Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Kilted Woodworker...

Picture this...

A large crowd of galoots (that would be hand-tool enthusiasts), milling about in unbifercated garments (tartan or contemporary), 2" slicks sticking out from the tops of their right leg stockings, attending demonstrations and classes on hand tool use and techniques. Rivalries aside, a MacDonald shares a workbench with a Campbell, both eager to learn from some of the masters of the trade. After a morning of classes and lectures and a hearty lunch of haggis and shepherd's pie, friendly competitions begin in a nearby field.

Welcome to the first annual Neanderthal Kilted Woodworking Conference!

Obviously, picking the proper location would be crucial to such a gathering. We could hold it in Dublin, OH, Aberdeen, MD, or Ayr, NE.

In addition to the normal classes on mortise/tenon and dovetail joinery, using hand saws, sharpening, and tuning hand planes, we could have demonstrations with titles like:
Tapering Your Caber With Spokeshaves
How Sharp Is Sharp? Methods Of Shearing Sheep With A Chisel
The Shop Apron vs. The Sporran
Carve Your Own Sgian Dubh Handle
Installing Crown Moulding While Kilted (a lesson from the Modest Woodworker Series)
Finish The Finish - Rubbing Out Shellac With Sheep Wool

Friendly competitions might include:
Maydole Hammer Throw - Like the traditional hammer throw, but with a 16 oz. hammer instead of a 16 lb. hammer. Slightly farther distances should be expected.
Pipe-Clamp Toss - A long, black pipe clamp is stood upright and hoisted by the competitor, where it is balanced in the vertical position. It is then thrown in such a way so that it turns end over end and strikes the ground, falling away from the athlete. Points are scored according to how close the clamp comes to landing in the 12 o'clock position.
Stanley Transitional Plane Put - A take on the traditional stone put, this is a nod to the legendary Patrick Leach and a great way to put some of these old tools to good, and final, use.
Throwing Chisels - Competitors attempt to stick their old pitted chisels in a target at 30 paces. The target? An effigy of Norm Abrhams - this is a neanderthal conference, after all!

Most importantly, we could discuss the pleasures of the complete freedom one can only achieve by using hand tools while being kilted.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It's About Bloody Time!

Does it ever seem like you just can't find the time to do the things you REALLY want to do? Between the regular job and the part-time job and getting ready for Christmas and trying to take care of all the house chores, it seems like I haven't done any woodworking in forever!

But over the past few weeks, I've been able to sneak into the shop (and garage, since the "shop" doesn't really exist yet and I'm using the space in the basement where the previous owner had his shop situated) to work on some Christmas presents. One of them is a present for someone on my wife's side of the family, so I can't really talk about it yet (per some of them read my blog...). I'll be sure to post some pictures of that post-Christ's Birthday. The other is for a guy in Alabama who was directed to me, either by searching and finding my old website or through an acquaintance in Scotland who has directed people my way before. He wanted me to make a sgian dubh box for someone for a Christmas present (I suspect his father).

It was a bit short notice, but I figured I'd be able to fit it in, since I would already be making something for the aforementioned family member and it's easier to work on two projects at once when you have all the tools out and the shop-time motivation going at full steam.

I struggle with in-process photos and for that I do apologize. Even if I remember to bring the camera into the shop with me, I usually forget to pull it out until after I've completed most of the process. I do, however, usually get a few shots off before I send the box to the new owner.

This latest project was a sgian dubh presentation box for a Rab Gordon sgian dubh. The completion of this box makes it my third Rab Gordon sgian dubh presentation box and I always look forward to the next one!

Lately, I've been trying to do what I call "recycled" woodworking. All of the wood in this box was reclaimed from other sources. The white oak sides, bottom, and lid are all 100 year old sheathing from an old house my brother and I dismantled on the family farm. A friend of mine dimensions it for me, which he doesn't mind doing because this wood was found between the framing and the clapboard siding and thus protected from the elements. Before it is cleaned up, it really just looks like old wood - no graying or weathering of any kind.

The other wood I used in this box is reclaimed bog oak from England. This wood comes from Roman-period Londinium (present day London). It is oak that was used by the Romans to make piers along the Thames river. Since then, the river has shifted course by several hundred yards and the wood was preserved in a bog-like atmosphere. The tanic acids in the oak react with the chemicals in the oxygen-poor bog and preserve the wood while turning it a wonderful dark black.

It is hard to come by and expensive to ship over from England and Ireland, so I use it sparingly. In this case, I used it in the mitered keys and the lid lift. I would have liked to inlay some into the lid, but I just ran out of time.

Although I use some power tools for things like dimensioning the wood and cutting the grooves for lid and bottom, I used hand tools for fitting the hinges (Brusso butt hinges with 95 degree stops) and the lid lift. I recently picked up a Record 043 and a Record 044 plough plane, so in the future I'd like to cut the grooves by hand, as well. I just haven't had time to get the blades sharpened up and play around with them a bit to make sure I'm good with the techniques. You don't want to practice that on a time-limited project!

But I did try out something new I've wanted to do for a while. The sgian dubh is the small knife worn in the kilt hose, generally going along with a full kilted outfit. I usually line my boxes with suede cloth or green felt or some such thing, but recently I thought of lining them (especially when they are sgian dubh presentation boxes) with tartan material! This ties in well with the Scottish theme.

So I contacted Kathy Lare, a kilt maker living in New Mexico, and asked her if I could purchase several larger swatches of Universal tartans (tartans that can be worn by anyone without much contention, like Pride of Scotland, Royal Stewart, Irish National or Caledonia). She agreed and ended up sending me a generous amount of tartan that should keep me happy for a while.

I told the good doctor ordering this last box about my idea and asked if he would be interested in having a tartan lining. I indicated what I had available, but had a last-minute epiphany and also suggested if he had some of his own family tartan laying about that I could use that, instead!

He said he would be able to get some of his family tartan and forward it on to me tout suit!

Though I wish I'd had a bit more time to work on some additional features, like an inlay of some type in the lid, I'm quite pleased with the end result. Plus, it felt REALLY good to get back in the shop, even the freezing cold periods of working in the garage.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Best $25 I Spend On Woodworking Every Year...

My yearly membership to the St. Louis Woodworker’s Guild is $25. For that small investment, I receive a fruitful and amazing return by way of contacts, mentors, resources, lectures, lessons, assistance, knowledge, opportunities and instruction.

Contacts: I now have a friend just 15 minutes away who owns his own sawmill and kiln. He sells wood for a fraction of the cost of one of those big box stores and sometimes offers woods for sale that I’d never find in a lumber store, like the board of quilted box elder I’ve squirreled away in the back of my shop. He also happens to be a full-time cabinet- and furniture-maker, so I have an excellent resource for information, as well. (Incidentally, his favorite technique for aging cherry is through the use of lye.)

Mentors: An even shorter distance away from me is another member of the guild who has taken me under his woodworking wing. I have access to most of his tools (which is nice when it comes to things like the wide-belt sander and the lathe, two things I have neither the money nor the room for in my small shop), but more importantly, I have access to his years of knowledge and experience. I learn new tips and techniques every time I’m in his shop. Together, we are exploring new areas of woodworking in which neither of us has any experience, such as veneering!

Resources: With my membership, I get full access to our guild’s extensive library. I can check out any number of books or magazines for a month at a time. We have several hundred from which to choose and a few new books get added every month.

Lectures: Our 11 monthly meetings (every month but December) always include a lecture or demonstration by a professional woodworker or guild member. While they might not always involve something I will ever actually do (like how to build a boat), I can often find several pieces of useful information to take away with me.

Lessons: Although I hate to see my fellow woodworker get injured, I try to put their pain to good use by learning from their mistakes, rather than making them myself. Two lessons that stand out are when I learned how not to cut an opening into a zero-clearance insert and an improper use of a tapering jig.

Assistance and Knowledge: I now have a whole pool of professional and hobbyist woodworkers available to me at least once a month to ask for advice or assistance on a woodworking problem or dilemma I might have.

Opportunities: I recently took over the position of editor for the guild’s newsletter. This gives me the opportunity to combine two passions of mine – woodworking and writing. All that’s missing from the formula for a perfect job is a salary!

Instruction: My membership allows me opportunities for advanced learning, such as we had several years ago when Mark Adams hosted a three-day workshop for guild members. I was really excited to learn through such instruction I might not normally get to experience because of financial limitations. The following March, we had Frank Klausz come in for a two-day seminar. Again, I had the opportunity to learn from one of the great living woodworkers of our time. Coming up this next March is a seminar on finishes hosted by Jeff Jewitt – the learning never stops!

My $25 does not buy me a tool or product to drastically simplify my woodworking. But with a little extra effort on my part, I can make that yearly fee affect so many people, including myself, that I will gladly and willingly pay for the privilege to be a part of such a community for as long as I live in St. Louis. If you are not yet a member of a woodworking guild, I highly recommend tracking one down in your area and checking them out.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Ten Cannots

The following is often inappropriately attributed to Abraham Lincoln per a leaflet misprint in 1942. Several versions can be found on-line, but the original was penned by William J. H. Boetcker in 1916...

