Saturday, October 31, 2009

There's Only One Norm

Nice try, Daisy, but no one can replace Norm Abram.
It's going to take more than a flannel shirt, dungarees, and fake beard to fill his workboots.

Chris Schwarz has declared today "International Dress Like Norm Day." And all across the world, woodworkers are honoring the man who, for 21 years, brought woodworking into our homes, nail guns into our hearts, and triggered an economic tsunami of demand for flannel.

Here's to you, Norm.
Thank you for teaching me how to use power tools.


....and by the way, Daisy, you forgot your safety glasses.
Epic Norm-imitation FAIL!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ladies' Day at Hearne Hardwoods

This past Saturday, four of us from the Harrisburg Women's Woodworking Club visited Hearne Hardwoods in Oxford, PA.

The new showroom that's currently under construction will be spectacular when complete. Let's put it this way—they're using ebony pegs for the mortise and tenon timber framing. I think that says it all.

The current showroom houses samples of exotic and domestic lumber, including some jaw-dropping flitches leaning against the wall.

Two amiable labs who like to pretend your legs are a bridge under which they should travel halfway and then stop, and a fluffy puffball masquerading as a cat greet you upon entry.

The people are friendly and helpful and let you wander throughout the warehouse at your leisure.

The women were choosing lumber for jewellry boxes they plan to build at our next meeting and I was looking for wood for handplanes and whatever else caught my eye.

We came away with Curly Cherry, European Plum, Bocote, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

WTO Tip: Implements of Torture

If you missed the Wood Talk Online show last night, check out episode #61 on Marc Spagnuolo's site or Matt Vanderlist's site. They discussed interesting, useful, and funny information that they found on the internet, fielded questions, and invited me back to offer another woodworking tip, which can be heard at the end of the show. Thanks guys!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Eye Candy

The Brown International Tool Auction and Dealer Show was held yesterday and today in Harrisburg, PA, and did not disappoint.

Despite the enormous selection of tempting goodies, I only bought a little caliper and a marking gauge that I had never seen before (photos at right). The dealer, Dan Ludwig, told me it was made by a company called Fulton from Washington, D.C., and was patented in 1888.

It has three marking knives, two of which can be advanced and retracted by unscrewing the knob and sliding the two halves of the body apart. The third knife is friction fit and can be adjusted by pushing or tapping on the iron. I bought it because it was cool and I'd like to make one.

DuCo Tools, from the Netherlands, had several 18th c. carved planes—one built in 1718—the styles of which I had only before seen in books.

Tony Murland had some fine pieces, as well: a carved Dutch plane from 1776 and a carved oilstone holder (both pictured last). The low relief carving of tools on the box's lid was especially eyecatching and has been added to my to-build list.

I also ran into some familiar faces: Lee Richmond, from The Best Things; Shannon Rogers, the Renaissance Woodworker; Jim Leamy, maker of gorgeous plow planes; Tom Graham, from Midwest Tool Collectors Association; and a number of other friends.

What a great way to spend a rainy day!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

FWW: Hand vs. Power Tool Showdown

Mark your calendars for November 12 at 1:30 p.m. EST, when two Fine Woodworking staff members go sander to handplane to see who can prepare a finish-ready surface the fastest.

Asa Christiana vs. Michael Pekovich
Sand vs. Steel
Innovation vs. Tradition
Electricity vs. Wheaties

Watch it live on Fine Woodworking's site! Check Facebook and Twitter for my up-to-the-minute coverage! Cheer on your favorite technique!
Be there or be a 4-sided, equilateral, geometric shape!

Click here for more info on this historic event.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Medallion Toolworks

I had the opportunity to meet Ed Paik (pictured far right in the photo), owner of Medallion Toolworks, at the WIA conference earlier this month. Ed makes premium western style handsaws that are custom fit to the individual's needs. I picked up one of his saws, and for the first time found a saw that fit perfectly in my hand. Most saw handles feel too thin to me, but Ed's saw had a thicker handle that felt more comfortable than any saw I have ever held.

I asked Ed what makes his saws stand out from the competition--what things make his saws special. Here is his response.

