Archive for the Category ◊ Resources ◊

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• Monday, December 11th, 2017

Krenov Foundation

You have some tools hanging around your shop that you don’t use or need. I know you do.

It’s inevitable. You’re a woodworker, so more times than you might care to admit, you’ve bought a tool that seemed so shiny and necessary at the time but now sits untouched. Maybe you’ve upgraded your chisels or backsaws, or maybe you’re downsizing to follow the trend of tool minimalism, but somehow there are unused tools in your shop.

And so readers, take a look around your shop and rescue those good but idle tools from their quiet detention. I respectfully ask you to consider giving them new purpose by donating them to the Krenov Foundation.

This organization’s stated mission is “to continue the legacy of James Krenov, his values, approach to woodworking, and teaching” as it “supports the art and craft of fine woodworking through scholarships, exhibitions, and developing an online archive of Krenov’s work.”

As for so many other woodworkers, the writing and work of James Krenov have been pivotal in forming my approach to the craft. Perhaps you often find yourself as I do, working in the shop as guiding words from A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook come to mind. In this spirit, I ask you to join me in supporting the Krenov Foundation.

At its helm is the Man of Steel himself, Ron Hock. It is based in Fort Bragg, CA, home of the Krenov School of Mendicino College, the evolution of the woodworking program established by JK in 1981. It takes only a sampling of the breathtaking work of its students to grasp the essence of the school.

By donating tools, you will be helping the next generation of woodworkers to experience and expand our beloved craft, in an age cluttered with anonymous ugliness. And “the Krenov Foundation is a nonprofit public benefit corporation organized under the Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation Law for charitable purposes.”

Please contact them before sending your donation of tools to make sure they are suitable for their needs.

Thank you!

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• Friday, December 01st, 2017

Porcaro magazine articles

If you enjoy and find useful the material here on the Heartwood blog, here are some offerings by your devoted keyboard warrior that I think you’ll also like. As with all my woodworking writing, it comes from the “sawdust and shavings of my shop.” No armchair pretensions, I write what I do. I hope these materials are helpful for your woodworking.

Popular Woodworking: August 2017 (#233) “Shapely Legs”

This article ties together techniques discussed on the blog to create a practical system for designing and making curved legs. This is how you go beyond copying plans laid out on grids of 1-inch squares in books and magazines. The idea is to empower you to create your own designs. I cover wood selection, transferring curves from a drawing to make a template, marking out and sawing the wood, and tools and skills for refining the curves after sawing.

Furniture and Cabinetmaking: July, August, and October 2017 (#259, 260, and 262) “Edge-to-edge Joinery,” parts 1, 2, and 3

This three-part series with more than 6,000 words and three dozen photos explores the techniques, rationales, and controversies of the ubiquitous edge joint. I truly think it is as complete and thoughtful a discussion of the topic as you will find anywhere. F&C is most readily accessible at a reasonable price in electronic form from Pocketmags.

Furniture and Cabinetmaking: February 2017 (#254) “Jointer Tune-up” 

This article is reproduced from material on the blog. It is a logical and doable approach to tuning a machine that can otherwise cause a lot of frustration.

Fine Woodworking Workshop Solutions: Winter 2017 “Making Better Use of Your Space” – Smart floor plans for workshops of all sizes.

Written by Fine Woodworking editors, this article has two pages of photos and text showing my humble 11×17-foot slice of heaven as an example of a small shop design, while the rest of the article shows an example of a medium and a large shop. The article has a nice plan diagrams of the shops, and shows some of the setup tricks and systems. The article appeared earlier in Fine Woodworking’s Tools and Shops annual issue, Winter 2014, with the cover declaring “dream shops, small and large,” so, wow, I’m living the dream, I guess.

Wood magazine: 

October 2016 (#242) “It’s Always Something” 

October 2017 (#249) “Search and Research” 

These two articles are reworked from the blog, and nicely produced by the editors at Wood.

Popular Woodworking:

October 2016 (#227) “Super Nova Magnetic Lathe Lamp”

December 2017 (#236) “SensGard Ear Chamber Hearing Protection”

These are reviews of two outstanding products.

