At long last, my friends have a home

The tool cabinet is finally complete. This was supposed to be a winter build but between work, home, remodeling the basement well time just got away from me.

I was going for sort of a Greene  & Greene look. The primary wood is Kentucky Coffee Tree, panels are ambrosia maple which turned out to have some really nice figure which the pictures don’t show very well (I need a better camera) and ebony plugs.

Anyhow,the cabinet:

Detail of the joinery on the corners of the carcasse, all done by hand.

Detail of the door design:

Loaded up and ready for business:

Next project on deck is a DVD cabinet for my brother. I had intended to do something else next, but I’m tired of tripping over the walnut plywood I have to make the cabinet. Cheers!

Published in: on April 23, 2010 at 7:56 pm  Comments (1)  

Back on the horse

Part of my “wood technology” class at UC is a Windsor Chair class. Students, over the academic year and meeting once a week, complete a sack-back chair. Well since there are only three students this year and two instructors they decided we should be able to complete two chairs in the year’s time. Reasonable enough, I suppose.

So last week I completed my very first chair. Almost entirely built and shaped by hand, even used hide glue for assembly. I’m really pretty darned proud of it and had a real sense of accomplishment when I did the final bit of sanding:

In a few minutes I’m leaving for my chair class. We meet every Saturday from 10:00 – 12:30. I’m taking a change of clothes because I have work afterwards and, since I’m starting a new one, I’m probably going to get very sweaty as once again we attack a big white oak log with froe, wedge and axe to rive billets for spindles and the hoop. Back on my shaving horse with drawknife and spokeshaves I go. Giddyap!

Published in: on March 13, 2010 at 2:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Homeless Tool is a Sad Tool

Over the years I’ve put together a nice collection of hand tools. Some Lie Nielsen, Veritas, older Stanleys, Sergeants, a complete set of Crown chisels… so nice tools deserve a nice home right?

Well…

This is a disgrace. My OCD cannot let this stand!

I gave myself two “winter” projects. The first, a good workbench, was crucial to the second – a hanging cabinet for my poor hand tools. I spent good money and a lot of time getting them into fine working order. The bench was finished about a month or so ago:

The reason the bench was so important was that I wanted to include my tailless friends in the building of their new home. In other words I wanted to attempt to build my tool cabinet using, as much as possible, my hand tools. Knowing the skill level I possess and the amount of time I had to accomplish the task I had to be realistic, so this is most assuredly not a completely galoot project. The initial flattening and final dressing of the stock was done using hand planes and, thus far, all of the joinery has been cut by hand including the dados which I did with a backsaw and cleaned up with my router plane. Thicknessing of the stock was done with a thickness planer and the ripping and crosscutting was done on my table saw but that, so far, is the extent of my power tool use on this project.

The style I’m going for is Greene & Greene-ish, inspired by a certain famous online woodworking personality’s recent zest for the style. The carcasse is joined by oversized finger joints which will be rounded and given the requisite ebony plugs and the doors, which are coming up next, will be frame and panel but with a hint of a cloudlift to them.

As for the lumber used, I was lucky to find via Craigslist a stash of lumber which had been sitting in a fellows garage since he gave up woodworking about 30 years ago. There was 50 board feet of some gorgeous thick and wide cherry boards, half of which got used in a grandfather clock I built for my in-laws’ Christmas present, and 30 board feet of what he thought was red oak but after I skip-planed it turned out to be Kentucky Coffee Tree. He sold me the lot for $50. The Coffee Tree wood makes up the carcasse and will also be the rails and stiles of the door. The horizontal partitions/shelves in the case are some lovely chocolate-brown walnut I had left over from another project, just for fun, and the panels, as long as my resaw mojo is working, will be ambrosia maple. I haven’t decided on the back yet. I keep waffling back and forth between the ease of cutting a piece of 1/4” ply to fit or using 1/4” hardwood with a ship-lapped or tongue and groove joint. The case will be hung on the wall using a French cleat. Not sure if either ply or hardwood offers any structural advantage.

