Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Reverence For The Individuality Of The Past

"The antiquarian might argue that his interest in antiques is an appreciation of historic atmosphere, a love of the beauty of pleasing decay. More often, however, his interest in antique arts boils down to a reverence for the individuality of the past, what man once stood for, the way he lived, and the thoughts he thought."

-Eric Sloane "A Reverence For Wood."

I had a hand saw I thought I might want to restore. I knew it was pretty beat up and there were other questions I had about the feasibility of the rescue. Lucky for me I had just the resource to go to.

I live a few short minutes from Mark Harrell at Bad Axe Toolworks, I called him up and stopped over with my rusty prize. He calmly and gently eased me down from my over enthusiasm, the saw really is beyond rescue.

While I was hanging out I got the chance to witness Mark practice a lost art. Hammer smithing a vintage saw plate to remove a bow and re-tension the plate. He was showing one of his apprentices / employees how it was done and it was fascinating. Using a vintage hammer and a live anvil he bounced a series of blows down the saw. One light blow for each tooth, placed slightly above the gullets.

"How did you figure out how to do this?"

"I read about it, then I gave it a try and ruined a couple saw plates until I figured it out."

"It doesn't always work," he continued, "it's not for the faint of heart. I managed to ruin one of my own vintage saws a short while ago. You have to really have a feel for how much is enough and how much is too much."

An echo of one of my favorite maxims, The enemy of good is better.

What I really appreciate about Mark is his reverence for the past and how that's encapsulated in the saws he produces. Appreciating the past is one thing, but taking lessons from it and turning those lessons relevant for today is something else entirely. Mark has taken the time to invest a lot of understanding into what made saws work well back when a man's livelihood could very well have depended on it. Those details elevate the quality of the saws he puts into peoples hands. Simple details that make big differences.

Mark just sent me a link to an article he wrote about fixing the tension on a vintage back saw. to remove warps, waves, and small kinks. Read THE ARTICLE and you'll understand what I'm getting at. Looking at the trend of things, an online class from Matt Cianci, an upcoming book from Andrew Lund, and I expect to see an onslaught of "build your own backsaw" endeavors in the near future. I applaud anyone who wants to take this on, but you have to know, doing things the right way is rarely easy.

Whether it's a friction fit on the back or a hammer set to the teeth, I know Mark is putting in the time and effort to get it right.

Just reading that article justifies to me the decision of buying my saws from Bad Axe. I have three of them in my saw nest now. A 12" dovetail / small tenon saw filed rip, a 12" carcass saw filed crosscut, and my new 16" tenon saw filed hybrid. All of these saws cut perfectly right out of the gate, and the utility and versatility of the 16" tenon saw is making me fall in love all over again.

I try to keep my tool selection a little on the spartan side. I could consider those three saws enough, but I would like to have one more finess saw for fine work and thin stock, so in the next year or so I'll be in the market for a small dovetail saw with a high ppi number (ppi = points per inch). Chances have it I'll be going back to Bad Axe for that saw too.

And then I'll be set on saws. . . until Mark decides to start making hand saws or panel saws.

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, May 20, 2013

From Cradle Of Wood To Coffin Of Wood

"That century of magnificent awareness preceding the Civil War was the age of wood. Wood was not accepted simply as the material for building a new nation - it was an inspiration. Gentle to the touch, exquisite to contemplate, tractable in creative hands, stronger by weight than iron, wood was, as William Penn had said, "a substance with a soul." It spanned rivers for man; it built his home and heated it in the winter; man walked on wood, slept in it, sat on wooden chairs at wooden tables, drank and ate the fruits of trees from wooden cups and dishes. From cradle of wood to coffin of wood, the life of man was encircled by it. 

One of the remarkable things about wood is its self expression. Whether as the handle of a tool, as a dead stump, or alive in a forest where every branch is a record of the winds that blew, it is always telling something about itself. This is why man has an affinity with wood not only as a mere material, but also as a kindred spirit to live with and to know. The children of a century ago were expert at knowing trees and their characteristics; they grew up thinking of trees as having human qualities and, almost Druidlike, they tried to acquire the qualities of trees. A man might be as "strong as an oak," or "bend like a willow"; if he had proper "timber," he'd be one all the stronger from the winds of adversity. 

