Monday, May 19, 2014

What's Your Drawsharp Number?

I want to start out by saying I'm not a regular drawknife user. this puts me in the best/worst possible position to review the Galbert Drawsharp honing guide.

I'm not going to get all technical with a review of this tool... OK I probably will. I will try to only put forth information that is relevant and might not get somewhere else with a tiny bit of research, 

First off, this is not snake oil, this is the real deal innovation. It's the kind of ridiculously simple idea that makes you slap your head and say "Dang, Why didn't I think of that!" It is brilliant and obvious as so many great ideas are (and yet somehow not previously patented) 

Second, it is impecibly made like all benchcrafted products. While it is my first purchase from Benchcrafted, it probably won't be the last, given the silky movement of the vises at HandWorks.
Both of these points mean it's worth your money if you own a drawknife. period... end of story. Go buy it. I do have some ideas for improvement in my mind but that is really only for Mark II considerations for the product, if anyone besides my mom reads this blog, which by now surely even she is gone. 
I paid full price for this tool (though contrary to C. Schwartz, if any boutique toolmakers are interested in me poorly hawking their wares, let me know...) 
I could have made some personal copy of this product; but this is a case where the inventor and maker of a product have certainly earned my support. (And given my 400yr project backlog I probably I wouldn't get around to making it anytime soon and I wanted to give green woodworking a try sooner)
My experience with Drawknives is simple, Growing up dad had a rusty unsharp drawknife hanging on nails in his garage, I knew it was dull and never even touched it. Recently he aquired 4-5 more (in a similar state) at an auction for pennies. So here we are at square one.


Ordering
Seemless of course, I could have probably used the refurb kit since I knew I would be starting with a bunch of rusty tools... but that cost as much as the fabled BC Skraper so I sprung for that instead. Justifying a purchase with "saved" funds is always easier. I ended up using coarser PSA sandpaper which worked just fine. I did spring for the refill kit, which is really unnecessary as you will find in time, but no harm, no foul $5.

Unboxing. I usually think unboxing is stupid, but the packaging is great, from the retro "hone-o-matic" naming on the tin (tins....+1) to the brightly colored shipping paper (which I think is anti-corrosive or something) and on to the nicely arranged kit of parts carefully fit into the tin. 
This is the first problem. Not putting it together; I LOVE that it was sent to me in parts, because I also love legos and putting this thing together (<20 min tops) gives me a sense of connection "and I helped!" #shakeandbake. The problem is, it's so nicely packed that you want to save it all, and when assembled, it doesn't fit back in the tin. Currently, I'm disassembling it and returning it to the tin. If the posts folded 1-way out of the way or something. I have mechanism ideas I'm happy to share, if anyone at benchcrafted cares or the tin could just be resized.

Directions: Clear and concise. Though it clearly says to grind/file the back of the knife smooth, I got anxious and went ahead after only "kind of" getting it smooth, but definitely knocked off burrs. After restoring 3 bumpy knives, the plastic plate shows some wear, but is fine for the rest of my lifetime of sharpening.

Using: Some $0.05 cutout rectangles of rougher grit PSA disks applied on the unused sides of the square tube sped up removing rust pitting. After that, a couple quick swipes made them razor sharp. I love the unit-less marking system as you can sharpie them on your knife easily with dissimilar numbers & come back to them easily. I did sharpie in the vernier line on the orange anodized pieces for a bit more contrast.

Here's my quibbles. 
The back & bevel end geometry is identical. I recognize they are shaped to fit the tin, but if one end was scalloped/grooved or something it would help remove a tiny bit of second guessing. It shouldn't add any machining to make one end tactilely different in some way.

The threads should be 90 deg to the posts. This would allow 2 things, smaller diameter knobs as the torque required is not what arrests movement (short bolts not best used in shear.) In one instance the bevel post started slipping, causing some minor rework.
 Second, changing the retention direction allows it to become micro adjustable, which is a welcome addition IMO. Though a jam nut or some "lock" would likely be required.

