Wednesday, May 30, 2012

[Tool Chest] Shelled

Since yesterday was spent cutting 50-some tails, today was spent cutting pins.

And chopping pins.

And more pins.

And finally, a shell. They are not my finest dovtails, but I was impressed that all 52 joints went together the first time, and the shell is square! There will be a couple minor gaps to fill in before painting, and I am resigned to sanding the whole exterior since my wood is just too gnarly to plane well. The price was right though, and I believe it will be more than sufficiently sturdy. I glued the joints, but I don't think they needed it. This thing is heavy! The wood finished out at just over 7/8" thick. I won't be able to get back to it for a couple days, but soon: bottom and skirts/moulding/dust seal.

Monday, May 28, 2012

[Tool Chest] So It Begins

Dear Douglas Fir,

This is difficult to say and I should have said it sooner, but this is just not working out. It's not you, it's me. Well, it's us. I have such fond memories of the 2x4s you provided for the chicken coop, for the wall downstairs, and I love the floorboards you put in the living room. As I grow, however, and my needs have changed, you are not changing with me. You are just not a fine furniture lumber. Despite my tenderest caresses with a chisel, you still insist on splintering. When I plane exactly properly, you are willing to provide a glass-like surface, and I appreciate that, but these are only on our good days. More often than not, you let fly with huge splinters and sometimes you even assault me with them. I think we can still be friends, and I will still call you for 2x4s. In fact, I want to build a workbench with you. However, I need to be level with you and tell you that for furniture, I am feeling like I am much more compatible with Alder and Cherry. 


the Joiner's Apprentice

Such were my thoughts as I began preparing the boards for my tool chest to be. In this article on choosing wood for a tool chest, it is suggested that we look up and around to see what the local trees are. No Eastern Pine around here:

As you can see from that view out my living room window, there is a smattering of alder, cedar, and some various fruit trees, but the ridges are almost entirely populated with Douglas Fir. It's big business here... one of the only businesses in fact. As above, I like doug fir for construction. It's strong, affordable, and easy enough to work with conventional construction tools. I have a pile of it, milled with a chainsaw, that I obtained from a neighbor's fallen tree. It seemed like the ideal regional lumber for my tool chest.

I've also been using it for the bottoms and partitions of the School Boxes. I was originally thinking of making boxes with it, but I am not so sure, unless they will be painted. I know some vertical-grain DF is used in the furniture trade, but perhaps my skills are not up to it yet. It's a bit ornery. It splinters easily, rarely planes smoothly (but when it does, it does) and it is just not all that attractive. Nonetheless, it's what is around, and so the chest will be composed of it.

This is the largest-scale hand-tool project I have tried yet. It is already straining my stopgap workbench. In fact, I was planning to build a new workbench before the tool chest, because of this. However, the need to have a good container for my tools is nagging me constantly and so I am making do. The current bench is technically large enough, but just barely. You can see here how the panels take up much of it:

There is a little more room to the left, but a silly post is in the way, making planing with the long jointer difficult. Anyway, it is still possible so I did go ahead and flatten, joint, glue up, cut, and size the 4 panels for the chest's shell. One issue I had not thought about was marking the far edge after the reference edge has been established. With a smaller board, I would simply use a marking or panel gauge. However, my panel gauge is only 18" long and these boards are about 23" tall. I thought about measuring at each end and snapping a chalk line, but instead I used a drafting T-square and gingerly ran a pencil held tightly to the ruler. I spot-measured in several places and it seems I did a decent enough job. Squaring the boards was another trick, as they are far too big for a shooting board. I made do with the boards up on spacers and little work with a plane on its side but all in all I am relying on my saw cut and it seems square enough. I am doing the best work I can, but also remaining relaxed since this is somewhat ugly wood and I am planning to paint it.

That brings up another point: it is suggested to avoid knots, even tight ones, as they are likely to loosen and pop out over time. The lumber I have has lots of small tight knots. There was no section wholly clear of knots, and I did not want to go purchase lumber for this, so I am making do. Over the hopeful decades I have the chest, I will closely monitor it and epoxy the knots back in or replace them with Dutchmen if they ever pop out. Maybe someday I will have access to clear  nice lumber and make a new chest. In the meantime, tight knots it is.

