Thursday, April 28, 2011

Starting the Plane Storage Shelf

There is something about my shop that I hate. It's red and boxy and it's up on four wheels, and don't get me wrong, it works, but I hate it.
It started simple enough a while back, I had just a few planes in my possession and no real idea how to use them. They fit well in the drawer and it kept them safe and out of my way. As my interest and knowledge picked up I began to add some more planes to the shop. It seemed natural that I would just put the new planes in the drawers with the others. And so on, and so on, until we arrive at today.
Hell, the Sears cart doesn't even fit all my planes, my wooden joiner and my #45 (not yet cleaned and rehabbed) often live on or under the workbench.
I've wanted to build a piece of shop furniture to house my hand planes for a while, I look on the net and in blogs at pictures from other folks shops, at the variety of cabinets, shelves and ramps that looked a lot like THIS. There were two common things I saw, and liked. The first and maybe the most prominent was some type of ramp or slot to hold metal bodied planes. There was often a lipped and sliding insert to lock the planes in place and keep them from meeting their demise on the concrete shop floor. I like this set up mostly for looks, I have seen some folks build one where the planes seem very difficult to get at. Those I had no interest in at all, I use my hand planes, a lot.

I ended up with a few issues with this design. One that I kept coming back to is these locked designs seemed to all hold collections of planes from one maker, Stanley's or Lie Nielsen's. My metal body hand planes are from everywhere, Stanely, Miller Falls, Sargent, and others. Two, is that there was no account in this design for those odd shaped planes, my Rabbet plane, Router Plane, or others. Third, the system just seemed to rigid and specialized for each tool. I just wanted more flexibility.

Now I like my metal bodied planes, but the longer I work, the more enamored I am of my wooden planes, and though I could build a ramp style rack that would house those planes, I finally decided on a more standard and straightforward method to get my planes out of the damned Sears cart. A straight up shelved wall cabinet. I am building it as the mate of my Saw Till design and it will hang on the wall next to it.It should be a fairly simple build, and I will be covering my progress through the next several posts.
I picked up several pine 1 x 10's the other day and I started out by cutting them to length, flattening out most of the twist on one and generally scrubbing the BORG off them.
I then took to marking how the boards would layout in the piece, paying attention to grain flow and the position of the knots, I also marked each to what faced inside and the orientation of top, bottom, and back side, where the rabbet lives.
I cut a nice round over profile into the top sides of the Saw Till, and I wanted to do something similar here, yet not the same, more of a counterpoint to the round over. So with the help of a pair of dividers I drew out a cove shape. You can see by the picture I drew it on twice. After I penciled in my scratch lines for the first, shallower version, I stood back to take a look and it looked small and diminutive. After taking a closer look at the round over on the Saw Till I realized what I had missed. The round over starts with a 2" drop from the top.
I went back to the board and laid out the cove again. After penciling in my scratch lines again and standing back to look, I was happier. I ganged both sides together with some pinch clamps, rocked it into the leg vise, and started by dropping two straight cuts down.
I then cut out the curved part of the cove with a coping saw. I never worry about being right on my line when I'm using this style of saw. I just try to cut as close as possible and keep the blade perpendicular.
I then turned the piece in the leg vice to sit more straight up and down and made the two other straight cuts.
Then comes the real fun, I think it's amazing how many people overlook the usefulness of a wood rasp, I think until recently it may have been one of the most over looked, least spoken about ugly step children of the shop. I have always loved them. Of course the King-Maker, Chris Schwarz changed that game recently when he claimed they could give woodworkers superpowers. I believe that changed much of the dynamic and people may just stretch out to realize how versatile these tools can be.
I did have a late start in the shop this time and so I had to give a stop after the detail was cut. But I was very happy with the proportions and how it looks.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


"If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability." ~  Henry Ford

I've been dwelling a lot lately on a couple of bigger projects, some things that I might not be able to pull off for a couple of years. Those projects include some things like teaching some smaller hand tool woodworking classes, beginning work on an a couple of articles I'd like to get published, at least one idea for a woodworking book, and beginning to plan and build pieces for a gallery show. As I think about these things, I tend to work them out in the written word, I cannot just keep an idea solely in my head, They start in my sketchbook and sometimes end up here on this blog, hopefully better formulated and thought out. I just have to see a thing to dive deeper into it, and the process of writing and seeing fills both my learning process of the spacial and the kinesthetic. This post is a part of that process too and some of you just looking to read about sawdust will have to bear with me as I work through my process. Other part of that will include asking questions of you guys who read the things I write. This may include some polls, and questions here and maybe a few other places I lurk.

