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The Woodworking Blogs Aggregator
This "aggregator" collects all of the woodworking blogs I read every day - or try to anyway! Enjoy!
Thank you to everyone who contributed towards Walt Quadrato's battle against cancer! Their fundraising goal was met. Our prayers are with you, Walt!
To perhaps close out my workbench series on the bench I currently use I thought you might want some close ups of some things I particularly think makes my work easier. Many of you tell me that you want the inside jaw of your vise flush with the face edge of the bench and that seems fine to me, but I have never found a single advantage to this whereas there are several advantages to having the vise a step forward go the edge. I have answered the hundred or so questions asking on this and the simple answer is that I can grip my materials underhand or overhand with one hand and tighten and loosen the vise grip with full support to the work. More than that, I can hang my tenon saws where I want them and where they are the very handiest I have found them to be.
Notice the swivelling retainers. The lighter saws benefit from this and stop the saws from lifting of the wrapped screws. I don’t want hooks as such because of the lift and pull action. I want something that slips on and off and this works for me. The 14” brass backed saw is much heavier and never falls off through bounce from banging.
The tail vise is there. I still have found almost zero use for it, but people seem to feel there’s something missing and they trust me more if it’s there. I put it there to show that it could be put there if people feel it will benefit them. This vise was born in sheffield without the slide-up dog and I retrofitted the wooden liner with a groove that receives a 6mm by 30mm by 110mm long brass bar. This works as well as the factory fitted one so I no longer look for vises with dogs. I did do a blog on making wooden dogs with a spring wire fitted like the ones shown here. These work well; pity I don’t need them. The vise itself is of course another secondhand Record vise; one of those superior ones from the pre 1990’s.
I keep my most used planes on my benchtop on the far opposite corner from my main working vise. Here they line up well. Two jacks, and the remainder are smoothers with different setting depths or a simple scrub plane.
The old jam jar holds different pencils, rules, sticks, felt tip pens and so on. Next to that is a tin can filled with glue sticks. When I demo hand sawing I often cut several cuts next to one another and then I cut them to length and have 30 glue sticks ready to go as needed.
Around the vise
The risk of damaging furniture by using a tape clipped to a belt is too high so we furniture makers generally don’t carry them as a carpenter might. I usually take the clip off and screw it to my bench and use it for a shop rag holder when filming.
One of my better ideas is the insertion of hardwood blocks and chamfering out a recess to the corner. The recess gives me much more cutting depth with the tenon saw and i rarely ever catch it.
The leather in one jaw of the vise works well to increase grip without over tightening or the need for too much cinching on the vise to hold the work.
Here is the video we made on making my mallets. My old mallets follow a copied pattern I took from a true beauty I discovered in a box of tools I bought back in the 1970s. When I saw nestled amongst moulding planes and a couple of Norrises, it it just impacted me so much that, even lying alongside a very rare and beautifully made Howarth Rosewood Ultimatum brace, I would have left the brace, though worth over £1000, when the mallet was worth no more than say £5 maximum.
The blog I wrote on making your first mallet starts here and is a four part series if I remember rightly. The mallet you make does need to have good weight and density and especially so if using the traditional heavyweight variety like these. Even though for most of my work I use a Thorex 712, the Thorex will never replace the traditional mallet for a few simple reasons and not the least of which is aesthetics.
I do hope if you haven’t seen this that you will enjoy it as much as I did making the video. Yes, it is important for the preservation of the skills in making it, and also the detailed shaping of it and the careful deliberations of the man who thought through the dynamics of it, but more than that, it’s the passing on of another craftsman’s life in a very simply work of art. I don’t do it justice, I know that, but here it is, preserved in the lived lives of those woodworkers yet to be born. Make it by hand as he did. Stretch yourself and master the skills. Keep real woodworking alive for others, for your family, your children and grandchildren. This mallet takes me about an hour to make. Enjoy it and pass it on.
It’s funny seeing how manufacturers change the art of what we crafting artisans are looking for by taking what exists and then manufacturing their translation of it rather than trying to understand the essence of something we really need. In the demise of British makers producing true quality goods, a void existed and an opportunity too. I say that because yet another venerated manufacturer I once recommended reduced its standards and chose a different maker to make its square awl. The new awls were shabby replicas that started snapping under even mild pressure in softwoods let alone the more resilient hardwood like oak. The end result is that yet another British-made product bites the dust and another interpretation comes in to fill the void from Asia. People that relied on C.K. for a quality product will disappointingly find that C.K awls are now ranked amongst the junkers.
That said, I took a second look at the imported Silverline square awl (above). It was really a mistake on the part of the manufacturer and of course the importer (known for cheap imports rather than a quality product) too misunderstand the key issues. They must have thought that the point of the original square awl was flawed and in need of finessing. I suppose they decided then to correct the mistake, thinking they were doing us a favour, and rounded the point like a round-pointed awl and never realised we wanted square edges not conical. To add insult to injury, they then took off the corners to the stem of the awl with a chamber to each corner when we wanted sharp, angular corners. You see we rely on the sharp corners of the point and length of the stem because the work as a reamer to actually ream out a conical hole for screws or to make a hole all the way through. All this awl will do is split wood rather than cut the hole, which is what the original was designed for as a bird-cage awl.
With the flawed perspectives dealt with I took the awl and started filing the steel blade square with a flat, single-cut file. The steel was hard enough so that was good. The wood is an Asian hardwood, stained and nicely shaped. I confess feeling glad that someone in Asian was earning a living making them but I’m not under any illusion that he or she is getting near to nothing for the work. I reckon that if I were to start a business just making square awls to a good quality I could turn the handle by hand, fit the brass ferrule and cut and shape the steel awl part from O1 in under five minutes or so. Materials for the whole would be about 15-20 pence sterling max. This awl cost me £4.96 with free shipping and handling. so at that rate, after costs and shipping, I would be earning about £48 an hour and that’s for true hand work, which is not what’s taken place here. All I have to do now is sell them. Oh, and that would be with a nicely made figured maple handle to boot.
OK, the brass ferrule was thick-walled and nice quality. Better than most ferrules on high-dollar awls. But somewhere in the production run someone was sloppy and left the ferrule looking ugly with finish badly applied. I polished this out and worked on the ferrule to polish it out on a mop in 8 seconds flat. The difference to the appearance and feel is staggering. I lightly buffed out the existing finish on the wood and applied an extra coat of shellac. Tell me someone can’t start a business in today’s economy and I’ll show you how she can. You should see the photographs someone sent me as a result of the walking cane blogs and videos we did last year. Just stunning work.
