The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Handworks 2.0

I’ve never cared all that much for woodworking shows; I admit it. I know that being an amateur woodworker, I am supposed to drool with anticipation every time a woodworking show approaches nigh. The truth is, I’ve been to about 7 or 8 woodworking shows if you count the 3 Lie Nielsen hand tool events I’ve attended, and for the most part they consisted of half a dozen groups of septuagenarian men standing in a semi-circle with their arms folded listening to somebody talk. No offense, but that’s not my idea of a good time. Still, I’m not ready to give up on woodworking shows completely. As a matter of fact, there is a show in the works that may make me a believer.

The upcoming show, called Handworks, is located in Amana, Iowa. As of today it is scheduled for May 15th and 16th of 2015, which should give me plenty of time to plan the trip. The list of vendors, toolmakers, and woodworkers is a virtual who’s who of current woodworking tool makers including: Veritas, Lie Nielsen, Benchcrafted, Tools for Working Wood, and Bad Axe tools, as well as Scott Meek, Matt Bickford, and Hock Tools among many, many others. Wacky woodworker Roy Underhill will be presenting and Lost Art Press will also be on hand with books for sale. Those familiar with woodworking will recognize that this event is a pure “Hand Tool” affair. That is fine with me. I’m neither in the hand tool nor the power tool camp, but I’ve been to several power tool demonstrations, and there’s not much to them; you can only watch a board get cross cut on a table saw so many times. Hand tool shows manage to actually offer a little variety.

So why would a person that admittedly doesn’t care much about woodworking shows drive nearly 2000 miles round trip to attend one? Firstly, this may be the last chance I get to take a good road trip. I’m not a kid anymore, and my opportunities and excuses to take a cross country drive are now few and far between. Secondly, it would give me a chance to check out a part of the country that I’ve never had the chance to see up close. Most importantly, I think my wife and daughter would really enjoy the area, if not the woodworking show itself, and I really can’t say that about any of the other woodworking events I’ve attended.

Does all of this mean that I’m going? The odds are probably against it, but it is still my best chance. Flying to the show is out of the question because of the cost, and because if we were planning on purchasing plane tickets I would have a tough time convincing my family to choose Amana, Iowa over Disney World. I don’t mind making the drive, but it would involve several days in a car, which is not an easy sell. At the same time, there is no cost for the event, and I’m sure we can find an interesting place or two to stop and check out along the way. In other words, I have a shot.

So the bottom line is if there is one woodworking show in the world I would actually go out of my way to attend, it would be Handworks in Amana. And at the risk of sounding presumptuous, if any woodworker or woodworkers out there ever wanted to hang out with me for a few hours at a woodworking show and talk a little shop, or just get into trouble, this may be the best chance to make that happen. Hopefully, I’ll be going, and hopefully I’ll be seeing some of you there.


Plant Stand nearing completion.

Yesterday morning time was short. I had errands to run and work to do around the house. I knew that I would have little time to actually woodwork with yesterday so my goal was to get the rest of the mortises chopped in the legs of my plant stand and possibly get the tenons fit. Right away I noticed an error, I had set the lay out of the mortises too close to the top of the legs, leaving little room between the mortise and the end grain. That worried me, and if the leg had split it would have been unsalvageable. The fix was easy, though, I just shortened the mortises by half an inch and marked a new lay out line. I then sandwiched the four top rails together, secured them in the leg vice of the workbench, and gang sawed the new tenons; it was fast and easy work.

rails stacked together

rails stacked together

Last week I had chopped out the mortises for the bottom rails using a mortise chisel and a mallet, it took me around an hour or so to get them all chopped and cleaned up. I only had an hour left to woodwork, but I felt it was enough time. I started on the first leg and twenty minutes later it was finished. I was running out of time, so I bit the bullet and turned to the router table and a spiral bit. I’ve said before that I generally don’t enjoy using a router, in particular for making mortises. I’m not saying that they don’t work, but I like to chop them by hand simply because I enjoy doing it. But because time was of the essence, and because over the next few weekends my woodworking time is going to be limited, I went for the faster option.

I had the router table set up in no time; I keep it on a stand with casters. It took me a few minutes to set up the fence, but once it was done I had the other three legs finished in less than 10 minutes. The mortises weren’t as clean as they are with a sharp chisel, but the results were roughly the same. Because my spiral bit is not as wide as my mortise chisel, I still had some work to do regardless, so I got out my giant Lee Valley 1 1/2″ chisel, which is razor sharp, and finished up the work the router started. Once again, it took very little effort, and because I had scribed the lay out lines so deeply, the chisel practically guided itself into the mortise wall. While I’ll never be completely sold on using the router table for mortises, it came through for me on a big way yesterday.

