The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Monthly Archives: December 2013


Wireless Router

I’ve said before that I’ve never intended this blog to be a woodworking instruction manual. There are far too many blogs, web pages, magazines and videos that do a much better job of that than I ever could. But, if somebody does actually pick up a woodworking tip or two, or learns something new by reading my blog then that couldn’t make me happier.

In the latest issue of Popular Woodworking magazine, Megan Fitzpatrick has written an article about router planes, and why she considers them a must have tool even for woodworkers who work mostly with power tools. I couldn’t agree more with her opinion. I’ve had a router plane for about a year and a half, and it truly is one of those tools that I pick up on just about any project, especially if that project is a case of sometimes. The article lists some of the reasons for having a router plane, such as flattening dados and trimming up tenons, and the plane does indeed do a great job of that, producing a much flatter and more even surface than a table saw can do. But one of my favorite uses for a router plane is for finishing up a stopped dado.

If you’ve ever made stopped dados with a power tool, either an electric router or a table saw w/dado stack, you know that some work needs to be done to finish up the joint with either method. I generally use a table saw for stopped dados, which leaves a slope at the end of the cut that needs to be cleared out and level to make a nice, even joint. Before I started using a router plane, I would do my best to chisel out the remaining waste, which isn’t all that accurate, and usually leaves an uneven and somewhat jagged bottom to the end of the dado. With a router plane, I still use a chisel to clear out the bulk of the material, but rather than try and get the bottom perfect, I chisel close to the intended depth, and use the router plane to finish the job, which always results in a smooth transition, and a flat and even dado. The same techniques can be used if you make you stopped dados with an electric router as well. Just for those reasons alone a router plane is worth keeping in my tool box.

If there is one knock on using a router plane it is in sharpening the plane iron, which because of it’s shape makes it somewhat tricky to sharpen. I don’t consider sharpening a router plane difficult, just awkward. But in the article, a method of sharpening the iron using the “ruler trick” is shown, and for those of you who don’t read Popular Woodworking, or check out the magazine’s web page, here is a link to a video that shows how easy it is to sharpen the iron with this method. I’ve tried it several times and it really is simple, and more importantly it really does work, and this coming from a woodworker who really doesn’t care for the “ruler trick” in most cases.

My Lie Nielsen router

My Lie Nielsen router

The router plane I own is a Lie Nielsen, though Veritas offers a version that is considered just as good an option. As far as purchasing a used router, I probably wouldn’t recommend doing it. I’ve never used a vintage router, but nearly every person who has reports that the adjustments on the modern versions are much easier. But the real reason I would stick with a new model is because of the price. I haven’t come across a vintage router plane that was in decent shape for under $100, and most of them cost nearly as much as a brand new one, which is in the $140 range. For that, I would rather have a new tool that I know is going to work, and which also has a guarantee to back it up. However, if you prefer vintage tools, there are still a lot of them out there for sale.

So for the benefit of anybody who happens to read this blog, and who doesn’t happen to read Popular Woodworking magazine, if you get the chance, check it out this month. Even if you are a woodworker who uses nearly all power tools when you make furniture, I would recommend trying out a router plane. When you use one for the first time, it really does become one of those tools that makes you wish that you had always owned it. At that, it is one of the few “lesser known” woodworking tools that I believe lives up to its claim to fame.

***I believe that on Popular Woodworking Magazine’s web page they are offering a free digital download of the current issue. So it will be easy to check out the article for yourself if you like***


Warp 10!

***I made a mistake when I wrote this post, and I just went to check on my “Alder” board and found that it was in fact, Aspen. In my defense, I did not purchase the board, and the person that picked it up for me only followed my instructions for an edge glued panel of that size. The rest was just an honest mistake. I know little about Aspen, except that it is somewhat similar to poplar, so I should be okay in using it. The only reason I found the error is because I just happened to check the receipt on my bench, and things started to make a little more sense. Sorry about the mistake***

I still don’t feel all that great; I admit. Nonetheless, I went down into my garage this morning to start prepping the wood for my toolbox project. It should have come as no surprise that one of the poplar boards I picked up the other day has warped badly, because that is par for the course this time of year in my neck of the woods. Well, I was a little surprised, because I’ve always thought that poplar was a bit more stable when it came to situations like this. So, rather than start prep work on a board that is possibly unusable (at least in this project), I left everything be and did a little bit of sharpening. Now, I have a decision to make.

