Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tick Tock of the Clock Is Painful . . .

All sane and logical
I want to tear it off the wall.

It's a game we play a lot at work. Pandora radio plays in the background and while we are going about our work and someone will decide to play Alex Trabec and ask "OK, so who sings this?" Actually it's kind of a game to pick on the younger crowd and those who don't know their classic rock artists very well. (though one of our orthopedic docs still owes me a beer for knowing some of Nick Drake's songs) But in honor of the next project on the table I'm going to play the same game, with a theme related to the piece. I will give the name of the song and the band at the end of the article.

The subject is obvious of course, I'm talking about a clock here, not just any clock though. This is an Oldwolf Workshop version of a tall case clock that currently lives at Winterthur Museum in Delaware. I have never been to Winterthur (though I would very much like to one day), but through the power of modern technology and the beaming of television waves across this country, I was able to be given a very limited and specific tour guided by Norm Abrahms himself.

Norm introduced us all to a great piece of American furniture in the Dominy Clock. It was built around 1821 by the Dominy Brothers, who not only built the housing for the clock, but cut the gears and inner mechanisms and springs as well. Once I saw this episode I was hooked. I DVR'd it and must have watched it fifty times if I watched it once. I never ordered the measured drawing, I carefully studied the film, pausing it to see how far Norm's hand would stretch across a board to get the proportions and making height estimates based on Norm standing next to the finished piece. I built 1/12 size cardboard models to get the proportions of the bottom to the bonnet correct. I sketched and re-sketched all the details.

I admit in the end I scaled down the size of the clock to fit the materials I had on hand at the time. I believe the real Dominy Clock is much taller and broader, but I am happy with the way this one worked out
When we made the decision to move home from Maine, I had only had the chance to get a start on the build, and I had to make the decision to finish it fast or scrap the start. I kicked into high gear and finished the clock in 3 days. You can read more about that experience in an older post of mine HERE.It wasn't sanded or finished at all, now it's time to do that.

The only apology of this whole thing is I have absolutely no photo documentation of the build itself. I will show what I can of pics I was able to take of the finished piece. Admittedly shortsighted, I was just in too much of a focused hurry at the time.
A closer look at the bonnet of the clock. In the end I made some construction decisions that I am positive were different than both the original and Norm's recreation, but I suppose there are reasons to buy the measured drawing instead of pirate the process from the television show. In the end the piece worked well together and that's what matters. When I build this piece again, and I will build this piece again, I will have the opportunity to both document the process better, but also to make some different decisions about the finer points of the construction, and I'm looking forward to that.
 Here is the clock in the shop and waiting to be finished. The series on this clock will be a little retrospective on the construction, but will mostly focus on the finishing of the piece, and some particularly interesting decisions I made with the face to deal with how severely oblong it is.

Oh and the music trivia from the beginning... Eve 6 - Inside Out. That was an easy one, the next one will be tougher.



Saturday, October 23, 2010

Old World Tool Chest: Part 2

Well moving has its challenges doesn't it? Still no internet access at the home front and the tethering app I was using with my phone suddenly decided to stop letting me access secured sites, so that leaves me going to free wifi spots for the time being. But that's OK because it has led me to discover the LaCrosse Public Library, which is a great building, comfortable to work in, and has a boat load of woodworking and antique furniture books, I'm a pig in hog heaven here.

