Sunday, May 22, 2011

Valhalla Can Wait

I did not get raptured yesterday.

According to Christian broadcaster, Harold Camping, May 21 was the day that all the good people of the world were to be whisked away to heaven, leaving the rest of us baddies behind.

That's okay with me. Because that meant that I got to spend time in my shop building a little table for our back porch.

And yet, I can't help but wonder what might have prevented me from being raptured.  I mean, I'm a nice lady.  I buy girl scout cookies, tip the mailman at Christmas, wear deodorant.

No, the only thing I can think of is that I used to be a spider-killer. My 8-legged nemeses and I now have a pact: I don't kill them, and they don't seek me out to torment.

You think I'm kidding?

True story: about 10 years ago while attending a church service in our sanctuary, I was menacingly threatened by a nefarious arachnid.

Our 150-year-old church has a peaked 56' ceiling.  I was sitting toward the middle of the center pew, attentively listening to the sermon, when a Honda-sized spider appeared right before my eyes—2" from my line of vision.

Now, in previous encounters with spiders, I have been known to leap from a front-passenger seat into the back seat of a car; swerve off the road and leap from my car, arms a-flailing; and awaken from slumber halfway out of the room, having leapt from my bed to escape the clutches of a dream-inspired arthropod. With fangs.

But I was in church. Where no leaping is allowed. Presbyterians are called the "frozen chosen" for a reason. We don't move, or sway, or clap. We sit stoically in the pews, eyes toward the pulpit.

So, what does a puritan do when faced with the wicked glare of a bedeviled creature? She, in one swift movement, uses her worship bulletin to sever its thread, lightly drop it to the floor, and gently encourage it to become a permanent part of the carpet fibers with the heel of her shoe.

I was smooth. In control. Cool hand Kari.  Through an herculean effort, I had overcome a monumental challenge....and no one would know.

Or so I thought.

Following the service, and for several years (years!) later, I was forced to relive the event through the  interminable recollections of the amused onlookers who had been sitting in the pews behind me.

"Man, we saw it coming all the way down from the ceiling, heading right for you!" they'd chuckle.

With a 56' ceiling, surely it would take at least a couple minutes for a spider to reach its target. Meaning, my brothers and sisters in Christ watched and waited as a freight train with eight legs made tracks for my face.

Nice way to "do unto others," guys.

So, for that event, as well as other equally fun spider confrontations, I am left behind.  With my workshop, and tools, and projects.

Which is the very reason I've included "squashing ants" on my to-do list.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fort Frederick Market Fair Video

After writing two blog posts about the Fort Frederick Market Fair in previous years (here and here), I thought I'd shoot a video instead.

Some of the craftsmen you'll see are, in order:
Brian Graham, Patapsco Valley Woodwright (at 00:30 - 00:39 in the video)
James Stewart, Woods Unlimited
George Mathews, Handcrafted Windsor Chairs
Dave Krill, Capt. Krill's Den of Antiquities
William Ebner, Fine Furniture Reproductions (at 1:58 - 2:08 in the video)
Charles Boland, Storybook Joinery

To watch the video in HD, go here.

Music featured in the video: Over the hills and far away, by Paul Hutchinson & Paul Sartin; and music from the Pride & Prejudice soundtrack—The Militia Marches In, Another Dance, and Can't Slow Down.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Books for Beginning Woodworkers

Occasionally someone writes me with a question about woodworking. Sometimes I'm able to give them an answer and other times I enlist the help of others to provide a better and more thorough one.

This is where you come in.

A 31-year old woman from North Carolina would like to get into woodworking, but "knows absolutely nothing." She asked if I could suggest some ultra-basic beginner books and resources.

She has an inkling that she'd like to make furniture, but as she's just getting started, she's not really sure.

The book that changed my life nearly two decades ago is The Complete Manual of Woodworking by Albert Jackson, David Day, and Simon Jennings.  It was the perfect place to start for someone who didn't know the difference between a router and a bandsaw.

