Saturday, February 28, 2009

Woodworkers Who Make a Difference

Kay Pomroy (at left) retired from the police force a little over two years ago and opened a woodworking business, called K E Pomroy Custom Woodworking, and later changed the name to Morgaine Rosewoods. Morgaine is the dog/teddy bear clinging to Kay in the photo.

Kay not only builds a number of different products for sale, she teaches woodworking at her two shops and at the local Woodcraft Store (I'm taking her woodturning course), and she provides opportunities for others to learn woodworking through apprenticeships and through a volunteer-supported program she developed that helps people in need, called the Reaching Down Project.

I'm convinced that Kay has been given more hours in the day than the rest of us. Either that, or she has given up sleeping altogether.

When Kay first opened for business, a friend who works for a school told her about several kids whose families couldn't afford beds for them. She offered to build the beds, recruited a few friends to help, and in just a few weeks, had finished beds for all the kids by Christmas that year.

Ever since, Kay has found other people who can benefit from her program. Her current project is for a local family that's struggling to make ends meet. She's building kitchen cabinets for them—something they do not have—and invited the women's woodworking club to spend 2 days helping with construction.

The women learned a number of things including routing dados, using the table saw and miter saw, drilling holes for adjustable shelves, pocket hole joinery for assembling face frames, and attaching edge banding to plywood. That is the closest I've been to an iron in 6 years.

We worked on 3 upper cabinets made from cherry plywood and hardwood, each of which will have 2 shelves and doors.

We didn't quite finish because Kay spends a good deal of time on instruction. It's important to her that people learn woodworking as a skill. So, not only will the family benefit from her generosity, we benefitted from the learning experience and the knowledge that we were helping others.

Kay's constant shop companions, Morgaine (Cocker Spaniel) and Rex (Border Collie) even chipped in to help by sweeping the floors and providing hug breaks.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What Happened to the Links?

In an effort to organize my link list and make it easier to find what you're looking for, I set up another blog for this sole purpose.  You can find a link to the new blog in the sidebar.

Since Blogger is a free service, I don't have the option to include another page, so this seemed like the best solution.

In upcoming days, I'll try to make things even easier to navigate.  

If I inadvertently deleted someone from the list, please let me know.

My Top Ten Woodworking Books

Here is a link to my list.

Some people have emailed me and suggested that I read the books by James Krenov, George Nakashima, and Eric Sloane, but I'd like to hear your recommendations as well. 

What books are your must-haves and why?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Beveled Drawer Bottoms

Why bevel a drawer bottom? No one sees it, right?

Maybe not, but if they do, it can be an impressive discovery.

Beveled drawer bottoms that are fitted into grooves are found in some antique furniture, but I have also seen flat and beveled boards that were nailed or pegged to the bottom edges of the drawer sides.

I can think of 4 possible reasons why woodworkers might have beveled their drawer bottoms, but if you know for sure, please feel free to comment.

Beveled drawer bottoms:
1. Feel substantial. Rap on a thin drawer bottom and it sounds hollow, and may even rattle if it's fitted into grooves, but a beveled one feels and sounds solid.
2. Add an elegant and finished look.
3. Take less time to make than it would if you had to reduce the thickness of the board along its entire width with a handplane.
4. May have been a signature design element for some cabinetmakers.

Moreover, they are simple to make.

Begin by laying out pencil lines on the face of the board that indicate where the bevel will terminate (I use a combination square). If you use a marking gauge on the face, you'll create scratches, and pencil lines are more easily planed away. Use a marking gauge along the edges to mark the final thickness, which is determined by the width of the groove into which it must fit.

I always start with the long grain and plane away the area between the pencil and marking gauge lines . If you start with the cross grain, it's possible to create tearout on the long grain edge that can't easily be repaired.

Planing crossgrain toward the bevel you created along the length of the board avoids tearout. (photo #3)

I use two planes for this task. One has a more open throat and can take a bigger bite. Ironically, it's the smoother plane I made, but because it's applewood, which twists and shifts like a little kid during church service, I have had to flatten the sole enough times that the mouth is too wide for a fine shaving. I could patch it and reopen the throat, but it's beneficial to have a designated plane for faster stock removal.

My jack plane (maple) can produce thinner shavings, so once I'm close to the lines, I run it across the bevel a few times to leave a finished surface.

For the drawer itself, if you build it so that you can slide the drawer bottom in from the back after the drawer is assembled, you can use a drawer jig to clean up the outside, easily remove glue from the inside walls, and add finish to the drawer bottom before you slide it in place . A small brass screw at the back edge adds the finishing touch.

The last photo shows 2 drawers from my tool cabinet that was built almost 4 years ago. The back and bottom of the drawers (on the right, and made from cherry) never see light. And notice how much lighter in color they are compared to the drawer front. In just a few years, the drawer fronts (also cherry) are nearly as dark as the walnut sides, even though the drawer fronts themselves rarely see light since there are doors on my tool cabinet.

