Friday, 31 October 2008

Move over Mr. Studley...

This is where I currently stand with my tool cabinet after about three months into my third attempt at reconfiguring it.

The entire cabinet is made from marine grade mahogany plywood. There are no nails or screws whatsoever in it as it was constructed using splines, biscuits and epoxy. It is all butt jointed but where the end grain of the plywood was going to be exposed the abutting panel was routed, leaving a 3/4" lip of the mahogany veneer. That veneer covered the end grains when the panels were assembled giving an almost mitered appearance to the joints. Hand tools go in these three upper sections and the flat below is actually a fold-out bench with leather inlay on the work surfaces. Below that is a drawer and below the drawer is a cabinet. This part was originally intended for power hand tools but I will reconfigure it for my wooden molding planes as my collection warrants the taking over of the space.

All the outer surfaces were stained with an alcohol based stain then the entire cabinet, inside and out, was given multiple coats of epoxy sealer. I brushed on three coats of spar varnish on top of the epoxy sealer and try to add another coat every year. In a couple of years I will have built up enough coats to allow me to give the entire cabinet a serious sanding without worrying about breaking through the finish. It will be more about finishing the finish then finishing the wood. Having rebuilt a wood boat previously, I know how quickly wood can rot in a damp environment. Given that this was going to be sitting on my balcony for who knew how long, I took every precaution I could to ensure it was going to last.

My first attempt at outfitting the interior still remains in the right door. I used poplar and teak for these chisel racks, making the double rack configuration that opens to access the chisels both on the racks, and those mounted to the interior of the cabinet door. While it works quite well, there are a few things I find that could be improved. First, I used 3/4" poplar for the rack frames which I think is overkill, too heavy in appearance and a waste of space. All the rack frames I am building now use 1/2" walnut. I also think, if the rack is properly built with weight and stress taken into account, one large rack would be more appropriate, especially when it comes to saving space. A major draw-back to this design is that I cannot access any chisels at all without opening the double racks first. I like and need to be able to have two layers in the door but I think if the outer rack held the more commonly used chisels and was accessible without having to open it, things would be a little more convenient. Finally, and the biggest problem with the first design is that there is no room for additions. I am currently assembling a set of vintage Stanley 40 chisels to replace my Home Depot bought Irwin blue handles. With the existing set-up, I can mount the Stanleys or the Irwins, but not both as there is no room for a additional rack. I'd like to keep both sets, the Stanleys for fine work and the Irwins to beat on when needed but for now, as I pick up a Stanley the same sized Irwin has to go in the drawer.

The center section was a catastrophe from the beginning. First, I mounted the planes parallel to the back of the cabinet instead of at right-angle to it. What a waste of space. I used end brackets for each plane instead of a flat and every time I went to put a plane back I kept missing the mounts causing the one I was returning to smack the one mounted below it. I didn't damage any of them but time could only change that. Again, another problem with this section was that I didn't allow for new additions.

This section now has two racks that hinge open and, because this area of the cabinet is 4 1/2" deep, it will allow tools to be mounted on both sides of the racks and on the cabinet wall behind. This will give three layers of tools for more than enough room to expand the collection. While I need wood to mount to, I have tried to keep it to a minimum for two reasons. First, when a tool is deeper than the depth of the remaining area, I can mount it in such a way as to project through the rack. An example of this is the knob that displays above the old Yankee screwdriver in the center-left panel. This is the knob of a Veritas Pullshave which stands quite proud of the rear wall of the cabinet but projects through the rack without a problem. The other reason for keeping the wood to a minimum is just to be able to see the tools behind adding visual interest to the display.

Speaking of the Yankee screwdriver, this was another tool I inherited from my father. I haven't used it in years and I doubt I ever will because hand tools or no hand tools, I love my cordless screwgun. When I was a kid, though, that Yankee was a cordless screwgun and I used it all the time, much to my father's chagrin. I caught the devil over that tool more times than all the other tools he owned combined simply because I didn't care for it properly. I have it mounted front and center of this cabinet to remind me that I should respect the tools and care for them properly.

The left door is a combination of leftovers from my second attempt at reconfiguring the cabinet and a reject from my third attempt. The screwdriver rack was my first forté into making dovetails without the use of a router and jig. It turned out all right, but not great. The problem I had with the results wasn't so much the quality of the work but what it holds. As someone who appreciates the look of a tool as much as using it, screwdrivers are a real problem for me. The square drive screw is actually a Canadian invention but didn't become popular in the States until the inventor's patent ran out. I haven't ran into a vintage set of Canadian screwdrivers and I think that is probably because there weren't any way back when. There are not any square drives (we call them Robertson) in the American vintage sets I have found simply because they were not used in the States. I searched high and low for a good quality contemporary set but none struck me as worth the money so I settled on a set of Fuller's simply because they are Canadian. My problem was, when I finished the rack for them and mounted it, the screwdrivers were front and center and they were ugly, cheap looking things compared to the other tools around them. I moved the rack over to the left door temporarily and have started to make the new racks for this door now.

