Saturday, May 31, 2014

To Build A Nest: Introduction

I'm not sure who coined the phrase referring to a collection of handsaws as a, "a Nest of Saws," but the turn of phrase makes me smile when I hear it. It's like saying a Murder of Crows, or a Quiver of Cobras. Whimsical and descriptive.

I also like to use the phrase, "There's no point in making a meal out of a snack." ask my children, they hear this one all the time.

In my shop, there is some correlation between these two phrases. In my mind a "Nest"  is made up of many, many pieces, and for some woodworker's they like having a fully plumed nest, full of specific saws tuned for specific purposes. I totally understand this position at at one point in my journey I was on board with this concept. I built myself a full sized saw till for my shop with the whole Nest plan in mind.

Then I read "The Anarchist Tool Chest" and the book found me with the right message at the right point in my life. Like finding a song or album that really speaks to you at a specific age and time. I started to reassess my take on my shop in general.

"What would help me more?" I asked, "A selection from a dozen saws that is tuned specifically to rip pine, or simply a sharp rip saw?"

And as a follow up. . .

"Am I more likely to have a sharp rip saw if I have just a few to maintain, or if I have a dozen, will I be more likely to abandon one saw for another in the moment if it starts to dull, and then, move on with the project at hand and never get around to sharpening that saw."

Then there would be keeping track of the notes I'd made on the sharpening specifics for each of a dozen saws.

What do I want to do more. Use my tools, or maintain my tools. Understanding that more tools equals more maintinence. 

For me, once I thought about it the answer was fairly clear. A sharp saw tuned to general purpose beats out a specific situation tuned saw that is less than sharp. For me the debate was simple and short. Today my saw till is full of saws I will probably never use, (some are inherited heirlooms I cannot part with, some are trash I don't know what to do with). I keep the saws I use inside my tool chest.

A little bit ago I had an email exchange with Mark Harrell from Bad Axe Tool Works. He was asking some bloggers and friends specifics about our decision process with saw choices. I surprised myself a bit when I realized how little I thought about my saws in specific. I know what I have in the tool chest. I know which of the saws I want to use when. But honestly past that I can't cite specs like Points Per Inch (PPI) or degrees of Rake and Fleam.

What I have and use works for me, and because it works, I don't have to think about it much.

Because it works for me, and because when Mark asked, it made me start to think about my saw choices like I haven't in a long time. I thought I'd put up a list of the saws I use everyday in my shop, my mini-nest if you will. But instead of making one super long post I've decided to break it up into four. This introduction, one for hand saws, one for back saws, and one for specialty saws. So look for them in the next coming days.

Ratione et Passionis

P.S. If it's a "Nest of Saws" then is it also a "Parade of Planes?" Or a "Splurge of Spokeshaves?" Or a "Cacophony of Carving Tools?"  A "Church of Chisels?" I happen to really like alliteration. . . .

P.S.S. If you want to read more cool names for groups of animals I found this list of 99,

Friday, May 30, 2014

Kinda Chicken

I've got a goal. I want to build eight pieces of furniture this year before the winter makes shop time difficult. Eight is the number of unique pieces I've identified in the pages of the Maciejowski Bible.

One foot stool, one bed, one table, one chest, one cradle, and three chairs.

This is the chair I'm starting on now.

I've taken to calling it "The Green Chair" and after really studying the image and doing a ton of research I'm confident I have a reasonable argument for my decisions with the joinery and dimensions. I've had it figured out for a couple weeks, and I've had the working measured drawings done for a week plus. Still, I haven't been able to make myself head out to the shop and start severing wood fibers.

I have a complicated relationship with chairs. At this point in my woodworking adventure they are just intimidating to me. Even ladder back-ish straight forward clunkers like this one. For the past several years chairs have been my new dovetail.

I remember a decade ago, just fumbling my way through the early days of figuring out if I really liked this woodworking stuff or not. Just beginning to read and understand some of the mysteries that fascinated me, (and still do.)  Dovetails seemed like such a secret handshake to me. A Mason's coded word book left for me to decipher. If I'm honest I will admit I was scared of them and that fear led me to actively avoid using them.

