Great Lakes Woodshop Home

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Disposed Income

Well, this is my end of year blog entry where I talk about my annual woodworking shopping habits.  The woodworking purchases have been pretty low this year as evidenced in the blog entry calendar to the right of the page.  Here is the short list for 2013:

Lie-Nielsen I finally completed my chisel set and added some floats to my arsenal.
Highland Woodworking  I visit their site every other week at least.
McFeely's  It feels like I've purchased thousands of screws from them this year.
Tyler Tool  A new entrant to the list this year.  A great no frills source for power tools.
Lost Art Press  Most the stuff I buy from them is reviewed on the blog, so I'm not adding details here.
CU woodshop  This is an independent outfit in Champaign IL.  They have a great selection in stock from power tools to milk paint and, of course, wood.
Owl Hardwood lumber  There is a Hooter's one block away.  It is always a three or four hour outing when I go to Owl. Not including travel.
Woodcraft  Most of my odds and ends are filled by this place, it seems.
Menard's and Lowes  Interchangeable on most things so they get one line.
Amazon  The 7-eleven of the ether, and soon landing smiley boxed Stuff in your own backyard.

I'm giving a shout out to the many anonymous yard sales and flea markets I frequent.  I scored some major wood and paring chisels over the summer.

I'll return and add anyone I've forgotten.  Best wishes to you and yours in the coming year.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Court Jester Woodworker?

Sometimes I wonder why I keep at this woodworking thing.  Sure, I have a couple cool tables and a score of scout derby cars for my efforts.  But, it seems the more I do it, the more my shortcomings are revealed.

I finished the carcase for the Dutch tool chest a la Popular Woodworking and Chris Schwarz.  The top hinges are on back order from VanDykes hardware.  They have been on back order for a while now and I'm tired of waiting so now on to working on the innards.
I remarked before about how it was tough to keep square during the glue up.  I failed again.  The case ended up out of square.  I used tongue and groove carsiding for the back.  I cut each board wide enough to ensure coverage across the back of the out of square carcase.  Once in place I glued the tongues and nailed in the boards.  I planed the end grain by hand until both long sides were flush.

The innards for this box are pretty simple.  However, I held off on doing the tool racks until I gave it more thought.  I have opted for two rows of rack.  The first rack is for flat tools and the second for anything else.  I'm pretty sure I will lose floor space in the top compartment by making this decision, but so far I'm OK with that.

Tonight I started the top rack (flat tool).  The rack is in three layers.  The back board is 1/2" thick.  The middle layer is 1/4" thick spacer chips 1 1/8" wide.  The top layer is a 1/4" thick solid board.

I made the chips easy enough on the table saw over the weekend.  Unfortunately, I found out tonight that 1 1/8" is too wide for the spacing I want.  It is far too cold to go back out to the Outside Shop where the power tools live, so I'm stuck with the inside shop resources to make shorter spacers.  I used to have a nice bench hook made of scraps.  It got pretty chewed up, so I threw it away.  I told myself I'd make another from the scrap bin soon enough; as you might have guessed already, I never made the new bench hook.  So, here I am looking for a way to cut some small spacers in half.  I figure a bench hook is a lot cleaner than a chisel, allowing me to use both sides of the cut spacer.

Instead of making the top tool rack in less time than Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, I cobbled together a bench hook with what I could find around the house.
Making sure the top hook is square pictures one and two.

It ain't pretty, but here is the spur of the moment bench hook for cutting little spacers smaller:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Are You Finding Keepsake Mementos This Holiday Season?

From the AYFKM holiday shopping department comes the Lee Valley digital marking gauge.  My style of working with wood does not lend itself to using a digital marking gauge.  However, if I've learned anything in life it is that there is more than one way to do anything.  Please post any practical uses for this device below.

Garrett Wade also has a fine unique offering with their ruler knife.  I'm sure this CSI inspired instrument will provide hours of entertainment.

Feel free to post links to unique or odd gifts below.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Out of Chaos Comes a Toolbox

Here is tool chaos:

I started work on a Dutch tool chest, a la Popular woodworking and Chris Schwarz.  This is another copyrighted work so I won't be posting any plan details.  However, I do have another pictorial cornucopia to offer.  OK, so maybe 'cornucopia' is too strong a word.

