File Box

Let me introduce you to Joe. He’s a rather talented dude:

At BAGathon 2013, he showed up with this little cabinet that he’d made from a wine box. It’s his “file cabinet,” because it contains files.

Well, there’s almost no idea of Joe’s that I wouldn’t steal, so I decided that this would be a pretty good one for that particular crime spree.

First, let’s take a look at where these wine boxes come from. This is the scene around Greg H’s truck about a minute after he arrived at the same BAGathon:

He’s hiding behind the other Greg. Anyway, it’s always a nice feeding frenzy, as we do enjoy the boxes.

Anyway, so I decided to make my own file box. It took me a few months to get around to it, but I finally decided on this box:

As with all of the wine boxes, they usually aren’t made with terribly good wood, and they’re usually tacked or stapled together. The staples holding the front of this one were a pain in the butt, so I eventually ended up sawing next to them to get the front off:

Then I yanked out the staples and planed the endgrain of the front with some hokey workholding techniques:

With all of that destruction out of the way, I set out to make slots for the drawer runners. After fussing with a number of saws, I realized that I had a monster hanging from the back of the bench, and used that:

Finally, I cut out the runners from pieces of another wine box and glued them in:

So then I made the drawers (out of the second wine box). You’d think that I would have remembered to take some photos of the drawer-making process, but all I have is this shot of me making the rabbets on the drawer bottoms for fitting into the grooves on the sides:

Oh well, you’ve all seen me make dovetails before, so whatever. What is new here is that the bottoms are segmented, and I used shiplaps on them to prevent gaps, rather than gluing everything up.

When all was said and done with the drawers, I had these, complete with some quickie pulls that I shaped (also made from a wine box, of course):

Now, It may sound like I did this in a few sessions, and that’s not far from the truth. However, the absurdity of it was that after the drawers were made, it took me about a month to get back to the shop to saw off and glue the fronts on, another month after that to find time to make the handles, and then, finally, another month to find time to tack some little strips onto the sides and put some stupid bevels on the edges.

When it was all said and done, I had this:

Joe’s is probably nicer, but mine’s got stars on it! Anyway, the only thing left to do was put some files inside:

Mission accomplished. I should mention that the fudge factor was very high in this project–whatever I could do to work around the self-destructing properties of this wood, I did. Also, I used an obscene number of tools on it. Why did I use my #45 with the 1/8″ blade to make grooves for the drawer bottoms when I could have probably just tacked them on? I don’t know.

Now maybe I can concentrate on making a real piece of furniture again.

New Large Tenon Saw

In my previous post, I briefly mentioned that I’d filed the plate of a new saw. I have now completed that saw; it’s a large tenon saw.

This particular project has been lagging for a long time. I’d gotten the plate and back from Mike Wenzloff several years ago, but they sat in a box for years. Finally, I filed the plate back in April. It’s 19″ long, and I filed it at 10TPI rip, with zero degrees of rake. Then it sat for a few more months until an informal gathering with some friends in June.

I decided to get started on the handle then. The wood is allegedly “Peruvian Pepper Tree” (Shinus molle); it comes from a piece that a local brought to a BAGathon several years ago and has been bouncing around several subsequent gatherings. I don’t really know if this is actually the wood here or not, but whatever; here’s a photo of the roughing-out process at my friend’s (awesome) shop:

(Later on in the day, I would get to use his Versa Vise. Very nice!)

This wood isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever worked, but it’s certainly got its quirks, namely wavy, reversing, interlocked grain (much to our amusement, as we initially tried to rive it with a froe). It’s about as hard as beech. I found it easiest to smooth it out with a scraper. Even then, I didn’t take a whole lot of care smoothing out the final surface, figuring that it would get dinged up anyway. (This hypothesis was quickly confirmed when I dropped it on the floor as I was just completing the rubout of the finish.)

I was initially going to use a Kenyon pattern for the handle, but decided on a Disston pattern at the last moment because I’ve been very happy with the comfort of the Disston-based patterns I’ve used in the past. I modernized certain parts (as I always do), but left this one mostly alone.

As usual, the finish is varnish. I used about five coats this time. The wood has some strange inclusions, but you can redefine those as “character.” Here’s a closeup of the completed handle.

The saw hardware is my usual (see here whoops, cross-reference broken for now). Here’s the whole saw:

All of this is fine and good, but does the saw work? I picked up a piece of the wood that I like to hate the most (some really hard birch), and checked to see if it could saw straight and quickly:

Hey, it wasn’t so bad at all. I came to my senses and switched to a bench hook to finish off this test cut:

Then I tried it on some less horrible woods. It slices through yellow-poplar like butter.

