Sunday, 30 November 2008

Why Are British Mid-19th Century Tools So Much Prettier...

Why are mid-19th century British tools so much prettier than North American ones of the same era? I have been asking this question for months wherever I can around the web and I haven’t received a qualified answer yet.

When you don’t get an answer to a question, you tend to develop your own, and that is exactly what I have done here. If you agree - good. If you don’t agree - even better, but tell me why. The one thing I hope you won’t do, however, is take offense.

First on the agenda is a disclaimer. I am not a historian, although I do read a great deal about the people and events during this particular timeframe. The following opinions are based on those readings and from my limited understanding of people.

On Stephen’s blog, The Full Chisel, I posted a comment to his entry, “Think of Old England”, in which I asked this specific question – “Why are British tools so much prettier than the ones available from the same time period in the United States and Canada?” This resulted in a number of further comments that spilled over onto WoodCentral and the discussion continued, and continued, and continued. I didn’t participate in this discussion, but I did read the aftermath. Where you guys learned all this stuff is beyond me. What a wealth of information. The problem I had with it all, though, is that it didn’t answer my question – Why are British tools so much prettier than the ones available from the same period in the United States and Canada?

What all of that discussion focused on was the importers' and manufacturers’ end of the equation and any good capitalist will tell you, manufacturers fill a need, they don’t create it. You can manufacture and import whatever you want, however you want, in any style you want, but if the public ain’t buyin’ it – you ain’t sellin’ it.

There was consensus of opinion reached through all of this discussion, though, and that is, British toolmakers in the mid-19th century produced pretty tools, while the American manufacturers in that same time period produced utilitarian tools. This fact, that we all agree on, tells me, and this is where I will probably get into trouble, that the British craftsmen of that timeframe held the tools of his trade in greater esteem than his counterparts in America.

Before I go further, let me qualify my position about where Canada fits in to this discussion. When it comes to tools, throughout our history, Canadians generally used American made tools rather than British made ones and we still do. We did so even in the middle of the 19th century when we weren’t even Canada yet, but still a British colony made up of two relatively separate sovereigns. To give you an example of how we Canadians like to suck on the straw from both ends, the United States declared war on the British on June 18th, 1812 and established the front for this war as being the borders of both Upper and Lower Canada. On June 19th, 1812, Mr. John Jacob Astor, an American and owner of The South West Company, which was headquartered in New York, negotiated with the governments of the two Canadas to be allowed to continue his trade for furs across the borders even though war had been declared. He was quickly given permission. One of the items Mr. Astor traded were tools made by American manufacturers. Here in Canada, we were British, unless, of course, it cost extra.

So now, if I may, I’ll rephrase the question, “Why did we, in North America, not desire pretty tools?”

I think the answer to this question can be found in the different types of societies found on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as how their respective craftsmen choose to view themselves and their positions within those societies.

From what I have read about cabinetmakers on both sides of the Atlantic during this timeframe, neither was making money hand over fist. While the daily earnings of the British craftsman were higher than that of his counterpart in the United States, he also faced a much higher cost of living, so the two equaled out, I think, surprisingly well.

In Britain, a tradesman was held to his post by the aristocratic social order and as a result he held his craft in higher regard than his equivalent in the North America. That is not to say that, as craftsmen, the British version was better than the North American, or the reverse. It is just stating, in my opinion, that, as individuals, the British craftsmen viewed their “lot in life” differently. I believe the greater emphasis British tradesmen placed on their trade Guilds, Unions and apprenticeships support this position 

In the United States, there was a completely different kind of social order. There, a man’s position was based more on what he became after he was born, rather than what he was before he took his first breath. The emphasis was less on what type of labor a man did for his living, and more on what type of living a man did with his labor. A good example to support this is residential architecture in both countries during this timeframe; the one referred to as the “Victorian Era”. During this era homes in North America were build with gingerbread fronts, fretted millwork, and large and ornate porches. Even smaller, less expensive homes were built with much of this decoration. Homes in Britain, during this same timeframe, were built, by comparison, rather restrained and remember, "Victoria" was their monarch. While North Americans painted these homes in elaborate color schemes, the more austere homes in Great Britain were painted any color you could want – as long as it was white. Another strong example of the differences in the perception regarding their trade, while unions were strong in North America, apprenticeships by the 19th century had lost a bit of their charm and Guilds were almost non-existent.

