Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sampling The Sector

I don't drink a lot, I don't use any illegal substances, heck most of the time I even drive in the vicinity of the speed limit. I really only have two vices, (the naughty kind, not the attached to my bench kind) that occasionally get in the way of being an attentive husband, father, and employee. One of those is woodworking, the other is studying medieval history.

One of the best things for me is when my two obsessions find common ground, then I can really geek out. this is probably why I've latched on well to panel carving, It's a drug that feeds both of my obsessions. 

One thing I have always wondered about with medieval woodcraft is measuring, before standard empirical measurements. I get the idea of story sticks or string with knots at regular spaces. I understand the concept of measuring by finger, hand, and foot. I also get judging by eye and having a working knowledge of how proportions should work. I have played with all these things but there seemed like there was a missing piece to all of these, and I had my suspicions the mystery was contained in a pair of dividers. 

I get the basics of a pair of dividers, transferring measurements and scratching arcs and circles, but I have always suspected that was only scratching the surface. I've never made it to Woodworking in America, but I know George Walker has taught a class there that connects the use of dividers to design furniture and I wish I could attend for that class most of all. (There are lots of other good reasons I with I could attend) 

I am an avid follower of Mr. Walker's blog "Design Matters" blog and I like his articles in Popular Woodworking Magazine and he recently wrote a simple post on a tool rack he built for his shop without using any "measuring" in the sense that we have all been raised to be accustomed to. This connected me to an article written by Jim Toplin (George's co-conspirator on an upcoming book from Lost Art Press) in the June 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine called "Secrets Of The Sector." 

I dug out my copy of the mag and re-read the article, and I'm not sure how I let it slip by me the first time. In the back of my head, everytime I saw a folding rule for sale I would think, "I should pick up a real cheap one I can sand down and convert to a sector" like Chris Schwarz did in this video. But after re-reading the article I couldn't let it pass me by again. 

I stopped and picked up a small maple board from the closest box store the next morning. Why maple? It was one of the best bits of stock on the shelf that particular day, and I wanted something light colored and readable when I marked the lines and numbers. 

I gathered from the article that while one sector is functional, a pair of them can be very versatile. One about twice the size of the other. I chose a width for the larger sector and proceeded to rip the width from the narrow stock after marking it out with a marking gauge.

As I worked along I made myself pretty happy, a couple years ago when I started changing my game plan to hand tools there's no way I would have been able to pull off ripping a half inch off a board with a D-7. Now it really didn't seem like a big deal. After sawing I planed the edges first with my #6 for flatness followed by my #3 for smoothness.

Now I had a good ol' pair of sticks to make the longer sector.

The shorter sector could be thinner dimensions so I ripped the two sides from one shorter section of stock.

Toplin's sector puts the hinges on the endgrain. I know he's probably smarter than me and there's gotta be a reason for it, but I had to go with what felt right to me and that was sinking the screws into side grain. This meant creating a little recess so the hinge will lay flush once installed

Then there comes the knife work breaking the sides into 13 equal sections. I cheated a little and used inch measurements for both sectors, The smaller sector has 13 divisions spaced at an inch and the larger has them at two inches. I measured them out and knifed the lines both on the top, then on the inside of the legs.

A very fine Sharpie pen was put to work darkening all the knife lines.

While I was working away I got to thinking about the layout squares I started building about this time last year and the decorative molding cut outs on the Roubo Square and English Layout Square and how they help make the tool attractive and increase the pleasure I get working with them. I decided to repeat the experience here with these sectors. I cut these ovolo silhouettes on the distal ends of the legs on both pair.

Towards the hinge end of the smaller I rasped out these simple covetto silhouettes.

And the hinge end of the larger sector received this bead detail.

Then came the time to number them one to thirteen. One the smaller I used standard Arabic numerals.

On the larger I decided to change it up and use Roman numerals. No particular reason, a little romance that's all.

A quck Danish Oil finish to give them a little protection and when they dry they'll be ready to work. I cannot wait to begin to play with these and explore the possibilities behind them. I know they're going to help me pull more of the mystery out of using my dividers and I'm excited about that. I'm going to see how many secrets I can unlock on my own before the Walker / Toplin book arrives on the scene. I'm excited to read that too, I hope we don't have to wait to long. 

Ratione et Passionis

For More Info:
Read George Walker's post "Design at the Point of a Tool
Check out Jim Toplin's website
Chris Schwarz also has a video on using a sector HERE

Monday, January 23, 2012

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs . . .

Over the last couple weeks I have been carving, not the 17th century style carvings I have grown so fond of, but a couple of signs commissioned by folks I work with at the hospital. Carving lettering is a bit more demanding than a pattern because mistakes stand out. The layout is a bit more picky as well, unlike laying out a pattern to carve I had to go dig out the old carbon paper and use the computer to get the letters printed to just the right size.

Zoe is 4 years old and her father just built a new playhouse for her. I work with Grandma and she knew I was a woodworker. She asked me if I knew anyone who made signs, assuming a router and a pantograph. I had to admit I don't know anyone who does that, but I would be happy to carve a sign for her. After all I have a mahogany board that's just begging to be worked over.

I ran a molding plane around the edges to get started. Then laid out the lettering using carbon paper.

Now it was time to dig in and start work. On this sign most of the letter work was done with the V tool.

Wanting to dress it up a bit for a little girls playhouse I added a couple flowery S curves.

And a pin wheel. I had to sneak some 17th century stuff n where I could,.

I was really happy with the way it turned out and more importantly Grandma loved it as well. I gave it a simple danish oil finish but when Grandma got it home she added some very dark stain to the lettering and some paint to the pinwheel and flowers. She showed me a pic on her cell phone and she did a very nice job. It was fun to have her finalize and customize it for herself.

After finishing Zoe's sign, another lady at work heard about my work and came to me. Her husband and her had just finished building a bar area in their basement and her husband wanted to name the bar with a sign. I had some nice cherry around and I hadn't carved any of it yet, this seemed like a good chance to give it a shot.

Her husband is a police officer, apparently the code 10-57 stands for someone who has been drinking. If I look it up on Google it means missing person, I'm not sure what the common usage is in this area but both definitions work if you ask me.

I wasn't given any real specific instructions about what it should look like, just the phrase really. As I thought about it a while and I have always liked the the Woodcraft sign that is being carved at the beginning of PBS woodworking shows like "The Woodwright's Shop" so I decided to do something similar. I outlined the letters with a V chisel and then worked up to the line with gouges, also using broad flat gouges to remove most of the background.

To smooth out the background and help make the letter stand forward from it, I textured it with my waffle punches.

Smaller punches make a deeper impact but don't cover a whole lot of surface at once. It was a while of pounding the punches to cover the negative space.

Fruit wood like cherry can be a little temperamental, especially when its kiln dried. There were no checks or cracks when I initailly sized and surfaced this stock but through the process of carving a crack developed, like a seismic fault line, stretching across the length of the board. It was incomplete but I din't want it to proliferate over time and give Officer Quimbly two half signs instead of one full one.

My solution was to take a large, thick sheet of high quality, linen art paper and glue it to the back of the sign. When I say glued to the back I mean completely, edge to edge coverage. I figure the paper will buttress the thin crack and help hold the sign together as well as stretch and move with the wood over time. Hopefully a very elegant solution.

A danish oil finish, some hard ware hooks added to help hang it and this one was finished as well. Carving this pair of signs was a good learning experience and kind of fun as well. I don't think I'd like to make a career out of it but as an occasional diversion it's alright.

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, January 16, 2012

Fix a Chipped or Nicked Plane Blade

Writing a woodworking blog leads to questions. My questions and your questions.

Often I spend my words on this blog trying to answer my own questions. In the background I get several emails a month by other woodworkers with questions of their own. I find this highly flattering and I am always happy to help answer a question if I can, or help point someone in the right direction if I'm just as stumped as they are.

Over time I have noticed a pattern, maybe one out of every five questions I get is about fixing a severely nicked or chipped plane blade. Recently I picked up a nice wooden shoulder plane with a skewed blade for just five dollars and had the chance to get some pictures of fixing a sizable chip in the blade

She was a beauty. Sitting pretty on the shelf in the antique store, surrounded by a dozen other molding planes. The tag tied to the narrow end of her blade was written in black sharpie. I saw the nick in the blade, the one flaw to her beauty but it only made her more irresistible. At only five dollars I had to take her home and make some room for her in my tool chest.

Here is the chip, pretty sizable and on the working corner as well. The only solve I know of for something like this is to grind the nick out. That means grinding the length of the blade back until the nick is removed

I have to remove a decent amount of blade to fix this one, but there's no worries, there's plenty of blade left. The black line here is photo-shopped in but in reality I did use a sharpie to mark a right angle across the blade to work the chip out.

I have a plywood tool rest I use in conjunction with my grinder. It helps me grind off the steel at close to a 90 degree angle to the back of the blade.

Here is the edge of the blade with the nick about halfway ground out.

Then I take away the platform and freehand grind the cutting bevel of the blade back down to sharp, or as close to sharp as a grinder can get.

Then I run the blade through my version of a sandpaper sharpening system. I use man made stone tiles from a home store and I run through six grits on the bevel and then lighter on the back of the blade. The progression goes 320, 400, 600, 1000, 1500, and 2000. Usually I use a simple eclipse style guide but there are times it doesn't work, like the skewed blade for this shoulder plane. When that happens I free hand the process.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Final Pictures of The Unconventional Bible Box

I'm trying to do a little clean up and tying off of loose ends here on the blog. One thing I know I have been remiss to do is post some of the final vanity pictures of the carved box I've taking to calling the Unconventional Bible Box, (unconventional due to dovetailed corners and brass hardware)

It was started as a practice box for learning some of the carving techniques I picked up from Peter Follansbee's great video "17th Century Carving Techniques" and eventually it turned itself into a real project that has found a real home.

If I pick it apart there are things I'll try and improve on next time. I do believe from a purely aesthetic perspective that the lid dimensions can make the box look top heavy from the right perspectives. Of course I can see every missed strike of the carving chisel when I look at it but I understand the reality is that most others could not unless they went in looking for specifically for evidence of mishaps. The sliding till's dovetails were a bit sloppy and the dovetails and the brass now looks very out of place, but again, I was kind of shooting for non-traditional at the moment and that gives me ground to defend those decisions too.

My biggest dislike is the oak stock I chose. It's an edge glued up red oak box store board and if you look it's very evident. Again I bought the board as a practice go, I never expected it to turn out as well as it did, and that makes some of these detail mistakes more evident to my eyes.

 The things I like about my work is that the dovetails on the case are nearly perfect in execution. I like tho contrast of the walnut and the red oak, before the danish oil finish was applied they looked too contrasting, but the finish helped even the playing field, and as time goes on and the oak darkens with age, I think the contrast will mellow to simple accent.

I like that I pulled it off! I like the flow of the carvings, the modifications to the patterns I made including the medallion riff on the sides and where I took the pattern on the lid. I can see now where I might have increased the detail, but there are times when less is more.

 All in all I have to say this is not a bad foundation to build upon, it grew my carving skill immensely and I even used it to practice some lessons that helped later when I built my version of a traditional tool chest.

If you're interested in seeing more about this box and the work that went into it all the related posts have been collected together HERE, (That includes this post)

Ratione et Passionis

Friday, January 6, 2012

My Favorites of 2011

I try very hard to not look at life in the reflection of a rear view mirror, but I do believe it is important to know where you are coming from as you move forward and the start of a new year is an excellent time to write about it. Looking at 2011 from a purely woodworking-centric point of view I had a very good year. I finished a decent amount of projects from a couple of wooden squares to a larger carved box.

I was kind of inspired here by a blog post by the Popular Woodworking Magazine, where each of the editors name a few things that were their favorite new releases of the year. It got me thinking about what items I had gotten over the last year that had made a difference in my work. I came up with an Oldwolf Workshop Studio  top five for 2011.

#5 : A 14" Bandsaw

I picked up a 14" Rigid brand bandsaw this spring. I want to be upfront, I am not recommending the brand, but I am saying the tool itself has changed my woodworking with one word, Resaw.

Being able to simply and easily re-thickness wood has made it easier for me to process rough sawn lumber, (which is cheaper) and lumber I had riven apart myself (which is highly satisfying). There is a lot you can do with a bandsaw, I know, but so far, almost a year into ownership and the magic of turning stock into bookmatched parts still has a grip on me.

If you don't have a larger bandsaw, I believe its a good thing. I don't have a brand to recommend, Obviously you get what you pay for.

