Otherwise, the spokeshave works great. The adjustments were smooth and easy, the iron and cap are top quality, and the “sole” was nice and flat. My only other very minor complaint is the handles, which I think could be a little shorter. Of course I could unscrew them and make my own, or shorten the handles that came with the shave, but for the time being I am going to leave them be. For the past year I’ve been using an old Stanley, so I think I will give myself a little bit of a learning curve on this one before I start to modify the thing. This coming weekend I think I will sharpen the iron and do a few more experiments and see where that leads me.
In other woodworking news, Steve Shanesy, of Popular Woodworking Magazine, contacted me today to notify me that another tip that I submitted will be published and also entered in a reader tip contest. Before anybody thinks that I spend my free time submitting hundreds of tips to woodworking magazines in the hopes that they will be published, I will say that I can only ever remember submitting three woodworking tips in my life: the last tip that was published, this current tip that will be published in the future, and a tip for laying out dovetails using chisels that I was told had already been done before. I don’t make it a habit of trying a bunch of new woodworking tricks every time I’m in the shop. Like many woodworkers, every now and then I have to try something out of the ordinary to get the job done, usually out of necessity. I suppose that necessity truly is the mother of invention because it has lead to two published tips now. Again, I sold the tip to the magazine so I will say nothing of it on the blog except that it is a jig, and this from a guy who professes to hate making jigs. Still, I will admit that I am honored that the Popular Woodworking staff, in all of its mighty wisdom, has decided to publish another tip of mine. And even better, I get some spare cash that I can spend guilt free on a new tool. Taking some ideas from some very good comments and suggestions I received on my last post, I will probably use the money to pick up a box joint blade for my table saw.
Lastly, in yesterday’s post I also mentioned making a tool cabinet from a wall cabinet that my wife is picking up for me. I am starting to get excited about the project especially after a few comments I received. I have some good ideas already and I don’t even have the cabinet yet. But I think the next weekend that I have off from work, and the weather is decent, I will take a trip to Hearne Hardwoods and pick up some Walnut and Ash, or maybe Walnut and Butternut, and use it to make a box for the new cabinet. If I’m ready for it and I have enough practice, I may even make it using box joints. If not, it will be dovetailed. But, the comments I got yesterday really have gotten me back in the saddle again. It’s great to get that kind of help and feedback. When it comes down to it, the best way to get new ideas is by talking to other woodworkers. There is always something new to try, and it’s great that people are willing to share those ideas freely, and it would never have happened if I didn’t start writing all of my nonsense down and publishing it on the internet. I knew that I started writing this blog for something! So thanks to everybody and please keep those suggestions coming.
Not so very long ago I was a part-time musician. I studied music for quite a long time, I took lessons in guitar, piano, and bass guitar, I studied music in college, I taught lessons, and I played in many bands. I found that in music, there were times that no matter how hard I practiced or how many times I played live, I would hit a point where I was not improving, or more importantly doing anything new. Most musicians I know called this a plateau. It bothered my for some time. I would try things like changing the order of my practice routine, or sometimes not practicing at all for a little while, or going back to the basics. None of those attempts ever resulted in any significant change. Then, one day out of the clear blue sky, a teacher suggested playing a musical style I had never played before. So instead of playing Jazz or Blues or even Rock, I tried playing country music. On the surface it wasn’t much different than Rock, but country usually has subtle changes in the standard chord progressions you find in Rock, and from that I began to branch out. I found myself getting better because I had literally forced my muscles to change their memory. From then on I learned to play songs from many different genres, from Big Band to Doo Wop to the Bee Gees. It wasn’t until then that I continually improved my playing. So, taking a cue from my days as a musician, I’ve decided to apply this theory to woodworking.
Before I start to sound pompous, I want to stress that I certainly have a long way to go before my woodworking hits a plateau. But I am in somewhat of a slump not because I have no room to improve, but because I don’t know what to make next. I have plans to make a medicine cabinet and I am going to stick to them, but I want to hold off for several reasons, one being that it is still cold in the area and I don’t want to do anything major til it warms up a little, and secondly, a minor remodel of our bathroom is being put on hold until we finish a few other projects around the house. I’m not of the mind to make the cabinet and have it sit in my garage for months until it is ready to be installed. That sounds like a dangerous proposition to me. From first hand experience, I’ve found that when you leave furniture sitting around for too long things tend to happen to it, like it getting dropped, dented, or hit by a meteor (I call my wife’s car the Meteor). So before woodworking depression sets in I’ve decided to do something about it.
