Thursday, May 27, 2010

Starting a Woodworking Club

A few people have written me asking for advice on starting a woodworking club. While I don't have a magic formula, I do belong to three clubs—the Susquehanna Area Woodworkers of PA (SAW-PA, website coming soon), the Susquehanna Trails Woodworking Guild (STWG), and the Women's Woodworking Club of Harrisburg (WWC).

Please offer your own advice/ideas regarding what works well for your club so that others can benefit.

Some questions from Michael H.: How is it structured? How often do you meet? What do your meetings look like? What kind of things have you found to be successful?

SAW-PA: I'm a founding member of this one. We meet once a month for about two hours, start the meeting with business and upcoming events, followed by show-and-tell, then our main topic. We have a president, vice president, treasurer, and planning team, which meet on occasion to brainstorm ideas for future meetings/events. Many of our topics are presented by members, but we have paid speakers a couple times a year. There are formal by-laws, which are commonly ignored. We take Saturday field trips a few times a year to workshops, ww businesses, and lumberyards, usually followed by a meal at a restaurant. Dues are $25/year. Usually about 20 in attendance at meetings.

What works for this group: friendly, laid-back atmosphere, small meeting room (cozy). Field trips give us an opportunity to chat/bond outside of meetings.

STWG: I don't know as much about this club, but it meets once a month for about 2 hours and is structured in a similar fashion to SAW-PA, regarding order of meetings and officers. They often have outside, paid speakers and a larger member base which can afford them. They get involved in some community events and shows where they have an informational booth to promote the club. The meeting room is very large, so it seems more formal, but it provides lots of room for demos and show-and-tell tables. This group has a 50/50 raffle each meeting and a video and book library which (I think) is free for members. Dues are $25/year. Usually about 30 in attendance for meetings.

What works for this group: more money and more connections/resources for outside speakers, website, more perks for members.

WWC: This one is totally different from the "boys" clubs. Eight or so women meet once a month for about an hour and a half to discuss projects. About half our meetings include something hands-on, and sometimes we meet at a member's shop to build something. There is no structure; everyone has ownership. We usually sit around a table or circle, and there is an inordinate amount of jocularity and raucous laughter. On a rare occasion we have an outside speaker, preferring instead to rely on each other as teachers. There are no dues and no perks. But there is lots of bonding.

What work for this group: casual "structure", lots of opportunity for camaraderie, ease of operation.

Your turn!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

DVD Review: Carving Swedish Woodenware

I first heard about the Carving Swedish Woodenware dvd (1990) from a blog post by Peter Follansbee and immediately contacted Drew Langsner about purchasing a copy.

Jögge Sundqvist packs a huge amount of information into one hour and shows you with complete clarity how to make a dough bowl and spoon using only hand tools.

First, he splits a log in two and explains why he chooses one half over the other for the dough bowl. Then, he uses his axe to create a flat surface on the convex side that will become the bottom of the bowl. He rough-shapes the inside with an adze and explains the proper tool grip and stance for maximum leverage.

Next, he uses gouges to finish the inside, then works the outside with an axe. Jögge talks during the entire film, explaining safe procedures, bowl design, and tool use.

When the outside of the bowl is shaped, he refines it at the workbench with spokeshave, drawknife, and plane.

I was surprised to see that he did not use a shaving horse. Instead, he worked the dough bowl on a workbench and tree stump and carved the spoons in his lap.

The second half of the film shows how to carve spoons. He shows two ways to rough out the shape: with a turning saw and with an axe. He explains what to look for when choosing a branch and how to shape the spoon for ease of use.

Always safety conscious, Jögge spends a lot of time explaining proper knife grips and how, by using these techniques, you cannot cut yourself.

He shapes the spoons with straight and crooked knives and gouges, and then shows how to carve decorative elements.

Jögge uses linseed oil (not boiled) on spoons and bowls for a natural finish.

The photo above shows all the tools you need if you'd like to make your own woodenware. And the first "tool" on your list should be Jögge's video. I cannot say enough good things about it.


If you're interested in learning from Jögge in person, there is still room in one of the classes that he's teaching this summer at Country Workshops: Swedish Sloyd Craft

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Verily, 'tis putty that saveth the day

A friend who's into medieval life and renaissance fairs asked if I would make a shield for him to hang on the wall that would include the first letter of his and his girlfriend's last names (H and Z). He wanted the two letters to be connected.

No prob. I got this.

The shield is 15.25" wide x 18" tall and I created the interlocking letters in Illustrator.

Roughing out the blank and planing the curved slopes so that the shield is convex was easy.

Then, I rubbed graphite on the back of the printout and transferred the design to the blank. Piece of cake.

I struck all the center stop cuts with chisels and gouges, and I was ready to start carving.

Here's where it gets ugly. If you're going to carve a sign, it's much easier if the grain is running horizontally. Those upright posts that create the letter H were a bear to carve in the vertical grain. That's because the chisel wanted to follow the grain.

Then it got uglier. Cutting the crossgrain serifs resulted in pock-marked tearout. Big chunks of pine popped loose.

That's when I reached for the wood putty.

The other mistake I made was in trying to carve too deep. If you use my technique for lettercarving (here, here, and here), you need to stick with about a 25º angle. I carved a 50º angle so the shadows would be very pronounced.

This resulted in more tearout. And more putty.

