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Updated: 1 hour 47 min ago

A base for the travel bench

2 hours 24 min ago
A while ago I made a small travel bench that contains an integrated tool chest.  I designed it to be clamped to a picnic table in order to make it compact for travel and stable in use.  While I have enjoyed using it, the downside is that you don't always have access to a picnic table and it's just too high for some tasks.  After reading about the Moravian travel bench that OK Guy made recently, I decided that I needed to have some sort of base for mine as an option.  With twenty-twenty hindsight, I might have built a Moravian bench too; I just didn't realize how compact they are when knocked down and how quickly they can be set up.  Nevertheless, my travel bench does have some advantages, as I'll describe below.

My criteria were that the base be very compact for travel and sturdy for use with hand tools.  I chose the Krenov sawhorses I made recently as a starting point.  Essentially, I just tried to create a wide, ruggedized version of one of them, not really knowing if it would work or not.  I started by making these side assemblies that transfer force directly from the sides of the bench to the ground.  They are mortised together and have a cleat on the top to attach the benchtop:


Then I added four stretchers held in place with pegs, eight of which do double duty by pinning the mortises:


One of the reasons I designed it this way is that things like suitcases fit easily within it for travel, so it takes up very little extra space.  

Recall that this is what the bench/toolbox looks like standalone:


The base is designed to allow easy access to tools during use:


Even with the vise attached, all of the tools are easily accessible:


How does it compare to a Moravian bench?  I'd say it's different. It can be used without a base, it doubles as a tool chest, it may require somewhat less space for travel and my base design sets up even faster.  I think the Moravian bench may be somewhat superior in use, particularly for larger workpieces.  
Categories: Hand Tools

Workbench personalities

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 9:01am
Many of you will have seen this series by Christopher Schwarz.  It is amusing and perhaps of some value as a cautionary tale for those about to build a bench.  I have a different take on this subject though.

Woodworkers have explored the design of workbenches exhaustively over the centuries.  Like the foods of different cultures, they all have something to offer and, based on personal preference, each of us likes some more than others.  Some of this has to do with the tools we use, the projects we build, the space we have ... but personal taste plays a big role.

I chose to build a traditional Nicholson workbench and I couldn't be happier with it.  I like it for its historical significance, its ingenious design and its solid functionality, and I also like the look of it.  Roubo?  No question it's a great bench with a lot of advantages, but I don't like it.  Mostly, I am put off by some of its proponents.  A workbench is not a piece of furniture.  This is not a lot different from the fact that I prefer London to Paris.  Scandinavian benches?  Haven't used them, don't know.  I like the food though.  Moravian?  Ditto, although I haven't had the food (but I'd like to try it).

When I try to look at the subject objectively, I think it comes down to this.  A good hand tool workbench is really really solid, has the right dimensions and is good at workholding.  It's made from readily available materials that are reasonably priced.  Most of the rest is taste.

Not much to say about solid.  My bench goes thump and it does not slide.  So will others of many different designs.  The heavier the better.  Workholding?  Good ones of many different designs are just fine.  I'm an outlier, but I wouldn't have a bench vise again.  I like the Moxon.  I like the Nicholson skirts for vertical workholding but I am sure a sliding deadman works fine.  Dimensions?  It's got to be a good fit for you and some of us are pretty sensitive to them.  For me, 22 inches wide, 8 feet long and palm height is just right.  Materials?  Oregonians should make theirs from douglas-fir.  Buy local if you can.

I think I could be happy with any bench that satisfied these criteria.

I am about to build a basic workbench for my son, who doesn't have time to do a lot of woodworking right now but has an interest.  It will be one of two designs.  My first choice is the basic Nicholson bench designed by Mike Siemsen.  I can't say enough good about this.  It's cheap, easy and highly functional, a really great first bench.  You won't like the other one, which is based on the first bench I ever built.  I would construct a base from douglas-fir 4x4s mortised together (though you can use Simpson brackets like I did years ago) and put a top on it made from three layers of 3/4" baltic birch plywood.  Five feet long is all he has room for.  It would stay dead flat forever.  This is a much better bench than you might think.  You can make either of these benches in a weekend.