My first thought was a shop project. I’ve thought about replacing the cabinet I have above my workbench. The cabinet is nothing special, I made it out of some scrap wood I had laying around. I considered making a nice, traditional wall mounted tool cabinet. Before some of you get offended that I’m not making a tool chest I will defend myself. I have NOTHING against tool chests. I kind of like them actually. What I don’t like is bending over, and even more I don’t like the very limited amount of floor space I have in the garage, especially when my wife is parked in it. A traditional tool chest will simply not fit in my garage unless I do some major rearranging that I have no desire to do. What my garage does have still is plenty of wall space. I went as far as to scour my back issues of Woodsmith Magazine for tool cabinet plans and ideas and then something happened to change my mind. My wife has found for me a brand new 36″ wide unfinished oak kitchen cabinet that I can have for free. While making the cabinet would have been fun I’m sure, I’m not foolish enough to turn down a free one. I will have to make some modifications: a hand plane rack, a saw till, a chisel rack, and maybe a small set of drawers. Those are fairly easy upgrades yet they will give it a personal touch. So the building the wall mounted tool cabinet from scratch is out.
The next idea I think I’m going to try is a miter saw station. I’ve always maintained that a miter saw is much more suited to carpentry than it is to woodworking. I was, however, thankful that I had one when I made my bookcase; it allowed me to safely and easily cut the plywood to manageable lengths. While I don’t plan on using it to woodwork on a regular basis, I think a dedicated station will be a good addition to my garage. The saw will always come in handy for doing crosscuts on long and wide boards (it can crosscut up to 13″ if I’m not mistaken), and though my house doesn’t really need much work anymore, you never know when my next carpentry project will spring up. And, if I ever decide to make a new workbench I think the miter saw will be useful. So the miter saw station may become a reality over the next few months.
My next idea is making a box joint jig. Though I stand by my statement that making jigs can be a waste of time, a fellow woodworker and blog writer had posted several photos of a small chest of drawers he was making using Walnut and Cherry. One of the features of the chest was the box joints, made from contrasting woods, he used to make the drawers. I thought they looked great. I’ve never attempted a box joint though I always liked the look of them. So I think that building a jig and making some attempts at a few drawers and boxes might just push me in a different direction and hopefully send some inspiration my way. I will also finish the small tennoning jig I was working on. Maybe I will be a jig maker one day after all.
Finally, I ordered the Ron Hock Shoulder Plane Kit the other day. I truly enjoyed making the Hock Block Plane kit a few weeks back and I love the useful tool that was the result. I don’t own a shoulder plane, so I thought that this would be a good and relatively inexpensive way to obtain one. And maybe most importantly, if I ever do decide to make some planes from scratch, the Hock kits are a good foundation in learning the fundamentals to make them without becoming frustrated or breaking the bank.
So I hope my winter to-do list keeps me occupied enough and keeps my woodworking skills honed enough to get me through to the spring. Of course, I could end up seeing a piece of furniture that inspires me to drop everything get working on it. But, until that happens, I am hopeful that I have enough useful ideas to keep me going. I think shop projects are a good way to keep busy. I have no worry about making them absolutely perfect, I just want them to work. In fact, shop projects are expected to get knicked up and dinged up; that’s why they’re there. So I think that I will practice cutting some dovetails this week, and maybe draw up a few sketches of my miter saw station. That should keep me busy. It’s either that, or I sink deeper into woodworking depression.