I wanted to see how the awl fitted into the handle. Simple and effective really.
Refining and strengthening the tip of the awl with a pyramid point is all that remained and the awl motored through wood like a torpedo. You may want to experiment with shapes like triangles and diamonds, but square is really fine and very strong.
Before and after side by side. This is how the awl should have looked.
In my drawer are awkward to place tools I rely on just for a minute or two throughout the days of work. Pliers and thickness callipers, different pencils saw files. You can see that it seems jumbled but it’s really not at all a problem. I found it best to have one front cross divider that keeps my much used tools where I want them; the brass brush and the burnishers for sharpening scrapers, some small saw files and two dozen other small tools. I then have two long dividers running front to back that simply to prevent the continents from slipping diagonally or across the drawer. I counted the contents once and came out with 107 items. The drawer is recessed just below flush and the handle I made protrudes. Because the vise stands forward from the benchtop and apron it rarely if ever gets in the way. Many have said how they don’t like the drawer because you can never get in it when you want to because of what’s often clamped in the vise. That’s really not true at all. It’s minor convenience from time to time far outweighs the inability to forward plan and critically think through things ahead of time.
On all of my benches I have usually added the drawers after completion of the bench build. That’s because it’s of only marginal advantage to install it as you go. Adding the drawer in no way affects or indeed compromises the structural stability of this remarkable workbench. In a past workbench I had a push-me-pull-you drawer that could be accessed from both sides.
This my not be important, but looking at your pencils in the jar in the tool well, I wondered how you sharpened your pencils?
Most of my life I used a chisel to sharpen my pencils but `i felt the graphite wasn’t good for my chisels. I use pencil sharpeners in the school for convenience for the students who are not used to chisel sharpening and switched from using the chisel to the sharpener. Anyway we used one made by Swordfish and it has proven the best of all as it’s a simple hand wound one that always gets a good point even with soft leads for drawing and even coloured pencils too. Phil found a new one from Swordfish called the Swordfish Pointi. It creates a beautiful long and slender point and for around £6 it is good value for money.
On a side issue:
My boss always irritated me whenever I sharpened my pencil, about ten times a day working on wood, by saying, “The problem with blunt pencils is there’s just no point to them.” I lean across my bench for the sharpener now and every time I hear his Irish lilting voice saying, “The problem with blunt pencils is there’s just no point to them.”, but now I smile to myself and everyone I work with wonders why I always smile when I sharpen my pencil.
Have a nice day everyone. Oh, and always try to get your point across. Make someone in the dim and distant future smile. It’s nearly 50 years since I heard Patrick’s voice. One day someone will chuckle to themselves I’m sure.
The drawers at the end of my bench, the ones directly adjacent to my vise, are really tills. Tills are narrow drawers for we woodworkers. They are handier than drawers for some things and we like them because they can be lifted to the bench top, looked into, kept there or put back. My chisels, some are my more special chisels, are kept there. In another till I keep my vintage wooden spokeshaves. About ten or so of them. These are quite special too, you know. History kept as the better of all the ages. They’re better in my view than any ever made in the last hundred years. How can that be? Why? Well, once you use one you understand, once you master one I mean. Sharp, refined, light, effective. No one has improved on them. People talk to me of this maker or that, or a new one here and another there, but they don’t really know. The nice thing is that eBay seems to have three or four for sale each day cycling through.
The middle till drawer is where I keep my stash of old fourfold rulers safe and a few more besides together with more of my old chisels. I also keep my collection of old made-in-Sheffield, Sheffield-steel scissors here too. You know, the ones people can’t be bothered sharpening because the Chinese ones come in plastic packs of three for £3 and when they go dull you just toss them and buy more. The old ones sell for 50 pence a pair here and with a saw file you can sharpen them in under a minute usually. There’s a video here to show you how too. I did that one with John last year. What I like about them is how fine they feel and lovely in the hand. My mother was a seamstress and used the same pair of scissors throughout her life making wedding dresses. About 50 years.
In the long well on the farside of my benchtop I keep all of my tape measures in a small dovetails box. The tapes start in the box and get pulled out as I work around the shop. I take one to the bandsaw and leave it there forgetfully so I pull out another and leave it one of my carts nearby. Then I leave one inside a drawer I am making and before i know it I’ve lost them all. I clean up and pick up and at the end of the day they are all back safely in their box. All except one that is. This one I find in my pocket when I get home.
Next to the end of the well is a box of beeswax filler sticks which I use to fill flaws, gaps and nail heads as needed. Beside this tray is a tray of boxwood-handled bevelled-edge chisels. 1/8”, 3/16”, 1/4”, 3/8”, 7/16”, 1/2”, 5/8”, 3/4”, 7/8” and 1 1/4”. A second chisel tray holds more chisels, two by Aldi, some Wards and an I Sorby. These last two are 1 1/4” bevelled-edge chisels that are hard steel that retain their edge better than any I know of. Not so common as my old Boxwood handled Marples. I keep a cup of pencils ready and sharp. Ticonderoga #2s. The keeps them handy and I have a couple of steel rules and pens and other bits to work with. At the far end of the trough are my gauges. Mixed ones but usually they are either combination gauges or marking gauges. About centre to the length of the bench I have a row of oval handled screwdrivers with boxwood handles. These and the gauges poke through holes in the bottom of the well.
The epicentre of real woodworking
I’ve worked with many hand tool woodworkers through the years either in my own workshops, the workshops of others, my bosses in my early days and so on. I’ve worked with a couple of dozen and more other artisans too. Men and women who worked with their hands in blacksmithing and pottery, spinning, sewing, weaving, basket making, stained glass making and others too. Even though the crafts were very distinct and different, each one of them had two key elements common to the work lives of the artisans; one, the tools they worked with were never much more than an arm’s length away, two, their work revolved around a central hub. For the blacksmith, the forge and the anvil stood a mere yard apart or so from one another with the stump beneath the anvil being the chief sweet spot for working on and from and holding a couple of hammers, some tongues and a hardie cutter. The blacksmith stood triangularly to both anvil and forge in equidistance and the work was heated or hammered interactively throughout the day , but the anvil was the key anchor for the constructive and creative work. With the potter it’s no different. There’s more to being a potter than wheel-throwing. Hand building opens the craft up to a massively diverse range of functional and creative work and here again the workbench or the wheel anchor the worker to a fixed local around which the work rotates day in and day out. Other crafts, not all of them, are pretty much the same.
