Thursday, February 22, 2018

More on working white oak

Bob Rozaieski has now followed up on his podcast response to my question with a detailed written post on techniques for working white oak with hand tools that I find very informative and useful.  Highly recommended.

I don't have a lot to add to his suggestions.  In addition to keeping your planes very sharp, I have found a cabinet scraper to be particularly useful on white oak as a way of avoiding tearout.  I find that even a sharp plane will tear white oak out sometimes.

One of the points he makes is absolutely true.  Quartersawn white oak is much much easier to work than flatsawn white oak, to the point that I consider the latter unworkable with hand tools.

Another reaction I had to his post is if I ever run across one of those machines he pictures I am going to buy it.  Not sure what I will do with them, but I would definitely like to have one of each.  I think I recall Roy Underhill using something like this on one of his shows and it looked fun.

Given all of the challenges in working with white oak, why bother?  It really is a very nice species with many desirable qualities.  It's strong and durable, finishes well and looks really nice.

As I'll describe later, I am currently working with sapele for the first time.  It has approximately the same hardness as white oak and yet it is much easier to work.  I don't understand this so, if you do, please explain in the comments.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A small tweak to my Moxon vise

I've written why I regard having a Moxon vise as indispensable even though I view a bench vise as optional.  Mine lives on the end of my 8' bench.  It stays there most of the time but I do sometimes need to take it off and want to be able to do so quickly.

Traditionally, Moxons were held in place with holdfasts and that is what I have been doing, though that hasn't been entirely satisfactory to me.  Besides tying up two holdfasts, the vise does rock slightly and the less steel I have around my saw teeth the better I like it.  It suddenly struck me that I have a split top on my bench that I could take advantage of.  I found a large carriage bolt, drilled a hole in my vise and, voila:


I have two bench dogs in place that keep the vise from twisting.  Those and the bolt keep the vise rock solid.  To remove it, you loosen the bolt and slide the vise off.  Although I need a wrench to remove it, that doesn't bother me and I could buy a large wing nut if I wanted to.  A wooden screw would be nice.

I am still bothered by the fact that I am using the version I made with bar clamps as opposed to my "nice one" with acme screws that sits on the shelf.




Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Bob is right

On a recent podcast, Bob Rozaieski talked about efficiency with hand tools and one of the subjects he covered was choice of wood species.  He advises staying away from white oak and hard maple.  I know he's right.  It was brought home to me recently as I was doing some learning exercises so I could cut better half-blind dovetails.  I used scraps, sapele for the fronts and douglas-fir for the sides and back.  I have been working with white oak a lot recently and this was so much easier and more pleasurable I could hardly believe it.  The fact is that woods like mahogany, cherry, walnut, pine, poplar and even soft maple are much easier to work with hand tools.

The problem is that there are sometimes good reasons to work with white oak.  I really like arts and crafts furniture, much of which is best in white oak.  In addition, white oak has properties that make it very desirable, like for the outside table I made recently.  It rains a great deal here in the northwest and white oak's rot resistance is important.  I like the way white oak looks too; it seemed just right for the kitchen work table I made recently.

I did ask Bob about it and he responded at some length on a subsequent podcast (beginning at about 10:30) with a number of good ideas that are worth your while.  Nevertheless, there is just no getting around the fact that white oak is difficult to work with hand tools.

I have been thinking about how to reconcile the difficulty of working white oak with the fact that it is very desirable for some projects.  For starters, there are projects I have used white oak for that would be as good in a species easier to work.  My days of making small oak boxes are mostly over.

I am going to increase my use hybrid techniques for some operations when I am working white oak.  I will still use hand tools for many operations.  Sawing, making mortise and tenon joints, jointing are examples of things that hand tools work just fine for, though I do drill out the waste in my mortises.  The things that I have found most difficult when working white oak are making grooves, dadoes and rabbets.  It would be one thing if I had pairs of plow and rabbet planes so I could always work with the grain, but that's not going to happen.  Working against the grain in white oak with these planes is sometimes too difficult and/or time consuming and it's not very enjoyable.  It can be done, I've done it, but it's laborious.

This is only speculation, but I wonder if this last issue is one reason arts and crafts furniture is traditionally made with quartersawn white oak.  My experience is that it is a lot easier to work with than flatsawn material.

I like Greene and Greene style box joints a lot and that keeps you from using secondary woods for drawer sides.  Recently, I used vertical grain douglas-fir for half-blind dovetails, which I like a lot, but it splits very easily.  I dislike poplar because of the greenish cast in what I see at my supplier.  Alder is plentiful and inexpensive here and I think that will become my secondary wood.  It's hardness is comparable to poplar.

