Thursday, January 31, 2008

Grandpa's Broadaxe

Both sets of great grandparents were Swedish immigrants who came to the US from Östergötland in the 1880s. They settled in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and, like many immigrants, were dirt poor. Grandpa, who spoke broken English with such a thick accent that I always had to ask dad for a translation (I was about six), would give my brother and me a nickel or dime if we’d sing Swedish songs for him. So of course, we sang ‘til we were hoarse.

Early in their marriage, my grandparents lived in a one-room log building, a footprint of 13’ x 15’, with no insulation (did I mention this was in Michigan?), no indoor plumbing, and no electricity, along with 3 children, until dad was 7 years old. Then grandpa built a tiny farmhouse for the family which eventually was wired for electricity, but still no indoor plumbing, and 3 more kids entered the fold.

Grandpa worked for the WPA and cut & sold timber while the kids attended school in a one-room schoolhouse, to which they walked through 10 feet of snow, even in summer I’m told, and while grandma cooked on a cast iron stove, washed clothes by hand, and chased bears away with a broom. It amazes me that I am only one generation away from such a remote and primitive existence.

After grandpa died, my dad was given his broadaxe, (which originally belonged to my great-grandfather, Axel), a tool that was used for shaping logs. The person using the axe stood atop the log and sliced along its edge with the flat side of the blade, walking it down the length of the log until one side was hewn flat. Prior to this, a series of stop cuts were made about every 6" into the side of the log, which made it easier to follow the chalk line.

Dad related a story about the time grandpa laid open his own foot with a double-bladed axe while cutting timber. The outside of his foot and his boot were hanging like bark peeling off a tree. Of course, folks back then were a lot tougher than they are today, so he and dad walked back home, grandpa got cleaned up (because you never went to the doctor's dirty) and dad drove him to the doctor's office, in a snowstorm (of course!), 12 miles away.

I hope grandpa's axe will be handed down to me someday and you can bet it will be displayed in a place of prominence in my workshop.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Waterstone Holder

You can purchase waterstone holders, you can make fancy wooden ones which secure your stones with wedges, and you can suspend your stones over a tub of water on a wooden or plastic bridge.

Or, you can use a set up like this, which consists of a shallow baking pan (heaven knows it wasn't seeing any use in our kitchen) and a router mat. Fancy? No. Attractive? No way. Functional? Absolutely. Clamp the baking pan to your bench and start sharpening. The stone will not move at all.

Sharpening is messy business, so I didn't want to build a pretty holder only to have it gunked up with the slurry created with water and stone particles. The odd thing is, with all the water spritzing I've done over the years, I've never had to pour any water out of the baking pan. Not sure where it goes. Could be I have broccoli growing under the router mat, but I'm not about to check.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Stoning your Saw

By stoning, I don't mean that if your handsaw is misbehaving, you should go all biblical on it. Instead, I mean there is a way to gently persuade it back to the straight and narrow by using your sharpening stones.

If your saw is consistently listing to one side when you are trying to saw a straight line, the problem might not be with you, but with the set of the saw's teeth.

If it's listing to the same side all the time, that means it is cutting more agressively on that side, which in turn means the teeth have a greater set on that side. You can decrease the set by laying your handsaw on a flat surface and lightly dragging your fine grit sharpening stone along the aggressive side of the saw's teeth. Take light passes and test the saw often. It doesn't take much to correct the cut. By doing this, the saw kerf will be made a bit thinner, so if you don't want that to happen, you might want to enlist the help of an expert sharpener.

Or, play it safe, and just purchase Lie-Nielsen saws.

Last photo added afterwards because one sharp reader noticed that I had used a rip saw to make the crosscuts. (I used my dovetail saw because it is my favorite, it was within reach, and I like the physically smaller size of the saw, compared to my crosscut saw). Nonetheless, the proof is in the photo—both the rip and crosscut Lie-Nielsen saws work great!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Product vs. Process

A friend said to me the other day "So when are you going to start building tables and entertainment centers? I mean, you do all these little things..."

Now this guy is not a woodworker but I've met non-woodworkers who understand the joy of having a hobby and just fiddling around while accomplishing nothing. In my opinion, there are people who are product-oriented, people who are process-oriented ("it's the journey" people) and those who are both. I think this guy falls into the product-oriented category. I'd say I'm both, but I always get a little maudlin when I finish a project, so I suppose I'm a process-oriented gal.

