Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Brese Panel, Bench discoveries

I've been building a trio of small Shaker end tables with my niece and nephew over the past few months. Sadly, they don't have an industrial arts or woodworking program at their school, so I though it would be a good idea to give them some shop time and get their feet wet in some old-school woodworking, the kind that I was exposed to growing up. It's hard to compete with Call of Duty and Ipods, but I think these sessions will plant a seed and hopefully blossom at a later time when the lures of youth start to fade. During the past couple sessions (I'm building a table too to walk them through the process) I've found myself reaching for a plane that I've been babysitting since early October.

Ron Brese's latest creation is a stainless steel panel-size plane with an atypical infill. It doesn't really have an infill at all. I first saw this type of arrangement while browsing through some old plane patents, and later when I read an article about the Sindelar Tool Museum which featured joined-body planes with lever-caps and separate totes and knobs. Ron's plane echoes the classic lines of the old Norris planes, with its sidewall profile and traditional lever cap. The panel plane always interested me, mostly because I didn't know what it was used for. Is it a smoother? a Jack? Well, it's basically telling me what it is in using it the past couple months. I'm finding myself using it to remove jointer and planer marks on smaller workpieces where I can flatten and smooth without changing tools. I just take a couple more strokes (my shavings are about 2 thou).

The ergonomics of the tool are great. I think the sidewalls are a tad too high (this is a prototype after all), but Ron's tote's always fit my hand perfectly. I also greatly prefer the front knob to a the square bun arrangement typical of infills. There's one feature I discovered right away that I really like. See the curve in the top of the steel frog where it transitions from the inside of the side wall to the side of the tote?

This area is perfectly for my index finger. It's almost like the plane was made for my hand. I feel like I'm in total control when I place my finger here. It's great. More info later as I continue to have fun with my "loaner".

Last month I took a Sunday afternoon and made a bench dog for every hole in the top. Why didn't I do this before? I don't have to search for a single dog anymore, plus something very nice happened. New workholding opportunities are presenting themselves. I was planing some narrow boards using Chris Schwarz's leg-vise planing stop (I love using this accessory) and I needed some lateral support. Bingo, pop up two dogs and I have restricted movement in two planes almost instantly. Love it! I can even reposition the stop so the first dog lands right at the beginning of the board, preventing any kick-out at the beginning of the stroke. Here's where I could see a real advantage to having a row of dog holes a bit farther back from the front edge for working wider boards. That's a trade-off though too. No bench is ever perfect.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Roubo Bench Mystery

I was looking at some hi-res scans of L'Art du menuisier and found an interesting element just below the top to the right of the left leg. I've never noticed this before, and am curious as to its function. If anyone has any idea what this thing is, please comment below.

Follow up: I found another instance of this object hanging on the left wall with other layout tools and gauges. This one clearly has a round hole in it and is hanging on a nail on the wall. I'm wondering now if it might be a pattern. See the item to the right, it looks like pattern for an ogee shape. This wouldn't be a layout tool, since its shape and size specific. Hmmm...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

This Blog Is Daed

Daed Toolworks Smoothing Plane

A couple of years ago I became interested in infill planes. I've been interested in hand planes for many years, but I'd always written off infill planes as exotic, too expensive, and generally out of reach. It wasn't until I laid my hands a small smoothing plane made by Wayne Anderson (someone was kind enough to bring one to a Lie-Nielsen event for me to try out) that I realized what I had been missing all those years. Don't get me wrong. I still think infill planes are exotic, expensive (relatively speaking), but not so out of reach after all. Shortly after I tried the Anderson plane I was approached by Ron Brese who offered me an infill kit to build at a significant discount, if I agreed to complete the kit in a certain time frame and give him feedback about my experience. The result was incredible, and that particular plane is one of my favorites today. So once the infill seed was firmly planted, I began to research these tools and familiarize myself with their characteristics.

