Great Lakes Woodshop Home

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Promise Of Productivity

I have been saving for a big ticket item.  No, I'm not talking about the Veritas marking gauge, though that did set my cookie jar contents back a bit. I'm talking about the Powermatic 701 bench top mortiser.

I pulled the trigger during the recent 20% off sale that most Powermatic vendors participated in.  I purchased my unit from Acme Tools.
I do my homework.  I read blogs, subscribe to woodworking magazines, surf YouTube videos, search forums, and talk with folks.  So, like I always read and see, I put the mortiser on a bench and read the last page of the manual.  I was expecting to see a completely assembled and tuned mortiser when I looked up from reading.

Unfortunately, real life is not like magazine articles and commercial videos.  I have very little experience with mortising machines.  Sure, I've used them in other people's shops, but I have never had to tune, or set one up.  The whole process took me about 20 minutes.

The only 'eventful' part of the set up was mounting a chisel.  Actually, I should back up a step.  Very few merchants that sell the Powermatic mortiser also sell the Powermatic mortise chisels.  I know the Powermatic can be used with pretty much any mortise chisels on the market, but I figured my ignorance might be further compounded with stupidity by purchasing the cheapest chisels on the market from another source.  Being cheap means buying the least expensive chisels; being pragmatic means you spend your money where you're going to get the best value.  With these things in my mind, I picked up the branded Powermatic chisels from  The chisels are my first experience with and I was pleased with the service received.

Let's get back to where I started.  The only 'eventful' part of the set up was mounting a chisel.  Powermatic mounts the 5/8" chisel arbor from the factory.  Yet, the Powermatic chisels are based on the larger arbor (I forget the size off hand).  That means Powermatic is expecting customers to use chisels from competitors (!?!).  Swapping the arbor out is quite easy to accomplish and thus ultimately a non-issue.

Time to talk about using the mortiser.  I decided a great test would be to do some of the mortises in my current project.  Aside from milling the stock, I've been using hand tools to build a loft bed.  The loft bed has something like eleventy gazillion mortises.

I crafted all the tenons and used them to outline the mortises.  Since everything was done by hand, cumulative error in every step along the way substantially moved things out of the realm of standard.  The first mortise done on the machine came out great.  I was feeling like a woodworking rock star.  The next mortise kind of elicited the antithesis of rock stardom.  One end was maybe a 16th of an inch further away from the edge of the wood than the other.  Just far enough out to look like a stair step if you use the mortiser.  An important lesson was taught yet again: know when to combine hand and power tool procedures.

Although the mortiser promises to vastly increase productivity for a lot of projects, I still can't get too far away from the tools that have been around a while.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Review Of Grandpa's Workshop

Lost Art Press has recently released a children's book:  Grandpa's Workshop.  Here is an image of the cover from the Lost Art Press website:

This book is...unusual.  Modern American books for children are extremely generic and sanitized through corporate entities.  The purpose of a modern children's book is to entertain in as polite a way possible.

The story telling tradition pervasive among all of humanity is meant for more than mere idling away the hours around a fire. Stories are meant to teach, warn, develop, and any other verb you can apply to human activity.  Grandpa's Workshop is a story in the human tradition.  This is a prosaic way of saying Grandpa's Workshop does not pull punches in telling the several sub-stories of the book's narrative.

Not since reading the original Grimm's fairy tales have I been treated with a children's story that does not hide real life from kids.  Topics like disfigurement in war and alcoholism are real life topics that occur in the book in an appropriate manner; that is, as part of the narrative and not a contrived focus.  There is also the mainstay fairy tale of good triumphing over evil in the killing of a dragon with joiners tools.

I suppose some nuts and bolts material about the book is in order, without giving too much away, of course.  The narrative surrounds a grandfather and his grandson where woodworking tools and their history in the family comprise some of the sub-stories.  Tools often come to a woodworker through strange means; who'd a thunk reading the stories behind their journey would be interesting?  There is a saw that traveled from America, back to the 'old country', France.  There is also a tool chest that says something different every time someone opens the lid.  Perhaps the most ominous tool looks like a werewolf slaying weapon from antiquity--the besaigue.  I have read and heard Christopher Schwarz say "Don't anthropomorphize your tools; they hate that".  Grandpa's Workshop taps that very human quality to personify the objects around us.

