In yesterday's Bleat, James Lileks took a gentle shot at the kind of folks who always wax rhapsodic about "the good old days":
Went to a wedding Sunday afternoon here. It was once the home of a dry-goods retailer; he paid $16,000 for the house, which would the cost of the front door today. Apparently it’s made of "old growth oak," as one fellow informed me, and no doubt was hand-rubbed with a mixture of ambergris, veal tears and unicorn semen every day to maintain its finish.
Suddenly prolific commenter "Lickmuffin" went out to find the appropriate modern equivalent (Warning NSFW!):
Jane Galt has some interesting things to say about the Victorian intersection of economics, innovation, and (of all things) woodworking:
Now, I come from a family with a fairish amount of Victorian detritus floating around, and I know how the machine age resulted in the invention of a whole lot of barely marginally useful crap, just because there were a lot of newly rich people and middle class people around, and a lot of new machines that could mass produce stuff for the newly rich people. One of the reasons that there is so much hideoeusly ornate late Victorian furniture is that the Victorians invented wood-turning machines, and started putting decorative spindles on everything.
And, perhaps more interesting for many people, dining etiquette:
The Victorians liked to show off their new wealth with massive dinner parties, one of the objects of which was to show just how much silver you had. There was a fork, knife, or spoon for everything, and special tongs for asparagus besides. Many of these things were at best marginally more useful than an ordinary fork, knife or spoon, and some of them were actively less useful. Useless silver was their version of the Quesadilla maker or the $5,000 coffee machine.
[. . .] (Incidentally, the cultural horror of using the wrong fork is completely ridiculous. The Victorians made it dead easy: start outward and work in, unless a specialty item like a lobster pick is served with the course. Anything located at 12 o'clock is for dessert. If you get the wrong fork under this system, they have set the table wrong, entitling you to sneer.)
This is still one of the bigger differences between British restaurants and North American ones: silverware. (I can't speak for Continental restaurants, as I've never been across the Channel . . .). In a British restaurant of any standing, you get sufficient cutlery to handle the food you've ordered without having to use your dinner knife as a butter knife and a first-, second-, and even third-course utensil. Lately, I've noticed improvement in this, but it's still common in North American middle-class eating establishments to be expected to use the same knife and fork through several dishes. Not that I dine in fancy places that often, I assure you.
Some of the Victorian extravagance on silverware can be usefully carried on into the next century . . . but over half of the "innovations" belong only in museums, not in the dining room.
This certainly puts a different twist on expandable tables.
H/T to Nicole for posting the URL.
If you recall, we'd started to accept the phrase "blogging the cat" as the blogosphere's equivalent of "jumping the shark". I blogged the cat twice in the first year of blogging. I didn't realize there was a lower level of shark-jump-ulatiousness: blogging the cat door.
Since we got the puppy, the cats have had a tougher time getting to their food and litter box. When Xander was very young, he could fit into the same spaces as the largest cat could, so we had to literally barricade off part of the house as "dog territory" to allow the cats to eat in peace.
Now that Xander is much bigger than the biggest cat:
we decided that we could take down the main barricade and provide the cats with a cat door into the laundry room which is now where their food and litter box reside. The first step was to cut a rough opening in the laundry room door:
The door was pretty flimsy, once I started to drill the corners out: it's literally just two formed hardboard sheets, separated by some cardboard spacers. Cutting the opening wasn't particularly difficult, although the pullsaw I was using did tend to catch very easily, so the cuts weren't all that straight. The next step was to cut the lining (the portion joining the front and back frames).
I ended up using maple for this . . . and it turned out to be a lot more work than I'd bargained on. The rough maple board I started with had just about every wood fault known to man. It was warped, so I hand-cut it into three unequal lengths. It was cupped, so putting it through the planer meant it took several more passes before I had a flat-ish face to work with. Two of the pieces developed a twist — after I'd cut the full board down. Once I had a straight-ish, flat-ish piece to work with, I hand planed the edge . . . except that the centre of the edge was literally popping up as I planed it down. What started as a relatively straight edge developed into a noticeable curve.
What happened is that a small knot near the centre of the board was decompressing as I took away the surrounding wood, so it was pushing upwards almost in proportion to the amount of wood I was planing off. It was a very nice looking piece of wood: a bit of birdseye along one length, a bit of tiger stripe a bit further along, and some faint spalting at the other end. But it was so badly tensioned that getting straight, flat boards out of it was nearly impossible.
Eventually, with much effort (more from Clive than from me, to be honest), we got the four pieces of maple for the lining assembed and could start working on the "good" face:
I gave up on the idea of trying to use the remaining maple for the face frame, so we grabbed a leftover piece of ash from a previous project and used that:
A quick bevel on the outside edge, then carefully mitred corners, and it was starting to look like an intentional project, rather than a piece of random wood-art.
It took a fair bit of filing and scraping to get the frame to fit the rough opening (you can still see some of the dust from that in the previous photo). Once we were sure it would fit well, a less artistic frame was screwed to the back (the side facing into the laundry room), and several coats of shellac finished off the project.