Within these differences regarding each man’s opinion of his self worth, I believe you find the answer to the question of tool styles. The British craftsmen found self-worth and self-respect within his craft. His craft was who he was. To support that opinion he insisted his tools be accented with different woods, metals and decorative materials, more ornate and therefore, more impressive, and he was more than willing to pay for those additions. To the North American craftsman, on the other hand, his tools were a means to an end and therefore he insisted on them being as utilitarian as possible and, of course, acquired as cheaply as possible.

I think the answer to all this is that, while the men were equal, they’re trades similar and the performance of their tools comparable, the societies that they lived and worked in caused them to differ in their perception of how those tools should look. To one, looks were important in recognition of his station in life, to the other, the look of his tools had little to do with his station and everything to do with his life.

Comments, please.



Tuesday, 25 November 2008

What Do You Think Of The New Veritas Tools...



Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Right Plane for the Job...

You have to hand it to Kari over on The Village Carpenter. When it comes to tools, she really knows her stuff. In a comment she left me she mentioned that Lee Valley produces an updated version of the Record 43 Plow Plane that she owns. She felt it might work for me rather than the Stanley #50 I was considering purchasing.

I live exactly 1.2 miles from Toronto's downtown Lee Valley store and given that I call the place "my own little porn shop", I thought I knew everything there was to know about every plane, saw, nut, and drawer slider that this company offers. Wrong again.

When I first read Kari's comment, I thought she was telling me about the new Veritas Skew Rabbet Plane and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why she would think that plane would work for the application I needed it for. I have no idea why I thought that, no idea at all. This incorrect thought kept popping in and out of my head all day long until finally I sat down to investigate what she was talking about. Ahhhh. Now I get it.

What Kari was turning me on to - ok, let me rephrase that. What Kari was suggesting to me is the Veritas Small Plow Plane. Having checked it out, she is right, as it is exactly what I need. Working on small projects means working with thin stock, and this plane comes as a set with 5 blades; 1/8", 1/4", 3/16", 5/16" and 3/8", all for $279.00 CAN, including the plane.

This plane has now been added to my Lee Valley Wish List which, my wife was shocked to discover, now scrolls for two pages.

Thanks Kari.



Thursday, 20 November 2008

Stanley #50 Beading Plane

I have my eye on a Stanley #50 Beading Plane, not necessarily for the bead capability, but to use to plow out rabbets for shelf supports and drawer bottom channels. If anyone has any information regarding this plane or a different way of doing these chores, I'd really appreciate hearing from them.



Monday, 17 November 2008

An Old Saw Gets a New Life...

As mentioned eight days ago, I bought a vintage 1917-1942 Disston Philadelphia 18" No. 4 backsaw from www.technoprimitives.comSurprisingly, it arrived today. Mark Harrell, the owner and technician of TechnoPrimitives quoted me three weeks for delivery. Needless to say I am more than impressed with the speed of his service.

When I purchased the saw I asked Mark to take some photos of the processes he puts these saws through so I could display them here. He complied, so here is the story of the rejuvenation of this saw.

This is the saw in its original, found condition.

Yes, I didn't think much of it either, but Mark assured me he could bring it back to life.

The first thing Mark did was disassemble the saw

Once he got it apart, he went at the blade with Rusterizer and a 3M pad.

Once the majority of the surface rust was removed, the blade was given an initial polish using different grits of sandflex blocks.

With the blade de-rusted, he turned his attention to the handle, stripping off all of the decayed finish with a dremell.

A good rub down with #0000 steel wool put the handle in shape for finishing.

I couldn't get the image sharp enough to read the label and this is a bottle I'm not familiar with, so I have no idea what he used to treat the handle.

Next, the blade is jointed by hand, ensuring that it is straight and true.

The saw is then given its initial sharpening using a 1960's vintage Acme Saw Filer. I had the blade filed cross-cut, 11 ppi for use mainly in my Stanley 150 Miter Box. The Rake is 18 degrees, the Fleam is 20 degrees and the Gullet is 5 degrees.

With the machine completing all of the grunt work, Mark then went over each tooth with a hand file.

The saw was set by hand.

Once Mark was satisfied that the blade couldn't be any better, the handle was as close to as-new condition as he could get it and the sawnuts had been polished, he assembled the saw and ran a few test cuts.