Because the planes in the main panel project beyond the cavity I need to leave room for them to project into this left door. To accommodate that I will only have a double layer of tools in the top half. The screwdriver rack will be against the rear wall of the door and a hinged rack with pliers, side-cutters, etc. will be in front of them so I won't have to look at them as much. Below that will be an area for mid-depth tools, things like my Stanley 12 scraper and one of my mallets. Below that will be drill indexes for all the drill bits I have, forstner, brad, twist, speed and plug cutters.

Now my pride and joy.

Originally, I built the saw till as a plywood box with 3/8" dividers between the saws. It was accessible from both ends and held six saws. My thoughts for designing it this way was so I could remove it with all the saws stored in it and move it to the odd jobsite that I work at now and again. First, it was way too heavy to be really portable and on top of that, it only held six saws. Once I got into this hand saw stuff I realized I needed seven; a full-sized rip, a full-sized cross, a smaller panel cross with a finer cut, a large back saw, a small backsaw and a cross and rip dovetail saw. I came up with this idea and checked with woodnut4 for his advice and ended up with what you see above. It works great and looks fantastic as it displays all the saws in all their glory.

So that's what I'm about right now - a tool cabinet. I want to learn how to use hand tools properly and realize there is a lot more to learn than meets the eye. To do this, I couldn't think of a better project to work on while I learn than the tool cabinet itself. What I am looking for is a more contemporary looking Studley styled cabinet with emphasis on the tools, not on what holds them.



Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Thank You Mr. Rose...

As I have previously mentioned, I'm redoing my tool cabinet for the third time. Today I went to the hardwood yard and purchased what I think will be all the walnut I will need to complete it over the winter. This winter will be the first winter in quite a while that I will be able to make some sawdust. Currently my little shop has been located on the balcony of our apartment and consists mainly of said tool cabinet.

Living in Toronto, Canada, the winters are cold and snowy, although usually not as bad as Buffalo, a short drive away. Fifteen years ago we sold our house and I had to give up my shop in the basement. I didn't mind because we were moving onto our boat, which is a lifestyle I highly recommend. On the boat, I got to work outside in the boatyard all summer long beside a wrecked cube van that I stored my tools and materials in. Winters were spent sanding and varnishing the interior of the boat, but there was very little carpentry going on. When the price of fuel pushed traveling on the boat beyond our limits (this was back when a liter of fuel was $.82 CAN and a gallon in the States was $2.30) we sold it and moved into an apartment. Our move off the boat coincided with a friend's move off of his, but he moved into a house. The first order of business was to set up a shop in his garage. He supplied the tablesaw, bandsaw and jointer while I supplied the mortiser, planer, air compressor and drill press. We lived in power tool harmony for a few years but again, it was only in the summer months as his garage is unheated. As my eyesight deteriorated even more, power tools started to really scare me so I made the switch to hand tools. One of the last builds I did with the power tools was to build the cabinet. I put it on our balcony and worked away out there on this and that during the summers. Now we are moving to a larger place so I will be able to convert one of the spare bedrooms into a "boys room" with the tool cabinet front and center.

One of the first videos I looked at on was a documentary of Hearne's Hardwoods entitled, "Rick Hearne - Crazy for Wood". I chuckled through the entire video simply because the difference between Mr. Hearne and those that I encounter at our local hardwood supplier is like night and day. While there are a few places in Toronto that dabble in hardwoods there is only one the truly specializes in it - Oliver Lumber. While Mr. Hearne tells us about a great slab of wood he has cut, Mr. Oliver tells us, "That's what I got, take it or leave it".

Because of the different finished thicknesses that I need, from 2" down to 1/4", I went in to get 1 piece 10/4 by 8" by 12'. What I came out with was 2 pieces 10/4 by 6" by 8' and 1 piece 10/4 by 5" by 8'. The total cost was $270.92, $239.75 for the wood and $31.17 for our governments. That works out to $9.59 a board foot plus 13% taxes for those that are counting. I didn't pay full price for the 5" wide piece
 as it was badly cracked at one end.

I had my trusty 1920 vintage Disston No.12 8PPI crosscut with me that I had just purchased from woodnut4 a few weeks prior so I cut it all up into 37" lengths. This resulted in a stack made up of 6 - 37" lengths and 3 - 26" lengths. Stack them one on top of the other and they stand 22" high. I didn't think of taking a picture of this to show you but I'm sure you are all aware of how large a stack these short lengths of wood present. In a wide open space it looks like a lot of wood. Now visualize that same stack packed behind the front seats of a Mini, because that is what we took it home in. It looked like we had a whole tree back there.