I’ve noticed that it’s been a slow week as far as woodworking blogs are concerned. Maybe it’s due to the frigid temperatures that quite a few of us are experiencing at the moment. Or maybe everybody is too busy woodworking, or with other things, to blog about it for the time being. I, for one, don’t plan on starting any woodworking projects until it’s warms up, at least a little. One thing I do have planned is working on our kitchen pantry/closet this weekend. We’ve been slowly clearing things out and I’ve been taking some measurements and doing a little planning. Last night I began to place some of my wife’s cookbooks on the new bookcase I had just completed. On the case I’ve already filled up a few shelves with some books and photos and candles (I’ll give you one guess who added the candles). As I was adding the books to the shelves I noticed A Catcher in the Rye, which I haven’t read in a long time. For whatever reason, the book got me to thinking about the many of the things that you do, some voluntarily, some not so much, when you are growing up or maturing, or coming into your own. Possibly they would be called rites of passage or something to that effect.
I probably experienced many of the typical rites of passage that your average kid does. First time I jumped off the top step, first girlfriend, high school, first hangover, starting a rock band, joining the army, college, getting tattoos that nobody in their right mind should probably get, a bar fight or two, and then, of course, the rites of passage of adulthood: marriage, house, parenthood. Now that I am (almost) no longer young, and I spend my bits of spare time woodworking, I find myself wondering what the rites of passage are for a hobbyist woodworker. I am guessing that a professional woodworker might have different criteria when it comes to rites of passage. Maybe that would include completing an apprenticeship, first job, first commissioned project, and starting your own shop. But what about hobbyists? What are the experiences that define the progression of the average home woodworker?
For my part I’m not entirely sure. Completing my first project was probably one thing, making a workbench, taking my first woodworking class, my first dovetails, and probably even some of the woodworking books I’ve read. But it’s been much harder for me to pinpoint my growth as a woodworker than my trip to adulthood. I don’t know if there has been a “defining moment” for me. Though I like to think that I’ve had a good progression as a woodworker, it’s been a fragmented journey to say the least. Only last year can I say that I woodworked steadily and that was because I made the conscious effort to do it by planning my projects well in advance. This year has been a little different so far. I don’t have the definite plans in place that I had last year. It’s beginning to worry me a little. I’m hoping that this isn’t going to be a down year as far as woodworking is concerned, yet so far that looks to be the case. My one planned project, a medicine cabinet, when all is said and done, won’t be a long or difficult build. I have some other ideas in the works, but nothing has jumped out at me like last year. So this weekend I will work with my hands and hope that it leads to something more. I’ve always found that being productive in that way gets my mind working better than anything else. So this weekend I will do a little work, do a little woodworking reading, and hope that I get inspired. It’s unfortunate that I don’t have that one moment to look back on like an apprenticeship, to get me on back on track. But I hope I find it soon.
With Get Woodworking Week (Feb 3-9) fast approaching, I thought that I would do my part in getting the word out to all of the potential woodworkers out there to give it a try. So I thought up a few reasons that you may want to give woodworking a shot, from the perspective of a married guy. So here goes:
1. If you’re spending too much time with your wife, she will eventually get pissed off at you, if you aren’t spending enough time with your wife she will eventually get pissed off at you. Let’s face it, if you are married, sooner or later your wife is going to get pissed off at you. So what better way is there to have her pissed off at you than spending too much time woodworking in the shop?
2. Tools! I said Tools! Woodworkers need tools! Men love tools! Woodworking is a great excuse to buy tools! Tool catalogs are great reading at the dining room table when you are supposed to be talking about your day. Tool companies deliver tools right to your door! Tool shows are fun! Tools can give you bragging rights. Other guys get jealous of your tools. I think that says it all.
3. Your dining room table! Let’s say you are out with the boys one night. Let’s then say that you had a few too many. Let’s then say that you came home and passed out on the dining room table. If you made that dining room table, because you are a woodworker, you may not feel like such a loser waking up on it.
4. The internet! The internet is loaded with woodworking sites, blogs, videos, downloads, uploads, and everything in between. Your wife thinks you are on the internet doing other things. So when she asks you why you were on the internet at 2 a.m. you can tell her that you were checking out the woodworking sites. I’d buy that.