#4 : A Set Of Antique Carving Tools

I started my foray into hand carving with two Phiel Chisels I picked up from Woodcraft in 2010. A shallow gouge and a "V" tool. In 2011 I found a set of 10 antique carving tools in a case at area antique store. I don't believe you need a huge selection of tools to get into carving, but a selection of a dozen is a nice luxury. t's given me enough experience that I know what I'm going to look for when I get the chance to pick up a few more.

#3 : I Finally have Three Good Planes for Prepping and Flattening Stock.

OK, This one might be bending the rules a bit because one of these three planes has been with me since the beginning.

Prepping and flattening stock is such a basic, every time you work thing, and going through the paces with tools that just aren't up to snuff can make it a horrible pain in the naughty bits. I've had my wife's grandfather's number 5 Jack tuned up and working well for a couple years now, but complementing it with a truing plane and a smoothing plane have been challenging.

My shop has to run on a very tight budget and new quality planes from Maine are out of my league. I make my way like I think a lot of hobbyist woodworkers do, I search around to find bargains where and when I can. I look at the area antique malls and flea markets. Now sometimes this means you kiss a couple frogs before you find a prince, but the search is fun and exhilarating all by itself.

Early summer I picked up a very clean #6 and after sharpening the blade I immediately had very good results. I know a lot of shops use a #7 as a truing plane but I find am getting acceptable results with the #6, and I haven't found a good deal on a bigger Stanley joiner.

Then this fall I found a nice #3 smoother at an antique store. It was also very clean and after grinding a nick out of the blade, I had completed the holy trilogy.

Prepping and surfacing my stock is so much more enjoyable now.

#2 : A Pair of Bad Axe Backsaws

I filled one more big need in 2011 by getting my hands on a couple of joinery back saws from Mark Harrell over at Bad Axe Tool Works. First I picked up the hybrid small tenon / dovetail saw he so aptly named "Wyatt Earp." the truth is I had never owned a quality saw like this before and cutting with it was an epiphany. Everything I had been "making due" with up to that point was left sitting in the dust. The open handle design is super comfortable with a perfect hang angle for my hands and sawing style. I am so taken with the color of the mesquite handle my wife should probably be jealous.

This saw became my go to problem solver for almost everything in my shop. I even used it's rip filed teeth to do some of my fine crosscutting work. I think that if my shop were on fire and I could run in and save one tool, this saw would be it.

I followed up Wyatt Earp several months later with a 12" carcass saw, filed crosscut. By this time Mark was offering an open handle design on most of his saws and I chose to go for the American Black Walnut. In between my purchases Mark changed his finishing method for the handles from a shinier poly finish to a oil and buffed wax finish. It may sound like something of little consequence but I believe the difference in feel from one to the other is palpable. The oil and wax gets you such a better touch with the wood, and therefore a better connection to the saw and the cuts you're making.

The continual quest to improve every detail of his work is what impresses me the most about Mark. It's one thing to buy a saw from a bigger tool company and get something that is just good enough. It's another to buy a tool from a craftsman who cares about the experience his customers receive when they are using his saws, and that care is evident in every element of his saws.

I find I use the carcass saw nearly everyday in the shop, more than my beloved Wyatt Earp. If this fictional shop fire were to occur, I see no reason why I wouldn't grab both of these saws. I have two hands after all.

#1 : A Quality Camera

It was a difficult decision to pick my number one favorite thing from 2011. My number one is hands down the most expensive purchase I have made in a long time, but it was worth every penny. It's a quality Nikon D3000 camera.

In the shop I take a lot of photos. Yes I take them for the blog but also for my own journaling the build of a piece. Only a small fraction of the shots I take make it up here for everyone to see. This camera has  given me the ability to take superior pictures in comparison to what I had before, but there is more to it than just getting decent documentation.

In it's own way, this camera has changed the way I look at my work, made it somehow more intangibly intimate. As I pay more attention to the framing, lighting, and set up of a picture, I also connect again in a different way to the subject. It's almost like getting to look at your work through someone else's eyes, and that occasional shift in perspective can be a valuable insight.


Well that skims over and sums up my 2011, Now I'm looking forward to a enjoyable and productive 2012 and I wish everyone else the same and more. Let's see where the ride takes us all this year.

Ratione et Passionis