The true stars in this book are the illustrations.  Every page is festooned with brilliant images and imagery.  The cover alone is a visual treat that had to be shared and I hope Lost Art Press does not have a problem with me republishing it.  I started to read the story to my ten year old daughter.  Around page three she demanded to see the pictures for herself instead of me finishing the story.  We never did finish the reading together, but we spent quite some time looking at the illustrations and reading snippets of the action shown.  I'm kind of glad it worked out that way; after all, there are many more bedtimes ahead of us.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Back To Front

Spoiler alert!  The following picture is the completed play train table sans finish:

I am still going to do a write-up of the build process but it will take a while to complete. 

This table was built for a charity auction.  I hope it has a long life full of entertained kids.

There is a point to this post beyond patting myself on the back.  One of my "firsts" in this project was using biscuits.  For years I have created panels by either rubbing glue soaked boards together or using a dowel jig and dowels.

One year ago a fortuitous series of events led to the acquisition of a biscuit jointer.  Some credits and coupons combined with a holiday special from Porter Cable allowed me to buy a 690 router body with free biscuit jointer for about 100 bucks.  It's almost as if they knocked on the door and put a gun to my head demanding I take the merchandise.

The biscuit jointer lay dormant until this project came along.  I figured it was time to break it out of the box and read the directions.

This story is getting too long, so it is time to cut to the chase.  Traditionally, using dowels, I never worried about placement in the joint and my eventual cuts.  It did not occur to me that biscuits are a much bigger defect in the joint.  I bisected one of the biscuits when I cut the large panel into the two smaller ones needed for this project.  A small void was revealed in each panel.

The solution was to mix up some 'wood dough' with saw dust and glue.  I packed the dough into the voids and smoothed the top just like drywall mud.  There will have to be a second application as the sawdust settles a bit when it dries.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Plane Tour

The purpose of this post is really a question.  What planes should I pursue next?  Here are my current planes:

Plane Collection
From left to right: 
  • Stanley #5 jack plane with the frog set way back.  I use this like a scrub plane with a very pronounced curve in the blade.  It is currently disassembled because I was playing with my Grace screw drivers.  Code name for this guy is Blackie due to black japaning and black finish on the wood parts.
  • Lee Valley rabbet/shoulder plane.  I'm sure it is my skill level, but I find this a tad difficult to use.  I keep promising myself to one day buy a spare blade and make one myself, just for the experience.
  • Stanley #5 jack plane, named Guido.  This is the first plane I bought years ago.  A previous owner scribed his name in the heel, "Guido".  I have used this plane more than any other with the possible exception of the sweetheart block plane.
  • Small plane in middle at top.  Sweetheart block plane purchased at Woodworking In America, 2010.  I put a Hock blade in it and it works almost by telekinesis.
  • Larger plane under block plane.  Lee Valley bevel up smooth plane. I kind of regret buying this plane.  It is the most expensive in my kit, yet I've only used it a hand full of times.  Between Guido, and the sweetheart block plane, this guy does not get much use.  But I'm not getting rid of it.
  • Stanley #7 jointer plane.  This is a fairly recent addition to the collection.  I picked this up at a flea market for 25 bucks--definitely a lucky find.  Actually, the seller was tickled pink that I was putting it back to work and not on a shelf.  The shavings in the photos are from using this plane on building the train table (see previous two posts).  For the first time on a jointer, I curved the corners of the blade back a bit.  I had a *ankle* of a time trying to get a cross member square on four sides; OK, I admit it, the darn thing still ain't square.
  • Finally, another Stanley #7 jointer.  I've had this for a while.  There is a small crack in the bottom at the mouth.  I have never put it to serious work on boards or panels because of the crack.  I keep the blade sharpened dead square and use this with shooting boards exclusively.  Wow, just wow, what all this mass can do in a shooting board.
Here is another shot of just the bench planes. 
In the computer world, this is like asking which is the best Linux distribution, but here goes.  So, folks, tell me what planes I should be saving and/or searching for now?  I do mostly small furniture projects, but lately I have been drawn to case clocks.  Here is my project calendar, which will probably change before I finish typing this post:  loft bed (twin size) for a girl, king size head board, small wood tool box (based on the school box from The Joiner and Cabinet Maker), wall rack for the inside shop tools, small case clock (quartz movement, wall mount), and tall nightstand tables for the king size bed.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Wish Fulfilled

