Hand Tool Headlines
The Woodworking Blogs Aggregator
An aggregate of many different woodworking blog feeds from across the 'net all in one place! These are my favorite blogs that I read everyday...
Tools For Working Wood
A few months ago I was planning to take a Wednesday off to see the Roentgens exhibit at the met before it closed. As it happened I got an email from a Randy Beranek, who reads my blog, about a week long exhibit of work by carver David Esterly which was at the W. M. Brady Gallery on 80th Street down the block from the Met. I had seen pictures David's work many times in Woodcarving Magazine so naturally I jumped at the chance.
My friend Jeff Peachey and I were scheduled to have lunch that day at Mile End and he had just finished reading David's new book so he wanted to come too.
The exhibit was carefully and leisurely laid out in several rooms so that you can enjoy the pieces without distraction.
The pictures I have seen of David's work just don't do his work justice. The carvings are generally bigger than what I expected and all the carvings have a sense of hyper realism. It's not a real bouquet of flowers, it is a perfect bouquet of flowers. In his sculpture of vegetables, the arrangement of everything is perfect. Even imperfections like a caterpillar eating a leaf is done elegantly.
By coincidence the artist himself happened to be in the gallery when we visited, so chatted about this and that. I asked David if he worked from actual flowers, fruits, and if he mocked up the pieces before he actually carved them. He doesn't. He draws them in illustrator and once he is happy with his design he goes from the drawings directly to carving wood. Not being constrained by the reality of a mock-up, David has the freedom to do with carving what artist can do with drawings. He is freed from the physical constraints of how actual reality looks like.
His approach to realism is also very much grounded in the physical limitations of the detail limewood (which is what he primarily carves) can take and the sense of what detail we can see. The gallery hung the pieces at normal "gallery height" but most of David's work was borrowed for this exhibition from various private collections and many of the works are designed to mounted higher on a wall and viewed from below. In general the detail of a lot of the pieces are meant to be absorbed from a few feet away, not examined under a magnifying glass. There are a few carved carving tools mounted in a few pieces which have handles that are stippled to emulate ash. It's a very convincing look, and from a few feet away the tool handles all look like ash. The carved drapery of one piece has that fuzziness to it that you get on fabric. But the leaves are mostly plain with very few if any veins or texture to them. I think this is because from a few feet away you would not really seem them, and what you register is the leafiness of them and the delicacy of plain flower petals. Fabric and tools have the detailing of texture so we register it as fabric.
This approach to carving in itself is very interesting. One of the absolute benchmarks of modern sculpture is that it isn't realistic at all. And of course at first glance at Esterly's works it is realistic and can be easily dismissed by a lot of modern art critics as "craft" rather than "art". And then of course there is the school of criticism that dismisses this type of work as "decorative art". And of course in the modern world of art schools by and large craft isn't taught which immediately puts this sort of work as "outsider art" even if most of the time that term is used to describe more primitive works. It's pretty obvious and I think we can all agree that the level of carving skill needed to create these works is pretty high and I think lots of people get blinded by the level of craft and miss the art. You see my reaction and I think the reaction of just everyone who sees David's pieces for the first time is "OMG how amazing is that". it's the same feeling you get when you look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or some finely engraved suit of armor at the MET. It's easy to be blindsided by the craft and miss the art. And of course we are only seeing the pieces for a few minutes in a gallery. David's work is almost all created for residences where the homeowners live day in and day out with the pieces. I think after living with these pieces for a little while, after the amazement about the craft of the pieces wears off, that the art will sink in and work will be enjoyed even more.
I'll write about the MET exhibit I saw later at day "Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens" another time.
In other news, over a year ago in the Work Magazine Reprint Project number 5, there was a plan for making an iron, or infill smoothing plane. Basically you were supposed to make a pattern, cast the plane and go from there. The article pointed out that a group of people could easily get together, make one set of patterns and get them cast by a local Foundry.
