Hand Tool Headlines
The Woodworking Blogs Aggregator
This "aggregator" collects all of the woodworking blogs I read every day - or try to anyway! Enjoy!
Inside the Oldwolf Workshop
Ratione et Passionis
I started woodworking in the late '90's, a carry over from buying a house and teaching myself to do some home DIY renovations. A little over a year later, after the passing of my wife's grandmother, I was told I could take whatever I wanted from her grandpa Setles's tool collection. (He had passed away several years before)
Anything I didn't take was to be sold at auction and so I grabbed many things, whether I knew how to use them or not.
Setles was not a woodworker, he was a tinkerer, a fixer, and a maker. The tools spanned from automotive to woodworking to blacksmithing. Tools weren't super precious or overly cared for, they were used and used hard and if they broke, you saved them to scavenge the parts from to fix something else. The man never threw away a screw or bolt if he didn't need to. and if he needed a shelf to store things on he didn't head down to Pier One Imports and buy one. He tore apart a pallet he picked up for free and built one.
One wall of his shop was lined with these pallet wood shelves. The wood still rough sawn and raw with no finish or paint save what was spilled or splattered. (There must have been a hell of an accident with some light green paint at one point, it was splattered around like a Jackson Pollack, including spots on a lot of the tools.) The shelves were well built. dovetailed corners and dadoed shelves.
I knew enough about woodworking to think I could pick out the mistakes he made. The big one I saw was the dovetailed corners were oriented wrong if you consider a hanging shelf. Set to hold the sides instead of resisting the forces of gravity.
A little while ago I decided I needed a shelf in the winter shop and I thought fondly about the shelves in Setles's garage. The spirit of Furniture Of Necessity. (Can't wait for Chris's upcoming book) With no collection of old pallets to draw from (they don't make those like they used to either) I picked up a couple standard grade pine 1x8 boards and proceeded to knock out the shelf in a quick evening in the shop.
Complete with dovetails facing the "wrong" direction and reinforced with wire finishing nails.
I shot some time lapse of the first half of the evening.
I owe Setles and his mismatch tool collection a huge debt. In the car full of tools I carted home was the saws and #5 Stanley that got me thinking "You know, I should figure out how to use those things." It took me a few years of looking at them to make that decision but look where I am now!
Now I have to decide whether to Jackson Pollack the shelf with paint of let that happen organically.
Ratione et Passionis
Inside the studio is another matter. It seems like I enjoy it most when I'm pushing the boundaries. They may not be boundaries to everyone, hell, it may be old hat to some, but I'm content when something is new to me. It seems that when something is predictable and in my control, I'm bored.
I have a friend I owe a carved box to. A couple weeks ago I finally got him nailed down to some specifics regarding size and use. He's going to use it in conjunction with his own medieval reenactment and I've wanted to build a dry run of one of the chests shown in the Maciejowski Bible.
The box itself would be fairly simple but I wanted to play with some of the treatments. The Box in the miniature is colored black and paint works and it is medieval accurate, but I wanted to try a different approach.
I have a blacksmith on the line for the lock and straps for the "good" box for the book, but I wanted to try and play with some off the shelf options from the home store to offer alternatives to readers. I also wanted to play with lining the inside of the box with some wood block printed paper after seeing some examples of this treatment in Victor Chinnery's book "Oak Furniture: The British Tradition"
I remembered reading about doing a surface treatment on oak that would stain it black. I think I first heard about it from Stephen Sheperd over at Full Chisel Blog, he refers to it as Iron Buff, which is probably a better name that what I've been calling it (dirty vinegar). It's basically vinegar thats been charged with iron filings and it so happens I started a jar priming several weeks ago.
I knew oak was particularly receptive to a reaction to iron buff, and it just so happens I had a board of white oak earmarked for this box already. All I had to do was saw it up and plane it down to size
A single coat of iron buff changed the color of the oak dramatically. The board in the foreground was connected to the stained one in the back. I know others have done this before, but for me this was magical to see. I just layered it on thick with a brush and set it on some painter's triangles to dry. After a few hours it was dry but still had a slightly vinegar/metallic smell and
A combination of 17th century techniques and influences of gothic tracery mixed with a lightly botched initial layout led to something terribly unique yet balanced in a pleasing way. I wasn't sure if I liked it at first but after passing by it In the shop for several days it's really grown on me.