I started to prepare for dovetailing by milling a 1/16th" rabbet on the inside of the tailboard. This will make aligning the joint simpler, and also help pull the board into shape if it is slightly bowed. The glue-ups went well and the boards seem reasonably flat but this is nice insurance.

I usually use my bench-on-bench to hold boards for dovetailing, but this board is way too large for it, so I simply held it in place with holdfasts:

The dovetails (13 of them) are marked normally:

and then cut. I started clearing out the waste with a coping saw, and this is as far as I got before parental duty interrupted. It is starting to look like a tool chest! Well, at least to me. I mean, not really, but it is nice to see it forming rather than sitting as they were: live-edge planks taunting me every time I am in the shop.

Just as I felt like I was getting tolerably fast with dovetails, I now more than double my portions. My boxes usually have 5 or 6 per edge, now I am up to 13. Thats 52 tails for the chest, compared to 20 for a small box. It should be a very solid box when complete!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Resawing by Hand - A Fool and His Errand

There are two types of people in the world, near as I can tell. There are those who resaw by hand, and then there are those who have a bandsaw, live near a decent lumber supplier who carries thin stock, do not do any woodworking, or are too wise to do it themselves. Sadly, I fall into the first category. Believe me, if I had a bandsaw or access to thin stock, I would not be treading this lonesome road. Maybe someday. There is probably some satisfaction in doing a process like this by hand, but it is a bit lost on me in the midst doing it.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that bad. It's still a quiet and peaceful session in the shop, and I would rather do this all day long than almost any other work. However, compared to planing or other operations, it's pretty much a drag. It might help to have the right tools for the job, but I got by using just a tenon saw.

I started out with some 5/4 Port Orford cedar which I wanted... I dunno, thinner than that. I'm aiming to make a small tray to fit into the top of a box. With a bandsaw, I might have tried to squeeze 3 boards out of the one, but instead I just did it in half, and then planed them down even thinner until I got tired. That's thin enough. I dunno, maybe tomorrow I will thickness them (thinness them?) a little more.

I scribe a line all the way around all 4 edges of the board, and then start on a corner. This way, I can follow 2 lines at once.

I drifted from the line a little bit, as you can see here, but that is ok since I wanted to make the resulting boards a bit thinner anyway. There is never an excuse for sloppiness, but this was the best I could do with my current skills. I stopped to wax the saw constantly, it was a welcome break and makes a big difference.

6,000 calories later, I had the boards split into thinner ones.

The narrow boards for the sides of the tray were relatively easy, but the wider ones for the bottom were unpleasant. There is a lot of friction with that much wood contacting the side of the saw. Like I said, despite loving hand tools, I would choose a bandsaw for this every time. I know a lot of folks out there resaw much larger boards (and much harder species) by hand. I also know I am just griping. Honestly it wasn't that bad, but I figured the blog could use a hint of drama.

The silver lining is that this makes ripping, my other least-favorite operation, seem like a piece of effortless cake!

The other silver lining of making this tray is that it generates curls of Port Orford cedar shavings. This stuff smells so amazing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

[Interview] Christopher Schwarz of Lost Art Press

Q&A with Some of My Woodworking Mentors

(If you want to know more about this series, please see the first installment)

It was Eric Sloane who sold me on the idea of preserving traditional craft, and it was Roy Underhill who showed me that this is actually possible. It was, however, Christopher Schwarz who put things so clearly into perspective that I could not resist any longer. He needs no introduction for most hand-tool enthusiasts, but for those of you who do not subscribe to the Lost Art Press blog, I will summarize.

After several years as editor of Popular Woodworking magazine, Christopher took a bold step and formed his own publishing company, Lost Art Press. One of his first projects was to re-publish the 1839 book The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, which, if it is not already clear, is the inspiration for this blog. Just as I had finished reading it and deciding that I was going to work through it, The Anarchist's Tool Chest was announced. I immediately ordered it and have never looked back. A rather unique book, TATC is part how-to, part encyclopedia, and part philosophy. It explains why hand tools are important, why woodworking is important (and as relevant as ever), and why you should start a rabbet plane at the left end of a board instead of the right. It also explains how to plan and create the titular tool chest.

Don't be turned off by the book title. This is the kind of man our nation needs more of.

