Shop Talk

Well, if there’s one thing I love, it’s talking shop.  I actually keep a blog almost specifically to allow me to talk shop.  I know no one else in close proximity to me that does this kind of woodworking, and sometimes the life of a loner; a rebel, just isn’t as sexy as Pee Wee Herman makes it sound.

Anyway, back to the shop.

Anyone who reads me regularly knows how much I love my shop.  Anyone new to this nonsensical babble can get a primer on what I think of my shop here (first) and  here (second).

At some time early in my foray into working wood, I realized that a shop doesn’t have to be all business. It can, and should, be a happy place.  A place where you can pause and look around, and like what you see.

This morning, kind of early, I did just that; paused and looked around.  And what I saw was, well, disgusting.

You see, I just finished a dandy little knick-knack of a project and, as I am wont to do, destroyed my shop in the process.

I looked around this morning, and came to the conclusion that my shop was a complete disaster.  Months of normal, day-to-day work in the shop along with the occasional fun project coupled with my habit of working like a slob has produced a condition heretofore unseen in this little 24’X24′ box of life ongoing.  Disaster. Utter.  Complete. I don’t even have the vocabulary of superlatives to describe the state of disrepair.

This will wind up a two- or three-part post on The State of the Shop.  I’ve never really done a “shop tour”, knowing full well that’s something most working-class guys love.  We love seeing how other people set up their shops, and bragging a little on the ways we do things in our own.

So, in the interest of keeping posts brief and to-the-point, some ‘before’ pics, with short descriptions, soon to be followed by The Great Clean and a shop tour, with ‘after’ pics and better descriptions.

Enjoy wallowing in my filth.

*These pics start at the man door and revolve 360 around the shop.

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Welding table, bookshelf, torches

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Anvil, sawbench, shavehorse

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Table saw, drill press, bandsaw

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Lumber rack, stove, jointer

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Workbench, window, lathe

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FRIDGE

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Ugh.

 

 

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Gallery in Progress

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Tool Tote

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 Believe it or not, I started this project about three years ago.  I know; me, procrastinate?

As I remember it, I was puttering around with something in the shop when the idea of compound angle dovetails popped into my head.  Sometimes things pop into my head like that when I’m bored or doing something that requires no thought.

Anyway, I had no idea how to lay them out, but in a brief flash of insight, it occurred to me that the dovetail angles don’t change; just the angle of the corner of the box.

Well, that was it.  Now I had to build something.

I started out by making a full-scale drawing to help me better understand what I thought I wanted to do.  I actually saw a small tote like this in an article on design and proportions.  It was really pretty; I think Jim Tolpin built it.IMG_0388

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It turns out, as I’ve read, that a full scale drawing is immensely helpful.  These are drawn on some large pieces of cardboard that I have stockpiles of in the shed.  Truly helpful for setting your bevel gauge, getting real-world measurements and scaling.

Once I realized that you lay out your dovetails from a line square with your box, the rest was easy.IMG_0407

This was the first iteration.  Walnut, good size, great proportions.  Alas, this was as far as I got.  I cut the dovetails, dry-fitted, and hung it up.  The dovetails were O.K., I might have had to patch a few.  I just never got back to it.

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This was number two.  Look at the curl in that cherry.  I’d been looking at the walnut one for a few years now, moving it here and there when it was in the way, and finally decided to finish one.  A bigger one that could actually be used as a tool tote.  In the grand (read: cheap) tradition of the Bronze Oak Leaf Workshops, I went with whatever I had lying around.  In this case, cherry.  You’re supposed to build these things from pine; it’s cheap, light, and you don’t have to worry about banging it up a little.

However, I didn’t have any.  I would have had to drive somewhere and buy some.

This particular box, however, was a product of my notoriously bad memory.  As in; I had no idea how I laid out the compound angles in the first one.

So, I laid out and cut the dovetails,  went to dry fit and couldn’t figure out  why they wouldn’t go together. Turns out I neglected to make the compound cut on the ends of the boards.  Sheesh, what a moron.

