Oh, The Liminality

It seems that I’ll be moving again. Perhaps “liminal” is not the best term here because I seem to move on a fairly regular basis, but I want to use that word and there’s nothing you can do about it. Then again, this time will be different, so it might be warranted. Instead of needing to get everything packed and moved in one shot, I have the luxury of being able to hold on the current place while in the process of finding and preparing a new one. So, whereas I was without a shop for more than a year when we moved from California, I will (probably) have my shop available here until I have another space available.

Everything about this is vague at the moment. What I do know is that SWMBO will probably need to be somewhere near Princeton, NJ for at least half of the time. (That is, unless we decide that a different location is better. I said that it was vague, right?)

I’ve moved my woodworking shop three times already (four, if you count moving from the apartment where I started), so in theory, I’ve learned something about the process by now. I’m not so sure about that, but I will try to make notes here (and perhaps make a video or two) as I’m going about things.

The general mood and pre-loathing

I have mixed feelings about the prospect of moving again. On one hand, we really like our house in Maryland and also like where we live. We’ve gotten used to it. On the the other hand, there are a lot of pluses to the area where we may end up. The proximity to Philadelphia means a lot to me in particular. So even though there might be a natural tendency to be somewhat overwhelmed and depressed about having to do this (as I am wont to do), I should instead look ahead to the “new adventures” that await.

This is not to say that there hasn’t been loathing. For a while now, I’ve suspected that this might be coming. The unspoken prospect of another move has played an important role in how I have organized my work patterns and developed my shop during the time I’ve been here.

Learning from not upgrading the shop

When I first moved down into the current shop, I had grand plans. I had mostly bare walls and a framed-out partition that I used to form my main working area. My biggest desire was to frame out the rest of the walls and remove part of the partition. Being in a windowless basement, I wanted to put in some false windows to mimic north-facing windows. I wanted to put in a bunch of shelves to provide some long-desired storage. And I was contemplating running some 220V circuits for my bandsaw and dust collector.

So inviting.

None of that happened, and it’s probably worthwhile going through a few details on each bit:

The framing: I never found myself with the energy to push through on this. I knew that I’d probably want someone to help me with this, and then stuff happened. A certain global pandemic did not help: It drove up the prices of framing lumber and ensured that no one would be able to help. If I had a lot of experience in framing walls, I could have probably done this very quickly after moving into the shop, but that was not the case.

Removing part of the partition: This had to go along with the framing, as the partition would have otherwise blocked one of the walls.

The faux-windows: Aside from also going along with the framing, I had a crisis of terrible lighting early on in the shop and had to come up with a fix quickly.

The shelves: Also depended on the framing, but I actually did manage to get two shelves up on one wall.

220V circuits: I found that I didn’t need them. My bandsaw can run on 110V or 220V, and is rated for about the reasonable maximum current draw on a 110V 20A circuit. It’s never struggled with anything I’ve ever asked it to do. The dust collector (on a separate circuit) popped its breaker once and I’m not sure why, but it also doesn’t seem to have trouble. I don’t have a table saw or any of those other big power-hungry machines, and it’s unlikely that I’ll get any.

Actual upgrades

The first things I did after moving into the shop were to put up a couple of shelves up high on a wall that was actually framed up and hang some french cleats on the partition framing so that I could hang my tool cabinet, saw till, and a few other doo-dads up on there. I also cobbled together a place for my chisel rack (even though I dislike it). Then I did just a couple of things later on that I would call significant:

Lighting: I was dealing with bare bulbs in utility fixtures when I first started. It was awful. I went through three iterations of LED fixtures, from “I need something, fast,” to “let’s see how these fill in some of the shadows,” to finally researching some decent high-CRI fixtures to get everything covered. I was lucky because nothing of what I bought was wasted. I relocated the first set of lights to areas where I needed their flexibility and portability, and permanently installed the second set in dark places where they were sorely needed, such as above the slop sink and in the garage. I can also take the final set of lights with me if I like.

One piece of drywall: I put one piece of drywall on the framed-up partition behind the slop sink. It took me a while to realize that I wanted to do this. It was remarkable what a difference it made. In particular, due to the…

Sharpening station. The drywall allowed me to build some semi-permanent brackets for a sharpening station next to the slop sink. This low-rent project from some spare southern yellow pine and plywood cutoffs made life much easier. It is close to my work area, my stones are right there, ready to go, and it’s clear of any other junk. Just go over, sharpen a tool, and get back to work.

