Thursday, September 23, 2010

The 100th Blog Post!!!! (A Glimpse Into The Future)

Wow... Ladies and Gentlemen I would like to graciously welcome you to the 100th blog post here on the Oldwolf Workshop. Starting in June of 2009 up to right now September 2010. Starting from scratch and now in the ball park of 12400 page hits. Not knowing what to expect when I started, this blog has been kind of a wild ride for me, sometimes a bit of an ego boost but most of the time humbling. It's an odd thing to kind of open yourself up here online to any stranger with a search engine, I lay it all out here, my triumphs and my mistakes, sometimes it's pretty, sometimes it's pretty ugly, but it is always as close to me and what I'm feeling and thinking and doing in the moment as I can get.

The coolest things that have happened through this blog have not been what I originally thought they would be. In starting I wanted a record of what I have made and the evolution of my work and work habits, and I like that I can do that, but the coolest thing has been the connections I have been able to make to other like minded people. From regular commentators like David and Badger to people I have gotten to know a bit through the connected avenue of Twitter. From obscurity and posts celebrating 1000 page hits to today where I have my site here included in the blog rolls of many other great woodworker's sites, including being added to Popular Woodworking's blog roll. This adventure even includes my current efforts recording a couple of my posts for Matt Vanderlist's Spoken Wood Podcast. (though getting this right has been a difficult adventure for me, but I'll get it figured out)

So this is a quick post of celebration for me. A chance to say Thank You to my readers, both old and new, and a quick look to what the next 100 posts may bring.

Currently I am working on finishing off an Oldwolf Workshop version of the Dominy Tall Case Clock, a classic piece of American Furniture. I started building this piece while we were still living in Maine, but I have finally had the opportunity to finish her off, much to my wife's delight. Here's a pic in progress...
I have also recently been given an incredible gift from my father in law Bob. In 1865 his grandfather, grandmother, and great uncle traveled to America from Norway. His Great Uncle Melvin Indahl was a carpenter in the "old country" and though he became a farmer in the South Dakota Badlands after moving here, be brought with him a large chest full of tools. The chest passed down to Bob's father and eventually to him, making the travels there was tools added and tools lost, but it is still full of many, many tools. So much I have not even gotten to lay my eyes on everything yet. So you can look forward to seeing me work to restore and repair some of these tools and I am seriously contemplating making a new version of this chest so I have one to use in my shop and this one can retire to my home.
You may also get to read as I take some steps closer to becoming a professional full time woodworker. I'm taking baby steps in that area but you never know where another year, or another 100 blog posts, will take you.

I'm very excited for the next 100 blog posts, excited for the next year, and excited just to see where we can go from here.

Cheers, and once again Thank You


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A "Strange" Commision. Part Two

This is a second part covering my building of a couple of fire sticks for a dear friend and excellent entertainer who goes by the name of Josh B' Gosh. He does shows for area festivals and fairs that is half sideshow, half Houdini, half comedy, and half amazement. Yes that is a lot of halfs, enough halfs for two as a matter of fact, but his show is always so well done that he can fit all those halfs into one. Trust me on this. If you want to check him out you can visit his website
One of the best parts of Josh's show is when he plays with fire, extinguishing the flame in his mouth and blowing huge fireballs into the air. A while back he contacted me about possibly turning some new fire sticks for him to use, he wanted to replace his thin metal ones with something a little more unique and I was more than happy to work on such a unique project. He was very gracious to give me just a few guidelines and turn me loose to see what I could come up with. This is how the product turned out.
I have covered turning of the handles already, if you missed that and need to catch up you can read that by clicking HERE. Now I'm moving on to the part that's a little more foreign to me, the metal work to finish the pieces.
Now it should go without saying that a pair of turned spindles is not sufficient enough to pull off the task of fire eating, at least not in a sustainable way. You need a section of metal and a wick to wrap around that metal. Josh makes his own wicks using a combination of cotton and kevlar, When he said kevlar that kind of surprised me, but I suppose it makes some sense and gives some staying power to the wick. I never would have thought that through on my own but then again I'm pretty oblivious to the inner workings of things like that, I like to sit in a magic show, suspend reality and enjoy the tricks, I'm not the guy who has to try and figure them all out.

The wicks are up to him but what I needed to do was fashion a section of metal to add to the end of the torch. The process was not unlike making a tool handle for a file or chisel.
I went to the home store and picked up a 12" section of 1/4 square welding stock. I chose square because once inserted, it won't turn or shift around in its socket. I cut the bar into three 4 inch sections, one for practice and two for good.
I took the sections over and secured them, one at a time, in the machinist's vise and set to cutting barbs into them. This is where the practice section came in because I was able to play with the cold chisel to get a satisfactory result before I moved on to the "keeper" sections. Josh had sent me a link to a blacksmith who specializes in making "sideshow" gear. In looking closely at his fire eating torches it was obvious the ends had these sections of small barbs on them. This does make sense to help secure and hold the wrapped wick.

