26 September 2020

Letter to a friend

When I lived somewhere else, I ended up having a few really good friends whom I am still close to 16 years after I moved away.  One of them was like a father figure to me.  The age gap was about right.  He was a master woodworker and has had a successful business doing so.  We hadn't talked for a while so I wrote him a letter.  It sums up a lot of what I have thought about the five years so far.  Here is what I wrote:

" …. I've been steadily woodworking for the past 4 or 5 years now.  I really enjoy it.  The desk we (well mostly you) built back in 2000 was so enjoyable that I wanted to do more.  About 6 years ago I remodeled the garage (similar to what you did for my home in Everett).  I was all set to go with machine tools.  I needed to save up for a year after the remodel before I could afford the tools.  I decided I was gong to spend that time researching brands and tools I should get.  I really didn't know much about any of machine tools.  Well, during that time, I discovered hand tools and the way folks used to woodwork before machine tools became common.  It was hard to describe but I felt this huge pull to want to go this direction.  I didn't understand it at the time but I do now.  I missed working with my hands in the lab.  From about age 19 to 36, I was doing wet chemistry in the lab between schooling and work.  I really enjoyed it, more so than I realized.  In 2004, I took a job as a project manger in the biotech industry and haven't worked in the lab since.  The hand tools were a way of filling the void and it requires some level of attention to detail.

Please keep in mind I'm not trying to live in a different century.  I have done some projects (nightstand and clocks) for rough sawn boards but getting wood S4S by hand is not fun.  As such, I've found a local place in Livermore, where I live, that will mill up S4S wood to the widths and thicknesses I need.  As for lengths, they want to prepare the stock in 1o to 12 foot lengths.  That is fine.  Their prices are comparable to what I would pay at a proper lumber store for S4S.  It costs more than rough sawn wood but it takes care of the donkey work.

I've learned a lot and am "enrolled" in an online Master Class series by Paul Sellers.  Sellers has a lot of videos on YouTube.  I am not fast (couldn't do hand tools for a living) but then again it is a hobby so I don't need it to be fast.  I am at best average from a skill perspective but I find if I am patient, I can make things look pretty good.  It's been a lot of fun. I mostly work in cherry and have done a little with walnut and often will use some maple as a contrast.  Garnet shellac (sometimes called ruby shellac) is my favorite finish for cherry.

The one perk of hand tools is that I don't really need a lot of space.  I am working against one wall in the garage and have almost all my tools hanging on pegboard in front of me, under the bench, or on the side.  I have some storage shelfs in another part of the garage that I use to hold my wood. The cabinets, though nice, weren't really necessary in retrospect.  Such is life.

Attached are some images of various things I've made as well as my shop.    Next time I call (soon) we can chat more about woodworking.  I would love to see some of your recent projects.   …."

19 September 2020

Christmas 2018 & Saying Goodby to Some of My First Pieces

Two events collided in the late summer/early fall of 2018 resulting in more Christmas gifts.  After the large amount of work I experience the year before, I still wasn't that excited about making a bunch of handmade gifts.  The local school/church was going to have a Holiday Boutique.  My wife wanted us to have a booth.  She really wanted for me to make crosses with inlay.  I had want to try inlay, which I knew I could get from the local Woodcraft or Rockler.  Also, I had some scrap quarter sawn white oak that wasn't big enough for a project put perfect for making crosses.

At this point, I was three years into woodworking and I was starting to have a collection of items I had made (Paul Sellers style clocks, simple tool carriers, etc).  When I first made these items, they felt like children.   How could I ever part with them.  After having made a bunch of items, I felt ok.  Plus, whatever was left over would make good gifts for the family.

Figure 1.  The inlay crosses.

After making a few, I discovered it was easiest to run the groove, then cut to width then length and add the inlay.  I then planed smooth, cut a half law and assembeled them with glue.  Finish was my go to: several coats shellac, remove nibs with sandpaper, few more coats shellac.  Then wax via 0000 steel wool.  They came out nicer than I would have expected.  My wife loved them and I let her pick out whichever one she wanted.  Happy wife, happy life.