Nothing is worth doing if it it not worth thinking about why you're doing it. Why does working with our hands hold such draw and appeal? What part of our psyche are we tapping into?

If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed that I have started a daily Tweet between 3 and 4 in the afternoon that is basically a fill in the blank to this sentence, "To me woodworking is _________________" The Tweet includes an answer to the blank and a picture from the shop. I think there's 21 in total that I have done and when they finish their run on Twitter I will post them together here on the blog, but what is interesting to me is not entirely what I think of as filling in the blank but what you think should go in the blank. I sat down in an afternoon and wrote down 21 ideas that fit for me, and in the end as I sit back and look at my answers they all come back to one thing. The title of this post. Independence.

What's your answer?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Review: "17th Century New England Carving With Peter Follansbee"

I was just beginning to stick my toe into the ocean that can be the online woodworking community. I had found some forums, I had started to write this blog, and by consequence, I had started to get a look at other woodworking blogs out there. One of the first and best I have ever found was Joiner's Notes by Peter Follansbee.

For me, a woodworker with a deep interest in history and by combining default historical woodworking, Peter's blog is the perfect storm of interest and content for me, his writing is straightforward yet scholarly. He is so well versed and studied, truly an expert and master with a soft spoken delivery. If you don't know his blog or his work I suggest you go and check them out.

The most obvious thing that sets Peter's work apart from other guys out there is the carving that covers every one of his pieces. I also harbor an interest in decorative carving, I've added it to a lot of trunks and other things I've built, usually Celtic Knot-work designs. I started carving using a rotary tool and burr, and I always wanted to work with the real deal carving tools but I had no idea how to work or how to start. Peter's blog was a great first instruction on the basic tools and how to use them.

At first glance his reproduction carving work looks like some insanely complicated patterns, something I believed would be beyond me, but then I started to catch some videos out there on Peter and his technique. Like THIS one posted on You Tube by The Village Carpenter, but even better is his appearance on The Woodwright's Shop where he talks about making "bible boxes" That episode you can watch online HERE. He gave me enough to get started, I picked up a couple carving chisels to get started, a "V" tool and a shallow gouge, and using some of what I learned watching him I did the carving on the front of my Medieval Hutch Chest.
I wanted to get more in depth into learning how Peter carries out his work, then Lie-Nielsen came out with an announcement that they were producing a video featuring Peter and his carving techniques. I don't buy many woodworking videos, I just happen to prefer books, personal preference, but this was one I was gonna pick up.
It is everything that you come to expect from Peter. Packed full of information and a detailed and thoughtful breakdown of every aspect of carving in his style. The patterns are broken down into simple steps and you are shown how to draw them out simply with a compass so you can adjust them for different width boards. In this video you are not just given a fish, as in here is two patterns you can carve if you do it this way, you are taught to fish, so you can take the lessons learned here and adapt them to other patterns and projects. I have found that since this video I look at carvings in a different way than I used to. I am not overwhelmed by the over all effect of them anymore because now I can see the different steps and stages that go into them, and in my mind I can start to break that down into a series of moves.

On the disk there are also a couple of .pdf's that can be printed out. One shows in full scale the impressions of the chisels used in the video, so even in the confusing world of carving chisel numbers and names, you can print the sheet off, take it into your friendly neighborhood woodworking store and score the same thing. There are other sheets that illustrate the starting moves for arches and a break down of the step of carving the pattern.