I read everything about them I could find, I studied them like someday I would need the knowledge to diffuse a bomb. Finally I read an article written by Frank Klausz that told me to just Shut Up and Cut Them. I decided he was right, I had to stop being kinda chicken and start the work. Maybe I'd destroy some stock, maybe I'd completely screw up everything,but at least I'd be working.

This morning I was sitting and staring at my modest collection of woodworking books trying to decide which book would finally give me permission to go and get started. I realized that in the last few years I have amassed more books dealing with chair-making than any other single subject. Hell I even have two copies of "Make a Joint Stool From a Tree" (well because my second copy was signed by both authors silly)

I started to think instead, when I finish this book there will be three chairs included in the pages. If I think of this one as intimidating then the "X" chair, or Dagobert style chair will eventually send me running for the hills.

Instead of pulling a book off the shelf and giving myself another excuse to waste more time, I started to think about my relationship with dovetails and how far that has come. I remembered a couple weeks ago, while I was doing the complicated, staged glue up for the Foot Stool, I wiled away the set up time by making a nice little dovetailed box from some pine off cuts and walnut scraps.

I looked the box, sitting on the floor by our front door, waiting for purpose. I realized that something I was kinda chicken about several years ago was now something I could pull off so well I could build a little box like this in a couple hours time, and the dovetails weren't even the challenging part.

So I pulled on my big boy pants and went out to the shop. There's no time for prototypes anymore, just time to Shut Up and Start.

The first thing to do was kill all my indecision over stock selection. I've got this nice slab of 3" thick by 11" wide, by 10' long Black Walnut that I've been hording like the One Ring since I picked it up this spring. But my precious isn't going to do me any good sitting against the wall in the wood corner of the shop. Today I pulled it out, hauled it around, and started to rip some turning stock.

Kinda Chicken no more.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Maciejowski Bible Footstool

In the Maciejowski Bible the most represented piece of furniture may also be the easiest one to overlook. The footstool is represented at least 38 times. In ancient times, back to the Greeks, setting a footstool before a chair was part of recognizing it as a throne.

Building a piece of furniture from a medieval manuscript can be a tricky prospect and I only hope in the end I do all of these pieces justice. Some of the pieces I understand from the first time I see them, but a few of the pieces have taken study, research, thought, and lots of drawings to tease the secrets from them. The footstool was one of these difficult pieces. 

Even though it's so often depicted, it also has the most variety from page to page. In the end I had to take what I liked best from several different pages and put them into one rendition.

From here the footstool begins the process of painting and in the shop I start building the first of three different chairs,

I'm afraid if you want more details, you'll have to wait until I'm done writing the book.

It's good to be busy.

Ratione et Passionis

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Indiana Jones Catalyst.

I suck at photoshop!

When I was a young boy, if you asked the horrible question "What do you want to do when you grow up?" you were bound to get one of three answers, depending on my mood.

An Artist

A Writer


An Archaeologist

What can I say, Indiana Jones had a huge formative influence on me. The Temple of Doom blew my mind and fueled my imagination for years and years.

The project I'm working on now, building the pieces shown in the Maciejowski Bible, feels like the best calling of all three choices together. History, art, and writing in one. In truth I've been working on it for several years now, and the idea has run through several incarnations. The key was always finding the right source material.

In a fairly recent incarnation I was focused on furniture centered around the medieval Viking culture, my direct ancestors. I had a plan written up for a chest I've built several incarnations of The Mastermyr Chest. An important archaeological find of a six board chest with slanted sides that was filled with woodworking and blacksmithing tools. (most likely boat building equipment)

My interest in medieval history, viking history, and woodworking has led me to build several versions of the chest, though I haven't built one in year, nor have I ever built one proper in size and accurate in dimension to the original. I was going to include an accurate representation with plans in my book. I then woke up to realize several things. Lots of people have built and documented the building of this chest. Some I like and some I don't, but it's fairly popular.

Then  Don Weber made a DVD about the chest for Popular Woodworking and covered it best of all including the forging. I tapped out and cast around for different ideas. In the end it's worked out best for me.

But I still have the measured drawings I created for the chest. The measurements taken directly from the book published about the find. I was unsure what to do with them. So I thought I'd post them here for people to download.