This is where Mark's coverage leaves off and mine takes over.

I have purchased a fair number of tools from online auctions and online dealers. You can pretty much tell the type of person your dealing with when the package with your latest purchase arrives. If the item arrives unwrapped and dumped in an envelope, you can make a safe bet that the guy you bought it from has no respect or appreciation for what he is selling, he just wants the money.

That certainly isn't the case here. The saw was wrapped in bubblewrap, then wrapped and sealed in heavy weight kraft paper, then wrapped and sealed in a corrugated cardboard box. Every nook and cranny within the box was stuffed with more cardboard. It was wrapped so well, it took me 15 minutes to get it out of the packaging.

Once it was out, though, I discovered that it was well worth the work.

The saw is a beauty. I didn't have much time between classes today to try it out much, but it did whip through some cedar I had sitting around. It is not so long as to cause me to struggle with its balance, but it is long enough to get a decent arm swing going. My only complaint is minor, being aesthetic in nature. Whatever Mark used to finish the handle left it dull and lifeless. I put a couple of coats of wax on it but it didn't come up or pop the grain. It is no big deal, though. I'll clean the wax off and give it a couple of coats of hand rubbed shellac and it will be fine.

All and all, I can't complain about my $160.00 purchase plus shipping. Given the amount of work Mark went through to bring this old saw back, proven by the photos, I'd say it was worth every penny.

These old saws were produced when labour was cheap and technology was expensive. Trimmers needed quality tools to make their livings with, something they couldn't do with the junk that is produced today now that the labour/technology thing is reversed. A good backsaw was a trimmer's bread and butter because up until the late 60's, early 70's there wasn't much trim that went into a house that wasn't cut by hand. 

While my old man was a trimmer and cabinet maker, I was trained as a framer. I grew up with an 8" Beaver 26" wide cast iron table saw which my old man bought in the early 50's for use on the job sites, not long after I was born. The thing was nothing but a pure boat anchor, but that top was as flat and true the day we sold it as it was the day he bought it. He told me he paid $350.00 for that saw, which was one hell of a lot of money back then - at least a month's salary. Today you can buy a bigger saw for about the same price which now is less than a week's salary. I sold that old Beaver about 35 years after my dad bought it and after 35 years of hard use. Just thinking of the abuse that saw took bouncing around in the trunk of my old man's 49' Merc is enough to make me cringe. Since selling it, I have gone through two replacements, neither one of them worth half that original Beaver, and I only worked the trade part-time, more as a hobby than a living.

This last photo is showing both this new/old saw, and the saw it is replacing. It seems ironic, to obtain a quality saw, I have to replace a saw purchased 15 or 20 years ago with one originally purchased sometime during the first half of the last century. The late 1980's vintage is a Disston as well, one that would cause Mr. Disston to roll over in his grave if he ever realized the thing had his name on it.

While I first discovered TechnoPrimitives on eBay, what convinced me to trust them enough to purchase from them was an article by Chris Schwarz over on his WoodWorking Magazine Blog. In it, Chris describes how Mark brought an old carcase saw back to life for him and I figured if Mark's work was good enough for Chris, then it was good enough for me. His article is entitled, "Highly Recommended: Saw Sharpening from TechnoPrimitives".



Saturday, 15 November 2008

Finally, An Assembled Insert...

So with all things glued, trimmed and smoothed, I now have another section of the tool cabinet assembled and ready for finishing.

 The whole idea behind all of this is to minimize destruction to the cabinet itself so it can be modified easily in the future if I ever want to take on this assignment again. By building a fixed insert, all of the holes and such for different dividers and shelves can be made to the insert, while the cabinet itself just has to suffer a few screws. The insert does the rigid supporting, the cabinet just holds the insert.

The insert for this door is a bit complicated because my plane handles and irons project into it. To accommodate that, I had to keep the center part open. I can still mount tools here, but only one level and not the two or three like the other areas of the cabinet. It is also complicated by the decision to store a 24" level and a framer's square here, as well.

All of the jointing in this insert is either using dovetails or through tenons. You can follow the order of the construction of this thing simply by following the quality of these joints. The more I did, the better the results.