The group of people was the WoodNet hand tool forum, and James Conrad took on the job of making the castings. The local foundry turned out to be in Connecticut, and after some trial and error my set of casting recently showed up. They are beautiful and worth the wait. James deserves a real pat on the back for not just producing nice clean castings, but also thin walled 19th century style castings that are exactly what the doctor ordered. The thin wall, which is hard to do, hard to keep flat, and hard to keep from warping makes for a lighter more elegant plane. In addition to the plane body James also produced a nice cast lever cap and a lever cap screw. There is some, but not a lot, of filing to do, but I think the hardest task will be drilling the pivots on the lever cap.
If you are interested in giving the project a whack, James has set up a company Sturnella Toolworks and is now taking orders for sets of casting at a very reasonable price (we have no connection with them except as a happy customer). Earlier in the year Ron Hock produced a set of single irons for the plane and I think he is planning to make a bunch more for the next group of kit builders.
I am really pleased as punch to see a positive result from the Work Magazine Reprint Project. It's been running for over a year and every week I learn something. The current issue starts off with an article by David Denning, but the article on bricklaying got my attention first. The sculpture article I know will interest a lot of people. The carving article on page 125 hits the spot for me. It's the next level up for carving for me and I will give it whack soon. I'm (slowly) building the screen secretary in issue 10, I've cracked a few tool puzzles that I have had during the year, and we are seeing more and more people find the magazine of use. Download a couple of copies, skim them, there is always at least one article of interest, no matter if your interests are in furniture, photography, machine work, printing, or cycling.
In a final bit of news Gramercy Tools are now stocked in the Nepenthes stores in Japan. If you recall during last winter we had a pop-up store in Manhattan at the flagship store for Nepenthes and they liked it so much they decided to offer our tools in Japan. We are totally honored by all the attention. The stores are located in Tokyo, Osaka, and Sapporo.
That's right. Burned in my brain from fifty years ago is a happening event in Central Park. At a time when people were fleeing to the suburbs the parks commissioner (Thomas Hoving) and mayor (John Lindsay) wanted to create events in Central Park to get people back connected to that giant public space. This was when closing the park to cars on weekends was just being tested.
So the park held a "happening" and all around Belvedere Castle groups of young and old people, hippies and princesses, gathered to build their own castles out of found materials. If you want to get young people to imagine what can be done with their own two hands, and how much fun it can be, maybe even, as in my case, burn an indelible image on my brain and help turn me into a maker, let kids make real stuff with real materials.
Back to Saturday. Sub Rosa, a NYC based advertising and promotion company decided to exhibit in the fair for no reason other than it is a good cause, a good idea, and fun. Their booth wasn't some big advert for their company, I doubt if many adults knew what they were about as a company, but it didn't matter. Their booth was a pile of bamboo, some sticks as long as 10 feet, a huge number of kids,
Adults and kids of all ages wandered in grabbed as much bamboo as they wanted, cable ties and built something. House skeletons, ladders, teepee poles, swings, or just more poles on poles. The rules were few, the imagination was massive. By the time we got there the structure was substantial and very very cool.
Blake Dain the organizer of the Bamboo city, said that in addition to doing something fun, they wanted to encourage experimentation with bamboo which in this country (not in Asia) is a very underutilized renewable resource. Sub Rosa originally thought adults would do more of the building, but it was the kids who really seized the day. The exhibit also show how much building is in our nature. We didn't have to tell these kids to build something, they had sticks and cable times, they easily figured out what to do on their own.
Long term what will be the result of this exhibit? Trust me, The more we let kids play with real tools and real materials in a free form way the more we will create makers and woodworkers in the future.
Congratulations Sub Rosa for an inspiring exhibition and a job really, really well done.
A few years ago we made a special run of temporary tattoo's featuring the famous woodworking mantra of "Measure Twice - Cut Once". This is an extremely useful bit of advice to follow for anyone who has measured once and cut at least twice. We included the tattoo in orders, and had a stack for customers and in general we had a lot of fun. At the time a certain gentleman by the name of Corn asked if we minded if he adapted the design for a real tattoo. We were totally chuffed and obviously gave an enthusiastic "by all means". Corn stopped by our shop last week to pick up some tools and we got a good look at the result. Wow - it came out great!!!
In other news: I would be a less than a competent iron monger if I did not mention that we are now stocking Geier leather work gloves. These are the gloves we use ourselves in the workshop where we make Gramercy Tools, and we just love the fit, the quality, and the general comfortable feel of the gloves. It also gives us a chance to support another US manufacturer. The gloves are nice enough to be worn outside the shop, and are better made than most of the dress gloves available at department stores.
