Saturday, May 7, 2011

NOW I know what Chris meant...

In the opening chapter of his new book, The Anarchist's Tool Chest, Chris Schwarz mentions an interview with Graham Blackburn, and refers to him as one of his, "woodworking heroes."

I don't know about you, but from where I sit, that is quite the compliment. It made ME come to attention, anyway.

As it just so happens, today was the first day of a two-day seminar the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild is hosting with Graham Blackburn here in St. Louis. Since tomorrow is my wife's very first Mother's Day, I was only able to attend half of the seminar (today), but I felt it would be worth paying for the whole weekend, even if I could only attend a part of it.

I was right. And now I know why Chris calls Graham one of his woodworking heroes.

The seven hours of the first day that sixteen members of our guild spent in a room in the Creve Coeur Community Center seemed to fly by. I spent a lot of time frantically writing down quips and tidbits of information Graham threw out like he was overseeding a lawn.

He had so many great ideas and concepts that were just one- or two-line comments, like, "Jigs and guides make your work more accurate. The use of hand tools is not synonymous with 'Free Hand'," and "You cannot plane anything flatter than the flatness of your plane."

Which was shortly followed up by...

"You cannot flatten anything flatter than your sharpening stone."

I have a lot more in my notebook, but I'll probably have to read through it a few times to absorb the information before I write on it with any clarity. But I do want to share one part of today's session with you.

One of the first major topics we touched on was hand saws. He started off by asking how many of us had just two or three saws in our shop. It ended up being most of us. Then he spent a few minutes going into just how many different saws there were, from rip to cross-cut, back-saw to coping saw, dovetail to hack saw, and even how there were several different versions of each kind so that you could easily have 12 or 15 or more saws and actually use most of them at some point in the course of a year of making furniture.

Then he said he felt the reason hand saws have fallen into disuse is because nobody knows how to sharpen saws anymore!

(Still partially overwhelmed by the fact that I might need to know when to use 15 different saws, I had another possible reason in mind...)

He then pulled out a Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw to discuss one of the more common saws we might have in our shop. He said the saw in his hand, like many of the dovetail saws on the market today, was a copy of the old Tyzack dovetail saw and that he wished he had one to show us because they were such great things to behold.

I opened up the portable tool chest I'd brought with me, pulled out an old maroon hand towel, unrolled it to produce a very small dovetail saw with great patina and rounded teeth and said, "You mean like this one?"

It was the saw I'd picked up at the Woodworking In America conference last October, the slightly smaller brother to Kari's (link possibly only visible if you're Kari's friend on FB) brass-backed Tyzack dovetail saw. And Graham got to use it as his prop for discussion on saw sharpening and sharpening techniques.

Shortly after that, we broke for lunch. But before we did so, he offered to help me practice sharpening with my little Tyzack dovetail saw if I wanted!

Let's see... personal help from Graham Blackburn on sharpening my dovetail saw? Yeah, I guess I could go for that.

Given several limitations (a saw vise that wouldn't totally clamp my saw blade properly, a triangle file that was a bit too big, and some pretty crap-tastic lighting), I think I did a pretty good job! He tried it out and agreed it was definitely a much more usable saw than when we'd first started out.

So I have a little more work to do on it. Not a big deal. I checked this evening and the saw vise I recently picked up from John Zimmers holds the blade perfectly. So once I get a triangular file that is the proper size, I'll finish taking down a few leveled teeth and be done. But even without the additional work, I'm happy to have a nice little saw that makes fine dust with the absolute lightest touch possible!

We spent the rest of the day talking about hand planes and sharpening techniques. I'll have to save those topics for a different blog post, but I definitely want to talk about it because there is some great information in my little spiral notebook.

I'm a little disappointed I'm going to have to miss tomorrow's session. But I have my priorities straight, and spending time with these two wonderful people is the most important thing I could do on Mother's Day.

I guess I'll just have to catch Graham at Mark Adam's school some time in the future, right? :)

1 comment:

Ethan said...

I forgot to mention... the person I bought my Tyzak saw from was Lee Richmond from The Best Things.

Antiques Roadshow buffs might recognize him from the occasional appearance!