Thursday, 13 December 2012

It's Not Nice To Screw With Mother Nature...

So I spent the summer tending my garden.

My old man was a gardener. When I was a kid, he bought a house that sat on a huge parcel of land and turned half of it into a vegetable garden. The property came with a bunch of apple, pear and cherry trees, as well as trestles full of grapes, raspberries and blueberries. He then added just about every type of vegetable that would grow in this climate. 

I can't tell you how much I hated that garden. Every spring he would push me to till the damned thing, and every spring I would have to hear the, "When I was your age working the farms..." yarn that drove me nuts. 

Fast-forward fifty years and there I was, willingly hanging on to a rotor tiller, whacking up the sod in my back yard, merrily turning it into a vegetable garden. I removed the sod, broke up the hard clay earth, mixed in sand and added sheep and cow shit to make it as comfy and cosy as I could for tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, corn and carrots, including a bit of a herb section to round it out. I weeded that bugger two or three times a week, spent a fortune watering it, spent hours trimmed things, staked others, and even made a couple of very cool looking tomato cages to make it all look more interesting and inviting. By the beginning of August we started to get a few juicy samplings as the plants started to come into maturity. This, of course, only served to make me work harder at it. I started pulling weeds more often, turning the soil between the rows bi-weekly and even started talking to them, although none of the rude buggers answered.

Come mid-August, I looked out the window overlooking the backyard and saw this...

I had noticed before I started that our property sat lower than our two neighbours', but didn't realize how low until we had a horrendous rain one Saturday afternoon. When the 5" of water finally disappeared, only two tomato plants and the impatiens that bordered it all survived.

I remember standing there, looking out that window at this lake that was once my garden patch, and hearing my old man laughing...



Saturday, 10 November 2012

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Eagle Has Landed...

Back at the end of August I wrote about a problem I was having coming up with a machinist who didn't want the family jewels to turn a pretty simple base of a gift I had bought for my son.

It got worse.

I went with Plan-B and solved the base problem myself, but when I took my little package to the post office to send it to him, I got the second shock of my life.

My kid now lives in Dubai for a few years, so I packaged up the gift with as much padding as I could gather up as I figured it was going to be in for a rough ride. Presenting it to the clerk who weighed it. The package came in a just under 2 kilograms, or about 4 1/2 pounds.

If I wanted it there in a hurry, they wanted $250. The Canadian Post Office's idea of a "hurry", is 3 to 4 weeks.

The next one down on the list was $85, which would take 4 to 6 weeks. I was already late with the gift so I laid down the 85-bucks and left the package.

Today, 49 days later (that is 7 weeks according to my math), the parcel finally arrived.

This is what was in it...

It is a radiator temperature gauge made by the Moto Meter Co. in, or around, 1928. The meter itself was New/Old Stock and is in perfect condition. The wings could be from the same year or older, as they came off a 1928 Chevrolet in California. The wings were in good shape as far as nicks and wear goes, but it didn't have any plating left. I sent it out and had it nickel plated, as that is what it originally would have been, as chrome didn't come into play until one or two years later.

The base is just a 4" block of polished acrylic. I drilled and tapped a hole to match the meter's sensor stud and cranked the whole lot home.

The thought behind this gift is that it is an "after-market" piece. Neither Ford nor Chevrolet offered these as either standard equipment or as an option, although you could buy one through their dealers. My son is into after-market parts. He has taken a basic Scion tC, which pumped out 160 h.p., and through the magic of his mechanical ability, not to mention his ability to pay for after-market parts, the thing is probably pushing over 300 h.p. now.

I wanted to show him that adding things to cars to make them your own didn't start when he was born, but has been around since the wheel was invented. I'm also hoping to make a "collector" out of him.



Monday, 27 August 2012

I Thought Times Were Tough...

I don't get it. Times are tough, yet for some reason, I can't find a machinist that will take on a small job.

Over the years I have produced a lot of one-offs; car parts, camera parts, tool parts and just plain weird stuff. Over this same timeframe, finding a machinist has become more and more difficult.

Years ago, machinists were a dime a dozen, most working out of horribly run-down buildings in the worst parts of town. You could tell a good machinist by the amount of metal scrap he had around his building. Stepping inside a machine shop was scary as hell. The vast majority - no - all of them that I ever visited were covered in decades of dirt and metal filings with stacks of material everywhere. You entered through a decrepit door and followed a wandering aisle between the junk and machines to find and talk to the owner, a cigar smoking, unshaven, filthy-overall-covered guy who talked to you like you were the last person in the world he wanted to deal with. But deal with you he did, making the part to your exact specifications and charging you a price that matched the time and materials he spent making them.

Fast forward to today, and things are completely different. Machine shops are now housed in buildings that equal IBM's head office, thats if you get to see the building at all. Mainly you deal with them through the Internet, attaching your drawings to forms that are more unfriendly than the actual human-variety of machinist of yore. If you are lucky, they will reply. If you are really lucky, their reply will include a quote. The one thing you don't need to count on luck for, though, is that the quotes you will receive will make the project ridiculously expensive and will force you to scuttle the whole idea.

Case in point is a project I am currently working on; a birthday present for my son. I can't state what it is here yet as sometimes he surprises me and actually checks out what his old man has to say on this blog, so I can't give the idea away before I actually give the result away, if you get my drift.

I have come up with an idea for what my old man used to call, a "dust collector". A dust collector is nothing more than something that looks good but doesn't do a damned thing, a concept my old man wasn't particularly enamoured with. For this particular dust collector idea, I need two steel discs, both 3" in diameter and 1/2" thick, each turned slightly different. It also requires 1 1/2" of 2 1/2" steel tubing. Attached is a drawing of how these three pieces are to fit together.

Of the 20 machine shops I sent out drawings to, 8 replied. Two of those that replied basically stated they were not interested in the job. The six actual quotes that I did receive ranged from a low of $275 to a high of $600.

