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Inside the Oldwolf Workshop
A couple years ago, when I first sat back down at the drawing board after a nearly two decade hiatus, I was worried about myself. In my teens I immersed myself in art of all variety, something barely offered in high schools any longer. I have since found out with formal classes, weekend workshops, and independent study programs I actually received more "Art" training than many college level Art Majors. (The discussion of the disappearance of art and shop classes from high schools is shelved for another day.)
I finished high school believing I would take a year or so off, then attend a "real" art school (whatever that means, we all suffer through the pig-headed-ness of teenage idealism.) Instead I did something that mattered, I married my high school sweetheart (almost 22 years and going) We started a family, and I found a job in healthcare that could provide for them and filled a life too full to add a sketchbook to the load.
My teenage art school self would say something idealistic at this point about holding your artistic resolve in the face of blah blah blah and the blah blah blah. I'd like to meet my teenage self someday. I'd poke that whinny bitch in the eye. Life is about choices and compromises and I don't regret most of them.
Then I started working on my book, and there were concepts I knew I could illustrate better than I could stage a photo, but I was intimidated to sit down and apply graphite to paper again. It's a perishable skill, (for the record, drawing is a Skill NOT a Talent, there's a difference and stop mixing them up, or I'll have to poke you in the eye!) Then Peter Galbert's book arrived on the scene and changed the meta of what a good looking woodworking book can look like. Around the same time I started following a gentleman named Roland Warzecha in his quest to faithfully rediscover medieval sword and shield combat styles. He is writing and illustrating a book on the subject and his work is just fantastic.
For the last 20 years I hadn't done much more than doodle, A gesture drawing, a cartoon face, a bunch of measured drawings. Most of my agglomeration of art supplies had been donated to my children's explorations, but they could be replaced. Mostly I was intimidated by my loss of skilled practice. My eye knows what it wants, what to look for in something satisfactory, I am a very tough and detail oriented critic, especially versus myself.
I sat my ass in a chair and started working at it again. Eventually it's the only option left. I always had a bit of a sketchy style before, but I'm working harder on cleaner lines and solid contrasts now. Finally things are really starting to fall back into a rhythm, I can ease myself into the flow state I used to be able to call at will and I'm starting to turn out work I don't absolutely hate in the end.
If you put it down, you can get it back, you might have to fight a bit, but it's possible. I would say this crosses all hard won skills, drawing, writing, woodworking . . .
If I find the time to re-learn how to play guitar I'm worried I might start to see my acne return!
Damn, then I'd have to poke myself in the eye.
Ratione et Passionis
|Top tray of my tool chest|
|Middle tray of my tool chest.|
A very satisfying little project, took about three hours sketchbook to lights off. I chose not to break down the build here for a couple reasons. My daughter asked for one of her own right away and I think I can improve on the concept with slightly different materials. Also I want to get better at video: shooting, editing, all the things, and I believe you get better by jumping in and doing it, making mistakes and doing it better. Since I have another to build I thought I'd shoot my own version of the Tested One Day Build video. That will show all the build decisions and details and should be in the works in the next week or so.
Ratione et Passionis
Talking later I told my wife it was no problem, I had made a simple pine dovetailed box with an inlaid walnut racing stripe and ended giving it to another God-Daughter several years ago. I could just spend a day in the shop and repeat the exercise. Looking through the modest wood stash I keep, I couldn't find a nice enough pine board.
I did find a reasonable board of red oak. So I made my measurements, cut the board into smaller pieces and started cutting the dovetails on those pieces. I know lots of people make a big deal out of dovetails and there are plenty of people like me who take them as just another joint to cut. Personally I find accurate mortise and tenons by hand to be more challenging. But sometimes even the simple things are a struggle.
Three out of four corners fit together like the should. Nice tight joints. The fourth . . . .I'm still not sure where I went wrong. A combination of slipping while marking out and flipping the board inside out. I was sure I checked my triangle but whatever. Off by nearly a quarter inch for the center two tails, there's no saving that respectively. Not for something that's a gift. Not for something special.
Back to the stack and I found a small 1x6 by six foot long board of box store African Mahogany I'd picked up for who knows why. It was a bit buried and I hadn't seen it the first time. I did zero documentation of the build, but it's pretty straight forward. I dovetailed four sides. attached a bottom, then rip sawed the box in two parts.
