Hand Tool Headlines
The Woodworking Blogs Aggregator
While I’ve known about the surviving Roman workbenches at Saalburg Museum since reading W.L. Goodman’s classic “The History of Woodworking Tools” (1964) many years ago, I never thought I’d get to examine the benches in detail.
On Thursday, archaeologist Rüdiger Schwarz unlocked the warren of climate-controlled chambers under one of the buildings of the reconstructed Roman fort and led me, Görge Jonuschat and Bengt Nilsson past thousands of Roman artifacts organized on shelves, in drawers and in boxes.
And then there they were. Black from their time buried in well No. 49 outside the walls of the fort. Distorted from their return to the atmosphere after they were excavated in 1901. But solid oak workbenches, nonetheless. (We should all look so good after 1,839 years, give or take.)
Rüdiger, a trained furniture maker, graciously allowed us as much time as we needed to examine the benches, take photographs and write down measurements. For me, what was most shocking is how completely familiar the low benches seemed, especially now that I have a low bench in my shop. The legs were exactly where I would put them. The mortise for the planing stop – ditto. And the width (varying from 11” to 12”) was just right for me to straddle.
Both of the benches had split across the middle of their lengths – perhaps from their time in the well or when they were put down the well. One bench has been repaired since recovery; the other left as-is. The legs on both of the benches were added sometime after they were recovered from the well.
There is a lot that we don’t know about the benches. Why were they put in the well in the first place? There are a few theories – perhaps to protect them during an attack. Perhaps to hide them so they were not cut up and used to build defenses during the decline and eventual abandonment of the fort about 260.
What were the odd notches on one edge of one of the benches used for – if anything? What did the planing stop look like? Exactly how long were the legs?
These questions (and more) are going to be addressed in detail in my forthcoming book on Roman workbenches. I took enough measurements that I’ll be able to build a fairly close reproduction – copying the leg placement, plus the overall size and shape of the top.
I doubt that a reproduction will give us a lot of definite answers. But it should confirm again that this style of bench is part of a long and still-living woodworking tradition.
— Christopher Schwarz
Filed under: Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized
Needless to say, I didn't get much shop time. I had to decompress a little and then I shut the lights out to go watch him.
I had checked on the camera status again at lunchtime and Amazon had 7 Red TG-5s for sale. I think it's going to be a wait and see for me. Amazon hasn't taken the money for the camera yet so I'll be checking my bank as my indication the camera is on it's way to me.
|frog is done|
|port side view|
|too small or too big|
I had to make a pit stop at Wally World to get a 9V battery for the smoke detector. While I was there I picked up a few other things but I forgot to get regular Coke for the son-in-law. I picked up some paint and artist brushes though.
|cheap bag artist brushes|
|just noticed this holiday|
|this is next|
|my current iron|
|5 1/2 takes a 2 1/4" wide iron|
US regulations state what percentage of peanuts must be in peanut butter?
answer - 90%
In a recent blog, we discussed chests that had in common a vertical hinged panel that, when locked, prevented access to the drawers and/or doors. This posting is about chests with the same basic notion only smaller.
First up is this desk:
Looking at one of the drawer towers, you see this:
Low and behold, it is also sidelocked:
The tower drawers are dovetailed:
Another smaller sidelock example is this antique silver chest:
The columns are held in place by brass plates on top of the columns:
The chest has a unique hinge:
There is a lock as well:
I will continue to look for more examples and bring them to you as I find them.
It’s what I do.
People ask me where I get my wood for the spoons and spatulas I make. The truth is, I find it. Most of the time I salvage limbs and logs from downed trees, but sometimes I find wood in more interesting places–and that wood always has a real story.
A few years ago, we discarded an old desk that had completely fallen apart. But we saved two of the drawers to use as containers. We gave the big drawer to the kids to use as a small toybox, and the small drawer lived for several years on top of the clothes dryer, where it served as a tray for detergent and dryer sheets. After being dropped a couple times, the machine-cut dovetails finally gave way, and the drawer collapsed. I was about to toss the pieces in the firewood pile, but after seeing the straight, clear grain on some of the pieces, I decided to try repurposing the wood for spatulas.
