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Inside the Oldwolf Workshop
My wife occasionally reminds me that my relationship with tools is outside the bell curve of normal. The following thoughts may be proof of this.
With some tools there is a learning curve. You have to figure them out before you get consistent results. I think of my Veritas plow plane this way. It wasn't immediately intuitive to a dummy like me and I had to learn her idiosyncrasies (and get an upgraded depth stop from the company) before I was happy. This isn't a deal breaker in my world, I'm happy to get to know a tool well if we're going to have a long term relationship. Many of my planes and I have had this courtship.
Occasionally tools spring into your hand ready to go. Often it's because I payed my dues with a similar tool before finding this one. I taught myself good sawing technique on a self sharpened old Disston backsaw with a slightly warped plate. So when my first Bad Axe Saw found it's way home it was amazing.
But there are a small percentage of tools that signify a paradigm shift in my shop techniques. They change the way I solve problems and even view my work in the shop. Around a year ago this Morakniv 120 arrived in the mail. I bought it to add to my spoon carving kit, but it didn't live in that tool roll for long. It doesn't even go in my tool chest, it hangs on one of the pegs over my workbench and other than my holdfasts and bench mallet, is the most quickly accessible tool in my shop.
Last fall as I was building a set of kerfing planes and it became time to shape the handle, I decided to rough out the grip with the knife before reaching for the rasps, but once I worked down to a point I came to really like the lightly faceted feel on the knife carved handle. It transfered that "touch" to the tool's feel that's so elusive. So I slowed a bit and made better, finer, smoothing cuts to finish by knofe only. Treating the handles as I might the handle of a spoon.
This knife simply answers the call of duty every time without complaint. It came to me very sharp and it holds it's edge for a long time and is still easy to maintain with a charged leather strop. The wooden handle is modifiable but honestly I found it comfortable and responsive out of the box. The only thing I don't like, that keeps me from strapping it to my belt, is the plastic sheath. I suppose I should just find someone to make one for me out of leather. All in due time I suppose.
So there you go. Even the simplest of tools can be transformative to your shop time when they are designed and crafted just right.
Ratione et Passionis
This love letter is unsolicited and unsupported. I was not asked by MoraKniv to write this nor have I recieved anything from them. I was using this knife in my shop this week and this post formulated in the joy of the shavings coming off the blade.
I just finished reading Nancy Hiller's "Making Things Work." (You don't need me to tell you what an entertaining read it is, there are plenty of bigger hitters out there giving the book lots of deserved sunshine) It came into my hands at the perfect time. I don't take many commissions for work but over the winter came one I couldn't refuse. I pulled it off and the client was wonderful, but by the time I delivered the pieces I was tired.
Not physically, or really mentally. The word I have is spiritually exhausted. It was probably six weeks or a little more before I meaningfully stepped back into the shop to do anything. Still now I am only getting my sea legs back underneath me. The batteries were just depleted and took a while to charge, but it gave me time to think.
A dangerous pass time I know.
I know I'm not cut out to build furniture full time for other people. I knew that without Nancy's book. Still it leaves to question; What do I want from all this? Mostly I just want to answer the questions I have for myself instead of blindly trusting the words of others. If I could make a perfect career out of my shop time, it would involve experimenting, then writing and teaching about those experiments.
I'm guess I'm just a stubborn old viking who likes to steer his own longship tiller.
If that's what I want, how do I move from here to there?
I've spent the last few months planning and working on some things adjacent to directly making sawdust.
So I also upgraded to some professional level video editing software.
I've only started playing with things and the software learning curve will take a bit to be efficient/proficient, but it's like learning any other new skill. You eat the elephant one bite at a time.
As a start I decided to create a quick introduction sequence for my videos, the results are embedded below. Being highly critical, the intro isn't more than 80% there, but it's an improvement.
I am starting a production run of chests based on a six board style with a slant top and interior drawers. The plan is to build seven to eight of the same chest and keep close track of my time and work. I think there's an interesting article in this as you don't often hear about hand tools in a production situation and the implications. It doesn't seem like something up the alley of the Usual Suspect magazines though. We will see if I can entice any takers.
After the chest run I have to pick back up with building the furniture shown in the Morgan Bible. I've second guessed and delayed this project long enough. Abandoning it half done is not an option (I have my pride) I don't know if anyone will take it from me or if I will have to publish on my own. Either option is fine. The project is like a broken tooth in my mind that I'm always testing with my tongue.
