Monday, March 30, 2015

In Only 6 Weeks: Handworks, Amana Iowa

Six weeks from now preparations will begin in the utopian village of Amana, IA for Handworks: Woodworking Tools and Traditions

By now its no secret that this shindig was hatched by us back in 2011. The formula was simple. Ask a bunch of our fellow toolmakers, and those driving the craft to meet up in an old dairy barn just for the fun of it and invite all our customers. No entry fee, a presentation by the gurus, free tools, all in an old German hamlet founded on the very craft that we love.

Handworks is not a regular event. Heck, we don't even know if it will happen again. And I can promise you that it will never happen again the same weekend, in the same location as the Studley Exhibit.

If you were there for the first Handworks, there is even more reason to come back for this version. And if you missed it in 2013, well, you get the point. Here's who's new this time (in addition to nearly everyone who was at Handworks 2013):

Anderson Planes
Bad Axe Tools
David Barron 
Hock Tools
Lake Erie Toolworks
Patrick Leach
Philly Planes
Plate 11 Bench Co,
Daniel and Sally Shaw-Smith
Sauer and Steiner
Vesper Tools
Blackburn Tools
Frank Strazza
Jim Van Hoven
Mary May
Sterling Toolworks
Jarrod Stone Dahl
Claire Minihan
Lee and Lindsay Lee
Jim Sannerud
Tim Manney
Don Weber
Greg Pennington
Peter Galbert

If that wasn't enough reason, there are insane door prizes being offered: infill planes, shooting planes, hollows and rounds, a complete workbench, new and most awesome tools!

And don't forget the Godfather Of Hand Tools. Roy Underhill will uproot the powers that be during his riveting talk on Saturday morning. It's free, so better get there early.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Case For Sharp Tools-The Lid

Now that I've been relieved of my secrecy by "the boss" I'm free to share some more about what ate up entirely too much of my December and January.

Last fall I got an email from Megan Fitzpatrick, editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine asking if I'd write for the magazine again. I of course said yes, since I not only have a personal affection for the staff at the magazine, but also because of how they treat their contributors. The past articles I've written have been published word for word, with only very minor, if any, editing (parenthetical words at the end of the sentence have their punctuation within the parentheses.) Not that I'm particularly concerned with being edited, but rather because I enjoy experiencing the voice of a particular writer almost as much as the content itself. Your experience may be different, since I wrote this article in the voice of Chewbacca.

The other reason I decided to take this project on was a complete no-brainer. Chris Schwarz asked if I'd make a fancy lid for a chest he would build, and then write about how I did it. It took me about three nanoseconds to make that decision.

The design for this lid sprung from an English chest featuring a joiner hoisting a frothy mug of ale before his bench and tools. Knowing I couldn't possibly improve on that absolutely perfect theme, I ventured off into my own territory, borrowing only the sunburst and central circle elements from the English chest.

I won't bore you with all the various iterations I played with before I settled on a final design, which didn't happen until I was nearly finished with the chest. The central circle was originally going to feature a painting of Daedalus' joiner from a famous Pompeii fresco, but Chris and I decided that as cool as that would be, something made of wood made more sense.

It wasn't until the last few weeks before the deadline that I decided on the carved montage of tools. Inspiration for this came from a 17th century Dutch joiner's guild coin, a carved marble panel of an absolute mess of tools, and strong urging from Chris.

The tools themselves are not just representative of craftsmanship in general, but are modeled after actual tools from my kit. The dividers were a Christmas gift from my family, a hand-forged set from blacksmith Seth Gould. The backsaw is an Eccentric Toolworks dovetail saw that was gifted to me by a dear friend. And the chisels are taken from engravings from l'Art du Menuisier, my favorite woodworking book. As with most woodworkers, hand-cut dovetails hold a special importance for me, so the tools reflect that.