Here's my admission, this video is less than stimulating for people who are not interested in learning about Peter's specific techniques. My wife can only watch around 5 minutes or so before she has had enough and needs to find something else to do. I love that there is no cut away, no time elapse, there is just Peter pounding out a carving in real time, and he does make quick work of it. Honestly, the first time I tried to watch the video I was excited that it had arrived, but I had finished a long day at work and life and I wasn't completely in the right frame of mind to sit and learn. I just wanted to pop it in because it was new. In about 20 minutes Peter's smooth, soft spoken voice had me dozing off in my chair. (In his defense, I can fall asleep during an action movie if the day's been long enough, so I blame myself for this, not Mr. Follansbee)

A couple of days later I returned to the culprit chair and the DVD remote in different circumstances, this time I watched the whole thing, and I have watched it in whole and in part several times since. If you pick up this video I would think about bringing it right into the shop with you, on your laptop or portable DVD player, so you can work right alongside it. Figuring out the work while you watch it and creating some muscle memory to go along with it.

For my part I find Peter Follansbee very inspiring and motivating and this video only adds to that. I have read books on carving and there is something to them that bogs down, that gets lost in translation. Carving is an art of motion, it is one of the few things I believe translates best on video. Turning may be the the other thing that comes to mind first. If you are looking to expand your skill set and add hand carving to your repertoire then I suggest this video as a good place to start. It has convinced me that the level of work that peter does is not only accessible and achievable, but in a lot of ways (in my humble opinion) preferable to other methods of achieving such a look.

It did inspire me into one big purchase with the tax return money this year. before I owned the video I owned these two carving chisels.
After the video I felt like I could justify a few more chisels, at an area antique mall I had been watching this set in it's case for a couple years, always surprised when I went in and found them there. Well they aren't there anymore, they're in my shop now.
I have to clean them up a little and they all need some sharpening or honing, but I'm excited to break wood with these babies soon.

If you haven't seen it there is a preview of video Lie-Nielsen posted on You Tube. You can watch that preview HERE


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I Couldn't Build Just One.

Well I hope that I didn't deceive any readers out there as I have been blogging along about building my version of the English Layout Square. I did not spend all my time working on one and only one square, In fact I finished three separate squares all about the same time. One was the larger layout square and Libella that you have seen in recent posts (If you're just catching up you can catch all the posts HERE)

Before I even cut any of the joinery on this one I decided that, while it was great for big markups, it would be nice to have a smaller one as well. So I built a Jr, English Layout Square.
 I decided that a good place to start would be to cut the length of the pieces in half and see where that gets me. Since the large layout square had 21" lengths, I cut the Jr. square with 10 1/2" lengths.
 I followed the same exact process I had on the large square all the way through, in the end forgoing the hole for the plumb bob string and using less of the mystery exotic pins. Because the square was smaller I also pared down the width of the stock I used to closer to 1 1/8" at the thickest. of course it tapers down to around 7/8" for most of the length of the arms.

Of course since I had the twitter discussion about whether this square was a Roubo (French) or English derivation, (if you missed it I was wrong, but I'm actually pretty glad I was wrong) I decided I had better build a version of what usually gets called a "Roubo Square."
The same mahogany board and some of the same exotic pegs and I had a square closer to the try squares I use most often. It was a nice change up in the build because the joinery was a little different.
Necessity is the mother of invention, or so they say. One of the issues I have found with my workbench is that cutting tenons or something similar just isn't comfortable, especially if I'm trying to use the leg vise. I have a tail vise on the left end of the bench that works but honestly it's not as comfortable or convenient to use as it used to seem to be. I must be evolving, hopefully for the better. (Cue visions of a three eyed fish dragging its scaly carcass from the ocean to take the first breath of air into its psudo-lungs) Recently I have taken to securing the board in a wooden clamp and then securing the clamp with a hold fast. It actually works pretty well, I'm not sure what I'll do when I have something longer than the bench is tall, but I'll burn that bridge when I come to it.
Before sawing these lines were first scribed with a marking gauge. Marking this out and setting it up is similar to a tenon, only in the end you are removing a different section of waste. Sawing is very similar to hand cutting your dovetails, use good technique in holding and moving your saw, and split that line.
I then split the waste from the square's handle using a mortising chisel. First knocking out half of the waste, then half of what remained, then half again and so on until I had worked back to the marking gauge line.
A little dry fit. After I got a look at it I realized I had forgotten to set myself up to allow the blade of the square to sit about 1/4" proud of the handle on the marking side. Another quick mark off with a marking gauge and a couple quick crosscuts and that mistake was remedied.
Now cutting the ogee details into both the handle and blade. Oh wait you can see the lines too remove that 1/4" off the handle too. I think what gets me about the design details of this style of square is how the blade and the handle both get different detail cut outs, but both complement each other so very well until I studied it close in the planing of the build, I hadn't consciously noticed the difference.