Few crafting artisans move very far from whatever central hub holds their work. My benches have evolved over a number of years and though my favourite is my three-foot centre-well, I use three types intermittently through the day. Some of you asked me to walk you through the bench I use in the filming, that I assumed is the wide-topped one with the added-on well on the far side from me. Unpacking the elements that make the bench work for me might help you to develop your own. Then you can develop your own further to refine its customisation. If you are at all like me, wherever you go you will always want the same set up.
The first bench I worked from was too tall for me. At 15 years old I still would grow two more inches. Today, exactly 50 years on, I’ve stood about 2” taller at between 5’10 1/2” and 5’11 and used the same 37 1/2 – 38” high bench height I worked at when I was 15 (Variation in personal height usually revolve around footwear). That’s probably more than anyone you ever knew because I work a minimum of six days a week, a minimum of 8 hours a day and a minimum of 50 weeks in any given year. My back’s good and so are my neck and legs, knees, ankles, eyesight, hearing and all the bits in between. So I suppose you must find your zone height. I’ve banged on about bench heights enough in the years past. This article is more about living within the zone of your creativity and that means definitive comfort within reach of your work and your tools and your equipment as much as possible.
Most of my tools are on or in my workbench to my right because I’m right-hand dominant. Additional tools are in my tool cupboard immediately behind me but offset to my right of my right arm. Other tools are in two tool chests to my left but when I step-spin on my left leg to my left the tools face me and my left hand pulls open the drawers so that my right hand reaches in to retrieve the tool I want. To the right of these tools is a tall cabinet with shelves holding my moulding planes. I sue these frequently enough to want them near. Drawers in the end of the bench are on my left when stood at my bench and I pull these open when facing the vise with my left hand to look for what I need or to lift a drawer to the bench top. Notice the narrow opening beneath the drawers. This where I keep my sharpening stones and strops. Beneath that is a duster brush hanging on the leg of the bench. Beneath the bench is a blue crate full of metal working consumables. Another drawer in my bench apron sits in the centre of the apron and is convenient for my right hand access. Most importantly is the position of my vise. I am right hand dominant and this means I place my tools to my right for throughout-the-day convenience, keeping the top directly in front of me free and clear as much as possible. Over to my right when I am standing facing my vise, hanging from hooks on the bench apron my side, are my three most used tenon saws; 10”, 12” and 14” long. At the far end of the bench and furthest from me, is a tail vise I really don’t use. I put it there so people would take me seriously.
Oh, yes! Just behind me are two joiner’s tool boxes and behind and to my right is my tool cupboard where I keep bulky tools like planes and braces, additional saws and awkward stuff too. Below the cabinet is a supplies cabinet for the nuts and bolts of a woodworkers life. There’s another beneath the moulding planes shelf unit too.
Machinists on the other hand set their work zone up like a mini factory system and generally cannot work from a fixed point because they mostly flit from machine to machine throughout most of their day.
Tomorrow, or soon anyway, I will post a second blog, but please feel free to start asking me questions as soon as you like.
You come to a point in your life when you transition from being a furniture maker to becoming a man or woman or child who actually designs something from scratch to create an image you formed in your mind. When I was 25 years old, 40 years ago, I started my own business working for myself as a furniture maker building custom built pieces I built in to the homes of my customers. It was successful because I found I could draw my designs in ways customers could see concepts they could really consider and relate to as options. I bridged the gap and became the designer-maker (before the term was used) realising my designs mattered, were often sparked by the work of others and that I would never stop designing and considering the design work of others. That was localised, non international and really quite limited.
Today I was reflecting on a spark. A spark that flashes across empty nothingness and a fire starts flickering in an otherwise dark place. Yellows and blues, greens, ambers and golds develop in tongues that rise in spires and suddenly a fire blazes and cannot be stopped. I remember designing two pieces for the Permanent Collection of the White House began like that. One requirement influenced my design that came from the White House. The designs were intended for the Cabinet Room, therefore they needed to be “formal”. That Autumn of 2008, when I submitted the designs, I thought that they wanted the designs only and never thought I would go on to make them in the wintertime the same year and on into 2009. A few weeks later I was standing in the Cabinet Room of the White House wondering how it was possible that my designs were now standing in front of me in one of the most prestigious furniture collections in the USA. Today I think I have an answer.
Every time I design something new I feel conscious that my mind is racing as if flicking the pages of a massive book of furniture images flashing one after another in fractions of a second though my mind. My thumb suddenly stops and I return a page or two and ope up the book to see what it was that piqued my interest and soon I find myself fleshing out an idea from what my eyes now rested on. The point is of course that we have all seen a design that actually belongs to another who was inspired by the design of another and so on ad infinitum. Am I saying all designs are copied. Well, the saying goes that “there is nothing new under the sun”, and to some degree I think that to be relatively true, but, no, I am not saying that we consciously copy the design work of another but that we are almost always inspired by the work of another. The work might come from nature itself or a physically made design a creative artist sketched and designed that started with one line that led to another and another and another on a blank sheet of white paper or a paper napkin in a noisy New Delhi cafe.
I wanted to share a distant relationship I so enjoy with an online magazine you might want to subscribe to if you like seeing some of the most diverse designs taking place from around the world. Dezeen is a world leader in showcasing the work of some of the most influential designers and architects from every corner around the world and at the same recognising those unknowns designing the unusual that inspires us to go back to the drawing board and start something totally brand new. Having followed the work of this industry provider I recognise just how much they’ve worked to become winners of numerous awards for journalism and publishing. I like the fact new designs in woodworking often feature in most of their daily posts and this is the element I want to get to. Design impacts every area of life and everyone needs inspiring to spark the genesis of any design. I often look at the designs of another and then feel driven to sketch a few lines at my bench and though I would never copy the work of another, the spark of another can ignite the fire in me and a new design is born.
The post Design Concepts With Dezeen Influence Global Designers appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.
