Friday, January 31, 2014

After The War

I was hesitant as I unlocked the door and stepped inside my shop yesterday morning. I could almost imagine what was waiting for me. I wasn't disappointed.

Last Saturday I spent in the neighborhood of twelve hours busily making sawdust in a flurry. I was participating in a one day shop stool build off and I was losing. The clock hit 2230, I had just finished drawbore pegging all the mortise and tenon joints contained in my stool concept, and I felt it hit me. The big wave of exhaustion. 

I knew in my heart of hearts if I pushed myself further and did the shaping of the seat I planned for there was an increasing probability I would damage the work I had already done, or worse, damage myself. My gut was telling me it was time to pack it in and I have spent my thirties learning I should listen to my gut more than I do. The deal was to build the stool completely in a day and I had fallen short of the mark. It was time to concede. 

(The end result, I'm calling it the "Plate 11 Shop Stool", for it's foundations in the Roubo workbench. I will finish the work up on it soon, but for now it's back into the queue)

I kicked off the shop furnace, gathered the stool, my camera, sketchbook, and other errata. Hit the lights. Locked the door. And headed inside for warmth, ibuprofen, and bourbon. I didn't pick up or put away a single thing. 

Fast forward back to yesterday morning, on the tails of an unusually long work week at the hospital, I opened the door to my haven of sanity, hoping some shoemaker's elves had shown up with the polar vortex and everything in the shop would be neat and orderly, the way I usually keep it. It was a long shot to believe something so miraculous could happen. I took a deep breath and looked around.

I guess I would be alone in righting the devastation.

It started just inside the door and the big pile of sawdust on the floor and around my bandsaw.

Along the floor in front of the workbench didn't look too bad, but there was a lot more dust than shavings. I'm used to seeing more shavings.

On top the bench was everything I had been working with at the end. I realized I had also left my tool chest open, one of my cardinal no-no's. Cleaning the dust from inside there would take a while.

In my focus, I just didn't realize how much dust I was creating. I leaned a little more power tool than hand tool on this project, particularly to cut time and effort. You can follow my work in the scuff marks on the floor. Like Prince Humperdinck dissecting the sword fight between the Dread Pirate Roberts and Inigo Montoya by their footprints in the sand.

I've never worried that much about dust collection in the shop. Nine months out of the year I work with the side door and the garage door wide open and a breeze blowing through the shop. I also focus more on my hand tools because I enjoy that process more. The sawdust created by my hand tools has a different quality than that made by my machines. It's heavier, spends less time in the air and gets up my nose even less. I don't have anything scientific to back up those observations, so don't ask.

But lately, I have been using my powered friends a little more than before. In late 2009 early 2010 I started a hand tool sabbatical, wanting to learn how to work in an unplugged capacity. No lie, there was a big learning curve, I mangled some wood and I learned a lot to where I am now. Master by no means, I'd call it reasonably competent. Now that my power tools are creeping back into the workflow at appropriate times, I find the way I use them has changed.

I used to approach them from a very production like mentality. "I'm going to cut all the boards for this part of the project to these dimensions and I won't move the fence until complete." It's become a lot more intuitive now. I look at measurements less because I know the cut I'm expecting to get from saw. I've almost completely given up crosscutting on my tablesaw and I haven't cut much joinery, a tenon or rabbet, on it in forever.

Dammit, I even left my chisels out. 

But the thing I have to ponder now is my dust collection. If I continue using my power tools, even as much as 25% of the time, I should improve this part of my shop. If for no other reason than to improve the safety and enjoyability of the time I spend out there. This will take some significant planning and thought, but I'm coming around to the idea that something more than my two brooms and a dust pan strategy is required.

After the war is over, the dust settles down and you get to see what you have left to work with.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, January 26, 2014

#SSBO or Shop Stool Build Off - Roubo Edition.

Roubo workbenches have become pretty ubiquitous among the internet and woodworking blogosphere. It seems if you haven't built at least one of the variety (split top, french oak, slope top, petite, LVL,  low rider, plate 11, or binary) then you just aren't one of the cool kids. 

