Tuesday, 26 May 2009

A Matched Pair - Sort of...

I finished the second drill index the other day. I'm happier with this one than I am with the first one, but I'm still not thrilled with my abilities for "staying within the lines". Sadly, the beading is no more accurate on this second attempt than it is on the first, but the finish is much better, so things are improving for me. This second attempt at French Polishing was done using the "true" process, unlike the first one which was done in what I call a "faux French Polish". You can quickly see the difference in the colour between these two types of finish, the latest one being darker and browner than the first

Stephen over on The Full Chisel Blog has a couple of great articles about French Polish and what he says is completely on the money, "It can be a finicky finish to master but it is actually an easy finish to apply once you understand the principles". As he further states, this finish is difficult to apply on pieces that are intricate or on molding, and I can assure you, that is an understatement. To me, these pieces are not intricate at all, with only two little beads running around each edge. Those two little beads, however, are enough to cause you to pull your hair out when you have a polishing pad in your hand. What happens is that you can't get the pad tight into the corner and because you can't get the pad into that corner, you can't rub it out, and because you can't rub it out, you can't get an even coloured finish, a statement borne out in the image. 

While Stephen explains the process of French Polishing well, gives the reader some good advice and warns them about some of the pitfalls, he does miss one very important point. The term "French Polish" is an acronym for the word, "Patience". The process is soooooo monotonous until that shine starts to creep in, I think that only those on a daily dose of about 50mg of valium can handle it. Lacking this calmer in my daily chemical mixture, I found that "staying with it" is the hardest part of the whole exercise. Doing this one index took eight days, each day involving activating the pad, charging it and spending about 10 minutes rubbing that pad in circles on the wood. Calling for forty minutes of prep and post time to spend 8 to 10 minutes applying the finish, is it surprising that this finish fell out of favour when labour costs rose above a buck an hour?

While I can tell you about the hassles, problems, mess, aggravation, extended time-frame, repetitions and frustrations involved in applying this finish, I can't begin to explain the silky soft smoothness of its incredibly deep, lustrous surface once its on. 



Friday, 22 May 2009

Now I Have Something To Take A Bead On...

I had a pleasant surprise this morning. The postman arrived with a little package for me; the Stanley #66 I purchased last week on eBay.

Looking at this thing, I find it a bit unbelievable that it could have been made at the beginning of this configurations' manufacturing run, which would be 1909. If it was, the guy who bought it brought it home and put it in his wife's underwear drawer where it sat until momandpopcybershop scooped it to sell on eBay. It is just way too clean, but it is exactly as momandpop described it; very clean and very complete. Heck, even the washer under the thumbscrew that holds the fences on is there.

I'm really pleased to have it. I'm starting a new chisel rack next week and have included some reeding in the design. In a couple of weeks we will see what this thing is made of.



Monday, 18 May 2009

No Tool Like An Old Tool - Especially At Today's Prices...

I’m not sure, but I think I just witnessed a record price for a Stanley chisel on eBay.

Weast8860, whom I have come across a few times in my quest for the ultimate vintage tool at the ultimate low price, had a Stanley Everlasting #40 Bevel Edged ½ inch chisel that appears to be New/Old Stock listed. While the images show some pitting, the fact that he states it is just over the length Stanley catalogues lists these things’ at, 9 inches, puts it leaps and bounds above any of the chisels from this series that I have purchased in the past. As the "Made in USA" and the "Pat.1493176" markings are oriented away from the handle, I believe this one is from the final days Stanley offered this style of chisel, which I read somewhere, was around 1941.

The winning bid was $180.00, and for we wee Canadians, that works out to around two hundred and ten bucks!

I have to admit to having my fingers twitch as I watched the final minutes of the auction, but the reality is, I would end up not using this tool if I bought it, and that goes against my principles. To use it would be to sharpen it and to sharpen it would be to shorten it and to shorten it would be to loose my shirt on it. So no pristine, perfect chisel for me. I’ll stick to the more used variety.

They sure are a beautiful tool to work with and look at, though.



Thursday, 14 May 2009

Is "everythingstanleyexceptplanes.com" Possible?...

I have not kept it a secret that I am in love with tools. I also have let it be known that I have a soft spot for old Stanley tools, although that is not etched in stone. It all boils down to a tool meeting my three point criteria; if it is well made, if its design interests me, and if I know I will use it. If a particular tool meets those three stipulations, I won’t hesitate to pass the bucks across the table to own it.

