29 August 2020

Very Happy to be a Hobby Woodworker

NOTE:  Sorry for all the writing.  It's something I wanted to document (so hopefully some day my daughter can read it).  There are pictures of my little slice of heaven below if you want to skip to that.

In my early 40s, I have a watershed moment.  My daughter was about 9 months old an in daycare.  As most parents with young children can attest to, my daughter and my wife and I caught all kinds of colds for the first year or so while she was in day care.  There was one cold that after two or three weeks was handing on and on separate weeks I had taken some sick days to rest.  This was very unusual.  Typically if I take a sick day and rest up over the following weekend the cold subsides. This one wasn't, as such I called my doctor. I had been using the same doctor for 15 years and really liked her.  I considered to be my age when in actuality she was 15 years older.

When I called to make an appointment, I was informed that she had died from breast cancer.  I was stunned and without words.  Here was someone my age who had passed away.  We all know this happens but this one hit home.  There had been many things I had been putting off doing.  I was living in a condo and wanted to be in a house.  By having a house, I could woodwork.  Yes, I know it's possible in a small space but at the time I wasn't thinking of hand tools.  Also, my doctor dying made me think of the other things I had wanted to explore.  I was thinking that in my last 10 or 15 years of a working career I might want to be a woodworker or teach college chemistry.

Again, the impact of the death stuck with me to the pint that within six months we had sold the condo, I was teaching one night a week at a local college.  After a year or two in the home I had remodeled the garage and bought my woodworking tools to start my woodworking journey.

I learned a few things: 

 I still liked my career but I had to move to a small start up to appreciate that.  I had loved the big company I was at and am very grateful for my experience there.  In order to feel revitalized, I needed to be at a small startup when I could leverage all that I knew how to do to help a small band of folks push the frontiers of medicine.

I liked teach college chem a lot -the one night a week I teach at my almamater is very fun and I have great faith in the upcoming generation.  I didn't want to jump into it full time.  When I "retire" my dream is to teach two (possibly three) days a week.  It's so much fun. Plus since I don't depend on the money, I don't worry about getting laid off or if I don't dot the i's and cross all the t's.  I really do focus on trying to do the best job at teaching the students.  I don't care about all of the other stuff.

And for woodworking, I gave serious thought to doing it full time.  I have decided I will keep it as a hobby.  I enjoy working my hands and the pride in making things.  I have decided that I don't want it to do it for a living.  What I like about doing it as a hobby is that I really do get to pick and chose to do what I want.  I can take as long as I want and not have to worry about pay.  If I screw up and have made a piece of hardwood firewood, I don't worry about it eating into my profits.  I typically do a morning session, long lunch, then an afternoon session.  Three to five hours in the shop on one or both weekend days makes me a happy camper.

If you have been patient enough to read all of this, below are some recent pics (Jun 2020) of my workshop.  It is really just a wall or two inside the garage.  I can work with the cars being in  but I like to pull them out.  In a future post I will talk more about what I like and would do differently (ac, off a cement slab).

Life is good.  I still think about my poor doctor.  I feel sad she died young but I have taken that event to make changes in my life that I think she would be please with.  Now if I can just loose the weight she would be even happier as she looks down on me.

Figure 1.  The main workbench.

Figure 2 To my right side some tools I use less frequently.

Figure 3 The junk bench.  At some point I need to clean up this area and build a proper bench for the space.

Figure 4.  Two and half shelves I have to store my wood.

22 August 2020

Mongo - my foreplane

I don't always buy S4S wood.  Even when I do buy S4S wood, it isn't always in the thickness that I need.  Thought the more I woodwork, the more I try to buy in the thickness I need as getting boards to thickness is something I don't enjoy doing.  About after a year of woodworking I decided it might be handy to have a foreplane to hog off lots of wood.  My foreplane creation I have labeled as Mongo (anyone get the reference?).  It is ugly but it is lovely in how well it works.

I started with one of those wood plane kits you can get from Lee Valley.  At the time, money was tight so I worked with scraps I had around.  I laminated up some oak for the body and laminated up some pine to make the handles.  For the actual construction I followed the instructions.  They were more than adequate.  Since the wood I was using wasn't really oversized, I wanted to make the resawn sides glue back on easily.  As such, I drilled some alignment holes before I sawed off the sides.

For shaping the handle, I just traced the handle from one of my handplanes.  The knob shape I just winged it.  I didn't have a lot of tools at the time.  I had a 4 in 1 rasp my dad had given me 25 years ago.  No files.  I'm not even sure if I had a gouge at the time (I think I did).  Anyway with the 4 in 1 rasp, sandpaper, and maybe a gouge I made my handle and knob.  Though they look quite primitive, it feels good.  Both handle and knob have big deep tennons and I just mortised into the body to install them.

I put an 8" or so radius on the blade using my dad's grinder (another tool I don't have even to this day that would be handy).  I just free hand sharpen the blade.  Though this is a somewhat ugly tool, it works very well at the task of removing stock.  It has come in handy on a number of projects.

I enjoyed building this tool and have the parts to do a few other tool builds: kit from Hock for a spokeshave & kit from Blackburn tools for a frame resaw.  Not sure when I will get to them but Covid-19 has hit the place where I normally get my dimensioned wood and I'm waiting for an order I placed for the next big project.  These tool builds might happen while I wait.