Alas, I pray my gentle friend doth paint the shield, whereupon he wouldst saveth mine arse from ruin and restoreth mine honor. Prithee, Bobby Z?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jim Leamy: Planemaker

The shorter list would be to ask Jim Leamy what he can't do.

Truly, he's a talented fellow. And he and his wife hosted a tour of his newly-built 1,100 sq. ft. shop for our woodworking club yesterday.

One room contains all his metalworking machinery. Another is his office. The main room holds, among other things, an enormous display cabinet that houses much of his antique plane collection and other tools.

Jim makes all the parts for his reproduction plough planes, and his perfectionism and meticulous eye for detail are apparent. Even the number and size of the threads of the knurled knobs are historically accurate.

For 30 years prior to making planes, Jim spent time with another type of plane—in the airforce. There, he worked for the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) where he dismantled bombs. "I loved it." he said.

After that he worked in a cabinet shop, then a retail store repairing furniture.

He collected antique tools all the while and one day decided to reproduce one of the plough planes from his collection. Then, someone asked him to build one for them.

For two years he built planes part-time and has been making them full-time for ten years.

Jim uses legally-obtained ivory in many of his planes. He's also used artificial ivory, but has found that it yellows with age (as seen in the close-up image of the plane's gears at left. The yellowed parts are artificial). Real ivory stays brilliant white. It stinks, he says, but it machines nicely.

In his wall-size display cabinet are many of his antique tools, plus some new ones, and a few dovetailed boxes made by Jim that are just as beautiful as his planes.

In his home are period furniture pieces, a living room suite, and a soon to be garage-converted-to-master bedroom—including the plumbing—all built by Jim.

Jim's talent doesn't stop with deactivating bombs, building reproduction plough planes, metalworking, making furniture, and remodeling his home.

High on the walls of his workshop hang a dozen or so framed illustrations of airforce planes, all drawn by the planemaker himself. What an inspiration.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ready, Set, Register!

Woodworking In America registration is open! Sign up before August 2 and save $40.
See you in Cincinnati. :o)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brese Planes

In anticipation of this year's Woodworking In America conference, I'd like to highlight some of the toolmakers you will meet in the Marketplace.

Last year I met Ron Brese, maker of exceptional infill planes. Ron left a career in engineering to pursue planemaking, and the woodworking community is all the more fortunate because of it.

If you plan to attend this year's conference, stop by to talk with Ron in person and try his planes. And if you're in the market for a handplane that can tame the most highly-figured surface with ease, read on.

Here is Ron's response when I asked him what distinguishes his planes from the competition:

There are several unique features to the tools that I make and some of them are not always very apparent on the surface.

(1) My tools are assembled with a riveting process that allows me to assemble very accurate and quite rigid and strong plane bodies. This also creates near invisible joinery that keeps the lines of my planes very clean looking. This process allows me to utilize different alloys of metals that don't always react well the double dovetail peening work involved in other assembly methods.

(2) Thicker irons and no cap iron configuration. We don't make any surfacing planes with a bed pitch of less than 50 degrees and have found no difference in the surfaces that these tools leave in their wake with or without cap irons. At these steeper angles, more heat is generated at the cutting edge of the irons, and the thicker iron serves as a heat sink to draw this heat away from the edge and help extend cutting edge life.

(3) We have worked hard to find the optimum mass factor for our tools. Adding mass to a tool for mass sake is not a good idea. There is a point of diminishing returns. We have worked hard to find the optimum ratio between weight and balance.

(4) Visually there are some very distinctive features that make my tools recognizable as a "Brese Plane".

(A) The small safety button at the top of the iron. The single iron configuration creates a situation that would allow the iron to fall through the mouth of the plane if the lever cap screw was loosened while the plane is held above the surface of the workbench. This button will catch on the lever cap screw or lever cap, preventing the iron from passing through the plane.

(B) The rear tote of the full size planes has a distinctive shape with the top of the horn tapering to a thinner, elegant edge at the very top. This, coupled with the option of the diamond-shaped, mother of pearl inlays, creates a distinctive look for these tools. The front bun shape on our 875 Series Smoothing planes is unique to these planes as well.

(C) The overall look of the 650-55 "J" overstuffed version of our small smoother is a unique shape that is only seen in this line of planes. The side cutout and "J" configuration of the 650-55 "J" overstuffed design was the vision of Jameel Abraham of BenchCrafted.

We are in the process of developing a new line of very refined, very precision-made, stainless steel non-infill planes. The first of this line was a 13.25" long panel plane that was on our bench at the WIA conference in Valley Forge. We have two other sizes of the stainless plane in the design process and are developing one more infill smoother as well.


Ron plans to have at least two more planes that will be part of the new stainless steel line ready to debut at the 2010 WIA.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Colonial Eye Candy

Here are the remaining photos from my trip to Colonial Williamsburg. They include visits to the wheelwright's and blacksmith's shops, and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

The bad news is, I didn't take very good notes (meaning, none) at the wheelwright's shop.

The good news is, Shannon Rogers did. Be sure to read his write up and see his video here.

The other bad news is, I didn't take very good notes (see above for definition) at the blacksmith's shop.

The good news is, the pictures include a guy in a kilt.

The Abby Aldrich Museum features a number of galleries which showcase various categories of American folk art.

The period furniture and musical instruments galleries were my favorite, but paintings, textiles, and pottery are included in the enormous museum.

The bad news is, we had to leave Colonial Williamsburg, with all the wonderful things it has to offer.

The good news is, we bought yearly passes.