Probably these ideas for improvement have been considered and shelved in the interest of keeping the end user cost down, which I appaud. Regardless, this simple tool allowed me to return 3 tools from the brink to razor sharp and at the same time introduce me to a useful tool that was really off my radar due in part to sharpening concerns. Now I'll use a drawknife all the time I'm sure. Definately the Galbert Drawsharp is a good buy.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Woodworking Safety Day 2014

To go along with the annual safety festivities  http://tomsworkbench.com/2014/05/17/woodworkers-safety-day-2014 I wanted to contribute two tips I use in my shop to keep a focus on safety. Both are dead simple and probably obvious but I haven't seen anyone else using them specifically so here they are:

Hang your PPE out to dry

Wearing personal protective equipment is an essential element of shop safety but how many times have you lost track of your glasses or ear protection and then thought I can just make this one cut? By stringing a simple string across something convienient in your shop you can easy store most PPE easily, retrieve it and when you come across a spare pair you can return it to its spot without much effort. Also for me having extra PPE options for shop visitors (and spares in case you leave a pair or 3 in the kitchen) goes a long way toward having PPE at the ready.

A Safer Sled


I am one of the few people with pre-riving knife table saws that keeps their guards on. Frankly despite growing up in a shop without guards a bare 10" saw blade is a scary thing. Using the guard normally puts me on heightened alert when it must be removed because it is a rare event. Also it's much cleaner and I believe a bit quieter too (citation required) The key to keeping the guard on is not having to remove it for normal operations. To allow using a crosscut sled, I created a simple plywood hoop that goes over the blade. Also I made a raised area in front that is a simple raised detent that will keep my thumbs free of the blade area.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Knives, Forks, and Spoons

Like many woodworkers, I think about woodworking ALL. THE. TIME. I sketch projects during meetings, read about it in nearly every free moment and think about how I might prefer taking my vacation time completing a project, instead of a "lame" trip to the beach with the family. Still, I often find when I have some time, visiting the in-laws or on vacation, I can't have a bench & tool chest. Vice versa where I have tools (at home) I'm often busy with the mundane aspects of life. Jonas seems to handle this effectively by taking a small set of tools on-board when on assignment. Forking my woodwork in other direction, spoon carving may allow me to scratch this itch while away from the shop.

How I got here should not be a surprising, but there was a series of events that made me finally get off my butt and try spoons.

The Perfect Storm

  • Down tree has me thinking about joint stools and green woodworking.
  • Watching Roy with the kids recently (Carvings spoons with Peter Follansbee)
  • Recent PWW article on spoon carving
  • Recent storm that brought down many small limbs in our area.
  • Nice weather (finally). I was out on bike ride (literally, immediately after flipping through the PWW spoon article) and found a row of hedge trees (I like Bois D'arc) that had lost some limbs, I came back with a saw and got a few branching chunks. (I need to look into a way to mount a limb saw to my bike in the future...)
  • Procrastination, I've been trying to avoid doing some real things that need done like getting my lawn mower back on-line and finishing the bathroom mirror project.
  • I like cooking and making kitchen items for everyday use.
  • A little free time, I had read about #handjoinery and decided to join twitter (@boisdork) and give it a shot. I didn't read too carefully (and did on the wrong day and it was later cancelled for the week, oops) and did the joint (fairly easy this time) faster than I had anticipated. This left me 1½ hours prior to bed to putter around the shop. (I ended up spending a lot more time that night as well as the next.)

Don't give me problems! Give me solutions!

  • Problem: It was dark, I needed to drag a stump round 'round to the garage for a chopping spot, but didn't want to be bothered with actual physical labor. Also my only axe (an ancient fireman's axe with a 3' handle I've had since I was around 14) is out in the shed (did I mention it was dark) and I was lazy and frankly a bit intimidated with splitting hedge (bad childhood memories)
    • Solution: Bandsaw. I laid the branch on the table and excised along the pith giving me a rough blank in no time. This is viable if you are ok with a little Sam Maloof style bandsaw operation (nothing too bad) I should have been more careful in getting out the pith in a windy wood like hedge (see later).
  • Problem: I have no hook knife or really any knives at all. 
    • Solutions:
    • I used the general purpose knife (started as a broken kitchen knife) that I have used for various shop activities, it is/was sharp enough but not very heavy duty.
    • A firmer gouge worked OK as a hook knife replacement but you have to hold the work with a vise,clamp or crochet to align forces safely and must approach from sometimes awkward positions.
    • Bench Chisels are great for working a flat/convex areas, and I've used them enough to have familiarity in paring but again affected by work holding and direction of forces, so be careful 
      • (I have a Scar on my right hand from my first carving/ER lesson when I was 9. Never put your off hand in the path of a chisel)
    • Small forstner bit in a drill press (with depth stop) allowed me to hog out a lot of the bowl material quickly. Make sure the part of the convex bowl bottom is touching directly under where you are drilling so you don't drill through. 