"My personal thought is I really don't consider other sawmakers as competitors. I see all of us as complimentary to each other and representative of the skill and experience level of the woodworker that makes a saw purchase. Personally, I would try to steer a novice or someone just entering the woodworking community away from a premium custom saw. I would recommend that they try as many of the production saws out there because it is very possible they do not yet know what features they require and like in a saw. After investing in a custom saw is not the time to find out what your needs and preferences are.

A Lee Valley dovetail saw is a great example of a production made saw that performs very well and offers great value. If you find out after extended use it is not what you require then one would be in a better position to go to a custom maker with those thoughts and specifications without having invested a lot of money.

I like to think my saws are made for those that are familiar with other saws, have a certain level of skill and experience with woodworking and know what they would like a saw to do in their shop. Through discussion and working together, I try my best to realize those ideas in a custom saw that performs well in their shop. Every saw I ship is made specifically for that woodworker with as much hand work as possible. Technical specifics like the totes, the pitch, rake and fleam, canted sawplate are all features that are variable for that individual's needs. Aesthetic features like the style of tote and the wood choices to make it with also vary according to their preferences. I also unconditionally guarantee the work and will do everything I can to make sure they are happy with the order."

—Ed Paik, Medallion Toolworks

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mini Coffin Smoother, Part 3

Planes are just chunks of wood with a piece of metal captured inside. What's to get excited about?

And yet we do. Our hearts beat a little faster—almost as bad as first date excitement, but without the "please don't let him/her have a weird toenail fungus fetish" anxiety—when we see anything from the most basic, old, unusable bench plane to the most elegant, artistic planes available today.

And whether we see it as a tool that performs a service or we admire it as a piece of usable artwork, we can all agree that handplanes are objects of our desire.

16th c. Dutch planes with chip carved ornamentation, antique European planes that are carved as faces and figures, and reproductions made by toolmaker David Brookshaw make my palms sweaty.

I'm trying, with baby steps, to get to that level. So here's a baby plane with chip carving. I still need to tweak the blade and the fit to get it to work properly, but the outside is done.

Now for the hardest part: finishing. This is where I screw up most projects. I'd like for the plane to look old, so I'm open to suggestions.

Waiting for it to occur naturally in 300 years is not an option.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Best Things Come in Small Packages

...that are packed with shavings!

A big Thank You to Dean Jansa, who sent me one of his handmade marking gauges that's based on one found in Benjamin Seaton's tool chest.

Dean wrote an article for Popular Woodworking on how to make this style gauge, which includes downloadable plans.

The coolest thing about this tool is you can release and tighten the wedge that locks the arm in place with just one hand. Because the wedge has a little hook on the small end, it can't fall out. It can only be removed if you slide the arm the entire way out of the head.

Plus, the gauge just feels good in your hand.

Why did Dean send me this lovely little tool? He claims that when a bunch of us were out to dinner at WIA he promised to make one for me. I don't remember this, but then, he was drinking and I was not. And who am I to question the saber-sharp memory that can only come from partaking of beer's frothy goodness?

(I just hope he doesn't remember that I promised to make him a Krenov-style jointer plane.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mini Coffin Smoother, Part 2

I used 01 tool steel to make the blade for the coffin smoother and followed the same procedure as a previous post in heat treating and tempering the blade.

Once the blade is made, you can work on fitting the wedge to the plane body. Slide both into the throat and tweak the wedge with files, chisels or other tool of choice, until a tight fit is achieved.

You need to be sure that the bed is perfectly flat. To check this, hold the plane up to a light with the wedge and blade in place, and sight beneath the blade to see if you can see any light shining through.

By lightly passing the back of the blade over a candle, you blacken it with soot. Slide the blade and wedge back into the body and pull them out again. The soot from the iron will reveal high spots on the bed of the plane--the areas that need to be flattened.

Of course I had to take the plane for a test drive before it's shaped to its final form.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mini Coffin Smoother, Part 1

What do you do when you have a little bit of time to play in your shop? You build a little project.

I started to build a miniature coffin smoother yesterday and still have a ways to go, but thought I'd show you the progress so far.

I have a few antique miniature planes, and referred to one that's only 3" long (top photo) as a prototype.

