Author Archive

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• Friday, May 04th, 2018

wood sound

Have you listened to your woodwork lately?

We are all cognizant of the visual beauty of wood, its tactile warmth and texture, and the memorable scents produced while working at least some species. But here is a reminder to tune in to the sweet sound of wood.

Notice the resonance when closing a lid or drawer made of solid wood. Or the sound of a ceramic bowl placed on a solid wood table. Compare those to the discomforting clamor of melamine-coated particleboard. The sound of real wood just seems like the ease and contentment of home.

Our lives are filled with the cacophony of sheet metal, glass, plastic, and concrete. How welcome is the comforting sound of solid wood.

We woodworkers create in a very special material.

I recall even early in my youth intuitively sensing that there was something special about wood, and some of that came through its sounds. I remember particularly a sturdy solid wood truck in the kindergarten room and the sounds of loading it with solid wood blocks. That rig had a dignity unmatched by plastic stuff.

Of course, the sound produced from wood reaches its full potential in musical instruments. Remarkably, even with all the advances in materials science, the best acoustic strings and woodwinds are still made from wood. And some of that acoustic magic is present in the solid wood furniture and household objects that we make.

Take notice and enjoy!

Category: Wood  | 4 Comments
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• Tuesday, May 01st, 2018

The Krenov Archive

Available now is a new and bountiful collection of images of James Krenov’s work through many years, commentary on some of the pieces, videos, and other interesting materials.

The Krenov Archive is an important component of The Krenov Foundation’s mission to continue the legacy of James Krenov, his values, approaches to woodworking, and teaching. It is largely the work of David Welter, co-founder of The Krenov Foundation and a staff member at Krenov’s school for many years, Dave Matthews, Krenov’s son-in-law, and Kevin Shea. The archive will grow significantly beyond the rollout, so stay tuned.

Those familiar with the master’s work can better appreciate its breadth and further their insight by exploring the archive. I know Krenov’s books exhaustively, yet I’ve found plenty of valuable and interesting material to study in the archive. I particularly enjoy seeing the drawings and construction process photos. Those woodworkers and anyone who appreciates the craft who are new to all that is JK will also undoubtedly find this resource exciting and enriching.

Please consider supporting the Krenov Foundation. Read here on Heartwood for one easy way that I’d bet just about any woodworker can do! Your help will directly support and encourage young woodworkers in their journey in the craft we love. Ultimately, the fruition of their efforts will give more people the opportunity to experience the “quiet joy” of work “from wakened hands.” And that, dear readers of Heartwood, is a very good thing in a too noisy world.

Thank you,

Rob

Category: Resources  | Leave a Comment
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• Monday, April 30th, 2018

winding sticks

As with any tool, especially a simple one, winding sticks must be used correctly to gain their full value.

The setup

Place the darker stick on the near end of the board or surface in question, and the white stick parallel to it on far end. Shine diffuse light on the far stick to improve the visual contrast between it and the darker near stick.

As much as possible, ensure that the sticks are placed on unambiguous surfaces. The assessment will not be meaningful if, for example, one of the sticks is placed on the convex side of a cupped board, seated on one side of the “hill.”

The vision

Understanding some basic optics can help you use winding sticks with ease and precision that you may not have thought possible. On this, I can speak with special expertise, but here are the basics that matter.

Regardless of the optical status of your eyes, it is impossible to simultaneously maintain a clear focus on the near and far stick, unless they are both within the “depth of field.” Think of depth of field as simply the range – how close to how far – where things are in acceptably clear focus.

You want both sticks in focus (i.e., within the depth of field) so you can compare their top edges. Therefore, you want to make that depth of field large. Just as with a camera, do this by using a small viewing aperture (i.e. the hole you look through), and/or don’t position yourself too close to the nearest object (in this case, the near stick).

Viewing technique #1 – at least do this

Position yourself at least a couple of feet back from the near stick. This will give you a better chance to get both sticks within your eye’s depth of field. (For many reasons, this varies from person to person, and with viewing conditions.) Experiment, but avoid getting right up to the near stick.

Viewing technique #2 – this is the cool one

Artificially make your viewing aperture very small by viewing the sticks through pinholes. This is usually described in other sources as viewing through a single pinhole. This does not work well because your view is not wide enough to see the full width of the sticks, forcing you to move your head side to side to see them. The inevitable inaccuracy in this movement will degrade the assessment of twist.

Instead, use a trick that I have been using for decades, and also published ten years ago in Woodworking magazine (an excellent publication that has long since folded).