So, I guess I have revealed my workbench personality:  unpretentious, plain, functional, solid. dependable.  Whole grain wheat bread, not croissants and not Danish rye.
Categories: Hand Tools

2018

Sun, 12/03/2017 - 7:59am
Now that I have finished making Christmas gifts I have started thinking about new year's resolutions, which I do annually.  Though it's fair to be skeptical about their value, I think making resolutions is a useful exercise which, at the least, can do no harm.

I think there are three criteria for judging your woodworking as an amateur:

  1. enjoyment experienced
  2. projects completed
  3. skills developed or improved
I did well on 1 and 2 last year but 3, not so much.  I enjoyed building a number of projects but I mostly relied on skills I already had.  I can't say that I really developed or improved my skills significantly, even though there is lots and lots of room for me to get better.  Here is what I propose to do about this during 2018.

  1. Stop buying tools and spend more time developing skills with the ones I already have.  I am sometimes like the golfer who thinks he is one club away from being really good.  It would be better for him to work on his swing.  I have more than enough tools and really should go a year without buying any, not even one.  Just like the golfer who should spend less time playing and more time on the practice tee, I need to step away from projects more and just work on skills.
  2. Focus on my weakness.  Here in Portland, we are soccer crazy and we have a superb player whose glaring weakness is his left foot.  It makes him much easier to defend and sometimes keeps him from making the most of opportunities.  Why doesn't he spend the offseason focusing on it?  Because it isn't a lot of fun to work on your weakness and he has learned to compensate with acceptable results.  Same thing in woodworking.  My worst weakness is finishing and it shows.  The fact that I dislike it a lot is both cause and effect.
  3. When something is almost but not quite right, stop and figure out why.  To continue with the soccer analogy, some players make good entry passes that sometimes work out but great passes would unzip the defense and make a huge difference.  Good enough is not good enough.  A clear example from my woodworking is a mortise and tenon joint that almost but doesn't quite fit.  I tell myself I can close it up with a clamp or by drawboring.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it almost works.
I actually think that when you reach what I'll call the journeyman stage, 3 is the most important and more or less incorporates the other two.  If I would do this consistently, I would enjoy woodworking more, build better projects and develop my skills.  This isn't complicated so it's just a matter of forcing myself to do it.  Just like losing those holiday pounds!

There is, of course, no reason that you should care about my resolutions, but maybe they will get you started thinking about yours.  Maybe we should have a contest and give away a nice tool for the best resolutions.
Categories: Hand Tools

Holiday gifts

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 3:43pm
Every year, my wife and I try to give gifts of an Oregon product in handmade boxes.  This year we settled on a selection of teas and, wanting to get a jump on it, I made half a dozen white oak boxes last summer.


Thing of it was, though they are nice enough, I ended up not liking them for this purpose.  The main thing is that it is inconvenient to get the teabags out, but I also think they look too heavy.  I put them away and have been trying to think of another design for months.

Time is getting short, so last week I got serious.  I decided to go for a minimalist, high function design and not worry about style at all.  I also wanted it to be a design that wouldn't take a lot of time to make with hand tools and be unique.  This isn't my life's work.  As I thought about it, I realized that, because premium teabags come individually sealed, there is no need for them to be in an enclosed container.  This is what I came up with.



This isn't a design that will appeal to everyone.  It's like my active stool, designed primarily for function and not style.  Nevertheless, I like it.  It is so handy to see the tea selection and get the one you want easily.  It's light but seems to be sturdy enough.  In fact, my wife liked it enough that she asked me to make her one too, so that sealed the deal.

Construction is very straightforward.  With the stock prepared, the first thing I did was tape the three vertical pieces together so I could be sure the holes were precisely aligned. 


This also made it easy to round over the corners of the three vertical pieces in a single operation.  It's kind of hard to believe that I used six planes to make these simple pieces:


First I plowed a groove at the bottom of the outside pieces to receive the base.