The blank I'm using is pearwood (I believe), cut oversized for easier clamping. I'm not sure what the final shape of the body will be, only that it will have some chip carving.

The bed angle is 45º; the front angle (looking down from the top) is about 62º; and the lower portion of the front angle is open enough to provide clearance for shavings, but beefy enough to support the front of the mouth.

The toughest part for me is making sure the bed is flat and the shoulders that hold the wedge in place are identical.

Next up...making the blade.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Peter Follansbee

The biggest highlight for me at the WIA conference was meeting Peter Follansbee, maker of authentic reproduction 17th c. English and New England, highly carved furniture. Peter works at Plimoth Plantation building pieces to outfit the homes at the museum.

Peter lays out patterns with a compass, frame square, miter square, and awl (no pencils!). Some design elements are carved freehand, and background fields are carved with gouges and left faceted.

Imperfections are found in original pieces, so Peter allows them to remain in his work as well, explaining that our brains overlook discrepencies when viewing repeating patterns. Hence, Peter's work has a true old world appearance and charm.

I made a video which shows close ups and far away shots so you can see how he holds the carving tools. Notice that to make a shallower cut with the V-tool, he tips the handle down a bit. The handle is tipped up for a deeper cut. Too steep and the gouge will dig into the wood; too shallow, and the gouge will just skip off the workpiece.

Peter works mainly with red oak and chooses wood with tight grain. If the growth rings are too wide, the grain pattern is too distracting.

The photo with the block of wood shows cut marks for the gouges and V-tool that Peter uses in case you'd like to try this type of carving.

Check out Peter's blog for a list of reference material for 17th c. furniture.

Watch the video in high definition here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

DL Barrett & Sons Toolworks

Two other plane makers I spoke with at the WIA conference were Dan Barrett and his son, Kyle. DL Barrett & Sons are relatively new in the handtool market but are securing a name for themselves as makers of finely-crafted reproduction planes, using "the old tried & true methods of plane making."

The workmanship is impeccable and the planes feel comfortable in your hand. I took one for a test drive—it worked perfectly. To hold the front of the plane, I hooked my thumb over the front arm and wrapped my fingers beneath the fence, much like I would a wooden bench plane. Kyle has a different grasp as you'll see in the short video clip.

I asked Dan what makes his planes special. Here is his response:

"To be honest we try to build to the standard that has already been set hundreds of years ago. The design of our planes reflects the planes of master tool makers from the past and those who are making planes today.

The only difference I would say our planes have from other makers is the details that reflect our style. For instance the arm end ferrules are our design. Just like the other makers, we spend an incredible amount of time on the details—always tweaking them.

We are for now, just a part time company and it takes a while to get the planes to our customers. The plan in the future is to go full time and offer a complete line of planes, including simpler ploughs, rebates, dado's, molders and bench planes. We have also started talking to woodworking schools about making planes to be used at the schools by the students taking a specific course."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sauer & Steiner Planes

One of the best things about the WIA Marketplace is getting to talk directly with the tool makers. I asked several of them what made their product special and different from the competition. I had intended to present their answers in just one post, but their responses were so thoughtful, I've decided to spotlight each one individually.

Here is the first tool maker I spoke with at the conference: Konrad Sauer from Sauer & Steiner Toolworks.

Konrad is, in a word, adorable. And while that might not affect your buying decisions, it needed to be said.

I'll let Konrad tell you the rest of the story:

"There are quite a few really great planemakers out there - many of whom I would call friends. I am not sure how many of us would consider each other competition but rather recognize that when one of us does well - we all do. There are a few things we are all trying to do. First and foremost - make a highly functional plane (ala plane birds eye without tearout and leave a mirror finish*). After that - we get to 'play' - to impart our own personal sense of what we feel is an artistic expression. I have a foot firmly planted in the original infill design language - the planes I make clearly come from that style. But if you put an original Spiers, Norris or Mathieson beside one of my planes, the lines, shapes and forms are actually quite different.

One of the unique things I am doing is allowing the customer to contribute to the process. They choose the infill material, the sidewall material, the bed angle, the blade width etc. I even ask for a photocopy of their hand to better match their hand size. Because I work with handtools - making these types of alterations is very easy to do, does not add additional cost and results in a very personal tool for the customer.

