Monday 21 February 2011

It Only Took 52 Years...

The image posted here shows my humble little sharpening setup.

When an old chisel or plane blade shows up in the mail, I get out a couple of Lee Valley Diamond Stones; one 220x, and the other 650x. I bought these because some of these old blades can eat through a fortune of 120-180x wet/dry sandpaper in a real hurry. I have no idea how they would hold up under normal use, but for my limited sharpening needs, they are the energizer bunny and will probably pay for themselves eventually. A $16.50 option is a plastic stand to hold the stone. It accomplishes a pretty mean feat as it weighs nothing, yet it seems to keep the stones fixed in one spot and as a result, there is very little chasing of the stone around the table.

Even though I cheaped out and bought the short 6" ones, there is enough surface to use my Veritas Mark II Honing Guide. I love this thing. Of all the mechanical honing guides out there, this one wins hands-down, if only for its registering and repeatability. I even purchased the Camber Roller Assembly for it so I can sharpen my No.5 blade. Cool Tool...the Guide, not the No.5.

Once I have whatever I'm sharpening flattened on the Diamond Stones, its on to wet/dry paper water-stuck to a slab of granite. Once you get past 400x, the paper seems to last forever. While the 650x Diamond Stone removes metal fairly quickly, its major drawback is the inconsistent scratches it leaves behind. Reverting back to 400x or 600x emery, depending on how bad it is, will even things out. I then take the edge through 800x, 1000x, 1200x and finally, 1600x, going through these grits on both the angle, and the back. Cutting wet/dry sheets in half gives me enough room to take the Mark II for a cruise.

The big finish is the stropping, and I have two 4" x 5" strop leathers glued to a hunk of 1" by 6" poplar. By butting two together, there is lots of room to run the Mark II on one while the blade gets polished on the other, meaning I don't need to hit the joint between them. I use Veritas' Honing Compound, mainly because it works, but also because I don't know any differently. It is on the strop that I create the micro-bevels as well, which on the Mark II, involves turning the offset dial 180°.

So that is my little metal polishing heaven, at least until I dump the lot in the closet where it will sit until next time. Big deal, eh?

Thankfully, discussing sharpening isn't what this post is about. It is actually about that old Stanley Block Plane that sits centre-stage of the above image. This is the first tool I have taken photos of that has caused me to be thankful I have switched to displaying only black and white images on this blog. It is one butt-assed-ugly plane.

I think this plane is a Stanley No.220, but I'm not sure as it is the stripped down model. It was purchased in 1959. It came with no real support for the blade, so it chatters just looking at the wood, the mouth is fixed and there is no lateral adjustment for the blade. The cap is held down by a thumbscrew and the plane is void of Stanley's "Hand-y" grips. The only gizmo it has on it is what Stanley calls their "adjustable endwise" feature. It is about as basic as any block plane can be, which makes it an unattractive plane to begin with, but then a Stanley "Design-By-Committee" ruled it could be worse, so they had it painted with the ugliest colour of maroon they could find. I don't even know why they call it maroon as it has so much blue in it.

So if I think this little block plane is so bad, what's with the post about it? Well let me tell you...

This is the last remaining tool from a toolbox complete with assorted tools that my old man gave me for Christmas in 1959. This past Saturday was also a big day for this plane because after 52 years, it has finally been brought up to snuff. On top of those two humdingers is the fact that the very next time I use this plane, it will also be the very first time I have really used it.

So let me tell you about this Christmas present...

Each tool was individually wrapped and it just blew me away as my sister passed me present after present to unwrap. When I finally got them all unwrapped, my new tool collection ran from an awl to a tri-square. In-between there was a hammer, a nail set, a pair of pliers, an apron, two screwdrivers, the smallest panel saw you ever saw(ed), a 10" level, an 8' tape measure and the forever ugly; maroon-coloured block. Each and every piece was manufactured by Stanley Tools as those tools were the only ones my father would look at. The pièce de résistance, however, was a beautiful toolbox hand-made by my old man, painted bright orange and decorated with "Billy Mitchell" hand-painted on both ends. My God, that was a beautiful piece of work made even more special in the eye of an nine year old kid.

Sadly, none of it survived except for this one plane.

The first issue was the beautiful toolbox. While the old man did a gorgeous job of it, he forgot who he was designing it for. I think he actually designed it for himself, although he never used it. I do know that he wasn't thinking of a nine-year-old boy when he did come up with the cut list. When I first put those twelve tools in it, the box had such monstrous proportions, they all but disappeared. There was also the fact that I could barely lift the thing, let alone move it around.