I edge glued a lid with a half inch of overhang all around and used a complex moulding plane to shoot a profile around the edge. I attached it to the top half of the box with pocket screws.
I used a second complex moulding plane to shoot some mouldings I then mitered around the base. Inset and pre installed the hinges which I then removed and finished the box in two halves.
I used a half dozen coats of garnet shellac followed with a dark colored paste wax for the outside. The interior got a good schmear of The Anarchist's Daughter brand Soft Wax. The hinges got reinstalled, and I added a chain and a small jewelry box hasp and padlock to the front.
I wasn't able to go to the graduation party and see her receive the gift, but Mrs. Wolf told me there were tears and joy. I guess we hit the mark with something special.
Ratione et Passionis
This set is something I've been working toward for a long time. A frame saw for resawing boards to thickness and a couple of dedicated kerfing planes to aid the endeavor. Being able to resaw your boards to different thicknesses from what is available off the shelf helps bring your projects to another level of creativity and freedom.
I used the hardware only version of Mark Harrell's Bad Axe Roubo Frame saw kit. Mark threw me a template he had scaled to match the 48" two-man saw Roubo illustrated only on a more manageable one man plate around 30"
Mark's kit and hardware are fantastic! I supplied my own white oak and some of my own ideas and in a couple days of shop time (an hour or two when I can) I have a this wonderful object that helps me parse grain. Mark's reputation as a saw maker doesn't need my poor words to pile on, just trust when I say he's not satisfied until he has things worked out to hit the sweet spot of function. I stopped by his shop to see some of the new things he has in the works and used on of his pre-built saws while I was there.
No kerfing plane used. This thing still tracks a pencil line like a laser beam.
Of course we have Tom Fidgen to thank for bringing these saws and kits to a kind of modern rebirth. After he jumped in the pool and told us the water was fine, many of us gladly played follow the leader.
At testament to the quality, here's the saw face of my saw's test cut in walnut. I was super impressed with the surface left behind, other than the center where the grain failed and the pieces popped apart, this surface would take minimal clean up to make presentable. This is superior to the resaw surface I used to get from my bandsaw with an expensive blade!
So in answer to the question, why would you resaw boards/veneer/ anything by hand if you could just throw it through a bandsaw instead. It's not the novelty, or the workout, it's results like this. The frame saw doesn't take that much longer to actually work. there's no set up/fences/squaring/test cutting to do. Swipe around with the kerfing plane (or don't) and receive nearly finished results.
Every once in awhile I will build a project without doing much documenting. This was one of those so there's not much for process photos. Just the hero shots of the finished product.
One note to clean up. I consider Mark Harrell a friend, but even if I hated the SOB I'd throw my money at him. The depth of knowledge he has assimilated about saws, their function and use and how all the minutia relates to their performance is awe inspiring. Yes I get to go hang out in his shop every so often and see what's cooking and if that makes you jealous . . . I'm ok with that.
Ratione et Passionis
I've been playing with new toys and contemplating different games. Working with new materials and learning new skills. I recently purchased the 3D printed parts of the hero gun from the movie Hellboy. I cleaned the parts up, sanded them, fit them together so things moved and and the fake bullets can be exchanged. I painted the prop and weathered the finish. I've been drawing more and more movie props and similar inspired builds in my sketchbook.
I've been playing with casting small pieces and finishing them. I've been reading and learning techniques to build from foam and looking into wiring LED lights and writing code for small circuit board computers like Raspberry Pi. My mind is filled with polycarbonate and LED lightsaber blades, aluminum, brass and steel alloys, tricorders, Weta Workshop, and Guillermo Del Toro.
I have always been a big geek for comic books, fantasy and sci-fi books, Dungeons & Dragons, and movies. Realizing I have the skills (or can develop the skills) to bring some of the magic into my hands has been a revelation and probably the start of an obsession.
And yet. . . .
And still . . .
I know where my roots lie. There is something about wood that is unlike any other material. It is living and exists on it's own accord without the smelting of fires or the fuzzing of electrons. It carries a warmth of texture and a varying nature that makes it a challenge to subjugate to your will. It asks a toll of you, requires you spend the ultimate resource of time to get to know it, (and still it will surprise you) There are skills to develop. A multitude of skills to develop and maintain.
