A place for me to display some of the varied projects that come out of my shop, as well as to "talk" about some of my experiences working with wood.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

It happened in a barn built 800 years ago...

Getting ready to open for the day
One of my objectives for the past few years has been to attend the biannual European Woodworking Show (EWS) in Essex, UK.  Essex is the land of thatched roof cottages and Knights Templar lore. The biggest event on the woodworking calendar took place last week in one such location. This event was the model for Handworks in the U.S. which is also housed in a somewhat newer (220+ yrs old) collection of barns in the Iowa countryside.

These hand-hewn rafters have held
up this roof since 1225

The EWS takes place in a collection of barns built by the Knights Templar in the early 1200’s and attracts exhibitors from the world over. The fun Chris Vesper from Vesper Tools in Melbourne, my good friend David Barron from Southampton, Vic from Lee Valley/Veritas, Ron & Linda from Hock Tools, and Dave Jeske and his wife from Blue Spruce Toolworks to name a few.
The Main Barn at Cressing Temple (c.1225)

Picture from the barn rafters of the hand tool group

Philly Plane
This was also an opportunity to meet some folks from Europe I have come to know online over the years. I had a wonderful chat with Bill& Sarah Carter (Carter Planes), who has made a couple of very nice tenon saw-back planes for me in the past; at 76 years Bill is able to draw (and hold) a crowd with his storytelling. Phil Edwards from Philly Planes is a fun guy I met at Handworks and asked him to make me a small wooden plane from some special material. He did not disappoint! He had a lovely little smoother made from curly, spalted boxwood.

Michel Auriou

I even had a personal demo on hand-stitching a rasp by the man himself Michel Auriou.

In addition to the stalwarts in the business there were some new entries making hand saws and infill planes; trying to make a go of it in the hand tool world. I spent quite a bit of time talking to a fine young man in the booth next to Chris Vesper; Oliver Sparks started out as a cabinet maker and is making the transition to a plane maker and had a few of his planes there for all to see. I can see he is developing his own design language and an evolving signature look, which I think is important to have. Oh yeah, and the planes were very well executed and function perfectly; as an owner of a couple of planes from some of the finest contemporary makers in the world, I think I know how quality should feel.
Oliver Sparks Collection

While the main barn was filled with some of the best hand tool makers on the planet, this was a very large event. Another barn was setup with Woodturning demonstrations of a skill level I have not seen before; some very unique pieces and lots of tools and equipment designed to turn logs into long wispy curls of wood.
Wait! What?

Another barn was home to carvers and a carving competition which made it very difficult to choose who to vote for.

Outside tents had lots of tool sellers, many of which relieved me of a few pounds (the spendy kind, not the jiggly kind), and various crafts from a few luthiers to wood carvers to a traditional Japanese woodworker working in sock feet to make a small table.

Watanabe making a small table for eating on.

There were lots of interpretive displays with period costumes demonstrating the techniques of very early woodworkers. One well-built gentleman was turning rough logs into beams all by hand, with only axes and captivating story-telling to boot – I spent too long watching chips fly from a very large chestnut tree.

Another period display involved a passionate bow maker dressed in 14th century attire and demonstrating the many subtleties of material and construction in the tactical weapon of choice in antiquity. He had a display of arrows he has researched and built using techniques from the Stone Age to the 18th century. Yes very interesting, but his wife warned me not to wind him up or I would be there for the day!

All you would ever want to know about arrows!

Very passionate medieval bowmaker. 

This trip was one I am glad I had made, it was all I expected and a bag of chips (and a Diet Coke). Getting on the train back to London to work was a rude awakening from a simpler time and place I wish I had experienced first-hand – with indoor plumbing of course…

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Bed Time

KUBISK Night Stand
Been a busy time in the shop with lots of travel, I have been rushing to get the next piece of my son's bedroom set complete. The bed is finally finished, it is consistent in design elements to the KUBISK night stands I finished a few weeks back. The square lines and clean joinery are characteristics of our design.