Beyond that, here is my short list of beginners' woodworking books (and I know darn well I missed a bunch). Some subjects might not apply to everyone. In no particular order:

1. Foolproof Wood Finishing by Teri Masaschi.
Many will disagree with me about the best finishing book, and indeed, I haven't seen Marc Spagnuolo's soon-to-be-released book, but of the ones I own, this one is the most cut-and-dried and clear to me.

2. The Complete Illustrated Guide to Joinery by Gary Rogowski.
Gary covers all of the most commonly used joints—how to cut them with hand tools or power tools.

3. Complete Illustrated Guide to Sharpening by Thomas Lie-Nielsen
No question about sharpening is left unanswered. Lie-Nielsen is a master sharpener.

4. How to Carve Wood by Richard Bütz
Bütz addresses all types of carving, starting with whittling. I do not subscribe to his lettercarving or chip carving techniques, but for relief carving and others, this book is a good start for beginners.

5. The Complete Guide to Chip Carving by Wayne Barton
Hands down, this is the very best book on chip carving.

6. Handplane Essentials by Christopher Schwarz
Absolutely everything you need to know in order to work with handplanes. This book is the definitive guide.

7. The Fine Art of Marquetry by Craig Vandall Stevens
This book is fantastic. Marquetry is well within your reach with Stevens' guidance.

8. Woodworkers' Guide to Veneering & Inlay by Jonathan Benson
Again, all guesswork is removed with this book. Benson is an expert on the subject.

9. Roy Underhill's books are perfect if you plan to pursue traditional woodworking.

I have no books on woodturning and very few on building furniture, so I'm not able to offer advice on those topics. However, if you are looking for some simple plans geared toward beginners, I encourage you peruse the I Can Do That page on Popular Woodworking's site for free downloadable plans and articles.

For more online help, I suggested she visit woodworking forums, blogs and podcasts—invaluable resources.

There are lots of great books and magazines for beginners. Help a lady out and post your thoughts in the comments.  And feel free to contest any of my recommendations. They are just my opinion and open to debate.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tree-Hugging Woodworker: Oxymoron?

The wind wasn't blowing and my
hand wasn't shaking. This tree's
leaves were THAT wispy.
Ever since I read A Splintered History of Wood by Spike Carlson, I've never looked at trees the same way.

As soon as I became aware of the herculean effort trees undertake in simply growing, I've thought of them as large creatures deserving of our respect and care.

Certainly, as woodworkers, we revel in the color and grain patterns of boards, and marvel at the way finishes bring out the depth and luminosity of wood.
The Enchanted Woods.

But, let's face it: we kill trees.

Who among us, when watching the movie Avatar, didn't instinctively try to calculate the board feet when that gargantuan tree-dwelling fell to the ground?

This past weekend, while perusing the magnificent landscape at the Winterthur estate, I was awestuck with the beauty of Henry Francis Dupont's gardening mastery.

He designed his 2500 acres to appear to be natural when, in fact, he carefully organized the space so that the visual tapestry evolved throughout every season.  For eight months out of the year, something is blooming at Winterthur.

Besides the colorful azaleas, there were sky-high beech and walnut, and fields of feathery ferns.

There were also some impressive trees of note.

The oldest known cherry trees in the U.S., for example, were planted here in 1918. And they're beefy guys. One is affectionately named The Arnold Schwarzenegger Tree by the caretakers because of its massive flexing "arm."

Another tree appeared to be a grove of a dozen different trees, but all the "trunks" were actually attached to the same arborvitae.

It was hard not to anthropomorphize these characters especially when one was the spitting image of Witchiepoo.

Among the trees was The Enchanted Woods, created for children.  Kid-size medieval chairs with leaf carvings, an upside-down tree, and a human-size birds' nest brought out the kid in a certain blogger's middle-aged partner.

Henry Francis Dupont designed the landscape in three tiers: ground cover, bushes, and trees. Many of the trees are not native to the area, but were brought from other countries. Hence, the variety.

