Wednesday, July 23, 2014

If I Were a Joiner . . .

Peter Follansbee, an artisan I distinctly look up to and respect, has decided to leave his job as the joiner at Plimoth Plantation. It's sad to me that I will never get the chance to see him in action there. It's exciting to me to think this means he will be teaching more classes and I will have an increased chance to attend one.

The fact that Peter is leaving isn't news. There are rumors that Plimoth Plantation didn't plan to replace him, Chris wrote about this in a post on his blog, but down at the bottom of the comments in that post is a comment by a Sarah MacDonald, that states the organization is updating the job description and expanding the diversity of its craftspeople. (There is no updated job posting for a joiner as of today)

This all gives me pause for thought. What if I were to be hired for the job? I certainly would meet some of the qualifications

I have spent several years developing competency with hand tools in woodworking in general and with working freshly riven, green wood more recently. I can take a fallen tree and turn it into a finished piece of furniture.

I have developed a love for the furniture and construction styles of the 17th century. I have been working on the carving aspect of the craft for several years and it's a very comfortable, natural style for me now.

My most recent carved interpretation. Walnut carved box sides. I haven't finished the till, lid, or bottom yet. 
I have some decent experience demonstrating in front of crowds, often under the guise of medieval historical reenactment. I have demoed for rowdy crowds at medieval faires and festivals, and for fundraising events at libraries and museums.

And I have experience as an lecturer and educator, I spent two years teaching Surgical Technology and Central Service Technology at Western Technical College, before deciding to return to the field. And my work has been published in a major woodworking publication.

Ok . . .  so do I have the job?

Several things will keep me from even applying if the job is posted. Not the least of which is the need to relocate. It is definitely not the right time in our lives to take on another adventure like that. Not for a while.

But the job is still fun to think about, like the "What would I do if I won the lottery?" question. Though the approach that comes across my mind is "What would I do differently?"

Peter is am inspiration to me, I've never managed to come up with a good reason to correspond with him outside of the abject hero workshop and fawning praise of an unapologetic fan boy. But if I were to trip, fall, and land in the job, I would want to make it my own. Standing on the shoulders of giants to see further is more noble than repeating what has been done before in a cookie cutter fashion.

I would certainly have a lot to learn in the job, that would be most of the fun.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Change The World

"The mere act of owning real tools and having the power to use them is a radical and rare idea that can help change the world around us and - if we are persistent - preserve the craft."
Chris Schwarz - The Anarchist's Tool Chest

I have the most amazing woman in the world supporting me. My wife Naomi listens patiently to all my hair brained ideas and ramblings as I piece things together. I understand it can't be easy to put up with me everyday, yet for almost twenty years she has done it with a smile, well, most of the time there's a smile. I was worried my next idea may just push her over the edge into the "not smiling anymore" zone. 

As I worked on the first draft of the chapter on the Maciejowski Bible Footstool, I came across a problem. I needed a way to succinctly show the basics of woodworking joints without getting into a dissertation on them. I decided to create an appendix in the book, something of a brief "Gray's Anatomy of Joinery" section. So I could refer to the page when talking about the cheeks of a tenon, without getting bogged down in explaining in text. 

There are several options to showcase joints, but hand drawing them appealed to me the most. There were other ideas I wanted to have hand drawn for the book as well. Issue being, there was no great place to do this kind of work in our small house. We have a small dining room table, but it's neither comfortable to work at, nor is the flat surface ever free from the clutter of a five person household that includes three teenagers. 

So I proposed an idea to my wife, unsure whether she'd agree or not. I asked to empty out our dining room area and bring in my Father-In-Law's drafting table which he's had in storage for quite a while. 

She didn't even hesitate to say yes.

I cleaned out the area and retrieved the table last weekend and the last few days I've been spending a few hours a day stretching muscles I haven't worked in nearly 20 years. I regularly sketch ideas for furniture and I've made measured drawings, but I haven't done anything I'd consider "real" drawing since the days of drowning myself in art classes. 

The muscles are there, the refinement is returning, and I'm having fun renewing a skill I have not worked on since I was young enough to take it for granted. 

They're not worthy of a gallery, but they'll get the job done. 

Thank you Naomi. 

