Monday, June 30, 2008

Sharpening a Dovetail Plane

Abe Lincoln once said "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."

Well, I spent 6. 5 hours on Saturday fiddling around with the blades on the dovetail plane and got pretty good, but not perfect, results. The blades were easy—too easy—to sharpen. Too easy, because I realized they had not been heat treated. That's fine if you're working with pine, but to plane curly cherry meant having to resharpen blades that were being nicked by the hard wood and which dulled quickly.

Rather than take the time to heat treat the irons in order to produce a clean dovetail—I'm terrified of propane torches and need to spend several days working up my nerve to use them—I forged ahead with planing them, and resolved to make scratch stock to clean up the tearout.

To sharpen the plane blades, the backs first needed to be flattened. I used drywall screen sitting atop a sheet of glass, but you can also use a sheet of coarse sandpaper clamped to a known flat surface, like a cast iron table saw or jointer bed. From there, I polished the back on 1,000 grit and then 8,000 grit waterstones. A veritas gauge helped maintain the bevel angle while sharpening it on the 1,000 grit stone, followed by the 8,000 grit stone.

Sharpening the side bevel was a little trickier. It was rounded over, so I first flattened it with a file and then used 1,000 and 8,000 grit slipstones to polish the bevel.

Scratch stock is very easy to make. The trick is to make sure you polish both sides of the metal as well as the edges. You want very square edges. I rough-shaped the profile with a hacksaw, used a grinder to finalize the shape, flattened the edges with a file, and used an 8,000 grit waterstone to polish all edges. It only took about a half hour to make, whereas, had I elected to heat treat the blades.....well, let's just say, this being two days later, I'd still be trying to bolster my courage.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Dovetail Plane

I purchased a double-bladed dovetail plane from Clarence Blanchard of Fine Tool Journal some time ago. Clarence assured me that while the plane is not a showpiece, it is a good user...and he was right!

My current project has sliding dovetails that attach the top to the base. I have cut sliding dovetails only

once before with just a saw and chisels, so I've been looking forward to dusting off my dovetail plane and using it for the first time. Without any sharpening or honing, you can see in the first & third photos how well it cuts pine. Pretty impressive! It will require some sharpening, however, for the curly cherry —a harder wood with ornery grain—that I'm using for the sawbuck table.

The plane is double-bladed to accomodate reverse grain on a board's edge, but since the pine cut so easily, I sheared both sides of the profile (using both blades) without removing the board from the vise or changing my stance. I don't know if that's the "right" way to use the plane, but it worked great.

In the last two photos, arrows are pointing to the areas of the blade that do the actual cutting and the only areas that will need to be sharpened.

The dovetail joint has been around since the ancient Egyptians, 5,000 years ago, but I do not know when sliding dovetails were first introduced and when dovetail planes were first developed. If you happen to know, please email me or post a comment (Gary—nudge, nudge). I'd love to have more information.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lie-Nielsen vs. Wenzloff

This is my friend, Scott. Scott is thrilled because his new Wenzloff saws arrived this week and he can’t wait to try them out. Trust me, he’s happy. Regardless of his mood, he always looks like someone just pilfered his lunch money.

My partner and I find Scott’s grumpy disposition highly entertaining, along with his “gut-busting, lol, oh-my-God-did-I-just-snort?” stories about how gay guys hit on him all the time and he can’t figure out why. Scott is 100% straight.

And we’re bringing him with us to the Woodworking in America conference in Berea, KY this November. He loves hand tools so much he might even crack a smile. I’ll have the camera ready.

Scott and I decided to conduct and in-depth, painstakingly-scientific study comparing the smaller of his two saws with my Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw. Both are 9” long, 15 tpi blades.

Here are the results:

• Larger handle, set lower
• Shorter blade height
• Lighter weight
• Smoother start
• Does not cut as quickly, due to less aggressive set in teeth
• Thinner and less ragged kerf due to less aggressive set

• Aggressive set in teeth made it cut more quickly
• Produced a wider kerf
• Physically heavier, which aided in cutting more quickly with less effort
• Handle shorter and positioned higher
• Blade is tapered back to front
• More difficult to start due to agressive set

We liked both saws and the shape of the teeth looked identical to our untrained eyes, but Scott preferred his Wenzloff and I preferred my Lie-Nielsen. Since I usually cut thin, delicate dovetails, the Lie-Nielsen works better for me. I also feel like I have more control over the saw because it cuts less aggressively and has a smoother start. However, both handles were comfortable and both saws cut straight lines.

Scott preferred the more aggressive cut and heavier weight of his Wenzloff saw. He also preferred the feel of the handle over the Lie-Nielsen, stating that it felt handmade rather than machined.

Scott has a different sawing technique than I do when cutting dovetails. His is actually the “right” way to do it where you start the cut at an angle and slowly level it out. I start with the saw completely level with the board’s edge to ensure I’m cutting exactly along my pencil line.