Eric Sloane "A Reverence For Wood"


I've been reading this great book lately, I highly recommend you go find a copy, there are a lot of cheep copies out there online. "A Reverence For Wood" is a short book, I read it the first time through in an afternoon. I'm re-reading it over again now, taking it slower, digesting it more thoroughly.

It makes me think a lot of my journey from childhood up to where I am in supposed maturity. My current affair with timber is obvious, but it's a love affair I've carried with me a long time. In my young years I grew up in very rural, very northern Minnesota. I spent many hours in the woods, around one set of grandparents farm or the other sets cabin.

We moved from Minnesota to Nebraska and the farm house we rented had a small, scrubby, copse of brush / trees behind the house. I spent innumerable hours hiding from the summer heat in the shade of those leaves. Fallen branches were swords and guns as I rambled through the brush as the second incarnation of Indiana Jones.

We moved to Wisconsin as I started high school. Even though my thoughts were turning increasingly towards girls and cars, I spent a significant amount of time hanging out in a couple acres of trees covering the hill across the road. The area has since been developed into a manicured golf course, complete with surrounding McMansions. The sacrilege of this occurring on grounds that were once so very sacred to me makes me shake my head every time I'm forced to drive past.

I don't enter into relationships lightly. My wife and I have been together since high school and were married before either of us could legally drink at our reception. Everyone assumed she was pregnant, everyone was wrong. Everyone assumed we'd be divorced in a year or two, this October we will be eighteen years strong. My best friend and I have been in each other's lives since the early nineties. I drive and repair the cars I own until they're way past the point of saving. I've owned many cars and I've only sold one to someone other than the junkyard for scrap.

If I think about it, one of the the longest relationships I've had in my life is with trees and wood. It makes sense that I would find my way to an avocation that surrounds me with it.

Ratione et Passionis

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Turn Your Own Shaker Style Pegs

When I was younger I owned a Suzuki Samurai jeep and I loved that little puddle jumper. Because I was young and we were chronically broke, I changed my own oil in my car all the time. It was the cheaper way to do things and the upside was I saved money and got to know my car better. I built my confidence and was able to start doing additional maintenance and upkeep. Eventually when the head gasket blew and a big repair was needed, I had built a vocabulary of experience I was able to work from that helped me complete that repair with experienced friends helping.

As I was finishing up the tool rack build I needed some shaker style pegs. Instead of hopping in my truck and running to the BORG I chose to spend some time at the lathe and turn my own. I have always considered myself a middling turner but I am fairly happy with how things turned out. I spent quite a while this winter watching videos to improve my technique, especially with the skew chisel. 

Did you see the cameo by my oldest daughter/director/producer/video task-master? If you missed it try again.

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, May 13, 2013

My Take On The Tool Rack

I decided to build a project for my new shop, I'm not in the shop yet, but I was too excited to hold back. I settled on the Tool Rack Chris Schwarz published as an "I Can Do That" project in Popular Woodworking a while back. Like every idea I steal borrow from someone else, I have to tweak things a little to make them feel like their my own. I call the process narcissism creativity. 

I had to change the look of the sides, I just wasn't happy with the elongated ogee on the original. I used a couple of sectors to lay out a federal period crown moulding profile and I was happy with the results. (You can read about the process HERE) After I was done I realized I could have worked the stock to exclude the big knot in the board. I started with including it because if there has to be a knot I want it contained within the piece, not riding the edge.

I like knots, they can bring a visual interest to the piece, I plan around them when I can but I don't shy away from them unless I'm carving. What I don't like is when a joint line or board edge bisects across a knot. Half a knot is not attractive.

