Sunday, May 31, 2015

Proof that woodworking does not have to be solitary

I love working on projects with friends. It is really nice to have company in the shop, and skate the sense of satisfaction from accomplishing something.

Yesterday Abby, Charlotte, and Frank joined me for a glowing epoxy job, but we also got some mortises and tenons knocked out--my idea of a good day.

I'll just let the pictures do the talking:

Abby is mortising while Frank saws out haunched tenons.
Charlotte saws tenon edges with intense focus.

Somebody had the bright idea to use sugar to figure out how much epoxy we needed to mix up.
The payoff. Phosphorescent powder and epoxy have landed in our rout.

I think this was a first for Abby and her dog.

Thanks to everyone who came today, plus my wife, D, and Patty for all the good work and positivity you are bringing to this project.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Carving purpleheart

I just had my first experience carving purpleheart. This is a recess for phosphorescent epoxy, so the bottom will not be visible. Considering my first impression of purpleheart was mostly informed by nasty splinters, It's pretty nice to work with. It has a nice even texture and carves predictably. I was amazed at the damage it did to my chisels and gouges in about an hour though. I think I spent more time grinding & sharpening 8 tools than I did carving.

Following a paper template

More things you can hang on french cleats

I have been having fun mounting all sorts of things on french cleats. Here are a few ideas for inspiration:
adjustable laptop desk. The angle can be adjusted for comfort with the chain links, while the height is adjusted with the cleats on the wall.
laptop desk, folded. This is made of scraps: thin
hardwood faced plywood, aromatic cedar, and hardware.
First aid kit. Because of french cleats, this can come off the wall in a hurry when it counts.

Some pegs I already had.

Just a shelf.

drills/drivers, and clamps. This is made of 2"x4"s, spaced to fit what I have.

Two worlds collide!
Pegboard. I have some stuff that still works well on pegboard.
With two screws and blocks, I have a place to put it.

circular saw. This hanger is made of glue and OSB

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

back from Handworks 2015

I'm back home from Handworks 2015, unpacked, and I found a few minutes to share my thoughts.

Handworks was in Amana, IA, and the H. O. Studley tool chest exhibit was planned to coincide nearby in Cedar Rapids. I traveled alone and spent 4 days in Iowa.


Handworks is essentially just a marketplace. But if you like hand tools and woodworking, it seems to be the one to be at. For me, there are two reasons to attend an event like this: It's a chance to test & compare the best hand tools available firsthand, and it's a chance to rub elbows with lots of other like minded folks. 
The main arena, after most people have left.
Before this, I once drove 4 hours to test carcase saws from 2 manufacturers side by side. This weekend, I flew about 4 hours to Handworks, where there were 5 of the best manufacturers of carcase saws, and one antique dealer. Of course, that's just one example. But a lot of buying decisions [should] come down to criteria that are hard to measure by reading, like ergonomics. When there are so many high quality tools available, the decision really isn't about quality--it's about what you like. This is a chance to ask questions of toolmakers, put your hands on tools, and really figure out what you like. Many of the vendors offer free shipping and/or a show discount, so if you come prepared, Handworks a good way to acquire some tools.

While most people were talking or spending, Mike Siemsen was
building a workbench. 

My advice is to go to an event like this with a budget. You'll need it to get the most out of the event. (Based on my experience in 2014, the next Woodworking in America marketplace might also be a good substitute)

All eyes on St. Roy.

I got nearly all my shopping done on the first day, so I dedicated Saturday to talking. Wandering around a crowd of friendly folks and knowing that you have a common interest with everyone you see is a refreshing experience, and especially valuable for often-introverted woodworker types. I made a few acquaintances, even friends, and had a lot of stimulating conversation on topics that my local friends usually don't scratch. I don't often get a day with such a focused agenda, and it was extremely relaxing. It also didn't hurt that Roy Underhill got the day off to the right start by standing on a workbench and being hilarious for about a half hour. He is really good at that.

Amana, by the way, was a perfect backdrop for the event. It's a quietly stimulating place. The people and institutions still show a strong connection to their past as a self-sufficient religious commune. It didn't feel like [other] tourist traps at all--like it still has one foot in the past instead of reenacting it. Go there if you like looking at beautiful objects, eating too much delicious German food, and going to bed early.