These words are printed big and bold on the wall of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis. They're from his book Mother Night.
It's something I worry about a lot, even before I had these words to sum it up. I think this phrase of wisdom dovetails well with my recent post on Art and Craft and Woodworking.
The gyist of what I was really trying to say is summed up in the finishing point.
There comes a point where you have to stop listening to what everyone is telling you to think and think for yourself, and I am at the point where I am starting to listen to my own little voice over the noise of the crowd.
If you ask me, that practice is at the essence of being an artist, no matter what the media.
Ratione et Passionis
I consider myself a conscientious guy. I like to make people happy, I like to fit in. Who doesn't?
But I also know fitting in never really got anyone anywhere they want to be.
I've been doing a lot of pondering lately, listening to one of my favorite storytellers, Ira Glass, talk about the things that can hold people back in creativity was a spark and getting my hands on a great book about the phenom Charles Rohlfs was the fuel.
I provided just enough oxygen to make flame a fire.
My shop is my sanctuary, and my work is my salvation. Without that outlet.(and this blog) I'm not sure where I'd stand. But there has always been something about my work and time that has frustrated me. I often feel like I'm playing follow the leader.
I will have ideas and notions incubating and while they form I will find someone else is hunting the same path and they've managed to pull things together ahead of me. Follow the leader has it's merits, it's a fantastic way to learn and grow. But the old saying is . . .if you're not the lead dog on the sled team, the view never changes.
To use a sports analogy. The great players don't waste time where the ball "is" instead they focus on where the ball is "going to be"
You can chase or you can lead.
It started after the Nail Cabinet was done and over with. I started planing the build with the notion it was an awesome blank canvas I could experiment with. I hadn't figured it would take off on me and lead to parts unknown. It challenged me and my creativity at every turn, and once it was hanging on the wall, I found myself fatigued.
I needed some recovery time and that was strange because my inclination it to maintain momentum.
Then I remembered feeling the same way the last time I built a wall hanging cabinet I called "Moving On"
There are obvious similarities, Will wall cabinets always wear me out? Or was it the creative endeavor?
I began to think back, to remember 20+ years ago, and my formal art training. I remember the fatigue when I finished large and involved projects then too. Like building rest times into a physical training regiment to allow muscles to heal and strengthen.
I began to think back to when I started playing around with woodworking and when I started to get really serious about it. My instincts were to approach it as an artist, like I'd dreamed about being in school.
Then I started doing a lot of reading and listening to people who were obviously smarter than me, and I realized I had a lot to learn about technique and proportions to dial this thing in right. The more I read and learned about techniques from others, the more I absorbed their philosophies as well.
Because we all have philosophies. . . just like we all have belly buttons.
I found myself torn in an ongoing debate that digs to the heart of the matter. The value placed in a single working craftsman.
On one side stands people who want to revere the work and the pieces. Place them on pedestals and label them as Art. Art with a capital "A". On the other stands people who dislike the nose-in-the-air haughtiness that follows Art-with-a-capital-A. They want people to have their hands on an item, to touch, feel, and use it. They want to call it "craft."
For a long time I've sat proudly and firmly straddling the fence.
I understand both sides of the argument, but I've come around to a decision.
I don't give a shit about your fences, or your labels.
I came to this media as an artist, that's where my heart lies. The standard woodworking media of magazines and books only tells half the story out there. I have been looking at furniture built for art gallery display in magazines and online for a while. (Yes, there is sawdust outside the bounds of Popular Woodworking and Fine Woodworking) and most everything I've seen in the last few years is utter crap.
Poorly proportioned, poorly executed out of poorly sourced material. It's artists who haven't taken the time to master the techniques of the medium playing out a line drawing from their sketchbook. I can do better than what I've seen.
For a while I felt ashamed I had the instinct to shoot for a gallery show of my work, That the "woodworking" world would no longer accept me, and small successes, especially here with this blog have only reinforced it, but I'm shaking it off.