$275 to $600 for three pieces of steel that I could buy at Metal Warehouse for less than $22. One piece, the steel tubing, requires no further working once it is cut to length and the remaining two parts are ones that I could turn myself in less than an hour if I had a simple metal lathe. If I, someone who works in metal once every 8 years or so, could turn these parts in less than an hour, someone who does this day-in and day-out should be able to do it in half that time. I get that, in business, you have to get a return on your capital investments, but give me a break for God's sake. Lets say it takes an hour to make all three parts. At $275, that means the machine shop is charging $253 an hour and at $600, it becomes $578 an hour. Neither is a cost that reflects the company's investments. They just reflect gouging. No wonder work like this is going to places like China.

At first, I did Internet searches for machine shops within my geographical area, which turned out to be few and far between. Only 4 of the 20 quote requests went out to shops within the greater Toronto area. I then expanded my search to include machine shops in North America. The remaining 16 quotes went out to shops located throughout Canada and the United States. Surprisingly, out of the 8 that did respond with a quote, the most expensive were located in Texas and California. The cheapest was in Michigan while the two Canadian firms that replied came in with quotes of $325, still way to much for the work required, Canadian or not. In the end, I did send out one request for a quote to a company in China, but I haven't heard back from them as yet. I am curious what they will come in at.

Given that this is the third project that has been scuttled by machinist quotes, I just might turn my attention to finding a little metal lathe for sale on eBay, one selling for the price of the lower quote for this particular job. If one turns up, I'll buy it and turn my own parts from now on and the hell with the new age of machinists.

I have always thought that the worst enemy of capitalism was capitalists. Now I'm convinced.



Thursday, 12 July 2012

Yup...It's Wood...

This is the R4 Pursuit made out of Black Walnut and Port Orford Cedar by
Renovo Bicycles

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Gimme A Break...

Nobody can ever say my life is boring...crazy, maybe...but it is never boring.

Over the past few weeks my wife and I have moved, my son got married, he has been transferred to Dubai and for some reason, I suddenly have a pressing desire to grow tomatoes.

Where we were living, our gas bill for the car was running over $400 a month, the mileage on the car was really racking up and my wife was spending more than two and a half hours a day commuting back and forth to work. We have been talking about finding a place closer to her office and we finally did it. We found a small house, still in Toronto, dammit, but it fits us perfectly. As a result, we hauled all our worldly possessions across town and I now spend my days unpacking and trying to figure out where to store all this shit. The good part of this is, our new abode is so close to my wife's job, she now comes home for lunch. (Get your minds out of the gutter, boys, we have been married longer than a month, remember?) We have a little plot of land out back that can, if you squint, be called a backyard and currently I am just finishing up cultivating half of it into the reincarnation of a Victory Garden. The barbies all set up beside the patio furniture, and life has suddenly become good - damn good.

With mixed emotions, I am proud and sad to say my son has been promoted and is now the big-shot chef in the Fairmont Dubai. I'm thrilled to death that he is doing so well in his chosen profession, but I'm not so enamoured with him doing it on the other side of the world. One day I would like to live around the corner from him for a change, so I can drop by occasionally an bug his butt, just for the shear joy of being able to do so. Just before he left he got married to a beautiful woman who makes him happy, so with that, and her, I'm thrilled to death.

Maybe it is the amount of work it took to pack up all my tools and other implements of destruction and get them all hauled to the new place, not to mention unpacking them, but suddenly I want a break from woodworking. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop buying tools, but it does mean I'm not going to share them with you for the next few months. Instead, I'm going to do my impersonation of Vito Corleone and tend to my tomatoes, sans the heart attack, I hope.

With all of this, I wish you a wonderfully enjoyable summer and I'll see you in the fall.



Monday, 7 May 2012

Moxon, Roubo and Schwarz...

Benches and vices are all the rage today. Who would have thought that one man, Christopher Schwarz, could have such an impact on the sawdust producers of the world? It is astonishing, and more power to him. Sadly, it is quite possible that history might not give Chris the credit he deserves.

When historians, two hundred years from now, take a look back at the history of the cabinetmaker’s bench, they will see a proliferation of styles and unique designs dating back to the 17th century. They won’t find a standard design until they move forward 400-years or so, and then wham – no more individuality. What they will find by the time their research brings them to the early 21st century is that one man’s design becomes king. Cabinetmakers throughout the world, amateur and professional alike, suddenly started to build workbenches very similar to a design conceived by an 18th century, French cabinetmaker and book publisher, André-Jacob Roubo. It will be a shocking discovery.

Their research will also discover that just about every Roubo bench built in the 21st century will have a common accessory; a detachable, twin screw device known at that time as a “Moxon Bench Vice”. Again, they might miss Chris’ involvement in making this fixture such a popular shop accessory, and instead, give the credit to its original promoter, the 17th century book printer, mathematician and publisher, Joseph Moxon.

Returning to the present, we have to take a look at these two mechanical geniuses that we try to emulate.

The oldest is Joseph Moxon, the son of a printer who was born in 1627. This guy probably never picked up a chisel or plane in his entire life. He had three interests; printing, mathematics and religion. He is, however, credited with printing the first English language book on cabinetmaking, “Mechanic’s Exercises”, publish 6-years after his death in 1691. For this, the sawdust makers of the 21st century will forever hold him dear. Without Moxon, those that reverted back to the tools of yore would have had to start all over again, forced to use their own ingenuity to figure out the best way to use these difficult and confusing devices. Huzzah, huzzah, Joseph Moxon.

Following in Moxon’s footsteps was Roubo, an author who actually used the tools he wrote about. He was the third generation in his family to become a carpenter. Building was in his blood, it would appear, as he took his carpentry skills further by studying architecture and cabinetmaking. His most noted work today, however, is not the architectural splendors of France’s past, as all that he was involved with are long gone. Moxon’s claim to fame is a simple book he wrote called “The Carpenter’s Art”, which he had published in 1769.

Through Chris Schwarz and his own publishing company, Lost Art Press, Moxon and Roubo have been reborn. Here is a reality that I doubt even Chris realizes; Chris’ commercial endeavors with these two publications has resulted in more people having read these two works over the past five years than both Moxon and Roubo combined could ever dream of reaching in their lifetime.

Thankfully, original copies of these two works exist, but I have to ask the question, why the hell were they written in the first place?

In 17th century England, literacy was tied, no – welded, to wealth. During this century, it is estimated that London’s literacy rate was 70 to 80% while in the rest of the county, only 20% could read, and far less than that could write. This is easy to understand as London was England’s centre for the gentry; those with the means to send their children to school, and if they didn’t have the cash, the assets to borrow against to pay the tuition fees.

