Monday, March 12, 2018

Insert Hashtag Here

Life Goals:

I try to keep my tool collection to a just what I need.

I fail at this sometimes but nearly everything has its job and its place.

I keep my wood stash to a controllable level.

I work to curb my need to gather office and art making supplies.

I fail at this sometimes too. I like to try new things. But many of the things end up going to my children for their endeavors.

One thing I will always, unapologetically collect is books.

Woodworking, art and artists, history, sci-fi, sword and sorcery fantasy, RPG's, comic books, movie prop memorabilia, and anything else that catches my fancy. A friend introduced me to the term BAD or Book Acquisition Disorder, and brothers and sisters I have it.

I have given up many vises in my time on this planet: tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and food.

I will never give up my addiction to the written words, drawings, and photos assembled on a page and bound together.

Ratione et Passionis

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Branching From The Roots

I don't believe in any real distinction between art and craft. I feel like I'm able to make a real comment on this because I have tread neck deep and deeper into both oceans and the salinity tastes exactly the same. I feel the same when creating a work of "Art" as I do working at "Craft" my decision matrix follows the same paths, my hands carry out work as extensions of my intentions, my immersion in the midst of planning and executing is the same.

The only outright difference I can cite is that craft often requires more physical exertion, but often art requires a form of physical stamina, so that's somewhat a draw.

The only reason I see to make a distinction is either ego or marketing. Those can be the same thing.

If you've followed me on social media lately you'll see a recent chaotic spurt has kept me from the shop and craft and I've instead turned my odd hours into time at the drafting table and art. I've picked up a project I set down a while ago. I took a short series of shop photos with the intention of creating a calendar. Some reasoned conversation with a friend who knows more than a thing or two opened my eyes about the idea, especially the fact that, to most people, calendar's are disposable things, and I'm not interested in making disposable things.

However, the photos were good and the desire to make something from that is still there. Some reading and research into new techniques made me want to work with them too and the work pushed from my comfortable graphite pencil into a series of black and grey compositions in watercolor and ink.

Secrets are the currency of the art world. People don't like to share their processes or discoveries for many reasons. Mostly the concept of "if they know how I do this then they'll do it too" feels prevalent, and that's not an uncommon feeling in a culture that thrives on envy, pride, one-upmanship, and schadenfreude. It's what I hated about art groups, classes, and competitions (and trust me everything is a competition)

I have a middle finger, and I like to use it . . . maybe a little too much . . . in that spirit I decided to share the entirety of my process here.

Before I sit down with a pencil, this process starts with a camera. Setting up an interesting photo composition with decent lighting and intent is a process all on it's own. I had several ideas I went to the shop to execute in specifically staged photos and over the process of a couple hours gathered what I was happy with. Because the original intention was to work in pencil I graded the "keeper" photo to black and white. This still helped with my decision to work in black and grey.

Then it's getting the photo's composition onto the watercolor paper. I have used all manner of ways to do this, from working through a grid system to an extended arm and stick to photo projectors the size of a VW Beetle. My father-in-law spent many years as a draftsman and artist and upon his passing I found a reasonable sized photo projector that suspends from an adjustable arm over a table. A mirror, a very bright light bulb, and a focusing lens make the magic work. I secure the source to the size I want, secure the paper to the table, turn off all the lights in the room and start the transfer.

I started with regular H lead pencil, which is fine, but graphite has a reflective quality that can interfere with the ink. I decided to eliminate that and changed to work with a "non-photo blue" pencil. It makes lines that do not show up under scanning or photo copying. You can find them near the drafting supplies in the art store.

I draw borders on the watercolor paper (never work to the edge) and masking tape it to a larger sheet of basic sketchbook paper. Eventually I run masking tape around all the edges and when it's removed I get crisp clean edges. I use quality masking tape also found among the drafting supplies. Usually I have no problems with it tearing the paper unless it's left on for a couple days. The backing paper just makes things easier to move and manipulate without worry over damaging the paper I'm actually working on.