I have an edge glued panel made of Alder which is 2ft x 4ft x 3/4. That would give me enough material to make the case and the shelf. I’ve used edge glued panels before and I like them because they are stable. If I were making a table or a bookcase, I wouldn’t use an edge glued panel because I don’t like how they look when finish is applied, but for a toolbox it doesn’t really matter. Still, I’m going to need another one to finish the toolbox, and that would probably cost the same as purchasing another poplar board. I’ve worked with poplar before and I know what I am dealing with. I’ve never used Alder, and the only thing I know about it is that one of my guitars was made from it. Alder might be difficult to dovetail, or plane, I have no idea. Another option I have is breaking out my small supply of walnut and using that. I have enough to make the toolbox. That seems a waste to me though, kind of like putting rims on a work van.

If anybody has any suggestions about Alder and would like to offer advice please feel free. I was planning on using it to make a couple of shelves for my garage. It’s flat, doesn’t look bad, and seems pretty durable. If I paint the toolbox then it won’t matter in the least. I could use the poplar to make cleats and a tool rack, and the good board could be glued up and made into a lid. I’m just being cheap, or thrifty. But I would rather spend the money on some decent hardware for the chest, not more boards that will likely be painted anyway. All in all, this is just another reminder of why I try not to woodwork when it’s freezing outside.

Dutch Tool Box

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I’ve picked up some of the material for my next project. I’ve decided to once again make a Dutch Tool Chest. For those of you who don’t know, the Dutch chest is an old design which has appeared in several books on tool chests, the Woodwright’s Shop, and more recently in Popular Woodworking Magazine. Back in the summer I completed a chest based off of the Dutch design and I thought it turned out nicely. In fact, when I posted the photo to Lumberjocks it made it to the Daily Top 3 projects page, which I thought was quite generous of them. I went to my local Lowes and picked up two 1x12x8 poplar boards, which should give me enough material to build the entire chest case except for the lid. Because I am still not feeling all that well, I probably won’t get started until next weekend, but at least I am at the starting gate.

My current tool chest

My current tool chest

Some may wonder why I am building another tool chest. Well, I consider this next project more of a tool box rather than a tool chest. But the main reason is that the chest I built back in the summer is enormous; it is the Titanic of tool chests. There is enough room in it for every woodworking hand tool I own times two. While I really like the chest, a lot, I am trying to scale back everything in my garage, which is getting smaller and smaller by the day, even though I’ve done my best to pare away at anything unnecessary. It seems the more that I do that, the more stuff my wife finds to toss in there. I think my current chest will end up in my dad’s garage and the new tool box will end up on a small platform under the right side of my workbench.

dutch tool chest

Another added benefit of building this tool box will be the chance to practice sawing dovetails, as well as finally use my new tongue and groove plane. I will stick fairly closely to the plans in Popular Woodworking magazine, though I will change some of the dimensions to fit my needs. I will once again use the decorative cut nails, which I thought added a nice touch, and had never seen a tool chest with that look before. Some people later on did the same, which I thought was pretty cool, but only a few acknowledged that I had come up with the idea. Maybe I didn’t come up with the idea originally, or maybe some who did it had come up with it on their own just like I had, but I know at least one instance where I was snubbed, not that I care in the least, honestly. But it was the person doing the snubbing that bothered me.

So tomorrow I may start by getting my material cut to length. Like I was saying, I am not feeling well so I don’t see myself doing anything major; my head is currently too fuzzy for that. Once I get going, I estimate that it will take roughly two weekends to get the chest case built, and another weekend day to get the accessories added. I’m not sure on the finish, and on projects like this I don’t like to think too far ahead. I may leave it unfinished and just add a few coats of wax, or I may paint it. Either way it doesn’t matter, because I will be woodworking again really soon, and that is a good thing.

Freedom of Speech

I like to talk about politics, and I like to talk about woodworking. Very rarely do the two subjects come up in the same conversation, and at that, this post is not really about woodworking, but politics. When I first entered the world of virtual woodworking, and internet woodworking forums, I was pretty surprised to see some heated discussions over simple subjects such as: Which chisels do you like? Do you like Sawstop table saws? Do you think that people who use power tools are ‘real’ woodworkers? When I say heated, I mean to say that it got nasty. There was a lot of name calling, insults, and so on. Though I had seen discussions like this on the internet before, they were usually concerned with politics, or current events, or even sports. I never thought that the world of woodworking would be so polarized, and I spent the last few years trying to figure out why. Now, I don’t care so much anymore, but, there is one thing I do care about that transcends woodworking forums and blogs, and that is the right to express your opinion without being persecuted for it.