The drawer had four sides and a plywood bottom. I threw out the bottom, as well as one side that had too much run-out in the grain. Two other sides had straight, clear grain, and while the pieces were pretty thin (just under 1/2″ thick), I thought I could use them. (That’s the bottom two pieces of wood in the above picture.) These pieces were obviously oak, probably red oak, a common furniture wood. Red oak is very porous, so most varieties are not very good for wooden spoons, but it can make pretty good stir-fry spatulas. After looking carefully at each piece for any splits, I laid out some spatulas from a template.
The final piece (the top one in the above photo) was originally the front of the drawer, which was thicker. It was also veneered on both sides, so I couldn’t easily tell what kind of wood it might be. I suspected either maple or poplar, both of which are common substrates for veneer. I had to do some guesswork on the best layout for this piece, but I also had to avoid the bolt holes in the center.
Weathering had turned this wood pretty gray, but I knew there would be a more attractive color underneath. I took each piece to the bandsaw and carefully cut to my layout lines. My templates are just a little oversized, in order to allow for the stock removal that follows.
Then I went to work with my drawknife, spookshaves, and card scrapers. The drawer sides were indeed red oak, which is quite hard when seasoned, and this wood was about as seasoned as wood can get! But it also cuts cleanly with sharp tools. I understand why furniture makers like using it.
The thicker, veneered piece was definitely a variety of poplar. There are several different kinds of poplar, though I haven’t bothered to attempt a more precise identification. The fact that this spatula was once a drawer front kind of overshadows the exact wood species.
The poplar had some small, tight knots in it, but otherwise there were no flaws in this wood at all. These are the fronts of each spatula.
These are the backs. The Danish-oil finish did indeed bring out some nice colors in the end.
Working with salvaged wood, especially from old furniture, is always a risk. You never know when you’re going to reveal a flaw that renders that piece unusable. But when you succeed, the risk is worth it.
After a brief lapse in book giveaways due to a bit of travel, I’m back at it again. This week I’m giving away a copy of “The Art and Craft of Cabinet-making” by David Denning. It’s a high-quality binding of a classic woodworking text that belongs in every woodworker’s collection. You’ll find insight into wood selection, glue prep, tools and appliances, joinery, decorative details, hardware and much more (just check out the table […]
In a previous article I wrote about updating a honing guide board so it would work with my new Lie-Nielsen Honing Guide, and to make sure the angle blocks match the reality of my new tool. In this article, I’ll try to provide enough basic information so that anyone reading this can hopefully glean enough to start using the Honing Guide and the Honing Guide Board, for repeatable sharpening and honing.
First, lets talk about what all the rectangular blocks on the Honing Guide Board are for, and how it all works. On one edge you’ll see I have one block for 25-degrees, 30-degrees, and so on up to 40-degrees. These are the most commonly used angles in my shop, but there is still a block for 45-degrees on the left side, and one for 20-degrees on the back of the board. When you put a plane iron (or chisel for that matter) into a honing guide with its bevel facing down (towards the side of the honing guide that has the wheel), the cutting edge of the tool will make contact with the block for whichever angle I’ve chosen (30-degrees this time), while the front side of the honing guide is up against the front edge of the Honing Guide Board (Note: the protruding iron is also laying flat on the board between the block and the edge)
While the iron and guide are against their respective surfaces, tighten the honing guide so the iron is held securely. You have just set your iron for a specific angle. Each and every time you go through this process, as long as you have the cutting edge up against a block, the honing guide against the board’s front edge (as well as keeping the iron flat on the board), you will get repeatable results, like I mentioned earlier.
Before you let a tool touch a honing stone, make sure it is flat! An out-of-flat stone will transfer its shape to whatever you are sharpening and it is much easier and quicker to flatten the stones than to work to remove all the steel needed to get a tool back to flat.
Before I start sharpening, I put some dark Sharpie onto the bevel of the tool, just so I can confirm I’m sharpening at the correct angle.
With a splash of water on my 1000-grit stone, I set the honing guide’s wheel down onto the stone first, gently letting the iron’s cutting edge touch the stone. I set the iron/honing guide at the far end of the stone, with the iron’s cutting edge away from me. With no real downward pressure, I pull the iron/honing guide combo towards me. Just one stroke. Pick up the iron/honing guide and look at the iron’s bevel. Was the Sharpie removed from the existing micro-bevel?
If not, like you can see, take the iron/honing guide and move to the block for the next higher angle (35-degrees in this instance), slightly release the pressure on the honing guide, and then re-tighten when the cutting edge is against the block, as well as the honing guide against the front edge of the board. When I tested the setup with it set at the 35-degree block, all of the Sharpie was removed from the micro-bevel, with my one stroke test.