The bed had to be consistent with this design so I made a simple frame for the headboard, while the footboard and side boards are more of less just boards joined together with hardware.As with the night stands I made extensive use of dominos to put the frame together. This helped tremendously with holding this very large piece together during glue-up; not normally a one-person job to get this done.

The side rails are joined to the head and foot with Lee Valley bed rail fasteners, which worked very well. For the 9" high rails I bought the largest size they had. This makes a very solid frame. A few cross rails are installed to support the 3/4" plywood support panels to create the platform for the mattress.

KUBISK King Size Platform Bed

Building a piece this size in my shop was a challenge as it consumed all of my assembly area and then some; which pretty much meant I was unable to do much else at the same time. here's a few assembly shots from the iPhone:

The footboard and side rails darkening in the sun.

Glue-up of headboard - a big piece and lots of clamps.

The finished headboard frame ready for the insert

The panel for the headboard pre-finished before install

Headboard and footboard in all their glory.
Cross Rails provide support for 3/4" plywood platform.

And now for something completely different...

While the shop was full making a bed, I did manage to get a couple other things finished. After the bench project I decided that the drawer fronts on my old bench did not cut the mustard anymore, so time for an upgrade. I used a couple pieces of cherry that had limited use elsewhere, with lots of sap and quite badly cupped. Attaching them to the front of the drawer boxes would remedy that, same handles as new bench and now up to standard...

The previous drawer fronts had seen better days


Now back to building some drawers for the bedroom set, lots of travel in the next few weeks so will need to be patient.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Building for Engineers 101

KUBISK Night Stand
After finishing the dining room set for the eldest, it was time to start on the bedroom suite for the youngest. I threw out the question and the design discussion started with a trip to the local furniture stores. They had some general ideas of what they were after, but it was not clear enough for me to sketch anything out. Coming back from the furniture store gave me an idea and it was refined by sifting through hundreds of Google images and emailing ones I thought were close. We finally had a design theme and I had settled in my mind on construction techniques. Then a small casual question came out of nowhere - "Can you cantilever the top?" Wait, what?

This really should have been no surprise, as we all know, engineers are put together a little different than the rest of us. Being one to never walk away from a challenge I set about designing a cantilevered pair of night stands in the cubic design theme we had chosen.

Metal brackets to support the top, with
slotted holes for top wood movement.

The key challenge obviously was how to support the top and make it as invisible as possible, joining end grain, even with dominos would not be strong enough to support even a short 5/4 cherry top. Enter my friend Joey - the machinist. I went to him with my idea and we designed a bracket that would sit under the top and inset into the side. They showed up a week later and as usual they were perfect, I cleaned them up and painted them black to match the hardware and installed them in the base.

Festool Domino Changes woodworking in small Bedford shop...

A test fit-up with Dominos.
Another test fit-up for the top,
 looks pretty level!

To me this entire bedroom suite project was going to be a big one and I have been thinking about the Festool Domino Tool for a while; this project with its rectilinear joinery suited the domino perfectly so I picked one up.

What do I think of it?

In short, why did I not do this years ago? While traditional mortise & tenon has its place, this type of joinery has no peer. It has clearly picked up where biscuit joiners have left off.

As the first pieces of the set, the night stands were for me a chance to work out the joinery on the rest of the pieces, and as such it was a design-build project. The dominoes made test assembly and rework a breeze. Compounding with the top design and making most of this up as I went along, this was a very challenging project - my favorite kind!

Time too valuable to spend it dovetailing twenty large drawers...

First drawer side

Another tool/jig I have been eyeing since it came out last year was the Leigh RTJ400 Router Table Dovetail Jig. Unlike router dovetail jigs of the past  which require the piece to be held in the jig and the router moved over it to create the dovetails, this jig uses a table mounted router. In my view this reduces the chance for driver error tremendously and is much easier to setup and use. I made one of the old style jigs 20 years ago and used it a couple of times, found it too finicky and relegated it to the shelf. I toyed with using it for the drawers for this project but abandoned it in favor of buying the Leigh jig. With only a few hours of fussing I was making drawers like a pro...
Drawers for two nightstands
Of course the drawer design I chose was not straightforward, and this jig is designed to do full height drawer sides and I wanted to have drawer side shorter than the front, allowing clearance for my joinery behind the face of the cabinet. In the picture above you can see on the cherry front the dovetails do not go all the way along the edge. This took a while to figure out, but worked perfectly. I will transfer this technique to the 12 drawers in the chest and dresser.