The tools also came sans any lessons in using them. I didn't have a clue, and while I worked with the old man often after receiving them, it was always on his power tools and with his extremely high level of ability with those, there was rarely a need for hand tool work. The result was that I never learned how to use them.

As I became a teenager, my old man and I fell out of favour with each other. I'll never know what happened to the toolbox and other tools and in fact, I don't want to know. Most of the toys and things I accumulated as a kid were handed on to my sister's kids, without even an "as-you-please" from my old man to me, so if one of them does have that toolbox, enjoy it. Just don't tell me about it.

I did get this plane in the load of tools I ended up buying from the old man and I have just kept it, but never used it, mainly because I never knew how until lately. When I did start to understand the ins and outs of planing by hand, thanks mainly to Christopher Schwarz, I sharpened up the blade on this thing and took it for a test ride. What a dismal failure. The blade chattered like crazy, it would barely cut and if felt like a piece of poo in my hand. I put it back on the shelf and just let it be a dust collector.

Saturday morning, as I was heading off to Lee Valley, for some reason I picked it up and dropped it in my bag. When I got to the store, I brought it out and asked this great old guy who works there assisting the customers what blade I should get for it. I made sure his suggestion fit and brought it home. It is the 1 5/8" Veritas Blade made specifically for Stanley planes, made of A2 steel and is twice as thick as the original blade, which I have put away for now.

When I got home, I ran the new blade through the sharpening regiment and then ran it across a hunk of oak. My goodness, what a difference 30 bucks can make. The thing cut through that oak like butter without even a hint of chatter. Because of the quality of these Veritas blades, this old lump is now a very usable tool and is ready for future work, despite its lack of bling.

It did, however, take me 52 years to get my act together with it, but like my old man said when we reconciled, its better late than never.



Saturday 19 February 2011

Isn't "Insurance" Really a Four Letter Word...

How do most of you handle insurance on your tools?

My insurance agent suddenly wants to see pictures and descriptions of all the tools I am insuring under my home policy. Having never run into this before, the request struck me as a tad odd, but then again, I am talking insurance.

My experience with insurance can be summed up in that "good hands" logo. As soon as I have a need for them, those two hands do nothing but start clapping, and they don't put down my stuff before they do.

It is not that I haven't thought of this list of tools before this came up, though.

A few years ago I started to catalogue my tools for future reference. It is a great idea, but not something I can get too fanatical about. Ok. I'll admit it. I haven't looked at the damned thing in over a year. The main reason for this is that it started out as a great idea but ended up just being a hell of a lot of work, as does most of my "Eureka Moments". I did get about 80 or 90 tools listed before I ran out of steam, and to explain why the music died for me with this, every entry I did in this "dream" catalogue includes the following:

  • The name of the tool
  • The manufacturer of the tool
  • The date it was manufactured
  • What the tool was used for
  • A quick description of how to use it
  • A list of articles, books and digital media that I own that relate to the tool
  • What I paid for it
  • When I bought it
  • An estimated replacement value at the time of cataloguing

So now you know why I haven't kept it up. I must have been either drunk of bored when I came up with this idea.

That admitted, I still have about 25% of my tools already included in this catalogue, but to finish it for the insurance agent, it would take me a solid two or three months. That's nuts. 

There is absolutely no reason for posting these images of my No.2 Type 7 other than the fact that I was up most of the night creating them. After a full eight hours work, this is the only tool that got added to the list.

I think it might be time to find a new agent. What do you guys think?



Wednesday 9 February 2011

Look Maw, No Hands...

So I took everyone’s advice and dumped the guide block while cutting dovetails. I now know how Linus would feel if someone took away his blanket.

Here are some of the suggestions I received...

Trust your scribe line Mike Siemsen
It is amazing how that chisel’s edge grabs that thin, little scribe line. It was just like Mike Siemsen said, “It will lock in there like a screwdriver in a slot“. Mike is the principal behind Mike Siemsen’s School of Woodworking, so I guess, if I am going to listen to advice, I might was well listen to the best. One of these days life is going to get out of my way so I can get down to Minneapolis/St. Paul and take a course or two from him.

Mark with a knife and have patience Mark Salomon (Anonymous??)
Mark reminded me that learning to produce dovetails efficiently takes time. He is right; Rome wasn’t built in a day. I would like to point out to him, though, that it didn’t burn very quickly, either. The real deal though, was suggesting that I stop using a pencil for the pins and use a knife instead. I have been doing it with the scribe line, cutting it, and then following up with a pencil so I can see it better. Why haven’t I been doing the same with the pin lines?

Practice David Cockey
Like the others, but more to the point, David just suggested I practice more, as the more I do, the more confidence I will have.