Here’s the case in its final dry-fit:

For some reason, and I didn't notice this until I went to upload the photo, I took this photo from the back side of the case. The tallest section where longer planes will live is actually on the left side.

And again, glued up with the bejeezus clamped out of it:

Tomorrow, time and nephew’s homework load willing, I’ll be shaping the finger joints and chiseling the recesses for the ebony plugs. Then it’s on to the doors. Better get my 1/4″ plough plane iron honed up and ready to cut some grooves in the rails and stiles.

Published in: on March 5, 2010 at 1:52 am  Leave a Comment  

Take me right back to the track, Jack

I have tons of projects upon which I should get cracking. There’s the grandfather clock that’s been sitting unfinished for almost 8 months, a hanging tool chest for my hand tools that I’d really like to get done so my lovely Lie-Nielsen friends can quit getting all dusty, another grandfather clock to build on a commission (thankfully a much less complicated clock than the unfinished one and the customer is is no hurry), a quick DVD cabinet for my brother, a reproduction of an old-fashioned ice-chest for a friend, some improvements to, and appliances for, my workbench, a  Krenov-style plane to display at the store as an advertisement for an upcoming class I’m teaching… At school I’m working on a sack back Windsor chair and a roll-top desk. I’m hoarding a beautiful piece of ambrosia maple and awaiting the arrival of the templates so I can start working on Marc “The Wood Whisperer” Spagnuolo’s Greene & Greene style frame.

So naturally I’m spending my shop time lately building a toy train.

If you read the previous sentence and said, “He must have a kid” you’ve nailed it. My son, Sam, is obsessed with trains. I don’t say that lightly. A recent behaviour issue that led to him losing his toy trains for a couple of days had him shaking like a junkie mid-detox. He has toy trains, wooden, plastic (large and small), Lego, Lincoln Log and die-cast in nearly every room of the house. Better than half of the space on our DVR is taken up by episodes of “Thomas and Friends”, “Chuggington”, and “Dinosaur Train.” When he moved from his baby bedroom, now my office (and don’t tell me you’re not jealous because my office has a border with duckies and yours doesn’t!), into the larger upstairs bedroom we painted the room, at his insistence, Thomas the Tank Engine blue with red and yellow on the baseboards.

So recently I was talking about a project; the icebox that I’m planning to build for a friend as soon as we thaw out enough to take a drive out and look at some old oak barn wood I’m hoping to use.

“Daddy, you build lots of things for mommy and gramma and Nana and Papaw… will you build something for me in your workshop?”

“Sure Doodle. What would you like me to make for you?”

Should have known what the answer would be.

Between working in the store and chasing my boy around I’d be annoyed about not getting work done on the myriad of other projects I have on the back, and front, and side burners but for three things:

1.) Building this thing has done wonders to thin out the heap in the corner (there’s a box under there somewhere) of scrap wood.

2.) My jointer knives are out to be sharpened and I won’t have them back until next Tuesday. I did order a second set (can’t seem to find them locally) but they won’t be in for at least a few more days with the ungodly amount of snow that has fallen in Cincinnati so I can’t do much with my rough stock anyhow.

3.) I’m a sucker for kids, especially my own. The reaction I got when I handed him the completed engine was worth not getting to work on my other projects. Thankfully I’m not doing this for a living so I don’t really have deadlines, per se.

I finished assembling the engine this morning. Being the most complicated of the cars with turned parts, etc. it took the longest to complete. I had to glue up a 4″ x 4″ blank just to turn the boiler. Later this afternoon I knocked out the coal tender which was much simpler. I’m not sure how many cars long this thing will eventually become. The engine itself is 14″ long, so it could easily get out of control in terms of size the more cars I add. Mama is handling the paint job, orange of course. In Sam’s world everything should be orange.