I held a cold chisel at a sharp angle and rapped on the end with a hammer. Three to four light strikes raised a nice little barb. After getting the technique down on the practice section I moved on to the real ones, trying as best as possible to space them evenly and as uniform as possible. 
Now I had to prepare the turned spindle to accept the metal tip. Not difficult as the turning process leaves a cone shaped depression centered in the end. I just chucked up a 1/4" bit in the drill press, marked 2" of depth with some painter's tape, lined up the table and drilled away.
With the barbs cut and the holes drilled, I moved over to my smaller machinist's vise that I can secure to my regular workbench top using a couple of hold-down clamps. I moved over to this area and the second vise because the space is kind of cramped where I bolted down my large machinist's vise and now it was my turn to play with fire.

How do you fit a square peg into a round hole? You heat the sucker up first. I held a propane torch to the metal bar for around 2 minutes, then I pushed the hole I drilled in the handle down over the hot steel and the square path gets burned in. I then loosen the piece from the vise and carry the whole thing outside the shop where I have a waiting bottle of water. I poured the water over the steel to cool it down and slow down the heat eating at the walls of the socket. In the end you get a very well fitted socket that is not too tight to allow for some more manipulation. To permanently seat the metal you need to apply some epoxy.
Now I had pretty much finished up the job, there was only one thing left for a curious boy like me to do... test drive!

I had some cotton rags in the shop so I cut a long strip and tied it around the metal tip. I did some pulling and tugging to see how well the barbs secured my version of a wick. I was actually pretty impressed with the holding power. I had no kerosene or lighter fluid in the shop. I thought about mineral spirits, but I wanted to make sure I didn't use and explosive accelerant on the wick. So, don't laugh, I soaked the rag down with "3 in 1" brand oil and took it outside, bringing with a bottle of water and my fire extinguisher.
 And I lit it. (The ten year old boy inside me giggles with joy at this picture)
 I knew this would be a very sooty flame, but I was still impressed with what I had to clean up afterward, The soot is pretty evident in these pictures, but in the light of the day I didn't notice really until I was done. I guess I was also focused on not setting anything unintentional on fire. I let the brand burn for somewhere in the vicinity of 7 - 8 minutes, just to prove to myself that the wood could hold up to the job.
 I doused the flame and cut the wick off the metal bar, cleaned up the soot with some 220 grit sandpaper and called this "Strange" project complete for now. We will see what Josh thinks of them once he has them in his hands, if I'm lucky I'll get a quick show as he takes them for a test drive, and if he wants any modifications or changes then I'm sure I can help out with that too.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

A "Strange" Commision. Part One

I know a man. A strange man, He's a mysterious and strange friend. He sometimes goes by strange names. He sometimes wears strange clothes. He definitely has some strange hobbies and strange talents, and sometimes he shows off these talents in his Strange Show. He is Josh B' Gosh, a performance artist whom I've known for years. He performs street and stage shows at many fairs, festivals, and get-togethers around the western Wisconsin area. I really like his stuff. I have seen street magicians and performers by the hundreds, most of them are kind of the same fare, but Josh is distinct and different, his show makes me think of a cross between old time vaudeville showmanship and a circus sideshow. Both are highly entertaining when apart but when joined together by Josh's showmanship, well if you have the chance to see him you should, that's all I really have to say. 

He does a lot of things with his show, from laying on a bed of 4 inch nails and having a couple of people stand on his body to Houdini escapes from ropes and straight jackets. One of the biggest crowd pleasers is when he plays with fire. Josh is an accomplished fire eater, and like a dragon, he can blow large balls of fire into the air. If you want to check out more about him and his strange craft you can check out his website at
So why am I talking about Josh B'Gosh here on a blog about woodworking. Well the man contacted me a few months ago and gave me a bit of a challenge. I was just setting up the new shop, I was also new to twitter and he sent me a message asking if I had a lathe, I said yes but it wasn't set up. His reply was that he had no worries about time but he was interested in trying replace his current fire sticks, (you can see them above) with something turned and more substantial. I was more than happy to turn a couple spindles for him, and I tried to get an idea if he had some specific ideas for looks or wood types. The most I could really get out of him was, around 16" over all length, clean, simple lines, and have fun. He was leaving it up to me.

