Saturday, August 30, 2008

I Lean to the Left

Some of you may be surprised or even a little disappointed to hear that, but it's true.

No matter how hard I try to keep even pressure on my plane, the edge I'm jointing becomes sloped to the left. Knowing this about myself, I take a conservative approach to jointing by frequently checking my progress with a square.

You might think the way to remedy the problem is to lean to the right. But that would only result in a peaked ridge down the middle of the board with slopes to the left and to the right.

Instead, seat your plane firmly on the right side of the edge of the board (photo 3), being sure to keep the plane perfectly flat. Don't get too radical—only take a pass or two. As you continue to plane, gradually migrate towards center until you produce a shaving that equals the entire width of the edge.

I'll continue to practice and someday I'll be able to take moderately level shavings right from the start.

That's because keeping centered is my primary focus.

Friday, August 29, 2008

EAIA Meet Up

An Early American Industries Association meet up is scheduled for October 4 in Dillsburg, PA.

The following information is printed with permission from Tom Graham, who asks that you contact him or
Dana Shoaf if you plan to attend, so they can get a ballpark number of attendees (email addresses for both are below).


Thought any of you, particularly those in PA, MD, VA, WV or even DE or NJ might be interested in this upcoming event. Besides its annual meeting, members of the Early American Industries Association (EAIA) have started to organize more local events. On Saturday, October 4, there will be one at Historic Dill Tavern, 227 N. Baltimore St., Dillsburg, PA 17019. The tavern is located on 2 acres of land, has a fascinating history and architectural features, and spacious meeting room and modern necessary facilities. It is conveniently located at the intersection of Route 15 and 74 between Harrisburg and Gettysburg just east of Route 15.

The meeting will last from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. and include:
a.. Morning Tailgating
b.. A talk by EAIA member and traditional builder Sam McKinney on the restoration of Dill Tavern. Sam has been painstakingly restoring the tavern since 2005.
c.. Day-long hearthcooking demonstrations.
d.. Display on the equipment and weaponry of the Continental Soldier of the Revolutionary War, including flintlock firing demonstrations.
e.. Historic masonry demonstrations, building a bake oven chimney.
f.. A chance to catch up with friends and talk about tools!

Other presentations are being developed, and several tool dealers have been asked to attend and set up. Cost is $12.00-pay at the door. Proceeds go to the Northern York County Historical and Preservation Society and EAIA and are tax deductible. If you would like to sell tools at the morning tailgate, please email EAIA board member Dana Shoaf at and let him know. If you would like to put on a demonstration or give a talk, contact Dana as well. To learn more about Dill Tavern, visit its web site at Check EAIA's website frequently for more updates on the meeting and registration information. You don't have to be an EAIA member to attend. Anybody who is interested in traditional crafts, hand tools, woodworking, early industries and re-enacting is encouraged to join us.

Hope to see you in October!

Tom Graham
(540) 338-7738

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Woodworking Classes

The topic was "Sam Maloof style rockers" at last night's woodworking club meeting. Two people presented: one who had visited Sam's shop twice and had built one of his rocker's a decade ago, and another who had just returned from taking a class at Marc Adam's School of Woodworking.

Much time was spent discussing the joinery that is required for building these rockers. The rockers themselves are constructed with laminated strips of hardwood which are glued together and bent to position using a form. The arms are doweled to the legs and the legs are doweled to the rockers. The back spokes are rough-cut at the bandsaw and then finished with rasps and spokeshaves. The seat is built with 5 boards which are doweled together and shaped with 16 grit sandpaper. The legs are attached to the seat with tongue and groove joinery and can be glued, screwed and pegged or merely glued. The crest rail is joined with dowels or biscuits. The fluid lines that create the graceful shapes are both hard and soft edged, adding the distinctive look characteristic of Maloof rockers.

After the meeting, my friend who had just taken the rocker class filled me in on the daily activities, the famous woodworkers he had met, the 10-14 hour days, the camaraderie, the extreme focus, the great lunches prepared by Marc's wife, and Marc's generous and high energy nature.

Only recently has my friend started taking classes. For years he thought "What can they teach me that I can't learn in a book?" I think many of us believe the same or have trouble justifying the expense of classes and materials cost. That, combined with travel expenses and room & board, and the price really adds up.

I took my first woodworking class with David Finck about 8 years ago on handcut dovetails where each of us made a sliding lid box. I learned techniques from David that I had never read in books and magazines. It was obvious that working alongside and being taught directly by a master woodworker was the best experience a novice woodworker (at least for me) could have.

But there was more to it than that. Being around other woodworkers during intense, exhausting days creates a bond with fellow students and generates an atmosphere that I had never experienced before. You're hunched over your work in fierce concentration and often no one is talking—the sound of working wood is all you hear. You're encapsulated in a little world that's bound so tight, you forget about everything else—work, obligations, responsibility. It's heaven.

A class I took a few years ago on making a panel raiser plane was 4 grueling days of woodworking. On the last day as we were packing up, the men initiated a long, drawn out "take-care-it-was-great-to-meet you-hope-to-see-you-again hugfest." I couldn't believe it.