Christopher's methodical research and experimentation have rescued countless tools and techniques from near-extinction. He's pretty much responsible for the hundreds (if not thousands) of Roubo workbenches popping up in shops all over the world. When he praises a specific tool, those tools will suddenly become difficult to find and their used prices will skyrocket. This is common enough to have a name, The Schwarz Effect.

He's bold, radical, and isn't all that bothered by offending the easily-offended. This is softened by the fact that he is genuinely a deeply nice guy. When I first contacted Christopher to let him know that I wanted to dedicate myself to testing his claim that The Joiner and Cabinet Maker could serve as a modern wood working curriculum, he was most encouraging and even asked if I needed any particular tools to get started. He answers all of his email. He's talked me through a number of issues which could easily cause eye-rolling, but he patiently replies every single time. I try not to abuse this, and you should, too.

It is difficult to top being a skilled woodworker, historian, author, publisher, teacher, and father, but what most impresses me about Christopher is his attitude and philosophy. If you have read TAC, you will know what I mean but if not, he makes a strong case for woodworking as a political activity and I could not agree more. This is complex topic and not really the focus of this blog (although it is a focus of my life), but he believes that hand tools empower a person to furnish their own lives, and remove the need to depend upon international companies who decimate forests, create flimsy products with toxic glues, and ship these unsatisfying things around the world where they see a couple years use and then go to the landfill. He explains that it was not always this way, and it no longer needs to be this way. He also explains how tools themselves have been compromised and are now often "tool-shaped objects". I have experienced this myself, when purchasing hand tools from hardware stores. It is almost always an exercise in frustration, and is a huge reason why hand tools are not more popular. Christopher's approach is not limited to wood working, of course. It is part of a larger neo-agrarian movement where we are finally realizing that giant organizations motivated only by money and unsustainable growth are not doing a very good job keeping us fed, fit, informed, and healthy. It may not sound like a radical act to create an end table or stool, but when you contextualize it as Christopher does, it most certainly is. He puts out a call to action of sorts, imploring us to re-learn how to outfit our homes using regionally-appropriate materials and to shun the purveyors of tool-and-furniture-shaped-objects. My response: Sign me up!

I could go on, and likely will in the future, but for now, I am The Joiner's Apprentice (TJA) asking a few questions of Christopher Schwarz (CS):

TJA: How long have you been woodworking, and what changes have you seen in the field since you started?

CS: I built my first workbench when I was 11, which is where I built stuff with wood and also model airplanes. It's also where I assembled books that I wrote and illustrated. I tried to sell them to friends and family with no luck. Thank goodness for the Internet. It's hard to make a living selling books on the vehicles of World War II to your sisters. Once I started driving and got a girlfriend, my interest in woodworking went on hold. As soon as I graduated from college in 1990 it came back full bore and has only gotten worse.

The biggest change I've seen since 1990 is, duh, the Internet. When I started woodworking I thought I was one of the few people who liked using hand tools. It was a lonely slog. The Internet has made it incredibly easy for all nutjobs to find like-minded nutjobs and recruit new ones.

TJA: What is your favorite style to work in? What styles do you just not understand or have no interest in?

CS: I find all furniture really interesting -- even the junk. I'm fascinated how Ikea stuff is designed and made. I marvel at the craftsmanship of the period stuff. Southern furniture is a big interest to me. But I don't really like high-style furniture. I appreciate it. But I have no desire to build it. It is, apologies for the politics, the furniture of the 1 percent. I've always been interested in the furniture of the 99 percent, which doesn't get written about.

In fact, the style I like doesn't really have a name, outside of "country" or vernacular." What "style" is a workbench, a tool chest, a packing box, the schoolbox or the chest of drawers from "The Joiner and Cabinet Maker." The answer is, I think, going to be my life's work.

TJA: What tools do you always look forward to using and/or what operations do you most look forward to, time after time?

CS: I love my block plane because it can do almost anything. It is also, by far, the tool of mine that shows the most wear.

As to operations, I love assembly. It is the most thrilling part of an entire project. It's where all the patience and persistence pay off. Or don't.

TJA: How much time do you actually get in your shop in a typical week?

