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The twisted dovetail alignment board turned out pretty well. The dovetails weren't as difficult as I had imagined. I've written an article for F&C magazine which will be published in the coming months, if you want to have a go.
- I am interested in getting a workably sharp edge quickly and easily and am willing to forgo ultimate sharpness if it takes time or requires fussy equipment. Actual sharpness experienced in use is more of a function of regular honing.
- I wish all of my tools were O1 steel, but they aren't, so my method has to be able to handle the harder steels.
- I don't mind taking time to sharpen my tools between projects but I resist stopping in the middle of a project to hone a tool, yet regular honing is crucial, so my honing method has to be right at the bench and very very quick.
- Spending time flattening my sharpening and honing media is intolerable.
- I'm done buying machines and gizmos. If I've got it and it works ok, I'll use it, but I'm not buying any new ones.
I whipped up this fun little silent film last evening for your amusement. I’ve always loved the handcrank look. There may be more of these in the future.
Happy New Year! I thought I would start off the new year with some practical woodworking information. I have always thought that a grinder is one of the most important tools in the shop -- and it's also one of the least understood. While I do teach an occasional class on grinding at our shop (and will do so again in the future), most people don't live nearby, so written instruction seems in order. The last time I wrote on this subject, in the June 2008 issue of FWW, the response was overwhelming. But I have learned stuff since then, and technology has evolved.
This series on grinding will be in four parts:
1 Introduction + reasons for grinding
2 Grinding wheel and grinder technology
3 The angle to grind at, wheel dressing, and how to grind to maintain the existing bevel
4 Grinding to repair an edge
Parts three and four are hands-on; the rest is theory and background information.
There are three reasons to grind.
1 - To Maintain a Hollow Grind. Grinding an edge tool against a curved wheel will always result is some sort of curvature on the bevel. The larger the wheel, the less the curvature. We call this "hollow grinding" (see picture). Producing a hollow grind enables easier and faster honing. When you think about it a bit, the only part of the chisel that does any work is the cutting edge at the very tip. The rest of the chisel is just support for the edge. So the steel in the middle of the primary bevel is basically waste. With a hollow grind when you go off to hone the tool after grinding, you get a very stable platform of the tool solidly supported at the front and back edges of the bevel. You won't be wasting energy, stone wear, and time removing the middle of the bevel, you'll also get a simple way to make sure you are always honing at the edge. All the force is applied at the edge, and there is no tendency to wobble or rock the chisel. Hollow grinding GOOD!
2 - To Restore or Change the Geometry of the Primary Bevel Angle. Personally I am not fussy about bevel angles. The lower the angle of the primary bevel, the less force it will take to push the chisel into the wood. With less force comes more control. The trade-off is a thinner, weaker edge. A higher primary angle gives you a stronger edge, but more force is needed to punch it into the wood, and with that comes less control. The traditional angle of a bench chisel is 25° but a little more or less isn't a big deal. Paring chisels should really be lower by at least 5° and mortise chisel higher by the same amount. Every once in awhile I realize that my geometry on a particular chisel or plane blade is off enough to annoy me. This usually happens because after several years of honing I find the bevel angle getting steeper. These days, however, as I am hollow grinding to make honing easier and I don't have this problem at all. I'm also not personally adding new chisels to my toolbox - but certainly someone building a shop will always have "new to them" tools that need a geometry change.
3 - The Unfortunate Reason: To Restore a Damaged Edge. Probably the most frequent reason I end up grinding something. Chisels, plane irons and other display tools in our showroom get handled all the time and get dropped. Repairing a damaged edge is a little more involved than a just maintaining the hollow, but there really is no better way of repairing a damaged edge. Honing past damage, even with a coarse abrasive, just takes a lot of time and elbow grease.