Published in: on February 16, 2010 at 1:34 am  Comments (1)  

Everything Old is New Again

I learned a lot from my dad, but not much about woodworking.

What I learned from him was that you never really know if you’re able to do something until you try it and either succeed or fail and you never discard something if you can fix it or use its parts to fix something else. Dad had a camera repair shop, back in the days when cameras had moving parts and could actually be repaired, and whether or not he knew for sure what the insides of a particular model of SLR were going to do or how they should behave, he’d open it up and take a shot at it and most of the time he’d get it working.

There are very few things in my life that I’ve lost that I continue to miss long after they’ve gone. My dad is at the top of that short list and I don’t know that I’d ever expect him to fade from his #1 spot.

So like I said, Dad wasn’t much into woodworking other than the odd home repair job. I took most of his tools after he’d passed away at my mother’s insistence. Most were not very useful to me other than stuff like his jigsaw. The man had a metric ton of tiny little jewelers’ screwdrivers and tweezers. He had one woodworking tool, a 1960’s era Montgomery-Ward jack plane with a plastic handle, no chipbreaker and a busted cap iron lock ever. I kid you not, the chip breaker and iron were held tight to the frog by a lot of duct tape. It worked, kind of.

Last week I did a major shop cleanup in anticipation of some guys coming to blow insulation into the ceiling of the garage. There was a box of Dad’s old tools that I’d never gotten around to sorting through. Most of it was random plugs and switches, a ginormous soldering gun, hinges for doors long-forgotten and other detritus and junk stuff still in packages bearing price stickers that haven’t existed since I was a kid. But there was one cool find: A tiny little block plane. You’ve probably seen these before. Here’s my dad’s:

Nothing too thrilling, really, unless you’re me. Finding that tiny plane jogged a memory loose. Thumbing through an old photo album of my grandma’s, I found what I was looking for:  An old picture of my dad, with his dad, from a long-ago Christmas. In the picture they are standing side-by side looking as much like a matched set in full size and miniature as I ever did standing by my own father, each raising aloft a hammer and standing by a child-sized tool chest.

It was Patrick’s  Blood and Gore website that had planted the seed that made me go looking for that picture. The plane is a Stanley  #101 and it came with the tool chest that my dad was standing near in the photo, presumably a Christmas gift. Quoting Patrick’s site:

“The plane was designed for household use, and lighter work. It was originally sold in toy tool chests, but gained such popularity that it was soon advertised as a craftsman’s tool.”

It makes sense that my grandfather, a pattern-maker among other things by trade, would have given my dad a tool chest for Christmas. My son has a set of plastic tools, is insisting I build him a kid-sized workbench just like mine (including dog holes and vise hardware) and he has, at 5 years old, his own block plane, though I took the iron out. Sons do tend to go through a period where they want to do whatever Daddy is doing.

The iron of the little block plane was pretty rough, hand-sharpened at some point by someone who didn’t know how to do it, and the plane itself isbadly pitted on the bottom. No value other than sentimental and not at all useful in it’s state of disrepair. Still, I felt that I needed to do something with it. The iron was salvageable. A fair amount of elbow grease and waterstone work (ok, I cheated and used a WorkSharp to re-define the bevel) soon had it lapped and honed to a shine, sharp enough to shave with, small enough that I wouldn’t want to shave anything larger than a hamster.

A piece of bubinga, a little maple, a couple of slow days at the store later…

And yes, it does work. (For some reason when I took this photo I had the iron and wedge on the wrong side of the brass pin. Call it fatigue) I’ve never tried to make a plane that small, it’s maybe 4 1/2″ in length and just over an inch wide, but it fits nicely in my hand and did a pretty sweet job putting a chamfer on the edge of a piece of walnut I had laying about.