5. Facial Hair! Deep down, most guys like facial hair. Who among us didn’t admire Sam Elliot, aka Wade Garrett, as he kicked ass and took names, with his perfect mustache hardly breaking a sweat, along side Patrick Swayze in the classic film Roadhouse? Woodworkers have facial hair. Woodworkers are expected to have facial hair. Just about every woodworker has some kind of facial hair. It comes with the territory. It’s like flannel shirts, barns, and banjo music…it’s part of the deal.
6. Exercise! Woodworking is a pretty good workout. You can build your muscles woodworking; you can get pumped woodworking! An added bonus is that woodworking can make you sweat. So if your wife sees you all sweaty and pumped up she just might think you look pretty hot (and let’s face it, you do!) So that could lead to something fun..I’m just saying.
7. Kate Upton! I don’t know if this is true or not, but I hear that Kate Upton thinks that woodworkers are sexy.
So there are just a few of the reasons I thought up that may convince a married guy, or anybody else, to give woodworking a try. If I help just one potential woodworker out there it will all be worth it.
I fiddled with the plane after the linseed oil dried, messing with it to take lighter and heavier shavings. Good news is that even though I’m the world’s foremost amateur when it comes to wooden planes, it didn’t take me long to make minor adjustments to change the setting. A light tap on the back with a small tack hammer I have made the shavings finer, a light tap on the iron made them heavier. I have it set now to take whisper thin shavings, which is amazing in itself because not only is this my first wooden plane, but I also made it and trued it myself. I would have measured them with a micrometer if I had one, but since I’m not an anal nutbag I don’t. Anyway, It is the perfect tool to add a chamfer or roundover, which is all I usually ask a block plane to do. And it looks pretty great too. I think I will add one more light coat of linseed oil and call it finished.
This was a truly satisfying project. In a relatively short time I made a working tool that looks great and I didn’t spend a fortune to do it. I cannot recommend this kit more to somebody who is looking to attempt a plane build. Believe me when I say that I am no hand plane expert and even I got this little guy working like a champ. I enjoyed making it so much that I am saving my pennies to purchase another Hock plane kit. And I may even order another block plane kit and make one for my daughter so she can make her own “curlies.” Again, I can’t say enough about this kit. Give it a try and I bet that you will be happy that you did.
Last night I couldn’t sleep, so I turned to our modern past time of searching the internet to keep my mind occupied. I checked out woodworking sites and blogs, on wordpress and other sources, just to see if something caught my eye. One of the things I noticed was that most woodworking blog writers, like myself, often have photos of their tool sets, or photos of their tools in action as a prominent part of their blog. That wasn’t a surprise to me. I’ve yet to meet a woodworker who wasn’t proud of his or her tool set/collection. It is one of the fun parts about woodworking: getting a tool set together and slowly watching it grow. But one of the things that did surprise me was not only the amount of tools that many of these bloggers had, but also the high quality (meaning cost among other things). I’m not a tool pricing expert but I can usually come pretty close to the mark when it comes to pricing an off the shelf woodworking tool. Many hobbyists more than likely can say the same, after all, we all probably spend a little too much time looking at tool catalogs to begin with. Even if we aren’t necessarily trying to remember tool prices, some of it gets absorbed by osmosis. So this did get me to thinking about my own woodworking tool set, and how pitifully small it actually is. To put it in perspective, I came across several hobbyists blogs where the writer, who was an amateur like me, had sets of rasps that cost more than my entire tool set. I’ll be the first to say that I was and am a little jealous. My wife and I both make a decent living, but there is no way I could afford to own tools such as those. One other thing I did notice was that few of these bloggers posted any photos of furniture they were working on, or if they did it was generally a workbench. So this led me to believe that more than a few of them were new woodworkers. I would guess and say that I checked out around 40 different blogs, give or take. The big suprise to me was that many of these bloggers had basically complete tool sets, like they were purchased from a list, but had failed to really start using them as of yet. Nearly all of these blogs had one other thing in common, but I will get into that later.
