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Inside the Oldwolf Workshop
Once I got my hands on some quality carving chisels, my next question was "Ok, how do I sharpen them?" Leonard Lee's book on sharpening is great and has always been my bible in this arena, but he is wont to use jigs and gadgets. I was sure it could be simpler than making a dozen shaped blocks of wood charged with buffing compound.
I looked around a little but couldn't find any body not sharpening chisels without slip stones or a shaped buffing wheel on an electric grinder. Necessity is a mother (and mother's only half a word), I understood what sharp was, I needed sharper chisels, and what did I have to lose by figuring it out by trial and error with the items I had on hand.
Thus I arrived at the simple technique I use today. It's as dumbed down as, "Rub the area you want to sharpen against an abrasive surface." But there are others out there starting to carve and I get the occasional email or question on social media. Instead of responding via a novel length text based dissertation on what I do, I decided to just shoot some video.
The best part? I'm not trying to sell you anything. Use what you have, adapt the technique to work for you.
Ratione et Passionis
The benchtop finished out at just under 3 1/2" thick by 22" wide and 12 foot long. Alone I could lift each of the beams to move them around the shop, now joined together . . .it's all I can do to flip it over on a set of saw horses. Moving it around requires applied physics. (levers and mechanical advantage)
Those who've seen the benchtop so far have asked about the holes already in the top, woodworkers have asked why I pre-drilled my dog holes in such a way. These beams came from inside a barn and it was obvious from where they were being used, and the variety of the sizes of beams around them, they had been recycled before, probably from another even older barn.
The barn I got them from was around 80 years old, I wonder how long the previous barn stood and how long it's been since these Fir beams were standing trees.
The holes in the beams must have been related to the joinery of the first barn. You can see evidence of the joinery in the larger leg beam as well. Big mortises 2" by 10" in size with a hole for a peg through the sides. Massive joinery with no apologies.
Before planing you could also make out the remaining pencil layout lines for a mortise. They had drilled for the mortise and before chopping out the waste, rechecked the measurements, realized they'd drilled on the wrong side of their line, plugged the holes and made the new mortise correctly. I'm not sure what makes you check one more time between drilling and chopping, I'd like to assume a apprentice/master type relationship where the master or a journeyman checked the young lads work and found it wanting.
I hand sawed the legs square at one end and found a problem to solve. I'm a good hand sawyer. I like to do it even, but I am human and that leads to small inconsistencies. These legs are too big to shoot the ends to achieve the same length so I had to find a reliable way to get repeatable consistency.
I've owned and used a tablesaw for nearly 15 years, I've never found a good enough reason to make a crosscut sled jig until now. I hate making jigs, but I decided it was the best way to accomplish the task with such heavy stock. I used the tablesaw's fence (with a spacer block) to set a consistent length of cut.
Some left over 1/2" plywood and an end of 1x6 and 2x6 joined to a couple oak runners and the jig was done. Now I guess I have one, so now I'll have to find a place to store it. Ughhh.
The results were very good. All four legs came out to the same dimension, and I was able to sort them into front and back legs and pick which one would be best for the eventual leg vise.
Getting the legs to length had eaten up nearly the entire day. I had enough time for one more task. Cutting the ends of the bench top square. I used the largest of my Benjamin Seaton Squares to square a line from the front face. I cut one end, measured down twelve feet . . .
. . . and cut the other.
Ratione et Passionis
I finished this earlier this month. It was a quick build because the client was hot to trot to get their hands on it. Originally I conceived this box as one half of a pair. Both boxes born from the same board. But the client came to me desperate for something fast and I'd already started this one at a demo. So I finished it up in a couple days and it's gone now. All I have left are the photos.
The box is red oak with black walnut trim. About 20 x 12 in dimension. I'm beginning to feel really good about these when they're done, I've started to dial in the details to where I want them. There are still things I want to explore in this form so I'm not done with it by a long shot.
As originally envisioned, I was going to build two carved boxes from the same board. The carvings were to complement each other or whatever I was going to do with those. But the insides, at least the inside of the lid, were supposed to be my first foray into parquetry.