Cue the Angelic Choir

Veritas/Lee Valley ran a free shipping special recently that I could not pass up.  I've complained before about my lack of a quality marking gauge.  Finally, at long suffering last, I bought the Veritas dual marking gauge.
I've used this marking gauge about a half dozen times at trade shows and mooching from fellow woodworkers.  I have recommended this to others based on scant experience, yet remarkable performance.  Now I have put my money where my mouth is.  I may do a formal review of the device after using it for a time.

Monday, September 24, 2012

I Sinned In The Cathedral

I had to make two small panels for a wooden train play table.  You would think that gluing some planks together would not generate much controversy, but you would be wrong.  There are actually three camps when it comes to panel glue up. 

The first camp is the Power Tool Brigade.  Their well ordered encampment is segregated by regimental colors of muted yellow, battleship grey, and verdant green.  Other lesser companies lend their guidons and pennants to the landscape.  In lockstep unison they declare that panels should be chosen strictly for appearance in the final product.  The panel manual has standard procedures for a machine to subdue all possible wood grains.

The second camp is filled with the Hand Tool Knights.  Their tented pavilions snug the undulating countryside disturbing the native flora and fauna in the least way possible.  Retainers and vassals surround each pavilion according to their pledges of fealty.  Through oral tradition and a small body of written work, the panel philosophy is shared:  panels should always be assembled with grain going in the same direction.  Uniform grain means uniform labor to the tools.  The wood will sing for itself to the right soul.

The third camp is shrouded in mysticism and indeed is more cult than camp.  The Samurai Ninja Templars offer what at first glance is the same advice as the Power Tool Brigade, that panels should be chosen based on appearance.  The difference is in the selection process.  Those ascended to the SNT ranks painstakingly commune with wood seeking out the perfect form it would like to participate in.  Their deep insight into the tools and medium instill the certain knowledge that they can coax the form out of the wood no matter what grain problems exist.

My sin is that I could not commit to one of the camps.  I chose the orientation of panel components based on appearance.  However, I don't own machines wide enough to subdue a glued 20" panel; nor do I have enough mad skills at hand planing to deal with wandering grain patterns.  I ended up with two panels that were a real bear to plane.  The goal was for a surface that showed hand planing in order to 'prove' hand made work.  Let's call it "80% planing".  The end result is more like 60%.  On the plus side, my block plane got one heck of a work out trying to cure my ills.

Here is the panel that gave me the most trouble.  I know there is not much detail in the web version of the picture.

The ultimate solution was sand paper.  More on the train table in future posts.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Dammit, Jim! I'm a doctor not a carpenter!

Several years ago I made a child's play table with a wooden train set for a charity auction.  Aside from scout derby cars, it was my first 'public' work.  At the time there were some joinery challenges I had not faced before.  I took my time and produced a passable product.  The play table was a big hit at the auction.

Fast forward to the present day.  I've been asked to make another table for this year's auction. The original design is old hat by now so I decided to make a few upgrades for more aesthetic appeal. 

Unfortunately, familiarity really does breed contempt.  Last night I was preparing the boards that will eventually become the end panels of the play table.  Not even ten minutes into the project and I cut the wrong two inches off a board that had a knot in it.  My stupidity is costing more money and time as I have to replace the board I screwed up.

Too bad I'm not really a doctor because then I could afford a real carpenter to ghost write my projects.  Now I'm off to find a new board.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wearing Warned Me

I wrote about my tenon troubles in a previous post.  At the time it was way too cold to work in the outside shop.  Procrastination provided me an opportunity to cheat--I waited long enough for the weather to break.  I used a dado stack to cut the tenons.  Yea, yea, I know I should have bought or made a tenoning jig, but I didn't have the time or money to do so.  Instead, I cut the tenons extra thick with the thought of cleaning them up with a rabbet plane.  Robert Wearing in The Essential Woodworker clearly advises that sawing well up to, but not across, a line is the correct way to do a tenon cheek.  But my name is not Robert Wearing and clearly I don't saw well.  Actually, I'm OK with the state of my sawing skill; my marking skills and tools are still in question, though.