Cleanly drill a row of about seven 3/64″ holes, 5/32″ apart on center, in a 3 1/2″ x 2″ rectangle of 1/64″-thick brass, or similar clean-drilling material. Round the corners of the piece for safety. The completed tool looks like this:

pinholes for winding sticks

Get your face to the level of the sticks. Hold the row of holes horizontally up to your eye, and sight the sticks. The rectangular shape of the tool will help you orient the row correctly. Both sticks will be in clear focus, and you can view their full widths. It is quite surprising once you see it.

I simulated the eye’s view with photographic technique in the photo at the top of this post. Note the thin white line of the far stick peeking up just above the black line of the near stick. The sticks are a few feet apart. (The cherry board in the back is there just to block out the visual confusion of the shop background.) The photo below is of just the left side of the sticks in a magnified but not resharpened view:

Accuracy and utility

Using the pinhole technique is easy and quick. It is very helpful for woodworking where accuracy is important, and, I think it is essential for assessing reference surfaces such as jointer tables.

You can test your system for accuracy by placing thin shims under one stick, near its end. Depending on your setup, you’ll probably be able to detect a difference between one side of the sticks and the other side of .006″, maybe better.

The approach to winding sticks that I’ve described in this and the previous post is a good example of using a simple tool well.

Category: Techniques  | 5 Comments
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• Saturday, April 28th, 2018

winding sticks

Twisted boards and twisted work surfaces can thwart accurate woodworking as surely as twisted logic.

You can test small pieces for twist, such as a small door frame, by simply placing it on a verifiably flat surface such as your table saw top, jointer bed, or workbench. Press or tap on diagonally opposite corners, and look and listen for rocking.

Of course, those reference work surfaces must first be vetted. And that method is impractical for larger pieces. You cannot reliably detect twist with only a single straightedge, and so you need winding sticks in the shop. These are simply two sticks, one placed at the near end of a board, the other at the far end. You position yourself back from the near stick and sight along the top edges of the sticks to see whether they are in the same plane, and thus detect any twist in the surface of the board.

Let’s explore this essential tool, starting with building it.

I prefer to keep this tool simple and functional, without adornment. You can find many variations, such as those with elegant inlay or cute little windows. If you want to gussy them up, go for it, but keep the fundamental requirements in mind.

The geometric requirements are simple: two sticks with straight top and bottom edges. With the two bottom edges aligned, the two top edges must be parallel. (Technically, the top and bottom edges of each stick do not have to be parallel to each other, but you probably will make them that way.)

2 – 2 1/2″ is a decent width for the sticks, and they should be thick enough – say 3/4″ – to stand on edge reasonably stably. Chamfer the top edges to about 3/32″-thick for easier sighting. Stable, quartersawn wood is a good material.

For length, 12″ is too short – it won’t adequately magnify the twist error. Much beyond about two feet long and it gets harder to scan your sight side-to-side to the ends. My 21″ winding sticks work well for my mostly small to medium-sized furniture making. They used to be longer. If you work with big slabs, make big winding sticks.

Long ago, I made what I thought would be a quick version, but I have been using them ever since. I simply ripped 3/4″ MDF, and with a little tweaking, brought the edges straight and parallel to less than .002″ tolerance.

This is a visual tool, so it is necessary to create obvious contrast between the two sticks at their top edges. I painted one white to use as the far stick, and used a Sharpie marker to blacken the area around the top edge of the near stick. If you want to use holly and walnut inlay, enjoy.

Some woodworkers prefer to mark incrementally spaced lines, say 1/16″ -1/8″ apart, on each end on the rear stick near its top edge. The idea is to quantify the twist error. I prefer to leave the rear stick unmarked and work more intuitively. I also find that the clean white background avoids the visual confusion of the lines. I suggest experimenting to see what you prefer.

In the next post, I’ll cover methods of use, including a nifty trick, refined in a way that I don’t think you’ll read about from other sources.

Category: Techniques  | Leave a Comment
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• Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

shop space

I think we would all welcome more shop space but realistically most of us contend with making better use of the space we have. Here’s another tip for that.

For combined machine and hand tool woodworking, shop space is usually governed primarily by the major machines, and then by wood storage, and the workbench. For the table saw, bandsaw, jointer/planer, and router table the required space includes not only the machine itself but, even more, the ranges of the infeed and outfeed. Manipulating these ranges can produce more functional shop space.

Coordinating the different heights of the machine tables is one trick to help. I covered that in a previous post. However, sometimes that can be difficult, so think also of the angle of the tables. Tiny differences there can pay off.

This is what you have to do when your shop is only 200 square feet.