Last article I spoke a little about the tools that were included in the old tool chest given to me by my Father-In-Law, brought over from Norway in 1865 by is great uncle Melvin Indahl. For more of the background you can catch up on the story by clicking HERE. This time what I want to do is go over the actual chest itself.
Well here she is, all the way from 19th century Norway. You can see the mileage on her but in my humble opinion, that just makes her all the more beautiful. Color wise it's almost a purplish red, and its difficult to tell if it's a stain or a paint, I would vote paint, but its very well adhered to the wood, no real flaking or cracking. It is worn off in places but that should be expected. The front has "M. INDAHL" painted on the front. The INDAHL is from a brass stencil that I know is still in my Father-In-Law's tool cabinet, but the M was painted on. a lot of the chest is covered in a splattering of white that looks like over spray from some type of painting.
 Melvin was a carpenter, not a joiner. There is no fancy joinery on this chest to speak of. The boards are all butted and nailed. The outside case is nailed with cut nails, This one was loose and was sticking out a little. I tugged a bit and was able to pull it out with my fingers. I took a few pictures and then hammered it back homewhere it again wedged tight.
 Being a big fan of the book "The Joiner and Cabinet Maker" it was really cool for me to see the cut nails used in the same way Chris Schwarz spoke about. I only wish there was an example of nail clenching on the chest. Overall the construction makes me think of the simple pine packing box that was the first project Thomas made in the book. There are other round head nails used elsewhere in the construction as well.
 The lid for the chest is not connected by the hinges to the base. and the screws that held the keyed lock into the lid have been stripped out of the wood. It hadn't occurd to me until now to ask how long the lid has been free like this. I know Bob (my father-in-law) said he has the key somewhere in his tool cabinet and that he'll pass that along when he comes across it.
 It looks to me like the hinges had half the screws removed, maybe to gain access to the inside of the chest. I'm not going to really speculate on this, I've locked my keys in the car before too and broken in with a well bent coat hanger. Life happens. What I was curious about was the screws themselves. I remember watching an episode of the Woodwright's Shop and hearing Saint Roy talk about a specific date in the 1800's when almost over night the whole world seemingly changed over from straight threaded screws, like the one I was able to back out of this chest, to the tapered screws that we know and use today. Maybe some of my readers will remember this date or more specifics about it.
 The nice thing about the underside of the lid is you can get a good look at the wood. The chest is constructed of some kind of conifer. Definitely not the white pine I'm used to in Wisconsin, but ma spruce or something of the like. It's a hardy wood, that doesn't really scratch or dent overly easy but it is really pretty light weight wise. I realize it has had many years to dry but it is close to on par with pine chests I've built of similar size. The boards were probably dressed and smoothed on the outside of the chest, but inside you can still see the rough marks of the sawer on the wood. Again I can only speculate here but the saw marks are for sure froma straight saw blade, not a circular one, and they are pretty uniform and at almost a right angle to the board which makes me think of maybe a steam powered bandsaw as opposed to a pit saw and a couple of hard working gentlemen. But now that I think about it I have never had the chance to see the saw marks left behind by a pit saw, but I have seen pit saws and I think their courser blades would not be this regular and fine.

For those of you unfamiliar with pit sawing Peter Follansbee has several excellent posts about the process over at his blog "Joiner's Notes" but here is a link to my favorite one that also has some video with it. (CLICK HERE)
 Inside the chest there are two simple trays or tills, again butted joint and nail construction. They fit tight in the chest and ride on rails built into the sides. The whole piece makes me think. Here is a chest that hasn't been babied at all yet has survived 150+ years. It's made of a pine and butted - nailed joints. It makes you wonder sometimes if all the work that is put into some joinery techniques isn't a bit of overkill. Would dovetail joints, dados, mortises, and tenons have improved this piece? Extended it's longevity? I guess that's a tough question to ask. I cut joinery because I love to cut joinery, I probably don't need a better reason than that.
 Below the sliding trays is a larger open space and a divided till section to hold the hand saws. I believe that this area would have traditionally held several wooden body planes among other, longer items. The saw till was made to hold 9 saws, an odd number unless that is exactly how many Melvin owned at the time. I got six saws with the chest, makes you wonder where the other three have gone...
 A close up look at the base molding. I don't know if calling it base molding would be completely accurate but I'm certain that this wrap and the one the lid rests on are the big reasons this chest has held together for so long. Notice how the location of the butt joint is alternated between the side board of the chest and the molding. Here you can also see the use of some round head nails instead of cut nails.
 And here is the side almost nobody ever looks at, save a woodworker. The base has taken the most abuse, understandably so. It got a good soaking with a water leak in the storage a year or two ago and the base finally fell out of the chest. Bob reattached it in place with some screws. Again assembled with no muss or fuss, just a couple boards nailed to the bottom and hidden with the wrap of the base molding.

