Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Chat With Patrick Jackson Of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks...

A few days ago I received a shock when I found out the Woodcraft stores were no longer going to carry Lie-Nielsen products. I made an incorrect assumption that it was done by the former and not the latter. And then I was struck by a bolt of common sense and decided to query both parties to find out what was going on instead of jumping to what turned out to be incorrect conclusions.

(I would like to take a second here to apologize to Woodcraft for making said assumption.)

I sent a very simple inquiry to both Woodcraft and Lie-Nielsen, indicating I'd heard Lie-Nielsen tools were no longer going to be available at Woodcraft and that I was looking for more information on the matter.

Both responses came fairly promptly, but I'd gone out of town on business for two days and was unable to do anything with them until today. The response from Woodcraft was plain and straight-forward. They simply said, "Thank you for your inquiry. Lie-Nielsen decided to pull their product line from Woodcraft." I found that to be an appropriate and sound response, given the circumstances. The response from Patrick Jackson at Lie-Nielsen was even shorter! It said, "Hi Ethan, Please give me a call..."

So this morning I called Patrick - and a very pleasant conversation ensued. I didn't get his job title, but it was quite obvious his job duties focused on marketing and sales. Patrick explained that when Lie-Nielsen first teamed up with Woodcraft several years ago, it wasn't a business franchise - it was just one store. Lie-Nielsen could easily supply them with however many tools they needed and still sell their number one product - Quality.

Over the years, however, Woodcraft turned into a franchise and grew to the count of 80 stores. Supply issues started cropping up. It became harder and harder for Lie-Nielsen to provide them with a high quality product and, more importantly, good customer service. Lie-Nielsen believed the sales people at each Woodcraft store should have instruction in the use and care of Lie-Nielsen products (having worked in the SCUBA industry for several years, I know where he is coming from), but didn't have the staff to train so many people effectively. The demand for tools at all the Woodcraft stores started turning Lie-Nielsen into a production line that manufactured tools instead of a small business that made woodworking tools by hand. They finally made the decision to pull their products from the Woodcraft stores.

Patrick spoke to me in a language I could understand. Lie-Nielsen was trying to avoid one of the biggest pitfalls almost every small successful business makes - growing too big too fast and losing touch with why they went into the business in the first place. Working at a software company that has added almost 300 employees in under eight years, this is something I have experienced on a personal level, as well.

He further explained that by pulling back their distribution in the U.S., they were able to return a focus back on priorities - coming up with creative ideas, designing new tools, developing a new and better website (due to be launched in a few weeks), and making sure they provide a quality product and good customer service. At that point, we did discuss the one drawback to pulling their line from Woodcraft. One of the best ways to sell a quality hand tool is to put it in the customer's hand! They have now reduced the number of places we can actually pick up and hold a Lie-Nielsen tool by 80.

Patrick agreed that was a problem and a concern of the sales and marketing department at Lie-Nielsen. He said their goal over the next year or two is to sponsor or participate in tool demonstrations in at least 100 cities across the United States every year. I told him it sounded like a great idea and suggested he add St. Louis to the list (which he then did). He also said they are looking into working with a few select stores that still want to carry their products and hope to have that worked out in the near future.

At that point, I'd been on the phone with him for 15 minutes and needed to get back to work, so we said our goodbyes. While I lament the idea that I can no longer jump in my truck and drive 10 minutes to Woodcraft to spend my hard-earned money on a Lie-Nielsen chisel or saw, I now have a much better understanding of why Lie-Nielsen did what they did. What's more, I can't fault them their decision - I'd like to think it is the same thing I would have done, given similar circumstances.

I learned a long time ago that you get what you pay for. I also learned that sometimes patience is a virtue. With both of those thoughts in mind, I guess I'm not so put out by the fact that any future Lie-Nielsen purchases will have to include a week-long delay while my purchase is being shipped. It seems like a small price to pay to continue patronizing a small American business that provides me with quality woodworking tools.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Woodcraft Drops Lie-Nielsen...

Or is it the other way around?

Current blog post on hold until I can get information from both sides...

12/15/2009 Update...

I want to apologize for my initial post. I'd had a bit of an emotional weekend (more on that at a later date) and my traumatic experience at Woodcraft was probably more than I could handle at the moment. What lesson has Ethan learned from this? Never post a new blog when in a heightened emotional state!

I sent inquiry letters to both Woodcraft and Lie-Nielsen regarding said recent trip to Woodcraft where I found out they would no longer be carrying the Lie-Nielsen line of tools. Then I went out of town on a work-related trip and wasn't able to check my email for two days. I am now back in town and have received replies from both companies. One of the replies was simply a request to contact them, so I will do so tomorrow before I post any results of my inquiry.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Splintered Review of a Book...

(Blog author's note: This is the first official book review I've written since 6th grade, so... it might be a little rough. It is something I need to get used to, however, as our guild librarian retired as of this last newsletter and he used to do a book review for every issue. I will probably alternate between book reviews and tool reviews just to give myself some variety. You can expect to see both here, very much in the same way Chris Schwarz's blog entries usually end up as forewords in a future issue of PW or Woodworking Magazine.)

I like a good book where I can imagine the author is talking directly to me, like he's sitting on my sofa, enthralling me with story after story. That is pretty much how I felt about Spike Carlsen's A Splintered History of Wood. It isn't one of those books you can plow through in just one sitting, though. You have to read it more like you read Robert Fulgum or James Krenov - one chapter at a time, taking a break in between sittings to absorb what you've just read. You can't read this book when you're in a hurry, either. You have to approach it with a calm and relaxed mind; you have to be willing to be drawn away from your hectic day into a narrative about one of every woodworker's favorite topics - wood.

As you read the first chapter on extraordinary woods, you'll develop mysterious cravings and desires when Spike reports on where you can get 50,000 year old Kauri wood (I have some), discusses WOOD PORN with Mitch Talcove, and interviews people who make a living salvaging redwood logs. Later, you'll be awed by stories of woodworkers who are blind, artists who can carve your name in a pencil with a chainsaw, and an inspirational visit with Mira Nakashima. Spike then dives into wood as it relates to music and sports, detailing what goes into making a world class violin, a Steinway piano, a persimmon wood golf club, and a pool cue.

With a knack for making even the mundane seem amazing, Carlsen jumps into stories about wood used in construction, from people who live in trees to the 36-year remodeling project called the Winchester House. His chapter on weapons and war, interesting to anyone who ever played knights as a child, covers such topics as catapults and the English long bow. He ends his book on a note he describes as, "emotional, environmental, and political." In this final chapter, which includes an interview with Patrick Moore (one of the founding members of Greenpeace), he details reasons for using wood more than steel, concrete, and plastic. He also discusses methods for maintaining natural forested areas while planting trees specifically for harvesting and his thoughts on purchasing endangered woods. I don't know - it all seemed like common sense to me.

If you are interested in hearing more about this book by the author himself, and you live in the St. Louis area, you should consider attending the monthly St. Louis Woodworkers Guild meeting at Woodcraft (2077 Congressional Drive, St. Louis, MO, 63146) this evening (Thursday, November 19th). Spike Carlsen will be there, giving a presentation on his book. The meeting is free to non-members, but of course we would love it if you were to join up! It will be the best $25 you've ever spent on woodworking!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Unplugging more than the shop...

It's funny how trying to adjust one aspect of your life can affect others. Take, for example, my attempts at reducing the use of power tools and working more towards using hand tools in my shop. I enjoy the peaceful swish of a plane gliding across a board. I relish the minimal resistance I get from a sharp chisel biting into the corner of a hinge mortise. I must admit, however, I do use a small electronic device more when I'm downstairs - my MP3 player. Whether it is traditional Irish music or the electronic mixes of John Digweed or the classic soul-warming Grateful Dead, I can hear them all in perfect clarity during my power-free sessions in the shop.

