Monday, October 22, 2012

Happy Clients

I haven't had too much opportunity to build things for others yet.  We have too much stuff around here that we need.  This should keep me in projects for quite some time at my pace.

However, not long ago the Frau offered her parents that I would make them a new kitchen table.  She thought it would look nice with their new kitchen.

I decided that yes, this would be a good project.  The table is small, only about 3 1/2 feet by 2 feet, give or take.  I had never built a kitchen table before, so thought it would be great practice for a dining table I intend to build for our other apartment.

Long story short, I got stuck in the middle of this project because we really needed a bed for our new apartment.  One thing led to another, and it has been about a year since I started.

For this project I used some absolutely beautiful quater sawn oak that was 44 mm thick in the rough.  I laminated the legs together to come up with legs 78 mm thick.  I wanted quarter sawn grain showing on all four faces, and at first thought it would be a good answer to glue the legs up in a miter configuration that would show this grain on all four sides.  I read about it in a magazine a while back.  However, I didn't think this would be any fun doing by hand.

I also remember from the same article, that it was historically accurate to veneer the flat sawn faces, too.  This was not difficult and it turned out brilliantly.  The veneer I used was a bit lighter in color than the wood that I had, and strangely enough, it wasn't as figured as the real wood.  After the finish I used of boiled linseed oil followed by paste wax, the color differences are minimal, and I think most people would probably not notice.

Joinery is pegged mortise and tennons, and I secured the top with buttons held in place with lag bolts (they happened to be at hand).  This table should last a good while.

If you would like to read my other blog posts about this table build, check out some of these older posts:

Kitchen Table Finished
The Schwiegereltern Table
Boring Post
Almost Famous!

And I have a few more pictures of this table and the build on my family's blog:

Happy Clients
Table Project
This Weekend's Progress
The Latest

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hollow and Round Plane Blanks

I recently made it over to a friend's shop to do some power tool work.  I needed to resaw some oak for the bottoms of my tool chest tills, and also a big hunk of pear for my upcoming project of hollows and rounds.

I know I have been trying to get good at resawing by hand, but if an opportunity presents itself to do this work with a machine, I'm sorry but I am going to take advantage of it.

The oak turned out awesome, and I have one of the tills installed.  The other two should be ready next week, except that we weren't able to get quite enough from the board I had for three drawers.  I'll have to get some more or come up with plan B.

The pear was interesting.  The stick I started with (see it in a previous blog post here) was clear the whole way through, except for some crazy grain on the end that I intended to cut off.

The good news is that after resawing and running through the planer, I had stock to make a pair of #10's, and a pair of #6's.  The bad news was a big check running down the middle of both halves. 

Resawn plane blanks

A check was on the inside of the board.
All may not be lost, however.  Obviously the check does not go all the way through.  I hope the check will go away when I cut the grip.  I think it will take care of 95% of the problem, if I'm lucky. 

If not, I'll just see how far it goes, and make a smaller plane from the blank.

One of the #6 blanks has a knot hole on an edge.  I don't think this will be a problem if this becomes the top of the plane.  Perhaps it will make an interesting visual effect.

If I don't feel 100% comfortable with these blanks remaining stable, I have plenty more pear.  I might even be able to get nearly an entire half-set from the board I brought home from the lumberyard.

Next post:  tool chest ready to paint.  That is, if everything goes right.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bonus Tips on Sharpening

My last post feels to me like it was a bit of a rant.  I didn't really intend that.  If you can get your tools sharp with a grapefruit and an innertube, then you are doing it right.

So, if you are still with me, you get a trio of my practical tips on sharpening that help me, and may or may not help you.

First, my sharpening station.  My shop is in a 10' by 12' storage room, so needless to say, I don't have a dedicated sharpening station.  I would love one, and if you have room, I would go that way in a heartbeat.  I have to sharpen on my bench.

This has created a few problems over the years, as waterstones can be messy.  I have tried some shop-made solutions as well as several commercial products, and have settled on the following:

Fancy Sharpening Station
Simplicity is what makes this awesome.  This is just one of those flexible, plastic cutting boards (I got this one at IKEA) clamped to my bench.  I got tired of chasing my stone around while sharpening.  I needed something to protect the bench, and normally when you do that it defeats whatever you have to keep things put.  The clamp is all that is needed.  Any clamp will do, the nearer to hand, the better.