I cannot justify leaving this piece in my shop, It is just too much of a family heirloom to let it continue taking abuse here. My plans are to start constructing a replica of this chest, with modifications done for my tools and some just to make me happy. I will be using dovetails and dados and mortise and tenons and maybe a few other tricks. Once the new chest is done, this one will be able to retire comfortably with some of the other antiques in our home.

Before I go for the day I have one other very exciting note. Matt Vanderlist over at Matt's Basement Workshop has added the Oldwolf Workshop to those who have contributed to his very popular "Spoken Wood Podcast" To be included in such company along with other bloggers and woodworkers I very much look up to is a very humbling experience. This is my first go at recording my own voice reading one of my posts and there was more of a learning curve to it than I initially thought so my hat is off to those who do that recording, podcast work often. If you haven't, go take a listen to my entry at Spoken Wood Podcast no. 79, and if you haven't stop and subscribe to the podcast to keep up with all the great content that finds its way to Matt's doorstep.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Old World Tool Chest: Part 1

I know for a fact that I will not make my goal of blog posts for October, again I apologize for my recent tardiness but I have been missing the shop as well. My family and I have been very busy relocating to a new residence in LaCrosse WI, about 20 miles from the old place. The good news is that the weather has been beautiful here, cool, dry and easy for moving. The bad news is that the weather has been beautiful here, cool, dry, and I haven't been able to see the inside of the shop for longer than five minutes for about three weeks now. I guess the best news for me is that the shop is located on neutral territory and was immune to the whole moving process, and I do have a little bit of a back load of photos here to share until I get into the shop again next week.

In a previous post I mentioned that my father-in-law had seen fit to give to me the tool chest that had belonged to his great uncle, his father, and himself. In Norway in the 1800's his great uncle Melvin Indahl had been a carpenter. In 1865 he crossed the pond with his brother to find a good life in America. Eventually they settled in South Dakota and went to work farming. Being a carpenter Melvin ofcourse knew that his tools would be some of the most valuable items at his disposal, so he constructed a tool chest, (I could be embellishing a bit, imagine that, the chest could very well have existed before any decisions to strike west happened) The chest dutifully transported his tools across the ocean and across half of the USA before they paused in South Dakota later to backtrack as my wife's grandfather moved the to Western Wisconsin. The tools inside have changed along the way, some have been lost and replaced with others, some tools have been added, and some broken I am sure.

A few years before my father in law gave me a cardboard box that contained some of the previous contents. Several chisels and gouges, a couple of axe heads and a pair of wooden body jack planes. But to see what else this chest contained still leaves me buzzing with energy. Everything needs a clean up to say the least. Some pieces have a thick layer of rust and may not be usable after I get them cleaned up, but we'll see.
So many tools they could not all fit on the workbench. The saws had to rest out on the lid for their pictures.
Starting on the right end of the bench. A large 24"drawknife, a couple of slicks, one with a very short handle, a wedge and a couple of large thread cutters. The mallets in the background have been in the shop a long time, they were not part of the chest.
Moving towards the left, a fine wooden level, a couple of dividers, a trisquare, a variety of files, a saw set and a couple more wedges. One item I am having trouble identifying is the circular "pizza cutter" looking item on the left, the blade does not rotate it is pinned static.

A little more left we go, and here we can see a couple of hammers, one sans handle, some multi wrenches a stone dressing tool and a couple of the nicest woodwrights rasps I have ever seen, I really hope I can get them cleaned up and usable again.

A variety of brad awls, a stone wheel, and various small pieces of metal and bolts, a blacksmiths tongs and a couple of files forged into scrapers and what I think was probably a hoof knife, both for farrier work. There's a miniature, maybe a practice, horse shoe, a slew of steel cutting chisels that have almost all been neat to hell, and a whole bunch of brace bits.
A couple of spoon bits, something I have been looking for for a long time, With my second hobby as Viking age rennactment, spoon augers have been found in archeological finds, so spoon bits are a big part of making me more authentic in my portrayal of a a woodworker from the medieval era.