There comes a point when you have to stop listening to others and trust yourself. There comes a point when you have to be yourself. I am at that point. I'm interested in being my own man.
Reason and Passion
Ratione et Passionis
That doesn't mean I've stopped researching, reading, and drawing. In my mind the work becomes more and more organized with every day.
Outside of religion and politics, I have never known anything to be more the victim of preconceived judgement and notions than medieval Europe. People love trivia and they like to display their intelligence, (I'm no different) so they spout off whatever the last thing they saw on the history channel, or in a movie, or read in a dogeared copy of John's Bathroom Reader. One of my goals spending the last two decades as a medieval reenactor, has been to try and gently add some common sense to the weird things people believe.
Buy me a beer and I will tell you some of the conversations I've had.
Furniture is no different a victim, perhaps it's even worse because it settles into the background on most people's tapestries. When was the last time you gave any real thought to your dining room chair? It's simply there when you need it. Most of us see people and stories, I spend the Lord of The Rings movies trying to decipher the joinery of the chairs in Rivendell.
So what was furniture like in the Middle Ages? The Dark Ages? How about more specifically in France around the years 1240 - 1260 AD? How can anyone know? What has survived.
The answers are there in front of us, you just have to open your eyes and mind to see them.
I saw a video this morning on a man named Lars Andersen who has taken an eyes open approach to medieval archery. Take a quick few minutes and watch it. It will impress you.
The evidence and answers to Lar's questions were in ancient writings and manuscripts. He wasn't the first person in a thousand years to read the words or observe the manuscript representations of archers. But he looked at things with his eyes open and thought maybe he should try to do things like he sees them instead of doing them like he'd always been told he should.
But how can we trust the artisans of medieval times. We all know the term "artistic license" means those bastards can make up anything they choose. Besides their perspective is all wonky, how can you trust them.
I had the same thoughts and worries until I was studying some pages from the Morgan bible one late night and found a detail that made me a believer.
This is Folio 39 Recto. It displays King David leading a crushing rout of the Palestinians on the top and below the good people of Israel celebrate the victory around the Arc of the Covenant.
Let's look closer.
As we look closer at King David and the battle more details in the armor, weapons, and attitudes come to light. I think it's fun to realize the Israelites are shown dressed in what would have been considered "State of the Art" armor in 1250 AD France and the Palestinians are depicted wearing what would probably have been considered "outdated."
There's an interesting commentary there I'm not interested in wading into.
Let's look closer still.
We're starting to focus in on King David. resplendent in his painted full face helm and accessorizing crown. The epitome of masculinity and virile combat prowess.
Closer . . .
As we look below King David's mount we can really begin to see some details present in the work. Representations of the individual rings of steel in the maile armor. Fluting for added strength on the nasal helm of the prostrate warrior and and etching or decoration present on the helm of the oddly smiling character behind him.
I particularly like the leather straps at the ankles of both King David and the trampled Palestinian. From experience I would surmise these are either to help tie the maile chausses (armored leggings) in place to keep them from slipping and binding at the ankle joint and/or to tie on a symbol of knighthood. A set of spurs.
But the details go further . . .
As I was looking at the picture my eyes settled on these red brush strokes on the underside of King David's mount. After pondering it for a few moments it occurred to me . . . these were representing the marks that would have been made by the King's royal spurs as he urged his mount into battle.
My mind was blown.
I woke up my wife to show her I was so excited.
I'm still paying for that. . . .
Seeing this was my second Ah Ha moment chasing this subject. This is the kind of thing the person who created this page of the manuscript would have seen commonly. The men who illustrated the Morgan Bible were drawing snapshots of the world they experienced, and they were doing it in great detail. It's the closest thing I can hope for outside of finding photography or film footage from that time.
Come to think of it, the only thing that could be better is a Delorean, a Flux Capacitor, and 1.21 Gigawatts of power.
So I've decided to do my best to trust the artists who created the Morgan Bible. To just try and look with my eyes open at their work and try not to pile my own baggage and ideas into it.