CS: At least 20 hours. But that time is not always building stuff. That's everything from maintenance to sharpening. If I miss a day in the shop, I get grumpy.

TJA: Have you had any memorable masters or mentors help you gain the skills you currently possess? How did you meet them?

CS: All the good stuff I know is from other people. Troy Sexton, a power-tool woodworker in Sunbury, Ohio, opened my eyes to how to work efficiently and blazingly fast. His principles of work applied directly to my handwork. My grandparents taught me an appreciation for furniture – a huge gift — and my grandfather was a lifetime woodworker who taught me lots of stuff when I was young.

John Brown inspired a deep love of Welsh stick chairs in me.

Robert Wearing's "Essential Woodworker" book is the one that put together all the pieces I knew into a coherent system.

But most of my mentors are already gone. Charles H. Hayward's writings and illustrations have inspired me as a builder, editor and writer. I think own everything the man wrote from 1936 until his death. His work cannot be underestimated.

TJA: You've almost single-handedly launched a Roubo workbench craze. How do you feel about this bench after years of work on it (and seeing hundreds of others), and how do you feel about its rise to ubiquity among hand tool enthusiasts?

CS: It's the best bench I've ever worked on. When I built my first Roubo in 2005 I had never seen a bench like it in person. I had never used a leg vise. I didn't even really know if it would be suitable for modern work. But it has exceeded my expectations at every turn. I still have my first Roubo bench under my window in my shop and don't think I'll ever part with it.

As to its popularity, I guess I'm glad that people can see what I saw. When my first book came out the reaction was not immediate. It took a while for a few brave souls to build one and also become advocates for it. So it really has been the work of lots of people who were crazy enough to build a bench that looks like its was made out of Legos.

TJA: In The Anarchist's Tool Chest, you made a very strong case for supporting the resurrection of domestic furniture making, truly decent tools, and a less-is-more approach to building one's tool library (as well as life in general). Have you seen any evidence of these ideals taking root, and are you optimistic about the future of domestic production, re-appreciation of hand tools, and a shift in preference to quality over cheapness in the American economy? If not, do you have any ideas on furthering these ideals?

CS: I harbor no illusions about our society. There would have to be major changes in our economy for us all to consume less and to appreciate quality in all things.

But, like anarchism, there can be a tendency among some of us to consume less and think as small as possible. To make instead of buy. And if enough people exhibit this tendency, real change can occur. The rise of micro-brewing, for example, has been neither sudden nor without its bumps. And it still represents a small fraction of the brewing in our culture. But there is enough micro-brewing that it supports 100,000 employees now (more than work at woodworking professionally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). And it has begun to seep into the mainstream culture – big brewers are improving their beer. So that's the kind of slow change I hope to see. I'd rather it grow like an oak than a weed.

TJA: I know you have a Karmann Ghia that you have enjoyed restoring; what else you enjoy outside of woodworking and time with your family?

CS: I cook for my family almost every night (Wednesday we go out for pizza). I'm obsessed with good food and where it comes from. We have an incredible and old market here, Findlay Market, that I frequent for everything. We've been going to the same butcher and green grocer for 15 years. And every Tuesday I force my kids (and wife) to try something new. We call it New Food Night. My kids hate it, but they are much more adventurous eaters as a result.

I also am a voracious collector of music. It is always on in the shop and my office. I used to play guitar in a band in college (boy did we suck) but music and me are inseparable.

TJA: What is happening in the hand tool world (toolmakers, blogs, books, projects) that you think need more press?

CS: I wish we (me included) were doing a better way of documenting techniques. If we spent half as much time discussing technique as we do discussing tool minutiae, I think we'd all be better builders (me included).

TJA: I've heard it said that you make your own sausage. Is there truth to the rumor that there may be a Schwarz-designed line of meat grinders from [company name redacted] in the future? Is bronze safe to use on food?

CS: Writing books is a lot like making sausage. It is not pretty. So that's half-true.

TJA: Thank you, Christopher!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Recent Doings

With the flurry of interviews and other off-topic stuff posted lately, one could get the impression that I am not Joining a whole lot, but that would be untrue. While I have been doing a great deal to prepare my home for sale, I have also been working on the school boxes, a special box, and even more.

