Summer 2019 Workshops at the Barn

I have settled on the topics and approximate schedule for next summer’s classes here in the hinterlands, with three of the four classes emphasizing toolmaking.  I will post about them in greater detail in the near future.  One minor change I’ll be instituting next year is that three-day workshops will now be Thursday-Friday-Saturday rather than Friday-Saturday-Sunday as before.

June’s class will be a metalworking event, Making A Nested Set of Roubo’s Squares.   The objective will be for each attendee to create a set of four or five solid brass footed squares, the sort illustrated in Roubo’s Plate 308, Figure 2.  The special emphasis will be on silver soldering, a transforming skill for the toolmaker’s shop.  The tentative dates for this are June 6-8 or 20-22, $375 + $25 for materials.

July’s class will be my annual offering of Historic Wood Finishing.  Each participant will complete a series of exercises I have devised for the most efficient learning experience to overcome finishing fears and difficulties.  Of particular importance are the aspects of surface preparation and the use and application of wax and spirit varnish finishes using the techniques of the 1700s.  Probably July 11-13, $375.

In August we will continue the pursuit of Roubo’s tool kit, this time Making and Using Roubo’s Shoulder Knife.  I have no way to know exactly how prevalent was this tool’s use in ancient days, but I suspect more than I can imagine.  Each participant will fabricate a shoulder knife to fit their own torso, so its use can be both the most comfortable and the most effective.  Probably August 15-17, $375.

The final class for the year will be a week-long Build A Ripple Molding Cutter.  As I have been pursuing this topic and blogging about it, fellow ripple-ista John Hurn and I have settled on a compact design we think can be built by every attendee in a five-day session.  Together we will be teaching the process of ripple moldings and fabricating the machines that make them.  September 23-27, $750 plus $200 materials fee.

Save the dates and drop me a line for more information.

Making a 1″ NPT Tap For A One-off Use

I am in the process of reconfiguring the plumbing at the bottom of the hydroelectric system (more about why later) involving increasing the size of the final flow route from 3/4″ to 1″, a dimensional increase of 33% and, more beneficially, a volumetric increase of almost 80%.  But in order to accomplish this I needed to fabricate some fittings with 1″ NPT female threads, requiring a 1″ NPT tap.  Ever priced one of those?  The number is exceedingly off-putting so instead I made my own using a $3 piece of  1″ NPT pipe fitting from the hardware store.  Since I was cutting threads in Schedule 40 PVC it was more than robust enough for the task.

I first tapered the end of the pipe with a file, then sawed four kerfs into the surface of the threads with a hacksaw.

With files I then reduced the cross-section of the threads such that each of the four kerfs became four cutting faces for the new threads which were being cut into a slightly oversized 1-1/8″ hole drilled in the PVC.

The “tap” handle was just an assemblage of plumbing pieces, and the thread cutting could commence.

This allowed me to screw in the fitting I needed for the radiator hoses that connect the penstock to the turbine valves/nozzles/impeller.

It took about an hour to make the tap, and it saved many, many dollar$.

Finally A Set of Mortise Chisels I Like — All I Had To Do Was Make Them

I have always found making mortise-and-tenon constructs to be more irksome than dovetails.  After decades of struggling and countless m&ts I came to realize that much of my animus was due to mortising chisels themselves — they simply were not amenable to the work I was undertaking most of the time.  Traditional “pigsticker” mortising chisels seemed akin to sticking a piece of steel into a rolling pin and using that to make a rectangular hole.  That approach works for some things, things I do only rarely, but in the diminutive work such as fitting the steam bent slats of Gragg chairs into their crest rails working with oversized pigstickers was not conducive, for me, to good controllable work.  Truthfully I got so frustrated that earlier this year I gave my complete set of vintage pigstickers to Steve Voigt.

Instead I made myself a new set of mortising chisels more in keeping with the work that I do.  And it all started with a derelict bunch of plow plane irons I’ve been assembling in recent years.  Such irons are usually available for little money, especially if the ends are completely boogered up.  Taking the pile that I had, I marked them all at the same length and noted their width.  It was pretty clear I could have a wonderful set of precisely graduated sizes perfectly suited for the work I do, at least 99% of it.  For the other 1% I have a couple more “standard” sized chisels, but who knows now if I will ever use them for anything but large scale timber framing.