About this same time I started corresponding with Raney Nelson. I first met Raney at Woodworking in America in Berea Kentucky, but Raney and I had shared numerous emails before that event. We both share a great interest in doing fine woodworking, and in particular, handplanes. Raney answered a bunch of questions about planes in general, and opened my eyes to the workings of Japanese hand planes, which I had previously known little about. Raney sent me one of his own Japanese planes (that he built) and I tried my hand at pulling a plane instead of pushing it. I got some shavings from that plane that still amaze me. It's a stretch to even call them shavings, since they resembled spider webs more than wood. And the surface it left was simply phenomenal. Now I understand why so much Japanese furniture is left unfinished. I still prefer the western style planes, but I credit Raney with introducing me to the world of the Kanna.

So when Raney pulled out some of his hand-made infill planes at Woodworking in America last fall, I was quite excited to see his work. So much so that I asked Raney to build a special plane for doing some of the geometric inlay work that I incorporate into ouds. It's a very small miter plane meant to be used with small shooting boards. The plane is steel and ebony and in its diminutive size (just about 5" long) does its job well.

I've always been fascinated by how traditional infill planes are made. Lucky for me, Raney has decided to start a blog about the process. Someday I'm hoping to to tackle a traditional dovetailed-side infill plane. In the meantime I'll be watching the Daedworks Blog for inspiration.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Peg Fitting Tutorial

I posted this video and instructions to Mike's Oud Forums a few years ago. I've gotten lots of emails lately on how to fit pegs, so here's the text and video from that post. I also added the video link to the list of videos at the right side of the blog. I've since refined my technique a bit from this process, but this will get you there just the same.

Step 1: Score the peg shaft.

In order to have a clean line when shaping the peg it's a good idea to slightly score the peg shaft right under the bead where it meets the shaft.

Step 2: Shape the peg shaft.

This is a Herdim peg shaper. They cost about $100, but it's a great tool and well worth the money if you're ever going to refit at least one set of pegs. I find it easier to clamp the peg head in a vise and turn the shaper instead of turning the peg, it also yields a smoother cut, in my experience. This particular shaper has 4 sizes, all very slighly different. I usually use one of the middle two. I've found that a larger peg shaft turns smoother, but a smaller peg shaft provides easier tuning since it has to be turned more to raise or lower the pitch. To set the taper of the blade on the shaper, put the reamer in the tapered hole (smooth side up) and slide the shaper's blade over to the smooth reamer shaft and tighten it down. Now the shaper cuts the exact same taper as the reamer. Remove the reamer by turning it counter-clockwise so the cutting edges aren't damaged. Slow down and be very careful when approaching the beads, it's easy to cut them off! Aim for a consistent pressure while rotating the shaper. The blades are very sharp and cut very smoothly. Let the tool do the work

Step 3: Ream the hole.

--Note-- If your peg box holes are too large, you'll need to ream the holes and plug them (glue them in) with special tapered plugs, or make your own with dowel rod and the shaper. If the old pegs are decent wood, you can even glue these in, just make sure they fit well. Then drill new holes and proceed.

Start reaming the hole and check the fit often so you don't ream too much. Take your time-don't force the reamer-clean the shavings from the grooves regularly, it will work better. You can also check the diameter of the large end of the peg and find the same spot on the reamer and mark it so you don't over ream.

Step 4: Check the fit and ream more if necesary.

Step 5: Burnish to check fit.

When you get to the spot you like (since the pegbox is usually tapered, the pegs toward the tip will need to go further in so all the pegs protrude from the pegbox the same amount--for a nice look) spin the peg a few times to burnish the contact area. Also feel if the peg has the same amount of resistance for the entire revolution. If it gets easy then stiff, easy then stiff, the peg is not round or the hole is not round. (If you shaped and reamed well, this won't happen). Inspect the shaft. If there are two equally shiny bands that go completely around the shaft your peg is fit. If not, you need to maybe readjust your shaper blade's taper.