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
You cannot build character and courage by destroying men's initiative and independence.
And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.
- William J. H. Boetcker

I would like to add one more...

You cannot imagine how great it feels to have another person like something you've created enough to actually PAY you for it!

I get that same feeling of bewilderment and joy blended into one every time someone buys a piece I've made. I guess my critical eye sees faults they don't and wonders why someone would buy such drivel. I hope that feeling (the one of bewilderment and joy, not of drivel) never gets old!

The last time I felt that way was... when was that again? Oh, it was yesterday afternoon! Megan Fitzpatrick had e-mailed me to let me know one of the articles I'd submitted to Popular Woodworking for their Out Of The Woodwork contest was picked as a runner up! They want to pay me for the first publish rights to it! So now someone wants to pay me for the words I've written! More importantly, I think, is that I can now say I've been published. :)

That totally made my year!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Making My Own Tools - The Street Sweeper Tine

Quite a few months ago, while crossing a parking lot, a glint of metal caught my eye. I picked it up and gave it a quick examination. It was about 1/8" wide, around 1/16" to 1/32" thick, and a little more than 5" long. One end of it was square, like it had been broken off after repeated flexing back and forth. The other end was rounded, like a single-edge knife blade.

I stared at it for 10 seconds or so before I realized what it was - a tine from a street sweeper brush.

I wondered if I might be able to put it to good use, so I stuck it in my backpack and continued on my way. Ever since then, I'll glance down every now and again when I'm walking through a parking lot to see if I can spot any more. As of now, I have a collection of about seven or eight tines of various lengths - most of them are six inches long or longer.

I don't know if the metal will hold an edge. It feels a lot like spring steel, which makes me think it might. So one of the first things I need to do is take a diamond stone to one of them and see what kind of edge I can put on it. If that works, then maybe I'd be able to put them in a handle and create some small chisel-like tools for cleaning out detailed areas of carvings or removing bits from string inlay channels.

If they're thin enough, maybe I could figure out some way to sharpen up the shortest edge and use it to help with running string inlays by holding it in a scratch stock.

If they don't hold an edge, I wonder if I might be able to use them in some sort of leather work. I'd like to some day try my hand at making a sporran - maybe I could use the tines as ribs or "stays" like they have in shirt collars, like for the sporran flap. Or in some other part of the construction where it would be useful to maintain the shape.

I like the idea of trying to take something like that and putting it to good use. Maybe you can think of something I haven't? If so, let me know. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Changing Of The Guard...

Yesterday evening I attended the monthly planning meeting for the Saint Louis Woodworking Guild. It was a momentous occasion, to say the least! The gentleman who has written our newsletter for the past 17 years has decided to hang up his pen, so to speak. He's tired of writing newsletters; he wants to spend more time in the shop and less time in front of the computer. Incidentally, this coincides with our website administrator's desire to hand off the website maintenance to someone else!

Of course, this didn't all just come up that evening. It is something I've known about for a few months now. It is something our new guild president (a friend of mine, Scott), the new guild secretary (a friend of the president, Matt), another guild member who does website design (Michael), and I have been waiting for.

Not to take anything away from the hard work these two gentlemen have done over the years, but both the newsletter and the website are a bit stale at the moment. The newsletter is written in the format of:
- Brief introduction of what is going on at the next meeting
- Long, detailed (almost verbatim) description of the main presentation at the previous meeting
- A letter from the President
- Very wordy "Library" section on one or two books (just short of being a book itself, honestly)
- Brief overview of miscellaneous things that happened after or before the last presentation (show-and-tell, announcements, items for sale or wanted to buy)

The website was designed years ago with some off-the-shelf web development software that isn't very user-friendly and is a bit behind the times. It's difficult to navigate and it looks, well, "old". It has had a lot of Band-aids applied to it, and they're starting to peel off.

The meeting took place in the back room of a restaurant/bar. I was just a few minutes late, so most everyone else was seated when I arrived. Upon entering the room, I looked at Scott and Michael and Matt and smiled. I could smell it in the air; the time was ripe for change!

The first 20 minutes of the meeting were spent skirting the main topics, but soon we were discussing newsletter and website ideas in fury and earnest.

We talked about things like:
- reducing our mailing costs by sending a link to a .pdf via e-mail
- reformatting the newsletter to increase readability, add relevant material, and cut verbose sections down to a manageable size
- reformatting the website for easier navigation
- add individual member sections where they can update profiles and contact info, pay for their membership fees, and add project images
- how to deal with delinquent members and membership expiration

I was surprised by several things; one is that so many of the board members were excited about the changes and ideas we brought up, but another is how opposed to change one or two of the board members were. One even said we could create the newsletter in .pdf, but he still wanted it mailed to everyone and he wanted it to look exactly like the old newsletters.

Wow - that's progressive.

(I was glad to see everyone else quickly shoot down that idea.)

In the end, it was a really good meeting. The worst part about it was the terrible service from our waiter. He was more intent on taking his smoke breaks than doing things like bringing us our drinks or the bill.

I've started brainstorming for newsletter ideas, from new sections I think might be fun or informative to ways we can keep the content exciting and new. Some of them are existing sections I think we can keep, but most of them are new. Here they are:
- Featured Member
- Letter from the Editor
- Letter from the President
- Events Calendar
- Next Month's Topic
- One or Two Articles that Compliment Next Month's Topic
- Classifieds Section
- Library Corner
- Adventures in Woodworking (this is an idea I got from some old issues of FWW - they stopped doing this section at some point in 1985 or so)
- Ask the Woodnut (Michael thought it would be funny to have a Dear Abby section where members could e-mail in questions or if I didn't have any worth answering I could make something up that reads high on the goofy crap-o-meter.)
- Woodcraft Classes (A sponsorship opportunity? This might answer one of the concerns about the rising costs of producing a newsletter. Our meetings take place in the local Woodcraft store, just 10 short minutes from my house I might add, so maybe I could talk to the owner of the store and see about publishing the class list in every issue for a small fee.)
- Other Learning Opportunities (local colleges offering classes, community centers, woodworking schools, weekend seminars, etc.)

If anyone out there is a member of a woodworking guild and you have any ideas to offer me, I'd love to hear from you!

A Tale Of Two Chisels...

A few weeks ago I was trolling eBay, looking for some carving chisels. I came across a listing that was simply marked, "two chisels" with a starting price of about $9. I did a double-take and quickly saw they were not chisels but turnscrews! And they looked to be just about the sizes I was looking for!

I've wanted to get a few turnscrews for some time now, but I've never wanted to spend the money on a full set of five or six - I just don't think I use enough screws in my woodworking to necessitate having all of those sizes. Any time I've seen them on eBay, they are either in the full set (and end up going for a whole lot of money) or they are individuals (with a starting bid of $20 or more).

I think the listing gave the wooden handles as "oak", but... given that they didn't know the difference between a chisel and a turnscrew, I didn't put much faith in their ability to identify the wood used. So here's a close-up of the handle...

What do you think? I've seen enough planes and tools in my day to see the similarities between these handles and the flecked rays of beech, so that would be my guess.

The ball of the handle of each turnscrew is slightly oval in shape, not really round. It fits well in the palm of my hand and seems to give me good control.

Both handles are marked with the word "TOGA" and the letter "E". I'm pretty certain Toga was a company in England that made turnscrews and chisels and braces (probably made a lot more than that, but those are the only things I've ever seen for sale with that name marked on them).

The tips of both turnscrews are a bit worn, so I might need to spend a little time fettling them just a bit to get them in shape. Fortunately for me, I came across an article on fettling screwdrivers in one of my recently acquired Fine Woodworking Magazines! I'll try to document the process when I get it started.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

When I was nine...

This morning, my wife and I began our Labor Day weekend by running over to an estate sale just a few minutes away from our house. The posted description wasn't terribly promising, but there are so few this close to us that we had to swing by and see what we could find.

With a "More Out Back" sign by the front door, the first place we headed was the tool shed in the back yard. Unfortunately, the only tool I could find after five minutes of looking was a cheap and bent-bladed keyhole saw. I don't cut that many key holes myself, so I left it there as we made our way to the house.

Inside the house, we could tell my wife's pickings were going to be slim. Pretty easy to tell if you're going to find things like cut glass or coin glass when you walk in the front door. My pickings aren't always so easily found, though. Tools have a way of showing up in the weirdest places, so I'm always sure to search the house bottom to top (you ALWAYS start in the basement when looking for tools at an estate sale...).

One foot on the last step and the other on the basement floor, I looked up and my heart jumped a bit. In front of me was an old workbench with a planing crotch screwed to the top left side and an old leather belt screwed to the apron, making loops to hold chisels at the ready. Obviously whoever lived here actually did some woodworking and the chance of finding some good tools jumped 55%!