Here's some of what's been happening:

This is a schoolbox variant with a couple big differences. The "partition" in this case is a tray which spans the whole top. In this box, its made of incense cedar. You can also see that some very simple box hinges are used instead of the huge strap hinges. The lock is the same Squire that I have been using all along. This box is also a bit smaller than the school boxes.

The above image shows the tray taken out, and the fingerholes visible. The tray is dovetailed with a single tail, and the bottom is shiplapped (2 pieces). I resawed this cedar by hand, and it was not fun.

The other hallmark of this little box is that the top is made of maple and has a live edge ((bark is still visible). This is the slab before finishing with oil:

Also, while the school boxes have a bottom nailed on and concealed with moulding, this box has no moulding and the bottom is held in place in a groove, much like a drawer would be. In this case, the bottom is douglas fir.

I've also completed another school box. This one is made of alder with a douglas fir partition (the same board as the bottom of the above box):

Here are the two boxes together, showing how the new box is a little smaller. A single coat of oil has been applied, so the grain in the maple is starting to show:

It is certainly a change from the ordinary lid:

In other news, I've been scoring more rough-milled douglas fir from my neighbor. Here's a plank as it came:

And after a day planing and rough-dimensioning some panels:

4 long and 4 short panels, that is just enough to make a double-tall box... yes there are a few knots but "disobey me" is an order to take seriously.

The above shows 2 of the short pieces, jointed and dry-fitted, ready for gluing. If you cannot easily see the line where the two boards meet, I did something right!

I've started to really use and enjoy the try plane shown above. I do like my Stanley #7 and have it tuned quite nicely now, and am feeling pretty familiar with it both as a shooting plane and as a jointer/try plane. The more I use this wooden one, though (no maker mark present), the more I like it. It allowed the above joints to seat together like that within just a few minutes.

If it is not obvious, these boards are intended for a tool chest. I will still be working on the school boxes, and more detail about the small box (and its soon-to-be-made successor) will come soon. As a back-burner project though, the tool chest will continue as I have any time to spare in the shop. I've been increasingly annoyed with my current shallow toolbox, though I have to say for the price and availability, it is still a great option for someone starting out with little time or budget.

Friday, May 4, 2012

[Interview] Steve Branam of

Q&A with Some of My Woodworking Mentors

(If you want to know more about this series, please see the first installment)

You may notice as I post these interviews that I really enjoy reading about woodworking by those with a certain approachable, lucid, and engaging style. Steve Branam, who blogs at is a prime example of this. His workbench chronicle is the closest thing to a page-turner there is for a nerd like me (I've read it start-to-finish several times now). There's been lots of talk about how important it is to get off the net and into the shop, and I couldn't agree more. However, for someone who is often babysitting (and who has spent plenty of time in a tech office waiting for projects to compile or for scripts to run) I certainly acknowledge there is a hugely enjoyable niche for woodworking reading and writing. While skills must be learned directly from the wood, the guidance of a master either in person or in writing goes a long way. A trite example is in young Daniel-San's experience polishing Mr. Miyagi's cars collection... wax on, wax off.  What does this have to do with karate? What does this have to do with woodworking? The frustrated apprentice, when pressed, realized that through these exercises he had actually learned basic form, not to mention increased his endurance.

Steve suggests, in a similar vein, a Night of 100 cuts. I've done this semi-tortuous exercise a few times now, and it works. 

Steve's write-ups are always detailed and informative. He documents his mistakes alongside his victories, and while his joy in successes is at times visible (and well-earned), his humility and good nature are also readily apparent. I should note I have not met the guy, but his writing seems to speak for itself and has been backed up by some pleasant email exchanges when I have had questions for him.

Over time, he has recorded his journey and gained skill that you can easily see by looking at his completed projects. Recently, he has made the exciting transition into living the dream by securing a space for teaching. Ok maybe this is only my dream, but it is wonderful to see someone making it happen! Check out his incredible new digs: The Close Grain School of Woodworking.

Steve, to me, defines a classic amateur; not in the sense of being a "beginner" (as the term is commonly abused) but as a real enthusiast, digging deeply and seeking true understanding. Now that his school is launched, perhaps it more accurate to consider him a professional.

I am The Joiner's Apprentice (TJA) asking a few questions of Steve Branam (SB):

TJAHow long have you been woodworking, and what changes have you seen
in the field since you started?