As for the show itself, my wife decorated the table, bought some other items to sell.   I felt happy and that we looked "professional."  As for the show itself.  It wasn't well attended.  It wasn't advertised very well and at the very last minute it was moved.  I was a bit disappointed about this but not too much.  Whatever was leftover would be family gifts so I was finished early this year.  I did sell one of my Paul Sellers clocks.  I was over the moon happy to have sold my first piece.  It was bought by another family I know well at the school.  All is all I was happy.

Figure 2 Our table at the show

12 September 2020

Christmas 2017

As we were moving closer to Christmas 2017, I was two years into my hand tool woodworking journey.  I wanted to make hand crafted gifts for my family. Given the large number I wanted to make, I needed to find the right kind of project that would tick the appropriate boxes.

One of my favorite channels on YouTube is one called Treebangham.  I really enjoy the builds, the way he does it, and the behind the camera banter he has with his wife while filming.  In 2015 (before I discovered him), he had posted a three video series on making Japanese Carpenter style boxes.  

Link to first video by Treebangham on the Japenese Carpenter Box

I very much enjoyed videos 1 and 2 of the series.  All kinds of lights went on in my head in his third videos.  Spoiler Alert - in his third video series, he had smaller boxes.  The smaller size or two were slightly smaller than a shoe box and looked like a perfect size for Christmas gifts.  So, I made up my mind then and there.  I reached out to Treebangham, and he was kind enough to share some dimensions of the smaller boxes.  Below is what I finally ended up making for my family.  

They are made out of walnut and maple (I like the contrast between the contrast between the two woods) and finished with shellac then wax.  I made a total of 19 (gave one away before taking the photo).  Before making all of them, I leveraged my manufacturing background and decided to make just one first.  I started in Oct 2017 so that I would have plenty of time to make them all (I was so wrong).  The first one came out nice but it took 10 hours or so.  However, I learned a lot in making it.  Whenever I finish a project, I write down in my woodshop notebook (an evolution of the lab notebook I had to keep for 18 years when I was a lab based scientist) what I would do differently or any insights I had.  That way if I go back and do it again, I am not starting from scratch.  In this case, I immediately made a second one.  It went easier and I got it down to something like 6 hours.  I also had further ideas on how to stream line.  Let the production begin.

While the first two were completely done by hand tools, if I wanted to make these on time for Christmas.  I borrowed some of my neighbors machine tools - chop saw, band saw, and contractor table saw.  The chop saw and band saw (re-sawed 3/4" walnut to approx. 3/8") really helped speed things up.  Table saws have always scared me (don't know why and don't really care).  

As I was cutting, to keep production mode flowing, I used 5 gallon Lowe's buckets to keep the parts organized.  On bucket per part type.  That way, I did a single operation per piece as I went.  After all the dimensioning was done, it was back to hand tools to smooth and fit pieces.  Then came the job of assembly.  I was going much faster this time around.  However, there were a lot to do and Christmas felt quite close.  I was up late several nights close to Christmas finishing and waxing and swearing that I would never make hand crafted gifts again.  I got down to a total of four hours per box.  A larger improvement over the first one I made.  I am sure I could get it down even further if I ever made them again.

They came out quite nice and were a hit with the family.  One of the funnier bits was that I didn't tell folks how to open them.  There is an angled wedge on the top that you push out then slide the box top one direction and then lift out.  It's not that difficult once you figure it out.  It was kind of fun watching various folks brains work to sort it out and then the a ha moment.

A few of these boxes were extras that I use to store woodworking items in.  Every time I use them, I smile because I think of all of the boxes that I made.

05 September 2020

Vax for screws

No, there wasn't a typo in the title but we will get there in a bit.

I was blessed in that one set of grandparents lived next door to us.  I spent a lot of time there and slept over often.  My grandfather was retired by the time I was born.  I have many fond memories of him and my grandma.  One of my grandfather's hobbies was to do woodworking.  He like to make picture frames but he made many other things including toys for us.  

Recently, I was talking to my dad and he reminded me of something my grandfather used to say.  Also, I was watching a YouTube video and saw someone doing it which made me think to write this blog.  My grandfather would say "use wax on your screws."  Except, having grown in Southern Italy and having come over in his 30s, wax sounded like "vax."  I love accents.  When I head the story from my dad, I could hear my grandfather's voice in my head.  He's been dead for over 40 years and I still miss him.  Life is too short.  He gave other good advice to me, even on his deathbed.  Using vax on screws is good advice and I do it to this day.