The issue that many woodworkers are scared about when grinding is heat. The basic problem is that (with the exception of turning tools made from High Speed Steel (HSS)) if you heat up a hardened piece of steel past 400 degrees it will get start turning brown and blue and get softer -- and most importantly, it won't keep an edge anymore. HSS is called "High Speed Steel" because it can be heated up way past 400 degrees and yet stiff hold an edge. But in general, HSS won't hold a sharp enough edge for woodworking, and it's very hard to hone. The goal when grinding an edge is to achieve a ground edge without overheating or "burning" the edge. And a more important goal is to be able to consistently grind without burning because otherwise the crap shoot of what will happen is too scary.
There are three (or four) basic approaches to keeping cool when grinding. Use a very slow grinder. Use a grinding wheel that allows speedy steel removal without heat. Use some sort of coolant, such as water for wet grinding. Finally in parentheses: (grind really slowly and gingerly). The goal for me is to grind as fast as possible without any real danger so in Part Two we will talk about wheel and grinder selection, and how to keep a wheel grinding as cool as possible.
Some years ago I was given a wooden tenor recorder. (It’s a Küng pearwood, made in Germany, if anybody cares.) It came in a basswood storage case that the previous owner had made for it, but time and use had weighed heavily on the original case. The cheap hinges eventually fell off, and there was no latch to keep the box closed. The interior, however, still did its job of protecting the instrument, so I resolved to build a second, sturdier box around the original basswood case.
That was four or five years ago. Finally, over the holidays, I built the case.
The finished box is made from cherry and spalted pecan–the same wood combination that comprises my tool chest, on which the recorder case is sitting in the above photo. I like the combination visually, and I happened to have a lot of both woods on hand. I also selected some cherry that had a few bug holes in it (including one massively big hole) in order to do some creative inlay to fill the holes.
But back to the original basswood case. It has a story.
The maker was a high school math teacher. She wasn’t much of a woodworker, but she did understand geometry. She bought a number of thin pieces of basswood, which is very soft and easy to carve. She she measured the recorder pieces at different points, drew out the measurements on each thin piece, cut the profile out of each section, and then glued the sections together to form a box. The result is what you see above–though I presume she did some sanding to get everything fitted just right.
In my own stock selection, I found pieces of wood that were thick enough that I could saw each one in half. That way, the top and bottom pieces that make up each side of the clamshell would be bookmatched. The cherry sides ended up at about 3/8″ thick, and the pecan top and bottom just a little thinner. But I did almost no numerical measurement on this project. The new case just needs to fit the old case snuggly inside it.
I carefully arranged the pieces for the best visual effect and marked them out.
Construction was straightforward. I dovetailed the corners–one big dovetail per corner–and plowed grooves all around the insides of the cherry sides to accept the pecan top and bottom, which will be captured in the grooves once the sides are assembled.
On the long sides, I used my plow plane to cut the groove along their entire lengths, but had I done that to the short end pieces, the ends of the groove would show as gaps once the box was put together, and I’d have to plug each gap. The other option is to make a stopped groove.
I began by taking a couple strokes with my plow plane, stopping before I went all the way through the end. That way, I had the groove laid out exactly as it should be. I just needed to deepen the groove. I first used a utility knife to score each side of the groove.
I then used a narrow chisel and mallet to deepen the groove. The result wasn’t exactly pretty, but it worked. The grooves are small, about 3/16″ wide and deep.
I beveled the top of each panel with a handplane so as to just fit into the grooves. Then it was time to glue up each side.
Everything came together nicely. When your joints are cut precisely, you shouldn’t need much clamping pressure to keep them together as the glue dries. Just enough to ensure that all mating surfaces are making full contact, and that the joints don’t somehow spring apart while you’re not looking.
After planing, the joinery looks pretty tight all around.
I cut a small chamfer all around the top and bottom of each side, just to break the sharp edges and prevent damage to the box in use.
