Thursday, July 31, 2008

Handcarved Star

To carve a star, follow the basic principles in lettercarving. For this technique, you only need a straight chisel and a mallet (not even a mallet, if you push hard enough to make your stop cuts). And you'll make life easier on yourself if you create a star where any two points share a common wall—a straight line drawn from point to point.

In the illustration above, the dashed lines are low spots, the valleys, where you will make the stop cuts.

This star is 1.875" diameter, so I'm using a 20mm straight chisel: small enough to manage but large enough that the width of the blade is wider than the deepest cut and almost as wide as the stop cut is long.

First, define the stop cuts. They should not be deep as the final depth of cut and should taper to nothing at the star's points. Bevel up, start at any point and ease the chisel into the cut, gradually slicing deeper as you reach center, then easing up again as you approach the opposite point. Here is the advantage of two points sharing a common wall: with one cut, you have established one of the two walls on each of two spurs of the star.

Keep an eye on the grain direction to avoid tearout and work your way around the star. You should not try to remove the waste in one slice, but ideally two (I've never mastered this). With subsequent passes, be sure to lay the chisel's back flat against the wall created in the first slice to ensure a clean, single facet, wall.

Remove stubborn pieces by continuing the slicing method and/or by sliding the chisel directly downward into the valleys.

In the photo at right, you can see tearout on the upper right spur. Slicing with the grain is most difficult and tearout means you should cut in the other direction. I cleaned it up fairly well with very light paring slices. Not perfect, but no one will inspect your work as closely as you (or another woodworker!) will.

If the spurs do not meet in the middle, that means the walls' angles are not consistent and you'll have to carefully pare the shallower walls to match the sharpest-angled walls.

I'ts easier than you might think to carve a star, but it's a design element that prompts admirers to say "nifty!"

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why Antique Tools?

That's what my partner asked me a while ago. "I know why you use handtools, but what's the intrigue with antique handtools?"

"Well", I explained, "it's because...well...hmmm, let me think about it."

I use handtools in general because 1) sawdust makes me cough 2) by working with handtools, it seems more like I'm shaping the wood rather than a power tool creating the shape 3) I don't waste as much wood by making practice cuts 4) the set up time is faster 5) it's quiet 6) it's a great workout 7) it's safer 8) wood shaped with handtools seems to have more character (in my opinion), 9) handtools have personality and there is synergy between the user and tool that I've never felt with my power tools (except for my band saw—I love that guy), 10) you can do things with handtools that you can't do with power tools (skinny little dovetails, for instance) and 11) I just like it.

But why antique handtools?

The first thing that popped into my head is that some tools are no longer manufactured, so an antique is your only option. But that's not really my reason for buying and using them.

I use antique tools purely for nostalgic and aesthetic reasons. I love the dings, dents, owners' marks, patina, feel, and historical aspects of them. They are a link to our past and as I use them, I think about the previous owners and sense a connection. There's also something physically different about antique tools; it's like you're sliding your hand into a favorite, well-worn glove. Could be that years of use have altered the shape slightly so they fit more comfortably in your hand than new tools.

And where I believe handtools have personality, antique ones are full of character. You'll find everything from crotchety curmudgeons to quirky & finicky great-uncles to gentle & wise old grandfathers.

So, I ask you....what's your intrigue with antique tools?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Carriagemaker Planes

I am NOT a tool collector*.

At right is a photo of all my antique tools. Rather paltry when compared with some folks’ stockpiles. I love antique tools, but I only buy ones that I plan to refurbish and use.


Every so often
, I come across a little beauty that begs to come home with me, regardless of whether or not I’ll ever use it. One such tool is this carriagemaker—also, coachmaker— plough plane (photos 3-5) that I purchased from Lee Richmond at The Best Things. A friend who knows way more about antique tools than I do, reckoned it was 18th c. because of the wedged, rather than screw, arms.

The more ornate and unusual carriagemaker planes (such as those in the second photo**), at least from my limited antique tool shopping experience, are hard to find. And the only information I’ve ever found about the planes have come from short paragraphs in a few ww books and articles.

The one I bought isn’t very fancy, but other carriagemaker planes are among the most exquisite planes I’ve ever seen. Those are the ones I can’t afford. One such plane is the Falconer Plough Plane, of which only 3 or 4 exist. I witnessed one being sold at auction a year ago for $33,000.

The skate on my plough plane is shorter than a regular plough plane because carriagemakers worked primarily with curves. The thumbscrew works the depth stop. The blade has little “wings” that I’m guessing act as nickers, but someone correct me if I’m wrong. Because of the thin width of the blade, I’m also surmising it was used to cut grooves for inlay.

The only other carriagemaker tool I have is a little router (last photo) that cuts a delicate profile. Again, it came home with me because I liked the look and feel of it. But, you never know....maybe I’ll build a carriage someday and I can reinforce my claim of being a tool user, not collector.