One unexpected benefit to practicing sawing with a friend is that you can help each other improve your technique. By observing at board’s eye view from the side, you can tell if the sawyer is making a level cut and is using the entire width of the blade.

In conclusion: Lie-Nielsen and Wenzloff are both great saws!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tusk Tenon

Accurate layout is essential for a tight-fitting tusk tenon. Start by drawing a line on all four sides of the tenon where it exits the legs. Next, trace the wedge's angle onto the tenon and transfer this line the entire way around the tenon. In so doing, you have a reference line with which line up the angle of your chisel as you chop the mortise.

I used a mortising gauge to mark the long walls of the mortise, defined the shape with an exacto knife and chisel, removed some waste at the drill press, and cleaned up the mortise with chisels.

In the second to last photo, you may notice that the wall of the mortise that is closest to the leg assembly is actually stepped back a bit. I did this for two reasons: I still have final planing to do on the legs (which will reduce their thickness slightly); and to ensure a tight fit. With the mortise embedded inside the legs, the wedge pushes against the part of the leg that is above and below the mortise. I don't know if this is normally how it's done since I've never seen a tusk tenon disassembled, but it worked, and that's good enough for me. One down, one to go!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Don’t waste wood.... NOT using it. All of us have prized pieces of wood stashed away, waiting for the “perfect” project to come along. Or maybe we're waiting to improve our woodworking skills before using that plank of bubinga, for fear of ruining it. Or maybe we think that padauk board is just too pretty to cut up.

Years ago, I bought a huge stack of wormy American chestnut from an old woodworker who had considered using it to build a dry sink. He told me it had grown on his property and reckoned it was about 100 years old when he hired a sawyer to cut it up because it had fallen. The boards had been drying in his shed for years and years, and now he was too old to work with the heavy boards.

He used a walker to get around, and although he could no longer lift large pieces of wood, he kept a tall stool at his bandsaw where he sat to cut small slats for the boxes he nailed together for a local farm to use for packing. He showed me around his tiny shop and the numerous stacks of boxes he had made, and I understood why he continued to work with wood despite his limitations.

As I drove away with a carload of that woodworker’s chestnut, by the look on his face I imagined he felt disappointed that he hadn’t used it himself. He also may have thought as I was driving away, “I hope that chestnut doesn’t end up in that lady’s fireplace.” So I made sure to pay him homage by using some of the wood in the doors of my tool cabinet. More pieces were used to build the Ephrata Cloister cupboard. My only regret is that I didn’t get that man’s address so I could send him photos of the pieces I built with his wood.

So, don’t put off using that precious piece of birdseye maple or zebrawood for too long—waiting for that perfect project to surface or for your skills to improve or for the planets to be in alignment. Use it, admire it, turn it into something other than a piece of lumber, or worse, firewood. You make it more precious by giving it a second life in the form of your project.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Marketing Tips

You’ve finally decided to follow your heart and open a woodworking business. Your shop is fully-equipped, you have years of experience, stacks of lumber, and you’ve just hung your sign out.

Now what?

How do you find customers? How will customers find you? How will you ensure that you have enough business to stay in business?

Following are a few of the things I’ve learned in my 22 years as a graphic designer. These items apply to all types of businesses but are not necessarily in order of priority.
1. The very best advertising is word of mouth referrals. Stay in touch with your existing clients and ask them to pass your name along to their friends.
2. You don’t need stationery, but you do need a logo and business card. Logos speak volumes about you and your business, and a business card reflects your image and provides your contact information in a compact format. So if you are planning to hire a designer, here’s where you should start. If you’re going to design your own logo and don’t have design experience, fault on the side of simplicity and readability. The best logos are simple, memorable, and can hold up in small format (business card), large format (outdoor signage), and black & white (fax and print ad).
3. Hire a photographer. With businesses that sell product, a professional photographer is the number one priority (along with logo). You are what you create. And if your creations are presented in an unsophisticated way, what does that say about you?
4. Second priority is a copywriter. A talented wordsmith can turn phrases that elevate your image, adding value to your work. Professional copywriting is the bow on the present, that necessary touch that ties everything together and adds style & polish. If you choose to write your own material, be sure to run a spell check and have someone with a good grip on grammar look it over.
Tips on writing your own copy: less is better, be professional, emphasize your strong points & the things that make you unique (do you apply a hand-rubbed finish? do you use only locally-salvaged lumber? do you handcut your dovetails?). Keep in mind that people no longer have time to read lengthy prose and you only have a few seconds to convince them to choose you.
5. Third priority is a graphic designer (unless your business is service-oriented, in which case a designer is the #1 priority). Designers provide the stage for your presentation and define your image through graphic elements, color, font, placement, balance, hierarchy, and pattern. If hiring a designer is cost-prohibitive, see if a university nearby has a graphic design department. Check with the art department faculty to see if any students are looking for freelance work and if they can make a recommendation based on your needs.
6. Set up a website. It’s more important than a brochure. View other websites that you admire and use them as springboards for your own. Above all, make sure it’s easy to navigate, easy to find your contact information, and loads quickly.
7. Know your audience. If your target is high-end clients, then your marketing material must be elegant and tasteful to appeal to that demographic. Conversely, if your target is environmentally-conscious individuals, your material should have an earthy, natural appearance.
8. Make friends. Network. Join your local woodworking club. People have asked me on several occasions if I would build something for them. I tell them I’m not for hire, but Dan or Rick, who I know from my woodworking club and who both own woodworking businesses, can do the job. My friends have obtained business referrals simply by knowing another woodworker.
9. Send a press release to your local newspaper. Did you build something for a community project? Donate a piece for a local charity? Is there something special about your business that would be of interest? Editors of local papers are always looking for interesting material and a newspaper article gives you credibility and free advertising.