When a class begins, on the first hour of the first day, we walk through the processes of sharpening different tools. Inevitably, from the first questions asked, we must work through the modern-day myths and mysteries surrounding sharpening to restore sanity to an otherwise quick and simple task. Japanese stones versus oilstones and diamond powder and paste, hollow grinding and micro-bevels and so much more have become part of a confusing mass of information overload. Even with the best intensions, it’s become problematic for new woodworkers to really understand what they really need to get the edge and they end up going down one rabbit trail after another buying this kit and that gizmo only to find they’ve wasted much time and money. Thankfully we can present what really happens at the bench and no one feels anything but a sense of being set free. I know, it might seem a bit exaggerated, but most people seeking genuine insight have become confused over basic issues just like this and that’s why we spend time dismantling and unpacking things to get to what at the end of the day is only a simple abrasive issue.
We are starting this season with a two-day introduction to woodworking with out Discovering Woodworking workshop that starts this coming Friday and we always start every class with crisp, newly sharpened edge tools. Why? Well, first off I discovered that it’s important to know what truth is to begin with, then, when a lie stands in truth’s stead, everyone will know what a truth is. When the chisel hits the wood for the first time it will be sharpened to around 15,000-grit and the wood will peel away like a hot knife through butter. They will from that time on know what the difference is between sharp and sharp. So planes and chisels are ready to go. Oh, they will also know what chisels and planes will work for all of their needs for about the next 50 years without compromise too. We’ll displace the scared-to-sharpen syndrome with a new confidence in about five minutes and show how not to rely on any mechanical grinder apart from perhaps a once-a-year need to grind out a nicked chisel or plane iron. It’s always freeing knowing you are gaining control.
The next nine-day Foundational Course this winter season follows quickly on the heels of this one with ten days of new filming in between. The snowdrops are already here and they will stay long enough for everyone to enjoy them before the Welsh national flower, the daffodil, skirting the highways and byways in mass swathes of golden yellow, replaces them beneath the shadows of a snow capped mountain range of Snowdonia. Sounds a bit like a vacation brochure? Well, it’s so much more and I am as excited today as I was in 1988 when I taught my very first workshop!
These two knives are used in animal husbandry, to clean and trim the hooves of sheep and goats of different types or breeds. They have stainless steel blades and both take a good edge. Of course they came from UK suppliers, but they are made for international markets and so are available in other countries too.
These three knives are knives I like having around. The top Lamb’s foot knife is the third one I have worked through over the decades, the middle one is the stainless steel foot rot knife and the third is a fruit paring knife by Victornox that is excellent for inlay work. Personally, I carry a lamb’s foot penknife (top) in my pocket all the time and even though it may well be illegal for some, I have kept one there for 57 years to date. I use it alongside my usual Stanley folding knife and in my view these are about the best general woodworking work knife I’ve ever owned even though they have a plastic handle sandwiching the inner workings. It does make excellent knifewalls and cuts open packages like no other. I keep the whole blade surgically sharp the whole time and never let that slip. I grew up in an era when no man went to work without a penknife with a substantial blade. Of course, much to the shame of culture, some people do carry knives for the wrong reasons and not many need one for actually working with today.
In the US the general term for the same tool is of course a pocket knife whereas in the UK a penknife is the same basic tool sliding in and out of the pocket throughout the day. The penknife title originated from its function in cutting swan and goose quills for creating writing quills as dip pens in handwriting. The originals were simply fixed with no folding mechanism to house the blade for pocket storage. The slip joint, the term used for the folding mechanism on pen and pocket knives enabled the safe storage in the pocket and thereby the added convenience of carrying one with you anywhere. As I said, all men at one time had pocketed in their trouser pants a functional and sharp penknife.
The curved blade that came on the knife shown wasn’t quite curved enough and so I gouged out a hollow and then used my Thorex to deepen the curve a little more. Had I needed a tighter curve I would have used a torch to bend it more and then retempered it but this was the shape I wanted and three strokes worked. The knife does come with the two sharpened edges but I didn’t want a push and pull blade in one so I ground the unused edge a little so `i could thumb-push on it as needed. This safer with children too.
I snapped off the top of the curved tip to access the blade better for sharpening with a pair of pliers and then commenced sharpening. If you have a diamond hone it will work well but in this case I wrapped an oval stick I shaped with various grits if abrasive wet and dry and then finally with a strop charged with buffing compound. The handle could be reshaped with a rasp but I actually found it comfortable.
In times past I made some of my income from hand carving wooden spoons. I made many hundreds each year and sold them from anywhere between $20-80 depending on the shape, size, wood and other detailing such as carving, turning and such. Our workshop opened to the public from 10am until 4pm each day and people dropped in to watch me work and I would carve a spoon as they relaxed on stools and watched me gouge out the bowls and shape the handles. My day started at 6am and finished somewhere around 10pm. It wasn’t all work. It flexed and turned according to need and this living for me was a self-employed life with minimal ties to any systems beyond responsibly paying taxes as a woodworker of moderate income making my designs. In my life back then the tax man was the least invasive of any entity and left me alone the most. So much so I really didn’t know that they existed. Had I not paid my taxes I am sure I would have got to know them more.
I liked my work and worked long days taking wood from mesquite trees and carving them from standing-dead stems and limbs I’d cut from dessert wastes or along the Nueces river banks to turn into a hand-carved cash crop. At different times I’d switch rivers for the Frio or the Dry Frio and then on to the Sabinal too. It wasn’t a mood swing or something mere like that. The gentleness of the Comanche trail followed the Sabinal, once called the Arroyo de la Solidad—River of Solitude, and I’d feel rest there even though I always worked hard. The weather determined where I cropped my supply and also where I found a tree downed or dead for a few years. There are segments of life you can’t bottle, but I will always know it smelt, felt, sounded, and tasted, yes, tasted and looked raw-real because I lived it.
No one taught me to carve spoons. It was an obvious process and there wasn’t too much to learn, so it wasn’t really a passed down tradition so much as one I developed. Looking at old spoons through the years (like the one above) it becomes obvious that most of them were formed using gouges to carve out the bowls and then a lathe to shape the handles and the back. The lathe was for speed and standardisation. It takes only a few minutes to do with the right tools and skills. Carving the whole takes longer and the advantage of using standing dead wood or wood already dried is that they go from start to finish in one go. The woods I carved spoons from, even when green, were too hard to carve with a knife. Mesquite and pecan, live oak, it wouldn’t really work. But there is something about knife carving anything that is appealing. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of using something anyone can make to work the wood with. Perhaps it’s keeping it within a sphere of simplicity that needs no batteries or machines or even a mechanism of guaranteed symmetry. I think it’s just an enjoyable thing to take a green piece of birch and convert it with a knife into a spoon someone will use for years and decades. It’s certainly nothing to do with cost. You can buy a very nice and well made spoon for under £5 that will last the same lifetime. The difference is the anonymity you see. When you are given a wooden spoon by a friend and a legend goes with it, you know it was made by hand, you step outside the anonymous vagaries and unknowns and enter the realms of a man, or a woman, or a child, and you say to yourself, I’m using something made by someone I know made it. It stirs the hot mixes and whips cream and eggs and separates one ingredient from another and then ot rests by the side of the cooker until the owner needs it to serve with.
