Saturday, December 31, 2011

How I'd Do It: Tenons

This month's entry into How I'd Do It Friday is the tenon half of the mortise and tenon joint. You'll hear me talk about it in the video, and maybe you've heard me say it before but typically I like to cut my tenons first when I'm making this joint. So even though this is the second video posted in the series, it was the first one I shot.

If you want to see how I do Mortises you can see the How I Do It video HERE, or I found an old blog post I wrote about mortise and tenon joints HERE.

The initial idea of these How I Do It posts was to get a good collection of bloggers around to show how they individually create different joinery. Life and the holidays get in the way of things sometimes and I haven't seen anyone else doing these write ups. If you have, if you are, even f you want to come late to the party, drop me a line and I will add a link to your tenon content on this post.


I believe next month is Dado joints so look for that upcoming and if you want to join in, maybe that will be a good place to start. I like doing the videos for these because it's a change of pace from my typical content but don't feel pressured to do video yourself. a traditional post with words and pictures is great, even a radio style podcast is good. Go crazy and share your methods of work.

I hope you enjoyed the video, I had the most fun shooting the intro and exit videos with my oldest two daughters and one of their friends. I just can't help but laugh watching the whole out-take from their work, so because I can, and especially because I have friends and family who visit my blog too, I wanted to include a Holiday Bonus Video compiling the out-takes. Enjoy.


Ratione et Passonis
Oldwolf

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The First Lessons are The Most Difficult.


There was once a master thief whose skill was renown across the land. One day the thief's eldest son came to him and begged his father to teach him the secrets of his success. The father relented to the son's pressure and agreed to take him that evening. As night fell they approached a large house and together and made their way inside. The son dutifully studied his father's every move, shadowing his steps and mimicking his hands.

Under the ears of the sleeping family the pair moved through the house, Father directing son as they collected specific items of value. Quietly they opened the door into a bedroom and found it empty except for a large closet packed so full of the well-to-do families clothes that the door sat ajar. The father told the son to go and pick through the clothes for something of value and he would return in a moment.

As the son stepped towards the closet, the father shoved him inside and locked the door. Then he made his way outside and loudly knocked on the front door, shouting and ringing the bell to wake up the family inside. When he saw lights start to appear inside the house he quickly slipped away before anyone saw him, and went home.

Hours later he was relaxing in his favorite chair when the front door banged open. In came his son, hs clothes torn in places, dirt smeared across his forehead, and dark circles under his eyes. He was still catching his ragged breath as he started to raise his voice at his father and master.

"Why did you lock me in that closet?" he hollered, "I was scared to death and I was sure I'd be caught!. It took all of my imagination and abilities to get out!"

The old master sat up in his chair and smiled, "My boy, you've just had your first lesson in the trade of thievery."

***

Trying to spend more time with my daughters in the shop. My woodworking resolution for this year.

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Rescue Mission

My dad has managed restaurants for most of my life. Growing up, I learned a lot about real life sitting in the backrooms and listening to the cooks and waitresses banter over their cigarette breaks. It's amazing how invisible a 12 year old boy sitting quietly in the corner can be. Buy me a beer sometime and I'll tell you some stories.

For the last several years my dad's worked for a chain that likes to decorate the walls of their dinning room in a variety of interesting errata. You have been in them before, they have trombones and old Schwinn bicycles stapled to the walls, along with a hundred other random pieces of wonderful crapola. Much to the dismay of myself and other hand tool woodworkers you can occasionally see a great old wooden plane or a handsaw alongside the flotsam and jetsam. Keep your eyes open, it's like a Where's Waldo puzzle.

Once in a conversation I complained to my father about these potentially great tools being wasted screwed to the walls and I jokingly told him he should let me come in at closing one night and liberate them, freeing them back into the wild where they can make sawdust and be happy. For Christmas this year Dad had a surprise for me. The store is undergoing a remodel, a change in concept, and is losing the junk stapled to the walls. Who knows where the items would end up after they were taken down. Some of them directly into the trash. So my dad took a minute and pulled these two beauties from the trash.


The saw in front is a very standard "Warranted Superior" with a Disston sway back design to the blade


It has a good deal more chip carving in the handle than the other similar saws I own. I think what shocked me a little was that the blades are not brown with rust, they've been painted that color, There is obviously some rust underneath, but to start restoring these I need to use some paint stripper. What makes me laugh is that they didn't even take care with the paint job. Just sloppily spraying over the saw nuts and medallion.

