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Monthly Archives: December 2012

How to Super-Tune a Handplane. A brief review

Just yesterday I received my copy of Christopher Schwarz’s video How to Super-Tune a Handplane after waiting only 7 years for it. Actually it wasn’t that long but the truth is that I had forgotten that I placed the order. So today after finishing my bookcase project (finally); I opened it up and watched it at the computer. My first thoughts: Pretty Damn Good!

The room the video was filmed in looks like a storeroom deep inside the hull of a World War 2 era battleship, but the camera work, lighting, and sound quality are just fine. I won’t get in to any plot twists or spoilers here, I will just say that this video by far has been the best and most straightforward instruction in fixing up a hand plane, both old and new for that matter, that I’ve come across. I’ve seen and read more than my fair share of methods of tuning up a plane to get it to perform at an optimal level and not one of them as been nearly as concise as this video. Period. In fact, not even close. Schwarz demonstrates, on camera, a top to bottom clean-up/tune-up of an old smoothing plane. There are no wacky gadgets needed, no expensive tools, no flux capacitors, just some basic cleaning equipment, sandpaper, a flat flooring tile, and of course whichever sharpening method you may prefer. Pretty simple, but very effective.

As I said, I don’t want to get too deep here because woodworking videos aren’t necessarily easy to review. These aren’t feature films, I can’t tell you that at minute 37 Jessica Biel struts around in her underwear. I can only say that as far as woodworking videos go, this one delivers exactly on it’s promise. After watching it I felt that I had learned a great deal. Most impressive to me was the fact that the entire tune-up, from old plane to finished product, was shown. There was no “okay, after a few hours of this you end up with this!!” No! We get to watch the whole process unfold as it is happening. Sure, a few parts were compressed and I’m not complaining. I for one didn’t necessarily need to watch the parts of the plane soak in a cleaning solution for thirty minutes in real time. But the actual meat and potatoes of the plane tune-up are shown basically un-cut. That, I think, is the what really sets this video apart. Even better, say I wanted to go in to my garage and follow Schwarz’s instructions to the letter, the only thing I was missing on his “parts” list was citric acid, which you can get on the cheap at just about any large supermarket or hardware store. He really does show you how to do it with basic equipment that most woodworkers would have in their shops. Finally, the plane that he works on in the video ends up looking and working great, leaving no doubts that his simple methods really do the job. It’s very impressive.

So I would give this video 4 out of 4 stars and have no problem recommending it to any woodworker. Even if you aren’t necessarily a handplane user it is a great resource for under thirty dollars. I will give Chris Schwarz a lot of credit; I don’t always agree with his philosophy on woodworking but he always does his best to put out a quality product, be it a book, magazine, or woodworking video. He delivered here and I’m glad that I purchased it. Chris Schwarz may be a Facist Anarchist, but he put out a pretty damn good video!

Arts & Crafts Bookcase Finally Finished! (almost)

Finshed construction, with my little girl in her PJ's

Finshed construction, with my little girl in her PJ’s

First coat of stain applied and drying

First coat of stain applied and drying

Finshed construction, with my little girl in her PJ's

Finshed construction, with my little girl in her PJ’s

Readjusting the leg vice

Readjusting the leg vice

Jointing the back panels

Jointing the back panels

With frigid temperatures and snow on the ground I decided that today was the day to finally finish my Arts & Crafts Bookcase. The boards to complete the back of the case had been waiting on my workbench, I only needed to cut them to length and rip them to final width on the table saw, which took only a matter of minutes. I then added the dado stack to the saw and on the two end boards cut a rabbet 1/2″ wide by 3/8″ deep. On the middle board I needed to cut two rabbets, one on each side of the board and on opposite faces to complete the ship lap joint that would make up the back of the bookcase. After a little fiddling I had this operation completed fairly quickly, with the help of my wife who served as the outfeed catcher. I then planed the edges of the boards using my jointer plane and ran into the only real problem of the day.

