Here's the latest YouTube video demonstrating my dovetail spline guide.
I have used my jointer to taper legs for the past eight years. I like the technique, especially its repeatability. If, however, you’re making a double-tapered leg (there is a second, smaller taper just at the foot), the jointer is not the best tool for the job. You could pull out your handsaw to trim away the bulk of the material, then finish up using a plane. But with four legs and four tapers per leg, I’m turning to my table saw and to a table saw jig.
If you’re cutting a four-sided tapered leg using your table saw, to complete the taper on the fourth face requires two distinct setups because the first angled face is against the fence when you make the fourth taper, which changes the angle of the taper. Another option is to be creative with the cutoff piece using it as a spacer.
The jig shown at the right is setup for two tapers. The first side aids in cutting the first three sides of each leg, then the jig is reversed and the second setup makes the last cut to keep the four faces identical. This is another reason that I enjoy tapering legs at my jointer – I’m not referring to making multiple passes and counting each pass so I can get the tapers to match. (If you’re not familiar with my technique, which I learned from someone else, you need to read the desk-on-frame article coming out next month.)
After the legs are tapered, a jig to cut the second taper is easy because the major angles of the leg’s faces do not change. The photo to the left shows the simple setup. One scrap of plywood, a makeshift fence and a stop at the foot does the trick. Because it’s such a small cut (shown below), there’s no need for a clamp to hold the legs in place.
As you would do when tapering the full leg using your table saw, do the layout work on one foot at its bottom and the ankle (where the cut terminates), position that foot to the base of the jig, then tack in your remaining jig parts. Then it’s snip, snip, snip , snip – four times for each leg, and you’re done. Double tapers are so easy once you have the major taper work complete. Plus, the extra taper on the legs catches your eye, especially when there is a cuff of tiger maple popping off the walnut background, as there is on my upcoming desk.
Build Something Great!
Another class concludes today and then in another short week’s time I hold my last foundational course for this year. Nine more woodworkers are freed from the constraints of mass-making because they now know sharpness to levels they never knew before. Truth sets people free and when you know it you know it. When the bank tellers trains they only ever touch real notes. After months of handling good notes, a bum note touches their fingertips and it feels so slightly different but it’s enough to stop them. Looking at the note further the note looks and feels the same. You see inside they know what they know what they know and they cannot dent that something feels different. That’s the nature and reality of truth. No matter what, my students now know what sharp is. They’re free indeed and their newfound freedom is for a lifetime.
Class finishes today
I have taught this class and other similar classes to over 5,000 new and seasoned woodworkers who came from worldwide destinations. That is, I have personally stood within a few feet of each of the 5000 persons I have taught. The course is mine. I developed it in its entirety and pushed it through to the point that it became the springboard into more advanced levels of woodworking where people began making their own boats, canoes, violins and cellos and guitars. Many became furniture makers in their own right. It’s provided the rite of passage from the unknown to the known, from the amatuer to the professional and most woodworkers I have known discover a whole world of real, and I mean real woodworking as opposed to simply machining wood.
This week has been a week of reflection for me. Reflecting on the woodworking culture and the work I do as a 65-year-old maker come January 4th 2015. The work I do has become so second nature to me that most things I do I do automatically and even without any conscious thought at all. In fact, thinking would for certain disrupt the fluidity of movement to my work and for sure the speed with which I generally work. Mental gymnastics have no place in the measured steps I take throughout a given day and so This is what I pass on to my students working a short distance from me or standing and sitting around my bench as I work or teach or just chat.
This week was very inspirational for me. I think perhaps one of the most inspiring ever. Its not hard to put my finger on what it was. The full class of men seemed to know no barriers. From day one they related to one another without the usual social fetters and competitive spirits I have always had to dismantle over the years. In some ways they seemed more like children in that they sponged up the information, asked genuine questions without allowing intimidation or self consciousness hinder them. The whole nine days have been pure harmony and personalities blended in seamless continuity every second of every day. Seeing the parts come together, I mean the joints mostly, and hearing the banter between benches, seeing them care for one another and the general repartee and such made me all the more grateful that we host these classes in my workshop.
