Category Archives: featured

Digital Calipers

For many hand tool woodworkers, analog and imperial is the only way to go. Sometimes the modern world imposes itself on me and I have to bite the bullet and go digital and even occasionally metric.

I ran into this recently with a custom knife for my Williams & Hussey Molding Machine…

General Digital Calipers in nice fitted case with extra battery and screwdriver.
General Digital Calipers in nice fitted case with extra battery and screwdriver.

When I ran some muntin stock for a window sash the portion of the profile it was slightly narrower than my mortising chisels and hollow chisel mortising bit. I triple checked the setup of the knives and made sure they were aligned. I then took the chisel to the knife and it was slightly wider than the template. The CAD drawing of the knife matched what I expected the knife to look like. When talking to the knife manufacturer he asked that I double check the size of my chisels and I broke out the old, low resolution (1/32″), manual calipers I had and described what I was reading. That is where our two different worlds met. My trusty old General Tools Vernier caliper which worked great for comparing say two tenons — as I don’t have to read the value so much as compare — sort of like using a pair of wooden ‘pants’ on a timber tenon do not give the digital readings he was expecting. Terms like ‘a very tiny bit over 3/8″ ‘ don’t work in this context.

TIP: When taking measurements, especially those wherein you want to compare say two tenons, make sure you secure the lock screw — this way the jaws do not move.

Old and low resolution calipers I inherited and used mainly for comparison testing
Old and low resolution calipers I inherited and used mainly for comparison testing

I wound up having to send in my chisels for him to look at and adjust the knife, which I am grateful he did, but I did not want to repeat this experience.

“I thought the whole point of old woodworking was that you didn’t have to go metric.” –- Roy Underhill ( The Woodwright’s Shop Episode “Who Wrote the Book of Sloyd?” )

Right after the above I had the opportunity to get a digital caliper set from General Tools.

Measuring in fractions of an inch (Goes to 1/64th of an inch)
Measuring in fractions of an inch (Goes to 1/64th of an inch)

I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a real nice dial caliper like a Starrett but $185-$700  was out of my price range (Though I do use a Starrett Dial Indicator for setting up my stationary tools and love it) or high end digital caliper like the Mitutoyo ($150-$500+ depending on model), but for how often I’d use it I could not justify the price.

Enter the General Tools Model 147 Stainless Steel Digital Caliper.  The tool sells for about $25 on Amazon.com and claims and accuracy of  ±0.001 in./0.02mm  and a resolution of 1/64 in./0.0005 in./0.01mm.

Calipers zeroed out.
Calipers zeroed out.

I read all the reviews for this model and similarly priced calipers and wanted to see for myself how good it was or was not.

Top concerns I saw in the reviews for this sort of tool — questions around repeatability of measurements, battery life and accuracy.  As a woodworker my measuring tools usually are only graduated down to 1/128th of an inch at most, anything beyond that is tested by hand, eye and reference straightedge. Anything beyond that I defer to my machinist friends who like to get OCD about ambient temperatures and other fine details of super high resolution measuring.

Testing a 1" Lee Valley Chisel
Testing a 1″ Lee Valley Chisel

The caliper comes in a nice little plastic form fit case, along with a tiny screwdriver for the battery compartment along with a spare battery. (See first photo in post). The caliper seems to be mostly stainless steel with what looks like metallic coated plastic around the display. Overall to tool has a nice weight and finish quality and seems to be machined better than I expected. My only real nitpick is the thumbscrew has a tiny bit of play left and right, not in the direction it drives, so it doesn’t affect performance, but is something I noticed on close inspection.

I took out the tool and tried it on several chisels to see how they measured up. My old set of Lee Valley Japanese steel chisels measured a little bit under their nominal size. (As others have described, such as this article)

Re-testing for accuracy.
Re-testing for accuracy.

After taking a measurement I took a few other measurements, defined a new zero location, either arbitrary or using a reference like a machinists 1-2-3 block and then re-zeroed out the caliper and re-tested the chisels. I was able to get consistent readings each time.