By today's standards it's a very small house and dates from a time when Manhattan was a very low rise city, full of similar small townhouses that functioned as a home, a business, or both. According to city records it was built between 1827 and 1828, and is one of the few remaining Federalist buildings left in the city. This is the time period when New York was growing, prospering, and furniture makers like Duncan Phyfe were busy defining a New York furniture style. Furniture can be packed up and collect, buildings cannot and on investigation the history of the building is both really interesting, but not at all unusual.
You see what makes this building stand out in my mind is that it's so darn typical. It only survived because at no time did anyone feel like tearing it down. Lower Manhattan has lots of buildings like it and during each building boom they wear a "Kick Me" sign and then they are gone. As far as anybody knows, Neither Washington,Jefferson, or Lincoln ever slept there. All it is is a sort of building that a moderately successful person of early 19th century NY could strive for, which makes it interesting to me at least. After many ups and downs over the years, and conversion to and from a storefront, today the building is a private residence.
In 2007 the building was up for landmark consideration and consequently a long report was prepared detailing the history of the building and its owners. The report touches on the transition of lower Manhattan from a new English city with farms, to merchant houses, early 19th century New York, records of slavery, and freedom from slavery, as the city and nation grew and matured. It's worth reading click here: 513_Grand_St_house.pdf.
If you have the urge to take a virtual walk around the area, you can see lots of older buildings in the area here is a goggle street view which you can roam around it. (Kossar's - which has great bialys is up the block, and if you follow Grand Street west to the Bowery (go right when you are facing the building) you will come to a great series of Chinese food stores which are always mobbed and also some of my wife's favorite food shopping. On your right you will also pass Seward Park HS - where my dad when to school with Bernie Schwartz - later better known as Tony Curtis. Google took the pictures early in the day, when the streets are pretty empty, but go full screen and you get a great tour, later in the day the streets are impassable.
View Larger Map
If you do visit New York, and you are interested in visiting a townhouse of very slightly later vintage, but more upscale, for a more affluent family, be sure to visit The Merchant's House Museum build it 1832, complete with original furniture.
Also very important! I should have mentioned this earlier in the week:
NYC Woodworkers Guild April Meeting:
Japanese Woodworking Tools For The Western Workshop
Guest Speaker: Wilbur Pan
Japanese tools are useful to have for woodworking, but knowledge on how to use them has often
been cloaked in terms of mysticism and exoticness. This talk will provide an overview of
Japanese saws, chisels, and planes in plain English: how they work, how they are made, and
how they can be used for any woodworking project, Asian or otherwise. Check your Zen at the
Monday April 22nd 7-9pm
Makeville Studios 119 8th St Brooklyn, NY 11215
All are welcome!!
This is going to be great! Wilbur really knows his stuff. for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wilbur Pan is a woodworker from New Jersey, and has been interested in Japanese tools ever
since discovering the joys of hand tool woodworking. He has published articles on Japanese tools
in Popular Woodworking Magazine, and is responsible for giant Cypress (http://giantcypress.net),
the best Japanese woodworking tool blog in existence./
Part of the beauty and efficiency of the Festool system is that all the the tools come in standardized, stackable boxes called "Systainers". Systainers lock together in stacks and last year a new style of Systainer made it possible to access Systainers in the middle of a stack without unbolting the whole stack.
This year we see the introduction of three new accessories that make the Systainer system more productive than ever. First up is a re-engineered Sys-Cart. You have always been able to bolt a stack of systainers on top of any of the Festool Vacs, but if you have a lot of tools, or extra storage systainer, the extra set of wheels is pretty useful. The old Sys-Cart was pretty popular, the new one is stronger, takes more weight, and has a more positive locking mechanism for Systainer than before. The wheels are well made, and lock if needed.
In addition to the cart, I think the new Sys-Roll will be really popular in New York. The major difference between the cart and roll is the rool has long handles and the large wheels. This will make it far easier to transport tools up and down stairs. Even a short run of entry stairs can be a bear to get up and down if you have fully
loaded carts. We have all the new tools in the showroom and the Sys-Roll is generating a LOT of enthusiasm.
