Sunday, August 30, 2009

Am I Doing This Right?

I was invited to participate in the "Boring Cat Fight" at the WIA Conference in October and compete against Megan Fitzpatrick and Heather Griffin to see who can bore a 3/4" plumb hole in a piece of pine the fastest.

Sure, I said. How big a blow to my ego can it be? The problem was, I had never bored a hole by hand before, so I figured I'd better practice.

This old, junky piece of lignum vitae has been laying around the shop for years, so it became my test piece.

I didn't do too badly but only 85% of the holes were plumb. Ugh. I'm going to have to do better than that if I want to save face.

So I've started doing push ups to increase my upper body strength and so far I can do about 30 in a minute.

But they're only the one-handed kind. I still have to work up to the two-handed version.


Megan, Heather, and whoever else decides to go head-to-head in the boring competition—you have nothing to worry about. Believe me, I'm no threat.

Handcut Dovetails Class

Five enthusiastic people attended the handcut dovetails class I taught yesterday and by the end of the day everyone had joined at least one corner.

Some speed demons cranked out more than one, but all did very well, and hopefully left with an interest in woodworking with handtools.

Here's how the class proceeded:
1. They watched the handcut dovetail video I made as an overview.
2. We checked chisels for sharpness and I showed them how to sharpen them on waterstones if they wanted to sharpen their own.
3. We practiced sawing straight lines.
4. They learned how to mark their boards with cabinetmaker's marks and I explained grain orientation.
5. We talked about the difference between 1:6 vs. 1:8 ratio, how to set them on a bevel gauge and why you would use one over the other.
6. I demonstrated how to mark the depth of cut with a marking gauge, and then saw and chop the tails. Then they did this with practice boards.
7. Next, I demonstrated how to transfer marks to the pin board and saw and chop the waste. I also showed how to use a chisel to make a shoulder in which to set the saw blade. This works well when you saw away the outside pieces of your board, be it pins or tails. Then they worked on their own pieces.
8. They learned how to bevel a board by marking the depth with a marking gauge, lay out the field with a combination square and pencil, and remove the waste using a block plane and bench hook.
9. I showed them how to use a shooting board and how to make a finger pull with a knife and gouge.
10. I also explained the use of a drawer jig to clean up the corners.

The photo of the assembled corner is not my work; it's one made by a student who had never made dovetails before. And this was his first attempt!

A couple guys who work at Woodcraft, where the class was held, stopped in several times to see the progress. There is something about watching people work with handtools that is captivating.

We talked about pins first vs. tails first and I explained how to transfer the marks if you cut pins first. I told them that the most difficult part is trying to balance the pin board while you're marking the tail board, but that I had seen a jig in a magazine where two boards that are joined to make a 90º angle could be positioned in front of your pin and tail board so you can clamp the pin board in an upright position. I said that this would not work with protruding pins and tails.

Well, here' s what they came up with to remedy the problem. The last two photos show their idea of moving the jig to the inside of your workpieces instead.

This not only allows for protruding tails, it makes it easier to transfer your lines, since there is more space between pins (and therefore, more room in which to insert your pencil or marking knife) on the outside of your board.

Nice one, guys!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Little Bundles of Joy

What is it about newly milled, neatly stacked pieces of wood that make our hearts go pitter patter?

Is it the challenge? the potential? the thrill of starting a new project? the result of an overly active, obsessive compulsive disorder?

These pretty little packages will be distributed in a handcut dovetails class I'm teaching on Saturday. They consist of an oversized top and bottom, each measuring .375" x 5.5" x 11.125"; two end pieces, measuring .625" x 3.5" x 4.875"; and two side pieces, measuring .625" x 3.5" x 11".

This is a technique class, only 5 hours long, so the students won't be able to complete a box in that amount of time. They'll finish the project at home and can choose to add the lid and bottom with their method of choice.

Tomorrow, I'm taking the day off to build one that can be knocked apart, so they can use it for reference while they're cutting their own dovetails.

I will teach them the same method I learned in a class taught by David Finck, except that he played classical music for us. I'll probably just serenade my students instead.*

*Hearing protection will be provided.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Egyptian Woodworking

We've sure come a long way since ancient Egyptian woodworkers. Or have we?