The second function of the clamp is it works as a stop for the stone.  I pull my blades toward me on the stone, whether I use a honing guide or not.  The stone bumps up against the clamp and moves no further.

Note also that the edge of the cutting board is right on the edge of the bench.  My experience is that water runs off the edge of the plastic here, and this helps keep your bench dry and clean.

The downside is that one must be mindful of the water on the plastic, as it can run off easily pouring all of that nice slurry on your clean bench top.  A) it's a bench and dirty is OK, and B) just wipe it up from the plastic on occasion.  This is easy enough to set up that you can do one blade and get back to work.

Next tip:  Don't get too fussy with your main bevel.
Un-hollow grind
Although I would really love to have a grinder, my shop just is not suited for one.  This leaves me doing all my grinding the old-fashioned way:  by hand.

Thick blades can take a long time to grind to a specific angle this way.  I think I'd rather re-saw by hand.  At least that is wood working.

What I discovered here, is that If I grind the main bevel to 25 degrees, and the microbevel to 30 degrees, there is quite a bit of play between those two angles.  What this photo shows is a second main bevel between the 25 and 30 degree bevels.  This was a LOT less metal to remove than if I had tried to re-establish that 25 degrees.  It took me about a minute to grind, hone and polish this blade when it last needed grinding.

Save the hollow grind for when you have access to a power tool.

Third tip: use an angle finder with your honing guide.

The specific angle is a lot less important than finding that same angle again.
This was a revelation when I saw Christopher Schwarz use it while demonstrating his method.  I used to use the Veritas angle finder, and found that repeating the exact angle was not so easy.

This finder is based on CS's, but is smaller and handier.  Plus, it gives you some great practice with your backsaw, polishing your lap-joint chops.
Good lap-joint practice

 I just used some appropriately sized scrap, in this case pine and oak.

I got extra fancy with this one and used a punch set to label it.  This one has (very) approximate angles of 25 degrees and 30 degrees when I use it on my thick Lee Valley plane blades.  I have another for my chisels with 30 and 35 degrees for those tools.  If I need another, it just takes a few minutes to make.

I used my old angle finder to determine the angles for these, but I wouldn't bet that they are exact.  Who cares?  They allow me to get back to whatever angle was there.  The microbevel is the important one.  When I need just a touch up, I can use the honing guide and line up the angle exactly where it was before with no messing around testing the angle.  Four or five swipes with my polishing stone, and I'm done!

Get back to woodworking!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Microbevels - Bringing Woodworking to the Masses

I have always sucked at sharpening.

When I was a kid I loved whittling with a pocket knife.  I remember spending forever one day with a small stone grinding away at my pocket knife trying to make it sharp.  After an hour or two of scrubbing away at it, my uncle Ed let me see his pocket knife.  Holy cow!  That thing was sweet!  I never felt a blade so sharp, and it was amazing how much better it worked on the stick I had.

I asked him how to sharpen like that, and he said to keep at it.  Someday it would just "click," and I would then know all the mystery of sharpening a knife.

Looking back, decent steel and a decent sharpening stone probably would have made more of an improvement than continuing to do the same thing.

Fast forward a couple decades, and needless to say, I never got a knife blade any sharper than that.  That is, until I got in to woodworking with hand tools.  Now I absolutely needed sharp.

Advice at that time was still a bit on the sketchy side.  I was told to hold a chisel at an angle on the sharpening stone, and rub it back and forth, making sure that no matter what, I maintained the same angle the whole time.

Easier said than done for a beginner.  Especially when moving through the different grits.

Finally, in frustration, I bought Leonard Lee's book, "The Complete Guide to Sharpening," and more importantly his accompanying video.  Happily, he starts with sharpening kitchen knives, and his methods are easily repeatable.

The next big jump for me in my quest for sharpness was Christopher Schwarz's video, "Handplane Basics."  This video really shows how to sharpen plane blades fast and easy.

Both of these authors advocate microbevels.  This may spark a few questions:

  • Is it possible to get sharp without microbevels?  
    • Yes.
  • Do any of the old woodworking books mention microbevels?  
    • No.
  • Are there big name woodworkers out there advocating and deriding one way or the other?  
    • Yes.