Given that Moxon wrote a book on a trade, you have to wonder who the hell would read it? Somehow I don’t think the gentry were interested in frame saws and the like, and they were the only ones who could read. It wasn’t like a kid from a poor family could go off to the library and pick out a book on his chosen career, because there wasn’t any. While invoices written by carpenters and cabinetmakers exist from that time, they are few and far between. The gentry chose their tradesmen by their ability to perform, both in their trade, as well as in their communication skills. It was a class society beyond class societies, and moneybags didn’t deal with commoners, so to win their business, a cabinetmaker had to fall within the gray area between gentry and commoner, a very small group indeed. The average village carpenter or cabinetmaker could neither read nor write, and didn’t miss it throughout their lifetimes.

France, in the 18th century, wasn’t much better than England in the 17th. Their class society was slower to decipitate, so illiteracy, while no more or less than it was in England, stayed constant for longer and was more difficult to overcome. This meant that Roubo had the same problem finding an audience for his book in France that Moxon faced in England. Great books, but who the hell could read them, let alone wanted to?

So here we are, three to four hundred years later, religiously following two geniuses that wrote books for audiences that probably didn't exist at the time. Go figure.

…and no, this isn’t a trashing of Moxon, Roubo or Schwarz. It is just an observation of mine developed from my own followings of Christopher Schwarz and my own interest in the history of England. I, like the vast majority of you, am in the midst of creating…

This is my interpretation of a Moxon Bench Vice. I made it from two honking slabs of hard maple, each 1¾” thick and two walnut screws. I got a great deal on these two screws from Evans Toolworks on eBay. Matthew was a lot of help to me, accommodating as all hell and a real pro to work with. We have a little something in the works right now that you might find interesting which I’ll post about when it gets done and, of course, if it actually works. I do know that he will be the supplier of the multiple screws I will need for the short-leg and tail vices I plan to build in the near future.

I built this to use while building my new bench/tool cabinet, so it is sized to accommodate panels up to 28” wide. As I think having a steel clamp-head sticking up higher than the top level of the vice is crazy, I cutout the tops of the rear panel’s ends so the clamps can be brought down lower. I have the handles to deal with, along with a couple of braces for the stabilizer that is attached to the bottom of the rear panel, another hunk of maple, this one 1” x 5”. I plan to use these braces to not only strengthen that right-angled joint, but to enlarge the surface area for the heads of the clamps that hold it to the bench. I’ll do a proper post about it all when I get it finished.



Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Vintage Woodies Is Slowly Growing...

My second site, Vintage Woodies, is slowly growing. Last month I was able to post information I had gathered about Hollows and Rounds Planes and this morning I posted my first instalment about Bead Planes.

The biggest impediment to getting a handle on old wooden planes, or any other category of tools, for that matter, is the educational material available. I haven't found one yet that didn't raise more questions than it answered. I think most authors write with their feet in their own shoes, and not their readers'. As a result, they assume because they know something, all their readers do as well. Aww, duh? If I knew it, I wouldn't be reading your damned book.

The second issue is an inability to correlate content. Wow, do these books bounce around a lot. One minute their discussing Ovolos, and before you realize it, you just read two paragraphs discussing Ogees. Damn.

Then there are the illustrations. In the text, they will call a plane by its most common name, say, a Reverse Ogee. When you go off to find the illustration of it, it turns out to be labeled by it's second name, a Back Ogee. What the hell...

I shouldn't complain, should I? We all pay good money to read what these authors know while my knowledge is worth exactly what I get for it - nothing.

One thing did surprise me, though. After finishing posting for the day, I checked Vintage Woodies' stats. For the limited information available, there seems to be a considerable amount of interest. It would appear that over 2,000 woodworkers visited the site last month, with almost as many dropping by so far this month.

The one thing that doesn't surprise me, however, is out of the thousands that have taken advantage of the work posted, not one has contributed a word for its content. It would appear I'm on my own with this one.



Friday, 20 April 2012

When You Say It Will Never Happen...It Will...

I love looking at old tools, in my hand or in photographs, it doesn't matter. Because of that, I look forward to receiving Martin J. Donnelly Antique Tools' biweekly tool listings. There are always packed with the coolest tools out there and the biggest buzz is that I can try and buy the ones I like.

In the preamble that lead up to their Indianapolis Spring Antique Tool Auction that took place the end of last month, there was a Stanley No.51 listed. It had a chipped mouth at the lower corner and it appeared that someone might have re-japanned it. It's saving grace was that the bare metal looked clean and unpitted. A true user if there ever was one. As I have seen examples of this plane that were in far worse shape than this one go for more than 300-bucks, I placed an absentee bid that I thought was absolutely whacko and would never win.

A couple of weeks later, there was a listing for a Stanley No.72 Nose Section. In all the auctions and dealers listings that I have looked at over the past six years or so, I think I have seen maybe three other regular nose sections listed on their own. Thinking, what the hell, I placed another absentee bid that I thought was way below what it should bring.

Guess what?

You got it!

Have a look at my latest acquisitions...

I have no idea what happened at that auction, but they both came in below what I thought were a crazy bids.

The No.51 isn't bad, so I think I'll keep it around for a while and put it through its paces.

As it turns out, the No.72 Toe Section is "good", or maybe even "good +". The wood is great and, thankfully, the rest hasn't been beaten to death. It also has about 70% of its original japanning left.

What really makes it sweet, though, is this...

That's is a "B" casting.

There are two other facts about this piece that I would like to can buy it, or you can trade me a No.72 bull nose for it. Now how great is that?



Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Stay tuned. The "Fight of the Century" is coming soon!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

My New Rock And Roll Saw...

My next major project is a new combo tool cabinet come bench. I have everything for it worked out on paper so I am now in "collection" mode; finding the materials and specialty tools needed to get the thing built.

I posted about this design back in June of last year and I'm mentioning this now because the design is in the Campaign style and I wanted you all to know that I was working with this style long before Chris Schwarz started his campaign build. 