As woodworkers, we love variety—in grain pattern, color, texture, density. We notice things that non-woodworkers do not.  How many times, when milling boards for projects, do we stop to admire these features?

I suspect we have more reverence for wood than others. We're careful not to waste it, as evidenced by all the piles of tiny offcuts we keep stashed away. And we develop a personal connection as we work with it. We're also concerned with future woodworkers and would like for them to have the same resources that we enjoy.

So I ask you, can a woodworker also be a tree hugger? Are those terms at odds with one another?

My answer is thus:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

More Traveling Benches

Years ago I took a class with Tod Herrli at Olde Mill Cabinet Shoppe on making a panel raiser plane. When Tod teaches on the road, he brings with him a petite, but fully functional workbench (first photo). 

The removable shelving unit underneath the benchtop adds weight when handplaning. The face and tail vises are beefy. Cubbies of tool holders hang on the back edge of the benchtop by way of hooked arms.  

After my last post about portable work surfaces, I got an email from Greg Miller of Western Australia who shared with me some of the cool workbenches he's made (remaining five photos). You can read his posts here and here.

Greg writes:

I call it my “Saw Stool on Steroids”. When I am doing joinery repairs on site, it is just perfect. Plenty of holding power with two vices, solid as a rock, and the right height for hand planing, chopping mortices, etc. I also use it for teaching, as people can easily gather round it. Since I wrote that post I have added wheels on one end. These are arranged so they engage when you lift one end by the tail vice handle. It works like a steering wheel!  Wheeling it around my customers’ houses to get nearer to the action was made easier by sticking a pair of wheels on one end. 

I also do woodworking with kids and have cooked up a bench that works really well for the stuff I do with them. I now have 5 of them, and they are portable in that they are not too heavy – but they stack really nicely, too. They are a range of heights, as I do woodworking with kids from about age 3 upwards.   

Now that we have so many choices in building our own portable workbench, the question remains: Where should we add the handle so it can be designated as "carry-on luggage"?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Have Bench, Will Travel

You've felt it.

That moment of panic when, while planning for a family vacation, you realize you're going to be away from your workshop for an extended period of time. An excruciatingly long period of time.

It's the very reason I learned to carve and whittle. For times on holiday when I can't bear to relax for one more second, I have a set of carving tools and chunk of wood at the ready.

As woodworkers, no matter where we go on our travels, our brains are conditioned to search for objects made of wood, tools, and workbenches.

Yesterday, while perusing the sutlers' sundry wares at the Fort Frederick 18th-century Market Fair, I was drawn to the various devices the woodworkers brought with them so they could continue to work while away from home.

The top photo is a toolbox and low bench with storage beneath. The large dovetails that join the boards are pegged, and one of the two legs has a pedestal foot.

Below that is a skinny bench, also with only one pedestal foot. This one has a little face vise attached to one side. The skinny top makes it easy to clamp a board from both sides. Add a bench stop and start planing.

The third photo is a simple and handsome shaving horse.

Beneath it is a truncated shaving horse which is sort of a cross between a shaving mule and a shaving pony. The man who made it is a spoon carver. The L-shaped metal bar that's attached to the pivoting head holds the workpiece in place.

What looks to me to be an exaggerated angle on the wooden legs would help keep the bench stationary in use; the carver's weight can't be used since there's no seat. The metal front leg digs into the ground, further anchoring the mule-pony.

The final image is one I found online and was designed by a member of the Lumber Jocks community.

This saw bench is great as is, but you can easily make adjustments and add accessories based on the type of work you do.

I can see this doubling as a bowl bench. With a short-handled adze, you can straddle the bench while the workpiece is secured by a bar clamp equipped with tall wood pads.  You can add a little tool box underneath so the weight of the tools help keep the bench from sliding.

Lots of a clever ideas to take woodworking on the road.  Now maybe a beach vacation won't seem so torturous.