Well, after toying with it a bit (it was ruined, there was no saving it), I did a quick search on Roy Underhill’s tool tote.  You know, the one he carries at the beginning of his show.  I wanted a better idea on size and shape.

That actually helped me design a better tote.  One with better proportions, and big enough to be useful.

However, I had to dress it up a little.  I couldn’t help myself.

I didn’t want to cut the tops of my boards straight.  It just looked too boxy and boring.  So I decided to add some curves, and boy did that dress it up.

I also rounded over the tops of all the sides and the handle.  It’s the little touches that make a small, understated piece like this pop.IMG_0413

It turns out I’m much happier with this design and its proportions.  Hated to waste that cherry on a mindless foul-up, but, as they say, there are no mistakes, just opportunities to reevaluate your design.

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Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to load this up with tools and bang it around the shop.

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Shavehorse

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Well, I couldn’t sit still too long.

I knew I had some 8/4 poplar sitting at a friend’s house, drying in the field.  I couldn’t remember how much I had cut; I don’t usually earmark too much of a log for 8/4.  I’m starting to change that way of thinking, but last year, when I had this cut, I just blurted out some numbers to the sawyer.  It turns out I had just enough cut to build this most essential of work-holding tools.

It started, interestingly enough, in OCM.  It was beautiful this time of year, and I got to spend some time reading on the beach.  I had Peter Galbert’s new book, and I eventually got to the part where he talks about building a shavehorse.

As the three or four of you who read the ramblings regularly posted here may know, I just finished my first chair, and I’m hooked.  All of the romanticizing about working the wood from the tree with minimal power tools aside, there really is something to the beauty of shaving sopping wet wood on the shavehorse with a drawknife.  In fact, I didn’t realize how much I missed it already.  Luckily my hands didn’t forget the work, and they went right back to the skills I learned at chaircamp without missing a beat.

The legs are the only thing a little out of the ordinary.  I decided to go with tapered octagons.  The big-on-bottom small-on-top shape is different for a leg, but I like the look.  The octagonal shape falls more in line with the right-angle, straight and square nature of the thing.

To make a tapered octagon is really pretty simple.  Decide how much taper you want, then taper the leg.  Lay out the octagon on both ends of the leg, connect the lines from top to bottom, and cut to the lines.  Sounds simple, right?  The devil is in the details.  How do you taper four sides of a leg symmetrically?  What’s the best way to cut to the lines?  Where the heck did I set my beer?
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What I did was lay out the octagons first.  Find the center with diagonal lines, set a compass to reach from a corner to the center, then make a mark on each side.  do this for each corner and you have an octagon.

On the small end, you have to lay out the size the leg will be after tapering, then lay out the octagon according to that square.IMG_0318

First you taper all four sides.  There is a very slick trick to this on the jointer that I can’t explain here, but you can watch it here.  Glen Huey is the man.

After you taper all four sides, you connect the lines on both ends, then cut to the lines.  I started wasting material with a jack plane, but that took too long.  I set up the jointer fence to cut at the right angle and cut mostly to the lines, then finished up with a jointer plane.IMG_0317IMG_0320IMG_0323IMG_0324

I can’t believe I didn’t take any pics of the finished octagons.  You can see them on the horse.  A little labor-intensive, but the effect is worth it.

The rest of the horse was just milling, cutting to size, and assembling.  I used The Country Workshop’s plans, found here.  They are a little vague on some things, but some inferences and intuition are all you need to complete it.

It took me two Saturdays and a week after work to finish it, mostly because I had to mill and glue up stock for thickness.  I really only had enough 8/4 for the bench, legs, and head.

My family wasn’t sure what to think, looking warily at it like cavemen seeing fire for the first time, but I got two of them to come around.IMG_0336IMG_0342IMG_0331IMG_0332IMG_0334

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Hope Chest

Plain Jane

Plain Jane

Well, I plum near forgot about this, but I was going through some of my shop pics tonight when I came across this simple beauty.

Earlier in the evening I was sitting out in the shop, feet up on the welding table, browsing a Highland Tool catalog, when it occurred to me that… I wasn’t doing anything.  Nothing.  The music was on, the lights were on, and there I was, sitting on me arse, completely at peace with my immobility.

