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October 2014
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A little help from my friends.

As a family, we spend a lot of time at Valley Forge National Park. The park is within driving distance from where I live, and many weekends we spend walking, or bike riding, or taking in the history of the area.

It is a beautiful setting, in particular during this time of year, and you could easily spend many weekends just taking photographs. We use the park to take photos sometime, but mostly it is a just a peaceful place to spend time walking and talking (as well as checking out the remarkable period furniture at George Washington’s Headquarters, among many other buildings). I often preach about civic virtue, though not necessarily on this blog. I firmly believe that civic virtue begins at home in the maintaining of your house, property, and neighborhood. Though it’s easy to talk about civic virtue, it means little if you do nothing but talk. For some time I’ve felt the need to “give back” to the park, so I would usually bring a small garbage bag with me during our walks to pick up any debris or trash I happen to find. Luckily, the vast majority of those who spend time in the park not only respect its natural beauty, they also respect it as a place that is sacred in American History.

Still, while doing my part to keep the park clean is certainly rewarding, I found myself wanting to do more, so we joined The Friends of Valley Forge Park organization, which is dedicated to maintaining, preserving, and promoting the park as a place of beauty, recreation, and historical significance. Through the group I was introduced to the Hut Brigade, a small group of volunteers who work with the park rangers in maintaining and restoring the many cabins throughout the park. That sounded like something I should be a part of, so I made contact with the group and they happily welcomed me as a new volunteer. This past Saturday was my first meeting and I’m happy to report that it was a great success.

Perfect fall day

Perfect fall day

The blacksmith cabin site.

The blacksmith cabin site.

It was a beautiful autumn morning to work, cool with crystal clear and sunny skies. I met with the other volunteers at the site of the Blacksmith Cabin, which has been undergoing intensive restoration since the beginning of the summer. Many rotted logs were replaced, as well as new doorway and window frames cut in and framed out. Under the direction of a Park Ranger, my job was to remove the bracing which was in place to hold the cabin up while rotted logs were in place. Once that was finished I mixed up the mortar and used it to daub the gaps between the logs along with the other volunteers. Not to toot my own horn too much, but I’m a pretty handy guy to have on a job site. My electrical knowledge was next to useless here, but I’m pretty good with a saw, chisel, mallet, drill, and mortar (I am part Italian). The work was not easy, and though I’m not young anymore, I can still work hard, and like the volunteers of the Continental Army I felt that it was my duty to do so. And I think George Washington would be proud of what the Hut Brigade does.

Working on the cabin

Working on the cabin

Yours truly daubing the gaps.

Yours truly daubing the gaps.

More views of the park

More views of the park

The cabin walls

The cabin walls

IMG_0417[1]

When I returned home I felt the need to woodwork a little. When I first decided to build an Enfield Cupboard, I also decided to make a panel raising jig for my table saw as I would like the cupboard to have raised panels if possible, so I picked up a piece of plywood at Woodcraft for that purpose. When my woodworking projects got put on hold over the summer, so too did my jig. That all ended on Saturday, as I quickly had the jig built and ready to go. I will be honest and admit that not a big fan of building woodworking jigs, but they do have their time and place. This jig should do just fine as a panel raiser for small to medium size panels, as well as useful for making tenons (if I choose to use a table saw).

Quick and easy panel raising jig

Quick and easy panel raising jig

The last thing I did on Saturday involved a walnut board I almost tossed in the garbage several times. I measured it and found that there was enough there to build a small rack for my screwdrivers. In the spirit of the day, I prepped the board by hand, sawing it to width, and planing the edge straight with jack and jointer planes. The board needed a lot of work, and it made a mess of shavings. When I finally got the edge straight and square I used the table saw to rip it to final width. At that I called it a day.

Warped Walnut

Warped Walnut

At the next meeting of the Hut Brigade there will be more daubing, as well as building some doors, which should give me the chance to do a little woodworking. Whatever happens, I will be proud to be a part of it. And if you would like to donate to a very worthy cause, please visit the Friends of Valley Forge web page and give the organization consideration for your generosity; it would be most appreciated.

