I am a bit more at ease today, having purchased my second new car in a three month period. While that sounds like it should be a bit nerve-wracking, I’m finding myself a bit more relaxed. Nobody likes making car payments, but my mind is at ease knowing that both my wife and I have two new and reliable cars, and that no sudden expenses will be exposing their ugly selves to us, and I also don’t mind saying that both vehicles are much more fuel efficient than our last cars. So with our vehicle problem out of the way for hopefully at least five years, this should free me up for at least a few woodworking projects over the summer, shouldn’t it?
This coming weekend being a holiday weekend, I had planned on getting a few things done in the woodworking sense. However, my father-in-law is installing a new kitchen and I had promised him that I would re-wire it on Saturday. Imagine my joy and surprise when I found out that it was knob and tube?? With that fun-filled day already taken, I thought that Sunday might be the day, until I realized that I would probably be spending much of the day at my mom’s house, as we usually do every year for Memorial Day weekend. Monday, the day itself, I am hoping to get a little more of the material prepped for my bench top build. I would also like to honor the members of the armed forces, both past and present, by letting the Stars and Stripes fly once again, and perhaps teach my daughter the lyrics to God Bless America and maybe perhaps the most important phrase ever written in regards to freedom-We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Though she is much too young to really understand the words, it really doesn’t matter all that much. There is a power in them that goes beyond mere reading comprehension. Just as I, as a little boy, was moved upon hearing the Declaration of Independence read aloud for the first time, though I barely understood what it meant, I think she will be proud to have said the words nonetheless.
So not this coming weekend, but the following weekend, I think will be my true return to the bench. In the meanwhile, I have chisels and plane irons to sharpen, and some sawing practice to do. I purchased my first Japanese style saw last week, one made by Marples. The handle is plastic and not so fun to grip, but the blade seems decent. Here’s what I’ve found out by messing with it for an hour or so…Firstly, the saw is no more accurate than a western style saw. In fact, it isn’t as accurate in my opinion. Maybe I feel this way because I’ve been using western style saws for so long, or simply because the Marples saw isn’t a very good one. At the same time, I’ve heard it said many, many, many times that Japanese style saws are much better for a beginner because they are much more accurate. Supposedly pulling the saw through the work stiffens the blade in the cut, making binding and kinking much less likely. That is completely false in my opinion. While this is the first Japanese style saw I’ve owned, I have used them before, and they bind and kink the same way as a western saw does. Secondly, I’ve come to the conclusion that Japanese saws depend much more on the sharpness of the blade rather than the accuracy of the sawyer. Sure, you should always use a sharp saw, that is a given, but extending your arms into the cut, i.e. cutting on the push stroke, is a more natural, and stronger way to saw. Japanese saws get most of their accuracy from the fact that the teeth are extremely sharp, effectively cutting the wood more easily. Again that is just my opinion. Somebody will argue with me and here is my rebuttal. Take most acts of strength and motion and tell me which way they go…Yeah, it’s forward. Bench press, throwing motion, running, walking, swinging a tennis racket or baseball bat. Why, all of a sudden, when my entire life my body and muscles have been trained to move and work forward, would I want to start sawing and planing backwards. You can say that sawing and planing on the pull stroke simply takes some getting used to and I will answer with the same sentence I just used. Why? I can saw and plane just fine on the push stroke. I cannot and will not deny the beauty and skill of Japanese woodworking and craftsman, I’m only saying that for the moment I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I will admit this, the rip side of the Japanese saw does a pretty decent job and made the saw worth the purchase, though I would still use my western style backsaw for joinery, such as tenons and dovetails.
After all of that it has just occurred to me that I really need to start woodworking again soon. God only knows what odd tool I’m going to find myself with next. I’m not one to wish the days away, but I’m counting down the days until I can woodwork without interruption for a few hours. I miss it. I miss the feeling of just starting a project and the optimism that comes with it. We all know that by the time the project is finished there will be some pleading, and cursing, and compromises involved. Still, that is what makes woodworking so much fun; every new project is a renewal of hope. So, I will try to be patient, and live every day to it’s fullest until the time comes when I can woodwork again, when I can take a few boards, and an idea in my head, and dream about what can be.
