Archive for ◊ March, 2017 ◊

Author:
• Friday, March 31st, 2017

Bad Axe tenon saw

Years ago, Japanese saws were the staples of my saw armamentarium. They offered very good quality and value.

However, another big reason for using them was to save myself the trouble of maintenance. The replaceable blades, especially those by Gyokucho and Z brand are of remarkably consistent and high quality, especially for their prices. Back then, alternatives were to rehabilitate vintage saws, or try to soup up a new, but low quality, Western saw.

Times have changed.

The renaissance of saw making that started in the US in the 1990s with Pete Taran and Patrick Leach’s Independence Tool Company (since folded) was followed by several fine saw makers producing at artisan volumes. Equally important, more sources of excellent information became available to help us with understanding, using, and maintaining Western handsaws.

At the head of the class, in my opinion, is Bad Axe Tool Works. Their combination of quality, performance, and range of options exceed any maker in the world today. If you read this blog much, you know that I am not given to overstatement. I also have had the opportunity to try out saws from a substantial majority of the artisan makers around today. I use Bad Axe saws.

I have seen Mark Harrell and his crew work their apparent magic in his Wisconsin shop, making, sharpening, and fixing saws, and I can tell you that it is no magic at all. They simply work with incredible care from an awesome base of knowledge and skill.

Now, back to the saw maintenance issue. Mark has made that a much more accessible job by producing solid, clearly written information on saw sharpening, repair, and restoration. Short of visiting his shop, please see the trove of instructional information available on the BATW site. It will elevate your skills and understanding tremendously.

First-rate tools, knowledge, and skills – that’s what we want. Times have indeed changed in woodworking.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 7 Comments
Author:
• Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

crosscut technique

A reader recently emailed me to ask the best kind of question – a simple one with broad implications. Using only a hand tools, he asked, how do you “cut several pieces of wood exactly to length.” He stated further that he wanted to make several pieces “exactly the same length.”

There are really two issues here. In furniture making, it is not often that you need to saw a piece to an exact absolute length, such as 18 5/16″. By exact, I mean to a tolerance well under 1/16″. Usually, a component must be cut to precisely match another part or an opening, after the general dimensions of the piece have been established. What’s more, most of the time, sawing to length does not demand high precision.

Let’s examine the matter by looking at the fundamental types of construction in furniture making.

Post and rail

In a table frame, the critical matter is for the lengths of the aprons on opposite sides to be equal. The precision comes from knifing the tenon shoulder lines with the pieces ganged together. The absolute distance between the shoulder lines is not critical; it just has to be the same for the pair of aprons.

length technique

The sawn crosscut at the end of the apron just defines the length of the tenon, and since there should be extra depth in the mortise, it does not have to be a precision cut. As for the legs, gang them together, mark out the ends of the mortises, and cut the legs to length with adequate precision by hand.

Frame and panel

For a cabinet door or back panel, the precision in the frame components comes from knifing pairs of shoulder lines together. Later, you will plane the slightly oversized frame to fit the door opening or case. As for sawing the panel to length, those crosscuts end up inside the grooves, which give some margin for error. So again, the crosscut hand sawing just has to be good, not dead-on precise.

Board construction

For a case or box, the absolute dimension is again much less important than making the opposite sides match. This is where shooting is an essential technique of woodworking. Saw the two boards to length as consistently as you can, shoot three ends, then incrementally shoot the fourth and final end to make two boards of exactly the same length with clean, square ends.

shooting to length

Oops, you overshot that fourth end? Shoot the end of the other board down to match. The absolute length is not important.

By contrast, fitting a drawer front to an opening is a matter of meeting an absolute measurement, and there is no going back. For this, shooting allows you to sneak up on a precision fit in a way that sawing cannot.

By the way, to answer another question that came up, one cannot use a stop block on a shooting board set up to trim endgrain because you are not cutting to a line. Rather, you are removing a certain amount with each pass, based on the blade depth. You must advance the board after each pass, so stop block set-ups are not used.

One more thing – and it’s important

Even if you use a table saw and miter gauge/sled to make your crosscuts, as I do, you still want to be able to nuance them with hand techniques. Very often in fine woodworking, we want to intentionally tweak a component slightly out of square, make something not quite straight, or correct a fit.

Theoretical exactness is often not the goal, and understanding the variance can elevate your technique and results. That is why incremental hand-tool techniques are so valuable. Some examples of this follow.

The top and bottom of a solid wood case may intentionally have ends that are not quite square because you want the case a trace wider at the back than at the front to allow well-fitting inset drawers.

Even if those table aprons were supposed to come out just right, you find during dry assembly that you need to tweak one shoulder with a shoulder plane. Now that apron does not quite theoretically match the opposite one, yet the whole piece fits together just right.

You can adjust the side snugness of a drawer front in its opening with the last shooting pass or two.

After fitting the hinges for a cabinet door, even though everything was supposedly dead square to start with, you plane the edges of the door to produce surrounding gaps that are consistent to the eye.

In the craft of woodworking, sometimes what you thought was exact is not right.

Category: Techniques  | 2 Comments
Author:
• Monday, March 13th, 2017

Ulmia auxiliary vise #1812

Ulmia used to produce this auxiliary vise, model #1812. I first saw it many years ago on page 145 of my copy of the 1977 hardcover Van Nostrand Reinhold edition of The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, where the author, James Krenov, commented that it is “well made and very useful.”

I wish I bought one before Ulmia discontinued production. I have tried with some success to use a modified small drill-press vise, a shop-made wooden vise, and handscrews to gain some of the functionality of the Ulmia. Still, I coveted a real #1812 hilfs-spannstock.

About three years after posting the above links, and missing out on Ebay in the meantime, someone from Germany contacted me to offer a new-old-stock #1812. I jumped at it and have since found it to be every bit as useful as I had anticipated.

The vise jaws are 2 3/8″ x 1″. The fixed jaw is further from the knob, while the other jaw moves on a 9/16″-diameter, acme-threaded screw feed to produce a maximum opening of 2 1/8″. The wooden base is 5 3/4″ x 3 1/4″ x 2 1/2″. The vise is surprisingly beefy for its size.

Ulmia auxiliary vise #1812

The hole in the base makes it convenient to clamp to the bench top, as shown in the top photo, for a wide variety of small-scale tasks. With the #1812 held recessed in the tail vise, as in the photo just above, the jaw still travels freely. You can adjust the protrusion of the jaws above the bench surface to keep them out of the way while planing or paring small work pieces.

It would be good to have this very useful tool back in production. I wonder if Ulmia would consider making it again, or, depending on patent restrictions, if another toolmaker, such as Veritas, would be interested in producing it. I am sure that woodworkers who would own one would turn to it often, as I do.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 9 Comments