My friend can't wait to enroll in another class and I just signed up for one at Olde Mill Cabinet Shoppe. He brought back memories of woodworking class Nirvana and reminded me of an experience that's easily worth every penny.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Carving a Celtic Knot

1. Lay out the design on your workpiece and define the outer and inner edges of the shape with chisels and gouges. I shaded the "under" parts of the knots with pencil so that I didn't accidentally cut across the "over" parts.

2. Match curves with gouges that have the same sweep.

3. Bevel down, remove the background areas that surround the shape. I used both chisels and gouges for this and tried to maintain a consistent depth of cut. Don't fret too much if it's not perfect; you'll have another shot at it as you're finishing the carving.

4. My 1/16" chisel got a work out along the outer edges.

5. I used dental tools to pick out some obstinate chips. These tools are cheap and your dentist may even give you some of his/her worn-out ones*. You can reshape the cutting edges to meet your needs.

6. Bevel up, I removed the pencil-shaded areas of the drawing with a tapered slice—starting at the high point (the "over" knot) and slicing downward toward the pencil shading—but did not cut as deep as the background areas. Once all the pencil-shaded areas (the "under" knots) are removed, the woven design emerges. You can stop at this point if you like a more hard-edged look. And here's where you can tweak the depth of the background area. Since parts of the design have been made more shallow, you have easier access.

7. If you prefer, you can round over all the edges with chisels and gouges to create a rope-like effect.

8. The finished design.

9. My neck started hurting as I was hunched over the workpiece, which was lying flat on my workbench. Then I rememberd a drill press jig I had made for another project. It worked amazingly well at positioning the board at a comfortable angle. No more pain, and carving became a complete joy. Of course, I was almost finished with the design when I remembered the jig....

*I needed dental tools for a class taught by Steve Latta. Steve suggested that we ask our dentists for his/her throw-aways. So I called my dentist's office and rather than give the receptionist a long explanation, I merely asked if I could buy any of their used dental tools. "Hold on," she said. Moments later, "NO!" and she hung up. I figured she thought I was planning to pull a Hannibal Lecter on someone and freaked out. At my next appointment with my dentist I told him what happened. "Oh, that was you?! That phone call was the talk of the office!" His response confirmed my Hannibal Lecter suspicions. And it totally made my day.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fledgling Relief Carver

I'm new to relief carving. At left is my first attempt, thanks to a tutorial in Richard Bütz's book How to Carve Wood. In it are chapters on tools, sharpening, woods & finishes, design, whittling, chip carving, relief carving, wildlife carving, lettercarving (he uses a different technique than I do), and architectural carving. There are lots of photos and illustrations that clearly explain his process.

All I knew about relief carving before reading his book was that the same principle in lettercarving—where you carve from shorter grain to longer grain, so the wood you are cutting is supported underneath the cut—still applies. This reduces tearout. However, tearout can still result from dull tools.

This October, I'm traveling to Juarez, Mexico with a group from my church where we'll build a home in 3 days for an impoverished family. 3 days! And this includes pouring concrete. The organization that sponsors these home-builds has it down to an art, so I trust we'll finish in time.

A Presbyterian church in El Paso, Texas is cooking meals for us while we're there and I wanted to give them something in return for their hospitality, so I plan to carve a Celtic cross. This will be a challenge for me, so I'm starting now—well in advance of our departure date.

That way, if all I create is fireplace fodder, there's still time to order them a gift.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

2 Workbench Jigs

I'll admit it. I was a Normite. In fact, it was Norm Abram who taught me how to use power tools. At a time when there seemed to be very few female woodworkers (16 years ago), it was a tad bit intimidating to ask for assistance in a woodworking store full of men. But good 'ol Norm was there to give me my first push down the slippery slope of woodworking.

Then about 10 years ago, I became interested in working with handtools. Now I use a blended workshop.

But to all of us—power tool, hand tool, or blended woodworkers—don't we all share an irrepressible and magnetic attraction to workbenches?

My conundrum as a beginner handtool user was: How do you use a workbench? How do you make the most of it? What part of the tail vise is used to clamp stock?

The answers were found in books like The Workbench Book, Making Workbenches, and Choosing and Using Handtools (among others). And with the recent release of Chris Schwarz's book, we have another fabulous resource.

Books like these disclose the importance of bench jigs. Pictured are a cut off jig for dowels and a planing stop. The cut off jig has a roughly chiseled V-groove that holds a dowel in place, and a piece of wood glued beneath the front edge that acts as a bench hook. The planing jig has through-tenoned dowels that drop down into holes that are bored into my benchtop. Both jigs see a lot of use in the shop.

Once I learned how to use a workbench, how to make the most of it, how to build and employ bench jigs, it opened up a whole new dimension in woodworking. And the slippery slope became a whole lot steeper.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Woodworking in the Movies

David Finck designed and built the box at right as a prop in an upcoming movie entitled Nights in Rodanthe, set for release in October. The movie stars Richard Gere and Diane Lane, whose character dabbles in woodworking. David was commissioned to not only supply props, but to instruct Diane Lane in woodworking techniques, including handcutting dovetails and handplaning.

