Monday, March 24, 2014

Squaring Up

It feels like forever since I've spent real quality time in the shop working on something. Over the winter I joined in the one day shop stool build off and built something a little Roubo for a Popular Woodworking article. In essence it adds up to around four to five shop days since last fall. I needed a little break to recharge my batteries, do some reading and research, and I got that. I'm feeling ready to start rolling and I've banked up a truck full of ideas from here.

But starting again after a break is a little daunting. I haven't meaningfully flexed my shop muscles, mental or physical, in a bit. I wanted to go out and start something in the shop, but I knew I wasn't ready to start a big project yet.

Then the mail arrived, and with it my purchase from the Jim Tolpin Spring Cleaning Tool Sale. A wooden square handmade by the man himself. 

As I took it out to the shop and took a few pictures of it I thought about how I hadn't made a wooden square in a couple years. I'd been thinking about the process again lately, but I hadn't taken the time to make any. That changed today and I knew right where to start.

The book "The Tool Chest Of Benjamin Seaton" is fascinating in what it tells you and what it doesn't. The info is all there, but the layout is a little stuffy and it's short on some details I would like to see better. (I still don't understand where the dovetail marker hides in the chest, though the book talks about it quite a bit) The three Try Squares found in the chest are an oddity to my modern eyes. their proportions just seem out of whack on the page, but their joinery is very cool. Double through tenons anyone. 

I've wanted to build a full set of three, all the same sizes found in the chest, to see and feel for myself if the proportions look better in real life, and work well for shop layouts. plus it's a chance to flex some muscles again and get the sawdust back under my fingernails.

 Recently I got my hands on some good black walnut, more than I needed for the intended project, What I had would be perfect to make a set of Seaton Squares, another A is for Anarchy square, and probably a couple Roubo or Moxon style squares as well. I had the day free and I was itching to do something meaningful in the shop so I threw myself into the process. I went inside and grabbed my copy of the Benjamin Seaton book, took some notes and started off to the races

The caveat is that I was more neglectful of my documentation than usual. I took some photos, but not many. In essence I broke down the walnut into blanks to make the components for the three squares. I used my bandsaw to resaw some walnut down to 1/4" thick for the blades and I planed all my surfaces square and true for both the blades and the beams.

Then I started to layout the joinery between the blade and beam for the smallest of the squares. I knifed a line so the blade would pass about an 1/8" beyond the beam so I could plane it even after assembly.

The blade itself is wider than one would think, nearly 3". but the measurements for laying out the twin tenons is not included. The only measurement is the blade sticks out .39 of an inch past the end of the beam. I decided to give some account to planing the blade square after assembly and rounded this number up to 1/2" then doubled it for the amount housed in the blade.

Extrapolating from that I sized the gap between the tenons at around a 1/2" and the housing cut to hide the mortise on the inside of the blade at 1/4".

I laid out the cuts and sawed them out like I would a dovetail. Then I used the tenons to mark out for my mortises.

I hadn't realized how long it's been since I've chopped out a mortise by hand. Any larger mortises I've made in the last few years I've drilled out first. It went very well, slowly, but very well. In the end I got the tight fit I needed and in my excitement I banged the glade home solidly, to the point where taking it apart would most likely destroy it.

So I planed down the proud ends and pondered my options. I'd banged the sucker home before I'd applied any glue. Sure it was a tight fit and would hold fine, but a square that develops a wiggle in the blade is no good to anyone. So I went off script a little.

I made three pins from pine, thinking the lighter wood would be a nice accent. I drilled three holes through the beam and blade and I glued those pins in place and trimmed them flush. Now I had to cut my chamfer on three sides of the beam with the blade in place.

I cut the end grain chamfers with a paring chisel and the long grain with a block plane. By then I had to pick up and wrap up for the day. Chores to do don't you know. but tomorrow I'll square up the blade to the beam and have the smallest of the Seaton Squares done. Then it's on to momma bear and pappa bear.

This is feeling good.

Anyone want a set?

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Material I Used To Dream About.