Two of the three boards only needed a couple of passes to even out enough for the ship lap joint, but one board had a more pronounced bow than I thought and took quite a few passes to even up. This led to a board slightly less wide than I wanted it to be. Normally it wouldn’t have been such a big deal but I had a very specific gap I was aiming for between each board of 1/16″. I ended up with a gap nearly 3/16″ when it was over, but, I actually don’t mind how it turned out. In fact, I honestly like it! So it was an accident but a happy one. I attached the back, again with the help of my slightly reluctant wife, with brad nails. I was all prepared to call it a day when my wife volunteered to add the first coat of finish. I let her have at it; with temperatures outside in the low twenties and the garage door open for ventilation it wasn’t a fun job, but in a few hours it was finished. I wiped off any excess stain with a cloth and I will let it set all week. Now, only the shelves need to be conditioned and stained and we can apply the poly to finish the job.

This was a fun build, and with the Minwax Mahogany stain applied it matches the other Arts and Crafts Pieces I made for our living room. At 6ft 2 inches this is the largest piece of furniture I’ve made and I’m going to need some help getting it in to it’s final home. This case was also my first foray into using plywood on a large scale and it turned out nicely. The plywood was easy to work with and looks great with the initial coat of stain applied. I will not hesitate in the future to use plywood for a case build. One thing I will do differently is wait until spring to begin a larger build such as this one. We are of course in the midst of a cold winter so far and it’s not very enjoyable working in the garage when it’s freezing outside. I’ve also decided that if I ever move to a new house where I can have a dedicated work shop I will make a miter saw station. I don’t use a miter saw often when woodworking but it was nice to have for making crosscuts on such long and wide boards. I think the chop saw may have found it’s way back into my life. With this case nearly finished I will get knee deep into the design of my upcoming medicine cabinet project. It’s my hope that the next one goes as smoothly as this one did.

Is something rotting in the state of Ohio?

Just recently, Popular Woodworking Magazine’s Editor, Matthew Teague, announced that he is stepping down from his post to pursue other ventures. This may not sound like earth-shattering news but it struck me as a little strange. Firstly, being the editor of PW magazine sounds like a pretty decent gig for a woodworker/writer, and secondly, he’s been at the job for less than a year I believe. I’ll be honest and say that I know very, very little about Matthew Teague. Before PW, I can recall an article or two that he wrote for Fine Woodworking Magazine. When he became PW’s editor, I personally thought that the feel of the magazine changed ever so slightly. I enjoyed some of his editorials. He seemed to lean towards a more modern style of furniture, which isn’t really my taste when it comes down to it, but I can’t say that I didn’t like him as the magazine’s editor. So his decision to step down kind of surprised me as a subscriber.

Megan Fitzpatrick is stepping in as the new editor of the magazine. I know nearly as little about her as I do about Teague. I know she likes Shakespeare, and is becoming a decent woodworker. She is a hand tool advocate, which can go either way, and she is probably the most visible face of the magazine on the internet. She is certainly passionate, and I would think that she cares about the magazine maybe more than anybody else on the staff. It seems to me that the other full time writers on the staff have nearly dissappeared and are making fewer and fewer contributions to the magazine. So is something going on behind the scenes at Popular Woodworking to cause such dramatic changes?

Here are some facts. Fitzpatrick will be the third editor, when she takes over in April 2013, since Christopher Schwarz stepped down in October 2011. Glen Huey also seems to have disappeared from the fold as a contributor. When Schwarz stepped down, in his final editorial, he went out of his way to say that he will always be a part of the magazine as a contributor and blog writer, and he professed his eternal love of the magazine. Lately, in my opinion, it seems that Schwarz has gone out of his way to seperate himself from his former baby. Before, when mentioning the magazine, it seemed to me that he spoke of it like he was still a part of the mix there, as a woodworker, contributor, and friend. Now, it’s a wee bit different. Just the other day, he mentioned selling, not contributing, articles to the “editors” of Popular Woodworking, and in one of his two million blog posts on how he never ever takes free materials from tool manufacturers, he stated that he had no idea on what went on at PW magazine. On the surface it would seem that he is just speaking as someone who has moved on with his life to a new job/career, and normally I would agree with that..IF…there hadn’t been some many changes going on at the magazine since. So what do I think it is? I’m glad you asked.