The steel of both saws is in good shape and both blades are straight.


This is the saw that kind of excites me, (I know, I know, I'm a geek), but the handle has one of the most comfortable grips I've ever wrapped my fingers around. I couldn't begin to guess at the model or make but I know it's a little unusual. You don't see many with a steel side plate like this. You can tell it's been well used over the years with rivets in the place of lost saw nuts. It is missing a few teeth as well, I'm not that worried about it.


All in all it is very nice to have a chance to rescue these beauties from being lost to nick-knack infinity. I hope to have the rehabbed soon and back to happily making sawdust.

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Adventure of Design.

If you write novels, like my cousin Mark does, then your trade craft is in words, but words are not enough to carry through a great story. Your medium is words, and ink, and paper, but your skill comes in story and plot.  The process is simple to explain. You have an idea for a story so you write it down. Then you rewrite it, and then you rewrite it some more, then you rewrite it again, and then, after all that, you probably need to rewrite it some more.

It can be an exacting process, trying to craft and re-craft your work into the best form possible, perfecting your plot, theme, dialogue, and words.

I see correlation to this process in woodworking, specifically when it comes to the all powerful step in the process, good design. In the end it doesn't matter how well you can cut a dovetail or how smooth you can plane a board. If your design is faulty, it can look like a second grade shop class gone wrong. (hopefully minus the glue-eating)

A "car" my youngest glued together from shop scraps.
The problem with design is that it can be a very personal thing. There are some constants when it comes to relating furniture to the human body and it's mechanics, but the softer decisions fall more in the mixed up arena of fashion, personal taste, and a hundred other influences. All these factors may just make designing a piece on of the most daunting processes in woodworking.

The other side of the coin is fretting and worrying about your design to such detail that you end up making a meal out of a snack. You can become paralyzed and bound up in the details. inflexible and unable to move forward on to the actual piece. Frustrated when the entropy sneaks into the build process and requires a change of plans, an "off the cuff" change to the design. Starting to cut to build a piece can be an intimidating thing, You've put work into planing, put money and time into selecting the right stock, and now if you prove to be fallible, you can reduce that stock to nothing but sawdust and firewood.


 I understand why a lot of people like to work from published plans, it helps relieve the fears that can come in the midst of toiling away at your own design. I like to work from published plans at times myself, but mostly in just a few circumstances. One is building a reproduction of a piece. In those instances you want to get it right and getting that information from someone who had the opportunity to measure and inspect the piece is a great way to go if you can't do it yourself.

The other reason I like to use someones published plans is because that artisan is someone I want to learn directly from. Working from someone else's plans is almost like getting a glimpse inside their heads. My wife bakes cookies as her stress relief, as a result she collects recipes and cookbooks by the armload. She has said that she can tell a lot about the cook by reading the recipe. The way they order the ingredients and the details to the directions tell her about that person as a cook. I will choose to build a project from a woodworker's plans so I can gather some similar insight, and often that teaches me more in-depth lessons than the proper dimensions of a chest of drawers.

Most of the time a piece starts as a rough idea in my head. a problem to solve, something I've admired and wanted to build for a while, or a request from a rare commission. From there I move onto my sketch book. I have a small, 6"x9" bound sketchbook that follows me around almost everywhere. I have a fine arts background so I express myself best visually, using my hands. Even in other parts of my life, if I'm trying to explain a process I end up sketching something.


In those first sketches I'm not worried about perfect proportions or sizing. I want to get the big ideas down. From there I work my way back into the details, but the sketchbook is always in the rough. I'll write down measurements but they are guesstimates. I may also work out some joinery and details and plan some of the order of the build. Basically at this point I am doing a combination of mind dumping and free writing. I work fast and try and get the ideas out on the paper as they come to mind and as I think of variations.

Often I fill somewhere between 3 and 5 pages like this. Then I work back over the sketches and write additional notes, make changes in the sketches and try and envision the piece as a whole. I know just enough about sacred geometry to be dangerous and I'll play with Pythagorean theorem and golden ratios, but never as a hard and fast rule, only as a way to help fill the holes I've left behind in the fury of the sketch.

Then I'm ready for the next step, I dig out the graph paper and try to get dimensions and details nailed down tight. Here I will really focus on the measurements and the joinery details. I try to end up with a finished piece on the page.