My current problem is in removing the waste between the two tenons on each board in my loft bed project.  I misplaced my coping saw so I decided to resort to a method for removing waste demonstrated by Frank Klausz.  Frank demonstrated this technique as part of cutting dovetails, not tenons.  I should have listened to Frank.

The waste Frank dealt with was narrow, and easily worked with a sharp chisel.  The waste I tackled was 3/8" thick and nearly two inches long.  Basically the technique is to chip half way through the waste with a chisel, flip the board over, and chip through the remaining waste.  This keeps the shoulder pristine and protects the bench top from a mistake with the chisel.  It works great with the narrow bits Frank worked with but...well, I'll just show you what it produced for me:

With masters like Wearing and Klausz at my disposal, you might be questioning my seeming choices to "go agin 'em".  My excuse is simply that woodworking is about working with wood, not watching wood be worked.  I have to try everything seen or thought of in order to find what works best for me.  I'm built very differently than Frank Klausz, so what works for him may be silly for me.  Now I know that Frank is dead on right, and Robert is mostly right for me.

I found my hack saw, but now the coping saw is missing.  I don't think I fed the dryer enough socks so satisfy my cosmic lost stuff quota.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Natural Curves

I achieved some actual shop time recently. I had enough time to glue up and cut a simple headboard pattern for a bed I'm working on.

Here is the complicated jig used to create the top of the headboard.

The jig is actually the roll of paper towels.  I rolled out enough paper for half the pattern of the headboard.  I then drew the curve by hand.

The second picture is the full headboard pattern traced on the material.  A few minutes with the jigsaw gave me a roughly completed headboard.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cauls Really Do Grow On Trees

Woodpeckers has paid for some email eyeballs for a new 'one time product', phenolic cauls.  Here is a link to them on  I have to begin with a disclaimer:  I have no problem with someone trying to make an honest buck.  This is one of those times where I can't get a point across without some negativity.

Woodpeckers makes decent useful aids for woodworking.  However, I don't like their 'one time tool' schtick.  If I buy a tool and integrate into my work regularly, I need to know where I can get it repaired or replaced when the inevitable adverse event happens (lost, stolen, broken, lent, random act of God).  Production environment tools have an even greater need for consistency.  I'm pragmatic before woodworker; the one time tool schtick simply doesn't make sense to me.  Sorry.

Those folks out there who don't mind the schtick can continue to patronize Woodpeckers without fear of ostracization from me.  After all, the tools are pretty darn good.  I'm just sayin they ain't for me.

The real reason for this post is the cauls, not to be a Woodpeckers hater.  The full set of Woodpeckers cauls retails for just over $200.00.  That's two bones, two Benjamins, two C-notes--to hold one stick to another.

Today, for the first time, I'm going to reveal my secret for making cauls.  As usual, the pragmatic approach begins at the hardware (or home and garden center, whatever) store.  The secret is garden tool handles.  Any will do, but I find the post hole digger handles work the best because they are beefy and have minimal diameter changes along their length.  Tool handles are already made from straight grain flexible wood, most often hickory.  All that is needed is a planer or jointer.

Tool handles almost always have a natural curve that is apparent If you sight down the length.  The trick is to exploit this natural curve.  What you want in the end are flat edges following the curve on opposite sides.  The flat edge is easily made with your jointer or planer.

Begin by marking the crown as the up side with chalk or pencil.  Then cut the caul to the desired length plus several inches.  Maintain the 'up' erasable marking on each caul you cut.  Set them aside in the shop for about a week.  I also sand the handle slightly to break the lacquer finish.  You would be surprised how many cauls change their 'up' side after being cut and acclimatizing to your shop space.  Change your 'up' marking if necessary.

I believe the planer is the simpler tool to create the flats on the tool handle.  A simple MDF jig to keep the handle oriented during two or three passes is all that is needed.  Making the first flat is the most difficult.  I don't have an example jig to offer because handles bought infrequently are never the same; I make a new jig every time.  My rule of thumb is to hold the handle from the side with screws or plastic clamps (screw much preferred--trust me).  I don't bother knocking off the rounding on the other two edges of the caul. By all means offer a better way in the comments below.