I just bought a Stanley #66 Beader with 8 blades and 2 fences; in other words, the complete set. I bought it from momandpopcybershop on eBay and paid $4.00 more for it than I would have paid for a brand-new one from Lie-Nielsen and $110.00 more than the newly designed one offered by Lee Valley. I paid “through the nose” for this tool and I’m thrilled to death that I have it.

I have been looking at beaders for some time now, even going as far as placing the new Veritas one on my Lee Valley Wish List. So why, all of a sudden, would I end up buying this particular tool?

I bought it for two reasons. The first is that it met the three point criteria that I have set for myself when it comes to buying a tool. The second reason I bought it was that I could quickly and easily confirm what the seller was saying about the tool. On their listing, Mom and Pop had a heading in large and bold text that stated the tool was “Guaranteed 100% Complete”. Further on in their description they stated that you could “probably date this example to around 1909”.

One click on a bookmark and I was in The Superior Works site, another click and I was on the page where the #66 was listed and a bit of a scroll had me reading when Stanley started producing this tool, and what changes they made to it over its production and the dates when they made those changes. The results of a short read told me that, yes, this tool was produced with 8 blades and 2 fences, so their claim to being complete was correct. I learned that Stanley started producing this tool with a nickel finish in 1900, and they added the eighth blade – the blank one, in 1909, so Mom and Pop’s statement that it was a 1909 model could be true. It could also have been made around 1941 as well, as this particular tool in this particular configuration was produced between 1909 and 1941 with no serial number or other marking to narrow the date of production down further. Armed with that easily obtainable information, I now knew what I was buying and without hesitation I started bidding, determined to get it.

So why is it that I can’t do this when I see a Stanley chisel I want? Or a Stanley Bevel? Why is it that I can go on a number of different sites and find out everything there is to know about Stanley planes, but finding out about any other type of tool made by this company is an exercise in futility?

As a result of all of this, I started to put together a plan to set up a new web site named, “everythingstanleyexceptplanes.com”. The domain name is available. So why not go for it? I’ll tell you why - Content – or specifically, the lack thereof. To put all of this information together so the site would be on the same level as Patrick's Blood and Gore would take a lifetime, not to mention the family jewels to finance the purchase of the research material needed. So what to do?

What about a collaborative site? Would any of you that have information about a Stanley non-plane tool be interested in sharing it? Is there enough of you out there that would be interested in something like this?

Let me know.



Friday, 8 May 2009

Who Knew My Brother-In-Law Had It In Him...

Here is a shot of my brother-in-law’s new workbench that he just put together. My reason for posting it here is to not necessarily score any points with him, although that probably wouldn’t hurt, but to give a real example of our perceptions of others when it comes to the topic of woodworking. In this particular case, those perceptions came back to bite me on the butt this time.

To give you a little history, my brother-in-law has been married to my sister for a number of years now but, as in most family dynamics, estrangement between older siblings seems to be more the norm rather than the exception, so as a result, I never got to know this guy. Maybe it is because our parents have passed or just simply that we are older, but somehow my sister and I have become more accepting of each other and are slowly building a relationship. As a result of this, I am now starting to get to know my brother-in-law, who, for a banker, isn’t a bad guy actually.

I admit that my interest in woodworking has become a bit of an obsession, rather than just a hobby. It has seriously gotten worse since I started up with hand tools. While I still have difficulty putting two pieces of wood together with what I believe to be an acceptable result, I find my biggest joy in the hobby is in the challenge. It’s the old, “Its not the destination, it’s the getting there”, kind of thing. Lets face it; it is relatively easy to build anything if the quality of workmanship and simple rules of aesthetics aren’t included. Even when those two elusive qualities are included, we all end up with what we believe to be glaring mistakes in our creations. Some of us also realize that the mistakes in our work glare a little more than the mistakes others point out to us in theirs. It does not stop me from coming up with more complex designs for the next project, however, as that, for me, is the basic principle for being involved in all of this in the first place.

Because it is an obsession for me, over time I have learned one major lesson in communicating my love for this hobby with others – don’t!