I'm actually going to build two of these chests.  I bought enough wood for both, but I got two lemon boards (bad humor unintended).  I cut pieces for both chests to rough length and left them to adjust for a few days.  When I got back to the pile, all the parts cut from two of the boards were egregiously warped.  I now have enough parts for one chest and a lot of firewood.

Here are the promised pics:

Glue up (duh).  Heck to keep square

Notches for lock boards

Completed notches

Ready for a skin

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Folding Card Table Resurrected

Chris Schwarz clued me in to a cool folding card table on his Popular Woodworking blog.  Here is the post in question.  The table appears in John C. Hodges' book English Furniture.

I like the table in question so much that I hit the series of tubes in my computer that lead to Amazon and purchased a copy.  I got the book in my grubby little hands and promptly found the table on page 90 of my edition.  My first thought was, 'dang, Chris has a really good scanner'.  My second thought was 'that's it?'.  I expected to find build plans in the book.  Unfortunately, English Furniture is more a treatise on furniture in time than a how to build reference.  But I am not daunted.

I wrote previously about George Walker and Tim Tolpin's By Hand And Eye.  The book is an introduction to designing stuff; ostensibly furniture, but the principles apply to any structure.  I put what I learned from Walker and Tolpin together with my own experience to come up with a design.  Also, it's just a table.

I guess I have tables on the brain lately.  I just finished building the Civil War Folding table from Woodworker's Journal.  Barely hours after sinking the last fastener I read about a folding card table in volume 3, page 836 of The Practical Woodworker.  The TPW table top pivots on a narrow base to support the bisected top when open; when closed the whole top is rotated to cover a nice side table.  On the heels of the first two tables came the Schwarz post on this table.

I don't have a nice scanner, so here is a photo of my copy of the folding card table:
Folding Card Table From English Furniture

Below here is my theorized design of the table.  Things will probably change when I actually build it.  The next task toward an actual assembled piece is to locate the brass fixtures; leave suggestions in the comments below.  Please.  Pretty please?

The base of the table is a 28" square broken down as follows (letters refer to graphic above):

A.  Fixed panel, 9 10 inches long UPDATE: panel should be 10" long with a one inch overlap with B.
B. and C.  Folding hinge panels 8 inches long
D.  Leg, 29 inches long, 1.5 inch square.  I have not decided on the taper yet, but there will be one.
E.  Fixed panel 25 inches long

Parts A, B, C, and E are 4 1/4" wide and 3/4" thick.  I would prefer a 5/8" depth on the skirt, but the sliding groove prevents it.

The top is not shown in English Furniture, but there is a description:

"The corners of the top, instead of being square, were formed as projecting segments of a circle, and circles in walnut were slightly sunk on the surface as positions for candlesticks.  On all four sides an elliptical sinking was provided for money or counters".

Here is where George and Jim's book helped me out.  The top is generally a 30 inch square.  However, each corner actually projects three fourths of a circle outside the square.  The projecting circle has a five inch diameter.  I arrived at 5 inches because it is an even proportion of the overall top (30 inches).  I originally tried a six inch circle, but after actually cutting one out and laying on a similar table it was obviously overkill.  A five inch circle looks nice and is plenty of room for the base of a small candelabra.  Here is a crude rendering if you can't picture the corner of the table.
Table Corner Mock Up
I don't have any idea how to manufacture the top, yet, but I haven't given it much thought either.

I can imagine sitting in a dark room with nothing but candles on each corner of the table for light.  Beyond the ample opportunity for cheating, the surreal ambiance would make for a pretty intense game.

The folding card table should be a very fun build.  Hopefully my skill level won't ruin what should be a striking piece of furniture.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pictorial Tour Of Civil War Folding Table Build

This one is more self explanatory than anything else.  Without further adieu...

First Cut
Skirt Pieces

Glue Up Of Top
Dovetail Preparation

Completed (Sloppy) Dovetails On Skirt

Trim The Edges After Glue Up

Application Of Skirt

Completed End

First Set Of Legs (Skirt Too Low For Lock)

Second Set Of Legs
Create Notch For Brace

Hinged Legs Applied

Locking Mechanism In Place

Ready For Finishing

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

That'll Do, Pig. That'll Do.

