The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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September 2016
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Advice column

I’ve always toyed with the idea of one day writing a post which basically tells everybody “what I really think of them..”, maybe say some things that only a person on his deathbed, or a really drunk guy, would say without hesitation. I was going to save that for my last post; “go out with a bang” as it were, but I’ve decided against that approach for the time being. It’s not that I’m above telling people what I really think of them, it’s just that I believe that is something that should be done face-to-face and not over the semi-anonymous internet, where the repercussions are few for the most part. And I also don’t plan on this being my last post, though it very well could be; who can say?

But like many people (it seems), I’ve really had it with social media, and I consider this blog no exception. Social media is for twits in my opinion. Okay, that is harsh. Let’s say that social media attracts twits, in all forms. What are twits? Twits are the special breed of sycophants, wannabees, kiss-asses, pseudo-intellectuals, and star-f*ckers that are desperately seeking approval from a small group of people that they feel “get them”. This, to me, is what the world of woodworking media has become, a giant toilet where you can swirl around the edges for a while, if you’re smart enough to hold on, but that will inevitably suck you in if you hang around too long.

That all being said, I’m feeling pretty good. And if this is going to be my last post (I’m not saying that it is, mind you), I feel the need to provide a nickel’s worth of free advice to anybody who will listen.

Firstly, for all of you professional woodworkers out there, you don’t need to be a great writer to be a great woodworker, so don’t bother trying. Of course that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to improve upon your writing. But you still shouldn’t try to be something you are not. Social media has somehow made “great writing” a prerequisite to “great woodworking”. It’s not. The great woodworkers of “yesteryear” were very likely not great writers, and the handful of old texts I’ve seen confirm my belief. Most of those books were dull and contained some questionable grammar. I’m not knocking them in the least; just because an instructional book is dull that doesn’t mean it cannot contain very valuable information. In fact, it is my belief that a great instructional book has to be somewhat dull in order for it to work. I’ve read through dozens, if not hundreds of books on electricity and not one of them was a “great read”. But all of them were invaluable when it came to learning the properties of electrical generation.

And for all of you amateurs who dream of one day becoming professionals, I will first say ‘Good Luck’, and secondly, I will say to read the above paragraph. After you reread that paragraph, I will add that it is perfectly fine to emulate a writer that you admire, but please don’t be an imitator. It’s easy to spot an imitator because imitators are generally repeaters. Writing a lesser version of another person’s thoughts is really not a good idea; it’s lazy and almost always dull.

So what gives me the “right” to criticize?

Nothing. I’m just offering an opinion. I’ve said many times before that I’m no expert when it comes to the subject of writing, or the subject woodworking for that matter. I’m not great at either vocation. Then again, I was never a great baseball player myself, but I can easily tell the difference between a good player and a bad one.

A few bullet points:

-if you think you’re funny, you’re probably not.

-If you don’t write in your own voice, you’ll never write anything worth reading.

-If you’re afraid to speak your mind, you’ll never write anything worth reading.

-If you’re afraid to be critical, you’ll really never write anything worth reading.

-If you’re writing to please anybody but yourself first, you will never, ever write anything worth reading.

I’ve seen some writers come up with rules of woodworking blogging that I’ve found funny, and disturbing.  Don’t be offensive? What?!? If something is bothering you (pertaining to your blog topic) then you should write about it. If you’re truly afraid to write about it because you fear what others might think or say, you should be writing a diary, not publishing a blog.  Woodworking media is full of snobs who love to tell people what to do and what to think. Why should you be any different? I’m not saying you should be just like them, but if you want to speak your mind, don’t allow anyone to stop you from doing it.

Writing means putting yourself out there. Sometimes you need to do that without fear or hesitation. As has been said before: It is easier to offer an apology than to ask permission. But in actuality it is even simpler than that, because it’s your blog. That doesn’t give you the right to slander, tell lies, or wantonly insult people, but it does give you a personal forum to offer your full opinion. And if you are not speaking your mind, in your own voice, and doing it without fear, then you will always struggle.

