Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Year and a New Plane

I've never been much of a celebrator of the New Year. When I was in junior high school I spent New Year's Eve at a friend's and we both ate a mouthful of Pringles potato chips at the stroke of midnight. That's my most memorable New Year's. Most the the time I fall asleep before the ball drops.

But this year is different. I just received another infill plane kit from Ron Brese of Brese Plane. So tonight I'm celebrating.

This kit is based on Brese's 875 series full-size smoothing plane. The bed angle is 50 degrees (York pitch), a good compromise between ease of planing and higher pitch for less tearout. The plane uses a 2-1/4" wide iron. This is a smoothing plane, roughly akin to a #4-1/2 size bench plane. The big difference is in the sole length. The Brese plane is 8-3/4" long, almost 2" shorter than typical smoothing planes of this width. That makes sense to me, especially for a smoothing plane, where a longer sole can be a hindrance.

Ron's construction method for joining the sole to the sides makes for a plane body with very clean lines, and a straighforward, utilitarian look. I'm not much for added fanciness when it comes to hand tools, and Ron's aesthetic falls right in line with that idea.

Norris A13

Ron styled the body to mimic the Norris A13 plane. Ron did a great job of translating the style to a shorter body plane, making for an overall beefier look, while maintaining the elegant curves of the A13. I don't plan on customizing this plane, like I did with the Brese small smoother. I like Ron's design very much, so I'll be following his plans directly.

I'm hoping to take some pictures along the way, and document the process as well, since this plane poses some unique challenges that the small smoother didn't. I'm hoping the results will be the same, since that plane is simply outstanding.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Update on the BenchcraftedTail Vise

I don't like to post about commercial stuff here, but it's gotta happen now and then. I posted an update about the Benchcrafted Tail Vise over at the Benchcrafted Blog, and I thought I'd give a quick heads up, especially for those who are anxious to get their vise. Needless to say, we've been hustling to get vises out. More over at Benchcrafted...

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Basswood and Buttocks

I recently began work on a rather large commission. Not huge by any means, but big enough that I'm planning the build to postpone final assembly as long as possible. This piece will we be as big as my Roubo bench when I'm finished, and that takes up a lot of room in my small shop.

The good thing about this piece is that it's going to include lots of carving. Why is that good? It means I get to use basswood. Basswood can spoil the hand tool woodworker. Carver's love basswood for it's easy working characteristics. And that's why I love to plane basswood. There are seven carved panels on this piece.

After milling them with power machinery, I finished up the show side with my #4 smoothing plane. What sheer planing joy! Basswood planes like a dream, and I can go for ages without touching up my plane iron. Heck, I've built entire pieces of basswood and only honed my planes once, maybe twice. Like I said, it will spoil the handtool woodworker.

Shavings from one panel.

And now to the second topic of this post. This is my new favorite bench stool. And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

I picked this up at a garage sale this summer and have been using it almost every time I'm in the shop. Okay, it was my own garage sale, but so what? This little stool is actually a shower seat, thus the holes. (In case you're wondering, it's actually brand new, and never used in a shower with bare buttocks). It's the place that I prefer to rest my back side when doing any shop task that requires sitting. I often see fine, craftsman-made shop stools in woodworker's shops, but I never had the time to make one. And this seat is so comfortable that I doubt I ever will.

The tubular aluminum legs are height adjustable with small spring-loaded bullet-shaped pins, and work nicely. The rubber tipped legs provide enough grip to keep the seat from sliding around.

One of my favorite places to use the seat is at the right end of the bench when I'm doing close, repetitive work with the tail vise, such as in the posed shot where I'm chopping dovetails that have already been chopped. I also use the seat when I'm using the jointer for the long periods. It allows better control, and saves my back at the same time. Of course it's also a great seat for doing any detail work at my 36" high Roubo bench.

Here are some "Christmas" shavings. White (basswood), Red (Padauk), and (almost) Green (Poplar). Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Strings at Khalaf Oud

I'm happy to reintroduce these fine strings for Turkish oud.