That's Cinders, one of our two long-haired cats, peering through the cat door. Not only does it make a safe haven for hungry cats, but it also provides occasional amusement when Xander tries to see what's happening in the laundry room . . . a defenceless dog head, just at claw height. Cinders really appreciates the new entertainment option.
Accuride just announced a neat little piece of hardware, to allow you better access to the back of your audio and video equipment inside a cabinet. This is particularly interesting to me, as I still have to get around to building the matching side-cabinets to one of my first woodworking projects (pictures below the fold).
Given how sturdy that mechanism needs to be, I expect it'll be fairly expensive.
This is based on a commercial design, which would also have a pair of smaller matching cabinets on either side, one for audio components, and the other for CD and DVD storage. They're still a ways down my list of things to do.
Clive was visiting yesterday, so a bit of woodworking got done:
That's the gate on the south side of the house, now looking much better than it used to: the posts were not the same height and the whole thing looked just a bit, um, sloppy. Once we decided to just make it look similar to our neighbour on that side, we didn't particularly have any design worries . . . it was just a matter of pushing all those decorative ends through the bandsaw. There's pressure-treated dust all over that part of my woodshop now.
We also got more work done on the last two upper bookcases, but they're not yet ready for finishing.
While this starts as a model railroad thing, it perfectly encapsulates so many tasks:
After far too long in the workshop, I finally got a few of the cabinets I've been working on upstairs into my office:
You can see part of the reason for building more storage space . . . it took me half an hour to clear out enough space to bring the smaller cabinet in to my office!
Getting the larger, taller upper cabinet upstairs took a bit of careful maneuvering: Victor's help was very necessary.
The regular bookcases are much easier to move (being smaller). This one has two movable shelves (the shelves in the corner cabinets are fixed in place). I'm already suspecting that that'll be one shelf too many.
The upper bookcase to sit on top of this one isn't quite ready to come upstairs — the case is ready, but the adjustable shelves are still in a state of unreadiness:
Yeah, I cheat on these: 3/4" plywood with hardwood edging. There's no good reason to use solid wood for office bookshelves, in my opinion anyway.
The upper cabinet will be secured to the wall with a French cleat, to ensure that there's no risk of the tall cabinet tipping over (books can become dangerous objects if the bookcase tips forward). We're not in an earthquake-prone area, but it's just silly to take a risk that's so easy to avoid. The linked article talks about actually hanging the cabinet from the cleat, but as I'm just going to be using it to prevent a tip, 3/4" material will be sufficiently strong.
This long weekend's woodworking achievement was a couple of doors for corner cabinets in my office. Clive was visiting on Saturday, so we got all the pieces measured, cut to size, and trial-fit, and I applied stain to the floating panels before we knocked off for dinner.
They look a bit odd here, as the panels are already stained while the rails and stiles are only stained on the inside edges. Here they are with the openings they'll fill:
Upper cabinet, without door
Upper corner cabinet, with door
This is the lower corner cabinet, with the door it'll have attached:
The regular bookcases are coming along nicely, too:
I somehow missed seeing this year's annual appearance of the rec.woodworking anti-FAQ, but it's well worth reading:
This is the rec.woodworking anti-FAQ. This anti-FAQ will be posted annually to rec.woodworking on the first of April. The purpose of this anti-FAQ is to minimize the amount of chatter about wood working on rec.woodworking, thereby making the newsgroup more lively and interesting to read.
Suggestions for improvement should be kept to yourself. To be perfectly honest, I don't give a flying fig about your opinions. If I want to know what you think, I'll ask you. Just don't hold your breath.
I realize that putting FAQ in a header ensures that almost nobody will read it, but I'm doing this for my own satisfaction.
And an example question-and-answer:
2.2 SHOULD I BUY A TABLE SAW OR A RADIAL ARM SAW?
Buy a band saw instead. The cut wanders all over the place and they leave nifty decorative ridge lines. Then you'll get the chance to spend hours and hours hand planing the ridge lines and straightening and squaring the butchered wood with antique hand planes. (See Hand Plane FAQ)
Speaking of butchering, the purchase of a bandsaw can more easily be justified to your spouse because it is absolutely indispensable in cutting frozen food.
You can also use band saws to cut thick stuff in half, such as yourself, other people, frozen bread and chickens, dead cats, and Ming vases, none of which can be handled by a TS or RAS. The most a TS or RAS can cut is little more than the thickness of a hand.
Hat tip to Avery Austringer.
I'm slowly adding to my tool collection in the basement. This week's addition has been a new band saw:
This is a fairly inexpensive 14" model I bought from Dave at The Saw Shop, along with their Red Line fence system. The fence rails are temporarily mounted . . . I still need to lower them to keep the fence itself close to the top of the band saw table. Here's a remarkably effective warning label on the upper blade cover:
Hard to mistake that, wouldn't you say?
One of the best things about traveling in Europe is the opportunity to go to small local museums and see everyday objects from nearby archaeological digs, often "rescue digs" in advance of construction. I was delighted to see many pieces that looked as if they had been made by someone using only their feet! Ah-HAH! [. . .] a very large proportion of the stuff dug up is actually very shoddy. It's only surprising because we have been conditioned to expect what we see in museums — invariably the best examples, because the everyday crap got used up and thrown out.