Lastly, I dislike the concept of blogs that are  strictly “how to” blogs. Blogs should be personal; blogs should offer insight into you, the writer. A nice project is certainly a good backdrop, but there are thousands upon thousands of woodworking books with furniture plans in them that will generally always be a lot more clear and concise than anything you will find on a WordPress blog. At the risk of repeating myself, if you are only writing about your projects, consider a little something more. Consider a little critical thinking. The world of woodworking media is now dominated by a short list of people that are followed blindly for the most part. It is so commonplace that many blog writers are virtually plagiarizing their idols to the point that they are using the same “catchphrases”. Don’t be that guy/gal. Criticize your idols even if you agree with them the most of the time. There are few people alive on this planet who are above reproach, and not one of them is a woodworking writer.

So you can take my advice, or not; it really doesn’t make much of a difference because I will very likely never know one way or the other. Still, I feel better for putting my opinion of the subject out in the open, and in the end, isn’t that all that really matters?

Selfie Ban

On Memorial Day, my family and I went to a Church Service at Valley Forge National Park. While most of the attendees were adults, there were obviously children there with their families just as my daughter was with me. I saw a few of those kids on their cellphones before the service, and that in and of itself didn’t necessarily bother me all that much. I’m not a curmudgeon and I don’t think today’s generation of kids is doomed. I do think they are a little less athletic, a little too educated (for their ages) and a little more self-absorbed than kids of past generations, but those things are hardly signs of the apocalypse.

One thing I’m not fond of is the “selfie”. This may be cliché’, but I’ve seen kids walk into walls, into the street, and into other people while taking selfies. I personally think it is the worst trait of the cell phone generation, and when I saw a kid take a selfie it in the church it did bother me a little. I’ve taken one selfie in my life, which was a photo of me in a Halloween get-up, and the first was very likely the last. I’m not knocking the occasional selfie, just the people who spend hours of their day taking them.

So what am I getting at?

This blog became my own woodworking selfie.

If I can recall, I started this blog for two reasons, one being that I started to hate what I was reading in woodworking magazines, and two because I wanted friends of mine to see and read about what I was building. I won’t lie; vanity certainly played a part in that. In my defense, I don’t consider myself a vain person, at least not in an unhealthy way. A little vanity is, in my opinion, a good thing. A little vanity can keep you driven; too much vanity can make you a pathetic jerk.

Anyway, seeing that kid take the selfie in a church struck a chord with me for whatever reasons, so recently I made the conscious decision to hold back on the blog and not worry about documenting my every woodworking move. In doing so, I’ve gotten more woodworking during the past 3 weeks than I have in quite a long time. I can only attribute that to the fact that I’ve been far less worried over writing about what I’m doing and instead concentrating on actually doing what I’ve been doing. Don’t get me wrong, I still took some photos of my work, but when I did I wasn’t really worried about captioning them, and I sure wasn’t worried about showing the “steps” of the process. I just took a photo when I felt like taking one, and it made everything far more enjoyable. And that is how I think I will continue to work from now on.

I hesitated in writing this post, because I’m not trying to insult those woodworkers who also enjoy blogging. I would bet that in many cases blogging may actually help woodworkers by giving them new inspiration, or by helping them focus etc. And of course professional woodworkers may use a blog to promote their products or reach new markets. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. But for me, blogging had become a distraction, and I think I will become a better woodworker if I stop worrying so much about documenting it, and rather focus more on just enjoying it.

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My “ingenious” clamp rack/shelf. I plan to write a post about this later…

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My long lost Enfield Cupboard finally has a finish coat of paint…

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#4 sole after its initial “probing”…

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The #4 “out of the box”…

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As flat as it needs to be….

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The iron and chip breaker after the initial clean-up…

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Starting to look like a working plane…

Under the radar

Yes, I’m still here; I’m still kicking. The report of my death was an exaggeration, as has been said before. So what’s up?

In short, nothing.

In a crazy scheme to earn a living and support my family, I’ve been going to work every day, though in truth my work schedule has not changed much (yeah, I still complain that I work a lot, however). What I have been doing is spending a lot of time outdoors, which is no surprise considering that this is the nicest stretch of June weather we’ve had in recent memory. I’ve also been going to the gym because I still think I’m 23 years old, and yes, I’ve been getting in a pretty decent amount of woodworking as well; what I haven’t been doing is blogging about it.