Lessons and aspirations

With this still said, what do I hope to accomplish for a new shop and what have I learned that will help me in that direction?

First, I believe that I’ll be trying to work on the idea of compact, flexible tool storage. After thinking about Team Tools-On-The-Wall vs. Team Work-Out-Of-A-Chest for many years, I’m guessing that I’m mostly in the latter camp. A lot of that sentiment might be from a desire to achieve “negative reinforcement.” For example, I’ve never been happy with my chisel storage solution. It’s just a rack on a wall, but it’s always felt inconvenient and never sat quite right in my mind.

In general, I just don’t like very much about this. The saw till is OK for the big saws. The marking gauge stuff is also OK, but only because they’re easy to get to. And the only tools that I find really comfortable here are the striking tools–the mallets and hammers. It is not a coincidence that they are the easiest to reach.

And then there’s this disaster:

Stating that my plane storage (“stick ’em on a shelf below the bench”) has been a sore point is an understatement. Dust is always falling down there so I have to clean them off constantly. This is sort of a convenient spot, but seriously, how often do I use half of these? In particular, I use only one of the smoothing planes more or less once per project. This needs to change.

Pivoting, for better or worse

I find myself in a position where I want to change up a bunch of things about the way I store tools and organize the shop, but also facing the prospect of moving the shop as well. Perhaps there is an opportunity here to do a few things at once.

I’ve now got some experience with a small version of a traditional tool chest (even though I don’t use it for tools). I’ve been impressed with it, and I believe that I can proceed as follows:

  • Continue to work on the current furniture project.
  • Build the “dutch tool chest” (DTC) to address the chisel/miscellaneous tool problem.
  • Build a base for the DTC to store bench planes and perhaps some other stuff.
  • Rework the space in this thing:

This cabinet, which holds some really frequently-used tools, is currently awkward to close, and so I leave it open most of the time. But a DTC could better house a lot of the blockers (such as the block plane), making this something that could live up to its potential as a dust-blocker.

Will it work?

All of this sounds like it might be clever, right down to the part where I mention that I have the wood that I need for the DTC base and probably have what I need for the DTC. But I don’t know if this whole scheme will be a success. It comes down to time and motivation.

We shall see. “Adventure awaits,” as they say.


New Video: Mortise Notes

I made a little video with some mortising notes, including the grain-direction tidbit that I posted about a while back. Aside from some sweet mortising action, it features an impersonation of a riveting figure who rives.

It features some boring action, which I don’t think I’ve done in a video before:

That chunk of southern yellow pine has really hardened up. I forget how old it is. It’s approaching ossifrage status.

15 Years of Galoototron

With a decade and a half on this blog’s odometer, I got to wondering if I really have any more of a clue now than I did 15 years ago. Recall that I started this blog when I started woodworking.

Then asked a question that felt odd: How much does having a “clue” actually matter?

And how do we define “clue?” Through some way or another, I have managed to build a bunch of stuff for the house. It gets done, but I’m not very quick at it. By contrast, many of the publications that we read about woodworking are written by or influenced by professionals. It’s natural, when reading Nancy Hiller’s work, to feel a bit discouraged when she writes of the pace that keeps her business going.

But I thought of something: Hey, wait, I’m a hobbyist woodworker. This is not my day job. I don’t want it to be.

Perhaps there are advantages to that. Maybe there are more options available and there isn’t much point to emulating a professional if it makes no sense. Sure, you want your dovetails to fit and everything, but here’s something to ponder: You actually have the option to do hand-cut dovetails on your own work; you can make those mortise-and-tenon joints the way you want to. A professional may not have these options if the budget does not suit the project.

Traditional nailed dovetail joinery. Hey, those fancy cut nails really are better.

And if you screw up, you can always just go back to the drawing board.

Then there are techniques and equipment. Professionals almost universally use jointer machines to flatten their boards. They have to in order to survive. But I used hand planes for years; I didn’t have the space for any machines at first. Then I took my time and designed a planer sled that might actually be worthwhile. Though I don’t think the sled is particularly suited for the professional (except for wider stock, maybe), it’s been great for me, the hobbyist. I have different constraints: I want to keep the size and number of machines in my shop to a (bare) minimum, I’d like something a bit safer than a jointer, and I don’t mind a minute or two extra setup time.

This does not, however, mean that you need to be a Frank Sinatra. We’re fortunate to have a lot of good instructional material that shows plenty of traditional and “contemporary” ways of doing stuff. Deviating wildly from standard practice might not yield the results that you want.

