10 April 2021

Roubo Frame Saw & First Time Working with Ash - oh my

 I took the week off from work and am starting a new project.  I am build a Roubo frame saw using the kit from Blackburn Tools.  For the frame I am making it from rough sawn spalted ash (57" long x 8" wide x 2" thick that Blackburn tools was kind enough to sell to me at the height of the pandemic).

Last week, I didn't mind taking a cherry board down from 1/2" to quarter inch.  This ash is a much harder wood and I wish I had a bandsaw (I am saving for one).  I don't so I am doing it by hand tools.  Needless to say, it is quite the workout.  I've cut out and dimensioned the arm handle pieces.  Now, I need to "just" need rip out and final dimension the two stretchers.  Wish me luck.

Though, I'd prefer not to do this work, I will admit there is some satisfaction from doing it.  Can't wait till I have a bandsaw.

03 April 2021

Mongo Work Good

 About a year or two after I started woodworking, I built my first hand plane from a Lee Valley kit.  I decided that I needed a fore plane after reading some of Chris Schwarz's writings on coarse, medium, fine tools.  I made it out of scraps of laminated oak (body) and pine (handle).  It is ugly but beautiful as is light, powerful, and works very well.  I named it Mongo (based on a character from Blazing Saddles movie) as it seemed to fit the brute strength and simplicity of the tool.  Despite a huge wide open mouth, I get very little tear out if I use it for finer work.  The 8"ish radius camber on the blade works exceptionally well at hogging off material and thinning boards. 

Recently, I had a 1/2" thick piece of maple I wanted to use in a frame and panel construction.  I wanted the panel to be 1/4" thick.  I could have done a lot of other things to use the 1/2" thick stock.  But, I wanted what I wanted.  I've often found what matters most to me isn't what I make but rather how I make it.  I wanted it to be 1/4" thick because that is what I wanted.  It took a fair bit of muscle to get it there but I felt great satisfaction.  There was a slight increase in complexity because to get the best grain flow, the two laminated pieces had the grain raising in opposite directions and it required a bit more attention to avoid tear out.

Every time I look at the frame panel, I will smile because I will know what I did.  I even left some of the scallops on the inside non show face face so I could feel it as well.  This seemingly insignificant decisions will bring me joy for the remainder of my life because like Frank said, "I did it my way."

27 March 2021

My Little Slice of Happiness

 It's a Sunday evening and it is raining outside.  I've been in the shop all day.  Not always woodworking but in this space.  It's quite except the pitter patter of the rain and sounds of the waste wood being removed from the wanted.  I am in the moment.  I am very happy.  Life is good.  There are grander workshops than mine for sure but this one is mine and it brings me great joy.

20 March 2021

So Why Does 1/32nd of an Inch Define my Joy or Sorrow?

 I am preparing a bread box for my wife.  I wanted to do an exemplar job of the front frame and panel.  I did the back panel to practice first.  Learned a lot that helped me.  

So, for the front, I really took my time in layout.  Was really pleased with how everything was going (plough grooves, appropriate thickness of tenon, the haunch fit, etc.  After got everything pared and cleaned up, I was very happy with the tightness of the joint on the show face of the front panel.  Then, I took a look at the back side.  I was annoyed.  With the calipers, it appears to be about 1/32nd of an inch gap.  

I went immediately from joy to frustration.  Then, I got even more angry.  Why should a 1/32nd of an inch bother me.  It's on the inside that will rarely be seen (only when you open it up).  Even then, after it's assembled, finished, and the gap filled with colored wax, it will be hard to notice.  Yet, there it is.  A gap the size of the grand canyon.  Yet, a gap that doesn't impact any functionality.  Sigh.  

I doubt I am alone on this.  Now the big debate is do I pare down the font so that it snugs up the back? I haven't decided.  I will have to see how the other three tenons fit.

13 March 2021

Stuff in my pockets

 As a kid, I used to be fascinated with what my father carried in his pockets.  This was long before the term every day carry came about.  The pocketknife post from last week got me thinking of what do I carry and why.  Below is a picture.  I will elaborate a bit on what's in there and why.