Then it was time to fill in the bug holes with some some crushed stone inlay. The process is not difficult, and I’ve used it before on my dining table and other projects. I begin by back-filling any deep holes with cheap material–either sawdust or a slip of wood, such as a section of a toothpick. When I back-fill with sawdust, I flood it with superglue to keep it all in place. Then I fill each hole with the inlay material, which in this case is a green stone called malachite. (I get it in small amounts on Amazon–I get the finest grain available.) I mound it up a bit over each hole and then soak it with superglue. The regular, thin variety works better than the gel kind. Once the glue sets up, I scrape and sand the surface flush and clean.
Fitting the old box into the new one was easy enough. It did require a little planing here and there to get everything to fit. Somehow I made the new box just a little too long, so I had to pack just a little filler (wood shavings squeezed flat) into one end.
I ordered some hinges and a latch from Lee Valley, and while I waited for them to arrive in the mail, I set about finishing the box. Because the box may see significant handling, I went with three coats of a semi-gloss polyurethane.
Everything fits nicely now.
The recorder fits very nicely
I could have used small hinges that required a mortise, but I really like the look of decorative, surface-mount hinges for a project like this. And they’re a lot easier to install. To hold them steady while I marked out the screw holes, I taped them down with masking tape.
The latch is a simple wire catch.
It was a satisfying project, and my favorite recorder will have a fine home for many years to come.
Tagged: box making, cherry, dovetailed box, pecan, recorder, recorder box, recorder case, spalted pecan, stopped groove, tenor recorder
Because it’s National Mentoring Month I have to say that the single biggest influence in my professional development is without a doubt Mitch Kohanek, founder and instructor of the National Institute of Wood Finishing. Although I first learned sharpening and basic hand tool skills during my time at luthiery school, it was Mitch who introduced me to historic furniture and conservation. His contagious enthusiasm for furniture set me on a trajectory from which I’ve never recovered. In that program, I learned furniture history (especially through weekly book reports), joinery methods, repair techniques, inpainting, spraying, brushing, French polishing, color matching, conservation ethics, and even basic organic chemistry. But Mitch was one of those teachers that brought more than lectures and bookwork to the classroom- He was a father to the dozen or so of us in my class. That year studying under his direct tutelage was so inspiring, in fact, that I credit him with single-handedly cultivating my interest in historic furniture.
There were a number of things that Mitch drilled into us students. The most often quoted one is “In finishing (and woodworking), there are no ‘tricks’ – there are only ‘techniques’.” Although it may sound like semantics to outsiders, we students saw how this principal was imbedded in everything Mitch taught us. Mitch never wanted us to proceed on with work in the dark. He reinforced time and again that figuring out ‘why’ and disciplined “perfect practice” was the path to success. “Techniques” are developed skills. “Tricks” are shallow.
So here’s to Mitch, my mentor and friend. If it were not for his enthusiasm and generosity, I don’t know that I ever would have paid any attention to old rickety furniture.
How about you, readers? Who are your mentors? If you didn’t have a face to face mentor, who have you learned from through books or videos most? Give them the honor they deserve. Write your own post on social media about what they’ve done for you. They deserve our admiration and praise. Please tag your post with #woodworkingmentors so we can see them all!
Alan Peters wrote an article for Fine Woodworking back in December 1986, on the twisted dovetail joint. After Alan died I was lucky enough to buy a few things from his widow Laura including the joint he cut for that article.
She was surprised I wanted it. It's never going to be worth much, but as an avid Alan Peters fan it's a nice thing to own.
The wood is Elm and is 34 mm thick (1 3/8"). I'd never noticed this little sticker before.
This afternoon I had a go at the joint myself making a dovetail alignment board in 3/4" thick, quarter sawn English cherry. I got it glued up before I went home so I'll see how it turns out in the morning!
In this episode of 360 with 360WoodWorking the 360 guys revisit Episode #62 and discuss their favorite freaky finishes.
