness, order, humility, perfection, and equality of the sexes, to name a few. "Shakers" was a derogatory name ascribed to the Believers because of their worship practices where they were found to whirl, tremble and shake. Okay...probably my similarities with them would stop there.

The Shakers' principles influenced every part of their daily lives, labor, and furniture design. Highly skilled craftsmen built chests of drawers, tables, sewing desks, chairs, and other things, that were based on contemporary designs of the time, but that were pared down to their most basic elements of simplicity, proportion, scale, hierarchy, and pattern, forcing the observer to notice the design fundamentals, unencumbered by ornamentation and superfluous extravagance.

Shaker furniture was built on a scale not seen in worldly design, because it was made for their communities, each of which often consisted of several hundred people. So, we find built-in cabinetry with 860 drawers at the Enfield Shaker Village in New Hampshire, trestle tables over 20 feet in length, workbenches that were 18 feet long (sweet!), and tailoring counters that were 6-12 feet long and 4 feet wide, with drawers on all sides. Highly efficient and industrious folks who possessed exquisite craftsmanship.

I could go on and on about the Shakers, but I'll post more some other time. I will leave you with this tidbit: Tabitha Babitt, a Shaker woman, is credited with inventing the circular saw...

...and these photos: taken on my trip to the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA. (Note to my woodworking friends: Yes, that is THE workbench.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Pen Making

Here's how I spent my Saturday: turning pens on a lathe—the extent of my woodturning capabilities. There are lots of great pen making articles online, so I won't go into the details of how to make them, but I did take progress shots. A friend of ours commissioned me to make them for Christmas gifts. She chose 5 birdseye maple and 1 marado (sp?). I've also made pens out of other woods such as bloodwood, chakte viga, yellowheart, purpleheart, wenge, padauk, ziricote, walnut, and apple.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Marking Gauge

Marking gauges come in several styles. I own two from Lee Valley and several from antique stores and other woodworking stores. I have altered the points on some by filing one side flat to make a knife edge, which improves their performance. None of them work as well, however, as the one Steve Latta taught me how to make in a class at Olde Mill Cabinet Shoppe. Steve's design works like other marking (and slicing) gauges, but with improvements. For instance, the knurled knob is on the bottom where it doesn't get in the way of your hand and it uses replaceable exacto blades, which are mortised into the wood behind the brass plate. The end of the blade is filed down a bit, so the tip doesn't break off in use. This gauge also excels at cutting thin strips of wood for inlay. Plus, it was fun (and easy) to make!

I Need A Good Comeback

So, I just returned from a trip to the Woodcraft Store to pick up supplies. As I was entering the store, an old dude said to me as he was leaving "Your husband said he'll take one of everything." Obviously, he thought I was there to pick up something for my hubby and never considered that I might be a woodworker.

Now, let's look at how many ways that statement does not apply to me:
1. I've been a woodworker for 15 years.
2. I have a workshop that makes grown men cry.
3. I teach classes at the Woodcraft Store.
4. I frequently give demos/presentations to the two woodworking clubs to which I belong.
5. I'm the president of our local woodworking club.
6. I'm GAY.

Granted, I'm workin' the middle-aged soccer mom look pretty hard, but jeez! I get this sometimes from guys, not as much as when I was younger, and it forever catches me off-guard. I usually just smile in my befuddlement, but I'd love to have a funny comeback. Any suggestions?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Reluctant Cook

I really, really hate to cook. Except for twice a year when I LOVE to cook. Makes no sense, I know, but at Thanksgiving and Christmas there's nowhere I'd rather be than in the kitchen. For breakfast today, I made (from scratch) Lemon Scones and Lemon Curd. For our main meal, I'm making baked ham with a glaze of brown sugar and crushed pineapple, baked sweet potato and apple combo, and green bean casserole. For dessert, I made a cream cheese pie with cherry topping.

And what's my partner doing while I'm hard at work?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mom-in-Law's Antiques

We visited my partner's mom (Lynn) this weekend in Charleston, WV, home to gorgeous mountains, friendly people, and 70 mph speed limits on circuitous roads.

