Sunday, March 25, 2018

Letting go of certain projects

This was a form for a mailbox I was going to build in the store of a cedar strip canoe. I improvised this not-quite-fair form and promptly lost interest. Tonight it burned. I need to focus on the most important things. Next up, lights!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

How to flip a 400 lb workbench over by yourself

NOTE: Despite the title, I don't recommend doing this without some help. Because that could be unsafe and kind of irresponsible. But I did it, so I'll share it.

Two unexpected turns of events happened today in regards to my workbench project.

Step 1: Get frustrated enough to question my approach and decide it's time to flip the table (bench). Step 2 is a bunch of cleaning that's not pictured.
I was working on the sliding dovetail endcaps for my workbench and I realized that I actually wanted to flip the bench before I finished, not after. I had been concerned about flushing the bottom, but now that I'm dealing with tweaking test fittings, I realize I would rather do that part in a way that allows to make sure it'll look OK in it's normal position. I'll have to get the bottom surface right with accurate marking and a test fitting or two. So, suddenly I wanted to flip my bench ASAP, which I did not expect. The bench weighs several hundred pounds, so I sent out a request for help from a few friends and started to clean and prepare.

Step 3. Scoot the bench back with the legs over the sawhorses and then pull the top of the legs towards you, laying the bench on its side. Position each sawhorse as shown, so they support the top and the leg, but they are not between the legs. Realize that you're tempted to see if you can do more on your own, just as long as you don't somehow get crushed under it.
A few minutes later I had a clean bench surface (the bottom, and some other stuff out of the way, and I realized I could slide and tilt the bench on the sawhorses, using the legs as levers. Then I was able to scoot the sawhorses to the right positions, one by one, so that I could flip the bench another 90 degrees, with the legs a couple inches away from the ground. That operation was mostly a matter of holding one stretcher and lowering it gently. After that I did a lift (bench) and kick (sawhorse) to let the bench down on the ground. And now I get to see what it really looks like in my shop, and start to use it a bit, even as I'm finishing it. And I also got to cancel the request for help, with apologies.

Step 4: Grab the highest stretcher, gently kick the nearest ends of the sawhorses out of the way and lower the stretcher until the bench is vertical.

Step 5: Pick up each and and kick the sawhorse out of the way, then lower that end a few inches to the ground.

Now, I'm not exactly coming out in favor of lifting heavy things on one's own, because that can be dangerous. However, I was able to do something I thought I couldn't do on my own just by doing one step at a time, thinking each one through carefully, and doing it in an environment free from tripping hazards, etc. So that was encouraging, and a useful reminder of what's possible.

Step 6: Play with the vise, bask in the joy of finally having a real workbench in your space, and contemplate sweeping again.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Workbench base done

I finished assembling my workbench base this morning and pounded it into place. I'm really eager to flip it over for real, but I need to make endcaps and flush the bottom edge first. So I'll do it in a photo.

What the bench would look like if I flipped it now (with the rest of the room upside down).

Bench in need of endcaps, and several strong people to flip it upright. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Feeling good, Leg vise works

I'm back at my bench build in earnest now, and I'm eagerly anticipating being able to flip the bench upright and use it very soon. But for now, I'm excited to see the leg vise together and working. Here's a video:

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

glue-containing grooves

Here's a trick I used today while working on my workbench stretchers:

Look closely to see a shallow groove outlining the glue area's perimeter. Also shown is the tiny plane I used to do it.

I wanted to use the glue-up to create a rabbet, laminating two boards offset from each other. I didn't want glue seeping out on that side to keep it clean. So I made a small groove to contain the glue by catching a little squeeze-out. I used a little convex palm plane since I have one handy, but if I didn't have that I might tilt a shoulder plane and make a couple passes with the corner. I am sacrificing a little strength near the edge by doing this, so there's a trade-off. In this case there is an enormous amount of glue area so it's worth sacrificing a small amount of strength to make a clean joint.

Two notes in case you want to try this:

1.) Spread the glue well, and try hard to put the right amount on, since the grooves only catch a little. Spreading it with a card really helps you see where it might need more to wet both sides. Experience helps a lot, here.

2.) Clamp near the grooves first. This will force the glue out the other side.

Friday, July 21, 2017

I'm back from the Woodwright's School

I just had a nice visit to The Woodwright's School in Pittsboro, NC, and I wanted to share a little bit about my experience.
Roy Underhill discusses trade-offs in sharpening with the class 

The class I took was "Introduction to Hand Tool Woodworking" taught by Roy Underhill, which might seems strange for a person who has been working with hand tools and writing about for years. I had my reasons though, and I did learn a few things. Mostly, though, it was a fun and motivating way to spend a couple of days, knocking the rust of my skills, spending some time with like-minded folk, and having to keep up with the pace of a class. I chose this class in particular because of the teacher, and because it was a relatively small time/money commitment compared to other classes. It was the first time I've taken a woodworking class, and I'm really glad I did it.