After Action Report

This project was just as much fun as Follansbee makes it look. I'm glad I gave it a shot with the tool set I had. Now I feel like it's worth a little investment into some green wood tools, confident that I'll use them. I can really see that I may be able to rough out a spoon and then throw the blank and a couple knives into a (checked) bag and have a really fun thing to sit and do on vacation (I'll probably leave the axe at home though...)

Positives

  • Free form shaping is a lot of fun, being able to create a sweeping line or consistent thickness is addicting to me.
  • Elemental, Taking lots of shavings and crafting something in my hands is intrinsically rewarding to us as "Man". This I believe.
  • Osage Orange, I like this wood (much better when green) and these small branches had lots of grain color variations. I was worried it would be too open porous, but in these small branches it wasn't really an issue.
  • Burnishing, I used a polisseur and it really was amazing the transformation it had on this wood especially. I wasn't able to get everywhere with it so I formed a rounded tip burnisher from one of the off cuts of the hedge and that worked like magic on this piece. (I then added a bit of mineral oil)

Negatives

  • Spoons can not be photographed. I've thought that Follansbee's spoons look a bit ungainly in photographs and that it was his Swedish style. Now I understand that form follows function and that this form looks great while handling/using the object, but it looks a bit funny (at least to my eye now) while sitting waiting for a photo.
  • Pith. When I roughed the handle out, I should have made absolutely sure I had removed all the pith. As it was, I incorrectly read the grain on this twisty wood and ended up having to excavate a groove along the back of the handle. Makes a nice finger rest detail, but I'll be more careful in the future
  • Pith. In the bowl, a tiny long-gone branch went through this crotch, so there is a tiny pith portion.We'll see what comes out of this, it may open into a hole in time, if so then I'll convert it to a slotted spoon...
  • Thinning in the handle. Because of the pith issues, I thinned one side of the handle more than I would have liked. It still feels good in the hand, but looks a bit thin (though hedge is tough/strong stuff).

Meh...

  • I get to buy some new tools, at least a couple of knives, possibly a carving hatchet.
  • Left handed. This spoon is a perfect serving spoon for me as a lefty, but not so much for 75% of my household. (Unfortunately I couldn't select the way the tree grew.)
  • I forced my wife to look at this project midway through (why do we do this?) Her reaction was that it was "like some sort of cave man spoon." I think she'll come to love these spoons but a ½ done lefty spoon wasn't love at first sight.



Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lego My Toshio

A few weeks ago, I got to assist at another volunteer construction project doing trim carpentry work. I get to hang out with great friends and hopefully can contribute something to the larger project, not fancy work, but time very well spent. As it was a-ways away as these projects tend to be, I was riding with friends. In general, I try to pack light, and frankly I don't have most of the usual tools for this work. Surprisingly, construction tools don't overlap with my woodwork as much as it would seem. The contractors in our group always readily share their SCMS, job-site Table Saw,  6' levels and the like. I usually try to bring the tools that most others won't have, but might be just what is needed for that special case. This time around, four of us would be traveling by Camry, so tool space was going to be at a minimum for sure.
I have traditionally brought a few of the typical odd shaped tool carriers, which waste quite a bit of space considering their appearance. Loading up the needful the night before yielded a footprint I knew would take up more than my fair share of the trunk. If only I'd built that small Dutch chest or Odate style carpenter's box...I decided I'd give it a shot, since it was this or try to squeeze most everything in a Lee Valley tote bag. Because I had all the hardware for the Japanese box (none) I decided I'd try that one.
I was limited by what I had on hand, a pair of walnut stained (not painted) ~5-6’ 1x12 pine shelves I'd pulled out of some closet or something. They would have to do, but I didn't like how the heavy stain would look, so I quickly ran it through the lunchbox planer to get it mostly down to bare wood. "Sweet, reclaimed lumber, I'm going green!" I thought, grateful for a descriptor short of "cheap" or "lazy." I settled on a size in short order, tall enough for a #4, as wide as I could get with one board, long enough to have enough wood (2') Then I got to work and "just did it". If you are unfamiliar with the form, I saw it first from Wilbur Pan and then several other variations appeared. While a simple crate, it has great features, it is dust tight (well mostly... at least as good as the Dutch chest) sturdy, even integral handles. Go ahead and check these better examples out:

The only slightly clever things I did, were:

  • Use a Forstner bit to create counter bore, an aid for unlocking
  • Use a ramped saw till for my carcass saws (standing "flat" the totes stick up higher than a #4...always double check your requirements first...)
  • Glued the bottom to the sides, I don't have cut nails on hand and thought the 16ga brads I was shooting might not hold well enough. The batons use screws...ahem drywall cough...
  • Burnished with Don's poliseur and some parafin wax. Adds such a nice feel & glow to it while keeping it "clean". I love that broom handle and see a lot of folks are excited about them.