I squared up the Roubo using the same techniques I used for the other two squares. The truth is though this one seemed less fussy to accomplish. Not that the other two were bad, maybe it has more to do with this one being the third square I'd trued in a couple of days.
In the end building these three squares was a blast, I still might build a couple different sizes of the Roubo, but from here out they'll be filler projects, something to do while the glue or finish dries on my main build. If you have read my thoughts here much before you know that I feel that tools should have that "It" factor. They have to look good classically, be comfortable to use, and be reliable in their use. All these things together not only work to help you build something, but also act as inspiration while they're working.


P.S. Does this picture make anyone else want to don a black cape and mask with pointy ears and say things like "Look Robin, Commissioner Gordon has turned on the Bat-Signal...Gotham needs us. To the Bat-Mobile!"

I hope I'm not the only one! From here on out I will probably take to calling this The Bat-Square :)
- D

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Touch Of Krenov

I have been reading some of James Krenov's writing lately, in particular it's been "The Impractical Cabinetmaker" He is inspiring in his work and his outlook on what he is doing, a real philosophy of woodworking, I understand why people enjoy and have followed him and his work for so long, I'll admit I am late to the party here, but I am beginning to learn the dance steps.

However, I find I cannot just sit down and read his stuff cover to cover, page after page. He is a bit too wandering for me to do that, but if I take him in smaller snippets and then give my brain time to digest what I've read, I find his words poignant. It's a bit like reading poetry, you have to dwell on it sometimes to figure out the facets of the verse, like turning a rubix cube.

I blame my decision today on Krenov and reading the parts where he talks about finding some of those unique pieces of wood and waiting for the right chances to showcase them. Tonight I was at the local home center and I was sorting through the pile of mid-quality 1x10's to build another shop project, (Of course to be revealed later) I planned to pick up four boards, I came back to the shop with six pine boards instead, because two of them looked like this.

I actually looked at the board on the right for a while and then shuffled it over into the "Not" pile, a little bit later when I found a second similar board I stood it up and I looked at it. Eventually I could feel the creep of a decision being made and next thing I knew I had these two unique beauties sitting in the cart. I can see possibilities in them, I just have to make sure I exploit them in the right way. I'm not sure what's going on whether it was a little fungus or some spalting or what caused it, but it's deeper than just the surface and I think it's cool as hell. Maybe I'll complete the Krenov circle and make a version of the cabinet on a stand with them. It seems like that's what they're screaming for and I've always wanted an excuse to make one.

Oh yes, and for those of you out there wondering what the project I'm starting with the four pine 1x10's is, I will give you a little hint. It involves every single one of these guys.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Exploring the Libella

Recently I've been building shop made wooden squares. I was inspired to start by the English Layout Square featured in a recent Popular Woodworking magazine article. After some discussion with other woodworkers I was further inspired to drill a hole in the square's apex and hang a string with a plumb bob from it. Making what I have been calling an A-frame square
You can read all about this square and the build by clicking HERE

After I posted two things happened,

1) I had a well deserved question about the use of this tool, I think that I had difficulty communicating some things about it, mostly because I don't think I had a good grasp on the multiple complexities that can come from such an ancient tool.