 And last, but not least, the saws. These blades are old, I am sure that at least on of them pre-dates the Disston Era, perhaps several. Three full sized are filed crosscut, One filed rip, a keyhole saw with a lot of rust and an odd little saw with a home made handle and maybe a home made blade as well... I'm just calling this a joinery saw for now. One really neat thing about living where I do is it's the same town that Mark Harrell lives in. Is the name familiar, yes he's the owner of Bad Axe Tool Works and the infamous Bad Axe hand saws. Mark does an excellent job of saw restoration and though I have done my own saw restoration in the past, if these saws are as old as I think they are, then I want an experts opinion on what should be done and most likely I think want to have an experts hands "supercharge" these saws for me for another few centuries of performance. I know that he's probably getting busy with Christmas upcoming, I think I'll look him up after the holidays.

Next time...The chest itself.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Don't Mess With Texas

When I think of Texas I have to admit some things come to my cartoon fed imagination, right or wrong, there they are. I envision ten-gallon hats and fancy cowboy boots, I think of the comic book of the Alamo I read to tatters as a child and of ZZTop. I think of cowboys sitting in a group around a campfire, eating large quantities of beans and releasing large amounts of methane and other green house gasses from inside their Levis (a la Blazing Saddles) and a president who spends his vacations clearing brush with a chainsaw infront of a crowd of reporters, (why you would stand there just to watch a dude run a chainsaw is beyond me). The legends of Texas are bigger than life and make this poor Wisconsin boy, who has never been further south than Kansas, think of things like independence, tenaciousness, and a distinct air that says "You can't mess with me. Do you know where I'm from?"

Though if I think about it rationally, away from the legendary stereotypes, I'm sure Texas carries the same varriety of humanity and experiences that I have come to know in Western Wisconsin. But I have a new argument to add to the stories, not a tale of independent spirit, or of overwhelming bravery, but a tale of open friendliness and generosity. David Kirtley is the man who has shown me the other side of Texas.

David was one of the first guys to find my blog and make regular comments. He always has some good additional advice or gives a nice turn of perspective on what I'm up to. Through this blog and eventually through emails, we have developed a fun and easy banter. I look forward to hearing from him and seeing a comment from him sitting in my moderation in box always brings a smile to my face. But recently he had the chance to take me by surprise.

I had made a blog post about turning a couple of spindles for a local entertainer to use as fire sticks. David replied in the comment area that he had also been out in the shop, playing with a new metal lathe, and turning some pins that hold the blade in a bow saw. Ribbing him a little I asked if he could spare a set. Well my jaw hit the floor a few hours later when I got an email asking for my mailing address. So what would you do? I sent him the address.

A couple of days later he sent me an email titled, "Hey, just thought I would torture you" which had a tracking number, I went to and plugged in the number and the package was closing in on me, but closer inspection of the page told me it weighed more than 11 lbs. There is no what two little aluminum pins would make up a weight of 11 lbs. I was out to dinner with my family when the email got to me on my phone, and my wife immediately said "You look like the cat that ate the canary. What did you do?" She loves and trusts me so much.

A couple more emails back and forth and I knew David had gone and added some extras to the box, he wouldn't tell me what though. I didn't pry too hard, I was enjoying the surprise. Its been a long time since I've had a Christmas as good as this. A couple more days and I had the box in my hands and I was not disappointed.

 Three thread boxes, two face turning plates and a tool rest, a butt chisel, a mortise chisel, a 3/8ths" chisel, four gouges, some in canel some out canel, a smaller stanley trisquare, a couple small blanks of Texas Ebony and a small block of burl. 

Oh ya there was also this:
Not one but two sets of turned hardware for building a bow saw and just for good measure a couple of Gramercy Bow Saw Blades. 

There is no way to say thank you enough for such a gift, the best I can hope to do is to pay it forward when the opportunity arises, but just once more for good measure. David, Thank you sir.

Just one more quick note, I know there has been a space here for a few weeks that I have been unable to post, heck I've been unable to get to the workshop either. (The withdrawls are starting to set in, I got the sawdust shakes) I've been in the process of moving my family and I into a nice new apartment, (new construction even) and it has been slow going, but we should be all the way in by this weekend and I'll be back into the shop by the start of the week after. So life will be returning to normal soon, Thank God,  . . . Or as close as it gets around here.