The end result in a short evening's effort was exactly what I needed to get my minimal tools to this construction project, and got me thinking more about using this form as the basis for a tool storage system. While probably not as truly efficient as an English ATC or wall unit, I see this form could be modular like Legos.
My plan would be to use a standard width with 3 lengths (~1', 2', 3') and 2-3 heights, allowing me to create a stack-able unit (Jenga anyone?). There might be some access inefficiency, but it allows my various trade tools to go into their own crate and play well together ala the tanos system (saws, layout, shaping, chisels, bench planes, joinery planes, sharpening, plumbing, electrical, drywall...) It's not often I need to cross trades in the same work session. I'm rather fastidious about putting my tools away at the end of the day. I can see a row or two of these resting easily on the lower stretchers of a bench, giving convenient dust free access to the most used tools (and extra weight for the base) Perhaps some indexed pins or a key groove would allow them to interlock when stacked. I'm sure there are a few design niggles to be worked out, like making sure that the lock can be installed/removed with several stacked side-by-side (feel free to point out anything else as well). Still, given the low investment in time and materials in such a system, and the ability to tidy up the shop appearance, hopefully I'll be making a run of these in the near future.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Vise of Lethargy

This past winter was especially harsh; it broke  records and spirits along with them. 

Like many, I do a majority of wood work in the winter as summer dictates other uses for my time, like BBQ's, yard work, and playing with the kids. In 2013, I'd spent some time adding insulation to my attached garage shop (but no heat yet) This was to allow me even greater time in the shop, and hopefully keep it warm enough that others might want to hang out there with me when it's >50°. 

Despite the insulation, the temperatures were extreme enough to force me first to delay scheduled projects following the SSBO and vacation (related to finishing the dreaded bathroom remodel) and eventually to give up and merely lounge lethargically on the couch. I kept busy shoveling snow, There were some benefits to the eternal winter, like that the pond out back stayed frozen long enough to really have fun skating with the kids and enough snow staying on the ground to make a "skeleton" run on the backyard hill during the Olympics. Still, I didn't get much "done" in February, and frankly it seemed the more time I spent away from the shop, the more easily it was to stay away. 

In early march, My dad mentioned he'd installed (in his heated shop) one of the vises he'd picked up a couple years earlier at an auction in some sort of crazy buy 2 get 1 free vise pack or something. A couple days later, I was trying to shove something else in the garage (rather than face going out into the frozen tundra) when I realized that what was in the way on the floor was one of the other vises that was included in the bundle. This was a solid, vintage, simple, somewhat rusty, cast iron "Colombian" vise. This reminded me just how long it had sat on the floor waiting for me clean it up and attach some bench to it. Given that it wasn't a quick release style and I already have a screw for the front leg vise and Emmert clone for the tail of the planned Roubo bench build, this vise didn't have much of a purpose, but given the price I had paid (free) it seemed too good to get rid of, that's how it ended up on the floor in my garage for 2 years.

This night, instead of returning to Netflix, I decided to attach it to a current bench (a wall attached plywood topped mash-up that started as an L-bank of shelves from a previous home owner) I mounted it lower than usual to avoid cutting into the 2X4 front apron which would weaken it too much (and be more work.) Cleaning up the rust, mounting, and making a chop from scraps took only a couple of hours max. Those hours got what was a boat anchor off my floor, and my shop back in business. Maybe it wasn't a vice after all.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

More Stools

Haven't had much activity here this year, though I hope to have a few posts out soon now as the eternal winter has surely ended. Today I was doing a little woodwork and was reminded of how often we over think projects... Why with the SSBO, I spent time prepping and an entire weekend building one stool; today, after lunch, I completed an entire set of matching stools.
Lest you think I'm shirking my woodworking obligations chunking up this limb as "stools" it's from a major limb (reaction wood) coming off the red oak that died a year or two back. Getting that thing on the ground was pucker inducing. (The tree had a lean to it, and I needed to drop this 16" limb out first to make sure it all didn't end up in the living room) 
I still have the lifetime supply pile (also red oak, not my favorite wood) I had sawn up when another one died. That one was straight and clear, this one not as much.