Using the jointer to make cauls works, but you have to break the rules of jointing to do it.  Remember, the caul needs to preserve the curve to be effective.  The jointer is superb if you have a straight piece of wood that you want to make into a caul.  Set the jointer for a shallow cut.  Keep all pressure on the back of the material and run it through the jointer to the half way mark.  Carefully pick up the wood and repeat the halfway run from the other side.  Quite soon you will have a camber in the wood.  I find that the point of the camber has to be softened with a block plane or sand paper to make the caul useful.

I use the jointer method to make expedient cauls from cheap white wood 2 X 4's.  I make the camber with the whole board for safety then cut off the caul at the table saw.

As always, if you have a better way please offer it below.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Genesis: Saw 1

UPDATE:  Popular Woodworking is offering a free download of a 2008 backsaw article here.

In the post entitled Mid Hiatus Break I first introduced the saw shown here on the bottom:
Here it is a little closer:
I thought this one was only going to be for practice, but I found a diamond under the rust and grime.  It turns out this saw is a Disston from the prime era of saws.  Even before I found the makers mark on the spine of the saw, I admired the fit and feel of the saw handle.

The top saw in the above picture is my current tenon saw.  It is a 1950's era consumer grade model that came to me cheap and with a sharp blade on it already.  I broke it out of the til to compare the two handles.  The older saw handle is narrower with a more pronounced curve and more importantly feels great in my hand.  I hate to admit it, but the old handle feels better in my hand than my Bad Axe Toolworks hybrid saw handle.

After futzing around with the saw handle, I moved on to cleaning up the plate.  Buried beneath grime and rust is the Disston Philadelphia makers mark:
Here are all the cleaned up components:
I sanded the saw plate smooth and hit it with some rust remover.  I did not immerse the blade in rust remover, or attempt to return it to full shine. The sheen on the blade in this picture is from a coat of spray lacquer.

The handle is lightly sanded  The cool black patina on the handle was true grime.  Since I want to return this guy to work, not put him in a museum, I decided to break through the grime with 220 grit sand paper.  The handle is sanded but not finished in the picture.  Five coats of Danish rubbing oil in 'natural' color now adorn the handle.

Cleaning the brass hardware really confounded me.  I went to town on the first nut with the brass polish cotton without much success.  Stymied, that is until I put the brass in the drill press to let 1750 RPM of direct contact with the polish do what was taking far too long by hand.  Three coats of spray lacquer seals in the shine brought out by polishing on the drill press.  Here is the brass close up.  Note that these parts are cast, NOT milled:

Without further adieu, here is the completed saw ready to be sharpened:

Fine Teeth, Crosscut

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event: Joint Stool

I attended Lie-Nielsen's hand tool event Friday, April 20th at the Jeff Miller woodworking studio in Chicago, Illinois.  I reviewed Make a Joint Stool From a Tree published by Lost Art Press.  The stool that graces the cover was on display at the event.  Oh, and Christopher Schwarz was there as well displaying the stool.  Chris and I chatted for a bit and he graciously allowed me to manhandle the stool to my heart's content.

Though the review passed unremarked into the Internet night, I stand by my original assessment after examining the book's star stool: "... book full of hewing, hacking, rough tolerances, and an aversion to directions beyond what you see in front of you".  The stool itself reflects the rough nature, yet still looks great as a whole.  Look at the top of the stool:
Extreme close-up of Stool Top
See how the lines are _not_ straight?  The lines are not exactly crooked, but it is obvious that this top is not made on a router table.  The little nub in the back of the photo is one of the square pegs that hold the top to the body of the stool.  The peg is proud on purpose.
The Other Side

I will let the rest of the close up pictures give you more detail on the joint stool.  My final thought is, this stool is the real deal.  I'm a big guy, and this joint stool is sturdy enough to hold me with ease.  As a former coworker would say, furniture for grown folks.