Then it's to the drafting table. I mount a print of the photo nearby and begin to work on replacing the blue lines with ink lines. Here I'm using a 0.1 tip Copic illustration marker, one of their disposable brand. I've tried many brands of these markers and I'm happiest with the Copics or the Prismacolor brands.

If you zoom in you'll also see the ravages of age have attacked. For much of this process I will wear a pair of cheater magnifying glasses over my prescription pair. My wife thinks this is hilarious. I can't argue with her 

There was an especially high amount of detail to this composition, This part of the process took a while but you can see the progress as a blue . . .

. . . is turned to black. Through this process I'm focused on making clean lines and keeping away from anything that resembles sketchiness. I may have done that some with the blue pencil, but here I'm after complete clarity as this is the foundation for the rest.

Then I remove what's left of the blue, or most of it, by rolling a kneaded eraser over the work. This gently lifts pencil in wide swaths, though very dark or thick lines can take some work to erode away.

Then the toughest part to trust yourself on. Watercolor washes. I first brush clean water on the paper, saturating it, then wash in pigment working from light grey into dark grey. It's very rare I use the paint right from the tube, there's always some blending. It makes me feel like I'm cheating if I use the pigment without any intention.

The washes are allowed to dry completely and afterwards any paper pilling gets rubbed off. Pilling is my term for the little bits of paper pulp that get balled up with the application of moisture and friction from the brush. They show while you're applying washes but if you wait for things to dry they are easy to rub off with your palm. I'm not finishing with watercolors here so I'm unconcerned. They are the frame upon which the rest is built.

Through the transparency of the watercolor I can read my original ink lines. Now I use a brush and begin to work my way back in with waterproof india ink. I use different sizes of brush depending on the space I'm filling or the line work I'm replicating. If the work is exceedingly fine I will go back and forth between the brush and an illustration marker, but I use brushes primarily.

Dipping my toes back into this kind of work after a few decades off, it's been nice to rediscover brushwork, something I took for granted in the past. Technique is important and practice is paramount.

Eventually I hit this stage where I've gotten as much black value ink as I can cram in on the page. You'll see I'm not just working for black out areas here. I'm working for shading and texture as well as line.

Now I work back in with a black watercolor pencil to define some textures, extend some gradation, and blend in some shadow. I also use a white watercolor pencil to create highlights and light reflection and offset some dark areas. If I have a composition that has hard highlight I will work back in with white waterproof ink and a brush but this particular piece only had one line and I was able to get that with the white pencil.

Cleaning a brush for one line feels like a stupid move.

Ink dries very fast and soon after I feel like I'm done fussing over the details with the watercolor pencils I can strip off the masking tape, hang the work on a tack, and step back to assess the success. You can be too close, especially right after you've finished but any worthwhile work should give you a different viewing experience from a variety of distances. Step close to see the brushstrokes and the textures then step back to allow your eyes to aggregate the effect. Great work will keep surprising you in this way.

As I write this I have four pieces finished and one washes done waiting for ink on the drafting table. What plans do I have for them? It's fluid but I'm thinking of doing a series of nine and offering them as a set of postcard sized art prints. I've found I like using postcards for some inspiration in the shop, better than posters. The smaller size allows me to pin them to the insides of my tool chest and on the sides of shelves and they allow me to put up a greater variety of ideas in the same space one poster occupies.

Don't ask me about pricing or ordering yet. I have to work those things out. The original pieces may come up for sale too but for right now I'm halfway there and I'm gonna focus on getting this work done before I move on. When I know - You will all know soon after.

Ratione et Passionis

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Rrrrrest Of The Story. . .

Does a Paul Harvey reference make me sound old? 

Can't help it I guess . . .