This project is sort of like taking a steam roller to an oud. Lots of similar design elements, albeit on the flat plane. I'm okay with building this stuff in three dimensions, but for some reason laying it up on a solid panel had me scratching my head a bit. Not about the process, but more about the substrate. I cover the process of building a bomb-proof, stable, lightweight, nail-grabbing panel out of solid wood that has all the benefits, but none of the drawbacks of commercial ply. It's cool stuff.

And that reminds me that I have a few people to thank for helping me along the way.

Bill Thomas
Bill is one of the finest woodworkers I've never met. I've followed his work for a few years now, all online. If you want to see an absolute tour de force of woodworking technique, check out his Georgian Secretary build at the OWWM Woodworking forum.

Patrick Edwards
Yes, that one. The master.

Chris Schwarz
I haven't done too many joint projects in my time, but this has been the best. Chris gave me more or less free reign over the design. And he didn't balk one iota when I decided the lid looked too long for its width. He trashed the first dovetailed carcase and started fresh just for me.

Peter Ross
Peter was excellent to work with (as usual). I usually mate up work like this with highly refined hardware (polished brass or stainless). Not anymore. I think the crisp and rigid parquetry of the lid looks simply incredible with Peter's hand-forged wrought-iron work. The finish on the hinges and crab lock are right off the hammer and file, no polishing or further refinement. They look perfect with the lid. Perfect.

Raney Nelson
When I was in the throes of this project, and its looming deadline, Raney provided an excellent coalescing mechanism for some crazy ideas I had floating around. He also provided me with the excellent, infill-grade kingwood and boxwood I used for the backgrounds and tool montage.

Jon Fiant
That's your macassar ebony Jon, thanks again.

Before you ask me how many hours I have in the lid, know that I'm blissfully ignorant of that number. I think if I really knew how many late nights, weekends, early morning and "days off" I have in this, I would likely wretch. Still, it doesn't stop me from designing the next one in my head.

Chris' article on the chest comes out in the August issue, my bit in the following, October issue.

If you want to see this chest, I plan to have it in the Benchcrafted booth at Handworks on May 15-16.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What Is Toe In?

Toe-in can be confusing. Lots of people think their leg vise (or any face vise) should close with perfectly parallel jaws, like a veneer press. And in theory, that would indeed be ideal, but only if your work piece also has perfectly parallel faces. The reality is that its easier and more functional to make a vise with toe-in than with perfectly parallel jaws, with the bonus that toed-in jaws hold less perfect pieces as perfectly well as perfectly parallel pieces. 

Here's why toe-in works. Think of your leg vise as a holdfast, with the moving jaw (chop) being the holdfast itself, and the leg your bench top. You would never place the pad of the holdfast right at the edge of a board, where the holding pressure is only on a very small portion of the board. Rather, you try and place your holdfast near the center of the board, to distribute the clamping pressure over a wide area. If your vise didn't have toe-in, chances are it would grab your workpiece, like the holdfast placed at the edge of the board, below the center of the piece, that is, closer to the bottom edge near the vise screw (where there's less holding power.) Then when you go to plane the edge of your board, it slips and pivots. That's because you're holding the piece at the farthest point (in the vise's weak spot) from where you're stressing the board. This arrangement puts the most stress on the board, making it very easy for the board to shift in the vise. 

Toe-in moves  the holdfast pad (moving jaw) from the edge to the middle of the board, and thus pins the board firmly to the bench top (vise leg.)

The other reason for toe-in is for workpiece stability. If you're working the board into the edge of the bench (dovetailing), and not along the bench (edge planing) you want the piece held at the very top edge of vise opening. If the piece were held lower down in the vise (lack of toe-in) the jaws will be slightly open at the top and your board can vibrate in the jaw during sawing. 

