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This is a collection of all the different blogs I (try to) read. A whole bunch! If you have any comments or suggestions feel free to use the CONTACT page to get a hold of me. Thanks!
Roy Underhill, working the crowd at Handworks 2015, and telling a story about his encounter with Asian woodworking.
When I first picked one up to try it, I was trying to make a shaving, and from over my shoulder came Claire’s voice.
“You use that tool on the push stroke.”
Stupid stupid stupid.
I’ll be the first to admit that the internet has been invaluable in helping me learn about woodworking over the years. I know that without the internet, I could not have found out about Japanese tools to the extent I have been able to, and the internet has been invaluable for me to learn about more general woodworking information as well. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the internet has been a game changer in terms of making it easier for folks looking to get into woodworking today.
Even so, one thing that will always remain true about woodworking is that this is a physical activity, in the sense that we work with real objects, using tools to shape wood and other materials to make our projects. Woodworkers are constantly drawing inspiration from other woodworking projects, and these days Google image searches seems to have taken the place of Chippendale’s design catalogues.
Photographs can only get you so far, however. The way an object is represented in a photograph depends on so many things: lighting, the choice of lens and focus point, the angle of the shot, and so on. And although access to photos can be invaluable in terms of providing a broad overview of other woodworking projects, sometimes you have to see the object in person to really understand how it appears in real life.
My first encounter with this was a few years ago when I went to Woodworking in America in Pasadena. I went to that particular WIA because I had the chance to see Greene and Greene furniture in person. I like Arts and Crafts furniture, but I’ve always liked Stickley more than Greene and Greene. I thought that the design elements found in Greene and Greene furniture were a bit ostentatious, what with the ebony pegs sitting proud of the surface, and inlays that also protruded from the wood.
I thought all these things until I saw a Greene and Greene chair in person. And then I realized that the photos I had seen of Greene and Greene furniture all lied to me. Whether it was due to the angle of the photo or the lighting, the photos of Greene and Greene furniture I had seen all exaggerated the degree to which the ebony pegs and inlays were proud of the surface. Even the photo I took above makes the contrast between the inlay and pegs and the background wood look more pronounced than it is in real life, and I wasn’t trying to do that. I came away from that WIA with a new appreciation of Greene and Greene furniture, although I still like Stickley better.
At the top of this post is a photo of bench planes made by Old Street Tool, taken at Handworks 2015. You can get a lot of information about these planes from looking at the photo, but there’s so much about them that you can’t tell, from simple things like how the mouth is configured, because you can’t see the mouth from the angle of the photo, to more tactile things like how the handle feels in use, which you will never get from a photo.
Seeing the Studley tool chest this past weekend was a very similar experience. Like many woodworkers, I’ve looked at the poster, looked at photos, saw Norm explore the tool chest on video, and thought that I had a good idea of what the tool chest was like. When I saw it in person, I realized how wrong those impressions were. All those photos and video did not compare to looking at the tool chest in real life. There are aspects to Studley’s design and execution that can only be appreciated in person, walking around this three-dimensional object, and seeing it for real.
Not to mention that the live shared experience with lots of other woodworkers is something that the internet cannot replace, even with internet-based methods of communication like forums, social media, and text and video chats.
It’s sometimes asked whether making a trip to see an object like the Studley tool chest is worthwhile. (After all, $25 is a lot of money.) It can be argued that there are already plenty of photos of that object. It can be said that this is mainly a social event, not an academic one. One may decide that they would rather look at something else; maybe Frank Lloyd Wright is more their cup of tea. But if the argument is made that there is zero value to seeing an item like this in person because there are alternative ways of getting that experience, although I don’t often state things in absolutes, I would say that that idea is completely and demonstrably wrong. And it will continue to be wrong as long as woodworking is about making physical objects that live in the real world.
Roy Underhill, doing his thing, at Handworks 2015.
At Handworks 2015, Amana, IA. Going to see the Studley toolchest tonight.
Really nice overview by Mathieu Peeters of using a sumisashi, which is a marking instrument made of bamboo, and a sumitsubo, which is a portable inkpot, carpenter’s line, and plumb bob.
Here’s the Plinko game that I made for our Chinese school’s Fun Fair. It seems to work pretty well, as seen by my wife’s demonstration.
Japanese tool content: as you might expect, there were a lot of layout lines on the face of the board to mark the locations for the pegs. I used a Japanese plane to get rid of them, as well as to smooth and ease the edges of the plywood. Apparently, Japanese tools can be used with hardwood and plywood.
We’re getting to the end of the year at our kids’ Chinese school, and one of the activities we have is the Fun Fair, where the kids get to play games and collect tickets for prizes. The school principal asked me if I could build a Plinko game for the Fun Fair, and apparently I agreed.
Plinko is a game that is pretty well known. A ball or disc is dropped from the top, and bounces off of a bunch of pegs. Eventually, the ball or disc lands in a slot at the bottom, and you win a prize based on which slot it landed in. Its most famous incarnation was on The Price Is Right.