2) A little bit of my pride reared it's head and I felt compelled to shoot an email of to Chris Schwarz to show off a bit, He wrote back and told me that the actual name of the tool I had made was called a Libella.

In the comments I was gracefully rescued from my own ignorance by this:
I tried to do a little research on the internet about further uses for the Libella or the A-frame square and I came up with very little to show for it. So in place of research I took to the shop to put in some hands on fooling around starting with the list supplied by David.

After a couple hours I decided to shoot a quick video on some of the things I had figured out that afternoon. So even though I don't go to moving picture too often, here is a quick shot on exploring the Libella.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Is It English? Is It French? Does It Matter?

I'm continuing on writing about building some wooden layout squares for the shop. If you haven't been following up to this point you can catch up on the previous posts HERE.

I kind of like Twitter, aside from the stupid name, the group of woodworkers out there are a great bunch of guys. Awhile back when I was beginning work on these squares I spent a day in the shop "Tweeting" through my progress. I would take a picture with my phone and upload it with a "Tweet" I kept calling it an English Layout Square after the title Chris Schwarz and Patrick Leach had bestowed upon it. One of my followers "Tweeted" up, (you see what I mean about the name, I feel like I'm writing about Dr. Seuss) anyway, he said
"I still reckon these are French squares - they are hanging on the wall in Roubo plate 11. Whatever, I love yours, Derek :)",

I answered that I was going with what The Schwarz was calling it but I knew the "Roubo" square was more akin to a try square in design. then Jeremy sent me a link to this picture, posted for download on Popular Woodworking's website.
Can you see it. It's a little like a Where's Waldo puzzle. I'd studied this picture a lot, but I had never caught the square / level hanging on the wall on the right side of the picture before. Jeremy had gotten me, and I'm rather glad he did.
So what is one to do when presented with that kind of information? You say "awesome idea" and you go with it. Thank you again Jeremy.

But before I could get that far I had a few things to finish up. I wanted to peg the half lap joints for some added stability and because I really though it would look great especially if I used some contrasting wood and I had just the stuff. A while back I picked up a bag of random exotic turning blanks from Woodcraft. I never use exotics at all, but they seemed perfect to turn into some tool handles. So the admission here is that I have no idea what wood this is. If you can figure it out from the pictures you're a better person than I, drop me a comment and let me know what you think it is.
It planed beautifully and was kind of oily once you got deeper than the outer dried layer. After I got it squared up I ran it through the bandsaw to resaw it down to a pile of square dowels a little bigger than 1/4"X1/4" I cut several lengths at around 3/4", tapered them and pounded them through my doweling plate to make 1/4" round dowel.
I laid out and drilled the holes, then placed the dowels with some hide glue.
A little flush cut, a little sanding and I had that wow factor I was looking for.
I squared it up at this point, but I'm not going to show that part because I think Chris Schwarz shows it best via a short video on his blog. HERE"S A LINK to that post and video.

 Now I was ready to make the layout square more versatile by giving it the chance to act as a level as well. The first thing I had to do was go out and find a smallish plumb bob. A little time on eBay and I had what I was looking for.
 I drilled a 3/8" hole, in hindsight a little larger than I really wanted to, but it's OK. I hit the hole with a little light touch of a countersink to ease the edges. I then took a coping saw blade without the coping saw, and used it to teardrop the hole a little.
 I left the teardrop very tight so that a know in the string would catch in the notch. This way I didn't have to worry too much about leaving the bob tied to the layout square when I just wanted to use it for layouts.
Lately I have been having an excellent time reading Kari Hultman's blog, The Village Carpenter, as she's crafting a level. (If you haven't seen it you should because it's amazing work) Earlier this afternoon I had to smile as I thought of her work because now I had a new level too, albeit a different and cruder version. But in her post introducing the project I think we may have an answer to the question I pose in the title of this article. Is it English? Is it French? Nope, it's Egyptian. Read it HERE.