To cut them together on the band saw I used some drywall screws to pin both sides together. Ahgast and horror at making these unsightly holes in a piece, especially where the bevels under the screw head mar the wood further. I know, but never fear, three of the four screw heads went into areas that would be waste. The prominent one up front is where I planned to drill a hole for a peg, The other two fell into areas to be removed for the joinery of the back and tool board. The only blemish left would be along the back edge on top. Building it for someone else and I would fill it. Since this is a shop piece, I'll be happy to leave it alone.

After sawing them out, I kept the sides screwed together while I cleaned up the saw lines by rasp and by scraper.

Then I drilled through mortises for the tool board and a space for the back board was sawn out.

Then I could separate the twins.

I pinched them back together with a couple clamps, (because I forgot this part) and sawed a couple through tenons to fit through the top shelf. Joining the top shelf with a dado and wedged through tenons.

I cut my dado into the top shelf using a stair saw and chisels. Then I used the sides to line up where to drill and chisel all the way through.

I did a dry fit assembly and surveyed my work. The sides were good but there was something missing. I thought about Peter Follansbee's tool chest, and not only the painting on the outside, but how he had used some scraps of carving demos for the shelf rails on the inside. (You can read about that HERE) I had already built my tool chest by the time I saw what he had done and I was sorry I hadn't thought of the same thing. I decided to not let another opportunity pass me by.

I laid out a quick pattern of interconnecting circles, thanks to George Walker I've come to know this as a Guilloche pattern. It's become one of my favorite carving themes. After carving out the circles I carved out a pattern of swirls and flowers to fill the rounds.

 Pine does not like to be carved. It is much more challenging than oak and getting a crisp line can be difficult between the winter wood and the summer wood. The carvings turned out a little rough, but over all I'm ok with that. Over all they look good together, and again, this is for my shop.

I got the glue up in and after letting it set up I was able to balance the tool rack on the bench top to see how things might look eventually.

Now I was down to the pegs. but we'll save those for next time.

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Finishing Up The Stanley 358 Miter Box and Saw

It is done.

And better yet, it saws wonderfully. The old girl looks pretty good for being around a hundred years old. It took me a while to run the last leg of this race but yesterday I got my act together and finished the rehab.

What took so long was my wait for a couple parts I used a local metalsmith to fabricate. The stock guides are L shaped braces that I wouldn't call vital, but they are damn handy. They sit in shallow dado's in the bed and clamp into place with a thumb screw clamp behind the fence.

When you place the stock on the bed, you snug up the stock guide to support the piece in place against the back and forth friction of the saw stroke.

Yes you could hold the stock with your hand, but that may be more difficult when dealing with crown mouldings. They make using the saw much nicer.

I tried to fabricate these by myself  couple of different ways. I bought the flat and round steel stock and first I tried to drill and tap the end of the steel bar for a machine screw. I tried to be careful and take my time, I drilled the appropriate hole and used oil to lubricate the process. Yet my tap broke off inside the steel bar.


So I went to plan B. I had read another online account of a similar rehab where the author fabricated his using a two part epoxy. I picked some up and gave it a shot. Again I followed the instructions carefully but I couldn't get the epoxy to hold up to even light handling. I was doubtful about it, but it was worth a shot.

One thing I don't have in my skill set that I would love to learn is welding. I cast around and found a local metal smith / artist who was willing to throw down a couple quick welds for me. After a few weeks I was able to stop and pick up the pieces.

Now I was in business. The only metal fabrication part I had left was a top bar that connects the two towers and keeps them from racking while you're sawing. This was a simple piece of flat stock, (the same as I used for the stock guides) and it took me re-taping and replacing one of the thumb screws with a replacement.

A couple of screws connected the saw box to a off-cut of 1x12 pine. Now I can cinch it to the bench with a couple holdfasts and store it underneath when I don't need it.

All that was left was to sharpen the saw itself. I always kind of work myself up about before hand and when it's over I think, "Damn, that wasn't so bad." For certain it's not that difficult of a thing to learn, and the more I do it the better I've gotten.