So here are my two cents:

Without the use of microbevels, I don't think I probably ever would have discovered "sharp," and my woodworking pursuits probably would have ended in my few tools being hawked on eBay.  I suspect it may be the same for a zillion other amateur woodworkers.

Think about it.  Most of the old-timers, as well as many of today's advocates of sharpening without a microbevel, learned sharpening in their professional apprenticeship.  In a professional cabinet shop, time is money, and sharpening freehand is by far the fastest way to do it.  As long as you can do it.  Hobby woodworking has never been lucrative in the old days, like it is today.

Having a master walk you through it, and then having him give you every chisel in the shop to sharpen, followed by him dropping them all on the floor for you to do over, is a fantastic way to learn to sharpen.  The benefit is if you are in the middle of an operation, and you can just step over to the stone and make a few swipes to refresh an edge, you can get back to work making money.

The rest of us do not have those kinds of resources, and learning tricks from a video can be a valuable experience.

What do microbevels do?  They give an absolute beginner a shot at knowing "sharp" and getting on with working wood without the tool gettng in the way.  Honing guides and angle jigs allow us to repeat movements and angles without having the muscle memory won over years in a professional cabinet shop.

I am an amateur woodworker, with only four or five hours of shop time a week.  If there are others out there like me, and I suspect there are, how long will we have to work before sharpening freehand "clicks," and we can stop wasting time sharpening and start working wood?  My guess is by the time that happens, most would give up.

Go ahead, and buy a honing guide.  Roubo and Moxon didn't use one, but guess what?  Your shop looks a lot different than theirs.  If you are an amateur, and struggle with your stones, a microbevel will be a revelation.

Before you poo-poo microbevels and honing guides, think if you could work with tools sharpened this way.  Chances are you are a little faster doing it freehand, but you also have some experience with it.  If it takes twice as long to sharpen because of the honing guide, that still is not going to cost the amateur woodworker any labor.  But, we do get a truly sharp blade to work with.

Once I learned what "sharp" was, I was then able to learn how to repeat that freehand.  But, I still use a honing guide 90% of the time.  It is easy for me, and it works.  You will need freehand sharpening skills to do things like heavily cambered blades, or profiles, but learning it on a honing guide will show you the way.

Let's face it.  We are woodworkers in order to work wood.  As Christopher Schwarz says, I enjoy making tools dull a lot more than making them sharp.  If you can start your journey with a truly sharp blade, your path will be a lot smoother than mine was.  Over time you will learn and refine more sharpening skills.  Why not do it while having success actually building stuff?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Fastest Way to Fast is Slow

I'm a former music teacher.  The title of this post reflects one of the little jewels of wisdom I picked up learning to play the trombone, and I passed it on to almost all of my students.  I think even the guys in the hobby big-band I still play in have heard this many times from me.

The fastest way to fast is slow.

In other words, if you want to learn "Flight of the Bumble Bee" on the trumpet, you shouldn't start by trying to play it as fast as Rafael Mendez.

The fastest way to learn that piece is to slow it down.  WAY down.  Play with a metronome and make each note last one second or so.  Then play it again, the same speed.  Once you can play it perfectly that slow, bump up the metronome a little and try it again.  Keep going, you get the idea.  Soon you will have all of those notes just like he does.

Does this have anything to do with woodworking?  Yes!

I have been inspired to try to learn resawing, thanks to a recent post and video by Steve Branam.  Yesterday I posted my success with a small 5" by 9" piece of pine a little over an inch thick.

Today I thought I'd try the big side of my tool chest till.  It is 5" by 36" and a little over an inch thick.

This was much trickier.

But, I decided it is a basic skill that I need, since I don't have, nor do I plan on getting a bandsaw.

Once again, I started it just like I would a tenon.

The much longer length of this piece of wood compounded the difficulty.  This is a LOT of sawing.  Human nature is to try to get it over with as fast as possible, so start pumping your arms back and forth like a cartoon character, right?  I think not.

I want to actually get good at this, so I slowed down to make every stroke count.  Watch the line, push the saw, and analyze the stroke.  Repeat.  This board didn't give me a whole lot of wiggle room.

