The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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We had an epic thunderstorm roll in this afternoon. I was glad for it because I enjoy thunderstorms and how they let the world know that Mother Nature is still in charge. But the thunderstorm also cooled off the oppressive heat we’ve been experiencing lately. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining about the heat, in particular after the winter we just had, but I don’t enjoy woodworking when the heat becomes stifling. In any event, I wandered into the garage, opened the door to let the cool air enter, and continued to sharpen up some of my co-worker’s (friend?) chisels.

I generally sharpen on my workbench because I don’t have room for a dedicated sharpening station. I don’t recommend using your workbench to sharpen, in particular if you are using water stones, because no matter how carefully you work water and stone sludge will manage to get onto your bench top. Tonight was no exception, and my bench top did get a little damp.

As the sharpening session drew to a close I flattened my water stones, put them back in a fresh bath of water, and removed the tools from my workbench top to clean it off. I’ve been toying around with the idea of making a new workbench, and with the news that I can get a very nice butcher block style slab for a very nice price, the new bench idea has been on my mind a lot lately. Still, I decided to plane the top of the bench down just to level it and clean it up a bit. I used a shop vac to suck up as much of the dust that I could, then I got to planing, first using the jointer plane to flatten and then the smoothing plane to clean it up.

It took just a few minutes, and when I was finished I noticed that the bench still looked pretty good. I placed a two foot spirit-level on the bench just for a moment and noticed that the bench was still perfectly level. I built the bench almost five years ago when I first began to woodwork seriously, and I must admit it has held up pretty nicely. When I built the bench I followed no plans, rather, I took suggestions from a few books and woodworking articles I had read and built what I felt was right. I changed the configuration of the bench top several times, added a tool tray, toyed with several vices, and most recently added a sliding board jack. I can honestly say that this bench, my first bench, has looked and functioned as a real woodworking bench should all along. And to think I was ready to abandon it.

As I placed the tools on the newly planed bench top I noticed how pleasing they looked laying on the workbench in a way that at a glance seemed haphazard, but in reality was nearly perfect. I gazed at the enormous pile of boards that had become the rock my woodworking is based upon. Five years it had taken me to finally understand what that bench represents. What stubbornness, what hubris had led me to nearly exile this wonderful tool? Two iced-tea scented tears trickled from my eyes, but it was alright; everything was alright. The struggle was finished. I loved my workbench.




A co-worker (friend?) of mine was clearing out his tool shed and came across some old chisels. He brought them into work today and asked me if I wouldn’t mind bringing them home for sharpening. I gave them a glance, decided that they didn’t look quite like dying yet, so I brought them home with me.

Some old, Klein, Buck Bros, Greenlee, and an unknown chisel.

Some old, Klein, Buck Bros, Greenlee, and an unknown chisel.

I figure on doing a few per week, as it will be a good chance for some practice. I’ve discussed my sharpening system (though I hate to describe it that way) before. It’s simple: a coarse/fine diamond plate, 1000 and 8000 grit water stones, a leather strop, and every so often sandpaper. I’ve heard more than a few times this type of system called “fancy” on woodworking forums and such. If my method is fancy then I would love to know what “simple” would entail. Either way, it seems to work, and since I’ve gone to this set-up I’ve gotten consistently sharp tools. I know that I’m an amateur, but I do know what “sharp means”, though some professionals and amateur kiss-asses will say differently.


My “fancy” sharpening set-up.

I sharpened both the Buck Brothers chisel and my Stanley 1 inch, which for some strange reason is the only chisel I own that has never really been sharpened. The back on the Buck Bros. chisel was brutal, and took me about 15 minutes just to get the area just behind the edge flat. Luckily, my Stanley took just a few minutes. I then progressed through my system. I now sharpen free-hand for the most part, as it seems to me that a guide and water stones don’t mix. I’ve come to the conclusion that the eclipse style guide makes a trench in water stones, though I can’t ever claim that I’ve seen a noticeable one, but I know it’s there. The Veritas guide, with its wider roller, doesn’t cause that problem, but I really only like to use it for skewed irons. I don’t advocate any particular method. Do it free-hand or with a guide; it’s up to you. I just like the feel of free-hand sharpening (and I want to be just like Paul Sellers). All kidding aside, it took me another 15 minutes after the backs were flattened, but I ended up with two razor sharp chisels, sharp enough to cleanly slice end grain on oak, shave the hair off my arm, and easily cut through paper.