Schwarz, whatever else he may be, is certainly an intelligent guy. I have only a very basic knowledge of what a magazine editor does, but I’m sure he made a good living. He’s mentioned, many, many, many times that he purchased nearly all of the hand tools that he reviewed, so I don’t think he was hurting for money at PW. Also, he had access to a free shop of high quality tools and equipment and got paid to woodwork and write about it; two of his life’s passions. So would an obviously intelligent guy with a young family walk away from a good job, that he admitted was in many ways his dream job as well, for no apparent reason? Schwarz gave his reasons of course; he wanted to pursue his writing career, he wanted to devote more time to tradtional woodworking, he wanted to pursue the life of an anarchist/artisan, yada yada yada. I believed that then, but now I don’t buy it. Schwarz could have certainly done all of those things as Editor of the magazine, and spread his message to the hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

Just take a look at the teaching schedule that Chris Schwarz put out recently. It puts him on several different continents and is certainly time consuming. I would certainly think that Schwarz likes to travel as well as teach. I would also think that it’s somewhat of a conflict with running a publishing company, unless you are doing it because you need the extra money. To be fair, Schwarz has mentioned that he carries no debt, and that his wife has a good job, but I can’t see spending 10-12 weeks per year away from your start-up publishing company and family to teach woodworking classes unless it’s at least partially for the money. Schwarz’s classes sell out very quickly and I’m sure he’s making a decent buck doing it, otherwise he woudn’t be flying and driving all over the planet “But Schwarz is an Anarchist trying to preserve traditional woodworking! He’s not doing this for money!” B!S! Anarchist you say?! He sells T-SHIRTS on his website! Trotsky he is not! So what is my conclusion?

I’ve noticed that two names have been completely omitted from any of Christopher Schwarz’s bloggings/writings since he’s left Popular Woodworking, Steve Shanesy and Robert Lang. Was there a falling out with these fellows? Of the entire staff, I believe they’ve been there the longest. Schwarz spent 15 years there working side by side with these guys, and now that he no longer works with there, has failed to even acknowledge them. Yet he continues to have a good relationship with Megan Fitzpatrick, who contributes on a regular basis to both of Schwarz’s blogs. While I’ve never seen nor read any comments written by Shanesy that were negative towards Chris Schwarz, in the weeks leading up to Schwarz’s departure from PW, Lang wrote several blogs that were very critical of a certain woodworking philosophy that I believe were thinly veiled affronts to Chris Schwarz and perhaps Lost Art Press. So I’ve come to the conclusion that Schwarz did have some kind of falling out with both of those guys, and Matthew Teague did the same, or at least didn’t get along with them. Though that part is harder to speculate on because Teague has been there for such a short time. But something sure is fishy.

Right or wrong, I’ve been subscribing to Popular Woodworking for as long as I’ve taken up the hobby. There have certainly been some things about the magazine that I’ve disagreed with, but in general I’ve enjoyed reading it and have learned from it. PW has a reputation as a top-tier magazine in the woodworking world, but I think that things are different now. I can already see the magazine heading down the wrong path. This isn’t meant as a knock to Megan Fitzpatrick. She, like CS, is obviously intelligent and passionate about her job, and versed in the art of running a magazine, and I hope she does well. As far as woodworking is concerned she is no better than I am, and I also don’t mean that as an insult. Yet, read the job description of an Editor at PW magazine; I did on a whim. Degree in Journalism preferred, Microsoft Office, blah, blah, blah, woodworking skills not necessary. So ask yourself a few questions: Would you read an architecture magazine written by people who aren’t architects? Or how about a cooking magazine written by somebody who has never cooked? Or a medical journal written by somebody with zero medical training, rather than just a “passion” for medicine?