Join the guys twice each week for six lively minutes of discussion on everything from tools to techniques to wood selection (and more). Chuck & Glen, and sometimes a surprise guest, all have their own opinions. Sometimes they agree and sometimes they don’t, but the conversation is always information packed and lots of fun.
So long, Bubinga — we were just getting to know ya’. Here it is January 2017 and you’ve been added to the CITES list (appendix II) of “species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.”
Oh, we can still ship you to our customers within the United States — until we’ve exhausted our inventory of plane kits and carving knife handles. But no more import or export. Here at Hock Tools we’ve been employing your good looks, toughness and durability for years. You’ll be missed, and fondly remembered. Now we’ll have to find… another*.
So, Bubinga lovers of America, the party’s over. Cherish what you have and can still get domestically. Bubinga has left the building.
*Yes, Jatoba, that’s you we’re winking at:
It is not specific to humans. Birds and cats have this urge to discover. That overwhelming desire to open the closed door or to look around the corner. That is called curiosity. To satisfy this need should remain a lifelong quest. Because then one is always occupied, one is never bored, always learning, and always trying to cure one’s own ignorance. A large task for me. Happy New Year.
Avion 3 aeroplane by Clement Ader. Now that is curiosity!
The most recent episode of “The Woodwright’s Shop” has Roy Underhill and Christopher Schwarz discussing staked furniture. Part of the discussion is how to layout and cut octagonal tapered legs. Just before CW starts the explanation of how to layout an octagon with a compass, Roy pulls out a gauge that he jokingly refers to as a “Octagonizer”. Of course my ears perked up with interest. The gauge seemed to work much like a center marking gauge in that it registered on either side of the stock. The difference being this gauge had two marking pins and established the extents of a regular octagon. Not much more than that was presented in the show and I was left wondering about this gauge. I have several octagonal tapered legs in my future and a gauge such as this could prove handy.
After consulting the Google, I found that this gauge is a common boatbuilding tool referred to as a “spar gauge”. The gauge is used to layout a regular octagon on a spar blank to aid in the rounding process. It is also quite large. Much too large for working on small leg stock for staked furniture. So I did a little more digging.
Turns out the pin arrangement on the gauge is based upon the proportional relationship of the corner of the square that is removed to create the octagon. More in-depth information can be found here. Using the Pythagoras’ theorem, you find that the proportional relationship of the sides and diagonal of this waste corner if, 1 : 1.41 : 1. So with a little math you can make any size gauge you desire.
With this information in hand I sat down at the drafting table and worked out a design for a scaled down gauge for furniture sized legs. This morning I put that design to the test in the shop. I scrounged up a small piece of maple, a couple of finish nails and made myself a octagonizer for laying out octagonal legs for my staked furniture projects.
It’s really simple to use. Place the gauge on the wood and rotate it until the guide pins make contact with opposite sides of the stock face you are marking. Then either press down to create marks or slide the gauge to scribe in the extents of the side of the octagon on that face of the stock. Repeat for the remaining three faces of the stock. Then connect the points on the end of the stock to delineate the octagon. In the photo below I used a compass to layout the octagon and verify the accuracy of my new gauge.
This thing is fast and accurate. You really only need to mark points on one side. Then take a pencil and set your finger gauge to one of the dots and quickly mark all faces of the stock with that setting. If you like to taper your legs before creating the octagon, this gauge will automatically adjust for the taper as you scribe down the stock. How slick is that?
Anyway, of course I made a construction drawing. I included a chart with a few different sizes that will handle varying thicknesses of stock.
I also dipped my toe into the cold, deep, dark video making waters. Depending on feedback and interest I may attempt to put together another video on the making of one of these gauges. Constructive criticism only, please don’t mock my piss-poor video skills. LOL
My sawmilling adventures began with an Alaskan chainsaw mill, which is just an attachment for a chainsaw to allow it to repeatedly cut a log lengthwise into lumber. It wasn’t anything fancy, and while it produced fine lumber, it was painfully slow to use. It didn’t take too many hours of me directly sucking in sawdust and fumes, while sweating my butt off, to start shopping for a more capable sawmill.