The design calls for drawers and lots of them, all installed in multiple carcass cases that will make up two storage units each made up from stacking three carcass cases on top of each other. The bottom case for each will be 11" high, one for a saw till and the other for other high items, and the remaining two cases in each will be 7" high each with its own unique number of drawers. With them stacked on the base stand and the bench top placed across them, I'll end up with a bench at proper height. The reason for this type of design is its versatility. I can stack them as explained for a workbench, or I can do away with one of the bases and stack them all together on one base. The design will also allow me to change the stacking order to best suit my work habits, or to suit my mood, whichever the case may be.

As each pair of drawers in the individual cases will require a divider, and I can't think of a better joint to use for them than a sliding dovetail. I love this joint as it is strong and seeing a dovetail on the end of a wide piece is just downright cool. I made them all the time when I worked with a table saw, but not so much now that I'm a tool pusher. They are both complicated and a hell of a lot of work to make by hand. The blind variety are also a royal pain in the butt to make. With that in mind, I have been working with Matt Cianci over on The Saw Blog on coming up with a new saw design, one specifically designed for cutting the two sides of all the blind sliding dovetails this project calls for.

While sliding dovetail saws are not something new, our design does have a few unusual features.

One of the biggest problems with cutting a blind sliding dovetail across a carcass wall is that the toe of the saw always digs in and makes a royal mess of things. Doing some experimenting, I came up with the idea that if the saw's plate was arched, the digging in problem could be overcome. By giving an 11" long plate a 58" radius, it ends up arching up ¼-inch front and rear. Using the centre section to cut across the wider width of a carcass, the toe will not be able to bury itself during the cut. If the cut is blind, tilting down the heel of the saw as you go deeper will keep it from nose-diving and when the majority of the cut is done in this manner, you can tilt the heel up and use the toe to finish it off blind.

As the two cuts need to be equal in depth, I figured a depth gauge would be just the ticket so I came up with a design for a curved one to match the curvature of the blade's arch. I then took a page from the old filletster planes and came up with an adjustable setup. I think the design will allow me to cut pretty accurate depths whether cutting across the board, or tilted up while cutting the blind with the toe. I designed the gauge to also work as a fence, planning to have it run up against the cleat instead of the blade. I just think this will be easier to work as there will be some distance between my hand and the cleat, keeping the skin on my knuckles in the process, not to mention saving the saw's set for another day.

Matt was a lot of help to me coming up with the handle's "hang", or angle of attack. At first I had it set to 34º, but Matt suggested it would be too difficult to work and suggested I bring it down to 24º, which is still higher than a normal handle hang. We did agree on the placement, though, as bringing it forward so the grip is over the heel of the saw will help to keep it against the cleat.

Wanting the thing to look good as well, I decided on making the body out of zebra wood and the handle and horn out of ebony. I think these two woods work well together with their strong contrast in tones.

The result of all of this is that Matt is now looking for an old piece of .028" plate stock and I'm sourcing out a place to buy a hunk of ebony that won't cost me more than what I paid for my last new car.

The project should be fun to put together, but with a total cost probably in the $250 to $300 range, I sure hope the damned thing works.



Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Forget About Shooting Boards...Get A Boarding Shoot...

I can hear it now, “What the hell is that boy on about now?”

I can tell you that a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing; sometimes it proves that nut-jobs like me can often be correct.

A while ago I was thinking about having a plane built, even though the five grand cost was giving me heart palpitations.  The problem I had was that I don’t like the ergonomics of a regular plane. I think the tote is set too high and isn’t cocked forward enough. I wrote about this a while ago and got the usual responses – yawns.

I took this further and emailed two well-known plane makers asking if they would consider tilting the tote forward and making it lower. The first wrote back explaining to me why planes are built like they are, like I didn’t know this. I wrote back and explained the theory behind my thoughts; the higher totes give a higher centre of gravity and result in more difficulty keeping it square to the board edge and the considerably upright tote causes the wrist to be cocked at an unnatural angle when the plane is held at the correct height, again adding to the difficulty in keeping the plane properly square, especially when planning a lot of board feet. He never replied a second time.

The other plane maker I wrote to didn’t even bother to reply the first time. Go figure.

So I decided maybe all of you were right, I was a nut-job, so I forgot about it and went back to my books on wooden planes.

Lucy, you got some ‘splainin to do.

Did you know that totes are a relatively new addition to planes? They weren’t very popular until metal planes came around. As far back as the 16th century, woodworkers were holding their planes pretty much by their bodies, as no tote existed. Son-of-a-gun if holding a wooden bench plane by its body suddenly brings your hands down much lower than when you are holding a contemporary Stanley. Even a 22 to 28” wooden jointer came toteless, but if the wuss pushing it was worried about breaking a nail, the maker would add to horizontal handholds to the sides of the body, again way lower than the totes on contemporary planes.

So why did the plane evolve in this way?

Personally, I think they ended up with a high tote simply for ease of manufacturing. Show me an item that has been produced for years and I’ll show you an item that was redesigned simply to reduce costs. This is what “New and Improved” is all about you know. Change something that will trim a quarter of a cent off of the cost of making each widget and it truly is “new and improved”. The manufacturer has “improved” profits and a “new” cash cow.

Some may say, “if it wasn’t right, no one would buy it”. Oh boy.

The truth is, many items are not accepted right away. Plastic is the main one that I can think of right now.  It was first invented in 1862 and was called Parkesine. It then evolved into Bakelite around 1897. Tell me, how many 100 year old items have you seen on the Antiques Roadshow that are made from plastic, and costume jewelry doesn’t count, as that was about the only commercial application for this stuff for years?

PVC was introduced in 1926, but how many pre 1950 homes have you been in that have plastic pipes?

Plastic has been used in auto production pretty much since their inception, but not where the buying public could see it. Up to the late 1940’s most car heaters were seen under their dashboards so the manufacturers had their outer cases made from steel. As soon as the design of the dash was large enough to hide them, poof, they became plastic components.

So why would making the tote more upright help reduce production costs?

If the tote tilted forward more, it would have to be mounted further back as the frog has priority for position. Add an inch or two to every plane Stanley made over the years and you just spent the equivalent of Rockefeller’s wealth. Now add the cost of increased material for the tote because tilting it forward slightly means it has to be longer. If you think about this idea from this angle, you can quickly understand why they would push for a more perpendicular tote.