Here's the instructions. Click on the link below and you will go to a public file on my Google Drive account. In the upper left hand corner of the screen, under the word "FILE" you will see a downward pointing arrow. Click on the arrow and your computer should start the download process.

Here's the link:

Writing about it almost makes me want to build another one this weekend. I'd better hold that thought, I've got a 13th Century footstool to go and start gluing up this evening.

Ratione et Passionis

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Look At Them Funny Shaped Dados!?!

I haven't written a "How I Do It" here in a while. Let me dig out my soap box, I think it's over here somewhere . . . 

Sliding dovetail joints. 

Modern annexed territory of my noisy nemesis The Router. Gather with me brothers and sisters I say it's time for a revolution. It is time we reclaimed this land as ours. Not with gimmickry or gadgetry, no specialty planes or tricks. A couple chisels, a carcass saw, and our own hands and eyes are all we need to accomplish our goals. Viva La Anarchy!!!

All right, maybe I get a little carried away sometimes, but this is a useful joint that is easy to over think. I haven't cut one in a long time but it's just what the doctor ordered for adding strength and rigidity to the project I'm building right now. While I was working I thought about how many hand cut through dovetail joint videos and tutorials are out there and, while there are some, how this joint just doesn't get the same recognition. 

I start with the tail board, marking my depth with a marking gauge (this time it's 3/8") and the width of the narrow part of my tail. Typically I will make the narrow of the tail half the thickness of the stock. 3/4" stock means the tail is 3/8" thick this time. 

I don't kill myself with this measurement. I use a 3/8" chisel, center it by feel and by eye and mark on either side. If it looks right it is right, no micrometer necessary. 

Then I take my small 6" ruler and connect the corners to my marks with a fine pencil line. I only do this marking on one side of the board because accurately repeating it on both sides seems wasteful of my time and effort. The lines are just general guides after all.

I prep the shoulders of the joint for a First Class Saw Cut using a wide chisel to make a V shaped trough to guide the carcass saw more accurately.

I saw down gently with my carcass saw concentrating on making a flat, even cut. Oops, looks like I passed the line a little. Shame on me. 

I use my bench hook as a backer and start paring to the shape I want.

This is "select pine" from the home center but I've done the same operation with hardwoods like walnut and oak to the same effect. According to the sticker this stuff is a product of New Zealand! How's that for adding some exotic woods to my repertoire. I do seriously love the multi-colored end grain. It's almost hypnotic. 

Keep working until you've defined the shape

Flip and repeat. I inspect my cuts in raking light and at a few angles for quality. I've learned to visualize flat and square pretty close by eye and I know if I miss something and it shows up as an issue in the dry fit I can pare a little more then. Better is the enemy of good. 

I use a square to register the tail board to what will be the pin board. The rabbets on this piece help with registering depth but when I don't have them I just sight it in like I do when making regular dovetails and line up the shoulders with the inside edge of the pin board. 

Hold the board down tight so it doesn't move while you mark the layout. You'll notice I have mastered my the patented One Finger Death Grip. This is only cleared for Level 6 and above personnel. 

Not a great shot, but the next step is to grab your saw and start to sever fibers. Like paring, sawing is a gateway skill you should master over time. See the line and cut the line no matter what angle.

Like cutting half blind dovetails I will extend my line past the stopping point and remove as much as possible with short strokes of the saw and pushing the toe into the cut. Obviously this is an easier thing to accomplish if your sliding dovetail traverses the full width of your stock and you don't have to worry about a terminal end for the joint

Then it's more chisel work. Take care with this step so you don't blow out the corners. In stock like this pine I don't mind making choping cuts with the grain. With easy splitting woods like oak or walnut I will take more care and lightly score the waste with the grain then make deeper downward chops perpendicular to the grain. This lessens my chance of crying over blow outs, or worse, splitting the board itself.

I use a narrowed 1/4" chisel to pare out the chips. Take care and sweep them towards the mouth of the joint instead of trying to pry them upwards. You can't pull a wedge out from the narrow end. This part takes time. Once you remove most of the waste, pare out the sides and make sure the corners are clean.