Friday, February 20, 2009


PATINA is the Potomac Antique Tools and Industries Association, Inc., an antique tool club, located in the Washington, D.C. area. The cost of membership is just $12/year. That includes bimonthly meetings which start with some tailgating (around 10:00 a.m.) and a short tool auction at 11:00 a.m., followed by guest speaker. The most recent speakers were professional furniture makers who presented some of their pieces and demonstrated woodworking techniques.

With membership, you also get a bi-monthly newsletter that recaps the previous meeting.

PATINA also hosts a yearly Spring Auction and Dealer Tool Sale in Maryland, this year on Saturday, March 14. Admission is FREE and the dealer sale/auction is open to the public. The dealers' sale starts at 9:00 a.m. and the auction starts at 2:00 p.m.

My grumpy friend, Scott, says that one of the best parts of the event is the tailgating, where you can find some great deals.  Among other things, he bought an antique turning saw, in pristine condition, for [I'm pretty sure] $25.  Tailgating begins prior to the dealer show, whenever people show up, usually around 6:30 a.m.

I'm going to try to make it to the tailgating this year but that requires getting up at 3:30 a.m. I didn't even know there was a 3:30 a.m. Maybe see you there! I'll be the one with half-closed eyelids and a can of Diet Code Red Mountain Dew in both hands.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ice Cream Flavors for Woodworkers

Plane Vanilla
Chocolate WoodChip
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dado
Chocolate Chip Breaker
English Dovetail Toffee
Sawberry Cheese Rake
Banana Split Nut
Curly Cherry Swirl
Moxonmallow Fluff
Marshmallet Créme
Chocolate Measure Mint
Orange Fleamscicle
Fudge Rip-ple
Grainola Crunch
Fruit Coffin Smoothie
TeNon Pareil
Rabbet Tracks...with raisins
Rasp-berry Sher-Bit

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Woodworking Schools

I'm a big fan of woodworking schools. Watching a master woodworker show his or her techniques in person where you can ask questions and where they can look over your shoulder and tweak your actions has proven to be invaluable in improving my skills.

And just as soon as I hit the lottery, I plan to become a full-time ww student.

So far, I've taken classes at Olde Mill Cabinet Shoppe, Cedar Lakes Conference Center, The Woodworks Shows, and Woodcraft. Each one has been well worth the cost and time. And two things in particular I've found to be true: 1) even if you think you know the subject well, you will always learn something new, and 2) even if you take a woodworking class you think you might not like*—whatever you learn will prove to be useful somewhere along your woodworking journey.

A friend took a class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking and says it was one of the best experiences of his life. Another friend has taken classes at Country Workshops and highly recommends it. Someone else just told me about the John C. Campbell Folk School which looks like lots of fun.

The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship is on my list of places where I plan to take classes someday. And I hear that Roy Underhill is soon to open his own school. (I am so there.)

If you've had good experiences at woodworking schools, I'd like to hear your thoughts and recommendations.

Note added 2.24.09: Links to all of your recommendations can be found on the links page in the side bar.

*I wasn't so sure I'd like chip carving, but was proven wrong. Plus, I learned another way to sharpen.

The photo above is a cherry plate I turned in class yesterday (without finish) and a poplar lidded box I turned in class last week.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Box O'Moulding

With the useasonably warm weather we've been having, my thoughts are turning to spring.

And every spring, I take an inventory of and vow to complete the mountainous list of unfinished projects in the house.

One project, a tall bookcase built and installed a year and a half ago, has yet to receive its crown moulding.

It's functional and loaded with books, but it was never meant to have a pine accent piece along the top edge.

A few years ago, any time I had to cut moulding, I started dropping offcuts into a box. Now when a project calls for crown moulding, rather than sketch something or refer to books, I stack a few pieces together until the right look is achieved.

It helps if you have pieces with the moulding profile cut along one edge and one end. That way, you can see how it will look on the corner of your project. 

You can also view the stacked profile by using a board of contrasting color as an upright stop.

Since the box o' moulding is now sitting on my workbench and staring at me, I have no excuse not to finish that bookcase . . . unless, of course, winter decides it's not through with us yet.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hammer Time

A friend sent this video to me.  It's called "The Hammer Guy."

I prefer to call it: 
"Something a woman would never do, 
not even for a million bazillion dollars 
or a lifetime supply of Ben & Jerry's ice cream."

Some thoughts came to mind after watching the video:
I wonder if he pounded a few before coming up with this trick.
I wonder how long it took him to build this house.
I wonder what his technique is for sawing 2 x 4s.

Hammer Guy, you're amazing. I tip my hard hat to you.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Turn Like a Mountain Biker

Years ago when my partner and I were young and fit, we used to go mountain biking. This being Pennsylvania, we have some impressive trails—hilly and circuitous.

And although I played sports my entire life—racquetball, volleyball, and fastpitch softball—and my partner did not, she could blow me away on a mountain bike.


Because she didn't try to control the bike's every move; she melded with it. And she would fly. My view on the trail was either the dust in her wake or the blue, puffy-clouded sky . . . because I was laying on my back, having gone over the handle bars.

Last week in my woodturning class as I was using my arch nemesis—the parting tool—the instructor peered over my shoulder and tapped lightly on the knuckles on my right hand. They were dead white. "You can't turn with a grip like that," she said.

