Archive: » 2020 » March

Of Possible Interest To New Englanders

My friend Justin sent me a note about this workbench yesterday and I thought I would pass it along to you.  It looks like a beauty and the price seems eminently reasonable to me.

Roubo bench on Craigslist


Gotta Have Sole (Brass Sole, That Is)

With the dovetail plane configured the way I wanted it was time to add the brass plate to the newly beveled sole.  I grabbed a piece of brass from the scrap drawer and sawed it roughly to fit then drilled and countersunk screw holes for attaching it to the plane body.  When I placed the screws the wooden body was too brittle (several cracks) for me to have confidence in that being the only method of affixing the plate.

Instead I cleaned the contact surface of the brass plate with 60 grit sandpaper and slathered it and the wood contact surface with G-flex epoxy to bring it all together.

Since the gluing surface was beveled enough vis-a-vie the plane body that clamping was problematic I simply got the pieces in place and executed and old fashioned “rub joint,” making sure there was intimate contact and at least a partial vacuum between the adherends and the adhesive and then just let it sit to harden.  I’ll know tomorrow if that worked out well.

Next Day

The “rub joint” with epoxy worked perfectly!  I was able to trim and clean the new sole relative to the wooden body so that they configured nicely, first with a Vixen file followed by sanding.

Using my granite block and sandpaper I got the sole pieces flat and coincidentally planar.

Re-drilling the previous screw holes, now filled with epoxy, and drilling new holes on the front half of the sole I got everything copacetic.  I left the screw heads slightly proud and abraded them off smooth.

Now the tool is ready to assemble completely and give it a test drive.

Stay tuned.

My Own Hardware Store

Given the intrusion of outside reality into the world of the workshop made manifest in the cancellation of the recent PATINA tool soiree; the cancellation of our regional Maple Festival, the social and commercial center point for our little county every year; the cancellation of some teaching I was scheduled to undertake in LA in mid-April; the closing of all schools and prohibition on public gatherings for the foreseeable future; the growing impetus for national quarantines — I was considering the coming near future for projects in the barn.  My temperament is amenable to the isolation integral to this routine, probably for an unhealthy length of time.  And, I realized that in many instances I am already my own workshop-related general goods store due in great part to the fact that the hardware section of the local feed and seed is better than it was but still only okay, and closes at 4.#0 weekdays and noon on Saturdays.  The closest good hardware store is thirty miles away with the same restrictied hours, and it seems that I mostly need something at 5.30.

Sure, I’ve got thousands of board feet of lumber from which to make stuff.  Even more I’ve got almost all the other things I need for a whole lot of projects.

My own little hardware store, mostly tucked into the space beneath the stairs, includes fasteners of almost every description along with a host of other fabrication supplies.

This is augmented by my stock of metal bar stock and similar stuffed up between the ceiling joists of my studio and in tubes next to my Emmert die-maker’s vise.  As long as UPS keeps rolling, delivering my frequent orders from McMaster-Carr, the only thing limiting fabrication is time and energy.

I’ve still got hundreds of pounds of shellac in the barn basement.  I’ve got hundreds of  pounds of beeswax and shellac wax I can process.  I’ve got everything I need to make cases of Mel’s Wax.

Mrs. Barn has the gardens underway, and is often in need of my help.

I’ve got a notebook full of sketches and ideas of things to make or try.

I’ve got several manuscript to work on.

Whether we are facing a “crisis” or a crisis remains to be seen, but with all of these aforementioned truths I guess I am ready to keep busy and productive for the coming days and weeks. 

Bench Top Bandsaws

Recently I was corresponding with a reader who asked my opinion about bench top bandsaws, a preferred option for him because his career led to frequent moves.  I answered him that I have two benchtop bandsaws I use frequently, one a 9-inch Delta bandsaw that must be close to forty years old by now, and a 10-in Rikon I bought about fifteen years ago from either Highland or Woodcraft, I honestly cannot remember.  Each bandsaw has a critical role to play in my work, the Delta is my tool for sawing veneers for parquetry and the Rikon for pretty much everything else of modest size.   (I also have a free standing Delta 14″ and a Taiwanese 14″ with a riser block for resawing.)

In the back-and-forth of our correspondence once I understood his situation I recommended he look into the Rikon.

Some not-too-long-ago maintenance on the machine confirmed my overall impression formed several years ago that it is a superb tool.  Last year during a workshop the saw broke a tire, and after setting it aside for the 9-inch Delta for the remaining days a new tire was on-hand and eventually I replaced the broken one.

Swapping out the tire was the easiest time for that task ever.  After removing the retaining ring on the axel of the wheel and cleaning off the detritus of the tire I started the new tire at one point on the wheel then placed that section of the wheel in my Emmert metalwork vise and was able to install the new tire in approximately one minute.