The process of inspiration is amazing. Many people inspired me to start woodworking, and many more have inspired the different paths I've taken in woodworking. One of my first and most significant inspirations was Norm Abram and the New Yankee Workshop show. Though I have matured, realized my own proclivities and diverged from the Yankee Trail, I still own Mr. Abram gratitude for making woodworking seem both accessible enough to attempt and mysterious enough to hold my curiosity.

Many talk about Norm's "toys" with envy or distain. In his defense I think it's an interesting challenge to find a way to build one off pieces of furniture that were originally built by hand and use only power tools to accomplish it. I still smile at the ingenuity of the episode where Norm combined the use of the lathe and a router suspended in a jig, on it's side, to make a round raised edge table top (was that for a Martha Washington candlestand or something different?) 

No matter how you feel about tools, whether power, hand, or hybrid, you have to appreciate the engineering that went into that. 

I have learned not to begrudge Norm his tools or his process. It doesn't matter how you work, only that you do work. What alway made me so envious, and still does to some degree, was the amazing stock he was able to get his hands on. The years when I watched the most he was heavy into the reclaimed lumber. Resawing beams of century old chestnut on the bandsaw and surface planing wide pine floor boards just enough to remove the dirt, but not the patina. Pretty amazing stuff. 

In between bursts of polar vortex, I've spent 2014 working on a project and article for Popular Woodworking Magazine. I needed thick stock for this build, like 3" thick, and I needed it to be perfect. After trying several compromises I came to the realization there would be no substitute for the real thing this historical accuracy of what I was trying to build demanded it. The problem, I had no idea where to get good stock in that thickness. 

So I started, desperately asking around to other gentleman woodwrights in my area and managed to get my hands on just what I needed. 

It's a beam of southern yellow pine, nearly 3" thick and 5" wide. It was a little over 8 foot long when I bought it. The growth rings are super tight and straight, there's not a hint of knot on it. The beam was from the original Schwinn bicycle factory in Chicago. As near as I can find, that puts the beam as part of a building around 1895. 

That makes a little piece of history to build something from history. 

The wood was so stable and so fun to work with. The shavings I was able to take off of it were perfect and aromatic. The scent of sap from this century old beam surrounded my workbench.

I only used 4' of the beam for the magazine build. This leaves another 4' behind for my nefarious purposes. I'm still deciding what I can do with it and how to stretch it as far as possible. Part of me is thinking resawing into parts for wooden squares and part of me is thinking about building a repeat of what the other half went to.  

More on that soon. 

Ratione et Passionis

Off Into The Blue

In a few hours I board a plane leaving for a week in Nicaragua. I understand most peoples years start on January 1st, but the last couple years it seems my year begins in the spring with this trip.

I'm not a tourist, though I do often go by the moniker "estupido gringo" while in country. I am part of a medical mission trip.  I'll be facilitating the work of surgeon and two residents as they perform corrective podiatric surgeries. That means I'll be setting up the supplies, cleaning and sterilizing the instrumentation and implants, and occasionally assisting with the surgeries. The assisting part is closer to what I do everyday at the hospital.

This will be my third time going. It's an amazing experience everytime. Inspirational and  exhausting. This time I've upped my stress ante by bringing along my oldest daughter. At 17 years old it should be an eye widening, "it's a big world" experience for her. Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in this hemisphere, it used to be the poorest before earthquakes leveled Haiti. There is all the things imaginable that accompany crushing poverty. But there are beautiful, hopeful things too and you are reminded that where there is life, there is hope, and that people are people no matter where you meet them.

It turns out I may have a different mission next spring so this will be my last trip back for a couple years.

But this is a woodworking blog, so where's the sawdust, the tools, the furniture? Well of course my camera comes with me, and of course I take pictures of furniture and architectural elements. Depending on where you are in country the furniture has some distinctive features, but I would say the majority could easily be identified in a range from gothic medieval to the arts and crafts style.

I've gathered some from my past trips below. Click on the photos to see larger images.


Hotel St. Thomas, Matagalpa

Catholic Cathedral, Matagalpa:

Selva Negra Plantation

Ratione et Passionis