I like to adapt existing tools for my work, make them, adapt them or whatever to suit my task. I found the different curved hook knives less effective for carving more dense grained hardwoods and much less effective when the wood, hard or softwood, is dried and seasoned. With tons of both a ready and steady resource of dry hardwoods through offcuts in the shop I can make a spoon or spatula much more effectively using a gouge and spokes shave followed by a scraper. There is of course something special about carving spoons from riven stock using limbs and stems and letting the chips fall right there on the woodland floor and that’s what we enjoyed about being a cub and scout when I was young. Over recent decades a woodland craft revival has established a place here in the UK and other parts of the world called green woodworking or bushcraft. I think it’s answering one of the basic needs we humans have to work with our hands in a diversely different culture of its own and eschewing the otherwise excesses where we live without making much of anything at all beyond a two-dimensional screen and a keyboard. I think that it’s much more than just green woodworking really. For some it ties in with a way of living they find truly valid as an alternative reality. It’s far from mainstream but they want to and indeed develop lifestyle with woodland crafts and management, woodland living and woodland dependency with some committed to living as small and unobtrusive a low-carbon footprint as possible. Carving every stick and stem into something useful from any split limbs provides raw materials in the rawest state of all. There is a sort of primitiveness about the work that places it in a realm all of its own and by that I don’t at all mean it’s a lesser work but perhaps a greater work or perhaps merely a different work. Yes, I think different. Woodland craftwork like spoon and bowl making and much more beyond that means adapting a mindset and especially so if you are say a bench woodworker like myself. The benchtop and vise adds a convenience in any work and brings work to a comfort level that’s practical and perhaps less stressful longterm to the body. Whittling out a spoon in the woods means working on a portable shaving horse or simply holding the spoon with the less dominant hand and carving it with the other. Two distinctly different ways to make two distinct products.
I bought a couple of knives that I thought were useful even though made for working the feet and hooves of animals. The wooden handled hook knife is a knife that might make greenwood spoon carving doable on a slightly less expensive budget in that it costs around £6. It means doing a little fettling yourself, sharpening and honing, but usually that’s necessary anyway and ongoing throughout the life of the knife on an hour by hour basis. I sharpened this one first and then reshaped the curve with a couple of hammers and a dished wooden block. I doubt that the steel would bend too much without reheating and hardening again, but for the shape I wanted it came just right with half a dozen nylon hammer blows that could have well been steel hammer blows just fine.
The other knife is hooked to a curve keeping the long the flat face flat in like style to a fruit-carving knife. It’s all stainless and folds neatly into the handle and is very nicely made. I like this knife shape for some of my work and especially reaching into internal tight corners like dovetails and such. Joseph uses a hooked paring knife made by Victornox for violin work and also all his knifewall work and John winter went down that path too. The Victornox knife is inexpensive and takes and keeps a good edge too.
You will hear people say that stainless steel doesn’t take and keep a good edge. I have not found that to be the case at all, though I do trust what people say. I have different tools made from stainless including gouges that are flawless when it comes to edge retention and sharpness. These knives will get you going if budget is important. Both seem to me to be lifetime tools.
More on shaping and sharpening tomorrow or sometime soon.
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Some of you asked how to straighten a bent saw back because the plates bend in them and cause difficulty in the cut. We put this video together to help on YouTube.
The past week has been busy with a variety of things accomplished, partly done and planned to be done soon. We finished off the toolbox series all the way down to lock and handles and we will most likely make a 10 minute video on painting it using layered milk paint or similar. The mixture was fairly typical for a new-year start really and launching into it means a new batch series of smaller, carry-away projects to build stock up for selling in the spring when the tourists come to Penrhyn Castle—things like spoons and oak clocks, painted boxes, cutting boards and such. We’ll make furniture and sell off some of the projects we made for the films as well as sign people up for workshop classes too. The increase of students from other countries and continents to raise the percentages to anywhere between 60-70% this last year. This makes our training more of a business business than we might really want. Working to find the balance can be challenging because when everything becomes a priority you really have to start setting limits and prioritise in order.
Lea made really good progress this week as I expected. Not sure if I mentioned it previously but she attended one of my month longs a couple of years ago. Anyway, she’s been making the splay legged table we made on woodworking masterclasses last year, as an upcycling project from an old mahogany table. She’s prepped her mahogany, chopped the mortises, tapered the legs and started fitting tenons.
I have been splitting my time between between working on my new book, sketching and drawing, photographing and spreading the good news about lifestyle woodworking. The shop is undergoing a bit of a makeover around my bench area to fit new aspects that make the filming easier and more versatile so new equipment means squeezing my working area and renewing a few things. One question I wanted to ask is this. Some of you have asked me to walk you through some of my tools in the cupboards behind me and to the side of me. You know, unpack them and talk about them as we film. To show what they do and how they work as I lift them down or out. What do you think about the idea?
eBay more than cheap searching
The blog yesterday seemed popular and I think with good reason. Here are a couple more thoughts to flesh out what I said. I use eBay mainly because of the leg work it saves me and because of the demise of DIY shops, hardware shops and other sources we once had. No single shop can stock the diverse amounts we have access to at the click of a key and delivery for me is often next day. Whereas I strongly dislike wasting time trolling through the excesses of the internet, I have established a protocol that works well for me and my searches take a matter of minutes not hours.
This week I found several items I needed that saved money and gave me good value in tools and shop supplies. 10 metres of 240-grit open coat sand paper in the local supply merchant cost £13. 50 metres online for the same make and product costs £19 with free 2-day shipping to my front door. Whereas I would much prefer using a local retailer and wouldn’t mind paying a normal markup of 100%, I owe them no loyalty when their mark up rises to three times and often more.
