When our 26-year old son Sam was in the first grade, the first and second grade classes went on a field trip to the Georgia Pacific lumber mill here in Fort Bragg. Designed primarily for processing the huge logs typical of the Coastal Redwood Sequoia Sempervirens, this mill closed shop some years back, having too few trees left to warrant continued operation.
But twenty years ago the mill was busy with its last gasp, and the staff there was always happy to host the wee bairns for Fire Safety Day. On display for those innocent wide-eyes was a California Department of Forestry helicopter to gawk at, fire trucks, big bulldozers used in fire fighting and, of course, fire fighters galore, many of whom were dads, brother, uncles of some of the kids (small town!)
Add hot dogs and ice cream and you’ve got a pretty good day out of the classroom.
At that time, GP maintained an enormous greenhouse where they grew gazillions of redwoods from seed. The seeds were harvested by helicopter with a big can-thing with grabby fingers — a little like a crab trap for really big crabs. This was lowered by helicopter down over the tops of tall trees and, when lifted back up, would rake off thousands of redwood cones. With precious tall-tree seeds in them.
Those seeds would be planted and nurtured and used in reforesting clear-cut timberland. Or you could buy them for your own property; it was open to the public for retail sales. (A styrofoam “flat” with a hundred one-year seedlings sold for only $40!) Anyway, for Fire Safety Day each kid got a two year seedling to take home.
I used to go along to all the field trips — one of the great perks of self-employment! When Sam and I got home we planted his little redwood in a pot. It got bigger. Then we planted it in the ground where it continued to do so.
Sam’s two-year seedling is now about 45 feet tall and measures 15″ in diameter at “breast height” (which I learned on the field trip is how you measure tree diameter — DBH is Diameter at Breast Height.)
We have several of these “Trees with Meaning” on our three acres of this pretty planet. I’ll write about them from time to time.
How about you? Any trees in your life that deserve recognition?
A Chisel 1/16” slides into pine like a hot knife into butter. Mortising holes is not always for large work. Many years ago a customer brought hundreds of rosewood parts to me in a cardboard box. It was a multifaceted Chinese lantern made up of frames that housed painted glass panels. Each meeting point intersected with mitred tenons into mitred reception mortises on the adjacent stiles. The owner had missing parts by the dozen, but in the scheme and scale of things, what was missing seemed very small.
I made all of the parts, replicating the pristine mortise and tenons. It was a time-consuming work of love I admit. When i saw the work needed I couldn’t help myself but agree to repair the lantern because the work of a Chinese craftsman two centuries past would have come to an end. I most likely made $5 an hour or less by the time the work was.
Recreating the parts left me in awe of the accuracy of the workmanship. Not only did all of the joints fit interchangeably in any of the mortise holes, so too every mitre fit with a gapless perfection that challenged every ounce of my skill.
I didn’t want a workbench for the fine work. No vise could hold the fineness of the pieces. All plough planes were too big for the grooves and no moulding plane I ever knew of could recreate the moulded stock. I made the small knives and the scratch stocks from Zona saw blades and diamond files. Work I never charged for. I made my chisel from O1 but I am sure what I made would have seemed crude to the old craftsmen that made the lantern. The plane I made left me with little to hold on to but the work was worth any discomfort.
Sometimes your work draws you into deep, deep realms of workmanship we have lost connection with by substituting pathetic alternatives requiring skill-less, workless input through computers guiding styluses. A poor but skilled workman made this lantern and received small reward to establish it for the wealthy man and his family to live with. He was the contented man of depth and substance constrained by a humility I can never know and he lived by his hand work and few words. He lived in an age of no machines and never turned an electric switch to start a motor or even to light his way by. I turned out the work using the same techniques and patterns as I learned from my mentor’s tool marks and cuts. Each cut I made to replicate the work became my treasure and my wage in my heart. When my work was done I delivered it to the rich man who bought it for his son who loved Chinese art work and I closed the lid on my newfound treasure and locked it away until I brought it out to write this blog. The man who made the lantern hid himself in his work. Pride and being known meant nothing to him. This is the art of human life.
