Great Lakes Woodshop Home

Saturday, December 31, 2011

What Is Basic?

Illness and Christmas have kept me out of the shop for any serious work.  There is a bright side, though.  All the forced down time presented an opportunity to catch up on a lot of woodworking reading.  A Google book search like this one will show you the titles I have been perusing in addition to my own small library.

I have been specifically looking at beginning woodworking.  I wanted to see how authors broached the subject with their would-be students/readers.  Some write about tools, some write about sharpening tools, some write about mind set, and then some write about spiritual satisfaction to be found in the working of wood.  After the introduction, they go on to write about the mechanics.

There is a commonality among all I have read and personally experienced:  the basics of woodworking begin with work holding.  Present masters may lecture otherwise, or they may agree.  When it gets right down to it whatever your philosophical bent, you eventually have to put tool to wood and that wood needs to be held in place.

I outgrew my current vise before I ever installed it.  My amateur advice is to make sure you have a way to hold the wood, even if you are only building birdhouses.

COMING SOON:  pictures of the pint size Roubo build.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wood Love 2011

Time for the first annual wrap up of who in the wood world got my money this year.  I'm sorry, a real writer would say something like 'read on to find those vendors most deserving of my scant woodworking budget for 2011'.  Although that phrasing barely passes muster with an editor answerable to advertisers, it is still untrue.  If you haven't figured out by now, I am a very pragmatic person (parsimonious, frugal, cheap, etc.).  As such, I spend money where I get the most value.  Do not confuse the concept/term 'value' with 'inexpensive'.

The following vendors are in no particular order and I am making no effort to describe all of the purchases made, but I am adding notes of Stuff I found interesting.

I'll start with the enablers:
Owl Hardwood Lumber  They are used to people like me.  They leave us alone as we wander aimlessly about shuffling boards measuring infinite dimensions in the grain.  Plus I'm told I have a rather menacing look about me.
Menards.  Admit it, you know you want to.

And then there are the suppliers (dirty rotten pushers in the eyes of many a SO):
Klockit online.  They have a free plan every month.  The hardware kit only costs a couple hunnert.  Huh?
Garrett Wade
Lee Valley.  Or is it Veritas?  I wish they would make a decision.  I really want their dual marking gauge.  Hopefully they will be on the 2012 list.
Woodline.  Not too happy with the purchase, but it is my fault, not theirs.

Woodcraft. I love their knife blanks.
Highland Woodworking.  Hey, don't forget to enter their latest prize drawing!
Amazon.  Do you really need the link?
Henry.  Shooting is relaxing; good for thinking.
McFeely's  What can I say.  I take my feathered cap off to these folks in my best Shakespearean bow.  With extra flourish.  If you are not a customer, get the catalog.
Lie-Nielsen.  Even the packaging is cool.  How often do you get to say that?
Lost Art Press.
Shop Woodworking.
Hock Tools.
Patrick Leech.
Gramercy Toolworks.  Chris Schwarz gushed about their retro card stock 'catalog' they recently mailed out.  I was feeling all left out and stuff and then the next day I got a copy.  I'm not prone to keeping marketing literature, not even for gerbil fodder.  However, I hung this thing up by my desk; novel and cool must be acknowledged.

And the award goes to:

Bad Axe Toolworks.  I'm sure I'm ripping somebody off, but I'm giving my 2011 Woody award to Bad Axe Toolworks.  I dropped some serious coin on their new 12" hybrid saw.  I do not regret any penny.  Believe me, I do NOT say things like this lightly.

Writing an end of year summary may be trite, but they are easy, hence their prevalence in publications.  Heck, all you have to do is recap what you have already done.  Sometimes a simple cut and paste is all it takes.  This is my ode to end of year laziness.  Best wishes to all in 2012.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

When Does Pragmatic Become Stupid?

Apologies for the larger than life photo and my poor photography skills.  I'd blame the camera if I thought anyone would believe me.

