Monday, December 24, 2012

Decent tools

I just acquired my first decent bench plane. I was making a Stanley #4 work for me (the new ones with plastic handles, not the sweethearts but the ones at the hardware store for $25) and what a dramatic difference. Now, I'm a believer that people made beatiful works with mich inferior tools than i have available to me now, so with practice and obsessive sharpening, I can learn to make these work. I learned that having a real tool sure makes this a lot more fun :) Another lesson: buy nice, or buy twice. Oh well. I will admit that I have not regretted spending the extra on a tool, but can recount multiple cheaper ones I regret...

All I did was to essentially pull it out of the box, wipe it down, polish the iron edge on a strop (back as well for a mirrored back surface) and... I could literally float some of the shavings in the air. Wow.
So I am slowly getting a few real tools which I am appreciating...

First dadoes

My first dadoes for the workbench skirts. I marked them out and used a chisel a la Paul Sellers book on the matter. I don't have a router plane and the chisel through a block method wasn't working that well for me, but I think this worked out pretty well with just the chisel. Unfortunately the glue joint broke, which I'm diagnosing as attempting to glue at around 20 degrees F. Also, I did not measure correctly and need to extend them further. Such is learning, right?

Update: the final fate of this skirt was sealed after I broke through the dadoe while trying to clean up the edges, and the remainder of the glue joint failed along the edge.  3 lessons: don't skimp on the skirt thickness! Back your wood if you are chiseling a thin piece, and pay attention to the temperature when you are gluing up... 


I wanted to try some various finishes, including something I could make in a "self sufficient" way. I saw a few recipes for beeswax and olive/mineral/other oil versions, so I tried olive oil and beeswax. I applied a coat to a little block I had and am waiting for it to finish drying... Here is the wax after heating the oil and melting the wax, then letting it set:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


As mentioned previously, I started my learning process with hand woodworking using the Paul Sellers book Working Wood 1 & 2.  In a traditional sense, I thought it was a great project to build my bench.  Ideally, this would also make my future projects a lot easier since I don't have a bench to work upon.

It starts with laminating the benchtop after planing and laying out the wood.  I took his advice that softwoods can still make a good bench, and this is primarily pine studs with douglas fir legs and will likely have some radiata pine for the skirts depending on what wood I have available to me.  Though I was careful with my wood selection, I am already learning quite a bit about which woods behave which ways and what makes for good joinery vs. poor.

Laminating and doing some initial planing of the benchtop was my introduction to sharpening and setting up the plane to work well.  This is a standard Stanley No. 4 (newly made with the plastic handles) which I initially have sharpened and honed using wet/dry paper on flat hard-maple boards, and a leather strop charged with abrasive.  After fiddling around with the adjustements, etc. it seems to take nice shavings, though I have little to compare it to.

It was time to set the top aside, and work on the legs.  First step was to chop mortises.  I did this using a regular chisel (I do not have a mortising chisel).  There was much to be learned with this step: first is to watch one of the many videos of chopping a mortise with a chisel between wood and plate glass to see what the chopping is doing (Roy Underhill, Paul Sellers, and Peter Follansebee all have videos on this)  A few tweaks to my technique took me from about 2 hours on my first mortise, to finishing two mortises and a haunch in about 1 hour.

If you look closely, my sizing on the first leg (far right) is not perfect, and there is some serious tear-out / blow-out at the superior edge.  This will be glued and reinforced with the top and skirts, so I am not going to go back and waste the wood at this point.    

Now, the tenons.  I decided to try the saw the shoulder, chop the cheeks method.  My first ones were very poor, and poor fitting, so I did re-cut new ones.  I did, however, break the rule and for some reason the second time around I only measured once, not twice, and accidentally added 1.66" to my length, which means the nice tenon ends did not protrude through the mortise holes, and my bench is now a little wider.  I decided this was ok, and will add width to either the bench-top or tool well to compensate.  Is this high level joinery?  Not by a long-shot, but I'm trying to learn here and I really need a bench, so we are accepting these errors as correctable.

Next: gluing up the legs, and preparing the skirts / dadoes.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It all started...

It all started with an episode of Roy Underhill's The Woodwrights Shop. I think it was the Roubo bookstand episode. I was so intrigued by the idea of not using power tools, that piqued my interests.   Fast forward a few months, and I took the plunge. I started with Paul Sellers book Working Wood vol. 1 & 2.  His pragmatic but straightforward style really resonated with me.  I soon also discovered the likes of Chris Swartz,  et. al. as I think most do on this path. I have learned a lot from the blogs and videos of others so I want to make my contribution and hopefully help someone else along the way.  To provide a little insight into my perspective, I am a surgeon by day and I appreciate the subtleties and intricacies of observing the differences in wood types and it's response to our tools.  Additionally, this makes me feel like I have less of a chance of separating a finger from my body and prematurely ruining my day job.
Particularly of interest to me is the ability to learn the most subtle of movements from videos of the modern day masters of this style of work, and I appreciate them making videos of their work available through you tube or their appearances with Roy Underhill.  So begins this new journey.  I hope others can learn from my errors, and I can learn from anyone who reads this and feels like sharing some wisdom and advice with me.