Archive for ◊ August, 2010 ◊

• Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Here are three finishing tools that are very useful for controlling surface sheen and removing surface imperfections. I am discussing them here because among woodworkers these are probably generally less known than most finishing products and each has earned a solid place in my lineup.

Fibral Abrasive Wool can be used in place of steel or bronze wool. My sense is that the “Fine” wool, listed as 800 grit, is about equivalent to 4/0 metal wool. However, Fibral is a fundamentally different product than metal wool in that the abrasive grit which is bonded to the fibers, rather than the fibers themselves, does the actual cutting. While in this sense it is like Scotch Brite, it has the advantage of metal wool in that a wad of it can be formed into any size and shape.

Fibral is much more pleasant to use than steel and bronze wools and has almost completely supplanted them in my shop. I use it for everything where I formerly used metal wool, such as for controlling the final sheen of finished surfaces, especially irregular shapes, and for removing small imperfections. It can also be used like metal wool for smoothing dust nibs between coats of finish. For accessible flat surfaces, however, a light touch with fine sandpaper is still better and faster for that job, particularly since, as Bob Flexner teaches us, steel wool and grit-fiber products round over dust nibs rather than cut them off. Fibral, also available in medium and coarse grades, is not widely sold but can found at Beall Tool Company.

Mirlon Total is a wonderful product that combines surprisingly aggressive cutting action with great control and comes in ultrafine grits. It is densely grit-coated fiber available in 360, 1500, and 2500 grit pads and rolls. The two finest grits have become indispensable in my shop. For certain film finishes, especially water base poly/acrylic, I rub out the final dried coat with a 2500 pad (sometimes 1500) to produce an even, delicate satin sheen and remove all imperfections. A light buffing with wax completes the look. To work flat surfaces, I usually wrap the pad around a felt block. The pads are very flexible to easily get into confined areas and can even be crumpled to work almost like steel wool or Fibral but in finer grits. Mirlon Total is available in packages of three pads from Woodcraft, but a Google search will turn up at least several sources selling in quantities of 25 for less than half the unit price. 

By the way, for the rare times when I need to cut back and level a fairly heavy film finish, such as on a table top, these are not the products of choice. Sandpaper is best for that job.

The third “product” that bears mention along with Fibral and Mirlon Total is Bob Flexner’s tip to use the slightly abrasive property of brown paper. Just tear off a piece from an ordinary supermarket brown paper bag and use it for ultrafine final rubbing out of finished wood. If you’ve spent hours handling brown cardboard boxes, the effect on your hands must have convinced you of the abrasive action of heavy brown paper.

The project ain’t over ‘till it’s finished.

These reviews are unsolicited and uncompensated.

Category: Tools and Shop  | Comments off
• Friday, August 20th, 2010

My long journey around the world of saws has come full circle.

In my youth, I enjoyed basic woodworking with low quality, dull handsaws thinking power tools must be better. I wondered if any serious work was done with hand tools, and, at 15 years of age, bought a jigsaw from Sears. Later, while learning more skills, especially joinery, I was experimenting and struggling with poor quality Western saws, especially backsaws, and inexpensive Japanese saws.

I recognized that the Japanese woodworking culture, unlike most of the West’s, had retained without interruption its support of the production of high quality woodworking hand tools by small-scale makers. My choices in the 1980s consisted mostly of Japanese saws which I had learned to use well and which intrigued me, vintage Western saws which I did not feel ready to research and rehabilitate, some European middling quality saws, and Tage Frid’s good old Danish bow saw.

Look at what is available today. We are so fortunate! There are Wenzloff, Lie-Nielsen, Gramercy, Bad Axe, Adria, Eccentric, Medallion, and others making saws that are surely at least the equals of historical Western saws. Furthermore, there are now many sources for wonderful quality handmade Japanese tools while technology has given us remarkable quality machine-made Japanese saws.

Ironically, it was the recent addition of a good old American Disston that was the last step to reach a feeling of ease with my eclectic bunch of saws.

My aim in these posts has been to tell you why I use what I do in the hope that this can help you find your own way around the world of saws. I will certainly continue to explore, and I hope your saw explorations are enjoyable and productive.

Happy sawing.

• Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

For breaking down rough stock into the approximately dimensioned components of a project, I usually go to the bandsaw. Big boards usually need to be first crosscut into manageable pieces. For that job, I use the Pony crosscut saw that I praised in an earlier post and is pictured below. It’s not pretty but it sure gets the work done. Specs: 22″ 0.040″blade, 8 tpi Japanese-style hardened crosscut teeth that cut primarily on the push stroke, set 0.004″ each side. Best of all: $15.99, from Woodcraft, item #149039.

Despite my affection for the bandsaw, sometimes I prefer to rip with a handsaw. Maybe I don’t feel like setting up the bandsaw for a few short cuts, just prefer the relative quiet, or even prefer the relatively slower cutting to give me a chance to think.