Now this is where the book, "The Village Carpenter", by Walter Rose, comes in. This is a book recommended by Kari on her blog, aptly name, "The Village Carpenter". Walter Rose was born somewhere around 1860, spent his lifetime working as a village carpenter in Buckinghamshire, England and around about 1937, wrote about those life experiences in his craft. An interesting read, but why do I mention it now? Well if you were standing in front of that roughly 22" high by 6" wide by 37" long pile of wood that you knew had to be milled to multiple thicknesses and you realized you had the choice of using either a rip handsaw and jointer hand plane or a tablesaw, power jointer and power planer, what would you do? Me? I turned to reflect on what Mr. Rose would do and remembered his words, " carpenter would wish to revert to the toil of past days, the work at the saw-pit and the preparation of such simple things as floor-boards by hand."

We headed for the garage and the power tools.



Monday, 27 October 2008

I'm in no hurry...

I sent a friend of mine my this URL last night as he is interested in woodworking and I thought he might be interested in the same sites as I. His reply to me was, “Why these sites?” The answer to that depends on what you are looking to get as a return from this hobby. 

I’m not out to build a hand-made reproduction of a 18th century secretaire bookcase. I’d love to have one, but unless I win the lottery tomorrow, it isn’t going to happen. I’m looking to build small things; writing boxes, silverware storage boxes, maybe a little coffee table, that kind of thing. First, I live in a condo and I work on my balcony (this will change in the beginning of the year when we move to a larger one and I get to have a converted bedroom), so noise and dust has to match my work area – a minimum. Second, and most importantly, I have to be realistic about my expectations, abilities and return on time spent. I just don’t want to spend a year or two making one piece of furniture. Mainly, though, it is about my abilities, current and future.

There is a bit of a buzz on the different sites right now about a video that is displayed on where Rob Cosman displays his talents by cutting a set of dovetails in less than four minutes. This is in reply to Frank Klausz’s video where he cut a set in three, which is in reply to Gary Rogowski’s video on the Fine Woodworking site where he cut a set in five minutes. Hey guys, if you can cut a set of dovetails in three to five minutes, God bless ya. I’d be happy to get one tail in that length of time and while I understand the reasons for these demonstrations, they really don’t help me to improve my work and I have no expectation of being able to complete the same feat in a year, or even ten years from now.

My old man was a carpenter and a damned good one. We were renovating a house together when I was a kid and we had to cut a new piece of baseboard for an outside corner that was far from 90° at the base of two walls that were far from plumb. I knew I was way over my head so I asked my dad to do it. He cut the inside corners, which were square, laid them up one at a time and marked the outside corner. He then struck a second line on each the width of the molding, pulled a panel saw from the kit, eyed it, and cut each in turn with only the lines as reference. He handed them to me and I installed them ending up with a perfect mitered corner – and I mean perfect. I was so shocked I said to him, and excuse the French, “Holy shit! How did you do that?” His reply to me was, “You do that on a daily basis for a lifetime and your corners will be acceptable too”.

That one line that my father answered me with forty years ago pretty much sums up my reasons for choosing certain sites over others. If I was making a whole bunch of dovetails on a daily basis, I’d be looking for a way to make them in record time, but I’m not. I could sit down for an entire day and follow these guys’ instructions and by the end of the day I could probably bang off a pretty good series of dovetails in very quick order. What happens, though, the next time I sit down to do it again, a week, a month or even six months from now? Do you think I’ll have the ability to hold the fret saw at the perfect right-angle to follow the scribe line? Some how I doubt it.

So yes, I recommend some sites over others because some sites are aligned with my needs. I really don’t care if it takes me five minutes or five hours to cut a set of dovetails. I’m not in this for the money so time is not an issue. What I am looking for is direction in making those dovetails accurately so I don’t have to stuff glue down the gaps and sand like crazy to fill them in.

Yes, I frequent the Popular Woodworking site, as well as many others, to see what’s up and if there is anything in them that I can learn from. That I have found is that the few that I have listed and recommended are more in line with my ideas of what I am looking for. Your ideas may be different.

By the way, two videos on two sites taught me more about making dovetails accurately than any of the others… has one in a two part series where Craig Vandall Stevens shows how to cut dovetails with accuracy...—-part-one-the-pins/75/

Another is on the Fine Woodworking site where Gary Rogowski works with one of their readers and shows him his mistakes. This one is as close to having an instructor look over your shoulder as you will get...



Sunday, 26 October 2008

Dedicated to those who got me this far...

I set this blog up a few years ago when I was in the process of making the transition from power tools to hand tools thinking I was going to need a way to show off all of the beautiful things I was going to make to my family and friends. It has sat empty up until now simply because none of those beautiful things materialized. Who knew back then that learning how to use hand tools properly was such a long and difficult task.