It also boils down to the purpose of the tool as well. A cabinetmaker that never left the shop bought the same planes as the house carpenter who moved from job site to job site. That meant that the limited number of plane styles had to be as versatile as possible.

Don’t get your knickers in a knot as I’m not knocking the contemporary plane. I can understand why it exists in the form that we know today. I just think we should be allowed to question their design without feeling the need to head to the confessional afterwards and the need to make amends by saying a few hundred “Hail Marys”.

So while I’m being sacrilegious, let me discuss my new thought about Shooting Boards.

When the machine took over from the hand tools, the biggest difference was the way the stock was worked. With hand tools, the stock remained stationary and the tool was passed over it. With machines, the tool remained stationary and the stock was passed over it. A novel idea? Not really.

Everyone knows about the Cooper’s jointer. A behemoth plane that came in different sizes up to 6’ in length with up to 4” wide blades. Some of these monsters tipped the scales at 125 pounds or more. Some were equipped with clamps to clamp one end to the bench and others were fitted with legs on one end. Whichever style, the blade’s edge always pointing towards the high end. The cooper would pass the stock over the plane to get an even fit, although not necessarily a tight fit.

To explain my comment, “not necessarily a tight fit”, there was a fellow who was rebuilding his wood boat at the same time I was rebuilding mine. As the boats were very similar, we used to compare notes. One day I noticed how tight he was setting his bottom planks together and mentioned that he should leave a small space, about a 1/16th of an inch between them. It was the last time he really talked to me as he thought I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.

When it was time for him to float, I quietly mentioned to my wife that we should keep an eye on it over the next 48 hours as I felt it was going to sink. Sure enough, the next day, the alarms were sounded and there was a big rush to get the boat lifted out of the water, not a task that can be done quickly with a 40-foot boat. They managed, and I give the guy credit because he came around the next day and apologized to me for thinking I was an idiot.

The bottoms of these boats are planked with 1-inch thick by 6 to 8-inch wide mahogany. When mahogany gets wet, it expands, as does all wood, but mahogany expands much more than others. It is the reason they use it to make boats. The mahogany expands, forcing the edges of the planks together tightly to make a watertight hull. Because this guy didn’t leave any allowance for that expansion, the planks expanded and with nowhere to go, they sprung their fasteners and opened huge gaps in the hull.

The cooper’s jointer wasn’t the only tool made that remained stationary. The lowly Spill plane was another. Often fixed to a bench or hearth, stock is pushed across its blade to produce tightly coiled shavings that were used to light the fires for cooking and heat.

One feature of old wooden planes that isn’t acknowledged much these days are the jigs and soles of some of the specialty planes. When using a Slat plane, the rough sized stock was placed in a trough that was attached to a bench. A special plane that had its blade and sole profiled to the final lines of the venetian blind slat was then used to bring the stock into shape. When the plane bottomed out on the edges of the jig, the first side was completed. The stock was then flipped, but before it was placed back into the jig, an insert was added first to keep the stock level and to raise it slightly. The plane was employed again, and once it bottomed out the second time, the slat was finished and ready to be cut into lengths.

Another plane similar to the blind slat plane was the Tambour plane, another specialty plane that again worked within a jig and held a profile to make tambour slats for roll top desks.

You don’t read much about jigs and specialty planes these days, do you?

So finally realizing that I wasn’t the first one to come up with these crazy ideas, I went back to the drawing board regarding my shooting board.

One of the problems I have had with all the boards I have played with is keeping the side of the plane against the runner. Because the resistance varies as the plane moves across the end grain, keeping the plane square to the stock is sometimes a chore. So what if things were reversed? Would it be any easier to move the stock across the plane, rather than the plane across the stock?

I think so.

I base this idea on the panel sleds I used to build for my table saw.  Laying a large piece of stock on a sled allowed for far better control for the cut. I think that same concept would work well for a shooting board as well.

By fixing the stock to a sled that is controlled by guides that allow it to neither move laterally or vertically, the end of the stock remains at right angles to the bed. If the plane is also fixed so its blade is square with the bed, you can’t help but produce a perfect cut. Tilt the entire table and you now have no need for a bird’s nest as the stock will be presented to the plane’s blade at whatever angle you choose. You could shoot short boards for joining with something like this, as well as true up cuts. I think you could even add moulding blades to a setup like this to make mouldings.

At issue right now is that this setup would require a feeding mechanism, and that I haven’t figured out yet. A machinists’ feed is far too heavy for this application, and would make the feature of a tilting table difficult, if not impossible, just by their sheer size alone.

I’m working on it, though, and if I get one that works, I’m going to call it a Boarding Shoot.



Thursday, 15 March 2012

Tools of the Trade Show - April 1, 2012

Sunday, April 1, 2012
10:00 am to 3:00 pm

Location: Pickering Recreation Complex
1867 Valley Farm Road,
Pickering, Ontario

30 Selected Dealers

Admission: $5.00 (Children under 12 attend for free)
Free Parking

Plan to attend - Bring a friend

(Fall Show: September 30, 2012)

Mitchell's Note:

I attend this show and sale twice yearly and have yet to be disappointed. There is always a wide array of tools, and tools to fit every budget. If your a serious collector, or just looking to find something interesting to do on a Sunday afternoon, take the drive to Pickering and enjoy yourselves.

Pickering is located 40km (25 miles) north-east of Toronto. Take Highway 401 and exit at Whites Road (Regional Road 38) and head north to the first lights at Kingston Road (Durham Highway 2). Turn right on Kingston Road and travel north-east for 3.7km (2.3 miles). At Valley Farm Road, turn right and 500m (547 yards) south-east on your left is the Pickering Recreation Centre.

Arrive early as two things go fast; parking and a mess of tools!

Oh, ya. The picture is one used on the Tools of the Trade Show mailer. It is a great shot showing that guys were tool-freaks even before the turn of the century. What makes this picture of The American Hardware Store even cooler is the fact that the store was located in Caherciveen, which is in IRELAND.



P.S.: I have nothing to do with this tool show and sale other than spending my money there. My reason for promoting it is to help get more feet into the door so it will continue to run. I'm selfish. I want this venue to run forever so I have an outlet where I can buy decent tools.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

So What Does An Old French Guy Know That I Don't...

