The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Winter has come


Talk to an old-timer, and he or she will likely tell you about the great snowfall of nineteen-thirtysomething. That storm will often be “the biggest we ever got!” Well, I can say without an ounce of exaggeration that this past weekend we had the biggest snowfall I have ever seen. It was technically our second largest on record, the largest being January of 1996. While that 96’ storm was supposedly larger in a regional sense, this one was definitely worse. Officially we had just over 30 inches, but in actuality it was far deeper. There was no point that the snow was shallower than waist deep, and often it was nearly at my chest. After the plows came by, my driveway was blocked by a wall of snow six feet high and fifteen feet wide. Luckily I had Briggs and Stratton to help me out (Briggs is my right arm, Stratton is my left) and after three hours or so my driveway was dug out, and in another hour the majority of my sidewalks were clear.

So you would think that being snowed-in, literally, I would have had plenty of time to putz around and woodwork to my heart’s content. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I spent much of Saturday keeping up with housework and minor home repairs (hanging pictures, fixing shelves, unclogging that pesky stoppage in the utility sink, etc.) Sunday was broken up into two shoveling sessions, the first being my driveway, and the second being my sidewalk along with my neighbors car. I may be Captain America in training, but I ain’t Captain America yet, and after hours of shoveling the largest snowfall we’ve ever had, I didn’t feel like doing much of anything but watch the AFC Championship game. Still, my love of woodworking eventually kicked in, and I wandered into my garage on Sunday night to do some sharpening and prep the material for my dovetailed box project.

Like I thought, I had just enough material on hand to make two boxes, but only enough to make one lid. That isn’t a problem though, because I can easily stop at Lowe’s on my way home from work one night this week to pick up what I need. And I can construct the second box and just add the lid later. But to bore you with stock preparation isn’t why I am writing this post.

Last year not long after Christmas, Lee Valley was running a free-shipping event. I had received a Visa gift card for Christmas that had just enough money left on it to purchase the wooden spoke shave kit that they were offering. I had always enjoyed wooden spoke shaves, and the idea of making one seemed like a fun idea. The kit includes the iron, the brass wear plate, thumbscrews, templates, and a tap to make wooden threads. When the kit arrived I noticed that the instructions were fairly involved (but not what I would call complicated), and the list of recommended tools was a large one in the sense that if they weren’t already owned the cost would easily equal purchasing several made versions of a wooden spoke shave from makers such as Caleb James. Fortunately I had most of the tools at the time, but I was missing several small but important items, namely a 7/64 drill bit, and 82 degree countersink, and a tap wrench for holding the thread maker. I put the kit in a cabinet with the plan of getting back to it when I had the extra money to order the missing parts. One thing led to another and I basically forgot about it until I came across it last night. Ironically, I received an Amazon gift card for Christmas this year, and I had just enough left on it to order the missing parts I needed to make the spoke shave. So last night that is what I did.
IMG_1803[1]
Spoke shave parts kit…

IMG_1804[1]
A lot of tools for one tool…

This all leads me back to the “make vs buy”, “old vs new” arguments when it comes to woodworking tools. Conventional, old fashioned anarchist wisdom will tell you that making your own spoke shave will teach you invaluable lessons that you will find nowhere else. My own wisdom will tell you that the recommended tool list easily exceeds $250(not including a drill press), and that is if you aren’t purchasing high end tools. And to Lee Valley’s credit, that recommended tool list isn’t frivolous. The argument can be made that you don’t have to use a drill press, but I can tell you that it will be far, far more accurate if you do. And as everybody knows, accuracy is paramount when it comes to making a good woodworking tool. I highly doubt that any of the makers out there are drilling and tapping these holes with an egg-beater drill.

All of that being said, the tools on that list are all good tools to have, and many serious woodworkers will eventually obtain most of them at some point. I’m just trying to point out that making tools, even as a hobby, is serious business.

So in the upcoming weeks I am going to attempt to make a spoke shave. It may even be fun, and hopefully I will produce a nice looking tool that actually works well. But I can almost guarantee that unless you plan on making many spoke shaves, and possibly even selling them, it would be much more prudent to take your money and purchase that spoke shave from one of the fine makers out there who have invested in the proper tools and equipment to do it correctly.

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6 Comments

  1. dzj9 says:

    Sure, WW is not an inexpensive hobby. You need a shop, a car, a bench…
    You’re bound to spend a few thousand on tools and machines, even if you take the “Luddite route”.

    • billlattpa says:

      I’m not necessarily concerned with the expense, at least not a lot. It is finding that fine line between making and buying. Making teaches you new skills, and is in a sense freeing. Buying gives you high quality and allows you to make more quickly, which for people with a full time job is an important thing.

      In my case it doesn’t matter. I have the stuff, I have a spoke shave that works, and I’m making the tool not because I need it, but just for fun when it comes down to it. I’m speaking more broadly when I bring up “make vs. buy”

      I once saw an article about a woodworker who went out and bought a portable mill so he could harvest his own wood. His logic was that he was no longer at the mercy of lumber yards or home centers. What he didn’t mention was the cost of the machine, or the fact that he needed a truck to tow it, and a place to store the lumber. Nor did he bring up the cost of purchasing a tree. As I’ve said before, lumberyards and toolmakers exist for a reason.
      Thanks.
      Bill

      • Steve D says:

        Hi Bill
        I bought a chainsaw mill and a big saw when I had my walnut tree cut down. I would not advocate this as a way to get lumber for the average Joe. Once the logs are a certain size they are difficult or dangerous to move. It’s time consuming and messy. None of what we do makes much economic sense. It’s what we do for enjoyment and personal growth, just for ourselves.

        That being said, air dried walnut is pure joy to work.

        Steve

      • billlattpa says:

        A member of my wife’s family has a portable mill. He sells cherry and walnut mostly, and he had been selling ash as well but there apparently are regulations about transporting it now. For him it’s a way to earn extra money. Keep in mind he lives in upstate Pennsylvania which has vast forests, and he owns a decent patch of land. For me, a portable mill is a one way ticket to a divorce 😀
        Thanks
        Bill

  2. Steve D says:

    you could make your own pencil if you have another spokeshave

    Steve

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