Joint Stool on Top of Lost Art Press Books
Stretchers Meet
Yes, The Pegs Go All The Way Through
More Through Pegs

Note The Shadow Line

The shadow lines on the back side are obvious.  The relieved wood on the unseen side allows a crisp clean joint on the showy outside of the stool.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event: Glen-drake

I attended Lie-Nielsen's hand tool event Friday, April 20th at the Jeff Miller woodworking studio in Chicago, Illinois.  Jeff's digs are easy to get to, but don't expect to find parking anywhere near the place!

Lie-Nielsen is peculiar in that they actually invite other cottage tool makers to exhibit along side their own wares.  I spent a considerable amount of time at the Glen-Drake display.

Glen-Drake table display
Glen-Drake has created a saw system that really is something new.  I've seen it demonstrated several times now and I really do believe they are on to something for the modern hobbyist.

Past masters of woodworking learned their craft through excruciating repetition; bad work meant no pay.  Most modern woodworkers practice the craft occasionally on nights and weekends.  Mastering a technique is arduous, and opportunity to practice is limited.  Utilizing the Glen-Drake tools and methods really is a way to develop repeatable quality results fairly quickly. 

Here are some pictures of their products.

Marking gauges with coarse and fine adjust

Cornerstone of the Glen-Drake system
Looks, Eastern, but cuts Western (push stroke cut)
Free with purchase of a Glen-Drake saw is the video featuring their system.  I have to also mention that these saws really, really cut well.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Grace USA Screwdrivers Redux

The post titled "Grace in the USA" has generated the most conversation on the new blog.  Yet, for all the messages, not a single reply on the post itself.  Curious.  It has also been the most edited post.  So, instead of continual tweaking, I decided on a new post to address the issues/questions/nitpicks that have been raised.

First off, Grace USA has been in business for years.  This is not a flash in the pan company.  The full line of woodworking screwdrivers are available from The Best Things.

Some folks took exception to the use of the term 'hollow ground'.  Sure, the term originated from grinding a blade on a circular grinding wheel; in the photo you can see that the tips are not created on a circular wheel grinder.  However, the effect is still the same at the tip:  the Grace USA driver engages much more of the screw surface than the traditional wedge shaped drivers.  Unlike true hollow grinding, the edges are much more crisp, which means sharp.  The steel is actual tool steel and needs to be treated like your other woodworking edge tools.  In my mind these screwdrivers are exactly like my Lie-Nielsen,  or Narex chisels.

The next nitpick seems to be over who made me the authority on screw sizes.  The short (and only) answer is these sizes fit all the tools in my current collection.  My tools, my screwdrivers, my blog, my email address, got a problem with that?  Just kidding about the attitude, it is a legitimate question.  I worked with the President of Grace USA, Dan Morrison, to work out the details of my custom drivers. 

Dan's advice was to use a feeler gauge on all of my screws--a DUH! moment for me if there ever was one.  I ordered three sizes in decimal inches, .045,  .032, and .050.  I used an inexpensive set of feeler gauges to measure all the screws on my planes and saws.  I wrote down all the sizes and then rounded down to three decimal places.  I then verified the rounded down measurements with the feeler gauge in all the screws.  It took me about 90 minutes for this whole affair. 

As stated in the original post, the .050 fits all of my Stanley planes.  The .032 fits all of my old saws with straight (i.e. non split) nuts and the .045 fits my newer 1950's era Disston saws.  I would have ordered split nut drivers but Grace USA currently does not make the screw drivers wide enough.  I should note that The Best Things offers a Grace USA specialty driver for old saws; I did not know about it at the time of my order.
.032 Driver in Saw Nut
One person asked about the practical uses of hollow ground drivers.  If you work with screws in brass or bronze, then you most likely have dealt with steel drivers ruining expensive screws.  The hollow ground tips engage the screws more firmly.  The screw may have the threads ruined from over torquing, but the top will still look nice after the King Kong treatment.  Also, if you have followed Christopher Schwarz for a while then you probably know that he has a thing for 'timing' all of his screws.  Timing is where you have all the slots of the screws line up in the same direction.  Timing is accomplished by repeatedly removing, filing, and replacing the screw; a hollow ground driver is almost required for this type of obsession.  Personally, I plan on building a small boat in the near(ish) future and I will be buying a set of the Grace USA woodworking screwdrivers to aid that effort due to the large number of bronze screws.

