Sunday, October 17, 2010

Building a New Workbench Top

The final glue-up.

After using a good, hard maple workbench at Jeff Headley's workshop, it became clear to me that I needed to upgrade my own workbench before I would be able to do the chiseling and planing I'd need to do to complete the Winchester style Chippendale desk I started in Jeff's class.  So I bought a copy of Chris Schwarz' book on workbenches and read it through, then decided that rather than building an entirely new bench, I could do quite well by building a new top and installing it on my current base, which is made of 2X4s laminated into 4X4s. 

Ready to plane.
I began by buying and acclimating 8-foot 8/4 hard maple boards.  With the help of a friend, I jointed and planed these, then ripped them to 3-inch widths.  This is the only time I have had trouble with my SawStop contractor's saw.  It ripped the first half dozen boards smoothly, but after that point it began to stall until it refused to cut at all.  I later discovered that the motor was overheating from the hard cutting.  It finished the job the next day with no hitches. 

After cutting the boards, I stood them on edge and glued them up in sets of three, then glued up those sets until I had a nearly complete bench top.  My plan was to attach a six-inch apron to the front of the bench.  Before doing that, I installed a Veritas twin-screw vise and front jaw to the apron to be sure it would fit.  Once that was working well, I disassembled the vise and completed the final glue-up.

Low-angle jack plane.
That's where things stand now.  What remains is to plane the bench top smooth and level, even up the ends of the bench (they are a bit uneven at present) and install the new top on the old base.  I'll use a Lie-Nielsen low-angle jack plane with a toothed blade to take the roughness off the top, then complete the job with a low-angle jointer and smoothing plane.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Fairfax Fall Festival

Our booth location on a street corner
 Last weekend, Jeff Fleisher and I set up a booth at the Fall Festival held in downtown Fairfax, Virginia.  Jeff had a 10X10 foot tent and we each purchased five-foot tables to show our wares. We had what we judged to be a good location--a street corner close to the food vendors.  We had prepared well in advance.  I made large signs featuring our business names and our work, which you can see hanging at the rear of the tent.

Jeff was offering platters, a few bowls, some jewelry boxes--including one with chip carving on the lid--and some small book or CD racks.  I displayed about 50 pens, some business card holders in cherry and walnut, and small desk clocks in the same woods.
Closeup of our booth

It was a beautiful day and the crowds were large and continuous.  But soon we noticed that people were carrying food but few shopping bags, which showed that they were out for a nice day but were not buying much.  That was certainly the case at our tent.  I sold only two clocks, one pen and one business card holder.  Jeff sold only one bowl.  I don't think we made enough money to pay for our booth location.

We concluded that we would not do this show again.  It is fine for folks to have a nice outing, but there isn't much of an incentive to buy things.  We are hoping that our next show--a two-day show in November--will be a better one.  It is billed as a Holiday Crafts Festival so it may draw a better crowd.  And, with the holiday gift-giving season approaching, perhaps attendees will be in a better buying mood.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Turning Pens and Making Small Crafts

My friend Jeff Fleisher and I signed up to sell our wares at two craft shows this fall.  Both are at the Fairfax County (Virginia) Government Center.  Ever since I completed the Winchester desk class in July and a subsequent vacation, I have been almost totally occupied with turning pens.  That will be, for the most part, what I'll be selling.

I decided to concentrate on turning wood rather than acrylic.  So to make them better than ho-hum, I've been working with burls--especially elder but also buckeye--which give the pens a more distinguished look.  I've got a pretty good stock of pens that will retail in a range from inexpensive to expensive.

But after more than a month of turning pens, I'm getting worn out and so have turned to making business card holders and small clocks.  The business card holders are surprisingly easy to make.  You take an approximately 2X2 board (I used cherry and walnut) and cut out the inside with a dado blade, making several passes until I got the right depth.  Then I took the length of wood to the router table and routed a shallow groove 1/4 inch wide in the face.  I glued a strip of 1/4 inch patterned inlay into the groove, then sanded the boards before cutting them into 3 inch lengths.  They look pretty good!

The clocks are only just started.  Guess I'd better get busy!


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Tale of Two Holes

I'm building a new workbench.  Since I've gotten deeply interested in hand planes, and since I need to cut a good many dovetails on the Winchester secretary I'm building, I need a bench with a solid hardwood top, bench dog holes and good side and tail vises.  So I've taken that on as an interim project.

I got a supply of 8/4 hard maple and, with the help of a friend, jointed and planed it square and smooth.  Then I ripped it into 3-inch widths, which I stood on edge and glued together to make a 3-inch thick top.  More planing followed to even out the edges, leaving me with a 2-3/4-inch thick top, more than heavy enough.