One thing I liked about living and working in the US was that most hardware stores have little bins with harder to find items like small screws, nuts, bolts, thumbscrews and so on in a range of materials ranging from brass to plastic and wood to mica. We don’t have that here and so locating them can be time consuming and costly. At least that became the case even before eBay came on the scene. An unusual sale of 10 boxes of new, old-stock Nettlefold 1/2”, #4 English-made brass screws fuelled my nostalgic juices for a better product and coupled with a genuine need for more stock. This gave me a saving of 75%. That’s a saving of a year’s searching and buying too. These are the things I find useful useful to me.
In my searching for a more economic knife to try out for spoon carving I came across this and another knife. This one costs £5 with free shipping and I am pretty certain that it will make a good knife. It’s not so much hammer forged but then most sold are not either. For someone trying out for the first time those available might be too prohibitive so I thought to find an alternative for starters that aren’t so highly priced but will work to get started with. Something like the Aldi chisel syndrome snapped in my synapses when I thought, “Yes”, this might just work for those intent on fashioning spoons with knives. It’s actually well made with a hard and dense-grained wooden handle, brass rivets peened in and a well-shaped steel blade with cutting edges to both sides. My thinking on looking at the knife is that the blade could be reground along one edge for a single sided blade and buy a second knife for an opposite one or use this one as is as a push or pull knife. The wooden handle can be shaped to suit or left as it is quite comfortable already. First I want to sharpen the blade and test it out and then I want to see how it reshapes under the hammer.
EBay is not my favourite choice and neither is Amazon, but it’s become one of the best resources available to me in a world of ever-diminishing local stores. There are other aspects to eBay, even just to look for images alone. Look at this tool here. It’s called a tektool and it’s used for cutting narrow grooves that can be worked in push and pull direction according to grain orientation. It will cut deep grooves for recessing panels and also for string inlays on curved surfaces. Where might I look for such a tool do think? I bought this as soon as I saw it because I knew it would be good tool to own.
Bent spoon and bowl gouges are still being made and I still favour the German made Hirsch brand as some of the very best available. For deep work inside hollow coves ranging from leaf carvings to deep,deep ladles a straight gouge doesn’t always lend itself to the awkward scoops. So here again I was glad to find an old beauty even though new ones are not too expensive at around £40 for a lifetime tool. I paid more than I might normally, but £19 still isn’t much for a really fine tool like this one.
Phil and Hannah came in yesterday and worked on the rocking chair; to finish off the upholstery mostly. We have a couple yet to be finished when we find that couple of days spare soon I hope. There is something quite awesome though about sitting in something you made with your own hands. I still feel it each time I do that. But you know what? It’s even more special when you see someone you trained make one and sit in it and smile. Icing on the cake!!!
Buying tools on eBay has always proven greatly rewarding for me. I mean it’s rewarding in that I find tools I might not otherwise find without spending endless hours scouring shops, standing at auctions or advertising for old tools in newspapers. We also paid five times the prices we are paying today and we paid the price because we knew that they were worth every penny. In todays cheapened world of global economies, interexchanges of like products, where the advantaged take all the more advantage of the disadvantaged, the true cost of tools is less evident, but we will ultimately pay the real price and in the near future too I predict. What I speak of though I still think of as the good old days. It’s what happened in the late 70’s when I first started hunting and collecting my tools together from antique sources. In those days the cellars of homes of former cabinet makers and joiners were treasure troves for tool collectors and users and just about the only way of sourcing old tools of quality and worth. It was there we entered our personal discovery zones as we scoured catalogs by auction houses for identifying the unknowns, talked with trade history buffs and went to swap meets. Norris planes lay alongside Ebony Ultimatum braces and 16th and 17th century moulding planes by the dozen. Massive toolboxes with creaking lids were stuffed to the brim and history became interesting beyond measure as we dove in amongst the cobwebs and immersed ourselves in the smell of oil and rust and old wood shavings.
I usually don’t pay too much for tools these days, not because I am unwilling to pay more, but because they sell through a system that allows for high volume sales that, as a result, floods the market from its excess. The cellars full of tools slowly surfaced from suffocation and found their way to salesrooms and then onto the eBay auctions. I must credit that to eBay whether I like the system or not. eBay UK gives me what I need for two main reasons; one, I live in the richest antique tool-rich country per capita in the world, two, compared to the rest of the world, Britain is a quite tiny island with no borders to other countries or continents. Most goods travel within a 100 mile radius to any destination and mostly arrive a day after shipping. It’s a good all round service for us here.
Secondhand tools here are good value for money and especially is this so on eBay. When I search eBay I look for old tools with rare virtues I can’t find in new ones. I also like the rare finds hidden under wrong names. I mean tools with wooden handles like boxwood or rosewood. I look blades with laminated steel blades like old mortise chisels and plane irons that generally surpass modern maker’s tools for hardness and edge retention. I look at the makers name knowing the ones that did this and the ones that didn’t. So these are the good reasons to search on eBay. I bought this old Marples rosewood mortise gauge because it still exudes a quality more modern makers don’t match. Actually, this Am Tech combination gauge made in China is better than UK models and costs somewhere around £6-7. The brass threaded knurled knob on it makes a good replacement for the slotted screw head in my other antique combo gauges, which I don’t really like because their inconvenient except for the fact that they allow tighter access in tight spaces.
On the early marples version at top I filed off the old finish and removed any defects I didn’t like. Flat, 10” single-cut files work well for this. Every surface gets filed and sanded and then coated with two coats of shellac before light waxing.
I also cleaned out the threads of the pin adjuster and filed the inside faces of the slide groove. This smoothed the passage and gave free movement to the adjuster. A light sanding overall improved everything as far as feel goes and soon it began to feel like one of my own.
Inside the lock screw should be a small plate and this case it was missing so I made one from a piece of brass plate.
When the work was done it felt and looked better than the import. This is the difference between more modern plantation grown rosewood and old, virgin growth from the late 1800s. there is a fineness about the old models when compared to UK and Asian versions on the market today.
This Rabone square is one I bought that I resurfaced and squared to Starrett perfection levels of of accuracy. I like this series and I was missing the this size. Where would I have found it without eBay?