Ancient Egypt dates back to 5500 BC, and while few wooden relics remain intact, tomb reliefs, paintings, and remnants of furniture provide examples and clues regarding style, construction techniques, and the types of tools that were used to make them.

As far back as the First Dynasty (3050-2686 BC), evidence shows that beds with rectangular frames and short legs shaped like bull's feet were made. Fragments of wooden stools and chairs were found in royal tombs.

By the time the Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BC) rolls around, 2 types of seats were made: stools with square legs and arched bentwood braces, some with backs; and stools with decorated frames and carved bull's feet. Beds with canopies and long columns carved in the form of papyrus culms were typical. Some had carved, inlaid, and gilded foot boards, and carved bull's feet gave way to lion's paws. Ornate toilet (toiletry?) boxes were found in the tomb of Hetepheres. A low arm chair with straight back and high arms, an inlaid arm chair and chest, and a gilded jewelry box from this time period are on display at the the Cairo Museum. Other important discoveries include the use of animal-based glue, mouldings, and plywood.

At the time of the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BC), folding stools with high backs (which were sometimes sloped for comfort) were common; better proportions were developed for the back and arms; folding stools with slung leather seats became a staple of interior design; sophisticated paneling and joinery methods developed; and some workshops specialized in complex intarsia consisting of tiny slivers of the most valuable woods.

From the New Kingdom (1570-1070 BC), many more pieces and fragments have been uncovered in tombs of well-to-do officials: beds with headrests and bedding, chairs, various stool designs, small tables, numerous boxes, some of which were elaborately painted, and baskets. Tables were small and were used as stands, rather than surfaces on which to eat. Stools with 4 slender legs and stretchers were either painted white, left plain, inlaid, or constructed with thicker, carved legs. Folding stools with leather seats were typical, some with legs terminating into duck's heads or lion's claws. 3-legged stools and those with 4 legs and corded seats were found in less wealthy homes.

Solid wood seats were sometimes shaped with an easy curve; small tables were plentiful; gaming boards with stands or with legs attached; and cupboards with drawers were built. Boxes with internal dividers to hold jewelry, wigs, and toilet items, had flat, gabled, barrel-shaped, or sloped lids that were often detachable. Some lids on smaller boxes pivoted sideways on a single peg. Larger boxes sometimes opened upwards on pivots fastened into the sides of the box. Metal hinges, including barrel hinges, and sliding bolts developed during this time period.

Among the findings in King Tut's tomb were a folding bed with bronze hinges; a folding stool of ebony inlaid with ivory and gold, the legs of which terminate into duck's heads; and an ebony stool with ivory and inlaid ornaments and red leather seat, which is housed at the British Museum in London.

By this time, woodworkers were making veneer, marquetry, arched/coopered box lids, and were using metal pins and nails.

Throughout ancient Egypt, woodworkers used handtools, including adze, axe, straight edge, try and miter square, bow-drill, mortise and firmer chisel, awl, mallet, glue, sandstone rubbers (I'm not touching that one), pull-saws with wood handles and with blades of copper and later, bronze. Missing from their tool cache were planes and lathes, which were introduced in the Roman Period (332 BC-323 AD).

The Egyptians mainly used native woods—acacia, sycamore-fig, tamarisk, and sidder—and imported woods—cedar, cypress, juniper, and ebony.

For joinery they used dowels, tongue and groove, pegged mortise and tenon, dovetail, miter, scarf joint with butterfly insert, and butt joints. Evidence exists that Egyptians used clear varnish made from resin and oil; natural finishes; black varnish made from pitch and oil; and beeswax.

Traditional woodworking in the 21st century doesn't seem to be all that different from ancient Egyptian woodworking. It's an interesting concept to sense a connection to people who lived 7,500 years ago.

And to think that ancient carpenters carved way better than I do, makes me wonder if perhaps I should adopt some of their customs in order to improve my skills. (That's me at right, in full Egyptian regalia. Might be a little too cumbersome in the workshop, but we'll give it a go.)


Reference material and photos are from: World Furniture, An Illustrated History, edited by Helena Hayward; Furniture, World Styles from Classical to Contemporary, by Judith Miller; Egyptian Woodworking and Furniture, by Geoffrey Killen;and Ancient Egyptian Furniture and Woodworking.

Friday, August 21, 2009

David Finck YouTube Video

David Finck, author of Making & Mastering Wood Planes, has made the first of what I hope will be many videos on using the planes he shows you how to make in his book.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Have You Seen This Chair?

