Friday, May 29, 2009

The Hide Glue Book

Stephen Shepherd has published a new book, "Hide Glue: Historical & Practical Applications."

Men & Women: An Observation

A lady (non-ww) pointed toward the relief carving on the presenter's 18th c. sideboard and asked, "Is that hard to do?"

There was a low chuckle from the all-male (but for me) crowd, and the speaker looked at the woman, speechless. What a loaded question. She added, "I mean, do you need to have artistic talent?"

After some thought and a few false starts, he answered, "Just try it and see." That's a perfect answer for men. As a woman, that was not what she was looking for.

I want to point out that the presenter did the best he could to answer her question on the fly and added that it is a skill that can be learned. He in no way was being disrespectful of her, nor were any of the men in attendance.

There are always exceptions, and I'm generalizing, but: Women lack confidence.

When faced with something they've never done before, men tend to fearlessly "try it and see." Whereas women usually ask themselves "Can I do that? Can I figure it out on my own? Will I screw up? Who can I ask for help?"

Add to that: Women don't like to make mistakes. (I know that men don't either, but they don't seem to be as petrified about it.) Could be that women don't like to waste material. Could be they don't want to waste their time, when often (and again I'm generalizing) they have less free time than their husbands. That's because women sometimes take on too much, care too much about what the house looks like, and worry too much about everything.

After the presentation, a friend introduced me to the lady and told her that I do some carving. I'm a beginner at carving I explained, but in my opinion, copying an existing design is more technical than artistic. It's more about layout, following the rules of grain direction, and learning to use the tools properly. If you're going to carve original designs, then that requires some artistic skill. I added, "If you have a desire to learn something, you will learn it."

She said that she knits and does other crafts—that she likes to work with her hands. "Then you can do this," I said.

She wanted someone to tell her that she has what it takes to try something new. With women, a little encouragement goes a long way.

This post is in no way meant to be a cut on men or women. I admire both genders for their strengths and weaknesses—for everything they have to bring to the table.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Clear Heart: A Real Page Turner

I don't read much.  And I rarely—like once every other year—read fiction.

So when Joe Cottonwood asked if he could send me a copy of his book Clear Heart, I said yes, but with some amount of trepidation.

What if I didn't like it? I'm not a critical person and I don't like to say negative things, except when it comes to exercise or eating okra, and I knew he would appreciate it (though he did not ask) if I would write a post about it.

Well I didn't like his book....I LOVED his book. In fact, I couldn't put it down and sped through it faster than it takes me to read a magazine.

It's about a 55 year old ex-hippy carpenter named Wally—his bond with his workmen, love for his work, respect for wood, relationship with a "perky Presbyterian" and her kids, Job-like patience, and determination to build the perfect house, despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

But more than that—it's about the connection and interaction between men who are true craftsmen, their good-natured joking, routines and habits (like sometimes getting too friendly with female clients), temperaments, and respect for one another's capabilities.  It's male bonding at its finest.  

And it's filled with endearing characters like Juke, FrogGirl, Abe, Opal (okay, Opal kinda drove me crazy--that chick needs a chill pill!), and fast-paced, nail-biting mishaps.

It's about second chances, belief in the things that truly matter, mentoring, teaching, and friendship.

And it made me want to ask Wally:  "You hiring?"

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sam Maloof, 1916-2009

The world has lost one of its most well-known and iconic woodworkers. Sam Maloof died Thursday night, May 21, at the age of 93.  You can read more about it here.

Sam was a key element in the California modern arts movement and is perhaps best known for his distinctive rockers.  The organic, clean lines and natural finish give his rockers life.  About them he said, "All the parts come together in a very rational way, but they meet each other in such joyful connection. There seems to be a pleasure that the leg fits the chair.  They're happy to be together.  It's as if they really have grown together."

I watched a PBS documentary last year called "Craft in America" in which Sam was one of the artists who was interviewed.  His principle of following your heart, doing what you are called to do, resonated with me.  

Consider yourself fortunate if you were able to take a class with him or meet him in person. Like each piece of his handmade furniture, he was one of a kind.

*The photo above is from Fine Woodworking's website.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sharpening Q&A

A reader from the Netherlands asked a number of questions about a previous post on sharpening. Below are his questions (in black) and my responses (in blue). But, because there are so many excellent sharpening techniques and preferences, and more than one answer to his questions, please share your opinion on the subject. 

1. What is the purpose of a microbevel? If your plane is 25 degrees and you make a microbevel a few degrees higher, why not just make the plane 28 degrees? The micro bevel makes honing faster. Rather than having to re-sharpen the entire bevel when it gets dull, you just need to hone the small section that is 28º.  The extra 3º also adds some beef to the cutting edge. That's helpful, especially if you hollow grind the 25º bevel.

2. A few weeks ago I bought a Stanley sharpening set which includes oil, a jig, and oil stone.
I started sharpening my blade and then noticed that certain parts were getting a different look. This is when I realised that the shape of the stone was changing and that I need to keep the stone flat as well. What is the best(cheap!) method of keeping the stones flat? I flatten all my stones on fine grit drywall screen that sits on top of thick plate glass.  Keep the stone flat, apply even pressure, and scrub it back and forth until it has a uniform surface.  Flatten your stones often.

