Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Hook

In pop music, the "hook" refers to the part of a song that is most memorable or catchy. It's the part you wait for—the particular bit that's supported by the other elements in the melody, but that stands out as the best part. You might not even like some portions in the song, but you hang in there just to hear the hook.

In woodworking, the hook for me is in the details. Using handtools—where I'm refining a joint with chisels, carving, doing inlay, chamfering an edge with a block plane—is always the highlight.

The tasks leading up to and following that point can be fun, so-so, or even disagreeable. Non-woodworkers might find it odd to hear a woodworker admit that there are fundamentals of the craft that, in some cases, are most egregious.

Glue-ups for example. I dread them. Countless hours spent building a piece can be wasted with one mishap.

And finishing. Don't get me started. ew.

Bandsawing—fun. Sharpening—pleasant. Using a hewing axe—brilliant.

But there might be more than one hook. For me, it's the pre-woodworking part—the decisions made in size, dimension, design, joinery, developing a cut list, and order of construction.

I've been working on a design for a Swiss army knife of a shaving horse that can be used for shaping, carving, and hewing. It will have several attachments and can be broken down for transport. The brainstorming has been a blast.

But before I can get to the fun parts of construction, I have to mill a bunch of boards, and not one of them is square. Truing crooked, warped, and cupped boards is far from being a hook in my book. Alas, we take the great with the not-so-great. It's all part of the arrangement.

Friday, December 25, 2009

What Were the Redneck's Last Words?

"Hey, watch this!"
(As told to me by a West Virginian with a thick southern accent.)

You know when you're about to do something that you think might not be such a good idea and it turns out you were right?

That seems to be the way many workshop accidents happen. Too often we hear people say "I knew better than to do that" after they have a mishap at the table saw or band saw or other piece of equipment. Cuts, even severe ones, can happen with handtools as well as power tools. In fact the only times I've been hurt in the shop in all my 18 years of woodworking have been while using chisels and a screwdriver.

Until yesterday.

That's when I was planning to photograph the set-up for the "Merry Christmas" post. The layout was on the floor of my shop and I had to be far enough above it to shoot the entire image. That meant either going out to the garage to get the ladder or standing on a shop stool. Unfortunately, I chose the latter instead of the ladder.

At least I was smart enough to slide a tippy 5-board bench next to the stool to use as a step. So with camera in hand, I started my ascent. As one foot was planted on the low bench and one on the shop stool, I realized the stool needed to be moved further away from its current location in order to be centrally located above the Merry Christmas message. Rather than step down and reposition the stool, I decided to slide it with one foot while I balanced my other foot on the low bench.

Well, here's pretty much what happened:

The 5-board bench was crushed, but you can see in the video how happy I was that my camera was not. My only regret is that someone wasn't there to film the debacle. Such hilarity should always be shared with others.*

*Of course I'm only poking fun at myself. Everyone knows that safety's no joke.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

And a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Carved Stone Holder: Finished

What I thought was going to be the most difficult part about this project—cutting the cavities inside the box so the lid and base would fit snugly around the stone and line up with one another—turned out to be very easy.

I left the two pieces of cocobolo oversized in length and a little in width and used a trick that Bess Naylor showed me when building a frame and panel, where the stiles are intentionally left long and trimmed after glue-up: strike a center mark on the two stiles, align and clamp them together, and measure outwards from the center mark (rather than measuring from the ends) to make your layout lines.

Once the recesses were cut for a snug fit, I sandwiched the stone between the boards and trimmed them to length at the miter saw. The stone kept the two pieces aligned while I planed and sanded the ends and sides.

Clamping sandpaper to my table saw and sliding the box across it was a fast way to square the lid and base, and flatten the inside surfaces of the box.

After sanding to 400 grit, I wiped one of the boards off on my jeans and discovered a curious thing—it polished the wood. So I tried a piece of leather to see what would happen. It polished it even more, to a buffed sheen. The leather also gently rounded the sharp edges of the box. If you've worked with cocobolo, you know how sharp those edges can be.

There is no finish on the box itself, only the carved portion (with spray poly). I thought that finish might adversely affect the stone, plus cocobolo is an oily, dense wood and is naturally beautiful.

After spending so many hours on this little project, I can only imagine the the original was made by someone who really appreciated his oilstone. Not surprising, considering the close relationship woodworkers had with their tools in past centuries.

Nice to know that some things never change.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sash Saw and Saw Vise

Would you believe I'm still sifting through material I gleaned from the Woodworking in America conference in Valley Forge in October?

As I've said, the marketplace was one of the best attractions at the show because you could talk directly with tool makers and take their tools for a test drive. This is really the best way to find out if you and a tool can play nicely together. It's one thing to read a review, but it doesn't compare to actually trying the tool first hand.

Joel Moskowitz, from Tools for Working Wood, showed me his new sash saw (which should be available soon) and saw vise.

So, what makes these tools special? According to Joel, nobody else makes a saw vise these days. He said, "Lots of people tried the vise out during the show and, except for Adam Cherubini who didn't like that really shallow dovetail saws don't fit (they don't fit on Disston D3's either or most other saw vises—you just stick out the last inch and file away), we got pretty much raves from everyone."

I talked with a show-goer who said what he liked best about the vise was that it supported the blade along its entire length, even in the middle. There was no chatter when he filed the teeth.

Regarding the sash saw, Joel believes it will be the lightest one on the market, which he says will make it easier to sense square and saw for long periods of time. Also, the handle is very elegant—the lamb's tongue "just licks the blade."