I finished the construction of my Civil War reproduction folding table from the October 2013 issue of Woodworker's Journal .  I'm glad to be done, but like the porcine star in the movie "Babe", I did something notable, but I still feel like a pig.  As stated in a previous blog entry, I made a major league screw up on one of the legs.  I decided to keep the screw up as a reminder to be more careful in the future.

Without further adieu:

Here is the bottom:
The cross brace is made from poplar instead of white oak like most of the table.  I found poplar to be more bendy.

Further commentary is a tad silly if you aren't familiar with the plan to begin with.

The purpose of this post is to ask for finishing suggestions.  Currently I'm thinking Watco oil in 'natural' color with several coats of bleached shellac.  The top will be further refined with rubbed in wax.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Discretion Is The Better Part Of Valor

Sometimes you just have to put your back toward the shop and turn off the lights.

My last forays into the shop did not go well.  In less than 30 minutes of work time I made two major mistakes on the replica Civil War folding table I'm building from the September 2013 issue of Woodworker's Journal.

The first was a measurement error.  I usually measure one piece against another to ensure a good fit and to speed things up.  Since the piece was 'only' a straight leg assembly--two legs joined by a single stretcher.  I ran the tape across the gap between the skirts and then across the leg assembly.  It looked good so I glued the leg assembly.  I clamped it up and called it a night.  The next night in the shop I picked up where I left off.  Well, that 'perfect' leg assembly was off by a 1/8th of an inch and could not fit between the table skirts.  How?  Why?  When?  All are questions yelled at the tide.  The answer is complete simplicity.  One measurement was inside, and the other outside.  Just how much play is in the metal hook tab of a standard tape measure?

The fix was easy, run each leg down the saw to remove a sixteenth from each side.  The square portion at the top of the leg is bigger than the rest of the turning; an obvious benefit of turning things from a uniform blank.  However, both legs were glued to the stretcher.

Sample of legs from a bad experiment
In the course of removing the leg assembly from the table saw, I dropped one end on the powered off, but still spinning blade.  The guard was off because the dado blade was still on the arbor.  A facet of one of the leg squares is gouged pretty deep.

The photo at the left is from the other set of legs I purchased for this project.  As a design choice, I wanted the stretchers to show completely below the skirts on the table.  Unfortunately the locking mechanism won't work at such an extreme angle between the center block and the retention slot cut in the stretcher.  You have to read the plan to fully understand what I'm talking about. The real take away is that I already used all the extra legs for this table.  I can fix the problem, but it will cost me a pretty penny.  I'm going to move forward and complete the table.  The screwed up leg will be a constant reminder to be in the right frame of mind when in the shop.

The ultimate reason for the recent screw ups is mental distraction.  A hospitalized family member and a thorny issue at work have kept the mental hamster wheels turning in directions away from woodworking.  I have resolved to stay away from the powered machines until I'm in the right frame of mind.

A close cousin (brother?) of the table I'm working on is featured on Chris Schwarz's blog on  I posted a comment on their site about how much I liked the table and how the picture gave enough information to actually build one.  I guess I offended somebody's editorial sensibilities because the comment is now gone.  I still like the table.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Promise Fulfilled

I talked about my Powermatic mortiser here.  Using the 701 instead of the pig sticker mortise chisels is a no-brainer on flat and square milled stock.  I accomplished the below mortises in about 25 minutes of actual handle time.  Another 20 minutes were consumed by laying out lines on the stock and adjusting the mortiser.  I'm also including a CD change in the player and a phone call.  The 701 is addicting and has a well deserved reputation for quality.

The Wide Highland Woodworking sourced Narex chisel to the right is perfect for cleaning up the walls of the mortise.  Next up is to mill the tenons on the table saw.

I've documented the build of this small table fairly well.  Unfortunately, since it is based on a copyrighted plan from Woodworker's Journal, I won't be posting a full build account.  I am considering sending a short write up with some photos to the rag in case they want to do any kind of follow up content.