Now I'm installing a Veritas twin screw vise on the left front side of the bench.  The first step was to drill 1-1/2-inch holes in the front and back faces of the vise to accommodate the screws.  The front face I drilled with a Forstner bit on my drill press.  But the back face is an apron that runs the approximately seven feet length of the bench.  No drill press for that!  So I clamped the two boards together in their proper relationship and, using a device that holds the drill vertically (see photos), I began boring out the holes.

The first hole went fairly well, though the going was slow.  But the second one seemed to take forever.  Was the Forster bit too hot (it was hot)?  Was I drilling too fast for the bit to bite into the wood?  Had I dulled the bit beyond usefulness?

I'm not sure which of those explanations works, but I did eventually finish the hole without having to spring for another bit.

There's still more to do, but I'm at least making progress.  With any luck, I'll have the vise installed and the remaining parts glued together and ready to install by next week.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Winchester Secretary -- And So It Begins

I reported last year that I would be building a Winchester secretary in the Chippendale style, taking a class with Jeff Headley and Steve Hamilton.  Jeff and Steve are renowned furnituremakers.  They produced the two matching chairs with carved handles that the President and foreign heads of state occupy during one-on-one discussions, as well as reproduction pieces for Colonial Williamsburg and others.  It's a seven-day class in two segments.  In the first segment, which began yesterday, we will be building the outer, dovetailed case.  In July, we'll conclude with two days when we will start work on the interior.  In between times and afterward, we'll work on the desk in our own shops.

In reality, I began working on the secretary late last year.  I first created parts and cut lists using Cut List Plus.  Then I located sources for the cherry and poplar I'm using and began accumulating the lumber.  The hardest part was finding a good supply of curly cherry and getting it in the 5/4 size (1-1/4") needed to assure it would be 7/8" thick after planing.  In the end, I settled for 4/4 (1") stock in many instances and hoped for the best.  Then came weeks of cutting the wood to rough dimensions and gluing up the many panels.  With all that behind me, I am now starting the actual construction of the desk.

The design for the secretary is based on a Winchester area desk that is held in the Williamsburg collection.  It is described and illustrated in an article by Anne S. McPherson, "Adaptation and Reinterpretation: The Transfer of Furniture Styles from Philadelphia to Winchester to Tennessee," pp. 299-334 in Luke Beckerdite, ed., American Furniture 1997 (Hanover and London: Chipstone Foundation, 1997).  The original included a case on top that might have held books or china.  I will be building my desk without that top.

We spent most of the first morning running our panels through a 36" belt sander to get them even and to the correct thickness, then cutting them to size.  The machine work was done by our instructors, who cut all the panels using a crosscut sled and jigs so they would all be equal in size.  This was much faster and saved our time for the real work, cutting the dovetails that will hold the case together.

The afternoon was spent cutting half-blind dovetails in the case bottom and sides.  This was my first time to cut dovetails and my first time for half-blind dovetails, even in practice.  It went well.  Fortunately, the dovetails will all be hidden inside the case so any mistakes will not be visible from the outside.  So it provided me a good opportunity for practice.

Of course, with all my careful preparations to process and load the lumber and tools in my car, I walked off without my chisels and dovetail saw.  I had visited my friend Jeff Fleisher to get some dovetailing advice and took them with me, then left them in my wife Betsy's car. Fortunately, I was able to borrow tools from the instructors and all went well.  Still, I wanted to give my Blue Spruce chisels a good workout and was disappointed not to have them.  They are already loaded in the car so I'll have them today.

When we resume this morning, I'll mark and cut the remaining set of dovetails on the bottom of the case and then we'll turn our attention to the top of the case.  I find I'm enjoying chopping dovetails and, under the watchful eye of the instructors, I'm learning a lot.  It'll be fun seeing how far we get today.

Oh, and I've concluded that my plywood-topped workbench is not going to cut it for dovetailing so a new bench is in order for later this summer.  One thing I know for sure--it'll have a hard maple top.  Other than that, I've ordered Christopher Schwarz's book Workbenches, said to be the best source on designing and building one.  In addition, I've found an on-line source at Fine Woodworking for a good looking bench that uses the same vise I have sitting on my workshop floor.

More later.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Learning to Plane - Part VI

There was so much information from this course on hand planing that it's been difficult for me to present it all here in a timely manner.  That's been complicated by the fact that I've been hustling to get my wood processed for the Winchester Chippendale Secretary class I'm taking next week.  That's done now and I have a short time to breathe so I can get back to the subject of hand planing.