3. The higher the grit one uses for honing the blade, the sharper the blade gets? Click here for Chris Schwarz' detailed explanation about this.

4. I still don't understand the differences between diamond, water and oil stones. Does one need to keep all of these stones flat? Or is the diamond stone so hard, the shape never changes? Also if I spray water on an oil or oil on a water stone, what happens then? I will defer to other readers since I've only ever used waterstones (which must be kept flat).  

5. I do get the blade at 25 degrees with my jig and sharpening stone, but it never really gets sharp.  "Sharp" means that two surfaces meet so precisely, the edge disappears. If you see light reflecting off the cutting edge, your blade is not sharp.  Is your jig/guide working well? It should not let your blade "rock" at all.  Another thing to look for is little nicks along the edge--does it look jagged?  Are you sharpening/honing with progressively finer stones? I flatten the back and establish the bevel on 1,000 grit and finish with 8,000.  Other people add 4,000 grit in between those two.  Ideally, you want a mirror finish on the back (approx. 1/2", not the entire back) and the bevel.  Also, the cutting edge must be 90º to the sides.  The problem might not be the blade, but your jack plane.  Is the sole flat? If not, then even the sharpest blade won't be able to make your plane work well.  See Chris Schwarz' post here.

6. Does the back of the blade need to be completely flat? I have seen some vids on youtube where they are putting a thin ruler under the blade while flattening the blade. I assume this changes the angle of the back slightly. This is debatable. I flatten the backs of all my irons--dead flat. If they're in bad shape, I start with an 80 grit diamond stone. I have never used the ruler trick, so cannot comment on its effectiveness.

7. I have only recently started using a jack plane. The Jack plane fell on the ground a few times and the shape of the blade changed and it lost it sharpness. Since then I have been trying to get a sharp blade without much success.  If the blade is nicked or skewed, you'll need to regrind the cutting edge so that it is 90º to the sides of the blade. Some people put a slight camber on the blade's edge, but you still need to start with 90º.  If your plane fell on the ground, it might also be damaged, so check the sole for flatness.

I'll add that until I took a class on sharpening, I was very confused (and I'm still learning new things).  This is a deep subject with lots of choices, preferences, and strong opinions, but if you're looking for an inexpensive sharpening method, I recommend the Scary Sharp technique. 

Let the debate begin! 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Channeling Dorothy Parker

If I ever find a genie in a bottle, the first thing I'll ask for is an edgy wit like Dorothy Parker.

Parker, whose laser response to the news that President Calvin Coolidge (a quiet, stoic New Englander) had died was, "How do they know?"

Had I a clever mind like hers, I would have known what to say when my friend, a non-woodworker who was visiting my shop, inferred that I was wasting my woodworking skills.

He asked if I make things to sell at craft shows. No, I said.
Oh, so you make gifts for friends and family then? Well, no, not really.
You don't want to help build a playground or anything for the town?
No. That's not really my thing.
So you have this talent, but you're not going to share it with anyone! Well, um, I do have a woodworking blog where I share stuff with others.

He smirked.

I hadn't convinced him that my hobby was worthwhile. He would only see value in it if I built projects for others instead of just doing things that make me happy. Things like handplaning a board for hours.

Where's Dorothy when I need her?

After he left, I thought that I might have compared my hobby to that of someone who loves to read. His belief that I should only make things for others' benefit would be like never being able to choose your own books—letting others decide what you should be reading.

One of the best parts about woodworking as a hobby is you get to build what excites you. The project that makes you lie awake at night trying to figure out the best type of joinery, the order in which it should be built, the design.

It's wonderful to make things for friends and family and your community, but where's the joy if you don't also get to build something from your bucket list?

Maybe I should take up reading as a hobby. And put The Portable Dorothy Parker as my first "must-read."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Workshop Anniversary

June 2 is the 5th anniversary of my workshop being built and I've been busy getting the place spiffied up for an open house.

This prompted me to retrieve some of the progress shots I took during construction—the longest 8 weeks of my life.

My contractor and one other guy worked as quickly as possible, which was in no way in response to my constant hovering and anticipatory—rather, pleading—looks I gave them.

The year prior to ground breaking I spent researching heating and building supplies, designing the workshop, and building a scale model in preparation for the 17.5' x 36' structure.

The heating unit is linked to the oil furnace in our house. That, combined with the R-30 insulation in the floor and ceiling, and R-13 in the walls, keeps the shop toasty in winter. We added a sink, a designated breaker box, a 220 outlet in the floor beneath my table saw, south and east-facing windows, double outlets (chest and shin high) every few feet along the walls, and a door leading to the bedroom in case I need to do some handplaning at 3:00 in the morning.

I photographed the studded walls before the drywall was hung so when I need to hang something, I know where to drive a nail or screw.

I only made two mistakes in planning. We should have put 120 outlets next to the 220 in the floor so when I use the outfeed table on the table saw for assembly work, I wouldn't have to run a cord to the wall (potential tripping hazard). And, I should have run a water line under the floorboards to the back of the house to make watering plants in the yard easier.

