Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wisdom Of Our Forefathers

It has been a slow month for woodworking this January. Cold temperatures and a injury to my knee have kept me from spending too much time making sawdust. A good old cortisone injection in the knee and some warmer temps lead to a whole day in the shop this weekend. I hope the weather is turning for the better here in Wisconsin because I could really use more time in the shop.

The current project I'm working away on is a version of the William and Mary Bookstand made by Chuck Bender and featured in Popular Woodworking Magazine's Arts & Sciences section. Out of respect for processes already covered by both the author and the magazine I am not going to go through my standard step by step of the build. If you're interested I encourage you to take some time and explore both Chuck's great blog Parings, and the online info provided by Pop Wood. There is enough info included in these places to allow someone to build this piece themselves if they choose.

Infact, here's my disclaimer. I never got around to actually purchasing the issue of Pop Wood this piece was featured in. All the info I needed to get to work on this piece was provided by a .pdf put out by the editors after the realized they had made some mistakes on the cut list page of the project. You can download your own copy of the page HERE.

The one thing I do have to say is that as I work on building this piece I have to admit how impressed I am at every turn. At first look it appears very simple, a nice in-between project, something for a weekend, but as you break it down there is a whole lot of work that goes into this simple little project. It includes dovetailing, mortise and tenons, turning, scroll work, wooden pin hinges to line up correctly. As I work away I continue to be impressed with all you have to do and do correctly or it will show up like a sore thumb on such a compact little piece.I am seriously thinking about adding some carving to the sides as well to give it a little extra dress up. I really thought I was picking up something that would be a fun little project that would use up some shorter white oak boards I had lying around, but I am finding a project that is delightfully challenging. I'm not a big one for building projects from magazines or copying others work, but I do highly recommend this one!

One of the things I was able to do with this project is make some smaller mortise and tenons. For the last few years if I've been making this joint, I've been making a big version of this joint, these were instead only 1/4" wide, the perfect chance to get to better know a tool I've been wanting to work with for a while now. A nice old mortising chisel.
A while back my father-in-law gave me a chest of tools that had traveled with his Great Uncle from Norway back around 1865, there was a lot of great stuff in there and you can read some about it HERE, but what I haven't spoken about is a couple years before he gave me the down payment on the chest with a big cardboard box of chisels and a couple wooden jack planes. Among the bench chisels was a 1/4" mortising chisel. I didn't know what it was for a while, I was just on the cusp of changing my Normite ways and moving a little more St. Roy, and I had never seen anything like this used in the New Yankee Workshop. It wasn't until I was reading through Leonard Lee's "Complete Guide to Sharpening" that I matched up a picture and the tool.

What threw me for a loop at the start was this depression on the backside of the chisel. A while ago I finally went to sharpen it and I had to decide how aggressive I was going to get. The backs of chisels are supposed to be flat aren't they? Well I thought about it and decided that I would be wasting a lot of steel and making a lot of work if I ground the depression away. I cleaned it up and figured that if needed, over time the depression would be eventually taken care of through sharpening and standard grinding. But then I got to actually using it.

The depression that was ground on the back, wither by my wife's great-great uncle or a family member after him, works kind of like a scoop or a spoon and makes a kind of sweeping blade. So I can use it to start to hog out a lot of waste fast, like a mortising chisel is supposed to do, but when it comes down to clearing chips the depression acts like a little backhoe, scooping out the chip in mass. And when it comes to squaring and fine tuning the mortise for depth the angle of the back side of the blade almost mimics a plane blade or scraper, curling up shavings and cleaning out the hole like a champ.

The little depression doesn't change the whole game when it comes to chopping mortises. It's not a massive revelation by any means, but it is one of those little things, a detail that can make a job just a little bit easier. Where did Wilbur Indahl come up with the idea, back in the mid 1800's, either he had to learn it from the master he apprenticed under or from another man of the craft maybe on a job site. To me it speaks of the type of information we lost a lot of when this country moved away from apprenticeships and towards assembly lines. The eventual result of those decisions has left us with an abundance of Wal-Marts and a distinct lack of artist/craftsmen. What a loss.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Little Impromptu Vacation

A couple weeks into January and I haven't had any time in the shop yet this year. A combination of poor weather and a nagging injury to my knee has conspired to keep me away from my sawdust. But a little vacation from time to time can be an OK thing but if this knee thing takes a turn the way I know it will then I will probably have more time off from the shop than I want. All for the better in the end but frustrating in the short time.

So I am left to think about what direction to go with the writing here. I spent a little time looking around the net for ideas and it blows my mind how many blogs there are about writing blogs... I guess I can't help but shake my head at the phenomenon. There are a hundred incarnations of about a dozen tricks to inspire me to write and others to read, but seriously how many "Top 10" lists can you handle. I've never been one to enjoy cliches. If I can't be showing you guys what I'm up to in the shop then I'd rather spend a little extra time coming up with something at least a little original.

I do have a few projects on the bench. for one I began a build of the William and Mary style books stand from the Nov. 2011 Popular Woodworking and Chuck Bender's great blog Parings, I was beginning work on this piece when my leg vise cracked (you can read about that HERE) My attempt to repair the damage also failed miserably and I will have to wait until my next trip to my hardwood dealer to pick up a good replacement board. In the meantime I am starting to ponder adding a crotch style vice with a threaded wooden screw and maybe a sliding deadman to the bench. but the planning committee in my head is still pondering the options involved.

Also in the works is another project from Popular Woodworking, I want to make a couple different sizes of Chris Schwarz's English Layout Square, I want at least a larger and smaller version, and if I have enough material one kind of in the middle size too. I picked up a nice mahogany board to build them from and it's sitting in my shop, calling my name. I'm going to see if I can bookmatch the arms of the square...

One more project I have coming in the near future is some type of case or series of cases to display the military medals awarded to my wife's sister's fiance over his 19 years of service to both the Marines and Army. This is actually a project that is simple and intimidating at the same time as I want to design something that will be worthy of holding these items of reverence and pride and still be subtle so it doesn't overshadow the contents. I like people to notice my work, but this time I want people to see whats going on inside the case before they notice the case itself, if they even notice the case. I think wood and grain selection is going to be the key to the success of this piece.

Well that seems to be enough rambling for one night.