After marking them all to the same length with tape I cut them with an abrasive disk in my micro-rotary (yes, that is my new Emmert Universal Vise; it is real and it is spectacular).  It took three disks and fifteen minutes before I had the raw stock to make the set of chisels.

Up next — wood handles from the scrap box.  Tulipwood?  Bocote?  Brazilian Rosewood?

A Valuable New Layout Tool For About One Cent

When assembling Gragg chairs I sometimes need to transfer lines from the pattern/assembly jig to the chair pieces.  Try as I might all my other squares and such would not work in the restricted spaces of the assembly jig, so I took a piece of scrap 2-inch aluminum angle stock and in about three minutes had a new tool that will become increasingly prominent in the tool kit.

I cut about an inch off the end of the scrap piece after squaring it on the table saw, then cleaned up the edges and put it to work.

You can see a trace of a previous faulty attempt to lay out the line I needed to mark.

Not much makes me happier than to come up with an elegantly simple and almost cost-free solution to a problem.

A Different Kind Of Sharpening (for a different kind of “woodworking”)

It’s been a preposterously wet early autumn and my routine of firewood processing has been disrupted mightily.  It’s looking like there may be some break in the daily rain perhaps next month some time, at which time I will dive in with vigor in pursuit of my goal of cutting two years’ worth of firewood, which must be a dozen tons or so.  This is a pile of 24″ diameter bolts I cut the last nice day we had almost a month ago.

This year I have acquired a specialized sharpening tool to make my work faster.   Harvesting wood in the mountains is a challenge, not the least being that when trees are brought down the ground underneath them is rocky, rocks being our primary agricultural product here.  No matter how carefully you work with a chain saw it is only a matter of time before you nick the rocky soil with the running saw, inflicting great damage to the saw chain which requires a pretty thorough re-sharpening.   And, my saw is slightly under powered (read: “lighter than a concrete block”) which means I need the cutting to be as efficient as possible.

I’m pretty good at chain sharpening but I am not fast, so I explored this tool with great interest.    Though pricey, roughly the same as a high quality sharpening stone for my finer woodworking tools, it has proven to be absolutely worth it for me.  Acting as a reverse pencil sharpener that attaches directly to the saw bar and sharpening each tooth hollow with a quick turn of the carbide bit, then moving on to the next indexed tooth with alacrity, I can get even a damaged chain ready in a couple minutes.

Here is the whole process demonstrated in near-real-time.

Regarding Possessions

I am unapologetically fascinated with “tiny house” videos on, and have been known to squander the better part of an evening watching them.  While I think for the most part the actual “Tiny House Movement” is silliness on steroids, featuring IMHO a disproportionate number of people longing to recapture pre-adolescent tree-house lives, I find many of the design solutions to the problem inspiring.  Still, the lives many of these enthusiasts lead are as alien to me as space creatures.  The thing that I think about the most is the de-cluttering gospel that virtually all of them preach.  It appears that none of them have any interests or hobbies outside of some weird combination of ascetic living/working and socializing, some as vagabonds in constant travel (Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell to me) or even worse, in a megalopolis living in a closet surrounded by people.

Sure, we may all have too much stuff and much more space than we “need” and are too materialistic, but the thought of jettisoning my possessions and reducing my life to a Lowe’s storage shed leaves me non-plussed.  Come on, I have thousands of tools, virtually all of which get used with some degree of regularity during my productive days (I have to wonder how many of these folks have other domiciles or storage units somewhere.)

Divesting myself of all my possessions would be impoverishing, and not just in the material sense.  It would rob me of those things that give me great pleasure on several levels, like this hammer for example.  It was a gift years ago from my long-time friend, MikeM, who custom-made it to fit my hand and my needs.  He crafted it to be both exquisitely functional and beautiful with its hand-fashioned curly maple handle and brightly polished head (which I think was salvaged probably from a bucket of old tools) , and I use it several times almost every day as a utilitarian implement that always does its job.  When I do I get to reminisce about our decades of friendship, and that is a different treasure.

I have other possessions with similar importance to me, some tools, some books, some mementos of other kinds.  They are all powerful touchstones in my life.

But, if ever I get reduced to living in a shed, um, Tiny House, odds are pretty good this hammer is going with me.

Trying The Spoonster Polissoir

I took a test drive with my recent practice piece when customizing the turner’s polissoir for a couple of spoonmakers to see how it worked.  I was going to carve a spoon bowl but time got away from me so I just used a hardware store wooden spoon to try it out.

