Monday, December 23, 2013

Perspective: Looking Back and Stepping Forward

After finishing up my wall cabinet "Moving On" I decided I needed to take a little break from the shop and from writing about the shop. Sometimes you need to step back and get some perspective. I've been busy helping my brother move his family into a new home and do some needed renovation and updates. I don't mind hanging, taping, and mudding drywall. I do hate plumbing. He needed help and guidance with both.

If I think about it I needed a breath after what has been a long year. In early spring I was part of a successful week long surgical mission trip to Nicaragua. I followed that with buying a house myself and moving family and workshop into the new digs. Around that time my father had open heart surgery which was a scary and emotional time. I flew down to Florida to move my sister back home to Wisconsin. I had to remodel and rewire our laundry room. And I also had two surgeries to remove a painful kidney stone this fall.

In the shop, besides relocating and setting up a new space, I did manage to accomplish some work this year. I rehabbed a Stanley Miter Box and Saw. I built a chest to act as a coffin for a friend's "best friend." I repaired a table and chair that had been passed down to a co-worker from her grandmother. I built a new tool rack for the new shop. I did some extensive repairs and refinishing on a Craftsman style desk for my middle daughter. I built and carved a large box for a special wedding gift. I helped my oldest daughter repair and refinish a small smoking table. And I worried and fretted a wall cabinet inspired by James Krenov's work into existence

That's 8 projects this year mixed in with a half a dozen minor things I haven't counted and everything else. Until I sat down and recounted it all out, I would have said I accomplished less than I wanted to this year. It makes me wonder what I could accomplish if I could work in the shop full time.

Looking back is important to see where you've been. It helps you plan where you're going. I have a couple things coming up this year. The first is I plan to participate in the Shop Stool Build-Off sponsored my Chris Wong over at Flair Woodworks. On January 25th Chris is leading a group of online woodworkers in a live blogging event. The goal, build a shop stool, any style, any kind, anything your heart and imagination can concoct and build it and live document the process.

If it sounds interesting to you head on over to Chris's page ( and sign up to participate. I'm looking forward to being a part of it.

Another cool thing, and I'm not sure how much I can talk about it yet, is I've had one of the big woodworking magazines agree to let me write a project article for them. I'm not going to give away any details until I'm sure I can, but I plan to document some of the process here to share the experience with others who may want to write their own articles someday.

It's a very big deal to me, Something on the bucket list as well as a stepping stone to other things. The best kind of opportunity.

As far as learning skills and stretching my wings in the shop, I plan on diving into veneering and marquetry in the upcoming year. It's a process I know I've had bad thoughts about and said worse things about in the past. I hate that veneer is a thing that can hide MDF boards and crappy construction, but I have finally come to admit that if I want to build period pieces then veneer, marquetry, parquetry, and inlay are processes I have to get comfortable with and knowledgeable about.

I have some of my own ideas about creatively applying them to projects I envision too.

After I finish a small, promised project, I will most likely start the new year with a couple different takes on Roy Underhill's Candlebox. Parquetry and carving will be included in my take on the project.

I want to thank you for sharing my adventures for this year and hope you will stick around to see where the journey goes from here forward.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Prosperous New Year to you all.

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, November 25, 2013

Moving On.

"Moving On" Completed 11/13.

Built with knotty pines and black cherry for the case, doors, and back. Rosewood and Bloodwood exotics trim out the details. The interior drawer fronts are spalted maple.

 The wall cabinet is 31 1/2" tall, 17 1/2" wide and 8 1/2" deep.

The exterior is finished with two coats of Watco Natural Danish Oil followed by a hand buffed paste wax top coat.

The interior is finished with burnished in beeswax using the polissoir method rediscovered by Don Williams. With the exception of the drawer fronts which received the same Danish Oil and Wax treatment as the exterior.

 Though the piece was inspired by the work of James Krenov. I was compelled to add some of my own flair. Lately I have been experimenting with the linings of boxes, particularly with paper. I will hand marble my own paper, and infact I did so for the interiors of the drawers, but the doors required larger pieces of paper than I have been able to turn out.

I found the lining for the doors at an area art supply store.

It's difficult to be objective about a piece when you've finished it so recently. I would call this the most ambitious and challenging thing I've produced, and then there is little wonder why I feel the near insatiable desire to nit pick the whole thing to death. As I look at it I can see every detail I missed, see different design decisions I should have made, and see every wayward straying of both hands and tools.

Still, I believe it has accomplished the overall goals I set out for myself in the beginning.

1) To build a case piece ala Krenov that would push the boundaries of my abilities in design and execution by stepping outside my comfort zone. .

2) To use materials I had been "saving" for a long while.

3) To build without a measured drawing or even a completed plan in place from the start and complete the process from "The Point Of The Tool" with minimal use of a linear measuring device. Instead I tried to let the material help dictate the outcome of the piece.

I titled the piece "Moving On" because that is an apt interpretation of what the work here really means to me. For one, it's deciding to be done with this piece that has haunted me, for years in my imagination and for months on my workbench. For another it's road marker that breaks from my focus on the techniques of "How" I make something and just dives deeper into the making.

I used to build pieces and break them down on the "How" It was important to me "How" I flattened my stock, or "How" I cut my joinery, The handwork I focused on was my personal badge of honor and the chip on my shoulder. Since starting work in my new shop I've had the space, power, and convenience to rediscover a lot of my old shop machines that spent most of their time covered in tarps in the old shop. This cabinet saw more time on the table saw than any project I've built in the last three years. The way I use my table saw is markedly different than how I used to, but I am using it again. Who knows, at this rate I may even shake hands with my router table again.

It's become less about "how" I make something, and more about "what" I make. And in my mind that's opening the doors to many other areas of the craft I've found fascinating from a distance, but have never been able to muster up the confidence to move into. Veneer work is one of the next things in my sights and not just thanks to the recent "Roubo on Marquetry" book I've come to adore. I'd collected half a dozen books on veneering before I managed to get my hands of Roubo's tome, but I was reading them and saying "someday." Now I'm ready to revisit them, move on, and say tomorrow.

I'm ready for the next step in my evolution.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fore Plane Squared

I have been feeling an embarrassment of riches this weekend.

For the last few weeks I've been spending my free time dipping into the new translation of "Roubo On Marquetry" and enjoying every page. I've found I cannot burn my way through it very quickly because the things I'm reading in there set my synapses alight and I have to digest the ideas before I move forward.

Then Friday I came home from work to find my copy of Joseph Moxon's "The Art Of Joinery" had arrived. So paging back and forth between both of these historic tomes is amazing. If I didn't know any better I'd say those jokers over at Lost Art Press planned it that way.

I've tried to read through some .pdf versions of "The Art of Joinery" and the accompanying works in the past and I have to admit, I'm not sure I took much away from it in the past, but after Chris Schwarz hammered on it a bit, cleaning up the text and offering his analysis, I'm enjoying it much more this go around and learning some interesting things too.

In Section 3 he spends ink talking about the differences in setting the depth of the plane iron for a wooden fore plane. Later in the text Chris writes about the order he planes down rough stock and that often he works from a heavy set fore plane to a fine set fore plane followed by a smoothing plane. In essence, the process uses two fore planes.

The "fore" plane is a more complex thing to the numbered system ushered in by Leonard Bailey and Stanley Tools. In place of the singular fore plane you have the number 5 Jack Plane of appropriate size and the number 6 Fore Plane of appropriate name. I use both of these planes regularly when bringing a stick of lumber down from rough to square and surfaced.

I use the number 5 with a heavily cambered blade to do the heavy lifting. I use it to traverse the board and knock down the high spots to cure wind and cup. Then I follow with my number 6, I have a lighter camber on the blade and I use it set fairly fine to finish out the flattening and erase the tracks left by the number 5. The final touches them come from a number 4 smoothing plane.

I've found success using that system and I've stuck with it. It's kind of fun to hear that backed up by both Moxon's and Chris's writing.

When I first started making the hand tool transition in my shop and began to put my toes into the vintage plane market I found a great resource in Patrick Leach's "Blood and Gore" resource. I had read through it a dozen times by the time I ran across my number 6 at a flea market and as I picked it up and turned it over in my hands Patrick's playful venom about how he dislikes this plane ran through my head. I put it down and almost walked away.

But the plane had already been cleaned up, restored, and the price was so cheep I'm embarrassed to repeat it. I picked it up and it brought it home and that plane has managed to touch nearly every project I've built since. I pride myself on keeping a modest tool collection. Just what I need to work, and maybe a little more. I could get along without the cursed number 6 but it does make things easier.

It really goes to prove one of the things I've come to love about woodworking. There are a ton of different ways to do every task and, provided they are safe, every single one of them is correct.

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, November 11, 2013

March on.

"March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection. march on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones that are on life's path."

Khalil Gibran

On the home stretch with the Kernovian Wall Cabinet. I fit the drawer parts yesterday and dovetailed and glued the drawers together today. Tomorrow I will drill out the pull and get them in for the final fitting. then it will be on to applying the finish.

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Celebrating A Few Fun Milestones

Yesterday I hit a few small milestones here on the blog that I thought worth mentioning.

First, I managed to write my 300th blog post.

Second, I topped 250,000 hits. Over a quarter million views. That's nickels and dimes in internet currency but to me that's a huge number.

I've read several things lately on blogging and why to do it, especially in the online woodworking community. Are you trying to generate clients to commission your unique bespoke treasures? Are you trying to create a community of discussion around your work and techniques? Are you interested in journaling your experiences in woodworking? Typing the blog for yourself, removed from the pressures or caring what others think or believe. Maybe writing on your blog is fulfilling your dreams of being an independent reporter. Or a teacher. Or a self branding media mogul champion of the world.

I don't blame anyone for any of these ideals. I've gone through all those permutations at one time or another.

It comes down to two simple things for me. The first, and most important, is improvement. Several years ago I wanted to get better at working with hand tools. The answer was to get those tools into my hands and work with them. Overtime my technique improved and I figured out my own rhythm and style.

I started writing this blog for much of the same reason. I've always been fairly good at writing, I wanted to be better. Giving myself an opportunity to do it on a regular basis seemed to make sense and I believe it has. I cringe a bit when I go back to read posts from three or four years ago and I fight the urge to edit and rewrite them. Their existence is part of the journey.

But why a blog? Why something public and not practice my writing in a private journal. It starts as a bit of ego and enjoying an audience, but I've found a cooler by product in the public vetting of what I'm writing and what I'm doing. When I'm off track people have no problem telling me, often it happens in polite emails, and I appreciate that a lot. I'd rather be questioned and be brought back to center that be left hanging out in left field.

Why blog? Because the process helps me learn.

Thank you to everyone who takes a pause in their day to read a little here. Thank you to everyone who takes the time to comment here or email me with questions or corrections.

Derek Olson

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Little Taste Of The Exotic

My favorite beer: Spotted Cow, craft brewed locally here in New Glarus Wisconsin.

My favorite restaurants: Local, family owned places win out over any chain/franchise store every time.

I prefer to buy my lumber from a small saw mill up the river as opposed to buying at a box store.

I guess I'm a domestic kind of guy.

But walking the straight and narrow is difficult, and sometimes I cheat. I'll drink a Coors Light or buy supper in a fast food drive through or buy boards at Home Depot. I've also strayed from the domestic woods I love and despite myself I've gathered a small collection of exotic woods. Most of them came from a random grab bag buy at one of my semi annual pilgrimages to the Woodcraft store in Madison.

I've horded these pieces for a while, but two things made me decide to dig through the dusty collection and liberate some of the selection. The first was the build itself. James Krenov often used exotics to highlight and draw attention to details in his work. I wanted to emulate that, but I found myself waffling in the decision. Working with exotics can be a little like playing with fire. Time after time I've read accounts of accomplished woodworkers, artists who have made their names in grain and sawdust, who have played with exotics and developed an allergy that has made it dangerous for them to be around sawdust at all. An allergy that steals their avocation and their art from them.

