Eating router bits for breakfast

Not all router bits are created equal. On a recent project I had to make a lot of 1/4″ wide and 1/4″ deep dadoes.

In my 20+ years of using an electric router I’ve only lost a handful of bits, most due to the carbide chipping out or something similar. (Or using a poor quality bit — back when I was starting out and didn’t know any better) Whenever possible I try to buy bits with a 1/2″ shank for the added strength and decreased vibration. Leaving my 1/4″ shank bits mostly relegated to my 1HP Bosch Colt palm router and tasks like using 1/8″ round-over bits — my favorite profile for cleaning up edges on around the shop projects.

Routing 1/4" dadoes in maple ply
Routing 1/4″ dadoes in maple ply

Two weekends ago I was cutting a long dado with a variable speed 2-1/4 HP plunge router with a fence and had my old Craftsman 1/4″ straight bit snap off at the collar which was unusual as I would think it would snap off right below the carbide where the bit narrows slightly and is presumably the weakest point on the bit. I didn’t think much of it and figured ‘eh its a pretty cheap and 15 year old bit’ and went back to the tooling cabinet to grab another bit.

Old 1/4" shank Craftsman bit snapped, now on to the 1/2" shank MLCS bit.
Old 1/4″ shank Craftsman bit snapped, now on to the 1/2″ shank MLCS bit.

The second time out I grabbed an MLCS 1/4″ straight bit with a 1/2″ shank. In looking at the bit (it was part of a set of straight bits and looked like I never used this 1/4″ bit before) I thought to myself, wow that is quite the taper below the carbide. I loaded it up into the collet and got maybe 6″ through the maple and it twisted right off.

A few expletives flew, and I was questioning myself. Have I been spending too long doing hand tool only work? Am I using a router that is over-powered for the task at hand? I thought I was taking it easy as I made my passes — the tool wasn’t bogging down and it was cutting well.

After inspecting the plywood, both times where the bit broke it was hitting what looked like a knot in the veneer core of the plywood — so I think that change in density along with heat and friction was a contributing factor.

I was determined to make more progress on this project as I don’t get as many weekends to woodwork as I’d like. I headed out to Home Depot in the freezing cold and trying to make it there before they closed at 9pm and bought a Freud Diablo solid carbide bit. I balked at the ~$18 price compared to the say ~$5-8 each I paid for these bits from MLCS (but didn’t have the luxury of waiting for them to ship an order to me)

Left to Right -- 1/4" straight bits -- MLCS 1/2" shank (broken), Craftsman 1/4" shank, Freud Diablo Solid Carbide
Left to Right — 1/4″ straight bits — MLCS 1/2″ shank (broken), Craftsman 1/4″ shank, Freud Diablo Solid Carbide 1/4″ shank

I really liked how the Diablo was solid carbide and had a completely straight profile from the shank down to the tip of the bit. The bit worked like a champ and so far I have been very happy with it.

What is the lesson from all this? Remember to go extra slow and take very shallow passes when working with a narrow bit like this. Make sure you adjust the speed (if your router has a variable speed control). Remember that humans and tools are not perfect. Some tooling like these sorts of bits are disposable. Inspect your tools and look for quality designs. Remember that even solid carbide can be brittle — so do what you can to minimize any jarring changes. There are many lessons to be learned and re-learned as you progress in your woodworking career. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and most of all get back out into the workshop — which is where I am headed right now.

Take care,
-Bill
@TheRainford

Flexner’s Danish Workbench

Yesterday evening in the weekly Popular Woodworking ‘Week in Review’ email summary I saw a nice post by Bob Flexner — Contributing Editor to Popular Woodworking and well known Finishing Expert — sharing his thoughts on Danish Workbenches.

Bob Flexner's ETA brand Danish workbench
Bob Flexner’s ETA brand Danish workbench

You can read Bob’s post here. Bob shares his thoughts on this form of bench along with some interesting anecdotes on his time in Denmark and importing some ETA benches.