Now that the conclusion is out of the way, here's a list of some highlights:

* Roy was his goofy and magnanimous self, like on TV but without rushing to get it all into one take. To hear him tell it, he wasted class time with self-serving anecdotes, but listening to his banter is in my humble opinion, a major benefit of this particular school.

* Hanging out with 10 other woodworkers was fun. Don't get me wrong, it was a pretty introverted crowd (as I have come to expect in this hobby) so I'm not talking about wild rollicking craziness, but it was nice to have some camaraderie, and to share information and stories. Hello Jean-Paul, Tiffani, Joel, and the rest of the class (should you happen to read this)!

* The wood we got to work with was choice. We built bench hooks starting from a green walnut log-which was a bit of a revelation. It split easily, but only when I wanted it to, and planing it felt amazingly smooth. The purple and yellow undertones were cool too. We made dovetailed boxes from [dried] poplar on day 2. Both were especially smooth and easy to work with, and beautiful. 
The bench I was using

* Ed and his shop full of nicely tuned old tools upstairs. They were available to try out during class, which was a really nice bonus. Just having access to a store like that is a good opportunity considering the tools are cheaper than new, but sharp and ready to there is a lot of variety. I didn't take massive advantage of this because I'm pretty well equipped at this point, but I did pick up a saw set.

* Did I mention I learned some stuff? Even though I've split logs, milled stock, and cut dovetails before, by giving myself over to someone else's methods, I learned a few things. I had never used hot hide glue before, and trying it out removed the intimidation factor. I also learned some subtle things about dovetailing that I think will make it go a lot faster in the future.

* Getting to use a real workbench! Mine is still in progress because I've had limited time for woodworking since mid 2015, and this felt like a luxury.

* Pittsboro was a charming little town with some great stuff to offer. The City Tap and Small St. B & B stand out in particular. The City Tap had a great selection of microbrews that weren't dominated by IPAs as is so often the case in my neck of the woods. And the Small St. B & B was just phenomenal. The room I slept in was a piece of art, the food was divine, and the couple that ran it made me feel completely at home. If you find yourself in Pittsboro, go try their hotcakes when they are serving breakfast, whether you are staying there or not! (because they're also a breakfast/brunch restaurant)

* The driving was an experience. It was 11+ hours each way for me. I'm not sure it was a highlight in every sense, but it was a very memorable part of the trip, and I would do it again.

* I brought home useful stuff that I made:
Useful stuff, safely home.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Which hand plane should I get first?

I have fielded this question more than any other from new woodworkers that I know personally: "What hand plane should I get first?" It seems that every blog and magazine has a different answer, always couched in a familiar disclaimer that more or less says "this is what works for me, [other people have other opinions, etc. etc.]". I think an honest talk about the trade-offs is long overdue.

I will try to lay out the options to answer every question about which plane to buy, including size, cost, age, material, and primary purpose. I will not go into detail about how to find, evaluate, restore, or use a plane, as I think those are best left separate (feel free to email me questions to prompt an article from me on this topic, although many good answers are already available).

Let's quickly get some terminology and basic facts out of the way first, though.

Planes can flatten, smooth, and level wood, which are three different things.

Flat means in a geometric plane, regardless of orientation or texture, something large planes are good at achieving. A piece of slate leaning against a wall is flat but not level and probably not smooth.

Smooth refers to the texture, or more precisely to the lack of texture. The walls of a drinking glass are smooth but not flat, and if it's standing upright, they are not level either. Any plane with a sharp polished straight blade can make wood smooth.

Level refers to a horizontal orientation, which isn't really what planes are for. The wooden floor I'm standing on in my house is level but not flat because it has sagged slightly over time (and not totally smooth because I have two energetic dogs). If you wanted to level a flat and smooth tabletop, you would apply a saw or a wedge to one or more legs, not a plane to the top. Technically you can level with a plane by removing material from the high side, but usually you want to flatten material, perhaps make the other side flat and parallel, and then position it level.