Above you see the small squares I have been using for a long time.  The brass and rosewood number is a True Value branded generic square that I paid a quarter for years ago.  The supposed backstory is this square served faithfully for nearly thirty years; I highly doubt it, but who knows.  The smaller square is from Lee Valley and is two years old this month.

The highly overlit picture is my attempt to show the small gap between the two squares at the elbow.  The True Value square is off by about 1/32 of an inch over six inches.  As near as I can figure, the True Value square has been dropped one too many times.

I'm faced with the question of is it time to replace the square?  For most operations, a 32d of an inch is no big deal.  But what about when it is, or said another way, can I live with it being off?   I think I already know the answer. Time to put a square in the project queue.  In the meantime, I still have a Starrett 12" square

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

One Tin Soldier

I received an early Christmas present.  Not too long ago I put out a call on Freecycle for old wood working magazines and books.  My expectations were not high, but what I received surpassed wild dreams.  I present to you twenty years of Fine Woodworking magazine from 1987 through 2007.
Eye Candy (aka wood pr0n)
A complete stranger, yet fellow woodworker, saw a chance to pass on a cache of knowledge to another generation.  I am very thankful for the gift and hope to one day earn it before passing the collection on to another woodworker.

Like the mountain folk in The Original Caste's "One Tin Soldier" I have an intangible treasure; a trove of knowledge that is simple to grasp and yet seemingly impossibly deep.  The simple act of sorting the magazines generated numerous ideas for future projects.
The Organized Collection.  Under the Christmas Tree.

As Monty Python says, and now for something completely different.  The concept of Freecycle is simple: keep stuff with life left in it out of the land fill.  The requests and offers are as varied as the human condition.  Several times upright and baby grand pianos have been offered; I would have one if there were enough local friends to impose on.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Miter Box Magic

The subtitle is "On The Workbench".  Here is my recently acquired miter box on the workbench:
I have used this miter box constantly since picking it up at a flea market five months ago.  Through trial and error I have integrated it into my quest for standards in woodworking.  At first I looked at clamping the whole thing to the bench.  The  metal feet you see above are screwed to the bottom board giving a ready made surface that begs to be clamped to something.  I have a newsflash for you:  miter boxes are not used vertically.  Here is the 'standards' solution:
The miter box is held toward the front of the bench with two Peachtree Woodworking plastic dogs.  I love these things, by the way.  The piece of wood is more than just a slice of scrap; it is measured to keep the saw plate from hitting the wall the bench backs up against.  The force on a miter box occurs when you push the saw.  The dogs in back and my hand in front keeps the miter on track

Tonight I was working on the head and foot boards of a loft bed.  The rough dimension of the boards connecting the posts is 40".  I learned a trick that is probably quite well known among the miter saw literati.  You can sight down the side of the saw plate to a line on a tape measure with extreme accuracy.  Here is a picture that actually came out quite well.  I cheated the 40 line over a tad so it would show up well in the photo.  Yes, I know it is just as easy to mark the wood and simply set the saw down on the mark.

However,this way I can leave the saw locked in the up position and maneuver the board freely underneath.

My mallet signed by Roy Underhill snuck into the frame above.  No, I'm not name dropping--he doesn't know me from a pile of cedar sawdust.  But I am proud of the mallet for it's round shape toward the head. I gushed about this mallet on my previous blog and will repost the sentiments now.

My previous mallet was a simple affair made by me.  Basically it is a hunk of wood with stick stuck in the side.  I found the above mallet at Woodworking in America 2010 offered by Blum Tool company.  The unique thing about this mallet is versatility.  The rounded shape near the head provides the perfect grip surface for finely controlled taps; the bottom of the haft is still shaped for delivering a wallop when needed.  I willingly parted with 40 bux for this mallet.

EDIT: Here is a larger picture of the mallet per request.  Better pics available on the Blum site linked above.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pure As The Driven Snow

Have you ever experienced pristine driven snow on a mountain top?  I have.  The snow may be pure, but it is generally uncomfortable to see it.  But this post is not about mountain sojourns and existential reflection.

