Archive for ◊ February, 2011 ◊

• Sunday, February 27th, 2011

The utility of a tape measure is mostly early in the building process, later steadily diminishing as most parts are cut in relationship to other parts or structures that are already in the project rather than to absolute dimensions. In general, we only measure when we have to. It is usually safer and more accurate to relate one part directly to another. This allows the effect of small absolute inaccuracies to cancel.

Nonetheless, when you are choosing boards at the wood dealer, breaking down stock to approximate sizes, and dimensioning a project’s primary structural parts, such as the length of a table leg, the tape measure is on duty. So let’s take a look at this humble tool.

In choosing a typical cupped-blade tape, I think for most furniture makers, an 8 or 10-foot tape with a ½” wide blade is too short and too floppy. It certainly will not do the job when sorting boards at the wood yard. On the other hand, a 25-foot tape with a 1″ wide blade is fine for that but seems too big in the shop where the deeply cupped blade and heavy case are cumbersome for marking out. A 12-foot tape with a 3/4″ blade is a good compromise. It has enough overall length, adequate stand-out stiffness, and is fairly convenient to mark from – the blade can be rocked so the edge meets the wood to eliminate parallax when marking. Look for a tape with neat, fine increment lines. I’m happy with my Ace Hardware model, pictured above.

Most tapes read left to right – hook it at your left, pull out the tape toward your right and the numbers are facing correctly toward you. Tapes that read right to left are marketed to be more convenient for right-handers, like me. The idea is that you pull the tape toward your left with your left hand, the numbers are facing you correctly, and your right hand makes the mark. I find the standard left-to-right tape is just fine since the tape is used in many different ways and it does not bother me to read it upside down sometimes.

The zero point accuracy of the hook varies from tape to tape so check it against a quality steel rule. Assuming the incrementation is accurate (a dubious proposition), if the tape is reading short, the hook can be shimmed with a bit of tape on its inside face. If it is reading long, you can try to file the inside face but that’s difficult. The more practical way to manage layout is to simply use one tape for all the related parts of a project. The tiny absolute errors almost never matter and the consistency will make all be fine.

When the marking reference is on a surface, meaning that the tape is not hooked over the end of a board nor is the end butted against something, you’ve got to start the measurement somewhere on the tape and the using the end is awkward at best. Let’s say you want to measure and mark 32 ½” starting from a line on the wood. Do NOT place the 1″ mark at the reference line thinking that, sure, you’ll remember to mark at 33 ½”, because you will NOT. Well, at least I will not. Instead, I use the 10″ mark on the tape for zero and mark at 42 ½”. True, I could make a mistake and be 10″ off, but that really does not happen because that error would be visually obvious. Give it a try; it works reliably for me.

Also consider the flat tapes from Fast Cap. While this is not a tape for the wood yard because it has no stand out stiffness at all, it has advantages in the shop because it lays flat on the work and effortlessly eliminates parallax. I have the 16-foot “Standard Story Pole Flatback” model, pictured above, which has a clear zone on the bottom of the tape which is easy to mark with a pencil and is erasable. In addition, this is an overall well-made tool with other convenient features. Again, though, don’t mix tapes for related parts of a project; choose one and stay with it.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 7 Comments
• Monday, February 21st, 2011

The Wood Expo 2011 promises to be an exciting feature of the 61st annual New England Home Show, February 24-27 (Thursday through Sunday), at the Seaport World Trade Center, Boston. The theme of the Expo is “Reconnecting the Maker and the Buyer,” and features Tommy MacDonald, woodworker, North Bennet Street School graduate, and host of the WGBH TV series Rough Cut Woodworking with Tommy Mac.

The Wood Expo, originated by Tommy, features a juried exhibit of exquisite furniture by craftsmen who will also be engaging visitors with woodworking demonstrations and discussion. Renowned furniture makers and teachers Phil Lowe and Allan Breed are among the compelling list of guest speakers, while exhibitors include the North Bennet Street School.

The NE Home Show is a huge offering for homeowners, designers, and contractors and has devoted considerable space and marketing to the woodworking section. Tommy has leveraged his star power to promote fine craftsman-made furniture and accessories to the buying public.

Yours truly is one of the exhibiting craftsmen and demonstrators. My piece will be on display and I will be demonstrating and discussing mortise and tenon joinery. It would be fun to meet some Heartwood readers there – stop by and let’s talk shop. I think the idea of the Wood Expo is just what high-end woodworking needs: connecting with, engaging, and educating potential buyers in the context of a major, highly publicized venue. Yea, I’m stoked!

Please see these links for show information and features.

Category: Resources  | 7 Comments
• Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Does the door to your home woodworking shop look like this?

Many, if not most, home woodshops are banished to the garage. There the floor is usually concrete, it is often cold, and, worst of all, the area is intermittently shared with a car, lawnmower, and the accumulated junk of modern life. Is this a good place for your beloved tools and woodworking?

Of course, there may simply be very limited options – a garage shop or no shop. Maybe other awkward or uninviting places such as a hallway (been there) or the basement dungeon (been there too) will have to do. In fact, maybe the garage or basement can be improved to become more comfortable and pleasant.

However, at least consider using a room in the house for your woodshop – yes, a real room. For at least the workbench and hand tools, a small room will do just fine. The machines and most of the wood storage could stay in the garage, maybe with some help from the attic or even a closet.

Isn’t the TV, excuse me, the home entertainment system, a higher priority? And what about the rest of the family? I don’t know, you’ve got to work that out for your situation. The point here is this: if woodworking is important to you, consider using important space for it.

Many people devote considerable space, time, and money to passive entertainment, with which I feel our society is too preoccupied. Many people seem to seek an almost continuous stream of it. I have nothing against entertainment, but it is the balance that I question. There is likely more fulfillment and joy in free hours devoted to creativity – wood, word, music, etc. – than in a video game. We make our choices.

I suggest considering what is valuable to you and have your living space reflect that, within the bounds of practicality, life’s compromises, and the needs of those near and dear to you. Good luck and happy woodworking.

Category: Ideas  | 8 Comments