Pocketknife - I've been carrying one since I was 7.  I like it to have a blade, slotted and Philip head screwdriver, and a bottle opener.  Handy tools I have used my whole life and am glad its in my pocket.

Flashlight.  LEDs have really increased the brightness over the past 20 years.  I have been carrying one of some kind for a bit over 20 years.  It just comes in handy in all kinds of situations.  Prefer it to run on AAs but the current one (because my young daugher at the time "stole" and lost my other one) uses 123 batteries.  Such is life.  All I want in a flash light is that it turns on and off.  I don't need a bunch of modes.

Zippo lighter with an aftermarket butane lighter insert (something like Thunderbird).  The kerosene original in the Zippos would dry up after two or three weeks.  No point in carrying an unfueled lighter.  The butane easily goes 3 months and probably longer between charges.  I don't smoke.  There is something I like about having the ability to make a fire if I am somehow stranded overnight.  It just feels comforting to know I can do this.

Minimal keys.  I'm not a warden so I really question each and every key I put on there.  In the house I have the big ugly key chain that I have been using for 30+ years and for which I don't know what half of the keys are for anymore.

Minimal wallet.  Small wallet helps me from collecting junk.  This is a good thing.

Cell phone - a handy device I have a love hate relationship with.

USB drive.  Handy to have to put important files on.  Every now and then it really has been helpful transferring files.  Keep lots of photos and woodworking articles on it. 

06 March 2021

My Pocketknife

 My dad at a young age (under 10) was climbing out of a tree and somehow got his clothing snagged on a branch was being strangled.  He considers himself fortunate that he has his pocked knife and cut himself free.  As such, I was given a traditional Boy Scout Pocket knife at age 7 and was strongly encouraged to carry it every single day.  This was the 1970s and a pocket knife wasn't considered a weapon of mass destruction.  I still have it but it is in a different location that I can't visit and photograph due to Covid-19 restrictions.

It took me a while to habitually carry it.  Often, I would ask my dad for his knife to cut a string, etc.  He would say, "Joe, there are two things you don't lend out in life - your knife and your wife."  As such, I would often need to go get mine.  As such, from age 7 through age 30 I carried that Boy Scout style pocket knife.  It was a good knife and I used it for all manner of things.  By age 30, I stated to feel sentimentally attached to it.  Since pocket knifes can easily fall out of your pocket, I began to worry that loosing it would really upset me.

At that point, I had to think about what pocket knife did I want to carry.  Firstly, I made it clear to my dad, he couldn't give me one as that would repeat the problem of it being sentimental.  Though I liked all of the features on a Boy Scout pocket knife, the key features I really wanted in my next knife came down to a blade, flat head and Philips head screw drivers, and a bottle opener.  If I had that, I could do just fine.  Yes, I had used the can opener before on my pocket knife.  Mostly it was just because I had it.  Only once did I really need to use it.  Having only needed to use a tool once in 23 years meant it wasn't a must have feature.

I tried initially and a few times since to carry a Leatherman type tool both in pocket and on a holster.  Though nice, it was just too much tool.

For my 30s, I settled on the Swiss Army Knife Tinkerer model.  It had a blade, bottle opener, and both types of screwdriver heads.  I'm glad no one gave it to me.  I did have some slip out of my pocket and disappear.  Then after 9/11, I ended up giving quite a few to TSA because I was so used to keeping one in my pocket I often forgot to put it in my check in luggage.  I was quite happy with this pocketknife and found the tweezers and toothpick to be handy.

In my early 40s, I wanted something with a slightly bigger blade.  I didn't want a Rambo style knife.  Fortunately, at that time, Swiss Army was making the next generation Swiss Army knife that had a slightly bigger blade and all of the tools I needed.  It also had a saw blade which I didn't need but such is life.  I carried that knife for about a decade.  

About a two years ago, I wanted a knife that maybe wasn't as bulky.  It took a few false starts.  Then, I discovered this Milwaukee knife shown below.  It is under $50 (might have been $30) and quite a bargain in my mind.  It was basically the bare bones knife I had wanted.  It had a blade (part of it serrated which I could do without), a bottle opener and a really nice quarter inch bit screwdriver that came stock with a bit that had a flat head and Philips on the other side.  I've been carry it for about a year and have been quite happy with it.  I took off the pocket clip as I don't need it that accessible.  