For the past 5+ years the area of Pennsylvania I live in has been dominated by Charles “Chuck” Bender and the Acanthus workshop. Chuck’s shop/woodworking school is just a few miles from my house. Chuck, who in some circles is known as ‘The Woodfather’, has been the de facto boss in the territory by offering affordable woodworking classes that are fun and informative. So, when I came onto the scene a few years ago I deferred to Chuck’s experience and wisdom out of respect. I bided my time, waiting for the day to make my move and stake my claim as Chester County Pennsylvania’s most feared and respected woodworker and blog writer. Just yesterday, it was announced that Chuck will become a full time writer for Popular Woodworking magazine and make the move to Cincinnati, Ohio. Whether or not Chuck took the job because he knew that sooner or later I would make my move to control the area’s woodworking district I will probably never know. But now that Chuck and his henchmen will soon be gone, I already have plans to assume full control. I won’t get into details as of yet, but it involves a woodworking supply, woodworking classes, and maybe most importantly: anger management sessions.
In any event, I’m happy to see Chuck writing for Popular Woodworking. Chuck is a top notch woodworker and teacher, and he’s always written excellent articles for PW whenever he’s had the chance. I’ve only taken a handfull of woodworking classes in my life, and the classes I’ve taken at the Acanthus Workshop were my favorite. Chuck taught me how to hold a saw correctly, how to set a plane iron and chip breaker, and how to lay out and saw dovetails. I learned how to glue up table-tops with Chuck’s instruction. Gluing up a couple of boards to make a table top may sound like a no brainer, but there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye if you want it done correctly. I learned that an F-style clamp gets much of its clamping power in the first couple of turns. Again, that may seem like simple physics, but I never really thought about it until I took a class with Chuck Bender. So I can say that much of the real world woodworking knowledge I have is because of him.
So now that Chuck will soon be out of the area, it’s time for me to step up my game. The area needs a new Capo, and that job has my name written all over it. I cannot promise to be as friendly as Chuck; I rule my territory with an iron fist. The coup should be quick and mostly painless. Soon, the entire area will know who I am, for good or ill. So I would like to wish good luck to Charles ‘The Woodfather’ Bender, and I would also like to announce that there’s gonna be a new Sherrif in town. His name is Bill, but he prefers that you call him ‘Sir’.
We’ve all done some things in our lives that, depending on the point of view, can either be considered brave, or foolish. I can name three off the top of my head: rappelling down a 75ft wall with absolutely no training (and I’m afraid of heights), enlisting in the armed forces, and getting perhaps the most unique tattoo on planet Earth. Still, whatever I may have done in my life, be it brave or foolish, in an attempt at maturity I try to have no regrets. Our brave, or foolish, acts define us and make us what we are, right or wrong. I firmly believe that every moment in our lives is interconnected in ways that aren’t always possible to understand. Maybe if I never got my unique tattoo I wouldn’t have my little girl right now. Maybe that moment of foolishness, or bravery, is the reason that she is here. I don’t know the answer, but it somehow seems right to me. So I have no regrets and hopefully never will. With that lovely little preamble out of the way I think I can tell you that tonight I committed my bravest, or most foolish, woodworking act to date.
I’ll set the scene…..After I returned home today I decided to do a little work on the back yard, just some basic cleaning and maintenance. It was an absolutely beautiful early evening so I pulled up a chair, sat back, and admired my lawn. Yeah, I admire my lawn sometimes; I admit it. Just like woodworking, I put a lot of my hard earned time, money, and sweat into it. I’m proud of my lawn. With the grass as green as the first spring in Eden, and a cool breeze in the air, for a moment I was perfectly content with life. Hell, I nearly cracked open a beer, which is something I rarely do anymore. Just at that moment of almost perfect harmony I decided to move the second end table out of the garage and into the living room. The first end table, which is already in my living room, turned out quite nicely. In fact, while it may not have been my favorite build, it may be my favorite piece of furniture. I never made anything that looks so nice proportionally, both in itself and where it is in my house. The second table, however, didn’t meet my expectations. The table top, for whatever reason, didn’t finish as nicely as I thought it should have, especially considering the nice grain pattern it has. There was one spot in particular that looked like an animal foot print, for lack of a better word. When I pointed it out to my wife she made the prudent suggestion that I should just put a lamp over the spot and not worry about it. That was probably good advice, but looking at the table I knew that I would never be able to live with it, so I did the unthinkable and sanded the finish off.
