With my TV stand project finished nigh on three weeks ago, and battling a persistent chest cold and tweaked lower back, I’ve spent precious few hours in my garage shop since labor day weekend. Woodworking was still on my mind, however, so in the meanwhile I drew up some rough sketches and dimensions of my next project: An Arts and Crafts style bookcase. So after work today I wandered into my shop with my little girl in tow to check on my scrap stock and check out my tools. One woodworking trait I was blessed with was the ability to buy just the right amount of stock for my projects. I try to plan my projects carefully and very rarely do I end up with a lot of scrap wood. What I do end up with I usually pick through at the end of the project to see what is usable for future projects and to see what should end up in the trash. My TV stand project was no exception and I had just a few small pieces that would be usable for my bookcase. So after I evaluated my stock I turned my attention to my tools.
As a general rule I clean and sharpen my chisels and plane irons after I’m finished a project. When the TV stand was finished I honed my chisels and also the irons for my smoothing plane and jointer plane. The Jack plane and block plane I will hopefully do this weekend. From what I saw the Jack plane needs just a quick honing and the block plane needs a bit more work. This is all just some of the bland tedium that occurs in between woodworking projects, though it is an important part of doing good work and making future woodworking enjoyable. As I was doing this something shocking dawned on me. I don’t need any more tools!
I came to this frightening realization when I noticed the Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event postcard I had received in the mail sitting on my workbench. At the event I attended last year I purchased my Jack plane. It was and is the best hand tool purchase I have ever made. The plane is a joy to use and I use it on every project. I had a good time at that event. It was a nice, scenic drive through south-eastern PA small towns and farmlands to Hearne Hardwoods where the event was held, and it was nice to get the chance to play around with some high quality woodworking tools for a few hours. So when I looked at the event reminder card my mind went through its tool Rolodex to see what was missing. But the Rolodex was full…
Of course there are more tools to buy, that will never end. But I have everything I need to keep me up and running for a while: a good set of chisels, a good quality block, smoother, Jack, and jointer plane, some good saws, a router plane, a good marking gauge, and some nice squares. I don’t use a lot of power tools, with my table saw doing the bulk of the work. The only other power tools I really use are a jigsaw and occasionally a router. I don’t build ornate furniture with lots of mouldings and trim work, it doesn’t work in my house. That is probably why I enjoy the Shaker and Arts and Crafts styles so much. So what more do I really need? Will I never attend a Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event again?
I decided to tell my wife the bad news. “Isn’t that a good thing?” she asked. I didn’t answer. The woman I love, the mother of my child, the one I swore an oath in front of family and friends to love and protect, the woman who knows me better than any other person in the world, didn’t understand why I was upset. A little part of me died. I wanted to tell her that part of the fun of woodworking was the excitement of getting a new tool, and having it work just the way it’s supposed to work. Then after, proudly cleaning it to be shown to friends and fathers-in-law when they happen to stop by. The only thing I can do now is go through my catalogs in the hope that I find something, anything, that I as a woodworker cannot live without. I know that it’s out there…somewhere. I just hope that I am smart enough to find it, and cunning enough to convince my wife that I need it.
I’ve had a some injuries while woodworking: a few cuts, one fairly serious, some bruises, a tweaked back, fortunately nothing severe. I am a somewhat cautious fellow. I keep my eye on safety statistics from time to time. I was once the shift shop steward at my prior job and kept close tabs on when, where, and how accidents occurred. I don’t consider myself reckless. But, even with all of my efforts, I’ve found that no matter how cautious I am there is one variable in woodworking that I will never be able to make safer: My wife.
