Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day Trip to Madison . . . an Awesome Experience

Well the family and I took a day trip to Madison today, The big reason was my desperate desire to make a pilgrimage to the Woodcraft store. Madison is the home of the closest dedicated woodworking store to LaCrosse. We have a few that are close, there's A-Line tools that deals in the machine side of things, and there's the Home Depot and Menards, and a couple mom and pop places where you can get lucky sometimes. Man if I had a couple hundred grand just laying around, I'd invest in opening a woodcraft outlet or something like it here, I really think it would do pretty well, but what do I really know.

Anyhow the whole family wouldn't want to go with just to see the Woodcraft store, not sure I understand why. . . so we decided to visit the Chazen Art Museum down by the UW Madison Campus. By looking at their website I knew they has several pieces of furniture in their collection and I couldn't wait to see those. What was really on display were some pieces on loan from a collection in Janesville WI that demonstrated the progression of classical forms in early American furniture. From a 17th century joined chest through Chippendale, Queen Anne, Hepplewhite forms.

To see these actual pieces, made by the masters we try to imitate, up close and personal, man it was cool. I took so many pictures I went through three pairs of batteries.

I will build a highboy one of these days, when I'm ready and not before. It seems to me to be the ultimate step in the passage from journeyman to master.

The other surprise was finding a Italian Cassone built between 1400 and 1425, very close to the time period I'm working towards emulating at faires, They were highly carved and often gilded chests, used by rich merchants to show off their wealth. Oh I think I took fifty pictures, Thank God for digital cameras. 
At any rate it has been a long day, I'm looking forward to a lazy day tomorrow, I'm going to watch the original "Clash of the Titans" with the kids, I've been telling them how cutting edge and amazing the special effects were when I was a kid, I can't wait to see them giggle. Maybe I can find an old copy of "Jason and the Argonauts" to really kill them with. (evil laugh) but after that I'm gonna spend some more time in the shop and looking closer at all the pics I took.



Friday, March 26, 2010

Scooby Snacks Keep the Shop Moving Along

Over the last couple of days I've gotten a few chances to spend an hour or two in the shop at a time. Never able to do enough for a full post but moving along step by step on getting the saw horses closer to the finish line. First I spent hacked another leg shape out, I would like to think I can just plow through all four of them in one sitting, but hand cutting them with a coping saw is pretty taxing on my tennis elbow, it's better if I take my time and do them one at a time. Cut one out, do something else for a bit, cut another one out, switch jobs again. This method of work does a few things for me. One it cuts down on how beat up I feel after a day in the shop because the variety of switching it up cuts down on those nagging, repetative style nuisance injuries. And two, it helps keep me interested and inspired while I'm working. I think ahead constantly, I can't help it, and sometimes when I do that I become so jazzed about the plans and ideas that I feel like I have to do something about them, because if I don't I'll obviously forget the solution I came up with. Making huge sweeping cuts with a coping saw is not the fun part of the piece to me. I love joinery, always have, so accomplishing the joinery is the fun part. I use that as my reward.

"If I finish getting this leg cut out, then I can move on to those mortices for a while" ---- you see, just like a scooby snack!

So after getting the second leg cut out and shapped, I took the scooby snack of working on the top of the horse. This did mean something exciting for me, I got to take the new dado hand saw I made out for a real drive for the first time. teaching myself how to use it was fun, getting it started was the real challenge but once it was going, plowed right down to the bottom. I think the only thing that may have made it easier is if I had set the blade to cut on the push stroke instead of the pull. It seemed more intuitive to use it that way. I wil try it for a few more times before I make the decision to change it around to what is probably the more traditional direction.

Either way it was cool to have success with it. Even using my table saw this is always how I've liked to cut dados. cut a line down either side and hog out the center with a chisel. Now that my new router plane has arrived cleaning up the bottoms is going to be even easier. (that puppy did arrive this week too, all three cutting blades and the guide fence intact, just have to use a litle elbow grease to clean up the surface rust and sharpen the blades and we're completely in buisness)

The I laid the cut leg out in the completed dados and marked where the thru mortises needed to fall. I the struck the marks with a chisel to score the lines. and took a brace and bit to each of the corners. Then I flipped the board over and struck the chisel again to connect the ouside corners and scribe the line on the back side. I then took my largest brace bit and bored out the center. Chisel and mallet later . . . I had a few nice mortises to fit the tenons on the legs through.