One of the things that puzzles me is why white oak was preferred in the arts and crafts era.  Was it because power tools were becoming more available?  Was it because it was affordable?  Was it an aesthetic choice?  Bob points out that most of the mortises in arts and crafts furniture were made with machines.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Half-blind dovetails, part 2

My test joints turned out well enough that I decided to go ahead and finish the drawer, which I will find a use for at some point.  I did find that very careful fine-tuning made a difference but some small gaps remained.  I used a filler of glue and sawdust to fill the gaps and this is what I ended up with:


Pretty good, could be better. The best way I have found to fill small gaps in dovetails is sawdust and shellac and that's what I will go back to in the future.

Here's how I think I can improve:
  1. I need to make further progress on precise, crisp marking out of the pin board but in a way that produces a line I can follow;
  2. Although I have made significant strides, there is always room for further improvement in sawing technique.  
I decided that I would try to use a marking knife but then find some way to highlight the knife line so I can see it.  After a number of unsuccessful experiments, I settled on putting a chisel in the knife line and drawing a line with a .5 mm mechanical pencil along the back of it.  Here's what it looks like under magnification:


After all of the fumbling around marking out dovetail pins that I have done, this simple and obvious solution seems like it is going to work. I think it is better than the masking tape trick or any other method I know of. Quicker too.

Here's the result:



This is dry fit off the saw and chisel and is a significant improvement. Further improvement depends on sawing accuracy, so this is what I am focused on.

I ran out of wide scraps, so I had to start making shallower drawers:


If I could make them this well on a consistent basis, I'd be satisfied.

Now I have two wide drawers and two shallow drawers and nothing to put them in.  May have to think of a project.








Friday, January 26, 2018

Half-blind dovetails

I have written about my lack of enthusiasm for through dovetails for many, certainly not all, applications.  I only use through dovetails in applications where maximum strength is the highest priority, like my travelling toolbox,  but I don't think they look that great, especially on the off-side.  My understanding is that this was the consensus historically.

However, my opinion doesn't apply to half-blind dovetails.  They seem to me like an ideal way to get both great appearance and strength in many more applications than just drawer fronts.  Half-blind dovetails block the "box joint" side of through dovetails while preserving their strength.

This appreciation of half-blind dovetails led me to see if I couldn't become more proficient in making them.  I decided to make at least one every day for a week as a start.  I don't presume to offer a guide to making them because there are plenty from experts but will instead describe my experience and offer some supplemental observations.  If you prefer tips from an expert, try this and this.

Before I get into the details, an observation.  I have always thought of half-blind dovetails as more difficult to make than their through cousins, but it doesn't seem to be the case.  They take longer, but that's about it.  Maybe it's me, but slight gaps don't seem to look as bad as they do on through dovetails.  There are probably multiple reasons, but one is that you only see one side of the tails.  It's true that you can only saw out half of the pins but that doesn't seem to be a big deal.  Chiseling out the waste in the pin board isn't much more difficult than it is for through dovetails.

There is nothing different about the tail board except that the tails are shorter, so there's no need to discuss it.  The usual considerations apply.

For some reason, marking out the pin board has been a real struggle for me and, now that my sawing has improved, this is the major source of inaccuracy in my work.  It's the reason some my first attempts this week were poor.  Perhaps it is declining eyesight, but just using a marking knife hasn't worked for me.  Pencil hasn't worked for me either.  Sawing a bit away from the line and paring to fit is extremely time consuming and tedious.

After my poor first attempts, I used the masking tape trick and it worked better, but it is time consuming.  This was the method used for the test joints you see here and, despite the improvement, I believe it is the primary cause of the remaining inaccuracy.

For some reason, sawing the pin board for a half-blind dovetail seems much more difficult to me than for a through dovetail, but it isn't.  I've puzzled about this.  It may have to do with the fact that it sort of forces you to start at the front, create a kerf across the top and then saw down the line.  The mistake I make the most is sawing a bit beyond the gauge line into the web.

Chopping out the waste isn't all that difficult.  It can be a bit challenging if the grain dives.  One thing I've done in the past if I was making a lot of joints is use a forstner bit in the drill press to remove waste down to depth, which creates a reference, but I am not doing that for this exercise.  I do think that using the drill press the way Rousseau does in the video link above speeds things up a lot if you are making a number of joints.

My first effort:


Notice the gap at the front of the tails.  On my second effort I was careful to make sure the tail board was up tight when marking out the pins and to make sure I didn't move the scribed line when chiseling out the waste:


There is one significant gap and I don't know why it's there.  It could be a sawing error but my guess is that it has to do with marking out and cutting to the blue tape.

More later.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

More on portable woodworking

My trip away from the rain here in the pacific northwest is now over and it's time to assess how my evolving portable woodworking setup worked.