This set is designed and manufactured to the specifications of oud virtuoso Necati Celik. These are the strings that Necati uses on his own ouds. It's designed around his own tuning, but the two lower courses can be variably tuned. These are top quality strings, on par with the best like Pyramid and Kurschner lute strings, only with a much more attractive price.

The other set, designed around a more common tuning, uses the same strings as the Necati set, only with slightly different gauges. As with any Turkish oud strings, these can also be used for Arabic ouds with a longer scale (61cm+) and Arabic tuning (a whole step lower).

Any time I'm able to offer excellent strings at a good price, I'm going to jump on it! And these definitely fit the bill.

Take a look at the new strings here: MusiCaravan Strings

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Latest

A couple weeks ago I shipped off my latest oud. This is a rather simple one. I'm actually leaning more towards these simple designs, not only because of their understated elegance, but because they are quicker to make. Nevertheless, the owner of this instrument waited over a year and a half to get this one. I got to play it for a couple weeks before shipping it out. Click here for a sound file. Criticisms welcome!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gramercy Carcase Saw Kit

The Gramercy Tools Carcase Saw Kit

Last month I tried the new Gramercy Tools Carcase Saw (crosscut) at the Woodworking in America Conference. I've been using Japanese-style saws for a number of years, and only recently have I started moving back towards Western-style saws since so many fine sawmakers have begun offering their wares. Earlier this year I purchased the Gramercy Dovetail Saw kit and was extremely pleased with the ergonomics of the saw and the cut quality. So naturally I was eager to try the new Gramercy crosscut saw. I was hooked. Literally. After trying some crosscuts on the bench hook at the Tools For Working Wood booth I was all set to leave the show with a new saw. I left the booth empty handed though, planning to return and pick up the saw later that day. But before I had a chance to return, I was approached by Gramercy owner Joel Moskowitz. He asked if I wanted a carcase saw kit. I wasn't crazy about doing another saw handle, but I thought since the guy behind the saw was asking if I wanted to do a kit, I figured I ought to oblige. So I walked away from the show with a kit. And here is the result. My saw-handle making skills aren't what they should be, but this one does the job. And I can report that the saw cuts perfectly. Straight, quick, and very very smooth. I won't be picking up my Dozuki any time soon.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Deals at Khalaf Oud Luthiery

I try to keep this blog leaning heavily towards informational exchange rather than product promotion. But once in a while I'll sneak one in.

Today and tomorrow is big sale day at Khalaf Oud. The profit margin on my soft cases isn't exactly great, since the cases are manufactured right here in the US. But in the interest of getting this case into the hands of as many oudists as I can (the case really is quite nice) I'm offering a huge discount for these two days only. Plus, a free set of Pyramid strings will be included with every case.

The case is great for travelling by air with your oud (as a carry-on), hopping a bus, riding your bike, or even striking a pose in your backyard, as I often do.

To make this as effortless as possible, here's a direct link to the home page in case you are reading this after Thanksgiving dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Black Friday at Benchcrafted

Shameless plug time.

Late Thursday (right about the time I'm making a turkey sandwich) the price of the Benchcrafted Tail Vise will drop. But only for a day. If you've been considering picking up one of these, this would be the time. The price will be, well, check the Benchcrafted website Thursday around 10pm to find out. There will also be special pricing on Mag-Bloks. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Getting to Know Roubo - for real

Rosewood and ivory plow plane by Jim Leamy

After a weekend sampling fine tools and visiting with the world's top hand tool makers at the Woodworking in America conference, I returned to the shop with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for woodworking. I met so many interesting people and exchanged some great stories and woodworking knowledge. I also learned something about hand tool enthusiasts in general. They are a fine group of people. It was an honor to join toolmakers Ron Brese and Bob Zajicek in their booth. Hats off to both these gentleman for allowing me to lend a hand.

In the shop, a nearly completed cherry cabinet lay atop my Roubo German cabinetmaker's bench. The door still needed to be built, so I got to work milling the stock. This is the first furniture project since completing the Roubo bench, and it's been a great opportunity to learn how the bench performs under real working conditions. This wall cabinet, built for a small bathroom, features hand-cut dovetails (I use a Gramercy Tools dovetail saw), a frame and panel door and a cove moulding made on the table saw. It presents a number of workholding scenarios that brought out the best in the bench's capabilities.