My only complaint is that this construction grade pine is so awful dry it splits cracks and chips out small divits around the mortise. Now I did not worry too much about being careful to avoid these things while I was doing this, one I have not surfaced the tops yet, and when I do that it will help with these issues. and two these are just saw horses man, they don't have to be overly pretty, they just have to work. I do have one thing I will have to repair, There was a knot right where one of the mortises fell, and I had to try to bisect it in chopping the mortise, ofcourse the knot fell out and now there is a pretty sizable defect about like my pinkie finger to fix.
I'm still measuring my options with that, cutting a wood dutchman appeals, but then there was the epoxy treatment that Chris Schwarz was talking about on his blog...I could come up with another crazy idea between now and when I need to decide something, who knows.

Anyhow, before I move any further, I will have to cut out another leg or two, Scooby snacks away!!



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

1500 Baby!!

February 20th I placed a post called batting 1000 that alluded to this blog reaching what I thought of as a milestone of 1000 hits. Now we have passed 1500 in around about 1 months worth of time. That's just incredibly amazing and humbling to me. I want to thank all who take the time to read what I have to say. 1500 hits may be a drop in the bucket for some bloggers in the woodworking community, but to me this is a big deal, Again THANK YOU!



Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pros and Cons of a Day in the Shop

Well, I couldn't control myself today, I skipped the saw handle I promised I would make, and since it was such an awesome day out worked some on the saw horses instead. It feels like spring now that I'm tackling a real project. As practice for doing the ren faire shows this summer, I have decided to build these monsters using only hand tools. Usually I'm a hybrid kinds guy, little hand, little 'lectric, but there's a purpose here so I'll do my damndest to stick to the principal though I think I hit my first stumbling block. More on that at the end.

 I started the day by cleaning up the shop, I had a ton of shavings on the floor from testing rehabed planes. (god damn it's fun to make shavings!!!) I got them all swept up and in the trash, ahhh nice clean shop.

Then I took out the 2x12's I bought for this and began to measure and cut for my rough pieces. Two 3 foot long sections and 4 18 inch sections. The other thing I have done without so far is the modern contrivance of measuring tape and pencil. Instead I have done my markups with a pair of dividers and a scratch awl or marking knife. My rosewood tri-square had some inch gradations on it and I will have that with me a faires, so I thought it was fair to use them to set the dividers at 6 inches and step things off. I'm not sure how absolutely accurate my measurements turned out, but I think I have to let go of that anal side of myself for this stuff. Measuring out what looks right, and going with it. Using one cut board to get the matching length for another, works just fine. Who needs a tape measure anyhow?

This is really the first time I have ever concentrated on breaking down my stock using a hand saw. I have done plenty of reading lately, and the blogs of all the hand tool junkies out there have helped give me options and knowledge (thank you!!) I tried a couple techniques but felt most comfortable starting the cut traditional and then switching to an overhand technique. One of my newly sharpened crosscut saws worked out great, followed the line and moved the saw dust out. You gotta feel good when something you worked hard to learn pays off. Since I was building the saw horses, I decided to use the steps to hold the board . . . hmmm I though, I can't clamp it down here . . . no hold fast . . . out came my faithful shout that usually brings me some kind of help,  "I need a girl here!" two out of three daughters responded. You can see Infinity, my youngest, dutifully standing on the long board and providing balancing weight to the wood, and my middle one, Fayth, took on the photo-journalism responsibilities. You can also see that as I cut I am tending to tip the saw away from me. I am not sure if this is good technique or not, the experts out there will have to decide, but I sure liked the way I felt in control of the saw and where it was cutting while I did that. Either way this was all too much of a work out for a fat man, I think I should try to do it more, it could help, or it could only make me more hungry, life is a vicious circle sometimes.

With the boards cut down to length I took them into the shop and started planing the edges down square. removing the rounded corners the mills put on them. I never have quite understood the reasoning behind why they do that extra tooling like that, you'd think less tooling would mean less investment, maybe its because a board with rounded corners might play an optical illusion and look straighter and closer to true than most of their twisted crap would look with squared corners. I don't know. Either way, I'm taking it down to square.