I recently made a base for my portable bench, described here, so it could be freestanding.  When we arrived at a nice campground in the desert, I took it out, put the bench on it and ... took it off five minutes later.  The benchtop was only about four inches lower than it is on a picnic table and wasn't nearly as stable.  I had wrongly gotten away from my original concept, which was a compact bench/toobox that would take up little space and could be used on a picnic table.  A picnic table has mass and stability so you get a rock solid work surface.  If you want more of a true portable workbench than this, you should make a Moravian travel bench like OK Guy did.  As for me, there is always a picnic table available when I want to use my portable bench and I'm tall enough for the height to be fine.  An alternative you might consider is making a somewhat taller portable bench that is designed to sit on the seat of the picnic table rather than the top.  That way, you would have more flexibility to choose the height you want.

I made another mistake too.  Unlike in the past, I went way overboard with the tools I took.  It was ridiculous.  Because I was going to be away for some weeks, I somehow thought I needed to bring every tool I might possibly want.  That was silly.  If I wanted a full complement of tools, I should have stayed home.  All these tools were heavy and cumbersome, a major production each day to get them out and put them away.  I didn't use most of them.  In the future, I will go back to a modest tool set.

Those were the misses, but there were some hits too.  I had taken rough lumber to prepare by hand and I was pleasantly surprised by the accuracy I was able to achieve using my picnic table bench.  I normally take a hybrid approach to stock preparation in my shop, using my Millers Falls miter box, ripping on my bandsaw, jointing the edges by hand and roughly flattening one side with handplanes before turning to my lunchbox planer.  It took a lot of work and calories but I achieved equivalent results by hand, a real confidence booster.  Fun too.

The big surprise came when I started to cut dovetails.  I sawed with considerably more accuracy than I ever have before and I am not entirely sure why.  It happened consistently enough that I don't think it was a fluke.  There are several possible explanations.  I had my Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw sharpened by Bob Rozaieski recently and this was the first time I used it.  It starts easily and cuts better than it ever has, including when it was new.  The second thing is that I unloaded the saw absolutely as much as I possibly could, to the point that there was almost no weight on the teeth throughout the cut. The final thing was that the height of the bench on the picnic table meant that I could stand upright while sawing and still keep my arm horizontal.  It is an extremely comfortable sawing position.  I think the answer to why things went so well lies in these three factors, though I don't know how to sort them out.

Portable woodworking may seem like a fringe activity that you wouldn't want to try, but it's a lot of fun.  Being outside in a nice natural setting, fresh air, sunshine ... is very pleasant.  Life sometimes takes you away from your workshop, so the choice is to take a break from woodworking or create a portable option.  There are expedient options that would work just fine.  You could make a "bench raiser," out of construction lumber, get yourself a couple of canvas tool rolls and use any available container to carry your tools.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Shout out to Mike Siemsen

I only know Mike Siemsen from his blog and occasional videos but I am very impressed.  Mike is one of those people who are highly accomplished in some area but are smart enough and unassuming enough and good enough at communicating that they can share their skill very effectively.  I have never seen someone explain how to flatten a board better than this:


My son went to college in Northfield, Minnesota and Mike's style is what I associate with that state (yes I know this is ridiculous).  Maybe it's the extreme cold there that causes people to not expend energy unnecessarily, but they have a way of getting to the point without a lot of excess verbiage or showiness.

You may think that you already know how to flatten a board, and many of us do, but did you learn nothing at all from this video?  I think of my son, who is interested in woodworking but has no background.  Could I show him this video and then let him try it himself on his own?  Yes I could and, if he asked me how to flatten a board, I'd do exactly that.

Someone commented amusingly that this is the best advertisement for jointers and planers he'd ever seen.  It's true that I don't care to do this on a regular basis, but it's also a basic skill that is very valuable and sometimes you do need to do it.  As he says at the end of the video, most of us don't have a very wide jointer, so being able to flatten one side of a board is an essential skill.  This is where I am.  I have a 6" jointer which I hardly use at all but I do use my lunchbox planer exactly the way he suggests.

Here is another one of his videos on workholding without a vise that I really like:


Again, most of us have vises so this might seem irrelevant, but knowing these methods of workholding without a vise is extremely valuable.  In my opinion, despite Paul Sellers' many outstanding skills, a weakness is his overreliance on a vise.  This video is a useful antidote and it shares techniques I use often.

I frequently read and hear that woodworking as a hobby is declining because younger generations are not picking it up the way mine did.  That's a real shame.  The approach that people like Mike Siemsen take provides a viable entry path that is affordable and achievable.  I wish he would create a subscription video service or offer more videos like the one on building a basic bench.  The expense of travel and lodging is a barrier to the best alternative, which is to take classes in person from people like Mike.  Videos may be second best but they are a great alternative.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Keep your bevel up--or down.