I had been using my Japanese rip saw (top photo) for this but was never really happy with its performance in this job. The main drawback was that I could not put my weight into the cutting stroke. This saw does, however, shine for certain other cuts, especially small resawing and, as I mentioned in an earlier post, for cutting some large tenons. It can produce surprisingly clean surfaces for these type of cuts. It is also a handy saw for shorter ripping at the workbench. For these reasons, it certainly earns its place in the shop. Specs: Z brand 300 mm (11 3/4″), 0.027″ saw plate, 0.036″ kerf, rip teeth grading from 8 tpi at the handle end to 4 tpi at the far end. It is available from Hida Tool. Their item #D-ZS-#300 is the crosscut version for $38.90 but the rip replacement blade is item #D-ZS-S300R ($21.30) which perhaps you can ask them to install instead of the crosscut blade.

Now for big ripping, I wanted a full 26″ Western handsaw which I could put my weight into with the classic position of my left knee on the board. After some hunting around I bought a Disston D-7 (top photo) in great functional condition from Jim Bode. This is a straight back workhorse saw marked 5 ½ ppi (it measures more like 4 ½ ppi), vintage 1940-47. The saw plate is about 0.037″ near the slightly breasted tooth line and is, of course, taper ground as you go away from the teeth and toward the toe.

And it rips big time – just what I was looking for.

Next: the final installment in the series – reflections on a long saw journey

• Saturday, August 14th, 2010

For general small to medium crosscut work, including precision cutting of tenon shoulders, the Gramercy crosscut carcase saw, pictured at top, above, is a great performer. I seem to always be picking it up for something or other.

Like other saws from maestro Joel Moskowitz at Tools for Working Wood, this relatively lightweight saw starts precisely and moves through the cut with smoothness and efficiency rather than brute power. I find the balance and feel of the saw give me a good sense of the vertical orientation of the blade. The blade is 12″ long, 0.020″ thick, and the 14ppi crosscut teeth are filed with a 14̊ rake and 20-22̊ degrees of fleam, and set about 0.004″ each side. It costs $189.95.

Note that the blade is “canted,” meaning that the depth decreases toward the toe. A feature often found on old saws, it is lacking in most new backsaws. I strongly favor this design. The workpiece being sawn with a backsaw is typically at workbench height. There your natural forward push stroke is augmented by the tooth line sinking deeper as the momentum of the stroke builds. This slicing attack gives controlled power to the cut.

Look at nearly all Japanese saws. They too are canted, but, of course, in the opposite direction since they cut on the pull stroke. The tooth line is not parallel to the handle.

Sharing some of the duties of the Western carcase saw is the Gyokucho “05” kataba (single-edge) 255 mm (10″) crosscut saw. This has a 0.020″ (0.5 mm) saw plate, 0.030″ kerf, and 20 tpi. It is available from Japan Woodworker for $36, item #19.105.0, with replacement blades for $20, and from Hida Tool for $28.40, item #D-GC-#105, with replacement blades for $19.50. This very clean-cutting saw tracks a line extremely well, but, unlike a Western backsaw I don’t get the same feel for vertical with the light, backless kataba. Because this saw is backless, it can make deeper cuts than the Western backsaw, but is not suited for shoulder cutting, a job handled by the stiffer crosscut dozuki or Western carcase saw.

These saws are often used with a bench hook and, as you might guess, my workaday version, seen above, (which really looks like it’s due for an upgraded replacement) accommodates both push and pull saws by having its fence in the middle. When cutting small work with a pull saw, I place the wood on the far side of the fence, and the bench hook itself is stabilized by leaning my weight on the heel of my left hand against the fence. Alternatively, for larger work, the bench hook is simply clamped in the front vise. The push of a Western saw automatically stabilizes the bench hook against the edge of the bench as my hand pushes the work against the near side of the fence.

Once again, we have more than one good way of getting a job done.

Next: handsaws for stock breakdown.

Category: Tools and Shop  | Tags:  | Comments off
• Friday, August 13th, 2010

I cut tenons with a Japanese ryoba saw, the larger of the two saws pictured above. The reasons are simple: I get excellent results and have been using ryobas for more than 25 years.

I have tried several excellent Western tenon saws from top makers and I must admit that I have not found the comfortable accuracy and reliably clean cut surfaces that I get from the ryoba. I concede this probably is a matter of habit and I would eventually become as comfortable with the right Western tenon saw as I am with my ryoba. So, rather than saying one type of saw is better than the other, I am sharing my preferences, and the reasons for them, in the hope that this may help other woodworkers find what works for them.

My saw is a Gyokucho model #611, 240 mm (9 ½”), available from Japan Woodworker, item # 19.611.0, $38. Replacement blades are $24.50. This saw has a 0.018″ saw plate, rip teeth that grade from 10 tpi at the handle end to 7 tpi at the far end, and 20 tpi crosscut teeth, both set 0.005″ each side.

I start cutting a tenon using the crosscut teeth to split the layout lines at the corners, establishing shallow kerfs. Switching to the rip teeth, I connect those starter kerfs across the end of the tenon. Once the rip teeth are buried, I cut on a diagonal on the layout line down the length of the tenon on one side, then the other. Finally, I saw away the remaining triangle of wood at the base of the tenon.