The theme that runs through these writings and the blog is that I want to inspire you and help you to build things, and experience the joy of it as I do.

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• Saturday, July 29th, 2017

best woodworking books

Hell yeah. I just viewed a video (ironically) in which Mark Spagnuolo, the Wood Whisperer, delivers in his usual engaging manner, an excellent perspective on the role of books in learning woodworking. YouTube, he advises, is best used as a supplement to books. Mark is a prolific video producer, so his admonition to continue to use books as the pillar of learning woodworking carries a lot of weight. I agree wholeheartedly.

Explaining a woodworking concept by talking it through in a class or video is quite different than explaining it in writing. I may perform a process in the shop, maybe for countless times over many years, and later work through it in my mind to prepare to write about it. Then however, writing about it demands particular precision and clarity, even if accompanied by step photos such as for a magazine article. There is no video to help. The reader benefits from what is hopefully a honed and polished written product.

Similarly, reading and video watching are also different. Of course, video has the obvious advantage of seeing a process happen. Reading, however, gives you a chance to pace your mind, and to make sense of the material and absorb it. In particular, the breadth of a book allows you to see relationships among the material that you are unlikely to realize by only viewing videos.

So then, here are my favorite woodworking books. I have mentioned most of these elsewhere in this blog, but I hope this summary is helpful for readers.

1- The Krenov trilogy: A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, Impractical Cabinetmaker. JK was a unique inspiring voice for so many woodworkers.

2- Woodwork Joints, Charles Hayward. Ounce for ounce, in paperback, maybe the best woodworking book of all time.

3- Understanding Wood, Bruce Hoadley. How can you even get near a piece of wood without this knowledge?

4- Understanding Wood Finishing, Bob Flexner. I still say that Flexner is the best explainer in all of woodworking.

5- The Perfect Edge, Ron Hock. There is good competition but I think this is the best book on sharpening.

6- Illustrated Cabinetmaking, Bill Hylton. When you have an idea for a project but you’re wondering, “How do I build that?” consult this encyclopedic review of construction options.

7- Wood, Eric Meier. As good a reason as you’ll find for printed books to continue to exist! Informative and joyful.

The following are out of print, as far as I know, but you can probably find used copies available:

8- Working in Wood, Ernest Scott. It has its imperfections, but this was an enormous help to me more than 35 years ago, along with Hayward’s book. I still find them helpful.

9- Designing Furniture, Seth Stem. Despite using mostly ugly examples, this book teaches design very systematically and well.

10- Making Joints, Ian Kirby. A marvelously clear thinker and explainer. Kirby is an underappreciated author in the woodworking world, in my opinion.

11- In a category of its own, not only because it is available free online, is The US Forest Products Laboratory’s Wood Handbook. Visit the US Forest Products Laboratory site and enter “wood handbook” in the search box.

Also, let’s not forget the magazines. They remain excellent sources of high-quality information.

Oh, and blogs too.

Category: Resources  | 2 Comments
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• Thursday, December 03rd, 2015

furniture books

One of the best ways to develop your design skills is to look thoughtfully at lots of furniture, including unfamiliar work. Books and collections that organize work in historical and stylistic context are especially helpful learning tools. Here are two books that are both worthwhile but differ greatly in approach.

Furniture by Judith Miller (Dorling Kindersley Publishing) covers furniture design from ancient Egypt to contemporary. [Note: At Amazon, the larger format 2005 American edition is now much more expensive than the slightly smaller format 2010 UK edition.]

Done in the beautiful and orderly style typical of DK Publishing, the more than 500 pages will supply you with plenty of browsing hours. It is organized primarily by time period, for example 1760-1800, then by country and style, for example late 18th century Scandinavian. I like best the several sections within each time period that are devoted to specific furniture types, which allow you to study, for example, tables in the Art Deco period of 1919-1940.

Even though anything I design and make is unlikely to directly emulate more than a few, if any, of the pieces in this book, there are lots of stimulating ideas, motifs to borrow, and much to learn just from studying a wide variety of good design.