Surely sound writing ability and passion for the subject you are writing about are important in making a good article and magazine, but so is actually knowing what you are talking about. I once wrote a blog that rated the woodworking magazines that I’ve subscribed to titled Woodworking Rags. In my reviews I gave PW a “B+” and Woodsmith Magazine an “A”. In that blog I made a comment that though the writing in Woodsmith can be a bit bland, in the end the woodworking was all that mattered. I think Popular Woodworking is getting away from that philosopy. I think they are more interested in selling books and DVD’s and holding events than hiring real woodworkers to write for them. And I think that is why Schwarz and now Teague have left, among other reasons. I think there were and are philosophy differences and conflicts of interests between them and the “old guard”. When it came down to it, they weren’t really calling the shots, a couple of other guys were, and it didn’t sit well with either of them. Now, all of this is just the opinion of one lone blogger and subscriber to the magazine. But nobody can deny that the magazine is different now, and that it’s not in a good way. There’ve been many changes and not for the better I think. Though I can’t be sure exactly what is going down there, but something sure isn’t right in the state of Ohio.

I have the right medicine…

Royersfordmedicinechest As I’ve written in some prior posts, for the first time since I’ve been woodworking I had lost the desire to spend time in the shop over the past few weeks. It took a little bit, but I’m finally back getting back in the saddle. I’ve picked up the boards for the back of my bookcase project, which has been waiting patiently for me in somewhat of a limbo. Those boards will finally complete the project, so I’ve been giving a little thought to what I want to build next.

Now that the holiday season is coming to an end my time spent woodworking should increase at least marginally, and hopefully even more. I always like to have a future project or two in the planning stages so today I gave some serious thought on the final design of my next project, a medicine cabinet. I’ve had a few ideas and have been given some very helpful suggestions, yet in the end the cabinet will probably be based loosely on a photo that I took from the Philadelphia Furniture Workshop web page. The piece is known as the Royersford Medicine Cabinet. This has a bit of special meaning for me because firstly I don’t live far from Royersford PA, and secondly because I like the design. Of course there will be some modifications made. The case will be made of Poplar because I want to paint it. I don’t think I will add the crown moulding detail and instead will have a cap piece, and the case will probably be physically wider because of the space I have allocated for it is a fairly wide area. As I’ve said in other posts: all of the golden ratios in the world don’t mean anything if the furniture doesn’t do what you want it to do or go where you need it to go.

There are a couple of things that appealed to me about this particular design. I like the exposed shelf, there are always a few items you need to keep out in the open, and I also like the clean lines. I’ve seen medicine cabinets made with box joints or dovetailed joinery and I just don’t like that particular look for them. I will probably assemble the case with dado joinery, again, and the door using a more traditional mortise and tenon joint. Because I want the door to be mirrored the joinery has to be stout, and the M&T joint is plenty strong enough for the job. The case should be a straight-forward build with no nonsense, and though it is not an Arts and Crafts piece by the strict definition of the word, it will be in the tradition of it.

My mind is finally back on woodworking and things are finally looking up. One good thing came out of all of this, I realized just how important a part woodworking plays in my life; I’ve missed it pretty bad lately. Still, my bookcase should be ready for finish this weekend, the boards are sitting in the garage waiting to be installed. I’m hoping that the weather cooperates and we don’t get any heavy rain or snow because I like to keep the garage door open at least for the time we are applying the stain. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell my lovely wife that I have a job for her this weekend. I think after that I will go and scout out some Poplar, draw up a few plans, and perhaps order my latest tool: a Veritas spoke shave. My old Stanley has seen better days. That sounds like a pretty decent weekend of woodworking. As I said before, it’s nice being back in the shop.

Why am I here?