So it’s done. It would have been nice to have had this saw for the big tenons on the workbench project last year, but that’s the way it goes.

WIA Pasadena Wrap-Up

I decided to go to WIA West this year to attend some talks and to meet some of the people I’ve chatted with over the last few years. It was great meeting all of you (you know who you are) and I hope to see you again sometime!

One of the first things I had a look at was Michel Auriou hand-stitching rasps at the Lie-Nielsen exhibit:

Watching him do it in person is remarkable. You get mesmerized at the pace he sets when punching the teeth.

One of the highlights for me was one you might not expect from someone who doesn’t do any carving and has no real plans to start–Mary May’s Acanthus leaf-carving demonstration. I’d seen her do this as Roy Underhill’s guest on The Woodwright’s Shop, but seeing it in person was something else altogether.

I can’t really put my finger on why I find this so fascinating.

Of course, speaking of The Woodwright’s Shop, I went to St. Roy’s talks. Now that guy has charisma. For some reason, I didn’t get a photo op with him.

Speaking of wild stuff, here’s a bentwood lamination clamped up in a jig from David Marks‘ talk:

You can never have too many clamps.

And yes, I did two of the events in the Hand Tool Olympics. I did the dovetail faster than I expected I would–something around 10-12 minutes, if I recall. I generally don’t do so well when I’m being watched, but luckily, when I started mine, Wilbur Pan was doing his on the other side, and then Chuck Bender went over there, and so all of the attention happily went over to that side of the bench.

That was just in the nick of time, too, because I accidentally snapped the blade to the Knew Concepts saw I was using and few people noticed (I shouldn’t have been sawing so quickly). I will say this about that saw (the 5″ woodworker’s): it’s fantastic. I’d never used it before. Using it was probably the biggest thing I got out of the whole Hand Tool Olympics thing.

I used three other tools making the dovetails. One was a new Veritas chisel, and I thought that it was really good (too bad I already have too many good chisels). Another was the Cosman dovetail saw. It worked fine–I can’t say much more than that, because nearly all dovetail saws perform the same to me when they’re sharp. I think I still like mine the best because I made it. Finally, there was a “Mongo-style” mallet. I think I like my larger wooden mallet better, but I can’t say that it didn’t work.

Tapping Out a Western Plane Blade

Warning: What I talk about in this post is not considered standard practice in any way, shape, or form, and may be completely wrong.

I’ve been wanting an old wooden western-style smoothing plane for a while, and a couple of months back, I picked up an Ogontz/Sandusky coffin-style smoothing plane at the Alameda flea. It’s nothing special–beech body and a big laminated blade a little more than 2″ wide.

It had been used to a certain extent, and the most annoying thing about it was the way the blade face had been sharpened–it was rounded over. It was the “ruler trick” gone mad, I suppose. It may have been done with a grinder. A lot of old blades turn out this way and they’re not particularly easy to sharpen when in this condition. Because there’s often no set angle you can use on the stone, you can’t register it on anything. In this case, it was especially bad because it was quite convex, both across and up and down the face. Oh yeah, and it was pitted, too. Yuck.

I didn’t have time to deal with it, so it sat on the shelf until recently, when something occurred to me. Because the blade is thick and laminated like that of a Japanese plane, it might be possible to use the technique of “tapping out” to create a new flat for the face edge. I recently had to do this to a couple of blades and it seemed to me that it might be worth a try.

The problem is that I’ve never heard of anyone doing this to a Western blade. It could be just totally wrong.

So I tried it first on a blade from a big jointer that was suffering from a similar situation. To my surprise, it worked. But that was a large, brutish plane that I don’t use for delicate tasks, and I didn’t want to go blabbering about it until I’d tried it on something else, such as the smoother.

I’m not going to describe the process of tapping out because Wilbur Pan has already done that. I used a small ball-peen hammer and the silly anvil on the back of my cheap machinist’s vise (I tried tapping on a block of wood at first, but that didn’t work–I might speculate that the soft steel in an old western blade is harder than the (typically) wrought iron used in the Japanese blades). Because the blade was rounded along the complete width, I had to tap it nearly all of the way to the sides. The result was that the high spots on the face were now the edge (as desired), as well as a spot in the center (we’ll see that later).

Before getting any further, I must give you this warning: If you’re interested in tapping something out, don’t try it on a thin Bailey/Stanley-style blade, or any blade that’s solid hardened tool steel. It will most likely crack or chip, because steel that takes an edge and is designed to cut wood is brittle. I’m going to guess that if you’re really crazy about the idea, you might be able to temper the blade first, then tap it out, then harden it again.