I don't know about you, I love clean simple lines of design, that's the appeal of shaker style furniture. It can also be some of the most daunting things to design. I spent a long time thinking about the design for the fire sticks, I filled several pages in my sketch book with ideas I didn't like. It may sound counter-intuitive but something highly ornamental would have been easier. You can hide mistakes behind ornamentation. Clean and simple kind of lays your soul bare, shows what you're made of, and I'm a middling turner at best. This upped the ante for me, making it a little of a challenge to try and pull off.

Finally I had something sketched that I liked. It held to what I considered to be simple and clean with a little class to make it a step above a dowel. It used the golden ratio in it's proportions. This is what I came up with.
I sent him a pic and he seemed to like it, so I decided to turn the mate to it, put them together and bring them to him to critique in person, figuring I can make adjustments and even turn a different set based on his reaction and feedback. I can for sure use the turning practice no matter what.
Here is the finished first handle and the blank for the mate. I have done several "one off" turnings in the past, but it's not often I have had the opportunity to turn a matched set of things. There was the big challenge I was looking forward to in this project.
I had turned a piece of this white oak before and it is tough stuff, Just getting the blank rounded took several sharpenings of my large gouge. I knew there had to be a better way and this time I figured it out. I used my sureform rasp.
I'm not sure if I read about this technique or where I got the idea from. I have used woodwright's rasps on turnings before and this is only a step in the more aggressive. Sometimes inspiration strikes I guess. I bought this tool for some glue clean up years ago and have hardly ever found a good use for it until now. The blank is rough when you're done, but it's round and much easier to clean up with a gouge.
With the blank rounded I marked with pencil where the beads would fall on the piece and began to turn the work, going back and forth between a skew chisel and a round nosed scraper.
The base and the handle shaped easily, I used a calipers to get the diameters close to the original. I try to leave them a little fat so the last millimeters can be taken down when I'm sanding.
Then it was on to turning the center section, a smooth section 3/4" in diameter. You start doing a straight turning like this by turning it down close and then cutting bands of the diameter you want. This helps keep you from tapering the work. What's the easiest way I've found to get accurate diameter dimensions in a measurement like 3/4"?
You use a open end wrench. Again this one isn't my truck I learned it in the book "Turning Wood: 3rd Edition" By Richard Raffan. This is the first time I've used this trick and I have to say it is so simple and I love it.
After the bands are turned it's easy to take the skew chisel and even out between them until everything is consistent.
The it was just repositioning my tool rest and finishing up the reproduction. I ignore my beads until the main body of the piece is turned, then I go back and shape and round them. Often I use a "V" scraper or a Skew to do this.
Not exact, but then again no turnings ever done like this are. This pic makes one look longer than the other but I think that's the forced perspective of the camera shot. The one in my hand is just a few inches closer to the camera.
Then there was the sanding, first with 100 grit followed by 220. I love how easy sanding is on the lathe. I placed the finish while the piece was on the lathe as well. A little danish oil on a rag gets buffed in so easy on a spinning piece of wood.
Here is the finished product. I will cover the metal working part of this project in my next article. I had to work a little to figure that part out.

So until next time make sure to go check out Josh B' Gosh and his Strange Show and we'll finish up how I finished up this one. Maybe I'll get Josh to teach me how to blow a ball of flame myself, wouldn't that be a trick for the shop...



Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wrap Up on the Saw Till

Well she's done, and hanging, and dutifully and lovingly cradling my saws in her pine bosom, right next to her heartwood. . .  ahhemmm sorry about that.

So here we go with my follow up on the project. Today I rubbed the finish into the drawer, put the whole thing together, took some pictures and hung it on the wall. If you haven't seen the rest of this build you can find all the posts on the saw till build gathered under this link (CLICK HERE)
In the end I like to look back and try and figure out what I did and what I could do better. This piece is simple and straight forward there's not a whole lot for me to mess up but I am worried about one thing showing in the future. It's the back, I built it using 3" wide and 1/4" pine boards, all fit and cut individually to fit and numbered in order, but I did not edge glue these pieces together when installing them. I pre-finished them and ran a bead of hide glue along the surfaces they would come in contact with on the case, and I placed a finish nail at every level, so those boards will stay in place, they will not come out. But what I forsee them doing over time is drying out a bit and shrinking some and this will give show some small gaps between the boards over time. In the end this doesn't really bother me at all, this is a shop appliance, but if I were to build one of these for someone else I would probably take the extra step and either ship lap the boards or at the least edge glue them...
I think the drawer and the dovetails on this piece turned out excellent. I almost wish I had done some type of dovetailing for the cross piece that runs horizontal just above the drawer. I worry sometimes I get a little obsessed with cutting dovetails, but I enjoy doing that so much.
I really like how the saw till does it's job completely to my specs. All my saws have a home, there is room for future acquisitions, (I've started hinting about Bad Axe Tool Works and Christmas already) I really like that it holds my saw vise and gets it out of sitting in a cabinet or under my workbench. I was always a little paranoid about doing something to make it hit the floor of the shop and seeing the cast iron crack. Now my paranoia is put to rest. (At least in this case)