But aside from a few jars of screws and nails and one old mostly-working German clamp, there wasn't a tool in sight. What a disappointment! I asked one of the women in charge and found out that the sale started Friday morning and we had arrived just an hour before the sale was to be over! (What kind of schmuck starts an estate sale on a Friday morning??)

My chance of finding anything good just dropped to a low, low 5%. But I'm not one to give up so easily, so I headed upstairs to see what I could find.

And this time my persistence paid off. In the last room I checked, under a small table in a corner, slightly covered by a towel that had fallen to the ground, were two of those cardboard magazine holders that allow you to store about 15 or so magazines in an upright position.

I turned my head to the side so I could more easily read the spines... the first one I saw said, "Fine Woodworking". I don't think I read it on four other magazines before I reached for both boxes to pull them out from under the table.

I held my breath as I counted them up... there were thirty-three issues in all, from as early as #33 (May/June '82 - I was nine years old that month) to as late as #123 (April '97). Quite a few of them were from 1985 or older, and I knew these would help fill some rather large spots in my FWM collection. There wasn't a price on them, but I hefted a box in each arm and headed downstairs regardless.

At the checkout table, the woman asked me how many magazines I had. "Oh, man," I thought, "She's going to charge me a couple dollars for each one and my wife is never going to let me drop $66 on a bunch of old magazines!" But I took a deep breath and mumbled, "33" as quietly as I could. Then my wife dropped a few things on the table as well, and the woman pulled out a calculator to punch up some numbers.

The grand total: $5.60

That's right, folks - I picked up these wonderful tombs of almost-lost knowledge for just $.10 a piece, $3.30 in all! I dropped the exact amount on the table and ran out the door before she realized her obvious calculation error.

This evening I spent some time thumbing through the first couple of issues. There is some amazing information in these old magazines, like articles on woodlot management, shoji screen construction, making fly rods from split bamboo, and photographing your work. I even found a detailed explanation on how to make inlaid wooden cabinet hinges! There are interviews with James Krenov and Art Carpenter, written when these fantastic woodworkers were at their prime!

There are a few articles and pictures that made me laugh out loud, like Ian Kirby, demonstrating proper planing techniques in tight-rolled jeans (can you imagine woodworking in pegged jeans???) and ads for *brand new* power tools like the Excalibur scroll saw.

It looks like there used to be a reader-written section called, "Adventures in Woodworking". Not sure when it was phased out, but the stories were great fun to read. I'd love to see something like that come back in the current iteration of the magazine. Maybe I'll write them a letter...

And then I saw things that made me a little sad. In the July/August issue of '82 is a photo of Prince Charles, holding a split and shaved child's chair, with a caption saying who made it for him and how it would be necessary pretty soon as Princess Di was expected to give birth any day. I found an ad for top quality, extra durable, one-piece Lignum Vitae carver's mallets for $6.90 that brought tears to my eyes. In 1983, you could get a brand new #52D Record vice for under $100 delivered.

(I had to run to the bathroom for a tissue when I read that one.)

Want to know when they started printing the magazine information on the spine? It was November/December '82 (Issue #37).

I can tell you when Fine Woodworking switched from the larger 12"x9" size to the now-standard 10.5"x9" size. (April '96, Issue #117)

Ever wonder when they first printed an issue with a cover in full-color? (September/October '84, Issue #47)

Would you like to know how John Lively makes his marking gauges? I'd love to know, too. Unfortunately, that article was in Issue #32 and this treasure trove starts at issue #33. :(

(Oh, well, you can't win them all...)

The moral of this blog entry, my friendly woodworking boys and girls, should be obvious. Don't stop looking until the last corner has been searched! You never know what you might find!

Now, if you'll excuse me... I have some reading to catch up on.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Do you take me entirely for a Windsor?

A few years ago, I stumbled across a website by a guy who lives near Kansas City, Missouri. I don't remember exactly how I found it - I believe I was searching for a beading tool or an inlay tool, probably something along the lines of a Preston router.

Anyway, whatever I was searching for, I found Kevin Brennan, owner of the Kansas City Windsor Tool Works, instead! And Kevin happens to make copies of a wonderful old tool called a Windsor Beader (also known as a Poole and Williams Beader). I contacted him to find out pricing and availability, but he replied that his first batch of the beader had already sold out.

I told him to let me know if he was to ever run another batch and then I guess I forgot about it...

Two years later, some time around January or February of this year, I got an e-mail from him. He said he was gearing up for another production run and that I should let him know if I wanted to pre-order a beader! That was about the time I'd started thinking about what I might want by way of a birthday present, so I discussed it with the wife and she agreed to let me place the order.

Originally, the batch was supposed to be ready some time around the beginning of June, just a month after my birthday, but some slight hiccups in the production process (part manufacturing, I believe) forced Kevin to push some of his deadlines back a bit. So it didn't actually arrive until last week.

And tonight I finally had time to pull it out and take some pictures of it for you. I wanted to actually put a cutter in and cut a bead, but he recommends sharpening the cutters before you even put them in the first time to remove little bits of slag that might remain on the edge from the cutting process. That slag could scratch the wonderful polished bronze... and I'd rather give it a few weeks of pristine appearance before I bugger it all up. But sharpening the cutters involves polishing the flats and then honing the edges with slip stones and I just haven't had the time to get that done. So for now, you're just getting pictures of the tool.

After a day of pawing at it and messing around with the different fences, I put it away. When I pulled it out again the next morning, I noticed I'd left finger prints all over it! That wouldn't do. On Sunday, my wife and I were shopping and we walked past a jewelry store. I went inside and asked them if they had any polishing cloths available for sale. As it turns out, the store was having a grand opening that day, so they gave me a cloth for free. Score! Now my bronze is all nice and shiny again.

This evening I found a great article Kevin had written for one of my favourite on-line woodworking magazines - WK Fine Tools. In the article, he goes over the steps to shaping one of the edges of the blank cutter (in the center of the picture to the right) that comes with the beader. I'll have to be sure and print that out tomorrow when I have access to a printer and stick that in with my paperwork for the tool. I picked up an additional blank cutter (not photographed), just in case. You could also use part of an old saw blade for blank cutters, but... it was just easier to have Kevin throw another blank into the box.

Eh, it might be a few months late, but... Happy Birthday, Ethan!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Oh, For Pete's Sake...

I'm stealing my newphew's new "catch phrase" for this blog title. Funny to hear it coming from a seven-year-old; it makes him sound much older than he really is. He said it a few times last weekend when I stomped him on the wii (Olympic Games, appropriately enough). I could have let him win the hammer throw, but a) I honestly have no control over how good I do and could just as easily have faulted on the throw as launched it the 84 yards I did and b) I don't think that would have done him any good.

Today I'm using it because I just happened to notice the date on my last blog entry.

I can't believe I've gone this long without making an entry! I feel terrible about it (no, I really do!). I'm pretty sure it has everything to do with the number of woodworking projects I've completed in the last three months - approximately zero. So I guess the answer to my blogging problem is to get back in the shop and make something!

I could do a blog entry on my latest house project, but it really had nothing to do with wood. And I don't imagine you would want to see step-by-step photos of me pulling the toilet in the hall bathroom to replace the wax ring, gasket, and mounting bolts and then reassembling it.

I do have some woodworking project ideas sitting on the back burner, and I really want to get started on them, so maybe I'll have something worth photographing and posting here in the near future.

If you'll take note at the bottom of my homepage, I've now added a playlist for the album "Currently Playing in the Shop". Nothing like a bit of Wake the Dead to motivate me into some creative woodworking!

(Good news, by the way... no leaks on the toilet fix!)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reaching Critical Masses...

If you ever need to figure out 30 different ways to say, "Great Job," then let me know. I can direct you to a couple of woodworking forums where almost every project posted receives just such a thing (and very little else).

Can you tell I'm not a big fan of those kinds of comments? Don't get me wrong - I like to hear compliments just as much as the next guy! But non-critical discussion alone does not help me to learn and grow as a woodworker. In fact, a lack of such a discussion can actually lead a woodworker down the wrong path by providing positive reinforcement of improper techniques and poor design.

What really bugs me, though, is that I don't think a lot of people are actually looking for anything other than compliments! Why? I'm not sure. Maybe they don't care about growth? Maybe they grew up playing non-competitive sports and they feel everyone should always be a winner and nothing is ever bad! It is a mindset I think I understand, but certainly don't agree with.

Or maybe they just can't take criticism of their work, constructive or otherwise.

The inability to handle criticism is something I have trouble understanding. But in the pursuit of my Art History degree, I had to take just as many studio art classes as I did art history classes, so that probably has something to do with it. Even though I went to a liberal arts university, our art classes were anything but the happy-go-lucky-everyone-does-great-work variety one might associate with a liberal atmosphere. We had peer critiques of our on-going projects every week and my peers were absolutely critical!