My last blog entry I wrote about a terrible tragedy and the effect it had on me, as well as countless others. For the first time since I’ve been woodworking I had no desire to spend any time in the shop. I can’t really explain why it affected me they way it did, but it did. Then I realized that I let an act of evil take away something good from my life. That is the intent of evil people, and I won’t let an evil person destroy a good thing if I can help it. But I will admit that there was a lot on my mind other than woodworking for the past 4 or 5 days. Then, earlier today, someone who is nice enough to read my blog pointed out something absurd he read in another woodworking blog. We are both of the same mind when it comes to pretention in woodworking, so I clicked on the blog link and read the post and agreed whole heartedly with him. The blog itself was one of the most pretentious posts I’ve read since I’ve been on WordPress, the comment just as bad. The good news, for myself at least, is that the offending blog entry made me want to write about it and got me to thinking about woodworking again.

I don’t care too much for pretentious people. Pretention, in my opinion, is an act of agression and a form of prejudice. When I say prejudice I don’t mean it in the racial form. I mean it more in the sense that a pretentious person or group thinks they are better than everyone else. Now, there is nothing wrong with a healthy ego, but when you choose to attack the written opinion of another person and ridicule it what does that make you? When you close your mind to all but one opinion what does that make you? I won’t say the word; I’ve said it too much in the past… The only outcome to all of this nonsense is unnecessary conflict. With all of the violence in the world, do we really need to bring conflict into woodworking? I thought that the purpose of these blogs was for woodworkers to share information and opinions and even debate with other woodworkers about woodworking. Instead, on certain “well respected” blogs you run the risk of being attacked for sharing an opinion that may not be of a certain mindset. When I first started writing this blog I mentioned in my very first entry that I welcome the opinion of anybody who wants to give it as long as it’s on topic. I hold to that and always will. We’re here to debate and share ideas; not crush them.

When I first began this blog I was of the mindset that it would possibly be helpful to new woodworkers, and even more so to myself. I’m always looking for ways to become a better woodworker. But now I think that maybe the mission of my blog has changed just a little bit. It wasn’t my intention, but I think this blog has sort of morphed into a woodworking/morality story. I don’t know how! But there are many things in the woodworking world that I see as unfair, and those of you who read this blog certainly know that I’ve written about that subject several times. I really believe that more people woodworking can make the world a better place. As I’ve mentioned before, woodworking is a wonderful creative activity that develops many skills. Just think about everything that goes into making a piece of furniture: design, mathematics, planning, hand to eye coordination, manual dexterity, and of course study and practice. These are worthwhile skills that should be open to everybody who wants to learn them, not a select few pretentious pricks (pardon the language). So maybe that’s why I’m here on WordPress.

Today, for the first time in what seems like an eternity, I went into my garage with woodworking on my mind and to check on my bookcase project. It was good to be back, and good to think about woodworking again. The project is basically finished, I only need to add a few boards. This is the easiest part of the project and won’t take long. But at the same time, it’s a big step. A few days ago an act of evil made me question lots of things. It made me wonder about the priorities in my life and where they were going. It took a few days but I realized that woodworking was one of the things in my life worth doing, and maybe getting others into the act as well. So I will get myself back in the game and get to making furniture again. I even came close to choosing my next project, which I am pretty sure will be a medicine cabinet. It will be dovetailed, possibly with an integral shelf underneath the mirror, maybe even some shop made crown moulding. Either way it will be good to get going again. I’ll mark the sides with a regular cabinet makers triangle and not a French one. The plain old regular one is good enough for me. So thanks Jonas, for getting me back in the shop.

Why I Woodwork

I had planned on woodworking this past weekend; I really did. Last week I had scouted out the final three boards I needed to finish my bookcase project and I was all ready to go pick them up after work on Saturday. Then the tragedy in Newtown happened and suddenly woodworking wasn’t on my weekend priority list. Friday, watching and hearing these events unfold, made for a difficult afternoon at work. On my way home, listening to the news reports, and hearing the President of the United States voice crack when trying to make sense of a senseless act, I will be the first to admit that I cried too. At that moment, had I one wish, I wished that I could have traded my life for those kids who were murdered in cold blood by an evil monster. I wish I could have died saving them, and I wished that he would have lived, knowing that he failed, and knowing that he would have to face justice. Most importantly, I wished that those kids would be home with their mommys and daddys over the weekend, thankful that nothing had happened. That was probably an immature thought, maybe idealistic wishful thinking, but I stand by it. I am an adult whose reponsibility is to protect little kids, and if need be to die for them. How could I say that about children I’ve never met and a tragedy that happened hundreds of miles from where I live? Because I like to think that somebody would do the same for me; I would hope so. But here we are, and it did happen.