Lately, I've tried reducing my plugged-in lifestyle in other aspects of my life. Last week, Dana and I went on vacation to the Outer Banks, NC. For one full week I didn't check voice mail or email. I didn't turn on a TV or a laptop. I used my cell phone to call family upon safe arrival and safe return and that was about it. It was very enlightening and freeing. I plan on trying to do that more often, even when I'm not on vacation.

(I should take a moment here to apologize to Kari. She thought I was mad at her when I didn't respond to her emails last week. Sorry, Kari. I wasn't ignoring you and I wasn't mad at you. I was just relaxing my brain.)

I spent a little time thinking about my woodworking while on vacation. I've stepped back from it over the last month or so, but I'm not really sure why. Probably because I'm still working on getting the new shop in order and things started feeling like "work" and not "play". I get that feeling sometimes when I accept a box order I maybe shouldn't because they've only given me a few weeks to work on it. And I know it will be like that when I accept the job, but I've never been one to shy away from a challenge, so I take it anyway.

It's the same way with the shop. Painting walls and hanging lights isn't fun! But I guess I need to look past the immediate tasks to see how much more productive my shop time will be when I'm back to being organized and settled into my new space.

I also have four or five partially completed boxes sitting downstairs just waiting for a bit of inlay, a tartan lining, and a coat of finish. Maybe I can compromise with myself between working on some boxes and working on the shop to more easily get through the latter.

I also got a bit of a motivational boost yesterday when I received a large flat package from Popular Woodworking magazine. It was two free issues of the December 2009 issue! Can anyone tell me what it means when you get two free issues of a magazine? That's right - it usually means you have something published in that issue! In this case, it is my Out of the Woodwork article called, "But aren't you a woodworker?". The original title to the blog that generated this article was, "But I thought you were a woodworker!" I still like my original title better, but other than that I'm quite happy with how it turned out.

If you happen to read that issue, pay particularly close attention to the last bit under my Contributors section, the part where it says, "... his first for Popular Woodworking...". I think we can all agree that means there will be more.

Speaking of "woodworking" I hate doing...

Before we left on vacation, I'd spent six or eight hours on Saturday getting my yard leaf-free. I piled them into my double-sized compost bin until it was overflowing and then filled my 55 gallon yard waste container and 14 yard waste bags with leaves. My yard was nice and clean, just the way my OCD personality likes it.

This is what I came back to - where did they come from? More importantly, are there more on the way? (Yeah, as you can tell from the first picture, they came from my sugar maple and my sweet gum trees - I guess I'm just a little upset I didn't get to enjoy the leaves on the trees as they were changing colors.) As much as I'd love to get in the shop and work on some boxes (or even paint some walls, honestly), I'm afraid most of my Saturday morning is going to be spent raking leaves tomorrow.

It isn't the kind of hand tools I like using, but at least I can listen to Jerry while I work...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Apologies for the hiatus...

I haven't been keeping up with my blog like I've wanted to lately and I apologize for that. Some chronic lower back issues have kept me away from lots of things I enjoy, but I'm doing better the past week or so and hoping to get back into the swing of things (woodworking, working out, home improvements and repairs).

I'll be traveling for a few days this next week and I'm bringing along an old-fashioned blogging system (pen and a journal). I'll have to transfer data upon my return but I hope to have something for you to read when I get back.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Forgotten Project Gets Remembered...

A few months ago, before I started the whole basement shop rebuild, I'd started working on a fixing up an old egg beater drill I found at an estate sale for $3. It isn't quite as good a quality as my other hand drills - it does have a rosewood handle on the turning gear, but the main grip is a gold-colored metal (though it does unscrew to allow for drill bit storage) - but it didn't look to be in too bad a shape and I figured I could clean it up and give it a way to another woodworker who might need it.

Well, I'd started on it back then but got distracted with something or another and forgot about it. This evening, I stumbled across it again as I was sorting through some tools to start thinning some chisels from the collection and decided to take a half hour to finish it up.

Unfortunately, I didn't remember to take any pictures of the first part of the process, which was to remove the chuck, disassemble it, and clean up the three jaws. They had about a hundred years of grime, gunk, and build-up in them and the action wasn't as smooth as it should be. The only caution I would mention with this part is to wrap something around your vice clamps or pliers to make sure you don't mar any parts of the chuck when you disassemble it. Oh, and remember to unscrew it the right way - lefty-tighty, righty-loosy in this case.

Once the chuck was disassembled, I took a small dowel rod, wrapped some green scouring pad around it, sprayed it with WD-40 and scrubbed the inside of the chuck assembly with it. Then I took some 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper and cleaned up the three jaws. I re-greased the inside of the chuck with some lithium grease and then re-assembled it.

The next step was to disassemble the rest of the drill. This one came apart quite easily - one screw removed the handle and one screw removed the little tab that holds the main gear in place. After it was disassembled, I got out an old toothbrush and some low-odor mineral spirits and started scrubbing everything down. I went after some of the tougher spots with the green scouring pad.

After a bit of work, alternating between the green pad and the old toothbrush, I could see more detailed information about the drill. (Forgive my lack of macro pictures - the new camera doesn't have very good macro capability.) I found two marks of interest. On the chuck, I found a patent date of 1895. On the handle, I found an image of an oak leaf with the words, "WmEnder Oak Leaf" inscribed inside it.

A little internet searching turned up a small amount of information on William Ender. He worked for Simmons Hardware Co., a St. Louis-based hardware company(looks like this drill hasn't traveled very far). You might be more familiar with Simmons' Keen Kutter line of products. Ender was a V.P. in the company and developed his own line of products under the Oak Leaf name. I found an old court document in my search where William was listed as a witness in a legal action Simmons had against the city of St. Louis in 1917, so this drill probably dates to somewhere around that time. I say this because once he left Simmons, he marketed his tools under the Ender product name and not Oak Leaf.

Anyway... I continued scrubbing the drill with the toothbrush, making sure to clean up the teeth on the gear. Here you can see part of the drill sitting on a distant cousin of Chris Schwarz's affectioned "Woobie". I've only ever used this red rag in the process of cleaning old tools, however, so I'm not sure I would want to wipe down one of my hand planes with it before I put it away. After removing a lot of dirt and gunk, I was down to bare metal in several places. Maybe I'll take the time later to more aggressively scrub it and apply a new coat of paint, but for now a good cleaning was enough.

I put a bit of grease back in the hole where the gear spins, threaded the chuck back on, screwed the tab and handle back on and chucked in a drill bit to give it a test. The action on the chuck is a lot smoother now and the drill spins very easily. A test hole in a scrap of mahogany provides evidence of its function.

This was a quick, easy repair project and a fun way to take $3 and turn it into something very useable in the shop. Breathing life back into an old tool is also a great way of "going green", if you're into that sort of thing.

After a bit of pondering, I probably will take the time to disassemble the drill again, scrub it down even more and repaint it a gloss black (the original color, per the remaining paint I can see) and then give it away to someone. If I actually do follow through with that idea, I'll be sure to post a comparrison picture or two.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Working With Wood In A Different Sort Of Way...

I have to start off by saying Jim Malcolm was in brilliant form last night. Not only is he a great singer, song writer, and musician, but he also has a great sense of humor. This year he added a bit of theatrics as well, coming out on stage for the second half of the show dressed up as Robert Burns.

I don't really have any good photos of him, however, as I tried to avoid taking any pictures with the flash on - I'm sure it is distracting when you're up on stage. This is the best of the lot, honestly. I recorded video of a few songs with Dana's digital camera, but the quality and sound isn't as good as if taken from a real video camera, so haven't yet decided if I'll post them on YouTube or not.

I was excited for the chance to wear a kilt - I went with the Irish National tartan this time. The sporran is a custom Thorfinn by Turpin Ballard, in case anyone is wondering. Thorfinn sporrans are designed to have interchangeable flaps so you can get one made to go with every kilt you own. I need to try and sniff out a bit of some Ancient Campbell of Argyle tartan so I can have him make a sporran flap to match my other kilt, too.