Below is a customer pic of their Glide installation. The top of the bench will fall between the red arrows. The Crisscross is built with toe-in, and because of a number of factors, the toe-in will be slightly variable from bench to bench. But that's the beauty of toe-in. It doesn't need to be precise. As long as there is some toe-in, you're fine. The range is very forgiving. At the bottom of this chop, there's about a 1/2" gap, but once the jaw reaches the top 4" of the vise (the only area that holds your work) the toe becomes subtle. And that's a good thing, since once you tighten the vise down a bit, the jaw flexes slightly and spreads holding pressure over more of your workpiece, with the most pressure right at the top of the jaw--exactly where you want it. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Chest In My Boot

A covert exchange in a harvested Indiana corn field.

Three woodwoorking nerds gather on a Chicago side street.

A back-alley hand off in Roger's Park.

The case for sharp tools is home.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Making a Simple Lid Stay

I don't much like lid stays. They take up too much room, look contrived, and force you to compromise the design of your chest. I've never seen one I like, or one that works well. The best lid stay in my opinion is the wall behind your (tool) chest, but what if you can't put your chest against the wall?

But before you assume my opinion has any value, I should say that I don't have any experience working from a tool chest, only building chests for home use, but my opinion about stays applies to tool chests as well, I would imagine.

So I got thinking, what about a stay that holds the lid open, but also keeps it from shutting? So, not a chain, not a wooden stop at the back of the lid, not a gas-shock-encrusted whoopty-do from Rockler, but simply a stick that engages both the lid and carcase and immobilizes the lid.

Here's what I came up with. I made it with materials and tools that anyone can get locally.

The principle is simple. A stick with a pin on each end. One pin engages the lid, the other pin engages the carcase. The metal bits you see above are truss head rivets (or wagon box rivets), bronze sleeve bearings and a piece of 1/8 x 3/4" hot rolled flat steel. All stuff you can get at the hardware store or Homeus Depotamus.

To make the stay look hand-forged, I did a little hand forgery. First I needed to drill the two holes on the ends.

The hole is 15/64", which is a tad smaller than the shaft of the 1/4" rivet.

A bit of work at the 1" belt grinder, along with some files established the shape of the end.

I decided to try my hand at some fancy file work. This is really fun stuff. A bit tricky keeping the two sides symmetrical though.

After I fancified the other end, I took a bastard file to the faces to get rid of the mill finish and make it look more "natural".

Then I whacked the steel with a hammer to mimic the look of a hand-wrought piece. Finally, I went over the whole thing with a wire wheel to blend it all in and ease any sharp edges.

I chamfered the rivets to ease their entry in the hole.

I ran a chainsaw file in the hole and enlarged it until it was about 0.005" smaller than the rivet shaft, so when the rivet is tapped in, it stay tight. In machinist talk, that's a "press fit".

Then to make it all look hand-wrought I filed the head of the rivet and whacked it with a hammer.

Another minute on the wire wheel, followed up by a couple coats of gun blue and some wax made it look like this.

I cut the bronze bearings in half to get two per piece (they ended up about 3/8" long.) The batten for the chest lid gets drilled to accept the bearing. This keeps the stay pin from wallowing out the hole over time. I glued it in with a bit of CA.

Did the same to the carcase.

The thing works. There's enough flex in the 1/8" steel to engage the stay with ease. Here's the only downside. If the stay takes a firm hit, from outside, or inside, it can pop out of the hole, causing the lid to swing free. This can happen with a chain stay too, with the lid slamming shut. A better situation than swinging to the back and ripping hinges out. On this chest I positioned the stay so the lid is leaning slightly back. But I'm going to move the hole in the carcase forward so the lid is slightly leaning forward. That way, if the stay gets knocked the lid will simply slam shut instead of falling back. There are a bunch of ways to fix the stay further, but I like things to work quickly and easily, so I'll be keeping the stay in this form.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Video: Other Ways Of Reversing Hide Glue

Don't argue with the dead guys. This is real technique.

Friday, February 27, 2015

How I Got Green Woodworking

Green woodworking. It's a term that's batted around quite a bit nowadays. Trouble is, what does it really mean?

Yes, in general the term refers to working wood while its still "green" or wet. But what I never had a clear idea on was the exact reason to work it wet. Maybe I'm thick. Or maybe the literature out there didn't give a clear reason why.