I wrote recently that I decided to take my Veritas low angle smoother as the only bench plane in my travelling tool kit.  The main reason for this was that I have a set of four blades from 25 to 50 degrees and a toothed blade.  I reasoned that I would be able to accomplish a wide variety of tasks with only this plane.

In fact, the plan worked.  I was making drawers and preparing the stock by hand.  I could use a 25 degree blade for the end grain and a 50 degree blade for the face of the douglas-fir I was using for sides to avoid tearout.  Look at the tight shavings that it produced:


I could readily adjust the mouth in only a second.  The major downside was that I had to keep changing blades, which was kind of annoying.  You can in fact do woodworking with this as your only plane.

Based on this, you may expect I will now argue that bevel-up planes are the way to go, but that isn't the case.  Because of all the tearout I experienced with the slabs I was working on recently, I became a lot more sophisticated than I was with adjusting the mouth and chipbreaker on my vintage bevel-down planes and I am reasonably sure I could have accomplished equivalent results with them.  I'm not certain, but I suspect you can get a higher effective angle with a chipbreaker than the 62 degrees you can get with the Veritas plane.  The fact that it takes more time to adjust them isn't really an issue in a shop because you can have several set up differently.  You can have ten for the price of the Veritas plane and extra blades.

The one area where I think the Veritas plane is superior is end grain.  Lee Valley says, "(i)ts low cutting angle of 37° minimizes fiber tearing, making it ideal for end-grain work."  I think that's true.  I was actually getting full width shavings on end grain, something I haven't figured out how to do with a bevel-down plane.  I have also found that it is much more comfortable to use on a shooting board than a bevel-down plane.  This isn't to say that you can't do great endgrain work with a bevel-down plane because obviously you can.

My bottom line is this.  You can get great results with either type of plane if you have the necessary skills.  I think the bevel-up planes may be slightly easier to learn to use.  When I am at home, I keep the Veritas plane set up for end grain work and use my bevel-down planes for most other purposes save for occasionally dealing with tough tearout.

I feel very fortunate to have these vintage planes:  #3,4,5,5 1/2, 6, 7, 10.  The only one I don't often use is the #6.  I wouldn't dream of parting with any of the others.  Same with the Veritas smoother.  I suspect that if I got into wooden planes I would feel the same way about them.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Veritas plow plane

I have owned this Veritas plow plane for some years: 


It's a great tool.  Like all Veritas products, it is beautifully made with precise machining.  There's a skate, a fence on two shafts held in place with collets, a thumbscrew to hold the blade in, another to hold it down and a third to adjust it.  On the other side is a depth stop held in place with a final thumbscrew.

It's a great tool but, it does have a few issues.  The fence rods fit so tight on mine that it is hard to adjust them accurately, even though they are pristine and lubricated.  I view this is a reasonable price to pay for a fence that stays precisely parallel and deal with it by tapping on the end of the rod or on the fence with a small mallet to adjust the fence.  You have to cinch the thumbscrews down quite tight or they will loosen from vibration during use and this can damage the groove.  Some users complain that the collets don't prevent the fence from slipping but I think this is user error.  Tipping the plane out causes the groove to wander inward, putting a lot of force on the fence and causing it to move.  Finally, there were problems with the depth stop slipping on early models like mine, but Veritas corrected this with a new stop and it doesn't slip.

My initial results with this plane were awful.  The key to using this plane is to keep it precisely vertical all the time and I struggled to do that.  I ran into a great rep from Lee Valley at a show, and he told me to put on a secondary fence.  I did and it really helped.


It turned out that the main advantage of this fence was that it gave me a good hand position.  The key to keeping the plane  vertical is to use your rear hand to push forward ONLY and your side hand to push in ONLY.  For me, the handle is wrong because it is above the fence.  If I just push on it with my palm, I have a tendency to tip the plane over.  Of course, my giant paws don't help.  The auxiliary fence solves this problem for me:


Narrow and/or thin stock presents challenges, so I came up with a jig that I am quite happy with:


By lining the workpiece up precisely with the 1" side of the jig, I am able to keep the plane vertical on thin stock.  For thicker pieces of stock this isn't necessary and standard workholding methods are fine.



I encountered a final issue when working with white oak.  If you are plowing against the grain of the wood, it can tear out along the edge of the groove quite badly.  The best solution, of course, is to buy a left and right hand pair of these planes,  but at $285 apiece that's a little spendy.  Taking very thin shavings at first and using a mortise gauge to sever the fibers on the surface are two ways to address this.