Now it was time to sharpen the blade and see if it worked. The bevel was in terrible shape, and there was a big nick, so I had to take it to my (horrible) grinder first. Then it was off to my Sigma Power #120 stone. First I worked the face to what I thought was a pretty good surface, then I put the thing in a honing guide, reformed the bevel at 25 degrees, and finally worked my way up through the grits on both sides. Thinking that the blade seemed sharp enough, I tested it out.

That first test did not go particularly well. I couldn’t manage to take a thin shaving, shavings kept getting jammed in the throat, and the surface left behind was ridged, not smooth. Much not to my amusement, the edge also seemed to have gotten kind of messed up.

I found the shaving thickness problem pretty quickly; the bottom of the plane wasn’t even remotely flat (it was bumpy). A couple of passes with my Veritas jointer fixed that, and I was able to get a good shaving. I popped out a little crud in the mouth, and that fixed the jams. But the surface on the planed wood was still crummy.

Perhaps my sharpening job wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it was. I took a photo with my macro lens; here is about 3/8″ of the edge:

Basically, the edge wasn’t really sharp to begin with in some spots, and there was still some pitting across the edge.

So I hit the Sigma Power #120 again to remove the pitting, and also to try to get a better bevel shape. I ended up with this after working through my stones:

There was still a very tiny nick-like thing for that one deep pit in there, but would it matter? Well, of course it would sometime, but at this point, I was more interested in seeing if all of this wasn’t a waste of my time, so I put the blade into the plane and tried it out:

Bingo. Translucent shavings, polished surface, yadda yadda. The wood on the left is beech, and the one on the right is some mystery softwood (spruce or fir, most likely). The softwood actually had some figure that the plane brought out:

Yeah, that’s a little birdseye that’s trying to come out. Strangely, I didn’t find the ridge from that little nick in the edge, but I’m sure I will sometime, so I still have to take care of that.

In the end, the face of the blade looks like this:

So in the center, it’s kind of the opposite of a Japanese blade–whereas those have the hollow in the center and are high on the edges, this one has a big annoying high spot in the center. However, that spot still gives you something to register upon when honing the face. It’s as easy to sharpen as a Japanese blade, too, because there’s much less surface area to float on top of the stone.

Well, we’ll see how this works out. As I hinted at the beginning of the post, this could possibly be one of the most idiotic things I’ve done to a tool.

Out With the Old Shop, In With the New Shop

Everyone loves moving, right?

A week and a half ago, I had the old shop all packed up, and I got some help from some friends to move the whole thing to the new place. In two years of working there, I made the shoe rack, the prototype bookshelf, the saw till, the stool, the nightstand, plus a number of tools and odds and ends. It was my first real dedicated shop; I learned a lot there, and I feel that I accomplished a fair amount there, as well. So let’s take a moment to contemplate the now-empty old shop with an odd-looking photo:

All right, that’s enough of that, it’s time to move forward with the new shop. Unfortunately, the new shop looks like this right now:

In other words, it’s not so much of a shop as is it a mostly-assembled workbench with piles and piles of tools all over the place. Those pieces of wood on the top? The case pieces for the tool cabinet that I might finish sometime in the next two centuries. As opposed to the old shop’s location of a basement-like thing, this is in the garage. I don’t really have a window directly behind the bench, but I do have an entire wall there. The landlord has allowed me to hang french cleats there to my heart’s content, and I will.

So, anyone got any cool ideas on what I should do here?

A huge improvement over the old shop is the wood storage:

In the old place, I had to store all of the wood vertically like the stuff in foreground that I haven’t gotten around to stacking. Now I have a whole length of a wall, and I can sticker it as well.

And hey, there just happens to be a place to hang the frame saw as well.

Frankensaw; Saw Sharpening Guides

I’m finally done with sharpening the last saw on my to-do list. This and the one in my previous post were both acquired at an estate sale over in the Sunset district last year. They’re both Disston No. 7s, but both have been rehandled. The first one I worked on had some sort of modernish handle on it. The one I just finished has a No. 12 handle.

Someone must have liked these saws. They were both rust-free and had pretty good visible etches. Unfortunately, the sharpening on them was crap. The No. 7/12 Frankensaw needed serious jointing (and therefore, serious tooth reshaping) before it could be pointed.

But once at the pointing stage, things went pretty quickly in spite of it being a 26″ saw with 8 teeth per inch. I used a 10 degree fleam angle this time, and used a roughly 10 degree slope on the gullets as well. Here’s a shot of the sharpening in progress:

This picture shows one of the issues that often comes up when sharpening crosscut saws that I’ve been talking about recently, and that is, that the shape that the tooth appears to be can be misleading. Look at the teeth on the right side of the saw in the preceding image. See how they look kind of spindly? It’s a trick of the reflected light. Here’s a close-up, where you can see the reflections and the full tooth profile:

Obviously, there are some uneven spots here, too, like the second-to-left gullet, but those were taken care of on a second pass. but the point is that you have to be careful about what you see. Just be consistent with the angles you work at, look at the tops of the teeth to see when you’re done.

