Archive for ◊ June, 2014 ◊

Author:
• Saturday, June 28th, 2014

Craftsy Heartwood readers, I invite you to check out Craftsy, an online craft instruction site that has recently added woodworking to its blog repertoire, with your devoted scribe as one of the authors. Craftsy offers hundreds of extensive videos on many crafts.

I have just completed a series of nine posts on the Craftsy woodworking blog on making the through dovetail joint. With more than 8,000 words and 74 photos, this is a down and dirty, at-the-bench tutorial that is about as in-depth as you will find written anywhere. I think novices as well as experienced craftsman will find beneficial direction and tips.

I will be regularly contributing to the Craftsy woodworking blog, along with several other woodworkers who consistently produce excellent reading, including two bloggers with whom you are surely familiar, Wilbur Pan and Mitch Roberson.

Heartwood will continue as it has since 2008. I again thank you for reading and very much appreciate your comments. I will continue to endeavor to provide worthwhile, real-deal content “from the shavings and sawdust of my shop.” Meanwhile, take a look at Craftsy and consider adding it to your RSS feeds or bookmarks/favorites.

Rob

Category: Resources  | 2 Comments
Author:
• Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Bad Axe saws

Here is an excellent resource for every woodworker by the maker of Bad Axe saws. It will, of course, be extremely valuable if you have plans to restore a backsaw, but just as much if you want to improve the performance of any backsaw, or if you simply want to expand your understanding of hand saws.

With photos and text, in six detailed posts, Mark walks you through the processes of cleaning up a saw plate, restoring a handle, and, what I found most interesting, how to adjust the interaction of the saw back and plate to produce a dead straight tooth line. He also explains his straightforward approach to sharpening and how he uses a nineteenth century device to hammer set the teeth.

Heck, the colonel even advises you on how to smooth your horns and free up your frozen nuts – in a family-friendly context, of course. And by the way, I like that he calls the wooden part of a saw a “handle” instead of a “tote,” which seems more like something you’d get for free at a shopping mall.

Mark has more DIY articles on his Bad Axe Toolworks site, along with articles on how to evaluate a vintage saw, tooth geometry, and saw filing.

Great stuff, even if you don’t (yet) have a set of Bad Axes like I do. (See unabashed display of show-off photo, above.)

Category: Resources  | Comments off
Author:
• Monday, June 23rd, 2014

bed width

Stock preparation is the essential foundation for any woodworking project, and there are three keys to doing it well: accuracy, efficiency, and knowledge. A jointer-planer combo machine can be a big help.

There are countless pitfalls in stock preparation that can haunt even the most skillful woodworking that may follow. Twist, convex edges, and bowed surfaces are common inaccuracies that create problems. As for efficiency, well, I like making things and I do not want to spend forever grunting out stock, so the noise emanating from well-tuned machinery is music to my ears at the start of a project. Still, none of this works if a woodworker fails to appreciate wood movement from moisture exchange as well as from stresses created in the drying process.

By way of explaining how I settled on the combination machine, let me recount my stock preparation history. I think many readers will relate to much of it. Very early on, two things became obvious. First, it is very limiting to use only the thicknesses available in pre-dimensioned hardwoods, and second, dimensioning with only hand tools is slow and really not a lot of fun.

So, I got one of those ubiquitous cast iron 6″ jointers, and rigged up a marginally effective way to also use it as a thicknesser. Then, some years later, in the late 1980s, I bought a Ryobi AP-10 portable thickness planer, and its 10″ capacity made me feel like I was in heaven (“. . . man”). Still, I was stuck with only 6″ of machine jointing capacity and, despite trying the workarounds found in the tips sections of magazines, I was still doing too much hand work and longed for more machine jointing width, especially since I enjoy using fairly wide boards in my projects.

Enter, the Inca 10″ over-under jointer-planer. This wonderfully accurate machine, with its precise cast aluminum tables and great Tersa cutterhead, served well in my shop for more than ten years, perched on the feature-rich, battleship-grade stand I made for it. The only thing the dear Inca lacked was a lot of muscle, and so when I upgraded, I felt at peace selling it to a musical instrument maker.

Inca jointer-planer

Inca jointer-planer

Now, after 2 1/2 years of using the Hammer A3-31, and privately answering many inquiries about it, I’m ready to write. The opening photo shows off its width. I will discuss the A3-31 in some detail (spoiler alert) – I like it! – but will precede that with a post to consider the merits of the whole idea of a jointer-planer combo.

One more thing. I made the case several years ago for a portable jointer-planer as an excellent choice for a first machine for small-shop woodworkers making furniture and accessories. After many discussions with woodworkers during the ensuing years, I still hold that opinion, though I certainly understand how many feel a bandsaw should be first in line (I place it second) among other valid opinions.