Some people who read this blog may watch a popular television show called ‘Duck Dynasty’, or at least be aware of it. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen the show and know very little about it. Reality shows aren’t my thing for the most part, and during the short hours that I am actually home during the week more than likely the Disney Channel is what we’re watching on the television. The long story short is, a few weeks ago one of the members of the show gave an interview, and during that interview he said that he felt a certain group of people were sinners according to his religious beliefs. Of course, there were those who agreed with him and those who didn’t. The group that didn’t agree went to the television network that his show is on, complained and I am guessing mentioned a boycott, and the network removed him from the show. Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I don’t know exactly what he said because I didn’t read the interview. At that, I really don’t care what he said, because I felt that removing him from the show was a huge mistake, and completely went against the ideals of freedom of speech, expression, and opinion. In a nutshell, and using a broad generalization, many of those who agreed with the decision would probably refer to themselves as “Liberals”, and many who supported what he had said would probably refer to themselves as “Conservatives”. Though I would be absolutely sure that he had supporters and detractors on either side of the fence. I don’t like to label myself with “isms” or political party lines, because I believe there is too much hypocrisy on both sides and that real fairness and impartial decisions are almost impossible anymore.

A friend of mine, who in his own words would describe himself as “Very Liberal”, explained to me that this Duck Dynasty guy was a bigot and doesn’t belong on television. Because I don’t know the guy from Adam, I can’t call him a bigot, but I reasoned that firing him because he expressed an opinion in a reasonable manner during his own free time seemed that it could be a violation of his Constitutional right to free speech and thought. He went on to say that the company that fired him had every right to do what they did and technically that is true. In fact, just about every company in America can fire one of its employees at any time for any reason. The reason really doesn’t matter, it could be for wishing a fellow employee “Happy Christmas” or “Happy Birthday”. It could be for having a phone conversation in the privacy of your own home, where you happened to say that you didn’t care for the current President. Because, if your opinions, no matter where you express them, are deemed offensive or detrimental to business your company has every right to terminate your employment. I don’t know how some people feel, but I don’t care for it all that much.

I made two points to my friend. The first point was that he wasn’t being very “liberal”. To my mind, being liberal would be for allowing for all ideology, opinions, and religious beliefs. My friend was very quick to say that this guy should not only be banned from the television show, but from TV altogether. He felt that his beliefs had no place in the workplace. I pointed out to him that there were a lot of people who, right or wrong, agree with what he said. He made disparaging remarks about them and felt that the country was better off without them. I then proceeded to tell him that because he didn’t agree with this guy’s opinion, because he felt that he was wrong, because he didn’t care for the guy all that much, he felt that not only should the guy not be allowed to work, basically anywhere, but that anybody who supported him doesn’t belong here, either. Well, I don’t know about anybody else, but what my “Very Liberal” friend said to me sounded very much like bigotry. What my “Very Liberal” friend said to me sounded a whole lot like Fascism. If you don’t believe me, check out “The Rise of Fascism” and you will see that I am a lot closer to the mark than you think. I pointed all of this out to him and he didn’t really agree.

The second point I made to my friend was this. As far as I am aware, every corporation/company in the United States of America operates under the protection of the Constitution and the laws of this country. These companies are given police, fire, and military protection. They are given tax concessions, their vehicles use public roads paid for by the taxpayers. They use the infrastructure that the tax payer has provided. They can advertise, set pricing as they see fit, open and close their businesses when they see fit, and are only required to pay their employees the minimum wage required by law. Every company in this country is protected by the rights guaranteed in the Constitution, but it seems that when a private citizen of the United States takes employment at one of these companies, he is basically forced to forfeit some of those Constitutional rights if he wants to work there. Those forfeited rights include the right to practice your own religion, express your own opinions, think your own thoughts, and even disagree with some of the things the company you work for does without fear of persecution. Scarily, it seems that according to law, you cannot do those things anymore, even away from work, even in the privacy of your own home, without fear of losing your job. Like my friend pointed out; every company in America can terminate your employment at any time for any reason they see fit, so it’s not as if you can just go to another job and things will be better; it is the same across the board.

I pointed out all of these things to my “Very Liberal” friend. I pointed out that he and some of his cronies spend an awful lot of their free time on the internet bashing corporations and their pay disparity, lack of worker rights, unfair tax breaks and so on. But, when one of those corporations did something he agreed with he was goose-stepping right behind them, and defending their “right” to do as they pleased. I pointed out that his “Very Liberal” line of thinking didn’t really come off as being very liberal. I pointed out that a person, or a group, who wants to ban, blacklist, or even deport a person or group whom they don’t agree with aren’t very liberal or fair, they are more like, dare I say, Fascists.

Anyway, enough with the politics. I just had to get that off my chest. My next post will be about my next project, hopefully starting very soon.