Eventually, I got through the whole thing.  The complexity of the longer board really showed, though.  One of the pieces had a small hump in the middle.  And the other one I accidently went off the line on the backside of my stroke.  I'll either have to cut another one, or patch an errant cut.  I think I'll go with the latter.

Anyway, the point is that I learned how it felt to make this cut.  From previous experience, I know that next time will be a little better because I know what it should feel like, and want it to go better.  Eventually, when I can make a nice, clean, even cut, I'll then start to experiment with going faster.

Remembering my music lessons, there is no point in going faster if the basic skills are not there.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Resawing for my Tool Chest Innards.

Peter Follansbee often posts photos on his blog of birds he sees near his home.  I thought I'd do the same today.  These little guys were eating seeds out of the bird feeder on our porch while we were eating breakfast.
Tits at breakfast.

This morning there was a nice post by Steve Branam about resawing by hand.  This was perfect timing for me, as I am planning to finally finish my Anarchist's Tool Chest.  I had been procrastinating doing the tills for over a year because I had some bad luck resawing a piece of oak for the runners.

My shop is too small for any power tools, including a band saw, so if I want to resaw, either I have to cart my wood somewhere else, or do it the old-fashioned way, which I apparently suck at.

In reality, I could have resawn a LOT of lumber in a year and a half.  I'm sure I would have figured it out eventually.

Watching Steve really gave me confidence that I could do this.

I thought of it as a lot like sawing tenons.
A small piece was helpful for a first attempt.
I think I did pretty well.  The board I started with was not very big, which made it easy to practice.  I needed 1/2" or so stock, and the board I started with was 1 3/16" wide.  Should be plenty of room.  It worked with room to spare.  The black marks are because Steve said to wax the sawplate, making it run smoother.  I didn't want to dig for my wax, so I used camelia oil instead, and the vintage saw I used had a bunch of black stuff that came off with the liquid.

The finished product.  Now I'm ready for a bigger piece.
No problem, it planed off nicely.

But, before I go crazy and resaw all  of the parts, I thought I should install the runners to the completed till has something to run on.  I have a real nice piece of quarter sawn oak that I wanted to use, but of course it needed to be resawn.

Having just had success on a small piece of pine, I thought I'd look for an alternative.  I have quite a few scraps of mystery tropical woods that are all about 1/2" thick, so I thought, "Perfect, I won't have to resaw."

I settled on using two 1/2" strips for the lower runner, as in the photo below.

I saved some material by using two smaller pieces rather than one large one.
For the right side, I am pretty sure I used a piece of rosewood.  Lovely stuff to work with.  This should last forever.  Just in case, I fastened them with only nails in case some day I want to change them out.

On the other side, I used a piece of something else.  It had a really wicked interlocked grain, and was not quite as heavy as the rosewood.  However, I think it will work fine in this case.  And it is pretty, whatever it is.  I kind of like the idea of two different types of wood for this.  I think it makes for a unique look.  It is a bit too fancy of wood for this purpose, but it is in my shop and I decided to use it rather than wait another year to find the perfect board.

Lower runners installed.
One of my big mistakes is that I am using my tool chest, guaranteeing that this project will take longer.  However, I was sick of using a plastic folding crate for my till.

Next up, I'll resaw the long part of the lower till, dovetail it and try to figure out what I want to use for a bottom.  Perhaps I'll resaw some oak, or maybe find some other suitable substitute rolling around in my shop.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Roubo Bench - Mostly Done!

I made some good progress on my bench this week.

To recap my progress up to this point, I built this bench in a class with Christopher Schwarz at Dictum in June.  Once it was home, I put it in my little cave of a workshop in the basement, after cleaning out a bunch of the old junk.

New bench freshly installed in the Bat-Cave.
The first thing I did was scrub the top with my home-made scrub plane.  The top was already glued up when we got to the course, so I didn't have much say in grain direction, etc.  It is made up of four massive European oak beams about 5 1/2" square.  There was one in particular that was bowed, and created a hump right down the middle.  I chose to put this on top thinking scrubbing it off would be easier than scrubbing the others down to it's level on the other side.  I was right.  This took only about 10 minutes.

Scrubbing off the hump.

After scrubbing.

My Krenov-style scrub plane in action.

It leaves a fairly pronounced scalloped surface.

It even worked well on the end grain.
So, this is the state my bench has been in for the past few months.  I did a couple things like installed a planing stop, wooden dogs, a tail vice, and had been working on the Benchcrafted face vice.