Planing Rough Lumber

Continuing the discussion of reading boards and processing raw lumber, Chris Schwarz said that you want a flat benchtop so your boards won't flex downward in the middle while you're planing.  When the heart side of the wood is down toward the bench, plane the bark side by traversing first with a jack plane until the wind is out of the board.  Use a marking gauge to mark the finished thickness around the circumference of the board.  Then use the jointer plane, starting on the diagonal with the mouth of the plane fairly tight.  At first you will get inconsistent shavings because you are getting the tracks from the jack plane.  Eventually, as the boards is flattened, you will get full shavings.  Then you can either plane with the grain or switch to the smoothing plane.  With the jointer plane, start and finish with the strong part of the curved blade off the edge, rather than on the edge, so you don't create a bow.  For interior parts of your piece of furniture, you can often stop after the jointer plane has flattened them; there's no need for the smoothing plane.

Smoothing Plane

Chris smooth planes his furniture after it is glued up when possible.  His advice is to not smooth plane until you have to do so.  As with the other planes, he sets the blade depth by viewing down the sole of the plane and extends the blade until he sees a black line, then adjusts the blade so the curved part is in the center before retracting the blade to the correct depth. 

When planing, he starts partly off the end of the board.  He puts his entire upper body over the plane and uses his legs.  Smoothing plane shavings should be light and fluffy.  It may take several passes to clean up prior marks, though.


Aniline dyes don't go well with planed surfaces and will blotch badly.  Pigments lay on top of the surface and work well.  For dyes, briefly rough the surface with 220 grit sandpaper.


Mark the true face and point to the edge to be trued.  A curved blade lets you cut down the high points.  Use your left hand as a fence.  Drag your fingertips and nails to avoid splinters.

Shooting Board

A shooting board is used to square the ends of boards.  Chris uses a straight edged blade for shooting.  Use a very sharp blade and set it up for a fine cut like a smoothing plane.  He miters the back corner with a chisel to avoid spelching (i.e., blowout).  He draws a line on the end of the board and then shoots until he hits the line, which is behind the miter.


At this point in the course, having learned about all we could and having set up our planes, we were challenged to square up a poplar board using only our planes.  The prize was a set of books and other items.  I didn't win, but I did learn a lot about using my planes.  I had the books already anyway. 


We had time to get in a little extra information and demos on scraping.  We began with sharpening the card scraper.  Chris' method is, he says, the culmination of tests of numerous methods designed for not having much equipment.

You need to flatten both faces and remove the burr that is there.  File the edge at 90 degrees with a file; he mounts the card in the saw kerf in a block of wood.  Only file on the push stroke.  Then he sharpens the edge on stones, holding it at 90 degrees by pressing it against a block of wood.  He starts at 1000 grit, then goes to 4000 and sometimes 8000 grit for edge retention.  He then uses the ruler trick to sharpen the four faces.  Following this, he rubs the edges with a burnisher to push the metal upward and make it easier to turn.  Then he burnishes the end of each edge to turn a hook on each side.  The angle doesn't matter that much.  Use fairly firm downward pressure.  Use as many strokes as you need.  Use a good burnisher.  He does not like the one made by Crown.  The Veritas burnisher works well. 

When using the card scraper, you can either push or pull.  You should get small shavings when you do so, not dust.

Scraper Plane

You use a scraper plane to get a flat surface with any direction of the wood.  Flatten the back of the plane with 1000 grit.  Primary bevel is 45 degrees; secondary bevel is 50 degrees.  A hook on the blade is optional but easy to do.  Use a burnisher at the bevel, then raise it 5 degrees, then do it again.  Put the hook on the back side of the blade.  The Veritas burnisher put a quick hook on the Stanley no. 80 Chris was using for the demonstration.  He used the ruler trick on the back of the blade before putting on the hook.

Wrap Up

And that was the class--two days full of valuable information and hands on practice.  I learned more than I could absorb at the time, which is why I took such detailed notes.  If you get the chance to do this class, take it.  But if you can't get there, then these notes should help you get much of its value.

Happy woodworking!


Friday, May 14, 2010

Learning to Plane - Part V

Chris Schwarz argues that you need a dedicated area for plane sharpening.  After using your planes, dust them off and oil them with either Camilla or Jojoba oil.  The oils won't affect your finish.  In fact, Chris even applies the oil directly to difficult wood or knots to ease planing.  To wax the soles of his planes, Chris uses parafin.  It's essentially mineral spirits.  He waxes after every piece of wood.

Assessing the Wood

Before you plane, look at the end grain.  The bark side of the board is the side where the rings are convex, that is, toward the outside of the tree.  The heart side is where they are concave, or smaller in diameter.  Wood usually cups on the bark side and bows on the heart side.  You tend to get a smooth surface when you plane with the grain.  You can determine that by looking at the edge of the board.  If the grain is rising in one direction, that is the direction you want to plane.  It's like rubbing the fur on the back of a cat; you want to cut with the grain and not against it, which will lead to tearout.  You can also judge from the end grain.  On the heart side of the board, plane from the bottom of the cathedral pattern toward its top.  On the bark side, plane from the point of the cathedral to its bottom.  You would use the same methods to determine the direction for jointing and planing with power tools.  For quartersawn wood, you have to look at the edges; you can't tell from the end grain what direction you should plane.

