Archive for ◊ December, 2010 ◊

• Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Well, a bad day in the shop sure beats a good day doing a lot of other things! Seriously though, I want to explore the unnerving phenomenon of why sometimes working wood I feel like I can do no wrong, everything just flows, and yet at other times I feel like a neophyte who needs all the good luck in the world for things to go right. Can you relate to this?

I am not referring to obvious interference from things such as fatigue, worries, tool failure, wood disappointments, struggles with a new technique, and so forth. Rather, the mystery is why, absent apparent hindrances, some woodworking sessions are strained, poorly productive, lacking in confidence, or simply a struggle without ease.

Here is the best I’ve been able to discern. At least, I’m convinced that what follows is the key for me.

I believe that to be simultaneously effective and at ease in woodworking requires heightened awareness of how the process at hand, each moment of it, fits into the larger picture of the piece being made. In other words, one does not just execute isolated procedures, such as sawing to a line, but maintains a background cognizance of the larger role of the task at hand in what is being created.

Working with this sense of direction produces focus and concentration. It also extends beyond the piece in process to a larger commitment of purpose about one’s woodworking in general. Everyone has his own view in this regard, of course, but it should be carried into the shop and kept alive in the background.

Work flow in my shop deteriorates and mistakes creep in when tasks are abstracted from their larger purpose. The right approach is, for example, to plane a board flat, not as an isolated goal, but to work it flat enough, appropriately nuanced, so the board will fulfill its role in the piece. Yes, this is a simple notion, but it is easy to get carried astray in the course of all the steps in building a piece.

I find that a quick mental warmup to attend to these matters greatly helps my focus when starting work in the shop. In short, a clear sense of purpose, at all levels, is the key to a good day in the shop!

Does working wood thus imitate life in general?

Category: Ideas  | 6 Comments
• Monday, December 27th, 2010

Here are more second thoughts regarding previous posts. The updates are based on additional experience, news, modifications, and ideas relating to these tools.

The Domino Effect, June 12, 2009. It takes time for woodworkers to develop faith in new forms of joinery, as in new glues and finishes. We would like to have a crystal ball to see how they perform a few generations into the life of a piece. To ease my lingering doubts, I assembled a few test joints with the Domino and annihilated them with a 3-pound drill hammer. The wood failed before the joints. A very light sanding of the surface of the domino tenons to improve wetting seems like good insurance.

I’ve used Domino joints in high-end pieces but still don’t think they will ever replace traditional mortise and tenon joinery. It would be helpful if the system could make the mortises at least 1/4 inch deeper than the current maximum of 28 mm (nominal; actual is 29 mm) and use accordingly longer tenons. The machine can also be used as a handy small mortiser even without using dominos.

It would be interesting to hear of readers’ experiences with Domino joints.

Lie-Nielsen Convex Sole Plane, September 11, 2010. Finger grips filed into the sides of the plane have proven helpful. In general, I almost feel that a tool isn’t really part of my repertoire until I’ve done something to personalize it.

8 Simple Shop Tips and Conveniences, February 15, 2010. The Ni-MH batteries in the Panasonic drill-light set have finally died after a long, productive life. I replaced the set with the Makita LCT 300W 18-volt drill-impact driver-light set which uses Li-ion batteries. Wow – lots lighter, faster and longer-lasting charge, and what a buy. The impact driver is more for DIY than furniture making but it’s a serious bad boy with 1280 inch-pounds of torque.

Minimax E-16 Bandsaw, May 18, 2009. It appears from the Minimax website that this model is no longer available from them. The E-16 remains a good fit for my shop because it covers just about all my needs while being lighter and more maneuverable than the more popular MM-16. Nevertheless, I feel as strongly as ever that a quality bandsaw will expand most woodworkers’ range of work as few other tools can and more than any other machine. Bandsaws do not take up much space and can be made mobile. I suggest a steel frame saw with at least 12 inches of resaw height.

How Much Camber Should Be in Plane Irons?, May 21, 2009. Having received a few questions on this, nope, I still won’t say how much. IT DEPENDS. And don’t bother measuring it. In addition to the plane’s function (smoothing, jack, etc.) and the bevel up or down factors, other issues include: is the plane skewed in use (which makes the camber’s “sag” have a shorter span), how sharp is the blade, how hard is the wood, and how is the cap iron adjusted? Also, the amount of downward deflection of the blade’s edge will be altered by most of these factors which will, in turn, affect the functional effect of the camber.

The key is to monitor the feedback from the blade’s performance and make adjustments at the next sharpening session. Usually, camber is overdone. Fortunately, this is easy to correct, since most of the dullness is at the crown of the camber where it is readily honed away.

An Inexpensive Saw that Does Its Job Well, May 30, 2010. This has been a great workhorse in the shop. I wonder if it could be manufactured with a taper-ground plate for a little higher price. That, and a little better handle geometry would make it even better.

There’s always more to learn!

Category: Tools and Shop  | 5 Comments
• Saturday, December 11th, 2010

This is about a way of working that is a mentality more than a specific technique. Above all, it is about awareness.

Accuracy is essential in woodworking – layout, cutting, surfacing, fitting, and so forth. We strive for this, perhaps even aiming for unattainable perfection, like a shooting at a bull’s-eye.

Consider William Tell, who, legend holds, was forced by a tyrant to take one attempt to shoot an arrow through an apple sitting on the head of the archer’s son. If he missed, the tyrant’s soldiers would kill the boy. Though he courageously took careful aim at the apple, surely Tell shot with the awareness that to miss low would kill his own son. If he missed high, at least there might be a Plan B to save his son. Fortunately he did not need to use the extra arrow under his coat, but one wonders what might have ensued if the first shot missed.

In woodworking, all inaccuracies are not equal. It is not like aiming at a concentric circle target. To do good work, one must be not only intent on hitting the mark but also cognizant of the consequences of the different directions of missing the mark. This awareness comes from understanding the significance of the task at hand and where it fits into the project as a whole.

This does not mean one should saw everything fat, nor does it excuse being timid about working to the line. It does mean that the concept of a one-sided tolerance can be applied to most woodworking tasks. Here it is: try to hit it right with an accuracy appropriate to the function of that part of the project, with an awareness that errors in some directions are less consequential (and perhaps fully tolerable) than errors in other directions which can seriously compromise the work.

As an example, in sawing a tenon, strive (courageously) to saw to the layout line but be aware that sawing it too thin is a considerably bigger nuisance to correct than sawing a bit too fat, which can be quickly remedied by paring or planing. In the bigger picture, you are aware that a loose tenon will compromise the strength of the structure. The same general idea can be applied to cutting dovetails, fitting drawers and doors, even flattening a board.

By contrast, you broaden your tolerances planing a chamfer with a block plane. If it looks about right, fine.

This is a much more effective approach than pursuing the illusion that you must or might get it “perfect.” Don’t believe the “perfect every time” promise in some woodworking ads and literature. It is neither necessary nor real.

Be always aware of: How does this process that I’m doing at the moment, fit in and affect the whole of the piece? (In this way, does art imitate life?)

With this approach, the craftsman works with ease and confidence. He does not pursue, nor is intimidated by, perfection. Rather he knows what he is after in reality and how to work effectively toward it. Put another way, the craftsman accepts his humanity, and does not fight it but rather works with it to function effectively. In this work of creativity, the craftsman is superior to any machine.

Category: Ideas  | 2 Comments