Cleaning up the mortise walls.

Cleaning up the mortise walls.

With what little time I had left, I cleaned up the tenons, used the table saw to add the miters, and did a test fit. Everything went together tightly, but when I measured the diagonal at the top it was more than a quarter of an inch out of square. I flipped the assembly over and measured the diagonal from the bottom and it was less than a sixteenth off. I turned it back over once again and clamped everything up and found that it improved, but was still nearly a quarter inch out of square. Because I had run out of time I didn’t get to the bottom of the problem. I know that very rarely does a table assembly end up perfectly square and true, but the other tables I’ve made were never more than 1/8″ off. I’ll do a few more test fits and see what I turn up.

The last things I need to do are: cut out the bottom shelf, plane and sand the legs and rails, add the beads, and add the decorative edge to the corners of each leg. I will also need to add a kerf to all of the rails for the hardware needed to attach the table top, and bottom shelf. Next coming Sunday I should have a few hours for myself, and I think I will be able to have the stand assembled and ready for stain. The bottom shelf will be the most difficult part. When I do my next test fit I’m hoping that the bottom is as square as it was yesterday, which will make for and easy fitting, otherwise it will be a lot more work and probably add another day to my construction time. At least I hope that’s the case, because my wife found a project that she would like me to work on, and with that I think I’ve finally found a use for my stash of Walnut.

The Slightly Confused Woodworking Show

I’ve been kicking around the idea of starting my own YouTube woodworking show. I know, just about any idiot with a video camera and a microphone can start his or her own YouTube show, but I have a few ideas that I believe will separate my show from the rest of the lot. Like any other woodworking show, mine will contain projects and techniques, tips, and tricks, but I also plan on adding the following features which as far as I can tell have been absent from the typical woodworking shows currently on the internet:

-The first woodworking show to feature a soundtrack of gangsta rap (I like Cypress Hill).

-The first woodworking show with visible tattoos on the host.

-The first woodworking show where the host may or may not be visibly intoxicated.

-The first woodworking show featuring a shirtless woodworker (ladies night).

-The first woodworking show with foul language (both scripted and unscripted).

-The first woodworking show host with a Philly accent.

-The first woodworking show featuring rants (both scripted and unscripted).

-The first woodworking show to possibly be sponsored by a malt liquor company.

While I’m not going to tell anybody I’m a great woodworker, I can promise you that if my show gets up and running it will not be boring. I’m still in the rudimentary stages of planning, but if anybody has an idea or two they would like to share please feel free. Thanks.

The Refined Woodworker


As far as the world of written woodworking is concerned, I am probably considered little more than a foul-mouthed thug from the inner city. There was a time when I would have hidden from my past in that regard, but now I embrace it-not so much proudly-but just as an indisputable fact of my existence. But like the would-be gentleman paupers of old, I’ve spent much of my life in an effort to improve myself, with some success. I was an intelligent kid and a good student, and I worked hard to increase my intelligence and knowledge of the world around me. It was not my station in life to study among the great minds of our time, and sit through the lectures of angry geniuses gifting the lesser minds scattered about them with their teachings. I went my own way, reading from my own version of “The Harvard Classics” which has left me with a somewhat incomplete but interesting collection of knowledge.

Part of my self-education was music. Like most kids from my generation, I was introduced to classical music not by my parents, but by watching the Loony Tunes, as my parents were fans of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, et al. As I got older I broke away from my parents tastes in music and became a fan of the popular music of the day. Still, good music transcends the generations, and like most teenagers I had delusions of rock stardom, so I took music lessons, guitar and piano to be precise, and during those lessons I was introduced to a wide range of musical forms. Later in life, I decided that I wanted to teach music and took classes in college to attain that goal. College music theory courses consist mainly of jazz and classical. Why? Probably in order to teach the two basic theories of harmony: diatonic and chromatic. During that time I acquired a decent collection of music and music books, and once the new-fangled iPod became available I uploaded a good portion of that music to the player. I now have more than 1000 songs on my iPod, and I’ve found that truly enjoy listening to music while I woodwork.

So what type of music do I listen to while woodworking? Everything. My player goes from modern to classic rock, country, classical, jazz, film scores, rap, blues, folk and pop. If you happened to stumble by my garage while I was woodworking you may hear ‘Water Music Suite No. 2 in D major’ followed by ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’. No, my music tastes aren’t “eclectic”. Because I’m a Cretan thug I don’t like the word “eclectic.” People who use that word really aren’t “eclectic” at all. Good music is good music; period, and I don’t care what “genre” it’s a part of.