Since I had the wheel off I gave the lower section a through cleaning then did the same to the upper section including scraping the upper tire with a boxwood carving tool with a knife edge to remove the accreted crust but not cut into the tire, then put on a new blade and readjusted all the guides so that it ran perfectly.  Unlike my other bandsaws I have found that the factory originals work just fine.

I know that in the coming decades this might be my only power machine (along with a drill press), and I am confident that the little Rikon will serve me well.  Even now I cannot think of any recent project that it could not have completed.  Perhaps not quite as fast as some ther machinery, but it would get the job done.  I keep a variety of blades on hand to use whatever suits the task best, and find that a 3/8″ blade suits me 95% of the time.

I’ve have recently added a nice standard feature enhancing the machine’s utility immensely.

Stay tuned.

Sometimes We Are All Keith Jarrett

The other day I was listening for the umpteenth time to jazz pianist Keith Jarret’s “Koln (Cologne) Concert,” the renowned and best selling solo piano album of time, I believe in any genre.  Jazz may or may not be your cup of tea, and improvisational solo piano is an acquired taste but I hope that someday you, too, will reach that plateau of sophisticated consciousness to appreciate this album as much as I do.  (Do I really need to insert a sarcasm tag?)  Admittedly, personal tastes cannot be accounted for sometimes, I mean I have a younger brother, perhaps my closest friend, who listens to country music.  Country music!  Oh, the horror.  It is almost impossible to believe that we share either any nature or nurture, but there it is.

Album cover art courtesy of ECM Records, via Wikipedia.

And once while I was in high school listening to some avant-garde ensemble music on the stereo (Amon Duul?  Univers Zero?  Mahavishnu Orchestra?) my saintly church-organ-playing mother gently knocked on the bedroom door and stuck her head in.  “Don,” she asked in genuine bewilderment, “are all of those folks playing the same song?”  My Baptist preacher father and mother were petty strict about the music in the home, no vulgar lyrics for example, but were far more flexible on the music itself outside of that constraint.  I will note they probably remained convinced that they’d brought home the wrong baby from the hospital.  They only knew that I listened to both Gregorian chants and jazz, and that did not fit into any template.

Back to Keith Jarret and the Cologne Concert.  The tale of the concert is a fascinating one.  Jarret was emerging at the pinnacle of his prowess as a solo composer and performer after a decade in major ensembles and was embarking on his first major solo tour IIRC.  Almost everything about the concert went wrong.  He was exhausted from travel, didn’t even get a decent meal before the late-night Saturday concert, and the piano was an inferior, out-of-tune substitute for the concert Boesendorfer he had requested.  He almost walked away from this steaming pile of circumstances but the impassioned pleas to continue from the promoter, a German teenager, persuaded him to have mercy on her and give a concert.

Despite, or more probably because of, the challenges — his exhaustion, the poor quality of the tool at his disposal (the upper and lower registers were essentially non-functional) — he drew on the unquenchable fire of creativity within him and sat down and began to play.  Every note and combination of notes was being created uniquely in real time at that moment.  The limitations he faced drove him to accomplish what is generally considered to be the most brilliant performance ever witnessed in the realm of improvisational jazz.

The parallels are unmistakable to me and for our tribe of creative artisans.  I find that my interest in many projects depends on the difficulties inherent in them.  I wonder how many of you are motivated by the same stew.

We might not have exactly the right tool or the right piece of wood..  We might be out of sorts.  We might be tired or hungry or have a backache.

And sometimes in such moments we draw deep on the reservoir of creative genus we possess and magic happens at the workbench.

And sometimes in our shops we are all Keith Jarrett. a kid of Hungarian and Scots-Irish heritage from Allentown PA who set the world on fire that miserable evening in Cologne, Germany.




A Peculiar Plane

Somewhere along the way I picked up this gigantic solid rosewood plane of Eastern design and unknown genesis.  I vaguely recall it being in a box of Japanese planes but since I turned 65 I am uncertain of this is a true memory or a false one.  It does not really matter one way or the other.

The coincidence of building my Japanese toolbox and Wilbur Pan’s presentation to DC-area woodworking guilds led me to pull it out again and give it a closer look-see.  I sent the photos to Wilbur and he shares my inkling that this may be a Chinese plane, not Japanese.

The rosewood body is heavy enough that it would be like planing with a large brick.  To say the very least if there were a sharp iron in the tool there would be precious little chatter.

The piece of hammered steel(?) in the plane throat is only 1/8″ thick, probable too thin to be the cutting iron.  But, it is not exactly configured for functioning as a chip breaker, either.

I asked a friend from China to interpret the pictograms but she was unable to decipher them so I have no idea what information is contained there.