For the record, the table didn’t look all that bad. If I had built it on it’s own I probably wouldn’t have thought much of the minor blemishes. But here is the but.. Since the first table turned out so nicely, and it will be just across the sofa from its mate, I couldn’t see any other choice but to attempt a refinish. I truly consider it a brave act. Why live with a mistake that you can fix? Yet, it may also have been a foolish act as well. I’ve never done anything like this before. For all I know, the table may turn out worse. I have no idea what will happen when I try to apply stain to the newly stripped top. It may just look hideous. Just for good measure, I removed the drawer front too and sanded the finish off of it. Whatever the case, I think I did the right thing. The reason I know that is because I’m happy I did it. I know myself, and I know that having that table next to my sofa not living up to my expectations would have eventually gotten to me.
I put a lot of work into building those tables, and I’m not about to let a little bit of mismatched stain ruin them. So I did it; I took a chance. Maybe it was a foolish chance but I don’t care. Every now and then you have to take a few risks. Sometimes you have to say ‘What the —-’. I know, I stole that line from Risky Business, but that doesn’t make it any less appropriate. Where would I be if I didn’t take any chances? Where would any of us be? Taking chances got me where I am today, and wherever that is it’s a hell of a lot better than where I started. Just as the other day I was feeling down, today I’m not, and I am looking forward to woodworking once more. Maybe a foolish act got me out of the duldrums and made me happy again. I won’t analyze it. Even if I am a fool, at least I am a brave fool.
Having finally finished my end tables project, I finally settled on a design for my new workbench top. I’m hoping for a top seven feet long by two feet wide by 3 1/4″ thick. I had talked about adding a tool tray, but rather than put one in the back of the bench I think I’m going to attempt to place it in the center of the bench top. I’m thinking it will be divided into three compartments: one at each end roughly 18″ long by 5 1/2″ wide and as deep as the bench. Each of those trays will end at the side stretchers for each top. I will also make those side stretchers sturdier by gluing an additional board to the inside of each to effectively double their thickness, which will add greater support and more weight to the bench. The center tray I may make deeper, but in any event it will have removeable trays to assist with cleaning and with clamping. I already have most of the material needed to complete this project; it just needs a little prep work. So with my bench top design ready to go and my end tables finished you would think that I would be pretty excited, but the truth is I’m not.
I think for the first time since I’ve been woodworking I’m regarding the hobby as an expense. I’m coming up on a situation where very soon I will probably be making two car payments. When you add that up with all of the other expenses of life certain things begin falling to the wayside. Woodworking may be in danger of becoming one of those things, unfortunately. I have no illusions to the costs of woodworking as a hobby; some woodworking writers do. In fact, the bullshit costs that many woodworking writers assigned to the hobby are one of the reasons I started this blog. Their used car salesman approach to selling books and tools and the creative accounting they used when coming up with those woodworking costs for selling their magazine articles and “setting up shop” books was downright insulting in many cases. I’m sure somebody will read this and go back to Chris Schwarz or Megan Fitzpatrick or Jim Tolpin and say “The Slightly Confused Woodworker is insulting woodworking writers again!!” Go ahead, I don’t give a fuck. Here’s a not so interesting little fact: Do you want to know why I’m ‘The Slightly Confused Woodworker’? It isn’t because I don’t know what I’m doing..I do..And it’s not because I’m just not all that smart..I am..It’s because when I first started checking out woodworking forums and sites I saw about a hundred questions that started off something like: “I’m a little confused, so and so said that I should do this, but then I read so and so and he said that I should definitely do this.” or ” I’m slightly confused. So and so said I should only pay this much for such and such, but I can’t seem to find it for less than such and such.” I’m not making this up; I’ve seen hundreds of statements just like those.