Last year, 2012, was probably my first “full” year as a woodworker. I had definite ideas for the furniture I wanted to build and I managed to get just about everything I had planned on making built. I completed five pieces last year: a side table, a Stickley magazine cabinet, a TV stand, a bookcase, and a wall cabinet for my garage to hold stains and other supplies. I will not say that these were all perfect creations, but I think they turned out damn nice. Of the five, four are in my living room right now, looking pretty good and functional as well. Even better, I’m happy to say, is that they are well made; I didn’t build any junk last year. With all of that said, here are the woodworking tools I can remember purchasing last year into this year: a carvers mallet, a 5/8 chisel (to replace my other one), a new sharpening jig, a router plane, a jointer plane (a vintage one), some vintage bits for my brace, a spokeshave, and my recently completed Hock Block Plane kit, and a new jigsaw. I probably spent around $700 last year on woodworking tools. The good news, for me, was that much of the money didn’t actually come out of pocket. I had sold some instruments and music equipment that I had taking up space. This allowed me to not only purchase these tools, but the material I used to make my furniture. I thought I did pretty good. I was able to woodwork, pick up some new tools and the materials to use the tools on, and do it without hardly taking a dime out of our bank account.
So up to this point you are probably thinking: “I’m basically reading a post by a jealous ego maniac who claims to make more furniture with less tools.” Maybe, but I am getting to my point. As I was saying earlier, almost every one of the blogs I read last night had one thing in common: they all referenced The Anarchist’s Toolchest in one way or another. Many of the blog writers made claims such as: “I will never slay electrons again!” or, “I just got rid of my Kreg jig!” or “No longer will the table saw be the center of my shop!” You can pick just about anything that Christopher Schwarz put in the book and it was somehow quoted on one of these blogs. Often, the header of the blog had some such proclamation as well. At least half of them made claim to be “My Journey into Handtools” or something to that effect. And of course just about all of these blog writers had purchased much of the tools from the “recommended” tools listed in the book. So before you start thinking that I am bashing Christopher Schwarz, rest assured I am not. What I am bashing is those who read one man’s self proclaimed journey away from consumerism and towards individuality, and then proceeded to PURCHASE every tool in the book because that’s what the book TOLD them to do. I hope I’m not the only one seeing the irony here!
Again, you might say to me: “What do you care!?” And that is a legitimate question and point. If these people want to use The Anarchist’s Toolchest as their guideline why should that bother me? Well it does bother me because I actually read some of the content of these blogs. I will say it again that Schwarz somehow has instilled into the heads of these blog writers that unless you woodwork just like him you are nothing more than some kind of hack. You know what? I don’t need to read on your blog that Ikea makes junk. Schwarz said it about a thousand times. I don’t need to read how chisels made in China suck because Christopher Schwarz said so. I don’t need to read that some guy who made his wife a set of shelves with a Kreg jig is destroying woodworking. I don’t need to hear that every tool you have for woodworking fits right in your chest and that’s all you need to make furniture because yet again Schwarz has said that every day for more than two years. Get an original thought in your head if you are going to write a blog. I’ll go right to the source when I want to read such statements, because at least when Schwarz writes them it is well written and entertaining, not a half-assed Cliff Notes version of somebody else’s philosophy. And I want to say it for the record once again. I am not blaming Christopher Schwarz! He simply wrote a mission statement. He cannot control the reactions of every lost soul who read it and decided to turn it into some kind of woodworking holy war.
So I am going to pose a question, from one amateur woodworker and blog writer to another. Before you decide to put on your blog that woodworkers who don’t use handtools from the Anarchist’s Toolchest and woodwork just like the book says to woodwork suck and are destroying woodworking and in the process destroying your life, be prepared to defend that statement. Because every time I’ve read it I’ve seen nothing to back it up at all. Not one fact, not one statistic…nothing. It’s just an arbitrary statement, nothing more. It’s easy to make an arbitrary statement and make it sound somewhat official. It’s not so easy to come up with an original idea and present those ideas and work on them and defend them and make them into a reality.