Lynn has an extensive collection of 18th and 19th c. antiques that fills 3 houses and a 3-story barn. In the Charleston house, here are a few of my favorites.

The first is an 1840's corner cupboard made from poplar. The simple design and turned knobs are similar elements found in Shaker furniture.

The second piece is an 8' tall, and nearly 8' wide, cherry flatwall kitchen cupboard that belonged to General McCausland of the Confederate Army, who was responsible for burning the town of Chambersburg, PA to the ground during the Civil War.

Next is a mahogany highboy from the late 1800's.

Fourth is an 1840's sugar chest made from cherry. Woodworkers are famous for checking beneath the "undercarriage" to investigate joinery, as I did with this piece. The sides, front, and back of the sugar chest are joined to the legs with very large mortise & tenon joints, hence the split in the side. The wide boards were restricted in seasonal movement across their widths, having been glued to legs whose grain runs vertically. By rights, all four sides of this piece should be split, but are not.

And finally, some very well made English style half-blind dovetails. English style refers to very thin dovetails, where the tops of the pins are as thin as the width of the kerf of a sawblade. Not sure why the maker felt it necessary to also nail the sides to the front. With dovetails that tight, it would have held together just fine without even using glue. Notice also, the little nails that attach the cock beading to the drawer front.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Woodworking Humor

A friend who builds high-end furniture for a living told me this weekend that it's entirely possible to make a small fortune in woodworking.

The trick is to start with a large fortune.

Images from the Show

The class and seminars I signed up for at the show were all taught by Garrett Hack, an exceptional furniture maker and author. At right are are some of the inlay patterns he makes and applies to his furniture, which was the topic of one of the seminars. In another seminar, he talked about different ways to bend wood, but I had broken my camera by that time (I have a habit of dropping it) so no photos.

Next is a photo of our club's booth as we're setting up. I demo'd lettercarving for several hours on Saturday.

The bottom photo is a guy from the scrollsaw club working on an antique treadle scroll saw. He told me it runs on ham and eggs.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Woodworking Shows

I went to the Woodworks Events show this weekend in York, PA, where my club had a booth and where I took two seminars and one class. One of the best things about being a woman at these shows: no lines in the women's bathroom.

Since I've been attending shows like this for the past 15 years, I've noticed a steady decline in attendance both in attendees and in vendors. Used to be you'd have to crane your neck over the shoulders of 3 rows of people who were crowding over some tool seller's demonstration. Not an easy task for someone who's only 5' 5". You'd find yourself saying "excuse me" throughout the day because of the number of folks you'd inadvertantly bump into. It was noisy, bustling, exciting, and something you'd mark on your calendar months in advance of the show date.

The show this weekend was a veritable ghost town. I've noticed the most significant decline in the last 5 years. Years ago, the closest parking space I could find was about a quarter of a mile from the front entrance. Today, I parked in the second row directly in front of the entrance doors.

So, what's going on? Are woodworkers suddenly taking up quilting? Épée competitions? I don't think so. My theory: the Internet. Fifteen years ago, a woodworking show provided the only chance you had to see certain tools or newly unveiled tools, compare them with other manufacturers' equivalents, and peruse the latest woodworking books. Now, of course, you can compare tools online, find all the specifications you need, even download manuals, price compare, and buy the latest woodworking books at discount prices weeks after they've been published.

I suspect the halcyon days of woodworking shows are over. And that's sad. For me, it's like the end of a time-honored tradition. To no longer bump elbows with so many people who share your same passion, to no longer have to race to each booth for fear of missing out on some great deal or the last issue of a book you reminds me of that 80's song: "Video Killed the Radio Star".