Around a month ago a there was a conference I would have loved to attend. It's the annual Working Wood In The 18th Century Conference at Colonial Williamsburg. The list of presenters is enough to make a woodworking geek like me swoon. Maybe some year I will make it to an audience seat, I am certain, though I enjoy doing presentations like this, I will never get a chance to work this crowd in this venue.

However this year, while I sit 1,124 miles away, somehow a part of me made it onto the stage. Don Williams did a lecture about rediscovering the tools illustrated in Andre Roubo's "L' Art Du Menuisier" which he was a big part of translating into english. (Well some of it so far, 2/5ths, Don assures me they're working on the rest.) He wrote about the presentation on his blog over at The Barn On White Run

I was enjoying reading this entry, wishing I had been there, then I looked at the background of this photo of him demonstrating a coopering clamp.

On the bottom shelf of the Roubo I spied an old friend. The Roubo Press Vise I made to publish my first article for Popular Woodworking.

Photo borrowed from the Popular Woodworking article
When I realized the notion to build this vise my first thought was, as it was related to Roubo, it seemed like something that should be written about in a publication more than simply thrown up on the blog here. A bit nervously I wrote Don and asked his permission. I understand he doesn't own "Roubo" no one does (or maybe we all do) but I did understand he had a vested interest in those things and it felt like the right thing to do.

He gave me the thumbs up and things rolled from there. I made several rookie mistakes. The first was freaking out when the editing notes came back because I thought they were gonna shit-can the article when it's completely just part of the process, (there's nothing like proving what a rookie you are huh?)  The second was choosing a piece of southern yellow pine as the thick timber for the project. The piece was historical, reclaimed from the floor beams of the Schwinn Bicycle Factory in Chicago which had been built in 1900

I found a photo from inside the factory, could this vise be from the beams above? 
Alas SYP is suitable for the clamp's purpose but not nearly a sexy enough wood for a magazine centerfold. I knew the staff was a little disappointed I didn't deliver on an ideal bench fixture. One more lesson learned. Later when I managed to get my hands on some suitable thickness of walnut I remedied the sexyness problem albeit a while too late.

I had shipped the vise to PopWood for them to photograph, but instead of shipping it back to me, I asked Megan to forward it on to Don as a thank you. He seemed pleased with it and I haven't thought about it often until seeing this on his site yesterday,

Here he is demoing my work on a stage I'll never stand on. That's just mind blowing for me. I can see him smile as he reads this. Thank you yet again sir.

Makes me wish I'd sent you the damn walnut one. ;)

Ratione et Passionis

P.S. If you're curious there's a video I made of the vise in action on the PopWood blog, you can find it HERE.   -D

Thursday, February 15, 2018


I hereby call this officially unofficial meeting of the International Association of Moxon Vise Owners (IAMVO) to disorder. Before we begin with the important nonsense let us say the customary pledge of the organization. Please rise, hold your dovetail saws over your heart, cross your fingers behind your back and repeat the sacred words.

We who were once hunched in joinery
Can now stand tall in victory
We who were once bound to the bench 
Can now cut dovetails anywhere
We have been liberated by Moxon
Lead by the prophet Schwarz
To the holiest of all workholding wonders.
Whether atop our Roubo or on the shelf beneath
Let us never wish for a Leigh Jig again. 

Thank you brothers and sisters, before you find your seats please greet one another with the secret handshake.

Ahem . . . Norm . . .Mr. Abram. . . It's ok you can shake Mr. Underhill's hands. Well he's a little intense but he is a nice guy.

What? No you can't catch "Brace And Bit Fever" from a simple handshake, that's a nasty myth. Besides Mr. Abram I'm certain your electron shots are all fully up to date and you're in no danger.

See, we can all get along and play nice. Oops, it seems Roy has managed to cut himself on your beard, well that's never stopped Roy from going on with the show and I suppose we should follow his example.