I actually have been using this bench in this state.  I completed a Krenov-style laminated jointer that I needed for the flattening process.

Now that I have the face vice done, I feel like it is time to flatten the bench.

First, I emptied the shop and cleaned the corners.  All my stuff went in the hallway for a couple days.  Sorry, neighbors!
After making the shop suitable for doing this job by making space, I started by planing across the grain with my BU jack plane with a toothed blade set for an aggressive cut.  I was reluctant to do this with my scrub plane, as I thought the surface left would be difficult to clean up.

This worked great.  I started by knocking down the high spots.  Just make sure to put a small chamfer on the far side to prevent most of the blow-out.

Toothed blade with an aggressive cut. 
I then used the toothed blade to go at a diagonal on the top.  First one way, then the other until everything started to get at basically the same level.

Next up, joint the top going with the grain.  My new Krenov jointer has been tested and I find it does what it is supposed to superbly.  The only problem with it is that the mouth tends to clog up if you don't remove the shavings after each pass.  When using it on an uneven surface (such as this one that has toothing plane tracks on it) the mouth fills up and clogs with all of the dust.  Nothing seems to eject.

I don't think this is necessarily a problem with my construction, just a limitation of this style, with the cross-pin designed as it is.  This is a finesse tool, and cleaning up toothing plane tracks is not a finesse job.

Out came the regular blade for the jack plane, and a few minutes along the grain and the tracks were mostly gone.  NOW it's time for the jointer.

This is probably my favorite plane of the moment.
Taking slightly overlapping passes, I only had to go over each spot four or five times before I was getting nice, full length shavings that indicated the bench was probably as flat as I would get it.

I have to say I am impressed with how this bench works.  It made me realize that I have never before had the opportunity to work on a truly flat work surface.  What a treat!

Complete! (mostly)
I drilled a hole for a holdfast, and two more holes in the leg to store my holdfasts.  I only drilled one hole for now until I see where I could most use another one.  That, and it was a pain, as I had to do it from the underside.  These Gramercy holdfasts won't hold in such a thick top, so I had to drill half-way through with a larger bit before finishing off the rest with the proper size.

Now all that is left is the sliding deadman, and finish.  I am thinking about painting the legs with milk-paint to match my sawbench and toolchest.  The top will either be left unfinished, or perhaps some boiled linseed oil.  I haven't decided yet.

In the meantime, this bench is perfectly functional and I intend to use the snot out of it.

Next up:  Complete the tills in the toolchest.  I have been hung up on this because I am reluctant to resaw the wood I have to make the tills.  Luckily, Steve Branam has posted a how-to today that makes me excited to try it.

Wish me luck!

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Face Vise Installed (Finally!)

I think I mentioned once before that I am not the world's fastest woodworker.  No?  Well, I'm not the world's fastest woodworker.

Today marked a milestone in my bench build (that I started in a Christopher Schwarz class in June).  I got the face vise installed.

This thing works fantastic.  I saw that Benchcrafted is offering a special on their CrissCross.  I wasn't planning on buying one, but the price is definitely tempting.

This install went well.  I am not sure why it took me so long, other than that there always seems to be something else more important to do.

Now that I have this face vise, I'll have to see how I like my tail vise.  So far I have been unimpressed with the Record-knock off quick release vise I chose.  A bit too sloppy for my taste, but until today it was the only vise I had.  This pressed it into uses in which I didn't intend for it.

You can see in the bottom of the photo my cross pin for this vise.  I was going to take it to the Army woodshop to use the drill press to drill the small 1/8" hole in it to insert the cross piece that acts as a stop for the pin, preventing it from going in to far.  It dawned on me that I have some cheap metal drill bits, and a 3mm one worked nice in my eggbeater drill.  It is a Millers Falls #5, from what I understand was intended as a metal-working eggbeater.  Remembering this inspired me to lock this thing in my new vise and drill a hole in it the old-fashioned way.  It worked great.

I excavated the area for the plastic bushing with my Lie Nielsen router plane.  Does anyone else have this problem with this tool?  It tends to leave ugly black marks on the parts of the workpiece, requiring cleanup afterwards.

Next up, bench-top flattening with my new home-made jointer!