{warning: some of those Robo varieties may not have been written about yet}

So what's a guy with Roubo envy to do. Well you wait around for a guy like Chris Wong to introduce the concept of a group internet build centered around making a shop stool in a weekend. When I cast around for ideas for a new shop stool I landed on the concept of a Roubo shop stool. Now I could have a Roubo all my own and suffer envy no more. 

The real challenge was to document the whole build online. I chose to use my page on Facebook which cross posts to Twitter. What follow is a recap of the day on Facebook 

(Starting about 0945 Central Time) 

So I slept in a little later than I expected but it's all good. I was just out to light a fire in the shop and I've just made my morning coffee. Getting ready to roll. #SSBO

These are the five parts I laminated up in preparation. They've been in clamps for a week waiting for today . #SSBO

 #SSBO four luscious and lovely laminated legs plus one seriously stacked seat.  White oak. 

 #SSBO Plans and plan of action hanging up and here we go. 

 #SSBO planing one edge of the seat flat so I can square the rest on the table saw.
 #SSBO Seat squared on three sides, I left the top rough to sculpt later. 

 #SSBO surfacing finished on the legs and seat. If I just stack it like this can I be done? It's cold out here. (For the record Chris Wong answered me back on twitter and said "No!" so I kept at it) 
 #SSBO calling an audible in the design. On paper I had the legs flairing out at the bottom. It didn't look right. Changed up to some stepped cloud lifts. And moving forward.  
 #SSBO leg shaped roughed out on the bandsaw. Now to layout the "Roubo" tenons. 
 #SSBO I've really gotten to like using a sector and dividers to layout things. Dividing the board into thirds is so easy this way. 
 #SSBO cutting the angles on the infamous Roubo tenon. 
 #SSBO Tenon accomplished/ :) pondering a lunch break but I think I'll hold off a while. 

 #SSBO directly laying out the mortises from the already cut tenons. 

 #SSBO mortises at the ready. 

 #SSBO drilling out the mortises in the seat. 

 #SSBO Mortises accomplished. A little dry assembly. Then lunch. 

 #SSBO A littler tweaking is needed but I think I'm on the right track. 

 #SSBO marking out the mortises for the stretchers

 #SSBO tenons cut with the waste split off the stretchers

 #SSBOFirst stretcher mortise and tenon fit. 3 more to go. 
 #SSBO stretchers all fit together for a dry fit. I was going to sculpt the stretchers some but I kind of like how them as is. 

 #SSBO the Roubo bench has holdfast holes in the legs. So does my Roubo shop stool. 

 #SSBO How do you make your own dowel pins? Instead of paring the edges with a chisel to fit into my doweling plate  I sharpen them with a construction pencil sharpener. 





 #SSBO the day started out around -930 with some coffee. It ends 13 hours later with some good bourbon. 
I will admit. 16 mortise and tenon joints. half of those the double Roubo dovetail style was ambitious for one day in the shop, but I wanted to push my own envelope. I've always been a little haunted by the stories of the amount of output the masters of the past were able to accomplish. I wanted to push myself towards that goal. Not speed for speed sake, but efficiency and economy of movement. Those are important things to strive for. 

Now I have to carve out some time tomorrow to sculpt the seat, give everything an final sanding, and apply a coat of finish.

Ratione et Passionis

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Refining Ideas.

The heater has gone out in the shop, impeding any real progress on anything real happening out there. Add to that finishing up with the final big projects to help my brother and his family live comfortably in their new home and I haven't had a whole lot to record here at all. But the weather broke earlier in the week with some temps above freezing and I managed to steal a couple hours in the shop.

I installed a couple new shop lights, now I have all my major work areas well illuminated. This is a good thing. I managed to organize and put away the tools and tool boxes I had hauled out to help at my brother's. I also managed to shuffle around my accumulated stock in search of something appropriate to use in the upcoming Shop Stool Build Off.

I had plenty of white oak in piles, but some of it is already spoken for in other projects. None of it was as thick as I remembered. I thought I had some 8/4 stock, but it all turned out to be 5/4. This realization pushed a couple decisions.

The thickness of stock tells me I have to laminate pieces together to get what I want out of it. The project is a fun, one day diversion. But I don't want to buy special lumber for it, I want to use up some of what I've stockpiled. I took the rest of the day to rough out and laminate glue together the stock for the four legs and the seat. I know the build off is supposed to be a one day only build, but I couldn't afford to do this on the day of and wait for the glue to set on all the major pieces.