Bob also had a couple questions/comments that I wanted to reply as they are good topics of discussion:

“The first was the top surface. Bill uses two 12¼-inch wide “slabs.” He suggests using three boards instead of two if you can’t find these widths. My workbench is made with slightly less than 1-inch wide boards laminated to form the wide surface. Wider boards could warp over time with humidity changes and water spills. The laminated narrower boards seem to me a better idea.” == Bob Flexner

The slab portion of my bench-top is only 12-3/4″ wide and was composed from two ~7″ wide 8/4 boards that were hand selected. I chose pieces with nice tight and even growth rings oriented to be reasonably stable — trying to get as much quarter sawn grain as I could from those pieces. The wood also sat in my reasonably climate controlled shop for a few years before I got around to building this bench. In the 3 years or so I’ve been working on this bench I haven’t had to re-flatten it at all so far.

When building the bench I gave serious consideration to deviating from Frid’s design and building the top from narrower laminated strips. Given the stock on hand I didn’t think I was buying myself much as it would have been a lot of ripping and jointing and gluing to get a very similar grain profile to what I had. If I didn’t have the quality of wood I had on hand, or if the bench top were thicker, say 4″ thick instead of 1-3/4″  or 1-7/8″, I definitely would have laminated up strips as Bob suggests.

“One more thought. Once or twice in forty years the mortise-and-tenon joints at the top and bottom of the legs have worked loose and the workbench became lose front-to-back. To tighten them I removed the bench top, which just sits on the frame, and drove the wedges that tighten the joints a little deeper. So I don’t understand Bill’s rationale for gluing the wedges in place.”

When gluing the wedged mortise and tenons in place I was following Frid’s advice directly from his books. I believe he used PVA glue, but chose to use hot hide glue so I could have a longer open time and potentially repair it if need be in the future.

Side Note: Below is a photo of one of Frid’s extant benches at the home of his son Peter Frid. (Check out this earlier post wherein I got to meet Tage’s son Peter and Grandson Oliver) This bench seems to pre-date the ones shown in Frid’s article and books. The example below is likely from the ~1950s.

One of Tage Frid's Original Workbenches that pre-dates his famous articles and books.
One of Tage Frid’s Original Workbenches that pre-dates his famous articles and books.

Notable differences compared to the workbench in his book include hand cut dovetails on the tail vise, a much thinner skirt board and dog-hole strip, wooden screw in the shoulder vise with much larger wooden jaw, a little less refinement in terms of details on the vise jaws and undercarriage. Nonetheless this bench seems to have over a half century of use to its credit and the legs were still solid and the vises moved surprisingly well. It gives some interesting insights into how even Tage Frid’s interpretation of this sort of workbench changed over the years.

I hope to have and use my workbench for many more years to come and I’m sure it will acquire some more scars over the years that become part of its history.

Take care,
-Bill
@TheRainford

P.S. You can check out some other posts related to the Tage Frid inspired workbench along with a simple Deadman, Side-clamps and other similar workbenches out in the wild here.

Sinister Workbench

 

I haven’t seen a lot of left-handed, or ‘sinister‘ workbenches out in the wild. I suspect most are from the mid 20th century or later with the assumption that earlier southpaws were likely forced to work right-handed much as a lot of the left-handed folks in my family were forced to learn to write with their right hands in school. If my woodworking research friends have actual information to the contrary I am interested to learn more about left-handed woodworkers. Given that in earlier times craftsmen usually made their own benches it seems logical left handed benches would be easy enough to make unless the social stigma and/or dominance of right handed tools outweighed the convenience.

3/4 view of workbench
3/4 view of left handed Tage Frid workbench by Paul Van Pernis

My friend Paul Van Pernis, former president of the Early American Industries Association (EAIA) , recently reached out to me and shared that he built a pair of left-handed workbenches based off of Tage Frid’s original plans — one for himself and one for his youngest son.

Paul Van Pernis at the EAIA Annual Meeting 2015 holding my son Bradley. :-)
Paul Van Pernis at the EAIA Annual Meeting 2015 holding my first son Bradley 🙂

Paul did an great job building his bench and it sounds like it has served him we’ll for 20+ years. It was great to see all the finger joints and other details much as what Frid had in his book and FWW article.  The bench-top and vises look like they have all held up great.