My children are adults now. I thought that when they reached this point my work would be done, but now I discover at this ‘other’ end of life that life really comprises multi-layered spheres of periodic development in growth proportions high enough they become important memories. We might compartmentalise this as phasing or stages, but somehow that seems to me at least to stultify the length and depth and breadth of organic vibrancy into mere historical archived steps—a bit like a museum of history. Birth and death are two landmarks of beginning and ending and the stuff sandwiched there in between these two points is where life is forged. For me, these many diversely different interactions build a dynamism that then bridges time lapses to unite those ever-important past spheres of creativity with the present and future, forming realms of perpetuity, sustainability, individual responsibility and volunteered accountability. It’s where our living in 3D translates into a fourth dimension that defies agism, sexism, racism, nationalism, politicalised dimensions and so on to create a culture of shared life. Now within and beyond my family it means creativity is deeply woven into our DNA.
John and I talked last night about his plans setting up shop in Patagonia. He’s doing well and says “Hi.” I am excited to see him so enthusiastic and inspired by his return. He has a lot to do to establish himself but he is so well equipped to get started on the right road.
With my family grown I find it all the more important to continue my working with people I come to meet and know and those I may never know. It means I can extend myself into helping them achieve objectives they might until now have only dreamed of. Its viability becomes all the more possible when people are searching for an alternative cultural reality that defies what most see as normal but actually would have seemed abnormal a hundred or so years ago.. Most progress is a bandaid on unfixed and unresolved issues. That’s by the by, but within these spheres I refer to as creativity in reality, the real doing and making and building of things is life itself. It’s something we can tangibly relate to when a plane irons out the ripples left by band sawn cuts into dead flatness and a polished steel square awaits a hand to place it to wood.
When I started writing it began with articles about hand work because I knew there was a need for change. I’d grown tired being bombarded with article after article about machine work. Back then I’d handpicked a magazine I thought to be best suited to my work in restoring an affection for the efficacy of hand tools. One I thought had values in many spheres of creativity and one that exemplified good editorial effort. As internet grew in popularity and communications improved, the doors opened to a new and greater independence with the freedom to reach over a million woodworkers worldwide in any given month. This alone created new spheres for us to change and transform the face of woodworking and indeed restore possibilities for a new means to apprentice and enable people to become craftsmen and women wherever they lived and whatever their background. Knowing how many people looking for instruction ended up in front of a tablesaw with a salesperson offering £1000 piece of equipment as life’s answer to woodworking, it didn’t take much to nudge the balance on the scales just a tad. People have now become fascinated by the tradition and modernity of my craft. The gameplay shifted over a two decade period, building a strategy that seems now to be dynamic and full of life. Just as creativity takes on a life of its own when a man or a woman has an idea, so too creativity always surprises the status quo with ideas that just have a way of transforming human life.
This week Lea (pronounced Leyah) came in to work and train with us again. She’s from Slovakia and she loves woodworking. She hopes to continue training with us over the coming year, as part of her vision for establishing an eco-village in Slovakia with friends and colleagues. Our plans have yet to unfold, but this extension to her previous month of training with New Legacy will enable her to work effectively as a furniture maker and woodworker. We’ll keep you posted on progress as her skills grow.
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Bridging the gapThis was my dad at 86 years old. He and I worked together in his latter years and I treasure what he taught me in serving others through his serving me.
One thing I have learned through my lifetime as a lifelong lifestyle woodworker is the value of drawing out my work, looking to the past for a present generation. This means copious note making and measuring the details of life meticulously and searching out for the many small nuances a particular craftsman had and left behind in tool marks such as plane and chisel cuts or saw marks. Even the chips on the floor tell a sentence in a story. From these I tell whether the plane was square on, inline, pushed and lifted to feather the out-cut or a full through cut. I must say that I like the workmanship that predates mass-making beyond slabbing the tree into boards.Walnut slabbed in a small Woodmiser sawmill is enough machine work for a hand tool man like me. Not the old streets of Hillgate, Stockport where I grew up but it tells a story here too.
You know, where hand planes skimmed off the saw kerf of frame saws and circular saws leaving slight undulations in the surface and vernacular evidence where I could relate to the man, his wisdom in workmanship and of course the fact that say two hundred years ago he was sharpening on local stone or slate quarried from an open cut a few miles from his bench. Life you see for a man like me and them was unfancy. A walk on cobblestone setts to work sparked from the hobnailed clogs in the dark of early morning and in the shop the same clogs clunked on the wooden floor in an era unknown to concrete, plywood and pressed fibreboard. It was an era of real, earthy life when a man planted seeds in early spring and covered the rows with straw at night and opened up the rows at first sunlight to heat the dark soil through the day as he worked wood he’d cut with his own hands. His kids worked with him; I mean alongside him. I recall a lady saying to me, “no man should ever teach his own son and no son should ever work with his father.” That’s the silliest thing, but I’ve heard it said by others too. How narrow a mind on the one hand and how reckless a father who didn’t train his own son and raise him to respect the world he brought him into.This was my youngest son, before my beard greyed, learning to research and draw and to to ‘see’ more deeply.
Working together was for me one of the richest rewards of being a dad. I cannot remember once where my boys and I did not enjoy working together, alongside one another in the evening. The stove filled with warmth and glowing hot was a magnet at different points throughout the winter time; snow outside and steam on the windows in. Those of you who have sons and daughters will have a greater struggle than I did encouraging your children away from computers and role playing instead of real living but it can be done. I cannot remember once forcing my kids to come and work with me. More the reality was getting them to stop and walk home with me at 9 and 10pm. At home I would hear something scratching as I lay in bed and realise, no, it wasn’t a mouse, it was sandpaper as one of the boys sanded a spoon or a cutting board.
Life is changing but relationships very much matterDads and daughters work together only rarely but this was a very happy week for these two students who took time out from working for IBM
It is a different world for us today and especially so for you young parents, dads especially I think, to switch off work you do to make a living and switch on living for working with your children. If you start early with them they will not only have the rich rewards of working with you, they will wait for you to come home and walk out to the shed or garage, stoke up the stove and start the real work of building bonds in the next generation of woodworkers. You’ll be building relationships that never die and character that stands true to a loving relationship you most likely won’t get through the isolationist confusion of a computer keyboard.And then there are husbands (Joseph, my son) and wives (Katrina, my daughter-in-law) making a coffee table for their friend’s wedding gift.