Boxes and shelves and now tables are about done. Today we glue up the final parts and at mid afternoon most of the students will be done and probably ready to leave to be reunited with their normal life. By tonight they will have pretty much mastered the planes and chisels, saws and scrapers, spokeshaves and much more sufficient to never feel ill-equipped again. I love this thought. The thought that they will for the rest of their lives be able to chop mortise and tenons and make near perfect dovetails with a handful of simple and inexpensive tools they can but and restore from eBay for under about £150. They will never be under the illusion presented by sales reps and catalogs again. They now know exactly what to takes to work wood. Their confidence levels are about a thousand time more than they were a few days ago and half of them I predict will become serious woodworkers and some may even earn their living from it sometime in the near future. Imagine that. Now that’s success. Another thing I am grateful for and ever conscious of is that seven of them came from distant countries. Even language didn’t separate the camaraderie that permeated the days and evening we spent together.
My friend and Master woodcarver and turner Richard McDonald picked this wheel up at a local flea market. It is in excellent condition and appears to have never been finished, it is ‘in the white’.
All that was missing was the distaff and the pitman (footman) needed to be replaced. I designed the new distaff and pitman from turning details on the original, Richard turned the pieces and I assembled the parts.
I got very little spring back or recovery from the bent dowels.
The ribs are 1/8″ diameter birch dowels, the rest of the wheel is also made of birch. I made a bending jig, boiled the 5 dowels, hoping to get 4 good ones in boiling water for 20 minutes, clamped them to the jig and carefully and quickly bent them to shape. I allowed them to dry overnight and as expected I had one failure, but the four turned out fine.
I drilled 1/8″ holes in the distaff at the proper angles and spring the ribs into position. I will glue them in place with hide glue.
No finish on this piece, still have the pitman to finish. This wheel will be for sale when it is completed.
I cannot imagine two sports more different than chess and racing the most complex automobiles on the planet. In chess two men sit a few feet apart in absolute silence, sometimes for minutes and sometimes for a half hour, without moving a muscle. Thinking. Pure thought. Anticipating the future moves and working out in your head all the options for victory. The two who are playing what will be probably their last match tomorrow are two of the most talented individuals in their sport the world has ever seen.
At the same time that they are playing chess, two other men will be racing the last race of the season in F1. They are nearly equal in points after 18 races, and whoever crosses the line first will be champion. Their sport involves split second decisions, the highest degree of technology, a large team of skilled helpers and tons of money. They sit in the cockpit of a machine which is moving at 200 miles an hour, sweating in 140 degree heat, with an engine a few inches behind their head screaming at many thousands of revolutions per minute. For two hours they must focus on the race, where a second gained or lost will determine if they finish first or perhaps last.
I will be watching the chess match on my computer and the race on the television. I can tell you that it will take more than a little bit of concentration on my part to keep up.
I have been thinking lately about what makes a "master" of any craft, whether it's playing chess, racing a car, or just restoring a valuable object from centuries ago. Of course, while I do play chess often, and like to drive my car fast, I am not a "master" of either of these skills. That doesn't mean I can not appreciate the subtleties of those professions. In the same way, I regard the methods I use in my profession with my full attention and experience to guarantee a professional result.
I enjoy working on early furniture since all the experience you need to do the job properly is right in front of you. All you need is a keen sense of observation. Basically it is a question of simple forensics. Look for the clues and you will understand what you need to do. Traditional construction methods, hand tool marks, layout lines, hardware decisions and everything else is important and must be analyzed. In the same way traditional upholstery is predictable and you can learn this skill by carefully taking apart the work and putting it back together using the same process.
I recently completed a large amount of traditional upholstery projects and was thinking about what makes a good upholsterer. One word came to mind: tension. When stretching the webbing, or tying the springs, or stitching the horsehair or tacking the silk cover, the single constant was understand the proper tension. This is why it helps to have large "meathook" hands, like I have. (They also are "handy" for sanding!)