That’s the good part of the book. Now for the bad and the ugly. It is painful enough just to look at much of the furniture in the “Postmodern and Contemporary – 1970 Onward” chapter, but it is exacerbated by reading the highbrow credibility given by the author to some of this crap.

There is no Maloof rocker or Krenov cabinet to found here, though we are informed that Castle, Maloof, and Frid “worked in a highly contrived Postmodern style.” Further, the author states, “Using a laborious, painstaking method to produce off-hand, jokey objects was self-consciously ironic.”

Administer relief to yourself from such nonsense by picking up Craft Furniture by Dennis Blankemeyer (Schiffer Publishing, 2003). The author does an outstanding job of placing this work in the context of our daily lives and, more broadly, in our spiritual lives. He also gives fitting tribute to craftsmanship.

After sections on Esherick, Krenov, Maloof, and Nakashima, he presents the work and background of 25 contemporary craftspeople. There is so much beautiful, honest woodwork here; I think readers are sure to find it inspirational.

I suspect this book has not gotten the attention that it deserves. It is available in only hardcover from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Resolving the different vantage points of these two authors is a matter for another day. I’d rather get back to the shop.

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• Sunday, November 29th, 2015

wood information resources

A good woodworker must know a lot about wood. Unlike glass, clay, and metal, wood is a product of biology and so, wonderfully, comes to us in incredible variety. No project is likely to be successful unless the properties of the species and even the particular boards at hand are taken into account.

To that end, here is a compendium of the best resources, in this writer’s view, for woodworkers to increase their practical knowledge of wood.

Top two books

An easy choice for the premier book is the venerable Understanding Wood by R. Bruce Hoadley. First published in 1980 and revised in 2000, this is the book every woodworker needs to understand wood anatomy, strength, dimensional changes related to moisture content, drying wood, and much more.

For information on specific species along with color photographs, plus a concise exposition of basic wood concepts, the newly published Wood! by Eric Meier is the best choice available. It has major entries for about 250 species plus about 100 more covered in tables and lists. This book rises above several other similar attempts in that it is truly directed at the hands-on woodworker.

Not to be forgotten

In the same vein but with greater depth are 22 incomparable articles written by the late Jon Arno for Fine Woodworking magazine. Covered are: ashes, basswood, beech, birches, catalpa, cherry (two articles), chestnut, hickory and pecan, ipe, mahogany, maples, oaks, orchard woods, pine, poplars, sassafras, sweetgum, sycamore, and walnut, plus articles on health risks associated with wood and wood identification. Go to the Fine Woodworking website and search Jon Arno. You can get full access to everything in the site (and download PDFs of articles) for reasonable fees.

Four more books

The Wood Handbook (sometimes titled in print as the Encyclopedia of Wood), published by the US Forest Products Laboratory, has a wealth of technical information on all wood matters. Best used as a reference, there is no reason not to have this book: it is available as a free download from the FPL site. It is also available in print.

With the Grain: A Craftsman’s Guide to Understanding Wood, by Christian Becksvoort, published in a low-key but appealing style by the Lost Art Press, is a very good, very readable option to get just about all the basic information in concise form from a great woodworker who really knows wood. Highly recommended.

Wood: Identification & Use, by Terry Porter, is a beautiful, very worthwhile collection of photos and information on more than 200 species with an additional 200 briefly listed. Though I find it more attractively produced than Wood!, it lacks the latter’s outstanding practical utility.

Getting the Most From Your Wood Buying Bucks, from American Woodworker, is less broad in scope but is included here for its excellent practical articles.

Online

Forest Products Laboratory’s Tech Sheets (see lower right of linked page) give detailed information on many domestic and exotic species.

The Wood Database, by the author of Wood!, should be bookmarked by all woodworkers. Go there and you’ll see what I mean; it’s invaluable.

For true-to-life photos of wood, numbering approximately one zillion, Hobbit House has no equal. This is a great reference to see the different looks within a single species of wood.

A series of monographs on domestic species by Purdue University professor Daniel L. Cassens is available as free downloads (page down the linked page to the species list). These articles also have the flavor of being written by a guy with sawdust in his pockets.

