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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.