It has always been possible to make narrow rabbets with it but now wider blades are available.  They also now make tongue cutting blades and beading blades in different sizes.  I expect to be trying them in the future.







Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Packing up

We're about to take a long trip, so I am preparing and packing up the tools I want to take.  One thing I'm doing before we leave is to make sure all the edge tools are very sharp, so it has been a bit of a sharpening marathon around here the last few days.

The last time I traveled with tools, I took two double-sided diamond stones and a strop.  Since then, the stones came loose from the plastic backing plates, probably because I used WD-40 as a honing compound and it penetrated under the plates, but they are still flat.  On a lark, I made this base to make sure they don't flex:
  
         

This is the antique Stanley honing guide I used last summer.  Don't know if I will use it on the trip, but it's fun to have.  I glued wet/dry sandpaper to the plywood to keep the plates from slipping and it works.

Since I don't have a lot of space in my travel chest, I thought long and hard about what tools to take.  Of course, it depends on what I intend to work on, but I seem to be settling in on a standard tool set.


I chose to take the LV bevel-up smoother because I have five blades for it, from 25 to 50 degrees plus a toothed blade.  A Stanley #4 would be better in some ways but the Veritas plane is very versatile and being able to change blades and the mouth-opening quickly is an advantage.  The rest of what you see there is a router plane, a plow plane, a shoulder plane, an egg beater, a dovetail saw, a crosscut backsaw and a tool roll with my chisels, a spokeshave and other tools.

I'm still filling the top tray:


Thursday, December 14, 2017

A base for the travel bench

A while ago I made a small travel bench that contains an integrated tool chest.  I designed it to be clamped to a picnic table in order to make it compact for travel and stable in use.  While I have enjoyed using it, the downside is that you don't always have access to a picnic table and it's just too high for some tasks.  After reading about the Moravian travel bench that OK Guy made recently, I decided that I needed to have some sort of base for mine as an option.  With twenty-twenty hindsight, I might have built a Moravian bench too; I just didn't realize how compact they are when knocked down and how quickly they can be set up.  Nevertheless, my travel bench does have some advantages, as I'll describe below.

My criteria were that the base be very compact for travel and sturdy for use with hand tools.  I chose the Krenov sawhorses I made recently as a starting point.  Essentially, I just tried to create a wide, ruggedized version of one of them, not really knowing if it would work or not.  I started by making these side assemblies that transfer force directly from the sides of the bench to the ground.  They are mortised together and have a cleat on the top to attach the benchtop:


Then I added four stretchers held in place with pegs, eight of which do double duty by pinning the mortises:


One of the reasons I designed it this way is that things like suitcases fit easily within it for travel, so it takes up very little extra space.  

Recall that this is what the bench/toolbox looks like standalone:


The base is designed to allow easy access to tools during use:


Even with the vise attached, all of the tools are easily accessible:


How does it compare to a Moravian bench?  I'd say it's different. It can be used without a base, it doubles as a tool chest, it may require somewhat less space for travel and my base design sets up even faster.  I think the Moravian bench may be somewhat superior in use, particularly for larger workpieces.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Workbench personalities

Many of you will have seen this series by Christopher Schwarz.  It is amusing and perhaps of some value as a cautionary tale for those about to build a bench.  I have a different take on this subject though.

Woodworkers have explored the design of workbenches exhaustively over the centuries.  Like the foods of different cultures, they all have something to offer and, based on personal preference, each of us likes some more than others.  Some of this has to do with the tools we use, the projects we build, the space we have ... but personal taste plays a big role.

I chose to build a traditional Nicholson workbench and I couldn't be happier with it.  I like it for its historical significance, its ingenious design and its solid functionality, and I also like the look of it.  Roubo?  No question it's a great bench with a lot of advantages, but I don't like it.  Mostly, I am put off by some of its proponents.  A workbench is not a piece of furniture.  This is not a lot different from the fact that I prefer London to Paris.  Scandinavian benches?  Haven't used them, don't know.  I like the food though.  Moravian?  Ditto, although I haven't had the food (but I'd like to try it).

When I try to look at the subject objectively, I think it comes down to this.  A good hand tool workbench is really really solid, has the right dimensions and is good at workholding.  It's made from readily available materials that are reasonably priced.  Most of the rest is taste.

Not much to say about solid.  My bench goes thump and it does not slide.  So will others of many different designs.  The heavier the better.  Workholding?  Good ones of many different designs are just fine.  I'm an outlier, but I wouldn't have a bench vise again.  I like the Moxon.  I like the Nicholson skirts for vertical workholding but I am sure a sliding deadman works fine.  Dimensions?  It's got to be a good fit for you and some of us are pretty sensitive to them.  For me, 22 inches wide, 8 feet long and palm height is just right.  Materials?  Oregonians should make theirs from douglas-fir.  Buy local if you can.