You see, I have just completed the most prolific couple months the Bronze Oak Leaf has yet seen, and now I find myself in the unfamiliar situation of wondering what to do next.

I promised my sister a steel/wood coffee table.  Well, it took a year, but, check.

I promised my sister-in -law a hope chest for her daughter’s High School graduation gift.  A mad dash from mid-May to June 6, but, check.

And I promised myself a solid week saturated with woodworking at chair camp.  CHECK.

In between, I tried, and mostly failed, to take care of some of the house/husband/father work that piles up around your ears this time of year.  Well, I should get an “A” for effort at least.

Anyway, later on I was browsing some shop pics when I remembered how well this chest turned out, and some of the pics reminded me of some of the things I wanted to say about it.

Sweet!

Sweet!

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Feet; before profiling

First of all, the joinery.  I called this chest Plain Jane because that’s what it is.  The lumber (white oak) is nice, but not flashy.  So the joinery had to be.  I’m happy to say that, for the first time, I had to patch no dovetails on a box.  None.  The glue helped out on some of the very minor problem areas, swelling the wood and closing tiny gaps, but all-in-all, not too shabby.

Even the dovetailed feet turned out perfect.

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The bottom I decided to fancy-up a bit, and I made it frame-and-panel.  Simple rabbet cut in the box, some glue and screws, and a bottom that should stay put.  A nice touch.

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The feet were different on this.  I took my cue from Glen Huey and made my feet just like a chest I saw him build.  Simple, stout, and should last a long time.

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The applied molding around the base of the box covers up the tops of the feet, and the block nailed into the feet lends support directly to the corner of the chest.  It also projects ~1/8″ below the feet so it takes all the abuse from sliding around the floor.

The lid turned out nice, too.  It’s my first attempt at breadboard ends, and I did them the traditional way, with a 3/8″ tongue the entire width, and three 1-1/4″ tenons mortised and pegged into the ends.  That top is staying flat.

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I even took half a Saturday and made a crosscut sled that allowed me to cut the sides and top with no fuss.  It killed me to give up that Saturday morning; the deadline was fast-approaching.  But it was well worth it.  I can now crosscut panels up to around 23″ wide.

I used simple butt hinges and a half-mortise lock from Horton Brasses.  Not a flashy chest at all, but it did appeal to my simple nature.

Well, the evening wasn’t a total wash.  My daughter came out to hang with me a bit, and I got the bright idea to sharpen my antique scythe and cut the hillside next to the shop.  After a good sweat was worked up, I figured that little burst of energy made up for my earlier slothfulness.  There’s just no rest for the wicked.

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Windsor Chair

Well.  Have I got a treat for you. IMG_0295 I just spent a week at chair camp.  What a fitting name for the class I recently finished in Jefferson, Ohio, at the lovely home (and shop) of Joe Graham, Chairmaker Extraordinaire.

I can barely contain my excitement for what I’ve learned while camped out, almost sequestered, in a fantastically laid-out chairmaking shop/classroom. First, let me start by gushing praise on Joe and his lovely wife Barbara.  Joe is a soft-spoken, thoughtful, and patient teacher.  Barbara is a great cook, a sunny disposition, and intelligent conversation all rolled into one.  Together, they run a nice little chairmaking school in parallel with the chairmaking business.

If you’ve never seen Joe’s chairs, you must check them out here.  They are a keenly refined version of a Windsor-style chair.  A design truly his own, it is graceful and dramatic, demanding to be the center of attention in any room it occupies.

As for the class, it was a great study on traditional chairmaking combined with some modern methods that help rookies get their chairs done on time.  Very well-planned, organized and methodical, the class moves along while allowing enough time to complete each stage satisfactorily enough to keep up with the schedule.  While meant for relatively experienced woodworkers, we had a couple newbies that struggled a bit with some of the more esoteric techniques, but were able to keep up and complete some really nice chairs.