Step 6: Add a little peg compound.

Rub a little peg compound (you can get this at any violin or music shop) on the shiny bands and test the fit again. This well tell you to a greater degree the accuracy of the job.

Step 7: Chek the fit some more.

You can see that the shiny bands are more pronouced and go completely around the shaft. This is what you are looking for.

Step 8: Polish the peg

I sand the peg shaft a little with 600 grit (this fine grit won't change it's shape, unless you go hog wild and spend the whole afternoon on it!) and apply a little paste wax and buff it so the shaft has a nice look to it. Not like raw wood.

Step 9: Apply beeswax

At this point the peg fits so well that it might grip too much and when turned you can hear it squeak as it turns in minute "grippy jerks". This is no good for fine tuning. We need to apply some type of lubricant for smooth turning, but not some thing that will cause slippage. Nature's perfect solution: beeswax. Put a little 100% beeswax (get from a honey producer or from a craft store, or a 100% beeswax candle--it has to be 100% beeswax, no paraffin) on the shiny bands and work it in with your finger a little. Put the peg back. Smooth, firm turning with no chatter or slippage.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunday Afternoon

I often find myself drawn to the shop on quiet Sunday afternoons. I feel the need to build something or make progress on the latest project, but oftentimes I end up cleaning or rearranging things instead. I rather enjoy making my workspace more efficient. It makes the real work happen quicker and easier.

This summer I added a couple tools to my kit. I don't collect woodworking tools, although I've felt the lure on many occasions. I just don't see the point in having tools I don't use. Subsequently, I often hesitate to buy new tools, convincing myself that if I didn't need it until now, why should I ever need it? Once I convince myself to make the purchase, if I don't use the tool, I'll get rid of it. I've haven't had to do that much, so my system must work okay. It also forces me to get as much as possible out of the tools I do have. Consequently, I've developed ways of accomplishing some tasks that would likely be easier or faster with the "perfect" tool.

The new tools however have begun to pile up, since my previous tool rack was created to store a relatively fixed number of tools.

The top picture shows my shelf and tool wall just after the previous renovation. See how neat the plane shelf was? That didn't last long.

My plane shelf has been doing double duty as general storage after picking up some Glen-Drake chisel hammers and some new old stock rulers, among other things. I like to keep my plane shelf for planes only. They are my favorite tools, and I like them to have plenty of elbow room.

Here's the detritus that is fouling my plane shelf. What a mess. I don't own a ton of planes. Just a few in fact. I know woodworkers who own dozens of planes, in all varieties and brands. I own maybe a dozen total, and no repeats. Again, I'm not a collector.

In the interest of getting organized I decided to make a new tool rack to get some of these tools off the shelf.

I always like the slot idea for storing tools. It's quick to make, simple, and versatile.

I have in the shop at the moment the latest tool from Brese Plane. It's a stainless steel panel-size plane with a 2 -1/4" iron bedded at 50 degrees. This is a unique plane. It's not stuffed with wood, unlike Brese's typical fare. But it has all the mass and solid feel of a traditional infill plane, with the ergonomics of the more common man's Bedrock-style plane. This is the first project I've had the chance to use this plane on, and so far I like it very much. I like to be able to pinch the toe with my left hand when planing edges. I also like this size of plane for small projects like this. The heft of the plane (just under 8 pounds), combined with the longer sole (it's about the size of a 5 1/2 bench plane) means I can clean up my power planer and jointer surfaces without having to switch from a longer jointer plane to a smoothing plane. Yes, I have to take a couple more strokes since I have the plane set for a fine cut (finer than I have my jointer set), but then I'm done. To read more about this plane, see my friend Al Navas' blog.

I also picked up a few files and rasps this summer from Slav Jelisejevich, famous file monger. Thanks to a couple Benchcrafted Mag-Bloks, I have all my files and rasps effectively stored and displayed for quick access. They are top center right under the big wood jointer. I also moved my carving tools (also stored on Mag-Bloks) up to make room for more frequently used tools.