Still, with that much green red oak (is that a show in Canada?) left on the ground (~3' diameter) visions of some sort of joint stool come to mind, or should I try to find it a good home, have it sawn up and craigslist it, or something else, any ideas? If I do want to give it the ol' Follansbee try, what is the best lengths to rive from? I guess I need to start shopping for an better axe and a froe now...

Off topic, both of these pics were shot only by moon light, after it was too dark to work and the tools were picked up (darkness). Near impossible to focus (temporarily set your bright iPhone in the frame to lock onto; I guess cellphones do have a place in photography:) and 30" exposure meant I had to bust out the tripod. Still, I was amazed at how interesting they turned out straight out of the K-5 (I'm easily impressed I suppose.) I'll have to experiment more with this type of photography in the future.


I am really sad to see this tree go. It was the last of my mature red oaks to go (out of about 5) Not sure what has done them all in, but it's most of the red oaks in the neighborhood. None of the walnuts, hickory, white oaks sycamore or maples have had issues (all of which I would prefer having drying in a stack) My once completely shaded back yard is now seeing a few too many spots of sunshine, looks like I need to plant a few replacements, maybe a copper beech or elm. Even if I won't be around to enjoy the lumber, they both look like good trees to add to the mix.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

SSBO Wrap Up

Last weekend was a great experience. First off, I want to thank Chris Wong for initiating this event; without doing so, undoubtedly I would have trudged on with my meh shop stool for many more years. Having participated, there were many positives.

  • I have gained clarity on what makes a mo' betta' task seat by really looking at the various functional features of even the "simple" backless stool.
  • I gained confidence and practice cutting odd chair angles. Chairs are pretty close to the top of the woodworking pyramid and can now see having one or more chairs in my normal project list (vs. a bucket list)
  • In seeing how successful others were in going the eyeballing angles, round/octagon legs route, I feel like giving that a shot too.
  • Having a deadline forced me to press on. Often on a project, I get stuck either daydreaming about what it will look like, or over analyzing what is next when really the next step is inevitable and I'm just stalling. Prior to the build, I wrote up a coarse process map, that helped eliminate "what's next?" hang ups.
  • Be careful what you consider scrap. The walnut I had was short, narrow, punky and had other defects. I could not have made a chest with it, but a chair or stool doesn't take much material, and I could work around the defects with some effort. I ended up with nice air dried material with consistent coloring for a great price, nothing. At the same time I used a piece of wood that several people had hung on to for a number of years. That feels good to put something to rest, once and for all.
  • It's OK to make scrap. I had to work hard to highlight great figure in the seat. In the middle of this log was a small amount of burl grain, it took quite a bit of finagling to get it into a place that would put it on display. My juvenile sense of humor also enjoys the word play of "crotch".
  • "All time greatest tool of all time this week" (FWW STL) Hands-down my plastic handled Veritas striking knife. This thing really punched above its weight. I've had it for a while and have used it a bit, but this was my first major layout project replacing an old reground kitchen knife. This little guy was inexpensive, yet it fit everywhere and never failed to leave a perfect line. 
  • Subtle differences make a big difference with chairs. This has been fit to my bum like a custom saw tote, and I like it that way since it is purpose built. However, my petite wife didn't think it very comfortable due to the width at the top relative to the cutaways. While it was only 2-3" taller (prior to final height adjustment) I thought it felt a bit odd too.
The obligatory things I'd consider doing differently... I probably shouldn't, but it is compulsive, so here goes. Also, if you are a judge, please skip along, nothing to see here.

  • Don't forget about vector clamping. With weird angles, it can be near impossible to  pull surfaces together. I found this out about midnight Saturday when I needed to glue the saddles to the top. Ideally, I should have hide glued on some blocks to allow the joint to be clamped normal to the joint. I hadn't time or lucidity required at that point and glued it together with tape (yellow glue) Because of this, I have some gaps that I will need to fill next time I get a chance. Not a huge deal but... it happened.
  • The "wings" on the seat come forward a bit much aesthetically IMO, but it "sits" perfectly for my tastes. My prototype seat was shorter, and I found it caused a minor pressure point on the thigh. I will give this a fair chance,  but I may end up altering this shape in the future and feather the lower edge,
  • I think I could have simplified the structure with joinery akin to a Morovian stool and combined with hexagon legs and had a faster constructed stool.
All in all this was a great experience. Based on the response this year, Chris will surely organize another, and can't wait to sign up sight unseen, hmmm that's an idea... Sealed orders build-off.