I could go on and on and if people seem interested, I’ll write another post on the subject in future. In the meantime, here are two excellent books on marketing that are written specifically for woodworkers: The Woodworker’s Marketing Guide; and Profitable Woodworking, Turning Your Hobby into a Profession.

Disclaimer: I am not looking for more business; I have all I can handle. But I’m happy to freely offer suggestions to people who share my passion for woodworking.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Simple Carved Design

Rather than leave a smooth face on the wedge of the tusk tenon joint on the sawbuck table, I decided to jazz it up a bit with a carved pattern. The design is very small, only 1.125" in diameter.

A bench hook, a piece of scrapwood, and a nail kept the wedge from moving while I carved the design.

Chip carvers would reach for a carving knife to make this pattern, but I fare better with lettercarving techniques. I used a straight chisel and a gouge with a #3 sweep and made exactly the same cuts I use in lettercarving (here & here). The only difference is I angled the tools at a steeper pitch. A 20º angle just seemed too shallow.

The gouge made all of the concave cuts: the outside wall of the circle and the petal shapes. And the chisel made the other cuts: the inside wall of the circle, which is convex, and the triangles.

To make the triangles, just slide the corner of your chisel into the outer edge of each of the 3 walls, keeping your chisel at an angle, around 60º, and push it down to the middle of the triangle—the point at which all three walls meet.

Finally, a chisel and block plane were used to chamfer the sharp edges of the wedge.

You can see in the close-up that the final design is far from perfect, in fact, my gouge slipped outside the circle a few times. Hopefully no one will inspect it that closely, but if they do, I'll just tell them I was trying to be authentic!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Veneering & Inlay

This past Sunday, I took a class taught by Jonathan Benson on Veneering & Inlay. Jon is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design with pieces exhibited in over 40 galleries nationwide, has taught college level woodworking for over ten years, has written for publications such as Woodshop News and Woodwork Magazine and has recently written a book entitled Woodworker's Guide to Veneering & Inlay.

Jon explained the different ways that veneer is cut from a log, depending on how it will be used, and the benefits to using veneer over solid wood. One reason in particular is sustainability. Wood cut into veneer can cover a whole lot more surface area than its solid wood equivalent. He explained bookmatching, 4-way (and more) matching, arranging pie shapes, cutting diamond shapes, and applying veneer to curved surfaces.

Veneering began in ancient Egypt, 5,500 years ago, where thin pieces were cut from a tree with an adze and made smooth with stones. Even though the veneer was 1/4" thick, it made the best use of the wood that was scarce and precious to the Egyptians.

Jon demystified veneering and inlay for me and demonstrated just how easy it is. I made my first inlay, using bookmatched walnut and a piece of birdseye maple, and although I haven't glued it to a substrate yet, it came together with little effort.

In his book, Jon explains exactly how to work with veneer; its history; how it is produced from a log; how to repair it; how to arrange it for spectacular geometric patterns; how to make a jig which utilizes a mirror to determine the best cut; how to make a jig that secures the veneer while you square the edge; how to create inlay, parquetry, and marquetry; how to work with curved projects; how to make your own veneer; and how to build a curved mirror frame, along with step-by-step instructions.

Working with veneer not only opens up a whole new aspect to woodworking, it enables you to work with wood which in its solid form might be cost prohibitive, and allows you to feel good about helping to sustain our forests.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Lamb's Tongue

A lamb's tongue is a decorative profile carved into a workpiece which eases the transition between a chamfer and a square corner. The original sawbuck table does not use a lamb's tongue, but a simple curve, on the stretcher that links the two leg assemblies.
One of the things that attracted me to this project was all of the details—ones that I have never tried before—that were applied to what at first glance appears to be a very simple table: eased chamfers, tusk tenons, sawbuck legs, and an angled drawer.