To the reason I've called you all here. I want to announce we have acquired a new member! Several evenings ago I had the young James Martens to the shop. He'd found a lonely pile of maple alongside a back country highway, oddly already glued up into turning blanks. The maple was cold so he invited it into his warm cargo van, the one with the blacked out windows, and offered it a job in his shop.

Mr. Martens knew I had a lathe and the threading box and tap needed to make a moxon, (Though we all agree how elegant the less folksy options are hailing from Iowa and Texas) and he asked my assistance and I was happy to give it.

I set him up on the lathe and let him go to town and before the evening was over another glorious miracle of wood mashing mastery was brought into this world and I congratulated Mr. Martens on his new membership to our exclusive club.

We both held back tears as the vise attempted it's maiden clamping. I am happy to report it was a success.

So, fellow members of the IAMVO, when you spy the young James, whether in the wild shopping for major appliances or at his usual station sharpening and building saws for Bad Axe Tool Works greet him warmly, offer him the secret handshake, and ask how his vise is doing.

I hereby declare this meeting at an end. All in favor?

Ratione et Passionis

P.S. This was fun but it seems to me T-shirts and stickers may be in order. If you're interested make a comment or send me an email at so I can roughly judge the interest in such nonsense.   -D

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


Mrs. Wolf and I were determined to waste a day together in downtown La Crosse. There was a good sushi, a stop in the comic book store, a walk downtown, coffee, and a couple hours inside our favorite antique mall. Of course a few comic books followed me home but the other orphan was this unique turning saw I couldn't pass up.

If you've been reading here more than a second you know I'm enamoured of the old ways of working wood, not for love of the labor but in the belief there was something known that's been nearly forgotten. Turning saws and frame saws are not a new obsession. Making one has been on my "list" for too long. I have the hardware and blades sent to me by a friend, but other things seem to bump it off the top of the list.

Still when lifted this saw from the peg board hook to have a look I wasn't sure at first I was seeing it right.

I've only ever seen these saws with tenons on the ends of the cross arm and mortises in the uprights. This outlier turns that assumption on it's head. And I'll admit the construction in this way seems more straight forward than the more traditional route.

The cross arm falls on a small flat on the upright and is balanced on a moulded "button" (for lack of a better term)

I decided I had to bring it home and give it a test out to see if this was actually a usable form or if it was a ticking time bomb of tension. After replacing the two wraps of supplied bailing twine with some heavy duty linen cording, giving the saw teeth a light brush pass sharpening and tensioning the works up I was very happy to find I had a useable tool in my hands instead of just a tool shaped object.

The tensioning paddle is an obvious later replacement, probably added simultaneously to the bailing twine's arrival, but the rest of the piece carries all the layout lines and subtleties of being made with hand tools. Clearly the maker/owner J. Tonning was proud of the work as he stamped his name on each part on nearly every surface.

I'm more than happy to add this weirdo to my nest of saws and given time may make another just like it. Enjoy the photos.

Ratione et Passionis

Thursday, January 18, 2018


Woodworking is typically a solitary pursuit. The introvert in my loves that part. But as you begin to connect to the wider community that is out there you are bound to find like minded people who become fast friends and strong mentors.

The time I get to spend around these individuals is like plugging my car battery into the electrical output of the Hoover Dam. A little shop weary. Running tight on ideas or answers. Generally uninspired. A little visit and some shop talk, or any talk really, and I'm reinvigorated. 

This past November I had a visit at my shop from Don Williams and his wonderful wife. We all chatted for a bit as I gave them the grand tour a Le Chateau Oldwolf. consisting mostly of my library and drawing studio and the workshop outside. Don has become a trusted voice in my world, I look forward to every correspondence with him and just treasure the opportunities to visit in person. 

 After catching up we headed over to visit another person I have infinite respect for. We dropped in on Mark Harrell at Bad Axe Toolworks so Don could see the impressive goings on. I really had a treat as I was able to step back and listen to these guys parse the details of Roubo and the historical saws represented in L’Art Du Menuisier. The thing I really took away from the exchange. The possibility of a revival of the full size frame saw and turning saw as staples in the workshop. 