Detail view of the shoulder vise
Detail view of the shoulder vise

Paul’s original note about his workbench, how he acquired the materials and built them was too good not to share:  (Shared with his permission):

The bench is still my primary bench.  I use it all the time. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of my son and I together at the bench. It’s not like my wife to take a lot of pictures of me or my kids down in my basement workshop.  The wood was milled at a local mill just 25 miles south of us in Mellen, Wisconsin called North Country Lumber.  I knew the owner of the mill and his brother.  I took care of their families when I was still practicing family medicine.  I told the owner Bob Stilen that I was interested in building the benches and asked him if he could provide me with some 8/4 clear hard maple select or better.  He was surprised that I knew a little about trees, sawmills, and furniture grade wood, but said he could get the wood.  He called me about a month later and we agreed to meet at the saw mill the next Saturday when I wasn’t on call.  The mill was closed, but both Bob and his brother were there when I got to the mill.  After a cup of coffee and a lot of bad jokes and stories from a couple of real northern Wisconsin characters (think the movie, Grumpy Old Men) I got a private tour of the mill and the drying kilns.  Then he showed me the wood he had selected for me.  It was a gorgeous pile of absolutely clear northern Wisconsin hard maple all cut to 8/4 thickness, kiln dried and planed on two sides. The boards were all 8 feet long or better and many of them were 12 inches wide.  It was drop dead gorgeous wood!  I was thrilled and had a smile from ear to ear.  I asked how much I owed them for the wood and both of them said to me, “Take it it’s yours. You’ve taken such good care of our families and especially our mom (she was elderly and one of my residents in the local nursing home), this is our gift to you.”

It was a wonderful gift and very typical of the good people who work hard and live well in the woods of northern Wisconsin.  Bob Stilen started the saw mill on his own and had grown it into a significant business that employed about 80 people and was supplying hardwood to several furniture manufacturers throughout the U.S.  They practiced great forest management (select cutting only) and gave good jobs and good salaries to their employees.  Both Bob and his brother have passed away, but the sawmill is still in business.  A lot of the teenagers in Mellen get their first summer job piling lumber and stickering it came off the saw.

I brought the wood home and have great memories of the time my youngest son and I had making those benches.  My youngest son is now a Prebyterian minister in Howard Lake, Minnesota and still likes working with his hands.  He and his wife are the ones I built the bed frame for that you saw in the picture I sent.  My other memory of building those two work benches was that I burned out the ¾ horse motor on my old 1978 Sears table saw trying to rip that 8/4 hard maple.  I replaced it with a 3 horse Baldor electric motor and switched from 110 to 220 and after that I had no problems.  I retired that table saw about 18 months ago (it went to the son of a friend a local farmer from whom we buy 1/3 of a pig each fall) and invested in a Sawstop table saw which I really love.

My guess is that we built those workbenches in about 1990 or 1991, so they’re at least 26 years old. As benches do, they’ve acquired a few scratches, gouges, and dings, but they are both still doing well.  After working with the benches there are really not any significant things I’d change about them.  So, that’s the story.

Warm Regards,
Paul

Here are a few more photos of the bench from Paul:

If you built your own Tage Frid inspired bench, either from Frid’s book and/or article or my recent revisit in the February 2017 issue of Popular Woodworking, I’d love to hear your story as well.

Take care,
-Bill Rainford
@TheRainford
RainfordRestorations.com

P.S. Check out Paul’s excellent series of blog posts on various planes from the Stanley Model shop over on the EAIA blog here.

P.P.S. I’m the webmaster for the EAIA website as well so if anyone has a  relevant story they’d like to share with the EAIA, please feel free to contact me.

 

Side Clamps Revisited…Already

Workbench side clamps are not something I think anyone would generally use on a daily basis, but when the job calls for the sort of clamping they provide, they do a great job. I think one of the reasons they were not used often is the time it takes to affix them to the workbench — usually requires the use of nuts and wrenches.

How can I improve the likelihood I will use my new side clamps? 

The 3/8″  5 star knobs I ordered from Rockler for my side clamps arrived yesterday and I gave them a shot.

Side clamps with 5 star knobs
Side clamps with 5 star knobs

On the left you can see both knobs on the same side of the clamping block and on the right you can see one knob on the top and one knob on the bottom. Either configuration works well. With a 5 star knob you can easily loosen both knobs and remove one knob to move the block around.

The verdict?

The above tweak is not an earth shattering change but it does remove the need for a wrench and make it a little more likely I’ll break out the side clamps with the need comes up.

Take care,
-Bill
@TheRainford

P.S. If you’d like to read up on how to build your own pair of side clamps you can read my earlier post on that topic here.

Deadman With a Tale

In building my workbench I also built a simple traditional deadman to help support long boards at the bench.

Workbench Deadman
Workbench Deadman

This simple to build workbench accessory is as a great addition to any bench with a tail vise.