Assuming the board is cupped, put the bark side down and plane the heart side first.  Once the heart side is flat, flip the board and you can plane without using shims.  When using an end vise, don't put a lot of pressure on the board; the vise can bend it.

Traversing with a Fore Plane

Open the mouth of the plane and use a wide radius (say 8 inches) on the blade.  Plane across the grain.  You can remove lots of wood quickly in this way.  Before traversing (which is what planing across the grain is called), knock off the rear edge of the board, usually with a block plane, to avoid spelching (tearout).

Set the plane on its edge across the board to confirm the existence of a hill.  To remove a hill in the center of the board, plane with the grain to create a slight valley, then traverse the board.  When Chris traverses, he pushes the plane across the board and then pulls it back in a very rapid motion.

Winding Sticks

I took my winding sticks from Philly Planes to the workshop and Chris used those to demonstrate their use.  However, he uses extruded aluminum strips from Home Depot and spray paints one of them black.  Twenty-four to thirty-six inches is a good length.  You can sight at several places on a long board, but you generally don't need to do so.  If you have wind (i.e., the board is twisted), it usually means that two opposite corners are high and you need to plane them.

There's more to tell.  I'll cover it next time.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Learning to Plane - Part IV

Setting Up Planes

There really isn't much setup to do on bevel-up planes, which is one of the reasons they are increasingly popular, especially with beginning woodworkers.  Chris Schwarz didn't have much to offer on setting them up, except to adjust the mouth tightly for difficult woods. 

Bevel-down planes, on the other hand, usually have chipbreakers.  Chris offered that a dished chipbreaker can be honed using a honing guide.  Most people, he said, set the chipbreaker too close to the edge of the blade.  One-sixteenth of an inch is a good distance, except for difficult woods, when it should be set closer, such as one thirty-second of an inch.  Lie-Nielsen makes a standard 45-degree frog but also 50 and 55 degree frogs for difficult woods for all its planes.

Planes are tuned either to remove material, straighten a board or prepare it for finishing.  The jack or fore plane is generally used to remove material.  These are the #5 and #6 planes.  For stock removal, set the plane with a wide open mouth, say 1/16 inch.  Use a curved blade with and 8-10 inch radius.  Back the chipbreaker off; get it behind the curve of the blade.  Use a low blade pitch, say 45 degrees.  For a bevel up plane, set it even lower.

The jointer plane's main job is to straighten a board once excess material has been removed.  Jointer planes are #7 and #8 and run from 18 to 24 inches in length.  You tighten the mouth of a jointer plane; you want to get shavings about .004 or .005 inches thick, so set the mouth at about .003 inches.  Give the jointer plane a strong curve, say .006-.008 inches from the top of the arc to a line drawn between the edges of the blade.  Use an even stronger arc for a bevel-up plane and a 45 to 50 degree pitch.  On a bevel-down plane, the chipbreaker should be backed off to, say, 1/16 inch. 

Smoothing planes should be set with the mouth as tight as possible, .003-.004 inch.  Use a feeler gauge to assess this.  A narrow mouth reduces tearout.  Use a very slight curve to the blade, .002-.003 inches.  Keep the chipbreaker set so it won't clog; 3/32 inch is where Chris starts.  The pitch of the blade can be from 45 to 65 degrees.  The higher the pitch, the less tearing.  Plane softwoods at a lower angle, hardwoods at a higher angle.

Chris argues that it's good practice to use the jack plane and jointer plane as much as possible for smoothing to avoid unnecessary work with the smoother.

Next I'll talk about putting the planes to work on an actual piece of wood.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Learning to Plane - Part III

When Should You Regrind a Bevel?

You only need to regrind after you have honed your secondary bevel, say, six times, if it is taking a long time to get a good polish, the secondary bevel has grown large or if you've hit a nail or dropped the blade and nicked it.  Chris Schwarz grinds on sandpaper, starting with 80 grit and moving to 120 grit.  Grind until the secondary bevel is small, unless it has been damaged.  In the latter case, grind it off entirely.

If you need to regrind on a grinder, grind the point flat, because the point is the most likely place for the blade to burn.  Alternatively, you can quench the blade while grinding.  If you burn a blade blue, hone it and use it anyway.  It will need honing sooner than if it had not been burned, but otherwise it will be OK.