After I got married I stopped spending my weekends in the local pub, watching football, shooting pool, and drinking beer. I figured, quite sensibly, that married men shouldn’t spend their entire Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in a bar. I even cut back on my music gigs; I had been a part-time professional musician for around 10 years. But being a man who was active, a little creative, and who liked to work, I needed something to do. There was the lawn, home improvements, of course reading and exercise, but none of these things appealed to my creative side. So I was a bit lucky that after my daughter was born, woodworking sort of fell into my lap. After completing my first project I figured that I found a winner. Woodworking has quite a few upsides for me: I’m working with my hands, I’m being creative, I’m making furniture that is useful, and maybe most importantly I’m working in a shop that’s 30 feet from the livingroom. It was like finding the Holy Grail. But then I soon found that not all was perfect in paradise.
First time I really took notice was one night after dinner I went down to the shop(garage) for a few hours to do some sharpening and organizing. When returning to the livingroom my wife gave me the classic “I didn’t know you were home.” You could cut the sarcasm with a knife. I didn’t say anything. I just got myself cleaned up and spent the rest of the evening with my family. The comments became more frequent as my time spent in the shop grew. Working on projects is difficult enough for a weekend warrior like myself, but when your wife resents anytime spent woodworking, finishing projects can become impossible. I am in my third year of woodworking and I have yet to find a happy medium. I work at least 7am-5pm everyday, I work every other Saturday, many times I work two or three weekends in a row. Add up commuting, family time, sleeping, and just running a house and that leaves precious little time for my hobby. Even as I type this every key stroke may be arming a bomb. I don’t know what to do. Somebody once said that if you have to ask the question you already know the answer. Well, I have to ask the question but I don’t know the answer. I don’t have a clue.
I do have one answer actually, but I don’t like it. And that answer is that there is no answer. I’m not a psychologist; I can’t say why my wife sometimes gets angry at me when I woodwork, or I read about woodworking, or when I type entries into this blog. One day, sometime in January, I nearly sold my tools and gave up woodworking completely; I had been frustrated working in the small space I was in, and being that it was winter I couldn’t just take it outside, and my wife was also mad that I had been spending “too much time in the garage.” So I figured that instead of having a pretty decent set of woodworking tools in the garage going unused, and a resentful wife in the livingroom, I would sell the tools and put some cash in my pocket and maybe have a happier wife. I even put an ad on the internet. So it should have come as no surprise that my wife got mad at me. “I can’t believe you want to do this!” “You are getting so good!” “You’re just going to give up after how far you’ve come!” It was a Saturday afternoon I remember, so I asked her why she had gotten mad at me for spending time in the shop the night before(After I had finished woodworking that night I took a shower and asked my wife if any good movies were coming on. She promptly told me that those were the first words I had said to her in hours and then stormed off to bed.) She told me that she wasn’t mad. I didn’t say anything. But, in the least, if anybody tells me I’m crazy, and that my wife isn’t, I will have this blog entry to fall back on. That’s all I have. There is nothing more to say. I can hear my wife’s footsteps coming down the hall right now…
Two things conspired to get me to write this particular blog entry. The first was the latest Lost Art Press blog, which detailed two reviews of Mouldings in Practice , a book published by Lost Art Press that I have yet to read, though I’m sure I will read it eventually. I am not currently a moulding plane user but I may be one day. The other “happening” that caused this entry occurred this afternoon while at work. In my line of work I sometimes go on Amazon.com to source parts, because sometimes they have it and nobody else does. So I logged on to my personal account and immediately some of my latest Amazon reviews were displayed. The last review I wrote was for Christopher Schwarz’s book, The Anarchist Toolchest. I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars and proceeded to write a few paragraphs on some of the things I liked and didn’t like so much about the book. Above the review was written ‘0 of 1 people found this review helpful.’ Now before I go on I need to say that I could not care less that somebody didn’t care for my review. If you don’t believe that then you probably should stop reading from here on out. So if you are with me I will continue.