But it was such a great environment for an artist! We had to be fully aware of our decisions in our projects - why we used a certain color, how we performed a technique, where the thought process came from and where it was going. You had to learn to stand by and defend your position, but you also had to learn how to follow good advice! I was exposed to that kind of environment for most of four years. There were many times when I seriously considered adding or switching to a studio major.

It didn't take me long to learn to enjoy that process of peer reviews. In fact, those who didn't learn to work with the process didn't last very long in any of the studio art programs. After college, I was very grateful for that experience. It prepared me for the real world, where my bosses weren't always happy with my work. Believe me - it is easier on the employee and the manager when both understand the definition of "constructive criticism".

Though I am my own worst critic, I miss that peer review process. After looking at the same thing for several hours, it is easy to miss the obvious changes that could positively affect the project. Sometimes it takes a fresh eye to see that. I've tried several different avenues, looking for a new form of peer review, but I don't really think I've been successful - I've joined the local woodworking guild and actively participated in several woodworking forums and websites, but... they don't even come close to the intimacy of 10 people all sitting around a project, viewing it with a critical eye for the purpose of making me a better artist.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A New Record...

No, I didn't run a mile in under four and a half minutes or make a jewelry box (with dividers) in under five.

But I did pick up a new Record 52 1/2D Vise yesterday morning!

This wasn't really an "expected" purchase, so it did set back my plans to get the Veritas Small Plow Plane a bit, but... it was a deal I couldn't pass up.

See, I was trolling Craig's List the other day and I saw the listing, "Woodworking Vices". I didn't miss the humor in the double entendre. Having already decided to build myself a new workbench in the near future, I've started keeping my eye out for a bench vise. Having done my due diligence in vise research, I knew I was going to be looking for a Record 52 series model.

I noticed the listing contained a photo, so I opened it up to take a look. The image was from a bit of a distance, but it clearly showed two vises standing up on end, leaning against a garage door, the larger one being on the left and the smaller of the two on the right. The caption said, "Large vise - $60, Small vise - $30"

The smaller vise didn't really interest me - I believe it was an unmounted dog leg vise found on European benches and I don't want to mess with trying to install one of them. The larger vise, on the other hand, peaked my interest! It was blue (Record vises are blue)! But that was about all I could tell from the picture, so I shot a quick e-mail over to the seller and asked if there were any markings on the face of the vise.

Sure enough, he responded a little later that it was a Record 52 1/2D.

I did some quick checking on past E-Bay sales and posted a question on one of the woodworking forums I frequent (Sawmill Creek) before I responded with a resounding, "Barring any mechanical defects preventing the vise from working properly, I'll take it at your asking price!"

And then I was left with the job of trying to make the 1/2 hour trip to South St. Louis City without throwing a wrench in the weekend plans (my wife's mom is in town this weekend).

As fate would have it, they had talked earlier in the day (this was on Thursday) and the idea of going to the Botanical Gardens was brought up. "Ching, Ching," says I, as that is just five short minutes from the seller's house, on the other side of Tower Grove park!

"Hey, sweetie, I'd LOVE to go to the Botanical Gardens with you guys! You want me to drive?"

My wife doesn't care for driving too much in St. Louis, so I knew she'd jump at the offer. I guess my excitement was showing on my face, though, because she saw through me like a piece of plate glass.

"What do you want?" she asks.

"Oh, well... I might want to pick up a woodworking vise while we're down there," I reply.

"You already have enough woodworking vices!" she quipped.

"No, no... not a woodworking vice; a woodworking vise! You know, for clamping wood to a workbench, silly! I don't have nearly enough of those yet!"

Oh, my wife is such a joker! You can tell she's really messing with me when she glares through squinted eyes. Times like that, I wish she'd consider taking her act on the road for some comedy sketch group, you know? Man, she'd make a killing!

On Saturday morning, the clouds were out and rain threatened to fall in buckets, which might totally ruin our planned trip to the gardens, but... I was $60 poorer and happy as a clam! Sitting in the back of the car, carefully encased in two brown paper sacks was my new (old) Record vise.

And, in all honesty, another woodworking vice, I suppose...

(vise - n. any of various devices, usually having two jaws that may be brought together or separated by means of a screw, lever, or the like, used to hold an object firmly while work is being done.)

(vice - n. a fault, defect, or shortcoming; a bad habit, as in a horse; also the British spelling of the word vise.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Speaking of Anxiety...

My mother-in-law is coming into town this week!

(Just kidding, Mom. :) )

Don't you hate it when someone says they're going to do something and then they don't? That bugs me to no end! Which is why I'm a little upset with myself right now. I said I was going to post a picture of the cap wall on the stairs and I just realized this afternoon I hadn't done it yet. Grrrr...

I have the pictures on my camera, though, so I'll try my hardest to pull them off and load one into the blog this evening. If I have time, that is. I do have a few things to try and finish up in preparation for our weekend guest (my mother-in-law really is coming into town tomorrow afternoon - I wasn't joking about that; I was just kidding about it causing me anxiety). My wife had to leave town Sunday morning for work (coming back home late this evening), so I've pretty much been on my own for cleaning up.

I've done a good job with not making new messes, but... I'm afraid I haven't been as attentive as I wanted to be with cleaning old ones and tidying up a bit. I still have a few hours tonight, so I'm not worried. I'll still be able to get some stuff done.

I don't think my wife reads my blog, so I can safely say I have been working on a few other things, instead - things that have been bugging my wife for some time - so I wanted to surprise her by getting them done. For example, the dryer sits to the left of the washer, but the dryer door hinges on the right, so when it is open, it creates a sort of wall between the washer and the dryer. It isn't a big deal to switch the dryer doors around (I used to deliver furniture and appliances when I was in college, so I can switch a dryer door or a fridge door in no time); you just have to make a few minutes of time to actually do it.

I didn't really notice how annoying the whole door thing was until I had to do some laundry this week. (before you say anything like, "Why is your wife always doing the laundry?", keep in mind that I do most of the cooking.)

So I did it.

I also detailed the inside of her car (which needed it) and washed and waxed the outside of her car (which desperately needed it). It wasn't quite warm enough outside to touch up some of the chips with paint, so I'll try to do that this weekend.

And then I did something for myself, too...

I picked up an old Craftsman WorkMate someone had listed on Craig's List for $20. It is in excellent condition and of higher quality than a brand new one you could buy today. It came with the four low profile bench stops, even!

I can use it as a workbench up in the garage now that I've moved my bench into the basement, or if I need it in the basement, then it can be easily transported. I can probably mount a few tools onto plywood bases (miter saw, my other recent Craig's List find of an old crank hand grinder for $25, maybe my slow speed grinder) and then use the WorkMate to bring them up to a proper usable level.

Oh, I almost forgot! I did make some headway on that danged cap board. Specifically, I jointed one of the edges flat, then used my trusty Bosch router and a cove bit to route a 5/8" x 5/8" cove into the side. I ripped it off with the table saw and repeated the process two more times, so I now have three pieces of cove trim. I like having a little extra, just in case; besides, I could always use the leftovers on a box or something, right?

Anyway, now I just need to take off the old board and molding, cut the new board to size, and then attach it and the trim and I'm done! It always sounds easier than it really is, doesn't it? I have to make sure I have the right reveal on all of the edges, I need to figure out how I want to mount the board (screws or finish nails), need to figure out when/how I want to finish it.

Decisions, decisions...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Inactivity breeds anxiety...

I've really been off my blogging game as of late, and I'm not really sure I can offer a reasonable explanation as to why. I was out of town for a while (work), but... not for three weeks! But let me tell you - not writing for three weeks is almost like not going to the gym for the same amount of time! I feel all stressed out and anxious and twitchy...

I think the problem is that I've been inactive, as far as woodworking is concerned, and that means I don't have a whole lot of woodworking to write about!

But that isn't a very good excuse. I have been living and the reason I didn't give this blog a woodworking name is because I also wanted to be able to write about aspects of my life other than woodworking.

For example, last weekend was a key birdwatching weekend here in the St. Louis area. Tower Grove Park is a migration trap and for one or two weekends in May, the local birders have the opportunity to catch sight of some unusual birds for this area. I'm not uber-huge into bird watching, but I'm good at spotting and I'm good at giving directions, so my wife likes me to go along with her so I can help find the birds and then show her where they are (and for the companionship, of course).

I won't bore you kind folks with a long list of birds, but I will mention we saw both the black-billed and the yellow-billed cuckoo within a five minute time period. The black is highly uncommon in this area, so that's noteworthy in itself, but seeing both species so close together was a little exciting, even for me. Oh, and I was about 10 feet from a red-breasted nuthatch (the nuthatch is one of the few birds that can walk DOWN a tree; the white-breasted variety is the most common by far, so Dana was tres excited about seeing a red-breasted one).