One of the turning points for me was taking a saw sharpening class with Mark Harrell over at Bad Axe Tool Works. I wrote about that experience HERE. Working with Mark taught me to trust my the feel of the file and the things my eyes were seeing and has let me do away with the guide blocks and jigs I'd been using up to this point. Knowing what to look for has improved my sharpening greatly. He's teaching more of these classes. As I understand it a couple times a year. Drop by his site and get in contact with him about dates and details. It's so worth it.

Once I sharpened the teeth I used another piece of pine off-cut to test my work. Another trick I learned from Mark. I scribe a square line and saw it, burying the saw to the back. If the saw follows the line, we're good. If it appears to pull to one side or the other, a little sharpening stone on the toothline will adjust that.

This time things turned out just right. No stoning necessary.

Now would be the moment of real truth. Would the miter box give me accurate cuts? or would more adjustments be required?

I grabbed a piece of cherry scrap and gave it a shot.

90 degree cut checked out perfect. No light creeping under the trisquare blade when it was checked.

Encouraging, but what about 45 degree miters.

According to my miter square. Accurate as can be. I'm a happy boy!

There is only one more thing I'm curious about with this saw. It's a little steel disk with three holes. It was attached to the back of the saw when I bought it. It has two beveled screw holes flanking a threaded center hole.

In doing some research on this saw I downloaded a Stanley Tool Catalog from 1914 from a site called Rose Antique Tools. The part is listed as 109 a Stock Guide Plate.

And in the direct picture of the saw box, you can see it in use. It's obviously an attachment to set a repeatable cut for length. I just don't understand for sure how the Stock Guide works in conjunction with it.

I wonder if the stock guides I had made up should have one with an oblong slot down the center. After that it's getting another thumb screw made. I'm not sure I'm ready to go through all of that, but it would be cool to know.

I've looked around some and not found any reference or seen any pictures of this part in use in the wild, and I'd like to know how it works. If you have one, or some good pictures of one, maybe you'll consider sharing them with me. Please drop me a line at so I can share that information here. I'd appreciate it.

Either way, I'm calling this done (at least for a while) Old tool rehabs like this are fun distractions, but I am always happier when I'm done with them and can get back to making saw dust. There is a certain satisfaction in making sawdust with a tool you've saved from the scrap heap, and there is no better way to get to know and understand a tool intimately. In the end I'd rather spend time fussing with wood instead of fussing with tools.

Ratione et Passionis

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sizing With Sectors For Style

I've spent a lot of time in the last few weeks thinking and dreaming about the new shop space I'll be moving into soon. I've drawn layouts on graph paper and planned a number of configurations for all my super cool stuff.

I made up my mind to build something for the new shop. A little premature maybe, there will be other things to build too once I get there, but I had a hankering to make something. I wasn't sure what. Then I picked up the latest issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Packaged along with the main publication was a thinner "shop projects" pamphlet. 

The first project was a tool rack built by Chris Schwarz. "Oh boy," I thought, "I'm gonna end up building one more thing from the Schwarz Collection." (What else is a Fan Boy to do?) And I 'm fine with that. I remembered reading about the piece in the "I Can Do That" section of PW the first time they published it. I appreciated it then, but gave it a pass. This time around it just felt like the right thing to build. 

A picture of the original tool rack borrowed from the PW website. 
I could envision the right place for this piece in the new shop. I plan to hang it over one of the windows so the light comes through the back opening. As I thought about really building this piece more I started to have some ideas of my own. 

The original article used pocket screws and simple joinery. Again, it was an "I can do that" article, so it was meant for entry level woodworkers. I planned to upgrade the joinery not because what was done was bad, but because I could, and I enjoy the joinery part of building. But that was simple. There was one other part of the design I struggled with. 

A layout of the sides, This picture also borrowed from the PW web site. 

The ogee shape to the sides just didn't look right to my eyes. I don't mean to say it's wrong, this isn't criticism. This is 101 of taking a project you appreciate and making it an expression of you style and skill. I wanted to accomplish three things. One, I wanted to make the proportions slightly deeper. (My top shelf ended up 11" wide") Two, I wanted to dress it up a little more with mouldings, carvings, and a change to the profile of the sides. And three, I wanted to apply layers of finish to the piece to create the illusion of age and long years of service. 