Tim Bray, posting to the Medieval Sawdust group on Yahoo, 2006-01-31
Among my lesser goals in life is to be able to create a proper dovetail joint. I only say that because my first attempt (today) has not been particularly successful:
This is what is known as the "pin board" of a dovetail joint. It's the easier, less technically challenging part of creating the joint. As you can see, it's pretty straightforward: mark out the pins, cut out everything that isn't a pin, and Bob's your uncle.
Please don't ask where that expression came from . . . I don't even have a male relative of the previous generation called "Robert", so why I'm using it is already too weird to explore.
Anyway, the idea is that you create the pins first, then use the pins to mark out the dovetails on the matching piece of wood. Here is the completed pin board:
Looks okay at this resolution, right?
The astute among the readership will notice that I'm not providing a close-up view of this first part of the joint. The matching "tail" portion of the joint shows that I'm still not really clear on the concept of mating parts:
Still, the strength of the (ancient) joint is apparent when I finally manage to chisel away the excess and put the two pieces together at a 90 degree angle:
Even with the ugly gaps as highlighted in the photo above, it's still a really strong joint. I'm working with somewhat thicker stock than you'd normally use for a dovetail joint (3/4" rather than 3/8" to 1/2"), but it's already clear to me why this joint has become one of the standard joints for woodworking: even with my sloppy measurement, the joint is tight and effective:
It's a pain in the butt to create, but the resulting joint is very strong indeed. I may not use hand tools to do this in future, but I'm definitely sold on the dovetail as a solution to the problem of joining wood panels at a 90 degree angle.
There's a Yahoo mailing list I lurk on devoted to medieval woodworking. It's a pretty good-natured list, with a good mix of experienced woodworkers and newbies, and the moderator rarely has had to step in to cool things down. Until recently.
A lot of the members of the mailing list are SCA and/or Ren Faire artisans, a good number of whom sell their products to supplement their income. The topic of intellectual property was introduced last week and a raging firestorm of controversy broke out . . . okay, a comparative firestorm for this list, anyway.
The purists are, as you would expect, demanding that intellectual property be respected and that no woodworker use the designs of another without at least acknowledgement (and, for professionals, compensation). Their opponents are insisting that there's no way for these things to be policed and anyway, nobody is earning a living wage making these reproductions.
And there's the elephant in the living room: most of the works in discussion are reproductions — to greater or lesser degrees of accuracy — of original works that are hundreds of years old. Can you say "public domain"?
Actually, I'm exaggerating a bit . . . but it amused me no end to see the terms "copyright", "patent", and "intellectual property" bandied around when the very idea of originality is not in question.
I spent much of yesterday in the basement, attempting to build a corner bookcase. In the process, I think I managed to make enough mistakes to add up to a regular month of work. As I've mentioned before, I'm making a set of bookcases for my office, and the work hasn't been progressing very quickly (more through lack of free time than anything else . . . at least, that was the excuse I used to use).
The corner units will have fixed shelves, rather than adjustable shelves like the normal bookcases, and frame-and-panel doors because the space is too awkward to use for regular book storage anyway. I'm already expecting the doors to be quite a challenge, based on how the main carcass has gone so far.
The front of the unit needs an angled face, to allow sufficient access to the interior space. I hadn't given much thought to how to cut the shelves to create this angle, and it turned out to be "interesting". The panels were too big to cut the angle safely on the tablesaw, which would normally have been my first choice. The circular saw would have done the job, but even with a "finishing" blade, the circular saw leaves too rough a cut. I ended up pulling out my old jigsaw with a fine-tooth blade to do the job.
I marked my cut line, clamped a guide to the line and then started the cut. About six inches into the cut, the saw started jumping into my hand, which isn't normal on any cut. I stopped the saw and tried to pull the blade out of the cut . . . and it wouldn't come out. The blade had bent into the guide and locked itself into the "good" side of the cut line. I had to force the damned thing out, leaving a pretty obvious gash in the workpiece.
I foolishly tried a second blade, which didn't even get as far as the first one had before it bent and bound in the cut. I ended up having to rough-cut the rest of the line with a Japanese pullsaw. Ironically, the handsaw left a better edge than the "finish" blade in the jigsaw had done, but I was still left with that ugly gash where the jigsaw blades had given up the ghost.
I thought to myself that since I just had to "neaten-up" the edge, I could use my router with a template-guided bit to produce a clean, straight edge. And it was perhaps the first good thought I had on this particular stage of the project. I'd recently bought a big (for my router anyway) 3/4" template bit, so it was the obvious choice for the task. I put the bit into the router collet, tightened up the collet nuts, and then had a mental image of turning on the router and the router — and me — spinning around the bit. It wasn't that bad, but I now really have to get myself a router with a "soft-start" feature: there was a very strong twist as the router started with that big hunk of steel and carbide in the collet.