I'm sure there is a specific name for the type of dovetail I used but I don't know it. If anyone can help me out with that I would appreciate it. Each dovetail starts at the front with a full tail, which is mitered, while the rest of the pins and tails are normal for a dovetail. The shelves and dividers are morticed and through tenoned. It is surprising the rigidity these joints bring to the unit.

The top portion of the insert holds my screwdriver rack. It is a bit fussy, and because I had to remove so much material, a bit weak. I had drilled and inserted dowels into each finger of the rack shelves to support the cross grain but found, once assembled, that there was considerable give to the shelves along their length. To overcome this I drilled out a couple of the dowels in each rack, positioned the unit, and drilled through into the cabinet door itself. I slid longer dowels into these so they support the rack shelves and once the unit is finished I'll glue them. They are 1/8" dowels, so the hole isn't much bigger than that left by a screw so I don't feel I've compromised the design.

The screwdriver section will be covered by either one or two hinged racks, as this area is capable of holding the two or three levels of tools. I'm not sure a single hinged section will support the weight here, as this section will be the full depth on half of it to hold my hammers while the other side will be loaded from both sides with pliers, channel locks and other pinching tools. I'm trying to figure out how to build this rack so you can still see through it, like the other racks I have built, but do so with enough strength to support the weight.

As I said, the set-up for this section is similar to the entire cabinet and it is going to be fussy to work with. That can't be avoided because I am trying to store a couple of hundred different tools in one small space. The fussiness does have its benefits, though. While working with my previous set-up, which was almost as fussy as this, I found it changed my working habits. When I made the switch from power tools I brought along my impatient attitude as well, something I have found you can't have when your working with hand tools. By having my tools stored close together like this, it takes a conscious effort to get one out of the cabinet or to put it back, another thing I have to learn to do working in such a small space. This exercise forces me to slow down a bit and think. What I am learning, because of this, is that it is the journey, not the destination that is such a blast.

I'm trying to keep my beading theme consistent throughout, and this section is no different. Around the circumference of this insert I have applied the bead where the unit is full depth. The opening racks over the screwdrivers will have a bead run around it or them, whichever the case may be. The biggest problem with the beading of the insert was the bottom left corner. Here, the outside wall kicks in 2 3/4" to make room for my level, which is hung on hangers on the back wall of the door, and the framer's square which will be held in place over the level by rare earth magnets. Just a note, the square/level set up will be the only part in the cabinet where you have to remove a tool to get at another. Because of this kick-back, I had to extend the bead beyond the horizontal piece and miter it to the bead applied to the vertical piece. I did this all with chisels, mitering the bead on the horizontal piece and mitering and removing the unwanted area of the bead on the vertical. My heart was in my mouth throughout this entire process. I reasonably happy with the results, though.

If you have another look at the top photo you will see two whacking big pieces of walnut on the bottom two shelves. These pieces are destined to become multiple drill indexes. The reason you see the little kick-up on the bottom photo is because my speed bits will be stored here and they are taller than all my other bits. I originally wasn't going to have that little cubbyhole above the kick-up but after reading Kari's article on carving, over on The Village Carpenter, I decided to add it to frame a little accent piece that I will display here. I know exactly what I want to do, but as usual, I have no idea how to do it. Thankfully, it will be one of the last things I will add to the cabinet and because of the length of time it is taking to build this thing, I'll have lots of time to learn.



Friday, 14 November 2008

Screwdriver Rack or Tie Rack...

I've been working away for the last two weeks on one door section of my tool cabinet. In this section is a rack for my set of very ugly screwdrivers.

The idea behind this rack is to store a complete set of 11 screwdrivers in as small an area as possible. The design I came up with uses just two pieces of walnut 13 1/2" wide, 1 1/2" deep and 1/2" in thickness. One of these pieces holds 6 screwdrivers and the other holds 5. The mounts are based on using the collar at the bottom of the plastic handles to lock each in place. As a result of this, I have to remove a lot of material from each piece.

I drilled and cut away as much material as I dared to yesterday and before I went any further I thought it wise to reinforce the narrow cross grain bits with a bit of dowel. On top of that, I brought the pieces inside the night before to do the layout and as a result of being stored in a warmer, drier place, one of the pieces decided to open a check in the grain. The check isn't all the way through but I'm sure it won't be long before it is.