The last three photos were taken today: the shop front, back porch, and back yard. There is another window to the left of the shop front, but you can see our messy deck in the photo, so I cropped it out.

The only bummer with building the shop was having to cut down our beautiful 90' tall tulip poplar. But in the last photo, you can see two little guys—a red bud and a Japanese snowbell, both planted within the last four years—trying hard to make up for the loss.

Here are some photos of the inside of my shop taken a year and a half ago.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pennsbury Manor

In 1682, William Penn came to America to "create a better world" on a 26 million acre tract of land, given to him by King Charles II, which he named Pennsylvania—literally, Penn's Woods—to honor his father.

Penn was Quaker and encouraged people of other faiths to settle in the new colony. He believed that all religions should be tolerated and all people should be respected—to the point where, although the acreage had been given to him, he paid for rightful ownership to the Lenni Lenape Indians who were the original inhabitants. Despite this, he owned African slaves, which seems at odds with his principles and religious beliefs.

He chose a piece of land on which to build his estate and named it Pennsbury Manor. Weavers, gardeners, beer makers, cooks, blacksmiths, and woodworkers kept the plantation running smoothly.

Our tour guide escorted us through the bedrooms, dining areas and kitchens in the main structure and explained that one room in particular was used as a pharmacy. If you had an ailment, herbs and other things were mixed together and used as remedies.

He said that if you had a sore throat, 3 items were crushed together in a mortar and pestle. Due to the unsettling image of the 3rd ingredient, the first two have completely disappeared from my memory.

"Dry white dog turds," combined with the other two elements, were blown into the back of the sick person's throat. Do you think it was a successful cure? I sure do. Who the heck would dare complain of a sore throat after that?

Pennsbury Manor fell into ruins in the early 1800s and by the turn of the next century, the land was completely devoid of all structures.

Archaelogists discovered the foundation in the late 1930s and the Manor was rebuilt through the WPA, by referring to William Penn's notes and drawings.

Other outbuildings were constructed, including the joyners' workshop, which is where my partner and I spent HOURS with Adam Cherubini and his fellow woodworkers in a two room building with very tall workbenches. Adam is 6' 6".

Adam invited us to use all of his tools: wooden brace (made by him) with spoon and shell bits (totally fun!); try, smooth, jack, and moulding planes; frame saw; and treadle and great wheel lathes.

He showed us how to cut a rabbet with just a chisel and demonstrated his techniques with various tools.

In the group photo, left to right, are Warren, Paul, Adam, and Dave—four woodworkers who spend their time poking fun at each other, giving demonstrations, and building things for the Manor, thus proving that the joyners have the best job on the estate.

Despite the rainy day, we had a fabulous time. If you plan to visit, take note that the joyners are in the shop the first Sunday of each month.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Safety's No Joke

My terrier/chihuahua mix, Daisy, who fancies herself a Rhodes Scholar, thought she'd play a trick on me with a handsaw that she fashioned from a piece of cardboard and aluminum foil.

Safety's not funny, Daisy. No one's laughing.

Making light of safety, horsing around in the workshop, playing "catch the circular saw blade" with your buddy or "pin the 6-penny nail on the spinning lathepiece"...that's how accidents happen.

While we all want to enjoy our time in the shop, we must continually be aware of potentially dangerous situations.

Like the guy who cut his thumb off three times on the bandsaw (as told to me by a mutual friend).

I'll give you one, maybe two, but if you cut your thumb off and have it reattached three times, you either need to take up word search puzzles as a hobby or you deserve the nickname "Blunder Thumb," "You could kick my butt at Nintendo cuz only one thumb works," or "Non-opposable Ninny."

We should strive to be more like Rosie, my Cairn terrier, who always practices shop safety. And although she may be a few kibbles short of a full bowl, she does still have both her dewclaws.

Happy Woodworkers Safety Week!

Woodworkers Safety Week is the brainchild of Marc Spagnuolo, The Wood Whisperer.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Holding Devices for Carving

Mike Galloway does it all—carving, turning, and furniture making—and he gave the presentation at our last woodworking club meeting.

I was particularly interested in the clever ways in which he secures his workpiece while he carves.

When working on a small project like his bottle stopper (top photo), he screws it onto the end of a stick. This provides a handle with which to grip the work.

When he carves a larger piece, like an Indian (shown below), he partially screws the bottom of the workpiece to a small board that has a large wing nut. He slides the screw between the forked ends of a bendable arm so that the work is on one side of the fork and the board with wingnut is on the other. Then he screws it tight and clamps the assembly into his bench vise.

For his relief carvings (4th photo)—he uses double-sided carpet tape to fasten the work to a larger board that can be clamped to his benchtop.

Since this tape grips so tightly, it can be difficult to remove the project without damaging it. So, Mike drills holes on the opposite side of the backer board and taps the work loose with a dowel.

At right and below are photos of some of Mike's finished pieces: tiger maple dovetailed chest, carved Indian, carved bark hobbit house, and two segmented bowls.

Thanks, Mike, for sharing some of your tricks of the trade!