I have an air cleaner in the outside shop that was built about two years ago.  It ain't pretty, but it keeps the dust down.
Pragmatic Air cleaner
This build is the epitome of pragmatic woodworking.  Everything is reused from other sources.

The genesis of the air cleaner was a new furnace in the house.  With something like this project in mind, I told the installers to leave the motor from the old unit.

The motor then sat around for several months until I was making some picnic tables out of treated wood.  The machinery kicked up what I consider a toxic cloud of treated wood dust.  I often say that laziness is the mother of invention, however in this case, necessity truly was the motivation behind this build; nobody wants to breathe that stuff in.

The first design plan consisted of 'fit the box around the motor'.  The more considered design is based around the filters from the new furnace.  Buying the HEPA filters for the house, and reusing them in the garage is a very sensible plan--proven by the test of time.  The filter size is 16X20X1 and the resulting plywood box is 21 5/8 deep, 17 3/4 high. and 16 1/4 wide.  As you can see in this photo, the joints are simply glue, screw, and 'somewhat close' dimensions.
Finely Crafted Joints

I won't go into detail about building the box itself; if you need that level of detail then you are worse off than me and should start with Golden Books Introduction To Wood.  Just kidding.  The box really is nothing special.  I started with four sides cut to dimension: front, back, top, and bottom.  I bought six Craftsmen corner clamps from yard sales over the years and they once again proved quite valuable in aligning and assembling these four panels.  The sides were left off to dry fit the motor before final assembly.  Cut outs for the motor and the two filter sides were labeled right on the surface and cut with a jigsaw.  Roughly.  But not so rough that the area around the motor could not be sealed with silicon.  After all, the only air you want is what the filter lets in.

The motor is wired for a two stage control.  In haste, I skipped the fancy wiring (read 'didn't want to spend the money') and direct wired it using a found electrical box and a single pole 15 amp  light switch.  Did you know that you can score and crack an outlet faceplate just like a sheet of drywall or glass?  Well, you can, as you can see below.  I digress (don't you hate it when authors hide a snarky sidebar with the words "I digress"?), the electrical cord is a standard computer type with the house shaped end snipped off.

Stunning Presentation

The clips used to hold the filters in place are 1/2" conduit holders found at the bottom of my electrical toolbox.  They are screwed down  by hand for a friction fit.  All the clips have to do is keep the filter from falling out when the unit is powered off.

This air filter works so well that I often use it like a dust collector.  That is, "on" when the tools start and "off" soon after using the tool.

For two years the air in the outside shop has been as pure as the driven snow due to a couple hour build dictated by necessity.

Gory Details

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fair Warning

This post is being done in a fit of pique--not something I'm prone to doing.  I kind of erupted at a B grade heckler over on Chris Schwarz's blog.  The stated purpose of this journalistic foray, Pragmatic Woodworker, is definitely geared toward my skills journey in wood work.  However, and I should type this in all caps, HOWEVER, there will be occasions where I post musings completely unrelated to wood.  Heck, the previous blog even had computer program code posted. Feel free to ignore any post that does not meet any expectations, but please keep it to yourself. 

Now that I have that off my chest, maybe I should encourage the hecklers.  They say there is no such thing as bad publicity, and nothing gets more pub on-line than a flame war.  From the lack of comments on the new blog, I could probably post an essay on the virtues of eating dead babies with kitten gravy and pass unremarked into Internet oblivion.  Thankfully, I don't take myself seriously.

I'll close with a note to my future biographer, yes, the gravy thing is humor.  :)

Monday, November 28, 2011

I'm `n Idiot

I put my inside shop work on hold for a few days to take an advantage of the nice Chicago November weather in the outside shop.  Last week, I glued up the top to a router table (see below entitled "Peer Pressure").  The glue up went well.  Last night I tried squaring the top.

