Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Workshop for Lilliputians

June marks the 4th anniversary of the completion of my new workshop. Prior to that, I worked in a basement shop with concrete floors, 6 foot ceilings, exposed lightbulbs, and exposed knob & tube wiring. Dungeon-like.

Yet it was still my favorite place in the house.

I dreamed for 10 years of having an above-ground shop and when I finally decided to have one built, I spent a full year researching heating systems, insulation, material, lighting....everything.

I even built a to-scale model of the shop, complete with all my equipment, just to make sure that everything would fit and that I would be able to tell my builder where to put the outlets. I determined where to put the 18" bandsaw in relation to the back window, so that long boards could stick outside and rest on the sill while I ran them through the blade. The model also helped my builder work up pricing.

The first design had a second story and a finishing room closed off by a sliding door. After my builder told me how much it would cost, reality set in, and both those luxuries were crossed off the list.

The model itself was built hurriedly—just plywood tacked together with brads—but it helped immeasurably when I was able to tell my builder where to put my 300 pound band saw and 400 pound table saw, as he and his helper carried them out of my basement shop and into the new one. They were able to plop them down exactly where I wanted them. I doubt they would have appreciated some lady telling them to "Move the table saw to this wall. Nah, that's not right—move it to that wall instead. A little to the left, no right."

The next sound I would have heard would have been my contractor and his helper slamming the door shut behind them, leaving a trail of expletives in their wake.

Planning for and designing my shop was an exciting journey, and I ended up with a cute little woodworker's dollhouse in the process.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hand Tool Conference

Popular Woodworking Magazine is hosting a woodworking conference this November devoted exclusively to hand tools, called Woodworking in America. The list of speakers is an all-star line up of hand tool experts and the 3-day weekend will be filled with 40 short classes, a marketplace for toolmakers to display and sell their wares, and social events with demonstrators and toolmakers.

Registration begins in June, but I wanted to give you a heads-up on what will most certainly be an awesome weekend.....and I hope, an annual event!

Read more about it here.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Scraper Sharpening Showdown

Alan Turner and Mario Rodriguez*, two well-known and talented woodworkers, were the guest speakers at our most recent woodworking club meeting, a combined meeting with another club. Alan started his own woodworking school several years ago, The Philadelphia Furniture Workshop, where both he and Mario are instructors.

Mario demonstrated mitered through-dovetails and Alan demonstrated how to sharpen a scraper. Alan sharpens them a little differently than I do, so I decided to have a showdown between his technique and mine. I used the same scraper, a Sandvik, and sharpened one edge with my technique and the other edge with Alan's.

Here’s my process:

Chuck the scraper in a vise, and using a smooth file, square each edge 90º to the sides. Switching to an 8,000 grit waterstone, hone the edge. Skew the scraper as you hone, so you don't plow a groove in the waterstone. Next, hone 1/2" of the face of both flat sides. Put some oil on a burnisher (some people use the handle of a screwdriver, but I have better luck with a burnisher), hold the scraper in your hand** and, using a fair amount of downward pressure, slide the burnisher 3-5º along both sides of each long edge, 5 or 6 times. The idea is to create a hook on both sides of the edge so you can use both sides to scrape.

Here’s Alan’s process:

First, he oiled the scraper and the burnisher. Then he laid the scraper flat on the workbench near the edge and used the burnisher to draw the metal out along each long edge on both sides of the scraper, creating a “U” shape of metal along each edge. Then he chucked the scraper in a vise and filed the edges to 90º. He added more oil to the scraper and burnisher, then he drew the metal out once more on the workbench. Back to the vise, he burnished each side of each long edge 2-5º.

To use the scraper, flex the blade between your thumbs and hold the scraper at 45º to the work surface. The moment of truth....

They looked the same to me. I was surprised because I thought Alan's would work much better. I still think his is a better sharpening technique that will produce more consistent results. But, take your pick!

*Photos of Alan and Mario courtesy of Robert Aspey.
**It's possible to cut yourself by holding the scraper in your hand while using the burnisher, so to be totally safe, you can secure it in a vise instead.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

String Inlay

Lie Nielsen now carries tools to create string inlay* (pictured at right) based on Steve Latta's innovative designs.

I took Steve's inlay class a year ago at Olde Mill Cabinet Shoppe, where we made simpler versions of the tools (pictured below).

While I won't show you how to make the tools since they are Steve's original designs, I will tell you that they are simple to use, if you're thinking about taking Steve's class, buying the L-N set, or making your own. I practiced for only about an hour before starting a Chester County line and berry design for a spice box door. It only took about 3-5 hours to do all of the inlay for this panel, although the "berries" aren't finished yet, nor has the surface been finish-sanded. It's far from perfect, but hopefully people won't inspect it too closely once it's done (which may be never, since it's been sitting in this state of incompletion for almost a year....)