Give it a test fit. If you're hanging up somewhere, gently knock the pieces apart, diagnose the issue, and fix it with a sharp chisel.

In the end you win because I end up with a good joint cut with a minimum of tools and fuss. There were no jigs or test cuts to be made, and most importantly to me. I was able to listen to the Black Keys channel on Pandora Radio the whole time. 

Ratione et Passionis

P.S. Before I go I should preemptively say to router lovers, please put down your spears and arrows. If you want to cut these joints with a router, then why would my opinion stop you. I do actually own two routers and a router table myself and sometimes they are the perfect solution to a furniture building problem. It's just that for me, that "sometimes" is not very often at all. 

I don't think I've used my router table in . . .  well has it been more than two years already? Maybe more than three. Wow. 


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Upcoming Events

This coming year will be a very busy one for me, and I'm looking forward to it. Not only do I have a serious project that I can sink my teeth into, building and writing a book about the furniture depicted in the Maciejowski Bible. On top of that have several events where I'll be demonstrating and a few where I'll be giving a formal talk.

If you're interested in any of these topics and are in the neighborhood, stop on by and we'll have a visit. This is a list of those set in stone. There are a few more in the works. I may have to start a list in the sidebar.

Saturday June 14th.
I will be at the Castlerock Museum of Arms and Armor in beautiful riverside town of Alma WI. This is a big party for the museum's annual gala and I will be set up there doing carving demonstrations and talking medieval woodworking. Some of my medieval buddies will be there to doing chain-maile making, traditional long bow making, and displaying their melee muscles with a combat demonstration.

I will try and have a couple pieces from my work on the bible furniture along with me. Hoping for a foot stool and a chair.

Saturday June 28th,
I will be again demonstrating medieval woodworking and carving again. This time as part of a fund raiser and show for the Rock Springs Wisconsin Public Library. I won't be there alone. I'll have the rest of the medieval crew with me as well.

I've never understood the rhyme or reason to the publishing dates for magazines, but I believe the August issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine will be in the mail and on news stands at some point in July. It should contain an article I wrote titled "The Roubo Press Vise" after my work building the veneer press shown on plate 280 of Roubo's work "L'Art du menuisier" The plate is included in the "Roubo on Marquetry" translation that was released last year by Lost Art Press

Sunday August 31st, 2pm
I'll be back at the Castlerock Museum to give a lecture on the real life considerations of wearing armor for combat as opposed to wearing armor for costume. There's a lot to consider and many real world applications that have only presented to me through experience. This is not woodworking related, but it is fun.

Sunday September 28th, 2pm
Another round at the Castlerock Museum. This time master blacksmith Thomas Latane has asked me to tag team with him on a lecture / demonstration about medieval woodworking. This should include riving logs into stock, chopping mortise and tenon joints, scratch mouldings, carving, and whatever else we can come up with. Should be a good time

Sunday November 30th 2pm
This will be a big one for me. I will be back at the Castlerock Museum for a fourth visit and third lecture this year. This will be a talk on the furniture shown in the Maciejowski Bible and my efforts to effectively build the pieces back into reality. I will have all the pieces I've completed and my research with me. Come one, come all and bring your rotten vegetables to throw.

And my biggest news. . .

May 15th - 17th, 2015
I have the honor and privilege of being asked by Don Williams to help with the exhibition of the H.O. Studley Tool Chest and Workbench in at the Scottish Rite Temple in Cedar Rapids Iowa. (you have no idea how long I've been holding my breath, waiting to write that sentence here)  I feel like I could say so much more, but I am humbled beyond my usual words that Don asked me to be a part of this.

Up to this point I could only name off a handful of people who I know have been able to stand in the presence of this storied, near mythological, testament to woodworking obsession. The short list I can name off the top of my head includes Norm Abrahms, Don Williams, Chris Schwarz, Narayan Nayar, and Jameel Abraham. To be part of this short list of names is worth the small price of admission. Don't miss it.

Tickets will be limited. All the information is here:

And if the Studley Tool Chest and Work Bench isn't enough, there's this little party called Handworks 2015 right down the road in Amana.

So, I'm looking forward to a busy year, and I hope I get a chance to see some of you while I'm at it.

Ratione et Passionis