What else has gone on that I could have blogged about? Oh, yeah... I turned 35 two weeks ago. I haven't felt any new creaks or aches yet, but they're bound to come. I heard from lots of friends and family throughout the weekend, which made it worth while. And I got a great card with a kilted man on it from a friend of ours from church - I'd love to know where she shops for cards!

My birthday dilema: I have some funds available to me, but I'm not exactly sure what I should spend them on. I'm torn between a more casual kilt I can wear hiking or to non-dressy social occasions or putting it towards a Veritas Plow Plane (w/all five blades).

The first would be a bit of fun to have, but the second would definitely get more use (and would help further my goal of using more hand tools than power tools in my shop).

I guess that settles it, then, doesn't it? The plow plane it is!

(I love how easily I can make decisions like that...)

My primary goal right now, however, is to get some woodworking projects done. Fortunately for me, I have a project that itsn't terribly huge but offers big returns - that danged board on the stairs! My mother-in-law will be in town for Memorial Day weekend and my wife is going to be out of town the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before then, which gives me both motive AND opportunity to tackle such a project.

I'll end this blog entry with some free-flow design thoughts about the project. I usually do this on paper - it helps me think through the project and spot potential problems before they come up in the physical world... But I think putting it into a blog entry is a right proper thing to do.

I have, in fact, already started working on it. I pulled the mahogany board out of the basement the other day and sanded out the planer marks with my recently-purchased Festool ROS 125. (I'm still in the break-in period, but so far very pleased with the results!) It didn't take long to get the board nice and silky smooth and I had very little sanding dust to deal with per the Festool CT22 dust extractor.

The next step is to make some transitional cove molding so the cap board flows properly into the wall. Unless I have some unforseen problem, the plan is to cut the cove into one edge of the board, rip it off, then repeat twice more so I have enough molding. After that, I can cut the board to measure and fit it to the top of the wall.

I'll need to cut a notch into the back of it... or do I? Hmmm. I'd already decided to modify the design a little from the existing piece. The current board overhangs each side by an inch or so - such that you can't really even see the transitional cove molding. I was thinking about making the new cap board thinner, so that it comes out 1/8" more than the cove molding on each side. That will make it look more like a finished piece of furniture than a board simply nailed to the top of the 1/2 wall. If I do that, then I probably don't need to notch the back of it to go on either side of the full wall at the full wall/half wall transition.

(Confused yet? It might not be terribly clear, per this is stream-of-thought writing. I'll try to take a picture this evening and add it to the blog for clarification.)

Ok; I've added the picture here. You can see the very top of the board is notched to go around the wall on either side.

The only other issue to deal with is the attachment of the board to the top of the wall. The current board is nailed in place with four finish nails and a swipe of putty in the holes. I don't think that will work for me.

So I was thinking of doing something rather interesting, like attaching the board with screws, but plugging the screw holes with pillowed square ebony plugs. Yeah, I'm a big fan of Greene & Greene...

(This design addition would allow me to carry the G&G style into a new cover for the doorbell box located in that same room, again with mahogany and ebony.)

I suppose I'd stick with my standard finish, which is just General's Seal-A-Cell base coat followed by three or four coats of Arm-R-Seal (semi gloss), rubbed out between coats with steel wool.

Ahhh... it is good to write again. I can feel the anxiety rolling off my shoulders. Sorry for the slight blogger break. I'll try to do a better job of keeping up with it in the future.

Tonight is the Saint Louis Woodworker's Guild meeting, so I don't think I'll make any progress with the project until the weekend. I'll try to find out if our little coup is going according to plan. If so, then I'll have another writing project to keep up with, as I'll most likely be the new editor of the guild's newsletter.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Cup of coffee and a small reality adjustment - $92

This morning I decided to swing by a convenience store on my way to work for a cup of coffee. Pulled into the parking lot - no problem. Got my 32 oz. coffee with exactly three doses of Irish Cream flavoring and three doses of creamer (have I mentioned I'm OCD yet?) - no problem. Paid for my $1.28 coffee with cold hard US currency - no problem. Got back to my truck, put my key in the ignition and started it up to get back on the road to work - problem.

That problem mostly centered on the fact that my truck wouldn't start. In fact, it didn't even turn over once. To quote the terrorist cameraman in True Lies, "Batteraziz!"

My battery was absolutely, totally, and completely dead.

Thank goodness I keep those jumper cables I got for Christmas seven years ago in my truck! Now if I can just find a Good Samaritan to help get a charge into my battery...

To the younger, clean-shaven man in the spotless F250:
"Excuse me, sir, can yo... Oh, you don't have time right now? Sorry to bother you."

To the woman in the Dodge Durango:
"Pardon me, Ma'am, but could you hel... You're in a hurry? Maybe next time, then, ok?"

To the middle-aged man in the black Ford Explorer:
"Good morning, sir, I was wonder... You have to pick someone up in a few minutes? Hey, not a problem. Thanks, anyway."

Can you believe I tried to ask five different people for a jump start and I didn't even get to the point of telling them what I needed help with before they told me they couldn't help? That really bummed me out!

Was it me? Having showered this morning, I knew I didn’t smell. I tried to be polite, like my mamma taught me, so it didn’t have to do with me being rude. Because of guests in our office this morning, I was dressed business casual, so I didn’t think I looked too scary…

Maybe I was just asking the wrong people? Everyone I’d approached so far had been nicely dressed, wearing “office” clothes, driving well-kept vehicles… I expected the complete opposite response from what I got!

As I started a dejected walk back to my truck to call a tow truck for a jump, an unshaven guy in a beat-up old Ford with tattoos on his arms pulled up and jumped out of his truck. He started to go into the store, but I guess he saw the look on my face, because he asked, “Need some help?” I said I just needed a jump-start for my dead battery. He said, “Sure, I can do that. You got jumper cables?”

Two minutes later, my truck was running smoothly, he was on his way, and I was on mine. My way, of course, was straight to the auto parts store (where I had to sit for 15 minutes, waiting for the store to open) to get a new battery.

That gave me plenty of time to think about what had just happened. I was very disturbed by the five automatic responses to not help a stranger in need. It wasn’t that they couldn’t help because they didn’t have jumper cables (which I had) or a big enough battery (I only asked people with larger trucks). Honestly, they didn’t even know I had a battery problem! They all declined to help before I got to that part of my question!

I wonder if any of them, at any point in the day, will even think back to this morning and wonder about the guy who needed help. Will they second-guess their immediate response to NOT get involved and NOT help someone in need? Will it bother them at all? Sadly, I suspect it won’t weigh heavily upon their souls.

In full introspection, I have to ask myself, have I acted that same way before? Were there times when someone obviously needed aid and I didn’t offer it? I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. I sure hope it hasn’t. I think I’m a good person. I try to be mindful of situations like that and offer assistance when I can. I will try to be ever-mindful of such situations in the future.

I think what bugged me the most was the automated response to not help before they even knew what I needed. Well, it didn’t really bug me so much as it made me sad… I hope this morning was a fluke, that most people aren’t so unwilling to assist a fellow human being.

Anyway, after 10 minutes at the auto parts store, and a $90.80 charge to my debit card, I was on my way, a cup of coffee in hand and a slight reality adjustment in tow.

(Oh, and a great big thanks to the salt-of-the-earth guy who helped me in my moment of need this morning. I do appreciate it and will be sure to pass on the kindness first chance I get.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stirring the pot...

(This entry inspired by a recent blog entry from the Village Carpenter.)

Tonight is my monthly local woodworker's guild meeting. I really enjoy going to these meetings. They allow me the opportunity to meet other woodworkers in the area and see what they are making. Once a year, usually some time in the first quarter, we often have a well-known instructor or woodworker come in and host a weekend seminar. It doesn't ever cost that much, all things considered, and I've been able to learn from some of the greats, like Mark Adams, Frank Klausz, and David Marks. All that for a $25 annual membership fee? Can't beat it. (Ok, the meetings also takes place at the local Woodcraft store, so there is that, too...)

I tend to stand out in our meetings. Most of the guys in our club are 55+ years old, making me their younger by 20 years or so. There are a few other younger guys in the club, so I don't just stand out because I'm young.

I stand out in the group because I'm a rabble rouser. I like to stir the pot and challenge the status quo. I actively take part in meetings, speaking my mind and questioning purpose and intent. I don't do this for the sake of being different; I do it because I see a stagnant group that needs some energizing. I don't quite think the club is on its last leg, but it looks like the general direction it could be headed and I'd like to nip that in the bud.

I have an interest in maintaining the club. Right now, I'm of the younger crowd. Eventually, I'd like to be of the older crowd! I want this club to be around in 40 years so I can sit in the second row and heckle the younger guys and buy 50/50 raffle tickets. But if that is going to happen, then we have to shake things up.

One of the problems I have with the club is that they're very much stuck in the ways they've done things for the past 10 or 15 years. Many of them are far from "embracing" the technical age, though I think most of them do have computers. This keeps the club from being as efficient as it could be.

