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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.