Anyway, if you like Scottish folk music and you ever get a chance to see Jim Malcolm in person, don't pass it up. I've already seen him two or three times (three, if you count the time I saw him when he was singing for Old Blind Dogs) and I'm sure I'll see him again.

Now on to woodworking in a different sort of way...

I didn't get any shop time in today. Instead, Dana and I decided to do a bit of necessary work outside. For about two years now, we've been talking about planting a few more trees in the yard. Hey, I'm all for anything that reduces the amount of grass I have to mow. But the question is, what do we plant? We're both very interested in having a yard filled with native plants and trees, so that always plays an important part in our decision.

And we always take a long time making what we consider to be "big" decisions. That said, we've probably over-done the thinking part of this project. We've been to a particular nursery near our house so many times they know us as the "Grow Native" couple who hasn't bought anything yet.

Ah, well. That changed today with our purchase of a service berry tree and a beauty berry bush! The service berry tree normally has yellow leaves in the spring and summer and then turns bright red in the fall. It produces black berries a lot of native birds use for a food source. This tree will also be a good between-bites perching point for our bird feeder on the east side of the house. The beauty berry bush produces light purple berries many native birds also enjoy and, once it is full grown, it will become a resting place for birds using the feeder on the south side of the house.

We were initially going to just buy the service berry tree, but I wanted to take out a Japanese plum tree the previous owner planted way too close to the southeast corner of the house and replace it with something I wouldn't have to trim up twice a year. So we bought the bush, as well.

When making the purchase, the owner of the nursery convinced me I could plant the service berry tree myself. Had it only been three feet tall, I wouldn't have even considered paying someone else to do it, but we wanted to go with something a little more established. The tree we bought has three main trunks and is roughly six feet tall. But in the interest of saving about $75, I thought I would go with her advice and give it a try.

Since the soil in our area is... well, non-porous would be an accurate description... I had to modify the planting technique a bit. The hole needed to be just 1/2 to 3/4 the depth of the potted tree and then 2 or 3 times the diameter of the pot. The Missouri Department of Conservation suggests the top 12" of the root base are the most important, anyway, as that is where the biggest portion of roots draw in the largest amount of nutrients.

So I dug the hole to size and mixed a large amount of the good soil removed from the hole with a bag of clean soil and several gallons of our very own compost. We positioned the tree in place, cut away the plastic pot, and alternately watered and filled in the hole until it mounded up to the top of the root ball. A few inches of cedar mulch helps keep it from drying out too fast.

While I was working on the service berry, Dana pruned down the Japanese plum and started trying to dig out the root ball. She took a short break to help me backfill and water around the service berry and then I joined her, digging and clipping away until the root ball popped out and we had a 2' x 3' hole by the corner of our house. Planting the beauty bush went just about the same was as planting the service berry, only the hole wasn't nearly as big. Again, I got to use some of our home-made compost, which was such a great feeling, and again we finished it off with a few inches of cedar mulch. This variety shouldn't get but 4' or 5' tall with a total diameter of about 3' to 4', which is just perfect for this distance from the house.

While I didn't get a chance to work on my inlay pieces today, I did, technically, at least get to work with some wood. And it felt good to get outside and make some changes to the yard we've wanted to do for some time.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A New Inlay Idea...

I want to try out a new inlay idea on some of the boxes I'm making. Pretty soon I have to start getting ready for a Jim Malcolm concert, but I did have a little time this afternoon to get down into the shop and work on the first few steps, so I thought I would share that with you.

After laying out cut-outs of my idea on paper, I went through my stock to choose the wood I was going to use. I narrowed it down to holly (very white and with practically no grain) and then either bog oak or blackwood. The blackwood really has the darker color, which is what I'm ultimately looking for, but the blackwood I have would limit the size of my inlay. I think the bog oak will be dark enough once I add a little bit of boiled linseed oil to it, and it would allow for two pieces of inlay in the larger dimensions I wanted.

In the end, I couldn't decide, so I went ahead and prepared both of them. I'm always up for trying new things out and this seemed like a great opportunity to play around.

I already had my blackwood and bog oak thicknessed so I just needed to get a piece of the holly prepared. I didn't take any pictures of it, but you didn't miss anything. Since it was the first time I'd used the board, I took my Stanley #6 and jointed one edge. Then I used the tablesaw to rip off a strip that was about 1/8" thick. I cut a section off the strip that was the same size as the blackwood and then cut another section off that was a tad longer than the bog oak.

The blackwood was already 1/8" thick, so I didn't need to plane down that piece of holly, but the bog oak was a little more like 3/32" thick, so I took the block plane to the other piece of holly to get it flush with the bog oak.

The setup here is a piece of oak board (unfinished wide-plank flooring, in case you are wondering) with two brass screws sunk just shy of flush. I pressed the holly up against the screws and then planed towards them. Pressure keeps the strip in place. It didn't take much to get me down to 3/32" thick.

Then I needed to joint all of the matching edges. As you might have seen before, I like to do this with a Stanley #5 turned upside down on my bench. With that setup, I can easily run the strips of wood over the plane with control. I don't generally use any guide blocks to make sure the edge is exactly 90 degrees - you'd be amazed how well your mind can figure it out on its own.

After just a few minutes, all four pieces were jointed. If you're new to planing, this kind of work makes you feel REALLY good. It doesn't take much to get a small pile of curly shavings collected under the plane.

The only other thing I had time for today was the glue-up. Since this is inlay, and once I have it in the box there will be no stresses applied to the joint, I just needed to lightly clamp the pieces in place for a bit.

After a little thought, I accomplished this with the use of my bench hook. I pushed it into place on the bench, covered it with a piece of waxed paper, and then clamped a strip of wood parallel to the fence of the bench hook at the far end. With the addition of two filler strips (these three pieces are spanish cedar, waiting around for another project) and two shims I grabbed from my toolbox, I was ready to go.

I glued up the inlay pieces, set them into place, and then used the two shims to wedge the filler strips tight against the inlay. Again, I just need a good enough glue joint to keep everything together until I get it inlaid into the box, so I just tightened up the shims with hand pressure.

I'll let this sit for a day while I get kilted up for Jim Malcolm and hopefully I'll find some time tomorrow to work on the next part of the inlay.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fuming... (Oak, Not Mad)

Of the six boxes I currently have in progress, four of them are made with some of the reclaimed white oak I got from an old house on our family farm. Having been a while since I'd done any fuming, I thought I would take the opportunity to pull out my supply of Ammonium Hydroxide and make some chemical reactions happen.

Before I begin, I would like to offer a few words of caution...

Ammonium Hydroxide is a seriously dangerous chemical and should be handled with caution. As the warning on the bottle says, don't allow it, or the fumes, to come in contact with eyes or skin and don't ingest it. I'll add to those warnings that if you have any open cuts exposed to the air, you should make sure and cover them, as well.

I never work with ammonium hydroxide in a closed environment - always out on the patio or my driveway. I use full-coverage chemical-resistant eye goggles and a partial-face respirator rated for organic vapors (my mask uses 3M's 6001 filter). This is not the kind of respirator filter you will ever find at Home Depot or Lowe's (read the warning labels on the filters - they all specifically say they are not rated for organic vapors), though you can get them on-line easily enough. I happen to be married to a woman who has to have one just in case she is sent to a site for groundwater sampling that requires it, so... mine was free. I use the blue nitrile gloves because they are chemical resistant (and because I'm a cuticle biter and my fingers BURNED the first time I tried this without using nitrile gloves, hence the additional warning about cuts exposed to the air).

That said, woodworking is full of dangerous tools. If you don't take the time to become familiar with the tools you're using (whether they be mechanical or chemical), then you should fully expect to receive some time of injury at some point in your woodworking career. Have respect for and an understanding of your environment and you will decrease your chances of getting hurt. Now back to the blog...

My basic fuming setup is simple. I don't bother with wooden frame and plastic sheet tents. They're too easily damaged and something you don't want is a leak in your fuming tent.