That reminds me.  I promised to post an account of the train table build.  The SD card from the digital camera used to document the build had a royal meltdown, thus losing all the photos.  So, no photos, no point in writing it up.  I do have the hand drawn plans I started the work with; maybe those can be scanned in and for thought.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Peek Into The Sausage Factory

One of the projects in the pipeline is a Civil War reproduction folding camp table.  The plans are in the October 2013 issue of Woodworker's Journal.  The build is quick and very straightforward.
Above is the top with the skirt screwed on.  The short ends are meant to support the collapsible legs (not installed yet).  The original plan called for a simple butt joint at the corners, which would mean the legs are supported by the screws only.  I opted instead for a single dovetail at the corners to strengthen the joint.  The dovetail may be overkill, but it is my design choice.

Unfortunately, my dovetails still suck:
Gappy Dovetail
 The table top is made of white oak.  The center strip is padauk flanked by two narrow strips of mahogany.  I'm open to finishing options to keep the red/brown/orange look of the padauk; post your suggestions below.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Some Skill Can Be Bought

I have a large number of inexpensive F style bar clamps.  We've been together a long time and have a cordial if not friendly relationship.  A while back Peachtree Woodworking ran a special on Big Foot clamps where I picked up 4 of the 48" models.  They sat wrapped in plastic for three projects; I thought waiting until I had a project that required the 48" capacity of these clamps was a good idea.  For the record, that was a stupid idea.

In the photo above you see a saw bench I'm working on.  There are actually two, but the second one is more involved and not even started yet.  The saw bench is only 12 inches (+/-) wide, but 3 inches thick.  The Big Foot clamp has a broad bearing surface; certainly much more than the button on F style bar clamps.  The  large bearing surface is perfect for a three inch thick glue up.

It turns out that the Big Foot clamp is perfect for any project, at least compared to the no-name F clamps.  I suppose a little explanation is in order.

I use a lot of cauls when gluing things.  Cauls make your clamps go a lot further.  One caul and two clamps can take the place of a whole row of clamps on a panel (though I always use a caul on each side of the panel).  The drawback of using cauls is one more moving part to deal with during glue-up.

The Big Foot clamp actually has feet to keep the clamp upright and your project off the table.  Additionally there is a broad bearing surface front and back (head and foot?  Fore and aft?).  My favorite feature is that the feet give enough clearance to turn the screw without interference.

I guess Big Foot clamps are my taste of the clamp good life.  Maybe I'll make it to the Bessey clamp level some day.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Preview of By Hand & Eye

By Hand & Eye by George Walker and Jim Tolpin is a unique book in the world of modern woodworking literature.  The typical fare today consists of very straightforward how to do this or that woodworking projects.  By Hand & Eye addresses the 'why' of woodworking through the eyes of design.

Design is one of the ephemeral concepts that is different to each person.  I call BS.  Actually, George and Jim, call BS.  The foundations of all design are the same and come to us from antiquity.  By Hand & Eye is a short course on shattering the common belief that designing original projects is hard, or impossible.  Sure, aesthetics in design are as varied as people are, but this book teaches you to find those foundational geometric elements of a piece and the proportions that bind them together.

I still find it hard to describe the book and don't want to turn anyone away from the title because of my dimwitted ranting.  So, I have to state that there are ten woodworking projects detailed in the book.  Even if you never read the design chapters, you get your money's worth in projects alone.  Some woodworkers only ever want to build from someone else's plan and there is nothing wrong with that.  The vast majority of us are hobbyists and want the most satisfaction possible from our recreational pursuits.

I can't call this posting a review because I still haven't finished the book.  I have started over three times and still have not read the projects at the end of the book, though I did leaf through them a couple times.  By Hand & Eye is not the kind of book you run through in a few hours and throw on the shelf for your friends to admire.  The book is closer to a textbook than recreational pulp fiction.  OK, that last sentence was a softball.  The book IS a textbook.  There is a ton of information packed in the 200 or so short pages of By Hand & Eye.  You can literally spend hours making up exercises to convince yourself of the validity of the information.  Or you can ingest a broad overview to help you evaluate the work of others.  Don't forget about the projects at the end of the book.