I don't know how I'm going to write about this. I got to spend time with H. O. Studley's famous tool chest, which is an object which you can easily learn about from text and photographs. (Just pull up your favorite search engine). The entire point of visiting it was to get what you can't get from words and pictures. So I'm not sure how to convey that with words and pictures. I guess I can concretely say two things:

Apparently beauty can shine through a bad
photograph. Oh well, there are already plenty of
good ones on the internet.
  1. I feel inspired. Partly from the book which I bought. But largely from getting to spend time physically near an object. That feeling is valuable to me. And I think it will lead to action.
  2. Donald Williams let the folks in my time slot and the ones after (late on Sunday) stay for more than an hour. So I spent 3 hours getting all my questions answered and absorbing the experience more fully. Apparently I'm supposed to rub your noses in that fact, so, um, there you go. 

Worth the trip

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tool Chest!

I declare this thing done. 
I have been working on this tool chest for a while, years even. Oddly, I think I never mentioned it on here. I had a mental picture of lots of detailed posts showing every step of the way, and I never got around to it. I don't think I would want to read all that same stuff for the nth time anyway. Maybe I'll post some interesting mistakes later, but enough about that. It's done now, I'm going to tell you about it, and maybe it will inspire some future action. Deal? OK.

My tool chest is based on "The Anarchist's Tool Chest", an excellent book/theory from Chris Schwarz. If you find yourself reading this, you will probably enjoy reading that book. It's about how to spend your time doing what's rewarding, how to select implements for doing so, and how to arrange for those implements to wind up in a big box. Oh, and it's mostly about woodworking as opposed to, say, anarchy.

What I really like about the book (and the Schwarz's writing in general), is that he lays out the principles he's following instead of encouraging you to slavishly copy the details. The first rule (not technically a rule) of the ATC is that you're supposed to disobey Chris Schwarz, and I did plenty of that.

My chest is scaled down from the canonical one to fit my tools (a basic ATC principle), and to try to be more space-efficient (my own stubborn inclination). I've also added & changed features where it made sense to me, while trying to stick with the overarching purpose and principles of the chest outlined in the book. For the rest of this post, I'm going to assume you have read it, or are at least familiar with the idea of the ATC--that way I can focus on what's different in my version. If you don't know the background, spend a few minutes with a search engine. This idea has made the rounds of other woodworking blogs several times over by now. Or buy the book, it's your choice. (This is a good time to point out that I'm not affiliated with Lost Art Press or anybody else who sells woodworking stuff).

I am incapable of painting over this surface.
The first thing you might notice is that my tool chest is not painted black. Why not? I do like it's modest good looks and the way it contrasts with the woodgrain outside, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I got into the hobby partly because I like the way wood grain looks, especially when it's been planed. I used this project to build a lot of basic experience. Milling lumber by hand, dovetailing, grain matching, proportional design, drawbore joints just to name a few. I'm proud of how it came out, and I like looking at it in all it's woodiness. This is purely personal taste, not advice for anybody else. (This is also testament that nobody should be afraid of cutting dovetails by hand. These were almost my first, and the repairs came out great!)

The longest saw you see on top determined the size of the chest below.
What do I mean about scaling the chest to my tools? Well, my tools take up a little less space than what's in the book. First off, I don't have molding planes. I like to design and build objects that don't look ornamented, so molding doesn't seem necessary. At the outset, I decided that I can always change my mind and put some in a separate box (maybe in the japanese tool chest style). Second, I prefer panel saws to full-size hand saws--Mostly because I can't accidentally knock them into the concrete floor when sawing on sawbenches. Lastly, I got into woodworking to build guitars. A lot of the specialized tools for that are pretty small. So, following the principles of ATC, I sized the chest to my longest tools, my panel saws. The depth and height of the original are based on what's comfortable for the human body to reach. Following that principle and looking at my tools, the inside dimensions ended up at 28"(L) x 16.5" (D) x 18.5 (H). That's probably about half the typical volume, but I am going to use all of it. This also means I can pick the thing up myself (note to self: take some weight out first so you don't break your back - planes are heavy).

Chest on legs. The offset allows them to fold next to their counterparts.
Wheels engage when the legs don't.