To the reader with a height complex, I don't know why the custom screwdrivers ended up so short.  I didn't ask for it, but that is exactly what I wanted.  I suspect the folks at Grace USA had a better idea than me how the screwdrivers would be used in practice.

Finally, if you are the type of 'discerning' shopper who only buys the likes of Elkhead Tools, these screwdrivers are not for you.  These puppies will perform as long as any Elkhead driver, but they won't be entering any exotic wood tool beauty pageants any time soon.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Grace in the USA

A reply on another blog turned me on to a source for affordable custom made screwdrivers:  Grace USA.  Grace made their name in drivers for gunsmithing and is looking to expand into woodworking.  What makes them so special?  I'm glad you asked.  Grace USA dresses the tip of the driver so that they are square to the sides of the screw which is referred to as hollow ground.  Engaging the entire surface of the screw slot resists marring or destroying the screw.

I ordered three custom screwdrivers (in decimal inches) for my woodworking tools: .045,  .032, and .050.  The first two are for saws, new and old.  The third is for planes.  I found that the .050 size will fit nicely on every screw on my vintage Stanley bench planes.  Grace USA charged ten dollars for each custom screwdriver and shipped on their dime; a sweet deal in anyone's book.

The screwdrivers arrived quickly and well packaged for their journey.
Fresh out of the padded envelope

Hollow ground Tips
My photography skill, or lack thereof, is again on display in this picture of all three of the hollow ground tips.  The edges are crisp, sharp, and not to be taken lightly.

Size stamped
The size of each custom screwdriver is stamped deeply in the side of the tool.  Look at the top driver, .050, in the photo captioned "Size stamped".  See the smudge outside the first zero?  I value that smudge.  That tells me the maker took enough care to darken the number stamps by hand to aid legibility.  Use will wear that smudge off in no time.

Close tolerance
The photo captioned "Close tolerance" is an example of how well the screwdriver fits a saw screw.  The driver and screw (nut, actually) are propped up on a square and saw so I could get the picture.

Grace has three sets of screwdrivers to offer woodworkers.  The largest is a set of seven drivers designed to fit slotted screws numbered 2 through 14.  The set of 7 retails in the $60 range.  Next in line is a set of 4 Phillips head screwdrivers followed by a set of three for square drive screws. UPDATE:  The Best Things carries the Grace USA full line of screwdrivers.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Most Hedonistic Book in Woodworking

Did I get your attention?  Coarse synonyms in the title notwithstanding, the newest title from Lost Art Press, Make a Joint Stool From a Tree, has nothing to do with immediate gratification.  In fact, this book, written by Jenny Alexander and Peter Follansbee, is all about patient satisfaction.  But hyperbole gets the page views.

The book has not been released long enough for anyone to actually make a green wood joint stool yet.  However, I did read it twice.  The first read for me is all about getting a sense of the whole.  I do a fair bit of skimming over fine technical detail on the first run.  Basically I look for sanity of the content and relevance to my work and/or desires.  The second time reading technical material is when I build the subject in my head.  A lot of things do not get a second reading from me.

I have to admit that I started reading this book with a negative attitude.  I have never worked with green wood and have read very little about using it as a medium.  I expressed my misgivings about working green wood on another blog and Peter Follansbee himself replied that there is much more to the book than green wood.  He did not lie. 

Make a Joint Stool From a Tree is a 17th century history disguised as a technical wood working book.  Every step, every component, is put into historical perspective.  If you are not in a reading mood, you can pick this book up from the coffee table and peruse the large number of photographs, plates, and diagrams; the large 9" by 12" format really does place this book into the coffee table class.  Unlike traditional glossy coffee table books, this title is printed on matte paper thereby preserving it's usefulness as a reference (shiny pages are heck to read).

Do not be turned off by the learning history stuff because there are still plenty of hard core woodworking tips and techniques buried in the pages.  The authors wisely skip discussing things that are mundane or rudimentary to modern day woodworkers.  Instead the reader is treated with how to construct, or join, furniture in the vein of the stool with a minimum of tools.  Make a Joint Stool From a Tree is a man's book full of hewing, hacking, rough tolerances, and an aversion to directions beyond what you see in front of you.

The preceding two paragraphs sound like quite the contradiction, don't they?  You'll understand once you read the book.