Everything considered, By Hand & Eye has something for every woodworker in it.

I'm surprised nobody has created a bundle with the book, dividers, sketchbook, and quality mechanical pencils.

I'm spending so much time on this book because of the blog.  I feel I need to come up with original projects so I can get into more detail here.  When I build someone else's project, I'm limited by copyright laws as to the level of detail I can post.  There is also the question fair play; publishers spend money to generate original content so they can make more money.  The Pragmatic Woodworker blog is a labor of love and it is a supreme jerk move (aka King Richard) to devalue publisher's original content by posting it here for 'free'.  I'm sure there will be more from By Hand & Eye on the blog in the future.  For now, please accept this preview as an endorsement of the work.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Complex Becomes Commonplace

Rough Joinery Complete

I'm working on a 15th century bench, but don't tell anyone.  I got a metric butt load of wood from a fellow church parishioner.  The wood is Northern White Cedar from a barn that stood for 90 years.  I'm building the bench as a surprise thank you for the wood.

The picture above is the completed joinery on all major components except the seat.  The tenons on top are in a V shape and are compressed with clamps immediately before placing in the mating mortise.  The expanded wood completes the piece and locks everything in place.  That last step is a one shot deal.

The cross members are held to the legs with a bridle joint.  Put both of your hands up with your pointy and angry fingers in the air (the classic victory sign).  Then put your hands together with the V shape interlocking (a finger of the opposite hand should be tickling your palm).  That is a bridle joint, but I'm not sure the above description is any more clear to anyone who doesn't already know what a bridle joint is.

The top tenons necessarily prevent the table saw blade from reaching the full depth of the saddle joint on the bench legs.  I used the dado stack, Band saw, hand saw, rasp and chisels to create the saddles in each piece.

The dado stack made short work of the saddles in the cross members.  On the left side of the picture behind the bench leg you can see the fence I screwed to the miter sled.  My first sacrificial fence several years ago was quite the production.  I checked, rechecked, and checked again everything on the fence to make sure disaster wouldn't happen.  Move forward to now and it is just a stupid sacrificial fence that took maybe a minute to size, cut, affix and run over the dado stack.  I've remarked before about reaching woodworking milestones, so this post is no different in that regard.  Complex actions  become commonplace and even comfortable with time and repetition.  Obligatory warning against familiarity breeding contempt when it comes to safe practices:  NEWSFLASH:  table saw blades cut without a conscience, including the Sawstop line of saws.

The mating saddle on the bench legs was a bit more difficult.  My dado stack is an 8 inch.  A lot of folks say the six inch dado stack is all you'll ever need.  However, sometimes you might be working on a saddle joint right next to a tenon.  The 8" dado stack at full height was able to engage the saddle for about a half inch on the legs.  I did this right after the cross members to guarantee a correctly sized saddle mate.  The rest of the saddle was cleared with a hand saw and band saw.  The hand saw was used to complete the end cuts.  To save time, I used the band saw to knock out most of the waste.  Rasps and chisels were used to clean up the cuts in all eight saddles.

All that is remaining is to cut the mortises in the seat and complete the decorative profiles on the cross members and legs.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Elf Planes Are Far From Magic

For years I have used microplanes and files instead of rasps.  The microplanes are cheap--both in quality and price, but they cut wood like the dickens when used correctly.  The problem is they easily cut more than needed.  Furthermore the rasps generally available today suck.  Yes, they suck the joy out of woodworking because they don't actually do much to the wood.  I could not afford product from the likes of Auriou in the past

I suppose a definition of 'elf plane' is in order.  The term came about as I was explaining how they work to my kids.  I showed them a jack plane and explained that each little piece on the microplane was like a little elf holding one.  So, naturally, it was christened the elf plane.  Now I have Jack, Block, Smoother, Jointer, and Elf planes.

Getting back on track.

Highland woodworking had a sale on Iwasaki files a while back and I picked up my first two.  Though they are billed as files, these things are really rasps.  Good rasps.

Above is a picture of my latest microplane and the Iwasaki flat rile/rasp.  The mortise being worked on is for a replica of a 15th century bench.  Note for a second the 'V' nature of the tenons.  The mortise they go into is the same size as the base.  The tenon is compressed with clamps and inserted into the mortise; the expansion of the wood then holds the bench together.