First, I made a jig so the corner I was working on would face up and so I didn't have to use clamps to secure the stretcher to the workbench. It is entirely possible to make this design element with just a straight chisel. Maybe that's why we see this feature in so many antiques—it's a subtle, yet distinctive, and easily created element. To use a chisel, carve the convex portion with the chisel bevel up. Use it bevel down, and lever the chisel in a scooping motion for the concave portion, working from both sides of this section to avoid tearout. Scoop down into the "valley" and feather the area where two sides of the valley come together. I had an easier time accomplishing this with a gouge.

Now...onto the tusk tenons!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Woodworking Around the World

Some online statistic services let bloggers know how readers found them—through searches or referrals from other sites—and where in the world readers reside. Below is a list of the places where woodworkers who read this blog live. In total: 59 countries/regions/territories. Wow. Woodworking is truly a universal language.

I am very curious about woodworking in other parts of the world, including other states within the U.S., particularly regarding the types of wood that are readily available and the styles of furniture that originated there.

Cherry and walnut are plentiful where I live and they are my favorite woods to work with, followed by pine. I have only cursory knowledge of the furniture styles that originated in PA, so am not able to write about them with any depth, but my favorite is Pennsylvania German furniture for its folksy, earthy, and practical qualities.

At right are photos of a trunk that my great-grandfather built in Boxholm, Östergötland, Sweden before he came to the U.S. I have never seen the trunk in person, just photos, so I'll guess that the wood is pine. The hardware is not original and there had been a sliding tray inside which has since gone a-missing. Sturdy and functional, but with what may have been a purely decorative element on top of the lid—the raised portion.

The wooden plate was painted by my grandma and reads, in Swedish, "Welcome to our home." She used a technique called rosemaling, or rose painting, which originated in Norway in the 1700s. "C" and "S" strokes, and stylized flowers are indicative of this style of painting. Although she was not a woodworker, grandma may have influenced my love of folk art and handmade creations.

I would love to hear from woodworkers across the globe & U.S. about the wood & tools they use and the furniture designs & decorative elements that are representative of their country or state. Feel free to leave a comment here or email me directly: Photos are appreciated!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Desert Island Tools

"Desert Island" is a figure of speech that refers to your favorite of something (I didn't make that very clear when I first posted this, my apologies). With "Desert Island Tools", I'm asking which tools can’t you do without? You know, the ones that get a workout every time you’re in the shop. Let’s say you can choose 5 items from your shop. My list includes:

1) 18” Jet Bandsaw—used to resaw lumber, rip rough-cut boards, cut small pieces, make angled and scroll cuts, cut tenons, and shape plane blanks.

2) Lee Valley Veritas Low Angle Block Plane—for chamfering edges, trimming dovetail and finger joints, planing small boards on edges and face, and making dowels.

3) Krenov-Style Jack Plane—of all the planes I’ve made, this one, my first one (beginner’s luck), still works best, even on end grain. It cuts a very fine shaving, so I use it for final finishing and jointing.

4) 5/8” Japanese Chisel—a good size for most projects and keeps a sharp edge for a long time.

5) Shop Apron, including contents (Yeah, it’s cheating. But it’s my blog.)
a. Bridge City Toolworks 4” Square—accurate and pretty and the only item from this company that I can afford.
b. 1.5” Engineer’s Square—just the right size for small pieces and for transferring layout lines to edges. Great for dovetails.
c. 6” Ruler with 1/64” increments—I have two because I’m terrified of losing it.
d. 6" Combination Square—for marking a parallel line along the length of a board, checking depths of mortises and dadoes, finding the center of a board’s edge, and more...
e. Tape Measure—for measuring long boards. I absolutely cannot get used to a folding rule.

So...what’s on your "island"?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mortise & Tenon

There are two beefy mortise and tenon joints (read: lots of room for error, if you're like me) that support the stretcher on the sawbuck table. The mortises are 1.5" (w) x 2" (h) x 1.375" (deep) and the tenons are almost 5" long. I laid out the mortises using a cardboard template to ensure that both would align correctly, then removed the bulk of the wood with a forstner bit chucked into my drill press.

A mortising chisel removes chunks of wood in short order and a paring chisel cleans up the sides of the mortise. I worked from both sides of the leg assembly and checked for square along the way. If you pare from both sides, often a crown is created in the middle of the joint, which is revealed by a square.

To layout the tenon, I used a slicing gauge to incise lines on the end and on all four sides and defined the shoulder with a chisel before roughing out the shape on the band saw.

Then, for two reasons, I used a #50 rasp to work the tenon down to the layout lines:

1) The rasp quickly removes band saw marks and 2) I have never been able to make my Stanley shoulder plane work properly. It's demon-possessed. No, really. That's the only possible explanation.