Now you get to see the hell that the Wood Shop Jr. can be for me, I have three reasons from today, The first two are illustrated in this picture.
First off, edge planing a board that is three foot long in an area, maybe five and a half foot wide, it sucks. I banged the toe of my #5 into the wall on the right of the picture a dozen times. I am shocked I didn't catch one of my fingers. The other reason is all I have right now is this little wimpy vise. It works OK for a lot of things . . . but seriously not for this. I had the sucker tightened down as hard as I could, and it would still lever out and drop one end down while I worked with the plane. That was frustrating The third reason is shown here:
One of my bench mallets, a two piece joined one I picked up with a lot of four mallets off eBay about a year ago, broke while I was chopping out the center between two tenons. I have used this mallet a lot and I never had any cracking or sloppiness that warned me the head was going to go. I blame the fact that I have to work off a cabinet top instead of a real workbench, It's like pounding into a trampoline in comparison. I feel the energy of a blow come back into the mallet all the time instead of traveling through the chisel and into the board completely. Thus I probably swing harder than usual as well. harder hits and bounce back energy, I wonder why this didn't happen sooner. . .  oh well, we can fix this, we have the technology.

Next I laid out the cut outs I wanted for the legs. I believe if you click on the picture you will get a larger resolution that shows the scratch marks for the layout. Again this process was done all with two pairs of dividers. This is a big change of thinking for me. I am usually pretty meticulous and have been known to draw out grids and use carbon paper and templates to achieve that "perfect symmetry" but I have come to realize through just this process today that I should just trust my instincts and my eye a bit more when it comes to this kind of stuff. If it looks right, then it is right. and if I'm really trying to recreate something medieval then I need to work harder to trust the craftsman inside myself and let him do the work rather than over dissect what I want it to look like.

In the end, it turned out OK. I like the proportions. I shortened the triangle cut out below on the fly and it was a good decision. It has a vaguely medieval style and feel to it. I used this one to mark out the other three remaining legs. Then I decided to try and solve my last problem. Carving the designs into the legs.

In the past all my carving has been done with a dremel style tool and burrs. Again, I want this to be hand tool only so the dremel is out this time. The trouble is the set of carving tools I own are crap, serious crap. Cheep Buck Brothers BORG P.O.S. crap. I should just throw them away for all the good they do. I just want a couple that will do some basic work, that will sharpen well and that I can get some experience and grow from. I thought I would try to make due with what I have in the shop. Maybe I can do it with chisels I thought, I have some small, spoon type scrapers, those would help. I've got to be able to make something work.

Forget it, this is the frustration I was talking about at the beginning of this post. For all the distance I've come there is just one more hurdle, one more tool that I need to do what I want. . . I suppose it will end one day, just not today. I just spoke with my wife, This weekend we will be making a trip to the Woodcraft store in Madison so I can pick up two or three decent carving tools. Any suggestions?

I guess that will be all for tonight, Cheers!


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Friction Tape and the Infinite Search for a Better Way

Well. . . my plan was to get farther today than I did. Everything is ok though, I did finish one project. I managed to get the two planes I got off eBay cleaned up and set to rights. It took a little longer than I thought it would because of the tote handle on the #5. When I pulled it from the box it was wrapped tight, head to toe, in friction tape. The same type of tape used to add a grip to hockey sticks and sporting equipment. Well I couldn't have that and I knew what my chances were when I started chipping the old crap off. I have seen some instances where people will tape up plane handles to increase their grip, and quietly that is the situation I hoped for, but in my gut I knew better. Broken. Not in one place but in two. The front knob was split in twain as well and taped a little more subtly, I decided to leave the knob alone and focus on the tote. Somebody must have really dropped this baby a while back.

After I peeled away all the tape I took some heavy grit sandpaper and a curved card scraper to get rip of the residue, and consequently most of the finish (not that the finish matters a whole lot to me on this one. There was old crystallized hide glue in the breaks that I chipped out with a scratch awl.

Now it was decision time on how to try and fix this without friction tape. First I thought about using some of the expandable poly glue (gorilla glue) but tote handles are their own problem when it comes to placing a clamp on them. Especially with two breaks in the wood. Eventually I decided to go to my old repair standby, JB Weld. mixed it up, smeared some on, set the pieces together, and placed them back on the plane body, Using the seating screws to hold pressure enough to let the epoxy set. I will leave it alone for a few days and see how it holds up. Keeping my fingers crossed.

The rest of the day reshaping and sharpening the plane blades. I hate using my bench grinder on plane blades, and the water stone grinder I bought a couple years past has never really cut it for me. I have been on the search for the perfect, cheep, sharpening system for a million years or so, earlier this year I decided to give the sandpaper glued to a flat stone tile system a try, and it worked better than anything else I had ever tried. Today I decided to use just the sandpaper to reshape, sharpen, and hone the blades. My arms and fingers are paying the price tonight, I must have made a thousand passes with each blade over the course paper to set the cutting angle I wanted. But I got it done, and it was done accurately, and from here on out it will be simple honing to sharpen, the hard work is over.