I think I could be happy with any bench that satisfied these criteria.

I am about to build a basic workbench for my son, who doesn't have time to do a lot of woodworking right now but has an interest.  It will be one of two designs.  My first choice is the basic Nicholson bench designed by Mike Siemsen.  I can't say enough good about this.  It's cheap, easy and highly functional, a really great first bench.  You won't like the other one, which is based on the first bench I ever built.  I would construct a base from douglas-fir 4x4s mortised together (though you can use Simpson brackets like I did years ago) and put a top on it made from three layers of 3/4" baltic birch plywood.  Five feet long is all he has room for.  It would stay dead flat forever.  This is a much better bench than you might think.  You can make either of these benches in a weekend.

So, I guess I have revealed my workbench personality:  unpretentious, plain, functional, solid. dependable.  Whole grain wheat bread, not croissants and not Danish rye.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

2018

Now that I have finished making Christmas gifts I have started thinking about new year's resolutions, which I do annually.  Though it's fair to be skeptical about their value, I think making resolutions is a useful exercise which, at the least, can do no harm.

I think there are three criteria for judging your woodworking as an amateur:

  1. enjoyment experienced
  2. projects completed
  3. skills developed or improved
I did well on 1 and 2 last year but 3, not so much.  I enjoyed building a number of projects but I mostly relied on skills I already had.  I can't say that I really developed or improved my skills significantly, even though there is lots and lots of room for me to get better.  Here is what I propose to do about this during 2018.

  1. Stop buying tools and spend more time developing skills with the ones I already have.  I am sometimes like the golfer who thinks he is one club away from being really good.  It would be better for him to work on his swing.  I have more than enough tools and really should go a year without buying any, not even one.  Just like the golfer who should spend less time playing and more time on the practice tee, I need to step away from projects more and just work on skills.
  2. Focus on my weakness.  Here in Portland, we are soccer crazy and we have a superb player whose glaring weakness is his left foot.  It makes him much easier to defend and sometimes keeps him from making the most of opportunities.  Why doesn't he spend the offseason focusing on it?  Because it isn't a lot of fun to work on your weakness and he has learned to compensate with acceptable results.  Same thing in woodworking.  My worst weakness is finishing and it shows.  The fact that I dislike it a lot is both cause and effect.
  3. When something is almost but not quite right, stop and figure out why.  To continue with the soccer analogy, some players make good entry passes that sometimes work out but great passes would unzip the defense and make a huge difference.  Good enough is not good enough.  A clear example from my woodworking is a mortise and tenon joint that almost but doesn't quite fit.  I tell myself I can close it up with a clamp or by drawboring.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it almost works.
I actually think that when you reach what I'll call the journeyman stage, 3 is the most important and more or less incorporates the other two.  If I would do this consistently, I would enjoy woodworking more, build better projects and develop my skills.  This isn't complicated so it's just a matter of forcing myself to do it.  Just like losing those holiday pounds!

There is, of course, no reason that you should care about my resolutions, but maybe they will get you started thinking about yours.  Maybe we should have a contest and give away a nice tool for the best resolutions.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Holiday gifts

Every year, my wife and I try to give gifts of an Oregon product in handmade boxes.  This year we settled on a selection of teas and, wanting to get a jump on it, I made half a dozen white oak boxes last summer.


Thing of it was, though they are nice enough, I ended up not liking them for this purpose.  The main thing is that it is inconvenient to get the teabags out, but I also think they look too heavy.  I put them away and have been trying to think of another design for months.

Time is getting short, so last week I got serious.  I decided to go for a minimalist, high function design and not worry about style at all.  I also wanted it to be a design that wouldn't take a lot of time to make with hand tools and be unique.  This isn't my life's work.  As I thought about it, I realized that, because premium teabags come individually sealed, there is no need for them to be in an enclosed container.  This is what I came up with.



This isn't a design that will appeal to everyone.  It's like my active stool, designed primarily for function and not style.  Nevertheless, I like it.  It is so handy to see the tea selection and get the one you want easily.  It's light but seems to be sturdy enough.  In fact, my wife liked it enough that she asked me to make her one too, so that sealed the deal.

Construction is very straightforward.  With the stock prepared, the first thing I did was tape the three vertical pieces together so I could be sure the holes were precisely aligned. 


This also made it easy to round over the corners of the three vertical pieces in a single operation.  It's kind of hard to believe that I used six planes to make these simple pieces:


First I plowed a groove at the bottom of the outside pieces to receive the base.


Then I made a shallow rabbet so the base would fit into the groove.


This little jig I made works great for this.  Finally, just before assembly I shot all the edges and planed the faces.