The trick to my somewhat organic design process is that sometimes unexpected surprises happen and things take off in unprepared for directions. I have been working a lot on designing some pieces lately and something I've wanted to build for a long time is a spice chest. A small cupboard containing an apothecary of small drawers behind a showpiece door, traditionally it's an 18th century style piece.

I did quite a bit of research, both in books and magazines I own and using the net to find other examples. But I struggled with the door design. I asked my wife for some ideas, (she has a similar fine arts background) and she suggested trying to break up the door like a triptych. I liked the solution and played with size and shapes until I came up with this design.


The problem was that I liked this door a lot, but it was definitely not 18th century, it was very much Arts & Crafts style. I began to change game plan, to look at my other elements to see if they fit in with the the aesthetic the door design brought to the party. I decided the basics of the chest were safe, mouldings would have to be fit to the style, but the most difficult part was getting the feet of the case right.


You can see I played with idea after idea, some good, some crap. I tried not to judge them as I was working through them. Just put them down on paper and come back to decide later.

In the end I'm not sure if a Arts & Crafts Spice Chest is an idea that would appeal to anyone beyond me, but it is a fun exploration into the form of the chest and into the aesthetics inherent in  A&C pieces, and that's really where I'm at in my learning process. Exploration.

I did get held up a little on moving forward with the build of this specific piece. One of my mother's co-workers has recently been diagnosed with a aggressive brain cancer and I wanted to build something to donate to the silent auction. Inspiration struck while I was paging through the woodworking books at my public library. I was looking at a copy of "The Essential Pine Book" (by John McGuane and Megan Fitzpatrick). Inside was a neat little desktop organizer with a couple of drawers. I decided to use it as a jumping off point for designing a similar piece in pine and cherry and donating it. After playing with the measurements, here's the scaled drawings I decided on.

The fundraiser is in February so I'll have to build the desktop organizer before the spice chest, but I'm OK with that.



Merry Christmas and Season's Greetings to you and yours.
Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Metamorphosis in Progress

"When I was a child, I was speaking as a child, I was led as a child, I was thinking as a child, but when I became a man, I ceased these childish things."
-1 Corinthians 13:11

---

I feel like I'm at a bit of a crossroads in my woodworking journey. I've spent several years now working to learn and re-learn how to go about working in this craft I have some to love. It started with a fascination with hand tools and learning to use them and it has spread across all the aspects of my work. Along the way I have been focusing on building a shop that I want to work in, with the appliances I needed and the storage I wanted. It hasn't always been an easy journey to explain.

This last February I traveled to Millwaukee to attend "The Woodworking Show" it was an enjoyable afternoon and the highlight was getting to meet and make friends with Andy Chidwick and his family. (for those of you who live under rocks Andy runs the Chidwick School of Fine Woodworking in Montana, one of the top two places I would love to go and take a few classes) One of the first things he asked was, of course, "So what are you working on in the shop right now?" and I had to smile at the quizzical look I received when I replied "A couple of wooden squares."


The response isn't Andy's fault. I was at an odd part of my journey and I know the response he expected was akin to "Well I'm finishing up the veneer on this Bombe secretary but I'm having troubles getting the hide glue to heat just right." How was someone so accomplished to understand what I was really up to, stripping my woodworking hobby back to the bare nuts and bolts and trying to rebuild it stronger and more stable. Maybe a more appropriate response on my part could have been, "I'm focusing on skill building with stock sizing and design details by building some layout squares for my shop."

Of course I'm not smart enough to some up with something like that on the spot, It takes me ten months and editing the words on a computer to be that smooth.


I haven't built shop furniture exclusively for the last few years, notably I've finished a nice sized Medieval Hutch Chest and a William and Mary Bookstand along with a few other things, but mostly these explorations were extensions of lessons I had relearned. I would say especially there's a big connection between the lessons I learned building wooden layout squared and the William and Mary Bookstand.

Once I finish the build of my traditional tool chest I will have nearly run out of things to build "just for the shop" in two and a half years I'll have built two workbenches, a saw till / storage shelf combo, a tool chest, a sandpaper storage box, and multiple other smaller projects. It is time to begin to look outside of what to build for my shop and decide what furniture I want to build for myself, my family, my friends, and maybe a couple clients.

The road stretches ahead, but the journey is still the same. On the move between apprentice and master. I will continue to record the journey here, including the bumps along the way. You will see some differences as I focus more on becoming a student of furniture in addition to being a student of woodworking techniques. You will see more words used up on design and preparation as well as the process. With shop furniture I could work from a rough sketch in my book, I've taken to drafting things out to scale on graph paper again so I can really see the proportions. The metamorphosis is in process, and I'm excited to see where the next stage takes me.

