Friday, December 14, 2012

Moving a Tool Chest?

Soon, my entire collection of traditional woodworking tools will be moving about 380 miles north.

This is part of what tool chests were originally intended for; to protect tools during transit. However, I have been told by a trusted toolmonger to make sure I protect everything with plenty of bubblewrap and other padding. I certainly don't like the idea of edge tools rubbing around, but at the same time most of them are held in place pretty well by the design of the chest. I feel that wrapping the most fragile items, adding some filler to the tills, and then bracing the tills in place should be enough. I don't want to overdo it, nor do I want to ruin a bunch of valuable tools. Christopher Schwarz claims it is just fine for steel to rub on steel and doesn't worry. I worry.

If you've moved tools in a chest, I would love to hear your approach and your experiences.

I'm still trying to decide which of my lumber is worth moving. Too bad I do not have more local readers who would be interested in such stuff.

In other news, one of my patch designs has turned into the latest Lost Art Press tshirt. The whole thing is pretty silly (and intentionally so) but I am glad to be part of this esoteric world in some tiny way.

More soon as the new shop comes together and my classes begin!

Monday, December 10, 2012

[Review] Shopclass on Demand Streaming Videos

A large focus of this blog has been to explore the possibilities of learning woodworking alone. Fueled mostly by The Joiners Apprentice (which just today has been made available as an audiobook), I have also read many other books and viewed a number of videos.

Nothing changes the fact that woodworking must be learned by doing. A private lecture with the greatest woodworking instructor possible will still not get you there until you make the cuts on your own. A great teacher, however, will encourage, inspire and inform you, and videos can provide much of this. As one woodworking instructor told me, a main task of a teacher is to give the student permission to teach themselves.

And so, I was glad to review the Popular Woodworking service "Shop Class on Demand", which allows one to few hundreds of hours of content over the internet. This is essentiaally Netflix for woodworkers, and given the lack of woodworking content on Netflix, this is a great thing.

Full disclosure: I was given a 6-month media pass to review this service at no cost. I therefore cannot honestly assay the "value" as if the payment had come from my own wallet. I do believe I can effectively convey my impressions of the service, though.

Once an account is created, it is painless to load and view the videos. The audio and video quality are on par with any other major streaming service. My only technical complaint has been that if a video is paused for a length of time (say, overnight) it can be difficult to resume.

The videos themselves run a huge gamut from power tool techniques to several seasons of The Woodwrights Shop. Several (if not all) of Christopher Schwarz's videos are also available.

Many of the technique-based videos are the type which you may want to view over and over, perhaps even playing in your shop. In cases like this, you might want to actually own a copy of the content. This service, in that case, comes into usefulness as a way to preview these DVDs before commiting to purchase. You may opt to watch a single video for a few dollars before paying full price for the DVD.

If you plan to do a great deal of viewing, the unlimited plans make a lot of sense. With busy family and shop life, I do not have much time for viewing, but did stay up late a few times to get a sense of the type of material available through this service.

All in all, I give the service a thumbs up. I am not sure I agree with the pricing structure, but media is always a tricky game and as mentioned I did not actually pay for this service. Given my limited time for viewing, and limited interest in watching videos to begin with, I would say this service is not for me, but it very well might be for you. I would certainly love to have access to the several decades of The Woodwright's Shop, but no idea when I would get around to watching them.

I am grateful that Popular Woodworking is attempting to get with the times and explore modern media, and hope that this service is a success. Check it out here: Shop Class on Demand

Saturday, December 1, 2012

[Offtopic?] Where Wheels and Wood Collide

Beetles and Bikes. How do these relate to woodworking?

In Southeast Asian jungles, secretions from the lac beetle are harvested and rendered into the wonderous substance we call shellac. Durable, smooth, non-toxic, and attractive, it has long been the coating of choice for fine cabinetry and even fruit. Yep, you have most definitely eaten the stuff.

Sure, we all know shellac is a great finish for woodworking projects, but how does the amber-tinted stuff affect other materials, like say, cotton?

Here are my bike handlebars with a couple rolls of fresh yellow tape:

The cloth feels fine, but will rapidly stain and eventually fall apart with exposure to the elements. How about 3 coats of amber shellac?

It now almost looks like leather, no longer garish yellow. The feel is much better as well. The shellac fills in the pores in the coarse cotton cloth and leaves a smoother, more pleasant and just slightly tacky texture. It will now shed water, and resist rotting for decades, provided a new coat is applied here and there. The photographs do not show the change in texture much, but should convey the earthy, warm glow that results from this wonderful substance mixing with another organic material.

I've been impressed enough with this combination that I have applied it to another bike as well. This time, starting with a medium-obnoxious "grass green" which started like this:

After 3 coats of amber shellac, we end up with a pleasant forest green. One more coat might turn it olive, and I might just do that. Here is the current result:

The texture is improved as before, and the loud color is muted just enough. It will continue to burnish and mellow with age, just like it does on wood. It makes me wonder what other materials shellac could improve. Twine-wrapped tool handles? Leather hinges? If you have used shellac in non-wood finishing contexts, I would love to hear about it.

Ok, so shellac is great, but why talk about bikes on a woodworking blog?

I could easily go into a rant about how traditional woodworking and utilitarian/sport-touring cycling are just two manifestations of the same ideals, but that would likely bore most of you, and if you get it, you already get it. Instead, I will get back to the topic at hand, and show some more shellac:

This insert for the bottom of a metal basket is made of old grey cedar fenceboards which I planed down substantially, shaped with a rasp, and nailed together using cross-battens on the bottom (which double as anchor points to secure the insert to the basket). Inserts like this are commercially available, and possibly a bit nicer than my one-afternoon job, but my cost was just time and a few grains of shellac. The wood is now durable, relatively rain-proof, and much more handsome than the naked rack or the raw grey cedar was.

Wine crates have been a common sight on French "porteur" style delivery bikes for many decades, but otherwise wooden luggage is not generally considered practical for bicycles. I consulted with Jan Heine of Compass Bicycles, generally regarded as the expert's expert on "Golden Age" bicycles, and he concurs that wooden luggage has never been popular. He speculates that aside from the weight, wood is too fragile in the event of an accident to warrant its use for anything more than casual riding. He is probably right.

I have it in mind to push the limits of absuridty, though, and eventually explore wooden trunk boxes as well as porteur front racks for city bikes. While indeed too heavy for extended trouing, it seems to me that thin, lightweight wood, a simple lock, and some sensible design could provide a useful bit of protection and organization for cargo while running errands (such as fetching coffee and bagels) around town.

In the meantime, though, thanks to all those lac beetles for giving us this precious goop!