Two more things

With all this knowledge of wood, one of the most useful ways to put it to use in the shop is with Lee Valley’s Wood Movement Reference Guide. This handy wheel chart allows you to easily compute wood movement for different species through a specified range of humidity. Well worth the $9.95, I use it all the time.

When you’re looking for wood (and when are you not, if you love the stuff like I do), the Wood Finder site can widen your world of sources.

Some much wood, so little time . . .

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• Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

Wood! book

Eric Meier, the creator of the superb online resource, The Wood Database, has a produced a new, wonderfully useful book for woodworkers: Wood!, subtitled “identifying and using hundreds of woods worldwide.”

If you are not already familiar with the Wood Database, I urge you to visit the site and bookmark it because you will return often, as I do. In fact, you may find it hard to leave this magnificent collection of practical information and data on hundreds of species of wood accompanied by high quality images of each.

It is not an armchair xylophile’s catalog but rather a go-to resource for people who not only love wood but also love cutting it into pieces and making stuff from it. In addition to the species information, there are many insightful articles that reflect Eric’s deep, hands-on understanding of wood.

Now to the book. Eric’s goal was to make a book that would serve the real needs of woodworkers. He has succeeded impressively. In its highly accessible combination of wood science with practical, reliable information and images for hundreds of wood species that is directly usable by woodworkers, I believe this book is unique.

The first five chapters concisely cover wood basics, wood and moisture, identifying wood, and softwood and hardwood anatomy. Whether as new material or for review and reference, this is core information that will make you a better woodworker. It is presented clearly and intelligently.

The heart of the book is information, data, and images of about 250 wood species, designed to help woodworkers knowledgeably work wood. Among the data included are hardness, strength, and shrinkage properties. The consistently derived density values are the most useful I have seen. Having worked more than 50 of the species listed, I can attest to the remarkable veracity of the author’s comments on the workability of these species.

There are also helpful tables on groups of similar woods, such the oaks, maples, and ashes. The species are wisely listed alphabetically by genus but the index effectively cross-references common names. As minor criticisms, many of the photos are a bit dark to my eye though they still give a good sense of the real appearance of the woods. The book is attractive and very easy to navigate but I would differ on some of the layout aesthetics.

Wood!, the book, is very similar to the Wood Database website, so you might wonder if it’s worth buying. Yes! It is very much worth it, in my opinion. You can joyfully browse the book as you conjure your next project in a way that roaming a website cannot match. Moreover, the book is just an outright joy that you’ll have trouble putting down. And I really like the dedication page.

[Disclaimer: This review is unsolicited and uncompensated, nor have I played any role in the production of the book or website.]

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• Monday, August 31st, 2015

dovetail instruction guide

I wrote this 42-page, step-by-step guide to making the through dovetail joint for Craftsy. Compiled from a series of blog posts I wrote for them last year, it is available for free here. I think you will find it helpful.

With over 8000 words and 75 detailed photos, the guide walks you through the process. I don’t just say what to do but show you how – exactly how – and what it looks like in detail, right at the workbench. I explain it so you can truly understand it.

If you’ve wondered about matters such as how close is close enough when sawing to layout lines, just how much to angle the chisel when chopping to the baseline, and what are the critical junctures that make or break success, this guide is for you. There are also several nice tricks in there, including an expedient method for making clamping cauls.

Below, and at the top of this post, is a sampling of the photos in the guide.

Novice and intermediate woodworkers will find in the guide an effective progression to make the joint, while more advanced woodworkers may find useful alternatives and refinements to their techniques. Many will find some things with which to disagree, but I think almost all will find it to be solid information. In any case, I use the demonstrated techniques in my shop and they work for me. There is more than one good way to do almost everything in woodworking.

By the way, the preview to the guide on the Craftsy site shows a cover photo of an awfully proportioned, machine-cut joint. Don’t let it dissuade you; it is not mine and not part of the guide. It was added by an editor and not yet removed.

I hope you enjoy the dovetail guide and find it helpful.