I experimented a bit with a new type of finish. This was actually the first time I did any mixing of finishes. Around the time I was starting this project I read an old article by Sam Maloof about shaping the arms of chairs. In it he also mentioned the three part finish he liked to use. So I started to do a little research into this specific finish and found several versions and recipes out there. I didn't follow one specific recipe from anyone I went to the store to find the most availible products that were in approximation to what Mr. Maloof mentioned. This is what I settled on.
Tung Oil, Wipe on Poly, and some good old Boiled Linseed Oil. I mixed equal parts of all three and I have to say I am a little hot and cold on my results but I have a theory. I relate it to the wood. The finish had a wonderful feel to it, very satiny and smooth, but with the pine it brought out the grain and made it pop but I wished I had done something to add some color to the wood. But, today when I pulled the can out to rub the finish on the drawer I used a small piece of white oak scrap to give the contents a little mix. After I applied the finish I was cleaning up and paid a little attention to the scrap and this finish really made the oak pop big time. The ray flecks in the piece almost looked 3D. I know I built this storage unit from cheap pine, but next time I'm using a real quality wood, I will really consider using this again.

There was one more "experiment" I used on this project. I recently made one of my two to three times a year pilgrimages to Madison and the closest woodcraft store. This trip I only had one specific item I wanted to pick up (though I treated myself to one other thing, but you'll hear more about that in the future.) A bottle of hide glue is what I had my yes on.
Yes I know Titebond liquid hide glue is not traditional hide melted in a pot, but it's a step in that direction and I have to say with all the dovetails in this project, the longer open time this glue offers was a welcome thing. I did all the gluing with this bottle and I have to say, in certain applications I am 100% sold. Dovetails and complicated glue ups, you betcha. In the future I will be using this for those applications for sure. I will still stick to my regular wood glue for more mundane things like edge glue ups and things like that. Very nice to add another thing to my arsenal of options.
So here it is attached to the shop wall, where it will live for a good while. Kind of ironically the best location to hang it in the shop is across the room from the workbench. . . . right where the table saw lives.
Hope these guys can get along together.



Friday, September 10, 2010

A Quick Hour and a Half

I've been working PM shift this week at the real job, but tonight I was released into the wild a couple hours early. So instead of going home and watching the lousy Vikings get beat up by the Saints, I went to the shop and used the time there. I really just wanted to get the drawer for the Saw Till done and glued and the time I took was more than enough.

I took some pine and resawed it down to a between 1/4" and 3/8". and cut it to fit the width of the drawer, (of course you must remember to add the depth of the grooves to the length you need, don't ask me how I know this and I won't tell you a story laden with expletives, but that was a while ago)

I then took my small thumb plane, what I call my small block plane, and gave a shallow chamfer to the boards so they would nestle into the prepared grooves.I made sure to hide the chamfer on the underside of the drawers. This gives a little stability in thickness without taking up more of the space inside the drawer by raising the bed.
I had to rip and plane the last board to the proper width, then a little dry fit.
The boards were in there sturdy enough, I considered just leaving them alone when I did the glue up with just dry fit joints but then I would get some gaping as the pine continued to dry out over the years. I didn't want to do 2 glue ups though I wanted the drawer done tonight. So as I assembled for the glue up I did a simple rub joint on the bottom panels. If I was building this for a client then I would have properly clamped the panel and taken the extra step, but this is for myself as a shop appliance, the hide glue rub joint will work fine. But more on that in a minute.

While I had the dry fit together I was dying to see if my designs for the drawer were adequate enough. Turns out they're just fine. The drawer can hold all the smaller accouterments that go with my saws. the set, joiner, guide blocks and files just fine. Even my extra coping saw blades. And there's room for more in the future.
Then I measured and drilled for these simple wooden pull knobs. I've had a bunch of them kicking around for a few years and it seemed like a good time to put a pair of them to use.
Glue spread and clamps applied. I have to say I have been experimenting a little with this project in using liquid hide glue for the first time ever, and I have to say especially for this kind of dovetail glue up where you need the extra open time. I am really starting to dig the hide.
Well an hour and a half in the shop wasn't very long at all, it was just enough time to get the drawer done and do a little clean up. Locking up and walking away only left me wanting more though. I guess I had better wrap up this post so I can get to bed so I can get up and hit the shop again in the morning. Should have the saw till finished, hung, and in service by this weekend. That will be pretty cool.



Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dovetailing For The First Time . . . Again.

This morning I got a taste of a dream. I've been working a string of PM shifts at my regular job the last two weeks. When I'm on this shift it seems like I can never get into the shop, but this morning was a little different. I was up and woke the kids up for school, the oldest two get on a different bus to go to the middle school and have to be up an hour before the youngest. After I got the youngest up I decided not to go back to bed but to head out for the shop. So I waited around a little bit, drove her to elementary school, and then drove to the shop.

On my way to the shop I couldn't help but smile at how nice the morning had been. I so need to go pro at making sawdust so I can follow this routine most every morning. Get up, take the kids to school and be in the shop by 8:30 or so, work until I'm satisfied and go home smiling. Ideal. Hopefully baby steps will get me there soon.

Today I conquered another challenge in my shop, one that has been strangely intimidating to me for a long, long time. The hand cut, half blind dovetail joint. I love cutting through dovetails, one of my favorite things in fact. I'm good and fairly quick at it. but the half blind has always stood there looking over my shoulder, taunting me. I had read about it but it seemed out of reach. Then I found something cool.

I know I have said here how I am not much for videos and podcasts on the internet. Most of the time I just don't get that much out of them. I would like to temper that statement now by saying that I have learned some very cool things from videos that do seem to translate best that way. The Logan Cabinet Shoppe gave me the confidence to try sharpening my own hand saws. Videos of Peter Follansbee carving really taught me how effortless it could be. Then there was the Frank Klause video where he cuts a dovetail joint in under three minutes, that was amazing, but that was followed by Rob Cosman cutting a through dovetail joint in three and a half minutes using a more traditional approach.

On the heels of his through dovetail video Rob Cosman raised the bar high, cutting a half blind dovetail joint in six and a half minutes. I watched this video on youtube for the first time several months ago, and since them I have been coming back to it, I'd say at least a half a dozen times. (If you haven't see it you can watch it HERE.)

I really appreciated Rob's video, all by itself it gave me the tools and mind set to get the job done. When I was designing the saw till I've been building for the shop I knew I wanted to add a drawer to hold the files and other accoutrement of sharpening. As soon as it hit the paper I knew this was going to be my shot at a half blind dovetail. Still it was intimidating, building drawer themselves are, I think, a tough thing to get perfect. So in my usual fashion I put it off and put it off until last. This morning there was no more excuses. It was time to tackle the beast.

Starting stock after it's been ripped to width on the table saw
Re-sawing the sides and back down to 1/2" thick on the bandsaw. The face board was left at a full 3/4" thickness
Marking for the groove for the bottom insert
Cutting the groove with the router plane, this went easier than I thought it would, except for one area
This big knot in the back section of the drawer wouldn't cut with the router plane. I chipped the hell out of it trying to fix the groove with a chisel,
So I just cut it out. It's in the back and the cut is below the bottom panel, I'm the only one who will know its there.
I marked things up with the marking gauge.
I then marked out to cut the tails in the sides. This went pretty standard. Except I think I was so focused on the work to do to cut the half blinds, when I first started laying out things it was like I had my head on backwards. Thank god I've done this enough that I knew things weren't looking right, so I stopped and took a step back and actually walked away from the work for a minute or two to clear my head. When I could visualize the steps I was going to take again I stepped back in and remarked for the tails. Now things looked right, but you can still see the faint pencil lines of my mistakes in the photos.
Then I balanced the side piece along the corresponding side of the face board and marked out there the pins would fall.
The working with the saw at an angle I sawed as much of the pins out as possible. Yes I did extend past my marking gauge line but in reading Glen Huey's book "Building 18th Century American Furniture" he explains that this actually was a pretty common practice, and since it was good enough for them. . .
Now it's on to chiseling out the waste. Very sharp chisels are really vital to this as there is a lot of paring
All finished being cut out.
And the dry fit, some gaps but not bad for a first take on a new skill. For the saw till this is more than acceptable to me.
I cut some through tails for the back board, dry fit the four corners together and tah dah. . .  we have a drawer sans bottom. (re-sawing some for the bottom is the last step before final finish and hanging.)
I couldn't help myself I gave it a test fit in the till. It looks a bit out of place but without having a finish on it I guess I would expect it would. I'm playing with the idea of cutting a bead around the outside edge of the drawer. I have a pair of wooden knobs to go on and we'll call it done.
So the next post should be the finale of the saw till. From there we'll move on to some other interesting things, what to know what? Stay Tuned.