Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fixing a Warped Desktop

During a recent trip to the North Bennett Street School, I saw a desk made by a student in the 3-month furniture-making intensive. This piece was beautifully made and properly equipped with runners, kickers, and rails. But one detail was pointed out by my friend, Brian, who attends North Bennett Street's 2-year furniture making program: curfs in the underside of the desk.

In the picture above you can see the curfs cut at intervals in the desk top. We can't know for sure, but it is likely that the wood had warped after glue up, resulting in a rolling wave. The curfs were cut strategically to ease the pressures that had warped the wood and allow the desktop to lie flat and save the top from the scrap heap.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Boat Sighting at Sauer & Steiner


Konrad just posted pictures of his latest battleship. At least I think that's what it is.
Photograph copyright and courtesy of Konrad at Sauer & Steiner

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

2008 Woodworker's Gift Ideas - Part 1

Every year I make a short list of gift suggestions, things I believe most woodworkers would enjoy receiving and that I know I would appreciate. If you're shopping for a woodworker, the good news is that there are so many different tools and utilities you'll likely never run out of things to give. But remember: quality matters in the shop. So if you have the choice between giving a bunch of throw away tools or one really marvelous tool, opt for the one.

Without further ado: 2008 Woodworker's Gift Ideas (Part 1)
  1. A Marking Knife
    Especially if your woodworker does any handwork, a marking knife is a marvelous tool, and one that can be appreciated in multiples. Lee Valley offers very nice and affordable knives for this purpose, including beveled marking knives and an ultra-affordable, so-called woodworker's knife. Another affordable and excellent option is the Hock marking knife, which can be used as they are or with the addition of a handle. If you have a little bit more to spend, try looking at marking knives from Blue Spruce Toolworks or Superior Works.
  2. A combination or engineer's square
    Precision woodworking requires a lot of layout, and a good square allows for careful checking of handwork, not just as a square, but also as a reference surface and a gauge. This is one tool you should not get from your local Home Depot or Lowes, since they generally carry cheep aluminum squares that are easily damaged by the inevitable hardships of being in the shop. If you can, go with a hardened steel version from a reputable maker like Starrett or Brown and Sharpe. The Starrett 12-inch combination square is a reliable choice for mid-sized work. It can also be handy to have a 6-inch combination square and a 4-inch double square.
  3. Safety gear
    What can be more flattering than telling your friend or spouse that you like them just the way they are? Safety equipment can help keep them that way. My suggestions include a half-face respirator or a full-face respirator with filters appropriate to the job (you will need different filters depending on whether you are removing solvent fumes or small particles, for example). Another excellent safety option is for ear and eye protection.
That's it for this edition of gift ideas. I'll have more suggestions later.
Photo copyright and courtesy of kellyhafermann.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Three Way Miter for Box Trim

I'm in sorting and cataloging hell getting a collection ready for sale on eBay. It doesn't leave much time for other things (like writing blog entries), so nothing original from me today. However, there is a short and excellent how-to on creating three-way miters on the Sandal Woods blog. Enjoy!
Photo courtesy of Al at Sandal Woods Fine Woodworking

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Review of the New Veritas Small Plow Plane

Alf at The Cornish Workshop has posted a review of the new Veritas Small Plow Plane. Philly also has one of these planes in hand and posted a pre-review of the plane with a promise to post more later. Looks like a solid and usable plane, even if Alf doesn't like the feel of it.
Picture courtesy of Lee Valley Tools and Veritas

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Woodworking Field Trip: Mystic Seaport

I went to Mystic Seaport with friends today and had a great time. If you are interested in boat building or early-American history, I recommend it. I wish more of the shops had been running, but what can I expect on a Saturday? We did get to see the shop space without the shipwrights, and the blacksmith was up and running (though I was out of memory on the camera by that time).

Long straight logs waiting to become masts or planking

Giant bandsaw: The whole saw is on trunions!

Wooden lobster trap in progress

Working steam box for bending the lobster trap frames

Winch and huge all-wood block, to pull ships onto their sides

Tools of the trade: old on the left, new on the right

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Sketching with Wood: Temporary Walls

Today I helped Michael Dowling build part of his Medicine Wheel installation art exhibit. To create the space, we assembled temporary wall sections and stood them where they were needed. I do this almost annually, and find I feel like I'm sketching with wood, because it is so fast and loose. The structure is temporary; it doesn't need to meet building codes; so we make it all out of strapping and hardboard, as shown above. The strapping is screwed together into a rigid frame, and the hardboard is tacked on with wire brads.