I didn't get to making the saw handle I wanted to today. That got pushed back to tomorrow, Either way I got something done in the shop today, before I came upstairs to take a break and found my next eBay conquest.
 I think I may have to call it quits now for a long while. I can do the things I wanted to do with a plow plane with this router plane. Once this one gets here and gets cleaned up I think I will get all my planes set out and arranged for a couple of vanity shots. That would be kind of fun,



Friday, March 19, 2010

More Methods of Work

I am no great designer, let me start out by saying that. This post is not about showing off my design abilities. I do try to pay attention to the golden ratio and classical shapes when I create something from scratch but mostly I just try to come up with usable, functional ideas that will be of a good proportion. I fall back on my instincts for most of this and believe they lead me in the right direction most of the time. Now my brain can get in the way of my instincts, the trick is to control this rivalry.

As I have written here before I did not take a single shop class all the way through my years of formal education. For what ever stupid reasons I had, it did not appeal to me as an elective. I did, however, take every single art or humanity class I could get my feet into. I competed in state competitions in a program called "Visual Arts Classic" and won a few blue ribbons, (back when blue ribbons meant something other than being a participant). My work was never technical or clean, instead I focused on emotion in the art I created, trying to get it to feel right. I really thought for many of my younger years that when I grew up I was going to make my living as an artist.

You may think that since I have found woodworking now, I probably enjoyed three dimensional art like sculpture. That couldn't be farther from the truth. I hated sculpture, drawing was my real thing, a little painting too, but that was always an extension of the application of graphite or charcoal to paper. The great thing about my media of choice is that it was always immediately accessible. I would draw all the time, fill up sketch pad after sketch pad, drawing things from my mind, and from the real world too.Real life took over after high school and a lot of that fell to the side. I have still always toted around a sketch book though, to jot a quick doodle or write down a line of poetry or dirty limerick that comes to mind. 

It should be no surprise though, that my creation process begins in my sketch book and evolves from there. When I get an idea for a piece and it starts with a rough sketch, no real concern for getting exact in the measurements, that comes later, just some rough guesses and a picture or two drawn in proportion to get the idea out of my head and before my eyes, where I can play with it.

To demonstrate this I have scanned the process I went through for my next project. A pair of saw horses, (I know, I know,  Ohhhhhh...Ahhhhhh...) Seriously though, I have always built saw horses for power tool use, roughly the height of my table saw, lifting the work high so I can see it and stand up straight. But with my new adventures into hand tools, I find the need for some more traditional sawhorses of a lower height.

The first pic here is the first sketch I made after thinking about what I wanted in a saw horse. I was a little enamored of a "V" shaped relief cut into one end, used to start rip cuts, or smaller shorter cuts. I had seen in this style in a picture on the net and I thought I could improve on it by bisecting the saw horse top the whole way down. I though, "maybe I could even get away with just one saw horse if I can use this middle relief for ripping. The design of the legs I liked, these pieces will get use in front of some crowds at renaissance and medieval fairs and festivals and I want them to pop a little. I drew this up in mid February and let the idea percolate a bit in my head.

Here is the final sketch. After thinking about the center relief I decided that supporting the wood on both sides might lead to some pinching and binding while using a push style saw. I certainly did not want these puppies to make the work more difficult. So I reconfigured the design, more solid on my measurements and settling on the "V" relief. The carving into the legs remained. This was my favorite part of the first design.

The next step from having a sketch is to make a scale drawing of graph paper. At this point I try to work out final sizes and proportions, I continue to work back and forth between the sketch and the scale drawing, making notes on specific joints, maybe a finish idea, reminders for myself. Typically speaking I will have both the sketch and scale drawing sitting out to refer to regularly while I work on a piece. A pair of sawhorses is pretty straight forward, it did not require a lot of notes, often the page is full of them, including close up visualizations of problem joints and ideas.

The other thing I really like to do, (but have not taken the chance to do in the Wood Shop Jr. yet) is to use a cork-board and thumbtacks to hang up dozens and dozens of drawings, pictures printed off the computer, reminders and ideas. This gives me a chance to pass by them on a daily basis, this keeps them in my head and helps a lot with solving a troublesome design. Here is a pic from one of my previous shop incarnations that shows the board at work, directly at the bottom of the stairs into the shop. First thing I would see. I do hope to recreate this again someday in a full size shop. . . Ahhh pipe-dreams, so sweet.