I also added a couple 12" Mag-Bloks to face of the new tool rack for holding miscellaneous smaller tools. A quick slotted board, fastened vertically and kerfed on the bandsaw holds my most frequently used rulers. Some mini Shaker pegs get my Glen-Drake Tite Hammers off the shelf.

I'm not sure where the next improvement will lead. My tool wall is between two windows and is already pushing its limits. Hopefully my tool kit will expand very slowly.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Philadelphia Oct. 2-4

I'll be attending the Woodworking In America Hand Tool Conference next weekend in Valley Forge, PA. If you're in the area I invite you to stop by the Benchcrafted booth to see the Roubo bench that I documented here last year. This blog has focused more on woodworking than luthiery in the past year, but for those interested, I may have an oud with me at the show. Please stop by and say hello.

Directions to the event can be found here:

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Lie-Nielsen Time Machine

It's funny what happens when you can't sleep. I have a netbook on my nightstand, and when I can't sleep I check a couple woodworking forums, e-mail. When I'm bored with that (and I haven't fallen back asleep watching old episodes of The Woodwright's Shop) I grab a magazine from the lower shelf and read it again for the umpteenth time. Last night it was a Fine Woodworking from 1997. One forum thread was discussing a sale on Lie-Nielsen tools at a local Woodcraft. The topic turned to the price of Lie-Nielsen tools and how they've gone up drastically in the last year. So when I saw the above ad in the 1997 magazine I thought I'd do a little research and see just how much they've gone up in the past 12 years. The #4 in the above ad is priced at $225. Accounting for inflation (I used this calculator), this plane should fetch about $302 in 2009 dollars. The plane, in iron, is in fact less than this today. It sells for an even $300. But I was really shocked when I saw a similar ad (from 1998) for the L-N adjustable mouth block plane. Price was $150. With inflation, today's price should be $198. The plane sells today for $165. I like a good deal as much as the next guy, and using these two of L-N's most popular planes, a good deal they are indeed, since both planes have gone down in price over the years.

And it isn't just Lie-Nielsen. On the next page was an ad for (now defunct) Bridgewood Machinery. I bought a PBS-440W in 2006 (brand new, from Wilke, before the Bridgewood name was discontinued) for the exact same price as listed in this 1997 ad. No inflation calculator needed for that one.

I also did a comparison with a Grizzly shaper. The shaper (same model number G1026) from a 1991 magazine ad was $850. Today's price is $925.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Roubo Bench - One Year Later

It's been a little over a year since I finished building my workbench based on the Roubo design. In that time I've had the opportunity to build a number of projects with the bench, so I'd like to share some thoughts about how the bench has performed in the last year.

One of the first projects the bench saw was a cherry bathroom cabinet with a rather large single door. The sliding leg vise, which I built specifically for holding this type of work, did a fantastic job of holding the door for working on its edges and ends. The sliding leg vise is a beast of a vise when coupled with the stationary leg vise. It's huge capacity and raw holding power have convinced me that it was a wise decision to build this vise. The wood screws from Big Wood Vise have also proven their worth over the past year. They hold extremely well, turn very smoothly, and move very rapidly. I'm really satisfied with them.

The one thing I don't like about the wood screws on the sliding vise is the length of the hub. When planing the edges of boards held between both leg vises, it's a nuisance to step around the hub of the vise during the planing stroke.

The sliding leg vise is a trade-off. It's perfect when needed, but otherwise I want it out of the way completely. Most of the time I keep it stored on the shelf of the bench. I'm glad I made it easily removable-it can be dismounted in about 10 seconds.

I also made the back side of the bench so it can receive the sliding leg vise. This has come quite handy. I can slide the vise all the way to the left and in effect I'm left with a double-sided bench with leg vises at opposite corners. I keep my bench in the middle of my shop, so I can access both sides at all times.