*I do not mean to imply that there is anything wrong with tool collecting.
** Photo is from Sandor Nagyszalanczy's book "Tools: Rare and Ingenious".

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Rose Engine Ornamental Lathe

The presentation at last night's woodworkers' meeting was given by Dean Swagert, club member, who built his own Rose Engine Ornamental Lathe from plans printed in an article in American Association of Woodturners publication.

Dean is a Rock Star Woodworker.

The Rose Engine gets its name from the shape of the rosette wheels that play a part in the shape that is cut into the workpiece. Several other variables, like position of the carbide cutter, design of the rosettes (you can stack more than one on the machine), use of the indexing plate, and shape of the rubber, can also alter the design.

The rosettes are fastened to a headstock that pivots back and forth and bounces off the rubber; the wheels are turned with polyurethane tubing; the motor is 7.5 rpm, direct drive; and for increased precision, Dean installed a variable speed motor and compound gear system.

Dean turns pieces on a regular lathe that are simply amazing. He explains how he makes them, but it's way over my head. He also makes traditional Japanese tansu cabinetry, with hardware made in Japan.

And here are some of the pieces this quiet, humble, Korean War veteran has made with his Rose Engine Lathe. Enjoy!


YouTube video using an ornamental lathe.
Plans to build one of your own.
Rose Engine Lathe and parts for sale.
Previous post about the Rose Engine Lathe.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

You Can Always Whittle

When I'm a little white-haired old lady, who will no longer be able to hoist large boards onto my table saw or band saw, nor have the energy to handsaw them, I will carve, make decorative boxes, and whittle.

Recently, I bought a book entitled The Little Book of Whittling, by Chris Lubkemann, that clearly explains how to make simple letter openers, spoons, birds, forks, chickens, and tiny canoes, among other things useful or amusing.

Whittling is something that intrigued me as a kid. I remember using one of my dad's pocket knives to sharpen sticks, carve designs in them, and make sling shots. I never progressed beyond that, but I do remember having a great time. And feeling cool. Like Opie Taylor.

So, until I can get back to working with bigger tools (in exactly 23 days), I'm going to fiddle around with whittling. Today, I'm making a spoon or a whistle and then I'll show the neighbor kids how I made it, which will no doubt amaze them.

And they'll think I'm cool. The coolest brown-haired, middle-aged lady on the block.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Some Homecoming!

First of all, thank you for the well-wishes, prayers, and happy thoughts---they helped! Surgery went very well and I will be found, plane-in-hand and smile-on-face, in 4 weeks.

So I'm home from the hospital now, only 4 days from having stared death in the face (exaggeration included for effect), I walk through my shop to let the dogs out into the backyard, and I see this. This.....PILE OF STUFF on my workbench!

A monstrous, Italian leather handbag has no place in a workshop.

Nor do sunglasses, keys, a shopping bag, or a gallon jug of vinegar. (Why would anyone need a GALLON of vinegar?)

I explained this to my partner, who apparently has been using my workbench in my absence as though it were a common side table in a foyer.

The vinegar, she countered,
is for my attitude.


Where can a convalescent file an abuse-of-a-patient complaint?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Some Vacation!

Starting tomorrow, I will be resting easy for 5 days, a stack of woodworking books at my side, people bringing me food and drinks, friends visiting me, no dishes to wash, no laundry to clean, and no dogs to walk.

What's the catch?

It's a "vacation" at our local hospital, following surgery. Sheesh, the things a gal has to do to get a break from work!

Just wanted to let you know that I won't have computer access (my worst fear come true), so I won't be able to comment or post for a little while.

Have a great week!

Wharton Esherick Museum

Yesterday, we toured the Wharton Esherick Museum, located in Paoli, PA. Esherick, known as "the dean of American craftsmen" was born in 1887 and began his artistic career as a painter. From there, he took up carving, woodcuts, sculpture, and furniture-making.

I knew nothing about Esherick prior to the tour, but learned that he was a major influence in the woodworking styles of Wendell Castle, Sam Maloof, and Art Carpenter.

Unfortunately, visitors are only able to take photos outside the complex. Images of his work and shots of the studio interior that are included in this post were found online and on postcards. But they are nothing compared to seeing the pieces housed in his studio, and the studio itself, in person.

I was awestruck. Seemingly every inch of the studio's interior had been touched by his hand. The first thing you notice is the crazy, curved, out-of square angles of the structures. Even the roof lines of his studio and lumber storage building were purposely made to look like caving-in barn roofs.

Inside are furniture pieces that defy traditional woodworking tenets, perhaps because he approached woodworking as an artist, with no formal woodworking training. One dining table's surface was built with three boards, none parallel to one another. Two figured planks had been sawn in half from one board, but rather than bookmatched, were flip-flopped, so each half of the crotchwood flame faced one another from opposite corners. Then the entire table top was cut into a kidney-shape.