Michael uses the hardboard as one type of canvas, painting or otherwise decorating the surface ahead of time in his studio. The frames are assembled on site, and the prepared hardboard sometimes has to be attached in a specific order. Once panels are assembled, we start placing them where they belong, screwing the panel edges together and bracing the tops by attaching strapping braces either to other temporary wall panels, or to the gallery structure.

I'm always amazed at how sturdy this becomes, when the panels are initially such flimsy material. Picture it as a sort of live Sketchup session, with these panels as components. Fun, and a great way to work off the Thanksgiving turkey.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wooden Door of a Mimber

I found this incredible combination of carving and decorative woodwork when I typed in "wooden turkey" on Google today. It is the door of a mimber, which I discovered is the Turkish word for the hooded pulpit from which the Friday sermon is delivered. This example is in the Aleaddin Mosque, Konya and was built in the Seljuk period, dated 1155.

Be glad I found this rather than the wooden turkey I sought. Happy Thanksgiving!
Photograph © cambridge2000.com, which turns out to be a fun browse for pictures.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Three Lists of Essential Tools

Over at Lumberjocks yesterday, Tim Dorcas put up a blog entry about what tools a beginning woodworker might want to buy if the spending limit was $1000. It is primarily a power tool list, but a great exercise in prioritizing shop tools. I posted a comment about what a more minimalist shop might look like, but in principle I agree that Tim listed a set of tools that allows a wide range of work and will get you started.

I always enjoy this kind of list because it gets me thinking. Another great example is a list that Christopher Schwartz posted a while back. This won't fit a $1000 limit, but it gives a sense of what might be important in a more blended shop.

Finally, while trying to dig up Chris's post, I found another from Robert Lang that you can ponder. Enjoy!
Photo of violin maker's tools courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Just Plain Bill

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Refinishing with Spar Varnish

There is another excellent "How To" post over at Highland Woodworking. This time through they are commenting on a customers question about why a big box varnish would peal off after only 8 months. The instruction on how to refinish the doors is enlightening and clearly written.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Oaken Box from a Log

Last year I took a class on early-American woodworking. On the first day of class we all went outside where 5 or 6 quartered oak logs were waiting for us. We each picked a section and using mallets, fros, and hatchets split and roughed out four planks. These planks were then sawn and planed to appropriate dimensions for a box.

The picture above was actually taken to show the chisels to a friend (who refurbished them for me) but it shows the box quite nicely. This is one of the best things I have made out of wood, and aside from the pine plank top and bottom (sawn by the school) it was almost all done by hand and from the wild wood.

Some day I hope to take and post more pictures.

100 Board Feet of 4/4 Bandsaw Milled Ash

Last night's adventure was a lumber run to Ashby. I brought $95 with me to purchase project wood at what promised to be a great price. The choice was between 200 board feet of 2nd, or 100 board feet of 1st quality Ash. Sean and I arrived a little bit later than expected and the light was fading, but there was enough light to see piles of drying lumber everywhere: a kind of wonderland for woodworkers. All of it was bandsaw milled to 4/4 (if only there had been some 8/4 and 12/4, but beggars can't choose).

On looking at the 2nd quality lumber, I could see there was much more splitting than in the 1st, and for the projects I have in mind 200 board feet would be much more than needed. So I bit the bullet and paid a little more than twice the price to get 100 board feet of first quality ash. On getting it back to the barn, I could see that I had made the right choice: Sean picked up 300 board feet of the 2nd, and while it was great quality, there were plenty of knots and splits to work around. There is very little splitting and almost no knots in my pile.

The picture above is what $95 got me: a little bit more than 100 board feet all stickered and in out of the weather. There are two boards that look to be 12" wide, five or six that look to be 10" wide, and most of the rest are over 8" wide.

From what I've seen, Ash isn't the prettiest wood, but I might be surprised when the milling and shaping is done. I'm keeping an open mind, and will choose the finish depending on what I see when the work is done. Paint is on the list of possibilities.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sketchup Construction Plan for a Barn Loft

Yesterday I temporarily abandoned the Inkle Loom project plans and started in on a project that my friend Sean had sent me. We're both learning Sketchup at the same time, but he has been a bit further along. Having learned the Move and Rotate tools though, I felt ready to try the complex joints he was trying to portray in this drawing. After all: there were no roundovers any where in the plan.

Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, here are several pictures:

This is Bryce (the Sketchup guy) standing next to the loft construction.

This shows all the loft parts in an exploded view.

Finally, this shows the complex interlocking joint that holds the structure together. It's hard to see, but the post has been slotted on both axes. One two-by-four has a notch in the top and sets in the slot first. The next two-by-four has a notch on the bottom and slides into the other slot. The notches inter link to hold the whole structure together.