The router table top dimensions are 23" X 35".  Unfortunately, my table saw fence only accommodates cuts to 32".  Squaring the long sides was a piece of cake--or sliver of 6/4 plywood, whatever your fancy.  The short sides presented a problem because the table saw fence is too short and my cross cut sled is too narrow.  Sigh--see my earlier post concerning standards in woodworking.  I do not own a sled saw a la DeWalt or Festool, but I do have the next best thing.  On to the Craftsman circular saw and aluminum straightedge.  I suppose real woodworkers have massive sliding table cabinet saws and could knock out an odd 23x35 panel in a heartbeat.  Using a Starret 12" sliding square, straight edge, and clamps, I squared one short edge as well as possible to the two long edges.  Once everything was in place, I did one 'practice' cut miming the motions and then pulled the trigger for real.  It worked.  Do you like how I could drag out the drama of a single circular saw cut through less than two feet of plywood?  Anyway,  only one short edge need be squared for the pending dado cuts; the other edge only needs to be squarish. 

I lost a lot of time that was budgeted for cutting dadoes and laying T-track to solving a problem .  The lesson here is better planning.  If I had the presence of mind to think ahead, I would have either modified my table top dimensions, or built a bigger crosscut sled.  A new project is now on my list:  large crosscut sled.  Once again, I'm `n idiot.

A note to nobody or nothing in particular: where has my hack saw gone?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Sassafras Standard

The title is more than just a cool alliteration, it is the culmination of a lot of recent reflection.  A lot of recent woodworking trade press has focused on indirectly on standards.  Two recently read books also tell the tale of standards, Making Traditional Wooden Planes by John M. Whelan and The Anarchist's Tool Chest by Christopher Schwarz.  A treatise on Chisels from Adam Cherubini talked a lot about standards directly.

I never really thought about it before, but it was a revelation to find out that 'old' moulding planes follow a standard.  The hand planes featured in Whelan's book also follow standards, though probably dictated more by wood and tradition than anything else.

It would seem our woodworking forebears were not a motley collection of weed chewing rubes. A bit of an oversimplification, but it captures a lot of how us modern day woodworkers feel.  But this is not the point I was getting to.

The standards I've been thinking about are how all the components of woodworking relate to each other.  Chris Schwarz built a chest sized--standardized--to hold the most common furniture making tools.  I've begun to plan my woodworking spaces around standards as well. 

My tool chest planning is the second step in my quest for standards.  Which brings us back to sassafras.  I've decided to build my chest walls with sassafras, a common boat building wood in the Midwest.  The source I found for sassafras only has it in 1" widths; curiously, not the ACTUAL 3/4" stuff we've been conditioned to accept.  There is some irony that my nascent journey towards standards begins with the oddity of non-standard wood.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Essence of Essential

"I cannot remember not having some of the basic woodworking skills.  However, many men, women, boys and girls, of all ages, who are keen to make a start at woodworking, find that a multitude of excellent books on the craft assume very basic knowledge which they do not have."  --Robert Wearing, The Essential Woodworker

This is the first re-post from the old blog.

The above quote floored me.  But it took a while.  I read the book without it registering; maybe I didn't even read the introduction from which the quote comes the first time around.  Regardless of the journey, I only remember reading it the second time I picked up the book.

As a computing professional, I know a little something about gaining new knowledge from 'documentation' as we call it.  Reading highly technical Stuff is a daily part of life for people like me.  I never before seriously equated learning tactile dextrous tasks with reading.  The above quote brought it all into perspective.

That new found perspective coupled with one of my favorite quotes from Joseph Joubert:  "To teach is to learn twice" is the impetus behind this blog.  Not that I'm egotistical enough to believe that I'm a woodworking teacher, but I do hope that posting thought processes behind projects is instructive to others and to me as I learn and grow.  I fully expect to look back from time to time and laugh at myself.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Peer Pressure

Most woodworkers are obsessed with a table.  It is an ugly table.  It is the kind of table that requires far too much care and attention to be useful in the conventional sense.  Finally, the table is tolerated only because of it's extreme utility in the shop.  I am, of course, talking about the router table.  I have avoided buying a router table for four years because of a feeling that the industry uses them to prey on woodworkers.  A high quality router table, sans router, can cost more than a precision crafted table saw (see meant to last a lifetime.