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Winter Shop.

Many years ago, before the advent of civilized artifices such as central air. Larger family homes would often have a couple of kitchens. In the colder winter months you would light a fire inside the house, baking the bread and warming the house together. In the warmer summer months you can imagine why you wouldn't want to add extra heat to the house. So a separate building was constructed behind the house to be a summer kitchen, and keep the heat of the wood fired stove from making the main house uncomfortable.

This winter I decided to take a similar philosophical approach to my shop.

Last winter was my first in the shop one my parents land, It's in a steel shed on the back corner of their property. Steel sheds aren't really know for their insulative properties, and I picked up a kerosene heater to help make it through but there were some good treks through knee deep snow until I had a path tromped down.

Not that I minded much, it did slow down my progress, glues and finishes don't work in the cold, supplies are difficult to bring to the shop, and when the temperature drops below 0 degrees, even the kerosene heater doesn't help.

We live on the fifth floor of a big apartment building. Our place has a separate dining room in addition to the standard bedrooms, kitchen, living room set up. The dining room is more often referred to as my study because we've put a couple cheep bookshelves along the wall to hold my some of our books. We are not a sit around the table for supper family, the dining room gets used as a catch all place for a lot of other things.

I decided to co-opt the dining room, or rather half of it, to serve as a winter shop. I had built my Joinery Bench to be portable. I just needed a way to transport and store the tools I would need to continue to work. So I started work building a traditional tool chest and managed to get it finished and the shop moved just in time to beat the first snow. (which has since disappeared in the recent rains, but weather in Wisconsin is interesting, If you don't like what it is right now, hold on an hour because it'll be different)


I managed to get everything into one minivan load. Well almost everything, I made a return trip to pick up some cherry stock.


It was an interesting catharsis to see the shop cleaned out. If I continue to work out of the tool chest when I move back to the "Summer Shop" and I suspect I will. I'm going to have to figure out something different to with the peg board.


 The saw till and plane storage shelf look lonely too.


The big thing I'm exited about with the "Winter Shop" . . . a window and natural light on my workbench. 


I put down a layer of painter's drop cloth and covered that with some interlocking floor pads. This should keep the majority of the sawdust out of the carpeting and make shaving easier to sweep up. 


It's cozy, but I like how it feels so far. I hot glued some pieces of floor pad to the back of the bench to protect the drywall. I love being off the concrete floor and here I can work barefoot and in stretchy pants if I feel so inclined. 


The blue plastic tool box has a small assortment of clamps and the wooden tool box on top of it has nails, screws and some hardware inside. The anarchistic tool chest is still unfinished, I ran out of stock for the skirting. I'm think I'm gonna pick up some pine to finish it up soon.



 Of course every shop has it's challenges and breaking down longer stock is always a challenge. The problem solving needed to overcome these kind of challenges is keeps me on my toes and continually searching for a better way.

Even though the chest isn't finished I am currently working out of it, and enjoying the experience. I thought I would give a quick little video tour of the chest and the tools I've decided to fill it with.



Ratione et Passonis
Oldwolf


P.S. I just wanted to drop one more quick note of thanks.  I try not to concern myself too much with numbers when it comes to this blog, I try to write what makes me happy and things I think I would like to read and let anyone who chooses to come along for the ride. I do keep an eye on the numbers though and I am always curious about how people find me and whether they are interested enough to come back and read some more.

To that end I am tickled to say that the month of November was record breaking for hits and readership and on December 7th we set a new one day record.

This is super humbling to me and I wanted to take a minute to offer a big thank you to everyone who takes a minute out of your day to read about my adventures in sawdust. I'm having a blast continuing to work here and I'm glad you're along for the ride.

Thank You
Derek

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Filling the Top of The Chest

After I finished filling the bottom of the tool chest I was really psyched to start filling in the top of the chest. It was getting cold and I could almost feel the snow coming and if you remember, the biggest goal for finishing the tool chest is it would allow me to bring enough tools home to our apartment so I could continue to work over the winter and remain frostbite free.

I've already designed my version of a Joinery Bench to knock down for travel, I needed a way to pack up the goodies that make a bench worth having.