My dad and I bonded late on in life when i welcomed him into my workshop and in reverse taught him to make things with his hands. See, my friends, there’s more to working wood than mass production, machines and wearing self protection. Drawing and making notes is often making your mark on human lives. Passing on what you know by sharing what you have with someone very close to you can change their lives and yours.And then there are children and grandchildren too. Another of my sons, Aber, with my grandson Ian.
Parents don’t have to lose their children as they grow to adulthood at all. The thoughts and memories I have watching my children planting potatoes, picking tomatoes, making their first table, chicken coop, a cello, a coracle, a cold frame perhaps their first canoe or just a wooden spatula we still use in the kitchen after 25 years have now panned out in pure gold. Start them young. Remember the ancient proverb from times past to “Raise up a child in the way they will go and when they are old they will not depart from it.” Enjoy your kids. It’s up to you to dig a little deeper and find that there is more to woodworking than meets the eye. What was the single most important ingredient in all of these photographs? Hand tools, hand work and real, real woodworking.
The post Digging Into the Past and a Future Woodworking Generation Emerges appeared first on Paul Sellers' Blog.
I guess now that I am so old I should recount my memoirs. Here’s one you might like. I have a few now. As a boy of fifteen, and an apprentice to boot (literally), my tasks were very simple and age-, position- and experience-appropriate; catch from all out-feed tables and stack, sweep the shop at least once a day and then locally on location-demand, brew tea three times a day and then be the general dogsbody, whipping boy and head cook and bottle washer to a dozen men. There was no doubt about my position on the totem pole and I knew where I stood.
When Jack Collins finished work each day he insisted we put our tools away sharp. It was a given for us to spend ten minutes after sweep up to sharpen up the edge tools like chisels and planes before we went so that we were ready to go when we started in the morning at 7.30. He also insisted that the tools be put away in the toolboxes even though we owned our own tools and had responsibility for them as they were uninsured. After a while of working under Jack, he being the foreman and totally ‘A’ alpha-male shop controller, I noticed his insistence never extended to his workbench and that he always left his bench piled high, unswept, unkempt and totally disorderly when it came down to tools. So anyway, one night, tired, above my station, just a little belligerent, I asked Jack if he needed help to sort and tidy his bench. He seemed quite relaxed when he said, “No.” I went on and asked why he never put his tools away. This was tantamount to suicide for a “boy”. He said, “Well, if someone breaks in here and wants my tools I’m not packing them up for them. If they want my tools they must pick up and pack each one if they can indeed find them. The first tools to go will be the boxes packed and filled neatly with sharp tools ready to go.” “Oh!” I said. Then he said, “Sweep the shop.”
Jack was one of my guides and my mentors, but I like to keep more order than he did and so I clean and sort throughout my day no matter what I do.
There are probably hundreds of different knives around made, intended or adapted for working wood with and I have made a couple of dozen through the decades that worked just fine. Some of you have noticed that my Stanley Folding Pocket Knife is different than the usual powder coated Stanley I started out espousing as the best knife in the world. Of course knife makers have every right to denounce me as some kind of heretic were I indeed talking about those made by the brilliant makers around the world and so I qualify my statement by saying pound for pound the Stanley knife I use in my daily work is the knife I reach for and I have yet to find one that matches its functionality on my bench.The original knife with powder coated for grip
I have used the same knife over many years and in my mind the only way to really review any woodworking tool is longterm over a number of years of daily use. No tool review I have ever read in a magazine has ever done this and that’s the difference between what we try to do.With the powder coating removed the knife is still fully comfortable and comfortable to use.
My knife started wearing through the outer powder coat on key wear areas to the point that the unevenness felt less smooth and comfortable in my hand. I removed the thin coating all over and buffed the new surface with a polishing mop on an electric grinder. The end result is an extra special finish that took my knife to new heights. Ten minutes work or less and I have my own treatment. I would like this knife in brass all the more but this works fine. In my view this is about the best joinery knife there is. I have other knives (top) I really like too, all of those shown here have added functionality in my knife collection and so different uses.
In the hand, this knife is the very best. It’s thin blade gets tight in into the corners of dovetail tail and pin recesses yet I have only broken one blade in ten years or so that I can recall. I resharpen them for more than a year and could do so for longer but I like to keep length in my work. For shoulder lines to tenons and housing dadoes up against the square it seems to me invincible.
Yesterday had to be the single most overwhelming birthday I think I ever had and I don’t want to go too far beyond it without saying a massive all-caps-in-bold THANK YOU! But it’s not just for your well-wishing and for each one of them I am very thankful you took the time and trouble to write me, but it was the deluge of unbelievable support for the work we do. Talk about inspiring and inspired. It made me think how could I ever retire. I used the word ‘we’ because it’s really not really about me but YOU, all-caps-in-bold again, and my friends who work with me and of course the sacrifice my family has made over two decades to allow my work to progress and then reach so many people.
I have never planned to retire, not even when major disappointments dogged me. I knew in 1989 there was a deep need for real training and teaching for a new and emerging generation that would one day see through the falsehoods as they grew to become true crafting men and women woodworkers and indeed craftspeople and artists. I mean true amateurs not just professionals.
You are the dream I dreamed would replace me as I passed on the guts of my craft and got rid of the foo foo, smart alecky, quick wits that so often distort what real artisanry is to life itself. This month 350,000 of you will read the blog, challenge me and make valid contributions that help others grow. The same now happens on YouTube and FaceBook too. By the end of the month one million known recipients will have interacted over the age-old craft of woodworking. What I present on my blog, YouTube and FaceBook doesn’t come from someone else’s book, DVDs, videos, Forums, blogs but from my 65 year old head and the real value of this is in the lived lives you all are now leading. I last read a woodworking magazine a year ago now as I saw the reason they were collapsing one by one. The future of woodworking is in the planted seed and I for one will be sorry to see them go, but surely there is much to be done to revive real woodworking with the traditions of hand work more central to the restoration and recovery process.
I think the answer lies within you my friends. It’s not really a hobby. It’s much deeper than that. You are now carrying the future of woodworking. It is no longer reliant on professional editors, professional woodworkers, professional sales outlets, colleges and universities to hold the future but you, the amateurs, that have proved yourselves so very solid. All of the above providers do not rely on professional woodworkers for their industries and economics, they rely on you. That’s a powerful thing. You are our investment and I trust you to be the future generation of craftsmen and craftswomen around the world. So, that said, I want to say a very big THANK YOU! once more before I close this evening’s post.