During a recent bandsaw tune-up, I re-shimmed the table on the trunnion assembly. Oops, that made the bandsaw table just at the same height as the nearby table saw top. There was no infeed clearance for using the bandsaw in its usual location.

shop space

No problem. A pair of wooden shims, only about 1mm thick, placed on one side of the bandsaw base, tilted the machine enough (less than 0.2°!) so that the infeeding wood safely clears the table saw, plus some allowance for bowed boards. In the photo at the top, the straightedge is flat on the bandsaw table in the right of the photo, but notice in the left of the photo that it clears the table saw surface.

The only interference that this arrangement causes with table saw work is very wide ripping, on the order of 24″, which I rarely do, but all my machines are on wheel bases, so they can be moved to allow those jobs too.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 8 Comments
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• Saturday, March 31st, 2018

glue up

Gluing up is the culmination of lots of work. It’s also exciting in that the piece is beginning to take shape and look like itself. However, it carries with it a potentially intimidating finality, and the process is strictly time limited.

And so gluing up can generate considerable anxiety. The usual recommendation is to check things with a “dry glue up,” but I suggest to expand upon that and think of a “rehearsal.”

This is the time to leave nothing to chance – summon your inner control freak. I cannot think of everything in advance for a unique project at hand, and I doubt you will be able to either. That’s why a Glue Up Rehearsal is essential to ensure success.

Hide glue aficionados will point out its extended open and closed times, and potential for reversibility, but still, there are limitations.

As you rehearse the process, you will fashion answers to questions and dilemmas such as the following. How exactly will you apply and spread the glue? How will you support the parts for this? Can you finish the glue application before there is any chance of it skinning over before the parts are joined? You dripped a big blob of glue – what, exactly, will you wipe it up with?

A big question: would things go better if the assembly were glued up in stages rather than all at once?

post and rail glue up

What is a convenient opening to preset the clamps? In what order will you apply the clamps? How will you keep the parts aligned? How will you support the pieces in the intermediate stages of the glue up? Will the all of the clamp handles be accessible for tightening? Will you have visual access to see if the joints are closing satisfactorily? Do you need a hand light?

Another big question: how will you assess alignment and squareness, and how will you make corrections as needed?

How will you deal with squeeze out, and when? How and where will you move the assembly after clamping?

It is almost always worth it to build special support structures if they will facilitate the process. The unconventional leg-and-apron assembly in the top photo required a two-stage assembly and special support structures to ensure that all my previous hard work would pay off in a good assembly.

And so forth. The point is that there are surely more questions than one is likely to think of. A rehearsal, albeit a dry rehearsal, along with thought and experience, will cause these issues to become apparent so you can prepare for them.

Glue up is game time, but you want no doubt as to the outcome. Rehearse victory.

Category: Techniques  | 4 Comments
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• Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

drafting cabinet

Groundbreaking furniture artist and craftsman Wendell Castle passed away last month at 85. Woodworkers are probably most familiar with his stacked-laminated wooden tables and chairs, but whether working in plastic, bronze, or wood, his immense design vocabulary produced so much for us to explore.

I do not possess design talent anywhere close to the same universe that this man had, and only some of his work actually appeals to me. The late Sam Maloof’s description of himself as a “woodworker” resonates with me more. Nonetheless, I find Castle’s outlook inspiring.

In an interview conducted by the late Neil Lamens, discussing his intense approach to design, I recall Castle saying something that stuck with me: “If you’re always hitting the target, it’s too close.”

Wow. That says so much.

Creative design is not easy, nor should it be. It is not about making something new and different for the sake of “different,” but rather it is trying hard to get out what you want to say and what you want to make – what you really, very much want to be there. This is true even for those of us who are more in tune with the subtle grace of James Krenov’s work than the bold statements of Castle’s work.

Moreover, Castle’s thought is reassuring. If a design that seemed promising, and has even gone on to be refined and built, did not quite hit the mark I hoped for, I can take heart knowing that much has been gained in the attempt.

The work and inspiration of Wendell Castle will live long and wide.

Category: Ideas  | One Comment
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• Friday, February 16th, 2018

3M sandpaper

Sanding doesn’t get a lot of respect in the woodworking world, perhaps because it is a rather boring job, and hand planing seems, by contrast, so refined. Nonetheless, sanding is an important step in building many projects, so it pays to take advantage of technological advancements.

3M’s Pro Grade Precision sanding sheets seem to cut faster than any others that I have tried. I can really sense the sharpness of the “proprietary, precision-shaped ceramic mineral” abrasive biting the wood. Of course, this is not a controlled test, but it is enough to make me reach for these sheets first. 3M’s labeling is a bit confusing – this product is an upgrade from their “Pro Grade” paper, which uses aluminum oxide abrasive.