The rasp fits tight spaces like this far better than the microplane.  The rasp also has a true flat surface to reference itself against; the microplane has a slight curve across it's face.
Here is a closeup of one of the stretcher mortises.  The work with the tool is almost complete in this photo.  The clamp is on with the barest of pressure due to it's job being prevention of breaking the narrow strip of wood on the outside.  I probably could have worded that better, but it is late.

EDIT:  I really must have been tired last night as I left off the whole last paragraph somehow.

I am now convinced of the superiority of a quality rasp after my experience with the Iwasaki files.  The cut of the wood is more controlled.  The durability of the medium and flexibility of the thinner profile enable a wider variety of uses at various stages of a project.  I am not getting rid of the elf plane as they are just too darn useful for hogging off wood.  Besides, you just never know when you may need some grated cheese or lemon zest while working in the wood shop.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Book Review: Chisel, Mallet, Plane and Saw by Tony Konovaloff

This book can be summed up as another Cabinet Maker's Notebook.  Tony and James Krenov have history together so it is understandable that the author would want to follow in his mentor's footsteps.

I'll get the negative out of the way first.  Tony chose to self-publish the book.  In doing so he apparently forewent the professional services a seasoned publisher gives an author.  The prose, topic organization, and design are not quite where I think they should be.  The book still reads well and is chock full of good woodworking advice.  While reading, you soon understand how Tony's character and temperament drove his choice to self-publish Chisel, Mallet, Plane and Saw.

Tony works exclusively with hand tools.  The audience of Chisel, Mallet, Plane and Saw is the power, or blended tool woodworker that has some experience under his/her belt.  Tony talks a little bit about all aspects of a hand tool only workshop going back and forth between a high altitude view and the nitty gritty details like sawing, or using a chisel.  The idea is to give the reader a sense of the whole hand tool only experience, and instruct in the way Tony sees as his best way.  The author's own words say it best: "What I have tried to do with this book is tell you how I do things without leading you by the handtool".

The book is less than 150 pages yet contains a lot of information to digest.  Less than 70 pages separate how to use a chisel and a discussion on design.  Interspersed throughout the book are woodworking philosophical tidbits like sometimes the wood is best left in the tree, and re-sawing sucks; buy S2S lumber from the mill in the correct dimensions you need.  The book is roughly organized into three sections (defined by the reviewer, not the author):  How to use and sharpen the tools, joinery and construction of furniture basics, and the larger aspects of running a woodworking business.  I would post the table of contents, but I do not have (nor did I seek) permission to do so.

My two favorite features of the book are the gallery of some of Tony's work and the tools and toolbox discussion.  I guess that is actually three favorite features.  Chisel, Mallet, Plane and Saw is not the book that will take you from initial interest to New England Highboy, but it is one of the books you need to read if you ever want to take woodworking from building tables in your spare time to putting food on the table all the time.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Stand Behind Your Craftsmanship

In the April 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking is a guest piece by Peter Franks titled A Woodworking Disorder.  Peter coined a new phrase with concomitant acronym:  Compulsive Mistake Identification (CMI).  The malady is when we show a piece to a new audience and immediately start pointing out the mistakes made during construction.

The article struck enough of a chord with me to post this blog entry.  Quite simply, Peter is right.  Woodworkers are loathe to accept kudos.  The source of disparaging our own work may come from humility, or maybe inoculating yourself against ridicule from friends, or family.

The original purpose behind the Pragmatic Woodworker blog was to share my ups and downs in woodworking.  Let's face it, most of the focus of the blog entries are on mistakes (I know nobody reads enough of the blog entries to catch the trends, so just believe me and keep reading).  Pragmatic Woodworker is indeed a digital monument to CMI.

The digital monument will stay intact, but I propose here and now that all woodworkers swear off CMI in favor of a more positive lexicon.  We all suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in life, so why expose ourselves unnecessarily?