Happy woodworking,

Rob

dovetails

chopping dovetails

chopping dovetails

dovetail square

sawing dovetail pins

chopping dovetail pins

fitting dovetails

dovetail cauls

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• Saturday, June 06th, 2015

Optivisor

For many woodworking tasks, it is very helpful to see things bigger. Examples include saw sharpening, viewing knifed layout lines, evaluating sharpened blade edges, tuning hand tools, and assessing tiny wood defects.

Headband lenses keep both hands free to work and they maintain binocular vision, which is a major advantage in perceiving depth detail.

It’s simple

Magnifiers of this sort – those used just in front of the eye – work by allowing you to focus closer. When something is closer it looks bigger. That’s really all there is to it!

Forget this stuff

Let’s also put aside a few confusions and misconceptions. Please do not think of these headband lenses in terms of “X power magnification” such as “2X.” This is neither useful nor fully descriptive. Furthermore, the magnifications of a hand-held magnifying glass, a camera’s zoom lens, a telescope, and a microscope are all different matters that really do not apply here.

Also, in the headband magnifier, there technically is an increase in retinal image size apart from the effect of the closer focal length but for practical purposes, forget it.

How to choose

You want to see things bigger (i.e. closer) but you also need room for your hands and tools to work, so there is a practical limit to “cranking up the mag.” Objects placed in the range of 6″ – 10″ from your eyes will be suitable for most woodworking tasks that require magnification. Of course, this depends on your work and preferences, but the working distance is your main decision. Remember, closer makes you see bigger but you also have to be able to work.

Also, lens aberrations and other undesirable optical effects increase with lens strength. So again, more power is not necessarily better.

For example

Let’s look at Donegan Optivisors, excellent quality headband magnifiers available for about $35. The table on the Donegan website shows, for example, a DA-4 focuses at 10″ and magnifies 2X. As discussed earlier, ignore the 2X and pay attention to the 10″.

However, this lens will actually put most people at a working distance closer than 10″ because some additional power is added by your eyes (especially if you are young) and/or by your eyeglasses if you are older than about 45 years. Note: wear the headband magnifiers over your whatever glasses you normally use for woodworking.

Lots of things come into play here but, again, let’s keep it simple: that 10″ lens will actually enable most people to work at about 6-7″. Similarly, for most people, the #3 (14″) lens will work at about 8″, the #5 (8″) lens at 5-6″, and the #7 (6″) lens at 4-5″. The Optivisor itself takes up some space too.

Even simpler: your working distance with most of the headband magnifiers will usually be 2″-4″ closer than the inches listed in the table.

I use a #4/10″ lens and it probably will be your best bet too.

Optivisor

Technical stuff – you can skip it (but I can’t)

The number 4, which is also the number on the lens, means 4 diopters. To approximately convert diopters to focal length in inches, divide 40 by the diopter number. So, 40/4 = 10″, 40/5 = 8″, etc. In making the estimates of the actual functional working distance, I’ve assumed an additional input of about 2 diopters, from accommodation, spectacle add, or both. If this makes any sense to you, then you’ll also know that this is obviously variable.

The Donegan lenses also incorporate another element. As your eyes focus closer, with or without optical aids, they must also converge more. This can be tiring or impossible depending on the circumstances. The Donegan lenses have the appropriate prism built in to compensate for this. Again, if this makes any sense to you, so will the profile of the lenses shown in the photo below.

Optivisor

Caution

The lenses in the Donegan DA series are crown glass; those in the LX series are acrylic. I would not rely on either of these for eye protection. They are no match for the impact resistance of polycarbonate, the material in protective eyewear.

Special for people with high myopia (nearsightedness)

You know who you are. When you remove your glasses or contact lenses with prescriptions of at least -4.00, you see very poorly far away and things only come into focus when they are very close to you.

You have a big advantage over the rest of us! To the extent that you are myopic, you can remove your corrective lenses and focus very close on your own. You probably don’t need the headband magnifiers and in fact, they may make the working distance impractically close.

Don’t forget this

There are countless exceptions and special circumstances to anything dealing with human vision.