I also elected to put my chest up on legs. Well, sometimes. The legs fold and get held closed by a toggle. When closed, brass casters are in position to roll the chest around. I find the chest comfortable to use at either height, but especially when it's ~16" off the floor. Lately I've been rolling it around a lot while I reorganize my shop.

I also did the lid differently. I think the groove-in-groove thing is neat, but I really wanted a top that is one flat surface in case I want to use the chest as a sawbench in a pinch. I didn't want to sacrifice the thickness of the panel, so I made the frame even thicker (It came from a few clear sections of 2x4). I even veneered the inside of the panel, just so it would definitely be thick & strong enough for some abuse. I know it's only another 1/40 of an inch, but the stiffness goes up with the cube of the thickness, so it definitely matters.

I elected to attach the lid with brass piano hinge, screwed straight into the back. Some people think it's ugly, but that's only, like, your opinion, man. Come to think of it, there seems to be a lot of anti-shiny-brass sentiment out there, certainly at odds with my all-shiny-brass hardware. That's ok. This brass will look old when it gets old. But I want it to look young while it is young too. The idea of artificially speeding up the process just bothers me somehow. Again, this is my taste, not advice.

Oh, and no lock. If I ever feel I need one, I'll install a nice looking hasp, and use a padlock that offers some real security. But I doubt I will.

Whoops, there's supposed to be more stuff.
Still reading? Awesome. A little surprising. Let's talk about what's inside my tool chest.

Organized chaos.
The bottom is pretty much like the canonical ATC (CATC?), except missing the saw till and the area for molding planes. There will be no molding planes, and I'll explain later about the saws. What I'm saying is that the bottom is wide open. I've got it filled mostly with planes, and a couple other things too large and awkward to go anywhere else. I find it quite acceptable to have a drawknife, brace, and mallet piled in with the planes. I set them down gently, they don't move around much because of the plane totes, and they are surprisingly not much in the way.
The chisels don't seem to interfere with the planes. That rack is also a nice place for a little flush-cut saw.
I also decided early on that a chisel rack was required. I tried tool rolls, but they take up too much space on the bench and get dusty. I find I only like it for carving tools, which I don't use all that often, and tend to use as a set. My chisel rack is fairly traditional, except for the way I made it. It's a glued-up wood sandwich, with a 1/2" gap in the middle, and a 1/4" gap in the back (towards the wall). I only glued in the dividers I needed in the 1/2" gap--so pretty much just for the set of bench chisels on the right. I can always glue in more later as I figure out exactly what else goes in there, and the wide open gap works fine for most things. The 1/4" gap right against the wall is good for a small carpenter's square, and maybe other things later. The whole thing can unscrew and come out of the chest in one piece If I change my mind about it later. It actually sits on the till rails.

Tills at rest.
Tills at work. This keeps the small tools handy.
The sliding tills I made are pretty standard stuff, except for the width. If I had made them small enough to spread out completely, they would have been only 5" wide. Instead I made them 8". I can see two whole ones, or fractions of all 3. Or I can set the top one on the bench and spread the other two out. Like every engineering decision, it's a compromise. But I need the space. I also omitted the traditional pull rings in favor of simple centered pull holes. This is for a few reasons: I don't think they justify their own weight, holes don't bang into things, and a centered hole naturally leads you to pull the till where it won't bind. Mine don't bind anyway, but who knows how that might change with wear? These were fun to build. A few quick dovetails in pine, and some small nails, and then you've got that most precious of all commodities--more space.

One set of saws, with luggage in front.
What about saws? I stuck them in that extra space next to the tills. It always bothered me to waste it and let the tills slide around in transport. So I made a saw rack (till?) that rides on the lower till-rail. The idea is that it's the first thing that comes out of the tool chest for use, right before and much like the bench planes. I put all the saws with crosscut teeth facing one way, and those with rip teeth facing the other. It's a straightforward set of western saws, plus two Japanese saws that have earned their space by getting me out of a lot of jams (a big-box-store ryoba, and an azebiki). I made this rack to be the same height as the bottom two tills, so the top till can slide right over it. This is handy if I want a screwdriver or something from the second till without getting into a whole woodworking session.