To help solve goal number two, I cracked open my copy of Matthew Bickford's "Moulding's in Practice" looking for inspiration. On page  225 I found my siren in a profile of crown moulding from a federal tall case clock. 

I had to figure out how to transfer this from a small drawing in a book to a pine board and get the proportions right. First I tried to figure out how I would do it mathematically  Taking the measurements off the page and scaling them up to bigger measurements. I shook that insanely complicated idea out of my head. There was a better, easier way and I already had access to the tools I needed to pull it off. 

A while back I built myself a pair of Sectors after reading an article written by Jim Toplin. I wrote about them HERE. Essentially they are two pieces of wood joined with a hinge at one end and marked out with 13 evenly spaced divisions.

I  mostly use them for dividing up spaces and laying out carvings. I knew they could be used to scale up drawings and dimensions, that's the best reason to have a pair of different sizes, I just hadn't actually exercised that knowledge yet. The process turned out pretty simple. Tool wise it took two sector's of different sizes, two dividers of different size, a try-square and a pencil.

So first I took the picture in the book and used the smaller dividers to measure out one of the first measurement I wanted to transfer. The top, widest part of the profile.

Then I set the smaller sector on the page and line up the markings from two of the same number to bracket the outer corners of the drawing. It doesn't matter which of the 13 numbers I line up, I chose 10 at a whim. The perspective of the photo makes it look funny but the outer corners of the drawing are in line with the inner lines of the 10.

Then I take the measurement I locked on my small dividers and find where it measures out on the sector. The tips fell just inside the lines for the number 1.

Now I take my larger sector and set it up with the stock. Since I chose to use the number 10 on the smaller, I repeated that on the larger. I also made sure to take into account the amount of board that would disappear into the eventual dado joint.

Once I had the larger sector set and stable, I took my larger dividers and repeated the reading I took with the smaller, just a little inside the number 1's lines. Since everything is spaced out equally on the sectors, the spacing will be proportionally identical, within a slight factor of human error. This isn't a C&C machine I'm running and a few millimeters matters little when it's the over all look I'm after. In the end it will look right or it won't and that will be the ultimate determination of success.

Then I use the new set dividers to transfer the spacing to the board. repeat the action over for the other measurements and you'll work out the spacing and pattern. I drew the curves between the hard line elements freehand, but mostly because it was quicker. You could use the same method to plot out a few points to follow if you need to. I suggest trusting your eyes and instincts though.

With the lines all set down in pencil I went back over where I wanted the hard line to fall with a sharpie so it would stand out across the room. I also shaded in the space to be removed to help from a distance.

I picked up the book, and from across the room held the image out at arms length and judged the job I had done.

I ended up a little narrow in the top, front of the board to back, but the shape was there and it was pleasing to my eye from a distance. I decided to keep it.

I hope I explained how I made the process work well enough. If not I may consider shooting a video to help explain, however I don't want to step on Jim Toplin and George Walker's toes as I suspect sectors may be something well covered in their new book "By Hand & Eye" from Lost Art Press. I've ordered my copy and I cannot wait to read it. You may want to consider it too.

If there are a bunch of questions, please comment, email, open your back door and scream them to the stars. I'll be able to try and answer two of those three instances.

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, May 6, 2013

To Move a Workshop.

My family and I are looking at the end of a very long journey with some real excitement. At the end of this month we close on our new home in LaCrosse. We have basically been "homeless" for several months as we have been searching for the right place at the right price. My parents have been generous and patient and let us live with them while we worked this problem out. It's been a long few months.

We found a nice, three bedroom house on a double lot in an older part of town. Enough room for our family of five to all fit and thrive. As far as I'm concerned the best thing of all . . . the two and a half car garage in the back yard.

I'm moving shop again. You would think I'm getting exceedingly good at it by now.

I've been hitting the graph paper hard in the last few days. Figuring out different configurations of tools, deciding where I want my wood storage to go, and wondering why my wife is insisting that she be able to park her car in "her" half of it. The truth is this is all dreaming and playing around and until I start pushing my workbench through the doors, I won't know for sure where everything will go.