Keep in mind that with a thickness planer as the only machine available, the initial jointing of one face by hand (which, again, I’d rather not do!) only has to produce a surface that will sit on the planer bed without twist, bow, or flex. It can be ugly with tearout, scrub plane gutters, or whatever; it just has to register on the bed so the planer can produce a flat surface on the opposite face. Then the board is flipped over, etc.

Author:
• Friday, June 20th, 2014

ash curves

From baseball bats to crates to tool handles, ash certainly earns its keep as a versatile workhorse wood, but how about for fine furniture?

For this discussion, ash, as a furniture wood, refers to what is generally sold as “white ash” or just plain “ash,” most of which is Fraxinus americana, though there are several other commercially significant ash species.

Ash has a prominent and usually fairly uniform annual ring figure produced by the great difference between the large earlywood cells and dense latewood. It lacks the flashy visible rays of the oaks, and the large majority of it is composed of unimposing light blonde sapwood. So, is ash a boring wood?

Used unimaginatively in low-end furniture, yes, it is rather boring. However, like most products of nature’s bounty, the key is how it is used and what the craftsperson can draw from it.

To my mind, one of the prime virtues of ash is that its rift-cut or quartered surface is great for bringing forth and enhancing artful gradual curves. The uniform figure of the wood seems to sensitize the eye to subtle design. It energizes the form of a piece. Sometimes it reminds me of the raked sand in a Japanese Zen garden – not boring, but peaceful.

Ash can be a pleasing contrast to more intrinsically glamorous woods, but it can also shine on its own. Curly ash is beautiful and impressive, yet retains the species’ inherent composure. I recently picked up some beautiful curly pieces – I’m thinking thick veneer drawer fronts for these – from Kevin Koski at Curlymaplewood.com, where you can find lots of other gorgeous curly species. Also, ash heartwood has a nice soft brown color that creates interesting contrast when used judiciously alongside the sapwood.

curly ash

With green-to-oven-dry shrinkage values of 4.9% radial and 7.8% tangential (T/R = 1.6), ash is decently stable, and it generally works well with machines and hand tools. I’ve enjoyed using it for frame and panel work, legs, drawer parts, and in bent laminations. The species presents a challenge and an opportunity for thoughtful design and balance in a piece.

I like ash finished with a less-is-more approach, using a “water white” acrylic water-base or maybe thin bleached shellac.

In recent years, ash trees in the central and eastern US have become seriously threatened by the emerald ash borer. Here are some ways to help avoid spreading the infestation.

By the way, all of the “Woods I love” posts, with more to come, can now be conveniently viewed on a single page as one of the Series Topics.

bent lam cutoff and tool handle

Category: Wood | Tags:  | Comments off
Author:
• Tuesday, June 03rd, 2014

Readers of this blog may have noticed that the author has a few pet peeves. Among them are the belief in magic, pretending that woodworking is quick or easy, and purporting perfection.

Here’s another one.

We contemporary woodworkers have a lot of advantages. We benefit from access to lots of excellent instruction, centuries of accumulated craft wisdom, and great quality tools.

“So, Rob,” you say, “what’s the problem?” Well, there is the danger that the more there is of all that, the less there may be of any one of us. 

There is, however, an absolute protection from that danger. It is your brain, but only if you use it.

A technique, method, or tool is not right just because a guru said so. Now, of course, we should heed expert advice and ages of experience, but woodworking is right there in front of you, where the steel meets the wood, and the product of your work is also right there for honest appraisal by you and others. Though each woodworker does not need to reinvent the wheel, he should assess and choose what works at his bench in his shop.

The issue is how one might take in what is put forth. A technique, approach, or tool is good or bad on its own merit, and one can also have reasonable preferences among good options, but reflexive adherence is not the road to genuine craftsmanship or artistry. It is similarly foolish to offer the annoying “I was taught,” or eighteenth century dogma as the decisive justification for a methodology.

Consider that no instruction can cover all situations, woods, designs, and preferences. Moreover, technology changes, and no one is infallible. Many nuances of the craft are very difficult if not impossible to communicate but must be discovered through your hands. For these reasons and more, second hand information should become first hand – pun intended.

I think the right road is to continually learn and put the learning through your head and your hands, so that skills are not merely borrowed but absorbed, refined, and customized.

Thus, your woodworking will be grounded in solid technique but evolves to become your own. And that, in my view, is the heart of the matter here. Your woodworking is personal. Make it that.

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com

Category: Ideas  | 2 Comments