Instead, I use an old Igloo chest cooler (which became obsolete after I purchased one of those wonderful 5-day coolers several years ago). It has an air-tight lid and is plenty big enough to fume several boxes at once.

It came with an open mesh basket that sits on a lip at the top of the cooler. I pour my ammonia into a plastic sour cream container, set it into the bottom of the cooler, and then turn the mesh basket upside down and place it over the container. That allows me to set boxes directly on top of the basket and not worry about tipping the container over.

I always fume several cutoffs from the same boards I used to make the boxes. These become test pieces for determining what finish I will use later on.

Once I get the ammonia inside and cover it with the basket, I place my boxes on top of the basket and lean my sample pieces against the side. Then I close it up tight, put a few pieces of painter's tape across the lid and tape a note on top that indicates I am fuming wood inside (to prevent me or my wife from accidentally opening the cooler). In order to get the best results, the container should be kept in a warm or hot environment. In the summer, nothing is hotter than my garage. Yesterday and today have been notably cool, so I was a bit concerned with how it would turn out.

It was, however, wasted emotional energy. As you can see, after 24 hours in the fuming tent the oak has darkened quite a bit. The wood in the lower part of the picture to the right is un-fumed white oak from the same board; in the middle are my sample pieces; at the top are my two boxes.

This image is also useful to point out how heartwood is affected by the ammonia much more than sapwood. Had I used sapwood in either of the two boxes I fumed (I specifically did not fume one of the four boxes based on a small amount of sapwood in one side), I would have some creative fixing to do with dyes and stain when I reached the finishing stage.

Before I do anything else with these boxes, I have to let them off-gas for at least 24 hours. After that, I'll work with my sample pieces to see what finish works best. I have some idea as to what I want to do, but I always test it out on sample pieces because each batch of wood can react differently to the ammonia. But generally, it involves a coat of BLO (boiled linseed oil) and a few light coats of amber or garnet shellac, depending upon how dark I want it to look in the end.

I will most likely spend some time with an inlay or two in these boxes, however, so I have some time before I worry about a finish.

Maybe while I'm in the fuming mood, I'll run some sample pieces for you to show you what other kinds of wood I've fumed and take pictures of what these woods look like fumed and un-fumed.

If you plan on trying to fume a woodworking project in the future and have any questions, let me know. I'll be happy to share whatever knowledge I have with you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Prepare to be jealous...

Today was a productive woodworking day and I haven't even put edge to wood yet (hopefully I'll do some of that later this evening).

Before we start with what I did this morning, we have to go back to last night, when I got a phone call from my little brother (who happens to also be a woodworker). He informed me of a tool and wood sale going on down by our older brother's house. It is part of the estate of a woodworking mentor of ours, Pops, who passed away a few years ago - his wife is finally able to let go of some of his stuff.

This morning, I left the house a little later than I wanted to and didn't end up getting there until 10:00 a.m. After spending some time visiting with his widow, I helped her price a few more things (I provided her with the list of prices for most of the woodworking tools she had for sale) and bring some of the heavier objects out of Pops' shop to sit outside in the driveway.

And then I was finally able to poke through the shop and pick out a few tidbits for myself. I ended up walking away with a #51 Spokeshave (for my friend, Alex, who'd asked me to keep an eye out for a spokeshave), a Richard Kell dovetail marker, an older brass bevel gauge from Woodcraft (for determining the angles of chisel and plane blade bevels), a pair of older Stanley #4 trammel points, a very sweet looking Stanley (?) 3" square with a rosewood handle, a quality hardbound sixth printing of James Krenov's The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, a hardbound edition of Michael Dunbar's Restoring, Tuning, and Using Classic Woodworking Tools, and a Swiss made carving chisel.

While I was in the area, I couldn't miss out on the chance to visit with my older brother and my niece and nephew. Even though we only live 40 minutes apart, I don't get to see enough of them these days. It is something I want to try and change, though, because I miss seeing them.

I headed back in the general direction of home. On the way, I made a stop over at Alex's house to drop off his spokeshave - he seemed pleased.

Upon pulling into the driveway, however, I noticed a package sitting on the front porch. I was fully expecting it within the next few days and pleasantly surprised to see it had already shown up. After parking my truck, I grabbed the package, ran inside, and opened it to reveal...

The latest book by Chris Schwarz, Handplane Essentials. I paid the slightly higher full price and ordered my copy from Lost Art Press. John and Sharon provide the greatest customer service and I enjoy supporting such practices by purchasing from them when I can.

But as you can see, I also received a bit of a bonus (here is where you should prepare to be jealous...). Not only is the book signed by Chris Schwarz, it is also the one and only copy that is artistically decorated by his daughter, Katy, with a drawing of her sock monkey. I do believe this makes the top of my list for the week.

Alas, I had to put my blog entry on hold for a few hours while we had supper, went for a nice long walk and enjoyed some freshly cut watermelon, so I wasn't able to get into the shop and work on the boxes as I wanted to. That will be my task for first thing tomorrow morning. And I've taken some pictures of a few techniques I wanted to share, so I'll post something on those ideas, as well.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Working Together...

I've spent some time over the last two weeks working on some boxes. I have two at a "joinery completion" stage and four more with the pieces just dimensioned. One of the boxes has the intended purpose of holding my up-and-coming Christmas present - a custom set of four dovetail paring chisels from Blue Spruce Tool Works. They all have curly mahogany handles (wood supplied by me) that match the carbide burnisher owner Dave Jeske made for me a month or two ago. They arrived two weeks ago and Dana let me see them just long enough to take some measurements before she secreted them away for the next six months. We ordered them a bit early to take advantage of a 10% discount Dave was offering and to get one of his Blue Spruce Tool Works t-shirts for free.

(And by the way... isn't my wife just the greatest?)

The other boxes don't yet have specific buyers but they are all intended to hold sgian dubhs. Well, dimensionally they would all serve that purpose, anyway. I'm making them for two reasons, one of which I can't really divulge right now. But the other reason is simply because I want to have some boxes on hand that I can offer as "immediately available" so I don't always have to bust my butt with a custom box when someone contacts me and says they need a box in three weeks. I'll take some pictures and post them along with some of my design ideas as I get a little further along in the process later this week. I had an idea or two that coincided with the Guinness 250th Anniversary that I wanted to play around with...

They are all sliding lid boxes with rabbeted butt joints. From a design point of view, the joinery is relatively easy to cut on the table saw with a flat tooth rip blade. Some of that challenge is in making sure the saw cuts are accurate. Over the past few days, I've learned some tricks for making these cuts incredibly precise - all without using any measuring devices. Again, when I start on the joinery for the next four boxes, I'll take some pictures and share with you.

But what has me more excited than anything is how I've quite naturally started blending hand tools with power tools into a true power tool/hand tool hybrid shop - the two halves are now working together. For example, the other day when I was working on the sliding lid for the chisel storage box, I had a board that wasn't exactly thicknessed properly (it was the last board from a bunch of resawn lumber); it was just a bit thicker on one edge than it was on the other. Without a second thought, I went downstairs to the workbench, marked the board thickness on all the edges with my circular marking gauge, grabbed my #604 1/2, and started planing the slight high side down to size.

Later, when I needed to cut dados and rabbets on the edges of the lid so it would slide in and out of the grooves in the main part of the box, I pulled out my Record 043 plough plane instead of trying to make the cuts back on the table saw. Wow. That was more satisfying than planing a board flat! After just a minute or two of careful setup (and scoring a line on the cross-grain cut to prevent tear out), it was just a matter of planing until the blade stopped cutting.

Finally, when I was cutting the panel for the second sliding lid, I had a board with one side far, far from straight (it was a raw edge with bark on it) and the opposite edge ended up not being a terribly straight line, either. Again, I headed back downstairs to the workshop, put the board on edge in a vice, and took about 15 or 20 strokes with the #604 1/2 (it was too short for the #7) to make the not-so-straight-edge perfectly jointed.