Since all of the Sharpie was removed, this indicates we have the correct angle to match the previous sharpening, and we can proceed to work on our 1000-grit stone and then our 8000-grit stone.
There are times when you purchase a new iron, where they may intentionally blunt the iron for safe shipping. I bring this up as some folks like to tell themselves that they should take ten strokes on the bevel, and then move to the next stone. Is this a good idea? I’ll let you decide, but I find a better method is to only shift to the next higher grit stone (1000-grit to the 8000-grit, for instance) when you can feel a burr all the way across the iron, on the back side of the bevel. To feel for this burr, hold the iron vertical with its cutting edge at the highest point, and this part is critical, you always move your finger lightly from low to high. (Note: You never want to move your finger along the cutting edge from side to side. This latter move can cut you extremely quickly.) If you do not yet feel a burr, you should go back to the 1000-grit stone and continue working until you do. Move to the 8000-grit stone when you feel a burr on the full width of the iron.
After you complete the sharpening/honing on both the 1000-grit stone and then the 8000-grit stone, the back of the iron also needs some attention. I use the David Charlesworth method called the ruler trick, where I use a very thin metal ruler laid along one edge of the 8000-grit stone.
The iron is removed from the honing guide for this, and placed so it is across the stone’s width, while resting on the ruler. Since the honing of the bevel created a small burr on the back of the iron, start with the cutting edge just hanging off of the stone, and move it straight back, so the cutting edge comes onto the stone, but no more than ¼” or so.
I repeat this process a couple of times, then shift to moving the iron up and down the stone, while the iron is still laying across the stone, and riding on the ruler. This creates a very small micro-bevel on the back of the iron, which only takes a few moments, taking the place of all the time spent honing the whole back of the iron, which literally has taken me hours.
Lee Laird has enjoyed woodworking for over 25 years. He is retired from the U.S.P.S. and worked for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks as a show staff member, demonstrating tools and training customers. You can email him at LeeLairdWoodworking@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LeeLairdWW
Shift Your Weight Forward and Saw Between the Bench
This week I’m answering a claim that I’m “using my sawbench wrong” by talking about how my sawing technique has evolved over the years in my own work but also through teaching other woodworkers through The Hand Tool School. But how I used to use my sawbench is very different today than it was even 3 years ago.
To let the saw do the work you have to first get out of its way. This means body mechanics are so important. Working at the right height is a first step and that’s why a saw bench is helpful. But you are only halfway there unless you setting up with the right body position for a true cut and maintaining that position throughout the entire cut.
The secret to sawing accurately with any saw is letting the saw to the work.
Here’s Some More Hand Sawing Stuff
Speaking of Andrew Hunter, I found that I completely forgot to note his excellent article in Fine Woodworking back in February on seeing up a Japanese plane. It’s well worth the read. And if you’re curious, here’s my take.
|not black anymore|
|it's wet and it's black|
|filed the frog|
|square from both sides|
|low spot by my finger|
|another low spot by my finger here too|
|this side touches top and bottom|
|I filed it|
|a couple of months later|
|thanx for the tip Bob|
What is a gimcrack?
answer - a showy object that has little or no value
This morning I had some time to kill in between store visits, so I decided to stop in a local Sears to browse their tool department for a few minutes. I wasn’t expecting much since I knew that Sears had fallen on hard times in recent years, but what I encountered was just plain sad.
I was so taken back by their tool department that I grabbed my cell phone and took some pictures of their shelves. There was hardly any selection of any kind. I remember about twenty years ago, Sears was one of the main places to buy tools. They had a huge selection with competitive prices. I used to buy all my tools from Sears. From clamps to power tools, to automotive wrenches. In fact I still own a Craftsman bench top radial drill press that still works like a champ to this day.
I was wondering if this was a store that was closing so, I looked around for clearance signs, but found none. The only reason I could think of why they don’t have any products on their shelves is because they are probably on COD only terms with the majority of their suppliers. I remember the company I used to work for a few years ago had the same problem. They couldn’t order any product from the manufacturers to resell it to their dealers and ended up going bankrupt within six months. It’s been so bad for Sears lately that they sold the Craftsman brand name to Stanley Black and Decker late last year to generate cash.
This is what’s left of their machinery selection. A radial arm saw and a cheap looking band saw. There was one old lady working the entire department who looked like she was 82 years old. I remember back in the day, there would be at least three or four clerks around to help you out.