Well there you go, tomorrow is Saturday and hopefully I can set real life to one side for a while and get into the shop. Got a flea market on my radar in the morning though . . . wish me good luck and happy hunting :)



Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Broken Hearts and Future Changes

Life can easily get in the way of projects, I have managed to accomplish nothing in the shop for several days now. I do have some excuses I feel are legitimate though.

This past Monday we had to take our dog Ivy to the vet so she could be put to sleep, she had cancer and it progressed very quickly, she was a different dog two months ago, and the last week had seen her decline dramatically. It was very sad, and kind of sudden for the whole family, including myself, but the hardest thing was to have to come home after burying the old girl on my parents land, and tell my children what was going on. Ivy was almost 14 years old, my oldest is 13. The pair were peas in a pod. In fact my daughter Chloe could get that dog to do almost anything, my wife and I could try and try to get the dogs cooperation sometimes, and Chloe would just say "Come on Baby," and the dog would fall over herself to do what she asked.

Loosing Ivy was tough, but the most heart crushing thing for me was a few hours later, my cell phone buzzed with an incoming text. It was a few weeks ago we made the big decision and let her have her own Facebook account, and I set up things so I get a text message on my phone with any of her activity, (she's only 13, you gotta keep track of 'em) her message read, (I'm quoting exactly) "possubly the worst day of my ife scratchy that THE worst day of my life"  Chloe is an "A" student and every bit the perfectionist I am, for her to post like that and not care about how it was spelled or read, that speaks a volume by itself. That just breaks your heart when you know your baby's hurting like that. . . I knew she would take it hard, but I did not expect to hear it expressed like that. I suppose I remember being 13 myself. At that age every emotion is profound.

Thank you girl for all the love you gave. We will all see each other again someday.

So, pretty much the weekend and first half of this week sucked. I needed something to kick start me back into motion. Nothing will ever quite accomplish that like the smell of new lumber acclimating to the shop. I bought a little over 50 dollars in pine today. Enough for a pair of saw horses and most of the joinery bench. The local Menards is having a sale on 1X boards as well so I may pick up 10 or so 1x8s for a future project in the next few days. But as I think about it in relation to this blog experiment of mine, I think this may be a good chance to document the process I use in designing a piece. I will not say that I am always on with my design abilities, developing that takes time and requires mistakes. I try to do as much sketching and drawing as I can to minimize those mistakes.

Sometimes that requires many drawings, sketches and scales, sometimes just a few. I will try to document this method of work as I go along with the sawhorses I will design from scratch. But I do have a few things I have to finish before I can start making some saw dust, this is incentive to hop to it.

I do have one more idea that I am going to do some more thinking on. I watched a documentry the other night on TV about Japanese Samurai, and the lasting influence of "The Book of Five Rings" written by Miyamoto Musashi in the mid 1600's. I own the book enjoyed reading it int he past, not as a guide to martial arts but as a philosophy of living. I have read other related books, The Art of War, and the Hagakure, but I have not read Five Rings in a long time. As I watched the program I felt myself wondering if the philosophies of one art would relate universally to another and if there could be a correlation between things. I know enough about far eastern philosophies to know that no truths exist in a vacuum, and that all things are related in their lives. I am going to see what I can pry from the words now that I will be looking with new eyes.

I think I will leave off here with one of my favorite quotes from Samurai philosophy, one I think of quite often. It is from the Hagakure, a book of maxims written by an old Samurai named Yamamoto Tsunetomo,

"There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But in doing things such a passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to all things."

A lifetimes lesson in dignity and patience summed up in a few lines. If that's not woodworking I'm not sure what is.



Saturday, March 13, 2010

Will Rehab Help???

I think it may just be an addiction. When I purchased the horned German plane a couple weeks ago on eBay I swore that would be the last one for a while. Quite a while. In my last post you saw the pictures inside the drawers of my craftsman chest. There's just no more room at the inn. But there has been one more style of plane I have been seriously thinking about though. Well two more actually, the other being a router plane, but I can wait with that one for a while . . . unless an incredible deal comes by  . . . Muhahahaha (that would be an evil laugh)

The plane primarily occupying my recent obsession is a plow (or is it plough) plane. This was primarily fueled by two bundles of kindling and oil. One is the blog Matt's Basement Workshop, where I was cruising around and checking out some older content the other day and watched one of his older pod casts on the very devil I had been dwelling upon. He was using a very nice Veritas Plow Plane and it was very convincing to me. The other fire-starter is a little bit of info I read about a while ago, that said the primary means of side joining boards in medieval times was a simple tongue and groove or a groove and spline joint (as opposed to modern biscuits) Now I have not had the chance to verify this with any recent research, it is something I remember reading and I don't even really remember where for sure, but it does seem to make sense to me.