I'm feeling fairly confident that this project could be built from these plans, and I'm pleased with the precise fit (which was a challenge on earlier attempts).

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Faking a Roundover in Sketchup

I continue to work on learning Sketchup as a tool for creating my woodworking plans. Last week I posted about the difficulty I'm having creating a roundover on the tensioner of my Inkle Loom plans. I've concluded that "Intersect with selected", while it works in theory, is not the easiest way to do this. Follow Me seems like should be easier, but I haven't learned to use the Follow Me well enough to achieve this.

While browsing Design. Click. Build., I discovered a trick that looks right, even though it isn't: edge softening. For many woodworking plans, this method is good enough for indicating a roundover, as seen in the picture above. Even though the edges on the white tensioner aren't rounded, they appear to be. The lack of rounding is only evident at the corners: notice the rounding of the back corners on the blue tensioner, and the squareness of the same corners on the white tensioner.

Here's how this fake roundover was accomplished:
  1. I drew a new tensioner without the round edges. This was easier than trying to remove the rounded edges on the first tensioner.
  2. On every face I wanted to look rounded I used the offset tool to add an offset 1/8" from the edge. This gave a stopping point for the softening effect I planned to use.
  3. Using the Erase tool, I softened the edges. To do this I positioned the eraser over an edge that needed softening, pressed [Ctrl], and clicked the Eraser on the line. This hides the line and softens the edge
  4. After all the edges were softened, I used the Select tool to select the offset lines, right click, and select Hide.
The results are good enough for my application, but I'm going to keep working on edge rounding until I can apply a real roundover if I ever need it. Many thanks to Dave Richards at Design. Click. Learn.!

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Inspiring Boxes

All week I've been admiring these pencil boxes at Mushashi's Woodworking Diary. Each of them illustrates a traditional Japanese timber framing joint and makes a stunningly beautiful and intriguing work of art.

Each box is made from a different kind of wood, selected carefully for clear and beautiful grain, and each box lid has a different joint. This is part of what I find so admirable about far eastern woodworking: careful attention to material and execution; the appearance of simplicity and ease in complex work.

The joints and grains on these boxes match so carefully that they might almost be imagined as a single solid piece of wood, and the contrasting pins, which would have held the timbers of a house together, become a single striking irregularity that pins the box lid together. What we see of the slide promises a careful fit and silky smooth action.

I am inspired.
Photo courtesy of and copyright Musashi Kutsuwa

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

A New Classic Tool Tote

Super Cool Grinding Wheels

My only in-shop sharpening option is an oil stone. For some time I've known that a grinding wheel needs to be added, but there were too many options. Should I get a high-speed grinder and take my chances on burning tools? Should I spend a bit more to get a dual-speed or low-speed grinder? Or even more to get a wet grinder? The puzzle was one that had me frozen with too many choices, all of them fairly expensive.

Today I found an answer to my shop-grinding prayer : Konrad, at Sauer and Steiner, posted about his first experience with Norton super-cool grinding wheels. In my mind, this eliminates all questions of what sharpening option to pursue. I'll get a regular old grinder, preferably second-hand, and put one of these on it. The other side will have one of the hard felt wheels I've heard so much about from the carvers on the Old Tools list. Problem solved.

The question of oil stones, water stones, diamond stones or some combination remains. In the meantime, I'll stick with my oil stone and wait for another revelation.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Freilichtmuseum, Neuhausen ob Eck.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Christopher Schwarz has another blog

If you like reading Christopher Schwartz's blog entries at Woodworking and Popular Woodworking magazines, you'll be as excited as I am to find that he has another blog at Lost Art Press. It looks to be more of the considered commentary we've come to expect from him. With all this blog writing, I wonder when he finds time to work on the magazines?

Resaw Fence Adjustments

A clear explanation of bandsaw fence adjustment for resawing was posted today on the Highland Woodworking blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

17 Board Feet of Maple: Furniture Build-Off

What can you do with 17 board-feet of maple? The idea intrigues me. Could you build a bench like the one shown here? A glass topped coffee table? A side table? A bookshelf? A wall cabinet?

For those who don't know, the board foot is a rough wood measure of 12 inches x 12 inches x 1 inch of wood. You don't need to keep those dimensions, though. You can halve one dimension and double another, for example. So one board foot could be 12" x 12" x 1", or 24" x 6" x 1", or 12" x 6" x 2", or many other combinations with the same volume.

With that in mind, 17 board feet could be a 17-foot long, 12-inch wide, 1-inch thick plank, or a 16.5-foot long, 6-inch wide, 4-inch thick post. It sounds like quite a bit of wood, but you won't be building an armoire with it, or a chest of drawers, or a dining room table. This puzzle has infinite solutions, but limited size.