The third new expansion on the Systainer line is a new Toolbox. Basically a 6" deep Systainer bottom with a handle it can easily bolt on top of your stack of systainers as a catchall for all the miscellaneous tools you don't know where to put. My initial reaction to the toolbox was pretty ho-hum, but in the showroom, it's met with some customer enthusiasm. Both the Sys-Roll and the Toolbox are priced pretty aggressively by Festool, and I think people are both surprised at how inexpensive they are (compared to other Festool Stuff) and the productivity gain is pretty obvious for everyone to understand.
Finally the flagship of the new releases is an upgrade to the TS55 REQ. The new version is just as superb as the old model with some interesting tweaks. You can now cut to within a 1/2" of a wall. The depth adjuster is now in both Metric and English (about bloody time too!) and has a micro-adjust feature. The micro-adjust feature is interesting because it give you the option of cutting to a precise depth, a feature you don't need often but when you do it's a lifesaver. There are a bunch of other tweaks but the only other major one that comes to mind is that the outer splinter guard don't have to be removed for angled cuts. You can read about the machine and also view a video here.
All the new Festool stuff will ship from our warehouse or you can pick it up on May 1, 2013. Not before. But you can pre-order anytime. As always there is free shipping on all Festool orders over $50 to anywhere in the continental US, and of course free returns for anything you don't like ( URLhttp://www.toolsforworkingwood.com/store/more/festool_freeship.html, restrictions apply).
But what of the strop and abrasive itself? There are two very distinct reason to strop. The first is to ensure the removal of the wire edge that you get when you sharpen. The second is to enable fine sharpening at the edge of a curved tool.
In the former case woodworkers routinely strop as a last step after sharpening chisels and plane blades to get rid of the last vestiges of a wire edge. In the latter case, carvers routinely strop while carving to keep an edge at peak sharpness.
The strop material most people use is some form of leather with some amount of give. Lots of people routinely coat a piece of wood or MDF with stropping compound and use that but my thought is that what they are really doing is creating a fine stone, as the subsrate in this case has no give and you lose the advantages of give. We sell horse butt strops, which are very stiff, with little give, and I think they are the perfect strop. Horse butt is also a traditional material for high end strops, we didn't discover their use, we just brought it back to market. Most strops on the market are cowhide, which makes a fine strop, but it's softer and maybe rounds the edges of tools more. But lots of people like them so obviously the difference between types of leather is subtle. Some people mount their leather on wooden boards to make it stiffer and easier to handle. You don't have to do this with horse but you can if you want to. E. J. Tangerman in his classic Whittling and Woodcarving (a book I have owned since I was 10) points out that you can even strop on your hand, which is of course untanned leather.
The strop can be used plain, or untreated, which will refine an already seemingly sharp edge by whisking away the last vestiges of a wire edge that you might not even be able to feel. This is the best way to strop chisels and plane blades that are basically sharp from your finish stone. You will get a sharper and longer lasting edge.
As we have already discussed, a treated strop, or a strop coated with an abrasive compound functions as a soft stone and using it removes metal and can raise a wire edge. This is what you use on curved tools. Most abrasive of stropping compounds are a fine abrasive suspended in a wax stick or cream. The former is easier to handle, you just apply it like a crayon, the latter I have very very little experience with, I used it once and it seemed more trouble than it was worth as it's messier than a crayon. Some people strop using diamond compounds which are always applied as a cream. Some stropping compounds are very dry and powdery and need special handling to get them to stick to the strop.
The most popular abrasive used for stropping is micro fine green honing compound(GHC). Another popular compound is "Yellowstone" which I have never used. I have no idea what the actual abrasive is in Yellowstone, but some people swear by it.
The green color of the GHC is just a dye, and there are several grades of it. All the woodworking vendors sell the same stuff made by Formax in the USA. It's a 6oz. bar of a .5 micron mixture of Aluminum Oxide with some Chromium Dioxide in a wax crayon. Lee Valley sells the same stuff under their own Veritas brand. Many companies also sell red, white, black, & etc. buffing compounds. Those compounds are all coarser than the green stuff. If you purchase the green honing compound from outside the woodworking industry you might get a coarser abrasive (Formax make two versions). Your want the "Micro Fine" version. For hand sharpening the 6oz size will last years and it's under 10 bucks. For power stropping larger bars are available from some vendors.