In terms of blades.  Everything since my original Boy Scout pocket knife, which had a a high carbon steel blade, has been a bit of a disappointment.  All the other knives mentioned have been stainless steel.  I can't get stainless nearly as sharp as I can other blades.  For a pocket knife, the level of sharpness is useable but not exciting.  I use the simple sharpener I bought at Woodcraft to sharpen it.  This is the same sharpener I use for my woodworking marking knives.  It does an "ok" job.  For what my pocketknife needs to do, it is fast enough where I tend to sharpen my pocketknife once a week.

I know a tool such as a pocket knife is such a personal choice that I am sure we all have strong opinions.  For now, I am content.  I am sure I will still keep my eye open.  What do you carry?

27 February 2021

mini-anarchist tool chest (ATC) - painting and interior top box

 There were two key operations remaining to finish the mini-ATC.  I needed to make a box for the interior and then paint the outside.

For the top box, I decided to go with a single larger box.  At this point, I don't have all the specific tools and I want to use if for a while (at my dad's who lives an hour away) to see what else may need to be added.  Given some of the unknows, a single larger drawer makes things easy.  For this, half inch poplar I purchased from a big box store fit the bill.  I really lucked out in that I found some with really cool greens and purples.  For a box, this kind of bold color on poplar is really nice.  Sadly, I know if will fade to a nice brown.  Making the box was straight forward.  

I wanted to run grooves in the bottom to hold the bottom but I didn't want to use half blind dovetails.  So, I decided to try something I've seen Ralph B. in the Accidental Woodworker do.  I ran the grooves, made the standard dovetails, and then assembled as normal.  There were rectangular holes on two sides of the box.  I simply cut some plugs and filled in the square holes.  After the finish was applied you can't see this unless you know they are there and are looking very closely for them.  You will easily see one of them.  That is because I dropped a piece of poplar on the floor and used a piece of pine to fill that gap instead.  The other last little thing I did for this upper box, was to put some small handles inside.  That way, I could easily pull it out of the box.  I just glued on some scrap cherry I had  and put a chamfer on the bottom side so that I could easily lift it.

One thing that drives me nuts is that 1/4" plywood isn't truly 1/4" as it is metric.  I didn't like the flop in the box bottom.  As such, I glued some blocks under the box bottom to snug up the rattle.  It solved the problem and provided extra support for the drawer so all is good here.  Before I make my next box, I am going to buy the proper metric plough plane blade.

Now, onto painting up the exterior.  For it, I wanted to use milk paint.  I wanted a red under layer and black on the outside.  I like the look it gives that gets even better with age (or maybe this is a trend I have fallen into).  Elia Bizzarri in Fine Woodworking Mar/Apr 2020 (pgs 24-28) outlines a process to do this.  I followed it and I am happy with the results.  Having said that, using milk paint was stressful the first time through.  I am used to finishes such as shellac which flow nicely.  Milk paint has a different flow (I think draw is the proper word).  Also, the first coat of red looked crappy.  Now, I had heard all of this before I started.  It is true.  This is where I kept Paul Sellers mantra of keep going and don't give up in my mind.  When it was finished, it looked really nice.  I didn't need manually distress it as I didn't get complete coverage with the black.

Only thing left to do was to add the handles (Horton Brasses).  I elected not to put a lock on it as I don't plan to leave it places where it really needs to be locked.  

All in all, it took around 175 hours to make it.  I really enjoyed it.  I am very happy with how it turned out.  Now, I need to start buying tools to fill it.  I have some and in the next post I will share with you what tools I have and my thoughts on what I want to purchase.

20 February 2021

mini-Anarchist Tool Chest (ATC) - The Lid

 With the carcass and skirting done, it was time to move onto the lid.  I read the ATC carefully.  The lid is a frame in panel.  I planned to follow with the frame using mortise and through tenons.    Where I planned to differ was the panel.  The full sized ATC has a beefy lid.  Given that folks often sit on the full sized ATC, use it as a saw bench, etc, this really makes sense.  If I make a full sized one, I will follow the panel as in the book.  However, for the mini-ATC I am making, it really won't get sit on so I decided to use a 1/4" panel.  