When using a grinder, Chris draws a square line with a magic marker--red shows up best.  Then he grinds the bevel flat using an 80 grit wheel.  He prefers the gray wheels over the white ones because the gray breaks down easier and stays cooler.

How do you tell if your blade is dull?  When you can see a bright line across the end of the blade.  If it's sharp, you can't see the end at all.

Cambering Blades

Some planes will have straight blades.  Others, especially those designed to flatten boards, should have a curve to them.  Jack planes, when set up as fore planes, should have a curve with an eight inch radius.  You would create this camber on the grinder.  Jointer or try planes can be straight or curved.  Chris prefers them curved.  They get a much smaller curve, about .006 inch from the center of the curve to the edge of the blade.  This would work out to a radius of about 37.5 feet.  Bench planes get a smaller curve yet, about .002 or .003 inch.  In case the case of jointer and bench planes, you grind the blade flat, then hone it curved.  The goal is to have enough curve to the blade to avoid tracks and still take a good shaving.

Chris's method is to use a honing guide that allows some rocking motion side to side.  He holds the blade square against the 1000 grit stone, putting heavier pressure on one outside edge, then pulling the blade 10 times.  Then he shifts the heavy pressure to the other side and pulls 10 times.  After that, he moves the pressure to the midpoint between one side and the center and pulls the blade 5 times, repeating that motion on the other side.  Finally, he puts the pressure in the center of the blade and gives it two pulls.  This sequence is then repeated on the 4000 and 8000 grit stones.  There is no need to repeat the ruler trick on the back of the blade.  Stropping is about like using the 8000 grit stone.  Stropping the blade is unnecessary after honing and may even lead to rounding over the bevel.

You also want to trim the corners of the blade.  This only needs to be done the first time you set up the blade and is done by pushing a fine file against the corner of the blade, using a rounding motion.  This helps prevent blade tracks on your work.

Thanks to Jeff Fleisher for these photos.  Next time I'll cover setting up planes.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Learning to Plane - Part II

Last weekend, my friend Jeff Fleisher and I attended a two-day workshop on hand planes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.  The class was taught by two leaders in the field of hand planes, Thomas Lie-Nielsen, founder and owner of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, and Christopher Schwarz, editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine.  The classroom held 20 Lie-Nielsen workbenches and provided comfortable room for about 40 of us to do our work. 

The class was a combination of lectures by the two presenters, hands on work on sharpening, setting up and using our own planes and those brought by the presenters, watching a film about the Lie-Nielsen factory and the making of their planes and other tools and a planing contest.  Lie-Nielsen had a full complement of their planes on hand for us to handle and try out and took orders from those who decided to purchase one (or more).  Chris Schwarz also brought a lineup of his own personal planes that we were free to use.  And Chris's Lost Art Press had T-shirts, hats, books and DVDs for sale.

I brought all my planes, including a new Lie-Nielsen low-angle jack plane I bought only a week before the class.  During the class, Tom Lie-Nielsen signed tools of his manufacture with an engraving tool.  I had all six of mine signed.


A major portion of class time was devoted to sharpening.  Sharpening is, after all, the essential step in getting a plane to produce consistent, thin shavings of the type we all desire.  Our presenters taught a method based on David Charlesworth's, but simplified.  They did not argue that their system was the best, only that it worked.  Chris said all systems work and that we should pick one system of sharpening and stick with it for a while, that our edges would improve over time.  Don't be a "sharpening bigamist," he concluded.

An edge is when two planes come to a point.  The smaller the point, the sharper the edge.  Also, the more you polish the edge, the more durable it will be.  On the other hand, there is a tradeoff; the thinner the edge, the more fragile it is and the more often you will need to sharpen it.


The back or face is the flat side of the plane blade, the bevel is on the other side.  Only the ends of both sides need to be sharp.  Except on high quality planes or on blades needing reworking, you grind the bevel.  The bevel can be flat or hollow ground.  Regrinding will be needed after a blade has been honed five or six times or the secondary bevel gets too wide.  It can be done on a grinder, but we used 80 and 120 grit sticky back sandpaper on a flat surface to shape our blades where needed.  Only one of my blades needed grinding. 

After grinding, the next step is polishing the ends on both sides of the blade.  First you flatten the back of the blade.  Chris does this on a 1000 grit stone and does not polish the back any higher.  There's no need to.  The goal is to assure the blade is flat.  Once it is, you move on.  

Back Bevels

Chris strongly supports the use of back bevels--secondary bevels on the back of the plane that increase the sharpness of the edge--on all blades except chisel planes.  These can be used with both bevel-down (traditional) and bevel-up planes.  He uses Charlesworth's "ruler trick" to create these.  This involves taking a thin ruler (he uses Lie-Nielsen's ruler), placing it on the near edge of the waterstone, then, with the edge of the blade a half-inch off the far edge of the stone and flat against the ruler, pulling it onto the stone and rubbing it back and forth a few times (say 10) on each of the three grits (1000, 4000 and 8000).