Building this was straightforward. All I needed was some plywood, and a lot of 3/8″ pegs.
A lot of 3/8″ pegs. Seventy-seven of them, in fact.
Making seventy-seven pegs all about 2-1/4″ long looked to be a painful task if I wanted them to be the same length. That would be a lot of marking. Rather than mark out seventy-seven 2-1/4″ lengths, I made a jig to help me out.
The jig was made out of some scrap plywood for the base, and scrap wood for the stop. I screwed down one piece of wood for the stop, and longer piece for the dowel stock to butt up against. I marked out a line on the longer piece of wood that was 2-1/4″ away from the stop, and sawed through the piece of wood and the dowel to make my first peg.
After that, I had a nice slot to guide my cut. To make the rest of the pegs, I butted the dowel stock up against the stop, and cut through the slot that I had made.
Using this jig, it only took me five seconds to make a single cut. I’m not sure if using a machine would have been any faster. It certainly would not have been safer. In fact, I’m not sure how I would set up a machine for this task. Making crosscuts on a small round piece of wood is not the easiest thing to do on a bandsaw, and the thought of doing this on a table saw freaks me out.
Tools for the Carpenter, by Ryūryūkyo Shinsai, 19th century, showing a chouna (adze) and a sumitsubo (marking line).
(From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
Marc Spagnuolo doesn’t know that you can’t use Japanese chisels on curly maple.
(Screen shots from part 2 of his video series on making a large mirror frame.)
Hello! I love visiting your blog and am happy about any updates. You mentioned that you enjoy giving talks. Why don't you come over to Germany for a talk (or even more than one)? Dictum has Christopher Schwarz and Tom Fidgen, too. Would love to meet...
That would be amazing. I’d love to visit Munich. If you know who can help facilitate this, please shoot me an email via the icon at the bottom of the page.
hi there, planing to build my 18th century workbench out of beach for the top and douglas fir for the base. i am planning to laminate als 4"x4". is that agood idea? how is your benchtop doing? still straight? can you give me any advise? i'm a beginner....
That’s exactly what I did for my workbench: laminated 4x4′s for the top. I did take the time to make sure that the individual 4x4′s were as clear and straight grained as possible, and I oriented them so that I wound up with essentially a quarter sawn top.
It’s doing great. Movement has been minimal, and it looks terrific.
I received word that the talk I’m giving for Chesapeake Chapter of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers for their spring meeting is sold out, due to the limited number of seats at the venue and the need to give priority to SAPFM members. My apologies to anyone who wanted to come to this talk and wasn’t able to secure a ticket.
If you’re interested in a class or a seminar on Japanese tools in the future, however, please feel free to contact me. As I mentioned before, giving these talks has become sort of a habit. I’m good with that.
Cape May, NJ. No Chinese artists here.
Bummed, because I was looking for a nice scroll painting of bamboo.
For me, the goal with my smoothing plane is to set it up so I can ignore the grain direction of a board or a glued-up panel.
There are many valid ways to do this.
It’s nice to see that Chris’s analysis of smoothing planes and managing tearout are similar to mine. It makes me think that I might know what I’m doing.
Chris goes on to provide a quick and easy way to set up a chipbreaker on a smoothing plane, along with an excellent video. Well worth reading and watching.
The hollow on the back of a Japanese chisel is there to help with sharpening. The first step in sharpening a chisel is to flatten the back of the chisel with your sharpening method of choice. The back of a Japanese chisel is made with a very hard layer of high carbon steel, which is harder than most western chisels. To flatten the entire back surface of a Japanese chisel would be quite difficult because of the hardness of the high carbon steel layer. To get around this issue, a hollow is deliberately created by the toolmaker so that only the area near the edge and the perimeter of the back needs to be flattened, which saves a lot of time and effort.
This technique isn’t limited to Japanese chisels. Back in the day, when western chisel makers were forging a piece of steel into a chisel, one side of the piece of steel would always be slightly concave due to the forging process, and that side of the steel would become the back of the chisel.
Of course, western tool manufacturers have gotten away from the traditional methods of making chisels, so this practice has fallen by the wayside. Or so I thought, until last night.
The high school student whom I’m helping to make a bookcase was over at my shop, and brought some chisels to sharpen. He’s at the point of the project where he is starting on the joinery, and needs sharp tools for this part, of course. He brought over the chisels he had: a basic set of DeWalt chisels that he picked up at the local big box store.
He set about flattening the back. After only a few minutes using a waterstone, he stopped to check his progress. Here’s what we saw.
Although it’s not taken to the same degree as a Japanese chisel, there is clearly a slight hollow in the center of the back of the chisel relative to the edge and sides, even though this chisel is from a lowly set of inexpensive chisels that are available at your local home center. There may be hope for preserving traditional methods of toolmaking in western tools after all.
Then again, these chisels were made in China, so we’re back to Asian toolmaking again.