End of the long, pointless story right? Well, not quite. You see, I'd carefully chosen a good, straight piece of MDF to use as the guide so that the bearing on the router bit had a sturdy edge to bear against. And it worked well. The second time. Because the first time, I'd used simple hand-clamps to hold the guide to the workpiece . . . and that big router bit had just pushed the guide about an inch back into the workpiece before I realized I had a problem. Now I had a lovely deep 3/4" wide, 1" deep gouge in the shelf. And there was no way to hide it.
At this point, I was ready to have a nice bonfire, but another mistake came to my rescue. For once, two of my mistakes actually worked to cancel one another . . . you see, I had cut the shelf too big for the space in the cabinet it was going to occupy, so I had to trim it down anyway . . . and that gouge was just outside the area that I needed to trim. After a quick trip to the tablesaw, I was able to start again with the router, this time using stronger clamps to hold the guide to the workpiece. It worked like a charm.
On to the next folly.
Because Jon is always niggling me about my trust in wood glue (he feels that any wood joint needs a mechanical reinforcement because the glue might eventually fail), I felt I should use biscuits to assemble the portions of this carcass which would never be visible. Biscuits (or in some areas "plates") are small pieces of compressed wood shaped like a flat football. They're available in several different sizes, but as I was joining 3/4" thick plywood, I used the #10 biscuits.
Biscuit joinery has a lot to be said in its favour: it's fast, neat, and accurate. It's almost completely replaced dowel joints for this kind of assembly, because the biscuits are much more forgiving of minor misalignments in the slots than dowels ever could be. The biscuit joiner is basically a cutting disk on a plunger: you align the fence against the workpiece and push the joiner into the wood to scoop out an oval slot. It's practically fool-proof. Note that word "practically".
I was careful: I measured and marked all my workpieces before doing anything else. I clamped things into place to be sure that the slots would align exactly. I did it all "by the book". I even did a "dry" assembly (without glue) to ensure that everything fit properly and there would be no problem. It all fit together just the way it should.
I took it all apart and started applying glue and inserting biscuits. As soon as the glue touches the biscuit, it starts to expand, which locks it into the slot you cut into the workpiece. It works very quickly, so you need to be fast once you've started a glue-up (more so than with regular glue-joints because of that expansion in the biscuits themselves).
I got all the biscuits glued in, started putting the matching faces together and pulling the joints tight. It was looking good . . . except for the middle shelf. It refused to align and was preventing the rest of the carcase from seating. I tried applying clamps, but nothing was working. The glue was setting up and the biscuits were locking in place, but the faces and edges were not touching. I was panicking (Elizabeth said I was sounding like Darren McGavin as the Dad in A Christmas Story during his battle with the furnace).
Just as I was about to totally give up, I noticed the reason for the shelf not fitting: I'd somehow put it in upside down so that the slots on the opposite sides were not aligning. It took me nearly as long to get the shelf out, and caused some minor damage to the almost-glued-up unit, but once it was out of the way, the rest of the job was simple.
After the glue had set, I was able to cut the exposed biscuit-halves using a Japanese-style flush-cut saw, and today I'll have to re-mark and re-cut new biscuit slots to get that shelf in, but at least I was able to salvage the major pieces of the unit.
Today is round two.
It really is true what all the woodworkers say . . . you never have enough clamps. I was planning on finishing off two bookcases today, but I didn't have enough clamps (of the correct size, anyway) to do more than one at a time, so I'm probably not going to get the second one finished tonight.
When I'm not actively gluing-up a carcass, I always think I've got more than enough clamps for any reasonable purpose . . . and every time I do a glue-up, I realize I need a few more for next time.
The other small project I'd intended to get done today was to make some zero-clearance inserts for my table saw. Most table saws are sold with a general-purpose insert that works reasonably well for most purposes:
The one on the left is the original that came with my saw. The one on the right is my first home-made insert. As you can see, the slot for the saw blade is much larger on the original than it is on mine. The advantage of the home-made model is that if you're cutting very small parts, there's little or no chance that a small cut-off will fall down through the slot and into the saw body. It also provides better support for the cut edge, which reduces splintering and tear-out of the wood fibres.
It was easier to make the new insert than I'd expected, but having the right tools made a difference. I started out with a sheet of 1/2" MDF, and cut out some blanks:
The orange object on top is the original dado-blade insert (note the wider slot in the top). It had a flatter surface, which made it the obvious choice to use as a template for the blanks. I attached the first blank with some double-sided carpet tape and then used a bearing-guided straight bit on the router table to duplicate the shape of the original insert:
The bearing on the top of the bit runs against the edge of the original, while the cutting edges are trimming off the excess material on the blank. The black hose is attached to my shop vacuum: MDF dust isn't something you want to be breathing a lot of.
My mistake on this project (there's always at least one of 'em) was to use the dado insert as my template: it's slightly shorter than the regular insert and there's a small rubber spacer at the back to snug it up to the front of the throat: all of my blanks were slightly too short as a result. Here's how I tried to fix the problem:
That's a small grubscrew at the back of the insert. To adjust it to the correct length, use an Allen key to shorten or lengthen the exposed screw. It worked, thank goodness. The original inserts are slightly thicker than the MDF blanks I used, so I had to drill out some adjustment holes for more grubscrews so that the new inserts could be level with the top of the table:
I may need to find some longer grubscrews: these are at about their limit without losing their grip in the MDF. An alternative fix might be to laminate some thin material underneath the drilled holes (about 1/16th of an inch would be about right) to provide a bit more depth.