The eventual purpose of my recent push into more hand tools and away from my hybrid roots is the ability to try to recreate medieval woodworking in a demonstration type setting, the ability to join boards this way would be important. I have a filister plane to create the tongue, but the groove from the plow plane would be the missing link here. After talking it over with my wife I have begun the search. First I looked at a nice new Veritas, but at $225, it is out of my league right now. I found another off brand for around $150. and several on eBay for various prices. Needless to say the search continues and I will decide on something sooner or later here. When it gets here I will have something to say about it I'm sure.

The thing is when you are looking for planes, you see lots of planes, and you kind want to see them all. If you're a woodworker, or similarly on day release from the local asylum, I probably don't need to explain it to you. If it's not planes, it's always something else. I've seen plumb bobs, router bits, and hand saws. Everyone has something and I fear that I may be falling under the influence.

Hi I'm Derek and I'm a plane-a-holic. . .

So then, to place it into recent terms where I used the line, "Once the avalanche starts, it's too late for the pebbles to vote." The pebbles are the search for single plow plane option that balance a reasonable price (as I see it) with quality. The avalanche that follows is finding some irresistible opportunities in planes I'm not directly looking for.

Tonight I made an eBay purchase of a pair of planes, a #5 and #6, They may or may not be Stanley by the limited description, but the pictures were enough to convince me this pair would be a reasonable tune up job and would be ready to go. Over all, with shipping and handling, I'm out around $20 counting shipping and handling, and since I already have a #5, if I decide I don't need another one, I'm sure I can my $20 back by selling it. But my avalanche here is that I had just finished tuning and setting all my planes to usable form, and now I have two more to work on that will be in the mail, and coming my way soon.

In the end, I suppose that spending $20 on two planes is a deal too good to pass up, even if they end up just for parts, but that's not really the point. The troubling thing is that I almost couldn't help myself when I saw them, This may be a slippery slope.



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

After the avalanche starts . . .

I  know I spent my last post kind of whining about the work there was to do yet. Sometimes I wonder if I have a little adult onset attention deficit disorder. The truth is I like to look like I'm making progress even to myself, and just knowing it sometimes isn't good enough, I have to see it.

The night after I made the post I had a little revelation that helped spur me back to work. Recently I have had the good fortune to find some seasons of the old sci-fi TV show "Babylon 5" at Wally World. I loved this show in syndication and is one of the only TV shows in my life I have ever made it a point to pay attention to watch. It was just a cut above most sci-fi shows, (including imho star trek) because the storyline was so well developed and it played the politics of a future in space with other species so well. If you have never seen it I know you can see episodes on Hulu here. Anyhow, not to get into things very deep at all, but at one point an alien ambassador gave some advice to another of the shows main characters, and I fell in love with the line, it went something like this. "After the avalanche starts, it is too late for the pebbles to vote." I know very Confucius.

This line kind of stuck in my head the last few days, I know an avalanche can start with just the mere shifting of a few pebbles, but once the course of one is set, there is no denying or turning back, no staying put on top of the mountain. You can resist in futility, or you can go with the flow. Although the analogy is not perfectly clean, and I have never really considered my projects to be an avalanche. Sometimes they do take on a life of their own and represent themselves as bigger than their initial intentions. I will think of this line from time to time when this happens, and remind myself that I was the pebble that started the slide, I should settle down and enjoy the ride.

Speaking of the ride itself, I did manage to finishing sharpening the saws that I have named the 4 Brothers. but speaking of the avalanche, I have also decided now that I cannot abide by the plastic handle on the one Disston Crosscut. The very next thing I do will be to make a wooden  handle for him.
Again speaking for the ride itself, I received what may be my last plane purchase for a while two days ago. A vintage wooden German make horned plane I plan to use it for a scrub plane. Last night I took the time to scour the rust from the plane blade and chipbreaker and to sharpen and hone the blades. I took it for a test drive on a short piece of 2x4 . . . in less than 2 minutes of very light work, I had turned half of it's thickness into shavings, knots and all. I love this thing. Now speaking of the avalanche, as I made room for my new friend in the drawers of my tool cart, I really settled down to the realization that I need to make the changes to how I store my tools that I mused about several posts ago, with building a hanging tool cabinet and rearranging the Wood Shop Jr. to make it more user friendly.