I read a lot of amateur woodworking blogs, or at least I used to. Amateur blogs were a great source of inspiration to me, and I always enjoyed seeing what was being made by other woodworkers like me. The problem there, from my point of view, is that I’m no longer seeing many woodworkers “like me”. To be fair, maybe I’m the one who has changed, that is entirely possible, or maybe it’s a combination of the two. As I’ve said many times before (and many will say that it’s not my place to say this) but I do not like where woodworking media has gone, or where it is going. It all seems very rigid, and one dimensional, to the point where I’ve seen articles written telling woodworkers when it is acceptable, in a ‘real woodworker’ sense, to use sandpaper– In a side note, thanks for that, because I’m too stupid to figure that out for myself– My point in all of this being, many of the blogs I’ve come to enjoy reading seem to be going this route, and that is fine. I’m not a sensor, and I’m the last person to tell anybody what and how to write, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to keep reading  it blindly, either.

With all of that being said, I really have been woodworking quite a bit.

Firstly, I drew up the plans for my latest “tin panel” cupboard and I just need to pick up the material. I’m leaning towards oak, but I do have a small yet decent stash of construction lumber that I’ve been slowly turning into boards for furniture making, though even without a moisture meter it is easy to see that it still needs to dry out quite a bit. I’m hoping to start that cabinet in a few weeks, so that means I will likely need to purchase the wood from a dealer.

I’ve also filmed several new woodworking videos and I hope to do a few more. I recently came across some vintage woodworking tools that I’ve begun restoring, among them are (2) Fulton #3 planes, one Stanley #4, an Atkins #6 spoke shave, a spoke shave of thus far unknown make, as well as a no name rip saw. The price I paid for these tools was so ridiculously low that I will not even mention it here; I will just say that it was less than half the cost of a decent ½” chisel. The truth is that I really don’t need any of these tools. I will likely keep the #4, sell the two #3’s, keep the spoke shaves, and give the rip saw to my dad. The cost for these tools was so low that they are worth saving, and I also think the restoration will make for some interesting videos.  And when I say sell I don’t mean for profit, I would just like to get the money back I spent on them. On that note, I am trying to keep the woodworking videos short, 15 minutes or less being my goal, both for the sake of succinctness and the ease of upload.

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Some of the tools that I recently picked up waiting to be restored. Not pictured are the Stanley #4 and the no-name rip saw, both of which are currently not at my house…

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Restoration on one of the #3’s begun, and the other is also under way…

Otherwise, I’ve made few small but useful items around the house: a new ‘Sellers’ box, a hat rack (for baseball caps, not Stetsons), an ‘ingenious’ clamp holder that I will hopefully write about in a future post, and an American Flag from some craft boards as a decoration for Independence Day.

So that is my update, if anybody cares to know. I’ll try to post at least once a week as well as put up videos at the same rate. And I’ll do my very best to be true to myself, and to continue to not be or become the woodworker that I don’t care for so much.

On tool trays.

Last weekend some friends stopped by, and while in the garage I had mentioned the possibility of building a new workbench. I’m not going to bore anybody with this topic, as it has been beaten to death many times over, but I will bore you with another topic that has also been beaten to death many times over: the workbench tool tray.

The tool tray is polarizing among woodworkers, which I find utterly stupid on many levels. Nonetheless, there are often strong opinions when it comes to having one on your workbench.

Since I’ve installed a tool tray on my bench it has never gotten in the way of my work, and it has never gotten messy, at least nowhere near the levels that some woodworkers claimed it would. At the same time I’ve never really felt that I’ve used it to the point where it became a necessity. For me, it is an attachment that I use because it’s there, but could live without if it wasn’t….that is until I actually watched the woodworking videos I’ve been filming lately. In those videos, it’s plain to see that several times I am (subconsciously) retrieving an item from the tray, and then putting it back into the tray when I’m finished using it to keep it clear of the work. And that I feel is the tool tray’s greatest merit: its ability to store often-used items at arm’s length without those items interfering with what is happening on the work bench top.

So what am I saying that I haven’t said a half-dozen times before? Well, if I were to build a new workbench, I would not include a tool tray. Say what!?!

I have one problem with tool trays: to have one that is functional, meaning deep enough to hold an item such as a bench plane without it sticking out, you either need a correspondingly thick bench top, or you need to have some clever engineering built into the bench. In order for the tray on my current bench to be 3 ½” inches deep, which I find is deep enough to keep the vast majority of woodworking tools “below the horizon”, I had to make supports, use wedges, and basically go through a lot of hassle to get it installed correctly. I wouldn’t go through that again, in particular after I’ve finally installed the wall mounted tool racks and shelf unit on each side of my bench.