Am I the only woodworker that…

There are times that we all feel alone in our ideals or principles. There are times I often wonder if I am the only person on Earth who sees certain things a certain way. In fact, sometimes I feel that nobody will ever understand what makes me tick. So at that, I give you this post:

Am I the only woodworker that thinks used woodworking tools are way overpriced?

I’ve purchased used woodworking tools in the past; I admit it! Some of them even turned out to be decent bargains relatively speaking. I’ve always felt that the best reason for a woodworking hobbyist to purchase a used tool was saving some cash. Nobody is going to convince me that old tools are of better quality than comparable new tools. There may be an exception or three to that statement, but in general, you can purchase a new tool of the same or even better quality for the same relative cost. Don’t believe me? I’ll give you an example.

My jointer plane is a Stanley Type 11. Including tax and shipping I paid around $175.00 for it, which was in the ballpark of every other Type 11 jointer in similar condition that I’ve seen. If we use the labor theory of value as our guideline, that plane cost me roughly 6 hours of labor to purchase. At that, I am at a little less than half the cost of a #7 jointer from Lie Nielsen or Veritas. BUT! The plane also took me around 4 hours time to clean, hone, and refinish, not to mention the fact that I needed to purchase a few items in order to clean the tool, including Brasso, mineral spirits, and a brush. Suddenly, the plane was not such a bargain when you factor in the labor costs it took to purchase and restore it. In fact, they are nearly identical to the cost of purchasing a brand-new, high quality plane that is by many accounts better, and comes with a full guarantee! You may argue that my labor costs do not properly reflect my ability to restore an old tool, and that an experienced tool restorer could have finished the project in less than half the time. That is very true, but I am talking about myself, not a professional tool restorer or woodworker.

If you don’t believe my numbers, check it out for yourself, they are fairly accurate. Sure, there are some tools that are real bargains. For example, I paid around $30 for my egg beater drill; it was a steal, and a lucky break for me. The tool needed no restoration and was ready to use immediately. You can almost never say that about planes, chisels, or saws. Most used tools that are inexpensive are either near-garbage, or will require so much time and effort to restore that purchasing a new tool is usually a better option. If you want to collect or use old tools because of their history that is one thing, but if you are looking for a bargain then you may be looking in the wrong place.

Am I the only woodworker that thinks Japanese style saws really suck?

Even before I started woodworking I had heard great things about Japanese style pull saws. “They are crazy accurate!” “They are much easier to use!” “They are super sharp!” “They are inexpensive!” Of all of those statements, I only agree with the sharpness claim. I’ve used enough Japanese saws to know that they don’t offer any advantage whatsoever over a Western saw. They are no more accurate, no easier to use, and a good one is just as expensive as a comparable Western saw. I’m not saying they don’t work; obviously they do. I am saying that I think Western saws are better, hands down! There is not a single Japanese saw that I’ve seen which can do the same job as a Western rip-filed panel saw. Japanese dovetail saws do a nice job, but, once again a good one costs just as much or more than a Western saw, and in my opinion is flimsy for lack of a better word. Let’s not even mention the fact that you cannot sharpen most of them. -“But the pull stroke is much more accurate and doesn’t bind!!”-That’s highly debatable, yet even if that were true, the Japanese style handle is harder to grip and leads to less accuracy than the Western pistol grip in my not so humble opinion.

Now I’m not telling anybody what to do. If you like Japanese saws then who am I to tell you differently. But don’t try to tell me that they are somehow magical. Everything I’ve encountered leads me to believe that Western saws are superior.

Am I the only woodworker that wonders why there hasn’t been a calendar of hot woodworking women?

At the risk of sounding really sexist, I have to think that in a world with 7 billion people there aren’t twelve attractive women woodworkers who are willing to put out a tasteful calendar. I’m not looking for thong bikini photos here, but perhaps a strategically placed tool apron wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I know that this sounds terribly degrading but I am a guy, and I enjoy woodworking, and every now and again I don’t mind so much seeing a scantily clad attractive woman. Isn’t the only logical conclusion to combine my two passions into one small and useful package. Everybody woodworker needs a calendar right? And women woodworkers need not be excluded. I would have nothing against a calendar geared towards the female of the species. In fact, I have a few free days next month if anybody needs me to pose for a few pictures…

Cabin Fever.