New old chisel

New old chisel

Razor sharp Sweetheart

Razor sharp Sweetheart

Before I flattened my stones, cleaned up, and called it a night, I decided to give my newly sharpened moving fillister another test run. I used the same piece of scrap pine that I did for the last test. I was a little anxious, because if the edge rolled again I knew I was in for at the least another grinding, at worst the search for a replacement iron. At the last moment I almost put everything away and ended the night on a high note, but whatever I may be, I’m not a wuss, so I went for it. Thankfully and happily, the sharp iron easily sliced the fillister, and there was no rolling on the edge. I carefully removed the iron from the plane, stropped it a few times, and then lovingly dusted the plane body and wiped it with a cloth. I will likely have to hone this tool a little more than I normally would other planes, but that is a small price to pay to once again have a working tool ready to go.

It still works

It still works

Do yourself a favor.

***CORRECTION*** There are only 8 parts and not 9 to the Paul Sellers wall clock project video. As I said, I watched the videos in succession overnight, so I easily made the mistake. Sorry if this caused any confusion***

Saturday night into Sunday morning I wasn’t feeling all that hot (yeah, even Captain America isn’t always on top of his game). It’s not so fun feeling not so hot on a nice morning late in spring, but I think I made the most of my time.

We have a “smart TV”, which I suppose is pretty much commonplace in today’s day and age. Whenever I get a free moment, I will watch a YouTube woodworking video from the comfort of my living room sofa. Late Saturday evening, just around midnight, I had a lot of free moments. I felt a bit like I had a hangover, but not the hangover you normally get from a fun-filled night of Jell-O shots, just the awful feeling of a pounding head coupled with the desire of not wanting to move or even blink. So I watched an episode of Band of Brothers, and then decided to check out some Paul Sellers videos. Most woodworkers know who Paul Sellers is, so I won’t get into any biography here. Most woodworker who follow the forums are also aware of the “controversy” surrounding Sellers a few years ago, which I also won’t get in to because it was ridiculous in the only way a “woodworking controversy” can be. More importantly, most woodworkers know that Sellers is a highly talented.

Saturday night was hardly the first time I’ve watched a Paul Sellers video, but it was the first time I watched him make a furniture project from start to finish. I noticed there was a 8-part series on making a wall clock, which seemed as good a way to kill the time as any. My plan was to put the videos on and hopefully drift off to sleep. I watched all 8 parts, and I can say without a doubt that it was by far the best woodworking project video I’ve ever watched. To put it in context, I started watching just after midnight; the videos ended just before 5 am. The sun had already risen, but I didn’t even notice, because the time went by that quickly. I’ve watched woodworking videos before that literally put me to sleep, these videos kept me awake and wanting to watch more even though the very reason I put them on was to have some background noise as I tried to relax. They were that good.

Watching a talented craftsman work is always enjoyable, at least to me, but the part of the series that really and truly sold me was the 8th and final episode, in which Sellers finishes the clock with shellac and wax. In fifteen minutes I learned more about finishing than I had in years of reading woodworking books and magazine articles on the subject. For instance, Sellers applied the wax with steel wool, which is fairly common, but he buffed it out with a soft-bristled shoe brush. While this may sound like common sense, I would never have thought of doing it that way. I was so impressed that yesterday morning I ran out and purchased a new shoe brush for that very purpose (like most people I have a shoe brush, but I purchased it when I was stationed in Oklahoma more than 20 years ago and it is infused with the grime of thousands of shoe polishings).

Of course there were dozens of little moments similar to the finishing techniques throughout the entire project that all stand out, from Sellers beading the frame to his making the bull nose profile with a #4 plane. Sellers works nearly exclusively with hand tools in his videos, but even if you don’t use hand tools, most of his methods will still apply to just about any shop. I work almost exclusively with hand tools for reasons that I’ve explained before. After watching this project series I am honestly considering going full hand tool! Why? Because I want to woodwork just like Paul Sellers. Like a cult leader, he just makes it sound so perfect. All kidding aside, I thought these videos were simply outstanding. And if you enjoy woodworking, and you are looking to improve, and you’ve never checked out a Paul Sellers video before, do yourself a favor and give it a look. You will be happy that you did.


Much of the time I’ve had lately to dedicate to woodworking has been dedicated to maintenance/repair work. Friday evening was no exception to the trend.

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on the iron of my moving fillister plane. When I originally received the plane the iron was in fairly rough shape, and appeared to have been poorly ground (likely on a powered grinder). Though I was able to tune up the rest of the plane fairly well, the iron continued to give me problems. No matter what I did, and no matter how sharp I seemingly got the iron,  it would not hold the edge and continued to roll after minimal use. I then attempted something I rarely like to attempt, and I power grinded the iron. Admittedly I did this very carefully, too carefully it seems because while it improved the situation, it did not completely fix it. I came to the conclusion that the iron may have lost its temper, likely due to the previous owner’s poor grinding ability. My solution was to attempt a new tempering of the iron, and then Adam Maxwell stepped in.

For those of you who don’t know Adam Maxwell, I was introduced to him through this blog as well as Twitter. My first impressions of him through his profile photo were that he was either a mad scientist, or one of Gru’s real life minions. It turns out that he is a very knowledgeable woodworker, and though I don’t believe all of his fantastical claims concerning the fantastical prices he somehow pays for all of his vintage woodworking tools, I generally trust his judgment when it comes to woodworking. He suggested grinding down/back the iron 1/8 of an inch to expose new steel. Though I’m no metallurgist, that solution seemed sound to me, so last night I decided to give it a try.

I did not want to use a powered grinder again so as not to create an even bigger problem, so I turned to my usual sharpening method: coarse to fine diamond plate, 1000g and 8000g waterstones, and then leather stropping. I won’t describe the grinding/sharpening because it is boring, just know that it took me nearly 40 minutes to get the iron to where I wanted it to be, with much of that time spent on the diamond plates. My back was sore as well as my knees, but the iron looks much better, though not exactly perfect. I did get the iron ground back to where I felt it would work, I then made a test fillister.

The iron was sharp, but sharpness wasn’t really the problem; keeping the iron sharp was. I used a 1×6 piece of scrap pine, and the iron burned right through it beautifully. I immediately removed the iron from the plane body and thankfully found that it did not roll over. I know that one fillister on one piece of pine is not definitive proof, but I am happy with the result. The real test will be when I start my next project. Which I hope will be very soon. For the time being I just have to live with these small victories.



Baby Come Back.

For the first time since I picked up a woodworking tool and tried to make furniture I do not subscribe to a woodworking magazine. Earlier this year I decided to let my subscriptions to Woodsmith and Popular Woodworking expire. My decision wasn’t based on cost; woodworking magazine subscriptions are generally cheap. I came to the conclusion that woodworking magazines were becoming more of a distraction than a teaching implement. At this juncture, I don’t have the time or need for dozens of different finishing or sharpening techniques; I barely have the time to focus on just one method. I don’t fault the publishers of woodworking magazines at all, they need to do what they have to in order to stay interesting. The problem is with me, not them.

This does not mean that I’ve stopped reading about woodworking. Lately, my woodworking “education” has more or less been reading books rather than magazines. While I enjoy reading woodworking books, I’ve found myself missing the familiar feeling of receiving a woodworking periodical in the mail monthly. Though the world of woodworking media may already be a long way down the digital road, I still miss stuffing the latest woodworking magazine into my bag and reading it during my break at work. Woodworking books, as much as I enjoy them at times, aren’t a substitute for magazines in that sense and likely never will be.

I could switch to a digital subscription. Like just about every household in America it seems, we also have a smart tablet, but I really don’t want to go that route. Maybe it’s my generation. My age demographic (born between 1965-1975) is probably the last generation in America that didn’t grow up in a digital world. To put it in perspective, I did not touch a computer until I was 13 years old. I took three years of typing in high school, the first two of which were taught on actual typewriters. While this is hardly the equivalent of walking miles to get to the nearest water pump, it pretty much makes me a dinosaur in the digital age. For example, my daughter, while in kindergarten, used an iPad rather than workbooks. Still, like the vast majority of my peers, I adapted to and embraced the digital age. Just last night after work, I plugged the smartstick into the TV and my daughter and I watched YouTube woodworking videos for almost an hour. Nonetheless, I honestly miss reading a woodworking magazine, and I really didn’t think I would.

So later on tonight I may just hop on the computer and renew my subscriptions to both Popular Woodworking and Woodsmith. My magazine withdrawal came as a real surprise, because for the first month or two I didn’t even think about it. But like an old pain-in-the-ass girlfriend that you just can’t seem to let go of, I find myself missing the familiarity of it all. Maybe she’ll end up breaking my heart again, but I think I’m going to risk it anyway.

Lazarus Man

As far as woodworking is concerned there were two things I wanted to accomplish this weekend, one was continuing the work I’ve been doing on the moving fillister iron, and the other was to attach a better board jack, or dead man, to my workbench. After work on Saturday, after I cut the grass, cleaned the yard, swept the sidewalk, and cleaned the garage and shed, I knew that only one of the two was going to get accomplished, so I chose the dead man.

When I originally made the bench, for some reason I decided against a dead man even though I made the bench with a leg vice. After a few weeks I realized that a dead man would be a smart addition, so I made a “temporary” makeshift version that managed to stay in place for the past four years. As far as the bench is concerned, I want to make a new one, but I don’t want to do that until I know for sure whether or not we are going to remain in our house or purchase a new one. In the meanwhile, I still want my bench to function as well as possible.

To make the dead man I used a board I had remaining from the bench build that was too good to throw away but not good enough to use anywhere else. I sawed it to size on the table saw, planed off the rough spots, and then made a notch on each end for the runners, which were just two pieces of scrap walnut that I planed down. Speaking of the runners, I screwed them, no glue, to the underside of the bench and cross brace using a combination square to keep them aligned. It was thankfully easy. The runners can theoretically interfere with clamping things to the front of the bench, but because it is the rare occasion when I actually clamp something to the front of the bench I was not deterred.

I bored five holes into the board jack, by eye, using a brace and bit. I will be forthright and admit that the holes are not perfectly lined up, but I really don’t care. This was not “to make as perfectly as possible”, this was “make a jig that will last long enough until I build my next and last workbench. Boring the holes with the brace was easy, I gave the bit a quick sharpening with a file made specifically for augers. I’ve noticed that the file is now being offered in woodworking catalogs. In the electrical industry it is a common tool, as electricians use augers often. But I’m glad to see it being sold now in the mainstream.

Boring holes

Boring holes

Auger file

Auger file

When the holes were bored in I took a few passes on the dead man with the smoothing plane to clean it up. I then attached it to the bench and gave it a test run. It works just fine, there is just enough “slop” in it to keep it from binding (which I did on purpose, I swear). But to make it work even better I will lightly chamfer the edges of the runners and then wax them. Lastly, I cleaned up the bench, put away the tools that needed to be put away, and called it a night. On a side note, the runners do not run the full width of the cross brace in order for the dead man to be easily removable, as well as easier to install.

Finished dead man.

Finished dead man.

While installing a board jack may not be the most exciting woodworking project I’ve ever done, at this point I’ll take what I can get. It works, it makes my workbench work a little better, and that’s all that matters.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good…

I found myself in somewhat of a strange circumstance this evening; I was in my garage and it was woodworking related. Normally, I go to the gym on Wednesday nights. This night, however, I went into my garage for a little tool maintenance, and for good reason. I’ve finally decided to start my next furniture project, which will be a painted blanket chest. I’m hoping to pick up the material in a few weeks, likely poplar but possibly birch plywood, and start the construction the week before the 4th of July. I have a few days off from work with nothing major planned, so I should be able to get the project up and running. So I decided to get a head start and get some more tools sharpened, including a little more work on the iron of the moving fillister plane.

To get the ball rolling, I honed the iron of my block plane, jointer plane, rabbet plane, and a few chisels. All of those tools were in pretty good shape to begin with, but I wanted to be certain that they would be ready to go without delays. I gave them a few passes on the 8000 grit stone, and then stropped them. As far as stropping is concerned, I’m fairly new to it. A few months back I ordered a few carving chisels from Lee Valley as well as a sharpening kit which included a slip stone, leather, and some honing compound. Stropping has been a revelation. With just a few extra passes chisels and plane irons go from sharp to razor sharp. I strop free-hand; I’m not sure it can be done with a guide (at least not my set-up), but it is dead easy and a guide should not be needed. Nevertheless, stropping has become part of my sharpening routine and I’m sorry I didn’t start doing it sooner.

Charged leather ready for stropping

Charged leather ready for stropping


A stropped chisel razor sharp. The orange color is the reflection of a poster on my wall

The Bad…

There was a reason I was in my garage tonight and not at the gym like I usually would be. It started approximately six years ago, when I found out I had a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder. One day I had my little girl at a creek skipping stones across, the same evening it felt like somebody had stabbed me in the shoulder with an awl. After a few days of excruciating pain and a few sleepless nights I finally went to a doctor to get looked at. He told me the bad news, many years of playing baseball and repetitive lifting had worn down my shoulder. I was told to rest it for a few weeks, slowly build back the strength with some light exercise, and go from there. I did just that and haven’t had any major problems since, that is until last Friday night at the gym when I heard a loud “pop”. My shoulder began to tingle, then ache, and I knew right away that I had aggravated the old injury. There is nothing I can do but take it easy for a few days, so that is what I am doing. It feels better already, so I am not overly concerned. The next test will be a return to the gym.

The Ugly…

When I mentioned honing some of my tools, I left off the moving fillister iron. In truth, it was the first iron I honed. For the last several weeks I’ve been working with my moving fillister plane because I would like to use it on my next project. I’ve been having trouble getting the iron to hold and edge, so tonight I gave it a light honing (though it shouldn’t have really needed it) and stropped it. I put it to work on the same piece of scrap walnut I tested on the last time I was in the garage. It produced a nice fillister, so I took the iron out to examine it and found that the edge had rolled (again). I gave it another honing, did another test, and had the same results. I’m not sure if the iron needs to be tempered, but I am willing to give it a try even though I know very little about the process. In any event, if I cannot get the current iron back into shape I will either need to attempt to find a replacement, or purchase a new (as in brand new) moving fillister plane. I’m not looking forward to either solution, but I like the fillister plane so I will do what I must. Nobody said woodworking was always pretty.

My last clean fillister?

My last clean fillister?

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