When things get this bad, there’s no way I would even buy anything from them in the first place. There’s a good chance that if I did buy something from them and the product ended up breaking within the 30 days of my purchase, with my luck, the company’s doors would be closed leaving me high and dry. When was the last time you bought something from Sears? I can’t even remember the last time I did.
In May, we gathered at the shop of Chris Church of Wenatchee. On the agenda was how to cut mortise and tenons, both by hand and with power tools. Autumn Doucet led the demonstrations by showing how to chop a mortise with English mortise chisels, also known to some as “pig stickers.”
Since chopping a well-fitted mortise by hand with English mortising chisels is fast and uncomplicated, the demonstration didn’t take long. For those interested in the process, here is a good video by Peter Follansbee.
Next, Chris Church showed us how he used to make mortise and tenons using a table full of jigs, then he sauntered right over to his Stanfield horizontal mortiser, made exclusively by Tom Dolese at Terra Firma Design in Bellevue. This is the mortiser he used to cut all of the joinery – angled and straight – on ten dining room chairs. Once he set all of the stops and adjustments, the execution was smooth, accurate and quick. These mortisers run about $2000, but Chris purchased his used for around $800.
Chris also explained how he makes his loose tenons.
And what’s a meeting without a few glamour shots?
Mostly my working wood and my enjoyment of it still is the area surrounding joinery followed quickly by design. Generally, all designs are governed in great measure by the wood type, colour, grain configuration and wood strength. Wood density, flex, brittleness, porosity and other such wood characters pertinent to different wood types must also be …
Follow the link to see Ben Strano and Andrew Hunter’s video on Chinese furniture joints. It’s terrific.
I should also mention that Andrew also has an article in Fine Woodworking on how to construct a frame and panel, Chinese style. That’s also a terrific article.
This is an excerpt from “The Art of Joinery” by Joseph Moxon; commentary by Christopher Schwarz.
Now we get to the fun part: Putting the tools to use. Moxon’s first “exercise” is to plane a large piece of wood square to transform it from a rough pitsawn board to a piece of finished work. Below is my reading of Moxon’s method. There are some steps missing that might be familiar to modern hand-tool users, such as checking for twist with winding sticks. Moxon confirms the board is true by eye (just wink) and with a ruler that is anywhere from 2′ to 7′ long. Your eye (and a 7′ ruler) are powerful measuring devices, though I prefer winding sticks for high-tolerance work.
Step One: True One Face
You begin with the fore plane and set it so it will take a shaving that is the thickness “of an old coined shilling,” a bit more than 1∕ 32″ thick. If the grain is difficult, reduce the cut to “the thickness of an old groat,” or less than 1∕ 32″. If the board is warped or cupped, you need to plane across the grain – what Moxon calls “traversing” – to bring the high spots down to the low spots on your first face.
Moxon says you should check your work by sighting down the face of the board either with one eye, with a 2′-long ruler or with a piece of straight stock that is as long as the piece you are working.
When the first face is flat, you should refine the face a bit. First set the fore plane to a lighter shaving and plane the board. Then use a jointer plane. Traverse across the grain for wide panels or work at angles – corner to-corner – for narrow stock. Then finish that first face with a smoothing plane if necessary. Work with the grain; overlap your strokes.
Step Two: Straighten One Edge
Next you should straighten one long edge. Use a try square to find the high spots (called the “risings”) on the edge. Reduce these with a fore plane or (in extreme cases) with a hatchet, Moxon writes. (Some woodworkers might use a drawknife or scrub plane here.) Follow this up with a jointer plane and smoothing plane.
Step Three: Work the Other Edge
Now use a marking gauge or panel gauge to scribe the finished width of the board. The gauge’s head rides on the finished edge and marks a line parallel to it. You also should strike this same line on the rough face. Now work this edge down to your scribe line. Use a hatchet if you have lots of material to remove; or use a fore, jointer and smoothing plane if there isn’t much waste.
Step Four: The Final Face
With one face and two edges completed, use your marking gauge to scribe the finished thickness on your two completed edges. Press the gauge firmly against your first face to make these marks. Then use a fore, jointer and smoothing plane to dress the fourth face.