Then I made a shallow rabbet so the base would fit into the groove.


This little jig I made works great for this.  Finally, just before assembly I shot all the edges and planed the faces.


I used rattlecan poly for finish.



  All in all, making 8 took about 12 hours.


Categories: Hand Tools

Slab bench II

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 6:42pm
Here is the bench assembled.  By far the most challenging part of this project was surfacing the slab; the rest was pretty straightforward, basically just 6 mortise and tenon joints.


I hadn't really thought about how to attach the slab to the base, so what I came  up with was a 1' square piece pegged to the legs and attached to the slab with screws in elongated holes:


Seems to get the job done while looking good.

After 3 coats of satin Arm-R-Seal the bench took its place at the end of the table.


This was my wife's idea and I was skeptical, but it is much more comfortable to sit on it at the table than I expected.  I find myself choosing it over the chairs.

She wants me to make three more and not have any chairs at the table.  To do that, I would have to buy and season another slab, so I am going to try sitting at this bench for awhile before I go along.  I am thinking that some guests might not be comfortable without back support so it might be better to make another one for the other end of the table and have four chairs in the middle.
Categories: Hand Tools

Slab bench

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 7:38am
The final piece of the slab is 14" wide and 39" long and I am going to use it for a bench.  Scrounging around, I found enough pieces of cvg douglas-fir for a base.  Two leg assemblies will be joined with a stretcher.  Here is one dry fit:


I don't usually describe my construction techniques because it doesn't seem all that interesting but sometimes I pick up tidbits in the descriptions in other blogs, so here goes.  These tools plus my miter box are what I used:


I chose the angle on these legs by eye and then used a bevel gauge.  Since the most critical cut on these angled tenons is the shoulder, I created knife lines and then cut them on my miter box.  It takes no extra time and ensures precision.  After that I sawed out the tenon at the bench.

As I've written before, I use a hybrid method for making mortises.  I lay them out in pencil but only use a center line because I drill them out on my drill press. 


Then it takes only a couple of minutes to finish them with a wide chisel, using the edges of the holes as guidelines.  Yes, I should be using a mortise chisel, and someday I may, but this method works so darn well it's hard to give up.

I cut the through mortises for the long stretcher the same way:


If you look closely at the mortise on the right, you can see a hint of the original drilled hole in the center.  This is what makes this method so convenient; the guideline ensures a perpendicular mortise that fits snugly with little or no trimming.

I use the drill press mostly out of force of habit but it would be just as easy to bore the hole with my brace and bit.  There are some things in hand tool woodworking that seem almost magic to me and one of them is that you can bore holes at precise angles completely unguided with no more than some sort of reference like a bevel gauge or square.  There is no need to have a drill press. 

I always peg or drawbore my mortises; it's a belt and suspenders thing.  If you think about it, in a drawbored joint the thing that matters most is the shoulders of the tenon.  They need to be dead on for both appearance and strength.  The peg holds the tenon tight.  As long as the peg holds, the snug fit of the tenon doesn't matter; only the shoulders matter.  You lose the mechanical strength and glue strength if the fit is poor.  I know that some woodworkers who drawbore don't even bother gluing their tenons but I do, as I don't see a reason to give up the redundancy.

Categories: Hand Tools

Interesting developments

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 7:06pm
I start with a development that may seem trivial, but it definitely isn't for me.  I have been a loyal customer of Lee Valley/ Veritas for many years.  The one thing that has held me back from purchasing more from them has been shipping, which commonly took a week and a half or even more.  This resulted from the warehouse being in Canada and reliance on UPS ground for shipping to the west coast.  For a major tool purchase that was tolerable, but for many purchases of hardware and supplies or for something that I needed for a project I was in the middle of, I just couldn't wait that long, so I would purchase elsewhere.

Imagine my surprise when a recent order arrived in only three days.  Doing some research online, I learned that Lee Valley has established a distribution center near Reno, Nevada, so now those of us on the Left Coast can get items from them in a reasonable time.  This is really great news.