If those participating deem this foul play, then I will have to live with that sentence and consider myself disqualified. That will not stop my participation on the 25th.


The stock I decided to use also wasn't wide enough to cut a suitable round blank from. The original plan I had for the seat.

So I modified my attack to be a little closer to the look of the Roubo Plate 11 bench itself.

Here's the measured drawing I completed earlier this morning to check my proportions and spacing. Going with a rectangular seat (similar to the seat on my current shop stool) also removes the design issue I was having with the crossing stretchers. It's a bit stiffer and more formal in shape but I think I can help that with some sculpting of the seat, legs, and stretchers. I wish I had the time to laminate another section to the top and make it thicker yet, but I figure I had better leave well enough alone.

I do like adding the details of the holdfast holes in the legs. I'm not sure they'll be truly functional with the length of my Gramercy Holdfasts. We will see in time but that would be such a bonus.

It's an ambitious project to pull off in a one day build, I think it's do able, but it will be a long day. To keep myself on track and task I wrote out a step by step list to follow. Thirty One steps seems like a lot, and maybe it is. But you don't know how much you can accomplish until you try. I've been kind of big on testing myself lately to find the limits.

I think that's why this build off appealed to me so much.

(I know it stops at 29, but you'll also notice there's a, 11.5 and a 17.5. and just now as I'm writing this I thought of a 26.5 "Level the Legs"  so that makes 32 steps)

Ratione et Passionis

If you haven't signed up to be part of the Shop Stool Build Off to be held on January 25th and think you may be interested, head over to visit the mastermind Chris Wong from Flair Woodworks and learn more. The link to the Build Off page is here

I can't wait to see what everyone else comes up with.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Pick Your Seat.

I'd decided to participate in Chris Wong's online, community based. Shop Stool Build Off. I find the concept of a group generating individual ideas on a simple form and collectively sharing the process of design and building gives me warm and fuzzy feelings. It's a fantastic idea.

In the days leading up to and surrounding the holidays, I started to focus my thinking and daydreaming on the design for my new shop stool. I cast a wide net and pulled in several ideas. I tried to explain the process of elimination in my post HERE. Until I realized I was looking for inspiration inside the "box" labeled Stool . . .

____________(insert your own fecal matter joke here) ___________!

. . . . and I find good design comes from (cliche) outside the box thinking.

I have developed a small but obsessive idea about designing a piece of furniture made precisely for the environment it's going to occupy. Not just in ergonomic terms of use, and not just in the simple height/width/depth numbers. But something that "belongs" in the space and is as organic and natural a feel as finding a lichen covered rock along a forest trail. David Mathias and his great book "Poems of Wood and Light' planted this seed in my mind. (I wrote about it HERE) and I have been slowly exploring the concept in drawings and beginning to apply the concept to my home.

So after looking at hundreds of Google Search images of stools, I backed off and rethought my approach. I was trying to cram a stool design I liked into my shop, but why not take a shop design I like and cram it into a stool instead. . . .

I wanted something iconic and recognisable. Of late, especially on the internet, there is nothing more iconic and recognisable that the Roubo Workbench. Slab built, laminated split top, leg vise or plane stop, whatever flavor you like 'em, they are the hot, must have shop accessory for the new generation. To be honest, there are times I'd like to upgrade my bench to one too.

Even more than all the choices of top and work holding, there is one thing I think of that seems to consistently have that "Roubo" feel for me when it comes to looking at Roubo benches. The iconic touch is the through double tenon.

This picture was borrowed from Chris Schwarz's blog at Lost Art Press, The original post is found HERE

The outer tenon is flush with the outside edge and dovetailed. To me, this joint is what says, "I'm a Roubo workbench" This joint was the jumping off point for my sketchbook.

I'm still playing with details, so there are some things about the sketch that will make it into the final product and some that won't. The real refinement of an idea comes at the bench. I realize there will be some issues with grain direction and the through dovetailed tenons, but I plan to work that out based on what the stock gives me when I cut for the seat.

Most likely the stool will be built from white oak. There is an off chance I will make the seat and the lower stretchers from walnut.