Any plane can take any thickness shaving
Well, almost. Although certain sizes of planes have gravitated to the roles that usually suit them best, what they can do also depends on how you set them up. The thickness of shaving is up to the user (as is the level of camber, polish, and sometimes the cutting angle). When you own only one plane, you may need exploit this flexibility, and it's a good learning experience. But bear in mind the traditional progression. A medium length plane (e.g. "fore" or "jack") usually takes thick shavings first to get a board approximately flat, then a longer plane (e.g. "try" or "jointer") to get precise flatness, and then something shorter plays the role of a smoothing plane--for eliminating any lingering tear-out, track marks, or other roughness. This combination matches the best attributes of each plane to an appropriate task. But even in this traditional progression, the exact size of the planes, and thresholds between them will vary depending on the project and user. Remember that there are reasons for tradition, but they are not absolute rules.

(For clear instruction in traditional hand plane roles, seek out what Chris Schwarz has written/filmed about "Coarse, Medium, Fine)

So, which type of handplane should I buy first?
This question is more complex than is initially obvious, because you are really solving 3 different problems. You really want to choose a plane that will do all of these things for you:
* Teach you about planes. How to use and maintain them, and what you like to use them for. Any plane (in good working order) can do this although some make it easier than others.
* Be immediately useful. This will give you experience and will give the tool relevance. Versatile tools have a better chance of doing this.
* Find a long term niche in your shop. To be worth owning it should be the best tool for at least one job (for you)--otherwise you may end up wishing you had spent your hard-earned cash on something else.

The best first plane for you will be one that can do these 3 things well.

A block plane is a safe choice for any woodworker.
Teaching ability: The information contained in a block plane is relatively accessible. There is less metal to sharpen (or flatten, if that is required), and these tend to be more affordable than other planes.
Immediate use: A block plane will find immediate use breaking edges, flattening small parts, shaping convex curves, and can even play the role of a smoother plane. It is not good at making reliably flat surfaces on furniture-sized parts, although you can make surfaces that look more or less flat.
Long term niche: Almost any woodworker will have a niche for a block plane in their shop. It's a full-fledged plane that you can easily pick up and wield with one hand. Even those who have a shop full of power tools already will find a block plane to be an extremely efficient way to remove the sharp corners from project parts, flush protrusions, or flatten small surfaces.
Bottom line: If you have any doubts after reading this article, get a block plane first. It's a safe choice that you are unlikely to regret. If you want to stop reading now, just go get the best block plane that fits your budget.

A smoothing plane (e.g. #4, #3, 4 1/2) can be a revelation for those with a shop full of power tools
Teaching ability: Almost as accessible as a block plane, but more optimized for two hands. A fine teacher that will inspire you to get really good at sharpening.
Immediate use: You can use it to "smooth" or refine the texture of a surface, but it can also be used for flattening small surfaces or anything a block plane can do. Will not likely be good at taking off a lot of material quickly (unless it has an adjustable mouth).
Long term niche: As long as you learn to sharpen, a smoother will enable to to achieve the best surfaces quickly. It is the fastest way remove the marks left by other planes, a jointer or a planer. The surface it leaves can be final, or as a prelude to sandpaper if you prefer.
Bottom line: Get a smoother first if you are already using power tools for milling, because using it immediately afterwords will save you time by allowing you to skip most/all of the sandpaper. Buy the one that feels most natural in your hand, ideally with a higher-than-45-degree cutting angle. Then get good at sharpening. But if you are already planning a long trip down the hand-tool rabbit hole, I would recommend delaying your smoother purchase--instead take a little more time to learn your preferences before deciding which smoother to buy.

A jack/fore plane is a good choice if you love hand tools already or want to keep wide stock intact
Teaching ability: These #5 or similar planes are a nice size to get good at two-hand technique. Useful whether sharpened straight or cambered, coarse or polished.
Immediate use: This is probably the most versatile of all planes. It is large enough to do some serious flattening if you need it to, and is also capable of smoothing. But it's best at removing large amounts of material to get a board approximately flat in a hurry.
Long term niche: Doing what it does best, being a fore plane. It's really doing the same job as a powered jointer and planer for those that have a hand tool preference, but it can also handle material of any width. 
Bottom line: This is probably the best choice if you have a strong interest in using hand planes, because it will let you do a lot right away while you develop sharpening skills. I would also recommend it to someone who wants to avoid the workarounds associated with wide stock and a narrow power-jointer. I would not recommend a jack plane as an introduction to hand planes for most habitual power-tool users.