I used rattlecan poly for finish.



  All in all, making 8 took about 12 hours.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Slab bench II

Here is the bench assembled.  By far the most challenging part of this project was surfacing the slab; the rest was pretty straightforward, basically just 6 mortise and tenon joints.


I hadn't really thought about how to attach the slab to the base, so what I came  up with was a 1' square piece pegged to the legs and attached to the slab with screws in elongated holes:


Seems to get the job done while looking good.

After 3 coats of satin Arm-R-Seal the bench took its place at the end of the table.


This was my wife's idea and I was skeptical, but it is much more comfortable to sit on it at the table than I expected.  I find myself choosing it over the chairs.

She wants me to make three more and not have any chairs at the table.  To do that, I would have to buy and season another slab, so I am going to try sitting at this bench for awhile before I go along.  I am thinking that some guests might not be comfortable without back support so it might be better to make another one for the other end of the table and have four chairs in the middle.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Slab bench

The final piece of the slab is 14" wide and 39" long and I am going to use it for a bench.  Scrounging around, I found enough pieces of cvg douglas-fir for a base.  Two leg assemblies will be joined with a stretcher.  Here is one dry fit:


I don't usually describe my construction techniques because it doesn't seem all that interesting but often I pick up tidbits in the descriptions in other blogs, so here goes.  These tools plus my miter box are what I used:


I chose the angle on these legs by eye and then used a bevel gauge.  Since the most critical cut on these angled tenons is the shoulder, I created knife lines and then cut them on my miter box.  It takes no extra time and ensures precision.  After that I sawed out the tenon at the bench.

As I've written before, I use a hybrid method for making mortises.  I lay them out in pencil but only use a center line because I drill them out on my drill press. 


Then it takes only a couple of minutes to finish them with a wide chisel, using the edges of the holes as guidelines.  Yes, I should be using a mortise chisel, and someday I may, but this method works so darn well it's hard to give up.

I cut the through mortises for the long stretcher the same way:


If you look closely at the mortise on the right, you can see a hint of the original drilled hole in the center.  This is what makes this method so convenient; the guideline ensures a perpendicular mortise that fits snugly with little or no trimming.

I use the drill press mostly out of force of habit but it would be just as easy to bore the hole with my brace and bit.  There are some things in hand tool woodworking that seem almost magic to me and one of them is that you can bore holes at precise angles completely unguided with no more than some sort of reference like a bevel gauge or square.  There is no need to have a drill press. 

I always peg or drawbore my mortises; it's a belt and suspenders thing.  If you think about it, in a drawbored joint the thing that matters most is the shoulders of the tenon.  They need to be dead on for both appearance and strength.  The peg holds the tenon tight.  As long as the peg holds, the snug fit of the tenon doesn't matter; only the shoulders matter.  You lose the mechanical strength and glue strength if the fit is poor.  I know that some woodworkers who drawbore don't even bother gluing their tenons but I do, as I don't see a reason to give up the redundancy.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Interesting developments

I start with a development that may seem trivial, but it definitely isn't for me.  I have been a loyal customer of Lee Valley/ Veritas for many years.  The one thing that has held me back from purchasing more from them has been shipping, which commonly took a week and a half or even more.  This resulted from the warehouse being in Canada and reliance on UPS ground for shipping to the west coast.  For a major tool purchase that was tolerable, but for many purchases of hardware and supplies or for something that I needed for a project I was in the middle of, I just couldn't wait that long, so I would purchase elsewhere.

Imagine my surprise when a recent order arrived in only three days.  Doing some research online, I learned that Lee Valley has established a distribution center near Reno, Nevada, so now those of us on the Left Coast can get items from them in a reasonable time.  This is really great news.

Next, Joel from Tools for Working Wood has an interesting series of posts on his blog about things he is doing differently in his woodworking.  The latest is about his use of a Moxon vise.  He writes that,
by raising the overall height of where I saw I can see better, bend over less, and the whole process feels so much less jury-rigged. I am sawing better and more accurately - partially at least because I can see what I am doing...
I was thinking the same thing this week because I was sawing some tenons using my bench vise and it wasn't going well at all.  I was stooped over in an uncomfortable position and couldn't see well.  Try as I might, I couldn't get my sawing motion right.  Finally, I put my Moxon vise on the bench and things immediately improved.  For many of us who are older, a vise at bench height just doesn't work well for sawing joinery.  I have a Veritas twin screw vise on the end of my bench and it works well for some things, but sawing joinery definitely isn't one of them.  If I could only keep one, it would definitely be the Moxon.  It really is a game changer for me.  I am one of those weird ones that could easily do without a bench vise.  If you don't have one, as I didn't for awhile, you find other ways of workholding that are often better. 