Or be a Frank Sinatra if you like; it won’t make any difference to me unless you show up on my doorstep and start crooning.

Being Shopless and “The Lifestyle Question”

A related advantage to being a hobbyist is that you can put it down if necessary, or if you just want to take a break. Before moving to my current digs, I spent a few years in places that had inadequate or otherwise nonexistent shop space (yes, even worse than the apartment in San Francisco). To tell the truth, I wasn’t thinking much about woodworking then. I knew that I couldn’t set up my shop, so my mind moved to other things, such as bicycling.

But the woodworking experience, being able to make my own stuff, did change my perspective on certain lifestyle choices. During one of these shopless times, I wasn’t able to find a cycling cap that fit me correctly. I started to wonder if I could make my own, and, well, it turns out that you can. I decided see if I could learn to sew, because SHMBO had a sewing machine that she’d never even opened the box of.

And boom, just like that, I was off on another crazy craft before I knew it. But I digress.

OK, So, Do I Have More of a Clue Now?

I think it’s safe to say that I’ve learned a thing or two about woodworking in the past 15 years. Really, maybe just one or two things. I still consider myself fairly clueless, and there’s a fairly simple reason. I don’t talk about it much here, but I am a victim of grad school. One thing you learn there (at least if you’re paying attention, which admittedly has never been my strong suit) is how much you don’t know. Even in a field as new as computer science, the amount of related knowledge is so vast that it boggles the mind.

That the old-timers were so strong that they could bore with a brace all day long, this boggles the mind.

It seems that every day, I learn about some kind of woodworking that I’ve never touched, such as the crazy Hakone yosegi-zaiku marquetry, and that I’ll likely never get to try. I don’t know what to make of this.

About Those Videos

I have a few videos out now. I made the first one because I had to teach something (unrelated to woodworking) and wanted to practice presentation after nearly two decades of hiding. The second came along because I wanted a way to share the planer sled design outside of this blog. The most recent… eh, I dunno, I just had the idea, wrote it up, and made it.

This is likely not going to become much of a habit. Videos are extremely time-consuming to produce, and offer little in return. I don’t currently make anything from them, and even if I did manage to get enough subscribers to monetize, it wouldn’t generate much. I’m not a performer, no Roy Underhill, no Nick Offerman. At best, words stumble off my tongue and litter the floor. I could probably train it, but I probably don’t want to. And that is OK.

Handplane techniques video test shot. You gotta put it down on the side; otherwise, it gets dull.

What’s Next?

I have a lot of furniture projects lined up that are in the same spirit of past projects. Part of that means frame-construction pieces, sometimes with drawers. But I’ve also been doing some stuff with staked construction lately. I fuss over these things way too much, but I’ve also gotten a little more confident with it. My end goal in that area is to make stick chairs. I’ve been fascinated with them for a while, how they manage to hold together despite using joints that really ought to be dodgy.

What I eventually want to do with stick chairs is explore the aesthetics a bit more. I came late to this. When I first saw Windsor chairs, I didn’t like them much. The construction is kind of neat, but there’s just something about the lines (and excess ornamentation) that I have never cared for. I never saw a Welsh stick chair until popularized by a C.S., though, and I have to admit that seeing those really changed my mind about stick chairs. I’m not sure if I’m a huge fan of the way that most of those look, but there’s a flexibility there that makes me think that it’s worth a shot.

And that about sums it up, until I change my mind again.

Surprise Video: Restoring a Saw

So I’ve been working on a secret project. I’m done and can now share it. It’s my first video, where I restore a saw:

It’s action-packed, of course: Rust removal, refinishing, saw sharpening, cutting dovetails, and macro photography. Could you ask for more? (Other than some real action…)

If nothing else, you get to see a saw that isn’t terribly common. And features a really grotty medallion:

Marking Knife Update

Years ago (seven, it seems, according to this post), I bought a little knife in Japan that I decided that I’d try out as a marking knife. I haven’t really said anything about it since.

It turns out that I haven’t even thought about it very much either, even with the couple odd years when I wasn’t doing much in the shop. But since I picked it up, it’s been the marking knife I almost exclusively reach for, and I also use it to sharpen the odd pencil here and there when nothing else is handy.

I also don’t even recall when I last sharpened it. I don’t even know if I ever did sharpen it, come to think of it. That’s never a good sign. But the other day when I was cutting some dovetails in some white pine (as part of a secret new project), I thought, “Huh. This thing could stand to be sharper.” Softer woods tend to elicit that sort of thinking. So I took it over to the stones and did that, unfortunately with a few minor blood sacrifices. (Wear rubber thimbles or something next time, dummy.)