Take care of your tools – have your eyes checked regularly.

Category: Resources  | 5 Comments
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• Wednesday, April 01st, 2015

A new steel developed at the Japanese Institute of Engineering and Metallurgy holds tremendous practical promise for all who use sharp blades, including busy woodworkers. Though not yet ready as a marketable product, it appears to have the potential to be a complete game changer. Here’s the details.

The key feature of this steel is its ability to, in effect, self sharpen. By combining sophisticated powdered metal technology with several unconventional alloying elements, the researchers have been able to produce a unique grain structure in the steel. Whereas a sharp edge in any conventional steel wears by “dropout” of iron, alloy, and carbide grains, which leaves behind a degraded surface and edge, the newly developed steel product wears in an entirely different manner.

The grain structure in the outer few microns of this steel gets compressed just before it wears. When metal wears away, it does so in minute thin “flakes,” leaving behind a surface – and a cutting edge – that is as polished and keen as it was before the wearing process started.

In fact, once properly sharpened, the edge actually becomes slightly sharper as it wears in this unique manner. It is as if the wood that is being cut by the blade’s edge acts as a very slow sharpening “stone”. There is a limit to how long this process can persist simply because the volume of steel near the edge is gradually depleted.

However, in personal communication with Dr. I. N. Sano, the lead scientist on the project, he predicts the sharpened edge of a smoothing plane would be expected to last through about one year of regular use in a typical hand-tool-based woodshop! Dr. Sano remarks that, “Woodworkers are going to be amazed at not only how long a cutting edge in this steel can last but how it actually improves with use. The traditional routine of continually resharpening plane blades and chisels is going to become a relic of the past.”

The details can be found in the latest issue of the Institute’s bimonthly journal but a full English translation is not available at this time. A brief introduction is reproduced below, with permission.

ここで問題の真実は、ケースにあなたが興味を持っている、である

あなたがこのナンセンスのいずれかを信じるなら、よく、あなたは、日付をチェックしていない。それとも、素早く、簡単にすることができます木工誇大広告、そして確実なことするたびに信じるものだまされやすい木工の一つです。申し訳ありませんが、それだけで何か他のもののように、練習と勝利と一緒にいくつかの障害がかかります。

The development group estimates that the new steel product will be available to tool makers by the end of this year. After a bit more tweaking, it is expected to have very favorable working characteristics for blade formation. I will keep readers posted with new information on this wonderful innovation that really has the potential to change the way we all work in our woodshops.

Sano-san has informed me of a single drawback to the new steel. It will only be produced on a single calendar day each year, namely today, which is named in honor of all those who believe that high quality woodworking is easy, quick, and every step is a sure thing every time.

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• Friday, January 09th, 2015

Craftsy

Dear Heartwood readers, have I ever asked you for anything? No? Well, here then is my first small request.

As you know, I have been writing for Craftsy, the excellent online video craft instruction site since April. There I’ve posted more than 33,000 words and 260 original photos of genuinely useful woodworking information.

Now Craftsy is honoring their bloggers and I’d appreciate it if you could take a minute to vote for your dear humble scribe, aka me, by clicking here or on the badge at the top of the left sidebar and then scroll down the Craftsy page, which explains it all, and click on the small orange banner. Or go directly to the form, and please enter my Craftsy blog URL: http://www.craftsy.com/blog/author/rob-porcaro/ and check the category “Woodworking” and the “Tutorial” and “Photography” boxes. [This has been completed. Thank you for your support.]

In my 38 posts so far, you’ll find tutorials on making dovetails (8,000 words and 74 photos!), mortising by hand and with the router, using paring chisels, building a Moxon vise, and more. There’s information on choosing a bandsaw, shooting, various wood species, and more.

Yes, of course, Craftsy creates traffic to their online offerings with all of this. But the online course videos are superb. I recommend my fellow woodworkers to take a look. They’ve added woodworking courses by Jeff Miller, Paul Anthony, Mike Seimsen, and other outstanding instructors.

Thank you,

Rob

Category: Resources  | 9 Comments