My dad had and used camera equipment whose make/model could only be called “Frankenstein.” If a camera went south beyond reasonable repair, it went into a cigar box to be cannibalized for parts later. We closed up his shop about 2 months before he died and there were more of these boxes than one person could reasonably be expected to count. Dad was all about not wasting, saving it… you can probably use some part of it… not quite a hoarder, but always trying to figure out a way to make something work, or use it to make something else work, instead of just tossing and buying again. I think he’d like my little plane, at least I hope he would.

Published in: on February 2, 2010 at 4:27 am  Leave a Comment  

You want me to hand-cut WHAT?!

It’s the first day of my very first woodworking class. Furniture Construction 1A. I’m jazzed, excited to finally get my hands on some real power tools, not the cheap Ryobi junk I have at home.

Side note: All crappy Ryobi tools have since been replaced, except the drill press with the Amazing Flex-O-Table, guaranteed to make all of your exit holes up to a full 1/8” off from their respective entry holes! I think the drill press knows his days are numbered. I’ve been coming home at night, wistfully sighing over the big floor-standing Steel City drill press with the 6” stroke that is begging me to take it home. Just a few weeks ago Ry’s chuck fell off. Ok, I hit it with a rubber mallet but it would have fallen off sooner or later anyway. But I digress…

I walk into the shop for the first time and behold: The enormous Tannewitz 12” cabinet saw, the 42” (You heard me right – 42”!!) Tannewitz bandsaw, 7.5 HP with a cast iron table bigger than most home shop table saw tops and fer pete’s sake, it has a foot brake to slow it down. Really, without using the brake this thing takes a full 15 minutes to stop on it’s own when you hit the off switch. The giant Porter thickness planer, the Powermatic giaganto-lathe, the 16” jointer that you could land an airplane on! I’m in heaven already, I just know it!

Then at the benches I see my and my fellow students’ names on cards at workbenches. Next to each card are the following: try square, marking gauge, back saw, 1 1/2” chisel, a jack plane and a 1” thick, 2” wide by 8” long piece of poplar. Our task for this first class, and the next one after that, is to square up the poplar, take it down to 3/4” thickness and 1 3/4″ in width, cross cut the board into 2 equal lengths and using the saw and chisels, make the pieces form a 45 degree angle using a half-lap joint. The final joint will be graded with points given, and lost, for consistant thickness of the stock, squareness of the wood itself as well as the inside and outside corners of the half-lap… hoo doggies.

WTF?!

This isn’t how Norm would do it. Where the heck is the radial arm saw with a dado stack loaded up? Sitting there swiping away with a jack plane, trying to get a consistant cut out of a tool that I had never touched before… well, now I know how Sisyphus must have felt. By the time I got home that night I was drenched in sweat and my arms ached for most of the next two days.

Of course we went on from there, bringing in our wood of choice, learning how to read a measured drawing, to use the machinery and eventually producing what turned out to be a very nice Shaker side table. One student asked why we were doing the half-lap by hand like that. The instructor said there were two reasons. One: because even Norm Abram has to use a chisel or a block plane now and again (which became evident when it came time to pare and clean up our mortise and tenons on the side tables) and two, because doing it by hand would make us appreciate that much more the machinery that would do the sweaty work for us.

I got my half-lap done. Actually I made three and handed in my best effort. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great, mind you, and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was what it should be. Flat, square and the proper thickness. I swore that I’d never touch another hand tool unless it was just a quick clean up with a chisel or something like that.

Fast forward a few years: I just finished building a real cabinet-maker’s bench and I have a shelf in my shop with about 30 planes all in all, some Lie-Nielsen/Veritas beauties, some pre-WWII Stanleys that I’ve rehabbed, a growing family of transitional planes, plough plane, a good dovetail saw… I’m getting ready to build a real honest-to-gosh hanging tool cabinet for them. Got the wood picked out and acclimating (Kentucky Coffee Tree with Ambrosia Maple for the door panels) and the design is looking fairly Greene & Green-ish. In April and June of this year I’ll be teaching a class on the making, tuning and use of wooden bodied hand planes. I’ve been known to get up early on a Sunday morning and spend a couple of hours in the shop with my irons and water stones.

