Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"The Best Two Bucks I Ever Spent"

That's what a friend said when he was telling me about the new Woodshop Widget application for iPhones, iPads, and iPods.

If you're in an electronic time warp that's stuck in 2001 (like me) and use the free cell phone that came with your sign-on agreement, you can still use all the woodworking-related utilities that Kenneth Woodruff and Marc Spagnuolo have worked so hard to put together. It's available for free on the internet.

Included in the features are: a board foot calculator; decimal to fraction conversions; wood movement calculations; shellac to alcohol proportions; squareness calculations; and lots of tips and links from Marc, The Wood Whisperer.

The wood movement chart is particularly amazing. Have you been wondering just how much a riftsawn board of Albizia will move in 50% humidity at 80º? Check the chart; it's there.

Kenneth and Marc plan to add more resources to The Woodshop Widget, but already it has enough useful tools to help us in our own woodshops.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Get Thee To The Fair

If you've never been to the Fort Frederick Market Fair in Maryland, you're missing out on seeing some exceptional 18th-century reproductions and clothing.

I talked to several sutlers who said that in all the fairs they attend, this one is by far the best.

This was the second year I went to the event, and I was once again struck by the level of talent and attention to detail the sutlers show in their products and attire.

This year, I appreciated being able to spend so much time talking with woodworkers Matthew Stein and Charles Boland.

Matt lives and works in Southwestern Pennsylvania, where he builds 18th-century reproduction furniture using traditional methods, and demonstrates woodworking techniques at various historic sites.

Starting woodworking at a young age and apprenticing in a furniture shop repairing antiques and building new pieces while he attended college, nudged Matt down the path to building period furniture.

Matt opened his own shop in 1991 and is still going strong. It was encouraging to meet someone who is making a living building the types of furniture, and using the methods and tools, that many of us love.

Matt brought a number of beautifully-crafted pieces with him, as well as his travel workbench. But I was particularly captivated by his tool chest, which showed off his talent with marquetry.

If you'd like to see Matt in action, check out his list of events. He's a friendly guy and is happy to talk shop with other woodworkers.


Charles Boland, originally from Texas, has a workshop in West Virginia where he specializes in Windsor Chairs.

Like Matt, Charles works with hand tools the traditional way, and also teaches classes on chair making in his shop.

Charles works from log to chair, splitting billets and shaping spindles at his shaving horse and lathe. Seats are hollowed out with planes, scorps, and travishers.

It's labor-intensive, but Charles is committed to making authentic pieces, like his replica of Thomas Jefferson's swivel chair. Years of study and visits to museums have given Charles insight into the construction methods, design, and paint wear patterns of period pieces.

Charles is also a very friendly guy who is more than willing to chat with eager woodworkers. Meet him in person at one of these historic events.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sandpaper Can Be Your Friend

How do I know the Pennsylvania Germans were smarter than me?

Because they didn't build their furniture with curly cherry!

I go out of my way to not use sandpaper. In fact, sandpaper is the main reason I became interested in handplaning. Sawdust makes me cough (even with a dust mask) and it coats everything in the shop (even with a dust collector).

But trying to handplane this curly cherry was too much for my planes and me. (The next handplane I build will have a 55º pitch.) Ah well, sometimes sandpaper can be your friend.

All the pieces to this PA German sawbuck table are ready for finishing. The table top is already finished with about eight coats of blonde shellac and two coats of Circa 1850 Antique Paste Varnish. I just need to rub out the topcoat to knock back some of the shine.

And because I always want to make it worth your while to read my blog, here is bonus photo quiz:

Is the image at right A) a pile of sawdust in a patch of posies? B) my dog, Rosie, lying languidly on the bedspread directly in front of a fan? Or, C) a clever ploy to disguise what might otherwise have been a rather lame blog post?

You be the judge.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Making Moulding Planes

I've taken four classes taught by Tod Herrli at Olde Mill Cabinet Shoppe. With the right instructor, anything is possible.

This particular class was on making side escapement planes, and I came away feeling completely confident that I can make more on my own.

I took a class from Tod six years ago on making hollows and rounds, but this time, I made a thumbnail and an ovolo.

The soles were easy to shape because Tod had made mother planes (the negative image of the plane's profile), but they can be shaped with shoulder planes, hollows and rounds, gouges, sandpaper wrapped around a dowel, and/or router bits.

If you were to shape your own sole, you would need to draw the profile on both ends of your plane blank and then connect the lines across the sole of the plane. From there, it's just a matter of removing the waste material, however you see fit.