Tip:  Before taking a measurement make sure that he calipers are ‘zeroed’ out — by making sure the jaws are touching (and you can see no light through them) using the zero button.  If starting from a new open position, so you can take a reading relative to a given starting place, you would open or close the jaws on the reference object, press the zero button and then adjust (open or close) and take your next measurement. (You can take negative measurements as well when starting from a zeroed out open position)

Using the upper jaws to measure inside.
Using the upper jaws to measure inside.

I also took some inside measurements (as shown above) and used the depth gauge rod (not shown) and had similarly consistent results.  The fractional mode only displays down to 1/64″ and if you want higher resolution output on the screen you’ll need to use the imperial decimal mode or the metric (mm) mode.  I like the ability to switch modes as it takes out some of the human error in converting from fractions to decimals or to metric measurements.

Tip: When taking measurements such as the chisel above make sure the jaws are firmly up against the item being measured and parallel — don’t be lazy using your finger on the thumb screw (used to open or close the jaws).

Others noted battery life issues, but my inner-engineering OCD likes to shut of the caliper as soon as I am done using it, but a few times I left it on to make sure that it eventually shut off and it seemed to work fine for me. The form fitted case has an instruction sheet in it when you get it and I wonder if for some folks if they didn’t seat the caliper properly in the case or put something on it so heavy that the closed case gets a little crushed/deformed it might press the buttons and prematurely drain the battery. I’ll keep an eye on battery longevity and add comments if things change, but so far so good on that front and I like knowing I have a spare ready to go in the case.

Summary:

For this price range do I expect the tool to replace the high end premium line — no. But do I need a premium high end dial or digital caliper in my woodworking shop, also a no.  This tool is a nice step up from my old caliper, offers and accuracy range above what I expect to work at and seems to be a real good value for the woodworker in need of more accurate measurements and a solid user tool.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. If you are interested in the same model, you can find it here on Amazon.  I do not get anything from sharing that link. If you have this tool or get one for yourself, let me know what you think of it in the comments below.

Flip the Switch

It’s never a good day when a power tool gives up its magic blue smoke. When I was making a recent run of saw horses my jointer’s switch decided it had enough.

It’s a Delta X5 ‘Professional’ 6″ jointer with the 42″ beds. It’s the same one that had the large fence advancement knob break a while back requiring a modern make-do sort of fix.  For what was supposed to be a top of the line ‘professional’ machine for its size I’m disappointed with how many issues it has had related to the manufacturer cutting corners. I used to be a big fan of Delta but in recent years and especially with it being sold off from Pentair and later Black and Decker and the turmoil with it being owned by an overseas company that only seems to own some of the old Delta product lines I’ve been disappointed with the quality and longevity of these machines compared to the old iron 20th century versions of the same model tools.

Fried lead
Fried lead

I knew this switch was going to be trouble the minute I saw it in person as I have a Delta 36-980 Table saw of the same vintage and both purchased new in the late 2000s — that had the switch die — at least in that case of fused into the ‘On’ position so I was able to add a Rockler Router Table Switch  with a nice big crash pad on it and have a safe and reliable way to turn the machine on and off.

For either machine they want $50-65+ for a replacement switch assembly that likely would not last any longer and has an incredibly cheap feel to it. I didn’t want to hack the cable and try and hardwire in a similar Rockler switch on the jointer as the flimsy arm to hold the switch would require even more modifications.

Notice the now much shorter contact
Notice the now much shorter contact

When the switch decided to die it seems to have arced and burned up the contact inside the switch (As seen above and below)

Carbon on the contact (sawdust from leaving the broken part sitting around the shop for a while)
Carbon on the contact (sawdust from leaving the broken part sitting around the shop for a while)

Rather than throwing more good money after bad I figured with some research I could find another switch to insert into the housing that would have the same load ratings and have a much lower price and it took a while to find one I thought would work, but eventually I found the switch below:

Replacement Switch
Replacement Switch

At the time I bought it, they cost me about $10 each and I bought one for my jointer and one for the table saw. You can find this toggle switch here on Amazon.com

Take a photo of your wiring ahead of time
Take a photo of your wiring ahead of time

I opened up the housing, took a picture of the wiring via my phone so I could wire it back up correctly, unplugged the leads and compressed the snap fittings so I could pry the old switch out. The new switch popped in and the contacts fit fine. I neatened up the wires, gave the circuit a quick test and closed up the housing and put it back on the machine.