Two aspects of the bench stand out as noteworthy.

First, the tail vise in an actual work setting is very quick and intuitive to use. It's a lot faster than a typical T-handle vise when clamping between dogs. I just grab the knob or rim of the handwheel and nudge it loose, repostion the board, and nudge the vise clockwise. That's it. I do this dozens of times during the project, and I never find myself fumbling for a handle or finding it to be the in the way (my tail vise handle on my old bench sometimes stops so the wood handle is sticking directly out the front of the bench). I grab the handwheel without even thinking about it and the vise responds perfectly. In other words, the function of the vise doesn't interrupt my work, but flows with it. That's how I like my tools to work. Maybe I'm biased, but this vise is performing for me exactly in tune with the way I work.

Secondly, the sliding leg vise. I knew this one would be useful, but in the context of a real project, this thing is, well, awesome. After ten years of using a Record iron vise as a face vise on my previous bench, I'm now able to work on large panel edges quickly and easily, and absolutely rock-solidly. Twin-screw vises are useful for this sort of work, but they have the capacity limitations, usually somewhere around 24". Working on this door's top edge (I'm planing the stile ends flush with rail edges) the vises are positioned with about 28" between the screws. And the door does not move. At all. It feels as if I'm actually working on the bench itself, it's that solid. That means smoother planing, and no mental energy spent on compensating for poor workholding.

With about 36" between screws I can work on the long edge of the door's stile. I can locate the sliding vise to a maximum capacity upwards of 5 feet between screws. That's some serious workholding, and probably more than I'll ever need for typical furniture making.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Roubo in Action

I thought it'd be fun to put together a little video showing some of the capabilities of my version of the Andres Roubo German Cabinetmaker's bench. In the video I use the different vises, including the Benchcrafted Tail Vise, for some basic operations including face planing, edge planing, and sawing and chopping dovetails. I got a little over eager with the planing footage. Sometimes it's fun just to make shavings when my planes are singing. There isn't any commentary, and just a few subtitles. The video kind of speaks for itself, I think. I couldn't resist adding a little background music towards the end to toast not only the German heritage of this bench, but also my own German heritage.

Roubo Bench Video

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Getting To Know Roubo -- Leg Vise Tweak

When I made my Roubo bench I used a roughly 5" section of 3/8" steel rod as a pivot pin for the parrallel guides on both leg vises. I don't move the pin often, but when I do it's a bit of a pain to grab that little pin, especially when the vise is almost closed.

I'm pretty sure I got this idea from a picture of Lie-Nielsen's new Roubo bench, posted on Woodworking Magazine's weblog. The area of the picture was a little blurry, but it planted the seed, and I went with it. So credit to Lie-Nielsen Toolworks for this idea.

So I lengthened the pins, then inserted them into a turned handle. The pins are now much easier and quicker to grab and reposition.

The pin for the sliding vise is a bit longer since the rear chop on the slider is wider.

After using the handled pin a few times I realized that some thought and effort was required to avoid over-inserting the pin in the parallel guide's hole. Pushing the pin in too far places the handle between the jaws and prevents the pin from seating flatly against the leg. If part of the handle goes past the edge of the leg, the parallel guide would mash that part of the handle into the leg when clamping.

The solution was to stop the pin at a fixed location without interfering with the function of the pin. Anything larger than the pin's diameter would't work. My solution was to drill through each pin and drive in a 1/8" roll pin.

This makes changing holes truly brainless. It's impossible to over-insert the pin.