But one hot to trot person with money in their hands and I cave to my ideals. Oh well, I have some friends who are having a benefit for their son who has recently been diagnosed with Hodgekin's Lymphoma. I think I'll finish up that box and donate it to the benefit.
The number one question I get when people see my boxes in person is "Wow, how long did that take you." I've gotten wise enough so the first words out of my mouth are, "Well, it's not the first time I've done this." which softens the blow when I tell them the time.
Truth is I can knock out a box like this in a weekend. I cut parts and dovetails on a Friday night and spill some Danish Oil on it Sunday night. Carving and glue ups happen in between. The puzzling thing to me is the reaction I get when I admit something like this.
That I can be both efficient and proficient in getting something like this done seems to result in diminishing it's value. Non woodworkers want me to tell them I slaved over the carving for six months. Woodworkers want me to tell them it took me four hours to cut the dovetails by hand (an hour per corner without a router is the average guess)
It's a paradox I simply cannot wrap my head around sometimes.
But that rant is probably for another day.
Ratione et Passionis
|Noah building the Arc at his workbench. From the Maciejoski Bible circa 1250AD.|
What I need the bench to do is easy. Workbench Whisperer Chris Schwarz has a list of ten rules for workbenches that lays out everything you need to know. Really, it's everything. trust me, if it's not on the list then forget it.
Want to cover the ankles of your workbench with lace so the sight of it's slender ankles doesn't unduly excite the men-folk? Your answer is on that list. . . trust me.
My issue is in all the names. There are so many names, and fads, and trends when it comes to workbenches. Sometimes it's like hearing the well off doctors at work talk about their cars.
"What kind of workbench do you use?'
"Oh, I'm into a standard Roubo now, but I may upgrade to a split top next year."
"Have you seen the specs on the Nicholson? I understand it's back in vogue again."
"Did you see Jim was still planing on a Holtzapffel. . . that's so ten years ago."
As I reflect on it, I find it a little over the top. I don't remember my grandfather's workbench having a name, It was his workbench, it did what he needed it to do or he modified it. It wasn't a near and dear thing. It was a workbench, a tool, a place to work. Sentimentality need not apply.
But there is sentimentality for an old bench. I have enjoyed the hours I've spent working at the one I'm using now, but I can do better and I've grown as a woodworker, so much since I built the first bench. I need better. As I make the decision moving forward on my new workbench, I try and take the lessons I learned from my last bench and step forward.
The only name I've truly considered is Dominy.
On display at Winterthur Museum is the preserved remains of the historic Dominy Brother's workshop. Included is a 12 foot long workbench. It's that correlation in length that has made me think about it.
In the end, I'm not that interested in a twin screw vise for my workholding. I have a moxon vise that does that better (hmmm another name). I like a leg vise myself but I like the sliding deadman a lot especially considering the 12 foot span. The trouble is every picture I can find of the Dominy bench is obscured by the rest of the museum and that damn tall clock case.
Then I saw this bench, called "The Workhorse," from Richard Maguire, a man who makes traditional workbenches for a living, and it seems like the right configurations. Mine will be a little different yet. I want a traditional saw toothed plane stop. and I'm not so sure about a tail vise. I don't have or use one now.
In the end I say, forget the name, figure out what you like and name it yourself.
Ratione et Passionis
This is one of my favorite lines from an old SciFi TV show called Babylon 5. It's been ringing in my head over the last few days.
A month ago today I posted here about some beams I picked up to build a new bench. At the time I thought those beams would sit in the corner of the shop for at least a few months before I was able to fit a bench build into my schedule. That was supposed to give me time to dwell and think about bench I wanted to make. Carefully weigh and debate my options and maybe save some pennies for new hardware and vises.
This is usually how I work, A big project has to sit and ruminate in my mind for a while. I pick apart the details and build it over and over a hundred times before I pick up a saw. Then, once I'm ready to go I can move through the project efficiently, because I have it all planned out.
This time, a trouble maker raised his hand and threw a wrench in the gears.