Why am I asking this today? Because I stumbled upon the Fine Woodworking Furniture Build-Off and it captured my imagination. This is a challenge I would love to meet. I'm adding it to the Someday Maybe section of my project list, and even if I don't participate I'll remember the principle: a limitation can be inspiration.
Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia commons and Aaron Morse

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sketchup for Woodworking Plans

Until recently I drew all of my woodworking plans in Visio, a process that was often time-consuming and difficult to execute. On the LumberJocks site and in a Taunton community blog, called Design. Click. Build., there was a lot of chatter about using Sketchup instead. So I installed the free version of Sketchup about a month ago and started rendering plans with the new tool.

"Started rendering plans" sounds easy, and Sketchup does make many drawing and dimensioning tasks as easy as hammering a nail. But, as they say, the devil is in the details: the tool has a full and flexible feature set that suggests myriad woodworking design applications, and tempts you to include complex moldings and finicky details (like the brads that hold on a moulding or the threads of a screw). Adding these details becomes as challenging as cutting your first dovetails.

I'm attempting a plan for the inkle loom I built several years ago. With the body of the loom built in Sketchup, I'm working on the arm that adjusts warp tension on the loom. This has proved more challenging, and I've finally given up on rendering it exactly as I want it: the back edges should be curved in the same manner as the front edges, and the full end should be rounded over. Using a combination of the Follow Me tool and Intersect tool I know it should be possible to do this, but I can't seem to do it without losing skin on the curves.

In spite of the challenges, I won't be going back to Visio.
Here's a copy of Tensioner.skp. Feel free to play with it, and if you know how to round those other edges, please post a comment to let me know.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

My New Three Project Limit

The Three GracesAt Zenhabits.net Leo posted his Haiku Productivity principle of working just three simultaneous projects. The principle makes sense to me: three woodworking or shop upgrade projects should be numerous enough to keep me actively moving forward yet few enough to keep me focussed rather than overwhelmed.

I've updated The Drawing Board to allow only three current projects, and I've dubbed them "The Three Graces" because all wood shop projects deserve mythical stature and renaissance charm. Anyone who has paid attention to the project page in the past will notice several projects formerly on my Current Projects list are now in Someday Maybe. These include the inkle loom prototype, woodcuts 2, bed repairs, and dovetailed candle boxes. I'm sure they'll all be taken up soon, but not until one of The Three Graces has been completed.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and copyright Mak Thorpe, 1999.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"The Woodwright's Shop" On Demand


Roy Underhill, one of the heros of the early woodworking world, has produced 26 seasons of the PBS program The Woodwright's Shop. If you haven't seen this show, it is amazing even for those who might never use a hand tool.

Until recently, if you were in a market like Greater Boston, where the PBS affiliate doesn't carry "St. Roy", there was little option for watching the show: even purchase of episodes was impossible, since the VHS versions were out of print and DVDs have not been produced for sale.

Today I found that season 26 has been published on the Web. Now even in towns that don't love Roy we can all enjoy the show. Any time. At no cost.

So pull up a computer monitor and enjoy The Woodwright's Shop - Season 26.
Photo courtesy of PBS

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Rosewood Studio reopened in September

Back in June I mentioned that Rosewood Studio had closed. I'm happy to say that one of the instructors purchased the school assets and reopened the studio.

Information and class schedule can be found at Rosewood Studio's Web site. A quick look through the schedule reveals a schedule full of interesting course topics and continued opportunities to take classes with well-known furniture makers Garrett Hack, Michael Fortune, and Adrian Ferrazzutti.

Here are a few of the classes I would like to take:

  • Curved Furniture Construction
  • Make Your Own Hand Tools
  • Studio Veneering Techniques
  • 6-week Craftsman Program
  • 9-month Craftsman Program
  • Exquisite Surfaces and Details

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Underwater Shop

The water heater burst on Friday, October 26, and filled the shop with 2 inches of standing water. It sounds like a disaster, but it turns out to be a much needed kick in the pants.

The following Monday a 30-yard dumpster was dropped in the driveway and the clean up began. Because the water flowed to the exterior of the basement, all the corners had to be emptied and all the flooring removed. We filled that dumpster, mostly with stuff from the basement and the shop is as nice as it has ever been.

To be honest, the clutter in our basement had kept me from the shop for months. It was just too painful to dodge the mess and have to clear space before I could work. Now there are two cleared benches, improved lighting, and lots of empty floor space to work and walk in. If only I had done this earlier...

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