Come on, we all have, in one-way or another, learned this lesson. We mention to someone our love of tools and woodworking and more times than often we hear that the person we are speaking to about it also has an “interest” in it. Believing we have something in common they try to build on it, finally ending up inviting you to view your newfound friend’s latest creation. More often than not what you end up viewing is a leaky roofed doghouse or a twisted paper towel holder; both nailed together with spikes with a whole bunch of plastic wood sloppily stuffed into the mistakenly drilled holes and nail splits. Looking at this kind of stuff is painful enough, but then you have to add in the pain of the so-called craftsman beaming with pride as he tries to force positive feedback from you where none really exists.

I came to the conclusion a few years ago that it is better to suffer my obsession in private, rather than be forced to view any more of those disasters. Thinking about this attitude now, I realize that it is rather arrogant, really. What’s the expression? You have to kiss a lot of toads before you meet your princess? Or in this case, prince?

I had the “Ya, I heard that before” thought when I was told my brother-in-law was into woodworking. Immediately the leaky doghouse and twisted paper towel holder came to mind. My first visit to their new home resulted in a tour of the soon-to-be workshop. I viewed a few nice tools, sadly, most of them power, but those visions of disasters were still present when I left, as I didn’t get to see any of his work. Saying I’m a great composer doesn’t really mean I can write a song. 

One day, not too long ago I was surprised to discover an email in my inbox from him and when I opened it, I was actually shocked to see this image. As with any “this is what I made” presentation, I immediately took a close scan of the picture. I was immediately impressed with what I saw. Stretchers let in to the legs, bolts that appear to have their placements measured for consistency, a frame around the top with properly mitered and well-executed corners, not to mention everything properly rounded over and properly finished. It was obvious he had some talent, but even more obvious he took some pride and joy in taking the difficult way, rather than the easy way. Hey, a man after my own heart and one that is even part of my own family. Who knew?

Of course I replied with the positives about his work, but I also had to add a hesitant apology to it as well, an apology for not giving him the benefit of the doubt when I heard the words, “He’s into woodworking too, you know”.

I will, however, definitely hold it against him that he has openly stated that he is putting off finishing his workshop until the fall as otherwise it would infringe on his time playing golf. While I understand the concept of “each to their own obsessions” – GOLF?



Friday, 1 May 2009

One Down - One To Go...

I ended up laying a total of six coats of amber shellac on this block of wood sanding in between the first couple with 220 grit and between the remaining with 320. I left it a couple of days to set and then I had a good look at it. I wasn't so happy. It had great colour, the finish was even, but it lacked depth and had way too many brush marks. I decided to just sand the hell out of it, starting with 220, moving to 320 and finishing with fine steel wool. I figured if I sanded through the finish it didn't matter as I was going to have to lay on more coats anyway. While I didn't end up sanding through the finish, I did cause some serious differences in the colour.

While I was working away on this I got an email from a friend who had viewed the last post and he wanted information about applying shellac. I told him it was easy, forgiving and fast drying, all the things guys like us want in a finishing product, among other things. He mentioned how he had bought a French Polish kit from Lee Valley, but after reading the instructions, he though it was probably too difficult. Now there's a word that makes me sit up and take notice, "difficult".

Back on line I read about four or five articles about this process and he was right, it did sound difficult, not to mention time consuming. From what I gathered, building up the finish was the worst part of the process, but hey, I already had one didn't I? Out came the shellac and rags. I didn't have the suggested type of alcohol, but they said it was what Rubbing Alcohol that is used to clean monitors is made from, and I sure had some of that. I mixed up a batch; two parts shellac to one part rubbing alcohol, made myself a paddle from a rag and went to work. Wow. Incredible finish. The rag allows you to get it on evenly and without brush marks. The finish was beyond belief, so I was sold. I rubbed on three or four coats, let it dry, and I was ready for the final run.

Have you ever noticed that the smaller the job, the more Murphy's law kicks in. I'm sure it is because we get cocky - hey, its a small job, right? No big deal.

The next day I rubbed the entire block down with extra fine steel wool and Minwax Finishing Wax. I laid that stuff on like it was a buck a gallon, rubbing, laying on more wax and rubbing some more. I let it sit up for about a half hour  and then, with a couple of the softest rags I could find, I started polishing. As I polished off the first bit of wax this incredibly bright, deep, highly glossed surface came through. It absolutely blew me away.