In applying a "period" finish or making repairs, there is another rule I follow: natural wood is not one color. Many refinishers make the mistake of using only one color for wood. The only way I have found to fool the eye into thinking that the finish was original is to use several colors, carefully layered or in different areas on the object. Natural sunlight fades wood, and the surfaces fade differently. Nothing makes a piece look "new" than having a uniform finish on all surfaces. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but trust me, it really makes a difference.
The same concept works with making hand made furniture. I do not think that there is anything sacred about 90 degrees or straight lines. If the door opens and closes, or the drawer slides in and out, fine. I am not saying I am careless. I am saying that there is a priority to decision making when putting a piece of furniture together. It needs to function and be sturdy and attractive. It does not need to be perfect. A drawer is not a piston in a cylinder. It does not need to hold compression during an explosion. It just needs to open and close.
Look at the Parthenon in Greece. The columns are not exactly vertical. If they were, they would be predictable and boring. Would we be as interested in the tower in Pisa if it wasn't leaning? (Perhaps not the best example, but I couldn't resist.)
I guess what I am trying to get at is that you spend your life observing phenomena and, if you are intelligent, constantly learn from that experience, gaining a proficiency in some form of activity. By learning what is important and what is not critical, you can do a job quickly and effectively and with a high degree of satisfaction. In fact, others will pay you to do that job, once you have proven your talents in that field.
I have been fortunate to have had people pay me to restore furniture for over 45 years. Now if I could only get Mercedes to sponsor me.......
If you’ve been reading this blog over the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that I rarely advocate one tool, or one method of woodworking, over another. I’ve always made mention of how I like to do things, and how I chop out mortises is something I’ve written about frequently.
Of course there are several different ways to make mortises. I’ve always used a mortising chisel because firstly it’s cheap, and secondly a mortising chisel doesn’t take up any space in my garage. Chopping out mortises with a chisel isn’t overly difficult, and it offers one big advantage, and that is the ability to use the chisel to accurately size your tenon, which is much more important than many woodworkers realize. I’ve found that much of the time spent making a mortise and tenon joint isn’t chopping out the mortise, or sawing the tenons (no matter if you use a hand saw, table saw, or both), but fitting the tenon to the mortise. I was taught to make a tenon oversized, and then paring it to fit the joint. I’m sure there are woodworkers out there that can saw out a tenon that fits the tenon perfectly nearly every time, but I’m not one of them. Making the tenon oversized will always insure that you can achieve a snug fit. At that, when you have a project with two dozen M&T joints, paring every one down to size is not always fun, or easy, or accurate. Suddenly your weekend hobby has become a weekend chore bordering on frustration. Some people will tell you to enjoy the process and not think about the time spent. That sounds great, but I don’t work that way. Here is what I’ve discovered: making tenons to fit is much, much easier when the mortises are all identical. When you chop a mortise by hand, no matter how good you are there will be slight variations in width and possibly depth. Those variations, however slight they may be, at best will be added work in fixing, at worst make your project go out of square. All of this has lead me to consider purchasing a tool that I never considered purchasing: a hollow chisel mortising machine. There are certain pieces of woodworking machinery I am against owning such as a jointer, for safety reasons, and a hollow chisel mortiser. In my opinion, a hollow chisel mortiser is a tool for professionals who make a living building furniture. Now I’m sure there are thousands of amateur woodworkers who own hollow chisel mortising machines. I’m not saying that I have some sort of issue with that, and even if I did it’s still none of my concern. I can only speak for myself, and it’s difficult for me to justify spending $400 + dollars on a tool that has only one purpose. At the same time, I don’t like veg-o-matic tools like the router, which it seems that every other day somebody is trying to find a new use for. But I’ve determined that at this juncture in my life I don’t have time enough to dedicate to chopping out several dozen mortises by hand, even though I don’t mind the process. My current project has only eight mortises, had that number been doubled or tripled, I would be looking at not one month of build time, but three. And as I’ve said before, the longer it takes to build a project, the better the chance that it will never get finished. So even though I am not a professional woodworker, and even though some of my projects are not heavy on M&T joinery, the next piece of woodworking machinery I purchase may be a hollow chisel mortising machine. I can say from experience that if anything else they are consistent, and consistent is accurate, and accuracy saves time. Should woodworking be about saving time? Maybe not, but it also shouldn’t be frustrating, and nothing can be more frustrating than having to go back and fix step 2 when you are about to start step 9. This I do know, I spent several hours last weekend making and fitting(2!!!) mortise and tenon joints. Part of that is just because of my skill level, but the other part is the method. If I am going to continue making furniture in my spare time but not compromise on the joinery, then it’s high time I bit the bullet and invested in the proper piece of equipment to make that happen. Or maybe my wife will take a hint for once and it will be under the Christmas tree on December 25th.
