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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Handworks 2015: Where Rhetoric Fails must tell the tale.

One of the highlights of my year was attending Handworks 2015 in Amana, Iowa.  I'm late to the party as far as writing about Handworks is concerned.  If you have followed any other bloggers, then you know that they have all been unfailingly positive, even giddy, in their coverage of the event.  Well, I'm here to add, unnecessarily, that they are all correct in their praise.

The physical environment of the main exhibition venue is a real barn, replete with straw bales and, of course, no air conditioning.  The Barn combined with an excited press of humanity at every booth is a recipe for an electric atmosphere.  I tried to get pictures without the crowd in them, which in hindsight was silly, I guess, because the number and quality of pictures are low.

Again I will complain about my lack of a real camera and apologize for the quality of the photos.  There are a lot more pictures that didn't even make the cut of even my low standards for this post.

My first stop was to see Chris Vesper.  I've been teasing him via email for several months to make an infill aluminum square--he has no intentions as of Handworks 2015 of indulging my request.  I say 'tease', but I really do want one and would buy an aluminum infill square in a heartbeat.

I spent some time with Jeff Miller both days of the event.  Jeff really likes sharing what he knows.  He has a lot of insight into all major aspects of woodworking:  power tools, hand tools, and the all important business side.  If you are not acquainted with Jeff, I highly encourage you to look into what he has to offer.

Next to the little guy from down under (Chris Vesper) was Blue Spruce Toolworks.  They really have a lot of nice looking stuff.  By all accounts I've heard/read, it is very high quality, too.  I only own one of their tools so I can't really comment from a personal perspective.

In a different exhibit hall--the name escapes me--was Mary May, renowned wood carver, and Mike Siemsen's School of Woodworking.  I've gushed about Mary May before, so I won't repeat myself here.

Mike Siemsen's school is about 8 hours away by car from me so theoretically, I can take a class there some day.  They have a lot to offer, but so far the funding has not been present to take formal woodworking classes. Sigh.  They were doing a 'live' build of a Nicholson workbench over the two days.  I took a bunch of pictures of it, but for some reason they all were washed out.  Here are the three photos that came out well:

I missed an opportunity when I stopped by the Philly Planes booth.  The Kilted Woodworker, Ethan Sincox, was staffing the table at the time.  I only recently made the connection when I read his account of Handworks.  I've been toiling away at woodworking alone for years now.  It is about time I reach out to other woodworkers to expand my horizons.  A cold call email is a tough way to break the ice.  Oh well, there will be other opportunities to end the isolation, I'm sure.

I will be doing dedicated posts to other aspects of Handworks.  I'll have a lot of time on my hands starting in August after I go under the knife for my shoulder again.  My hope is that I'll be able to catch up on all the draft blog posts in the queue.

Monday, April 6, 2015

First Visit to The Wood Working Shows

In January I attended my first ever The Wood Working Shows in Indianapolis, Indiana (USA).  Before now my woodworking show experience has been confined to Woodworking in America (WIA).  Even though every WIA I have attended has been great, I made a conscious effort to evaluate the Indianapolis show on it's own merits.

My first impression of the show was "interesting".  I was not delighted, nor disappointed, but I was interested.  Exhibitors of The Wood Working Shows run the gamut from shysters, to preeminent names in woodworking.  I'm not going to name examples; if you have been there, you know what I'm talking about, if you are a future attendee, it is a sure thing that you can figure it out.

However, there were several stand out experiences to share.  The first is from the gang at the new mixed media periodical 360 Woodworking.  Bob Lang has since moved on from 360 Woodworking, but he was still on board back in January.  So, Bob Lang, Chuck Bender, and Glen Huey put on several demonstrations during the day.  Basically, they were getting their name and product out there and giving away some woodworking arcana in exchange for eyeballs.  Chuck and Glen showed how to taper a leg and then shape a tenon for that leg.  The mortise was already present for brevity sake.  I'm not going to repeat how to do that here; much better craftsmen than I have littered the Internet with the various methods of tenoning.  What I wish I could post here is the hilarious repartee between all three of them during the presentations.

Here are a series of pictures from the 360 Woodworking demonstration, in no particular order.

The other stand out exhibitor for me was Veritas/Lee Valley.  They had their custom planes on display and ran workshops all day on their use and options.  They really have put a lot of thought and engineering into this line of products and are definitely worth taking a look at.  Here are a Jack and Smoother plane from the custom line:

The last picture is a half hearted apology to the Micro Fence guy.  While he was setting up for a demonstration, I was manipulating the ellipse jig they sell.  I would have asked for help, but like I said, the guy was setting up for the next demonstration.  He was quite perturbed to find me helping myself.  My first reaction was "then why bring it to the show?", but I should have respected him and his wares more.  here is a picture of the display.  The abused jig in question is on the far left:

I was seriously considering buying it, but I inadvertently burned that bridge.  Oh well, guess I'll have to learn to make one at some point.  The Micro Fence jig really is a sweet piece of engineering.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Ultimate Leather Tool Roll That Will (Probably) Never Be Used

I am not a woodworking scholar by any means.  I do not have an extensive collection of woodworking tomes.  Generally, if I can't find an answer, or a lead, to whatever question is being researched in the first sixty hits on Google, I figure it must be too obscure for regular folks like me.

Not too long ago I was researching the use of the lowly chisel roll.  Often I have read advice that chisel rolls should be used to protect, carry, and store tools.  However, I could not find much, or any, real advice on HOW to use a chisel roll.

Generally the unanswerable questions around tangible things revolve around two concepts. First, is that the use is so blindingly obvious there can be no directions; think clothes pins, or tooth picks.  The second concept is that the thing must be so prone to personal interpretation that forcing a way of using it is futile.  The organization of a man's wallet illustrates this second point nicely.  Personally, I never put actual money in my wallet.

I assumed that the chisel roll fell into the blindingly obvious camp.  However, my research has revealed that chisel rolls actually fall into the personal preference camp.

The above chisel roll took around ten hours to make.  Most of that time was for the hand stitching.  The design phase took far longer simply because I wanted to make the roll right the first time.

The major question is organization of the roll.  Are pockets used handle first, or blade first?  Do blunt tools go outboard, or do sharp tools?  When I first started down this path, I figured it would be a ten minute trip at most.  I was wrong.

As stated above, I couldn't find any authoritative sources in print, or on Google.  Most of the conversation around chisel rolls is found on the various woodworking forums.  Here is a summary of the positions I found:

Blade In The Holder

  • Steel is less likely to rust -- due to being protected from the air
  • Cutting edge is completely protected from dings and scratches
  • The roll is safer for the user while opening and closing
  • The pockets can be made smaller and will be stretched less during repeated ingress and egress

Handle In The Holder

  • Steel is less likely to rust -- due to less contact with moisture holding material (leather or canvas)
  • The cutting profile can be easily seen
  • Cutting edges are better protected when placed in a crowded toolbox
  • Steel is easier to oil for fast routine maintenance
  • Chisels are more secure during transport.  Reasoning is that the handles are almost always wider than the steel part of chisel so when wound and tied the roll is thicker at the ends.

Nobody really opined about blunt vs. sharp tool placement.  I guess that question was a red herring I set myself up for.

I couldn't find any general consensus, so I thought I'd ask woodworking professionals for their thoughts on the matter.  After all, they are the definition of modern shop practices, right?  I sent queries off to notable folks whose work I admire for whatever reason.  To my surprise, I got some responses!

However, I started, and finished, construction based on what I think a chisel roll should be before hearing from any of the masters I queried.  I went with staggered pockets per the norm in tool rolls with the handle in the pocket.  It was more important to me to see the blade profile and I figured they would stay put better.

Glen Huey of  doesn't spend much thought, or time on chisel rolls. Glen says "The only tools I have packed in my rolls are carving chisels, which I store with the handles in so...I can see the chisel design and size".  In typical Glen succinct fashion he closed his advice with "Wish I had some earth-shattering spiel to pass along, but ...".  I have to respect such a pragmatic approach.

Jeff Miller pretty much echoed Glen Huey with his views.  "I do put my chisels in blade first. I usually pull all of them out when I'm working".  However, Jeff only uses tool rolls when on the road; they are racked when in his native shop.  Jeff's final words of advice pretty much sum up my trip down the chisel roll rabbit hole:  "Don't go too crazy with this! Chisel use is far more important".

Famous wood carver Mary May also responded to my inquiry.  There are four woodworkers who I watch intently whenever I get a chance to see them at a bench:  Frank Klausz, Ron Herman, Roy Underhill, and Mary May.  The economy of movement, the adroit placement of tools with purpose, and movements so honed into muscle memory that they could never vocalize the skill they display are the chief reasons I observe what they do so intently.  Also, I always watch from afar for fear of creeping them out. :)  Also, also, no disrespect intended for Jeff, or Glen.  I've not had much chance to see Jeff in action, and Glen is so darn fast you feel sure fingers and toes are going to fly off in some random direction.

Being a woodcarver, I value Mary's opinion above the others simply because chisels are her primary tools.  Always.  Like Jeff, Mary only uses rolls when traveling--and prefers (Levi's) denim over leather any day.  Here is Mary's basic take on the chisel roll:  "Tool handle in pocket. They hold tighter and don't fall out. You can view your tools without removing them all. Less likely to cut your tool roll by putting them in blade first. Be careful because this is about the only time I cut myself - putting tools in and out of the tool roll".  Mary's parting advice from, I'm sure, extensive experience is also very practical. "Don't store tools in roll for a long time - especially in humid environments".

At long last we arrive at an awesome tool roll that will probably never get used!  I don't travel with my woodworking.  I built the tool roll to house tools I don't use often, yet the experts all agree that long term storage--especially in leather--is a bad idea.  I wonder if coating the leather surface that might touch metal with mink oil would help?  It waterproofs my boots, right?

This post is already too long, so I will do another detailing the very simple construction of the chisel roll.  Best wishes for a prosperous and healthy 2015 to everyone!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Woodworking Tolls

Another year has gone by and that means another list of vendors is in order.  All of these folks I have satisfactorily purchased tools, supplies, or other woodworking paraphernalia from in the past year.  These annual lists are not meant to be an inventory, so I won't be listing everything purchased.  However, I do add notable comments.  Feel free to ask if something piques your interest.  The list is longer this year because I finally wised up and kept a vendor journal of sorts through the year.  Without further pomp and circumstance, here is the list:

Highland Woodworking.  The rest of the list is in no particular order.  More on Highland below.

Jim bode tools.  You have to dig a bit, but you will find plenty of user tools among their finer stuff.

etsy.  As expected, I find the oddest stuff here.  Some hardware and leather working rivets are among the finds for this year.

ebay  Do you really need the link?

Lee Valley/Veritas.  I got to touch their new 'custom' planes at WIA this year, but did not have much time to play with them.  I'm anxious to hear other folk's experience with them.

Lie-Nielsen Toolworks.  A banner year in that I got FOUR (!!!) Lie-Nielsen tools this year.  Currently enamored with their beading tool; maybe I'll feel different when the 'new' wears off.  Finally, I can't wait for them to start selling their new sharpening jig.  Rumor has it they are making small changes to their tools to ensure every blade they have can be sharpened on their jig with optional add-ons.

CU woodshop.  Most of my wood was purchased from this gem in Champaign, IL.

Woodcraft.  A stalwart supplier of tools, wood, and consumables.

Menards/Home Depot/Lowes  For obvious reasons.

Van Dyke's Restorers  Stuff can get pricey, but they have what we need and higher margins are necessary to provide such a broad range of products.  I know, I'm totally trying to justify what I've spent on hardware with them. :)


Hovarter Custom Vise.  It's killing me that I have not been able to install their new VX20 yet!  I got frozen out of the outside shop too soon.

Hobby Lobby.  You'd be surprised how useful this place can be to woodworkers.

Tandy Leather

Klingspor's woodworking

Czeck Edge Tools.  Picked up one of their new awls at WIA--love it.

Peachtree woodworking

CMT tools

Japan Woodworker

Blaine's Farm & Fleet

For the first time I'm separating the publishing department:

Lost Art Press.  See this blog entry.

Abe books

Popular Woodworking

Woodworker's Journal

Woodcraft Magazine

I am presenting the Pragmatic Woodworker 2014 Woody award to Highland Woodworking.  These folks gave me a voice for my writing for which I'm very thankful.  I pitched and they agreed that my 'amateur' voice might speak to other woodworkers.  I'm still making mistakes, and I'm still writing about them.  Hopefully Highland will find more publishable material amongst my shop follies and successes in 2015.  :)  Furthermore, by far, Highland received the lion's share of my business this year. 

I've blogged before about my current log jam of projects.  I expect my purchases next year to be considerably less as I turn out all the stuff the above list is meant to service.

Best wishes to all for a healthy and prosperous new year!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Present Presentation

I received The Book Of Plates today; one of the new titles from Lost Art Press.  The word 'plate' in the title refers to the original copper engravings used to create the images some two centuries ago.  I believe LAP went retro and included the copper because this thing is HEAVY!

The Book of Plates is a compilation of all the engraved images from Andre Roubo's master work, To Make As Perfectly As Possible.  The plates are reproduced in this tome at full size.  And incredibly high resolution.  I have to take it on faith that the graphics are as close to the 250 year old originals as possible, but the leap of faith is not far at all.

I don't know anything about the nuts and bolts of printing.  When Chris Schwarz starts talking about shiny paper weights, I start to hear the grown-ups from Peanuts-- Wah-wah-wah.  All the publishing technical information boils down to this book is large, heavy, and the paper is awesome.

This is the kind of book that as a kid you had to endure the scowls of librarians if you had the temerity to ask for it.  The Audubon book with all the paintings of birds comes to mind as an example from my childhood.   I know some librarians, and they make the judgmental scowl an art form.  Just kidding.

This is not any kind of 'review' since in essence this is a picture book for two other reference volumes; one of which is not even published yet (by LAP).  This is however, a testament to the worth of this title as a stand alone work.  The book is built to be used often in conjunction with the text, as stated in the forward by Christopher Schwarz.  I have spent a couple hours staring at plates, even making a few notes to myself.  In that two hours I only made it to plate 37.  I also have to say that plate 36 is quite simply elegant art.

Merry Christmas everyone!  I'm enjoying my early present.

P.S.  I'm not one to jump on the lovefest bandwagon that woodworking pros seem to ride.  If something sucks, I'll let you know.  Here is a review I wrote about Chisel, Mallet, Plane, and Saw which is sold, but not published, by Lost Art Press.  I'm told, by one person so far, that it was a very unflattering and negative review.  I didn't feel that way writing it, but the reader should make up their own mind.  This rambling postscript is really me just trying to say that the above is my honest opinion and in no way did I get a break on the hundred dollar (US) price tag.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Practice Makes A Mess

I know the blog has suffered in the posting department lately.  The problem is actually one of excess--I have too much stuff to say!

Highland woodworking has picked up some things I wrote which can be found here:  one, two, and three.  I'll continue to offer them stuff which they may or may not accept.   I spend a lot more time writing when Highland accepts something because this is an informal blog, and they have a real live periodical that deserves professional attention.

I have a number of projects in the pipeline.  I find that every 14-18 months a log jam happens as a bunch of things get started while waiting for parts, tools, or time on other projects.  Right now I'm at another one those log jams.

There are several book reviews partially completed, including one for Christopher Schwarz's Campaign Furniture.  There are also furniture projects waiting my attention including a couch table, book case, campaign table, light box movie poster display, another Dutch tool chest, and some smaller things.

Tonight was a school night as I try to teach myself some basic leather working.  Here is my first outing:

Someday I hope to have a homemade chisel roll.  As you can see, I need some more practice cow.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

So That's What Pitch Is

I haven't done any serious planing in over a year--since I hurt my shoulder at work.  I got the go-ahead last week from the doc to resume normal activity as tolerated.  Somehow I figured that meant I could do some planing today.  Other than some sore muscles in the back, I did OK body-wise.

The boards didn't fair as well.

I'm working with some Northern White Cedar on a project.  The wood is reclaimed from a barn that stood for 90 years before coming my way.  I think the barn was held together with the pitch in the wood.

The plane kept getting bogged down with pitch.  Sometimes I couldn't even finish a full traversing stroke before the plane was all gummed up.

Repeatedly removing and replacing the blade got old real quick.  I stopped after a while to consult the web for advice on planing pitchy wood.  Surprisingly, there was not much to be found.  I found a lot of advice about using solvents to get rid of pitch for finishing.  After a while I gave up and went back to the workbench.

I spent about an hour experimenting with the best plane set up for dealing with the pitch.  I finally settled on taking whisper thin shavings and cleaning after every stroke.  Definitely not the path to high productivity with hand tools.

The real kicker is that this first 4X8 board was practice for the real stock that needs prepped.