A great benefit to using more hand tools is that I can plug in to my MP3 player and listen to some Grateful Dead or Cat Stevens or Jim Malcom while I'm working - certainly something that helps my creative juices flow.

I'm starting to approach every part of the project with the question, "How can I do this with hand tools?" It is very freeing. If you haven't yet tried it, I would highly recommend at least making an attempt at it the next time you find yourself in the shop.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Sinking Feeling...

This blog entry is dedicated to Fred and Brian. Without their hard work, my wife would never have been motivated enough to prod me into action...

On Friday, the taper/mudder finished with my workshop walls! Apparently, the fee I paid him didn't include cleanup-after-sanding, though, so I have a bit of a mess on my hands still. No matter - it feels good to almost have this part of the process behind me.

I thought I would be able to get down there on Sunday and do some cleaning and wipe down the walls in preparation for paint, but I was wrong. Apparently, recent trips to my sister-in-law's house (Fred and Kate) and some friends in Lawrence, Kansas (Brian and Belinda), got Dana itching to have a few more items checked off of my "Cinderella List". The first one that came to mind was replacing the kitchen sink.

We'd actually purchased a replacement sink over a year ago (closer to two, honestly), but were putting off the installation because we wanted it to coincide with new cabinets and a counter top, as well. Alas, we are financially responsible people and so are waiting until we have the money saved up before we perform our big kitchen renovation. It will probably take another two years to save up enough money - this was apparently too long.

So on the way home from church this past Sunday, we stopped by Lowe's to pick up a few necessities I knew I needed, made our way home, changed clothes, and got right to it.

Taking out the old sink was satisfying. It was acrylic and probably 20+ years old - the faucet was rusted and the coating had scraped off the bottom in several places, so it didn't easily come clean.

It was so light-weight that I had to remove nine clips holding it to the counter top before I could take it out. Here is a picture of the sink as it sat in the garage post-removal. I kept the plastic wrapped tight for over an hour after it stopped moving, so I felt safe in uncovering it to snap a few pics for you.

Take note of the ever-present stains in the left side and the absence of any glossy acrylic coating in the right side. It's removal was a triumphant moment, indeed.

Of course, once the tools came out, Teeters the Helping Cat made her presence known. She used her acute sense of observation to determine exactly what tool or part I needed next and did her best to thwart me by batting it away. But look at how cute she is - you can't be mad at that innocent face for long!

You might also notice the white knobs on the doors in the first and third photos. Dana started working on replacing those while I was working on the sink. Again, we'd already determined what kind of pulls and knobs we wanted - we really just wanted to put them on new cabinets. You'll see the change later on...

Nothing is ever easy in my house. Because the new sink had a different drop to it, I had to adjust pretty much every piece of PVC under the sink. I suppose I shouldn't complain - it could have been chrome.

Teeters once again made an appearance at this point. You'll notice, however, that I refrained from any displays of PB as I finagled the pipes into place. As a joke, I did have my pants pulled down just enough before this picture was taken, but quickly yanked them back up as Dana reached for the camera. Normally I wouldn't have minded, but I hadn't grown my Hulk Hogan mustache back yet and it just didn't feel proper, you know?

You can't see it in that last picture, but I believe at this point my back is broken in two separate places - a result of trying to crawl around under the sink attaching the plumbing back up. You also can't see the hernia I narrowly avoided trying to lift the new sink into place. Did I mention the new sink is cast iron and weighs in at just around 130 lbs?

Here is a shot of the new sink in all it's glory - it is called a Smart Divide Sink by Kohler. It has a half-divide separating the two sinks, making it easier to wash such things as cookie sheets and cutting boards without trying to wedge them into one bowl. (Here you can also see the results of Dana's hard work - the new pulls are going to look great when we have new cabinets on which to mount them, but I think they look pretty good on the old ones, too! Good job, sweetie!)

I'm of the school of thought that if you're going to do something, go ahead and do it right the first time. In this case, it meant spending a little extra to get drains that matched the new faucet.

Once again time eluded me, but I need to hurry up and find the time to get down to the basement and do some sweeping. When I came home from work today, I was greeted by Teeters, the Black and White Shop Cat - black on her right side and white on her left side, where she had been laying down in drywall dust. Parts of the house looked like David Caruso's team had just finished dusting for finger prints.

So while I didn't get to spent Sunday working on the new shop like I wanted to, and the closest I got to woodworking was knocking out the two support blocks in the front of the cabinet with a hammer so the sink would fit, I still feel my time was well-spent. After all, marriage is all about comprimise, right? Plus, putting in a new sink made my wife happy, and that means a lot to me, too.

Unfortunately, we spent a lot of time staring at the surrounding cabinets and appliances this weekend. I know it reminded me that I still haven't changed out the old dish washer with the new one (sitting in the cardboard box in the garage). Let's hope Dana was temporarily blinded by the dazzling sparkle of her new sink, at least until my back heals...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My New Shop, Episode 7: Slinging Mud

Yesterday evening, Mike and Joe came over to evaluate the basement workshop space and figure out what they would need for materials to tape and mud the drywall for me. After about 15 minutes, Mike came up with a price and a material list for me to purchase. I agreed to the price and later on that evening ran over to Home Depot to pick up six 10' sections of beading and two 10' tear-away strips along with about 100 lbs of compound (some light purpose and some multi-purpose).

This evening, they came back over to start putting up the corner beading and apply the first coat of mud. They were just about dead on with the material measurements as it doesn't look like there was more than two or three feet of corner beading left over (you can see it to the right of the buckets in the second photo).

Mike said it will probably take two coats in most areas, but an additional coat might be necessary in some places (some of the ceiling joints). At the most, this looks to be a three-day job. Maybe that means I'll be able to prime walls for paint this weekend! Right. Most likely, I won't have time to do anything until some evening next week.

So far, things look good. It is nice to see it all coming together. Once the taping and mudding is done, I'll be able to prime and paint those danged purple walls! Oh, and I've already purchased my main ceiling lights, so I'll be able to install them after I'm done painting.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to do much more after that, due to low funds. And I won't really be able to get more funds until later in the fall when my Business Journal editing picks up again. In the mean time, I'll bring my bench and some of my stationary tools into the shop to get a feel for where I want them set up (well, and start using them).

In the mean time, in lieu of flooring I'll probably end up swinging by the local farm supply store and picking up some horse stall mats so I'm not standing on concrete the whole time I'm working in the shop. When I do get around to putting down a floor, I can still keep the mats to use in front of the bench and cabinets to help protect the floor from the worst of whatever I might do to it.

I'll try to take a few pictures and post an update after Mike and Joe are done and I've spent a little time cleaning up.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

No crackers, Gromit! We've forgotten the crackers!

Some time during my third year of college, a friend of mine introduced me to Wallace and Gromit, claymation comedy from the U.K. It didn't quite meet up to the standards of Ren and Stimpy or the soon-to-be-released South Park, but it gave them a good run for their money. The lines Wallace had (especially about the cheese) were simply the best, though, and I wouldn't pass up the opportunity to watch a bit more if it came along.

But for now, I must placate myself by introducing you to a different Wallace. Fellow woodworkers and bloggers, meet my new Wallace 8" jointer...

This Delta-gray and slightly dusty machine comes to me by way of Craig's List, one of the best inventions of man since eBay. It wasn't necessarily what I would call a "steal", but for an 8" jointer, I think it was a pretty good price. Besides, I think the old adage that they don't make them like they used to can be most often applied to woodworking machines. This machine, coming from the late 1930's/early 1940's (most likely - I plan on researching it as much as possible in the coming weeks), is now my oldest, pushing my 1950 Rockwell Drill Press into second place.

Here's another way of looking at it... this is the epitome of "green woodworking"! I'm taking something that was made more than seventy years ago and renewing it and putting it to good use! So really, this is my way of doing my part to help save the planet.