I will actually paste my review word for word so you can all look at it:
My second disagreement with the book is the toolchest. Now I have nothing against toolchests in the least. I really do like them quite a bit and think that it would be a nice project to make. My problem is that I have absolutely no room for one in my garage. I am lucky I have space for my workbench and table saw. Of course I could plunk my workbench in the middle of the garage, put my new Anarchists Toolchest where the bench used to be, and tell my wife to find somewhere else to park, but then my blog would probably be called The Slightly Divorced Woodworker and I would be woodworking out of the storage unit I was living at until I could save up enough for an apartment. So does my lack of space for a toolchest doom me to woodworking failure? I hope not. I disagree with Schwarz in the sense that you MUST have a toolchest to be a woodworker. That’s all. I don’t hate him. I don’t even know him. In fact, I’ve actually sent him a few emails looking for advice on making my workbench along with some other projects and he answered every one with some pretty good advice. He even gave me a recipe for grits that was really damn good. I own four of his books. I think he’s alright. So what the hell am I talking about?
With my TV stand finished and my workbench empty it’s about time to consider what my next project will be. Well, I should be honest, my workbench isn’t exactly empty. There are two drawers sitting on it waiting for the finish to be applied, hopefully before then end of this week. At this point I will usually sand down the workbench and check it for any rough spots. I’m not the type of woodworker who tries to make his bench top so flat that it defies the laws of physics, but I do want it to be even. I will usually break out the jack plane and take a pass or two where I feel it needs it. I broke one of my woodworking maxims once again by purchasing a 100-year-old Stanley #7 jointer plane. I am in the middle of trying to get it working again. I managed to get the iron sharp and the sole looks good. The adjusting mechanism needs some work. I’m going to do what I can with it and if I can’t get it operational hopefully I will find somebody who can. I got it in the hopes that it will be my go to jointer; I do not like jointer tables for gluing up boards to make table tops and such. Another hope is that the #7 will be my bench top flattening device for the foreseeable future. The Lie Nielsen #7 is looking really good right about now, though.
Since I am on the subject of workbench tops, I have decided that a new one is on the short list of projects I am considering. I even sent an email to Christopher Schwarz of Lost Art Press briefly describing my plan for a new workbench top with, the horror, a tool tray. Mr Schwarz, as I will call him because he was kind enough to answer my email, is not a fan of tool trays. In fact, he may hate tool trays as much as he hates Ikea. But I happen to like, not love, them. There are of course some trade offs when you have a workbench with a tool tray: they can get messy, they shorten the usable width of the bench, and if you can’t remove the tray bottoms they make some clamping operations difficult. But they have some good points too: your tools aren’t rolling around the bench and dinging up your work, or worse yet rolling off the bench and dinging themselves up, the clutter that they collect stays in the tray and not on the bench top while you are working, and, if you have a tray with removable bottoms, it can actually make certain clamping operations easier. Mr Schwarz gave me his short list of suggestions on why he thinks tool trays aren’t a great idea, yet he left me enough rope to hang myself with. I appreciated his honesty and also his good advice, but I am going to make the new top with a tray and call it a woodworking experiment. The lumber for a bench top isn’t expensive if you are making it from rough fir, and because my bench already has a super heavy-duty base I consider the hard work already finished.
But I also have one other project idea that I am considering, and that is an Arts and Crafts style tall bookcase. Being that I’ve completed my magazine rack and TV stand both in the Arts and Crafts style, and because all of these pieces are meant for my living room, I decided to go for the trilogy with the bookcase. The Arts and Crafts style has been my furniture du jour for roughly the last one hundred fifty du jours. I cannot necessarily explain everything I like about it. There are a few reasons I guess: it looks solid and is made using solid joinery, the style isn’t too busy and will work in most rooms, you can make it with just about any wood, from Pine to Walnut to Mahogany. It certainly isn’t ornate, the decorative elements are usually pretty subtle with maybe a gently curved arch, some tastefully exposed joinery, or the use of different thickness boards to give the piece a layered look. It’s also within the reach of an intermediate level woodworker like myself. So in some ways Arts and Crafts pieces are kind of the Volvo of the furniture world; they may not blow you away with glitter and flash, but they are safe, practical, and will last over the long haul. Let’s face it, Arts and Crafts furniture has been around for more than a century and the form is still popular to this very day. That has to count for something.