— Meghan Bates
Filed under: The Art of Joinery
If you enjoy using hand planes in your woodworking, then you may be considering adding specialty planes (like a filister) to your shop. Frank Klausz is a fan of filister planes, and in this short video he shows some of the details on adjusting and using a metal-bodied filister to make a ship-lapped joint. Just one more example of his impressive knowledge of woodworking joinery, and why we love learning from Frank. If […]
When I made my workbench some 40-odd years ago, there were no readily available workbench plans as there are today. I had been reading Tage Frid and James Krenov and those books did have pictures, so I laboriously starting trying to scale a workbench based on them. It has served me well.
Click to read how Forrest improved an already great workbench with his new Eclipse Quick Release Bench Vise.
Niels Henrik David Bohr, a Danish physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 for his work on atomic structures once said, “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.”
It reminded me of something Jennie Alexander said during a recent phone conversation for our Meet the Author series, something I didn’t use: “Isn’t this interesting? I’ve only made one type of stool. I’ve only made one type of one-slat chair. And I’ve only made one kind of two-slat post-and-rung chair. And that’s it! I’ve never made a rocking chair. I’ve never made a piece of furniture. I’ve done the same thing over and over and over and it changes, changes, changes—when it’s ready to change. And that’s kind of weird.”
Maybe. But maybe not.
In 2004, while working at Popular Woodworking magazine, I visited chairmaker Brian Boggs (who, by the way, was inspired by Alexander’s book “Make a Chair from a Tree”). At the time of my visit, Boggs’ primary focus was chairs, specifically Appalachian-style ladderback chairs with a contemporary flair. And by that point he had dedicated years of his life to not only building them, but improving them. Improvements came in the form of design, yes, but also tools (Lie-Nielsen still sells the Boggs Curved Spokeshave), joints (his “universal joint” features double offset tenons and housed shoulders) and machines (his hickory bark stripper took 12 years to develop). All of this, simply to make a better chair.
I’m all over the place. There was the Christmas I asked for embroidery supplies. Come Valentine’s Day I tried to embroider my husband a single heart on cardstock. There was a lot of cursing involved, some blood and I don’t think I’ve touched the supplies since.
I rowed for two quarters at college. I took a short evening class on astronomy and spent a few years volunteering at the Cincinnati Observatory until I came to the conclusion that I enjoyed the poetry of stars much more so than the math. Every time I run I think, I should run a marathon.
I find many things to be fascinating. One look at Half Dome and I want to climb it. One meditation class and I’m looking up ashrams in India. One world religion class and I want to enroll in seminary, become a Buddhist and define myself as atheist, all at once.
I suppose this is why I was drawn to writing. For a short while I get to live vicariously in the life of another. And not always, but often, that other is being written about because of their ability to narrow their focus so much that they become an expert, even if that wasn’t their intention. Perhaps this is behind all brilliance.
There’s validity in trying it all. But I’ve also learned that there’s validity in finding a niche. There’s validity in devoting a large part of your life to 17th century joinery. And Welsh stick chairs. And carving acanthus leaves. And making macaroons. And growing the perfect tomato.
Alexander may only have made one type of stool. And one type of one-slat chair. And one type of two-slat post-and-rung chair. But her dedication to doing the same thing “over and over and over,” while allowing it to change and improve while also studying and theorizing and, dare we say, obsessing, has benefitted all those who point to “Make a Chair from a Tree” as inspiration. That type of devotion is why we can buy copper tacks from John Wilson. And moulding planes from Matt Bickford. And letterpress printed books.
I think all experts see what Alexander calls “the flash.” The niche, for them, fulfills. “There is a spirit of shaving wood that fills a place in me that otherwise is not filled as a person, as a thinker, as a human being,” Alexander says.
Coupled with, of course, hard work, dedication and simply showing up at the bench, again and again and again. As Charles Hayward wrote in a 1936 issue of Good Woodworking magazine: “Continued application and perseverance do really bring mastery, and in these summer months, when practical work has been thrust into the background, we can still consolidate and even advance our work.”
— Kara Gebhart Uhl
Filed under: Honest Labour, Make a Joint Stool from a Tree, Uncategorized
In this episode of 360 with 360WoodWorking David Heim tells us about a 90-year-old woodturner who turns large, very large. His burls are hoisted up onto a custom-built lathe that can handle material as large as 48″ x 72″.
Join 360 Woodworking every Thursday for a lively discussion on everything from tools to techniques to wood selection (and more). Glen talks with various guests about all things woodworking and some things that are slightly off topic.