If you have, please let me know if you have more information about it.

A reader from Texas, Abi Parris, sent these photos to me. They were taken on her trip to the UK a few months ago and this particular chair is found at St. Mary's Church in Chepstow, Wales.

It looks as though it was made to break down for travel or storage. If all the pins are removed and the leg assembly is pulled away from the rods, the half-lapped legs look like they come apart, and the chair then folds up.

The shape of the chair and the carvings add to its coolness. Looks like oak to me. Also looks like something that I need to add to my
bucket list.

Within a millisecond of posting, a reader added this link in the comments: Glastonbury Chair

Photos of the original Glastonbury Chair
Here are plans I found online: Chair plans
Here are more fun plans: Folding Chair
Do a google search for "Glastonbury Chair plans" for even more links.
Here's a cool book on the subject: Medieval Furniture

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Practice Makes...A Little Bit Better

I'm still trying to figure out carving in the round. This is a practice piece for one of the items on my bucket list. It doesn't resemble the original very much, but I'm learning a lot in the process:

1) Keep the center pencil line until you're finished. It helps with symmetry.

2) Sharpen your knife all the way to the tip. I used the very end of my knife more than I ever thought I would.

3) It might help to sketch the project first. I was using a photo, but I think it would have helped to draw the project in profile and straight on.

4) Eyes are hard.

Another thing I've found with carving—maybe the best thing—is that even if you have only 5 minutes at hand, you can sit down and work on your piece.

Imagine the time you waste waiting for your spouse to get all gussied up to go out to dinner. That's time that can be spent working on your project.

You may discover that you enjoy it so much, you'll find yourself saying to him/her, "Why not wear that red sweater instead? You know, the one you packed away last year. In the upstairs closet. Under the boxes of books. That's right, behind the entertainment center. No, no, I don't mind waiting."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hans Herr House

If you live in South Central PA near Lancaster County, you often hear terms like Mennonite, Amish, Moravian, Quakers, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Pennsylvania German. And until I visited the Hans Herr House yesterday, I had only a cursory understanding of the differences between them.

The Hans Herr house was built in 1719 by Hans' son, Christian, a Mennonite minister who came from the Palatinate area in Germany, along the Rhine River, to acquire religious freedom and land. It is the oldest home in Lancaster County and the oldest Mennonite meeting house in the United States.

The house was used both as living quarters for Christian's family and the community's church. Much of the original building was intact when it was sold to and renovated by the Mennonite Historical Society in 1970, and is now furnished with period-accurate originals and reproductions.

A thin paperback, A Modest Mennonite Home, which I purchased in the tiny gift shop, explained all the aforementioned terms that have until now befuddled me.

A bit of history:
During the Reformation (1517), religious reformers, including Martin Luther, broke away from the Catholic Church. In 1525, a small group of them in Switzerland advocated "believer's baptism"—baptism of adults—which was in opposition to the Church. They became known as Anabaptists, meaning, "rebaptizers."

Anabaptist movements appeared in both the Netherlands and northern Germany, independent of one another. In 1536, a former Catholic priest named Menno Simons, joined the pacifist, Dutch Anabaptists. He became a leader in the movement and united the Anabaptist brethren in Northern Europe. From this, a group emerged called the Mennonites, who believed that faith must be demonstrated through good works. This term became associated with the Anabaptists in Switzerland and southern Germany.

The Anabaptist movement also spread northern Italy, Austria, France, the Russian Ukraine, and Moravia.

In the 1690s, a group of Mennonite churches near the French-German border came to believe that their brethren in Switzerland and Germany had become too lax in their strict belief of "shunning" unrepentent members. Led by Jakob Amman, they split from the Mennonites, and became known as Amish.

By 1700, many Anabaptists had moved to the Palatinate area in Germany to escape religious persecution. Here, they were tolerated, but could not own land and could not build churches. Instead, they worshipped in small groups in their homes.

In 1677, when a number of Mennonites had settled in this area, William Penn traveled and preached throughout the Palantinate. Because of this, some Mennonites joined the Quaker movement. In 1683, a group of German Quakers and some converted Mennonites journeyed to Pennsylvania and founded Germantown, the first permanent German settlement in North America.