It sits on a mobile base that originally came from a Delta 8" jointer. The previous owner (well, his dad, really) made some slight modifications to accommodate the Wallace. It seems quite comfortable there. The engine is not original - it is a Dayton 1hp single-phase (1725 RPM) motor. It is also not currently hooked up as I took these pictures after unloading it from the truck.

Due to work constraints, I wasn't able to get to the seller's house until some time after 7:00 PM this evening. So by the time we got it loaded, watched two B-1 stealth bombers fly a couple of routes overhead while making an appearance at the MLB All-Star Game, talked a bit about all of the old iron I saw around me, and finally made it back home, it was close to 9:00. While supper was cooking, I quickly ran outside to figure out the best way of getting the jointer and base from the back of the pickup without putting myself into the back of an ambulance.

In the end, I decided to take the mobile base out first and set it up. Then I could drop down the tailgate, push the base up to the gate, and slide the jointer off the gate and onto the base. It worked like a charm! It might have taken me less time to unload than it took to load!

The paint job looks good. The fence and beds seem to adjust properly.Hopefully, all I'll really need to do to get her back up and running at full speed is to sharpen the knives (or replace them).

I'll post an update or two as more information becomes available.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My New Shop, Episode 6: Time to play in the mud

The past few days have seen a nice bit of progress made on the basement workshop. Sunday afternoon, I went downstairs, put on some Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and finished hanging some drywall inside the room that my little brother and I hadn't bothered with before. The pieces were all pretty small and I could easily handle them on my own.

After that, I cut open a bag of formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation and started filling in voids in the highest spaces. There were several larger areas in the floor joists I wanted to make sure had as much sound-proofing as possible.

When that was done, I insulated the walls. It seemed to go faster than my last insulating session - maybe because I wasn't working over my head the entire time. One small part by the furnace slowed me down; I popped the nails on one side of a sheet of existing drywall, turned off the heat pump, removed some duct work (to the whole-house humidifier), pried it open as far as I could (there was more duct work in the way), and managed to wiggle some insulation between the studs. Then I closed it back up, re-attached the duct work, and continued with insulating the walls. I had to stop before I could hang any more drywall because it was getting late.

Yesterday evening found me back down in the basement, hanging drywall. Except for the part where I was trying to move sheets of drywall by myself, this went very smoothly. The full sheets were all up in the garage; I quickly determined I should measure first and cut them into the desired sizes prior to lugging them down the basement steps. This part took me about two hours or so.

I did not hang drywall on the framed wall past the furnace. I'd like to use that area for pegboard and organize my less-often used tools (clamps and jigs and the like). Taking advantage of other areas of the basement will mean less clutter in my limited shop space.

I suppose the title of this entry is a bit mis-leading. I'm not going to tape and mud the drywall myself - I know my own limitations and I'd rather get this done within the next year or two. So this afternoon, I'll start calling a few people recommended to me by friends to get some bids on taping and mudding the room.

That will take me into a nice little vacation starting tomorrow morning when Dana and I will drive up to Ohio to visit her family over the holiday weekend.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Talitha cumi!

(A bit of a round-about entry, but… if you can stick with me, I think it’s worth it.)

The pastor of my church, Pastor Jim, is currently in the middle of his 3-month sabbatical. As a result, we have two guest pastors presiding over the flock, as it were. Pastor Kirk, a kindly man from the St. Louis area who teaches and researches at Wash. U., is filling in during June and August. Pastor Sarah, a very young recent graduate from Eden’s Seminary, is filling in during the month of July.

Since I’ve been attending Grace UCC, our track record with guest pastors has mostly been miss or miss. I can’t exactly pinpoint one or two things that have left me less-than-satisfied during Pastor Jim’s absences. I don’t believe it to be a resistance to change as I’m a fairly open guy. I don’t think it has to do with sermon topics, either. That would mean we only have guest pastors when it coincides with an unpopular sermon… hey, wait a second…

(Just kidding, Pastor Jim.)

After four weeks, I must say… Whatever it is the other people were missing, Pastor Kirk has it! His sermons to date have been poignant, succinct, and entertaining. These are all key characteristics of a sermon that keeps the congregation interested and attentive.

From the first minute he stood in front of us, it was obvious he didn’t want to just fill in for a few weeks and move on. He has taken the time to try and learn as many names as possible; he spends as much time as it takes to visit with the congregation before, between, and after services; he steps down from the podium and off the dais to speak to us at our level; and he always finds some way of making the sermon very personal to each of us.

He ends each sermon with a plan of action – something for us to ponder or question in our own lives or, as was the case yesterday, something for us to actually do.

The Bible passage read and discussed this past Sunday concerned some of the miracles of Jesus. It was Mark 5:35-43 – Jesus’ healing of Jarius’ daughter. It is a great passage for the message of healing and faith and one which easily sticks with me. It ends with Jesus taking the girl’s hand and saying, "Talitha cumi"; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.

Or, as Pastor Kirk put it, “Get up! Get up and live!

Get up. Get up and live.

Six simple words (four, really, as two of them are duplicates) that have so much power in them! And after the recent losses in our entertainment industry, the message seems to ring louder and even more clearly in my ears. Get up and do something, because you have such a limited time on this world as we know it.

“Get off your arse, Ethan!”

After church, Dana and I did our usual shopping (that always seems to go on for way too long). And when we finally got home, I got up. I got up and mowed the lawn. When I was done mowing the lawn, I sat down for a minute to drink a few glasses of water. And then I got up and headed to the basement. I finished a small section of drywall inside the new workshop, cut open a bag of insulation, and started filling in voids and wall spaces. Two bags later, with all of the insulation in place, I started hanging drywall. I didn’t get very far, however, because Dana called me up for supper.

After mowing and hanging drywall and insulation, I had to shower and change clothes before I could sit down anywhere. After a shower and some supper, I got up and logged onto the computer and worked on my current editing assignment for the American City Business Journals.

I didn't get to bed until 11:45 last night. I was tired and sore and still slightly itchy from the insulation. I even managed to impress my wife with the speed at which I fell asleep (I cut my time down from 15 seconds to about 8 or 9). I slept more peacefully and soundly than I have in a long time.

And when I opened my eyes this morning, the first thought I had was, “Get up. Get up and live!” That’s how I want to try and start each day.

But not only that, it is how I want to start treating my time after 5:00 p.m. each day. I feel like I'm wasting half my life because I never seem to get anything done when I get home from work.

I feel change in the air, though...

And so I say unto you, my fellow woodworkers and blog readers...

Get up! Get up and live!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My New Shop, Episode 5: Hang 'em High

So for some reason, I've not made any progress on the workshop for about three weeks... until tonight.

I don't have any new pictures. I was really only able to get down there and finish screwing in the drywall Noah and I had already hung.

But it's amazing how just making a little bit more progress can motivate you to do more. So tomorrow night, I'll insulate the open wall spaces. I'd like to also try and hang the rest of the drywall, but I'm afraid I have a small detour to make if I'm going to properly insulate the room. There is a 4' section of wall that already existed and doesn't have either side exposed. I need to temporarily remove some duct work (to my whole house humidifier, which is currently not turned on) on the furnace so I can take that section of wall down and insulate it.

If I can get all of that done tomorrow night, I'll be very happy. Then I can get started on hanging the final bit of drywall and have someone come in to mud and tape.

They call it "mud and tape", but really isn't it "tape and mud"? Or am I the only one who calls it "mud and tape"?

In any case, I'll be so incredibly happy when that is done because then I can make the walls purple no more!

I can't even imagine...

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Woodworking Krenovation...

This weekend, after finishing a serious amount of exhausting outside work, I decided to sit down in the seldom-used hearth room and read a bit. After perusing my ever-growing library of woodworking books, I settled on a favorite of mine, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, by James Krenov.