Building these two stands has allowed me to test out my approach for joinery, drawer construction and design cues, I feel very prepared to build the remaining pieces to complete this set. I think that these two little stands will be as much work as the dresser - with all the sketches and test cuts it took.

In acknowledgement of the square-ish shape, design and joinery combined with the elegant simplicity it brings, we are naming this set KUBISK, which is Scandinavian for cubic - appropriate don't you think??

The Requisite Beauty Shots - after letting the cherry bake out on the deck for a week or so.

KUBISK Night Stands with black edge pulls and change caddy in top drawer.

Another look at a fine set of KUBISK Night Stands

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

HANDWORKS 2015 - Now you have my attention...

I have been attending Woodworking in America (WIA) the last few years, which for several years was held in Cincinnati and last year in Winston-Salem. If you wanted to shake hands and chat with the top North American hand tool builders that was the place to go. However, in the past few years more and more of the best have been staying away from WIA, and in my view the value of attending WIA is diminishing. Its a great woodworking show, but not if hand tools are your main interest.

Enter Handworks... 

...in 2013 the first incarnation of a Hand Tool only gathering was held in the historic Amana Colonies near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. By all accounts it was a huge success and as a result is coming back as a biannual event this year. In all likelihood, at the expense of WIA, I am heading to the Midwest this weekend; like the hand tool lemming that I am, to see many of the players who have abandoned WIA. Some I will be meeting for the first time.

Studley Toolchest
There are also a few fellow online bloggers and acquaintances that I will be meeting for the first time, which is always a fun experience.

I have one woodworking poster in my shop and have had it as long as I have had a shop (over 25 years). The picture is of the Studley tool-chest which woodworkers refer to in revered tones. This tool-chest and the bench that goes with it will be on a very rare public display at Handworks 2015 and I have my ticket to see it.

A new book on the tool-chest has just been published and I expect that I will have to grab a copy. For me this artifact has provided much inspiration over the years, I am glad I am finally getting the chance to see it in person.

My sense is that this event is somewhat similar to the European Woodworking Biannual show held in Essex, in the South of England in September. Right now my plan is to also attend this weekend event which is held inside a  12th century wooden barn - yea 12th century!! I live in a province that was the first settlement of Europeans in North America only 410 years ago - we have something to learn about old stuff here!!

Looking forward to the trip and the chance to catch up with some friends; and perhaps make few new ones.



Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Workbench for the ages complete!

Original bench built in 1991.
This project started out as an assembly table, and as with many things, took on a life of its own. I needed a larger surface to build things on. My existing bench has a tool well along the back which limited the top surface to about 17" wide. It was tough to clamp up a chair without one of the legs dropping off the edge. This bench has served me well for almost 25 years, and is not going far, just down the aisle.

Lots of Planning

Of course I built a model!
The old bench is 32" high, which is the right height for many things, such as planing, however, as I increase the amount of handwork I do (and find it harder to bend over), a little higher is called for. I increased the height to 34" on the new bench and increased the size of the top to the maximum I could accommodate in the shop. This top is approx. 28" x 79" which provides lots of real estate. I have been using the top of the bench for the past couple of months while I built the cabinet and appreciate the space and height as I hoped I would.