So with my last two posts, you must know by now that I am trying to define a vice that will adapt to the type of work I do, and plan to do. As I plan to make boxes, everything from jewellery to writing boxes, I expect they will be built in an array of sizes and shapes, not all necessarily square. I also have found a new interest; kinetic sculptures. This is a very fancy name for folk art that has moving parts. A more recognizable term for them is "whirligigs". Some of the more complex ones I have looked at lately absolutely fascinate me. I will leave the topic of kinetic sculptures for another day, but I mention them because they explain why I want a vice that will work out of parallel.
So far, my trip into the physics of applied forces hasn't been met with anything that even slightly resembles a, "I say there, Mitchell, I think you might have it, sir". In truth, my plans have pretty much garnered a, "Cute, but it won't bloody work you moron."
So I do what I do best...I do more research.
For my vice idea, I only had to cruise as far as the Popular Woodworking site to discover one of Christopher Schwarz's articles on vices, one of many, an article entitled, "Meet the Etaux from Old Salem's Shop".
An "Etaux" is an add-on to a vice and is used for specialty work, much like Moxon's Twin Screw Bench Vice. The one Chris was discussing is basically a miniature leg vice.
Chris had a couple of images of this vice that were small and showed less than ideal detail. I went off and searched for better ones, but couldn't come up with any, so I did a little work with Chris' to get some of the detail between the uprights to display. If nothing else, these adjusted images will show you why you can't enlarge digital image files - they fall apart.
Bad images aside, the design of this vice results in the question..."Why the hell will this old French guy's design work and mine won't?"

The inset is the original in its original size and the black and white image
is the adjusted one, like I had to explain that one to you :0)

There is no glide connecting these two uprights to keep them
parallel. None, nada, zip. The only parts are a large screw at
the top, and a smaller one at the bottom. Now where did
I see that design before?
Oh ya. It was mine!

Two examples from an early 20th-century tool catalogue, La Forge Royale.

While I have never seen this vice before, I couldn't help but notice that even the bottom, lighter screw comes at things from the back. 

While I can't see it in the photos, the bottom screw may be connected to the front upright in some way. I have emailed Chris and asked him about this. I'll let you know his answer once I receive it.



Saturday, 25 February 2012

Defining My Vice Design...

In the previous post, I discussed a vice I saw listed in next month's Live Free or Die auction that is administered by Martin J. Donnelly Antique Tools.

Before I get into discussing my design for this vice/vise, let me first point out that "vice" is the English spelling, while "vise" is the American spelling. I try to use English spelling whenever a difference comes along as, while I'm Canadian, this country was part of the English Commonwealth from it's inception through to 1982. Many of us here still tend to acknowledge our British roots wherever possible.

The renderings that I included in my previous post were just for general dimensions. While I stated in the article that accompanied them that I was thinking of having the lower screw come at things from the back of the vice, the renderings included do not reflect this.

Damien left a comment regarding my concept and felt that having the screw come at things from the rear wouldn't work as it would not keep the legs parallel. Damien has offered me his opinions a few times in the past and I tend to listen to him. Having followed his blog, Woodlooking, I have come to believe he has a far better grasp of physics than I. With respect to his knowledge, I have created this second post about this vice to explain my vision of it further, hoping Damien will return and give me the yah or nay for it. I would hate to cut up that beautiful piece of maple sitting here, only to find out it won't work.

The following render is a cut-away view of how I would like to deal with the screws...

The render shows both the screws trapped to the front upright. The main screw is trapped as it passes through the face, done so using a collar and recess so the screw is still allowed to turn freely. The second, lower screw is also trapped to the front upright in the same manner. This one, though, is trapped where it butts up against it, rather than passing through it. Both screws use female thread blocks attached to the rear upright, both centre pinned on each side to allow them to rotate vertically.

While Damien was concerned with the two uprights not remaining parallel to each other, that is exactly what I am looking for and the sole reason this vice caught my eye. I do not know if Arthur's version has a non-parallel capability, but hopefully mine will. As I want to do self-standing carvings and make odd-shaped boxes, I think having this feature on my vice would be ideal.

Note that the render shows a hole above the lower screw and below the upper. These are labeled "Pivot Capture" and are there to accept a wood pin that would pass through to them from the edge of the rear upright. Being able to fix the pivots vertically will overcome having to deal with a "sloppy" front upright when the unparalleled feature isn't necessary. I would assume that I would probably work the vice with the upper pin installed and the lower removed most of the time, as this would limit having to adjust both screws every time I use it.

I may be still all wet, but hopefully, I'm only just damp.



Thursday, 23 February 2012

At My Age, Any Vice Is A Good Vice...

As you grow older, you start to leave a trail of vices behind you. It is so unfair that they are wasted on youth. As I have been married longer than five minutes and am approaching retirement age, damned if I don't have any of them left. As Valdy, a folk song writer and poet from my youth now says...

Now I'm old and tired, bent and busted,
Gray and wrinkled and I can't be trusted,
I'm just a dirty old man.

A while ago, I started to look around for a new vice. I don't enjoy gambling, so that one is out. As a kid, I absorbed so much alcohol that now I can't stand the taste of it, so that one is out too. Hell, I can't even drink beer because I have an allergy to hops. Go figure. Surprisingly, though, I do think I found one today.

Martin J. Donnelly Antique Tools sends out a short list of offerings for his upcoming auctions twice a week in emails and I pour over every one I get. Their next auction is next month in Indianapolis, Indiana, and it appears they have a number of dynamite items for this one. I have been forced to dig the ol' credit card out a few times to place absentee bids for a few of the items coming up.

While I fell for one item they had listed in today's email, it is not something I would like to buy. Instead, I would prefer to make my own.

What grabbed me today was a great looking vice (see, I eventually tie my ramblings into a discussion of tools). It is from the Colonial Williamsburg Collection that the Live Free or Die Auctioneer is selling in the Indianapolis sale. It was made by a man named Arthur W. Hall of Lakewood, Ohio in 1925 and I think it is one hell of a pretty interesting vice...