The saw is filed rip with a little fleam. Joel remarked that many people at the show were amazed that it cut both rip and crosscut "pretty darn well and fast."

I tried out Joel's sash saw and was impressed that it did indeed cut just as well on the rip as it did the crosscut.

Although I did not order either one of these tools, I did buy a bunch of other products from him. That's the other thing about trying tools in person—it makes it hard to walk away empty handed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Progress Shots

I finished the carved portion of the sharpening stone box and sprayed it with 5 coats of satin polyurethane to protect it from getting dirty while I fitted it to the lid of the box.

The two pieces of cocobolo that will become the lid and the bottom half of the box were intentionally cut too long. That way, I could clamp them to bench while I chiseled out the waste for the carving and the sharpening stone.

I used my new Czech Edge marking knife to scribe the outside edges of the carved piece to the cocobolo. The scribed line, as you might guess, was very difficult to see on the dark wood, so I traced the line with a white pencil. The white stayed on either side of the line—since the wood was so hard—and the line remained dark.

It worked fairly well, but a more effective way would have been to use a technique that was taught to me by David Finck: Prior to scribing your lines, paint the area with water-based white paint. Once it's dry, mark your lines, and they'll show up very clearly.

I used a small [electric] router to remove most of the waste from the cavity and then cleaned up the edges with a chisel. With one swipe of my hand across the workpiece to brush away the chips, I remembered that cocobolo is splintery. Ouch. Using a shop brush to shush away chips is much easier on your hands.

The carving will sit a little proud of the lid once I glue it in place. I checked the fit first by pushing it a little way into the recess—though not all the way, so I could still remove it.

I'll rout and chisel the inside of the lid and bottom to make room for the sharpening stone and put finish on the cocobolo before gluing the carving in place.

I'm pretty sure that only another woodworker could understand why someone would spend so much time making a box for a sharpening stone. Perhaps this should be added to the list of tips for wives of woodworkers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Table Saw Book Winner

Justin Tyson won the Complete Illustrated Guide to Table Saws. Congratulations!
I added it to the original post, but I think that Justin hasn't seen it,
since I haven't heard from him.
Justin, if you'd like to send me your address, I'll be happy to mail the book to you. :o)
Please email me at: goodwoodworkshop@comcast.net.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tiny Scrapers

Scrapers, sharpening, and scratch stock changed my life as a woodworker.

Scrapers get you out of sticky situations with difficult grain and allow you to smooth curved or otherwise non-flat surfaces; learning to sharpen is (in my opinion) the single most important skill in woodworking; and making scratch stock opens up a new world of creativity.

So when I ran into trouble trying to flatten the background on a small relief carving, all three came to the rescue.

With the help of some brainstorming friends, I decided to reshape two dental tools into mini scrapers.
I used a dremel tool to grind the ends. Then I filed a flat on the cutting edge the same way that I sharpen scratch stock: square to each surface and with no burr. This creates two very sharp
micro edges where two surfaces meet.

Then I honed the top, back, and edge of each tool on my 8,000 grit waterstone.

They may look like tiny garden hoes, but they work great at smoothing out a once-rough surface, both with and against the grain. Tiny peels of shavings, not sawdust, come off the edges.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Check Out This Kid

I know I'm not alone in my enthusiasm for young woodworkers. We all want to see young people take up the hobby or trade. To keep it going for future generations. To experience the same love of working with their hands that we do.

I found this kid on youtube recently. His name is Alex and he's been making and selling pens for the past year to help pay for his college tuition.

Alex plans to go to med school, he shoots and edits his own woodworking videos, and he uses some heavy-duty machinery in his dad's shop. Alex is only 12 years old, but he's quite the entrepreneur. His business is called Pens For College.

Since he's just a kid, some might think he's pushing the "Awwww" factor in his marketing angle. Like the time I was walking my dogs around the block and some neighborhood kids were selling lemonade. One of them, a tiny four-year-old, said (and I quote) "Hey, ya got any money?" I didn't, but I took the dogs home and walked back to their lemonade stand with my 50 cents and drank out of their communal cup. To my horror, they didn't have disposable cups, just two plastic ones that were being used over and over. Yeah, ask me if I'm trying to erase that thought from my memory.

Anyhow, check out Alex's video. He may be 12, he may be cute, but he definitely knows what he's doing in the workshop.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Little Help From My Friends

Have you ever wondered what the big deal is about Twitter—what's it good for? Permit me to offer this example.

I'm working on a little relief carving and even though I have tiny chisels and gouges, I'm having trouble getting the background flat and smooth. There are instances where I must carve against the grain, and that's producing some rough results.

Enter Twitter.

I pitched this question this morning: Carving peeps, is there a way to flatten or sand a relief carving's background that has very small areas? Any tricks? I can't get a chisel in there.

Less than an hour later I had five viable suggestions.

What does this mean?
1. Twitter is an awesome networking tool.
2. Woodworkers are clever folks.
3. A lot of my friends goof off at work (and so do I!).

So, what was their advice?
1. File a finish nail and use it as a scraper.
2. Wrap sandpaper around the end of a small dowel.
3. Use rifflers, specifically Grobet brand.
4. Use a dremel tool to grind a bevel on a small allen wrench for use in a mini router plane.
5. Try netsuke carving tools.

Those answers jumpstarted my own brain activity and I came up with two ideas: grinding a dental tool to use as a scraper; and use adhesive-backed sandpaper on the bottom of a fine artist's paint spatula, which can be trimmed to any shape and made as small as necessary with metal cutters.

Feel free to offer your advice with this carving dilemma.
And with that, I'm off to the shop!