I laid out where further cuts were required and in the center of the wood that will remain I drilled a 1/8" hole right through the depth of the stock. I forced glue into each hole and as I slid a 1/8 birch dowel through each piece I turned them to keep the glue spread even. I picked up these dowels from Lee Valley and I will warn you, they are not all consistent in diameter. I found about 20% to be oversized.

The results before trimming looks pretty strange.



Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Worlds Most Popular Chair...

I lifted this from boingboing because I thought it was interesting.

The International Herald Tribune has put up a fantastic write-up of what might possibly be the world's most popular chair: the Thonet Model 14. Six pieces of wood — two circles, two arches, two legs — that screwed together have seated more plump, writhing buttocks than any other chair in history.

The No.14 was the result of years of technical experiments by its inventor, the 19th-century German-born cabinetmaker Michael Thonet. His ambition was characteristically bold. Thonet wanted to produce the first mass-manufactured chair, which would be sold at an affordable price (three florins, slightly less than a bottle of wine). Many of his rivals had tried to make similar chairs, but failed and, at first, Thonet seemed doomed to failure too. When his German workshop was seized by creditors in 1842, he moved his family to Austria and opened a workshop in Vienna, determined to try again.

Eventually Thonet succeeded. When the No.14 was launched in 1859, it was the first piece of furniture to be both attractive and inexpensive enough to appeal to everyone from aristocrats to schoolteachers. By 1930, some 50 million No.14s had been sold, and millions more have been snapped up since then. Brahms sat on one to play his piano, as did Lenin while writing his political tracts, and millions of us have perched comfortably on them in caf├ęs. Another admirer was the modernist pioneer Le Corbusier. "Never was a better and more elegant design and a more precisely crafted and practical item created," he enthused.



Sunday, 9 November 2008

Never listen to your mother-in-law...

One of the more involved builds I have done to date is a small love seat based on a Chippendale design. That said, I never intended to build a couch from scratch. 

As I have mentioned previously, we sold our house, moved onto our boat where we lived for a number of years, then sold the boat and moved back to land. When we sold the house we put all of our furniture in storage, not knowing where we were headed in the future. When we sold the boat and moved back to land, it was like Christmas as the movers moved in furniture we hadn't seen in seven years, some of which we had forgotten we even owned.

The problem we ended up facing was a matter of scale - literally. Our friends and family were shocked that we went from a house with 3500 square feet of living space to a 40' boat with only 550 square feet of living space and loved every minute of it. That boat taught us very quickly that excess is unnecessary and actually impedes your lifestyle. Anyway, after a few years, small became normal for us so when we begrudgingly gave up the boat and moved back to land, the 800 square foot apartment we moved into seemed like a small concert hall. It felt that way right up until those movers moved in the furniture. Man, did that apartment shrink in a hurry.

Just as a side-bar, the direct expenses of keeping a boat on the water year-round is not that much different than supporting a house. Where you save the money is on the indirect costs, especially if you enforce the "One on - One off" rule. All this rule means is that if you bring something new onto the boat you have to take something old off, boating equipment and tools exempted, of course. This was a very strong rule for me and it saved me a fortune over the years. When my wife and I were out shopping and she saw something she liked she would ask me, "What do you think about this?" I would always answer, "Its lovely. What are you planning to replace with it?" Worked every time.

So anyway, we couldn't find a couch that was the size we wanted and when we investigated a custom built one all we got was a high priced quote and a whole lot of attitude. I can't figure out retailers today, but that is for another blog to discuss. What I ended up doing was telling them all to stuff it and decided to build my own.

I thought this was a great idea until I realized that I didn't have a clue how to built one. I searched the web for months and finally learned that Fine Woodworking, back in the 1980's, had published an article that included plans for a full sized Chippendale couch built in the traditional manner. Not having a copy of the magazine, I turned to eBay again, kept a watch out for one and eventually purchased a copy. I then took the proportions offered in the magazine article and scaled it down to our needs and changed the design of the arms to reflect those of a Duncan Fife couch I had seen years ago. I drew up a set of plans and went from there.

The entire frame is made from hard maple with all the joints being mortise and tenon which were glued and pinned. All of the legs are mahogany. The arms were laid up using multiple pieces of maple and shaped using a plane, rasp and a pull shave. The mahogany front legs sweep up the entire length of the arms and to ensure they wouldn't split, I drilled and drove dowels along their lengths where the grain was at right-angles and I thought would be the weakest points.