I laid my four foot construction level on the workbench and shimmed it until the bubble was plumb I then rested the arms of the square on the level, with the plumb bob attached. I waited a few seconds for the bob to stop moving and then held the string tight. I used a pencil to mark on the cross piece on either side of the string. Then I used a sharp chisel to cut a "V" marking plumb, then I also excavated a very shallow indent.
I realize this small indent could give a narrowly false positive when marking level, but seriously the plumb bob is mostly a fun contrivance. I'm not giong to trade in any of my bubble levels for this any time soon, but if I'm in a pinch, I may find myself leveling out with this baby.

A coat of danish oil and she was looking beautiful, and you may think that was enough for me and sqaures, but you'd be mistaken. I had a couple more things I wanted to try.

Friday, April 1, 2011

More on Shop Built Layout Square.

A few days ago I started writing here about making your own tools, I have done several other projects here in the past, and this time around I decided I needed to make a wooden square, or at least when I started I thought I wanted to make "A" wooden square, I ended up with a couple more than the singular "A" should refer to. This really can be a nice quick little weekend project that is great for building or practicing a number of hand tool skills. The design of the square is not mine, Chris Schwarz blogged, built, and wrote about this square that he found on Patrick Leach's monthly "for sale" e-mail. (If you don't get this monthly edition of hand tool nirvana in your inbox yet, the you should go HERE and chose the "contact me" button and send him an email to add you to the list.)

If you want to catch up on where we are in the process you can read the previous post HERE.
At any rate, here we are with two arms of the "English Layout Square" glued up, it's been removed from the clamps and had the squeeze out cleaned up.
There ae several ways you could mark out where to locate the cross member of the square by measurement or by eye. The big trick is the cross member is the same length as the arms and you want to locate it to use all that length. I tried to set the level by eye as best as I could and then I checked to make sure it was symetrical on both sides using dividers. I like dividers, no numbers, no fuss, they're almost sailor proof

Since the joint here is also a half lap careful mark out was critical to having it look good. With the cross member set just where it had to be, I held pressure down to make sure it wouldn't shift as I marked the placement on the arms with a pencil. I then used those lines to relocate the piece and secire it with a couple clamps so I could flip it over and make similar marks on the cross piece.
I then went to work cutting the half laps in the cross piece first. I used a first class saw cut for the shoulder and marked my line with a marking gauge. I hardly needed to saw at the shoulder at all because my chisel work from setting up for the first class cut nearly took me to the propper depth already.
I kind of like this picture because it shows how you get to move the angle of the saw around to make this kind of cut and keep a straight track on your line on both sides of the stock. After I cut both sides of the cross piece I repositioned it on the arms to make sure how accurate I had been, If I had cut just a little too far on one shoulder the best fix would have been to move the cross piece up on the arms a little bit.
With everything satisfactory on the cross poece I moved on to excavating the half laps out of the arms. I reinforced my pencil lines with a marking knife and used a chisel to prep some more first class cuts. I also scribed a depth using a marking gauge.
I then used the router plane to clear out the waste. I dropped the depth setting three seperate times. The first time taking half the thickness, the second time taking half of what was left and the last pass at the deepest setting.
The half laps fit well and reasonably tight, no big gaps, no big errors. I took a deep breath because this really is the telling part of the build. Either these joints look tight or they look like crap. I have to admit I was pretty happy with these. Just a little planing and sanding and everything was on the same level,
Now it was time to cut the details into the cross piece. I started by marking them out on the board and making some basic 90 degree cuts where they were called for
Then I used the bandsaw to excavate the thinner space between the details. I cleaned up the saw marks with a wide chisel held tight and flat against the edges.
Then it was just a matter of finishing off the ogee details using a little coping saw, a chisel, and some rasps and sandpaper.
Here is the square, I think this is dry fit, just before glue up, but I did leave those "wings"  hanging out there until the clamps came off and the glue was set up. Then I trimmed them flush with a pull saw. 
I was very happy with what I had going here, but as I looked at it hanging on the tool rack, (I have not made a home for it yet) I couldn't help but feel like I needed to add something more.
We'll go over my little detail additions and something cool I was able to add to this square after I had a suggestion from a fellow woodworker on Twitter.