The Herr family was among the Swiss Mennonites who had moved to the Palatinate. In 1709, desiring to be land owners and having heard of religious tolerance in William Penn's colony, they joined a small group of 29 Mennonites and traveled to and settled in the Conestoga Territory, named for the Conestoga Indians, now known as Lancaster County.

Since many Mennonites orginated in Switzerland, they were sometimes called Swissers. However, most Mennonites and other Pennsylvania Germans came from southern Germany.

The term Dutch Mennonites was used for those originating in the Netherlands and, I'm surmising, may be the root of the term Pennsylvania Dutch. Although, I have also heard that "Dutch" in this case is a derivative of "Deutsch".

A bit about the house:
Pennsylvania Germans built homes that were divided into 2, 3, or 4 rooms on the main floor. All had a stuben (stove room) and küche (kitchen). The massive fireplace was centrally located in the structure and the kitchen was the room that was entered from the outside, and therefore doubled as a corridor. This style became known as a corridor-kitchen house. PA German houses had steep roofs, often had one to four attics (which were mainly used for storage), and arched cellars.

A bit of humor:
On the property was a blacksmith shop, where men were taking a class. As I was walking by, I overheard "Ouch! That's hot."*

*Isn't that the point? ; )

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Perfect Light for Carving

Natural light from my south-facing windows clearly shows every facet of a carving and I raced out to my shop today to take advantage of it.

It reminds me of something Harrelson Stanley said in his presentation on Japanese saws at last year's WIA Conference.

He knew a woodworker in Japan who would park his white car in front of his shop window (which did not face the ideal direction for sunlight).

In late afternoon, the sun would reflect off the car and into his shop. He would stop whatever he was doing and move to the bench nearest the window to take advantage of the natural, angled light, and would work on the carving details of his project.

So, if your shop does not have south-facing windows (or north-facing, if you live below the equator), don't despair! Just paint your car white.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What Kind of Woodworking Do You Do?

Wasn't it Will Rogers who said "I never met an aspect of woodworking I didn't like."?

I'm all over the map with woodworking. There are just too many things I'd like to try.

I call myself a woodworker, but when people ask what I make, I always hesitate. Well, I've built a few handplanes, I've made a few pieces of furniture in different styles, some home accessories, a few pens, and then my voice trails off with a shrug. "Stuff", I say.

I've tried chip carving, string inlay, turning, rustic woodworking, spoon making, and now I'm trying carving-in-the-round.

I've mastered nothing, but I'm sure having a good time playing at woodworking.

I've found my passion in a general sense, but can't say that I've discovered that one aspect of woodworking that is really "it." I even totally stink at certain things, like my latest craze, carving-in-the-round. But I'm determined to "get" this. I would really like to be able to reproduce the antique handplane in the photo.

Understanding carving and making your knife or gouge do what your brain wants can be two different things. I know you rough out a shape, then work in levels, from high to low, gradually removing more of the waste area. I also know you always carve downhill, from a high spot to a low spot. But that's all I know. It's a challenge, but I would like to be able to claim to be a Woodcarver someday.

Some people can readily answer the question "What kind of woodworking do you do?" Some cannot. And for those of us who love every aspect of woodworking (except for turning--I'm not wild about that one), perhaps there's another term for what we do.

Jack-Of-All-Woodworking, Swiss Army Knife Woodworking, Everything-But-The-Kitchen-Sink Woodworking, Evolving Woodworking?

I know....FUN Woodworking!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

WIA Handtools Conference II

This October, rub shoulders with these guys: Roy Underhill, Toshio Odate, Peter Follansbee, Mike Wenzloff, Chuck Bender, Don McConnell, Larry Williams, Ron Herman, Adam Cherubini, Mario Rodriguez, and Chris Schwarz.

The 2009 WIA Handtool Conference is in Valley Forge, PA, October 2-4, and if it's anything like last year's conference, it will be the best 3 days you've experienced in a long time.

Hard to decide which is the best part—the informative seminars, the hands-on sessions, the marketplace (where you can try out and buy handtools and talk directly with the makers), or just hanging out with fellow woodworkers.

I'm planning to go and all I ask is that you not give Don McConnell a heads up that I'm attending. I bugged the crud out of him last year with questions and if he new that the annoying lady was going to be there again, he might bag out! I'm only thinking of you guys. Really.

See you there!