The photos show the order in which we made our planes, but here's a quick rundown:
1. Square up your blank.
2. Layout your lines.
3. Saw the handhold.
4. Saw the escapement walls.
5. Remove waste from the escapement with chisels.
6. Bore the mortise with a hollow chisel mortiser or chisels.
7. Use floats and chisels to finish the mortise.
8. Chisel the ramp that leads to the escapement.
9. Make the blade.
10. Heat treat the blade.
11. Finish grinding and polishing the blade.
12. Make the wedge.
13. Add decorative elements to the plane (like chamfers).
14. Slap on some oil and make some shavings!

Sounds simple, and it is. But it can also be time-consuming, because there's lots of tweaking involved. Plus, you need to make sure that your blade matches the profile precisely.

But, Tod had some nifty jigs which sped up the process, and he was on hand to help us trouble shoot.

If you're looking to start making your own planes, I recommend Tod's video on making hollows and rounds. He shows you very clearly how to make them and how to heat treat the blades.

Your first couple planes may take days to make, but with practice, you'll be hanging up your Plane Maker sign in no time.

Here are my planes in action:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

SketchUp for Woodworkers

Bob Lang sent me a pre-production copy of his new 184-page digital format book Woodworker's Guide to SketchUp. Bob is producing the book himself through his website, where you can order it for the discounted price of $29.95 with free shipping (to the U.S. and Canada) until July 1.

This book offers many great things, one of which is that it's completely geared toward woodworkers. Meaning, tutorials cover cabriole legs, not cubicles and office buildings.

Another thing is there are videos embedded in the text which are mini-tutorials, so you can read about a technique and then see it in action. And all with Bob's cool-1950-Lee Marvin-esque voiceover.

We've all seen SketchUp illustrations, but many of us have never used the program or are new to it. Bob walks you through all the steps in order to design your own 3D models.

If you're a beginner like me, start at the beginning of the book. He covers the very basics. If you have some cursory knowledge of the program, you might want to skip a chapter or two, but I would at least skim them, because Bob gives you the best configurations for the tools and preferences.

Clearly, Bob knows his way around the program, and with his knowledge, you'll be able to build complex 3D models, complete with crown moulding and half blind dovetails. If you are interested in learning SketchUp, this is an excellent resource for woodworkers.

You can download sample pages and the table of contents for your own preview.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Buffing and Grinding Wheels

Tod Herrli has a speedy way to hone his complex-profile moulding plane blades—with buffing wheels.

Ever the resourceful fellow, Tod makes his own using cardboard from cereal boxes and tablets.*

By gluing discs of cardboard together, he creates various thicknesses of buffing wheels according to his needs.

He bores a hole in the glued-up wheel, mounts it on his grinder, and shapes a rounded profile with a shop-made tool that looks a lot like the rounded profile on a woodturning scraper (photo 1).

I took a class taught by Tod a few days ago on making side escapement planes (blog post to follow) where we used his wheels to do the final sharpening on our blades.

Buffing wheels need to spin in the opposite direction (away from you**) than grinding wheels, so Tod built a sharpening station that captures the catapulted rouge when it's applied to the spinning cardboard wheels (photo 2).

He also showed us another trick (photos 3-6). The center holes on grinding wheels need to fit the arbor on your grinder. So if you have a wheel with too large a hole, here's how Tod remedies the situation.

He glues a dowel, which matches the diameter of his arbor, into a hole in a board; draws a 6" diameter circle around the dowel to help him center the grinding wheel; wraps a piece of paper around the dowel; and fills the cavity with hot glue. The paper keeps the glue from sticking to the dowel. Once dry, the grinding wheel fits perfectly on his grinder.

He then uses a dressing tool to round the profile on the wheel so it can be used for grinding moulding plane profiles on newly-made blades.

*MDF will also work. **Buffing wheels must spin away from you, otherwise, the tool might catch in the wheel, resulting in injury.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Things Are Shaping Up

In preparation for the class I'm taking in August at Country Workshops on making traditional Swedish woodenware, I've been practicing making spoons.

While watching Jögge Sundqvist's video is helping me improve, and my spoons are starting to look more usable, I still don't quite "get" carving.

I'm used to building up, not taking away. As a graphic designer, I add things to a blank page; I build up a composition. In woodworking, we join pieces together to build a table or chair. But in spoon carving, you take everything away from the wood blank that doesn't resemble a spoon.

I've learned a few things along the way: carving green wood is much easier than dry; keeping an eye on your support hand's location in relation to the knife is a must; straight-grained wood is best for carving; chia pets are the best gifts ever.
Not only are my spoons shaping up, so am I. My current physique is called "pome-pear" and that's not going to help matters when I'm swinging an axe and adze and gasping for air.

So I've started walking four miles, doing thirty pushups, and eating 1400 calories or less each day (granted, I'm only on day number three).

At class this summer, I'll be rubbing elbows with Peter "HatchetMan" Follansbee, and I don't want to seem as green to carving as the wood we're chopping.