*Sorry for the lack of woodworking photos, my staff photographer was out with her mom.

He is Legend…

Believe it or not, but I am a fairly humble person. I think it is due to my working class (i.e. poor thug) background. Though I may be humble, I also am pretty intelligent, and I like to believe that I am rather perceptive, and I have good taste when it comes to things such as woodworking blogs.

About a year or so ago I began reading a woodworking blog (or maybe it wasn’t even technically a blog yet, I don’t exactly remember all the details) that I enjoyed immediately, and I felt had a lot of potential to be great. Maybe it’s because I could relate to the guy writing it. We’re both roughly the same age, we are both too young to have grey hair, and we both enjoy woodworking and writing about it.  Admittedly, this gentleman is a far better woodworker than I am, but that doesn’t stop me from comparing myself to him.

However, I would like to set all narcissism aside as this blog post isn’t about me, but rather about woodworker Graham Haydon, who now will be a contributor to Popular Woodworking magazine (or maybe more-I don’t know for sure). I was extremely happy to read his first contribution to the PW Editors blog this morning, and I hope to read many more. Graham is a highly talented woodworker and writer, good on camera, and though we’ve never met, he seems like a hell of a nice guy. So I would like to be one of the first to welcome my English Brethren and wish him the greatest success. If his current body of work is any indication, I think we will be seeing some great work coming from Graham Haydon, and I’m happy to say I saw it all coming. Hail Britannia!

Got to get you into my life

Last week a coworker asked if he could borrow one of my handplanes to add a back-bevel to a new door he had installed. I figured that my #7 would be the best tool for the job, so I inspected it to make sure the iron was sharp before I lent it out. I noticed that the plane had a bit of a neglected look to it. It was a little dusty, there was some grime on it along with a few spotty patches, and I also noticed that I hadn’t ever cleaned up the handle of the plane like I had planned on doing. The truth was that I hadn’t used it in a while, and it was about time to reintroduce myself to old #7.

My friend returned the plane letting me know that it had worked perfectly, and I gladly took it back, like finding an old friend again. I decided that I would give the plane a good cleaning and work on the handle a little over the weekend, so that’s what I did. On Friday night after work I took the plane apart, removing the tote and knob, the frog, and every screw and washer. I soaked the frog and all of the hardware in WD40. There was quite a bit of grime on the plane, a combination of oil, dirt, and wood dust. So on Saturday morning I filled a bucket with soap and water and gave the plane body a good bath, scrubbing every inch of it with the brush I normally use to clean my car’s tires. Once I was satisfied with the outcome I wiped the plane dry, used some q-tips to clean out any of the threads, and then wiped the entire body with oil.

I used sand blocks on the iron, cap, and chip breaker, removing any build-up and polishing them up. When finished I oiled those parts as well. I let the hardware soak for one more night, and early this morning I cleaned the parts with an old tooth brush, as well as filed away any burrs that I could feel. With those parts clean I turned to the plane handle.

Handle before the cleaning/sanding

Handle before the cleaning/sanding

The handle didn’t necessarily look all that bad, but I had always planned on getting it back into shape. Firstly, I wiped the handle with lacquer thinner, and found it much dirtier than I had thought it was. Then I hand sanded it with 100/150/220/320 grit paper. I added one heavy coat of boiled linseed oil, wiped off the excess after a few minutes, and then let it dry for about six hours. After it was dry I added a coat of paste wax, letting it set, then buffing it off.

Putting some muscle into the cleaning

Putting some muscle into the cleaning

Looking cleaner, and better.

Looking cleaner, and better.

Closer view of the handle and adjuster

Closer view of the handle and adjuster

Overall view of the #7. It looks cleaner and more inviting.

Overall view of the #7. It looks cleaner and more inviting.