I am also 'all about the wood'. The most enjoyable part of planemaking is finding a spectacular piece of wood and figuring out how best to use it. Metal is metal - for the most part a piece of 01 tool steel looks like the next piece. This consistency is great for planemaking - but not very exciting. Wood on the other hand is always unique - sometimes even within the same piece. I have spent the last 10 years investing in my wood collection and I think many of my customers enjoy access to some pretty spectacular material."


You can read more about Konrad's planes here.

*Konrad references a planed piece of birds-eye maple with no tearout. I saw this for myself. It was as smooth as glass with a mirror-like reflection.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

St. Roy's Dovetail Seminar

Roy Underhill's dovetail presentation at the WIA conference was entertaining, informative, and entertaining.

He began with a discussion on what we know today as the do's and don'ts of dovetailing, and proceeded to show us an early 19th c. tool box that broke all the rules.

Then he passed the behemoth box around the room.

A little trick he told us for identifying the date of a piece is to examine the screws. If they are pointed on the ends, they were machine made after 1846.

For laying out dovetails on the tail board, use your chisel as the ruler. The width of your chisel should equal the widest part of the pins. Strike a chisel mark on the gauge line on the furthest edges of the face of the board. Then strike chisel marks between them to layout the remaining pins.

Use a bevel gauge to determine the pins' angles. Roy does not use a dovetail marker; he adjusts the angle until it looks good to his eye. A try square is used to mark the end grain, and a handsaw lays in the kerfs.

To transfer the marks to the pin board, drop a handsaw down into the kerf, then pull back with a light touch. Don't make a deep mark, because you'll need to saw beside this mark, not on it. (This is in the video.) You can draw a pencil line in this groove so you can see it better.

Roy uses a chisel to remove waste only at the base of each pin on both sides of the board. The remaining chip, above the chiseled-out section is merely pushed out. He uses a coping saw to remove the bulk of the waste on the tails, however.

Rule of thumb, he said, is that the widest part of the pin should be half the thickness of your board. Tails, at their widest part, should be almost twice the thickness of the board.

Towards the end of the video are some shots of the Thomas Jefferson book stand that Roy built.

The photos above are some of the dovetail puzzles he passed around and which befuddled my little pea brain. As if sitting right beside where Roy was standing wasn't enough to make my brain all mushy.

Music: Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Harry McClintock

Monday, October 5, 2009

HatchetMan vs. The Blade

Peter Follansbee and Mike Siemsen went axe to sawblade in a competition to see who could cut a straight edge on a board the fastest.

Armed with a length of red oak and a reckless look in their eyes, they took to the stump and sawbench in a grueling match of sweat and sawdust.

...then they switched tools.

For Your Viewing Pleasure, May I Present:

Music: Time Bomb, by Old 97's.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Moments of Note at WIA

Scariest Moment: Having to bore a hole on stage in front of 300 people.

Proudest Moment: Not puking while on stage in front of 300 people.

Funniest Moment: Megan Fitzpatrick yelling an expletive—loudly—while boring a hole on stage in front of 300 people. Sweet.

Most Heartwarming Moment: Being asked for a hug from a woodworker who reads my blog—Woody Medina.

Most Hopeful Moment: Seeing the considerable number of young woodworkers (20's and 30's) and even some children.

Most Grateful Moment: Being assisted by Bill from Michigan, a married couple with a cute little doggie, and two employees at the hotel in jump-starting my dead battery. Bill, thank you for
sticking around that entire time to make sure I was okay.

Loudest Moment: Cheering for Chris Schwarz' "birthday" at the Fox and Hound.

Most Breath-Taking Moment: Getting a "suck-the-life-force-out-of-you" bear hug from my new BFF, Tom Iovino.

....and lastly....

Most Blushing, Giggly School Girl Moment: Being almost touched on the cheek by Roy Underhill. I almost might never wash that cheek again.

Top photo: Mike Siemsen helps some kids learn to bore a hole by hand.
Bottom photo:
Shannon Rogers, Mack McKinney, and Tom Iovino.