Here is a low cost list of uncommon tools to get you started in green woodworking:

Beadle (I never know what the correct spelling is because I see it so many ways)
Broad Axe (hatchet, really)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mid Hiatus Break

The life that supports this woodworking pastime has kept me from the wood shop.  In turn, the blog has suffered.  In the plus column, however, my tool collection has prospered a little bit.  The past couple months of frequenting dusty 'antique malls' has produced this motley mix:

 The top tenon/sash saws have no discernible makers marks.  They do have the ubiquitous "warranted superior" medallions.  Between my Bad Axe hybrid  and Veritas dovetail saws, I don't think I 'll keep both of these.  Suggestions are welcome as to uses for four saws.  Maybe I'll send the big one off to get hybrid sharpened.  Right under the back saws is a Stanley 81 scraper without a blade.  The wood sole is nearly completely intact.  I have a Stanley 80 that I don't use that often (I'm sure if I didn't suck so much at woodworking it would get more playing time).  Unless convinced otherwise, I'll clean the 81 up and offer it for sale or trade.  Next in line under the 81 is a 5 inch brace with two jaws.  I haven't had time to examine the brace for makers marks yet.  I'm not happy with either of my two current braces and am hoping this puppy will supplant the dismal examples I have.  Between the brace and panel saw is a Stanley 45 plow plane.  The 45 needs some serious love; it is too soon to tell if it will be a user or parts piece.

Last, the place of honor, is reserved for the panel saw shown on the right.  I picked this up because of the unusual sharpening pattern in that every other gullet is almost twice as deep.  It is a 7 point saw sharpened crosscut for use, I believe, on fresh cut wood.  I gave the plate a quick swipe with some 220 sandpaper to reveal the etching:

My apologies for the orientation of the picture.  I tried for 30 minutes, but Blogger is stuck on displaying the picture rotated no matter how small I shrink or rotate the original.  The etching reads "The Bay State Saw Mfg. Co."  I did some research (first hit on Google) and found out that saw is a mid-grade offering from Simonds from a century ago.  Since they stopped making these saws in 1926, it can be no younger than 85 years. I'm saving this saw for a special annotated restoration project for the blog.  I will need guidance sharpening this in order to maintain the current tooth configuration. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tenons, Chisels, and Negative Space

No pictures today; classes have started and my time in the shop is more compressed than ever. 

This week I was trying to work on some tenons for a loft bed.  In my haste (and woodworking was supposed to teach me patience?), I marked all the boards using my new mortise marking gauge.  The bad part is that the gauge apparently has some drift in the set of the pins.  My first tenon was about a 20lb. sheet of paper short of fitting snugly into the mortise.  I suppose some background is in order.  I have a mortise chisel from Patrick leech that I'm using to make the rest of the mortises on this bed.  I set the new mortise marking gauge to the width of the chisel plus a smidge to account for two thicknesses of saw plate (one cut on each side).  As I said above, the gauge just ain't right.  I hope I can afford the Veritas dual marking gauge before too much longer.

I'm open to suggestions on how to remediate the thin tenon.  The current plan is to use plane shavings to fill the negative space on the one mortise I already cut.  The other mortise for this side of the board will be made with a drill bit and chisel.

Back to the tenons.  Since I already marked all the boards for the tenons (marked 'em good, too), I have to come up with another way to cut them.  Adam Cherubini to the rescue.  I could certainly add a 32d or so and re-scribe the line for the saw, but I can save time by using a chisel to split the wood out.  The saw will still be used to make the shoulder cuts.  I learned from Adam Cherubini that I can put the chisel in the scribe line and angle the chisel back about 5 degrees before whacking with a mallet.  I should get a Christmas tree shaped tenon.  I fear the taper will not give enough contact between mortise and tenon to be useful, but I have to try the technique before disregarding it altogether.

Home center pine is a bit unpredictable when splitting in my experience.  The next shop activity will be splitting pine to unscrew yet another of my goof-ups. Wish me luck

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Best Things

My workshop has produced something way beyond my skill and ability to master:  time.  The time produced was with one of my boys building a Christmas gift he received.

We used hand tools exclusively for this little project.  I'll let the pictures tell the tale.

Here is to making memories.