I have a few partners-in-crime who are a bit older than me, but just as interested in instilling some vim and vigor into the club. We have several ideas we've brought to the attention of the board, but... they don't ever seem to go anywhere. It isn't that they're bad ideas; they're just different than the way things have been done. And it isn't that the board is full of bad people; they're just used to the the way things are. But deep down, I think they do understand the necessity to keep the club current and appealing to new members.

It's interesting to see the mental struggle with some of the officers. They're tired of being in charge. They want to pass on their position to someone else, but most of the older club members don't want to be on the board - they just want to show up, sit in the second row, heckle the younger guys and buy raffle tickets for the 50/50 drawing. The board knows the young guys are the future of the club, but they're not sure about letting us have any kind of control or power. They're afraid of what changes we might initiate.

And with good reason - I'm not really sure how it's happened, but we've lined up one of the younger guys to be the new president. Just as soon as he takes office, we're going to stage a coup on the newsletter (printed out on paper, pretty much a three-page dictation of the previous meeting) and the website and revamp them both, bringing them up to 2008 standards. It'll be XML and PDFs from then on out!

(Can you call it a "coup" if the President is involved?)

Taking over the newsletter will probably fall on my shoulders - it is something the current editor has wanted for several years now (either my hearing is better than they think or their volume control is worse than they think). I've successfully navigated that mine field so far. It isn't that I DON'T want to do it; I do. But I don't want to be tricked into doing it and I don't want to take over the responsibilities of taking dictation on the meeting to reprint into a "newsletter", which is what they want me to do. They also want me to continue sending it out in antiquated form via the US Postal Service.

There are better ways! We can save trees and postage by generating the newsletter in PDF and either sending it to all of the members digitally or just making it available on the website for anyone to peruse. I'll be happy to print out a limited number of newsletters and mail them to anyone who does not have internet access. I think I can help sell this idea by presenting the club with the financials of mailing out 20 newsletters vs. mailing out 150 newsletters

The other major area requiring some work is the website. One of the other younger guys is a website developer - he wants to totally trash the current site and start over from scratch. And he wants to make it more accessible to non-members. That's another road block we're trying to overcome. Some of the current board members think the website should be for members only. The younger crowd thinks the website should be used to attract new members! How can you do that when you can't see what activities are going on with the club? I see a minor need for a smaller, secured portion of the site (member mailing lists, maybe?), but in general it should be open to all, user-friendly, and updated monthly to keep it fresh and new.

This next meeting will be an exciting one. The new president takes over, several other board positions are getting filled with new blood and I get to pull out my big wooden pot-stirring spoon. :)

Wish me luck!

Monday, April 14, 2008

The power of the written word...

Last week, a new smoother found its way to my shop. It will be my sixth workable (I have one or two part-out planes laying about) plane, but being a Bedrock 604 1/2, it currently holds the limelight on my bench. Hopefully, I'll be able to tune it up into a wonderful user.

It actually didn't look too bad upon arrival. A dusty tumble weed, similar to those my youngest cat leaves on the floors, clung tenaciously to the frog adjuster. A coat of grime covered the bed, lever cap, breaker, and iron. The tote looks to be a replacement (either that, or the previous owner figured out some way of using the plane by only gripping the knob because the tote had a clean finish on it while the knob was quite worn). The sole was quite flat, though it could use with a lapping just to clean off some of the grime.

So why are my aspirations so low? Why would I be content with having this wonderful plane as just a "user"? It's one fault - a small, but stable, crack in the left cheek. The patina of the crack leads me to believe it has been there for quite some time.

Regardless of how long it has been there, the crack prevents it from being a serious collector's plane. That means two things to me...

For starters, it meant I was able to pick up a good usable smoothing plane for not a lot of dough. But the other thing it means is that I don't really have to worry about preserving its appearance or messing up its intrinsic value by "restoring" it incorrectly.

I didn't want to do too much to this plane right off the bat. I disassembled it, wiped down most everything with mineral spirits, removed the sticker residue (from the price tag and the indicator showing the crack in the cheek) and scrubbed off the grime with an old soft bristle toothbrush. Next I broke down the iron and chip breaker to check out their condition. They looked good - nothing a little sandpaper and some more mineral spirits wouldn't fix, though I could tell from looking at the blade that it had never been properly tuned.

After removing any gunk from the knob, I wiped on a few quick coats of garnet shellac to bring it back to life and sanded the top of the brass screw caps in the knob and tote to get them shining.

I decided to leave the sides un-lapped for the time being. I'm not sure how much I want to tempt fate by messing with that crack. I actually have yet to lap the sole, though I plan on doing that in the immediate future. I did, however, work on the blade. I started with flattening the back on my 220 DMT diamond stone. Twenty five minutes later, I was still working on flattening the back! I later determined I was able to save enough of the metal filings to reforge them into a spare blade for my block plane...

After most of 40 minutes, I had the back worked up to the 2000 grit water stone and started working on the bezel. That went much faster.

After a final honing on the king water stone, I assembled the plane and pulled out a small board of mahogany to give it a whirl. I still need to mess with it a bit (as previously mentioned, I do want to clean up the sole just a touch), but with very little effort, I was able to get some nice shavings, as you can see...

So I guess you want to know what I paid for it?

This plane was set down on my door step for $47 delivered. Not a bad little deal, if I do say so myself... Looking forward to putting it to good use.

(And much thanks goes to Chris for the quick and sound advice on picking up a sweet deal when I see one.)

(Even more thanks to Clarence for the sweet deal!)

How did I get such a great deal? I wrote some letters. They weren't long letters, and they weren't fantastically brilliant letters, but they were clearly written and to the point. I sent inquiries out to about ten or so tool dealers, letting them know I was in the market for a good user smoother plane and wanted to know if they had anything available that would be useless to a collector but very useful to someone who wanted to actually use it to smooth wood. A week after I sent those letters out, I got the reply from Clarence about my new 604 1/2.

Not a bad result from five minutes of writing...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Oh-key Doh-key

Wanna see something pretty cool? Here...

It's my car keys! Well, my car keys and a PetPerks card... Pretty sweet, huh? Yeah, you might not think so at first glance. But take a closer look at that key...

See the distinctive brown and black wood grain? That is a car key with Macasser Ebony grips. A little cooler now?

This was the third key I've made like this (total number is about 10 or 12 now). The first one wasn't nearly this good - the shape was inconsistent, the wood choice was poor, the grip itself was too big - but I keep it around to remind me of where I started with them.

The one pictured above is one of my two daily users. I like it the most because it doesn't look like a wooden key grip at first glance; people always think it's the black plastic key grip that came with the original set of keys. Here's the other daily user...

This one was my second attempt at a wooden key grip. It quickly became my first attempt at making a patch in a key grip when my sanding opened up a worm hole (nothing that created a rift in the space-time continuum - it was just a tiny little tunnel from a tiny little wood worm). I didn't think I would be able to easily make a seamless repair, so I opted for the opposite effect and use a small scrap of heartwood from the same board. I think it turned out nicely.

Not sure what kind of wood it is, to be honest with you - maybe something in the rosewood family? It sure smells like it when I cut it, anyway. I got the board this wood came from in Ohio a few years ago when visiting my in-laws. We stumbled across a woodworking shop that was going out of business. I'd flown up and only had room in my suitcase to bring back a few of the shorter boards I could find. You want to make any bets as to whether or not my suitcase got searched?

The metal insert in the first few keys was copper tubing, because that was all I could find at the local hardware store. Later on, by the time I'd started experimenting more with shape and design, I had come across some bronze bushings and was using them instead. They definitely wear a lot better...

And I like the designs I've come up with! The triangular shape is appealing to me - I thought it might be an interesting shape for a key to a boat, where the key is inserted straight into the dashboard and you could easily see the grip from many angles.

Eventually, I'd like to try making a few keys that are more "in the round" for just such an application.

The wood from both of these keys came from Australia - brown mallee in the fore ground and york gum underneath, in case anyone is interested. I love the way the brown mallee turned out - it looks a bit like flames, doesn't it? You can't see it in this picture, but the york gum looks like dozens of scary ghost faces to me (spooky!). Anyway, the bronze bushings hold up a lot better than the copper does. I suppose I could change the copper out on my older keys with not much difficulty, but... it's easier to just call it a lesson learned and make sure I use the more durable metal in the future.

These were some of the first woodworking projects I ever made. I'm excited to see what some of my next steps down this woodworking road will be!

Monday, April 7, 2008

A woodworking reverence...

A few years ago I took a woodworking class on hand cutting dovetails at the local Woodcraft store. The instructions on cutting the dovetails themselves weren't terrible, but I think the instructor made them much more "technical" than they need to be. Since then I've attended a seminar with Frank Klausz where he demonstrated cutting them with very little marking or laying out beforehand. When you're a furniture maker by trade, time is of the essence, so I can definitely see the advantage to his approach.