Here is the saw in its finished state:

You can see my fleam guide in the photo of the work in progress. I worked a little on the code for this before starting this saw. My previous version required you to use two different cutouts to sharpen each side of the teeth. That was kind of stupid, because you can see only one side of it at a time. So I reworked it.

Update: I now recommend that you use the versions that are on the Plans and Guides page rather than the following, but I’m not going to remove these any time soon.

Here are PDF versions for:

  • 10 degree fleam (fleam10)
  • 15 degree fleam (fleam15)
  • 20 degree fleam (fleam20) (whoops, need to regenerate that sometime)

If you know how to use PostScript, ask me for the source code; you can put in any fleam angle you like. (I haven’t figured out how to trick WordPress into letting me upload a .ps file without doing something stupid like archiving yet, sigh.)

Also, I have a PDF tooth pitch gauge (toothgauge) that you might be able to use at some point.

Henry’s Stool

Several months ago, I made a visit to my aunt, who has some old family furniture. Among them was this stool that I remember from my grandmother’s place:

It was made by my great-great grandfather, Henry Snyder, for my grandmother when she was young, so this would have been in the early-to-mid 1920s. The wood looks to be some sort of softwood, likely one of the pines.

The stool’s joinery is very simple; three nails on each side of the front stretchers, plus nails from the top down. On woods that move a lot, this would have caused checks due to the large variance of humidity in the Baltimore area, but this stuff seems to be pretty stable, and the pieces are quite small. I like the design’s lines and simplicity.

Henry Snyder was a carpenter who built his own house in addition to this stool.

Introduction

Four years ago, I decided that I was sick of store-bought furniture, and that, as a Real Man[tm], it was a moral imperative to learn woodworking and build my own stuff instead of buying one more stupid thing that I didn’t really like.

Four years later, my steadfastedness has only resulted in having huge piles of books lying all over my place because I still don’t have any bookshelves. But stuff happened in those four years, it was somewhat crazy, and I am now in a good position to actually make good on that promise I made so long ago. Therefore, I’m going to chronicle my, uh, “adventures” here.

My grandfather worked for a publisher, but also did a bit of woodworking. He was a Real Man[tm]. He knew a thing or two, much like many people of that generation did. Unfortunately, he became ill and passed away before he was able to teach me much of anything. You can call it silly, but sometimes you can’t ignore what runs in your blood, as my friend Linda tells me. Having written three books and worked on many others, I’m now involved in publishing myself. I might as try to live up to my grandfather’s name (well, even if it isn’t exactly my name).

When I decided to do this, I didn’t know where to start. Even though I’d been around many of the tools all my life, I didn’t have any instruction whatsoever on the proper way to use them for woodworking. I didn’t know a whole lot about wood. It was basically square one.

So I figured that since I’d written some books, maybe I’d go down to the bookstore and look for something that might tell me a thing or two. Well, first I checked on Amazon for reviews on books. I decided that “The Complete Manual of Woodworking” by Jackson, Day, and Jennings seemed like a pretty good bet. I found it without a problem. I also picked up “Classic Hand Tools” by Hack, because, well, it had a lot of pretty pictures in it, and there was something about hand tools that I sort of liked. Oh yeah, and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. (Now you guys who wrote these things are now honor-bound to buy my books, right? Ha ha.)

In buying these books, I was in the early stages of discovering that the old system of apprenticeship where young’uns learned from a master is pretty much dead. Unless you know someone who does this stuff, no one is going to teach you; you have to learn it yourself. This isn’t such a bad thing, though. You have to understand that, as in disciplines like software engineering, there are about a million ways to do things in woodworking. Not all are equally good. Fortunately, due to the now rich array of literature on woodworking as well as the flood of, uh, stuff on the web, you can find out how to do quite a lot of stuff if you actually know how to read. In another turn of fortunate events, I know how to read. Well, maybe if only just a little.

The “Complete Manual” is eye-opening for someone who’s never seen any of this stuff before. It succinctly covers a lot of ground, starting from the biology of trees. I’d lump the topics in the book into four main areas: (1) trees (2) tools (3) joints (4) other stuff that you do with wood (turning, carving, etc.). Tools are grouped into three categories: hand, power, and machine.

I’ve read the book in its entirety (several times). I’ve now got more that go into more detail on certain topic areas. What I have not done is actually using any of what I’ve learned to actually make anything. And it’s high time I fixed that.