Archive for the Category ◊ Resources ◊

Author:
• 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.

Category: Resources  | 4 Comments
Author:
• 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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Author:
• 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.]

Category: Resources  | 4 Comments
Author:
• 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

Category: Resources  | 8 Comments
Author:
• 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
Author:
• 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.

Category: Resources  | 14 Comments
Author:
• 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
Author:
• Monday, December 29th, 2014

Bad Axe Toolworks

I recently had the wonderful experience of attending the two day seminar on saw sharpening and tune up at Bad Axe Tool Works, along with about a half-dozen other enthusiasts, presented by BATW owner and founder Mark Harrell who was assisted by his impressively skilled crew. I learned a lot, starting with the realization of how much there is to learn.

Several key aspects of making a world-class saw stood out.

First, and I think foremost, is hammer setting the teeth. For a very long time I stayed away from even the best available Western backsaws, instead preferring Japanese saws. The best way I can describe the problem that I felt with the Western saws that I tried was an annoying subtle vibration or tension at the bottom of the kerf.

Bad Axe saws are decidedly different. They transmit a palpable sense of resolute ease and smoothness as the saw cuts, which, frankly, raises my confidence as I track a layout line. The teeth undergo sophisticated hammer setting that relieves them of the stress and saw plate distortion induced by merely bending over the spring steel teeth, problems that ultimately transmit unease to the hand of the sawyer.

Second, I learned how the folded sawback does more than merely add weight and stiffness to the saw plate. It almost magically contributes to making the toothline dead straight. In fact, it can be rather easily adjusted if needed to straighten an errant toothline. This is quite different from the saw plate being fixed in a sawback with a milled slot.

Further, all of us were especially grateful to learn that excellent saw sharpening does not have to be complicated. Mark coached us through real deal sharpening techniques that we could bring home and directly use in our shops. What a relief! In particular, we all saw the value of Mark’s “hybrid” sharpening pattern that uses intermediate rake and bevel (fleam) angles to produce a toothline that is remarkably versatile in the shop.

As I thought more about what I learned that weekend, a couple of rough analogies came to mind. In writing and classes on sawing technique, I emphasize how core stabilization and balance are essential for steady ease and control of the distal motion of the hand and saw, somewhat similar to the how tension of the heavy folded sawback produces precision at the toothline.

Producing these saws involves automated steps early in the process with increasing amounts of hand skills that infuse exquisite quality, culminating in sharpening. This is analogous to how most of us make high quality woodwork. We prepare stock with machines but the special quality comes from skilled handwork.

In summary, the seminar brought me to appreciate the depth of understanding and refinement of craft for each element of making the saw, and I could see how it all comes together to produce the saw performance I have been experiencing. And of course, the customization options available from Bad Axe are irresistibly cool.

Without doing controlled side-by-side tests, I have had the opportunity to try at least one backsaw by almost all of the high quality American and Canadian makers. I generally shy away from superlative statements but here goes: these Bad Axe saws are hands down the best. And they are indeed tools with souls.

Bad Axe Toolworks

Above, Mark Harrell is finishing work on my 14″ sash saw and yea, I’m happy.

Category: Resources  | 6 Comments
Author:
• Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Here’s a great idea for your next woodworking project!

The Patriot Guard Riders of New York, members of the 1/4 million-strong national PRG, honors United States military veterans. One of their efforts, the Veteran Recovery Program, has as its mission to identify and honorably inter the unclaimed cremated remains of veterans. The Northeastern Woodworker’s Association, based in the Saratoga Springs, NY area, contributes to this effort with some of its members crafting superb wooden urns to contain cremains. They have been aided by generous donations of lumber from Downes and Reader Lumber and Leonard Lumber, suppliers to Curtis Lumber.

In solemn ceremonies befitting the honorable service of the deceased veterans, the urns are placed by military honor guard in inscribed chambers in a cemetery columbarium. Read about one such ceremony at Saratoga National Cemetery in this article from the Times Union, which also gives more information about the program. [The photos of the ceremony are used in this post with the kind permission of the Times Union.]

I learned of this program when I visited the PRGNY’s booth at this year’s fabulous NWA Annual Showcase in Saratoga Springs. As a woodworker, and especially as an American, I was honored to participate by building the urn pictured below and shipping it to the program.

Heartwood readers, here is an opportunity to step up and use your woodworking skills and creativity for a great and honorable cause. The urn can be made in any shape, design, wood, and finish to yield an interior volume of 230 cubic inches. Urns have a fixed top panel but are filled via a removable bottom panel fastened with screws. A small plaque with the name of the veteran will be placed on the urn. The urn you build will be permantly placed, in ceremony, in a sealed inscribed compartment 10″ wide by 14″ high by 18″ deep that holds two urns, in an outdoor columbarium.

Contact Bill Schaaf, the coordinator of the program for the PRGNY, for more details and to arrange shipping your completed urn. Your work will surely be deeply appreciated.

 

Category: Resources  | 4 Comments
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