Sunday, December 14, 2014

Stocking Stuffers for Woodworkers

Once in a while someone asks me for advice on what to give their woodworking loved one for Christmas. In the past, my standard advice has been to get a nice honing jig, or better yet, a class on sharpening. Those remain very good gifts, because sharpening is fundamental to enjoyable working, and neglected by a large percentage of us working at all levels.

About a year ago, though, I decided that one of these might help

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Handplane Jig for Ladderback Chair Leg Tapering

Here's another hand tool jig. This one is more specific than the dovetail paring jig I showed in the last entry, because it's built to help with one particular step in one particular project. I use it to turn tapered square chair leg blanks into tapered octagons when I make the ladderback chair developed by J. Alexander and Drew Langsner. The dovetail jig can be used for joints of different thicknesses and widths, and I can even picture myself using it to fair up tenon shoulders. But this leg-tapering jig is so specific that I doubt it will ever be used for anything but this project.

First I'll show about making and using the jig, and then I'll explain my thinking a little bit.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Robert Ingham's Dovetail Paring Jig

I've been thinking lately about hand tool jigs for very specific operations. If you've used hand tools much, you've learned about the value of jigs for often-performed, generalized operations like making a square end on a board with a bench hook and/or shooting board. I'm thinking about more specialized jigs that don't get used for every single project, but come in handy for guiding a tool along a carefully limited path to produce consistent, accurate results. This baseline paring jig for dovetails is a perfect example.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Buying an Old Unisaw

If you're getting into woodworking because you want to build cabinets and built-ins for your house, your version of the thousand-dollar shop could be centered around the tablesaw. I have danced around this topic for a while because although I do have a tablesaw, it isn't one I would recommend for cabinet work: it's underpowered and has a very small table which tilts to make angled cuts, so is not safe for breaking down big sheets of plywood.

The saw as I found it when I visited the pre-auction inspection. There was no play in the arbor bearings, no major rust, and the inside was not caked with old sawdust: all good signs.

Recently that changed, when I had the chance to get an old Delta Unisaw for an excellent price.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Make a Chopping Block for Green Woodworking

If you want to get started in woodworking on the lowest possible budget, I recommend what's called “green woodworking” or sometimes “greenwoodworking”. I've talked a little about this already, in this entry about the chairmaking class I took at Country Workshops last summer, and this entry about gathering some ash for my next chair.

One thing you will find handy if you want to start carving spoons and/or bowls from green wood is a chopping block, so you'll have a stable surface for shaping with an axe.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hock Kitchen Knife Kits

I just put the first coat of finish on this guy:
If you've done much messing around with hand planes, you'll probably recognize the logo. If not, finish reading this and I'll try to start you down the path to enlightenment.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Planing Small Irregular Pieces of Wood

Just a quick post about using two-sided tape in a pinch.

The workpieces in question are a pair of scales for a kitchen knife I'm giving to my son. They're oddly shaped, so my bench vise couldn't hold them, and too thin to hold that way anyway. The ends have been cut off too far from square to use my Time Warp bench dogs; the force of planing would rotate them away from behind the dog and they'd just slide across the bench.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Here's a great essay about Larry Hagberg, a blacksmith employed by the New York City Parks Department.

In general, what he says about making by hand is obviously backed up by his many years of direct experience and thinking. It confirms much of what I think about the inevitability of woodworking's (and blacksmithing's, and other crafts') survival: the crafts will survive because making stuff is a huge portion of what makes us human.

But there are two great quotes, from his answers to the last two questions in the interview, that I want to highlight here:

 In the old days, when we got tired and couldn't hold the hammer anymore, we would duct tape it to our hand and just keep working.

I remember a few moments like that from when I was younger, and learning a new woodworking skill created such an ecstatic buzz that my surroundings faded away, time ceased to exist, and gradually even my body felt peripheral to what the hand, eye, tool, and wood were doing.

At the other end of a working life, Hagberg has this to say about retirement:

I heard about so many guys who retire, especially when you do a hard job, you can't just move to Florida and live on a golf course. You're a working guy, that stuff'll kill you. All of a sudden you stop doing what you're doing and it all veers to the right and downhill.

Amen, brother. I'm nearly 20 years behind you, but already I feel the truth of what you're saying in my own body, and see it happening (both ways) with my older friends and teachers.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

To the Victor Go the Bench Doges

A few people have asked me "What happened with your Shop Stool Build-Off entry?" I wrote about building it in this recent post, but never followed up to let you know how it fared in competition.

Reader, I won! . . . not best of show or anything, but "best concept," I guess because I noticed that a shaving horse and a shop stool have many of the same features. You can read about (and see photos of) the REAL winners at this blog entry by Chris Wong of Flair Woodworks, the organizer of #SSBO. Some of the other entries are very, very well-designed and -executed pieces of genuine furniture. It was humbling to be put in their company.