Other side view
Eight and 1/2 inches long, 4 3/16 inches wide, and 2 3/16 inches thick, plus or minus a bit as it is 300 years old. Sent to me by my friend Sir William from the East coast as an ingredient for an old recipe for cutler’s cement that calls for brick dust.
It is a very hard brick and if you look closely you can see the shells from the lime making process in the matrix of the brick. The brick weighs 5 pounds. Seems a shame to grind it up, but it will give me a chance to test out my new cast iron mortar and pestle, and there apprently are more available.
I will report the results of the cutler’s cement recipe trials as they happen.
One more example of how much glue surface provided by a dovetail joint. This crib certainly looks like it has fairly wide-spaced tails, but if you do the same analysis as I did in my thought experiment, you find that the total glue surface is nearly the entire length of the joint.
(Original crib photo from Mark Firley, on Flickr.)
Reggie Shaw, a left-handed blog reader, (he doesn’t read left-handed blogs…but is left-handed…oh, forget it)
sent a note that this right-handed J R Fuchs hatchet is for auction on ebay. I already have 2, and don’t have the money to get in a bidding war…but someone will get the best hatchet going. Lose that godawful red paint, and it looks ready to go.
here’s the link. maybe one of you?
When David Charlesworth made his first trip to the United States, he flew into the cornfields of Indiana all jetlagged and hungry.
So we took him out to eat. And someone in our party (it was the genius, I suppose) decided that Longhorn steakhouse was a good idea. It’s a throw-your-peanut-shells-on-the-floor place. Big belt buckles are de rigueur. No snakeskin boots, no service.
When we walked in, we told David: “The women here will love your accent.” He looked doubtful, but we were correct. Not only did the 20-something hostess swoon when David said “Hello,” but several members of the wait staff came over to our table during the evening just to hear him speak.
It’s no secret that in the United States, having a British accent raises your IQ by at least 10 points. During my 25 years in publishing, I’ve learned that it is hopeless to argue with a British accent during a meeting. I might have fact and figures, but he has the accent. Case closed.
The same goes for South African accents. Australian accents, not so much. Many Americans can only picture “Crocodile Dundee” when an Australian speaks.
When I go overseas, I assume I sound like a hick. So I try to speak clearly, evenly and without any Arkansas idioms. Still, I imagine my students hear me as “Cooter” from “The Dukes of Hazzard” – a gun-toting, tobacco-chewing, redneck dufus.
During my recent trip to England, one of my English hosts commented that he had spent the previous evening listening to one of the American students talk about his philosophy of furniture design.
“It was fascinating,” the Brit said. “Or maybe it was just his deep voice and American accent that made me listen to him all night.”
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Personal Favorites
Asking a newly minted woodworker to build an Anarchist Tool Chest in five days is about like asking them to grow a tail.
During a five-day class, most students are working on the lid when we run out of time. This is somewhat frustrating for the students and myself because we both want the sucker done and ready to use.
One solution would be to add extra days to the course. But most students are so worn out after five days of high-pressure woodworking that the sixth day would be mostly nap time (we’ve tried it). There are other solutions I’ve pondered, all of which add time or cost or whatever. (This is my polite way of saying that I’m not looking for your suggestion to hold the class on Saturn, where the days are much longer.)
So this summer I have designed some different chests to build in 2015. One of the chests isn’t ready to unveil because it is part of a kooky-go-nuts low-cost new class I’m developing for 2015 (Hint: I hope you like the smell of B.O.).
The other chest is designed and ready to discuss. This chest is basically the same size as the Traveling Anarchist Tool Chest, but it has some simpler joinery and an additional cool feature.
1. Fewer dovetails. Students have dubbed my Anarchist Tool Chest classes as a dovetail death march. I don’t disagree. This new chest replaces the dovetails on both the lower and upper skirts with miters.
For the upper skirt, I think this is an overdue change. The upper skirt is a component of the chest that doesn’t see a lot of wear; it’s rare to see damage to this part of an old chest. Also, the upper skirt is now a three-piece assembly instead of going all the way around the carcase. This speeds assembly up and allows me to add a built-in stop for the lid (more one that in a minute).