Of course there are other ways of making and installing a deeper tray, such as a mounting it in the center of the bench, but they also require more engineering than I am willing to put into making a workbench, and a center tray also mandates that you have a wider benchtop (at least that is how I would do it on my bench) to allow more usable work space at the front of the bench. Once again, there are ways around that as well, but in my opinion a workbench should be built as simply as possible.

As I’ve said before, this topic is pretty much a dead one on many levels. At the risk of sounding ludicrous, I found my own thought process interesting. I’ve been an advocate of tool trays since I began woodworking, yet in an attempt to “front only the essentials…” I’ve discovered that the more “Spartan-like” my work area is, the more I enjoy being there.

Maybe, just maybe, I have the makings of a minimalist after all.

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No more tool tray?

The Kitschy Woodworker

Like most houses, ours has its share of art work hanging in the halls and bedrooms, and like many home owners, I couldn’t tell you much about the artists who created them. My knowledge of fine art really begins and ends with the Art History 103/104 courses I took when in college because they were required. In fact, the only two pieces of art work in my home that I can speak intelligently about are The Starry Night by Van Gogh and Washington Crossing the Delaware by Leutze, and then only because those are my two favorite paintings.

When it comes to “art”, I have a greater affinity for historical documents, vintage propaganda posters, and what I like to refer to as kitsch art, “tin advertisements”. I have around a dozen or so examples placed around my garage (all reprints, I’m not a collector and I don’t really care if they are authentic or not).

To cut to the chase, last week I came across a tin sign still in its wrapper in the closet of our spare bedroom. I vaguely remember ordering it maybe three years ago BP (before Prime) as an adder to make the freight allowed minimum on Amazon. Rather than let it sit, I brought it into the garage with the intention of hanging it…somewhere. The one spot that is open where it would be visible happens to be a spot I’m saving, so instead, I fastened it to the front panel of a cabinet I made when I first began woodworking. I then had a brief moment of inspiration. While the tin sign itself is nothing special, I think it really made the cabinet pop, for lack of a better word. It then occurred to me that rather than using a panel for the door, a tin sign might make a nice “panel” on its own merit (with a plywood backer of  course). The skies the limit when it comes to the panel. They’re sold everywhere from Amazon to antique stores to yard sales. I could even double side the door to add to the fun.

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A  Kitschy Cabinet…

The cabinet itself is nothing special either; it’s made of basic pine panels and constructed using rabbets, dados, stubby tenons, and screws; it was one of my first woodworking projects, after all. If I were to make another, I would probably stick to the same methods, though I would dress it up with some beading, tongue and groove back panels, maybe a shop made moulding, and of course cut nails in place of screws; I think that would satisfy the woodworker in me. The right kitschy sign, and the right finish (maybe a different species of wood), be it paint or stain, could make this a fun little project, and I could always use another wall cabinet in my garage.

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Clamped and ready to be flattened…

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A few passes with a jack plane is all it took..

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Sanded smooth and ready for some linseed oil…

In other news, the other day I did a video on rehabbing the iron from my coffin smoother plane. During that process I noticed a very slight high-spot just in front of the mouth of the plane, so I decided to correct it over the weekend. I used the jack plane to remove the spot, just one shaving from the front of the sole followed by a very light pass over the entire sole, checked with the square for flatness. I then used 220g and 400g sandpaper to finish it up, along with two coats of linseed oil and a coat of wax, which was added last night. Now that I think I am a video woodworker, I filmed a short video showing the results (before the wax was applied). That plane, I am very happy to report, is now a very solid worker.

Coffin smoother iron rehab

I’m putting forth yet another woodworking video. This one details the iron of a coffin style smooth plane I picked up last summer. In other news, my next post will actually have full paragraphs (which I am hoping to have up on the blog tomorrow).

So if you all don’t mind, let me know what you think if you get a chance.

Thanks

Fat guy

While on the subject of woodworking videos, I filmed another just a few hours ago. I wasn’t going to publish it right away, but considering that I may not be around a lot this weekend (and I have to work tomorrow), I may as well get it published immediately.

This video concerns the sharpening of a Superior rip saw I picked up at an antique store. I hope you enjoy it.

***The title of this post will make sense if you happen to watch the video***

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