The bookcase will be of my own design but I will take several ideas from some of the project books I have. I will more than likely use Pine again, though there is a small part of me that is considering using birch plywood for the case itself. While the temperature in my part Pa is cooling down finally, the humidity levels are still high, and probably will continue to be up until the end of November, when it will more than likely be cool and dry. Woodworking in a cool and dry garage isn’t much more fun than working in a hot and humid one. My TV stand had some warp that nearly made me scrap it, and I’m a little gun-shy this time around. I’ve never really used plywood for a woodworking project, at least not the case proper. I do love the crazy grain patterns you can get when using wide boards, but I don’t think I could bear having a lot of hard work end up ruined because of the weather. I will most likely come to my decision in a few weeks. My only dilemma now is deciding which project to start first. The bench top I already have sketched out, both in my mind and on paper. The bookcase is still just an idea in my head at this point. I’m going to make a few measurements and draw up some rough sketches this weekend.
So with another project under my belt and a few more coming up I am happy with my progress this past year. I have several more ideas kicking around and my tool set is complete enough to keep me from being limited to certain builds. With my fall and winter woodworking schedule busy there are now a few things I know for certain: I will keep my eyes on the weather over the next month, and I’m glad I picked Volvo.
When I’m Master of the Woodworking Universe…
The phrase “Process Oriented Woodworking” will never be used again, verbally, but especially in print. Can anybody tell me what it really means? To me it sounds like something mid-level management says when they want to sound smarter than they really are. My own informal explanation is that “Process Oriented Woodworking” occurs after a professional furniture maker, probably trained by a cranky old German dude, after 30 years of making furniture for a living, finally realizes that he actually enjoys all parts of woodworking. Now he has a little free time on his hands and he can take a little extra time to make that tenon fit super perfect, or add a little flair to the dovetails that nobody will ever notice but him. That’s all great, but then something ugly happens: he decides that he wants to write about it and needs to come up with a catch phrase for his new-found epiphany. So he turns to his “new word each day calendar for woodworkers” and comes up with this phrase. I’m going to give all of you “Process Oriented Woodworkers” a little advice: it’s great that you discovered your love for all things woodworking, but you don’t need to put it in print and then try to slap a definition on it. I will take a wild guess and assume that all woodworkers like to woodwork. There are some things you don’t need to explain, and are better off left unsaid. You LOVE woodworking. Great! Swell! I’m happy for you. Just stop making your love for woodworking sound so pretentious.
When I’m Master of the Woodworking Universe…
Woodworking editors, blogists, and the people who respond to them will stop using “Cheers” as their salutation. When did this come in to vogue? More importantly, when will it go away? I can hardly think of a less formal way to end a correspondence, and I am a person who does not stand on formality, ever. But “cheers” is tantamount to saying: “you and your correspondence mean so little to me that “regards” or some other nice way to end a letter is just too much for me to type.” I’ll tell you, the only times I want to hear the word “cheers” uttered are: If I happen to be at the bar Cheers, it is New Years Eve, or I happen to bump into a really drunk guy at a Manchester United match. Other than those rare instances, keep that one locked in your lexicon for a very rainy day.
When I’m Master of the Woodworking Universe…
Woodworking will end its policy of reverse age discrimination. The last woodworking show I was at looked like the pool scene from the movie Cocoon. Since when did woodworking require a six decade minimum? Pretty soon Just for Men will be opening up booths at woodworking shows nation wide. Fer Cryin’ Ot Lod will our woodworking saviours figure out a way to draw some younger blood into the gene pool? I hope so. I have nothing against the old guys, nothing at all, but you need an age mix at those events for them to work in a broad sense. If need be, hire some bikini models, or maybe some Victoria’s Secret babes. And I’m not just talking about attracting younger men; we need to get some younger women at these events as well. So do what must be done to draw in the young ladies too. I’m sure Mario Lopez needs the work, have him parade around looking buff. I don’t know, I’m not a marketing genius, but at the last woodworking show I was at I thought that I accidentally wandered into a retirement home.