It was my mountain bike grip.

Aha. Therein lies the problem. I've been trying to control my tools so rigidly, they've been fighting back.

So I asked my partner to explain to me her mountain biking technique. She said, "You have to relax and become one with the bike. You have to keep everything loose, unlock your joints, keep calm and let the 'chi' flow through your body."

"What's chi?" I giggled adolescently.

"'Chi' is energy, one's life force."

So I thanked Yoda and resolved to change my approach to woodturning.

I thought of the sea turtles in Finding Nemo—the rad surfer-dudes who rode the East Australian Current. Mellow and laid back, they would literally go with the flow.

"Be a turtle." I thought to myself in class this morning. "Become one with your tools."

It worked. No gouged wood, no fisticuffs with the parting tool, and only mild sweating. There's a life lesson in there somewhere.

And while I'm still at the bottom of the learning curve, there is one thing I'm good at . . . and that's turning eggs. My first egg was so real looking, I put it in the refrigerator in a bowl of hard-boiled eggs. Despite the teeth marks from my dogs, who decided the egg was a much coveted chew toy, my partner packed it with 2 other real eggs and took it with her to work for lunch.

Maybe she knows all about chi and melding and being calm and all that weirdo woo-woo stuff.

But I know all about being an immature practical joker.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It's Off To Read We Go

I don't know about you, but when I can't find adequate time to play in my shop, I turn into this guy.

Since I haven't been able to work on a project for any significant length of time so far this year, I have grown a scowl, snow white beard, and furrowed brow.

However! I have had some time to start reading a new book:
A Splintered History of Wood: Belt Sander Races, Blind Woodworkers & Baseball Bats, by Spike Carlsen.

Every night, I read illuminating and entertaining passages about: wood collectors (the largest collection by an individual includes 7,000 species—only 73,000 short of all the wood species on the planet), Mira Nakashima, Jimmy Carter, chainsaw woodworkers, and the world's tallest living tree—the Stratosphere Giant—measuring a whopping 372 feet tall.

What a fun read! It's written in short, self-contained chapters—each one covering some aspect of wood and woodworking: wood in music, sports, shelter, day-to-day life, war, transportation, and unusual places; and tools, unconventional woodworkers, and how trees survive and thrive.

I've only read 100 pages out of 358, but here are a few fun facts from the book: 95% of those who subscribe to woodworking magazines are men; the workers in George Nakashima's shop turn spindles on a lathe and then facet each one with a handplane; and Jimmy Carter explains his view on the craft: "[Woodworking is] a kind of therapy, but it's also a stabilizing 
force in my life—a total rest for my mind."

Currently, I'm perusing the chapter on whatzit tools and am learning about wedding saws and two handled sledgehammers.  

There's no doubt that I'm getting amusement, enlightenment, and knowledge from reading Spike's book. But maybe I'm getting something even more important: a happier disposition.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

PFW Open House

Mario Rodriguez and Alan Turner (left to right) of The Philadelphia Furniture Workshop, hosted a 2-day open house this weekend that featured vendors, demonstrations, and hands-on tool use.

Fox Chapel Publishing had a booth filled with woodworking books and dvds. And the discounted prices were enough to make my grumpy friend, Scott, smile.

Several [gorgeous] pieces of furniture that had been class projects were displayed within the work areas. Jigs, miter jacks, handsaws, power tools and wall hung tool cabinets that were filled with handtools & planes, provided some nice eye candy for event-goers.

Joel Moskowitz of Gramercy Tools had his wares on display and also gave presentations on grinding chisels. He recommends creating a very slight camber on the wheel, so the corners of chisels don't overheat. This way, you can concentrate on sharpening the middle, thicker section of the blade while the corners are not in contact with the wheel. He uses a 46 grit friable wheel which he dresses with a multi-tip diamond dresser.

Bill Grumbine, who teaches woodturning classes from his shop in Kutztown, PA, and has produced two dvds, showed us some smooth moves on the lathe as he turned natural edges bowls.

Nancy Anderson, owner of Londonderry Brasses, Ltd., opened for business 11 years ago and offers period reproduction hardware, cast from originals, and imported mainly from England. Perusing her products, it's immediately obvious that they are exquisitely crafted.

Harrelson Stanley and Jim Blauvelt, of Japanese, exhibited an array of Japanese planes, saws, chisels, measuring devices and sharpening stones. Jim worked at his bench while we woodworkers stood mesmerized.

Mario gave a demonstration on making shaded fan inlay. A metal pan which was filled with sand and heated by a hotplate was used to burn the edges, thereby creating the shading for the pie shaped pieces. He made a template with compass and pencil and then cut the piece to fit. They were glued together with veneer tape, then trimmed to shell shape. He then scalloped and removed the ends of each piece and cut contrasting wood to fit the spaces. These were also glued with veneer tape, then trimmed with a large, shallow gouge to final shape.

If you weren't able to make it to the show, tour the shop, and talk with other woodworkers, you might consider signing up for a class at PFW. They offer beginner and advanced workshops in a roomy, well-equipped space.