15 August 2020

Gift Box for my Dad

One of the joys I've had since I have started woodworking is trying to make a box to house the gift I am giving to my dad for birthday's, father'd day, Christmas, etc.  Figure 1 is a snap shot of one such gift.  I was between jobs at the time so I wanted to use what I had around.  As such, I used three boards of scrap cherry that were 3/4" thick and sawed it in half by hand.  It took a while for sure.  It got the wood to a more desirable thickness.  Though not obvious in the photo, the long sides and short sides and top and bottom are all book matched.  I was quite happy with that.  The dovetails came out ok but I did need to put in a few slivers of cherry on some because of gaps.

Figure 1 Gift Box closed

For each of the various boxes I have made for my dad, I have tried different methods for the top of the box to open.  For this one, I glued it all up and then sawed the top off.  I was a bit nervous doing that but I took my time with the handsaw and it was relatively easy to do.  Took my number 5 hand plane and then smoothed everything up.  To get the saw off part to stay put, I lined the top with some thin Spanish cedar I had purchased at Woodcraft.  They have a nice selection of pre-milled woods for just such use.  Used amber shellac then wax to finish it off (Figure 2).

Figure 2

If I had to do it over again, I would width and height of the piece different values.  I had just read By Hand and Eye so I was using proportions for the length to width (2:1).  For the height I went 1:1 between height and width.  In my mind, it sounded fine but it reality it does look as good.  I know this because I can look at the open box in Figure 2, imagine them as the finished proportions and they look better.  Such is life. I didn't loose sleep over it.  Next time I will know.  My dad like the box (I don't remember what the gift was inside the box) and it is proudly on display in his living room.

08 August 2020

Shaker Style Step Stool

In Fine Wood Working Issue #266 (Jan/Feb 2018), Christian Becksvoot wrote an article about a step stool influence by a Shaker Style.  I immediately fell in love with it. The construction looked straightforward and I had a young daughter at home so it would get some use.

I decided to make it out of poplar and give it a milk coat paining.  My wife is an artist and she was then going to finish it off with cartoon characters.  The layout and construction were straightforward.  It had dovetails on the front.  It was my first set of dovetails that went into a piece. I had practiced dovetails before but I was bit apprehensive on getting five to all fit.  I took my time and they came out nice.

My wife was too busy to paint cartoon characters.  Initially I was a bit grumpy about this.  I would have chosen cherry otherwise as the wood.  I just don't think poplar looks as nice when finished as compared to other woods.  I had seen an article on how to finish poplar so it looks nice (https://www.popularwoodworking.com/american-woodworker-blog/make-poplar-look-pretty/).  I decided to try that.  I was happy with the way the finish came out (Figure 1).

Having said that I prefer cherry is true.  I don't want to dismiss poplar. It works nicely with hand tools and it can have some very nice color as it matures.  I have used a lot of poplar in things for the shop. 

My daughter uses this chair on nearly a daily basis but not as designed.  Rather than use it as a step stool, she likes to sit in it as a chair when watching TV.  In this way, it actually gets more use.  She is starting to get too big for it.  I am starting to debate if I should make a larger size one for her or a Limbert style chair (Figure 2).  All good problems to ponder.

Figure 1 The finished step stool

Figure 2 Limbert style chair I like

01 August 2020

My Go To Hand Planes

As a hand tool woodworker, I spend a lot of time using my hand planes.  I very much enjoy using hand

planes.  I know shavings aren't the end goal but I just love seeing shavings spill out of the plane.  I have settled on three hand planes that do the majority of my work (Figure 1).  I certainly have other hand planes, but these three are the ones I use the most.  I think I have now been working with this set up as is for one (probably closer to two) years.

Figure 1 My go to hand planes as of 2020

It melds with both what Paul Sellers talks about as well as Chris Schwarz talk about.  I am documenting my journey.  Where possible, I'd like to acknowledge where I learned something.

My three planes are a Craftsman No. 4, Lie Nielsen No. 5, and a Lie Nielsen No. 3.  

I use the No.4 with its more cambered blade to do the bulk of wood removal.  By using it for the bulk of the removal, it helps to allow the other blades to retain sharpness longer.  This old Craftsman No. 4 I got from Hyperkitten and I think I paid $25 for it.  It looks almost unused and is a delight to use given how light it is.  All I needed to do was sharpen the blade and it was good to go.  I have a fondness for Craftsmen tools.  When I was a teenager in the 1980s, working on cars was a right of passage.  Before I obtained my own car tools, I used my dad's 1950s vintage Craftsmen tools.  As such, the brand has a fondness in my heard.  Some day I might try to get a No. 3 and 5 Craftsmen as well.  I like how light it is and the thin carbon steel is really easy to sharpen.  

The No. 5 jack plane is just that, a jack of all trades.  I can smooth and make things flat.  For most of my work, this plane does it all.  I will admit, I do like the refinement of the screws on the blade adjustment knob.

The No. 3 is what I use for smoothing.  I like the smaller size.  For a long time, I was using a 4-1.2 for smoothing.  The No. 3 and its smaller size seems to work a bit better for me.

All in all, I am quite happy with the set up.  I'm not really looking to change anything with the exception of maybe going to all Craftsmen brand.  I am curious as to how a No. 2 plane would work as a smoother but this isn't something that is pressing.  Time will tell.