The day's output (it was easier to mass-produce them once I'd got the first one working properly):
The one at the far right is used with a regular-width blade. The rest will be used with the dado stack at various widths (I didn't feel up to messing around with the dado blades today, so that will be a job for tomorrow).
After far too long, I got back to work on a few woodworking projects I'd let lie undisturbed in the dusty basement. The first was to fix a mistake I made on the first bookcase carcase . . . I'd forgotten to put in a rabbet at the back to hold the plywood back panel in place. This should have been an easy task with a dado stack on the table saw, but it needed to be done differently for the partially-assembled carcase.
The only way to do it, really, was to use a router and a rabbetting bit. This is a very useful bit . . . although this was only the second time I'd needed to use mine since I bought it. I needed to cut away about 1/4" of material, so I used the small rabbetting bit from Lee Valley.
I had to go fairly slowly, as the router can be unstable on thin edges, so I rigged an additional support along the sides so that the router didn't tip (which can gouge the wood and leave you with a repair job to do). Because the case was partially assembled, I could only support part of the way without the clamps holding the support interfering with the router. It took about five times as long to do the job this way as it would have if I'd done it right in the first place.
Then, of course, I realized I should have been using the large rabbetting bit instead!
This bit is big enough that I had to remove the baseplate from my router to insert the bit:
It may not look scary there, but when it's turning at umpteen thousand RPM, it's potentially very scary. Of course, while I thought the original job went well, the re-do with the larger bit didn't go quite as well:
That's where I got impatient and tried to use the router without properly supporting it. And the worst thing is that I knew I shouldn't have been trying the shortcut. Fortunately, it's not going to be visible in the finished bookcase.
I don't often write about woodworking — partly because I've been too busy to do much of it — but I do think I should praise a particular company: Lee Valley Tools. I've been buying stuff from them for a long time, but I'd rarely needed to say anything about their customer service: I'd rarely needed to return anything or ask for any support . . . they carry good products.
Given the number of bookcases I'm slowly building, I decided to invest in a shelf-hole drilling jig. This one in particular. It includes drill bushings for several sizes, but curiously didn't include the one I'd expected to find: the 7mm size for which Lee Valley has a custom sleeve-setting tool. I'd used this size of sleeve on the last two cases I'd built, and found it worked very well, so I was planning on using the same size for all the library bookcases.
I wrote to ask about this, and I got a very prompt reply from Rob Lee, the company president:
Hi Nicholas -
The Veritas 32 system was designed to work with standard 32mm system components - and that's pretty much bushings for 5mm, 8mm, and 10mm holes. We do add in a "soft" bushing, as a "make your own" option.
One of the difficulties with deciding which components to include, is that the more we include - the higher the price becomes for everyone. And, should we switch suppliers on hardware, we're left with odd sizes in a kit, which would reduces the value for most...
You'll note that the Veritas Shelf Drilling jig, a variant of the 32mm system jig marketed as jig specifically for drilling for shelf supports, includes all bushings but the 10mm... to cover the largest range ....
The punch is the same story - included with the function specific drilling kit, but not with the generalist Veritas 32 kit.
For us - it's a no-win...and we'll always err on the side of the decision which cost the customer the least amount.
Hope that clarifies things!
Now that is customer service . . . I sent the email at 8:00 last night, and had a response, from the head of the firm, before I got back to the office the next morning.
After far too many months, I'm finally getting around to building some bookcases to reshelve my library. Since we moved into our current house, I've been planning to build wall-to-wall bookcases in my office. It's been way too long, so I finally got started on the task today.
As with so many other jobs, before I could actually do anything on the job itself, I had to do a fair bit of prep work. In my case, the new truck counts as part of the prep work: I can haul sheets of plywood without having to arrange delivery from the lumber mill or home centre. I bought five sheets of red oak plywood yesterday and carried them home in the truck (with some help from Victor). That was stage one.
Stage two was to break the panels down into a size that could fit down our basement stairs. I guess there aren't a lot of modern houses built with a straight run down the basement stairs, because we haven't seen one yet. Every house we looked at had at least one 90 degree turn in the basement stairs. You can't reasonably expect to get a 4x8 sheet of plywood down most stairs without at least running the risk of collateral damage to the surroundings.
Actually, I mislead . . . the real stage two was coming up with cutting plans for the plywood to minimize the waste of materials. That took up most of my morning: I'm not a visual thinker, so it takes me several times as long as most woodworkers to come up with relatively simple designs.
Step three, cutting the panels down to size required me to also come up with some sort of method of supporting the 4x8 sheets while I was cutting 'em: there are few things more likely to ruin your day than having a panel collapse under you while you're running a circular saw!
Photos in the extended entry.
This is a bit of a Rube Goldberg, as panel cutters go, but it worked for me. The key was finding ways of using up some of the miscellaneous bits of wood that are currently lying around not earning their keep. The long horizontal members are what are known in the model railroading community as "L-girders", 1x4 with a 1x2 glued to the end as a girder web. It looks a bit funky, but it's quite strong.