Saturday morning I went to work, shocked, saddened, and mostly angry. At work I didn’t stop moving, I did things I normally wouldn’t do at work on a Saturday; I didn’t let my hands rest. When I got home we went out and had dinner, and then to the mall to shop, and see Santa, and check out the scenery. Sunday, a dreary and rainy day, I had the morning to myself and I spent it doing the worst possible thing: watching the news. What a mistake. Eventually I turned it off and went into the garage. The desire to woodwork was not there, at all. It seemed so pointless, so meaningless, for me to think about grain patterns and ship-lap joints. I’m not very religious, but the saying “Idle hands are the devil’s playground” always struck a chord with me. Maybe because I like to work with my hands, and I like to think I’m a good person because of it. But whenever I feel down, or upset, or even unmotivated I find that working with my hands makes me feel better, especially when I’m woodworking. What better way is there to spend some free time than turning a few boards into hopefully a beautiful and useful piece of furniture? What better way is there to spend your time than being constructive, or trying to make the world a little bit of a nicer place? What better way is there to spend your time than filling your home with your creations, showing them off, even if they aren’t perfect? What better lesson can we teach our kids: that with patience, and study, and hard work, you can create something beautiful that you and everybody else can be proud of?

There are evil people in the world to be sure, some born that way, maybe. Maybe some perhaps become evil. I don’t know the answer and it’s quite possible that I don’t want to know. But had this monster been taught by his parents to woodwork, or anything else constructive, would things have been different? I think so. Instead, he was taught that shooting a gun was the most worthwhile and constructive activity that he could perform. Would his self worth have improved had he made a piece of furniture, and finished it himself, and showed it off to his family? Would the joy of getting together a tool set, every tool with a certain purpose, a certain job to perform, and maintaining the tools, honing them and tuning them to work at an optimal level, then seeing what magic they could work; would that have changed the course of his life? I think it would have. Instead, he was taught to use only one tool, a tool meant only for destruction, and that was it, and that was the only outlet for his idle hands.

I am not implying that woodworking is the cure for all of the worlds ills. If it were that easy we would have far fewer problems. But maybe I’m wrong and it is that easy. I know this: I am a guy who works more than 50 hours a week, every week. I have adult responsibilties that can sometimes be very stressful, and I know that when I get the chance to woodwork for a few hours I feel a hell of a lot better. That is why I woodwork. A few boards and some tools and suddenly I can do anything. I can work with my hands and make something that my whole family can be proud of; I can’t think of a more noble activity. Is it wishful thinking to believe that the monster would have turned out differently had he been taught to woodwork? I guess so. But let’s say he was taught to woodwork, or anything else worthwhile, and he never became that monster. We would have twenty beautiful little children, who right now would be home with their mommys and daddys, playing, or getting ready for bed, and counting down the days til Santa came. That is a nice thought; it’s a good thought and a hopeful one. Woodworking is a good thing, it’s an act of beauty and art and skill and construction and pride; it’s something worthwhile. So that is why I woodwork, and why I won’t let a monster steal it from me ever again.

My Heart is Broken

I sat today, horrified, as the events in Newtown Connecticut unfolded, and my heart broke on hearing the news that a gunman killed TWENTY children, among others. This act of hatred and true evil by an evil coward literally broke me down. I cannot try to put myself in the place of the parents who lost children and I don’t want to, I am already in pain and my heart is broken. I will post something from a man that I admire, Abraham Lincoln, that has offered me little comfort, but it’s all I can think of at the moment.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost.

I guess they are nothing but empty words to somebody who has lost their child to this act of evil. But I will hug my child tonight and tell her I love her, and hope that it’s enough to make me forget. God bless those families who lost a child. For whatever it’s worth, my heart goes out to you.

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