If I'm honest, the off chance of that happening is very scary to me. I've held those pieces of exotic on the shelf for a while because of that fear. I thought maybe I'd make the door pulls from black walnut and more cherry wood.

Then I received my copy of "To Make As Perfect As Possible: Roubo on Marquetry" and started reading my way through it. The book starts with an extensive listing of exotic woods, their properties and colors. It took me a while to work my way through that part of the reading, but the overall listing of it was fun and fascinating. It made me think more about my small horde and about how silly it was to have it sit there on the shelf.

I piled it up and planed down several pieces. I wanted to use two contrasting woods. Since the pieces came in a turners grab bag and I'm not very experienced outside my little domestic circle. To me the pieces look like Rosewood and Bloodwood.

Planing the blocks yielded some of the most entertaining shavings I've made. Looking at the color contrast in this small pile helped satisfy my worries that I had made the right choice.

I used the bandsaw to break down the stock into the dimensions I was looking for.

There was some great subtle grain in the bloodwood. I paid attention and set up to bookmatch the grain on the handles. It will be a subtle touch, but the kind that I like.

The rosewood broke down into four blocks to hold the handles.

I marked out the mortise on the rosewood blanks. I drilled them out and squared them with chisels.

Test fitting for a tight fit.

Then I used rasps to round the corners and smoothed them down up to 400 grit paper.

I set them out on the door fronts, I played with several configurations. horizontal, vertical, and asymmetrical. In the end, with some consultation from my wife, we decided that a standard vertical placement in the middle of the door height was the best.

I set them out and mortised the space for the rosewood tabs.

It's satisfying to stand the cabinet up, look at the results, and be happy with what you see. There was one problem I'm not happy about.

Maybe I was overzealous paring out the mortise, the grain of this pine is wild and weak in places with all the small knots and I blew out a significant chunk on the inside of one of the doors. I haven't decided how I'm going to repair it. I imagine it will have to be some kind of patch.

Other than the patch, the cabinet is in the home stretch. The final work will be the two small accent drawers for the inside. I'm using spalted maple for the fronts and cherry for the sides. I've been saving the maple board for just this kind of thing.

What will I do when I run out of these specialty odds and ends?

Ratione et Passionis

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Cats In The Cradle and The Smoking Table

I was at my in-laws home with my oldest daughter Chloe. We were helping move some things around and rearranging a few rooms.

"And that small little table by the bed is so old and broken, just put it out with the trash." My mother-in-law instructed.

I picked up the little table for a closer look at it. It sure was a cute little thing, old and fairly well made, but not old enough looking for me to consider it a true antique. I considered bringing it back to the shop and mending it's broken wings but this was late June - early July. We were still unpacking a house and I was still setting up a shop so I could get moving on the backlog of work I was facing there. I decided I could let it go.

Then Chloe, 17 years old and full of energy, grabs the table. "Oh cool grandma, what kind of table is it?"

"It's a smoking table, the little round drawer is where you were supposed to keep your wacky tabacky." (Yes my mother-in-law talks like that, she is the crowned queen of making up words.)

Chloe then looked at me and I knew the outcome before she even said a word. The table came back to the shop so she could fix it, with my help of course.

It really is a pleasing little table to look at and the round drawer adds just the right amount of whimsy and flair. There was a fair amount of grime and water damage to the finish, I suspect it spent years with a potted plant resting on it at some point and the little leaks and spills from watering made trouble.

The top was pegged and nailed into place but had developed two cracks along the grain.

At one corner of the lower shelf the leg had broken and separated from the shelf.

There was other evidence of past repairs. Glue lines and hardened drips on three of the four legs. Probably not all done by the same hand or at the same time.

The drawer was the coolest part of the piece. Two pieces of thin sheet metal with the edges folded into opposing "J" channels. The channels mate together to allow the drawer to slide and support itself.

The downside is the thin metal has no rigidity and relied on the wooden rounds at the front and back to stay stable. Unfortunately the tacks that held the metal in place has worked their way loose over time as well.