I know I'm an hand tool, old world craft geek, but I'm more than a little proud of it. 

 Then in December and again just this past week I was able to go down for a couple workdays in the shop of Tom Latane. For me this is so much fun because A; Tom's shop is an amazing place to stand, much less work in. A wood fire in the forge and you get that real, I don't know, romanticised, whimsical feel that is inspiring and conducive to good work. and B: I usually leave behind the projects I'm neck deep in in the shop and choose something different, usually carving, to work on. Something I'd like to get done but there's no rush, something mostly for me.

This time I got to make a new friend in a Blacksmith named Michael Fasold who was teaching himself how to cut dovetail joints, with Tom and me helping (maybe hindering) the process. He's teaching a class on forging an early american thumb latch gate handle at the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center in Minneapolis. I wish I could make the trip to take it.

There are many others out there I have to find some time and place to meet with. Being around other like minded people really opens up the spigot on the creative flow. If you're not experiencing this you should try and remedy that. Take a class, join a club if you have one nearby, stand out on the highway with a sign in one hand and a jack plane in the other.

 Maybe we just need to get someone to oversee the creation of a Woodworkers Platonic Dating App. . .
Maybe not. I have too much current in my creative juices for my own good right now. :)

Ratione et Passionis

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Clothes Maketh The Man?

I have a new phenomenon in my life. It's called the gym. I've never really "worked out" in my entire life and always relied on being just a naturally strong farm boy, but it's part of the suggested post-op program and I'm actually enjoying it. Earlier this week as I was changing into my workout clothes and putting in my headphones (Rage Against The Machine radio) I experienced a connection with the preparation and what I was about to do.

I started to think about the other times in my life I have the same feeling. Most notably I've spent decades culturing the state of mind that accompanies wrapping my body in armor and strapping a sword to my hip. Whether or not there's any combat demonstration, just putting on the armor brings out a side of my personality that is more forceful, decisive and authoritative. I link it to wearing the armor through years combat competition and demonstrations where hesitation can equal loss and possibly injury to yourself or your opposition.

I have the same experience when I go to work at the hospital. In the OR I wear scrubs. The act of putting those on signals the upcoming expectations of the surgeons I work for. Furthermore when I don the sterile surgical gown and gloves this becomes an armor of it's own as I enter into what is kind of a different world with new rules of sterile conscience, boundaries, and mental compartmentalization come into play.

There are routines we all use to align our mind to the events about to take place before us, but also wearing a different costume can course correct a practiced state of mind. It's true that people will often behave differently a suit and tie than a ratty Metallica T-shirt. It seems superficial, but we are all superficial creatures at heart.

All this comes back to the thoughts I had as I headed into the weight room and started my new stretching routine. I don't have a costume for working in the shop. I don't really have a specific routine that signals "game on" to my mind and attitude. When my shop was a twenty minute drive from my bed I had that journey as prep time and I was very productive but the last few years of having my shop less than twenty yards from my bed has broken down the routine and the mindset. I'm more easily distracted and I have a large number of other things I can do (sometimes should do) easily at my fingertips.

To that end I'm going to try and make a change. I ordered a new shop apron, not a fancy custom one, a cheap POS that was probably sewn in a sweatshop. I've never liked wearing a shop apron much in the past, especially when they had pockets, I hated pockets in an apron. But many of my other clothing choices are evolving these days as I more from "if it actually fits it'll have to be good enough" to "do I want to wear this." My experience with a shop apron may evolve too. Maybe I'll love pockets now, maybe I'll like wearing the apron. This one will be easy enough to modify if I want and not feel bad about the bucks I've spent.

Once I get, if I get, acquainted with what I like or don't, I'll know what to shop for in a better made version.

What do you do to get yourself in the right state of mind for the shop?  I'm curious to hear other strategies.

Ratione et Passionis