I have to say that I’m very satisfied with the outcome, and I’m glad I took the time to do the clean-up. The only disappointing part is the front knob. When I first purchased the plane the knob was in rough shape, so I removed it and sanded it down, and wiped it with three coats of polyurethane. While it didn’t look awful, it did darken the knob. Next weekend if I get a chance I will see if I can get the same results as I did with the handle.

In other news, Lee Valley was running a limited time offer for a small set of carving chisels, so I bit, spent the $60, and ordered them in. I don’t do much carving, almost none really, but the set seemed to be a good value, and considering that I had only one carving chisel, it would be pretty difficult to become any better at it without the correct tools. The set was advertised as already “sharp”, but in reality are simply “not dull”. I don’t own slipstones, so I will have to make do and learn to sharpen them on the fly with what I have. The handles are overly lacquered, and if somebody lit a match near them I wouldn’t be surprised if they went all Gaylord Fokker and burst into flames. But, they seem to be very well made, and the steel appears to be of good quality. Furthermore, the chisels arrived just three days after I placed the order. I wouldn’t have cared if they had taken two weeks to come in, but, that quick ship time does show me that Lee Valley has top-notch customer service. I’ve spent many years dealing with tool vendors as part of my job, and Lee Valley has been among the very best of the lot time and time again.

Lee Valley carving chisel set

Lee Valley carving chisel set

I also picked up some maple and bubinga which I hope to turn into a block plane or two, one for myself and one for a Christmas gift. At that, I believe that I have decided on my next project, though I won’t get into any details for fear of jinxing it. I’ll just say that it’s a small, but nice piece of furniture.

Future block planes

Future block planes

If Bad-Luck Brian were a woodworker

By now, just about everybody with a computer and internet access has seen or heard of the “Bad Luck Brian” meme. Bad luck Brian is a hapless lad with a bad yearbook photo that can seem to catch a break. I have to think that poor Brian may have once or twice thought about giving woodworking a shot, so here is my take on that very idea. Some of them are obvious, some a bit more subtle.

becomes-a-woodworker

buys-sawstop-saw

instead-of-woodworking

subscribes-to-popularkeeps-subscription-towins-shopping-spree

writes-hand-tool

Process Oriented Weightlifting

Just around six weeks ago I began lifting weights for the first time in nearly ten years. While I’ve always tried to keep myself in decent shape via walking, push-ups, sit-ups etc. This is the first time I’ve adhered to a strict routine in that ten year span. This isn’t a new fad for me; it’s actually something I’ve planned on doing for quite some time, but issues with my lower back had always kept me from starting anything in earnest, and when I was finally ready to begin this past spring, I ended up with a few nagging health issues that weren’t fully resolved until the end of the summer. Here is the funny thing, and here is why I bring this up on a blog post. I’ve strangely come to realize that the disciplines needed to improve physical conditioning are quite similar to those needed for woodworking. More strangely, I’ve found that since I’ve been lifting weights again the itch to begin a new project is becoming greater and greater.

Like woodworking, lifting weights can be quite humbling. I’ve made some real strides in the past six weeks, but just when I think I look like Captain America, I see a seventeen year old kid next to me who actually does look like Captain America. But youth isn’t everything (though I certainly wouldn’t mind being seventeen again). Age has brought experience, and patience. And like woodworking, there are more than a few methods to lifting weights. There are those who lift weights in order to look great, using exercises that isolate individual muscle groups in order to achieve the effect. I, on the other hand, do something called a total body workout. A total body workout is the idea of working all of your muscle groups, from largest to smallest, using exercises that overlap those groups accordingly. I like this method because if done correctly it will yield a greater overall strength, rather than just an appearance of strength.