What blew me away with this vice is that it works like a leg-vice, but it is only 20" high. It also appears to have far more control of the squeezing end than a leg-vice, although I bet old Arthur had some seriously banged up knees from that brass crank sticking out like it does, and the fact that the crank is bent up a tad confirms this. My thought is that the crank should come at the front leg from the rear, instead of the other way around. It would give you the same pivot control, but coming from behind it wouldn't be in the way all the time.

I have a hunk of maple sitting here that is perfect for this vice, so it looks like adding another project to the list will result in my finally getting a vice to call my own again. Life is good.

I did some dissecting to the only image I have of it tonight and came up with some basic dimensions, which I have laid out for you below. You are welcome to save that file, if you are interested, or you can download a full sized version (43" x 36") of the same drawing using this link.

Great Stuff!



Saturday, 18 February 2012

I See, Said The Blind Man...

As I have mentioned here before, I have a little eyesight problem that keeps me out of the pool halls. I can see pretty well from about 4” to 10”, a little blurred from 10” to about 30”, and progressively on to a melding of colours from there, but often, I can recognize something from its blurred shape.

When I’m playing navigator for my wife, I can’t read the writing on a sign, but I can see the shape of it and by judging their length and calculating whether or not the street’s name would fit in that length of sign, I can tell my wife it is the one we are looking for so she will drive accordingly. I’m silently proud of myself for being right most of the time, although she gives me shit every time I miss one.

When it comes to people, I have learned to pay special attention to their body language as it helps me recognize someone at a distance. I can't see who they are, but I can see who they act like, which allows me to react to them "normally".

When this first came up, back in 1988, my wife and I were sitting at a stoplight and a blind guy was being lead across the road. Of course, this got my wife all choked up, as she is prone to overreactions. For me, I was just upset about how this guy was dressed as he was wearing a plaid pair of pants and a stripped shirt, both in the gaudiest colours you could ever imagine. I looked at my wife and said, “If you ever dress me like that when I can’t see any more I’ll kill you.” She answered me with, “Ya, and how will you know?”

All in all, it is one of those – deal the hand your dealt - sort of things, and as I won’t lay down and play dead, I insist it is absolutely no issue for me at all. I am not trying to pretend I can see normally, I just don't think about it much.  Sometimes, though, not thinking gets me into trouble, like what happened a few months ago. I needed paint to paint my office so one evening I went off by bus and subway to the paint store. By the time I got to the street it was on, it was well into dusk, and by the time I got out with my purchases, it was night. I found myself on the darkest street I could ever imagine, and given I can't see squat in the dark, that was a problem. As I headed back to the subway, I walked into two A-frame signs on the sidewalk and tripped and fell on two unexpected curbs. It scared me so badly, I now make a mental note of where things are on any street I walk on, just in case I find myself on it after dark.

Overall, there is only one minus with the whole thing, that being that I can’t drive, which I truly miss as I have always loved getting behind the wheel. There is, however, one very strong item on the plus side. Since my vision went down the tubes, I have noticed that there is a hell of a lot more beautiful women in the world than there used to be.

For many, sight follows waistline as we get older, both dropping to shocking levels, so with this theme in mind, I’d like to give those of you a quick run-down on how I have started to do cuts, such as making mortises for my never-ending plant shelf unit project.

Here is a quick render of how I made up the crown moulding that I am using as the top rail for the lower cabinet’s face frame…

Because of the weight this thing will carry, the top requires multiple cross-braces, so the rail was made extra deep to allow those braces to be tied into it.

Lighting is a major necessity of life in a shop and it angers me when I view someone else’s workshop that has less than adequate lighting. If yours is like that, skip the next project or tool purchase and buy yourself some damned lights.

I have two lights on my bench; one that is movable and low, and another that has it’s swing arm clamped to the edge of the bench. I use the swing arm for general lighting and when I am working on something small and critical, I bring the little table lamp into play. I bought these both from Lee Valley when they were on sale. Looking this morning I found they do not have the swing arm listed, but this little guy is still available. Because you will constantly whack these things, I would suggest spending too much money on them.

Back when I wrote about creating dovetails, many of you were kind enough to give me advice and by combining what all of you suggested and modifying things slightly to fit my situation, I came up with a fairly solid way to cut some pretty good dovetails and I thank you for it. If any of you have any more suggestions to offer on this process, believe me, I’m all ears and eager to hear what you have to say.

Mike Siemsen commented about the scribe line when that dovetail article was posted. He told me to trust it, letting the chisel grab and hold it, as it will, “lock in there like a screwdriver in a slot”. I have been following his advice ever since.

Following Mike’s advice over the course of time, I have tried a number of different marking knives to try to improve my scribe lines. Frankly, I found them all a waste of time and money. For me, the cheap, basic, blade-replaceable box-cutter knives are the way to go. I have knives in my cutlery drawer that I sharpen often and I have become so accustomed to sharpening knives, my wife won’t use them because they are too sharp. I will do the same with a marking knife, and while they cut well, they don’t cut deep enough for me as their blades are always too thick and wood, unlike a good prime rib, won’t fold away to give the blade room.

I need a good, strong guideline to start. Once I have it, I run a pencil along it so I can see it easier. A pencil seems, for some reason, to follow the deeper cut made with a box-cutter better than it will a shallower cut made by a marking knife. I use a soft graphite black pencil for lighter woods, and a white or light coloured Derwent 
ColourSoft pencil for darker.

Once I have the deep scribe line marked to stand out more, I then use a chisel to chop away a V-groove inside it, keeping the outer walls square to the top surface. This is an expansion of a concept explained by Chris Schwarz when he was on the Woodwright Shop last year. The deeper scribe line makes registering that chisel easier and holds it there better. With a shallow cut, the chisel is sitting on the wood and the blow to it has to immediately be transferred to the wood. With a deeper cut, the chisel sits above the bottom of the cut, so the blow tends to allow the chisel to follow the cut’s wall, minimizing its deflection. This is a very small benefit, but I will take all I can get.

My issue is a bit extreme as I was born with lousy eyes to begin with, and angle-closure glaucoma, retina tears and detachments, scar tissue from operations and injuries incurred when I was young have all served to make things go as they have gone, leaving me with a pretty narrow angle of view. The result of all of this is, when I focus on the closest edge of even a ½” chisel, I can’t register the furthest edge. I bring this point up because while I hate to be the barer of bad news, I have to tell you that as you age, you will find this issue will rear its ugly head with your vision as well, although definitely not in this extreme.