The good news is the time has allowed me to decipher exactly what I'm trying to say with the book. Believe it or not the furniture itself has become support material for an argument promoting experimental archeology and the concept of finding things out for yourself through practical application over just reading what some joker writes in a book or on a blog.
Translation: If you really want to find out what it feels like to wear medieval armor you shouldn't just read what Dr. Blabberblaster has written in his dissertation reviewing the existing literature of the weight of armor in correlated medieval grave finds. You should go find some chain-maile and strap it on. Not that aluminum Hollywood shit either, find the real steel stuff as close to accurate as possible.
Then go figure out how to move, run, and fight in it. Spend all day wearing it. Figure out how to take it off. The experience yields such a broader understanding
Believe it or not, I found the answer at my local comic book shop. . . .
Ratione et Passionis
Last summer I was hanging out for a week at Mike Seimsen's Home for Wayward Woodworkers during one of his handtool immersion weeks. The concept is to take a handful of younger folks interested in the craft and get them up and running with tuned up "previously loved" tools and a tool chest to carry them home in.
One evening, during an after dinner drink (or two or more) I was telling Mike what an awesome experience this was for the students. "I wish I'd had this opportunity when I was beginning to figure it out."
"Hell," said Mike, "How do you think I felt. Nobody was writing, or even talking about hand tools when I was starting. You has Chris (Schwarz) and the internet!"
He was right of course. I had great teachers and influencers to draw from. (Mike included) but I've also had the sustained time in the saddle that has taken things I've read, seen, and heard and allowed me to amalgamate them into my personal style. I'm still learning I"M STILL LEARNING. and so we all should be, but it all takes time.
The short attention span theater is all around us. It permeates our everyday and almost all of us carry in our pockets a little index card sized dopamine dosing machine designed to keep our divided attentions divided. Instant information and gratification at the swipe of a finger in a tool to useful to ignore. But mastering a skill, a craft like woodworking is not something you can download or plug in. It takes time.
It requires making mistakes, A LOT OF MISTAKES. It requires abandoning failed projects and clinging to desperate ones. It requires time on your feet at the bench, sweat dripping onto your boards and it requires long car rides with the radio off to contemplate, problem solve, and plan. It requires constant evaluation, self competition, and sometimes competing with those who don't know it and sometimes competing with those who are long dead. It requires you put in the time and effort. It all takes time.
The good news is that it doesn't judge. Your tool chest won't mind if it's closed for a year, it's patient. It will wait until you're ready. A little sharpening and you can be off and spending more time. The skills are only slightly perishable. The familiarity will diminish some but the human hand is amazing. It will remember quicker than you expect.
You can get there, but you do need to spend the currency of time.
Ratione et Passionis
I rolled that around for a while until I was able to get my hands on a resaw and kerfing plane kit from Bad Axe Toolworks last early fall. Mark Harrell had recently revisited and retuned the kit as a whole and had all the parts and pieces up to his usual over the top quality. The man doesn't know the meaning of the word compromise.
Since I was just setting up shop yet at the time I decided working on the kerfing plane part of the package was where to start. Tom Fidgen really is the pied piper of the resurgence of these tools in hand tool woodworking circles and the kerfing plane is the key to making resawing a more reliable operation. the shallow grooves made by the kerfing plane help keep the resaw blade on track and reduce the skill buy-in factor.
The original kerfing planes I saw had arms and an adjustable fence like a plow plane. This seemed ok but a little fiddly to make in my shop. But I'd also recently snapped up a set of match planes and tuned them up to work on 3/4" stock. Now I was inspired.
I wanted to make a dedicated width kerfing plane, but I wanted to be able to also cut kerfs for three different common thicknesses I use. The answer is to make three different plane bodies and just be prepared to swap the plate out from one to another.
Since I like those match planes so much I decided to use them as the pattern for the kerfing planes themselves. I pulled some walnut chunks off the pile and milled them up in preparation.
I used my tablesaw to consistently set the repeated cuts to remove big swats of the stock. I completed all the cuts with handsaws and cleaned things up with some chisel work.
Once the basics were done I recreated a couple details from the match planes. This little finger groove along the top of the fence is a nice touch that figures into the comfort of using these tools. Those old planemakers really knew what they were doing and I'm lucky to be able to stand on their shoulders.
There were still a couple problems to work out, shaping the handle and fitting the blade square to the fence and I'll write about those things soon.