Bill demonstrating the use of his deadman
Bill demonstrating the use of his deadman

If you’d like to learn more about this bench and how to build one for yourself, please check out my blog post on this topic over on the Popular Woodworking site here.

Take care,
-Bill
@The Rainford

A little clamping on the side

Have you used your side clamps lately?  Wait, what are side clamps?

Close up of the side clamps
Close up of the side clamps

Side clamps are a pair of adjustable wooden blocks that mount on the outside of a traditional continental workbench with one block mounted to the tail vise and one mounted to the fixed portion of the bench top. In this experiment the blocks are mounted to the bench via 3/8″ diameter, 6″ long threaded bolts and some shop made metal plates.

Background: 

When building my Tage Frid inspired Scandinavian workbench I spent a lot of time looking at examples of Frid’s benches — some early extant examples in person, his Fine Woodworking article on his bench (FWW Issue #4, October 1975), the chapter in Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking Volume 3 and various online searches.

In the FWW issue #4 diagrams and text there was a very brief mention of a set of ‘side clamps’. I couldn’t find any photos of these clamps online and they didn’t seem to make it into the book version of the bench. I was curious if they were cut to save space or if in fact they didn’t turn out to be useful.

I decided to build my own version of these clamps based on that lone diagram and experiment with them.

Building a pair of side clamps:

Using some scrap hard maple left over from the workbench I made two 1.75″ thick, 3″ wide and 4.5″ long blocks. I planed them and rounded over the edges with a 1/8″ radius router bit.

Use a self centering doweling jig to start the 3/8" holes
Use a self centering doweling jig to start the 3/8″ holes

Next up was drilling a 3/8″ diameter hole through the center of the block, the long way. I started off the drilling by using a self-centering doweling jig (see photo above), and went as far as the bit would let me drill into the block.  Then using that first hole as a guide I used a longer electrician’s style 3/8″ drill bit to drill the rest of they way through the block. (see photo below)

Use a long electrician's style 3/8" drill bit to finish the centered hole.
Use a long electrician’s style 3/8″ drill bit to finish the centered hole.

With the woodworking complete, it was time do to some metal working to make a series of small plates that are used to affix the clamp blocks to the dog holes in the bench by way of the 3/8″ bolts. I bought some 1/8″ thick x 1″ wide zinc’ed steel bar at my local hardware store and cut them to 2-7/8″ long. (Note this is 1/2″ shorter than what Frid called for as I as felt 3-3/8″ would have too much slop/space. I also could not find 1/4″ thick bar stock, but think 1/8″ thick is still plenty strong for anything I plan to do with these clamps. Make sure to leave at least 1/4″ of metal on all side around the holes).  I cut the pieces to length using an abrasive cut off chop saw, but a hack saw could also get the job done.

Zinc'ed steel bar, cut to size, corners ground round and edge burs removed
Zinc’ed steel bar, cut to size, corners ground round and edge burs removed

I took the metal blanks over to the slow speed grinder and rounded over the corners and chamfered the edges a bit to remove any burs.

Drilling all four blanks at once.
Drilling all four blanks at once.

Next up I stacked/ganged up all 4 pieces and drilled 3/8″ diameter holes at the drill press. The pieces were held together with some strong tape and held in place against my makeshift fence via the scrap block in the foreground of the above picture. Make sure to use some cutting oil and make sure you don’t overheat the metal nor your drill bit. Also use some scrap underneath the blanks to protect your drill press table.

Using a file to clean up and remaining burs and fine tune the work you did on the grinder
Using a file to clean up and remaining burs and fine tune the work you did on the grinder

With the holes drilled out I took the metal blanks over to a vise wherein I made sure the bolts fit through the holes, cleaning things up with a rat-tail (round) file. I then used a flat mill file to clean up any roughness on the outside edges left from the work at the grinder.

Given my background as an engineer, and touch of OCD I decided to add some self adhesive cork to the sides of these metal plates that might come in contact with my bench top

Self-adhesive cork sheets
Self-adhesive cork sheets

I cut the cork to rough size, affixed it to the plate and used a utility knife to cut off any excess around the edge and a 3/8″ drill bit to remove any waste inside the drilled out holes.