When I started my search, I considered bandsaws made by companies smaller than Wood-Mizer or TimberKing or Baker in a quest to also find smaller prices. While searching, I found several mills that looked suitable in the $5,000-$10,000 range, and I also came across a new “swing mill” from Australia called a Lucas mill.
The bandsaws looked to be a good choice as far as production went, but I didn’t have any way to move logs at the time, so the Lucas won out. It’s ability to easily break down and set up on site, while fitting in the bed of a pickup truck made it the clear choice, especially for larger logs. I say clear choice, but it wasn’t an easy choice. I didn’t like that the basic mill, fitted with a circular blade, was limited to 6″ or 8″ wide lumber without the optional slabbing bar attachment. And, my biggest fear was that this new mill from Australia, that I knew nothing about, might not be as good as it appeared in the videos.
Unfortunately, my fears were NOT immediately allayed. I went to pick up the more than $10,000 sawmill at the shipping terminal, and I couldn’t help but feel like I way overpaid for the amount of merchandise I picked up (Did I mentioned that it fits in the bed of my pickup truck?). There was only a sawhead, two long rails, and a few other miscellaneous metal parts that formed the frame ends. Besides that, the kit included a sharpener and some other odds and ends, but none of it added up to very much. I started doing the cost per piece arithmetic in my head, and it wasn’t looking good.
Regardless of my buyer’s remorse, I was tickled to have a “real” sawmill and set it up in my back yard the very first chance I got. After just a short time reviewing the directions, I had the sawmill set up and ready to cut. Even for someone who had never set one up, the Lucas went together fast. It was then that I realized what I had paid for. I didn’t pay for lots and lots of parts and extra bulk. I paid for an impressively designed machine, with an amazingly small stature, than can tackle the biggest logs. I paid for all of the research and design that went into the mill by the Lucas boys, and I paid to not lug around thousands of extra pounds, and I paid for everything to go together with minimal effort and a minimal number of steps. I got all of that and more.
From a design standpoint, I can confidently say that every part of the Lucas mill is well-planned and simplified beyond belief. The only mechanisms that I have ever had a problem with are the winches that raise and lower the ends of the long rails. They work perfectly fine and they are quite smooth, but they can be dangerous. When fully loaded with weight, it is possible to release the winch and lose control, resulting in a violently swinging handle that can smash your arm and allow the sawhead to come crashing down. I know from personal experience, as this has happened to me more than once, with the last instance leaving me at the hospital with a possible broken arm (luckily it was just a very bad contusion). If they were to ask, I would recommend that the winch system be built like the raising and lowering mechanism on my TimberKing 1220 manual mill, which magically is able to easily raise and lower the sawhead with complete control and without the possibility of having a disastrous crash. I have no idea how it works, but it smoothly operates the sawhead with a very heavy 15 hp electric motor attached to it like it isn’t there at all.
Now that you know to watch your arm and to be careful when lowering the sawhead on the Lucas mill, I can continue telling you how wonderful the Lucas mill is. First off, realize that I bought a Lucas mill in 1995, so I have been using one for about 2o years now, and I still use it on a regular basis. It is a very versatile machine that can handle big logs with ease. I often get asked how big of a log I can handle, and with the Lucas mill in my corner, I can just answer, “Yes.”
Currently, I use the 8″ model, which means that with the 21″ diameter circular blade attached it can produce up to 8″ x 8″ dimensional lumber. I rarely cut 8″ x 8″, but the mill can easily be adjusted to cut any dimensions under 8″. I often cut 1″ and 2″ thick lumber by 8″ wide.
The Lucas mill is called a “swing” mill because the blade can flip or swing with the pull of a lever from the horizontal to vertical position and right back again. The cool part is that both of the cuts line up with each other and work in concert to produce accurate and straight, completely edged lumber without a dedicated edger or any extra handling. In contrast, to edge lumber on a bandsaw mill requires flitches (lumber with bark edges) to be stood up in the mill and cut one or two more times to produce lumber with four square edges.