Instead of pointing out the loose joint, stray gouge mark, or whatever obstacle you overcame, discuss what you learned building the piece.  See what I did there?  You didn't 'mess up' (negative), you 'overcame an obstacle' (positive).  Concentrate on the positive aspects of your ham-fisted ill built wooden cartoon caricature of an heirloom when presenting the piece.  Save the self recrimination for the shop where it will make you a better artisan.

This is not supposed to be a superficial self help feel-good Dr. Phil article.  It is really about the reception of your work.  Your audience's appreciation is a reflection of your appreciation and pride in the project.  Stop for a second and reread the last sentence.  Think about how the spirit of a gift can be sabotaged with one remark about a blemish, or mistake:  "Grandpa Jack only gave us this blanket chest because of all the mistakes he made.  I bet the real one he makes...".  Ok, so that was an example of pettiness, but the goal is to really drive the point home.  Pride is infectious, enjoy it, use it wisely.

The artistry of our work is in the flaws.  How the whole comes together despite the inherit reflection of humanity is what craftsmanship is all about.

Stand with me folks.  Let's avoid CMI in favor of positive presentation.  You will help build your own esteem in the process!  Ok, I just made that last part up, because I am certainly not an expert in practicing what I'm preaching in this post.  However, I hope to be soon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Skill Happens In Spite Of Your Best Efforts

I got to spend a couple hours in the shop this evening.  A loft bed has taken a lot of my time for far too long. Prepping the headboard posts for the last 8 mortises was the latest sub-project.  The posts are octagonal and have a bunch of leftover table saw marks from initial preparation.

Hand planing has been a very deliberate process ever since I picked up a Stanley #5 years ago.  I generally plan each stroke, or series of strokes to achieve a discrete goal.  Tonight was different.

I queued up some music and put the first post against the planing stop.  I tuned out; about 45 minutes later I tuned in to the post in front of me.  I had three planes lined up on the bench (jack, smooth, block) and 7 smooth sides of the octagon post.  I guess at some point everything clicked--at least with stock narrower than the plane.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wood Strikes Back

Mother nature gave me a little surprise in the middle of the night.  At first glance you might think "FREE WOOD!".  However, closer inspection reveals that this once mighty oak is rotten to the core.  I have a lot of woodworking in my future.  I just didn't think it was going to be so primitive.

On the bright side, nobody was hurt, and I get to make some changes to the deck.  Though not apparent in the photo above, just under half the deck now lies under the upper boughs.

Firewood anyone?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Project Plan: Walnut Book Case

Woodworkers Journal recently released a free walnut book case plan as part of their web ezine offering; every issue features three free plans from their vast library.  I usually enjoy reading Rob Johnstone in the ezine, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't like the free plans they offer, too.  More often than not, the plans do not appeal to me for any project, but I always at least examine them in superficial depth looking for a technique, or detail I haven't seen before.  The walnut book case hit me hard and I am immediately making plans to build at least two of these book cases.

The free download is is no longer available, but the plan is for sale all the time here.
I'm changing their plan to suit me and my tools, and I'd love to see some feedback on my design ideas.  I don't have (nor even asked) permission to post details from their plan here, so I will confine my commentary as much as possible to the obvious details visible in the above photo from their site. 

In essence this book case is a plywood box with ornamentation glued on.  Purists may scoff, but a dressed up plywood box is not a Bad Thing in my philosophy.  Using less expensive materials makes this project more accessible to those with lesser means; using 'bolted' on ornamentation makes the project more accessible to those with lesser skill levels.  Sounds like this project has my name written all over it. 

Ultimately, the modular nature of this project lends itself to skilling up or down in certain areas.  The faux fluted stiles on the front, for example, are easily produced by hand, machine, or pocketbook.  Every part of this case can be purchased at the home center store and merely assembled.  Or you can shoot higher.  All the moldings can be produced with planes, or a router and then cut free from boards.  Similarly, fine hardwood can be swapped for the plywood panels in the carcase.

My first change is lighting.  I really like the down lights at the top of the case.  As your eye goes down, though, things get a little darker.  I plan to put lights on the bottom at the rear facing up, too.  The shelves will necessarily stop about 3/4 of an inch from the back to allow the light to go up/down.  A book stop of  1/4" to 3/8" in height will be added to the back of the shelf.  I hope to create a back-lit effect to display all the contents.