Turns out, there were real-world prizes! About a week ago, I got an envelope in the mail from Canada:

It contained a set of wooden bench dogs from Time Warp Tool Works, a company known mainly for wooden molding planes. My bench already has 3/4" holes for round metal bench dogs, so I was able to compare them side by side right away.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ebonizing Wood

One way to make your woodworking stand out is to invest some time in learning new finishing techniques. Ebonizing by the method I describe here is a great addition to the thousand-dollar shop, because it requires no special equipment or tools other than the plastic cups, gloves, rags, etc. you already have on hand.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

#SSBO (Shop Stool Build-Off)


A couple of months ago a few woodworkers I follow via their blogs and Twitter started the idea of having a "build-off" where woodworkers simultaneously build their own version of some specified project, and live blog about it. I was hesitant to join in, because some of these people have MAD skillz. On the other hand, the project they settled on is a shop stool, and I had just realized I need a comfy place to sit in the shop, so I signed on.

The other week, I was starting to resent the time commitment. My weekends are precious to me, and I might rather have the unstructured time. But then on Thursday, it hit me in a flash: if my shop stool could be really, really useful to me, as well as comfortable, even if it doesn't look like what the other guys are making, why not? 

So I'm re-committed to doing this. I will have a shop stool by the end of the weekend, win, lose, or draw. The design I settled on doesn't look like what you probably imagine when you think "shop stool," but it has three legs, is very comfortable as seating, and definitely belongs in the shop! I'll post pictures here as I take them, every few hours starting about 7pm tonight, and if you want to follow live, as well as keep track of the other contestants' progress, follow along on Twitter, where my handle is @JimDillon6 and the hashtag for this weekend's event is #SSBO. If you really get into it, Chris Wong, one of the main organizers, has a web page listing all the participants as well as links for following each of them. Here it is:

The above three photos show a crude method of putting a half-round profile on the end of a stick, in this case part of the stool's adjustable workholding mechanism. After tracing the curve I wanted on each piece, I quickly chopped back almost to the line with a chisel, then clamped the two workpieces together in the vise and sanded the curves fair with the R.O.S., working quickly through grits 40 through 150. It struck me as a good example of what the Wood Whisperer calls "hybrid woodworking" so I tweeted him to that effect. He seemed to agree.

 Laying out ratchet teeth for the height adjusting mechanism.

 I scribed a baseline on the back face of the ratchet to let me know when to stop sawing.

 Another form of hybrid woodworking: by coincidence, my best fine crosscutting saw is Japanese, and my best fine ripping saw is Western. So they're often found side by side on my bench.
Here's as far as I got on Saturday night. I had to take about 7 hours off to drive my son to social engagements and kendo, then after dinner I got back into the shop. I'm hopeful that tomorrow I can finish fabricating one or two more parts, chamfer all the exposed corners, and put the seat in place. Stay tuned!

 The height adjuster needs to have a large top to support its load.
 Yet another use for 1-2-3 blocks: tracing the seat profile onto the backing of some black naugahyde with a uniform 2" margin to allow room for the padding and to keep all the staples on the bottom, out of sight.
 Once the seat was upholstered, I was ready for assembly:
 Surprise! My shop stool does double duty as a shaving horse!
You'll be seeing this shop stool in future blog posts - - I expect to spend lots of time on that seat in the months to come. Stay tuned!

I finished at 6:15 Sunday. My son Carl and my partner Margaret and I went out for pizza, then came home and checked out the other stools on Twitter and the sites of the various makers. I strongly encourage you to check them out via Chris Wong's page linked to above, or by going on Twitter and scrolling back through the "#SSBO" tweets. This weekend was really wonderful for me - - taking part in something happening all over the English-speaking world, seeing all the varied designs people came up with, and making friends with people I've never met IRL. Good stuff! If you ever get a chance to participate in one of these build-offs, do it!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Another Use for 1-2-3 Blocks

I improvised a scribing tool out of a 1-2-3 block, an eye screw, and a pencil yesterday. It's not ground breaking, but it's a nice piece of frugality making use of something I've recommended you buy back in this earlier post. Make the tool or not; notice the method for stopping your chairs from rocking shown in the final photos.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Practice for Cutting Dovetails

If I were the type to make New Year's resolutions, I might resolve that 2014 is the year I take my hand tool skills to a new level (To clarify: I'm not the type, so I'm not resolving that!)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Repair Damaged Wood with Steam from Clothes Iron

Accidents happen. A case of (literal) butterfingers could make you lose grip on your recipe box and ding the edge of the kitchen table. A perfectly respectable man can inadvertently drop one of the kitchen chairs while moving it up to the bedroom. Maybe you came in from the garage carrying a cinder block and needed to set it down quickly, not realizing until you picked it up again that in doing so you laid it on the end of the dog's leash, and now your wood floor has the perfect impression of a snap swivel right in front of the coat closet.

One approach to such mishaps is to say “Thank you! My furniture (or house) now has more patina!” Your wabi-sabi outlook on life might lead you to take this attitude, and if so that's fine. I go that way myself, quite often.

But right now, I'm making a chair, and it hasn't even had a chance to be a new chair yet, so I was dismayed to take the rear legs out of the bending jig after I steam-bent them to see this:

How did this happen? The bending jig is made of yellow pine, and its grain embossed itself onto the chair legs while they were clamped into the jig. Soon you will see a post on “Appropriate Bending Jig Materials” perhaps . . . meantime, I don't want to make two new chair legs. What to do? Bondo? That's a lot of work, and I didn't plan on painting this chair.

So I borrowed a clothes iron, got a clean rag sopping wet, and pressed the rag into the dent with the hot iron: