Last month I needed to order a few items from Amazon.com. My order total fell just a bit short of free freight, so I added Alex Bealer’s book ‘Old Ways of Working Wood’ to the list, which only cost me around $2.00 after taking into account the deletion of the freight charge. The book sat untouched since it arrived, but a mild bout of insomnia on Saturday night led me to pick up the book and read it, which I did in one sitting-almost cover to cover. As far as woodworking books go, it was okay. I’ve read better, and worse. But something did surprise me, or rather, something didn’t surprise me.
‘Old Ways..’ was published in 1980 I believe. In literary terms, thirty-four years is hardly a long time, but it was written by a member of the G.I. generation. So we do at least have a perspective which is 3 generations removed from today. With that being said, Bealer’s views on hand tool/traditional woodworking are very similar to quite a few acclaimed new books that I’ve read over the past couple years. In fact, you could say that those books are almost identical to Bealer’s work. The message in ‘Old Ways’ is no different than in several “must read books that blew me away!” Here is the truth: There is no new woodworking information, it’s all been said before many, many times. While furniture may change in style, the way it is built has not really changed in hundreds of years. We, as woodworkers, are using the same joinery and virtually the same tools that have been used since the 17th century. The moral: There are no new woodworking books, and there haven’t been in a long time.
Would I recommend Bealer’s book? Not really. It’s not bad, but I liked Roy Underhill’s ‘ The Woodwright’s Guide: Working wood with wedge and edge’ much better, and both generally contain the same information; Underhill’s book was more fun to read. As far as woodworking books are concerned, I don’t know if I can see myself purchasing another new technique book. The older books are generally less expensive, and contain the same, if not better, information. While I’m all for supporting new authors, I do expect at least some new information, not information that has been rehashed over and over again for more than three hundred years. So while my “discovery” was hardly shocking, it did leave make me wonder about the future of woodworking books, as in, how many times am I going to read the same old thing in every new book?
I’ve received more than a few requests to get a full view of the tattoo on my right arm that you sometimes see creeping out my sleeve. I’m sorry to say that the only person who sees that tattoo in full is my wife, and anybody who happens to be a member of the same swim club I am.
Yesterday I published my first blog post in a while. I haven’t been woodworking, therefore I don’t have much to write about that would work on a woodworking blog. Anyway, last night something was brought to my attention by a “fan” concerning a “non-fan” and what this non-fan had hoped for this blog. He may get his wish yet, but I don’t care too much for punks.
I talk tough on this blog sometimes. Talk is cheap. Maybe if I happen to come across this person at a woodworking show you will all get to see how tough I really am.
Peace and Love.
I haven’t woodworked in nearly a month, and I guess I’m not too happy about it. To make matters worse, on a recent trip to an “old fashioned village” I spotted not one, but two Shaker Enfield Cupboards, or at least replicas of them. It just so happens that I had planned on building the Enfield as my next project, even going as far as picking up the material to make the cupboard a few months back. That material is still sitting in the garage, untouched. I did manage to get in a little sharpening last week. And that is something I would like to mention.
I’ve said before, I like hand tools; I’m a hand tool user. However, I am not a hand tool zealot, and there are things about using them that I do not enjoy, and one of those things is sharpening. Sharpening is not all that hard with a little practice, and if your tools are maintained properly it isn’t all that time consuming either. But sharpening is expensive, and there is no cheap way to go about it. I use water stones, as I like the edge that the stones produce. But water stones aren’t cheap, and they require maintenance, and that maintenance is one of the more expensive aspects of the method.
Stones can be maintained using a flattening stone, or sandpaper. Either way you go it can get costly. I try to flatten my stones after each use. I generally use a 1000/8000 grit stone, and I also have a 220 grit stone for rough grinding. I’ve found that the 220 stone is all but useless. Not that it doesn’t work, but if any heavy duty removal needs to be done the stone will dish out after just a few minutes, no matter how carefully you try to use the entire surface. I found out last Friday just how frustrating that could be.
Over the summer I purchased an old moving fillister plane that is in great condition, but with an iron that needs a little work. It appears that the previous owner was not a very good sharpener. When I first received the plane I gave it a good cleaning, a little flattening, and some general maintenance and tuning. I did manage to get an edge on the iron, but I wasn’t all that happy with the result. So I decided to put in some real time with it to true up the iron and establish an angle. At first I tried the 1000 grit stone, but it just wasn’t removing enough material, so I turned to the 220, which rarely sees any use. After just a minute or so, I could feel the stone begin to develop valleys. I flipped the stone over and used the other side, which had the same results. I flattened the stone, both sides, and got back to work, stopping every few minutes to flatten. It was neither fun nor efficient, and I very nearly broke out the electric grinding wheel and took a chance. Eventually, I arrived to a point where I can use the 1000 grit stone to finish the grinding, but by then I wanted to sharpen my spoke shave, block plane, and smooth plane irons, which happily took far less time. So I will have to wait until another day to finish up the fillister.
So what have I been doing with my free time now that I have been put on hiatus? Not much in the woodworking sense. I’ve taken a page from my youth, and for the past month or so I’ve been spending much of my free time at the gym, lifting weights and boxing. I used to enjoy boxing, but it’s been 15 years since I’ve done anything seriously. I’m 41 now, and any thought of me getting into a ring and getting pummeled is quickly dismissed, but I can still do the workout, and I’ve found that pounding on a heavy bag and speed bag not only tires me out, it also has a great stress-relieving quality. That, along with weekend visits to Valley Forge in an attempt to get my daughter interested in American History, which has thankfully been paying off, have taken up most of my free time.
For the time being I will be the good soldier, and keep woodworking on the backburner. There happens to be a Lie Nielsen hand tool event this coming weekend in the area, though it is probably a long shot that I will actually go to it. One bit of good news is the fact that I do have some material, and I do hope to get that material prepped in the hopes that I will eventually begin my Enfield Cupboard, even if it means doing it one board at a time. That way, if the day ever comes when I can woodwork again, I will be ahead of the game.
I’ve never been to a woodworking tool swap meet. I’d bet that there are quite a few woodworkers who can make the same claim. Unfortunately for me they just aren’t very common in this area. I have been to flea markets and garage sales, and sometimes you can get very lucky and find a few tools at a reasonable price that are in good condition, or in a condition that at the least makes them worth purchasing and saving. But even a more experienced woodworker, one used to owning new or newer tools may not know exactly what to look for, and that, among other reasons, is why I enjoyed The Naked Woodworker DVD.
I purchased the DVD partly out of curiosity, and partly from the recommendation of woodworker Jeff Branch, whose blog I’ve been following for several years. Including shipping, the two discs cost me $27.00, which is less than what I would pay to take my family out to breakfast. The DVD(s) arrived yesterday, and last night I watched the first disc, which focuses on finding used tools worth purchasing and restoring them to working condition, and this morning I watched the second disc, which details the construction of a pair of sawhorses and a woodworking bench. I enjoyed watching both, and I learned more about woodworking because I watched them, which I call a success.
What did I like? Firstly, the host, Mike Siemsen, is a likeable guy; he’s real, he’s a real woodworker, and like all good workers you pick up a few good tips and tricks just by listening to him and watching him work. The discs aren’t overly produced with a lot of annoying music and slick cut scenes, which frankly bug the hell out of me. Secondly, the tool restoration is real, and Siemsen shows real world restoration from old to working tool in real time. It’s quick, painless stuff. For instance, Siemsen shows how to file-sharpen an auger bit. Strangely, I learned how to do that during my electrical courses, and I have a special file that is made just for the task. Siemsen makes mention of the tool, but shows how to sharpen the auger using a basic file that he picked up at the tool swap.
Personally, I was most impressed with the segment on sharpening handsaws. I use just three woodworking saws, and two of them have never been sharpened. It’s not that they don’t need sharpening, but the fact that I am afraid to ruin them in the attempt. Siemsen shows how to joint, sharpen, and re-set an old hand saw using tools he picked up at the swap meet, with plenty of close-up shots that show a lot of detail during the sharpening process. Siemsen demystifies the process and makes it seem much more reachable. For me, it is the clearest instruction on saw sharpening that I’ve ever seen.
Disc two shows the construction of a pair of saw horses and a Nicholson style woodworking bench. Here again, Siemsen shows the entire process and how these essential pieces of shop equipment can be made quickly and effectively. In fact, Siemsen points out that in building the bench and the horses, you also get some good sawing practice in the process, AND, he shows that the joints don’t have to be absolutely perfect, just serviceable. The workbench is particularly impressive, as he builds it with less than $150 in lumber, and without any modifications it is a perfectly good workbench for any style of woodworking. Even more impressive is the manner of construction. Because of the modular nature of the assembly, this bench can be made by an absolute beginner, as well as a seasoned vet, and it could be used by both. Maybe most importantly, the bench can be modified to suit your liking. For instance, the bench is built without vices, which can be expensive. If I were to build the bench (and I just may do that) I would add a leg vice, which can be done for around $50, yet the addition would change the construction process very little. In fact, a leg vice could easily be retrofitted later. This bench is a real workbench, one that could work for a lifetime of woodworking.
These DVDs are marketed towards beginners, and at that they are a great starting off point. But they are also good resources for experienced woodworkers that may just be getting started in hand tools, or an experienced woodworker that is just entering the used tool market, or any woodworker that doesn’t want to spend a few grand building, or purchasing a good woodworking bench. The Naked Woodworker is being offered by Lost Art Press, and there is a link to that site on the resources section of my blog. For under $30 (which includes the cost of shipping-did I mention that?) you get some great tips, and you learn how to truly build up a real woodworking tool kit without breaking your bank account. I, for one, am glad I purchased it.
It is my hope that if you are reading this woodworking blog you will already know that I do not advocate any one particular form of woodworking over another. I don’t really care one way or another who builds what and how; it’s quite frankly none of my business. But the real truth is that I, myself, don’t have any one particular form of woodworking which I follow. That being said, if you were to ask me how to make a hand plane, I would firstly tell you to seek out somebody much better than I; somebody such as Scott Meek, who offers online plane making courses. Secondly, I would tell you that if you are making a hand plane, then you should do as much as possible using only hand tools. Why? Because using hand tools will go a long way in teaching you how a hand plane really works, and you will know exactly what I am referring to as soon as you try it.
Yesterday morning I finished making the wedge for the smooth plane I’ve been building. Making a plane wedge seems like it should be fairly straightforward; it’s not; it’s hard work. Now I’m not going to say that it is overly difficult, but it takes time and patience, and time and patience aren’t always easy to find. To prove my point, it took me a shade under 3 hours to shape the entire plane, which was a task done solely with hand tools, which included flattening the sole and sanding the plane for finish. Conversely, it took me 2 hours just to make and fit the wedge, and it did not turn out as nicely as the plane shaping. Making the wedge was not simple, because shaping a 2 inch by 4 inch block of wood into a semi-precision piece is not a simple task, and there really isn’t a magical tool that makes it easier.
I started off by drawing the shape of the wedge on a block of ash that I had left over from the plane build. I chose to make the wedge on the flat sawn side only because it seemed to me that the flat sawn side would hold up better under the pressure that it would be subjected to. I then sawed two kerfs, one at the end of the wedge, and the other where the wedge began its taper. With that done, I stood up the block and split off the waste using my widest chisel and my biggest mallet. This was actually easy to do because the grain was straight. I then started tapering the wedge, which I did using several chisels, and which was the most exacting process of the day. Once the wedge was tapered, at least roughly tapered, I shaped as much of the rest of the wedge as I could without removing it from the block, and that was accomplished once again with chisels, a rasp, and a block plane. I then hand sanded the top of the wedge, going up to 600 grit. Once I had done as much as I could, I removed the wedge from the block by ripping it down with the table saw, nearly to the edge, and finishing the cut with a hand saw.
After that, it was all a trial and error process. I cleaned up the edges of the wedge with my Stanley smooth plane, and then flattened the bottom with sheets of sandpaper, going from 60 grit up to 600 grit, the same as the plane sole, which left a glass smooth surface. When I attempted to put the wedge in place I immediately discovered that it was too long, and the shavings just bunched up at the mouth. I shortened it several times, and finally I found myself getting full length edge shavings on pine, which was fairly impressive considering the iron probably needs to be sharpened. I then added a coat of linseed oil to the plane and called it a day. One more coat will be added, as well as a coat of wax. I may yet have to shorten the wedge, but that will remain to be seen. To put all of this in perspective, every tool I used to make the plane itself was used to make the wedge.
I had a lot of fun making this plane, and more importantly I learned a great deal. Already, I’ve discovered several steps that could be revised during the building process that will make the next plane easier and more efficient to construct, as well as increasing the accuracy greatly. In as much as I consider myself a non-traditionalist, I love wooden planes, and I love making them even more. I can certainly see myself building at least a few more of these, and more hopefully, I can see myself improving with each one I build.