It's difficult. In the end we will see how well I do. Eventually I have to trust my own filter and focus too. Maybe the best I can hope for is a balance between both visions.
Moving forward . . . Eyes wide open.
Ratione et Passionis
My take on the Roy Underhill / Chris Schwarz nail cabinet is done and hanging on the wall of the winter shop. The ending of a project is always a curious time. You're simply too close to be objective, Some things you're proud of and some things you would like to take a lit blowtorch to.
Often after perspective settles in those things are not as sharp in either direction and some time spent with a piece lets you mellow as it grows into it's old skin.
At this moment, I can't say I really like it. It's over the top and folk arty in a ballistically bombastic way. Once I started down the path I figured in for a penny, in for a pound and pushed it as far as I could. That exploration I'm a little proud of, with or without the technical misses. It's the technical misses that always kill me in the end.
When I built my new work bench this past autumn I decided to add a little bit of flair with a small amount of dot and dart inlay veneer. I decided to repeat this on the nail cabinet.
I wasn't interested in inlaying into the outside of the cabinet. I had plans to milk paint and keep the outside a little rustic to contrast the veneer and parquetry work on the inside. So painting the dot and dart seemed appropriate. That leaves two options for consistency: stencil or stamping. I chose stamping.
I used some two part silicone mold making material to build a flat block and some sharp razors to relieve the simple design from the blocks. I brushed the stamp with black tempera and made the marks around the cabinet. Working back in with a brush to crisp up the lines and cover big voids.
The effect in the end worked out just like I wanted. Once the blue milk paint and black stamps had a couple coats of shellac the look was very nice. I will have to repeat this finish again.
The beginning concept I worked from on this cabinet was to have a stark difference from the outside of the cabinet to the inside. I have a thing about looking inside boxes and behind doors. Museums drive me a little nuts in the fact I can't get a look on the inside of some beautiful work. I like to see the details go all the way through and live more than skin deep.
The veneer work on the drawer fronts is satisfying. There are technical misses and mistakes but those things are to be somewhat expected when exploring a new skill set. In the end I don't like the knobs and I may look to replace them with small porcelain pulls at some point in the future.
The parquetry panel in the door was acceptable to me as a first time exploration, mostly on my own with my own assumptions and mistakes. A close look makes some of the problems very evident. I could have dove in to trying to repair these things and mired myself down. Instead I chose to accept how it turned out and move forward.
Several people more experienced than I were kind enough to offer critique and advise on where I went wrong and what I can do to improve. Including a treasured note and email exchange from W. Patrick Edwards, whose work I love. I'm looking forward to the day I win the lottery and can afford to spend time taking classes from the modern masters I admire.
The inlay banding around the panel is also paint. It was a chance to practice some faux techniques used in grain painting. I have a piece I want to build that has these banding techniques and I wanted to give it a shot here. From two feet away it looks great, closer inspection not as much.
In the end I have to thank Chris Schwarz. When he saw my build on instagram he offered to send some Lost Art Press postcards to adorn the inside. I added a couple other post cards of my own to the mix and I'll keep looking myself for things to add in the future.
So this project is done, on the wall and in use. My wife threatens to steal it for inside the house so I have to fill it with nails, screws, and other hardware quickly so it's too heavy to lift off the wall.
Ratione et Passionis
One of the surgeons I work for often uses a line I love.
"I'm not interested in making a meal out of a snack."
A more poetic way of saying Keep It Simple Stupid.
I suck at listening to that advice and the humble nail cabinet has paid the dear price. It's like putting a ball gown on a dancing bear. There is no need to add frills to something that is already a spectacle. Still, I have been looking for the proper canvas to experiment on.
Alas the humble nail cabinet.
I'd veneered the drawer fronts and painted the inside of the cabinet is black, You can see it HERE. It was time to start on the door. The original had simple mitered corners. It never matters how careful I am, getting miters as perfect as possible is a challenging thing for me. I didn't want to struggle and I wanted something that felt a little more like me.
I went with hunched mortise and tenon. I will even peg them once everything is put together. I like the permanence of this joint.