There were lots of free-form, organic pieces, but also angular, art deco-inspired pieces. The wall panels were placed in ray patterns; the kitchen floor was made of irregular-shaped pieces of wood that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle; and the spiral staircase used an actual mastodon's tusk as a hand rail.

It was torture to not take photos. But our tour guide said a book is in the works, showcasing Esherick's pieces, and set for release in the fall of 2009.

Esherick forged all of the hardware in his studio; his favorite tools were his broad axe and band saw; he used an enormous variety of hardwoods; and his finishes of choice were tung oil & boiled linseed oil.

One piece, a large fold-down secretary, reminded me of Adirondack twig furniture. Instead of using actual twigs, however, he carved leaves and twig shapes over every surface. And this I had never seen before: the rails of the cabinet doors ended not at the stile, but continued further to form handcarved barrel hinges.

The museum tour was well worth the entrance fee (only $10). And navigating the too-small parking area and the fact that they don't accept credit or debit cards were minor inconveniences.

I left completely inspired. And you can't put a price on that.

Photos include his studio (the building with the stone foundation), the gift shop (the log cabin that formerly housed his lumber), and his workshop (the blue buildings, in which his daughter now lives, and which were not part of the tour).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Furniture fit for a General

Last April, I read an article in Woodwork Magazine about Joe Cress, owner of Logan Creek Designs, and maker of reproduction Civil War Campaign Furniture. Until then, I never knew there was such a thing.

Over a decade ago, Joe's interest in the Civil War prompted him to visit the Virginia Military Institute, which houses some of the furniture he now replicates. Captivated by one piece in particluar—Stonewall Jackson's field desk—and a chance encounter with the museum's executive director led him to where he is today: a maker of "products belonging to three generals, all under license".

Among those products are Robert E. Lee's Camp Chest, J.E.B. Stuart's Field Desk, and Stonewall Jackson's Deathbed.

On his website is a downloadable pdf file of the Woodwork Magazine article and samples of his work. Of particular interest in the article is the fact that Joe purposely adds subtle inaccuracies in his pieces at the behest of places like the Smithsonian Institution. This, in an effort to derail people who try to pass reproductions off as original.

Joe lives one state away from me, in Virginia. I'd love to drop in on him someday and hopefully he'll agree to an interview. Maybe it would help persuade him if I dress in period costume. Anyone know where a gal can get a bustle?*

*Is anybody else totally creeped out by that last photo?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sliding Dovetails

Here is one way to cut the groove for a sliding dovetail.

Mark the depth of cut with a marking gauge on both edges of the board. Lay the dovetail piece on top of your work surface and trace the bottom of both sides of the dovetail. Transfer that line to your depth of cut line on both edges.

Now you can see where to position the dovetail on the edge of the board so you can trace its angle. Trace this angle on both edges. Connect these lines across the face of the board and this shows you where to start cutting.

The dovetail plane I used cuts a 16ยบ angle. Bevel a 2x4 at this angle to use as a fence to guide your saw. I keep finger pressure on the sawblade so it stays tight against the fence. Saw down to your depth of cut mark and chisel out the waste between the saw marks. Slide the dovetail into the groove....and you're done!

Because the sliding dovetails on the sawbuck table are so long (25"), I'm not comfortable with this technique, so I'll show another way to cut sliding dovetails in a future post.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Cheap Therapy

Not getting to work in my shop for a week, and I turn into my friend, Scott.....grumpy.

So today, Independence Day, I get some shop time. Next step in the sawbuck table project is to build the table top. I ran out of curly cherry, but have a huge stack of stickered and rough-sawn plain cherry in my garage. The boards are gorgeous and will darken quickly.

However, yours truly, while having spent a great deal of time and care stickering & stacking the boards to allow them to dry (I bought them 2 years ago, freshly-sawn), forgot to put weights on the top boards. That resulted in twisted and cupped boards.

So far, shop time is making me grumpier.

The boards are too wide to face plane on my 6" jointer, so I reached for a plane that gets little use, but sure comes in handy when you need it.....a scrub plane.

Scrub planes have curved irons that quickly remove deep, scalloped chunks of wood, enabling you to knock down high spots and correct twists in boards with little effort. After which, you can run the boards through your planer or switch to a less agressive plane.

An added benefit: you can deflate your bad mood. Plowing through wood and seeing thick chips fly out of the plane's mouth is a real tension-reliever.

And I'm happy to report—the grump has left the building.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Woodworking in America

Only THE handtool event of the year! Registration is open today so don't delay. I suspect tickets will be gone before you can say "Lie-Nielsen Bench Plane." Hope you can go and if you do, please say hi if you see me. I'll be the one with the stupid grin on my face....

Woodworking in America Link