Secondary Bevels

Precision in setting the angle of the secondary bevel is not critical, but consistency is.  Chris uses a homemade jig to set the proper angle at which the bevels will be honed using a simple $12 honing tool.  Typically, the secondary bevel is honed at 5 degrees higher than the primary bevel.  David Charlesworth also advocates a tertiary bevel, but both Chris and Tom thought this to be unnecessarily complicated.  Chris uses each of the three grits to hone the secondary bevel.  He prefers Shapton stones because he travels a lot and they don't have to be soaked like the Norton stones do.  Another class member told me the Shapton stones also wear better than the Norton stones.  Chris uses a DMT diamond stone (coarse or extra coarse only; finer stones use a different method to adhere the diamonds that is undone by the waterstones) to dress his waterstones flat.

Honing Guides

He prefers the inexpensive type of honing guide that grips the blade by the sides.  These may require some filing to assure the blade is held flat.  But in his opinion they work better than the type (like the Veritas Mk. II) that hold the blade from the top because the latter can allow the blade to slip out of alignment.  Lie-Nielsen provides instructions on building a jig like Chris's for setting the angle of the blade in the honing guide.

Straight Blades

You begin sharpening by honing a straight secondary bevel.  You take about 10 strokes with the 1000 grit stone so you get a bevel that is consistent all the way across the blade.  You want all the scratches from the primary bevel removed.  Pull the blade across the stone with heavy pressure, then a few light pulls using the slurry created by the heavier pulls.

Next go to the 4000 grit stone and hone in a back and forth motion about 10 times.  The steel wool-like pattern from the 1000 grit should disappear and a bright line should appear.  Many woodworkers stop here.  The edge will be fine, but it won't be as durable as if honed on an 8000 grit stone.  When using the 8000 grit stone, a Nagura stone is not needed with Norton waterstones.  Lighten your touch with this stone.  Use a back and forth rubbing motion.

Next we learned how to create cambered bevels.  I'll cover this in my next entry.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Learning to Plane - Part I

I've got the planes.  I described these in an earlier posting.  I've read the books.  Especially good are Christopher Schwarz's Essential Handplanes and Thomas Lie-Nielsen's Sharpening.  Now it's time to put what I've been learning into action.

 I started with a wide board of curly red oak that I wanted to use to make some cutting boards.  I set out using my Lie-Nielsen no. 7 1/2 low angle jointer to flatten the board, then my Veritas low angle smoothing plane.  To remove a peak in the center of the board, I first planed a trough in the center with the jointer plane, then planed across the board on a diagonal to remove the high places until the board was level.  Then I used the smoother to produce a surface that barely needed sanding.  The result was good if I do say so myself, considering I started with a tough board to plane. 

I learned a lot from the process.  One lesson was that I need to know more about sharpening.  A second lesson is that I need to know more about setting up my planes for optimal performance.

Fortunately, I'm having a chance to learn how to do both of these things.  As I write this, I am midway through a class on handplanes taught by none other than Thomas Lie-Nielsen and Christopher Schwarz.  The class is being held at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Indianapolis.  Already, I've sharpened and set up two of my planes and have taken a perfect thin shaving with my Lie-Nielsen No. 4 smoothing plane.  It was an exciting moment!

I'll have more to say about this class later, along with photos.


My SawStop Returns

After nearly two months of down time, my SawStop contractor's saw is finally back in operation. The tech guys at SawStop were great. They sent me a new control box, which had been upgraded, updated the software in my brake cartridges and sent me a new connection cable. I first installed the new control box, a somewhat tedious but not altogether difficult process. That didn't fix it. Then I tried the updated brakes. That too didn't work.

So I set to work on changing the connection cable. That turned out to be hard work, reaching down through the table top to get at impossible to reach nuts and screws. One I stripped out and had to remove by drilling it out with my Dremel tool. Another the instructions said was a #2 Phillips head screw turned out to be a hex screw. But it faced downward and I couldn't tell that, so I kept on turning and turning to no effect.

I finally hired a man who does repairs for our Woodcraft store to come and fix it for me. In about three hours, he had it together and operating.

It's a wonderful saw. I'm glad to have it back again.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

My SawStop Stopped!

A couple weeks ago I was ripping some sycamore to make frames for earring holders when my SawStop refused to cut. I had lightly touched the blade with the end of the board I planned to rip when the saw stopped running. After that, each time I tried to fire it up, it would start, then immediately stop.