Use a utility knife to clean up the cork around the edges of the plate and the 3/8' drill bit to clean up and cork in the holes
Use a utility knife to clean up the cork around the edges of the plate and the 3/8′ drill bit to clean up and cork in the holes

With the metalworking completed, it was time to install the nuts and bolts and try out the clamping blocks. One bolt goes through the top plate, the wood block, the bottom plate and is secured with a nut or five star knob. (I ordered some knobs from Rockler but at the time of this writing they’d didn’t arrive yet, once they come I’ll add some post script to show the clamps with easier to use knobs in place.) The other bolt goes through the top plate, the dog hole, the bottom plate and is secured with another nut.

Assembling a side clamp
Assembling a side clamp

Given the use of square dog holes on this bench, and the fact that that blocks are 1/2″ longer than the bench is thick, this allows the side clamps to pivot a few degrees in either direction. This gives you the ability to securely clamp some tapered or irregularly shaped pieces.

The blocks can be moved to different dog holes as needed or removed from the bench altogether. In testing these clamps on a few different items and shapes I found the blocks were surprisingly easy to use and held oversized items with ease.

Large objects are easily held between these side clamps
Large objects are easily held between these side clamps

The Verdict: (So far…)

It was a fun project to build and experiment with. These clamps are useful for specialized clamping needs, such as large items, re-working the edges of a drawer box, planing dovetails flush, and similar operations.

Do I think they will get used every day? No. Do I think they can do a few jobs that would be tougher to do on the bench-top secured via bench dog, hold fast, face or shoulder vise? Yes.

For the small amount of wood, metal and time it took to make these side clamps I think they were a nice addition to my workbench.

If you build some side clamps for your workbench, please share what you thought of them in the comments below.

Take care,
-Bill Rainford
@TheRainford

P.S. If you’d liked to learn about the workbench featured in this post, please check out my related article in the February 2017 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine which can be found here.

Popular Woodworking February 2017 Cover
Popular Woodworking February 2017 Cover

 

Go, Go, Go: The Life, Influence and Woodworking of Tage Frid

I have some big news to share with everyone today, I’m proud to say that I am the process of writing a book for the Lost Art Press tentatively titled “Go, Go, Go: The Life, Influence and Woodworking of Tage Frid

Bill Rainford with his felling ax. (Photo by Doug Levy, 2016 http://douglaslevyphotography.com )
Bill Rainford with his felling ax. (Photo by Doug Levy, 2016 http://douglaslevyphotography.com )

You can read more about my background and the premise of the book in this post I made on the Lost Art Press Blog here.  It’s an exciting opportunity and look forward to sharing my passion for Frid’s work and Danish Modern furniture design.

Bill standing next to his Tage Frid inspired workbench. (Photo by Doug Levy, 2016 http://douglaslevyphotography.com )
Bill standing next to his Tage Frid inspired workbench. (Photo by Doug Levy, 2016 http://douglaslevyphotography.com )

Related to the above book I’ve also written an article for Popular Woodworking Magazine on my Tage Frid inspired workbench which will be the cover story for the February 2017 issue which is coming out later this month.  Once it is published I’ll be sure to share more related links and details.

UPDATE: The February 2017 issue of Popular Woodworking is now out and you can read more about it or purchase it here on PopularWoodworking.com

–Bill Rainford
@TheRainford

P.S. A big thank you to Doug Levy for allowing me to share two of the excellent photos he took for the upcoming article. You can check out Doug’s photography work here. He also has a great series on New England Craftsmen here.

Measuring from a common reference point…

An early lesson in carpentry or woodworking in general is to take all of your measurements from a single reference face — this way you don’t get a bunch of accumulated errors that will throw everything off.  It makes sense, but what do you do when measuring long distances? or uneven surfaces?

Let’s take a look at this 30 foot long foundation wall I am working on:

A view of the tiered foundation
A view of the tiered foundation

In order to lay out the mortises in the sills for the posts I needed to make sure they are in the correct location which was a bit of a challenge.

First off I had to go out and get a 35′ long tape measure. I bought a Milwaukee 35′ Magnetic Tape Measure from Home Depot.

35 Foot Milwaukee Magnetic Tape Measure
35 Foot Milwaukee Magnetic Tape Measure

Beyond the length this model has a few nice features I really liked. First and foremost it has a finger protecting stop which is great for people like me that tend to use a thumb as the brake and occasionally get pinched by the end of the tape slamming back into the case. It also has an 8-9′ standoff (distance tape can hold itself out before it bends), a magnet in the end, large hooks and an architect scale (total inches rather than feet) on the bottom of the tape and a supposedly limited lifetime warranty.