If I offended anybody I’m not sorry. This is a rant after all…
Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks that took the lives of thousands of Americans and changed how so many of us feel about this country that we call home. Like many Americans, those attacks still affect me to this day, maybe even more so than they did then. I was unmarried at the time, though I was getting ready to make a deposit on an engagement ring. Now, married with a family, I think about the attacks even more, when the anniversary nears in particular. Anger, sorrow, fear, I still feel them to this day. And I hesitate somewhat to write about it even now.
That day was a typical day for me at the time. I had just gotten home from work, I was working the overnight shift for a printing company. I had showered, and was getting ready to hit the sack for a few hours because I had a two classes later on that afternoon. I hadn’t even turned on the television; I had worked hard that shift. On the edge of sleep, my dad called me and told me that a plane had flown into the world trade center in New York. He seemed to think it was some kind of terrorist attack. I didn’t necessarily believe my dad at that point; I was tired, and he tends to exaggerate the situation some times. Still, I turned on CNN to find that a plane did indeed hit the Trade Center. There seemed to be a lot of confusion and “we’re not sure” statements from the news media. Already I had felt myself getting angry. The news media, for all of their experts and masters degrees, can be downright stupid sometimes, and the confusion of that day was no exception. I nearly turned everything off and went to bed, part of me wishes that I had.
I watched in horror as the second plane hit. I knew then for sure, like most rational people did, that we were under attack. Of course the news media didn’t want to “speculate”, but even the tiniest brains on TV couldn’t deny what was happening. The anger I felt, that many people felt, was nearly uncontrollable. I’ve had only a few true adrenaline rushes in my lifetime, and that moment was one of them. I could have put my fist through solid oak. I nearly did. My dad had to talk me out of reenlisting in the army. I cursed and screamed like a madman. More reports began to come in, the Pentagon had been hit, there were rumors of more hijacked planes seeking targets. So much was happening that it didn’t dawn on me to call my future wife until later on in the morning. I got through to her at her work. We spoke for a few moments, I told her that I loved her and that I would see her later, and it occured to me right then and there that maybe thousands of people in New York City, Washington DC, and other places around the country would not get that call from their wives or husbands, boyfriends or girlfriends, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and friends.
Not long after, I cried, a grown man who had not led an easy life, who had not cried much since he was a little boy, who had thought himself as mentally tough as anybody alive, but I cried anyway. I thought about those who would never get a call from their loved ones again, but were still sitting by their telephones, hoping with everything they had that the call would come, knowing there was little hope that it would. I thought about the bravery of the firemen who had rushed into a burning building, despite the fact that every sense in their body was telling them to go the other way. I thought about the families of the firemen who had died, the devastation they must have been feeling, and maybe through all the pain, all of the grief, a pride they felt because their husbands, dads, and sons had died bravely performing their duty, and made the ulitmate sacrifice in saving the lives of people they did not know. I thought about those poor souls on the hijacked planes, who had lived out the last moments of their lives in fear, many attempting to call their loved ones just one last time. I thought about everybody who felt as helpless as I did, and had true empathy for possibly the first time in my life.
We all ran the gamut of emotions in the days that followed. Yet with all of the sorrow, grief, and pain, something good happened. For the first time in a long, long time, America was the country that it always dreamed of being. Our politicians became leaders, not squabbling, petty fools looking for perks and pensions. Our heroes weren’t actors, or models, or athletes; they were firemen and policemen, soldiers and nurses, construction workers and volunteers. They were the people who went to work every day to make the world a little better place, they were the people who stayed at ground zero even after their shifts were over and they hadn’t slept, just for the slight chance that they may save one more life. Our heroes were the “little” people, the people that live week to week and month to month, and work the extra hours to provide their families with food on the table and a warm place to sleep at night. The world saw that we were not lazy but tireless. A people and nation perceived to be greedy were seen to be filled with generosity, a people perceived to be selfish were full of sacrifice. We were the land of the free and the home of the brave, even if for a little while.