Next, Joel from Tools for Working Wood has an interesting series of posts on his blog about things he is doing differently in his woodworking.  The latest is about his use of a Moxon vise.  He writes that,
by raising the overall height of where I saw I can see better, bend over less, and the whole process feels so much less jury-rigged. I am sawing better and more accurately - partially at least because I can see what I am doing...
I was thinking the same thing this week because I was sawing some tenons using my bench vise and it wasn't going well at all.  I was stooped over in an uncomfortable position and couldn't see well.  Try as I might, I couldn't get my sawing motion right.  Finally, I put my Moxon vise on the bench and things immediately improved.  For many of us who are older, a vise at bench height just doesn't work well for sawing joinery.  I have a Veritas twin screw vise on the end of my bench and it works well for some things, but sawing joinery definitely isn't one of them.  If I could only keep one, it would definitely be the Moxon.  It really is a game changer for me.  I am one of those weird ones that could easily do without a bench vise.  If you don't have one, as I didn't for awhile, you find other ways of workholding that are often better. 

I built three Moxon vises in succession over the years.  The first used pipe clamps, the second bar clamps and the third and fanciest one used acme threaded rods.  Funny thing is, I like the bar clamp one best by far.



I like the handles being in the back out of the way and I like the "quick release" feature.  You can clamp any sized workpiece very quickly, even if you need to skew the jaw.  I added that piece of walnut on the front so I wouldn't strike the clamp with a saw.  It also turns out that the heavy duty bars fit snugly into slots do a great job of eliminating most racking, which is a problem with my other two versions.  This is the one I use while the other two stay on the shelf.

A Nicholson workbench, a pair of Krenov sawhorses and a Moxon vise will be in my shop for as long as I do woodworking.  
Categories: Hand Tools

Plane talk

Mon, 10/30/2017 - 5:35pm
I have written about my frustration with not being able to use planes on the douglas-fir slab because of all the tearout.  Douglas-fir tears out fairly easily anyway and all the wild grain and knots just made things impossible, at least that's what I thought.

I had one more piece of the slab I used to make the dining room table, the only one with no knots and  I was determined to get to the bottom of this issue.  I began by using the power hand plane to get the rough surface down to within about 1/16" of flat.  I didn't use a scrub plane because the last time I tried it tore out something fierce, 1/8" in places.

What I tried first was taking a sharp #3 set to take very shallow cuts.  I used it across and on both diagonals to the grain and it worked really well:


I also gingerly tried it with the grain but it started to tearout, so I stopped.  I was still puzzled about why this has been so difficult.  I have flattened my bench, which is cvg fir, with minimal tearout and successfully made other things out of fir.

I decided to do some research and essentially found what I have read previously except in a more extreme form.  Several experts recommend setting the chipbreaker absolutely as close to the edge as you can possibly get it when planing difficult wood, literally a few thousandths.  The reasoning is precisely that it breaks the chips before they can tearout, producing accordion like shavings and only a slightly rougher surface.  Neither put emphasis on a tight mouth.  One suggested a bevel-up plane with a blade sharpened at a very steep angle as an alternative, something I have.  The blade becomes its own chipbreaker.  Being risk averse, I decided to give both of these a try with the grain on the bottom of the slab.  In both cases, I sharpened the blades carefully before beginning.

As you can see from this picture of the sidegrain, it isn't difficult to predict where it would tearout.


With the #3 freshly sharpened and the chipbreaker set as close as I could get it, I tried planing with the grain.  Nothing happened.  Taking the plane apart, I discovered why.


There wedged between the plane and the chipbreaker were the accordion shaped shavings.  Not hard to figure this out.  I purchased this plane a while back, sharpened it, tried it, and it worked fine, so that's all I did.  Visual inspection of the front of the chipbreaker attached to the blade looked just fine, but it clearly wasn't when the chipbreaker was set this close.  There was enough of a gap that the chips could force their way in.  The fact that I use the ruler trick on my plane blades may have been a contributing factor, I don't know.  After I cleaned up  and shaped the chipbreaker, the plane started producing nice accordion shavings with no tearout, just a slight roughness in places.  This is what the shavings looked like.


As you can see, they are somewhat short because they tend to break off.  Next, I decided to try my Lee Valley bevel-up smoother with a 50 degree blade.  In this case, the blade acts as its own chipbreaker because the angle of attack is 62 degrees.  It too produced shavings without tearout, but they were distinctly different, not accordion-shaped and more continuous, leaving a surface that was slightly smoother. 


The major difference between these two planes was that the bevel-up plane was noticeably harder to push.

That left the issue of why I had experienced such bad tearout with old #7.  I removed the Hock blade and chipbreaker to look at them and this is what I saw:


The chipbreaker was set fully 1/16" back from the edge.  Sharpening the blade and moving the chipbreaker up to the very edge of the blade gave me long continuous shavings with very slight tearout, easily removed with a cabinet scraper.


You can see what a tight roll the chipbreaker being set up like this produces.  I think the reason it isn't accordion shaped is that the Hock chipbreaker is at a lower angle than the stock Stanley one.  The front of it has the same shape as the blade and is about the same thickness.  It's like a second blade turned over and with a slight bow in it.

What are the takeaways?  First, I don't know why I have to continually relearn this lesson, but when something isn't going well it pays to stop and figure out why rather than just blundering ahead. 

More significantly to readers of this blog who are hopefully not beset with this failing, the advice to set the chipbreaker absolutely as close to the edge as you can get it when planing difficult wood is confirmed.  You don't want to do this normally, because the resulting accordion shavings are not continuous and leave a somewhat rougher finish.

Finally, I think Lee Valley's claim that the low angle smoother with a 50 degree blade will do a good job on difficult grain is also confirmed. 
Categories: Hand Tools

Outdoor serving table II

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 5:04pm

Once the mortises were done, it didn't take long to finish the table.  Here it is with the salvaged Corian resting on it.


I didn't want a front stretcher on it because I want to be able to sit at it comfortably on a stool.  I doubt that the corner braces on the front legs are really necessary because the table has 14 stout, pegged mortise and tenon joints.  I added them anyway, for additional strength and because I like they way they look.  I did something different from what I usually see.
   

The grain runs diagonally, which I think looks nice and takes advantage of the characteristics of wood to be very strong.  I created the shadow line to emphasize the difference.  They are held in place with pegs.

I have never understood why the grain on the ones I usually see on arts and crafts tables runs parallel to the leg.  It seems like it would make the brace prone to splitting on the very short inside section.  I also don't think this curve looks right on an arts and crafts piece, but that's just me.  This is a nice library table but the brace just looks crude to my eye. 


The final decision is how to finish my serving table.  I wanted to leave it unfinished and let it weather, with the idea that it would end up looking like an old white oak whiskey barrel after a few years.  However, my wife didn't like that idea, so I found some semi-transparent exterior stain that is almost indistinguishable from the raw white oak.
Categories: Hand Tools

Outdoor serving table

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 6:39pm
I have been cooking outside more and have found that I need a side table for preparing and serving food.  When we remodeled our kitchen I salvaged a piece of Corian 14" wide and 60" long that is about the size we want.  The task was to design and build a base for it.

I thought about a number of options, but kept coming back to the kitchen work table I made last year, which has exceeded our expectations.  My  wife loves it and uses it constantly.  I decided to use a similar design for the outdoor table.  It is a bit narrow, but it will sit against a wall.

The next issue was what species to use.  Cedar and redwood are obvious candidates, but I decided to use white oak because it looks nice and is an excellent outdoor wood.  In a Forest Service study, untreated white oak was found to have an estimated average service life of 30 years in outdoor untreated applications.  It also weathers nicely.  Think of old whiskey barrels.  I bought three 5/4 boards 8 feet long averaging 6" wide for $70, under $5/bf.  I like this thickness because it makes strong stretchers and, doubled, makes 2" legs.

One disadvantage of white oak is that it is somewhat difficult to work with hand tools.  It is subject to tearout and quite hard (Janka hardness of 1360 vs. 1010 for walnut, for example).  It's manageable though; the key is very sharp tools, which requires honing very often.  Given my severe patience and discipline issues, I have to be able to do this quickly at the bench with no fussing.  The best way I have found is three steel honing plates loaded with 6, 3, and 1 micron diamond paste:



I also keep a strop at hand.

My design requires 14 mortises, which I made as I normally do by using a drill press to remove the bulk of the waste and then finishing with a bench chisel.  At some point, I will buy a pig sticker and give it a go, but this method is so easy I am ambivalent.  A personal failing I know.

Here are the four legs mortised and ready to go:




Categories: Hand Tools

Slab "waste"

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 6:35pm
I have always admired the native american practice of using every part of an animal they killed.  We americans generate entirely too much waste.  So when it comes to woodworking, I try hard to avoid any waste at all, which is actually quite easy.

The slab I purchased was 11' long and I used 8' of it for the table, so that left a piece 40" wide and about 36" long.  That piece didn't look right for anything as it was and it had two big knots in the flat sawn center, so I decided to rip it into two pieces, cutting out a small center section.


The near piece is clear vertical grain and I haven't decided what to do with it yet.  The rear piece has a knot and a limb coming off the side of it, which makes is quite interesting.  It is also angled, reflecting the way the tree was cut.  It had one large crack running all the way through it which needed to be repaired with epoxy.  I taped the bottom of it and then filled it from the top.



I learned the hard way that you have to overfill cracks by quite a bit.  Even then, I ended up having to fill the crack a second time about an hour after the first time.  T-88 epoxy takes a long time to set up so it was uncured.

Smoothing the epoxy isn't as bad as you might think.  I've found that a plane works just fine:


Because this fir tears out so easily, I did the last bit with sandpaper.  A problem that I encountered is that air bubbles get trapped in the epoxy, so when you smooth it small holes appear.  I think that I should have thinned the epoxy the second time I filled the crack.

I wanted rustic legs from small logs that would be attached with loose round tenons so I used a technique that I have used successfully with three-legged stools but never with four legs.  I created a 45 degree sight line and used a bevel gauge to guide a brace and bit.


This doesn't seem like it could possibly work, but it does.  The four legs were all within 1/4" first try.


Here is the final result:



Categories: Hand Tools

Dumb but now better than OK

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 5:08pm
Recently, I knocked a quarter-inch chunk off the tip of the top horn on the handle of my Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw.  I have no excuse whatsoever.  When I do something like this, I just shake my head and wonder how I could be such an idiot.

I certainly wasn't going to leave the handle that way but I wasn't looking forward to making or buying a new handle.  Holding the handle, I noticed for the first time that it was kind of tight for my very large paw and it looked like it might be more comfortable if the horn were shorter.  With nothing to lose, I used a quarter to draw a new shape and had at it with my TFWW saw handle maker's rasp.  I originally purchased this when I was shaping a saw handle, but now I use it regularly for all sorts of things.  It's the only hand cut rasp I have and the shape and random fine teeth are perfect for shaping of compound curves.  It's a must have.

Reshaping took only a few minutes and, to my great surprise, I ended up with a handle that I like better than the way it came from the maker.


  Really.  It fits my hand better and I can't see how it detracts from the saw's handling.  I don't think it looks bad either, although maybe that's a rationalization.


I read that Lie-Nielsen finishes its handles with a wiping varnish, so I applied two coats of satin Arm-R-Seal to the repair.  As expected, the tip of the horn is somewhat lighter but I think it will age and doesn't look bad anyway.


This was one of those lucky occasions where a dumb move had a happy result.  It got me thinking.  What other tools that I have would I like to personalize?  I might even try it without damaging the tool first.
Categories: Hand Tools

Krenov sawhorses

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 10:56am
Recently I decided to make a new pair of sawhorses to replace the traditional ones I made years ago.  I wanted them to be suitable for use with handsaws as I don't find sawbenches to be satisfactory.  I just don't find the position comfortable or conducive to accurate sawing and the old sawhorses are too high and long to use for handsawing in my shop.

As I often do, I started by searching for online images and was immediately attracted to a design by James Krenov.  They are functional and handsome in my opinion.  I really appreciate great design like this and knew I would enjoy seeing them in my shop as well as using them.

Of course, I had to put my own spin on them.  Since it is a felony in Oregon to build sawhorses out of anything other than douglas-fir, I used kiln dried 2x6s for my version.  I experimented with the height and decided thaThet 29" was about right.  Here is what I came up with:


The sides are mortised into the base and the stretcher is connected with wedged through tenons.


They nest together nicely so they don't take up much floor space when they are not in use.


 A nice feature of these sawhorses is that the stretcher can be used for a shelf, which I think will be very handy when I am assembling and finishing smaller projects.



To me, they are strong and look great.  I've tried sawing on them and am very pleased.  They were fun to build in about a day.

As I was building these sawhorses, it occurred to me that they would make a great project for an entry level course in hand tool woodworking.  Douglas-fir is inexpensive and easy to work.  The joinery is varied and moderately challenging.  They would serve as a good introduction to tablemaking.  I wonder if that is part of the reason Krenov designed them the way he did.  I've seen pictures of his school and notice that each of the students seem to have a pair at the end of their bench.
Categories: Hand Tools

Stanley 200 honing guide

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 2:02pm
We were passing by an estate sale the other day and stopped to take a look.  The guy was a hoarder and there were boxes of junk scattered around the yard.  Something caught my eye and, when I picked it up, it appeared to be a vintage Stanley honing guide, though I had never heard of it.  I took it to the seller, offered him $5 for it and he asked me what it was.  I told him what I thought and he immediately went on Ebay and found one for $110.   I am sure I could have bought the entire box for $5 and, of course, I didn't have to tell him what it was, but that's me.  Obviously irritated, I put it back and he promptly told me he would take $5 for it.

So, here is what it looks like after I cleaned it up:


It's got some light pitting on the roller that doesn't affect use.  You can alter the angle of the blade either by varying how far it protrudes from the guide or turning the acme-threaded rod on the roller.  One of the things that intrigued me about it is that it is long enough to let you have the roller off the sharpening medium.  I like this idea because I use diamond paste and it keeps the roller from being contaminated:


I sort of assumed it wouldn't work very well because you don't read about them and, so far as I was aware, there is only a cheap modern version that is anything like it.  However, I tried it out on this plane blade and it worked really well.  I've got the roller a little low in the picture, but there is a lot of flexibility in how you adjust it.  I wasn't sure how well the thumbscrews would work, but they held the blade securely.

Now I'm wondering why a guide like this seems to have fallen out of use.  I did some research and it appears that it wasn't popular because the sharpening medium has to be a uniform thickness or the angle will change.  That isn't a problem with diamond stones, plates and paste or sandpaper but it was a problem with oilstones.  Some woodworkers seem to really like them.  I think it is a keeper.

Here is an interesting video by a luthier who has developed a similar guide that he uses with waterstones.  One of the advantages he claims is that it keeps him from gouging a very soft 8000 grit waterstone he uses.  The way he uses it to polish the back is interesting too.  



Categories: Hand Tools

Oregon is on fire

Tue, 09/05/2017 - 11:37am
As I write this, hundreds of thousands of acres in Oregon are on fire and some of them are minimally contained after months of effort.  The one that saddens me beyond words is the fire at Eagle Creek in the Columbia Gorge.  This fire is near Multinomah Falls and many other falls along the beautiful Columbia River Historic Highway. Two teenage boys were tossing fireworks over a cliff along a trail.  Nearly 5,000 acres have been consumed so far, a number of communities have been evacuated and Oregon's only east/west interstate has been closed.  The fire is within a few feet of the historic Multinomah Falls Lodge and right next to the falls.  I go there to hike often.  It is a very special place to me, a place that calls me back again and again.  These were huge old trees, trees like the one that gave me my slab table and it will take a century for the forest to come back fully.  I will never see it as it was again.  Our house is about fifty miles away and we woke up to ash everywhere, the remnants of what used to be.