Back Edge Ideal for clamping
I did not worry too much about the style of the bench, German, Scandinavian, French, I designed it to meet my needs first. It was always going to have a trestle base, nothing beats the simplicity and strength of this age-old design. Knowing I would be building a tool cabinet below reinforced this decision. As it was my intent to use this bench in a 360 degree environment for assembly, finishing and prep, I thought about making the back useful as well. My decision was to not put a skirt on the
back, but instead to leave the edge of the top exposed. I do quite a bit of lamination and this provides a nice long flat surface to register for these projects. It also makes clamping items to the bench much easier. I am constantly walking around using all sides of this bench, as I had hoped would be the case.

Leaving my mark
I expect this will be the last bench I ever build, so premium materials and hardware would be used throughout. The top is curly maple and the trim is Bubinga, all sourced from my local wood store that has been a pleasure to work with. I had them do some of the milling on the heavy materials, as well as stock prep to save me some time.

Veritas QR Face Vise

Face Vise gets a grip

I did not compromise on the vises, I have the Veritas Quick Release Face vise from Lee Valley on my existing bench and love how it functions. This is the third (and last) face vise for that bench and the best by far.

End Vise hold large pieces

Veritas Twin Screw Awesomeness
I wanted to be able to clamp large pieces, such as a table top, so an end vise was the choice and the  Veritas Twin Screw Vise was determined to be up to the job. Of course I went through much consternation regarding the dog holes; how many, spacing, round vs square. Eventually I went with 3 rows on 6" centers for 36" - I can always add more if necessary. Drilling plumb holes in the middle of a surface is a challenge, fortunately just before I got to this stage, Lee Valley (I love those guys) released their new dog hole alignment bushing which made the job idiot-proof :-).

Enough musing about this, it is just a bench after all and here's a few beauty shots before it gets covered in project detritus: (as always click on the photo for the high-res version)

Front View
Cabinet Detail with Smithy-style pulls

Back View

Detail of Bench and Cabinet

Gratuitous Tool Porn Shot

I recently received a new backsaw from Two Lawyers in Germany after years of waiting - but worth it...

Ebony Handle with brass back.

Back to the shop!!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Great things come to those who wait - Two Lawyers has returned

Over 3 years ago I ordered a nice backsaw from Two Lawyers saw makers in Germany and sat by the mailbox waiting for my saw. Well Klaus had some setbacks with wood allergies and when I think I had finally given up hope that I would be blessed to own one of their uniquely crafted handsaws - an email arrives today.

Seems Klaus has determined that he can work with Ebony and Olive - what luck for me, I ordered Ebony. Here's the pictures from Klaus of my new saw which is enroute - can't wait to get my hands on it...

Wish it was a little shinier....

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Bench Update - Bottom's up for the last time...

The finished inlay on the front skirt.
The last month has been a busy time between the UK and California, so I have not had a lot of time to work on the bench project, but it has reached a major milestone today. All the major woodworking is complete; with the end cap, front skirt and end-vise back plate all installed. I felt I should put a coat of finish on the bottom to seal it before I could not get access to it anymore.

View of underside from the back, this will be left open for clamping long materials, and cleaned up once it is flipped.

From the front, the cutout for the Lee valley Quick Release face vise,

Here's a few progress shots on how I got to here:

Inlaying the name plaque for the front

Traced the outline on some tape and the bulk of the material removed with a Forstner drill,
my Blue Spruce chisels and mallets clean up the straight edges and the carving tools for the rest.

After about an hour of fussing, and scared to death I would break it,
 the inlay dropped into place; a bit of bubinga sawdust to
hide my donkey tracks, CA glue to permanently fix it in place,
remove the tape, sand it flush and...

Bob's your uncle (not my uncle, but maybe yours!)

 Mounting the Lee Valley/Veritas Quick Release Face Vise

I have one of these guys on my original bench and and I love it, probably the most used fixture in the shop. I chose to relieve the front skirt to give me more open depth to the vise.

Doing some layout on the filler piece working out the arrangement of the holes.

The filler piece screwed and glued in place, with the rough cut front jaw prepped.
This will support the vise for years of trusty operation.

This was a beast to flip when the front skirt was installed, I will need major help in getting the topside up to finish installing the Twin-screw vise and fix it to the base. Wish me luck...