Still I cannot help myself, I love to be the pebble that's responsible for starting the show, but sometimes I get a little tired and wonder if the avalanche will ever stop. Maybe what I need to realize is the avalanche may just be perpetual, and I may forever be just along for the ride. If that's really how it is . . . I guess that will be OK by me, as long as there is some moments of accomplishment along the way.



Sunday, March 7, 2010

"When you get to the end of your rope. . .

 . . . tie a knot and hold on" That's how the saying is supposed to go. At one point several years ago I worked for an Operating Room that was going through a lot of changes. Our charge nurse found this cute little saying and thought she would burst morale, little did she fully understand what critics an OR staff can contain. Not that I'm proud of it now, but my younger, more passive aggressive self walked around one evening with a sharpie and modified every sign I could to read "When you get to the end of your rope, tie a noose and hang yourself."  The curse is I took what could be an up beat reminder to stay happy and focused and drowned it in my defeatist sarcasm forever. Now whenever I think of that saying, or hear someone say they are at the end of their rope, a noose is the only thing that comes to mind.

I am kind of battling that same mentality right now and all I have to do is convince myself to hold on and we'll come out the other side soon. I also have to remind myself to stay away from the proverbial gallows pole. In my quest to refurbish, renew and add to my hand tools I am starting to walk the line. Some of these items have been used and abused by myself for a few years, and god knows how long by others before they got to me. I have learned a ton along this curve and god knows they were needed lessons, I see the need for a book out there to help others walk a similar path. (maybe I will write that myself one day because I haven't found one that I think does the entire process justice) but the truth is I'm not a woodworker because I like to MAKE tools, I'm a woodworker because I like to USE tools to MAKE sawdust. And though there has been some of that along the way, I feel like I am putting in a lot of work, and in my conscious mind I know I'm making progress and doing well, but in my subconscious mind I'm doing a lot of work and there is not much extra or new to show for it. Mostly I am working on the tools I own, not adding new ones, so I see nothing extra or added in my minds eye to prove progress, and I get restless at times when I see no progress.

Its the difference between hanging drywall and finishing drywall. Hanging drywall is very satisfying, you have bare studs before you, and you get to work. Several sheets up and you can see progress. Several more sheets and you have transformed bare studs into a wall. Then comes the muding, taping, and sanding to finish the drywall. You still know you are making progress, but you feel like you are covering the same ground again and again, revisiting the same dimple in the wall over and over. Hanging drywall - very gratifying, finishing drywall requires more persistence and discipline.

I guess I still have to work on the discipline part a bit.

The planes were finished today, just the scrub plane in the mail to go. For good measure I also took apart all my spokeshaves today and sharpened them as well. So the planes are done (again minus 1) so I set up to sharpen the last two saws of the four brothers. Then I made the mistake of coming upstairs to get a drink and take a break. I never made it back down to the shop. Instead my wife and I ended up taking an impromptu Saturday afternoon nap together. (I must admit, that was pretty gratifying as well)

Next on the agenda is remaking handles for my bench chisels. Out with the crap poly-plastic handles and in with some nice oak  wooden ones. The trick will be making them without a lathe set up... Rasp, drawknife, spokeshave, and scraper card I guess. We'll see how it goes. Anyhow until then



Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Success Can Be So Sweet

I got off work an hour early today, a nice surprise, picked up my wife from school on the way home, and jumped into the shop. I was a beautiful Wisconsin pre-spring day, hitting the 40's. In fact, today was the first day I had to back off my little shop heater's thermostat off of full blast. Very nice indeed.

I felt productive by the end of the day too. I already spoke about how much I dreaded the plane tuning process, but my success the other day inspired me to forge on, No stopping me now, I upgraded my sharpening capabilities since then as well. When I sharpened the plane irons from my two big metal body planes the flattest thing I had to use in the shop was a small section of plywood. Not ideal, right? Well I took a little stop at the local Menards on the way home and picked up a 12x12 granite floor tile and some spray on adhesive. Stuck the sanding paper down to the tile and tah dah... instant flat surface and plenty of space to move from grit to grit. It worked very well. I have to say that I have had a lot of frustration in the past and a lot of indecision over sharpening systems and what not. but the sand paper technique appeals to me. It's economical, repeatable, and so far I'm finding it easy to get good results, and after this initial tune up of all the plane blades, it will be just down to honing them from here on out unless I decide to change an angle...