SB: I've been woodworking since I was about 10, when I helped my uncle repair a fire-damaged room in his house in Philadelphia. He was the one who taught me respect for my tools (meaning, I got in trouble when I mistreated his chisels!). I enjoyed wood shop in middle school and high school, where the emphasis was all on machines.

My activity ebbed and flowed over the years depending on what I had access to. I bought a Shopsmith in about 1985 with all the attachments, but over the years didn't do much with it. I loved to watch Norm Abrams and lusted after his shop. But it wasn't until I saw Don Weber on the April, 2004 issue of Popular Woodworking that I found my true passion, working with hand tools.

Fortunately, that was about the time Chris Schwarz was starting to emphasize hand tools. He and Roy Underhill have really helped to revive their use. I used to watch Roy and think he was crazy, but now I hang on his every word. And that revival is the real change in the field. Ironically coupled with the nearly complete elimination of industrial arts in schools, which is sad. There have been plenty of people over the years who hated shop class, but there have also been plenty for whom it was the one bright spot. I hate to think we're crushing real craft and skill out of our workforce.

TJAWhat is your favorite style to work in? what styles do you just not understand or have no interest in?

SB: I like working with hand tools, in any style, from rustic outdoor furniture on a shaving horse to fine pieces. I just love to make things and know it was my hands, my skills. The specific furniture styles at any given time depend on what skills I happen to be working on. I like Shaker, Queen Anne, Federal, Scandinavian ultrasleek contemporary. I guess my least favorite is heavily done Chippendale, some of it gets a little too over the top ornate for my tastes.

What I no longer have interest in is the jig-of-the-week for power tools. Why go to all that fussing about when you can just pick up the hand tools and do it directly? So I've probably become a bit of a snob about it!

TJAWhat tools do you always look forward to using and/or what operations do you most look forward to, time after time?

SB: A couple of my favorites are spokeshaves and wooden molding planes. Who doesn't get a big grin on their face taking curls with a spokeshave, leaving gleaming sensuous curves behind?  Molding planes are about the same, plus they're so simple. But my absolute favorite is my Spofford brace, made about 1869. Light and simple, it works just as well today as it did 140 years ago, easily a match for anything made since.

TJAHow much time do you actually get in your shop in a typical week?

SB: It varies wildly. I figure I average about 4 hours of shop time a week, but that's over weeks where I may spend 4 hours every night, exhausting myself, and weeks where I don't set foot in the shop. I try to pace it out evenly, but that never works. Too many things going on.

But I do get to spend a lot of non-shop time on woodworking related things, which I enjoy. It's as much fun writing about woodworking as doing it, though I occasionally have to remind myself that doing it is the actual point.

TJAHave you had any memorable masters or mentors help you gain the skills you currently possess? How did you meet them?

SB: I like to say my woodworking heroes are Al Breed, Garrett Hack, Phil Lowe, Chris Schwarz, and Roy Underhill. Skill, knowledge, experience, style, willingness to share. I've been fortunate enough to meet all but Roy, through Lie-Nielsen events and SAPFM membership. Plus there are others like Don Weber, Drew Langsner, David Marks, Paul Sellers, and Jim Kingshott. They've all been great teachers, in person, in video, in books. And I continue to meet more. For pure master-of-the-craft inspiration, George Wilson, who I follow on the Sawmill Creek Neanderthal Haven forum.

TJAYou use almost only hand tools , and mostly antique or shop-made tools at that. How did you get started down this road? 

SB: While I started out with all power tools, I've been sucked in, pulled down the slippery slope of hand tools. These days I do everything with them. The feelings of personal satisfaction, independence, and versatility are what drives it. I love learning a technique that's centuries old and finding it still works just fine. Similarly, I love putting a hundred-year-old tool back to productive use. It's not particularly rational, but I love that connection to the history and tradition.

I still have all my power tools. There are times when I'm working up a sweat when I might think about using them, but unless I really have a lot of pieces to do, it's not worth firing them up. The really hard labor only lasts for a little bit. Partly that's the luxury of being a hobbyist. I can choose to be stubborn about it if I want to.