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, June 28, 2014

To Build A Nest: Specialty Saws

Today I finish up a short series on a Nest of Saws. Using my own nest as an example of creating a small collection of multitaskers to handle all the work you need. As I've said before, woodworking is a individual pursuit and your own mileage may vary. There will be links to the other posts in the series at the end.

We've spoken about hand saws and back saws, now we break down into the few specialty saws I keep sharp and ready.

I suppose a miter box saw can be considered alongside the back saws, but since it rarely sees use outside the miter box I'm going to call it a specialty.

My Miter box saw is a Disston saw made for Goodell Pratt. It's 26" long with 11 PPI (Points Per Inch) and filed with 15 degrees of rake and 20 degrees of fleam. It has a deep plate (5 inches) and works nicely in my Stanely Miter Box. You can see the rehab of both miter box and saw HERE.

Next is my cheepo coping saw. Nicholson brand I believe. I picked it up off a clearance rack at a box store a few years ago, and it's been a good friend ever since.

I use it for scrolling and for sawing out the waste in my dovetails. The tension on the original was never great so I souped it up by throwing a couple of washers between the handle and the frame. I've also sanded the smooth factory finish off the handle.

The weird thing is, I've managed to get my hands on a Knew Concepts Fret Saw I thought would replace this old war bird, but I just never liked it. I like the beefier coping saw blades over the wire fret saw blades and the Knew Concepts saw handle just never fit or felt right in use. I like the engineering that goes into making the frame stiff and light and the whole concept, I just couldn't efficiently use it.

So, until something comes along to replace it, my old coping saw will remain in the tool box.

Oh, if you were wondering, I usually set my coping saw blades to cut on the pull stroke.

I consider my stair saws to be one of the few conceits in my nest. They are not multitaskers, they do one job, something that can be done with a carcass saw. Cut a sidewall for a dado or rabbet. But they do it so well and efficiently and they look so cool. . .  what can I say, a guy should be allowed a little conceit.

I have two (more conceit)  The one on the right is an unmarked vintage model (I believe it's Disston though). The blade is 7 PPI and crosscut. I've had it for a few years and I just haven't gotten around to cleaning it up and sharpening it, probably because the one on the left works well when I need it.

Before I found the vintage one I was captured by the concept of the saw and decided to build one for myself from scratch and a picture I got off the internet. You can read the old post HERE. My blade recut from an old saw plate comes to 6 PPI

Stair saws are a great addition to your nest. Vintage ones are tough to come by so I suggest heading over to Two Guys In A Garage website, where they offer kits to build your own. I keep threatening to buy one myself.

The last specialty saw I keep in my woodworking tool box is a hacksaw. If you're following links in this post you'll read some nasty things I had to say about hacksaws when I was writing about building a stair saw. What can I say, I was having a day.

It's kind of weird to mention it along with woodworking tools, but it's just the ticket for modifying hardware, sawing brass pins to length and other small metal working jobs that pop up. Find a simple one that tensions well and don't be scared to replace the blade often.

Photo from Tools For Working Wood website. 

The final specialty saw isn't in my tool box yet. It's going to be a veneer saw. My current project has pushed back my exploration into veneer, marquetry, and inlay for now but when the clock circles around again I will be in the market again. When that happens I will most likely head over to Tools For Working Wood and pick up a Gramercy Veneer Saw.

That wraps up my thoughts on the saws I have. use, and will get and the concept of trying to get the most out of a few good saws rather than filling a whole saw till with special circumstance saws.

The introduction to the saw nest series is HERE.
Hand saws in my nest are HERE
Backsaws in my nest are HERE
and ALL the posts are collected together in one HERE.

Now it will probably be a while before I put any real thought into my saws again. Of course if they're working for you, you don't have to think about them.

Ratione et Passionis

Friday, June 20, 2014

I'll Never See This For The First Time Again.

You only get a handful of firsts in your lifetime. First car, first kiss, first time on an airplane, first time in a fist fight. Some are bittersweet, all are learning experiences. Today the mailman brought another first into my life. A large white envelope containing two author copies of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

Today was the first time I got to see my name in print, legitimately published.

This one article may have been one of the hardest things I've ever had to write. Not because of the demands of the PopWood team, Megan Fitzpatrick and Glen Huey were both great to work with. It has more to do with the demands I put on myself. I worked and worried the thing to near death.