It is unlike anything else, and it is endlessly fascinating to me.
I can't help but inspect nearly every off-cut I make. The fractal lines of grain and the balance of weakness and strength. I enjoy snapping them in two like a destructive toddler. Sometimes I even lift them to my nose and smell them. I pay nearly as much attention to the small buttons of wood I remove cutting dovetails.
Along with the off-cuts comes shavings, sawdust, carving chips, and finished pieces. A bottomless love affair with whip cream and sprinkles on top.
I may wander, but I know where home is. I may roam, but I know where my heart lies. Some folks need church, I just need my workshop. The wonders of the universe at the tips of my fingers.
Encapsulated in a simple board of white oak.
Ratione et Passionis
Tool making is it's own deep subset within the greater woodworking community. There are folks out there like Jim Hendricks who spend a lot of energy collecting, restoring, and creating rare and wonderful hand tools. My hat is off to Jim and others like him (a dozen other names come to mind) and their obsession.
Though I dip my toes in the pool from time to time I know it's not for me. It is far more worth my time to buy a well made tool than muck around on my own. I will make them, (I have a half set of Roubo hollows and rounds on the short list) but one of the BIG reasons I migrated from power tools to hand tools is I was tired of making jigs to make furniture. I do harbor some of the same feelings about making my own tools.
But as there aren't a ton of prefinished kerfing planes or re-saw frames out there (Mark Harrell is selling a finished resaw kit now!!) my hand is forced.
Working off the template I made from the match planes I used for inspiration I had finished making the major cuts on the body. It was time to start shaping things to work.
I predrilled the radii for the handle and then roughed out the rest of the handle shape using a coping saw and a regular hand saw for the straight cuts. I cleaned up the flat cuts with a block plane and chisel and started to dig out my files and rasps to work on the handles.
Then danger struck! I had a somewhat independent thought. Shhh... please don't inform the NSA. My back was a little sore and it was a very nice autumn day and I was wishing I could work in the sun out on the gazebo. Sitting in a favorite chair instead of standing hunched over a vise. I connected those thoughts to the pleasantly lightly faceted surface of the spoons I sometimes carve and thought it would make an equally pleasant surface to hold as a saw handle.
I grabbed my Morakniv and moved to the sunshine. All too quickly I had the handles imperfectly perfect to touch. This really is my favorite part of this whole build and I will probably continue this trend in future tool endeavors
Sawing the kerf to fit the blade was another operation I needed to nail. No wavering in the cut, no patented Olson brand screwing up. I cut and planed shims to a measurement a wee bit thicker than 1/2" 1/4" and 1/8". The extra thickness will come off with a plane blade in the future. I put these shims in the mouth of the plane and ran my tenon saw tight up against the shim to make the cut.
The tenon saw plate is slightly beefier than the kerfing saw plate and will make moving the kerfing plate from one body to another easier.
Holes were marked and drilled for the saw nuts. Here after some time I am thinking about talking to Mark and upgrading from the softer brass to steel fasteners as they will see more "in and out" of the saw body than your average saw nuts would. Maybe in the future I will upgrade to a saw plate for each plane body but we will see where the need falls over time first.
A little stamp marking and some danish oil followed by paste wax for a finish and the kerfing planes were done. Then a decent sized commission fell into my lap and I had to put aside the re saw plane until a later date. Should be starting that any day now.
Ratione et Passionis
My wife occasionally reminds me that my relationship with tools is outside the bell curve of normal. The following thoughts may be proof of this.
With some tools there is a learning curve. You have to figure them out before you get consistent results. I think of my Veritas plow plane this way. It wasn't immediately intuitive to a dummy like me and I had to learn her idiosyncrasies (and get an upgraded depth stop from the company) before I was happy. This isn't a deal breaker in my world, I'm happy to get to know a tool well if we're going to have a long term relationship. Many of my planes and I have had this courtship.
Occasionally tools spring into your hand ready to go. Often it's because I payed my dues with a similar tool before finding this one. I taught myself good sawing technique on a self sharpened old Disston backsaw with a slightly warped plate. So when my first Bad Axe Saw found it's way home it was amazing.
