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 (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.