Alas, the lower skirt does take a heap of abuse, so I resisted using miters here. Sure, I’ve seen miters survive just fine, but I’ve also seen them fail on old chests. So I’m recommending students add steel corner brackets, another feature I’ve seen on surviving tool chests.
2. A different lid. I love the lid on my old tool chest, but it has a lot of joinery and takes more than a day to build by hand for most people.
So here I’m using a lid design shown both in chests designed by Charles Hayward and Paul Hasluck. The lid is a simple flat panel with the grain running left to right. It is surrounded on three sides by a dovetailed dust seal (just like on my old chest). The flat panel is glued to the front of the dust seal and rabbeted into the ends. Cut nails keep the ends attached to the flat panel and allow it to move, pushing the wood movement to the back of the chest.
The other feature I like is that I have extended the width of the flat panel so it will act as a stop, keeping the lid upright when open. In the current drawing I have it open at 90°, but I can lean it back by planing a bevel on the lid.
This simpler lid also provides a nice canvas for a marquetry panel.
I’m still drawing out the interior of the chest, but it will be much like the Traveling Anarchist Tool Chest. There will be two sliding trays, a rack and two sawtills – one for panel saws and one for backsaws.
3. And finally, I have thinned down some components of this chest to make it lighter in weight, but still plenty strong. The thinner components – the bottoms, skirts and dust seal – are all things I’ve seen on old chests. Nothing new here. I’ve also thinned down the thickness of the carcase so that we can use off-the-rack white pine to save expense and reduce weight.
I’ve loaded my SketchUp drawing into the 3D warehouse. Be warned. This is the metric version. I’m not switching to metric. But I’m just back from England and I’m trying to train my brain to work better in metric. When I finish the Imperial version, I’ll post that as well.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: The Anarchist's Tool Chest, Woodworking Classes
I have added another beginning video lesson to my online school. It is available to free members and shows how to carve a peach and leaf in shallow relief. I plan to add this lesson to my youtube channel also – hopefully by tomorrow.
You should be able to print the pattern below. If not, let me know.
Sunday I will be heading to Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Indianapolis to teach a class August 4 – 8 on relief carving. I believe there are still a few spaces available.
There are also a few spots available for the beginning carving class I will be teaching at Lie-Nielsen in Maine August 22 & 23.
I am actually going to get into my workshop today and carve! What a strange concept. I have been so busy with travelling, teaching, video editing, paperwork, taxes (yes, I just finished last year’s taxes) and other distractions, that I haven’t done much carving for the last 2 months. So I am going to take a deep breath, clamp down a piece of wood… and carve… I’m not even sure what I will carve, but I’m just going to see what happens. I have pieces I should work on – commissions and such – but today I just need one of those days where I disappear into carving an unplanned design of… something… I’ll let you know how it goes.
At finishing time, a number of things are happening near simultaneously. The bridge needs to be made, so that its position can be masked off before the finish goes on. It also has to be positioned correctly, no slip ups here, since its position won’t be able to change once the finish is on. (Not without taking the finish off and starting again!) While the fingerboard was slotted according to a certain scale length (the distance from the nut to the saddle,) in order for the ukulele to be perfectly in tune, a small amount has to be added, to compensate for the stretching of the string as they’re pressed down on the frets. In the case of an ukulele, this is about 1/16″.
Here is the bridge after masking and after finishing. (Notice the difference between the finished and the unfinished koa. Now it has truly become a “golden child!”
Now, there are more choices when it comes to ukulele bridges; many use a tie-block bridge like that found on a classical guitar (just a little smaller!) After all, the ukulele is very similar to a classical in construction and playing. However, I decided to go with a more traditional ukulele bridge to keep with its Hawaiian heritage. (Actually, the ukulele originally evolved from a Portuguese instrument, brought over during the days of exploration. But, it has since become Hawaii’s national instrument and heritage.) With the traditional bridge, the strings (gut or nylon) are knotted at the ends and fit into a slot behind the saddle.