TJAYour journal of building your Roubo-style work bench is amazingly thorough and informative, as are your videos about how you use it. You've mentioned a bit of follow-up regarding your feelings over time and modifications you have made, but what is your latest thinking on this bench, what you would do differently, and what you have modified over time? Do you use the crochet?

SB: Thanks! But I'm just standing on the shoulders of giants, Roubo for capturing the method of the day, and Schwarz for bringing it to our attention. I'm constantly amazed to see that those videos get dozens, even hundreds of hits a day. And I was particularly flattered when Don Williams says he refers people to them.

The mass of the thing is it's real strength. The only change I've made is to raise it up a bit. Fine tuning the height takes time unless you have experience. I made the crochet removable, then removed it and left it off. The leg vise works great, you can use it to crush stone, but sometimes I do like the speed of a quick-release English vise. My favorite methods of work holding are using battens to plane into (the piece isn't actually held down), and my Gramercy Tools holdfasts, which are a perfect blend of ancient and modern technology.

TJAYou've hinted that your dayjob does not have much to do with woodworking, but what else you enjoy outside of woodworking and time with your family?

SB: I like to read a lot, and I like a lot of outdoor activities, though age is really starting to interfere with that. I like climbing rock and ice (never been more than a novice, though), hiking, backpacking, winter camping, kayaking, cycling, swimming. For a few years I did some weekend guiding with a small local outdoor company. The family got scuba certified a few years ago, but that proved a bit too expensive to keep up.

I love to sail, though I'm just a coastal day-sailer. I actually end up getting more time on the water winter frostbite racing than warm weather sailing. Sailing is like working with hand tools, it's me and my skills making it happen. Any drunken fool can pull a throttle, as you can see any sunny summer day in Boston Harbor. Sorry, being a snob again!

I was a Boy Scout Scoutmaster while my son was in Scouts, so I got to do a lot of those things with the Scouts and at summer camp, including skeet shooting on the shotgun range. Pumping a 12-gauge and blasting clay pigeons out of the air is quite satisfying. My only complaint was that too many times the boys would be happier to just sit around and talk about their skill with video game cheat codes than actually do anything! Great, now I know where the next Enron CEO is going to come from.

Plus I'm just a plain old geek and nerd. Is it geeky and nerdy? Cool!

TJAWhat is happening in the hand tool world (toolmakers, blogs, books, projects) that you think need more press?

SB: I think the explosion of online participation is fantastic. We really are in the midst of a communications revolution. It gives everyone an outlet and a way to share, across the entire world. Woodworkers love to share, show off their stuff and ogle other people's. It's a great community and it will help keep the skills and traditions alive. There will be pain for other media, particularly hardcopy publishers, but that's probably been the case since Gutenberg had his bright idea.

TJAYou recently posted about teaching your daughter some basic skills. Has the interest held?

SB: Yes, but it does run afoul of teenage inertia! Plus the fact that she's finishing up her senior year and getting ready to start college, there's a lot competing for her time, energy, and attention. So I don't push her, I just remind her we need to spend time on it. She really does enjoy it. She has a true multifaceted creative streak, along with incredible intelligence and incredibly hard head (sorry, dear, but them's the facts). She'll be attending Hampshire College, which I can best sum up by saying, "Different. In every possible way." I think it's a fantastic fit for her.

TJAYou have also offered private instruction, has this continued?

SB: It has on a small scale, but I hope to boost it. I just posted on my blog an announcement about the Close Grain School Of Woodworking. Impressive sounding, eh? Starting May 1, I'll be offering small group and private classes out of a friend's barn. Really just a small-scale operation, but I hope it will be a practical way to share the skills. If you build it, will they come? We'll see!

I don't expect to make much money at it, maybe just make the hobby pay for itself, but I really do enjoy teaching, sharing the knowledge and seeing it dawn in others.

TJAIn one of your posts, you worked with a group of younger kids to do a construction project. What were your main lessons learned in working with younger people?

SB: As with anything else, there's a range of engagement. I ran a Lego robotics club at my kids' middle school for 4 years, and I saw the same thing I saw with Boy Scouts, what I called the engagement curve. At the high end, a small number of kids just plain got it. All you had to do was put stuff in their hands, point them in the right direction, and get out of their way. You unleash them. They would come back the next time having thought all about it. At the low end, another small number wanted to be there, but didn't want to actually do anything. They just wanted to be a part. Ok, fine, as long as they're not bothering anybody. Then the middle majority were happy enough participating and could do what they needed to, but stopped thinking about it as soon as they left for the day.