Now, we are all big boys and girls here. Nobody twisted our arms and forced us to spend our hard earned money woodworking. We all woodwork because we enjoy it. I simply don’t care for pandering all that much, and it seems to me that there is a lot of that going around in the world of woodworking magazines and the ten thousand “getting started in woodworking” books that are in print. When it comes down to it, very few of those titles paint a true picture of the costs associated with woodworking. For the record, I’m not blaming anybody for my current situation. I’m not stupid enough to pick up a book and believe everything it says; some people may be, but I’m not. I don’t offer advice all that much, but one bit of wisdom I would be willing to pass on to any newbie woodworker is: Think of the money you plan to spend on getting into the hobby, come up with a number that sounds reasonable, and then plan on at least doubling it, and that will get you in the front door. If one person reads that and it helps him or her, I will consider it mission accomplished.
After all is said and done, I have to get my priorities in order, and see where woodworking falls on that list. I know where it is going to end up, and I’m not too happy about it at the moment. I had quite a few things planned when it came to woodworking, and I would hate to see those plans go unfulfilled. Things will work out somehow, they usually do for me. Until then, I will continue on with my workbench top build, and the Hand Tool School, and most of all be patient. There is little I cannot do or accomplish when I put my mind to it. If I’m as smart as I like to think I am, this time I’m gonna have to prove it.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
I’ve written about the total number and types of projects I’ve completed since last May (2012-2013) in my last few blog posts and my new found desire to slow down a bit and take my time. I completed table #2 of my end table project last week and will soon have it in my living room once the varnish has dried completely. I’ve made four tables in the past year. I’ve also detailed my other projects: a few bookcases, a TV stand, a stain/finish cabinet, a few tools…blah blah blah. My current plan is to finish a new top for my workbench and sign up for an internet woodworking course. I’ve must have written about this at least ten times. Nevertheless, things were looking good and next weekend I was already to get my bench top started and basically finished. Until….
About two months ago my wife and I purchased a new car. Our former car we had had for nine years and I can say that we had gotten our money’s worth out of it. It was actually a relief to me knowing that my wife and daughter would be driving around in a brand new and safe car. I drive an SUV. It is nearly eleven years old and is up there in mileage. It also is in good shape and looks great if you don’t mind me saying. I’ve always done my best to keep our vehicles well maintained. I’m not an auto mechanic, but I know enough to perform basic maintenance, basically enough to be dangerous. So last week when I brought my beloved truck in for a check up the mechanic gave me some troubling news. I confirmed that same news a few days ago. Though the truck is running just fine now, sooner rather than later it will need a lot of work, work that is beyond my skill, and work that would be quite expensive to get done professionally. I have nothing against paying people for their skills, if people stopped doing that I wouldn’t have a job, but I do have a problem with sinking a fairly sizeable amount of money into an eleven year old vehicle. Does anybody want to invest a little money into my ship, I call it Titanic….
So for the past three days I’ve been speaking to a car dealer and will soon be purchasing a new vehicle. While my wife and I both make a decent living, we aren’t rich. We’ve made two car payments before, but that was before my daughter was born. It’s not 1954 anymore, I don’t need to tell anybody that kids are expensive. At this point you may be wondering what this all has to do with woodworking. Well, another car payment is certainly going to cut into my fun money. I have a small stockpile of material which should be enough to get me through the Hand Tool School. But what then? I still have a few instruments that I’m looking to sell. Once my daughter is in school full time it will be bit easier, with no pre care and after care and everything in between. But that is a year from now. I’m just hoping, and praying, that I can continue to woodwork on a regular basis. I think I should be able to do it, but I don’t see myself making ten pieces of furniture this year. Who knows, maybe that’s a good thing.
I was subtly reminded this past weekend that I may be becoming obsessed with woodworking. I conceded that it may be true. I’ve woodworked more in the past year than I have in the prior three combined. I’ve written more than 150 blog entries, sold my guitars for tool money, made at least eight pieces of furniture, and even made a few tools for good measure. So maybe woodworking is becoming an obsession for me. With that being said, I’ve decided to come up with a list of 5 signs that you are possibly becoming obsessed with woodworking.