Love that metal finger protector
Love that metal finger protector

I liked it so much I hope to get the 25′ model soon and will retire my Stanley and Stanley Bostitch tapes. You can find the 35′ model here.  It’s a bit of a beast, so for everyday use I think the 25′ model will fit better in my tool belt.

In measuring the foundation I found out that its about 1/2″ shy of 30 feet. Other than that I’ve been very happy with how the foundation came out and across its width its consistently 24′ wide as expected.

Laying out the first two sets of mortises from the front of the building was easy and straight forward. The 3rd set is where it got tough as I’d have to bridge the vertical step in the foundation. In order to make that jump I cut a piece of scrap 2×8 and using a level and a square set it exactly on top of the center line for the 2nd set of mortises and clamped it firmly to the cast in place straps.

Measuring and compensating for the different levels of the foundation
Measuring and compensating for the different levels of the foundation

I could then pull the tape and lay out where that third set of mortises  should be and also measure to the end of the building to confirm it matched what I got when just measuring the side of the foundation in a single pull. All the measurements lined up with what I expected, so that was good.

Figuring our the difference between measuring off the common reference face vs from each end of the foundation
Figuring our the difference between measuring off the common reference face vs from each end of the foundation

It looks like when the straps were cast in place the concrete contractor measured from the back wall of the building rather than a single reference face and I could see the 1/2″ off they were due to the overall length of the building being off.  Thankfully the posts are sufficiently large (6×6) that this won’t be a visible issue.

This all goes to show the value of taking your time and measuring as described above, for if I didn’t do this and laid out the top plates as if the building was an even 30′ long and if I laid out that 3rd set of posts 10′ off the back wall there would be some major problems during the barn raising.

Take care and Happy Measuring,
-Bill
@TheRainford

My Favorite Use for a Transitional Plane

Transitional planes are the pariahs of the woodworking world. The tool collectors don’t want them. Patrick Leach burns them in a funeral pyre.  I’ve had a few over the years I got for a song and kept in the shop mostly for decoration.

Cleaned up timber frame post
Cleaned up timber frame post

As I got more into timber framing and working with green timbers it dawned on me that these transitional planes — at least in the jack and jointer sizes might be useful for cleaning up timbers. The large wooden sole doesn’t rust the way a metal plane would when exposed to wet wood for long periods of time and you have a more or less modern Bailey style mechanism. The one annoying thing about the mechanism on a transitional plane is the blade advancement wheel spins the opposite way a metal plane works, but after a few minutes you get used to it.

 Bill using a traditional jack plane to clean up timber
Bill using a traditional jack plane to clean up timber

For some timber frames I need to clean up and remove all the large circular saw or bandsaw marks. In a workshop or outbuilding being fresh from the mill is fine, but in a house all those rough surfaces can be a dust magnet or source of splinters.

With a nice camber it makes quick work of dressing a green eastern white pine timber
With a nice camber it makes quick work of dressing a green eastern white pine timber

On my jack plane I’ve ground a camber appropriate to a jack plane and take a reasonably heavy shaving. The work goes fast and I admit its fun to make a 25′ foot long shaving on some of the largest timbers.

At first I felt bad about using a plane from the 1870s for this sort of work, but if properly maintained it will have a surprisingly long life and I’d rather see this plane get used as opposed to being  in a pyre or on a shelf.

At the end of the day I make sure to remove the iron and wipe it down with oil so it does not rust and I’ll usually give the sole a little more wax.

Transitional Jack Plane in its new habitat
Transitional Jack Plane in its new habitat

I can usually find these planes in surprisingly good shape for $10-35. If you’re willing to take one with more rust on the mechanism or a replacement sole you can likely get it for even less or even free from some dealers if you buy a few other items. The next time you are at a tool swap you may want to take a second look at a transitional plane and score yourself a good deal on a solid workhorse for your own timber framing or green woodworking projects.

-Bill
@TheRainford

A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook

Reading A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook by James Krenov is often considered to be a woodworking rite of passage. And with any worthwhile ritual you don’t want to rush into it.