I tuned up all the planes but one of the wooden jointers. The blade from that one has some pretty good nicks in it for one, And for two I was feeling a little tired, I had spent four hours sharpening and scrubbing rust, and I didn't want to burn out and rush through it. So I shut things down and went upstairs. The only thing I am not happy about today is I purchased a little block plane at a flea market this last weekend, I got the blade cleaned up and figured out the dumb ass had put the blade in upside down when he reassembled it after cleaning it. I guess I'm kind of a dumb ass too because it took me a half hour of playing with the thing and thinking, "None of this seems right" before I figured it out myself. Sharpened the blade but the thing just doesn't cut right...I guess I'm gonna have to play with it a bit more.

One more plane coming down the pike. For 15 $ I ordered a German Style scrub plane on eBay the other day. I's in the mail to me as I type this. It's one of the variety with the big horn on the front. I'm going to put a curved blade on it to make it really aggressive and that will be a good initial plane to remove a rough stock fast and prep it for the following planes to finish off the work. We'll get that puppy sharpened up and be good to go for a while. I would still like to get my hands on a router plane, a plow plane, and a matched set of tongue and groove planes, but for now I think I'm sitting pretty and unless an awesome deal comes along I'm gonna stay put for a year or two. I am thinking about storage and other options for myself in the shop though. The craftsman cabinet I have used for my planes has worked OK until recently, I find myself going after them much more often now that I'm in a hand tool only shop. and the cabinet is mostly annoying for that. I am thinking of pulling the peg board down off of one wall and puttng up a hanging tool cabinet kind of like the one Chris Schwarz made for popular woodworking mag, lets see if I can go steal a picture...brb.

I think this will work fine, give me some good looking storage space, and I think I may ocnstruct a saw til to hang directly next to it. Some shelves for the hand power tools and I will clear both the fake oak cabinet and the craftsman chest out of the cramped space and back into my storage with all my other full size tools. I will replace the fake oak cabinet with the small Joiners Bench, also featured in Chris Schwarz's blog. This will be constructed to also easily knock down so I can use it to travel to do demos at faires, and so I can move it out when it's time to find a house to live, with a garage. God that will be so nice to have a full shop again

But until then I will keep plugging away where I'm at. Sorry no pics from in the shop tonight, I guess I figures they would be pretty boring anyhow. The whole "this is how I sharpen my plane and my wit" thing has been done ad nauseum elsewhere and done better than I could.

That brings me to one more thing this evening. I really like the relatively new blog adventure by Adam King called the Woodworkers Journey. I was introduced to it via a spotlight on the Spoken Wood Podcast, (If you don't listen to it regularly you should, what are you waiting for!) Mr. King recently did a video post he called the "State of the Craft 2010" Very well done, thought provoking, and inspiring. Quite the innovative idea to shoot the video while he is walking along the street. He spoke quite a bit about the possible demise of woodworking print media due to it's not incorporating its existence into online access to the writers and content, and I can see his point. As a relatively young man (33) I have never contemplated sending a letter to the editors for a follow up question or comment on an article. I did at one point email a question to Chris Schwarz, but that was after I had posted my question in a couple of forums and received no real help. Mr. Schwarz did answer my question nearly right away, unfortunately the answer was an I don't know for sure, but here's who you could ask. Proving to me why it's no wonder Mr. Schwarz has a relatively loyal following online. he's a real guy who's not above shooting off a couple of answers to questions he gets sent.

The point is Mr. King had some good and possibly revolutionary ideas in his video. I'm interested to hear more about what he has to say on the subject. I hope this is not a ruffle the feathers and get outta town kind of thing. Bloggers and forum posters as the new authority in woodworking thought. I do understand his point, I myself have drank from the well of collective knowledge that is Lumberjocks, and lord knows I keep up on almost every woodworking blog I can find out there. But for me these things are more for inspiration, and somehow I have trouble equating the word "authority" with "inspiration" Maybe Authority was a poor choice of words on Mr. Kings part. If he's used inspiration in its place, I would be more inclined to bite harder on the bait I'm only nibbling on now.

After all that is the only reason for my blog here. It is not to teach, advise, or do anything other than relate and maybe inspire. It works as an inspiration for me and that is reason enough to continue plugging into the keyboard and plunk away at it at some regular intervals. If you spend sometime reading along here too, and maybe find some inspiration, then that is all the better.

Maybe Mr. King is on to something, time will tell.