I know I said the next blog would be about tables but it’s not. Seems I need to get one more picture that I didn’t have in my extensive inventory. And I looked. Twice. I do use labels and tags but I never thought this was a label or tag I would need. I was wrong. Just this once.
Back in late October, I wrote about William S. Wooton and his desk company. (You can read it HERE.) I did find another picture of an Ordinary Grade desk:
I visited an antiques shop in Greensboro, NC a while back and found this monster:
Closed it would look something like this:
It is much newer than most Wooton desks and not nearly as well made. You might be able to see it in this picture:
Wings lift off:
And it’s made by:
Who knew? If you know anything about them, please share.
It’s my first real woodworking article.
It’s in the November/December issue.
The pictures were taken by my friend and colleague Doug Mitchell, who is a much better photographer than I am.
The article is an update of my original blog post on carving a wooden spoon. In writing the article, I had to re-think my carving process, breaking it down into discrete steps, so this article is, I think, clearer and more concise than the original post. It’s also a little shorter. I suspect writing this article has ultimately made me a more efficient spoon maker.
You can purchase a copy at any Rockler store, or at the magazine’s website.
Tagged: Rockler, Woodworker's Journal
We have restocked them in the Old Gold color and decided to offer them once again. These are heavy weight t-shirts of very nice quality.
Only available thru this blog page, not yet on the Brese Plane web site. See buy buttons below.
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"Don't let schooling interfere with your education", Mark Twain
Ever since the age of sixteen I drove a pickup truck. However, when I trade my Ford Ranger in this February, I lost the convenience of running to the lumber yard and throwing a piece of plywood in the back. I currently drive a Mercury Milan while my wife drives the Ford Edge. Neither vehicle can handle a sheet of plywood, so when my wife Anita had to rent a trailer for a design show she was doing this weekend, I jumped at the chance to pick up some wood.
I plan on building some built-in bookcases for the dining room, but I’ve never been able to get started on them since I had no way of getting a sheet of plywood home. I guess I could have rented an open trailer for a few hours, but I’m too cheap for that. Two sheets of 3/4″ birch and 23 board feet of poplar should be enough.
Anita told me to trade in the Milan and get another pick up truck, but I hate having a car payment. The Milan currently has 135,000 miles on it, while I drove my Ranger until it had 275,000 miles, so I’m going to have to deal with this problem for a few more years.
The latest video to be posted is on my Magnetic Honing Guide, a great little aid to free hand sharpening.
things finished – the box w drawer (mostly, just needs one more board in the drawer bottom.) and a birch bowl.
This birch bowl has been around a while, but I just finished carving it yesterday, then chipcarved some of the rim last night. It’s big – maybe 20″ long or more. Great fun. It’ll be for sale soon, no paint – don’t worry.
I added a link on the sidebar to Plymouth CRAFT – where you can sign up for spoon carving, card weaving, lace making & more. http://plymouthcraft.org/
Maureen tells me there’s new felt stuff on her site too. So that’s what she’s doing while I’m here doing this… https://www.etsy.com/shop/MaureensFiberArts
Come join us this weekend for another great Lie-Nielsen hand tool event in Round Rock Texas. This is going to be a great show and there are some new presenters that will be demonstrating and selling their wares. The show is located at the new TechShop in Round Rock. It’s right off of […]