What can be done?  Here, nothing other than replanting.  There will always be a few teenage boys who do things like this.  I think the Forest Service can be faulted for not closing the area but this would have been hugely controversial.  It's hindsight.  Many of the other fires were caused by lightning strikes.

There is a bigger and more fundamental issue and the solution is beyond dispute.  Forest fire is a healthy and natural part of forest life here.  Experts study old growth forests and they see that there were several natural, low intensity forest fires every decade.  It can literally be seen in the trees and we can see the positive impact thereafter.  These fires remove brush and the "ladder fuels" that allow the fire to climb to the tops of the biggest trees and they thin the forest.  A century of putting out forest fires and not removing the overstocked trees and brush mechanically has created a situation in which the fires are so hot and intense that everything is destroyed.  You go to ponderosa pine forests in eastern Oregon where the brush has been removed and then "controlled burns" have been conducted at optimum times in late spring and just marvel at the health of the forest.  Contrary to what many environmentalists believe, this is what a natural forest looks like, not the overgrown tangle you see in many pictures.  I have seen old pictures of untouched forests in Oregon and they don't look anything like the ones we admire today.

I owned 40 acres of second-growth douglas-fir in southern Oregon that was tangled and choked.  The trees were way overstocked so they couldn't grow well and were susceptible to disease.  A forest fire would have moved through at unbelievable speed.  I did a lot myself and hired fire crews on standby to do the rest.  You just wouldn't believe what happened.  The remaining trees were "released" and they starting growing vigorously.  Forest health improved dramatically.

The people at the Forest Service understand this and they do as much of it as their budget allows, but it is a pittance compared to what is necessary.  We are willing to pay thousands of workers to fight forest fires but not to clear brush and remove ladder fuels in our national forests so fires can be beneficial.  This is what our Congress has done.  Tragic.  I so wish we would take care of our national forests.

Update:  Read this to be utterly disgusted.  Two fires have merged and the total is now 31,000 acres.
Categories: Hand Tools

The slab is done

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 10:51am
Having used the bottom as a learning experience, I enlisted some neighbors to help me turn the slab over and repeated the process on the top.  It was extremely time consuming and challenging.  There is a reason that people who do this commercially use a router sled.  I ended up removing 3/4" of material on a slab that is 40" wide and 8' long.  In the end, a power hand plane and a belt sander saw a lot of use.  I regret this but, by coincidence, learned that Chris Schwarz does the same thing for his Roubo benchtops.  His stock is half the width of mine.

Why do you have to remove so much material?  A slab like this will almost inevitably twist and cup.  Across its width you have vertical grain changing to flat sawn and back to vertical grain.  It basically has to cup.  The wild grain pattern associated with the huge knots almost guarantees that the slab will be "wonky."  That is its beauty.  During the course of this project I came to understand that there is an entirely different aesthetic at work here.  The cracks and knots are part of the tree's story.

I elected to use Arm-R-Seal to finish the slab, brushing it on the bark and using a cloth on the top.  I didn't want the "plasticky" look that you often see, the result of a thick hard finish.  Here is the result:











I am very pleased with the result.  It is unique and has character.  This is about as rustic as you can get short of just using the rough sawn slab as is.  It's certainly not for everyone.  Welcoming cracks, pitch pockets and knots is kinda weird I admit.

I got the ultimate compliment from the cable guy as I was applying the finish.  He admired it and said, "It looks like it belongs in a brewpub."  As it happens, I am a big fan of brewpubs and knew exactly what he meant.  Douglas-fir is our state tree, it played a central role in our history, it is fundamental to the beauty of our landscape and we like to keep it close.  Same with draft beer.  You can travel the world but you won't find a beer better than an Oregon IPA made with our own Cascade hops.  This table is going to see a lot of it.
Categories: Hand Tools