What can I say about the wagon vise? I love it. I have yet to find a time where I've used it and been frustrated, impatient, or found it lacking in any way. It's met and exceeded my every expectation. I've only had to make one or two adjustments over the entire year. This summer I had to remove the dog block and take a couple shavings from one side to let slide freely. That's it. Wood moves as shop conditions change, and I'm quite amazed how the vise has handled the four seasons. The capabilities of the vise are quite basic. Clamp between dogs, or clamp between jaws. But its ease of use make it the best tail vise I've ever used.

This wagon vise (like any wagon vise) does not allow open-front clamping like a traditional "moving block" tail vise. I was a bit apprehensive about losing this capability. But in the past year, I've only moved to my old bench (which has a traditional tail vise) for its open jaw maybe half a dozen times. I was a bit surprised how little I actually used this feature, since I had imagined I'd used it much more frequently. I'd say that 90% of my work can be handled by a wagon vise. Nevertheless, I'll still keep a bench with a traditional tail vise for those other occasions.

Another project that put the bench through its paces was this large console cabinet. The project presented a lot of workholding challenges, and the Roubo came through with each of them. Removing the leg vise entirely makes for an uninterrupted surface at the front of the bench and allows an unencumbered work area for assembling this massive frame member. The stiffness of the top combined with the length of the top made joining this assembly rather enjoyable. My previous bench would have been a real source of frustration with this project. To get a better sense of scale of this project, here's the finished piece on my two saw benches.

The framework of the bench is built using drawbored mortise and tenon joints. After a year of use and 4 seasonal changes, all are as tight as the day they were assembled. The flush surfaces have moved slightly, but not enough to affect performance.

The open grain of the Ash was always a concern for the top of the bench. I've said a few times that I had wished I'd used hard maple for the top because of its closed grain. Yeah, I've had to pick out some stray metal particles from the Ash top, but I've only once run into a metal bit that caused me a slight problem. Nothing serious. In all, I'm really satisfied with the Ash. It's rigid as heck and very resilient. The latter point is a matter of debate, since it makes sense that a benchtop would ideally be softer than the project wood, thus allowing the bench to take the brunt of dings and scratches. Nevertheless, I'm satisfied with the Ash as a bench wood.

Even with the level of satisfaction I achieved with the bench in the past year, I've made a couple changes recently that have transformed the bench into an even better tool.

With the development of the Glide Leg Vise I've retrofitted the bench with this hardware. I was totally satisfied with the hardware from Big Wood Vise (and I still use it on my sliding leg vise), but the Glide has proven to be a real pleasure to use. It's fast, requires little effort to use, and has oodles of holding power.

Some people think that the hand wheels look out of place on such a traditional bench, since shiny metal hand wheels are more common to power machinery. First off, the wheel is a pretty old idea. Secondly, a hand wheel is a manual control device that lends itself to the movement of advancing and retracting the jaws of a woodworking vise (just like advancing and retracting a part of a machine like a table-saw trunnion or planer bed). Tommy bars are not very ergonomic, quick or pleasant to use, but they do offer a huge mechanical advantage by means of a long lever. If the need for a long lever is eliminated--by better engineering of the vise's holding capabilities--then the replacement of the less-ergonomic control device becomes possible, in this case with a better device-the hand wheel. I think the Glide looks fantastic on the Roubo bench.

By the way, using a hand wheel on a woodworking vise is not a new idea.

This is H.O. Studley's bench. He's more famous for his tool cabinet.

Getting back to the sliding leg vise. Most the time I don't need it. But occasionally I do need some support for long boards or wide panels when I don't want to mount up the sliding leg vise. So earlier this week I built a deadman.

