Archive for the Category ◊ Resources ◊

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
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:
• Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

NWA image_edited-1

The NWA’s 23rd Annual fine woodworking Showcase, attended by 5000-6000 woodworking enthusiasts each year, will be held Saturday and Sunday, March 29-30, 2014 at the Saratoga Springs City Center in Saratoga Springs, NY.

The event features:

  • Lots of free classes and demonstrations to help you broaden your woodworking skills.
  • A large trade show with tools and materials from national manufacturers and local suppliers for exhibit and sale.
  • An exhibit of over 500 pieces of woodwork by amateurs and professionals ranging from small accessory items to large furniture.

This year, as one of the featured demonstrators, I will present two topics on each day, Saturday and Sunday: “Hand Planes – Choices, Set Up, Use,” and “Drawer Fitting – Steps To Success.” The demo schedule is here. Of course, I will also be around for chatting, questions, and enjoying the Showcase.

Heartwood readers, I hope you have a chance to attend and I will see you there. Saratoga Springs is about 30 miles north of Albany, NY. If you are there but don’t happen to attend my presentations, please do say hello anyway.

Category: Resources  | 3 Comments
Author:
• Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Learning and laughing, I had a great time at WIA. Here are a few snapshots with preceding captions. A few closing thoughts follow the photos.

I spent much of the weekend hanging out with Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works, here demonstrating one of his superb backsaws. Looking on are Vic Tesolin of Lee Valley and Al Flink, a student of Mark’s who became my saw filing teacher for an afternoon. In the world of saws, BATW is playing chess while most are playing checkers.

IMG_0111_edited-2

 

The same goes for shooting boards and Vogt Tool Works. Tico has added to his line of inclined shooting boards with models designed specifically for new shooting planes available from Lee Valley and Lie-Nielsen. If you don’t already own a Vogt shooting board, you owe it to yourself to check out Tico’s products.

IMG_0118_edited-2

 

When Matt Vanderlist talks, woodworkers listen.

IMG_0115_edited-2

 

Speaking of great communicators, I asked Marc Spagnuolo to look as cool as possible for this photo. Yes, I know, that’s like asking Kareem Abdul Jabbar to look tall. The Wood Whisperer met my request with his ready sense of humor.

IMG_0117_edited-2

 

Popular Woodworking magazine Editor Megan Fitzpatrick and I, your devoted scribe, made a deal, or so I thought, to look as sappy as possible for this shot. Megan, no doubt quickly bringing to mind some Shakespearean plot, opted to appear quite levelheaded, while I succeeded rather spectacularly with the original plan – don’t you think?

IMG_0120_edited-2

 

I will not reveal what Chris Schwarz did moments before this shot, but only say that he switched the anatomical focus of his jocularity from his customary posterior to anterior just in time for the photo. (No, he’s not adjusting the square on his shirt.) Can you tell that Deneb Puchalski and Tom Lie-Nielsen are covering for Chris with forced laughter?

Seriously, it is hard to appreciate the beauty of the Lost Art Press books until you handle them in person. The same is so for the grace and functionality of Lie-Nielsen tools.

IMG_0124_edited-2

 

Recognize the guy in the middle?

IMG_0125_edited-2

 

Ron Hock of Hock Tools has done so much for woodworkers for many years.

IMG_0119_edited-2

 

Woodworkers are similarly grateful for the contributions of Joel Moskowitz of Tools for Working Wood and Gramercy Tools, here chatting with Fred West.

IMG_0123_edited-2

It was wonderful to be around so many people who love what they do, in this case, woodworking. The joy was palpable and contagious, while the learning flowed naturally. The direct link between action and result inherent in the craft of woodworking punishes pretension, so the down-to-earth nature endemic among woodworkers comes as no surprise.

I am grateful for the many conversations I was able to have with sincere, masterful makers. Some that I especially savored, such as with Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works, and Robin Lee of Lee Valley Tools, were alone worth the airfare. Thank you also to the many people whom I met who kindly mentioned their appreciation of my writings.

Special thanks to the Popular Woodworking crew for putting on a wonderful event!

Category: Resources  | One Comment