In any case, I didn't learn a huge amount about cutting dovetails, but I did learn something else (or about something else) in that class which has increased my woodworking knowledge by leaps and bounds. As we were leaving for the night, the instructor mentioned a new woodworking magazine was just coming out on the shelves and that we might want to check it out. It was appropriately named Woodworking Magazine.

It is an ad-free publication, filled with solid, tested woodworking information from cover to cover, and if you are at all interested in woodworking technique and knowledge, it would be my most highly recommended magazine. The editors are incredibly friendly and they go above and beyond with any question I've ever thrown their way. They also happen to be excellent writers, which I greatly appreciate.

Inside the cover of each issue, the executive editor, Christopher Schwarz, has a small section called, "Highly Recommended." Can you guess what kind of information he offers us? In the first issue, Spring of 2004, his Highly Recommended item is a book called "Reverence for Wood," by Eric Sloane.

I followed his advice and checked the book out at my local library. It was a great read; a much more creative book than many of the dry, horse-pill-like volumes on woodworking techniques I've tried to choke down. I immediately knew it was a book I wanted for my small-but-growing woodworking library.

But I'm not always one to jump into something all roly-poly-pell-mell! Sometimes I wait for things to speak to me; I wait for signs! And the other day, while trolling about on eBay, I had one of those moments. For some reason, Eric Sloane's name popped into my head. On a whim, I did a search for his name and came up with several listings. One of them was the book, "Reverence for Wood."

Not only that, but it was a hardbound signed first-edition!

I used to be one bad sniping mo fo on eBay. Lately, however, I've taken a lackadaisical approach to my bids. I'll throw out a bid, that might not even be as much as I'm willing to pay, a few days before the auction ends and just sit back to see if I win. I haven't really found too much to incite my sniping fury of old... until now. This auction called for some special attention, oh yes, indeed.

I won't bore you with drawn-out details of the jittery feeling I get when I'm sniping an auction on eBay. Let me just say my shot was true and, for under $20 shipped, a signed first-edition copy of "Reverence for Wood" is on its way home to join the library of yours truly.

If you're into woodworking and you're into reading great books, this one comes highly recommended. Check with your local library or Amazon.com (they have a newer softbound version for just a few dollars) or, if you're feeling lucky, your closest on-line live auction site.

I would like to take a second to give sincere apologies to y***a, 0***3, l***n, and r***n, the four losing bidders (one of whom even gave a weak attempt at a snipe towards the end). Don't feel too badly for your loss; you honestly didn't have a chance.

Oh, and once my book shows up, I'll try to do a bit more of a detailed write-up/review for you. Hmmm... maybe a good book review about once a month wouldn't be a bad idea. I'll have to ponder it.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Fate strikes again...

If you knew me for any length of time, you would understand the title of this entry to be the foretelling of doom and gloom. I’m a big believer in Karma and in Fate. That said, I’m not really sure what I’ve done to warrant the string of poor luck I’ve had lately…

(Have my college days finally caught up with me?)

Prime Example: A little over a month ago, my wife started asking me what I wanted for my birthday. After a bit of thought, I wondered if a second kilt might not be a bad idea. I wanted a less-expensive kilt I could wear in a more “casual” manner and not worry so much about having $400 worth of wool wrapped around my waist.

I spent a little time searching on-line and finally found a place in Scotland that offers PV (poly-viscose) kilts for about $85 delivered. Since my wool kilt is in a Campbell tartan (in honor of my wife’s family), I wanted to get one in the Irish National tartan (to honor my Irish heritage). Being PV, and only $85, I wouldn’t be as worried about wearing it hiking or to a sporting event or Carnivale or whatever.

I sent the link to my wife and indicated I would need a size 34 waist. She said if that is what I really wanted then she would get one for me.

Several weeks passed. I didn’t say anything more about it because I do try to maintain SOME element of surprise in my birthday when possible.

And then yesterday I got an e-mail from her. She said she tried to make the order, but it looked like they didn’t have the size 34 waist in stock anymore!


I hoped she was mistaken, but I checked the website and, sure enough, she was right. Feelings of dismay and disappointment rushed over me. How could this happen? Like I need to ask; most of my life tends to be a series of small (and sometimes large) misfortunes.

Ah, well. It wasn’t the end of the world. “In all honesty,” I thought to myself, “I’ll just be happy if my mom remembers my birthday this year.”

(Can you guess what happened last year?)

And then, as it seems to do when I actually DO take things in stride, fatum kicks in with an e-mail this morning from Kevin Brennan at the Kansas City Windsor Tool Works. It announced another production run is getting ready to start up on the Windsor No. 7 Beader!

Be still my giddy heart.

I’ve been waiting for this e-mail for nigh on six months now when I signed up for a pre-order notification! THIS was it. What great luck it would go out the day after the kilt purchase fell through! Kevin wanted to know if I would be willing to put down pre-order money to confirm the order and set my pre-order price. But before I could respond, I had to run this by the committee…

“Hey, sweetie! I just might have an alternate idea for my birthday present…”

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

But I thought you were a woodworker!

Eleven months ago, my wife and I bought our first house together. Right after closing, with the help of friends we pulled carpet, painted, moved walls, and relocated plumbing. Rooms took on new shapes and the floors were covered in wide plank hardwood. New ceiling fans quietly circulated fresh air in almost every room.

But the kitchen pretty much remained untouched. We knew our limitations, both in finances and in stamina, and didn't want to bite off more than we could chew. We decided to hold off on its renovation until a later date.

I guess we're at "a later date," because my wife is itching for a new kitchen. For the past few weeks, we've poured over catalogs and design books, trying to figure out what kind of look we want for the new heart of our house. We priced cabinets at several local stores. I called a friend of mine who does custom cabinet work and asked him to come over and give us a bid, as well.

And I always get the same look from people when I tell them that.

"You what? But I thought you were a woodworker!"

"Well... I am."

"Then why don't you make the cabinets yourself and save yourself a ton of money?"

The complete answer to that question is a bit complex, so I usually don't go into great detail. Instead, I smile and nod and mutter something about considering it.

But here is my answer in its entirety.

Woodworking is a hobby for me; I do it because I enjoy it. Wait, let me clarify... I enjoy the woodworking I do. There is a difference. I cherish the time I get to spend in my shop, waging the constant battle between my OCD and my art. I don't want to waste that time making things I don’t want to make!

I'm a small project kind of woodworker. I make presentation boxes and fuss over little things, like splined mitre joints and fitting compartment inserts. I worry about the Golden Ratio and grain selection and pairing up my woods for the right amount of contrast and compliment. Believe it or not, I even like sanding and finishing.

Making 25 large boxes out of plywood and screws is not my idea of fun. It seems more like work to me. I "work" at a normal job 40+ hours a week. Woodworking is my escape from the pressures of work.

Lawyers' specializations range from fixing traffic tickets to handling multi-million dollar big business litigation. There are different doctors for checking your eyes, operating on your spine, and delivering your babies. An artist can paint on a canvas or sculpt in bronze. So why should it be any different for a woodworker? Why is it so weird to think a woodworker might enjoy one aspect of the trade and not another?

Last year I attended a seminar taught by Frank Klausz, a Master Cabinetmaker from Hungary. One of the most important lessons I learned from that class runs through my mind every time I'm in my shop. He said, "Americans try too hard to be good at everything. You want to make cabinets, you want to build furniture, you want to turn bowls and do inlay. In trying to learn a little about everything, you become masters of nothing."

I tend to agree with him. I don't want to be OK at woodturning and get by with my cabinet making skills and not do a half bad job at inlay and then as a result only make mediocre boxes.

I want to make really good boxes. And, eventually, I want to make great boxes! I want people to wonder whether the best part of their gift is the object in the box or the box itself!

Some day, I’ll make a box for my wife. It will be made with great consideration and attention to detail. It might have dovetails or it might have splined mitres. The dividers will be fitted with precision and the woods will be selected with care. Hopefully every time she opens it she’ll be reminded of just how much I love her.

But it won’t hold pots and pans.

Monday, March 24, 2008

An Ad Hoc Hock Addition

A while back, I picked up an older Stanley #6C fore plane off of eBay for a good price ($25 or so). I got it cheap because it wasn't complete - the chip breaker went missing at some point in its life. The chip breaker is a necessary piece in the "whole plane pie", providing for the functions of keeping shavings clear of the mouth (to some extent) and reducing blade chatter. But its absence doesn't mark the end of the world for this plane.

Once I received the plane in the mail, I gave it a thorough check-up to make sure everything else was in order. The knob and tote were tight, rosewood, and chip- and crack-free; the sole was flat (enough); the frog adjustment in good working order; the body casting was solid. It does have some minor issues with the japanning, but I wasn't looking to restore the plane to its former glory; I just wanted something I could use in the shop.