But I do think that those who are genuinely interested can get a lot out of it. I think the whole manual training thing is vital for kids. Some just won't be engaged no matter what, so it's not worth wasting time trying to convince them. But for the rest, it's engaging the whole mind and body, the hands and the brain, why Doug Stowe calls his blog The Wisdom Of The Hands. Kids really can do great stuff when they're motivated and you let them, even if their attention or ability runs out quickly. It's interesting to see on Doug's blog how the history of all that hasn't really changed much. Plus a little sad to realize that in 150 years of trying to make education more progressive and effective, not a whole lot of progress has been made.

TJAShare a ridiculous mistake you have made in the shop, and what you learned from it.

SB: Well, I have made gear teeth when I meant to make dovetails, and I'm constantly finding little bloody nicks on my fingers. How did I do that?

The worst mistake was when I was resawing a magnificent piece of full-width mahogany for my Townsend document chest, and right in the middle of the board, the saw came through the surface because it was bowing inside. The other resaw cuts in it weren't much better, to the point that both pieces were ruined. There I learned the limit of my resawing ability. For the remaining pieces, I ripped them in half first, resawed the halves (i.e. half-width resawing), them edge-glued them back together. A little more work over all, but then I didn't turn gold into firewood.

TJADo you listen to music in the shop? What kind?

SB: I'm a total NPR junkie, not even changing the radio when the fundraising is going on or Wait Wait Don't Tell Me repeats. But I do listen to music sometimes. I like Yes, Afro Celt Sound System (by various names), Santana, Sara McLachlan, Silversun Pickups, Zero 7, Maroon 5, Pink Floyd (Welcome To The Machine being the greatest album ever made), Blue Man Group, Mike Oldfield, even Halo and BSG soundtracks! Recently I've been getting stuff I hear in my wife's car on Sirius XM Chill channel.

TJA: Tangential trivia: I used to live right around the corner from the liquor store in Los Angeles where the Silversun Pickups took their name. Thanks, Steve!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

[Help!] Better Mitres By Hand?

I've been having a difficult time getting mitred mouldings to line up exactly. The way it's explained in the Joiner and Cabinet Maker is to draw the line, cut slightly on the waste side, and then plane it down. Planing odd and thin strips of mostly end-grain at a strange angle is not trivial, even with a freshly sharpened low-angle block plane, but this is what I have been trying to do. I invariably end up taking off a little too much, which leaves a piece critically short. Even a hair's width shows as a faint dark gap. I have gotten good at filling and hiding these cracks, but those are not the skills I really want to build right now. I realize that practice is the only answer, but if you have exercises which have helped you, or things to think about while cutting mitres, I would love to hear about it. I have a Stanley metal miter box, but I think it does more harm that good, since it has a bit of slop. I'm tempted to make one of wood, but that depends on the ability to cut a perfect mitre to begin with, which sortof defeats the purpose!

While my dovetailing has coming along quite nicely, and I am able to saw to the line at most angles, there is sometime about the narrow moulding which has me tilting the saw in an odd way. It usually looks great from the front and top, where the line is, but towards the back it goes awry somehow.

Any tips or considerations left as a comment here will be most welcome.  Thanks!

[Offtopic] Want my Shop?

My shop is for sale! It also includes a 3 bedroom home, greenhouse, sauna, barn, and 7.5+ acres of Oregon Coast paradise. Read more:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Learn Joinery Essentials with Jim Tolpin

If you've read and enjoyed The New Traditional Woodworker and wanted to delve into traditional woodworking, this is your lucky month! I've just heard from Tim Lawson, director of the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, that Jim's upcoming class "Hand Tool Joinery Essentials" later this month still has some room. If you have not been to this school (or even worse, have not been to the Pacific Northwest!) this is a must. I have had nothing but amazing experiences there on a couple of visits and if you enjoy this blog you will definitely enjoy Jim and his approach to woodworking.

Give it a look: Hand Tool Joinery Essentials May 14 - 18