There are also less commonly available stropping compounds that are at least as fine as the GHC. These compounds might be finer, contain more abrasive, or be imported.
To use GHC just scribble it on the leather strop. Leather has two sides. The smooth side and the rough side. Which side should you use? I use both sides. I like the rough side because it holds stropping compound well, and I use the smooth side as a plain strop for chisels and final strokes with a carving tool. But it probably doesn't matter. When you use the strop you will instantly see a streak of black steel being removed. This is a big contrast with an untreated strop which basically just rubs off the wire edge. I took the photo above when I was comparing different brands of honing compound. Initially the new stuff, on a freshly applied bit of leather cut a lot faster than my old strop. Then I applied my usual GHC to a fresh piece of leather and WOW my old stuff cut pretty good. Then I scraped off a few months accumulation of homing compound and black steel residue from from big strop and WHAT DO YOU KNOW! - my old strop was working as efficiently as any of the new stuff. Moral: DON'T LET GUNK ACCUMULATE ON YOUR STROP.
One more important point to realize is that for regular woodworking tools that you have carefully honed on a 8000 grit or better water stone, or that prized Arkansas stone, until you cannot feel a wire edge, if you strop on a treated strop you can easily create a wire edge, which has to be chased and removed.
Note: The honing bar in the photograph is about 2 ounces and far smaller than the bar we sell. It's a sample size that we used to include in our "Start Carving Now" kits and I'm just using the last few ones we have up.
I subscribe to Chris Pye's Woodcarving TV and he's got a couple of videos on mallet selection. I also have the benefit of knowing what carvers purchase - number one being the Wood is Good 18 ounce mallet. The twelve ounce mallet has always seemed a little light to me. The trick with carving seems that you want a fairly short stroke so you don't lose control and the stroke is repeatable. My guess is that with experience you can use a longer stroke and a heavier mallet but I'm not there yet. This is a lot different than joinery. In joinery you usually are whacking at one place at a time until the tool goes too deep and then you lever out the waste. In carving you are constantly malleting and moving the carving tool forward. You need a lot of control. So I watched Chris's videos on mallet selection. Who knew that the proper name for cylindrical metal mallets is "dummie mallet"? So between Chris's videos, and testing out the feel of a few mallets, I've settled on a dummie mallet and now I'm practicing up.
It's an interesting thing about "Woodcarving TV". On YouTube and other places on the Internet, there are 50 million carving videos on all sorts of topics. The reason I just go with Chris's Woodcarving TV is twofold: I like his style - that's important - whoever you decided to learn from you have to like their approach. But more important I like the consistency. The problem I have with random videos, and some of them are very very good, is that I want a series of videos that are consistent, don't overlap, and don't contradict each other. And of course that's exactly what you get when you subscribe to a series by a single person. So I'm happy. I still look at YouTube for interesting carving videos, but I consider them extra-curricular, and frosting, rather than a course. Also Pye's program is divided into a series of fairly short videos, which I think I prefer to a single long video. I feel more comfortable picking and choosing. The only drawback is that it does cost money, but in the cosmic range of things, I'm getting coherency, and hours and hours of instruction. I also have had occasion to email Chris and get useful advise (like on how to carve a mitered corner between two gouge lines).
Ok - enough on my carving - now onto something important. Candy. Choward's candies are a local favorite and what lots of people here pick up when they start jonesing for some candy. When we opened our pop-up store in Manhattan (now closed) we put on sale a box of Choward's candies, for a bit of the Brooklyn flavor in Manhattan. We ate a lot of it ourselves, the rest sold, so we started selling in the showroom. People really like it. It's only a buck, so I don't think we will become the next candy billionaires, but it's popular in the showroom - I'm the best customer (lemon) - so it seemed logical to put it on line. For more info on the flavors and stuff click here.
Note: May 1 is when the new Festool tools become available. We expect to have everything on-line and ready for pre-order next week!!!