Other friends ask me to build furniture for them and when I say I'm not for hire—woodworking is my hobby—they seem incredulous. They look at the size of my shop and all my tools and can't believe I'd spend that much money on a hobby.

How do you convince product-oriented folks that even just handplaning boards makes you happy?The guys in my ww club think I'm nuts for handcutting dovetails. They tease me that "there's this new's called electricity." (okay, that one's pretty funny...)

I don't have a response. I just laugh. Any suggestions?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Finished Cupboard

Here is a photo of the finished reproduction Ephrata Cloister cupboard alongside the original. Some parts of the door (the handle for one) on my version are thicker pieces of wood because I was concerned that the wood might split when I drove the dowels in.

At right are close ups of the bottom corners.

If anyone would like to have a cut list and construction notes for the cupboard, send me an email: One reader was interested in plans, so I'll write them up in pdf format.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Village Carpenter

My blog title is named for a book by Walter Rose, called The Village Carpenter. It's a book that I wished would never end. The author writes about carpentry, working in his grandfather's shop in Victorian England, at a time when the carpenter was vital to the life of the village and whose duties encompassed a much broader range of skills and projects than what we think of as carpentry today. The village carpenter in the late 19th c. was responsible for building everything from windows & doors to coffins to fences & gates to furniture to buckets & washboards and more. He was a thread that tied the community together, often having to work on sight, gaining an intimate understanding of the villagers in whose homes he would work for weeks on end.

Walter Rose eloquently recounts stories about the men who worked in the shop, their tools, their projects, and their interaction with the villagers. Here is an excerpt from his book:

"It is in the workshop and at the bench that an insight into the soul of wood craftsmanship can be truly gained. There are tools, there is the wood—rude planks, ungarnished, their surface scored with the saw. Between them, and without which each is useless, must come the soul and spirit of the designer and craftsman; the deft hands prompted by an alert mind; the knowledge attained only through years of study and service; the creative instinct and ability that will, by the correct use of the tools, transform the mere plank into a thing of usefulness and beauty—possibly a joy for ever."

The entire book is filled with memorable passages and woodworking wisdom that has since been forgotten but is still relevant. He reflects on the personality of wood and the connection between the carpenter and his tools—a connection so absolute, that the same tool in another woodworker's hands would not respond the same.

It's a must-read for anyone who is passionate about woodworking or who would like to gain insight into the soul of a woodworker.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bullet Designs & Finger Pulls

The bullet-shaped carving found in 16th c. New Mexican furniture is also found in chipcarved decorations that adorn 18th c. Dutch planes. A similar shape, an inset finger pull, is found on sliding lid candle boxes from the 18th and 19th c.

Maybe that shape has shown up all over the world because it's so easy to make.

In the photos at right, I did not make the Dutch planes* (of course), but I did make the New Mexican style cabinet and sliding lid box.

For the bullet shape, use a gouge with a pronounced curve. I used a #10/12mm straight gouge. Hold the gouge about 60 or so degrees to your workpiece—leaning the tool back a bit so the outer tips of the blade do not enter the wood—and strike it with a mallet. If you make this cut perfectly vertical, your bullet shape will look like it has little horns, which of course you might prefer.

Next, begin the second cut as far back from the first cut as you would like for the length of the bullet to be. Start with a shallow cut that increases in depth until you reach the initial cut. The chip should pop right out.

The finger pull is a similar procedure, except I make the initial cut with an exacto blade, and a more shallow gouge (I used a #5) is used to make the second cut. The knife incision is a straight line and deepest at its center. I keep a little nylon brush on hand to remove chips that don't want to "pop right out."

*Photo of Dutch planes is from Sandor Nagyszalancy's book The Art of Fine Tools.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Almost Done

I don't think I've ever been more disappointed to see a project come to its final stages. I have only to add a few more dowels and apply finish and this project is done. The amount of handwork involved provided so many quiet hours of meditation-like focus that I forgot all about the things I "should" be doing. (Which isn't necessarily a good thing!)

After final shaping, I used a burnisher on the edges of the handle to shine it up a bit. The original handle is shiny and smooth from years of oily hands opening the cupboard.

I tested a few finishes on scrap pieces—Boiled Linseed Oil, Tung Oil, and Watco Wipe-On Poly—and found that BLO darkened the wood the right amount. A couple coats of that, a week or so to cure, and then a topcoat of dark paste wax ought to age the cupboard enough that it will look a little more like the original.