The class itself was intense.  Six days of working from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. with breaks for breakfast, lunch, and supper, all prepared and served by Barbara in their dining room or on the porch.  No one ever hurried through a meal, and we often spent an hour talking at the table.  But when we got back to work, work we did.  The class was paced so that we were always busy, and there was always work to be done.  Thursday we worked until after 10:00 p.m., and Friday until midnight.  More than once I could be heard saying ” nine o’clock already?”.

Joe’s site states that ” the hours are long and the work is strenuous”, and he wasn’t kidding.  I spent much of the time stretching my fingers to loosen up my forearms.  My elbows, hands, and forearms spent much of the time stiff and sore.  What a great time.

My very own bench

My very own bench

It’s surprising how small of a bench you can use to build a chair.  Two simple vices, only one of which I used, and a smallish work area were plenty of space for the work I had to do.  Combined, of course, with the inimitable shavehorse (my new favorite tool), I had all I needed to work green wood. IMG_0266 It’s hard to overstate the importance of this tool.  I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent on it, which was as many minutes as I could.  Incidentally, Joe did most of his work from a vice instead of a shavehorse.  Maybe he didn’t have an extra; I don’t know, but I’ll be building one shortly.

White Gold

White Gold

Humble beginnings

Humble beginnings

Joe bandsawed to rough shape most of the parts we needed, and also did the preliminary lathe work.  This was necessary to save time, and he explained the process so we didn’t miss anything.   In the pic above, from the left side of the bench, the arm stumps, stretcher pieces, and legs.  All taken from rough to finish with the drawknife and spokeshave.  Sanding was optional, and yes, I did.

I need to mention the importance of the drawknife and spokeshave.  Some have said this is a primitive and laborious way to finish pieces for a chair.  It’s actually the fastest and most efficient, once you learn how to use them.  I’ve used these tools before, but never to this extent.  Hours on end at the shavehorse is the only way to learn to use these tools effectively, and I now am wielding them with confidence.

However, the need to keep them razor-sharp cannot be overstated.  White oak is a fickle mistress, and tears out often when tools are dull.

I didn’t buy the tools from the suggested tools list on Joe’s site.  I’m way too cheap for that.  But a couple guys did, and they liked them.  I stuck with an old Witherby drawknife and a Stanly 151 adjustable spokeshave.  When really sharp, they are both great tools.

I’ll be posting more on the chair build later; I like to keep my posts short.  Until then, enjoy some pics.

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Stretcher in the rough

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Sharp drawknife

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Seat, arm, and parts on the shavehorse

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Glued-up and ready for trimming

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Graceful

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Surfacing Lumber

IMG_0239I have some more posting on the Welded Coffee Table and the Traditional Tool Chest build to do, but I was in the shop tonight working on some of the more boring, but rewarding, monotonous work in the beginning stages of any project; surfacing.

I forget sometimes why I do what I do.  Deadlines; spring housework; the insanity that is Kids’ Sports.  Honestly, what did I do before I had kids?  I must have been either really bored or really lazy.

I’ve been working mostly on commissions lately, hence the “deadlines” crack.  I made some commitments to some family members, and I don’t want to let anyone down, so I’m feeling a little rushed to get some heirloom-quality, hand-down-to-your-grandchildren solid furniture out the door.  I certainly don’t mind the commitments.  That’s what family’s about.  But I’m not a rusher.  I typically take my good-old time to make sure that what leaves the shop bound for someone else’s home is as near-perfect as this severely flawed mortal can conjure.

So, while I was picking through the pile of white oak from which I chose to build this latest project (it’s a surprise; I can’t name it just yet), I was thinking how ugly the wood I chose looked in the rough.  For as straight as that white oak was when I cut it down, it sure looked like it was going to be a bear to flatten out these boards.

I flattened one side on the jointer; still not impressed.  But once I started my surface planing routine, the beauty of the white oak started to show through.  I don’t write this lightly; I actually paused to look at what I was getting out of those boards.  Great color, great figure, just. . .nice.

I started to feel a little better.  Started moving a little more fluidly.  My planing routine is pretty regimented, and I’ll cover that in a later post, but it started feeling less like drudgery and more like woodworking.

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The wood, man.  Remember the wood?  I think I do.

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