Home-made Froe 2

I shaped the scrap ash handle of the froe with the usual tools (spokeshave and rasp) and mounted the blade with small carriage bolts.  Since the holes in the planer blade were slotted the blade moved around more than I wanted so I drilled a third hole and added another small bolt.   With everything fixed in place I ground a small back bevel on the splitter so that the tool would not “dive” to one side while in combat.

A quickly cobbled together sheath from scrap leather completed the activity, although I just glued the leather together.  I will rivet it together tomorrow so it is a bit more permanent.

Taking the froe for a test drive was a delight as it split perfectly and was easy to both drive and maneuver, yielding very thin and narrow pieces exactly as I had desired.  These two were about 3/8″ x 5/8″ x 30″.

Petite Dovetail Saw Making Workshop – Day 1

This is a summer to try new things for workshops.  Thus far one was less than successful (my annual traditional finishing weekend scheduled for the final weekend in April; the workshop itself was fine but the timing was just too early in the year), and two that were complete successes IMHO — the Traditional Handtool Woodworking confab in Arkansas and the recent Make A Petite Dovetail Saw weekend.  As with the Arkansas shindig, I had taught folks to make a saw one-on-one over a relaxed and fluid timetable but never as a group with tight and fixed time budget.

From my perspective it was a rousing success.

Making a dovetail saw involves integrating three major components: the handle, or tote (I never heard the word “tote” until a few years ago, and now it is everywhere although I still prefer to call a handle a handle), a spine or back, and a plate or blade in which teeth are cut with a file.  My technique for small saws is to not set the teeth but rather taper the plate so that the thickest cross-section is at the teeth and tapers off towards the back.  I find this method works best for me for making saws to cut very small joints in thin stock.

The first step in any custom-made saw is to fit the handle to the user’s hand.  I had my own pattern for the students to examine, and each of them modified my template to their own preference.

A couple of students brought prized wood for the handles, and my sash saws came in handy.

They transferred the pattern to their prepared wood for the handle and sawed it out with a coping saw, then trimmed the perimeter with files and rasps.

Next came shearing the saw plate from coil .020 x 1-1/2″ spring steel to an 8-1/4″ length, cleaning up the ends with a diamond stone and a bench hook.  Everything in the fitting and sizing of the saw was determined by this piece from this point on.

I used to bend the brass backs from flat stock but in recent saws I have switched to 90-degree 1-inch angle bar, 1/16″ thick.  It cuts the time down to almost nothing.  The angle bar stock is annealed with a torch, then allowed to air cool.  Once cool the piece is set on the bottom of a large bench vise and the vise is closed, keeping a careful eye on it to make sure it bends evenly and nicely.  After the initial bending it is moved to the top of the vise to crank it down as much as possible.

This is followed by a little hammering to close the fold tight to make sure the saw plate will be held/pinched snugly once everything is assembled.

Then came the most intimidating part, cutting the teeth in the blank spring steel saw plate.  We used 4″ XX slim taper NOS files (I am always looking for more) at a 16 t.p.i. spacing.  I printed out the 16 t.p.i. pattern on my computer so they could tape it directly to the filing vise for easier spacing.  One of the fellows brought his new Gramercy saw vise in his luggage, and we ogled it shamelessly.

I used to alternate filing each tooth from the opposite side, but then learned that Andrew Lunn filed his saws all from the same side.  Given his results that was good enough for me, and I demonstrated and had the students work in this manner.  Since we were not going to set the teeth there was no reason not to try this method.

They all took their time and established a good rhythm, their results were more than satisfactory.

Thus endeth Day 1, ahead of schedule and making me optimistic about a special project for them.

Another New Tool For Making Backsaws

One of the options I wanted to make available in preparation for the “Make a Petite Dovetail Saw” workshop was the ability to use a slotted brass spine for the backsaw.  To make the stock for this I ordered the brass bar stock and a 1/32″ slotting saw blade from McMaster Carr.

The issue I had to resolve was that the only slotting saw big enough to clear the table surface of one of my table saws from inventory had a 1″ arbor hole, while the shaft for the saw blade was only 1/2″ diameter.  I made a fitted spacer from a standard large washer to allow the blade to be used on the shaft, adding a pair of oversized collars on either side to keep everything lined up.

I then had to fabricate a jig to keep the bar stock in the correct relationship to the slotting saw blade in the table saw.  Again some stuff from the scrap shelf came in handy.  A piece of 1/4″ marine plywood served as the panel, with stops glued front and rear and another pair aligned with the miter-crosscut slots to keep the whole unit fixed in one place and one place only.  You can see this panel flipped over here.

With that finished I glued fences on both sides of the slotting saw blade to bisect the bar stock.  It worked like a charm provided I take three light and gentle passes through the saw.

I can now produce as much slotted spine stock as I want.