Mike Siemsen, The Naked Woodworker himself, was having a little spoon carving gathering at his place and I asked if I could come, hang out, and learn some from the folks there, I've dabbled a little in spoons lately myself, nothing much to be proud of really. But Mike picked up on the bench build and offered to help me run them through the big machinery he has for the school.
How could I say no. I packed up the beams in the truck and headed out for the weekend.
Mike does not mess around with his machines.
I have never owned a powered joiner or planer but I can really respect the power and ability inherent in these size tools. Mike is probably right when he says owning a smaller joiner that his really is just playing around.
We ran the three thinner beams (4" thick = thinner. . . ) through the machines and glued them up into a benchtop in one evening. The next morning we scraped the glue and ran the whole benchtop through the planer one more time, top and bottom.
The result was spectacular.
We also sawed the larger beam in half and squared it up so I could bring it home and make my bench height decisions later. I just wasn't ready to commit just then, I hadn't cogitated on it for six months yet. And that's the crux of my next issue.
I don't want to wait to get this benchtop framed into a bench. The longer I wait to get it fixed the greater the chance of something going wrong, the top warping or falling off the stools I have it sitting on. I just can't let myself wait and see if it goes wrong. The same idea as gluing up a panel of boards as soon as possible after you joint and plane them. you want to lock in that flatness with the strength of the surrounding timber. Strength in numbers.
So for me, a simple pebble, the avalanche has started. It doesn't matter what else is on my plate, (and there are quite a few things right now) today is the time to build a bench.
Thanks Mike for the kick in the ass!
Ratione et Passionis
Earlier I wrote about solving a problem making dados in turned columns by marrying a router plane and a joiner's saddle. You can read about my process HERE.
I edited together some video I shot of making the dados. I thought it might help in the understanding.
I move down the column in one direction to rough out the depth. Coming back in the other direction finishes the cut and allows me to move into the stopped end of the dado.
Ratione et Passionis
If you look at the chair you see round, turned columns joined to rails with mortises, not terribly difficult to accomplish with hand tools, but the kicker in the joinery design is the green panels fit between the rails. This requires some variety of groove or dado along the length of the columns to hold and hide the edge of the panel.
There were two ways to think about it.
First I could plow the groove in any standard way while the stock was still square. Then hope against hope that while I turned the legs on the lathe I wouldn't catch and tear out the groove too bad or worse, catch it very bad and wrench the whole piece off the lathe and send it careening across the shop.
On top of those dangerous prospects would be the gymnastics of getting the groove at proper center and depth before turning. Maybe with a CNC router or lathe, but not in my shop. The idea was out pretty quick.
So I turned the legs and chewed on the problem the whole while. At first I thought I would build a jig shaped like a long box. From either end I would clamp the column and from the top I would make a lid for the box that had a long slot cut in the center.
I would then run a router with a pattern template up and down through the slot and make my groove. I even went out and purchased the lumber, clamps, and a router base plate and bushing set from Milescraft to carry out the job. As I started to build the jig, my gut started to talk to me. I can't say exactly just what made me stop the process and switch gears. There were too many x-factors and measurements and it just seemed too likely an opportunity for me to screw the pooch.
Did I mention I wanted these grooves to stop at a point and not just blindly run the entire length.
Making the legs out of walnut, I didn't have any spare stock to make another if thing went wrong. I had to be smarter than the problem, and that's sometimes tough for me.
I waited and I thought.
I worked on other things and I thought.
I searched the internet, paged through books, wrote unfinished emails asking for advice.
And I thought.
My joiners saddles were my first inspiration.
I wanted to use my plow plane to make the grooves, and if I could figure out how to attach a joiners saddle shaped addition to the fence, I'd be golden.
But the physics of the plane defeated me. As you cut deeper with a plow plane, the fence moves deeper too. There was no way to do it and keep the fence centered on the round column. (Sitting here this morning I have thought of another way to do this with the plow that probably would work. I'll leave that for another day)
I thought about what else I had that made grooves, chisels, and a router plane.
Once I landed on the combination of router plane and joiners saddle I knew I'd picked the lock.
All that was left was to figure out the specifics and see if it worked.
That hurdle is behind me, the next one, the finish, is still in my teeth.