My first labour of love was to build myself a new tool cabinet to house my limited hand tool collection. Ironically, I built the cabinet itself using nothing but power tools. Go figure. Since then, I have reconfigured the interior of that cabinet three times, each time using nothing but hand tools. The first attempt was a simple configuration that didn't leave room for any new tools that I didn't know I required. The second was more complex, but a disaster in its execution because, frankly, I didn't have a clue how to work the tools properly. I am now in the middle of my third reconfigure, which, by the looks of things, may take me the rest of my life to complete.

The first thing I discovered when I turned off the power, and thankfully I discovered it very quickly, was that dull hand tools don't work. I set off on a quest to learn how to sharpen properly. I took a seminar on the subject from a local retailer, which was a waste of time. I scoured the commercial sites on the web, which didn't do justice to the subject. Finally, I found some guy's blog where he took the time to give all the details about the art of sharpening a blade. Sadly, I didn't bookmark his site or record his name as I would like to go back and thank him.

The time that guy took to detail the in's and out's of blade sharpening changed everything for me. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but now there is not a flat edge in my cabinet that isn't scary sharp. The curved gouges are a different matter as I haven't learned that art yet, but my set of scary sharp chisels and planes are now the biggest treat to use, it is beyond explanation.

While I can't remember that guy's name, I have decided to dedicate this blog to him and all the other unselfish individuals out there who I learn from on an almost daily basis. The following is a list of the few I follow daily, in no order of preference because they are all good, and I will add more as I come across them.

The Village Carpenter  -

Ok, I was a little surprised when I first came upon this site to discover that it was produced by a girl, but then I picked my knuckles up off the floor and started to read what she had to say. Wow! Not only does she give great insight into how to do something with wood, she takes you to places I have never heard of before offering the reader insights into the history of woodworking. Seeing her results is a real treat for the eyes and following her descriptions of the process she went through getting there is a treat for the brain. Intelligent, articulate and informative are three words that sum up this site.

WoodTreks  -

If there was an Emmy for woodworking blogs this guy would win every year because not only are his presentations the most professional I have ever seen, his content is downright fascinating. I have no idea how he gets himself and his camera into some of the places he has documented but I am certainly happy he has. While the content is way beyond what I currently am capable of, there are two major benefits gained from each of his videos - he offers up something to aspire to and his demonstrators never hold back showing the viewer the little tricks and insights needed to achieve good results. This site is nothing less than a joy to behold and a goldmine of information.

Full Chisel Blog  -

Being a product of the 60's there is only one way I can describe this site - Far out, man! The author of this one is as "earthy" as you can get. There is no pretensions here and it seems that whatever comes to mind in the time he spends in his shop ends up on his blog. Here, you can learn a great deal about the simpler things in woodworking with quality and functionality at the forefront. What I most appreciate in this site is his dedication to design, whether in an old, rusted hacksaw or a simple watercoloured print. Here you get to enjoy the true basics of woodworking while learning a great deal in the process.

The Wood Whisperer  -

This is the site that brought the teaching of woodworking into the 21st century. While he started out as a power tool guy, he has slowly seen the light and is now showing us his knowledge regarding the proper use of hand tools. He excels in teaching proper layout and planning in the execution of the job at hand, as well as design. He is also a huge proponent of amateur blogs and his informative site is a goldmine for finding links to other informative sites.

In the Workshop with Charles Neil  -

I've been following this site just about from its inception. If there ever was a site that holds back nothing, this is it. It is pretty rare that you see this author pick up a hand tool but that does not mean you cannot learn from him. He is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to finishing, wood movement and joinery and he is certainly not shy about sharing it with anyone who asks. He supports his teaching endevours by selling DVD's on different topics and I purchased his set on finishing. It was the best 175 bucks I ever spent. Down to earth, informative and a hoot to read.

This is not a blog site but actually an individual who sells vintage handsaws on eBay. If you are an avid blog reader you will have already seen his name come up from time to time. While I guess Disston of the past should be acknowledged for producing these saws, it is Woodnut4 that brought them back to life and made them into something that even I, a complete novice, can appreciate immediately. In the process of refurbishing each saw, which is extensive, he sharpens and sets them and I would doubt that Mr. Disston himself could find fault in his work. This guy is a true pro who takes untold pride in his work. The four saws I have purchased from him so far are the pride of my cabinet and I hope to be able to buy a few more from him.

So there is my current short list of sites I view on a daily basis. There are others that I frequent but these are what I believe to be, in my humble opinion, the cream of the crop. These are the people who unselfishly offer up their knowledge that increases my enjoyment of this hobby and I thank them for it.

If you have a few links of your own that you would like to share, please comment them to me as I would greatly appreciate it.