The one thing that I really wasn't expecting was the amount of time from the start to today. The concept of building my own copy of Roubo's Press Vise occurred to me in early October of last year. I built a prototype in a long Saturday in the shop. No thoughts or worries about perfection, or what someone would think about seeing it beyond the normal noodling here on my blog space.

Then the ideas began to grow, and I received support for those ideas from great people. I have to offer a big Thank You to Don Williams. A man I've gotten to know a bit over the last few years and I hope to get to know better as time rolls on. The first thing I did was send him an email asking for his blessing at taking a small bite of something he's very invested in. He was kind enough to say yes.

The project itself, delightful simplicity, to such a level that it made me slap my forehead that I didn't think about it on my own. I challenge you to give the project a try for yourself, the possibilities inside this devise are nearly endless. And if you decide to pick up your own copy of the magazine and see my "first" for yourself, then all the better.

Ratione et Passionis

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


A thick wood shaving balanced in my daughter's fingers.
Beauty in imperfection.
A new concept learned this evening.
One I take to heart.


Three simple truths:
Nothing lasts
Nothing is finished
Nothing is perfect

These are good things to remember.
This is going on the wall of my shop tomorrow morning.

Thank you again David.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Whiffs Of Fresh Air

Yesterday I had an excellent day visiting with people and doing carving demonstrations at the Castlerock Museum of Arms and Armor in nearby Alma Wisconsin. It's a fantastic museum filled with history mostly from Medieval and Renaissance Europe.

The crowds were great, just big enough to keep me busy but not a swarming mass. They were all interested in the carvings I was working on, but more than other demos I've done in the past, full of intelligent and thoughtful questions. I'm used to a lot of questions about the tools, species of wood and mostly the amount of time each carving takes. People assume it takes days of sweat and work to complete a carved panel and that really couldn't be further from the truth.

I wish I could figure out a better way to explain that there isn't any magic involved in what I do. You just have to decide you want to do it.

For the first time I fielded a lot of questions about finishing pieces. When I was packing up the night before, as a last minute thought I threw my polissoirs in the chest and I was glad I did. People were fascinated with the idea of burnishing in a wax finish.

There was also a glimmer of hope for our collective futures.

At least half a dozen different people brought up the discussion about the loss of traditional craftsmanship. Maybe it was just the temper of the crowd or the day, but many, made listed the arguments to me that I've listed to others about the need for enduring products, made by hand, in our homes and in our lives. There was general disgust for the press-board crap furniture on the shelves of superstores and the dubious companies that make them. Most expressed the sentiment they'd rather pay a little more for something that lasts, something made in the US if not made local, and something that they can potentially hand down to the next generation past them.

Some even spoke to me about the things they wanted to learn to start making, things they remember their grandparents making.

As I was driving home in the evening I was decided it's possible, just possible, the culture is starting to change. I'm not holding my breath, but to even catch a whiff of this fresh air was fantastic.

For me, the day was also a chance to catch up with Thomas Latane, a master blacksmith who is fast becoming a good friend. He brings quite the impressive forge set up along.

Thom also brought along one of his former students Paul Nyborg.

Paul was also doing a carving demonstration, his had a little more purpose than mine. Most of the time I simply grab a board and start a panel for a box or box lid, sometimes at the end of the day I finish them sometimes I don't. Paul was working on the parts for a Wainscot Chair.

It's always fun to visit with other woodworkers, but someone who's interests align so close to mine was extra exciting. Besides you have to like a guy who built his tool chest from wide walnut boards resawn to thickness by hand and using hardware he forged himself.

Even though a thunderstorm rolled in and doused the event late in the afternoon, over all it was a great day. I'll be looking forward to my next demo with the museum soon.

Ratione et Passionis

I almost forgot to share the fruits of my efforts for the day. A fun carved panel for the front of a document box.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

To Build A Nest: Back Saws

I've been exploring the choices and decisions I've made regarding the saws I use nearly everyday in my shop. I have built a robust and versatile collection and I think it's possible someone out there looking to start into hand tool woodworking or looking for more information on starting at all may possibly benefit from seeing my decisions up close. (I also admit it's possible I may be adding further mud to the waters by even writing about it so specifically)

I've written about my three hand saws (you can read it HERE) now I intend to write about my backsaws or joinery saws. My favorite saws to use.