But if I had to pick one genre of music to listen to while woodworking what would it be? I have to say that it would be Classical. I like to woodwork early in the morning, and Classical seems to be a lot easier to digest at 7 a.m. than your typical Black Sabbath song. Don’t get me wrong, I can stomach a little ‘War Pigs’ cranked up to ear-splitting levels at sunrise, but I don’t think anybody else in my house could. Still, if a foul-mouthed, vitriolic hooligan like myself can appreciate a little Chopin while woodworking, then maybe the rest of my journalist degree lacking, uncouth, unrefined, unholy, insincere, inconsiderate, and obnoxious woodworking cronies can too.

The Plant Stand Project Continues.

Like the hair on the heads of most of my co-workers, or a fine strand of gossamer, or perhaps the skin of many woodworking writers, my time spent woodworking lately has been very thin. Why? First off, I just haven’t felt all that great to be honest. I’m hoping it’s nothing, but in any event it was enough to keep me grounded for a week or so. Secondly, with the Easter holiday just passing we had a fairly busy week around the house, not only visiting our relatives, but also having much of the family over visiting us. Still, I did manage to get some work done on my plant stand here and there on Saturday morning, and at that I got a good amount accomplished.

Last week I had milled the stock and finished the top, so next on the agenda was chopping the mortises, and I decided to chop out the mortises for the bottom stretchers first. It’s been months since I chopped any mortises, so I felt that starting at the least visible portion would be the smart thing to do. Each leg has two ¼” mortises, which are intersecting. Intersecting mortises are theoretically easier to chop by hand because if you chop them plumb and square, you automatically will have a flat bottom for each side by virtue of the intersection. The job wasn’t difficult; I had sharpened my mortising chisel last week so it was fully ready to go, and the Fir legs of the soon to be plant stand work easy enough. I didn’t use a mortising machine because I don’t own one and I never really had the desire to, though in this case I wouldn’t have minded. It took around an hour of work to get the bottom eight mortises finished, along with the fine tuning done with a regular chisel. I guess I could have used the router table, but they don’t do all that great a job with mortising in my opinion. I don’t enjoy repeatedly adjusting the depth of cut as there’s just too much room for error.

Rather than continue in a logical sequence and chop out the top mortises, I decided to fit the tenons for the bottom stretchers instead. At first, I used the shoulder plane, but found that a sharp skew chisel and a bench hook did a much better job. I own two skew chisels, ½” Narex LH and RH. Though I don’t care for the bulky handles all that much, they sharpen nicely and hold a good edge. I think I paid $20 for the pair and they were well worth it. To fit the tenons I took a light pass on the “face side”-meaning the side of the tenons on the visible portion of the stretcher, but I did the bulk of the work on the inside portion of the tenon. I learned that if you are going to make a mistake fitting a tenon, it’s best to do it on the “inside” portion. The job didn’t take long, less than an hour, and I had all eight tenons fitted. Only one tenon, the back right, had a shoulder which was a little off kilter, meaning it had a minor gap. It doesn’t matter though, as it will be covered by the bottom shelf and will be completely invisible.

The last woodworking act of the day was sawing the miters on the edge of each tenon. I used the table saw for that job, as it was faster and more accurate. Once the miters were sawn I did another test fit, and found that the tenons were a hair long. To fix that problem I used the jack plane and bench hook to “shoot” the ends of the miters just enough to nibble off the ends a hair. Strangely enough, I had just mentioned to another woodworker that I very rarely “shoot” boards. Once I had finished that little task I did a final test fit using clamps. The shoulders closed up nicely, but I very well may use dowels to reinforce the joint once it’s together; I’m thinking one 3/8” dowel on each tenon should do the trick.

Test clamp

Test clamp

Standing tall

Standing tall

I’m going to estimate that chopping the mortises for the top and fitting the tenons should also take roughly two hours. After that, I will begin the arduous task of planing and sanding the stand. I am planning on beading the stretchers after the sanding is completed. I’m still on the fence with beading the corners of the legs, though I am 95% sure that I will stick to the bead. I’m thinking that a larger bead may be in order, 3/8″ rather than 1/4″, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, but the toll for the crossing may be the first new router bit I’ve purchased since before I started woodworking.

Which is more difficult: Being a great musician or being a great woodworker?

Because I spent many years studying, practicing, and playing music I’ve always compared it to other hobbies and professions on a scale of difficulty. Now that I am a hobby woodworker, I naturally compare woodworking to music. I spent many years playing in working bands, I took many lessons, and many college courses and even with all of my knowledge and experience I know that had I continued on with music I would still have a life time of learning and practicing to go before I could call myself a “master”. I don’t know how good I was honestly. I was good enough to play in bands, to record, and to play at most of the bars and clubs in the Philadelphia area. I was good enough to get paid for what I did, and I was good enough to teach it. Yet, I also know that there were countless thousands who were/are better than I ever was or would be. That fact never bothered me much, as I can say the same about woodworkers.

