Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Refuse To Call These Mistakes

We all have to start somewhere. Nineteen years ago, and armed with less than a gram of woodworking knowledge, I would buy vintage tools that caught my eye at flea markets and auctions. I didn't know how to sharpen, much less use them.

Looking back, sometimes I lucked out as a newbie and would score a nice socket chisel or adjustable tenon cutter. Other times, I'd end up with something that looks good in a photo on a blog, but are as useful as a laser light on a marking gauge.
Good thing we're so tidy, otherwise
the garage would be a disaster.

I also bought a LOT of lumber. Here in the middle of Pennsylvania, we're surrounded by farmland. And farmers always have stacks of lumber in their barns. So, early on in my woodworking life, I attended many farm auctions. Rarely were other attendees interested in lumber; people were there to buy farm machinery. So, after awhile I wound up with so much wood we could no longer park our cars in the garage.

Back then, I'd buy whatever wood I could get that was cheap, not knowing if I'd like to work with walnut, maple, oak, cherry, poplar, beech, or apple (all the species in my stash).

Dyami lifted five boards to my one.
Nineteen years later, I know that I almost exclusively prefer cherry. Walnut's a distant second. Other than that, all the other species in my garage have sat for nearly two decades collecting dust and heaping mounds of mouse poop.

I mentioned on twitter that I'd love to get rid of it and my friend, Dyami (The Penultimate Woodshop), came to the rescue.  He drove down from Long Island with a flatbed truck and hauled a bunch of it away.

Using a short handsaw to cut
stickers apart.
My point is, there is no way to know as beginner woodworkers what types of projects and wood we'll be interested in years later.  So, we're bound to buy things we'll never use (the unopened Leigh Dovetail jig box comes to mind).

You could read every woodworking book on the market before you ever buy a tool or cut a board, but you still won't know your preferences until you start building. Chances are your tastes will change the more years you have under your belt.  Since I've become more interested in working with hand tools, the dust on my router table and hollow chisel mortiser is as thick as a Dickens' novel.

But, this is all part of the journey. They are not mistakes.

Not only that, sometimes you get to make someone's day by giving them a bunch of boards that would otherwise have gone unused. And they can make your day by helping to clear out your garage. It's a win-win.

Except for the mice. Who now need to find another place to call home.

By the way, I'm not advocating setting up a complete workshop before you've even cut a board. Pick a few projects you like and get the tools you need to build them.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Anarchist's Tool Chest: Book Review

I'm glad Chris Schwarz is playing on our team.

If he had decided long ago to take up needlepoint rather than woodworking, we'd be missing out on his sense of humor, creative writing, commitment to the woodworking community, and enormous amount of hand tool knowledge.

Chris's latest book is The Anarchist's Tool Chest.  Why "anarchist"?  He provides several explanations, one of which is "a desire to work for yourself and to run in social and economic circles made up of other individual artisans." It's the notion that we can buck the norm and make something that's built to last, using the best joinery and made with the best tools. It's an idea that thumbs its nose at the flimsy, veneer-covered, chipboard garbage that surrounds us as consumers.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first part, we get a glimpse into Chris's initiation into woodworking starting at age 11 when he helped his Dad build the family's farmhouse.  We read about the path that led him to Popular Woodworking Magazine, his insatiable desire to learn all he could about the craft, and his revelations along the way.

Then Chris gives us his tool list—a list that's been pared down to the essentials for a hand tool woodworker. This is the result of 30 years' experience with using and testing more tools than most of us will ever get our hands on.  He encourages us to learn from his mistakes and discoveries, so this book is a great place to start if you are just getting into hand tools.

It's also a great place for those of us who use hand tools on a regular basis.  I'm glad I didn't skip a single page in his book, because I learned a lot more than I ever realized I didn't know.

I love a strong opinion, but only if it's backed up with thoughtful reasoning and facts. Chris provides this with aplomb. He has a rationale for every single tool that made his cut list, how they work, and what to look for when buying new or vintage.

The book also contains Chris's philosophy about the craft and about life. Time is more important than money. Doing the things we love, the best we can, with the best tools and materials we can acquire, is everything. And while you might not agree with his ideas and suggestions, they will give you pause.

The last section of the book is devoted to building a tool chest, the design of which is based on his years of study.  Many times we try to outfox the old timers, which is foolish. They knew what they were doing.  So, Chris relies on the things he's discovered about the vintage, user-friendly, bomb-proof chests and lays them out for us, so we can get it right the first time.

His 475-page book is jam-packed with straight-to-the-point information and peppered with Chris's signature quips, but it also shows what a great storyteller he is.  His easy and conversational style makes this a fast and enjoyable read.  The Anarchist's Tool Chest is a hard book to put down. It's engaging and very well-written and -researched.