I built three Moxon vises in succession over the years.  The first used pipe clamps, the second bar clamps and the third and fanciest one used acme threaded rods.  Funny thing is, I like the bar clamp one best by far.



I like the handles being in the back out of the way and I like the "quick release" feature.  You can clamp any sized workpiece very quickly, even if you need to skew the jaw.  I added that piece of walnut on the front so I wouldn't strike the clamp with a saw.  It also turns out that the heavy duty bars fit snugly into slots do a great job of eliminating most racking, which is a problem with my other two versions.  This is the one I use while the other two stay on the shelf.

A Nicholson workbench, a pair of Krenov sawhorses and a Moxon vise will be in my shop for as long as I do woodworking.  

Monday, October 30, 2017

Plane issues

I have written about my frustration with not being able to use planes on the douglas-fir slab because of all the tearout.  Douglas-fir tears out fairly easily anyway and all the wild grain and knots just made things impossible, at least that's what I thought.

I had one more piece of the slab I used to make the dining room table, the only one with no knots, and  I was determined to get to the bottom of this issue.  I began by using the power hand plane to get the rough surface down to within about 1/16" of flat.  I didn't use a scrub plane because the last time I tried it tore out something fierce, 1/8" in places.

What I tried first was taking a sharp #3 set to take very shallow cuts.  I used it across and on both diagonals to the grain and it worked really well:


I also gingerly tried it with the grain but it started to tearout, so I stopped.  I was still puzzled about why this has been so difficult.  I have flattened my bench, which is cvg fir, with minimal tearout and successfully made other things out of fir.

I decided to do some research and essentially found what I have read previously except in a more extreme form.  Several experts recommend setting the chipbreaker absolutely as close to the edge as you can possibly get it when planing difficult wood, literally a few thousandths.  The reasoning is precisely that it breaks the chips before they can tearout, producing accordion like shavings and only a slightly rougher surface.  Neither put emphasis on a tight mouth.  One suggested a bevel-up plane with a blade sharpened at a very steep angle as an alternative, something I have.  The blade becomes its own chipbreaker.  Being risk averse, I decided to give both of these a try with the grain on the bottom of the slab.  In both cases, I sharpened the blades carefully before beginning.

As you can see from this picture of the sidegrain, it isn't difficult to predict where it would tearout.


With the #3 freshly sharpened and the chipbreaker set as close as I could get it, I tried planing with the grain.  Nothing happened.  Taking the plane apart, I discovered why.


There wedged between the plane and the chipbreaker were the accordion shaped shavings.  Not hard to figure this out.  I purchased this plane a while back, sharpened it, tried it, and it worked fine, so that's all I did.  Visual inspection of the front of the chipbreaker attached to the blade looked just fine, but it clearly wasn't when the chipbreaker was set this close.  There was enough of a gap that the chips could force their way in.  The fact that I use the ruler trick on my plane blades may have been a contributing factor, I don't know.  After I cleaned up  and shaped the chipbreaker, the plane started producing nice accordion shavings with no tearout, just a slight roughness in places.  This is what the shavings looked like.


As you can see, they are somewhat short because they tend to break off.  Next, I decided to try my Lee Valley bevel-up smoother with a 50 degree blade.  In this case, the blade acts as its own chipbreaker because the angle of attack is 62 degrees.  It too produced shavings without tearout, but they were distinctly different, not accordion-shaped and more continuous, leaving a surface that was slightly smoother.


The major difference between these two planes was that the bevel-up plane was noticeably harder to push.

That left the issue of why I had experienced such bad tearout with old #7.  I removed the Hock blade and chipbreaker to look at them and this is what I saw:


The chipbreaker was set fully 1/16" back from the edge.  Sharpening the blade and moving the chipbreaker up to the very edge of the blade gave me long continuous shavings with very slight tearout, easily removed with a cabinet scraper.


You can see what a tight roll the chipbreaker being set up like this produces.  I think the reason it isn't accordion shaped is that the Hock chipbreaker is at a lower angle than the stock Stanley one.  The front of it has the same shape as the blade and is about the same thickness.  It's like a second blade turned over and with a slight bow in it.

What are the takeaways?  First, I don't know why I have to continually relearn this lesson, but when something isn't going well it pays to stop and figure out why rather than just blundering ahead.

More significantly to readers of this blog who are hopefully not beset with this failing, the advice to set the chipbreaker absolutely as close to the edge as you can get it when planing difficult wood is confirmed.  You don't want to do this normally, because the resulting accordion shavings are not continuous and leave a somewhat rougher finish.

Finally, I think Lee Valley's claim that the low angle smoother with a 50 degree blade will do a good job on difficult grain is also confirmed.