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make Do, Or Do Without – Making A Petite Froe From A Planer Knife

The aphorism that begins this post’s title was a familiar saying especially during the series of Great Depressions that lasted from 1929 to about 1950 and remains part of the undercurrent in most of the rural world.  In its most extreme cases it can contribute to a psychopathology of “hoarding.”  For most woodworkers or putterers of almost any kind this tendency becomes manifest in our loathing to throw out anything that might be useful.  Some time.  Some day.  Even if that day is decades away.

But sure enough, with enough time that day will come.

Such a momentous day happened to me this week.  I’m up to my eyeballs in Gragg chairs, and that requires transforming honking big pieces of oak trees into long thin pieces to be worked by edge and steam and bent into chair parts.

My long-time old-as-dirt hand made froe works fine on the honkin’ big pieces of trees, with its trailing edge thickness of almost a half inch.  But for making long, thin pieces of about 5/8″ x 1-1/4″?  Not so much success there.

I did a browse of the interwebz and found several acceptable options for a small froe, generally in the size range of something that would be called a basketmaker’s froe, and I was sorely tempted by this sweet little one from the Gramercy folks who have already parted me from much lucre over the years.  But I pondered the froe iterations possible from my collection of repurposable raw materials in the barn.

Window shopping my way through the “hardware store” portion of the joint I found just the answer I had been searching for; a used planer knife from my 10″ lunch box portable planer.  Darned.  Near.  Perfect.  It was good quality tool steel, hard and very sharpen-able.  Shoot, it already had a bunch of holes in it.

Quick as a bunny I pulled one out of the “metal scrap” drawer(s) and set to work.  With my Dremel-ish Craftsman tool I cut the 10-inch knife in half.  I was making a very petite froe so five inches was plenty.  Grabbing a chunk of white ash from underneath one of the benches where that is stored I was set with all my raw materials.

I put the ash piece in the vise and ripped a kerf with a slotting saw (thanks reader Jack for clarifying the tool as being in the Starrett catalog in ages past) followed by a few seconds with the Iwasaki fine float.

Viola’ at all fit together perfectly!

Not Just For Cleaning Bathroom Fixtures Any More

Somewhere along the line I obtained a peculiar “hacksaw,” a Victor No.22 with a 1/8″ thick blade (IIRC Victor made tools for the machinist/metal-working trade).

I have no real idea about its true use, it seems to be more of a slot-cutting tool than a cut-off saw as are virtually all hacksaws I have ever encountered.  Actually the closest tool I have to it is an edge float so perhaps that is its true purpose.  Whatever its intended application I kept it hanging on a nail over my workbench and used it once or twice for reasons I cannot recall.  But recently I found it to be a perfect tool for a particular task in a project I will describe in upcoming posts.

In order to use it for this purpose I needed to clean it up quite a bit to make sure the blades sides were nice and slick.  Everything about it was dirty or rusty or both, the blade sides were downright crusty.  In the past I would attack such surfaces with chemicals or sandpaper or abrasive pads, arrows that are still in the quiver.  (For a remarkable website based in-part on tool restoration tutorials I comment highly one of my everyday reads, The Accidental Woodworker.  Ralph is a blogging machine and humbles me for my lack of output.)  I tried something different here.

In great part due to my work in historic finishing I have been gravitating towards pumice as a “go to”  abrasive, and recognize its importance to the ancients for use in powdered and block form.  Most woodworkers are well familiar with loose pumice, practically all of us have a container of FFFF pumice somewhere in the shop, but any familiarity we have with block pumice probably comes from a completely different context — removing rust stains from the toilet or sink.  For just $2 or $3 they can be had at any hardware store or home center, packaged as “scouring sticks” or “porcelain cleaner blocks” or something similar.  I keep several on hand so that they can be used for dedicated purposes.

Including removing rust and grime.  They do get consumed fairly quickly in this process.

I dry-scrubbed the blade of this Victor “hacksaw” with the pumice block for two minutes, tops, and it was ready to go with a brilliant sheen polished into it.  At some point in the very near future I will touch up the teeth with a file but for now it works just fine for what I need.

The Cheapest, Easiest and Simplest Saw Sharpening Vise Ever?

While noodling around the shop getting the classroom and supplies ready for the upcoming (actually, just-completed) “Make A Petite Dovetail Saw” workshop I devised and built several of perhaps the easiest and simplest saw filing vise ever.  Like me you can make one in minutes using materials from the scrap box.

I started with some 1/2″ baltic birch cut into a pair of 6″ x 8″ panels.  These were connected together along one of the long edges with a piece of piano hinge, with about 1/8″ space between the panels when the hinges were screwed on.  Following this a pair of scrap strips approx. 1/8″ thick were glued to the inside edge at the tops (the hinge was on the bottom).  Once the glue was dry I trimmed the top edges with a block plane until they were clean.

The result was a wooden book facsimile that was narrower at the bottom than at the top.  This would be important later on.