I ran out of my pine stock and needed to go buy a board to make the door. I picked up a piece of Aspen because it was more economical than clear pine and because I'd never worked with it before. The stuff works like styrofoam complete with the sticky static cling. It's glaring white clearness makes me consider using it in the place of holly stringing for future inlay projects.
I used the same string inlay cutting device I used to cut the circles on the drawer fronts to cut my variety piles of commercial veneer into 1 1/4" wide strips. Don Williams, Papa Parquetry himself, cuts his own veneer at 1/12th inch thick, much thicker and easier to manage than these thin potato chip veneers. But you play the hand you're dealt, and this time around I had a variety of things.
Following along with Roubo and the Don of Dons, I made a quick cutting jig to turn the strips into parallelograms by making 60 degree cuts.
I spent most of a day in the shop just cutting these veneer "lozenges"
This whole process is something I would certainly love to take a class and get some first hand instruction in this parquetry process. Preferably I'd love to head east to Don's Barn and spend a week or so pestering him with questions and absorbing as much information as I could. Again I'll play the hand I'm dealt and give this a go alone in the shop. I'm girded by the writings and tutorials of both Master Roubo and Williams so the word "alone" is far from true.
Still there is something to be said for striking out alone. Mistakes are life's best teachers and sometimes you figure out a way that works better because nobody was there to tell you it wouldn't work.
I will make it to the Barn one of these days. I'm not going to tackle Boulle Marquetry on my own.
I started out the next day with a field the size of the door panel marked out on a big piece of brown craft paper. I poured a decent amount of Old Brown Glue into a mason jar and immersed that into a hot water bath maintained in an old small crock pot donated to the cause.
Then it was a couple hours of brush glue on the paper, brush glue on the veneer piece, pay attention to the grain direction and veneer color, and stick it down to the paper.
I understand the intention of parquetry is a lot like using gesso to prime a canvass for painting. The intention is to create a background into which something like floral marquetry is placed and this was my original intention. Maybe not floral marquetry but something like a mariner's compass.
But with such a variety of species to my veneer, and not enough of any one "tone" I had to change the plan and instead of burying the parquetry behind the star, give it a shower, slap on some lipstick and put it in the spotlight. To do this I alternated the tones of light, medium, and dark to make the illusion of directionality and light. It adds to the three dimensional optical illusion that the cubes create on their own.
Besides it makes me think of the old video game "Qbert"
Once the space was filled in I left the piece to dry overnight. I was careful, so careful with the grain directions and colors. It wasn't until the last row I made an error and didn't notice until I was looking at the photos later that evening.
Sigh. Oh well.
Turns out I had a lot of lozenges left over. I may start doing this to everything. Veneered benchtop?
As I looked at my glued up paper this morning I was a little disappointed at how several of the lozenge corners had curled a bit and lifted off the paper. One more point for the thicker shop cut veneer. Still I didn't think it would be a very big deal.
I brought up the pine panel that was to be the substrate and covered both surfaces with glue.
I have my Roubo Press Vise but only the one right now and it's only wide enough to press half the panel. So I went low tech and piled a shit poop crap doodie big load of books on it.
Half a day later I could feel the glue that dripped down the side of the panel had fully set. What the heck, let's get those books back to holding the bookshelf down to the floor instead.
Here you can see the outside face of the panel. scored for a raised panel. Adhered down to the veneered sheet. I used my hybrid filed tenon saw to cut the excess from the sides.
Then I used a sponge and lukewarm water to wet the craft paper and loosen it's grip on the glue so I could peel it off with my fingernails and a piece of cut saw plate.
Now the panel is sitting and resting. Allowing any of the glue I loosened taking the paper off to reset and later tomorrow I will tooth it, scrape it, and lightly sand it. I'm gonna go polissor and beeswax for the finish here.
My technique is for certain imperfect. There are a few slightly bubbled spots I'll deal with as I move through the final stages. That shouldn't be a big deal. The two important things to remember are this is just a nail cabinet and so I shouldn't fret so and the first one's down and nearly done. Some lessons are learned and my next one will be better.
The first step is supposed to be the hardest right?
Ratione et Passionis