A surprise arrived today with the mail from a person I only know through blogging. I don’t feel comfortable name dropping without permission, but I will say that I have a huge amount of respect for what this person has done and continues to do month in and month out. With that being said, it has made me even more anxious to get woodworking again. Since I’ve added the tool tray to my workbench, I’ve done very little actual furniture making. The even more disappointing part of my self-imposed winter exile is that the last thing I completed was something of a hack job. Had my little hiatus ended on a high note I wouldn’t be so depressed at the moment. Nevertheless, I can say that this dry spell isn’t from a lack of inspiration; the truth is that I have several projects that I would love to start. But until Christmas is over I don’t plan on dropping any cash on stock. I’ve occupied myself with some sharpening, and a little rearrangement of my garage, but that is all busy work. I need to get woodworking again soon, because it is starting to get dangerous around here.

I noticed a potential problem just the other day. The morning started out simply enough. It was snowing, again, and I was bored. I decided to go into the garage and do some more cleaning and organizing. I had the iPod blaring and things were coming along nicely, and then my shop vac started screaming like a spoiled kid in a toy store. Worse, I smelled the unmistakable aroma of ozone and plastic. I knew the canister wasn’t full or clogged, I had just cleaned it out, but the hose was another issue. I’m not sure if the hose clogged because of the dead motor or vice versa, but after I cleaned it out and checked for more obstructions the situation didn’t improve. At that point, I did what any other mechanically minded person would do, and that was smash the canister with a mighty blow from my fist. Two things happened: my hand hurt, and the shop vac cracked. So not long after I found myself braving the snow and driving to my nearest Sears Hardware.

While at Sears, I found a decent wall mounted vac with a twenty foot hose. It doesn’t have as large a canister as my now destroyed vac, but the fact that it mounts on the wall and that it has a twenty foot hose are some nice selling points for a guy who woodworks in a garage where space is at a huge premium. At that, just like furniture stock, I am not planning on buying a new vac until after Christmas. But the real danger came a few moments later. I found myself in the tool section. I’m going to say something here that I never thought I would say on this blog, so here goes. The truth is that I do enjoy using hand tools much more than power tools. I find more satisfaction using hand tools. Using hand tools relaxes me. I find that I am more careful and precise when using hand tools. I have nothing against power tools at all. But when I get power tool catalogs I throw them out, I don’t look at power tools in woodworking stores or places like Sears. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have a band saw, and a lathe, but with my current situation I have nowhere to put them, so I use hand tools for everything I can, and the only power tools that see any real use in my garage are a table saw and much more rarely a jig saw. Well, there is one more power tool that I sometimes use, and that tool is the router.

Though I never try to advocate one method of woodworking over another, I will say that I am not a fan of the router. There are some woodworkers who swear by them; I am not one of those woodworkers. I have several problems with routers; they are messy, they can ruin your work in a heartbeat, and they are loud. But they are great for adding decorative edging, or making mouldings, and also for adding beads. In fact, the beading ability is the main reason that I keep a router. But the problem there is that you should use a router table if you want to do it right. My router table is at the end of it’s life right now. I’ve had it for at least ten years and used it for remodeling our kitchen. I’ve loaned it out many times, dropped it, lost the hardware, and broken the fence. It was a Craftsman “Professional” model and at that it has done a very serviceable job. It did not fall apart because it was a piece of junk, quite the contrary, it held together through all the abuse because it was well made. Whatever the case, it’s time has come.

So while at Sears I found myself looking at the router tables. Some of them were not worth looking at and much better suited to a hobbyist who does small work. However, I did find one table that I thought was fairly impressive. There was a floor model already assembled and with the optional base it was at the perfect height for use. The fence seemed sturdy and easy to adjust, and the table was very solid. I was even more impressed because many times at places like Sears the salesmen do a half-assed job of assembling the tools. So it may be possible to make this set-up even sturdier. Still, I don’t think I would go the Craftsman route. My table was American made, one of the last I believe. I’m certain that this table is not, and that doesn’t make me all that happy, but it does make me think about purchasing another router table.

Here’s the deal, I like ogees and beads. Chamfers I can add myself for the most part, mortises I can also chop by hand, and I can add rabbets and dados with my table saw, but if I want to add a detail like an ogee I am dependent on an electric router. I’ve looked into moulding planes, and I just don’t have the money to get a set of them, nor do I have the time to spend refurbishing an ancient set, however well made as they may have been. I know what’s going on; I am suffering from cabin fever. I haven’t woodworked in weeks, and I am on the verge of dropping several hundred dollars on a tool that I don’t even care for using all that much. I just hope that this cold spell breaks, and that I have a little cash left over for woodworking after Christmas. Something needs to happen sooner rather than later, because I have way too much free time on my hands to look at catalogs and unnecessary minutiae. If I don’t get woodworking soon something terrible may happen; I may end up with a biscuit jointer.

Why I Woodwork

A post I wrote last year regarding the Sandy Hook tragedy.

The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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…

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