With these top strips in place along the inside edge and the glue hard I planed a chamfer along the bottom of each of them to create bevels that touched at the top of the vise, thus bringing it into intimate contact with the saw plate being sharpened.  At this point the vise is finished.  Really.

In operation the vise is pretty much idiot proof.  Place the saw in the “book” so that the teeth are exposed by the amount you want.  I generally shoot for a tad more than the distance between the teeth, but you can use what ever is convenient and comfortable.

The vise with the saw inside are gently pinched together and placed in a bench vise, a Moxon in this case but any vise that fits is an option.  By adjusting the Moxon vise such that the thinner bottom of the saw vise slips into it easily yet the saw vise engages with the Moxon jaws a little more than halfway in, this seems to work perfectly.  Press down on the saw vise until it is snug in the Moxon and fully engaged with the saw plate.  A gentle tap on the top of the saw vise drives it deeper into the Moxon and causes the saw vise to pinch the saw plate so that it can be filed.

When you are finished with a filing run a 3/4 turn of the screws loosens the Moxon enough to allow the saw vise to be easily lifted out of the Moxon.


Improving A Useful Tool

Many, many years ago a dear friend gifted me a pair of “Shinto” rasps, and for some time they sat in the drawer.  Slowly I began to incorporate them into my work, and recently I have integrated them fully into my projects as needed.  The tool really does hog off material unlike anything else in the shop.

Sometimes the bulkiness of the rear handle and the outboard front handle were not a problem, there were times they even provided the perfect place for my hands to grab them and really bear down on the work.

Other times the handles simply got in the way and I tried removing them.  The cutting surfaces then come into direct contact with your, which hand is about a -5 on the pleasantness meter.  I tried wrapping the ends with electrician’s tape but found that to be an unsatisfactory long-term solution.  However, by adding appropriate-sized rubber chair leg tips over friction tape I now do have a setup that pleases me very much.  I suspect I will be using this tool even more in the future.

New Tool For Making Backsaws (And Much More)

Six years ago when I wrote my article in American Period Furniture on making my own dovetail saw I had the advantage of access to an ultra-sweet 12-inch Houdaille precision shear and a matching 12-inch brake.  I loved those tools and have been looking for the pair ever since I left Mordor, preferably for a modest outlay.  Alas, even used these run about $2k for the pair, with the new showroom price north of  $6k.  If I ever find them for next to nothing I will still pick them up, but that is an unlikely occurrence.  I believe Houdialle is now re-branded as Di-Acro but I cannot be certain.

Many moons ago I got a notice from Micro-Mark that they were discontinuing the very tool I wanted, and it was on sale at a very deep discount.  The tool in question was a mini-shear/brake for sheet metal, precisely the kind of tool I could use when making, or teaching the making of, petite dovetail saws.  The width capacity of the tool is 8 inches, which pretty much defines “petite” when it comes to saws.

I recently unpacked it and gave it a try.  Very, very nice.  I am fairly certain that this unit was manufactured by Baileigh, as theirs seems identical in every way.

The uses of this tool are many, from cleanly cutting spring steel coils to length and width for the saw plates, to bending brass backs for the saw structure.  I make saws with a folded 1/16″ back, which is a bit stout for this little tool, but if I anneal it first there seems to be no problem.

I’ll be using the tool in the near future as I build another saw in practice for the upcoming workshop Making A Petite Dovetail Saw, June 8-10.  I’ve got one opening for that class, so if it interests you drop me a note.

Practicing Log Splitting and Building A Riving Brake

With the commencement of production for the video “Making A Gragg Chair” steaming down the rails I thought it would be good to get back in practice splitting logs I had culled from last year’s harvest up on the mountain.  As soon as the mud dried out I drove up there and started wailing away at one in particular.  As I already recounted the initial results were not heartening.  The last time I split some giant logs was a couple years ago and that went perfectly.  Had I forgotten how to split a log?

A second log went much better but I had left my camera in the barn so you’ll have to take my word for it.

I also had long desired to build a riving brake, a tool I had never before possessed.  Now was the time to spend part of an afternoon doing so.

When my brother and I rebuilt the lean-to on the lower log barn lat year I was left with a half-dozen ancient chestnut poles.  They seemed to be perfect candidates for the project.

Using precision woodworking processes I trimmed the ends of the logs to allow for whisper-fit angled joinery.

That joinery was accomplished with a low-speed high-torque drill and a length of 1/2″ threaded rod and nuts.  With some judicious use of leveraging I got the tripod up on its feet.

I added the cross bracing and it was ready to put to work.

I’ll see if it is as easy to use as Follansbee makes it look.

No More Space for Japanese Tools?

Recently I was organizing/reorganizing my Japanese tools.

Apparently I am almost out of room for any more.  But somehow I will find the space if I every get a Japanese marking gauge or a spear plane.