This looks a little wacky because I sharpened it with two bevels: A main one, then a smaller one near the tip to make it easier to touch up. Like many Japanese blades, this is laminated, with white steel making up the cutting edge. And it can be a pain to sharpen that stuff.

Also typical is the hollowed back:

The hollow wasn’t terribly well-done. Using a diamond stone that I also coincidentally got on the same trip to Japan, I got that evened out pretty quickly. Yay for hollow backs.

Well, I should have probably sharpened this thing a long time ago. I do, however, have to be a little careful now when marking stuff, because the length of the blade makes it too easy to brush up against a finger or something when running along the side of a square.

So, that aside, this is not a purpose-made marking knife, but rather, a “craft knife,” according to the package:

(Aside: KRAFT KNIFE… POWERMESSER!) According to the helpful use suggestions on the left side, it’s for “wood carving,” “bamboo (something) work,” and “DIY.” Though I have to admit that the rear of the packaging card is a lot more useful than the stuff you get with a lot of products these days. For example, it has a “how to sharpen” blurb.

I don’t know who made it, other than it is made in Japan. It’s marketed and distributed by the Ito company in Miki (三木市) , which sometimes uses the “Bigman” moniker (search for “bigman HK-60” and you’ll find this knife at several retailers). Sadly, they do not carry a “She-Ra” line.

I don’t even remember where I bought it. Was it a home center? Tokyu Hands? Huh. In any case, I think it cost somewhere around 2000 JPY. That’s not dirt cheap, but it’s not exactly expensive, either.

And this has me thinking–Lee Valley sells a Japanese marking knife that’s a spear-point thing (in addition to one that looks like mine without a handle). Like my knife, it’s laminated white steel with a hollow back, and is currently $21. Maybe I’d also like that? I’m not sure what to think of the traditional form without a handle.

Or maybe I need to stop thinking and just remember to sharpen the knife.

Old Posts Restored

During the past couple of weeks, I restored the old blog posts that have been missing for the past year or so. I won’t go into technical details, but it was a mostly unpleasant process. All comments from sometime or other in 2010 did not make the transition. Unfortunately (and unusually), this is a shame because there was some really good feedback.

Thanks to the Internet Archive for helping me patch up a number of holes where I had no backups.

I have the original versions of all photos. Many of the old photos are kind of dim due to that being a somewhat transitional period between CRTs and panel displays, and they are pretty low-resolution due to the limitations on storage at the time. If anyone wants me to brighten up and expand the resolution of a particular image, let me know.

As part of the process, I reviewed every post. I confess to making some minor edits for typos and such. Making it a little interesting is that I started the blog at the exact same time that I started woodworking; I had no hands-on experience until even a few posts in. So I saw myself learning again. (And then, there were those posts that I read and thought, “oh, that’s how I did that…”)

Enough navel-gazing. Here’s what we’re looking at right now:

Workbenches and Workholding

When you hear Schwarz or someone harping about how a workbench is a three-dimensional clamping surface, you might wonder why they’re so religious about it. One of the big “rules” is that you should have the front legs flush with the benchtop.

Although I am fond of the idea of rule-breaking, they’re often around for a reason. And here’s why this one is a decent ruleguideline:

That just wouldn’t have been possible without this configuration. It made a really unwieldy task (trimming off the edges of the coffee table top) to a very manageable one with just a handsaw.

So it’s not so much religion, more of an admonishment to prevent you from shooting yourself in the foot in the name of form over function.

More workbench stuff is coming soon. Maybe.

Done With The Outdoor Work

I finally finished all of the deck and porch work that was monopolizing my shop and shop time. Railings, deck boards, trim, and so on–it just never seemed to end. The last bit was making these balusters for the front porch:

Full disclosure: Electrons were shoved around in the making of these. I should write something about that sometime. However, I did cut each board to length by hand, and I finished off the little concave interior curves with a rasp (It was the fastest tool for the job).

Now I can get back to work on that coffee table.

Too Much 45

It hasn’t been a great month for work on furniture, mostly because I’ve been working on repairing the deck on my house.

Part of this has involved making new tops for railings, which involved beading and cutting grooves. And this is what you end up with at the end of that last process:

Oh, that Stanley #45. Every time I use it, I feel like I want a tool that is lighter and less finicky to set up.