Am I going total galoot? Heck no. I’d take my 18” Jet bandsaw to bed with me if I could get it up the stairs (and if I thought my wife would let me) and when nobody is looking I’ve been known to lovingly stroke the smooth granite top of my table saw while french-kissing it’s dust port. (All together now: Ewww! TMI!) But I would say I have distinct galootish tendancies. There is definitely more than a little Underhill in my psyche.

By the way, as of this writing I now own 4 complete sets of chisels and I’ve been eyeballing a 5th.

“Hello, my name is Allen and I have a problem…”

Published in: on February 2, 2010 at 3:43 am  Comments (3)  

Confessions of a late-30’s woodworking student: It All Began With a Toy Box

I was never a “handy” kind of guy. Artistically and musically inclined, sure, but not the guy you’d go to if your sink backed up. My uncles are all builders, electricians, contractors; Dad was always the handyman in our house. He owned his own camera repair shop and was great with mechanical things. He could fix just about anything, build almost anything and considered it a personal failure to have to call in a professional.

After Dad passed away it suddenly fell on my shoulders to be the “fixer of things” not only for my own home but for my mother’s as well. Nothing like trial by fire! I soon found, much to my surprise, that I must have been paying more attention to the old man than I thought. I had inherited (read: Mom said, “Get this all of this junk out of my basement or I’m pitching it) all my father’s old tools and found that I knew more about using them than I had previously thought.

Then came my son… Soon after taking him home from the hospital I was overtaken by this urge. I had this new little person in my life and became obsessed with making and providing things for him like my dad had done for me. My creative outlets had always been music and theatre, but suddenly there was this need to make tangible objects; to be creative in a different way. And thus, the descent into woodworking madness began.

First came the toy box. Then for his first Christmas, it was a rocking horse. I had no experience or really even the proper equipment. I burned out my dad’s old Black and Decker jigsaw cutting 6/4 oak to make the horse’s legs, bought a new one and kept cutting. Tool-itis set in. A small table saw, then a bench-top drill press… you can see where it was all going. I found myself backing out of doing theatre stuff to have more time to spend in my basement making huge piles of sawdust. The TiVO began filling up with Norm, David, Scott and Roy. The mailbox was choked with issues of woodworking magazines.

About four years ago I decided I really wanted to get serious. I had watched enough shows, read enough books and magazines to have a good knowledge of terminology, tools and their uses, and the basic principles of different joints and how they were made. What I really needed was some real hands-on experience with an experienced craftsman to guide me along, saying, “Yes, that’s right” or “Maybe you could try it this way…”

My local Woodcraft offered classes, but I wanted something more than a two day “make a Shaker side table and go home” experience. After doing some asking around I found that the University of Cincinnati offered a 2-year degree in what they referred to as “Wood Technology.” And so at 35 years old I found myself a college student once again, only this time my school bag contained safety gear, a square, a tape measure and a pair of calipers. I’m in my fourth year of the program and loving every sawdust covered minute of it, though at current college tuition prices I am taking one class at a time so it will likely take me 6 years to finish the 2-year program. Still, I’ve never been this engrossed in something since I was five and first laid my fingers on a piano keyboard. It’s hard to describe the feeling, and I’m sure we all have it… from the first pass of rough lumber over a jointer to the last coat of finish on a project it feels a little bit like it did when I first saw my son. Creating a piece of furniture may not hold quite the same weight as creating a new life, but the satisfaction and is undeniable, and a lot less likely to poop on you.

Oh, and how bad has it gotten? Well after 12 years working as a paralegal I got out of the rat race and now earn my keep working for the local Woodcraft and doing side jobs, commissions, trim carpentry and other such woodish pursuits.

Coming up next post: “The beginning of my schooling – you want me to hand cut WHAT?!”

Published in: on January 19, 2010 at 10:51 pm  Comments (2)  
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