I think I am doing something wrong because I’m finding that my blog and woodworking philosophy are much different than many of the other blogs I’ve been seeing lately. Thankfully I don’t have to subscribe to them, but it has made me question my own philosophies, and if I should even keep on writing them down. It seems that I am in the vast minority of woodworkers that blog about it. If I could afford to own a dedicated workshop loaded with woodworking tools I would without feeling that it is wrong. I don’t see how that could bother or affect some guy who just spent $10,000 dollars on hand tools because he read a book that told him that it’s the only way to woodwork and save the world. I’ve never once in this blog questioned somebody’s methods of woodworking. If somebody dropped me a note or left a comment I never bother to ask if they use hand tools or power tools because what does it matter? If they have a blog and on that blog is a piece of furniture they are working on that I think is nice, I will let them know. I don’t care if they made it using a set of chisels from China or if they ripped the boards on a table saw, or if they have a $1000 set of French made rasps. That is what I like to call using your brain to formulate an opinion and exercising judgement when presenting that opinion. But maybe I’m dead wrong, yet I do know this: From a lot of these self proclaimed whatever-they-ares, I’m reading a lot of “blah blah blah” that was much better written and presented at the original source. I like to call Christopher Schwarz the Generalissmo, but I think my new nickname for him will be the Shepherd, because maybe those “blah blah blahs” are really nothing more than Baah Baah Baahs.
Before I ever cut a joint, planed a board, or sharpened a chisel, there were two names I knew of in woodworking: Sam Maloof and Norm Abram. Sam was known for his beautiful, iconic rocking chairs, among other things, and Norm was known for his popular television show The New Yankee Workshop. I would guess and say that over the past twenty years, if you asked a person who wasn’t a woodworker or familiar with woodworking to name a current woodworker, there was a pretty good chance that they would name Sam, Norm, or both. So when Sam passed away in May of 2009, and the New Yankee Workshop ran its last program just a month later, much was made about both, and rightly so. They were iconic names in woodworking and easily recognizable to the general public, Norm for his show and Sam for his beautiful chairs. Since both have left the woodworking scene for going on 4 years now, there hasn’t been a new “face” of woodworking, at least to the outside world. So the question is will woodworking ever have a new public “face” and maybe more importantly, does it need one?
Who is the most popular or known woodworker in the country today? Is it Tommy Mac of Rough Cut Woodworking? Is it Roy Underhill of the Woodwrights Shop? Or maybe Christopher Schwarz, formerly of Popular Woodworking Magazine, and now of Lost Art Press? I’m really not qualified to answer that question. Tommy Mac is new to the scene but his television program is starting to gather a fan base. Roy Underhill has been around seemingly forever. His show is very well respected and has a loyal following. Christopher Schwarz has gained fame from his time spent as Editor of Popular Woodworking, his love of workbenches and hand tools, and now by publishing woodworking books via Lost Art Press. As well and as much as these guys have done, it seems to me that nobody has filled the void left by the likes of Norm and Sam. That isn’t to say that there isn’t some spectacular furniture being made. There certainly is, but I’m talking more about universal popularity, not furniture quality.
Some may say that woodworking no longer needs a spokesperson and that the internet has filled that void. There probably is some merit to that. It doesn’t take much searching on the internet to find a slew of woodworking webpages and videos. You can even take internet woodworking classes/courses for a decent price. Internet programs like No BS Woodworking and The Hand Tool School offer some pretty cool courses and programs that you can basically watch whenever you feel like, possibly in your boxer shorts at 2 am, not that I need to know any of those details. So maybe the internet is woodworking’s new “face.” Where else can you watch a woodworking video on demand, order your materials, and the tools to build it and have it all delivered right to your front door? That is about as accessible as it gets. That sounds like a win-win situation for woodworkers, and the hobby itself.
I personally think that woodworking is in a good state. For the most part, woodworkers have their pick when it comes to purchasing quality hand and power tools. It’s easier to take a course, via the internet or a weekend woodworking class, than it’s maybe ever been. There are good books being published and an assortment of magazines to choose from, and you can read many entertaining woodworking blogs! (Like mine!!)But there is still a part of me that misses the era of Sam Maloof and Norm Abram, and I wonder who will be the next inspiration that turns a potential woodworker into an actual one. I guess it’s not easy to replace an icon. It was a comfort for me to be able to watch the New Yankee Workshop, and reading about Sam Maloof and seeing his beautiful furniture was always an inspiration. So even if woodworking doesn’t need a “face” anymore, that doesn’t stop me from wishing that it still had one.