I contacted the service department at SawStop and got a fast reply from Roger and Tom, who helped me diagnose the problem. The fix is to send me a new and upgraded control box and cable, which they can do since my saw is still under warranty. In addition, they asked me to send in my brake cartridges, the ones that keep the saw from cutting off my fingers, so their software could be updated to the latest version. These changes, we hope, will take care of the problem.

But I haven't been able to implement the fixes yet. The problem is not on SawStop's end; they responded quickly. It is due to Mother Nature, who dumped 35+ inches of snow on us two weeks ago, most of which is still on the ground and seriously impeding UPS deliveries in our area. The package with the control box has been on the truck, "out for delivery," several days this week but UPS has refused to leave it on the snow bank by the side of the road and each day it has gone back to the warehouse undelivered. I don't know how long this will go on; the prospects for this much snow melting anytime soon do not seem very good.

So for now, I'll just have to be content with other woodworking jobs that don't require my table saw, jobs like turning pens on my lathe, hand planing wood for cutting boards, cutting the boards to shape on the band saw and installing the vises that have been hanging around the shop for all too many months.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Milling Lumber

I got about half of the poplar I'll need for the Winchester desk in and stickered about two weeks ago. The other day I started milling the first batch, jointing one face and edge smooth and then planing the other side smooth. That's done now for the 5/4 stock. I still have the 4/4 stock to do. When that's done, I'll have enough room on my lumber rack to get the second half of the poplar.

I'm doing the milling in stages. I first marked up the boards into the lengths for their eventual parts and cut them roughly in half to make them easier to handle. Then I milled them lightly, just until smooth. Now I'll stack them under cover and leave them until later, when I'll mill them to nearly final thickness and rip them into near final width. The reason I'm doing this is to account for any additional movement in the wood that might lead to cupping or warping as the wood continues to acclimate to my basement humidity. The idea is to get some of the work done now so it doesn't stack up right before the course starts, yet assure that the wood is accurately shaped when construction time arrives.

In the meantime, I have a few other projects in mind. I'll write about these in the future.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Buying Curly Cherry

Jeff Fleisher and I made a trip the other day to Willow Run lumber yard in Harrisonburg, VA, in the Shenandoah Valley. He was looking at some highly figured walnut boards as a possibility for the Winchester desk he will be making in the class we are taking. I wanted to look at curly cherry. Jeff drove us from his place in New Market in his bright yellow pickup truck with the license plate BMBL BEE. Willow Run is just a half hour from his place.

The walnut boards Jeff was looking at were matched, cut from the same log, and had a beautiful figure to them. But Jeff isn't certain yet whether he is going to use solid wood or veneer his desk. He said there is some really pretty veneer available and he might use that.

I pawed my way through a large bin of curly cherry and after that another pallet of it. There was a lot to look at, mostly 8-10 foot boards. I pulled out a dozen and took them for the outside of the case. Some of the boards are shown in the picture. Only one was what I would call spectacular and I could not find a matched set to use for the four drawers, which I would like to have the same pattern to them. I'm going to look elsewhere for four boards cut successively from the same log and that have a special curly figure to them.

When we got back to Jeff's place, I tied the load to the top of my Subaru and away I went up I-81 to I-66 and back home. The boards rode well.

When I got home, I put them inside on a shelf I had cleared, stickering them between small lengths of thin board to allow them to acclimate to the humidity level in my basement shop. In a couple of weeks, I'll begin crosscutting them to rough length after marking them up for the parts they will make up. I'll talk more about that process as I get into it.

For the rest of the cherry, I may have to make a trip into Pennsylvania. There are some good lumber companies there that have Pennsylvania cherry I may be able to use for the drawer fronts and slant front and writing surface of the desk.

More later.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Plane Talk

I was once quoted, and not all that long ago either, as saying that I didn't think I'd have much need for planes in my woodshop. I expected to do the vast majority of my work with machines. While my love of machines has not diminished and I intend to use them for productivity, the possibility of enjoying the older methods of woodworking has been growing in me. I'll need to learn the proper use of chisels to hand cut dovetails for the Winchester desk I'll be building. That much I expected. But now I find myself fascinated by handplanes.

I think my burgeoning love affair with planes began when I picked up Chris Schwarz's Handplane Essentials. It's a wonderful collection of essays on various aspects of the choice and use of planes. Since then I've gotten Garrett Hack's older volume The Handplane Book and I'm working my way through it from front to back.

But anticipating work to come, I've also started to collect some planes to use in my shop. The largest of these is the Lie-Nielsen No. 7-1/2 bevel up jointer plane, which I'll first use to flatten a nice wide piece of curly red oak I'm planning to use for a pair of cutting boards. Don't look for this plane on their web site; it isn't listed and may not be offered any longer. Pity, because the bevel up feature will be good for highly figured wood like the curly red oak.