I realize in the opinionated world of woodworking that people will read this and may believe I'm prejudiced, and they may be correct. I have a prejudice towards tools that work extremely well. When I decided to stop playing around and get my hands on a quality back saw choosing Bad Axe Toolworks Saws was easy for several reasons. The least of which, They are made in the same town I live in. I can, and have, dropped in on the gentleman who builds my saws, in his shop, drank a cup of coffee and chewed the fat.

Buy local. Hell yes. If you were in my shoes you'd do the same.

The best reason I continue to choose Bad Axe. All possible prejudice aside. Mark Harrell builds one hell of a saw, and there are many more makers out there, people smarter and more experienced than me, who say the same thing, so I feel more than confident in my opinion.

The first saw I bought from Mark was not the saw I should have started with, but dovetail saws are just so damn sexy I couldn't resist. (I know I have a problem, thankfully I'm married to an understanding woman) I should have started with a carcass or a tenon saw, but no. I feel for it and you will too, I wanted a good dovetail saw more than anything.

Into my life stepped the Bad Axe 12" hybrid dovetail / small tenon saw with 13 PPI filed rip and open grip Mesquite handle. This was one of the first quality tools I ever bought and it was worth every cent and more. Novel length trilogies about shades of monochrome colors wouldn't begin to cover the feelings I have developed for this saw. It's one of my go to problem solvers when I have worked myself into a corner and need an out. It has never failed me.

Still, in retrospect, I know my first backsaw purchase should have been my third.

I should have bought my carcass saw first.

Here's my 12" Bad Axe Tool Works Carcass Saw, with 13 PPI and filed cross cut and an open grip walnut handle. Hands down this saw gets used more than any other in my shop. It cuts parts to final length, cuts tenon shoulders, cuts the sidewalls on sliding dovetail joints, trims pegs, . . . . I could exhaust myself and you listing what I use it for because it's nearly everything. It should have been the first joinery saw I bought, but it's never held that against me.

For my third backsaw, I needed a larger joinery saw and I ran into the conundrum of really wanting a bigger 16" or so tenon saw for both ripping and crosscutting but I didn't have the room for two such saws. I finally decided to fall for what I worried may be a fad and ordered a 16" Bad Axe Tool Works Tenon Saw, with 11 PPI filed hybrid.

A hybrid filing is like saying the saw is a little country and a little rock and roll. Think a relaxed rip filing, somewhere in the middle of both worlds. While I liked the idea of a multitasking toothline, I was worried about compromise on performance. Using it for more than a year in the real world has made me own up to the fact that the hybrid filing works. The saw does whatever I ask it to.

And I use it for all my bigger joinery tasks, from full size tenon cheeks to cross cutting a wider board to final length. I've even used it for dovetails in thicker stock to great effect.

There is one missing saw from the nest I have yet to acquire.

I don't have anything for very fine work. Dovetails in thin boards, miter cuts on fine mouldings. I do have a small 10" gents saws that I don't like and don't use but it hangs in my tool chest none the less. I need to replace it, and soon, and when I do I know exactly what I'm going to do.

This photo was pirated from Mark's web site. I asked no permission, Vikings rarely ask permission. :)
This is a photo of Bad Axe's 10" dovetail saw. It's a fine toothed wonder, I wrote a review of it after Mark let me try out a prototype a few years ago. (You can read it HERE) But I have a special plan when I order it.

Mark and other saw-wrights like him will be happy to make you the saw you want to the specs you want. Just ask them. Within reason it's their bread and butter. But there is another way to look at things. I know from talking with Mark, and like I said I'm sure others making saws for a living are the same, that he knows more about saws and everything encompassing and related to their form, function, performance, and history than I could or would ever want to, and I would be a fool to not take advantage of his studied expertise.

It is one thing to walk into a master chef's restaurant and order a  porterhouse steak, medium rare, with a baked potato and garden salad. You'll  probably get just what you asked for and it will be great. But if you're adventurous and you trust the chef, you'll walk in and say, "Chef, I'm hungry for a great meal, I'd like you to surprise me. Cook whatever you like and take me on an adventure." and what comes out of the kitchen will most likely be an experience like no other.

That is exactly what I intend to do when I can afford my final Back Saw purchase from Mark. Walk in and say, "Mark, I need a saw for fine work, please build the saw you'd want to use yourself. I trust you."

I'm thinking when it happens, if I can convince Mark to do it, that saw may quickly become my new favorite.

Ratione et Passionis