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.