A jointer such as a #7 is a bold start if you have large plans and want to avoid power
1.) It will teach you the fundamentals just like any bench plane, as long as you have some large surfaces or long edges to work with. But be sure to get one that's already got a flat sole, or getting it working will be a real pain.
2.) A plane this size, used competently, will end up straightening or flattening whatever wood you apply it to, and is especially useful for dealing with dimensions 3' and larger. You do have some flexibility about what kind of shavings you take, however. It is most natural with a medium thickness shaving (maybe as thick as a business card), but you can take thicker shavings if you put your whole body into it. With careful sharpening, you can reduce the shaving thickness to the point where there is no smoothing left to be done in many cases (a back-bevel may help, too). So it is actually quite versatile, as long as you have the energy to push it around. But it will be hard to use on small surfaces (really, impossible for a beginner on anything less than say, 8"), and you won't be able to remove tearout without removing wood from a large area.
3.) I love my jointer plane, and I have a hard time imagining being happy with any alternative. But folks who are accustomed to a powered jointer don't seem to find much use for them. These will find a home in shop of a person who is dead-set against the noise, dust, and space requirements of large power tools, or is in love with the excercise and ceremony that can come with hand tools. Many woodworkers will be happy without ever picking one up.
Bottom line: The only way this should be your first handplane is if you are absolutely sure you want to get deeply involved with handplanes AND your first application for a plane is something big, like a workbench. If that's you, go for it, and consider spending a couple bucks on a card scraper while you're at it. If you are already content with a powered jointer and planer, don't even consider a buying a jointer plane first.

A shoulder plane is the least-ridiculous type of rabbet plane as a first plane, but you still shouldn't do it
1.) With two more references surfaces than bench planes, and a need for precise adjustment in one additional dimension, these are not an ideal introduction to planes.
2.) As the most versatile type of rabbet plane, this can be used for rabbets, grooves, tenon shoulders. If you really need it to, you could even use it for flattening small surfaces.
3.) If you're going to use hand planes for joinery, this will have continued utility. It has a specialized focus, but can do everything a simple rabbet plane can do too, and that is a lot.
Bottom line) I don't recommend any sort of a rabbet plane as a first choice, because the extra complexity distracts from the most important parts--sharpening and planing. But if you're going to do it anyway, get a large shoulder plane. At least if you do come to like rabbeting by hand and figure out which styles of rabbet plane you prefer, your shoulder plane will certainly be among them.

Other sizes are available.
I didn't mention #1, #2, #6, and #8, but that doesn't necessarily make them a bad choice. What I've covered for the most common sizes should still serve as the basic guidance, but if you or your work is an unusual size, you can use these other sizes to compensate. A #1 might make sense for a small child that can be trusted with sharp objects, or a #8 for a tall person building a workbench.
Bottom line: There are 3 basic sizes for hand planes, not 8.

Consider a router plane if you want, but look to a different article:
Ok, it's technically a plane because it has a sole and an iron, but it's really a different animal because it does not take a consistent thickness shaving like everything else on the list. It might be a good choice if you have the right project, but then you will be back to this article for the second plane, because it's not the same thing.

Now that you know what type you're going to get, let's figure out exactly which one to look at.

Used or New?
Ideally, you want to be able to focus on learning to use a plane, and not be distracted by wondering if it working properly. If you can afford to buy a plane that comes flat and sharp from the factory, I would recommend that as your first plane. I would not consider a new plane that doesn't meet this low bar, because it will almost certainly have flaws that you cannot correct. If you have the skills to restore an old tool, you might as well save some money and get an old Stanley or similar and restore it (but err on the side of a smaller plane). If you have neither the budget for new or the skills to restore an old tool, it gets more difficult, and you might have to make a hard choice between the two. But you also might find an old tool that has already been restored for a decent price if you look towards the kind of dealers that appear at woodworking trade shows. Or find someone local willing to help you restore a plane for the first time.

Wood or metal?
A metal bodied plane is probably your best option, because of the easy adjustment they offer. If you are determined to avoid complexity, you can go with a wooden plane, but you'll have to learn to adjust it with a small mallet. An infill plane is a waste of money unless you are sure you really like planes. And transitional planes are best left to collectors. Bottom line, you should probably get a metal-bodied plane.

Bevel up or down?
It actually doesn't matter all that much. Bevel down planes are a little simpler, a little more ergonomic, and they work better with heavily-cambered blades. Bevel up planes allow free choice of cutting angles and typically have adjustable mouths for ultimate versatility. But you can do everything you need to with either, so get whichever one makes sense to you, and don't regret it.

Which brand?
I'm going to dodge this question, but not completely. Read reviews, and you will find several types of brands. Boutique makers are an OK first choice as long as you can afford it. Brands of questionable quality will probably cost you the most in the end, and aren't worth your time.. What you probably want is a high quality brand with excellent customer service. There are only a few well known ones.