I may just wind up buying a piece of 1/4″ tool steel 4″ x 6″ and grinding my own cutting iron, but am still scratching my head over this peculiar tool.

If you have any ideas about it let me know.

Annual PATINA Tailgate and Auction *This Weekend!*

In the firmament of notable vintage tool events two pop up on my radar every year; the Martin Donnelly warehouse-cleaning auction in mid-July in central New York and the annual tool flea market and auction for the Potomac Antique Tools and Industries Association, or PATINA.  The PATINA soiree is coming in less than a week, and if you are anywhere in the mid-Atlantic region it is well worth your effort to get there.  You can find the details here.

I do not go as often as I used to since escaping Mordor, it’s only an hour north of DC but four hours from Shangri-La.  I think I have been twice since moving to the hinterlands.

The outdoor tailgating starts at dawn and the weather is often (usually?) a challenge so make sure to dress appropriately.  I cannot recall ever going when the weather was nice, but I’ve heard it is a theoretical possibility.

I have had amazing success at the tailgating, finding everything from derelict planes to be transformed into other tools, such as my parquetry shooting plane and the dovetail plane.  I do not mind thrashing about with a $2 or $5 plane body for some wild scheme, but I would be hesitant to trash a $25 plane body.  So I gather up a handful of the cheap vintage bodies to play with later on.  I’ve also had great success in buying loose laminated old plane irons, and have been known to pick up my favorite model of old Stanley bench chisels for just a few dollars apiece.

By the time I’ve gone through the tailgating twice and made all my purchases there, the inside dealer’s sale is usually open and that is where I normally spend the rest of the day until I run out of money or energy.

Alas this year I will not be there as it is the first weekend of our famed Maple Festival and I am on duty there.  These are the two weekends every year where our tiny county community of two thousand people are joined by tens of thousands of visitors to eat and drink all things maple syrupy.  I’m not  a huge maple flavor fan, but the buckwheat pancakes the size of trash can lids are to die for.

Handworks 2020 – Be There Or Be (Out Of) Square

The new website for Handworks 2020 is now live and kicking.  With virtually every maker of fine woodworking tools present as vendors and three adjacent venues and thousands of fellow comrades-in-tools it will be a memorable experience.

Once again Roy Underhill will be the Saturday morning speaker, always a great crowd pleaser.

The Barn On White Run (that’s me!) will be present with loads of our polissoirs, waxes, polishes, and other items for your viewing and purchasing pleasure, and I will be giving demonstrations once an hour on using all of these items.

Plus my friend John will be joining me with the latest developments in ripple molding cutters.

As the days grow closer I’ll be blogging frequently bout the event and our participation and experiences there.

Make your plans to join us.

Dovetail Plane Iron

One of the accessories I want to make to accompany my new Japanese tool box is a traditional Japanese planning board, complete with sliding dovetailed “feet.”   Since the only dovetail plan I owned was really too small for such a task a new one needed to be made from a derelict 1-inch rabbet plane body.

Once the new sole angle was established to match my dovetail gauge it was time to re-make an old iron to serve the intended purpose.  Placing the old iron in the body showed how much steel needed to be removed to get the cutting iron and the sole angle to match each other.

I highlighted the iron with marker and shooting a line from the new sole surface against the un-beveled side of the iron with a carbide scribe I now knew how much steel to grind away.

I ground the new line with no bevel to establish that line perfectly.

Once that was done I ground away most of the bevel on the power grinder and then finished it off by hand on my granite block and 60 grit abrasive belt.

I moved on to 120 grit and set the iron in place to assess the fit.


Bringing Out the Major Mojo

Over the last few weeks I’ve been cleaning and  organizing/reorganizing my studio, resulting in a more compact spatial scheme and, thus a space for my secret weapon in writing.  Yup, I brought down my secret mojo into the studio to psyche me into attacking the completion of A Period Finisher’s Manual with gusto.

Sure, it is a raggedy third generation Eames knock-off (here draped in an old sheet to keep it clean-ish) but it is perhaps the most comfortable chair I’ve ever owned.  It would be interesting to know the dimensions of Charles Eames’ physique because the chair fits me as though it had been custom-made for me.  It’s sorta like a friend of mine, an armorer and devotee of Sig Sauer pistols, who tells me they fit him like a glove.  Indeed S-S are superb precision tools, but the secret sauce to that recipe is that my friend is literally the hand model for the tool — of course he thinks they fit him perfectly, because they were designed to fit his own hand!

Anyway, I have already begun to work on revising the APFM manuscript with  vengeance as I am simply tired of having it hanging over my head.  Michele has advanced far ahead of me on the Roubo front so I need to get this one done and turn my attention to catching up with her.

I’m hoping this mojo works as well as in the past, when I could work expediently on a manuscript in my chair (even with cats draped allover me while I was revising Roubo 1).