We popped the top off the table and glued it up into one piece again. After it dried I put her to work with a scraper to clean of the squeeze out and remove the damaged finish.

Then we got to work tacking the sheet metal drawer back in place.

Then I helped her repair the finish. We used Dark Walnut Danish Oil to refinish the table top followed by several coats of thinned shellac and paste wax The end result was very satisfying.

But more satisfying than the finished table was spending some time in the shop with Chloe. It's difficult to not get into cliche overtures when it comes to the precious and finite amount of time you really get to spend with your children. I will spare you the over-reaching prose that would undoubtedly fall well short of the mark. 

Instead I will simply say that I find opportunities like this to be incredibly special. I didn't take a lot of pictures because I was having too much fun being there with her, in the moment. 

My children are all big readers, it was important to me that they should be. My parental strategy was simple. I never made them read a thing (with the exception of homework), and I rarely read to them. Instead I would often talk about how important I felt reading was, and I made sure they saw me doing a lot of it. As they've grown all three have taken to books as precious things and reading as a skill to practice. 

In recent years I've taken the same approach when it comes to being "Makers."  I hope that parental gambit pays off in dividends as well. Time will tell, but I love watching the story unfold. 

Ratione et Passionis

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Hardest Decision Can Be To Do Nothing

I've been working away at my Krenov Style wall cabinet and it has been a fun ride so far. The carcass and the doors are finished and glued up. I set them up together to get a feel for the final look.

For the back panels I chose to use more of the pine board I'd had for the doors.

Overall the piece is going together well. Its enjoyable to dabble outside my regular playground and it is moving down the final stretch to finished. That also means it's down to the time where I have to begin making some of the decisions I've been weighing my options on.

The biggest personal debate has been what to do with this.

I don't mean the edge of the dovetail where the grain of the board failed me and chipped out. I'll be fixing that. I'm talking about the big knot in the side of the carcass. There's a smaller one on the other side that's had the core fall out already.

Typically I would have planned my carcass around a knot like this and excised it via cross cut handsaw. However it was important to me to get this carcass all from the same board and by the time I laid it all out I had around two inches to spare. Not enough to exclude the knot, so I chose to put it deep enough into a side where it wouldn't interfere with the dovetail joints.

From the get go I've been trying to decide a plan of action to combat the cursed knot. The best idea I had was to cover it with a thicker inlay. a dutchman patch if you will. Similar to what I did here on the left side to cover some very bad chip out that happened making the through mortise.

Ultimately I made the decision that can be the hardest, I chose to do nothing. As I sat and pondered the cabinet I came to the realization that the knots are the defining character of this whole piece. From the small ones peppered across the pine doors to this larger one in the carcass, the knots tie the work together.

Covering this knot would cause confusion and disharmony with the grain. Like watching ripples cross the water's surface without the satisfaction of throwing the rock that caused them. Cause and effect are important factors in storytelling, and I think covering or disguising this knot would only interrupt and harm the story this piece tells.

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Wedding Box

 "Most people get married believing a myth that marriage is a beautiful box full of all the things they have longed for: companionship, intimacy, friendship, and more. The truth is at the start marriage is an empty box. You must put something in before you can take anything out.

There is no love in marriage. There is love in people, and people put love into a marriage.

There is no romance in marriage. You have to infuse it into your marriage.

A couple must learn the art and form the habit of giving, loving, serving, and praising. Thereby keeping the box full. If you take out more than you put in, the box will be empty."

-J. Allen Petersen

Carved box 24" wide, 18" deep and 9 1/2" tall. Built of red oak, white oak, and pine. Lined with hand made marbled paper and finished with Watco Black Walnut Danish Oil. Given as a wedding gift to my best friend's oldest daughter and her new husband. I also included the quote above printed on linen paper inside the chest. It is the best summation of the lessons I've learned in 18 years of marriage put into words better than I could craft.

I wish Donna Mae and Justin all the years of happiness, intimacy, and companionship possible.

Ratione et Passionis