What I like about the design on paper. I like the through tenons in the top and in the legs. I like the idea of drawbore pining those tenons with an accent wood. And I like the idea that the design says I was built for a woodworking studio, (at least to me).

What I have to work on. I don't care for the cross-junction I sketched for the lower stretchers, and I think these will need to be finessed well to look correct. Both in their height versus the thickness of the seat and legs and in their proportional placement between the floor and the seat top. Not too high, not too low, definitely not in the middle.

There's a snapshot of my process. Now I can only hope that January 25th will be a mild enough winter day that my little kerosene heater can make the shop comfortable to work in.


I would really, really like to see as many people as possible join in on this project. big numbers will only make it better. As I build on the 25th I will be posting regular updates throughout the day on my Facebook page (which counter posts on twitter) and less frequently throughout the day, here on the blog. (I'm going to try and keep it to no more than four posts here that day.)

I'd like to find a way to live stream video from in the shop. Mostly because that's new and uncharted tech territory for me. I wouldn't hold your breath on that one though.

But, please consider joining in on the fun, and make sure you head over to Chris Wong's event page and register.


Ratione et Passionis

Friday, January 3, 2014

Shop Stool Design.

There are things in life we take for granted and maybe we shouldn't. My shop stool is one of those things. It is a rectangular seat high bar stool. We bought a set of 3 on clearance at WalMart for the kitchen of our old apartment. They were on clearance.

I bucked at the idea at the time, but Mrs. Oldwolf wanted some seating today or soon and I admitted it would take a while for me to get around to building three high stools myself. They came home with us. We don't have a kitchen island in the new house and no real place for the stools to live. Two are around here somewhere. One made it out to my shop.

It works, but still, if I think about it, I'm not happy. Not with the stool, not with where it came from, not with the whole idea. But I hadn't really thought about it. . . .until Chris Wong over at Flair Woodworks made me think about it. Now I have to fix it.

You see Chris has introduced the fantastic idea of a community "shop stool build off" to take place on January 25th. He's building himself a new shop stool on that day and plans to live Blog, Tweet, and Tumbler the process. (hashtag #SSBO) But Chris doesn't want to star in the event alone, he wants as many people to join in as possible and stream their build online all in their own way. If you like the idea, head over and register at his blog. There will be some prizes from sponsors too.

With the build about a month away I decided I should start thinking and planning my own take on a new stool.

I started by thinking of some of the very cool sculptural chair work I've seen by Andy Chidwick. I met him at a Woodworking Show in Milwaukee a few years ago and watching a couple of his presentations set my brain alight with design ideas for a couple weeks. Nothing has come from those drawings or ideas yet, but something will, and the concepts I picked up have helped me make better decisions in the shop.

This is a quick and terrible shot I took of one of Andy's high seat chairs. 
I didn't have to think about it long to realize a stool like this would not be shop worthy, it would have to join the elevated ranks known as "house furniture" Also, I wouldn't have a ghost of a chance of finishing it in a day. A sculpted stool would not be the answer.

Then I thought I would go with a more traditional design. Well, my kind of traditional.

One of Peter Follansbee's Joined Stools
I've wanted to build a Joined Stool for a while. Peter Follansbee's book on the form is inspiring.  What's slowed me down is the compulsion I have to do it right. I want to rive my stock from an oak log and learn to work it green and watch it dry. Still I considered making some concessions, raising the traditional height and using this form in the shop.

The other "traditional" form I was considering was the Moravian Stool form. Chris Schwarz wrote an article about it for Popular Woodworking Magazine a while back

It's simple and durable in form and function. The kind of simple that means you have to get all the details right. It would have been an excellent one day build. I was even tempted to add a back like so many antique examples have. The prospect of the back made to Moravian Stool especially tempting.

None of these ideas fell into my final plan.

I realized I had been going about this the wrong way. (At least for me) I had been looking at other stools, pages and pages of them on Google Images, for inspiration. I found ideas that were good, but didn't have the right feel I was looking for. The stools were all furniture, takes and ideas on "house furniture." I found fertile ground instead looking to "shop furniture" for inspiration.

I wanted to follow something iconic and recognisable. I think I found it.

Ratione et Passionis