The Cabinetmaker's Notebook by James Krenov
The Cabinetmaker’s Notebook by James Krenov

If you are just starting out in woodworking you’ll want to start with some solid introductory books  (Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking, Made by Hand by Tom Fidgen, The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years, Understanding Wood by Bruce Hoadley etc. ), get your feet wet, mess up some pieces, experiment with hand and power tools.

Some of your projects will be triumphs, some of them will be failures and all of them will teach you some valuable lessons. After some time behind the bench you’ll more than likely hit a crisis of faith at some point. Are you bored with woodworking? Are you looking for a new design style? How do you rectify using power and hand tools or are you looking to be a hand tool purist? How well do you know the wood you are using?  Does your work have any deeper meaning? How do I make a living at this? Will my work survive?

Everyone will have some questions along those lines at some point during their woodworking journey. That’s when it’s time to reach for A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook. This classic book from 1976 will not directly teach you woodworking skills like joinery or finishing techniques, but will provide you with some insights and inspiration that will often stay with you long after you read this book.

For folks that have read this blog for a while you’ve seen me go on about a desire to create items that last, getting away from our disposable culture and finding meaning in our work. Krenov was  contemplating the same things back in the 1970s well before I was born, but the way he addresses it is often intoxicating and seeps into your subconscious.

“What I would like to do before it is too late is to get this [message] across to a few craftsmen-to-be who will work after me, and also to a public which will be there to receive them, because we are living in a time when, I believe, this is important, not only aesthetically, as oddities or rarities, but because …. much of our life is spent buying and discarding and buying again, things that are not good. Some of us long to have at least something, somewhere which will give us harmony and a sense of durability — I won’t say permanence, but durability — things that, through the years, become more and more beautiful, things we can leave to our children” — James Krenov, The Cabinetmaker’s Notebook, 1976

I first read the book about 10 years ago when I bought several of Krenovs books as softcover prints based on feedback from some other woodworkers. (With woodworking as my avocation I figured his book The Impractical Cabinetmaker would be right up my alley, but that is a post for another day).

The Impractical Cabinetmaker by James Krenov
The Impractical Cabinetmaker by James Krenov

At the time I first read them I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to fully appreciate it. Some insights on detailing and rewarding the curious stayed with me but I wasn’t a full cult member yet.

Back in September I picked up two early hardcover prints of Krenov books at the Nashua Tool show and decided to read this copy of A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook as I was doing some research on folks who taught at the School for American Craftsmen (SAC) and studying Danish and Scandinavian Designs. Over the past decade I also learned more about Krenov’s career, time at SAC, BU (heard funny but less than flattering stories about his time there at my Alma Mater), his time in Sweden, College of the Redwoods etc.

The Cabinetmaker's Notebook and The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking by James Krenov
The Cabinetmaker’s Notebook and The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking by James Krenov

This time out the book really hit home for me. Krenov talks about what drives him as a craftsman and how he often agonizes over the best use of the wood. He’ll take some usage requirements from customers on commissioned work, but wants the freedom to let the wood talk to him and let the design flow. He works in little details to try and create pieces that are visually and tactilely interesting.  By dabbling with asymmetry, curves, light/shadow, grain orientation and minimal finishes he’s able to produce interesting pieces that elicit emotions from the viewer. This process results in pieces that only get better with age and use.

The anecdotes in the book also add to the warmth — finding work early on, cats in the shop, revisiting your wood pile for inspiration, using the natural properties of wood and grain to help find the best use for that specific piece of wood to create something long lasting that will make yourself and anyone living with the piece happy.

So if you are in need of an inspirational recharge I recommend reading or re-reading A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook.

-Bill

 

P.S. I always say that woodworking is often the art of hiding your mistakes. (Sometimes by accentuating the defect with a bead or constructing things in such a way we try and cover up less desirable grain with other forms of joinery etc.) With all the time Krenov talked about fine details, it was interesting to me that the case piece on the cover of the original version of the book had an interesting minor mistake front and center for those who knew to look for it. If you look closely at the image below you’ll see he made 2 passes with a marking gauge at a slightly different setting. I know it is something I’ve done in the past.

Original cover from The Cabinetmaker's Notebook
Original cover from The Cabinetmaker’s Notebook

That may be why they changed the cover in later reprints, but much like a hidden or asymmetric pull or hidden cubby in a cabinet I think it was an interesting find and also shows that we are all human and even with a minor imperfection here and there we can still produce satisfying results.

 

A Joiner's Guide To Traditional Woodworking and Preservation