Between the girders, I recycled some frame pieces from an old wooden bed, arranging them in a ladder to keep the girders approximately parallel. The ladder sits on top of a pair of sawhorses, clamped to the crossbar of the sawhorses. The odd-looking pads attached to the crossbars are just off-cuts of 2x4 lumber, aligned to the top of the girders.
The result, which worked for me today, is that the plywood sheet is lowered down onto the panel cutting table, and there is enough support for both the main sheet and the off-cut sheets, so that they don't fall down, or pinch the saw blade, or do anything except stay where they're supposed to stay. I used a home-made circular saw guide to cut relatively straight lines (these panels will still need to be trued-up on the table saw, but my table saw is in the basement).
Step four was relatively easy: moving the panels downstairs to the table saw. It's amazing how little five sheets of plywood break down into:
Obviously, there's still lots of work left to be done, but it does feel good to actually be making some progress for a change!
If someone today invented wood, it would never be approved as a building material. It burns, it rots, it has different strength properties depending on its orientation, no two pieces are alike, and most cruelly of all, it expands and contracts based on the relative humidity around it. However, despite all of these problems, wood is the material of choice when building houses. In fact, we can use wood better than we can use steel, masonry and concrete.
Joseph Lstiburek, Builder's Guide to Cold Climates, 2000
The good folks who publish the quarterly magazine Woodworking have started a blog. I mention it in case it's of interest to the one or two woodworkers I know who sometimes drop in. The rest of you can ignore it with a clear conscience.
Went out to Markham Industrial to pick up my latest new tool:
Jon says that the People's Liberation Army Navy will be naming a nuclear attack sub after me for buying Chinese-made tools.
Part of my "free time" yesterday was spent finishing off the fence I started working on a few weeks ago. My original plan was to nail up the remaining rails and top-cap boards, and then build and hang the two gates. If any time remained, I thought I'd make an attempt at some decorative touches over the gates.
Well, the best-laid plans of mice and woodworkers, and all of that. I didn't even manage to get started on building the gates, and there's still a few bits of finish carpentry required on one short panel of the fence. But that isn't really the point of this little whine. The point was that the job took longer than I'd planned partly because I was missing an essential little tool: a Japanese nail set.
The big 3" nails I was driving were fine, until they were nearly flush with the surface of the fence . . . because most of them were being driven in at about a 45-degree angle to the face of the boards. You can only be as inaccurate as I am for so long before you're leaving so many marks on the surface of the wood that it looks like a monstrous demented woodpecker has been let loose.
A belated mention of an article in British Archaeology on the half-scale reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo sailing ship:
It was a very windy day, with great black clouds and blinding hail: a real storm. In July 2004 Sæ Wylfing, our half-scale replica of the famous buried Anglo-Saxon ship, was in Suffolk for the 20th anniversary of the Sutton Hoo Society. We had to sail her with 'two reefs in', a reduced sail area for the rough conditions. Dinghies capsized all around us, but our ship was quite untroubled.
Who invented the myth that the Anglo-Saxons could not sail and that the great Sutton Hoo ship (c 600 AD) was a mere rowing galley? To the eyes of a sailor, that beautifully preserved hull shape was essentially for sailing, and the three frames close together in the stern were to provide the necessary strength for a sailing rudder. For us it was not a question of 'Did she sail?' but 'How well did she sail?' The oarsmen fore and aft of the middle of the ship would provide power when the wind dropped or came ahead, the conditions under which sailing barges would anchor and wait.
Two factors seemed to worry the myth makers. They thought that the hull was not strong enough to take the sailing forces and that, without a deep keel, such as the Vikings developed some 200 years later, ships could only sail with a following wind. The depth of the Sutton Hoo keel is unknown, despite attempts to find it during the post-war re-excavation. A shallow keel, however, just deep enough to give protection to the planking when aground, has a distinct advantage in our east coast waters with their rapidly changing sands and gravels, allowing her crew to beach the ship rather than having to shelter in a river mouth.
I'd love to see a full-scale replica, but the half-scale ship seems interesting enough!
As promised, I did grab a few fuzzy Treo photos on the way out the door this morning:
This is where I struggled with the old "steam-powered" hammer and nails. The opening to the left is Frank & Kim's gate.
This is the gate on the north side. Barry & Claire's gate is about six feet closer to the street than ours, so you can only see the short fence section on the right.
We've moved the remaining lumber inside the backyard, to discourage it from growing legs (there's a construction site right across the street, remember)
This is the northwest corner of the backyard. There are still a few "filler" pieces to trim to size and nail in place before the horizontal rails can be added to finish some of the sections.
This is looking across the backyard to the south fence: Frank and I finished most of the work here before collapsing last night. Still remaining: horizontal top-boards, and trimming the posts down.
Completing my walk-around of the fence, this is looking east along the south fence, towards the street. The two short sections of despair frame the opening for the
Today was a day away from both work and blogging. Out in the great outdoors, breathing in the fresh air, and building fences. We had the fence posts installed on Friday, and the concrete had set sufficiently to allow us to start stringing the rails between the posts and nailing the vertical boards to the rails.