Delta X5 Jointer Switch Assembly
Delta X5 Jointer Switch Assembly

The replacement switch also has that built in child safety switch/pin that can be removed and seems to work fine with that large over button as seen above.

With a little bit of research I’m happy I was able to save a few bucks and get this machine back into service. Hopefully this new switch from another manufacturer will last longer.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. I know I have been slow about posting lately, but we just had our second baby and things have been very busy. I’ve been amassing more content from time out in the shop so for the next month or two likely posts will be coming out at a slower pace but I’m working to get through the back log.

Making a Window Sash Part 1

Building a window sash by hand can sound intimidating, but with some practice it can be an enjoyable experience. Early window sash were built by hand designed to be maintainable — if a component broke or rotted out it could be replaced — something that is not possible with most aluminum and vinyl windows you see on the market today.

Continuing Education Department at the North Bennet Street School, Boston, MA
Continuing Education Department at the North Bennet Street School, Boston, MA

A few weekends ago I taught a two day workshop I developed on building a window sash at the North Bennet Street School. This post and the next are a high level recap of the course with some photos from building the prototype in my workshop and what we did in the classroom

Nice quarter-sawn stock for muntins.
Nice quarter-sawn stock for muntins.

Stock selection is important. My wood of choice is Eastern White Pine, preferably quarter-sawn heart pine which is easy to work, weathers well and historically appropriate in my area — the greater Boston area.

Sticking Knife Profile in the Williams and Hussey
Sticking Knife Profile in the Williams and Hussey

A profile can be run by hand using sash planes or using a router table. For larger runs a custom molding knife can make fast work of this often tedious task using a machine like the ‘Williams and Hussey’ molder. (Shown above and below)

Profiling the stock
Profiling the stock

We make a few passes to get near the finished size wanted and then a final cleanup pass at the end to leave the piece with a nice finish.

Profiled stock coming out of the molding machine
Profiled stock coming out of the molding machine

Rails, stiles and muntin stock are run using the same setup on the machine — this way all the profiles are consistent.

Rails, stiles and muntin stock profiled.
Rails, stiles and muntin stock profiled.

Next up is the use of a story stick — this traditional device is effectively a set of plans laid out on a piece of stock that matches the rest of your milled stock. Key locations like mortises are transferred to the work piece by using a marking knife and a combination square. The knife allows for accurate and consistent transfer of measurements to the work-piece.

Using the story stick to transfer measurements to the work piece
Using the story stick to transfer measurements to the work piece

Shown below are mortises cut either with a hollow chisel mortiser or by hand with a mortising chisel. Also note that the work pieces are deliberately left long. These ‘horns’ allow for more relish to support mortise walls from blowing out and also allow the sash to sit in the shop and not ding or damage the piece as it is worked on and eventually glazed.

Mortises cut
Mortises cut

Once the mortises are cleaned up its on to cutting the tenons. Once the piece is laid out I start by cross-cutting the shoulders. (See below). I then use a chisel to pop off the waste or for larger tenons will make a second saw cut (This time ripping down to the shoulder cut) and clean it up with a chisel.

Cutting in to reveal the tenon
Cutting in to reveal the tenon

With the shoulders in place I can dry fit them (using the square shoulders that are on the exterior side of the sash) to make sure I have a tight fit as seen below.  Note that I am not fitting the tenon yet, just the shoulder to start.

Test fit the central muntin
Test fit the central muntin

Next up was the coping. I make use of a saddle block with a 45 degree ramp and some in-cannel chisels to cope the muntin stock as shown below.  With the cope in place I can now test the fit of each of the tenons into its mortise.