Stick on a piece of sandpaper Anonymous
Mr. Anonymous had a great suggestion for using a guide board, quoting James Krenov’s tip of gluing a strip of sandpaper onto the bottom of the guide board to help keep it in place

I would also like to thank the few guys who emailed me their favorite articles and links to their favorite online videos on the subject. They gave me some unique insights into mastering this procedure, even though they have kept me up half the nights since going through them all.

I tried it
So as the image above attests, I did cut four sets of dovetails without using a guide board, as well as taking the other advice given to heart. The results were reasonably better than the last session’s, but not as good as they will be at the end of the next one, I’m sure.

I had a small issue
Here’s the thing, though. I am afraid that the next session of cutting dovetails will have to be accomplished using the guide block again. Its not that I do not see the benefit of dumping it as that point in your suggestions made real sense to me. The problem is, the eyesight thing got in the way. When you have zero vision in one eye and a limited depth of focus with some serious loss of peripheral vision in the other, your depth perception gets really wonky. So wonky, in fact, that you can’t tell if a chisel is standing square to the board, or actually bent to the southwest. Lord knows I tried, but it ain’t in me, so if I am going to beat this thing and turn out some respectable dovetails, I’m going to have to cheat a bit.

With some adjustments
Thinking things through, I think I might have it by combining some of the other advice you guys gave me with what needs to be done to beat this limitation. I think the way to work this is to score a stronger scribe line, maybe by following it up with a second cut with a little thicker knife blade and straight-edge. With careful placement of the guide block, making sure it is on the board-side of the scribe, the block won’t end up blocking the chisel’s access to it, so it can be used to “lock in there like a screwdriver in a slot”. That way, the guide block can just be used as a quick and accurate register for square and the scribe line does the work it is supposed to do – position the chisel for the cut.

We will see how revamping your suggestions to fit the bill will work the next time, but I do have to state that I truly appreciate your help with this issue. You guys blew me away with your quick and helpful responses. I hope that when the next issue rears its ugly head, you will take the time again to be as helpful to me with it as you were with this one.

Oh, ya, I still don’t like using a mallet. Too noisy.



Thursday 3 February 2011

Getting Er' Done One Piece At A Time...

I now have both sides and one shelf pretty much completed on my wife’s plant shelving unit. An expanded course load is keeping me busier than usual this term writing a lot of new curriculum. I am trying to take a few hours out every other day to get this project done, though.

As I work in a next-to-nothing area, it requires some out-of–the-box thinking. Because this particular project is so large, being able to build, assemble and finish it in my shop is out of the question. My shop is my office when it is not being used as a shop and vise versa. Having a project as large as this sitting in the middle of it would kill both uses of the room. I could assemble it and finish it in the diningroom, but I tend to shy away from actions that cause my wife to come down on me heavily, figuratively speaking, of course. I had a friend once whose wife came home to discover he had piled all her furniture at one end of the diningroom and was using the space to build a new dingy. Now that I think of it, I haven’t seen him since they divorced.

With this project, I plan to build and finish each part of it as I go, each piece getting stained and given a few coats of clearcoat before moving on to the next. When everything is ready for the final assembly, I’ll sand each piece down so once it is assembled, it will be ready for more finish coats. This shelf is the first to be completed using this new system.

It is a rather strange looking thing, isn’t it? There is a reason for this design, however. The wide frame below the shelf is there for three reasons. This shelving unit is to hold a bunch of potted plants and nothing weighs more, I think, than a bunch of large bowls of dirt with green things sticking out of them. The tall frame should support the weight. Each shelf gets its own grow light; a 4’ Fluorescent tube. The light’s fixture is mounted on the back of each shelf’s face-frame and hopefully it is wide enough to hide the ugly buggers. Finally, to get as much light as possible on the plants, only the enclosed storage cupboards, which is 18” high at the bottom of the unit, will get a solid back. This means there is a chance the whole thing will rack, so I am hoping these wide shelf frames will limit that. So there is a method to my madness.

The frames are dovetailed together, getting all that long grain to mesh with more long grain for a strong joint. The shelf flat is only glued to its frame rails in the centre 2’ of the width. I drilled three pocket holes, elongating them fore to aft, 10” in from the ends and one in the centre, using brass screws to do the deed. I hope this will not only be enough to hold the shelf in place, but accommodate wood movement when the thing shrinks and swells during the seasons, or my wife spills water on it. Hopefully, it won’t pull itself apart.