Back when I was cutting my teeth on serious woodworking, I'd read up on every aspect of the craft. Langsner, Alexander, Dunbar, among others. But none of it stuck with me, so I ventured down the road paved with kiln-dried planks and started building stuff. But what about chairs? They were a sort of mystery in my early days. Sure, I could use my skills to build them with kiln dried woods and furniture joints, but as I got more interested in making them, I discovered Galbert and couldn't get images of his work out of my head. Can't make those with planks of wood from the lumberyard. Or could I? When I bought two stick chairs from Chris Schwarz and asked how he got the stock, his answer sort of shocked me. "It's just regular lumber." I knew he'd studied with professional chair makers, so his answer carried some weight.

I decided it was time to take decisive action, decidedly. A week-long, intensive class with Galbert cemented the principles in my mind, and it's affected my woodworking much like the first instrument I built. My woodwork will never be the same.

Here's why you work green wood. It's easy. That's it. There's nothing more to it than that. There's no magic in the moisture. There's no mojo in the medullary. If there's a single reason to build stuff out of green wood is that you can, with a tiny, cheap tool kit, get furniture parts from a tree. And not rustic furniture parts either, but the best furniture parts. You are your own sawmill.

And if you think you have to split green wood because it gets you strong parts, well, that's mostly true, but it's also not entirely accurate. One thing I learned from luthiery is how soundboards are produced. Chair parts need to be strong. But you know what else needs to be incredibly strong? The soundboard on an oud or lute. See, on a typical oud (or again, most any lute) the soundboard is made of spruce that is only about 1/16"-3/32" thick. This isn't oak mind you, its a soft wood. To the soundboard is glued the bridge, to which is tied 11 strings, which when brought to pitch exert over 100 pounds of constant, unrelenting, levering tension through the bridge and the glue-only joint (no pins, tenons, or joinery of any sort) to the soundboard. And if that soundboard has any grain runout, if the grain lines don't flow virtually uninterrupted from the bottom of the sound box to the neck, it will fail. The bridge will find the exiting tubes of lignin and rip a hole in the face in a violent, explosive instant. Bam! And the crowd goes wild. So how are soundboards produced? By sawing. The spruce logs are first split, then each soundboard is sawn from the split face to keep runout to an absolute minimum. The same principle can apply to harvesting chair parts from straight, sawn boards.

Here's the other thing I learned about chair joints from Galbert that took away all of my past frustration. There is no such thing as a dry piece going into a wet piece. This always threw me for a loop. How do you stage parts? How do you keep them "wet?" Do you have to make a chair in a certain amount of time? Do you have to build a whole dining room full of chairs in a week before the legs dry out? The answer is no, because no matter what you do in your shop, a nearly finished chair part can sit in storage for years and still become part of a perfect chair joint. And that's because you're joining a dry part to a super-dry part. And the beauty of all this is, you control when the super-dry part becomes super-dry. It's all in your control. I think of my drying kiln as a shrinking machine. It makes stuff smaller, then it gets bigger when I remove it from the kiln (but not immediately.) That lets me make tenons that can't, under any circumstances, shrink and become loose, unless I put the entire finished chair back in the kiln. I shape the tenon when its in its shrunken state. After it hits glue and lives in the non-kiln environment, it gets bigger. Forever. For me, this was the key that unlocked the understanding of how green woodworking relates to how chairs are joined. Theoretically, you could process enough chair parts for the rest of your life while they are green (again for ease of work) then store them in your shop and build chairs with them at your leisure. When I figured this out, I realized that one could use dry wood, even well-sawn straight-grain lumber and extract chair parts successfully from the planks. Remember Schwarz: "it's just regular lumber." Of course there is a bit more to it than that, but at its core, this is it.

This info was transmitted to me by Pete during our class. But you don't have to take a class with Pete (although I highly recommend it) to get access to his savant-like knowledge of this craft. His new work, Chairmaker's Notebook published by Lost Art Press is now available. I've been reading the PDF for a couple weeks now, and have come to a conclusion. This book isn't about chair making. It's woodworking Kung Fu.