You can see the movie trailer here:

I'm curious whether Diane comes across as a legitimate woodworker or if she's as believable as Paris Hilton portraying a brain surgeon. But because I'd just as soon pluck my eyebrows with a chainsaw than go see a barfy romance movie, I'll ask that if any of you would be willing to take one for the team, suffer through the viewing, and then email me your opinion....I'd be indebted. No, really.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Buggy Factory

Saturday we took a trip to "Buggy Town". Mifflinburg, PA was home to more than 80 buggy shops in the 19th c. with one, purportedly the only one in the U.S,. still intact: W. A. Heiss Coachworks.

I had hoped to see a collection of carriagemaker planes at the museum, but there were none. There was, however, the only treadle-powered table saw I had ever seen. It looked homemade with an odd-shaped, adjustable fence and a fixed board in front of the blade whose purpose befuddled me. I suppose it was used as a stop.

There were some handsome buggys on display, some with fancy paint jobs. The finishers in the factory were commissioned with the most egregious portion of the assembly, not only because applying the finish was so difficult, but because they had to work in an unventilated room on the second floor of an unheated, unairconditioned, uninsulated, wooden warehouse. They had to keep the windows closed while they worked to prevent dust from settling on the finish. 8-10 hour days/6 days a week. Suddenly, my job doesn't look so bad.

The woods used in the buggys' construction were: poplar and pine for the body; oak for the undercarriage; and hickory for the spokes and wheels.

In the last photo, you can see the brake pad pressing against the rear wheel. I asked our guide what they were made from and she said anything from wood to fabric to leather to shoes. And that, she said, is where the term "brake shoes" comes from.

Of course, she may have been pulling my leg....
or my New Balance.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Creative Thinking

How the heck did he/she come up with that?

That’s what goes through my mind when I peruse woodworking books that feature original designs. That...and maybe I should turn in my woodworking badge.

A friend who took a furniture design class was taught to brainstorm by sketching ideas and then constructing small-scale models with foam core, hot glue, paper, cardboard, and wood. The instructor pointed him towards nature for inspiration. Flip the piece upside down, he suggested, consider the negative space, the angles, the lines. Look at it from all angles. How does your eye follow the design? Why do you like a particular design or feature? Does a piece have to be square and level? Must a table have 4 legs, 3 legs?

My friend was taught to think outside the box.

In Robin Landa’s book Thinking Creatively (a graphic design book), she lists design principles pertaining to the relationship among elements that, I believe, parallel woodworking: balance, unity, hierarchy, rhythm, and contrast. I’ll add scale, proportion, and pattern.

As woodworkers, we have at our disposal loads of inspiring books that showcase styles from period to ultra-modern. But I think we can also find inspiration from other disciplines including sculpture, painting, fashion, and architecture.

I’m horrible at coming up with original woodworking designs and I’d like to find more exercises for unlocking creativity. One thought is to take a sketchbook along with you. Anything that catches your eye—a doorway, the curve of a leaf, a bridge’s framework, a feather boa—jot it down. I suggest sketchbook rather than camera because you’re immediately forced to make your own interpretation.

That’s the only excercise I’ve come up with. If anyone else would like to offer procedures or books that help with thinking outside the box, chime right in!

Photos are from 400 Wood Boxes: The Fine Art of Containment & Concealment.
Photo 1: Brian McLachlan
Photo 2: Ray Jones
Photo 3: Terry Evans

Monday, August 4, 2008

Krenov Style Planes

I was taught to make Krenov style handplanes by David Finck, a man whose work I so admire, he could tell me that chocolate-covered dog poo makes a superb finish and I'd believe him.

David wrote the book "Making & Mastering Wood Planes" (pricey because it's out of print, but if you write David, he will let the publisher know they are in demand). His book is not only a recipe for making planes, it covers: tuning your bandsaw and several handtools; sharpening techniques; making a grinding jig, a routing jig, a small hammer, & a sharpening stone cradle; planing techniques & planing jigs; and more.

The body of the Krenov style planes consists of two side pieces, a front piece, and a back piece. Because they are laminated, it makes construction easier than planes constructed with a solid chunk of wood. Two other pieces, a wedge and a pin, which holds the wedge and iron in place, complete the plane.

David sells plane irons on his site that take a long time to sharpen but which hold an edge for a very long time.

The most difficult part in making these planes, at least for me, is opening the throat. You must be patient, because it's easy to remove too much wood and create too wide an opening for shavings. Two benefits of a thin opening are less chance of tearout and a smoother finish. However, your iron must be extremely sharp, otherwise the shavings will jam up.

The second most difficult part is fitting the wedge. It must contact the pin, ideally along the entire width of the wedge, but at least must contact the outer edges of the wedge. This ensures your iron will be held firmly in place.

David wrote an article in Fine Woodworking issue #196 that gives you an overview of building a plane. So if you aren't able to find David's book, you can at least read his article.

One more thing...David recommends oil, shellac, or nothing as a finish for the planes. Not dog poo.