Archive for ◊ September, 2014 ◊

• 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
• Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

hand planes

With their new line of customizable hand planes, Lee Valley/Veritas continues their impressive record of innovation in woodworking tools. Within each plane size, you can choose the blade steel, the handles (thankfully), and the frog.

The most compelling option, in my view, is the choice of frogs, and particularly in a smoothing plane. This gives us yet another way to vary the attack angle. This is simply how high is the angle (from horizontal) of the top surface of the blade at its very edge. In other words, it is the angle at which the blade meets the wood. This is one of several factors, a critical one, in reducing the dreaded tearout of hand planing.

Let’s look at the mainstream options for attack angle that we’ve had so far

In bevel-up bench planes, the blade is usually bedded at 12°, though I continue to assert that 20° – 22° would be better. The attack angle is determined by the bed angle plus the sharpening angle of the most distal bevel, usually a secondary or micro bevel. For example, a blade with a 38° secondary bevel sitting on a 12° frog, gives a 50° attack angle.

By maintaining multiple blades or re-honing a single blade, you have your choice of attack angles. By the way, because the wear occurs more on the bottom surface of the blade, the Charlesworth “ruler trick” is especially helpful when sharpening bevel-up blades.

In bevel-down planes, most are made with 45° frogs but Lie-Nielsen offers a choice of 45°, 50°, and 55° frogs for most of their great bench planes. I like the 50° frog in my L-N #4 smoother. The attack angle in a bevel-down plane is usually determined simply by the bed angle. The nifty exception is the back bevel, which is a tiny bevel on the (otherwise) flat side of the blade. For example, in addition to conventionally sharpened blades for my #4, I keep one prepared with a 10° back bevel to produce, with the 50° frog, an attack angle of 60°.

What’s new

Now Veritas, with their awesome manufacturing capabilities, offers a full range of bevel-down planes with your choice of frog angle from 40° to 65° in 0.5° increments. Furthermore, extra frogs can be ordered that can be easily swapped into your plane. So, you could outfit your #4 smoother with a 45° frog and an O-1 blade for a project in pine, then swap over to a 57.5° frog and a PM V-11 blade for a project in figured maple. The caveat is, of course, that I haven’t used these new planes so I cannot judge if their innovative design actually performs well at the bench.

All of this means we have more choices and a greater, though happier, burden of choosing. Obviously, each of us does not need or want every tool and option available, so it is more important than ever to make intelligent choices in tools.

Category: Tools and Shop  | 2 Comments
• Sunday, September 07th, 2014

poplar and bubinga

Woodworking instruction and practice usually make use of easily worked woods such as poplar or pine. This is practical – it makes learning easier and fosters confidence.

However, when moving on to more cantankerous woods, the techniques may not be fully applicable. Not only quantitative changes but also qualitative alterations in technique may be necessary. This may surprise and confound the learning woodworker and, as I often say, that includes all of us.

For example, the adjustment in cutting dovetails in red oak after practice in poplar is not just that you have to swing the mallet harder. The tolerances for sawing and fitting that work for the more compressible poplar won’t produce good results in oak. Chopping to the baseline is also different in oak. It helps more to clear the bulk of the waste with a coping saw, yet once done, there is actually less tendency for the chisel to push back beyond the baseline when chopping if it is done in appropriate increments.

The point is that however you like to do it, it pays to reconsider techniques based on the wood at hand.

Hand tool enthusiasts seem to like chopping mortises with a chisel and making tapered sliding dovetails entirely by hand. Fine in pine, poplar, mahogany, and so forth, but how about bubinga? Similarly, I like to hand plane to the final surface whenever practical but for blister maple, hey, it’s time to reach for scrapers or the random orbit sander.

Likewise, someone working almost exclusively in mahogany will surely have accommodated his techniques to that wood and the design style in which he works. That’s good, but it’s not likely that you can transfer all of those techniques and habits to a substantially different wood or style, and certainly you cannot do so unthinkingly.

Woodworkers work in wood, and wood is a very diverse product of nature. We’ve got all sorts of tools – planes with different angles, saws with different teeth, machines with different cutters, and so on. As for anyone good at any skill, a good woodworker ought to have a range of techniques to thoughtfully employ as needed when building in different woods. Further, it pays to be open to expanding that range when encountering unfamiliar woods.

Category: Techniques  | 2 Comments