Ratione et Passionis
We had a nice selection of finished pieces and examples. An impressive little collection of work If I do say so myself.
Tom demonstrated the early parts of the process. Taking the fallen tree and riven or pit sawn pieces and breaking them down into workable stock.
|Hewing away with the adze|
|Putting your froe into it|
|planing to thickness|
|Checking your work|
|Working the timber down with a slick|
|Working with a scrub plane.|
|A well deserved rest leaning against the nearly finished leg of his spring pole lathe. The thing is massive.|
|The panels I carved ahead of time for display. My first true foray into green riven white oak. |
What a pleasure to work with.
Thanks to Tom and Paul for letting me pal around and make some woodchips with you.
Ratione et Passionis
Back in June I did a little carving demo at the annual Gala for the Castlerock Museum of Arms and Armor. I carved a front panel for a document box out of walnut.
Just this past weekend I was part of another demo there, more focused on woodworking itself, and I decided to finish up a couple pieces to have as. ". . . and here's what it looks like when you're done." pieces. I spent last week finishing the till, lid, and turning a set of feet.
Here's the finished results.
The primary wood is black walnut, the inner till is made from cherry and the bottom is pine, (So you get that wonderful scent when you open the lid) .
The box measures approximately 20" across and 14" deep.
This small chest is also FOR SALE. I need to make more room for new pieces, (and help finance the materials for them) I'm asking $450 USD.
Send me an email (email@example.com) if you're interested or have more questions.
There should be a lot more actual woodworking stuff coming from me soon.
Ratione et Passionis
For, at least the last year I have been seriously weighing my options when it comes to building a new work bench. I built my current bench at a transition point in my life. Tired of tooling around learning how to do a little of this and a little of that, I decided I would focus my creative endeavors on woodworking, something I had played with and enjoyed, but now set forth to attempt to master.
|The inspiration, Chris Schwarz's take on the Nicholson Bench|
At this time I also started blogging about my work and time in the shop. At the time I thought this was a unique idea (little did I know what I was getting myself into) My current bench, a hybrid idea between the Nicholson Workbench Chris Schwarz shows in his original blue workbench book and a bench he built called "The $175 Workbench". Made from pine with a laminated 2X4 top.
|The original, just finished circa summer 2009.|
|My bench as it sits today, in my perfect little corner of the world.|
I knew we were going to move after I built the bench, so in my naivete I didn't make the connection between the legs and the bench top very solid. In fact the legs are slanted boxes that attach to the top with lag bolts and the bottom shelf with carriage bolts. Not exactly bomb proof joinery. So the bench racks a bit when planing. I solved that by screwing it to the wall!
The second and larger problem. The top has warped over time and not just a little bit. Enough so planing it flat is less than feasible to it's survival. It's not that I can't work on it, and can't work around it. handling long stock is the only real time its a big issue. Mostly I'm just tired of settling and working around the issues included in something I could have, should have done better.
So I've been pining for a second chance, a new bench with no compromises, but finding the right materials is the tricky part. The combination of patience and fate has delivered the materials to my doorstep.
|The new workbench in its infancy.|
A week and a half ago, some folks I know dropped me a line, they had an old barn they had to burn down because they were selling the property it was on. As an after thought they thought I might like to salvage some material from it. If I'd had a few months time I'd have salvaged every usable stick, as it stood I had a one day window. I called a buddy and we went and got some beams.
I believe they are some softwood variety, which is fine with me. The big beam in front is a little more than 8x8 square. It will be the legs. The three thinner beams are around 4x8. Those will be edge joined together to make the top. They all come out to about 12 foot 4 inches long.
That means when I'm finished, unless I find something punky or bad. I have a chance at a workbench 12 feet in length and a little less than 24 inches wide.
|A close up of the row of benches show in Roubo's infamous plate 11 etching.|
That should work just fine. It'll mean rearranging the shop something fierce, but it will be a nice problem to have.
I've got a lot of nails to pull today and then the beams are going to have to wait for a little while. Maybe even the whole winter long, but soon I'll be starting and there will be no compromises this time.
Ratione et Passionis