Unfortunately, I am finally succumbing to peer pressure and building a router table.  I have quite the collection of unusual jigs that were crafted to work around the lack of a router table.  Hopefully the jigs can head to the fire pit soon.

I'll do a cursory documentation on this project as it is going to be a fast plywood build with function definitely over fashion.  I may be giving in to peer pressure, but I demand that it be as painless as possible.  Enough melodrama.  Time to check on the top I glued up yesterday.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mea Culpa Czech Chisel

I generally use modern Irwin Marples chisels.  I like the heft and bomb proof handles.  However, most of my work prior to a couple years ago was large pieces.  Finer work needs finer detail; in this spirit I picked up a couple of Narex chisels from Lee Valley.  Shortly thereafter I picked up several Lie-Nielsen chisels.  Around that time I pilloried the Narex chisels on Chris Schwarz's blog.

I am here now to officially recant!  I did have to put the Narex chisels through a fair amount of prep work to make them useful whereas the Lie-Nielsen simply required a secondary bevel.  I have used the Narex and Lie-Nielsen equally quite a lot since my original criticism and they both have performed flawlessly.  I actually prefer the small Narex for cleaning tough to reach areas, but have found their metric base a tad inconvenient.  I will buy more Narex chisels as the need arises.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pound, Crank, and Plug

I have three projects in progress:  small Roubo bench, mantle clock, and loft bed.  The loft bed has a lot of mortise action.  For the last two years I have almost exclusively used dowel loose tenons in fine projects, as opposed to the 'gross carpentry' I do in making yard furniture.

Each post of the bed has at least three mortises.  I decided to try two hand methods and one electric to make the mortises.  The initial mortises are for the bed rails so a consistent flat bottom is important; the sides need only be straight with no care for smoothness. 

The first method was the traditional mortise chisel--I picked up a couple of vintage monsters from Patrick Leach.  The mortise chisel went fairly well with the only drawback being the mortise needed to be wider than the chisel.  I had a problem achieving a consistent flat bottom, even with the router plane being part of the clean up.  I really liked how fast the mortise chisel plowed through the pine bed posts.

The second method was the garage hobbyist favorite mated pair of drill and chisel, though in this case the drill is a brace.  This method was actually the slowest of all three, and I still had the same issue with a consistent flat bottom, but the router plane did a great job taking off the peaks.

The final method was a plunge router with an upcut spiral bit.  The bit came from Rockler on special around Christmas 2010.  The router method was certainly the fastest.  Clean up after the router was easy with a sharp chisel and no need for a router plane.  The trade off for time was a lot of dust and noise.

I don't have any conclusions as to which is better since I can see instances where one method has advantages over another.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"But dude, this is the web!"

The title is a quote from a friend of mine.  I used to blog on one of my domains by simply editing a text file.  As the blog got longer, the text file got bigger.  Needless to say, a monolithic text file is not a very good content management system (CMS).  My only defense is that I was planning on hosting my own CMS.  After nearly 18 months of no CMS, I had a stern conversation with myself: it wasn't gonna happen.  When I finally made the move to a hosted blog, I didn't have the time to manually migrate a monolithic text file into something coherent.  Which brings us back to the title of this post.  Those (oh so few) of you who read the previous blog will have to be disappointed for the time being.  I may post snippets from the old blog now and then, but do not plan on bringing it over any time soon.

Some people like to watch woodworking, some people like to write about woodworking, but I like to actually do the woodworking.  My very limited time is best spent behind a bench, not a keyboard.

PS, We now have comments!  Don't be afraid to post responses; they can only add to my learning journey.

Monday, November 7, 2011

First Decision

I decided on the shape and size of the leg dovetails for the Pint Size Roubo.  I have also realized that the legs will have to be braced above and below to make sure the planned leg vise does not shatter the bench.

Curiously, the dovetail angle of 15 degrees just happened.  I drew it, then measured the angle--it looks right to my eye.