Now I remember why I opted for a career that involved a lot of sitting in an air-conditioned office, typing on a keyboard and moving a mouse around: I'm just exhausted after today. The good thing is that (between us and the neighbours both north and south of us) we got most of the work done. The bad thing is that there's still more that needs to be done.
If the weather co-operates tomorrow, I might take some poor quality Treo photos to inflict upon you. . .
My various tools got some workout, especially the Porter-Cable pancake compressor and the Makita battery-powered mitre saw. The latter worked far better than I expected: it lasted through about sixty cuts (of 2x4 pressure-treated lumber) this morning, and was recharged by early afternoon and kept up with the rest of the cuts I needed until I ran out of power. The compressor was attached to a rented coil nailer (I have a small 18ga brad driver, but it wasn't up to the challenge of connecting 2x4 and 1x6 pressure-treated lumber together).
To think that I used to disdain power tools! In the time it took me to manually nail two short panels on either side of the opening that will become a gate, my neighbour and his step-father used the nailing gun and completed three full sections. There was no comparison between the speed of doing it the old fashioned way and using a pneumatic tool . . . and I can make no claims about the "superior quality of hand-tool craftsmanship": my efforts were slower and less neat than the guys using the power tools!
As I mentioned yesterday, I found an odd-looking piece of furniture in an antique store on Saturday.
|As often happens in antique stores, there wasn't room to move it away from other items.||I didn't feel dedicated enough to try to take a photo from every angle.|
This is the information provided with the piece . . . which is already leaps and bounds more information than you'd normally get in typical antique stores. I'm only familiar with Stickley's better-known Arts and Crafts line of furniture and other household items . . . I didn't even know that Stickley had other lines.
Show us a man who never makes a mistake and we will show a man who never makes anything. The capacity for occasional blundering is inseparable from the capacity to bring things to pass.
Herman Lincoln Wayland
This is an excerpt from a discussion I had a few months ago with a fellow woodworker-wannabe. The topic of overseas manufacturing of machine tools came up, and eventually he summarized the price and quality differences in this way:
Not that it matters, really. All these tools are made off-shore by people who will be dessicated, ground up, and rolled into honey-dipped sesame seed-coated balls that will be sold as impotence remedies.
Maybe that explains the quality of the tools. The Porter-Cable and DeWalt labourers are months away from dessication, so they are still pretty upbeat and do a good job.
The Black & Decker workers are just a few weeks away, so they don't do a very good job assembling the tools.
The Craftex guys go into the drying racks at the end of their shift.
A posting on a woodworking list I subscribe to pointed me to Whit McLeod's website. He advertises his furniture as being created using reclaimed wood from the California wine industry.
I don't know that I'd ever buy any of his products, but I have to admit that I think the whole idea is very cool.
I've had one person ask for some photos, either because he's interested in woodworking or (perhaps more likely) he doesn't believe that I'm actually getting anything done. Given my traffic levels, this counts as a request by a statistically significant part of my audience, so here goes:
This shows the featherboard I mentioned yesterday. Its purpose is to keep steady pressure on the waste side of the cut, so that the clean edge of the workpiece is kept firmly pressed against the tablesaw's rip fence on the right side of the picture.
This is the Lee Valley roller stand. It works quite well, certainly better than the shop-built adjustable sawhorses I was using in this role beforehand.
This is a small pile of finished boards sitting on top of the workbench. The big yellow and black box in the background is the DeWalt planer.
This is the hand plane I was using to get clean edges on the flattened boards. This side shows the Lee Valley jointer fence I picked up a couple of years ago, but just got around to trying out (it was on sale, what can I say?).
Last picture for now: proof that I didn't just go to a Borg and buy finished hardwood!
For the first time in literally months, I got down into the basement today to do a bit of woodworking. I'd like to say that woodworking is one of my hobbies, but that's being a bit more pretentious than I can justify. Let's say that I aspire to being a competent woodworker (several of my ancestors were cabinetmakers and carpenters), but for now I'm an apprentice abuser of wood.
I got a few woodworking accessories over the holidays, plus a number of hints that it'd be nice if I got busy and built some furniture soon. Today was my first opportunity to do something about it. One of the gifts was a Lee Valley roller stand, which looks a bit over-engineered in the photo, but works very well indeed. So far I've used it as outfeed support on both the tablesaw and the planer, with excellent results. I also received a pair of monster clamps by Jorgensen. These are big enough to be quite useful as weapons, should the need arise.
This is one of my first forays into using what I call "real wood". Most of my previous projects have been plywood and pine, with only two projects in oak (a bookcase and an entertainment unit) — and for those two, I had lots of help. I'm using Cherry for this new project.
One of the advantages of working with plywood and pine is that they're generally available in known dimensions (although the relationship between the "formal" size and the actual size seems to be drifting further apart). Hardwoods, like Oak, Cherry, and Maple, are generally not available in standard sizes. This means that for a project involving "real wood", a good portion of the initial time investment is devoted to creating the proper sized pieces of wood with which to start building the project.