Changing pins in the parallel guide is quicker and easier than ever.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tradition meets technology

A few years ago John Herin invented a new type of geared tuner for stringed instruments that he calls the "Peghed". It's unlike any other geared tuning peg. It actually looks and works just like a real wood peg, without all the real wood peg problems. The device uses a system of planetary gears housed inside the peg's aluminum shaft. With the 4:1 gear reduction that these provide, fine tuning is effortless. And the pegs stay put without all the idiosyncratic movement required with wood pegs. When I first saw these pegs in a local music shop I was really impressed by the function of the pegs, but not so much by the looks. The shaft looked fine, but the head was a rather crudely fabricated black plastic material (pictured above) that didn't look or feel like ebony, let alone any lesser wood. It reminded me more of phony leather than wood. So I wrote them off, thinking that I would wait until another option came along. I should clarify that the pegs I saw in the local shop are actually Perfection Pegs, which use Herin's mechanism, but marketed under a different name. I recently became aware of a major change in Herin's product through my friend and fellow oud enthusiast Mike Malek. During a recent visit with Mike, he showed me an entire box of these new tuners headed to a luthier in Egypt. I was really impressed. Here's the difference. The heads of these pegs are actual wood. Ebony, in this case. When a recent customer asked if I could install these new pegs on his instrument, I jumped at the chance. I sent a set of my rosewood Nahat-style pegs to Herin, and he worked his magic.

Herin separates the head of the peg from the shaft, and uses a CNC lathe and mill to excavate a complex mortise in the end of each peg head.

Then part of the mechanism, which matches the shape of the mortise, is glued into the head.

And here's the interesting part. The shaft of the peg which is visible outside the pegbox walls, is fabricated from anodized aluminum to mimic the color of the rosewood heads. The Pegheds are also quite light for a geared tuner. 12 of the rosewood Pegheds weigh 108 grams in their raw state (the extra long black section of the shafts will be trimmed shorter when installed), while 12 rosewood pegs weigh 91 grams. That's about 1.5 grams difference, per peg. In other words, 12 Pegheds are about equivalent to 14 rosewood pegs. Not a huge issue. Up close, the pegs won't fool the discerning eye. But these Pegheds are a far cry from the plastic-banana pegs that I saw in the music shop.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Inlay and Rosette Tricks

I'm always looking for a quicker and more accurate way to inlay without visible gaps. Inlaying a straight-edged design does help, but as always, the room for error is basically a couple thousandths. In other words, not much. The inlay either fills the mortise right up to the edge or it doesn't. Lots of fancy inlay is done on darker fingerboards like rosewood or ebony. Filling gaps in these woods is easy. Just overfill with epoxy and let the dark wood hide the errors. Inlay in lighter woods like walnut poses a challenge, and inlaying soundboards of soft spruce calls for a light touch and extreme accuracy. My technique isn't unique. However, I do have a little trick I use that improves my results. I always tack glue my inlay to the substrate with a tiny drop of CA glue. It won't budge while I scribe with a #11 Xacto blade. And it pops off quite easily afterwards.

I route the majority of the mortise with a 3/32" spiral bit, then sneak into the corners with a 1/32" bit. These little buggers are really fragile, but they cut very smoothly and allow me to get into tight corners. I clean up the very tip of the corner with the #11 Xacto.

And here's where my little trick comes in. I use a highly polished jeweler's burnisher to compress and spread the aris of the mortise wall. 99% of the time this takes care of any iffy spots in the fit. If a particular area is off by more, I'll use some extra pressure and try to smoosh the wood fibers a tad more.

The burnished areas are visible around the perimeter of the mortise. These will get scraped and sanded flat after the inlay is glued.

A matching caul puts pressure evenly on the inlay.

This is ivory in walnut.

For rosettes with inlaid central calligraphy, getting the pattern on the blank in the correct position can be tricky. There is no room for error when the border of the inlay is a 2mm circle surrounded by 2mm walnut. Any deviation from the pattern will be obvious.

I cut some tiny windows into the pattern to line up exactly where the pattern should lay. Once I position it exactly I tape one edge to the blank, flip it over, spray with 3m Super 77, flip it back and press it down. The tape acts like a hinge, returning the pattern to exact spot.

This dark walnut rosette is made from several plies of alternating grain veneer, epoxied together and cured in a press. This plywood makes for easy, predictable cutting since the "grain" of the wood is the same in every direction. And obviously it makes the rosette very strong.

After cutting the pattern, but before removing the paper.

The finished rosette. Walnut and ivory.