This will be the fifth different studio space I've worked in since I started writing this blog. First was the basement shop in Northern Maine. (1) Then we moved back home to Wisconsin and I basically ended up in a 5'x9' closet at the bottom of our duplex stairs. (2) From there my father offered a significant section of the steel shed in his back yard (3). A space I'm still working out of right now. In between, I moved a small amount of the shop into the dining room of our old apartment for a winter. (4)

This will be the more permanent shop home I've been looking for for a long time and that is an exciting prospect indeed. Something I've been looking for since we left Maine in our rearview to come back home. Almost feels like I'm getting ready to stand on two feet again.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Rescue Mission Part Four

I've been fixing a table and chair for a friend. The table was back together and standing on all four feet again, but I had the chair to work on yet.

Chairs are an intimidating thing to me. I've built one, just one in the past, and though it saw light use, the friend who took it off me in a trade a half dozen years ago has recently told me that some of my questionable joint making has failed.

In my defense, I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started that chair, and I made some very naive decisions. Things I know better now. I'm not surprised it failed.

So chairs and I kind of have this spotty history together and I've resolved that I need to take a good class in them to get over my avoidance issues when it comes to them. But here was a chair I needed to have a good go at fixing.

It was dowel city for the joinery. Many of them broke or wiggled free in the trauma.

Originally I had pulled it apart into three pieces by stressing the joints by hand. A little while later, as I was cleaning things up, one more joint loosened. I had four joints to dowel and glue.

I sawed things even where they stuck out and plugged what was pulled out. Then I redrilled new dowel holes and redid the joinery as it had been in the past.

I glued the front together first and then connected everything else together once the front had dried. In the excitement of it all I forgot to take any pictures until I took the clamps off.

I am less confident about these repairs than I am of the repairs to the table, the cross corner blocks help quell my anxiety.

In the end I would much rather build from scratch, but these occasional repair jobs are good because they push me out of my comfort zone and make me do some different kind of problem solving. The table and chairs have been delivered and the owner was tickled to see her Grandma's table come back to life, especially since she thought it was a goner.

If you missed the repairs, or want to review the whole process, all the posts about this project have been collected at this LINK.

Ratione et Passionis

Rescue Mission Part Three

I've been writing my way through my adventure repairing a table and single chair owned by a friend's grandmother. Something happened that put this piece through the ringer and if you want to survey the original damage and what I had repaired so far you can catch up on all the related posts by checking out HERE.

I had replaced the cleats completely and repaired the leg that had the mounting bolt ripped from it, but the other leg was in a little bit more trouble. It had one of the feet torn from the body.

The foot side of things was easy to take care of. The broken dowels only needed to sawn of flush.

The leg side was a little more complicated. One dowel had been ripped out, chipping out a good amount of the surrounding wood. The best repair I could think of was to remove the broken wood and glue in wood to replace it and bring the surface out to the end of the leg again.

I started to define the sides of the section to be removed with my tenon saw.

Then I went after it with a chisel and a mallet until I had cleaned out a rectangular section.

Then I used some of the poplar scrap from the cleats and glued a couple strips in place, matching up face grain to face grain. A little glue to set the repair and I left it sit and cure overnight.

The next day, a couple swipes of a plane and the repair was flush with the leg and as good as new.

I drilled for the new dowels but clamping up the feet on the leg was going to be difficult with the curves of the feet. As much as I dislike jigs, I had to cut a couple simple ones to make the clamping go easier. I used some scrap pine and scribed the curves of the feet. A little bandsaw time and the clamping jigs were cut.

With one on each foot, I would have square surfaces to put my clamps on.

I clamped another couple pine scraps above the curved clamping jigs to keep them from sliding up under the clamps pressure.

A little more dry time on the glue and I could attach the cleats to the top of the legs.

Then reattach the legs to the bottom of the table.

Flip the table back over and test to make sure the drop leaf mechanisms work well and we can call the table done.

But I still had the chair to worry about.

Ratione et Passionis