Ready to make the cuts with a couple of the
marking knives I have collected over time.

That is what this V-groove is for; to allow me a better chance at following the line. When I am drawing the saw, I can only check if it is following the line one end of the cut at a time. By adding these grooves, the saw blade is less likely to move off the line as its blade runs against the flat outside wall while the angle tends to make the blade slope towards that wall. Since I watched Chris explain this in that movie, I have improved my cuts 200% as I can now get them started properly, and that is half the battle.

After cutting the outside edges of the mortise, I then make cuts between them, every ¼” or so. Because I have the heavy pencil lines on both sides of the stock, I tend to see when to stop better, finding it best to shoot for stopping just above the lines.

Using a ½” chisel, I then knock out the narrow strips…

With a wider chisel, the one shown below being 1¼”, I then clean up the bottom of the mortise, checking it with a little square every so often to ensure it is staying square with the edges and consistent in depth…

Using this process, I end up with some pretty tight mortises that require very little clean up afterwards…

Where there is a will, there is a way, and while many of those ways redefine the word “patience”, workin’ wood is still a blast and something I never want to give up.



P.S.: The title of this post is from one of my old man's favourite expressions...

"I see", said the blind man.
"Bullshit" said the deaf-mute.
And the man with no legs walked away in disgust.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Unlike My Wife—I’m Running Out Of Things To Buy…

The problem with tool collection is that it doesn't stay constant.

Over the last four or five years I have been searching out tools that I wanted, nothing fancy, just the normal stuff that you would find in a cabinet shop around 1900. Because of the availability of these things, they were easy to find, so I was buying one or two pieces a month. That ain’t happening anymore.

At first, the hobby is not only easy, but it is damned cheap. A trip through the “Collectables > Tools & Hardware > Tools > Carpentry/ Woodworking” category on eBay can see you scoring one little item or another on an almost daily basis, if you, your wife or your bank manager let you. There are so many little bits and pieces made to do specific processes in woodworking; you could go nuts collecting them all.

Eventually, though, you locate, buy, receive, clean, sharpen and polish about all the little guys you think you will ever need, and then some, so you start looking for the more expensive, larger items.

The larger items aren’t as readily available as the little guys. There are a lot of listings, but most are junk and not worth the shipping costs, so your purchases tend to slow down rather quickly. While I restrict my choices to a narrow timeframe, from 1880 to 1910, while not an everyday event, it is not that difficult to come up with excellent examples. When I say “excellent”, I mean examples that I won’t mind using. I shoot for the high end of the “User” category. With these, I don’t feel my neck when I have to sharpen a blade, shortening it up in the process, or see a scuff show up on the tote or something.

Eventually, you pretty much end up owning more series' and sets that you will ever find a use for, so you raise your sites a little higher, and start to shoot for real specifics. That’s when the blissful life of tool collecting really starts to drag. The more specific your quests; the higher the prices. The higher the prices; the fussier you become. The fussier you become; the less choices you have. The less choices you have; the less you buy. The less you buy; the less number of “buzzes” you get. It’s a bummer.

My Stanley plane collection, at this point, is missing an No.1, which I doubt I will buy—ever, a No.6, which I am looking for now, and a No.9, which I’m still up in the air about as I think buying one and using it would seriously make me nervous. From what I have seen available, these things are pretty vulnerable to damage.

I now have two complete sets of Stanley No.40 chisels; one for fine work and one for wailing on. I still look for better examples of the four patent dates, but if I don’t find any, it is no big deal.

I have more saws than I have room to store, so while I am still searching out a pair of excellent dovetails, I spend more time trying to figure out which maker to shoot for than I do looking for the damned saws. While I spent about a year and a half finding a matched pair of Jackson 12” saws, I have now come to realize they are a tad thick for cutting dovetails, and while they work, and work well, thinner blades would be better. As Disston made the Jackson blade in the same thickness as their own brand, buying a pair of old Disstons would be a waste of money. I would like to buy a pair of Two Lawyer saws, but at over 700-bucks for the pair, I would dust them, but I bloody well wouldn’t use them.

The only thing that seems to keep me going with this is my quest for more examples of H. E. Mitchell’s tools. I had an opportunity to buy an ultimate brace of his about eight months ago when The Tool Bazaar had one listed, but I felt he was charging way too much for it at 195₤. Since then, I have been royally kicking myself in the ass, to the point that I emailed Andy last month and asked if he would broker a deal between the guy who bought it and myself, but he declined. While I still search daily for Mitchell examples, it is pretty rare that one turns up, so even this quest has lost the luster it once held.

When I do score, though, it is like 27 Christmas’ and 42 birthdays all rolled into one, and score I did just a few weeks ago.

I have a saved search on eBay for anything listed in the tool collectable section that has the name “Mitchell”. I get emails from eBay regarding this search about twice a week. Rarely do they include the tools I am looking for, but on this particular day, I scored, and scored big.

Mateusz1979 had a ½” Ovolo plane by Mitchell up for sale. I immediately emailed him and asked if he had a “Buy it Now” price. We went back and forth a bit, feeling each other out, and eventually he emailed me a price that was beyond being fair—it was incredible. I quickly agreed, paid the bill, and a week later the plane arrived.

The plane is probably one of the better examples that I have of cousin Henry’s. I don’t know if Mateusz bought it as clean as it was, or he spent some time on it to clean it up himself, but either way, it didn’t need the coat of wax I gave it upon receiving it.

On top of that, the plane is a perfect addition to the set. I picked up a 5/8” Ovolo off of eBay a couple of years ago; a number two. Last year, had a 5/8” Ovolo Number one that I was able to grab. This one is a ½” number two, the finishing plane, so if fits into the set well.

As the buzzes come less frequently now, when you get one, you savor it longer. As scoring a Mitchell plane has always given me the biggest buzz, the image above shows you what has been sitting on my bench since the day this last one arrived. I pulled everyone one of them from the drawer, brought the plow down from the shelf, and even added the counterstamp coin to the display and each time I walk in the room, I have a look and enjoy a smile. The collection is growing—its slow—but its growing.