I like the simplicity of the Anarchist Tool Chest sliding tray design. The baseness of the concept is infinitely versatile and will let me grow into my own comfort level of where I want my tools stored. It took me a bit of thinking and studying the pictures in Chris's book to really get the concept of how to put together the rails. I've rarely been accused of being a particularly quick study. It took some time for me to wrap my head around exactly how I should go about it.

I may have missed it but I think Chris understates the concept of supporting the rail system from the bottom of the chest. The trays will be holding a lot of weight in tools for a very long time and even though he shows this support in pictures, I don't recall reading a word about it. Maybe I'm off base but the support seems kind of important to me.


It's entirely possible I missed it's mention in the reading. I'm fallible. But I did read the construction sections of the book over and over as I worked my way through the build.

The bottom rail is a 1 X 1 section of hickory. The supports are the same size. One support helps sandwich the divider for the saw till, the other just takes up a little footprint in the corner.


The rail itself, in my version, stretches from the back of the chest to the support rail I made for the front tool rack. Not pictured here is a little corner glue block I placed with a little rub joint so the rail gained some support against the front of the chest as well.


From the bottom 1" wide rail you then build up the next rails. The next one up is still hickory and a 1/2" thick. It measures 6" wide to accommodate the deepest of the trays. This one I had to notch around the front tool rack. Another thinner rail weighs in at 1/4"thick and 3" wide to support the upper tray.

Oh and you can see the small glue block I placed to support the front of the widest rail.


A little glue on the back of the rails and some counter sunk screws to hold them in place. The bottom wide rail is glued and nailed to the side and also nailed to the supports.


With the rails in place I started working on the trays themselves. I cleaned up a bunch of hickory and resawed it to thickness using my bandsaw, until I dulled my blades beyond recognition, then I finished the job using the tablesaw. I may be a hand tool geek but I am also fat and lazy and not terribly interested in resawing to thickness by hand. Sorry to disappoint.


The upside to this process is I was able to butterfly my drawer bottoms. I know the detail of this will be hidden by the tools in the trays, but I will know it's there and when I do get to see it, it will make me smile. The thickness for the bottom, deep drawer is 3/8ths" and the top two shallower drawers are 1/4" thick.


I planed ship laps in the bottoms and moved on to constructing the sides of the trays.

One of the several mistakes I'll admit to in this project happened in my planing stage. I just didn't buy enough poplar. I should have ordered closer to 70 to 80 board feet instead of stopping in the neighborhood of 60. I had already planned to use hickory for the long wearing surfaces like the tray bottoms and the side runners, but I just wouldn't have enough poplar. So I made a stop at the local home store and picked up some pine.


In hindsight I am not sad about this development at all, I love the smell of pine and everytime I open the chest, I get a puff of that sweet resin smell that triggers some kind of primal endorphin response. It makes me happy.



After cleaning up the home store marks and planing the boards straight I sized the sides of the trays to specific length and width. The they were resawn down to 1/2" thickness.


More dovetail hijinks ensued.


And in the end, I had a glued up and finished tray. . .


. . . Or three.

The hickory bottoms were all attached with nails and a couple dollops of glue to try and allow for wood movement issues. All the burn marks from the power saw blades were buffed out with a sander. 


And now I had the top of the chest to fill. Each drawer slides back and forth on it's own rail. I used a little wax to reduce the friction. The real trick to these is to get the fit of the trays piston tight to the sides of the chest. A tight fit makes the sliding work better because the tray can't kick off center and bind.

I got close, very close, but I do have some racking as I move the trays back and forth. Most of the time it is not an issue and I just have to move a tray with two hands instead of the nonchalant one handed sweep The Schwarz uses in his demonstration videos. I'm not too bothered or worried, the occasional stick is a minor issue and we'll see how they work after they've seasoned in for a few years.


Just like when I finished filling the bottom of the chest, I couldn't hardly wait to throw my tools into the top trays and see how they work. Here's where my work showed one more mistake. In my calculations for the width of the trays I must have somehow added an inch to each trays width. The result is more room for tools in the trays, I like that, but you do not get that nice stacked effect where you can look down and see every corner of all the trays at once. At times a little fiddling is needed to get a specific tool out.

In truth, I think I came out on the winning side of this mistake, I like having a little more room in the trays.


As I said before, I could feel the snow was nearly ready to fly and once we received a significant amount I wouldn't be able to get my van closer than a football field away from my shop. I needed to get the lid on and the chest to my apartment before it became snowed in.

But that is another story for next time.

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf