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Tables neverending, and a book review too…

My lower back was acting up this weekend. It hasn’t acted up in a while and during that time I was happy. This past weekend was a different story, and I knew that anything remotely strenous I did would have sent me over the edge into the magical land of back spasms. This left me in somewhat of a sticky situation. My second table was just about finished, and I knew that whatever I did I wanted it ready to be stained on Sunday morning. So I took a chance and decided to finish the work and hope for the best.

I started by making the drawer. It was a simple task and finished quickly, as I had the parts cut already and it only needed to be assembled. I built it in the same fashion as the drawer for the first table, with cut nails and glue. The hard part, as usual, was fitting the kickers for the drawer. I had to plane each down, first with the Jack plane and then the smooth plane, in order to get the fit I wanted. That is easier typed than done. It took around twenty minutes to get it right, which is a lot of planing and fitting and planing and fitting. I can also proudly say that I ended up with two pretty nice and dimensionally even boards. I checked my work with a combination square and found a nice flat surface. I attached them to the table with glue and clamps. I then sawed some cleats to be used for attaching the table top. I drilled the pilot holes and counter sink holes with a hand drill, but once it came to actually attaching them to the table I used glue and my little cordless Dewalt. It was a two-hand operation so the little eggbeater wasn’t an option. While the glue was drying I sanded the outside of the drawer box. I very nearly made a big no-no and planed it with the smooth plane until it dawned on me that the drawer was nailed and not dovetailed. The last thing I wanted to do was introduce my plane iron to a cut nail. Cut nails have no place meeting plane irons; they should just stay in their own neighborhoods where they belong.

So while the glue was drying I also did a little work on the top. I planed the edges with the smooth plane for finish and also took a few very light passes on the top just for good measure, so it came as no surprise when I left a plane track. It was very minor, but rather than try to plane it out I used a random orbit sander to knock it down. Once I had the top finished I removed the clamps and waxed the runners and kickers, and also the drawer sides, as they wont be finished with a stain. The drawer opens slickly with no rocking or sticking, like a banana peel over greased ice. In fact, it was almost too slick, because when I picked it up to bring it into the yard I tilted the table a bit and the drawer nearly flew out and popped me in the face. So with the slick drawer finished I screwed in a stop point on the runners so the reveal would be the same as the sides. The difference between this table and my hall table is that the drawers aren’t supposed to be hidden, so I didn’t make a big effort to have the drawer sit and look just like one of the aprons. There is a gap on each side of the drawers for both tables, roughly 3/16th of an inch. I was shooting for 1/8 but I am satisfied because the drawer fronts took a bit of trimming to get them where I wanted. With all of that finished, I attached the top to the base using pocket screws in the cleats I had added. With that I was done. Both tables are finished now, though only one has a finish on it. I’m frustrated but there is nothing I can do. My shop time for the weekend was limited, and with my back already hurting I didn’t want to push anything. With rainy weather expected here for the next few days I am shooting for Friday to get the finish and poly applied and hopefully call these tables complete.

Mess made from making a kicker.

Mess made from making a kicker.

Table top clamped to the leg vice

Table top clamped to the leg vice

Finished drawer box and runner system

Finished drawer box and runner system

Side view

Side view

2nd table fin'

2nd table fin’

Last night, while resting my back, I decided to do a little woodworking reading. I’m sadly at the age where a book can’t have the profound influence it would if you had read it as a teenager. My days of reading A Catcher in the Rye, or the Great Gatsby, or anything by Hemingway and becoming inspired are gone. Not that I don’t love to read, I still read all the time, but it’s not the magical experience it used to be. I’ve yet to read a woodworking book that has really blown my mind. I’m hoping that book is out there somewhere, but I haven’t found it just yet. Most woodworking books don’t seem to offer a lot of new information. I’ve found that the content of most woodworking books has been repeated either in a different woodworking book or a magazine at some point, or vice versa. I still think they are valuable, but I usually start reading as a skeptic.

The book I was reading last night is The New Traditional Woodworker by Jim Tolpin. I’ve had the book for over a year and I actually did already read it. It may be the only woodworking book that made me angry after I read it. My anger wasn’t directed at the book, or the author, but at the reviewers of the book. Many big names in woodworking called it “An apprenticeship in a book” or “Must have addition to your woodworking library.” After reading the book I had to completely disagree with just about every review. Again, not because it was a bad book, but it wasn’t nearly the book it was made out to be. So last night I decided to give it another try, and came away with nearly the same conclusion I had after first reading it.

The book is billed as an introduction to hand tool work, in particular if you are a woodworker who is transitioning from power tools. Toplin first makes the claim that hand tool woodworking is much less expensive than power tool woodworking. That’s debatable, but okay. My only gripe with that statement is the nice color photo of Tolpin’s hand tool wall in his shop shown in the book, which shows easily $20,000 in tools. I don’t know about you, but if I had $20,000 I could set up a nice power tool shop with money to spare. That being said, I don’t want to make this about power tools vs hand tools. I’m through with that. Those of you who read this blog probably have noticed that I use handtools much more than the powered version. My table saw and possibly random orbit sander are probably the only power tools that see a significant amount of use in my shop. You’ve also probably noticed that every tool I’ve purchased over the past 10 months has been a hand tool. I say all of this just to point out that I’m not biased one way or the other. I am just trying to back up my statement, the same way Tolpin probably should have done when he made his tool cost claims.

I had one major problem with this book. The book has some very nice photos of Tolpin’s shop. In it Tolpin has a high-set joinery bench, and lower set planing/traditional bench, and an even lower assembly bench. If you’ve read my blog before you will know that I am a big advocate of such a set up, especially the assembly bench, which is something I would love to have considering my back situation. The benches all look great and seem to be well constructred. So what is the problem? There isn’t a plan for one of them in the book! Tolpin gives some rough dimensions for the benches but that’s about it. For a book billing itself as an introduction to hand tool woodworking and setting up a hand tool shop it needs those plans. Maybe the author assumes that the reader already possesses basic knowledge of bench design if he/she is reading a hand tool book. If that is the case I think it’s a big assumption to make.

The only other real gripe I have with the book is the section on tools. There are nice color photos of a large assortment of woodworking handtools, from saws to chisels, to planes. Each section has a description of each tool and what it’s used for. That is fine but there are precious few photos of the tools in action. I would have liked to see more photos of the joinery associated with each tool. You can get nice color photos and explanations of what a tool does in any decent tool catalog for free. Another area where the book falls a little short is in the sharpening section. There are six pages dedicated to sharpening, about half photos and half text. The explanations of the sharpening techniques shown just aren’t concise enough. I have a book dedicated solely to sharpening; maybe a lot of woodworkers do. Again, perhaps the author assumes that as a person interested in hand tools will automatically have some type of sharpening system in mind. Another big assumption to make if that is true. Sharpening may be the most important skill a hand tool user needs to obtain, but it is glossed over a little too quickly for my taste.

Though I have some complaints with the book it also has some good points. The projects section is excellent. There are several shop projects designed to be made by hand including a face planing stop, a nice pair of bench hooks, and an edge planing stop. These would all be very useful shop additions as well as projects that most beginners could complete fairly painlessly. Another nice shop project is the pair of sawbenches that Toplin uses. They are well designed to be used in conjuction for ripping, the first set of it’s kind that I’ve seen. Also included, among other projects, is a saw sharpening vice and a small tool tote. I think of everything in the book the projects section is the most thought out and worthwhile.

Overall I can’t call this book a must read, but I wouldn’t call it worthless either. In my opinion, the descriptions of the tools are for the absolute beginner, and yet the book assumes that a beginning woodworker has no need for workbench plans of any kind, especially when the benches shown all seem to be excellent. That and the lack of action photos knock one star and a half off of this book. Still, the projects section makes up for some of the lacking chapters. My advice for a new woodworker reading this book would be to pick up the Lee Valley woodworking catalog and read through that, and then go on to the projects in The New Traditional Woodworker. Of everything, they make this book worth owning.

I like him; I’m a bad parent; I’m sorry, and gel stain.

I like him…

I want to say, for the record, and hopefully for the last time, that I like Christopher Schwarz. I own several of his videos and several more of his books. I think he is a terrific woodworker and writer. I don’t agree with everything he says; that does not mean that I hate him. I bring this up because I was again contacted by somebody who did not like my “biased” comment about Mr. Schwarz. The comment: I don’t see myself acquiring all of the tools on the Schwarz’s list in the Anarchists Toolchest because I don’t think they are all necessary. That was it; just an honest and harmless opinion. I’m not sure how it became a biased opinion. The truth is I really enjoyed the Anarchists Toolchest. Chris Schwarz seems like a really nice guy. Maybe he doesn’t care for me, and if I met him he would throw coffee in my face and tell me to F off. But unless that happens I’m going to continue to think he is a nice guy. I don’t even agree with my wife half the time and this is a woman to whom I’ve been married for ten years. I swore an oath in front of family and friends and a few people I’ve never even met to love her and protect her and honor her. We disagree all the time; it doesn’t mean that I hate her. Maybe some people need to be made aware that you can disagree with somebody yet still respect them. I’ll even take that a step further and say that you may not even like somebody but you can still respect them. I think Christopher Schwarz does a lot of great things and is a credit to woodworking; sometimes I just don’t agree with him. That’s it; I don’t hate him. You can all sleep well tonight knowing that fact.

I’m a bad parent…

Yesterday afternoon it was nice enough outside that I thought it would be a good idea to get my tables finished. My wife applied the stain to one while I worked on the other. I had the drawer finished and was ready to install the top when I realized that I had no screws to attach the cleats for attaching the table top. My daughter was in our yard, happily driving her little electric jeep in all of the flower beds, and I told my wife that I was going to run to the hardware store and pick up some screws. My wife felt the need to point out that it was a lovely day out and what we should have been doing was taking my daughter somewhere to have fun. Right then and there I knew that my woodworking for the day was over and my tables were not going to be finished. I also realized that my wife had a point. My little girl is five. It’s not like she can just hop in the car and drive to a friends house when she is bored. So I cleaned up, got myself cleaned up, and took my daughter to a playground. We disagreed but came to a common understanding, see, that can and does happen.
On a side note, I’ve sold off much of my music equipment over the past year. It seems my wife is a little upset at this, she actually mentioned it again last night. When I asked her why, she couldn’t seem to understand how I could just stop doing something that I had done for such a long time and also give up something that I was pretty good at doing. I explained to her that once our daughter was born I simply didn’t have the time needed to dedicate myself to continue to play at a high level. My wife, bless her, doesn’t really understand the dedication it takes to playing an instrument and being a working musician in a band. She doesn’t really much understand the dedication needed when it comes to woodworking either. I don’t fault her for it, it’s just something I have to come to terms with. But I admit that she had a point.

I’m sorry…

I’m sure most of you are aware of the Paul Sellers controversy that rocked woodworking to its very foundations. I also hope you are aware that the statement I just made is tongue-in-cheek. I personally can’t put the words ‘woodworking’ and ‘controversy’ in the same sentence, not really. Anyway, Sellers made a statement that you cannot be a real woodworker or craftsman if you use power tools. Some people were offended by it. Truthfully it didn’t bother me very much. At least he was being totally honest. That was his opinion, right or wrong, and he didn’t hide it behind any innuendo or double talk. I can respect that and agree to disagree. So last night I was having a little trouble winding down after a long day so I decided to check out some woodworking videos on You Tube. One of the first that popped up on the search cue was Paul Sellers making a shooting board. I decided to give it a try and watch it. Though I only vaguely knew who Paul Sellers was before the gigantic, earth-shattering controversy, I had to figure that he was a pretty good woodworker. The video confirmed my suspicions. Not only was it entertaining to watch Sellers work, I managed to learn a great deal in a short amount of time. He was likeable enough and did a great job of explaining everything he was doing without overexplaining it. There was nothing I didn’t like about the video. Sellers even managed to get in a few minor digs at power tools and it didn’t bother me in the least. Like I’ve said before, I use few power tools myself. My take on the subject is you should use whatever you like. Sellers likes hand tools, he is highly skilled with them, and his video was excellent. That was enough for me to gain respect for him. I can’t recall ever saying anything bad about Sellers, but if I did I apologize.

Gel stain…

The Hall Table I made a few months back had some blotching on it that really bothered me. I think the blame is partly the fault of the wood, and partly the fault of my prep work. So when I began making the two end tables I’m hoping to finally finish at some point I decided to give gel stain a try as the finish. My research on the stain concluded that gel stain provides a much more even finish, especially on hard to finish woods like Pine. I also took an extra long time in the prep work on the tables. I sanded with 3 grits and used the smooth plane on all of the legs, stretchers, board edges, and even a few light passes on the top. I’m extremely happy to report that the stain worked beautifully. The finish was very even and very warm. I’ve noticed on many oil stains they don’t really pop until you apply a clear coat. With the gel stain, the color is very warm and clear in itself, and it seems to me that a couple of coats of wax would be enough to make the table “shine”. I will probably do one more coat to darken the color a bit, and I will add a gloss, wipe-on polyurethane because these tables will see a lot of use. In any event, I am sold on using gel stain for the foreseeable future.

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First coat of gel stain

First coat of gel stain

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