As I was reading, I was picturing what a 23rd-century woodworker would think of it. Because this book will be around that long. And then some.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sharpen Your Handsaws With Ron Herman: Review

There's a reason why I took so many classes with Ron Herman at last year's WIA Conference—he's a great teacher.

In his new video, Sharpen Your Handsaws With Ron Herman, he provides clear, concise instructions.  After watching the video, you will know exactly how to sharpen handsaws—rip, crosscut, and miter.

Also included with the video is a 14-page pdf file explaining saw terminology, sawtooth characteristics, how to use handsaws for ripping and crosscutting, file sizes, and saw till inventories for different types of trades (cabinetmaker, timber framer, etc.).

Ron walks you through the sharpening process, starting with the basics—the parts of a saw and the few tools needed to sharpen them. He tells you what to look for if you're shopping for a vintage vise and talks a little bit about vintage saws.

From there, he works on a rip saw, then a crosscut saw, and briefly discusses miter saws.  Saws are sharpened in this order: joint, shape, sharpen, test, adjust set.  And when sharpening, you use your senses of touch, hearing, and sight.

When you joint the teeth, pay attention to the sound. A consistent noise will tell you when you're finished.

In great detail and with close-up camera shots, Ron shows how to sharpen saw teeth. Which are all apparently male. Little soldiers, in fact.

He explains rake and the degrees that works best with soft- and hardwoods.

He talks about what to look for when sharpening, how to position your light source, and where to put pressure on the file to address trouble spots.  Because he explains why problems occur, we become equipped with the ability to trouble shoot on our own.  Is sawdust collecting on the teeth instead of in the gullet? Your saw is not sharp. And Ron explains why.

He shows you how to position your body for maximum comfort and best results, and brings up safety issues on several occasions.

He tests each saw after sharpening, eyes closed so he doesn't try to adjust the cut if the saw wants to wander, and shows how to remove and add set as necessary. He even intentionally messes up his careful sharpening by bending a half dozen teeth, testing the saw, and showing how to quickly correct it.

Crosscut saws are a little trickier because of the fleam, but Ron makes it easy. In fact, all of it looks easy with patience and practice.

We can totally do this.

You can see the introduction to his video at the bottom of this link.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Carving Symmetrically

I don't *think* this is going to turn into a carving blog, but I reserve the right to change my mind at the drop of a hat or a chip off a chisel.

So, if you aren't yawning yet, I'll share with you how I'm making the scrolls on the frame saw fairly identical.

In the comment's section of the last blog post, Bubba Squirrel posted a link to Roy's episode that featured violin maker Joe Thrift.  The last few minutes of the video are golden. Joe explains that he uses tiny scrapers to make the scoopy parts of the volute, and suddenly I realized what those tiny violin maker's planes are for.

He also shows his technique for ensuring identical scrolls on both sides of the violin.  He punches tiny holes through a template, thus transferring the pattern to the workpiece. Then he connects the dots.

I do wish I'd watched the episode before I carved the opposite side of the first scroll...but it worked brilliantly with the second set.

Something else that works when carving symmetrical shapes is to mark a center line on your workpiece. That way you can eyeball both sides as you carve, keeping them evenly matched.

The next post may or may not involve carving. Hard to say when it's a meandering right-brained noodle that's doing the writing.

Monday, July 4, 2011

I Know What You're Thinking

Geez, Kari, why go to the trouble of carving scrolls on the arms of your frame saw? It's just a utilitarian saw!

Here's my answer:

1) The Roubo illustration I'm using for reference shows scrolly arms and I think it looks cool.
2) I've always been fascinated with the volutes on violins and have wondered how they are made.
3) I like to carve.
4) I thought you'd find it interesting.

So, here is the method I came up with to carve these scroll shapes.

First, I found some violin images to use for reference.  The scrolls I'm making aren't as pronounced, but they do have a similar shape.  It seems to me that carving them is akin to raising a panel: you have to lower the background in order for the volute to emerge from the wood.

Next, I carved a slight downward curve toward the end of the arm and stopped at the point where the outside curve of the scroll starts.  Then I defined the shape of the curves within the scroll by making vertical stop cuts with various-sweep gouges.

After that, I used gouges to cut toward the stop cuts. As I moved toward the center of the scroll, the cuts were more shallow which created a ramp that slopes upward toward the middle of the design.

Once the basic ramp shape was established, I rounded over the sharp edges with chisels and gouges. The violin images I used showed ramps that were both rising and scooped out from the outside edges toward center. If you're going to make a bunch of these, you might want to invest in some gouges that will scoop out this area in a couple passes.  I don't have many gouges, so I used what I had.

The height and scoopiness of the scrolls I'm making are much less elaborate and defined compared to violins' volutes. And they're way less smooth and refined.  But, I'm leaving them the way they are.

It is just a frame saw, after all.