When cutting dimensional lumber I can easily work by myself making the vertical cut walking backward, then making the horizontal cut walking forward and finishing by sliding the cut board backward and out of the way. After a quick repositioning of the sawhead and a flip of the blade, I am back to cutting another piece of lumber. When cutting dimensional lumber like this I get in a rhythm–walk backward, flip blade, walk forward, slide board, move and flip blade, then repeat. The first cuts on the outside of the log are firewood, but after one pass across the top of the log and then dropping the mill to the next set of cuts, almost every pass produces an edged piece of lumber.
When I first got my Lucas mill I used it with the circular blade most of the time. Everything I produced was fully edged. Big slabs weren’t in style, so I didn’t even own a slabber, let alone use one. Now things are different. Live edges are in and so are big slabs, so the slabber is on the mill most of the time. The slabber is an attachment that turns the sawhead into a giant 2o hp chainsaw mill, with a maximum cut of 64″ wide.
I use the Lucas mill with the slabber attachment to cut all of my big logs that will produce slabs for table tops. With the slabber attachment the Lucas is not fast, but it can cut much wider than my bandsaw mill (maximum cut of 29″ wide), and it doesn’t make sporadic wavy cuts like the bandsaw mill. Knowing that I won’t get a miscut on a high-priced piece of wood gives me a great piece of mind.
These days when the slabbing attachment isn’t on the mill, the circular blade is, but not for milling lumber. I have been using it to flatten my kiln-dried slabs, and as long as the blade is sharp, it works great. After I move the slab into position, I just skim the surface with the mill to remove the high spots. Next, I flip the slab, drop the mill a bit and skim the other side. The end result is a perfectly flat slab, ready for final planing. The kids at Lucas sell planing and sanding attachments, but I haven’t used or purchased either one since I finish almost all of the slabs with the power hand planer or wide-belt sander.
Every time I use the Lucas mill, I am reminded how well it works, from quickly setting it up to making small adjustments, everything is simple. And, I know when I show customers how capable it is, they are impressed that such a lightweight, easy-to-setup mill can do so much.
Note: While Lucas is more than welcome to pay me to endorse their mills, as of now they do not. This was written for educational purposes and to let others know how my slabs are produced.
|I wound up having to pay extra as this duffel bag was nearly 30 kilos!|
That being said, I do have a nice batch of "nice-to-haves" here now.
Noticeably absent are any western saws. They didn't quite rate high enough on the list of priorities to replace anything in this bag. I am making do with my Ryobi Dick saw. Also missing are more chisels. I find that the three I have (in sizes kinda small, kinda medium and kinda big) are all I need at the moment.
Unloading the above bag, I thought I would document what was in there after I took out the boring stuff like t-shirts and underwear.
This first photo shows from left to right, my home-made tapered tenon cutter ala Tim Manney that I made a couple years back to match my tapered reamer that is already here. Not shown is the blade that gets attached with a c-clamp. There is also some sandpaper backed with foam that Pedder gave me, a few belt buckles for leather work, a couple of maroon and gray scratchy pads, some ebony scraps, a hunk of wenge, some leather wax, and a buttload of slotted screws and Roman nails that I got from Dictum. I bought three bags of the biggest ones they had which are 2 1/2" long. They should be great for clinching.
Next I'll have to set up the insides of my chest. I have to figure out how to get all this stuff in here.
This weekend we all said goodbye to 2016. (I’m happy to see it behind me because it was a great year from my perspective.) And of course, we are all anticipating what’s down the road for 2017. Before we get too far along that road, I want to remind you that you cannot forget the past 365 days, especially the projects and techniques we read about throughout the year. To that end, I’ve gone back through the archives to pull out and present the best of 2016.