Thanks for hanging out while I took a break. It's good to be back and re-energized
Ratione et Passionis
I'd found out, almost too late, about a curated exhibit on the life and influence of Martin Luther. Though I was baptized and raised in the Lutheran church I made plans to attend once I heard there was several pieces of furniture from the 16th century as part of the multi-room display. Considering the book I am writing (and re-writing) on medieval furniture I felt a moral obligation to travel and see these pieces, There is a lot of time between 13th c. France and 16th c. Germany but just having a chance to view the oldest pieces I've been able to see in person was too much to pass up.
|The display from the apartment where Martin Luther translated the bible from Latin to German.|
I love subversives of all shapes, sizes, and flavors.
|A Kastentisch, an interesting piece that combines a table with a desk. |
The table top should lift or slide off to access the box underneath which may have drawers
|A 16th c. window seat that was probably not original to the Martin Luther room as the|
window is wider than the seat. Still from the same time period and the same house.
I really, really like this piece and wish I had an excuse to build one.
There were other things to see; great paintings and art, but importantly, the period furniture rooms and a surprise. I have a big thing for Charles Rholf's furniture and this fall front desk is my favorite. To get to see it in person was so cool. For some I could equate the experience of having your favorite celebrity or pro athlete sit down at the restaurant table next to yours.
Still, the purpose of this trip, and of my time spent looking at many other pieces of furniture is to inform my eyes and aesthetic. To get a grasp on what makes a piece successful and what can make it mediocre. To be able to make those decisions myself over having to listen to someone else. (It also helps in critiquing your own work) Let me explain what I saw cruising through the internet this morning.
Jack Plane's website Pegs and 'Tails is one of the must read blogs for woodworkers. The insights and workmanship displayed there are on a level I aspire to. One of my favorite things done there is a series called "Picture This," where an unique piece of period furniture is focused on and discussed. This morning I read the installment "Picture This CII" about a whimsically unique windsor chair.
From the seat up I love most everything about this work. The broad bent mid rail, The crest at the top. The way the rungs flow. Yes I can see some places I'd like to refine, but mostly it's close to perfect. The seat is circular, which I can come around to, but the legs of the chair is where this piece runs off the rails.
To my eye they are heavy and the splay is not lively enough. I like the beads turned below the rails, but I wonder if the lack of rails might make this more successful and align the dramatic scene above the seat with the foundation below.
There's probably only one way to really find out. . . add another one to my bucket list.
Ratione et Passionis
At first it was easy for me to confuse a Mentor with one who has Influence. You read and hear from musicians all the time about their Influences. Guitar players will cite Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, or Eddie Van Halen or others as influencers on their art and though the end results might owe homage, sometimes clear homage too, there is a difference between influence and mentoring.
Mentoring, in my estimation, requires direct teaching of a specific subject, probably hands on and in person. I have a hundred influencers on the craft decisions I make, without a doubt the greatest influencers for me personally would be: (1) my father for whom making and repairing was an economical reality instead of a joyful craft, though that was my childhood and he has recently been rediscovering his shop and making sawdust and metal shavings for the joy of it. and (2) some of the surgeons I've worked for over the years and the single minded intent with which they attack a physical problem using mixture of experience, inference, and dexterity. But parsing back to woodworking directly, the list of influencers is broad, but direct mentors is sparse.
I never took a single shop class in school. I've yet to directly participate in a woodworking class in my adult life. I'm lucky enough that my phone calls are answered by guys like Don Williams, Chris Schwarz and Mike Siemsen and they've all given good advice but I try not to bother them until I've paired down to a finite conundrum. Though these circumstances do not leave me Mentorless by the Mississippi.
|A pair of crappy bookshelves (I know) at least 3/4s full of woodworking knowledge. This doesn't show the piles I have sitting on either side of my laptop as I'm writing this.|
Books. I was raised in a house full of books, I have always kept a house full of books, I feel at home in a library brimming with books. Yes the internet and the power of Google is wonderful, but it isn't a book. Since I decided to play in this woodworking game for the long haul I have been collecting it's books. There are more books on furniture and woodworking out there than you can imagine and most are not difficult to come by. A little patience and flexibility with online auction and used book sites can bring great bounty. I started small and ramped up to where I was adding 30 - 40 books a year, now I'm ramping down and becoming more selective, but at a recent count I had well over 200 books on woodworking and furniture (with some related subjects like blacksmithing) and the library grows a little more every month.
It may be weird, but I consider this pile of ink on paper to be my true mentor. The collection is my first "Go To" for answering questions, inspiring or informing the next project, or day dreaming over as I revise my woodworking project bucket list. I can often find what I'm searching for without bothering or being beholden to anyone.
Ratione et Passionis