Those days gave me hope, a hope that maybe only an American can feel. I realized then that I loved my country, and my countrymen, and the dream that only a free man can dream. I am a father and husband, and an electrician by day, a hobbyist woodworker for a few hours each weekend. I am one of the “little” people. That is all I am, but it’s still a pretty important person to be. I wake up every morning and go to work so that my family has a place to sleep and dinner on the table. I go to work because it’s the right thing to do. On the weekends I sweep the sidewalk and mow the grass, because I’m trying to make my small part of the world a nicer place. I woodwork because I like to work with my hands, I like to build things that I can be proud of, that my family can be proud of. I like to learn something new each day. I think many Americans are like me, I like to believe it’s the vast majority. I think that many woodworkers are like me. We like to build, we like to make our own small part of the world a little better place. We aren’t destructive. Every woodworker I ever met wouldn’t dream of knocking a building down, a woodworker would only be happy if he or she could fill it with furniture. I like to think that this attitiude makes us better than the sick, hateful people who hijacked those planes. I don’t know much about them, and what little I do know is more than I want to. But I would bet, I would hope, that not one of them was a woodworker.
With my Arts and Crafts inspired TV stand sitting proudly in the living room, performing it’s duty to the best of its ability, I decided to set my sights on making the two drawers that would finally, at long last, complete the project and lead me to bigger and better things, meaning the beginning of a new project. A warped side panel and a difficult glue-up left me with a piece of furniture very slightly out of square; it was an unfortunate side effect of the measures I had to take to get the case together. So first thing I did before measuring the drawer opening was check the divider for plumb. Of course it was off very slightly, less than a degree I would guess, but with the drawers being flush and inset I knew that it would be noticeable. Still, the dark color of the piece should do well to hide any minor gaps. I supposes I could have taken the easy way out and used drawer runners and an overhang drawer face, but I wanted to use through dovetails, and a flush drawer front with exposed joinery is much more “Arts and Crafts” in my humble opinion. So with all of that in mind I got to work.
I started by cutting the drawer pieces to rough size. With good measuring and a bit of luck my left and right drawers were basically identical in size, so I was able to cut the stock for both drawers at the same time. My left drawer front measurement was just 1/32″ different from my right, so I cut the pieces to final length and laid out the pieces using a cabinet makers triangle. The triangle is just a simple marking system with shows the drawers front, back, and sides. It’s a very handy trick I learned at the Acanthus Workshop. But this marking system is invaluable when laying out case parts that are going to be joined.
I had always thought myself pretty clever for using chisels to lay out dovetails, until I later found out that this is a fairly common practice. I should have released that there generally isn’t much new under the sun when it comes to woodworking. But, I give myself a few points for doing it without being told. And it does a pretty nice job.
I saw dovetails pins first, so that is how I lay them out. I went for a layout with four pins and three tails. After adding the cut line with my marking gauge, I got to sawing. The Moxon vice worked well and made it a bit easier not only to saw, but gave my back a break as well. After sawing the pin kerf I cut out the waste with a chisel. I don’t use a coping saw like some do. I have nothing against using a coping saw, I just prefer using chisels for the job. I spent a bit more time than I would like sharpening my chisels for the task, but I knew it would be worth it when the time came.
With the pins cut I used them to mark the mating tails on the drawer sides. This is a straightforward operation and with care can be done fairly quickly and easily. The sawing went well and there was luckily very little trimming I had to do to get the drawers together. After I was satisfied I went to the router table and rounded over both edges of the sides of each drawer. I figured that this would help me with friction and make the drawer slide easier. After I reassembled the drawer and test fit it on the actual stand. I used a smoothing plane to fit the drawer front and after a few minutes of fitting, planing, and refitting, I ended up with a satisfactory fit. There are some minor gaps but nothing I can’t live with. The drawers were probably the most fun part of the build. Now all I need to do is apply the finish and this piece will be finished..