I had reported earlier that I didn’t find the grippy backing of 3M’s sanding sheets particularly helpful, but my experience since then has shown me different. The “No-Slip Grip” backing does grip rectangular cork blocks better than regular paper backing, and makes sanding easier. Even better, it holds very well in the slots of the shop-made, all-cork curved blocks that have become a staple among my tools for curved work. This backing is also significantly more durable than paper backing.

I continue to find 3M’s remarkable Ultra Flexible Sanding Sheets (on the left in the photo above) to be wonderful for working detailed curves. The durability of the film backing and the grit itself far exceed that of paper-backed sanding sheets for this work. They are available in 100, 150, 220, and 320-grit, and in 4 1/2″-wide, 7″-long sheets and 10 1/2-foot rolls.

3M sanding sponges

I previously reported that I hadn’t found any sanding sponges to be useful. I’m still not a big fan, but 3M’s Pro Grade Precision “ultra flexible, dust channeling” sponges are pretty good for smoothing in some sculptural work. An important distinction, sanding sponges do not afford the tactile control, nor do they have the moxie of rasps for shaping. They also break down too fast for their cost. Their main advantage is they are easy to hold as you smoosh them over irregular shapes. Of the two types shown, the larger diamond pattern has been more durable.

You can find all of these products at home center stores. As usual, I relate only my direct shop experience with tools, unsolicited and uncompensated. I just want to help you make things.

Category: Tools and Shop | Tags:  | One Comment
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• Sunday, February 11th, 2018

brass plane iron adjustment hammer

This modified brass hammer is superb for adjusting plane blades. It shares the functional advantages of a small Japanese octagonal steel hammer, but the brass is kinder to blades.

I created the quasi-octagonal shape from the original cylindrical head of a Grace USA 8-ounce brass hammer using an 80-grit belt on the Ridgid oscillating vertical belt sander. There was no need to remove the head from the handle. I dressed the corners with a mill file, and then finished everywhere with a medium-grit SandFlex block.

I crowned one face (shown) for use on the body of a wooden plane. I left the other face flat. A tiny engraved circle on each side of the hammer indicates the crowned face.

The flat sides allow better access and contact of the hammer face to parts such as wooden wedges, the sides of a plane blade, and the chipbreaker of a Japanese plane. The small diagonally-oriented sides permit access to small blades in tight areas such as in a small shoulder plane.

I like this hammer better than any of the cylindrical or square hammers sold for the same purpose. It also retains its general use when a lightweight, soft-metal hammer is needed. You can find the Grace hammer for less than $20.

The modified brass hammer is shown below, along with a steel Japanese hammer.

plane iron adjustment hammers

Category: Tools and Shop  | 2 Comments
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• Saturday, February 10th, 2018

ruler trick

A strip of 0.020″-thick plastic shim stock, about 1/2″-wide and the full length of the stone, facilitates the Ruler Trick. The plastic is the same thickness and width as the 6″ steel ruler I had been using, but the blade slides on it more smoothly, and it allows use of the full length of the stone.

I lightly and uniformly scuffed the bottom of the plastic with 80-grit sandpaper, stroking perpendicular to the direction of the blade motion used in executing the ruler trick. I used fine sandpaper to soften the corners of the long edges of the plastic where the top meets the sides. This preparation, plus the low friction of steel on plastic, makes this plastic “ruler” surprisingly stable on the stone.

The Ruler Trick, taught by David Charlesworth, removes the “wear bevel” of a plane blade with greater speed and accuracy than by working the back of the blade fully flat against the stone. In other words, it helps in the necessary task of accurately creating two planes of steel that meet at a sharp edge. It is useful for nearly all plane blades but particularly valuable, almost essential, for bevel-up blades.

With the blade elevated on one side of the stone by 0.020″ and the edge reaching 2″ across the stone from the inner edge of the plastic “ruler,” an angle of only about 1/2° is created on the “flat” side of the blade. [tan-1 (0.020/2) = 0.57°] This amount has no significant effect on the bevel angle of the blade, nor on the attack and clearance angles of bevel-up and bevel-down planes. The facet is very narrow, perhaps 1/32″-wide, created with just a few strokes on only the finest stone.

[Addendum, February 14, 2018, updated: I received the April, 2018 (#238) electronic issue of Popular Woodworking magazine today, and note in the “Tricks of the Trade” section on page 12, a reader contributed essentially the same “trick” to the magazine as I have described here on my blog. He used plastic from a milk jug. His trick also appeared in the November 2016 PW.

The PW contributor obviously came up with the idea independently of my writing. I do believe I also came up with the idea independently, but now I think it’s possible that I was influenced by what I probably saw earlier in the November 2016 issue. I really am not sure. Therefore, I credit Jonathan White, the PW contributor, for the idea.]

Category: Techniques  | 8 Comments