Even if you don't plan to make a chair, this is the #1 book on how a tree is put together, and how best to take it apart.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reason #2 - Why You Should Come To Handworks 2015

The Foreign Invasion

Short of gassing up your Piper Cub and spending two months braving airport security in places like Timbuktu, there's only one practical way to see the fine wares from great toolmakers the world over. And that's in Amana, IA at Handworks 2015, less than three months away.

From Canada


Rob Lee and the Atlas of the hand-tool world: Lee Valley and Veritas. Imagine if you will, that the Lee Valley catalog was no more. Would you feel like you lost a family member? Yeah, I thought so. And Lee Valley is very much a family business, and they treat their customers like it too. Here's to hoping they bring something new and shiny to the old barn.

Sauer And Steiner

Konrad Sauer is arguably the most accomplished infill planemaker to have ever lived. And he's still alive! Konrad's planes are not just works of art, but are also the most highly functional and satisfying planes I've ever laid my hands on. And I've tried them all. Literally. Every infill plane ever made has crossed my bench. That's a complete lie of course, but there's no joking about Konrad's planes. They are the pinnacle of the toolmaking craft. If you're new to infills, don't be shy. Konrad is a woodworker just like the rest of us, and there's nothing he likes more than sharing the craft with fellow enthusiasts.

From England

David Barron

From Southampon, England, furniture maker and tool maker David Barron will be showing his work and tools in America for the first time. We first became acquainted with David a few years ago through his blog. When if you hear "English woodworking" you imagine impossibly fine dovetails, incredibly figured timbers, a precision in wood that you thought impossible, then David is the embodiment of that tradition. His toolchest with piston fit tray is something to behold. See more at David's blog. 

Philly Planes

Phil Edwards is a wooden plane maker who we last had the pleasure of meeting at the very first Woodworking In America in Berea Kentucky. Phil works in the classic English tradition, and offers a full line of traditional wooden planes from hollows and rounds to full size jointers. Check out Phil's Facebook page for more pics of his gorgeous work.

From Ireland

Daniel and Sally Shaw-Smith

The creators of the legendary "Hands" series on traditional Irish crafts will be in the Festhalle Barn to offer the entire original series on DVD and answer questions about their incredible documentary produced in the 1970's and 80's before many of the traditional Irish crafts and trades died out. As we've said many times, and can't emphasize enough, the Hands videos are treasures of humanity from a time and place when superficiality and shallow pop culture barely existed. A glimpse of life from a more meaningful era than our's. You can preview their documentary excellence here.

From Australia

Vesper Tools

Chris Vesper makes the finest bevel gauges and squares we have ever seen. They are flawless in every way. I use a Vesper bevel gauge almost on a daily basis. It is not only perfectly crafted, its also built like a tank and although I've dropped it on more than one occasion, it's not only weathered the fall perfectly, but didn't loose its setting.

And just in case you missed it:  Reason #1 Why You Should Come To Handworks 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hand Forged Holdfasts - In Stock

Our hand-forged holdfasts are once again in stock. If you'd like one, or many, the only way to order is to send us an email State how many you'd like, and provide your full shipping address, and we'll send you a bill. Price is $189 per. 

These are made entirely by hand, using traditional methods. 

For video, and more info, click me

Monday, February 16, 2015

How To Install Barrel Nuts

We have a love-hate relationship with our barrel nuts. On one hand, they offer a really quick, solid and cheap way to put together a knockdown workbench base. On the other, if you don't get the holes lined up, you can easily crossthread the fasteners and ruin them. I know this firsthand because I've done it myself, both when building benches commercially, and during a class I taught at Kelly Mehler's school a few years ago. I even had a student run to the hardware store for a tap to fix his nuts. So I snuck away to the local tap to sob with some other nuts.