Once the wax was buffed I had an objective look. I shouldn't have done that, but looking at things objectively forces you to face your mistakes. I should have corrected that difference in colour before I continued on with my faux French Polish job. The colour difference was still there, but doubled. The finish was smooth, man, was it smooth. The surface was shiny, but the colour was blotchy and inconsistent. And therein lies the lesson - believe what the book tells you.

The shot at the top shows the rubbed out finish. You can see the differences in colour, especially on the right side and along the front bead. The three vertical faces, however, were even and smooth so I went with it. Its a drill index after all, and the top is just going to get drilled with a whole bunch of holes.

Once, when my son was visiting and we were checking out the tool cabinet, he said that when I was done, anyone will be able to follow the process of the build just by viewing the quality of the different pieces. The first piece I put the beading plane to was a disaster, but they eventually got better the more I did. My first set of hand-cut dovetails looks more like sloppy finger joints, but over time, they improved too. So now, when someone looks at this thing in the future, they will be able to say, "...and here is where he started to learn French Polishing".

I went with the finish and covered the entire thing with masking tape. There is three reasons for this. First, I would like to be able to complete the piece and put it into the cabinet finished before I smack it with something and bugger the finish. I figured if covering it with masking tape works on American Chopper when they are assembling a bike, it will work here too. The second reason for taping is to help minimize tear-out when I start to drill all those holes. Finally, the third reason is that I have to tape the template to the top for drilling and I want to completely cover the top with good, old carpet tape so the template will be held down flat and smooth. I love carpet tape and use it for almost everything, but it has one drawback - it really reaps havoc with the finish. Stick something down to a finished surface with carpet tape and you can bet when you lift it off, the surface will come with it. By covering the surface with the easy release, 5 day, green 3M tape, I won't have that problem.

This is the template I made up about seven months ago. I put it together in Illustrator, an Adobe vector program that I find just perfect for this type of thing. I just made a document slightly larger than the actual size of the block, then started making circles with cross-hairs in the middle, one for every bit that was to go in the index. It took a day of playing with positioning and alignment, but it worked out very well. Printed off on 11 x 17 stock, I just cut it down to fit the top of the block and taped it down. I was ready to drill.

So here is the finished product. The block has four feet made with a 3/4 inch tenon cutter. I drilled into the bottom of the block with a 3/4 inch Fostner bit, glued the dowels into them then set it on a piece of 80 grit sandpaper that was stuck to the glass plate I use for lapping my blades. After a few minutes of that, the block didn't rock and was stable, but more importantly, it had airspace beneath it for circulation.

Drilling the holes took me two afternoons, about eight hours in total. The eleven largest brad bits have a shoulder that I wanted the hole to follow so that was twenty-two goes just for them. The twists were straight shafts, so they were not quite as much work.

Originally I thought I would drill the hole with the same sized bit that the hole was to hold, then pour some water down it, let it sit to swell the wood, vacuum it out and then re-drill the hole so when it dried, it would be slightly larger. Ya, I know, sounds like a lot of work doesn't it? Surprisingly though, all of these holes were drilled with the same sized bit as the bit the hole holds, and drilled only once I might add. While it was a hassle to load a bit, drill one hole, then start the process over again, it really wasn't that bad. The only bits that didn't like their same sized hole were the ones smaller than 5/16th. All of these smaller holes had to be reamed twice with a little "giggle" to the block during the second reaming. Once drilled I coated the inside with wax to give some sealing to the inside walls of the hole. There is a lot of holes in it and they are pretty much aligned with each other and all are 1 3/4 inches deep leaving only a 1/4 inch at the bottom to hold together. I still have to make an index card for it, showing a numbered layout of the bits with a list of sizes below it.

This piece sits on a shelf on one of the doors of the cabinet. I have to do something to keep it in place when I open and close the door and that is where the round feet come in. I plan to make a female piece to match the front feet and fix those to the shelf. This is the reason for the flush ring handle - to lift the front of the block up out of those holders and bring it forward so I can grab it and lift it out.

I have no idea how long this thing will last as I could wake up tomorrow to find it split down the middle. Overall, I am very happy with the results. I finally no longer have to dig for a needed bit in those frustrating metal boxes. As with everything in this cabinet, the next one will be better.

One down - one to go...