The radius cutter pivots on a point while little teeth plow a groove for the inlay. You can see a close-up of the teeth configuration on the L-N website. In Steve's class, we also made a tool that plows a straight line and a thicknessing gauge that ensures the veneer strips are consistent in width. To use the gauge, you pull the veneer strip through a kerf in a block of wood. One side of the kerf is wood. The other side has a little scraper attached to it.

L-N also offers a dvd featuring Steve Latta creating the line and berry technique. I have not seen this video, but I can vouch for Steve's excellent teaching skills.

It's easier than you might think to add decorative string inlay to your projects.

*I do not sell for Lie-Nielsen (or Steve Latta), nor have I used their inlay tools, so I cannot comment on their performance.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Tale of Two Museums

We met some friends in Philadelphia yesterday to tour two museums: The Mütter Museum (museum of medical oddities, including body parts encased in formaldehyde) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (which is currently showcasing artwork by Frida Kahlo).

I would like to point out that The Mütter Museum was not my idea. I had vowed years ago that I would never tour the facility (I hate all things gross), but when my partner and friends dangled the Frida Kahlo carrot in front of my nose, I caved.

The Mütter Museum did not disappoint—I was queasy after the tour....just in time for lunch.

We had some time to kill before our appointment with the Kahlo exhibit, so we spent time exploring the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where as luck would have it, a fine collection of various types of sculpture, paintings, metalwork, ceramics, and FURNITURE (woohoo!) from 1680 to present is housed in the American Art section. Here are a few of my favorites:
  1. Wardrobe, 1779, walnut, yellow pine, oak, and sulfur inlay, and with rattail hinges.
  2. Side Chair, 1866, oak.
  3. Desk & Bookcase, 1827, mahogany, mahogany veneer, stained burl ash, white pine, yellow poplar, and stringing. The Franklin Institute's report on its 1827 exhibit in which this piece won an award stated that it was "the best piece of furniture" of its kind.
  4. Shaker Sewing Desk, Enfield New Hampshire community. Birdseye maple, cherry, walnut, and poplar.
  5. Spectacle Case, 1800-1850, cherry, Shaker. Note the ridged side pulls.
  6. PA German Painted Cupboard.
  7. Shaker Worktable, 1800-1850, white pine and maple.
  8. Giant Plug, cherry, from the Pop Art collection.
The Kahlo exhibit included a self-guided audio tour that was enlightening and informative, but we had some difficulty getting close to the paintings due to the large number of art lovers also on tour.

The museum closed before we had time to tour the other collections, which include European Art, Asian Art, Modern/Contemporary Art, and Arms & Armor, making it well worth another trip to Philly.

It was a fabulous Saturday—I've managed to erase the medical oddities from memory—and before we headed home, maybe because we were aglow from the spirit-lifting exhibits, maybe because we're a benevolent bunch, we decided to help a sister out with a little tweezing.
(click to enlarge photo)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Woodworking: The Perfect Hobby

At least it is for someone who loves variety. Woodworking is an inexhaustible source of learning. There is always another technique or talent you can acquire or challenging project you can build.
When I first started woodworking, I built rustic furniture. The wood was free (fallen limbs in the neighborhood), it required few tools, and it involved basic joinery. From there, I became interested in building New Mexican furniture because the carving looked like fun. Then, I migrated toward Mission furniture, then Shaker furniture, then learning how to handcut dovetails, then how to make handplanes, and now PA German furniture.

I’m crazy-interested in learning more handtool techniques.

Recently, I bought a video on marquetry from Jane Burke and a video on sharpening handsaws from Tom Law. A year ago I learned how to make string inlay, for a line and berry design, from Steve Latta.

But it doesn’t end there.

There are a multitude of other types of woodworking and ww techniques, including wood bending, veneering, carving in the round, chip carving, furniture design, making handtools, mastering complex joinery, finishing, building musical instruments, and woodturning, just to name a few.

And my list of “to-build” projects. Well...I will never reach the bottom of the list.

But that’s what I love about woodworking. It’s impossible to learn everything or build everything you'd like to, so it's constantly exciting and it's impossible to be bored.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Women's Woodworking Club

The club, which was started a year and a half ago, has grown to over 20 members. 8 to 10 usually show up for our monthly meetings, where we do as many hands-on projects as possible.

Most of these women are brand new to woodworking—some are retired, with grown children—and all are enthusiastic to learn. The enthusiasm can be gauged in the sheer volume of exhuberant chatter that goes on during our meetings.

Regarding woodworking (and probably most things), all that women seem to need is a little encouragement & patience, and they will dive right in. Tonight, we worked on part 2 of our current project—cutting boards—in the Woodcraft Store shop where we meet. During the course of the 3-part project, they are learning how to use the jointer, planer, and miter saw. Next time, we'll have a router workshop, when we'll round over all the cutting boards and test drive different types of routers and bits.