Once the frame was completed I stained and varnished the legs and cross members. The rest of the frame received two coats of S1 epoxy sealer. The manufacturer of this stuff claims it seals the wood but allows it to breath, however that works. Having used it consistently on the mahogany planking of our boat I can attest to their claims that it does retard rot. I have no idea why I sealed the frame with this but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Once the frame was complete I brought it home from the shop I share with a friend to upholster it. This turned out to be the biggest pain of the entire project.

First, all of the openings in the frame had to be closed with webbing.

Next, all of he coil springs had to be sewn in.

Once the springs are sewn in you have to tie them all together and tie them off to the frame, which gives the seat and back its basic shape.

This is the point where things fell apart for me - not the work on the frame that I had completed, but my abilities as an upholster. I think I gave it four good old college tries but I could never get the material to cover the arms smooth enough. I decided to send it out and have a pro do the covering and this is where I made my next mistake - I listened to my mother-in-law. She had dealt with an upholster many, many years before and she knew he was still in business. She called him and set it up for me to take the frame into his shop.

When I arrived I found this ancient man who probably upholstered the seats on the Ark. My first reaction was, "Wow, a real old-time craftsman", but then I looked around and realized I was standing in the middle of the most disorganized shop I had ever seen, I started to question that judgement. There were literally paths throughout the shop defined by walls of old material, broken bits of furniture framing, rolls of foam, furniture, and other bits and pieces of junk I couldn't even recognize. The guy looked so old and feeble that I really felt my neck allowing him to help me bring in the frame from the roof of the car. I tried to explain what I was looking for but I knew he didn't hear a word I said. He just stared out the window as I spoke, his eyes glazed over. When I had finished explaining what I wanted his only reply to me was, "$650.00". Not another word, no expression, just "$650.00". When we got back into the car I turned to my wife and said, "This is going to be trouble".

Needless to say, I am not fully happy with the man's results but for $650.00, I couldn't argue. One quote I had received from another upholster was $1600.00, so the old adage, you get what you pay for, rings true in this case and I only have myself to blame. While the shape is fine and the material relatively smooth, he folded material where I didn't want it folded and added piping where I could never imagine he would put it, or even could put it.

The most aggravating thing, though, is something I never would have thought that he would do in a million years. I spent weeks building this couch frame copying the way these things have been built for hundreds of years. After months of research I spent days installing webbing, sewing in springs and tying them all together in the traditional manner. This guy grew up with this type of work and probably worked on framing of this type his first day on the job. Working on this type of upholstery job should have been second nature to him. As it turns out, what does he do to my painstakingly built traditional frame? He stuffs the whole thing with foam.



But hey, my wife is happy with it so who am I to argue.



Saturday, 8 November 2008

Advice on a Miter Saw - Updated

Thank you for your advice on what size back saw to purchase. I appreciate the input very much.

Kari, from The Village Carpenter suggested I check with Chris Schwarz's blog. When I first read that I had no idea who she was talking about, but then I remembered that I had read something by him a while ago and searched him out. Wow. What a wealth of information, so far untapped by me. That is going to change in the very near future. Thanks, Kari.

Luke, from suggested which I had visited before, but didn't really delve into. Another large source of information that I didn't take advantage of before. Thanks, Luke.

R. Francis stated he was quite happy with his Philadelphia Saw Company's 16 incher that he bought on eBay, but that it was "not a Disston". Wasn't Mr. Disston so impressed with the Philadelphia Saw Company at one time that he bought the company? I'm not sure if that is fact or not, but I do know that somewhere around the turn of the century Disston started producing a line of saws named, you got it, "Philadelphia".

I never expected to tie together my two interests in life in this blog - woodworking and cars, but Francis' comment about it not being a Disston kind of made me think of this so I'll put it out there to give food for thought.

The truth is, I buy Disston saws simply because they are reasonably plentiful and vintage. If I'm going to pay a couple of hundred for a saw I would like a chance to see it appreciate in value, not depreciate. While they are currently hyped as the best, I'm just not sure they were the ultimate in saws from their day or if Mr. Disston was just a marketing genius. Many things from the past become the "flavour of the month" today simply because over time perceptions change. An example of this is the cars from the muscle car era of the 1960's and early 1970's.