I also have a pair of planes to use for smoothing the surface of the wood--on the cutting boards and later on the drawer fronts of my desk--a No. 4 Lie-Nielsen corrugated sole smoothing plane and a Veritas low-angle bevel up smoothing plane. The latter will be especially good for avoiding tearout in highly figured wood, again like the curly red oak and the curly cherry I'm planning to use for the desk front. The corrugated sole on the former is intended to make it easier to move the plane across the wood.

Other planes I've acquired are the Lie-Nielsen No. 97-1/2 small chisel plane, which I'll use for removing glue from joints and evening the ends of dovetails, the Lie-Nielsen medium shoulder plane for evening up tenon shoulders, the Veritas edge plane and the Lie-Nielsen No. 60-1/2 adjustable mouth low-angle block plane for working the end grain of boards.

Now that I've built up my collection of planes, I feel that I can handle just about any situation required of them.

Now if I only had them fully sharpened and set up for use, I could start on that curly red oak today. Well, perhaps I will!


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Starting Out With a Lathe

Late last year, I got turned on to the possibilities of making bowls on a lathe. I did some investigation and decided that the Nova 1624-44 would be the right one for me. It's not a variable speed lathe so it requires moving the belt to change speeds. But that cut about $500 off the cost. It has a reasonably long bed that can be extended another 24 inches with an optional bed extension. The headstock rotates so it is possible to turn bowls as large as 29 inches in diameter, much larger than I'm likely to be turning. Nova is a New Zealand company and is well-respected. All-in-all, then, my new lathe is a multi-purpose machine that should serve me well for many years.

As the above photo shows, there are already a lot of chips on the machine. I started out not with bowls with pens, which is, I think, a good way to begin learning how to use the lathe. I've now turned 30-40 pens of all types, giving them as Christmas presents to many family members and friends this year. The photo below shows the machine set up with wood blocks ready for turning into a Slimline pen.

The process is fairly simple. I select a chisel and with the lathe turning at about 1400 rpm I round off the blank, working in from the ends. Once it's round, I can cut more aggressively to narrow the blocks to closer to their final size. After that, I begin to shape the wood to the configuration I want. In the case of the Slimline pen, I want it to be voluptuously curved in shape, coming to its narrowest points at each end and in the middle, where a ring will be attached during the final assembly. Once fully shaped and sized, I sand in ascending grits from 150 to 600, then polish with EEE cream before applying friction polish for the final coat. It takes only a few minutes to shape a pen and I find it to be good therapy.

Kits for pens and pencils, as well as wood and acrylic blanks, come in a variety of sizes and are available from a number of sources, including Woodcraft. So far I've concentrated on the Slimline and Wall Street II models so there are many more for me to explore.

I'm planning on selling my pens at some point, perhaps on the Web, and at craft shows with a friend. But before I can do that, I'll have to build up a large enough stock to merit the effort. Sounds like I need to spend more time in the woodshop!


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Preparing to Build the Winchester Chippendale Desk

Recently, I've turned my attention to preparing to build the Valley of Virginia Chippendale desk I wrote about previously. I'm taking the class in June and July from Jeff Headley and Steve Hamilton, who teach at the Woodworking Workshops of the Shenandoah Valley, located in Berryville, not far from me.

The first task was to estimate the lumber I will need to build this desk. I'm going to use cherry for the casework and will probably use curly cherry for the drawer fronts and lid. The drawer sides and bottoms and other interior parts will be poplar. I happened upon a program called CutList Plus, where you enter the dimensions and type of wood for each part. The program then calculates layouts on the boards I'll be using and from that I'm able to estimate the amount of lumber I need to buy.

I hauled in a first load of poplar the other day and have it on the lumber rack and stickered. It should be ready to begin processing in a couple of weeks. Tomorrow I'll call some hardwood suppliers in the region to see if they have curly cherry in stock. My plan is to check it out in the next couple of weeks so it too can be acclimating to my workshop humidity level.

Although the course does not start until June, I'm counting on it taking me weeks to joint, plane and cut to size all the pieces for the desk. This all has to be completed before the class begins. I've put together a schedule that will allow me to do all this without rushing and so far I am on or slightly ahead of schedule. But I'll have to be diligent in order to keep it that way.

In addition to preparing the wood, I'll need to learn some new skills. The case is constructed with hand cut dovetails, so I'll need to learn how to cut these before the class starts. I've never yet cut one. And, some of the pieces of the cherry will need to be hand planed because of their size and in order to avoid tearout. I've purchased a good set of Blue Spruce chisels and several Lie-Nielsen and Veritas planes, so I have the tools in hand. Now I need to learn how to use them well.

I'll be updating my progress as I go along on this ambitious project.