I adore well-written books and I love the feel of a solid book in my hands. My copy is a very nice hardback second printing (1977) with the dust jacket. It was a 2007 Christmas present from my mother-in-law. I'm quite pleased with the book, though there is a bit of a musty smell to it when first opened. I'm hoping that will go away with time; indeed, the smell is much less noticeable than when I first got it.

Interestingly enough, I call this one of my favourite books, though I can't honestly say I've made it all the way through it yet. I have, however, read the first half several times over. I don't know why I've never gotten any further - I always get sidetracked with some project or another and lose my place or put the book back on the shelf thinking I'll pick it up the following day or some such thing. Maybe the first chapter is just enough to rekindle the motivation I needed to get back in the shop and do something.

But that's OK. To me, reading James Krenov is a little like reading James Herriot or Robert Fulghum. It isn't something you can just read in one sitting. Yes, it is an enjoyable read, but if you don't take the time to take in and absorb what he is saying, then you'll most likely miss the finer points.

As he states in the very first column of the very first page, this book isn't intended for professional cabinetmakers. Mr. Krenov understands that most woodworkers who truly love the craft are not doing it for the money; we do it for the process and the creative expression and the joy we get just from applying our determination to take one object and shape it into another. This book is written for the woodworker who can spend days, weeks, months, or years, putting all of his heart and soul and knowledge into a project. And this book is written for the woodworker who can go into her shop and spend an hour just planing a piece of wood for the sheer joy of it, filling the air with the scent of freshly cut pine.

I think one of the reasons I'm so drawn to Mr. Krenov's woodworking philosophy is because of how I approach each new project. In some ways, it is obsessive-compulsion to the extreme. I pull out a spiral notebook where I keep notes on all of my projects and I list out my requirements for the piece. Then I start calculating exactly what those requirements mean for the project, from the kinds of wood I'm going to use based on how well they compliment one another to the exact height, length, and width it will need to be while still providing a pleasing look. I obsess over the littlest details, like the proportions of the mitered keys or a chamfer detail on an edge. Over a period of hours and days, I document the perfect finished piece according to the requirements I've been given.

This process never gets figured into billable time; it isn't necessary for the project. It really only takes me 15 or 20 minutes to come up with the actual dimensions I'll need; the rest is some twisted form of artistic design I've allowed myself to develop over the years.

What this does is allow me to do is go through the building process in my mind several times before I ever put blade to wood. I get to work through the problems I might encounter and come up with solutions to those problems without stressing about deadlines or ruining a perfect piece of wood I had set aside for the project. By the time I get to that part of the construction process, I'm so familiar with what I need to be concerned with, it no longer bothers me.

And when my OCD has been satisfied, I start working on my project in the really real world. My hard, exact dimensions suddenly become nothing more than strong guidelines. I might get to the point of planing my chamfer and then decide not to do it. I could (and have) screw up the measurements on a hole and have to improvise a repair technique to cover it up!

(Every woodworker makes mistakes; the true craftsman turns that mistake into a design opportunity.)

In the end, my finished piece has usually taken a bit longer than intended. It mostly resembles the initial drawings and dimensions I started out with, but not everything is the same. I might have added a detail here or dropped a feature there or found out that a particular piece of wood I had in mind isn't going to work and so I need to switch it out for something else. What I've done is open myself up to the fact that I'm working with wood, a kinetic object that doesn't care what dimensions I have written down in my notebook. It always retains the right to do what it will do.

It is my job as a woodworker to develop an understanding with the wood, to use the inherent properties of the wood in my favor and work in harmony with it.

It is my job as an amateur woodworker to constantly be aware (and cautious) of the impulse to make a production run to save time and labor and make a better profit.

It is my job as a young woodworker to perpetually strive for higher quality and always try to learn from those around me as well as from my own experiences.

I think that's what I've been missing the past few weeks. My last project was probably one I shouldn't have taken; I got a little caught up in the monetary gain and didn't think to give myself the developmental time I require on each project. As a result, I didn't enjoy myself as much and it almost became a chore.

Sitting quietly and reading James Krenov talk about the art of woodworking and the necessity to listen to the wood and work with the wood is just what the Dr. ordered for my woodworking slump. It is what I needed to restore in myself the desire to create, simply for the process of creating. It is what I needed to charge my batteries and reset my focus. It is what I need to remind myself to listen to the wood and not exploit it.

I've only made it to page 59 in this last session with Mr. Krenov. I don't know if I'll get much further because I already feel the ideas building up; projects I have been perfecting in my mind that are waiting to be tested in the real world.

Some day, I'll actually get to the point of reading about James Krenov's shop and some of the tools he uses. Until then, I'm completely satisfied with a renewed sense of connection between me and the wood I use.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tool Review - Panasonic Cordless Drill/Driver

When Dana and I got married, our tool boxes got married as well. We suddenly had duplicates of several things I'd purchased for myself and then helped her pick out for her own house. So when the battery charger on one of our two Craftsman 18v drills burned out, it wasn't that big of a deal; we had another handy. And after two of the four batteries started holding a charge for less than a week and/or only 10 minutes worth of use, it was OK because we had two more to fall back on.

Late last fall, at just about the same time, the other two batteries started failing and the second charger died. It was time to re-assess our drill/driver situation.

Let's be honest - most of my drill/driver work involves hanging curtain rods, screwing in drywall, building jigs, and general home maintenance and repair. In retrospect, 18 volts is a whole lot of wasted power.It's also a whole lot of weight to lug around.

I did my research and read all of the reviews. I made an honest assessment of what we needed around the house and for use in a hobby woodworking shop. With everything taken into consideration, I finally decided upon the Panasonic 12-Volt NiMH 1/2" drill/driver.

I could not be happier with my choice!

When the drill arrived (from Amazon, for about $190 with free shipping), I immediately charged both batteries. I then put the charger and the spare battery back in the case and left the drill out on my workbench.

Over the next six months, I would pull it out for anything from hanging curtain rods to installing new hinges, from drilling 3/8" holes in wood to driving 100+ drywall screws. Just the other day, while working in the new workshop to tighten up the last of the drywall, I finally killed the first charge on my first battery. I wasn't so impressed with the amount of work the battery had performed as I was with the amount of time it held the charge! My last drill wouldn't hold a charge for five weeks, much less five months!

I pulled the dead battery out and popped the new one in and went right back to work with the second battery as fresh as the day it was charged.

I was also impressed with the weight of the drill. Most of the screws I was driving were in the ceiling, so I ended up holding it above my head for extended periods of time. That's when the 3.5 lb weight difference between the Panasonic and my old Craftsman really came into play. Even after an hour of work, I was far from fatigued.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change my decision to go with the 12-volt model (vs. the 15.6- or the 18-volt models), either. It is more than enough power for the likes of what I do and the lighter weight is a nice change.

So if you find yourself in the market for a new drill in the near future, the Panasonic 12-volt NiMH 1/2" drill/driver comes highly recommended from this amateur woodworker and average DIY-enthusiast.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My New Shop, Episode 4: Purple Walls, Drywall, And Dry Skin

Last Saturday, my little brother, Noah, came up for about six or seven hours to help me get some drywall hung in the new workshop. We didn't exactly get it completely done, but we were able to get it to a point where I could finish up the rest with little assistance.

I'd talked to my older brother the night before and he recommended I run some speaker wire before we hang drywall. I do enjoy the swish of a hand plane playing harmony to Jerry's melodious vocals, so I stopped by a Radio Shack and picked up 100' of wire. It would have taken me two minutes but for the two salesmen and five sales pitches I had to fend off.

No, I hadn't thought about speakers yet; I don't even have drywall hung. Yes, I would consider coming back in to look at what they had when I was ready. No, I'm not interested in gold-plated extra-insulated 12-gauge Monster wire that really helps carry all of the sound, from the low base to the highest trebs, and provides me with the best quality music. I'm not an audio-phile; I just want to listen to some music when I'm in the shop for Pete's sake. No, I don't want to buy my male- and female-adaptors yet. Remember, I don't know what speakers I'm going to get. No, I'm not... You know what? Ask me one more question and I'm not even going to buy the damn speaker wire!