I grew up during that era and I was really into drag racing, building a couple of cars during the 60's that were dedicated to racing both on the track and in what we called the Midnight Races. Back then stripped down, two-door coupes were the cars of choice, and while GTO's, Olds 4-4-2's and other luxury big-blocked cars were beautiful, we had no interest in them because they were just too heavy to be truly effective on the track. If you were a diehard muscle car enthusiast, you didn't scoff at them, but you didn't want to own one either. If you follow the vintage car auctions of today you will see that the stripped down, two-door coupes go for a chunk of change but nothing near the prices seen for GTO's and big-block Olds'. During the time the less options a car had the better. Today, the car with the most options brings the biggest bucks. Perception.

Back to the saw. Tonight I ended up buying a vintage 1917-1942 Disston Philadelphia 18" No. 4 backsaw from that he said, despite how it looks right now, is in pretty good shape. It is 4" deep under the back so it has not seen too many sharpenings over its lifetime. The image below is the saw as it stands today. Mark said he will have it restored and shipped within about ten days so in about three weeks I'll post the results and see how he did. I went with the 18" because I think the longer throw will be more efficient in the miter box.



Advice on a Miter Saw

I'm looking for a new Back Saw to use in my Stanley 150 miter box and to cut sliding dovetail and rabbet joints in wider planks. Anybody have any suggestions for me? Because of my limited space I can only get one so getting the optimum length is important. 14", 16" or  18"?

Friday, 7 November 2008

Need help with the basics - Updated...

Confronting my dilemma as to why my dovetail saw cuts were bowing half way down I ended up spending the afternoon studying a few videos on the web as well as my saw movements. Both comments left by Luke and 197 were a big help in solving the problem for me, at least I think its solved.

I first watched the video that 197 suggested. In it, Charles Neil (you gotta' love that guy) made a comment about half way through about how some people tend to only be able to work at only one angle when sawing, and that perked up my ears. I have been mounting the tail pieces in the vice straight up and trying to modify my swing to the different angles for each cut.

I then took Luke's advice about taking some photos of myself, which, on the one hand was a disaster, but on the other pointed out what I should be looking at. 

The disaster of the photo session with myself is rather embarrassing. It was like a Keystone Cop movie. I was a professional photographer for over 30 years and I currently teach digital graphics at a community college. You would think I would know the in's and out's of working a digital camera, wouldn't you? Well it seems I don't. I set the stupid thing for a 10 second delay, ran around into position, picked up the saw, reached over and hit the shutter button, then tried to set up the saw - click. I set the stupid thing for a 10 second delay, ran around into position, picked up the saw, reached over and hit the shutter button, then tried to set up the saw - click. I went through this at least 10 times and have at least that many photos of myself in every position one can be in holding a saw except the one that shows me my alignment. What I did discover through that disaster, though, was that I was standing way too close to the wood.

I then took my thoughts inside and started to view videos about cutting dovetails that I had seen in the past. Over on I started to go  through Craig Vandall Stevens' section and viewed his two part series on How to Hand Cut Precision Dovetails: The Pins (Part 1) , The Tails (Part 2) , and then went through his video Accurately Make Rip Cuts Using a Handsaw . I also discovered a video I hadn't seen before and wondered how I missed it. Little did I know Keith had just added it and little did Keith know that I really needed to see it. It is entitled 5 Essential Tips For Hand Cutting Better Dovetails - What Do You Think Is Important? Needless to say, I think learning how to saw is pretty important right now.

Anyway, I watched each of these movies twice - once with the sound and once without. Without the sound I was able to concentrate more on Craig's body and arm movements and that is were I confirmed my thought that my positioning was all wrong. I was crowding the wood and not allowing myself proper arm movement. I also wasn't angling the wood so the cut was perpendicular, but instead, trying to cut to match the angles. And finally, I was starting all wrong. I was laying the saw across the end grain line and trying to align it will the face mark. Craig, angles the wood so the cut is straight up and down and then angles his saw to align with both the cross grain line and the face line.

All of these points make sense and point to why I was having trouble cutting straight, even cuts. Before a class late this afternoon I headed out and did a couple of tails and while they weren't perfect, they certainly were far better than any I had cut before.

Thank you Luke, 19711007 and Keith. And a special thanks to Mr. Stevens as well.