As far as the poll is concerned, I’m not looking for any one particular answer because I don’t have one myself. I honestly don’t know if music is more difficult than woodworking. This I can say, at my musical height, I practiced nearly every day at least a few hours, I took two lessons per week, and I generally practiced with one band or another two or three times a week. If I woodworked now as much as I practiced and played music then I would be a far, far better woodworker than I ever was a musician. Yet there may be woodworkers out there who are fantastic without having to work at it just like there are some musicians who are so naturally gifted that it comes easily to them without much work. I don’t believe it-music and woodworking both require muscle memory, which is something that requires practice no matter what your natural talents- but it could be true.

So if I had to choose I would say that being a great musician is more difficult than being a great woodworker. The reason I say that is because I know there are thousands of “weekend warrior” woodworkers who make world-class, professional level furniture. I don’t believe there are thousands of hobby musicians who are making world class music in their basements on the weekends. I’m sure there are exceptions to that, but I personally believe the ratio by-far favors hobby woodworkers. Still, that’s just the opinion of one person, and if anybody out there has any feedback I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

Plant stand continues

Something extremely disappointing happened to me last week that I didn’t mention on the blog. While prepping the wood for my plant stand I discovered that a good portion of it wasn’t usable. There was some rot, and bad checks, and worst of all twist. Rather than throw it all in the trash; it’s still Walnut; I salvaged everything I could and stacked it neatly on the small rack I have in my garage. In fact, I had planned on taking a photo of it for the blog and seeing if anybody could come up with a good project for it. But with the Walnut not an option I wasn’t too sure what to do about the plant stand that my wife has been asking me to make-I really don’t want to purchase any material at the moment, and at the same time I don’t usually keep much laying around. So I did some searching in my scrap pile and found that I had enough clear Fir to make the stand legs, and bottom stretchers, and I had enough clear Pine to make the top stretchers as well as the table top itself. I still need a board for the bottom shelf, but I will worry about that when the stand is ready to be assembled.

Today saw the most progress of any other during the project. I got all 16 mortises laid out, the tenons are all sawn, and the top is finished. The tenons were the most time consuming part of the day. I used the table saw to define the cheeks of the tenons, but I sawed them with a hand saw. I’m not sure exactly why I do it this way, because there really is no advantage one way or the other, but it’s always how I’ve done it, and it seems to work. For accuracy I saw the tenons two boards at a time, which seems to help make sawing easier, and it speeds things up a little. With all sixteen tenons sawn I started on the top.

To make the top I glued up two boards, using the jointer plane to make a tight glue joint. I don’t know why, but when I did the glue up last week I had some trouble getting a good joint. The iron was certainly sharp enough, but the board did not want to plane properly. In any event, I did eventually manage to get a tight joint, and today I used the smoothing plane to clean it up. Before I went any further, I used the table saw and cross cut sled to produce the finished size: 16×16. I then planed the edges clean and used the random orbit sander, 220 grit, for a final light pass on the top.

The last operation of the day was laying out the mortises. Before I started I marked both the legs and stretchers with a cabinet makers triangle just so I didn’t screw up royally. To mark the mortises I used the tenons of the stretchers to size them, and then used a marking gauge to lay them out. Because I don’t have a mortising machine, I will chop them out with a mortising chisel. I suppose I could use a router, but on a soft wood like Fir the chisel will do just fine. So by next weekend the joinery should all be ready to go. I will only need to at the beading and the stand will be ready for assembly.

At first I was a little worried about using Pine and Fir together, but I think they will do fine. Both are softwoods and the material is nice and clear with no warp or knots of any kind. I wish I could use all Fir but I just didn’t have enough. I had even considered buying a 2×8 and milling the material from that, but that could be hit or miss, and I doubt that I could find a piece that was clear enough to make furniture from, at least not without searching through hundreds of boards to find it. I may regret that choice when I stain this project. I’m hoping that the gel stain that I used for my end tables does a good job of evening out two slightly dissimilar woods. I will have to do a test run at first, and maybe use some conditioner on the wood. If I don’t post any photos, you all will know it turned out.

marking the tenons

marking the tenons

sawing the bottom stretcher tenons

sawing the bottom stretcher tenons

Trying to be precise, and I need to shave

Trying to be precise, and I need to shave

Set up for sawing the cheeks

Set up for sawing the cheeks

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