Twenty+ years ago I could lift weights for a few weeks and look great. I’ve found as I’ve gotten older that looking strong and being strong are two different things. Strictly adhering to a regimen has brought me results that are more lasting, and though they came more slowly, the foundation is much stronger. It turns out that enjoying the process has yielded a greater benefit. Rather than trying to just look like Captain America, I am trying to actually become stronger, and in turn hoping that the end result will have a look that matches the effort. The point of all this being: I’ve found that I want to apply these same principles to woodworking.

I’ve always hated the phrase “Process Oriented Woodworking”. I have to think that most hobby woodworkers already enjoy the process otherwise they wouldn’t be woodworking in the first place. Not only that, enjoying the process does not necessarily make you a better woodworker. In the past three years I’ve built twelve pieces of furniture for my house, which does not include workshop furniture/appliances such as workbenches, tool chests and toolboxes, or the actual tools I’ve made. I’ve also made several built in closets and cupboards. The point being that I’ve made a lot of furniture, and I’ve improved at it greatly, but that improvement is limited to what I’ve been making-I’ve only gotten better at making the same things I’ve been making.

I can build a serviceable book case or table fairly well. I’m not saying it will be museum quality, but it will look nice and will work well in my home; there is something to be said for that. But, I’m planning on starting a new project this weekend, and I don’t know what that project will be. A few months back I picked up the material for an Enfield Cupboard. I am still going to build that cupboard, but I already know that I can. I want to make something that I’ve never made before. I’m going to start small, a pencil box, a desktop book rack, a portable writing desk. But I’m going to challenge myself by using unfamiliar woods, different joinery, maybe even a little inlay work. I’m going to take my time by working on these projects without a schedule. I’m not going to care when I finish, as long as I do finish. I’m going to make the most of the limited time I have to woodwork with. Lifting weights has taught me one important thing-do it correctly, challenge yourself, take your time, don’t settle for mediocrity, and you will improve by default.

In short, I’m going to become a process oriented woodworker, and I’m going to change the definition of what that phrase means.

First MSN, now this!

I was originally going to write a post concerning something I read on another woodworking blog about a pencil being “the most important shop tool”, that is until I read just happened to read a tweet from the WoodWhisperer. I just found out that Glen Huey, Chuck Bender, and Robert Lang will soon no longer work for/at Popular Woodworking Magazine.

Those three are the main reason I’ve kept up my subscription in the first place. While I don’t personally know Glen Huey or Robert Lang, I’ve been fortunate enough to take some woodworking classes with Chuck Bender, and I can say that I learned more from him than any other source, be it a class, book, or magazine. I also am a fan of Robert Lang and his love of Arts and Crafts furniture. Though there were some things he wrote that I didn’t always see eye to eye with, I enjoyed nearly every project he built that was featured in the magazine.

While I won’t speculate on why this happened (the last time I did that I was emailed to death by quite a few people), I will say that in my opinion this doesn’t bode well for the future of the magazine. When your entire editorial staff is dismissed-whether or not they quit or were asked to leave I don’t know-I can’t see how it can be spun as a good thing for the publication. I was on the fence about renewing my subscription, so I will wait in see what is in store for the magazine before I make any decisions.

In any event, I sincerely wish all three of those guys the best of luck. I hope that I they don’t disappear from the scene as far as the world of woodworking media is concerned. Wow, maybe woodworking really is dying.

Woodworking blogs

I subscribe to a good number of woodworking blogs, with nearly every one of them being written by an Amateur. I enjoy reading about what other woodworkers are building, and their opinions on the subject. That being said, I don’t know if I have a favorite. I used to enjoy the Lost Art Press blog and at one time considered it my favorite, but for a long time I stopped reading it, mainly because of some of the comments/commenters. Since that falling out, I’ve read few, if any professional’s woodworking blogs.

My question to the readers of this blog is: What is your favorite woodworking blog? And, if you feel so inclined to tell me: Why is it your favorite? I really only ask for one reason, and that is I am always looking for new material to read, and I like to think that if you are reading my blog, then we probably have at least a little in common, and that includes what type of woodworking blog we enjoy. So I would appreciate any feedback. Thanks.

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