Internet Killed the Woodworking Shows.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Assembly Table

Here are progress pics of the assembly table I started about 2 years ago. It's been waiting for a top and doors since then so is completely sawdust-filled on the inside. The top will be something like a torsion box made of studs (see sketch), which will then be wrapped with a finger-jointed walnut apron. The top itself will be cherry mdf, which will be attached from underneath with brackets so I can replace it if it gets too dinged up. The doors will be tombstone-shaped, frame and panel (see sketch), and attached with invisible hinges. Ultimately, the table will have a face vise and twin-end screw vise, but I'll get back to you in about 2 more years on that. The table will mainly be used for handplaning, as it will stand only about 29" tall, and for assembling larger pieces of furniture.
The frame is walnut with 3.5" square legs, while the panels, bottom shelf, and upright support are cherry mdf. At this stage in construction, I'm guessing it weighs about 250 lbs. When finished with top, doors, and vises, it will be more like 400 lbs. I purposely made it heavy, so it wouldn't rack or move under the pressure of handplaning. I pity the poor sucker who has to move it when I'm dead.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Local Politics

I try to keep this blog to all things woodworking, but every so often, I'm going to deviate. This is one of those times.

I was part of a team that was instrumental in electing 3 new people to borough council. We ousted 3 long time incumbents. We didn't just oust them, nay, we kicked their asses!!! Being part of a grassroots effort to change the direction of our town's revitalization toward a positive one has proven to be a great opportunity to meet my neighbors and be part of a group working for the good of the community.

Last night, I went to an after-election party. We had the results by then and needless to say, the champagne was flowing. Someone had written a ballad about our 3 candidates to the tune of "This Land is Your Land", which we all sang loudly and badly. It didn't matter that we had different party affiliations or different views on religion or came from different socio-economic backgrounds. We had all worked together to make a difference in our town. It was exhilarating.

When I retire, I intend to run for local office. My goal is to be town Mayor (stop with the snickering!) . The Mayor gets to do all the fun stuff: plan the Memorial Day event, the Halloween parade, the Christmas activities, etc. But most importantly, I'll get to ride on a float in the Halloween parade. I'm going to start practicing my mayoral wave.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Interesting Observation

A friend who works at the local Woodcraft Store and who is a retired police officer noticed that if a woman comes into the store who is a woodworker or who is interested in learning woodworking, 95-98% of the time, she has blue eyes.

Now, that percentage is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but still, even if it were 75%...

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Santa's Shop Part II

3 other members of my woodworking club and I finished up the toys today for underpriveleged kids. 102 cars and trucks in all. Since most of the work today was hand sanding and adding axels and wheels, the four of us were able to chat for the four hours we were together. Anyone who claims that men don't talk much should meet the guys in my club. The type of conversation between groups of men and groups of women, however, is very different. Woodworking guys tell funny stories about things that happened to them or "this guy I know", or talk about woodworking in general or places they've visited or just topical "things". Women talk about people and relationships.

While we were working, an older man came into the woodshop with his very young grandson, about 4 years old, and of course walks right over to the only woman (me) to tell me that when he goes to flea markets, he tells his grandson to ask the vendor for some Hustler magazines, upon which he laughed raucously. Not sure why he felt compelled to tell ME, but I obliged with a chuckle. After he left, the guys started telling jokes about a certain county nearby that is known for its not-so-sophisticated residents.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Buried Treasure

I went out to my personal lumberyard, which in its former life was a 2-car garage, to retrieve some walnut for a new project. There's lumber out there that I've had for 15 years and for some weird reason, I remember where most of it came from.

This particular pile of walnut came from a friend's house in WV. Being rough cut, I wasn't able to see just how beautiful the wood was until I ran it through my planer. It's black walnut with curly figure in the grain. Now, I had pulled this lumber to build doors for the assembly table in my workshop, but seeing how gorgeous it is, I might have to use it for something more special.

Second thought, what's more special than my shop? ; )

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Privy Door

A few years ago when the sliding pocket door to our main bathroom fell apart, I added another project to my seemingly endless list of home projects. Since our decorating style is Adirondack & kitschy, I decided to build an outhouse door. Hey, why be subtle? A piece of cake to build, just pine boards, and I added a sliding privacy window for the moon cutout. Inside, the door "handle" is an antique key that swings on two antique cut nails. Probably took longer to paint the door than it did to build it, but for a simple project, it's a fun conversation piece.

(And yes, that is dust on the key. Hey, I'm a woodworker, not a housekeeper!)

And here's a picture of our exceptionally tall terrier demonstrating how the moon window works.