We decide at each meeting, as a group, what the next topic will be. There are no dues, no officers, no business to attend to. We sit at a table, facing one another. All of the women have ownership. It's very different from what I call the "boys' club"—the other woodworking club to which I belong. Up until last year, I was the only female member.

In the boys' club, the guys seem to prefer hierarchy and structured meetings. We have officers, dues, and an annual business meeting. There are too many guys in that club (and too small a space) to do much hands-on stuff, so we mainly have a demo or lecture. Members sit in rows of chairs and face the presenter. The volume of these meetings is also different. Pretty quiet, except for the speaker, and the occasional wisecrack. The guys chat with one another prior to and after the meeting, but not so much during.

The other very important difference in the two clubs: the women's club usually has snacks. This past year in the boys' club, when the Christmas party was discussed, the guys opted to not have one. Conversely, the women all but leapt out of their seats with a resounding "YES!" when I asked if we wanted to have a club Christmas dinner.

And you wouldn't believe what they brought. Crab cakes, homemade lasagna, homemade meatballs (made by one woman's husband, which cracked us up), salads, and desserts like you'd find at Wegman's.

It's great fun to be an observer in both clubs. Despite their differences, there is one common thread between the two clubs: they both consist of people who want to create something—something useful, something artistic, something challenging. Something that will leave a lasting mark.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Something's Different...

Now, I know I haven't built anything in my shop for over a month, but I'm pretty sure the last time I was in there, I didn't leave a plant, 2 dog toys, and a bird bath lying around.
Has this phenomenon happened to any of you?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bevel-Edged Pencil

Marking layout lines with a pencil always leads to "Do I split the line or save the line?" Here's a way to narrow the line, but still be able to see it, and resolve the issue.

Use a piece of sandpaper to create a flat side on your sharpened pencil then ride the flat edge along your straightedge. The line you create will be the exact the location of your cut. I mark dovetails this way and transfer lines from pins to tails. It is surprisingly precise. It does not, however, allow you mark lines in tight quarters, as in transferring marks from tails to ultra-thin dovetails. For that, you need a thin-bladed marking knife. (Or, cut your pins first...but that's another post.)

Using a pencil with a bevel edge leaves a mark that is easier to see than a knife mark. Sometimes you need that, especially if you've reached that 40+ year old bifocal age (raising hand).

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Osage Orange Plane

People have written me asking for more information about the little osage orange plane in the side bar, so here are some images and measurements in case you would like to make one yourself.

Body: 4.5" long • 2" high • 1.125" wide
Opening: .84375" wide (13.5/15")
Wedge: 2.625" long • .8125" (13/15") wide • 12 degree bevel to fit
Blade: 3.625" long • .8125" wide • .125" thick

Bed Angles:
45 degree bed • 57 degree shoulder (the portion of the sides that hold the wedge in place) • 52 degree front bed

The plane is one piece of wood, so the most difficult part is chiseling out the wood inside the opening and being careful to ensure that the bed is perfectly flat. Layout your angles on the outside of your workpiece and transfer the angles across the top, down the other side, and on the plane's sole. Then, just keep an eye on your progress to make sure you maintain those angles as you chisel out the opening.

Other woods that make good planes are applewood, maple, bloodwood, cocobolo, and many other dense hardwoods.

Growth ring orientation, according to David Finck, author of Making & Mastering Wood Planes, is unimportant.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Leather Strop

You don't need a grinder and felt wheel in order to keep your knives, gouges, and chisels sharp. Honing with a leather strop charged with a fine compound also keeps them razor sharp. Glue a piece of leather to a flat substrate, like mdf or plywood, and rub a fine grit compound over the surface of the leather. I glued my leather rough side up, but others glue theirs smooth side up.

Slide your knife away from you, with the cutting edge facing you, and keep the blade at the same angle as the bevel. Flip the blade over and pull it towards you, this time with the cutting edge facing away from you. This way you won't gouge the leather. Hone each side of the blade the same number of times.

The lettercarving chisels that I've used for about 12 years have never once touched a waterstone or grinder. I have only ever honed them on a strop and they cut just as well now as the day I bought them. To sharpen a straight chisel, maintain the bevel angle as you slide the chisel towards you, with the cutting edge facing away from you. To hone the back, make sure the chisel is perfectly flat and then follow the same procedure. Always hone each side of the blade the same number of times.

To hone a straight gouge, I use a Flexcut SlipStrop, which has pre-formed shapes that match many types of gouges. Charge this with compound and hone the inside of the blade in the same manner as above. Hone the back of a straight gouge, if the sweep is not too extreme, on the flat leather strop, and rock the blade to match the back of the bevel. I lean the blade to the left and slide it, then lean it in the middle and slide it, and then lean it to the right and slide it. All the same number of times as I hone the inside sweep.

For smaller gouges, I sometimes use a piece of leather that I just bend by hand into a curve that matches the inside curve of the gouge.