My initial plan was to use poplar that I had purchased at 1/2" thickness.  Then, I had an idea.  I had some scraps of 1/2" thick cherry.  I liked that idea that all black on the outside and a pop of cherry panel when I opened it.  I glued up the cherry and cut to size and on what would be the inside, I thinned it to 1/4" so it would eventually fit into the grooves on the panel.  I thought I was done, then, I had another idea.  

I had received a  1"x1"x12" piece of ebony on fathers day.  Why not also try and inlay the ebony into the cherry.  That way, there would be a double "surprise when opening the tool chest.  Since I haven't done much inlay, I wanted to come up with something simple that would have nice visual appeal.  It took a few days but it came to me as I nodded off to sleep.  I could turn a square piece 45 degrees and it would look like a diamond.  This would be in the center.  Then, on the edges, I would take 1"x1" squares and cut them on the diagonal and have triangles.  It was easy to make and I thought would look nice.  After cutting up the pieces of ebony, I used a freshly sharpened marking knife to trace.  Then, I mixture of chisel and small hand router plane work made the cavities.  Glued them in and planed them flush.  It really come out gap free.  I was very happy.  Before install, I finished with freshly made Garnet shellac the inside of the lid and waxed it.

For the frame and panel, I used 3/4" thick pine.  Used my plough plane to run the grooves.  Then it was onto the through mortises.  It turned out to be very difficult for me to do this.  To be fair, I haven't done many mortise tenons.  Still, it looked like a drunken beaver cut them out.  It bothered me quite a bit.  To the point, where I took some birthday money and purchased a Powermatic table top mortiser for future mortise work.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I kind of feel like I am giving up on mortises.  Then again, the birthday money my dad game me was specifically to be spent on buying some sort of tool (no it wasn't enough to cover the whole tool cost) so I bought the mortiser.  At the end of the day, I will probably do both for mortises.  Some by hand (to get better) and some with the mortiser.  As long as I am happy I think that is all that matters.  I am not a purist when it comes to working with hand tools but the first machine tool was a big step.

Unlike mortises, I really like making tenons.  I do it like Paul Sellers teaches.  I cut them fat and then use a router plane to make them fit.  It worked well.  Somehow, the back side of the mortise was wider than the front.  No idea how that happened so I will again blame the drunken beaver.  As such, I will use wedges on the back side of the tenons.  Also, to make the side gaps disappear, I used some wood filler.  Once painted, the it will look fine.

Glue up was eventful and everything was square.  From there, I installed three Horton brasses hinges and then the lid lip.  I used a chain from Rockler so that the lid wouldn't get much past 90 degrees and blow out the hinges.  The chain was a bit delicate so I put one on each side.

With the lid done, I am down to making a box for the inside top and painting the chest.  This will be in the next (and likely last) post on the miniATC series.  

13 February 2021

The mini-Anarchist Tool Chest (ATC) - bottom and skirting.

Now with carcass assembled and inside done, it was time to move onto the bottom.  For this, I was going to keep it simple.  I took 1/2' thick poplar I had purchased from Lowes and cut it to slightly over width and did enough boards to cover the span.  Fortunately, I own a combo tongue and groove plane so it made it easy work to get them ready for installation.  Before installation, I applied shellac and then waxed.  The big debate was do I nail them or screw them to the bottom.  I decided to go with screws.  Not that I will likely ever need to replace them in my lifetime but I find unscrewing something slightly more easy to do than nails.

I didn't want to have the chest rest directly on the ground.  Though this chest will never see a harsh life over my span, I still wanted to have some sacrificial bottom pieces so that in theory these pieces would rot first.  I had some scrap oak laying around that was the perfect size so I used it.  Is oak better than other woods for this?  I don't know.  It's what I had and I feel a little extra bit of happiness when I can use up good pieces of scrap.  I don't let my scrap wood pile get too large so pieces will eventually be burned or tossed away.  I clocked my screws.  It would drive me crazy if I didn't  I wish it wouldn't but it would.  