1. Your wedding registry was the Lee Valley woodworking catalog.
2. Your daughter asks you for a dog and you ask her if she prefers square or round.
3. A maple tree crashes through your house in a storm and the first thing you worry about is salvaging as much stock as you can from the tree.
4. Your jack plane has its own fitted case and custom plane sock. Your wedding ring is in a Dixie cup in your sock drawer.
5. Your coffin is shaped like a coffin plane.
If you, or somebody you know, are accurately described by one or more of the items on this list then you may have a mild to severe woodworking obsession. It doesn’t bother me, but it may affect the others in your life. Or maybe they can just mind their own business and let you woodwork for God’s sake!
In honor of the lovely spring weather we’ve been having, I’ve decided to take a few minutes to complain about some more things woodworking that mildly upset me. So here goes nothing…
When I’m Master of the woodworking universe…
Woodworking writers won’t be allowed to claim that you can set up a hand tool workshop with just 100 square feet of space. I tried to woodwork in an area roughly 10 feet x 10 feet over the weekend and the only thing I accomplished was cursing for thirty minutes. It doesn’t work; it’s complete bullshit used to sucker people into purchasing “How to set up shop” books and magazines. Ever notice that in every one of those magazines there isn’t an actual 100 square foot shop being shown anywhere? As a matter of fact, most of the shops pictured, including the hand tool shops, are quite spacious to say the least. Even the famed Dominy family workshop, the gold standard for the small but incredible woodworking shop, is well more than double the size of the mythical small but perfectly suited to woodworking in every way without taking up any space workshop that these books claim anybody can obtain. When you are woodworking, you need every square inch you can possibly come up with, and the more of it the better. I’ve never, ever heard a woodworker say his shop was just too darn big. Maybe somebody, somewhere, has uttered that phrase, but I’ve never heard it. Of course in theory you can have a woodworking shop in a 10 x 10 room. In theory I could also take that same room and add a GPS, a few lights, and a CB radio and call it an airport, but I guarantee you that nobody is landing a plane there.
When I’m Master of the woodworking universe…
Razor thin pins on a dovetail joint won’t be considered so great. I have nothing against them, and they look nice on small boxes, but I don’t see the big deal when it comes to actually sawing them. To me, a razor thin pin is more an indicator of a well-set and sharp saw than it is any skill in actually sawing the joint. They are no more difficult to saw than any other dovetail, and in some ways they are impractical as I believe they would weaken the joint, especially in a larger case. They are probably suited to smaller boxes more than anything. OF course you could use them on a drawer, but why go through the trouble when they won’t be seen, and probably aren’t as strong as a joint with wider pins. I’ve seen them used on drawers most. I say that they are least suited to that application because a drawer’s dovetail joint probably gets stressed the most. I’ve read that you can reinforce it with a nail or a dowel. I say the better solution is to saw your pins wider and let the joint do what it was meant to do, and that is to add actual strength to a case, not just decorate it.
When I’m Master of the woodworking universe…
Woodworking books won’t suck. I’ve read my fair share of woodworking books, not thousands like some people, but near a hundred or so. I probably own close to seventy-five myself. Maybe ten percent of them are what I would call really good, perhaps 10 more percent are okay, and the rest will most likely never be opened again. For the most part, woodworking books are all filled with the same tedious information that was has been rehashed from tedious information written a century ago. There is next to zero new information being published anymore; it’s just the same stuff said a different way. I’ve mentioned before that I’m waiting for that one book to really blow me away. I haven’t found it; not even close. I realize that there is never going to be one all encompassing woodworking book. I’m not asking for the impossible. I’m just looking for any one book to be really great. The topic could be anything: sharpening, joinery, tools…anything! The only woodworking book I’ve read that I would consider calling great is The Pine Furniture of Early New England by Russell Hawes Kettell and that was published more than eighty years ago. Some may say that there are great woodworking books out there, I’m just not reading the right ones. I say that they are correct, because some of the so-called acclaimed stuff I have read isn’t great; it’s not even good, and some of it downright sucked.
If I offended anybody I’m not sorry; this is a rant afterall…