But the alternative is equally as fussy. We've long considered changing the barrel nut to a flat tapped plate that would slip into a square mortise and slide around very easily to find the end of the bolt, eliminating the self-jigging of a round nut. The problem with this is two-fold. First, you have to cut a square mortise. It's time consuming compared to banging out four holes on the drill press. And the cost of cutting, refining, drilling and tapping square plates is much higher than turning round barrel nuts. The former would require lots of machine time and human involvement. The latter are turned automatically on a bar-fed CNC lathe, which is why we can sell the set for less than $30 (and that price has remained the same for several years, even undergoing a price reduction at one point.)

Here's the sequence we use to install barrel nuts. It applies to both our main barrel nuts, and the end cap barrel nuts. These instructions are also available soon in PDF form on our downloads page.


The barrel nuts come with a zinc plating to prevent rust. Sometimes this coating builds up inside the threads at the plating facility. Before trying to install fasteners in your bench, thread the bolts fully in and out of the nuts a couple times to test their fit. As with any mechanism made from metal, a couple drops of oil will help lubricate the threads and ensure a smooth installation. We bias the fit tolerance on the nuts a bit tight so they hold well. Don’t be alarmed if you can’t thread them by hand at first. A few cycles with a wrench will loosen them up. Your leg and rail joinery should be cut and ready to assemble. A short stub tenon (1”) is sufficient.

Drill the holes in the legs only

Drill a ½” hole through the leg using a drill press (if possible) for the bolt. For looks, you can counterbore for the washer and bolt head if you want it recessed into the edge of the leg. Position the hole so it’s centered on the rail in both directions. Barrel nuts work well in material no thinner than 1-3/4”. This allows you to leave enough material at the bottom of the barrel nut hole so its not visible from the front of the rail. But if your rail is thinner and the barrel nut hole needs to go completely through the rail, it’s fine.

Next, assemble the workbench base (clamp it if possible, or brace it against a wall or bench) and use a long ½” drill bit to drill the hole in the end of the rail.
The hole in the leg acts as a guide bushing so the hole goes straight into the end of the rail.
Drill an inch or so at a time at most, backing out frequently to clear the shavings. Drill as deep as you can. If you need to go deeper (depending on your particular leg’s width and drill bit length) remove the leg and continue drilling the rail only.

Barrel Nut Layout

To find the position of the barrel nut hole, you’re going to use the position of the hole you just drilled as a guide.
Place a bolt deeply into the rail and carry the position of the exact center of the bolt up and across the mortise and just onto the face of the rail.
Next, place a straightedge on the mark, sight from above, and line it up so it’s dead parallel with the bolt. Mark a line against the straightedge.

 Thread the barrel nut onto the bolt so the bolt protrudes about ¼” past the nut, and while holding the bolt in the correct place for your leg width, mark the center of the barrel nut on the bolt line.

Drill a 1” hole on the mark, drilling 1/8” deeper than it needs to be to allow for some clearance.
In a 1-3/4” thick rail there will be enough barrel nut protruding that you can easily grab it with your fingers and thread the bolt in with your other hand. The bolt should end up right in the center of the barrel nut hole.

The final step is to enlarge the ½” bolt hole in the leg and rail. Because of seasonal movement you want the bolt to always fit loosely. This does not compromise strength at all. It also allows a bit of forgiveness if some of your holes aren’t as precisely located at they should be. Enlarge the holes to 9/16” or even 5/8” with a twist drill. If you’ve also mis-located the barrel nut hole enough that the bolt won’t thread in easily by hand, you can correct your error by enlarging the barrel nut hole, or simply drilling out some waste on either side of the existing hole using a Forstner bit. Make sure you clamp the rail firmly to your drill press table when cutting this partial hole.

If you feel resistance as you’re threading the bolt into the nut, stop and examine what’s happening. The fasteners should thread together easily and smoothly, and only require a wrench for the final turn or two.You may need to tighten up the bolts in mid-winter when your bench parts dry and shrink. This is normal.