I am not a big fan of oak and one of my greater dislikes of it is the fact that the soft grain areas shrink so they are always lower than the hard grain. I researched a way to deal with this and came up with a flooring product, believe it or not. The stuff is called “TimberMate”, and I found it better than any grain filler I have used before. It comes quite thick, almost hard actually, but you can thin it up with water. You can thin it enough to apply with a rag or spread it on with a plastic or stainless steel trowel or paint scraper. Regular metal will cause this stuff to oxidize and turn black, but if it does, the black soon disappears when you sand. It comes toned to match a number of popular woods and you can even tint it if required. It has turned out to be just the ticket.

I started out using it to go after only the really noticeable areas. It dried in short order but I gave it 24 hours each time. It sands very easily, making dust that is very similar to baby powder. As the wood is red oak, I used their matching product and was quite uneasy with it the first go-round as it looked like it is going to stand out like no-body’s business. Once I sanded it, though, I quickly realized that the product is removed from the high points, which is the hard grain, and left in the low, which is the soft grain, and it is a perfect match in colour to those areas. Because I couldn’t tell which parts were filled and which weren’t, I went crazy with it. At 20 bucks an 8-ounce bottle, I think I’ll use it more sparingly on the next one.

Once sanded and cleaned, I taped off some of areas. I covered the ends with masking tape to ensure that no stain or clearcoat ended up on them to compromise the strength of the glue when the piece is assembled. Because of the lights inside it, I wanted to coat the bottom of the shelves with a highly reflective coating so I covered the inside horizontal surface as well for that same reason.

Once set, I gave it a coat of stain, brushed on, ragged off. I used “Old Masters” Gel Stain for this, mixing their Red Mahogany and Provincial colours together 50/50. It is the first time I used this thicker gel stain and I really liked it. It was much easier to apply and clean off than the old, runny style of yore.

I gave it 24 hours to dry and then gave it two coats of Clear Varathane with another 24 hours between those coats. This clearcoat is much shinier than I want, but I like the sheen I get by using higher gloss finishes, then fine steel wooling their shine away and polishing it back with finishing wax. I seem to get a deeper finish starting with higher gloss then I do with satin finishes.

After another 24 hours, I applied the reflective coating to the underside of the shelf, thinking it would be far easier to do as it laid flat on the table rather than wrestling with it from the bottom up once it was assembled. Chroma a PlastiColor Company makes this material and I found it in an automotive supply store. It is decal material used to add chrome rocker panel accents to car bodies so I thought it would probably withstand any moisture issues as well as being fade resistant. It shines nice too.

I don’t think the final result looks too bad. The dovetail joints came out all right without any gapping holes to fill. I do like the design with the double bead on the shelf edge and the single at the bottom of the face. I think they will do nicely at breaking up the mass of this overall design, because massive it is.

I have created a post dealing with the dovetails, or at least my humble way of dealing with them. If you have the time, please have a look and give me your feedback.



Is My Way Of Producing Them The Dovetail Process From Hell...

This is a post regarding the way I create dovetail joints. Please don’t get the idea that I created it because I believe my way of doing this deed is the be-all and end-all way of creating dovetails. It is so far from that, you can’t imagine.

I started to search out ways of creating dovetails about four years ago. I paid a years membership at Fine Woodworking just so I could view the dovetailing demonstrations given by Steve Scott, Gary Rogowski, Christian Becksvoort, Matt Kenney and Andy Rae, to name but a few. I probably watched the videos Keith Cruickshank shot of Craig Vandall Stevens demonstrating his way of producing dovetails fifty times if I watched them once. You also can’t mention dovetailing demonstrations without putting Chris Schwarz in the same sentence and I have jumped on anything and everything he has ever had to say on the subject.

I tried them all and always found a problem in my results. I then analyzed each step in their different approaches and took what best worked for me. I then started to analyze what didn’t work well for me as well, looking for the areas that seem to get me into trouble.

I mainly came up with one major problem following the way of each master and that problem can be summed up in the name of one tool – the mallet.

No matter what I did or how I did it, when I whacked the chisel with a mallet, lightly, heavily, quickly, or using slow motion, something moved. Most often it was the guide board, which quickly threw my alignment out. One day I had had enough and I left my mallet in the cabinet, going at it with just raw muscle power. Once I did that, I had the thing beat, or at least I think I might have it beat.

Which brings me to this post.

If this post helps someone, it’s a bonus, as I enjoy nothing more than helping someone else (I’m going to post about this one day). My reason for creating it, though, is through pure selfishness. I honestly don’t know if I’m missing something or if I could do something better at this point. It is one of those, "Can't see the forest for the trees", deals. I am hoping that one or more of you knowledgeable gents or ladies will spare me a moment of your time and comment on where you think things could be improved. It would be something I would be truly grateful for.

The image below is just a link. Click on it and download a PDF file that displays text and images of the step-by-step process I use for producing dovetails.

Have a run through and let me know what you think.