Anyway, we started by taking measurements and figuring out how many pieces of drywall we would need. To try and aid in sound reduction, I wanted to use 5/8" drywall on the ceiling. To make it so we didn't have to lug 20 sheets of 5/8" drywall into the basement, and because it matched the thickness of the drywall used on the other framed wall in the room, I went with 1/2" drywall for the new wall.

And thank goodness for that. After hauling 13 sheets of the heavy stuff down some difficult stairs (I don't have a walk-out basement), I was ready to call it quits for the day! But Noah smartly suggested we hold off on bringing down the last few pieces until we saw how much we really needed and leave the four sheets of 1/2" drywall up in the garage, as well. With a right arm that felt like Jello, I was in complete agreement.

While Noah started taking measurements on the first piece, to account for an outlet hole and to mark joist lines, I hung speaker wire in what I refer to as the bulk heads. You can see the blue painter's tape holding the wire in first and second photos.

Once I had the wire run, it seemed like things moved along pretty quickly. After a few hours, we had all of the flat part of the ceiling done. Another hour saw the I-beam and the duct work boxed in. Thank goodness we didn't bring those last few pieces of 5/8" drywall down because we ended up not needing them. What's more, the amount of drywall waste we had set aside at that point was pretty minimal - less than a full sheet, all laid out side by side, I'd say.

Then we began working on the inside wall. After we finished the right side, having used part of two full sheets of 1/2" drywall, I asked Noah if he was sure we'd picked up enough.

He said, "Yes."

I queried, "For both sides of the wall?"


So later on, after we'd finished the inside wall, we went back to Home Depot to return the remaining sheets of 5/8" and pick up another four sheets of 1/2". By that time, it was getting a little late and I knew his knees were starting to bother him, so we just unloaded the drywall into the garage and called it a day.

I finally got downstairs after church this morning to shoot a couple of pictures (now that the camera is back home). I generally avoid using the flash, because it always seems to cause glare, but it was either that or hang some lights I'd have to take back down before the room could be taped and mudded, so I thought I would give it a try. They turned out pretty good!

Before I start getting bids on the taping and mudding, I need to finish up a few things, as you can see. Some of the drywall already hanging doesn't have enough screws in it, so I have to go through and make sure each piece is secured well enough. Then I have to insulate the new wall and the wall shared by the other room before I close it up with the remaining drywall.

Once that's done, I'll be able to have someone come down and tape and mud my joints.

After that, it's priming and painting and no more purple walls!

Saturday night, after Noah had left and I'd cleaned up a bit in the basement, I sat down and took off my work goves to rub my sore fingers. After a bit, I looked down at my hands to see large bits of skin had come off with the slight friction I was making! Then I remembered I'd been working with drywall (i.e. gypsum) all day. I wonder if it was just a form of dermatitis resulting from the talc-like drywall dust... A good dose of hand cream seemed to bring them back to normal, so I'm not worried. I mean, it isn't like I'm shedding skin and starting to speak in Parseltongue, right?

My next two immediate goals are to finish hanging the drywall and find someone to mud and tape for me. In case the latter takes a bit of time to find, schedule, and complete, I have one or two little projects I'd put on hold during shop renovations. Maybe I'll dig them out and try to finish them up in the make-shift shop to pass the time. I also wanted to write a review on a tool I've been using the heck out of during shop construction.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Slight Shop Update Delay...

My younger brother and I did get most of the drywall hung on Saturday. In the process of doing so, however, we had to remove all light sources but the can lights. As a result, I was unable to take proper pictures of the room. So I need to hang some lights or figure out a lighting source before I can photograph the progress.

Yesterday afternoon, my wife flew to Colorado for work. She knew she was only going to be busy part of the time, so she took the camera with her in case they got to do some site seeing.

Now, even if I get the shop re-lit and swept up, I can't take pictures.

So there will be a slight hiccup of a few days to my shop update blog entry.

Not a bad thing, really, as it gives me time to finish hanging a small piece of drywall on the ceiling, add a few more drywall screws where necessary, insulate my new wall, hang drywall on the outside of it, sweep up the floor a little better, and then come up with a catchy blog title for the next entry!

On a side note, I noticed today that I've made the Woodworking Magazine Blog Roll!

As long as I have a purple shop, I might as well be giddy...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My New Shop, Episode 3: Now It's Purple And Fluffy...

With a box to make, projects around the house, work, bird watching, and a whole lot of other things to keep me busy, I haven't been able to get back to working on the new workshop until this evening.

When we last left the shop, it was framed in and the electrical had been run for power and lights. It was ready for insulation. Earlier this week, I started looking for some because I had to put it in before my little brother helps me with the drywall this weekend. Turns out it was more difficult to find than I thought it would be...

Earlier this year, we had additional insulation blown into our attic spaces to try and cut a little more off of our cooling and heating costs. My wife, who works in the environmental field, was concerned about VOC's off-gassing from the formaldehyde used as a binder in most fiberglass insulation. After a few months of searching, we finally found a company who uses formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation. Turns out their bid was very competitive, as well, so we went with them.

(Our budget billing has already dropped $10/month since then, by the way.)

After spending that much time and energy in putting a healthy insulation product into our attics, I thought it would be very silly to put regular fiberglass insulation in the basement (where the VOC's could rise through the rest of the house). So I started looking for any local companies who sold formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation batting. After several hours of searching on-line, I finally found a company who specializes in the product, but they weren't exactly "local".

The brand name of the product I'm using is Johns Manville. They actively make and market insulation products that are better for your home environment. Unfortunately, there are only three places within fifty miles of my house that carried their products. The first one I called said they hadn't carried JM products in two years. One of the other two places was over in Illinois - not someplace I'd be going soon. That left Washington Lumber Supply in my home town of Washington, MO.

Having grown up there, I knew the store hours. It left me in a bit of a quandary, because I knew there was no way I could make it from work to the store before closing time.

Then I remembered I had two brothers still living in Washington.


So I called my older brother and asked him if he could pick it up for me if I paid for it over the phone. He agreed. I called the store and placed my order.

The next day I drove down to my brother's house to pick up the insulation. In the process, I found out exactly how many bags of insulation I could fit in my Xterra and still see out the passenger-side window. (The answer is six, in case you are wondering; three bags of R19 and three bags of R13.)

It was a quiet ride home.

This evening, I went downstairs, sealed all of my duct work seams with HVAC foil tape, and installed the insulation.

It was hot and itchy and I had flashbacks of helping my brother finish his entire basement most of the time I was working on it. I was able to finish the ceiling in under two hours.

It had nothing to do with my calculations, but three bags of R-19 was just about the exact amount I needed. I was left with a total of four feet of ceiling still needing a little insulation by the time I'd finished.

Now my workshop is purple and fluffy. Not exactly the manly space I was looking for... I can't wait for this to be finished!

Well, I can't wait until I can paint those stupid walls, anyway.

I'm not going to insulate the newly-framed wall until we get drywall up on the inside, but I will insulate the areas around the steel I-beams and any other gaps in the ceiling before we close it up. I also picked up enough to insulate the only other interior wall (on the right in the first photo). I will do that from the other side before I hang some better quality peg board in the other room.

In the second picture, you can see the fluffy white insulation juxtaposed with the fluffy black Baby Teeters.

She spent a lot of time with me this evening. I don't know if she was more interested in what I was doing or in the Paul Simon CD I was playing. She gave us both a fair amount of attention. She is a wonderfully curious cat and managed to pick up one of the only bits of insulation I didn't sweep up. She doesn't photograph well from a distance in poor light, so you can barely see it on her chest...

This Saturday is the annual local plant sale sponsored by the Missouri Botanical Gardens via the Shaw Nature Reserve; Dana and I are going to go to that early in the morning. We will get back home before noon to meet up with my younger brother so we can hang some drywall.

Hopefully I'll have another shop update for you by Sunday!