I first immersed the crowned tip of the modified polissoir into a molten bath of 50/50 beeswax and shellac wax to harden it and align any wayward fibers. The waxed tip is really dramatic.

Then I burnished the bowl of the aspen (?) wood spoon (it was fine grained and essentially character-less).  The surface became soother’n cat spit even though I did no preparation to it, it came straight out of the package.  Clearly I could have used the polissoir on a much smaller, steeper spoon bowl (sorry about the blurry picture, auto-focus did a wonderful job of capturing the texture of my jeans).

I did it to another spoon after ebonizing it with India ink to emphasize the effect.  You can compare the polished half with the unpolished half and see the difference.

All finished it’s pretty good with about 15 seconds of burnishing.

Knotwork Banding Workshop – Day 2

The day began with the unveiling of the parquetry backgrounds glued up just before stopping yesterday.  A bit of water on a sponge allowed the paper backing to be removed easily and quickly.  The hot hide glue had congealed nicely but was still pretty green so we placed them in front of a fan to help dry faster.

Then it was on to trimming edges, laying out the knotwork inlay and excavating the channels for the banding.

Much of the incising as done with utility knives, but Brint in particular took a liking to my shoulder knives.  He gave both of them a long test drive and had definite preferences for them.  So much so that he encouraged me to have a workshop next summer to allow the participants to make one (or two).  We will get together over the winter to work out any bugs for that workshop.

Meanwhile I was noodling around and found a donkey-dumb simple way to lay out the knotwork pattern with pieces of the banding itself as the measuring devices.  Palm meet forehead.

For Brint and John, once the excavations were far enough along it was time to create the template block for the individual pieces of the composition.

Following the guide of Roubo they took blocks of walnut and created right-angle and 45-degree channels for the banding to be sawn and planed, then placed pieces of the banding as stop blocks in the channels.  This allows for limitless production of identical elements and very fast work in creating the knotwork pattern.

And knotwork corners became manifest on the boards.

Thus endeth Day 2.

The Week Before Ripplemania II

The second annual gathering of Rippleistas convenes a week from today, and I am readying the barn classroom and main room.  I’ve heard back from all three of last year’s participants and they hope to be here, along with one other person who will drop by if he can.  I’ve had no other confirmation of attendees wanting to join us even though the event is open-invitation and tuition-free so perhaps the charm of ripple moldings is less than I thought.

Although I no longer have the Winterthur Museum ripple molding cutter here, it having been made functional and returned, I know that one of our posse wants to experiment with a bench-top version of a ripple molding cutter, another will be perfecting his own machine built since last year, and two of us will no doubt be working on a new machine and revisiting my own machine design from last year.

I’ve ordered a pile of the nece$$ary hardware from McMa$ter-Carr so we should have everything we need to have a week of productive fellowship and undulating creativity.

Stay tuned.

Polissoirs Custom-Made For Spoon Carvers

Early last week I was contacted by two separate spoon carvers asking about customizing Roubo’s polissoirs for their needs.  I do not know if this is a point of discussion among spoonsters or both of these creative folks arrived a the same point at the same time.  I gave it a try, and both orders have been sent off.

Given their descriptions of their needs I started by looking through all of the turner’s polissoirs I had on-hand, selecting the three with the longest bristles.  Ostensibly these are designed to have 1/4″ bristles that can be gently domed for polishing the concave contours of bowl turnings, but in this case the crown needed to be dramatically more pronounced to fit into the bowl of the spoon.  Since all of the polissoirs are hand-made there were minute variations in them, I wanted the ones that were a smidge longer (its a technical term you might not recognize) to accentuate the curve that could be imposed on them.  Longer bristles allowed for a higher crown, so that is where I started.

With the first test I discovered that a very dramatic crown was possible.  I worked cautiously to impart the contour I though they needed and arrived at a point that made sense to me.

The test subject got pretty dirty and the label beat up so on the subsequent two I first wrapped them with aluminum foil to provide a bit of protection.

I hope these work for the spoon makers, if not I guess I will hear back from them.  Of course the unmodified end can serve to burnish the flat and convex surfaces of their spoons.

My practice polissoir remains on my workbench and I will carve a spoon-sized shape to see how well it works.

Stay tuned.