Now, it was time to move onto the the lower then upper skirting.  I reread the section in the ATC carefully that discussed this.  The dovetails are to run in the opposite direction relative to the main carcass to provide strength in an alternate direction.  I used 1/2" thick poplar.  Getting three of the four sides (i.e. the big U shaped piece) connected was easy.  Trying to measure get dovetails cut on the end of the big U so that the fourth piece would sit properly flush on the carcass was tricky.  I did ok,  The bottom was a bit more gappy (ca. 1/16") and the top (1/32").  I guess this is the kind of thing you just need to do a few times before figuring out how to get it gap free.  No worries though, since this piece will be painted, I will use wood filler to fix the gaps.

The glue up itself wasn't too bad.  Just lots of clamps.  I glued the bottom and top separately.  In order to ensure everything stayed in place during glue up, I used a lot of wire finish nails and nailed the skirting to the carcass.  Again, it will be painted so it's easy to make these nail holes disappear with filler.  With that all now done, it was time to move onto the top.  The top was my hardest bit to do.  So much so, that afterwards, I bought a table top mortiser for future through tenons.  But that is all a story for my next blog next week.


06 February 2021

mini-Anarchist Tool Chest (ATC) - interior construction

 With the dovetails of the main carcass completed, I wanted to move to do the interior next.  When I had made my mid-sized Japanese carpenters tools, I saved the interior for last.  At times, I had found it hard to put in some of the nails.  I figured if I marked up some locations while the carcass was dry fitted, used my engineering square, and was careful, I could probably do the interior assembly next.

Figure 1.  Finished mini-ATC

Figure 2.  Interior shot of Japanese carpenter tool chest

In terms of techniques and layout for the mini-ATC, it would be similar to the Japanese carpenter tool chest.  It would just have less tools.  Though I would cut space for three saws (future proofing), I planned to only put in two.  The tools would be held in place by nailing sawn down grooved wood in the sides made with the plough plane and then some 1/4" thick poplar so the tools didn't rattle into each other.

I did the layout carefully so that when things were assembled, things would line up.  If it didn't, I would just remove the bits that didn't a fix when everything is assembled.  I am a woodworker after all.

For the grooved saw pieces, rather than nail them into the sides, I glued in some thin stock to basically build out a housing dado on both the side wall as well as the 1/4" stock.  That way, all I had to do was slip in the saw pieces into place during final assembly.  My tool chest isn't a roller coaster so I figured a friction fit would be good enough (and it has been so far).  After that, I nailed in the small 1 or 2" grooved pieces onto the sides that would eventually hold the 1/4" thick poplar that keeps the tools from banging around.  Sadly, I didn't take any in process pics of that.

From there, I nailed in some scrap 3/4" wood that will hold the top tray.  It's fairly straightforward.  Only think I needed to check was what would be the tallest tool in the bottom level so that the bottom of the tray doesn't hit it.  I can't recall which it was but it was likely either a hand plane or the saw handle.  I put these 3/4" scraps on all 4 sides to better support the tray that will sit on top.  I suppose you could do just two.  I also like to put little chamfers on these pieces.  I do it because it makes me feel happy that I paid attention to some little details.  No one else will really notice and that is fine by me.

With all of this done, I wanted to finish the interior as it's a bit easier to do so before assembly.  Also, I've never done it this way so it was an opportunity to try something different in a low pressure situation.  My go to finish is garnet shellac.  I but the flakes and dissolve it up to about 1-1/2 to 2 pound cut.  My possible, I prefer to use drinkable 190 proof alcohol.  Mostly that way, the only chemical fumes I'm breathing in is ethanol.  I've used denatured alcohol to dissolve but I don't think breathing in methanol is a good idea.  Being a chemist, I tend to worry about what I breath in probably more than most given the nasty chemicals I've used over the years.  Of course, I forgot to take any images of this.  The only thing I did was use blue tape to cover the areas that I wanted to glue up.

With that all done glue up went well (sorry for some reason I didn't take these photos either).  Below shows what the finished bottom looks like.  The tools shown in the bottom aren't the final ones that will be kept there.  They are placeholders as I purchase the final tools.  I have some and that will be a future post.  The next post will be attaching the bottom (and maybe the skirting).