The next step is to plan the cutting process.  I definitely want to do the tails first on the top, even though I did the layout on the pin.  I'm thinking circular saw with guide, or the table saw for the shoulder cut.  Unfortunately, the heavy top is difficult  to maneuver solo.  I would attempt hand sawing if this bench were solely for me; I figure since I offered it for sale, I should try to be as professional as possible with this build..  I will, however, do the initial sawing on the pin by hand.  Maybe I should put a float on my Christmas list; this is the perfect excuse for one...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pint Size Roubo

My third workbench project has started in earnest.  Since the word 'pathetic' is to damaging to my ego, I'm going with Pint Sized Roubo.  She'll be about 22" wide and only 58 inches long.  The saving grace is that this bench is coming in under 200 bux in material (so far).  She is for sale for $600.00, though anyone interested may first wish to see the construction photos as this build progresses.

Why the petite dimensions you ask?  Well, pragmatic as always, I scored a hunk of Ash about 11" wide, 3+" inches thick, and just under 10' long.  This hunk of Ash split in half is the bench top.  The legs will be treated pine 3X5's after dressing on the jointer and planer.

There is a not so interesting anecdote surrounding the legs.  I happened upon a construction materials salvage yard outside of West Plains Missouri about a year ago.  They had a tall pile of treated 4"X6"X15' boards at 15 bux each.  All I needed was one to get all four legs of this planned bench.  The kids weren't happy as I made them help sort through the pile in search of one without the plinth in it.  On the same trip I scored a Shipleigh hand saw with so much set you could roll a dime down the teeth.  I had to use the saw to break down the long board for the trip home; the wide set was perfect for going through the wet treated pine.

A Summer in my makeshift solar kiln, dry Winter, and dry basement storage has brought the legs down to just under 10% moisture content.  They milled nicely on Machine Day (see below).  The top machined just as nicely this morning--though I have been waiting 2 years to get to this point.

In retrospect, I should have purchased enough of the treated pine to construct a massive Roubo.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Interesting Deal

Popular Woodworking is running a pretty sweet deal on what they are calling the Arts & Crafts Value Pack.  The furniture in these styles really lends itself to the beginning woodworker.  I know this because that is the phase I'm still in. 

Unfortunately, I already own Greene and Greene Furniture Poems of Wood and Light so the value proposition of the collection is largely lost on me.  I love this book.

Anyway, surf on over to their site to see if you like the offer.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Multi-dimensional Planer

Some tools just have a mind of their own.  I'm trying to figure out how a 12" by 6" piece of quality walnut came out of the planer lower on one corner than the other.  The wood looked fine when the whole board was jointed.  I'm bummed because this particular piece was supposed to be a show face on the clock it was destined for.

Back to the planer problem.  My theory is that my feeding pieces to alternating sides of the 12" planer somehow skewed/elevated the board while the corner was between feed rollers.  There is an analog in the computing field where I have some real expertise: I often want the computer to do what I want, not what I told it to do.  I guess the machinery in any field is a harsh reflection of the operator's skill.

On the bright side, some small taper files arrived today.  I'm taking up saw sharpening, but was stymied by the dearth of taper file options in the retail world.  I finally found what I needed at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Machine Day

I scored some 5/4 poplar and walnut today.  I'm making some clocks for Christmas presents.  Enough back story.  I had the rare opportunity to spend several hours straight in the machine shop (garage) today.  Jointer, table saw, and bandsaw all got some love.  The lesson for today is WALNUT IS HARD!  Resawing poplar is easy, especially clear project quality stuff.  However, today was my first time resawing walnut.  I ruined about 11" of the first board by drifting off the cut line.  I learned to slow the feed rate down and to push a lot harder to get the walnut through.

I say ruined, but I'll just plane it thinner and use it for another component on one of the clocks.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hello world!

It is customary for the first program in a new programming language to simply print "Hello world!" on the screen.  The blog equivalent is 'First post!

Hello, world!  This is the first post.

I was in Haiti in 2007.  Here is some hand hewn mahogany seasoning in the sun.