Wooden Hinges

This was the part of my current project that I was most looking forward to making: wooden hinges. I roughed out the pieces on the bandsaw and achieved the final shape with a Murphy carving knife and spokeshave. The facets created by the carving knife added to the handmade look that I was trying to replicate in the original cupboard. I don't know what tools the maker of the cupboard used, but the surfaces of the hinges and handle unit appeared (in the book) to be carved rather than planed, chiseled, or filed.

The last photo shows the hinge attached to the door. The design enables you to remove the door by lifting it up off the hinge pins.

Making these hinges was so much fun, I'll be on the lookout for other pieces that employed them.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"But it's only one room"

That's what my partner said when I told her my ww club was coming over for a shop tour on Saturday. "How do you take a tour when it's only one room?" she asked.

Have I taught her nothing?

Help me out guys. It's not just a "room". It's a sacred space that's filled with power tools, hand tools, antique tools, jigs, workstations, books, setups that enable different woodworking procedures, works in progress, stories of anguish and triumph, and wood. Lots of pieces of exotic wood and buried treasure.

I expect the guys will be in my shop poking around, asking questions, cutting up, and jokingly trying to "swipe" little tools (I'll have the surveillance cameras on just in case) for about 2 hours.

And they'll be touring not just a room, but my little piece of heaven.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Disturbing Discovery

While working on my current project, I discovered something a little disturbing about myself: I like to beat up furniture.
Could be work stress or other things influencing my furniture agression, but doggone it...getting medieval on wood is FUN!

Here are some progress pics. I'm trying not to go overboard with distressing, but this cupboard hasn't seen the last of me yet. That lower left corner is looking a little "rounded corner/craft store"-ish, so it might require a little hammer time.

Oh yeah...say hello to the Village Calamity, little cupboard. Say hello.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Portable Chisel Rack

Rather than build a permanent chisel rack for my tool cabinet, I wanted one that would double as a holder when taking woodworking classes or giving demos. So, I built this chisel holder based on one I saw in a ww book which had feet that would keep it stable on a benchtop. Then I built a little shelf with a lip and installed it in my tool cabinet door. A simple turnbutton keeps the holder from tipping forward.

In order to keep the chisels standing upright rather than banging into the walls of the dividers, I glued foam inside each cavity. Upon completion and having placed all the chisels in their respective slots, I realized an unfortunate design flaw. Sitting on a benchtop, it's a little unnerving staring down at all those razor edges pointing up at you. Hence, the chisel booties.

If you decide to build your own portable holder, you might consider shortening the height of the front piece to allow for an open section at the bottom. That way you can point the business end downward and still see which chisel is in each compartment.
Another thing—I cut all of the dividers an 1/8" short and only glued the top half in the dadoes. That way, the dividers are always flush with the top of the holder and can still move with the seasons.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Dadoes By Hand

Like everything in woodworking, there is always more than one way to tackle any step. For cutting dadoes, grooves, and rabbets*, you can cut them with a table saw, router, router table, or by hand. If you want to make them by hand, you have a few choices there as well.**

While cutting dadoes for my current project, I chose to use my Lee Valley router plane—an impressively engineered and well-designed tool that is a joy to use. Before plunging in with this tool, you have to first define the outside edges of the dado. I used an exacto knife, but you can also use a handsaw. To use an exacto blade, make several passes along the edge of a ruler and start with light cuts with the plane until you have defined the shoulders, otherwise the blade might tear out some wood running with the grain. As the plane reaches the depth of cut established by the exacto, deepen the shoulder cuts again with the exacto before proceeding with the plane. Continue to alternate these steps until you reach your final depth.

If you don't have a router plane, you can also remove the waste with a chisel and check the depth as you go to ensure a flat channel. I would chisel bevel down in this case to best control the amount of wood removal.

In the last photo, the rabbets were made with a table saw (the ones with burn marks) and the dadoes were made with the router plane. Two boards are laying side by side, so the rabbets look like a wide dado in the photo.

*Dadoes are channels cut into wood that run across the grain. Grooves are channels cut into wood that run with the grain. And rabbets are channels cut into wood that run along the outside edge of a board.

**There are more
handtools you can use to cut dadoes, grooves, and rabbets that are not listed here. That's another post!