I began searching for a replacement chip breaker. I found a few people on-line who dealt in replacement Stanley plane parts, but in every case, the price of the replacement chip breaker was as much as or more than what I'd actually paid for the plane! That caused some hesitation, if you can imagine; enough hesitation, in fact, that I put the plane aside, incomplete, and forgot about it for a while.

A few weeks ago, on my way home from work, I found myself thinking about my workshop and the steps I needed to take to move forward with its renovation. That got me to thinking about my current space and what a mess it is. In my mind's eye, the "table" the previous owner called a workbench came into clear view and I scanned its contents.

Guess what jumped out as I took a mental inventory of the bottom shelf on that bench - that's right, the old #6 I'd picked up a year ago and never got around to fixing up. Right then and there, I made a decision (that's the "ad hoc" part of the story, in case you're wondering). I added a 30-minute commute to my drive home and pointed the front of my truck towards Woodcraft to pick up a Ron Hock replacement chip breaker.

"What the heck," I says to myself, "I'll get a Hock blade for it, as well."

The Hock blade is going to add some nice performance points to the plane and, as I already stated, I'm not looking to restore it - I just want to make it useful.

As is the case when one thinks about a tool purchase for the 15-minute drive to the store, I was pretty excited by the time I pulled into the Woodcraft parking lot. Alas, instant gratification was denied; they were out of the size I needed for my #6, so I had to make due with ordering it, instead. The good news is the manager said he would give me the 15% sale price discount from the previous weekend if I paid for it that day. Of course I did.

And then I headed home and waited. And waited. And sure enough, after a week or so, I forgot about it. But really, that isn't the worst thing in the world - because when it showed up in the mail last week, it was a complete surprise - like a present!

Now I have a plane with all its parts, but it will still take a bit of work before I have it in good working order. At least with this purchase I can see the light!

With two or three other planes waiting for a bit of TLC, I’ve decided to set up a play date with my friend, Alex (that’s what his wife calls it when we get together for anything related to woodworking), to do some hand plane fettling. He has a few that need some work, as well, so we'll get together in my garage some warm spring weekend and make a day of cleaning them up.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Different Kind of Payday...

Payday is such a wonderful day, isn't it? It is the day you see the fruits of your labors, the day you get your just reward for a job well done. My paydays today don't have quite the same feel as they did ten years ago. They definitely don't have the same ring they had twenty-five years ago!

It could have something to do with HOW I get my paycheck.

When I was a kid, earning an allowance, I got paid in cold hard cash! It had volume and weight and a wonderful texture to it. I could put it in a piggy bank or hide it in a safe place from my brothers or go into town with my mom on a Saturday and deposit it into my Passbook Savings Account (remember when they used to write the balance in by hand?).

(I grew up on a farm, so I definitely earned that allowance. We had a whole list of chores that had to be done every day, from feeding animals to chopping holes in the ice in the winter so the horses had water, usually before we caught the bus for school.)

College was a good transition period. One of my employers (furniture delivery) paid me with an actual stubbed paycheck. My second employer (liquor store) paid me with a regular check from his business account. My third employer (restaurant) paid me in cash. I got a good blend of all payment methods in preparation for the really real world (where hopefully I wouldn't have to work three jobs!).

With my first job after college, I got an actual check with a stub attached to it. It was a bit of a pain because I had to take the check to the bank and deposit it before it was of any use to me, but it was a tangible object that I could hold in my hands and fold up nicely and stick in my wallet! Nothing quite beat the anticipation of waiting for the payroll staff to walk around the office, handing out envelopes with paychecks in them!

Nowadays, I don't even get a simple e-mail notification of a deposit. It just magically shows up in my checking account. Eh, another payday came and went; no big deal. You might think I'd get some sort of a rush digitally diverting a portion of it to my Roth IRA account, but that isn't the case. On the other hand, I've found it is easier to keep to a budget if I don't see the money because then I don't spend it!

It might not totally be related to how I get paid, though. Maybe it has more to do with how I use the money I make. Maybe it is because most of today's paycheck goes towards things like paying the mortgage, fixing the leaking roof, replacing the garage door opener and buying a new water heater. There isn't as much "fun" money as there used to be. Or maybe my fun money just doesn't go as far as it used to?

Speaking of "fun" money. Some of the best memories I have as a kid were when I had to forego instant gratification and actually save my money for something big (usually related to Star Wars)! I remember taking half of my weekly allowance and setting it aside but keeping the other half handy (just in case). It was difficult, I'll be the first to say, but man that was such a great feeling when I knew I had enough saved up! Think about it; you're taking the emotions involved with accomplishment and dedication and wrapping them up with the feeling of spending your hard-earned money! Can't get much better than that!

Yesterday, I got to feel those emotions all over again! After almost two years of saving (all non-budgeted money from things like selling projects to listing things on eBay to doing some part-time editing work), I finally had enough money set aside to purchase something I've been wanting for a while now.

At age eight, it was Star Wars figures.

At age 34, it is Festool.

That's right. I've jumped into the Festool Pool. Well, I didn't really "jump in"; I just bought a Rotex sander (RO125) and the CT22 Dust Extractor. So it was more like walking down the pool steps rather quickly. Jumping in would have involved a Domino, at the very least, and possibly a pre-order on the new MFK 700 modular router.

(By the way, I've got to give great props to Timmy C. from Festool Junkies. He got my order shipped out the same day and his customer service skills are top notch!)

With some trepidation, I sent an e-mail to my wife, letting her know I'd placed my order. Her response?

"WOW!!! That is exciting. I hope they are everything you wanted/need. I love you for following your dreams of woodworking."

Talk about a payday! Isn't she the best? I don't imagine every guy has a wife like that.

But... doesn't she realize she's encouraging me to buy more Festool?

Monday, March 17, 2008

A find of not-so-epic proportions...

This past weekend, my wife and I visited my great Aunt Edy over in Illinois. She it truly an amazing woman; she doesn't know the meaning of the word "rest". She normally walks about five miles a day; pretty remarkable for someone in her late 70's. And if she knows she won't be able to walk her required five miles on a particular day, she'll make up for it on the day before!

She was concerned our visit would interfere with her routine, so before we showed up (at an early 8:30 a.m. on the dot, thank you very much), she'd already walked three miles, figuring she could get the other two in after we left.

At some point in time, I'll have to devote a whole entry (or two or three) to Great Aunt Edy...

The purpose of our trip, in addition to the visit, was to make our first (hopefully of many) sojourn to the Belleville Flea Market at the Belle Claire Expo Center. We'd heard a lot of good things about it, and from the way Aunt Edy talked to some of the dealers, she's been there many times before.

It wasn't really how I expected it to be - I guess my expectations of flea markets are disproportionately high... in any case, we had a lot of fun. My wife recently started getting into collecting cut glass and she had a great teacher in Aunt Edy (who has a china cabinet full of it!). She taught us what to look for and the easiest way to check for cracks and when a few minor chips doesn't reduce the value very much at all (when the piece is signed).

I enjoyed the discourse, but was slightly more interested in other wares - hand tools! To be honest with you, I thought the pickings were quite slim, as far as flea markets go. I did find a fairly nice Stanley #5 in good user condition. I chuckled as I disassembled the plane, checking the various parts out for defects - the blade was set bevel-side up!

When I assembled it again, I put it together properly; my OCD would not have it any other way. The handles were crisp and tight and the Victory blade had a lot of life left in it. It wasn't priced terribly high, at $27, and I was sure I could talk him down some, but I thought back to the pre-WWI #5 I have sitting at home, waiting for me to restore it, and I decided to pass. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have. I could have fixed it up and given it to my best friend or one of my woodworking friends... I probably won't pass up the next one I find like that.

I did not, however, pass on a nice little piece I thought I'd share with you. It was in the $1 box, so I didn't feel right trying to talk them down any. It is a hand tool, but not the usual kind one keeps an eye out for, I suppose. Here's a picture of it in the untouched state...

Not much to look at, is it? Give me a few minutes with some mineral spirits and a green scotchbrite pad, though, and see what you think after that.

Take a closer look at the handle. That isn't plastic, my dear big-box-shopping-friends! Looks like rosewood to me. And now check out the metal in this close-up.

The blade, the ferrule and the tang are all one piece of metal, riveted to the rosewood handle with brass pins. In this picture, you can also see a small band of sapwood on the end of the handle. It actually has a maker's mark on it, too! It says, " G. L. & CO. CHICAGO" on one side of the blade. Google didn't come up with anything on it, yet, but I'll keep an eye out.

The blade is really thick and hefty; I wonder if I might be able to file a nice clean flat edge on it and sharpen it up like a scraper. I could use it to clean up the insides of boxes or tight corners, maybe? It feels like it could really hold a hook, though.

I'll have to post something about it if and when I give it a try!

Aunt Edy kept apologizing to me; she felt badly that I didn't find anything other than an ordinary paint scraper! I don't know... a rosewood handled paint scraper with an integral tang? It might not be the find of the Century, but in our world of plastic and poor quality, I'd call that anything but ordinary...