But there are a small percentage of tools that signify a paradigm shift in my shop techniques. They change the way I solve problems and even view my work in the shop. Around a year ago this Morakniv 120 arrived in the mail. I bought it to add to my spoon carving kit, but it didn't live in that tool roll for long. It doesn't even go in my tool chest, it hangs on one of the pegs over my workbench and other than my holdfasts and bench mallet, is the most quickly accessible tool in my shop.
Last fall as I was building a set of kerfing planes and it became time to shape the handle, I decided to rough out the grip with the knife before reaching for the rasps, but once I worked down to a point I came to really like the lightly faceted feel on the knife carved handle. It transfered that "touch" to the tool's feel that's so elusive. So I slowed a bit and made better, finer, smoothing cuts to finish by knofe only. Treating the handles as I might the handle of a spoon.
This knife simply answers the call of duty every time without complaint. It came to me very sharp and it holds it's edge for a long time and is still easy to maintain with a charged leather strop. The wooden handle is modifiable but honestly I found it comfortable and responsive out of the box. The only thing I don't like, that keeps me from strapping it to my belt, is the plastic sheath. I suppose I should just find someone to make one for me out of leather. All in due time I suppose.
So there you go. Even the simplest of tools can be transformative to your shop time when they are designed and crafted just right.
Ratione et Passionis
This love letter is unsolicited and unsupported. I was not asked by MoraKniv to write this nor have I recieved anything from them. I was using this knife in my shop this week and this post formulated in the joy of the shavings coming off the blade.
I just finished reading Nancy Hiller's "Making Things Work." (You don't need me to tell you what an entertaining read it is, there are plenty of bigger hitters out there giving the book lots of deserved sunshine) It came into my hands at the perfect time. I don't take many commissions for work but over the winter came one I couldn't refuse. I pulled it off and the client was wonderful, but by the time I delivered the pieces I was tired.
Not physically, or really mentally. The word I have is spiritually exhausted. It was probably six weeks or a little more before I meaningfully stepped back into the shop to do anything. Still now I am only getting my sea legs back underneath me. The batteries were just depleted and took a while to charge, but it gave me time to think.
A dangerous pass time I know.
I know I'm not cut out to build furniture full time for other people. I knew that without Nancy's book. Still it leaves to question; What do I want from all this? Mostly I just want to answer the questions I have for myself instead of blindly trusting the words of others. If I could make a perfect career out of my shop time, it would involve experimenting, then writing and teaching about those experiments.
I'm guess I'm just a stubborn old viking who likes to steer his own longship tiller.
If that's what I want, how do I move from here to there?
I've spent the last few months planning and working on some things adjacent to directly making sawdust.
So I also upgraded to some professional level video editing software.
I've only started playing with things and the software learning curve will take a bit to be efficient/proficient, but it's like learning any other new skill. You eat the elephant one bite at a time.
As a start I decided to create a quick introduction sequence for my videos, the results are embedded below. Being highly critical, the intro isn't more than 80% there, but it's an improvement.
I am starting a production run of chests based on a six board style with a slant top and interior drawers. The plan is to build seven to eight of the same chest and keep close track of my time and work. I think there's an interesting article in this as you don't often hear about hand tools in a production situation and the implications. It doesn't seem like something up the alley of the Usual Suspect magazines though. We will see if I can entice any takers.
After the chest run I have to pick back up with building the furniture shown in the Morgan Bible. I've second guessed and delayed this project long enough. Abandoning it half done is not an option (I have my pride) I don't know if anyone will take it from me or if I will have to publish on my own. Either option is fine. The project is like a broken tooth in my mind that I'm always testing with my tongue.
The good news is the time has allowed me to decipher exactly what I'm trying to say with the book. Believe it or not the furniture itself has become support material for an argument promoting experimental archeology and the concept of finding things out for yourself through practical application over just reading what some joker writes in a book or on a blog.
Translation: If you really want to find out what it feels like to wear medieval armor you shouldn't just read what Dr. Blabberblaster has written in his dissertation reviewing the existing literature of the weight of armor in correlated medieval grave finds. You should go find some chain-maile and strap it on. Not that aluminum Hollywood shit either, find the real steel stuff as close to accurate as possible.
Then go figure out how to move, run, and fight in it. Spend all day wearing it. Figure out how to take it off. The experience yields such a broader understanding
Believe it or not, I found the answer at my local comic book shop. . . .
Ratione et Passionis