OK, maybe I have a problem letting space go unused.
I even found some more space in the saw till. I made two simple little trays to slide into grooves at the end. They hold pencils, crayons, chalk, and some saw lubricants. All things that I am happy to have out at the bench right away, or at least near the saws.
Loaded up, ready position.
The top till is still free to move with saws in place.

I wish I had a name for this... "self-locating chain recess"?
"gouging one's work because there's no better option"?
What else? There are a couple of details that revealed themselves to me as I went. I made some smooth notches in the front wall of the top till so the brass chains don't scar the lid. This wouldn't be necessary if I had left some vertical space, but I wanted to use every cubic inch. Shaping them was guess-and-check until they slid in on their own every time.

I also made till-dividers that are easy to reconfgure. I used some scraps of fir that were 1/8" and 3/8" thick. The thin piece is the divider, and the thick piece is a wedge that encloses the end of the divider, preventing itself from buckling and falling off. Unfortunately it's hard to photograph clearly, but it's easy to do with a 1/8" chisel if you get the concept. Just make the angles match and don't tap it too hard.

These are easy to make and encourage grouping by category

OK, that about covers what I built. But, why?

In the end, it's a box where I put things.
That's a hard question with too many answers. If you want all of them, just go read the book already (The Anarchist's Tool Chest by Chris Schwarz). But I'll give you the one that's most relevant to me: organizational discipline.

I'm not naturally a neat person. Just ask my wife, my parents, or any of my college room-mates (sorry again). I do strive to improve, though, and the ATC has changed the way I think (for the better). The ATC has laid out a challenge to fit a complete working set of tools inside a box with finite dimensions. For me, that is an engaging, fulfilling exercise from what would otherwise be boring and neglected.  I've got craigslist ads up right now with tools that are decent enough, but I don't really need. I have got another pile that I'm thinking about getting rid of, knowing that whatever I keep might push something else out of the tool chest. And I stopped buying tools just because I felt the urge to buy something that I might need. I never would have done this without reading ATC. 

This gives me space, money, and time back. This makes me happy.

It makes the house neater, which makes my wife happy. And that makes me happy.

Now, I shall dream of sugarplums and getting on a plane for Handworks tomorrow night.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

French cleats starting to show results

I'm currently teaming up with three friends to put French cleats in our garages, basements, and workshops.

Here's a simple hanger I made for my
spirit level. It's made with a dowel,
a scrap of plywood, and crucially,
a small block ripped at 40 degrees.
Here is the level hanger after setting
it on the cleat, which is has the same
40 degree angle on it..
For those of you don't know about French cleats, I've included a couple of pictures showing how they work (and I recommend a look around YouTube). It is essentially a strong, flexible storage system for your walls that you can easily make yourself to suit your task.

Aaron, Kevin, & Matt, If you are reading this, your cleats are
ready. Here they are shown sunbathing after I cut them to length.
I have also got 75' of extra ready for hangers.
 Over the weekend, I cross cut french cleat stock to length for all the places it going. I did the crosscutting outside with 2 sawbenches and a panel saw. This is very pleasant work for a sunny day, and great low-stakes practice for sawing to a line.
Here I have some cleats grouped by which wall they are going on.
Since then I moved a light switch plate and did some painting in my basement, then got a few cleats up and a few things on the cleats. So far I've only got 36 lineal feet of cleat up on the wall, out of a total of 190' that's ready for my basement.

But I'm already extremely excited at the possibilities. I've got four things hanging already and I really like how it works. Mounting things with a flat rear surface to the wall couldn't be easier. I just cut off a couple blocks of clean and screw them into the back. If I leave the screws a little loose at first and then put it on the wall, two separate corner blocks will easily fall into alignment  before tightening them. Anything that hooks into the wall locks in with a satisfying solidity.
A few things already on my wall. These are things I already had, but now can be positioned more effectively. On top of the box you can see my spacer jig for mounting the cleats.

Although I've been excited about the concept of French cleats for quite some time now, the geniune article is better than I expected. I think the coolest part is when you actually stand in front of them, lift something substantial, and easily set it down on your wall with the confidence that it is not going to move on its own. I am looking forward to years of improvised hooks, shelves, boxes, cabinets, and any other storage I think to put on my walls.

In another post to come soon, I will discuss the details of  materials and methods chosen for this miniature manufacturing run of french cleats.