The next change is at the bottom, or plinth, of the cabinet.  The wrap around molding is another faux effect.  I intend use real hardwood, hopefully walnut, for the plinth.  Maybe I'm reaching, but I want to try my hand at blind dovetails.  The bookcase seems ideally suited for experimentation because I can always back out and build to the plan.

The original plan calls for thin high grade plywood for the back.  I want to use 1/2" thin tongue and groove bead board.  This is the most uncertain aspect because I don't have the tooling to create the wanted effect and am unsure if I can buy my way out of the problem.  I may glue up a panel and make a crude scratch stock to do the beading detail.

Here at the end is my pie-in-the-sky wish.  I don't know if I can afford it, but I'd really like to use these rosettes in place of the stock circular style featured in the plan.

I went to the two local home centers and priced the plan as it is published.  The materials come in at roughly $225.00 per unit, including the puck lights.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Hand's-eye View

Lee Valley ran a special on brass mallets recently.  I've been looking for an inexpensive brass mallet for a while and as luck would have it, I had a Lee Valley gift card burning a hole in my pocket.  I found out about them from a banner ad on

I was only looking for one, but got both of the Journeyman's mallets simply because of the now expired 2-fer special.  However, now that I have them they have to be called aspiring apprentice's mallets.  The purpose is to use them to drive some small carving tools.

Mary May, a renowned woodcarver, received a lot of ink and film coverage last year.  I have absolutely no artistic talent.  After Mary appeared on The Woodwright's Shop carving to a paper pattern glued to the wood, I figured I could at least attempt a simian imitation of carving.  I did a little research and purchased several very inexpensive carving tools.  I practiced a bit on balsa and it went well.  Poplar was a bit more work but still 'doable'.  Walnut on the other hand may have been wingnut for all it succumbed to the chisels.  So, I put a small carving mallet on the neat to have list; there was also the hope that it would be useful for adjusting planes.

The purpose of this post is to talk about their size, not their usefulness.  Catalog photos all too often leave out a natural human relation scale.  Here are some photos of the mallets in my admittedly large paw.

Small Head

Large Head

Gentle Taps

Mallet Parade

Firm Convincer

Precision Control

Just Because

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Tally Of Custom

It is time once again for the annual recap of where my woodworking money went in 2012.  The 2011 list can be found here.  The list for this year is considerably smaller; a reflection on my available time and money, for sure.  As before, no effort is made to quantify anything.  The annual list is more of a reflection than any kind of endorsement. The source for my Powermatic mortise chisels. Supplied my Powermatic bench top mortiser.  "Supplied" is a nice way of saying I bought it with the aid of much saving and some gift cards.

Grace USA  I wrote at length about Grace USA screwdrivers.  I purchased custom drivers and packaged sets that I am very pleased with.

Lee Valley  My major, as in big deal, purchase from Veritas was the dual marking gauge.  I'm very happy with it so far, but have only had it for one project.  I may comment further as I really learn this tool.

Lie-Nielsen  My meager patronage consisted of only a chisel and some oil.

Lost Art Press  I bought several titles this year.  I reviewed two here and here.  F+W Media's woodwhoring, I mean woodworking, commerce site.  Yes it is run very much as a modern American corporation, but making money is not a sin, and they have a lot of good product to offer.

Woodcraft  I scored some great small pieces of Jatoba on clearance.  They will make great knife handles.


Highland Woodworking  Be sure to enter their sweepstakes.  As of this writing they are giving away 1000 bux worth of Lie-Nielsen goodies.  I really like their newsletter, especially the feature on customer's shops.

Jim Bode tools  Picked up a sweet 1/2" paring chisel.  I've been looking for a good paring chisel ever since I saw Roy Underhill perform micro-surgery on a block of wood with one.

I'm going to give the 2012 Woody award to Grace USA for my custom screwdrivers.  Lee Valley's dual marking gauge is a close second, but I have not had enough time to play with it.  I'll return and update this list with forgotten vendors, if any.

My blessings to all for a healthy and productive new year.  Hopefully I can make a bigger dent in my project list in 2013.