This means, for example, starting with a "rough cut" board, which means that it's somewhere in the 1-2" thick range, anywhere from 3-8" wide, and up to 8-10' long. And the "rough" is literally that: the saw marks from the mill are often still clear — and jagged. To turn this into something useful, you need to perform a few arcane tasks: face jointing and edge jointing. You have to establish a flat face on the board from which all the other dimensions will be taken. The power tool to do this is called a Jointer (or, in some areas, a Joiner). I don't own one of these yet, so I have to fake it.
I select, as carefully as I can, rough boards that don't exhibit cupping, warping, or twisting (which thins the ranks of usable boards pretty effectively, I must admit), then run them through the planer to get the two faces of the board flat and parallel to one another. That done, I use a hand plane with a jointing fence attached to square off one of the long edges of the board, then rip the other edge on the tablesaw (you need a square edge on one side to safely use the tablesaw . . . you're asking for problems to do it any other way).
When I first bought my tablesaw, my much-more-experienced-in-woodworking friend Clive also had me buy some accessories (stabilizer disks, link-belt, push-sticks & paddles, and a featherboard). Until today, I'd never been able to find a use for the featherboard: it just seemed like it did nothing but get in the way of making cuts on the saw. Today, I finally found out what a featherboard is so useful for: it saves you driving splinters into your hand as you press the good-on-three-sides boards against the tablesaw rip fence, and also discourages you from doing some stupid take-your-hand-too-close-to-the-blade trick that you might otherwise be inclined to do.
I'm a slow worker, when it comes to woodworking, so it took me most of the day to get to the point of having enough wood planed and jointed to actually get started on the project itself. Tomorrow should be the start of a glue-up for a pair of side-table tabletops, and I'll have to go to a lumber store to find some stock that'll be thick enough to use for the legs of the tables, but at least I've finally started doing something with the basement full of tools and rough wood, so I should be hearing fewer complaints from SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed).
The Meatriarchy has an interesting post up about a whole bunch of things, but it eventually wends its way to handyman work:
I don't seem to have inherited that skill [carpentry]. This probably led to some of the friction between my father and myself. He couldn't understand why I was unable to drive a nail straight and I couldn't understand why he thought I was such a feeb. I wanted to understand it all but it just didn't happen intuitively. And I learned later on in life that some people aren't good teachers.
I had a similar experience. My grandfather was a man of many skills, and his woodworking skills were impressive. He built all sorts of built-in features for his house, including some very intricate fold-down and pull-out and hide-away tables, drawers, shelves, and so on. It was a typically tiny English "two up and two down", but he seemed to have used every nook and cranny to create storage spaces and work surfaces with nothing more than hand tools and scrap lumber. It broke my heart when we had to sell the house after my grandparents died: all the intricate woodwork was bound to be torn out and replaced with modern tat.
Anyway, as I've occasionally mentioned, I have remarkably little aptitude for most forms of handiwork — especially home repair. I'm forcing myself to learn a bit about woodworking in particular (I've managed to build a bookcase and an entertainment unit, plus various shop furniture for my so-called workshop). It's tough, because it really doesn't come easily and I hate wasting both material and effort to get bad results.
So fast-forward to the present day. I bought my first house in 1997. I tried to do some things like put some spray insulation in the cracks in the windows but it all foamed up and made a hideous ugly yellow mess. I struggled with putting screws into drywall because I didn't understand that you have to find a stud and then drive the screw into that. Did you know that studs are placed 16" apart? Well if you know where one stud is you can always find all the others.
We could probably match story for story like this. If it hadn't been for my old friend Clive, I would have given up on doing anything around the house years ago.
So my father-in-law shows up to do some renovation work on the first house and I thought I would help him. I learned something very important (I think we were putting down ceramic tiles) on that project and I will pass it on to all who read it (especially those who find carpentry work to be fraught with peril).
No project ever goes smoothly. In fact all projects are fraught with problems. I used to start to do something like . . . put up a new light fixture and then get completely freaked out because it didn't go smoothly. I thought it was because I was an idiot. But it turns out this happens to everyone even the best carpenters.
Well, I wish I'd been able to figure that one out a long time ago — it would have saved me a lot of cursing and swearing at myself when things didn't go anything like what I hoped. F'r example, when I built the entertainment unit, I only made a couple of pretty minor mistakes up until the last steps. Unfortunately, the mistakes there were pretty noticeable (door hardware that didn't properly line up — in fact were offset by a good half-inch from where they should have been). A few years ago, that'd have upset me enough to want to pour gasoline over the whole unit and set fire to it. Now, I live with it (and I will get around to fixing it eventually).
This all helped me realize that I am not a complete idiot when it comes to basic home repair and some carpentry. In fact I have now amassed a collection of tools that I know how to use Like a compound miter saw — man that thing is cool. Or a cordless drill (everyone should have one) In fact I might even get a router after Christmas.
But most important of all I have made a major breakthrough and conquered a phobia.
Dude, be careful . . . tool collecting is a dangerous, seductive habit. Before you know it, you'll be ogling table saws, bandsaws, and jointers! Don't ask me how I know. . .
Visitors since 17 August, 2004