The backless ryoba, with a generous width of almost 4″ at its far end, gives excellent sight lines. The sawing is done with a surprisingly light touch since the progressively coarser rip teeth provide plenty of aggressiveness on their own. This allows me to watch the layout line when sawing diagonally down one side of the tenon while feeling the saw riding in the kerf that was established at the top of the tenon. The key point is that I don’t want to fight the kerf that was already established. The lightness of the ryoba and, paradoxically, its flexibility and aggressive teeth, convey excellent sensitivity to do this. (The eyes cannot precisely sight two separate lines at the very same moment.)

The low cost and replaceable blades belie the excellent performance of this saw. I suppose a handmade ryoba costing a few hundred dollars (that I would not have the skill to sharpen on my own) would be subtly better but I don’t feel compelled to go there, at least now. The quality control and value in Japanese machine-made saws such as the Gyokucho and Z brands are amazing.

The ryoba also does general small to medium scale ripping and crosscutting, such as cutting a haunch in a tenon. In my opinion, Japanese backsaws are the wrong tool for cutting furniture size tenon cheeks. However, a tiny tenon, such as in a small drawer handle, can be cut with a Japanese or Western dovetail backsaw. For very large tenons in low to medium density woods, a large Japanese single-edge (kataba) ripsaw is a good option. I will discuss such a saw later in this series.

The other saw in the picture is a crosscut dozuki saw which I like for cutting the tenon shoulders. It is a Z brand saw, 240 mm (9 ½”), 25 tpi, 0.012″ saw plate, 0.016″ kerf, available from Rockler, item #65607, for $44.99, replacement blades $27.49. (Why do they insist on calling it a “dovetail saw?” It is not.) It is thin, straight, and sharp enough to settle against a knifed and deepened shoulder line. A Western “carcase saw,” discussed in the next post, is another good option for this task.

Next: small to medium crosscut work and the carcase saw

• Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

A reasonable, basic set of saws for furniture making consists of joinery saws for dovetails and tenons, small to medium crosscut saws for general work and shoulders, and big handsaws for crosscutting and ripping boards. There are many other good approaches to the basic saw kit that are used effectively by excellent craftsmen. There is no single “right” way! For example, the late, great teacher Tage Frid used his Danish rip-sharpened bowsaw for everything from dovetails and tenons to ripping and crosscutting boards.

My saw kit has evolved over many years and this will doubtless continue. I think, however, that I am now comfortable enough with my arsenal that I would like to share my approach with readers. It includes both Western and Japanese saws, with some redundancy, because I like both styles. It does not bother me a bit to go back and forth between the two. While I would not advocate that all woodworkers take my one-world, kumbaya approach, I vehemently disagree with those who contend that East or West is definitively better. They are simply two highly evolved, effective methods of sawing wood and you can make wonderful furniture with either if you get good quality tools matched to their function.

The discussion will not include the many other saws, some essential, some specialty, such as flush cut, keyhole, coping, turning (bow), fret, chain, hack, and veneer saws. No seesaws either.

Let’s start with dovetail saws:

1. Gramercy dovetail saw. Gee, I love this tool. 9″ canted blade, 0.018″ saw plate, 19 ppi beautifully sharpened and hammer-set rip teeth, zero rake, 0.003″ set each side. $149.95 from Tools for Working Wood. This is a light, smallish saw that starts easily and cuts smoothly. It is perfect for drawer making but also can do larger casework dovetailing. For current (or former) Japanese saw users, it is a natural transition. In fact . . .

2. Hishiki rip dovetail saw. 9 ½” blade, 0.012″ saw plate, 19 tpi true rip teeth, set about 0.002″ each side. $42 from Japan Woodworker, item #07.116.240. Replacement blade $28. I feel this is an Eastern cousin with the convenience of an inexpensive replaceable blade. Please don’t use a crosscut or hybrid (ibara-me or nezumi-ba) tooth dozuki for cutting dovetails, which involves essentially rip cuts. They tend to wander in the rip cut, and are so slow that you cannot tell if you are tracking the line with each stroke. Wrong tool for the purpose. I have tried more expensive Japanese dovetail saws, though not those in the several hundred dollar range, but I now prefer this low priced Hishiki.

Yes, these two saws are mostly redundant. They both start well, track well and are reasonably fast. Frankly, the difference for me mostly comes down to a different feel and vision in following the line. The Gramercy pushes sawdust away from me and is a bit more responsive in tracking the line, while the Hishiki is more fastidious in requiring accurate starting strokes. The pull-cut can drag enough sawdust to partially obscure the line unless I exhale strongly – ahh, the Zen of it all. Contrary to what is often stated, the thinner kerf does not increase accuracy. A clean-sided kerf increases accuracy and both of these saws produce that. Really, some days I just feel better with the Japanese saw but if I could have only one, well, it’s the Gramercy.

But it’s my shop and I get to have both. So take your pick(s) – they both work – and go make something.

Next: tenon saws.