The overall size of the bridge needs to be quite small, after all, so it doesn’t dampen the soundboard too much.
Note how the saddle is filed differently for the second string. This allows a more precise compensation for the different sized strings so it will play in tune perfectly.
The frets were leveled and crowned and polished. Tuners (again, traditional friction tuners, although improved modern ones) were installed. The nut and saddle were shaped and adjusted for a low action. And now, the first pics of the complete Kulakeiki. (The headstock is actually darker, that is just a bad light reflection. I will be taking it’s “glamour” shots for its own page at a later date.)
Hmmm. I’ve done tiny instrument now, and huge ones. What to do next?
So DJ shows me a picture and says “What do you think of this tool chest?” I glance at the picture: it’s a neatly finished Anarchist’s Tool chest painted in de rigeur Bible black with all the trimmings. Nice. Nonchalantly, he shows me another pic’ of the interior: Equally…
At the risk of delving too deeply into personal details, let me say that it has been a frustrating (but very enlightening) journey to bring this saw filing guide to market.
Months ago, it became apparent that I was unable to keep up with demand by myself, so for some time I have been searching for a machine shop to make some of the parts for me. After striking out at more than a few shops, I believe I have finally found one that will work with me, and to my standards.
I am getting the money together to place a sizable order (well, sizable for me). It’s a big leap, but because a large order is the only real way to keep the unit cost low enough to make it economically viable, it’s one worth taking.
To answer the real question that most of you have: once the order is placed, it will be two to three months before the finished guides are ready to ship. Thanks to everyone who has expressed interest and support, and thank you to all for your patience. I believe that it will be worth your wait.
If you’ve been around Popular Woodworking Magazine recently, you know Wilbur Pan. You also may not think that he is new on the lectern at Woodworking in America (WIA) because he’s been to most of the conferences, but this is the first year he’s been asked to present. In the pages of PWM, Wilbur has contributed in many different columns and had a couple of features, too. In fact, he’s […]
Recently my friend Bill wrote me to ask if I had any thoughts about portable workstations, as he was about to embark on a project requiring him to work in the gallery of a museum.
I was able to help him, and in fact together we built a new bench for him to serve his purposes. I enjoyed it so much I built myself yet another one and am documenting it in great detail here.
Note: Like the “Parquetry Tutorial” this entire series of blog posts will be edited and packaged for download as a complete PDF once I have finished it. WordPress is being obstreperous about the spacing of this post, but it will be corrected in the PDF.
Working as a furniture conservator requires me to frequently work “on-site”, that is, I go to the furniture rather than bring it to my studio. There are many reasons for this; the legal liability of transporting very valuable objects, the cost of renting a truck and hiring someone to help out (I usually work alone), the ability to call it quits at the end of the workday, etc. Regardless of the reason, I often found myself working in unfamiliar, and usually unequipped, surroundings.
Thus, several times a year I would move lock, stock and workbench to a new location. Loading and carting big sawhorses, plywood sheets and cardboard boxes full of supplies to the new site is a truly odious activity. Over the years of scraped knuckles and bashed shins carrying sawhorses and plywood up or down three flights of tight, winding stairs, I vowed to find a better way of setting up a temporary work station. Obtaining the perfect portable workbench was my original goal, but by the time I finished it turned out to be just one of several aspects to my quest.
In the end, that process of finding a “better way” resulted in the design and fabrication of a new workbench to make the task of working in a portable studio more manageable and productive. Through several generations of prototypes over twenty years I have it now refined to the point where I am not sure what more there is to improve.
What did I want?
The only thing I was sure of was that my sawhorse and plywood routine had to go. But what arrangement was to take its place? My first step was to acquire a suitable workbench. Being a lazy fellow, my first actions were to look around at the market to see if any of the available “portable” workbenches were suitable. I discovered only two real options; a small version of the European-style butcher-block-top bench, or a Workmate. I looked at a couple of the former, and own one of the latter.
I found the portable Eurobenches to be too small and unsteady for my use (and quite frankly, too “cheezy”). In addition, they still weighed-in at over 100 lbs., simply too heavy.
I tried my Workmate on a couple of projects, but it wasn’t exactly what I really wanted because it was too top-heavy and the work surface was too small. My search for a manufactured bench to suit my needs wasn’t exhaustive, but nevertheless, in the end I decided to design and build my own portable workbench.
The process of attempting to procure a new portable workbench began with the question of exactly what I wanted out of the bench, regardless of its source. When I decided to make my own, I had only to review those requirements and build to fit them. But back to the original question; what were my specifications for the bench? The answer was simple; 1) the top had to be perfectly flat and at least 2′x4′ (any smaller and I might as well stick to my Workmate), 2) it had to have an integral large capacity vise sturdy enough to take a modest beating, 3) the bench had to be very light, compact, and easy to set up and take down because I didn’t want to have to assemble a kit each time I moved, and 4) it couldn’t cost a fortune in time or money to acquire. It was also important to remember that the bench wouldn’t have to stand up to immense weight or stress, since the pounding necessary during general joinery is rarely required in a conservation project. Any heavy work dictated by a particular treatment would still have to be done at home.
In the next episode I will begin to walk you though the step-by-step process of making one for yourself.
|A Pied de Biche Mahogany Table with Cypress |
secondary lumber - built by the author.
2) What harvesting technology was available in a specific region / time period?
|Two Petite Armories and a Corner Cupboard |
utilizing Cypress and a primary lumber.
|The Walnut and The Cherry Armories|
here feature Cypress secondary lumber.
Notice Sassafras chairs in foreground.
| Interior of a Walnut Armoire showing the |
prevalent use of Cypress in auspicious places
one could hardly consider "secondary."
|French Acadian Table in Pine,|
typically Cypress further south.
|Typical French Acadian |
Table in Cypress
|This door is one single slab |
of Cypress with battens.
|Photo Credit: Nicole Lawton|
|Photo Credit: Nicole Lawton|
|Photo Credit: Nicole Lawton|
|Photo Credit: Nicole Lawton|
Through the first half day of the auction Thursday afternoon, there were several lots that went to the next highest bidder after I dropped out of the running. I tend to be pretty disciplined about setting a bid ceiling and sticking to it. I was beginning to suspect an Govcom conspiracy but thanks to Josh Clarke I was not being caught empty handed (I will detail the coolness of sitting alongside an active successful bidder tomorrow).
Friday morning at about 10.30 came the item I drove there to get, the Emmert Universal Benchtop Toolmakers Vise. I’d looked it over carefully on Wednesday and Thursday (twice) and it was both a beast and a beauty. Astonishingly, bidding started at $5, indicating there were no absentee (internet) bids. I jumped in, hard. At about $300 there was a lull and I could feel the thrill of victory rising in my chest. Then another bidder jumped in and the price soon chased me off. No, I did not win the bid, which was an out-the-door price of just under a grand. The disappointment was bitter.
However, all was not lost as my friend Jon found a pristine sales brochure on that very tool out in the tailgating section and gifted it to me as a very nice consolation prize. It was a truly thoughtful and generous gesture I will recall for a very long time.
I’ll keep looking, but so far this tool has eluded my wallet. If someday I find one in good condition for a fair price I will get it. If not, not.
The patternmaker’s chest also came and went above my limit. At the end of the day I saw the buyer examining it and I congratulated him on it. He knew nothing of the contents, and I spent several minutes explaining what each of the tools inside was. In the end it was apparent he cared only for the chest, and I was only interested in the contents, or more specifically, the Buck patternmaker’s chisels with the interchangeable handles, shafts, and gouges.
He offered the set to me for a very modest price, and in moments I had them in a box and was toting them off to show my friends. These high-chrome steel chisels are made only for gentle pushing to finish the surfaces of wooden patterns for foundry work, and I now have a pretty complete set as these joined my previous acquisitions from years past.
One last forlorn visit to say farewell to the Emmert on the buyer’s pallet (he was buying A LOT) and then we headed for the line to the pig roast. Roast pork is the near-perfect conclusion to almost any kind of day.
Tomorrow, finally some winning bids and horse trading with Josh.