The great thing about the deadman is that is stays flush with the front of the bench until you need to plug in a holdfast or clamp to secure the work. I built mine from 12/4 stock so it ended up extra thick-about 2-1/2". It doesn't need to be so thick, but I didn't see the point in planing away all that wood, or resawing. The extra mass provides lots of stability and weight, so the deadman slides easily.

The deadman engages the same slot in the underside of the bench as the sliding leg vise, which has a thicker rear section. I attached two cleats behind the deadman to engage the slot using some cap screws threaded and tapped into the deadman from behind.

I built deadman so it doesn't interfere with my benchdogs. So I can slide the deadman freely along the bench at any time and with the dogs in any configuration, up or down. I don't like things interrupting the flow of my work. The sliding leg vise has this problem, and I decided to fix it when I built the deadman.

The bench as it exists now is hands down my favorite tool in the shop. I love hand planes, but those only perform to satisfaction with a fine bench below them. If you're reading this, and considering building a new work bench for fine furniture making, I can't recommend this bench design enough. It has given me a renewed sense of enthusiasm for woodworking and furniture making, and I get pleasure and satisfaction from working on it every time I'm in the shop.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Inlaying Pearl In Brass

Inlaying pearl is a challenge. The stuff is hard and brittle, and thus unforgiving. I'm not a huge fan of it for instrument work. I prefer more subtle materials like wood or ivory. Nevertheless, the shimmering iridescence of mother of pearl can be a nice touch when used sparingly, for my taste. So I chose this material to inlay into a Veritas Brass Insert Knob for a curly cherry side table I recently finished.

Working with the pearl requires some special considerations since the material cannot be cut using typical woodworking techniques.

I find it easiest to buy pearl in random sizes, but of a consistent thickness. The best place I know of to buy pearl is Depaule Supply. I pay around $10-$20 for an ounce of random pieces of white MOP.

Cutting the pearl is not difficult, but it does require a steady hand. I use a jeweler's saw with a 2/0 blade. I like Pike brand. A bird's mouth fixture is the best for cutting out small pieces.

This particular knob takes a 3/4" dia. inlay. I draw the circle on the blank, roughly cut it with the jeweler's saw, then take it close to my layout line on the belt sander. It's important not to breathe the pearl dust. I have a dust collector port next to my belt sander.

I sand up to the line.

I chuck a piece of scrap wood in the lathe and turn down the end to around 3/4" dia. This happens to be a piece of cocobolo. I don't typically use this as scrap wood, this is a reject knob from a Benchcrafted Tail Vise.

I glue the pearl disc to the end of the sacrificial piece with some CA glue, and take a measurement of the inside diameter of the knob. It's a tad smaller than 3/4". This is just for reference, I don't use the caliper to fit the inlay.

I turn down the pearl using a file...

...or sometimes a piece of course sandpaper wrapped around the file. Note my dust collection hood right behind the work.

I stop frequently and test the fit with the knob. I want it just snug, so there is no visible joint between the pearl and the brass.

Once it fits (ignore the shorter sacrificial blank, this is from another knob sequence) I apply some CA glue to the inside of the knob, press the knob onto the pearl inlay, then tap the knob with a small hammer to make sure it seats well.

I take the blank from the chuck and cut off the knob on the bandsaw.

I then mount the knob onto a special mandrel that Lee Valley also sells.

I place the mandrel in a drill chuck mounted to the headstock and begin to turn the remaining wood from the end of the pearl.

I don't use the tool to cut the pearl, but only to part off the wood.

Once the wood is gone I begin to work the pearl with sandpaper.

I slightly dome the end of the pearl and make sure is transitions smoothly into the brass knob. I work up through 1000 grit, using water once I get to 400 grit.

Finally I use a little Brasso polish to bring a nice sheen to the brass. The pearl takes on a nice translucent quality with depth and chatoyance.

The finished knob is lustrous and beautiful, like a piece of jewelery.

It adds a nice touch to this piece of furniture. The cool pearl contrasting nicely with the warmth of the curly cherry.