Tenon complete and profile coped
Tenon complete and profile coped

This creates a nice tight joint that allows the pieces to mate together in a pleasing manner that allows to profile to make that 90 degree transition from the horizontal to the vertical.

A nicely coped joint
A nicely coped joint

I use a similar process for fitting the horizontal muntins — starting first with the center joint as this can be fussy at times. I want each horizontal muntin to meet cleanly in the center and have both tenons fill as much of the mortise as possible. I leave the stock long so if something goes wrong with the joint I can cut off that inch or so and try again without wasting a whole piece of stock. With the center joint in place I’ll cut the other shoulder and fit it as we did with the vertical muntin and then cope the joint and test those tenons.

Test fitting the shoulders for the horizontal muntins
Test fitting the shoulders for the horizontal muntins

With all the primary joinery completed its time to dry fit it all together and check for square. All the joints should fit together well and the shoulders and copes should be nice and tight.

Test fitting the primary joinery. Note the horns will remain until we paint the sash.
Test fitting the primary joinery. Note the horns will remain until we paint the sash.

If your joints close up with some mild pressure don’t worry too much as the draw bored pins will help pull the joints together and keep them closed. With each stage in this process the sash becomes more and more rigid.

In the next post we’ll talk about making pins, draw-boring, cutting glass and glazing.

Take care,
-Bill

Upcoming Classes

Things have been busy at home and in the shop. I’m in the process of building a 24’x30′ timber framed garage/barn. Lots of good content coming from that build, and I promise a lot of it will *eventually* make it to the blog, but the pressure is on to get as much of it up and built before baby #2 arrives at the end of March and our lives change even more at home. We have a 17 month old son that keeps us very busy as it is. On my Facebook page I often post some more real time photos of what I’ve been up to.

Last weekend I taught a workshop at the North Bennet Street School on building a Window Sash that sold out and was a lot of fun. (Recap of that class to follow in the next post)

I believe there are still a couple of spots open in my up coming 1 day workshop on February 27th at the North Bennet Street School in Boston on making traditional molding by hand and making a picture frame from that molding. If you are interested, please make sure you sign up soon.

This course will be very similar to a course I taught out at Eastfield Village for the EAIA’s Historic Trades Sampler. You can see a recap of that course and some of the frames students built here.

For a full list of upcoming courses I am teaching, please check out the ‘Instruction’ page at the the menu bar for the blog or you can directly access it here.

Here is a quick recap of the next few workshops that are scheduled:

Molding to Picture Frame Workshop @ The North Bennet Street School

Saturday, February 27
8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
I
nstructor: Bill Rainford
$175 Register

This workshop will focus on creating moldings using traditional hand planes. Each student will have the opportunity to setup and use some hollows and rounds, beading planes, rabbet planes and molders on a sticking board to make a short run of molding that will be mitered to form a small picture frame. Cutting/fitting glass will also be covered.

Beginners are welcome.

If you’d like to learn more about this workshop from a prior running, please check out this post. If you’d like to learn a bit more about this sort of work please check out this earlier post as well as this one.

Please review our Registration Policies before registering.

Registration closes 7 days prior to class start.

Register

 

Summer Courses (More Details to be published soon)

Drywall for Beginners @ North Bennet Street School
Saturday-Sunday, June 25-26
8:30am-4:30pm
Instructor Bill Rainford

Introduction to Sharpening @ North Bennet Street School
Saturday-Sunday, July 23-24
8:30am-4:30pm
Instructor: Bill Rainford

Eastfield Village + EAIA Historic Trades Sampler July 28-31, 2016

 

I hope see you in class.

Take care,
-Bill

How to fix sagging doors

Every family has its own unique holiday traditions. For my wife and I we seem to spend Thanksgiving replacing door hardware and adjusting doors. We did this several years ago in our condo when we lived in Kirkland, WA and again in our home here in New Hampshire. Both times I was swapping out builder grade brass Schlage hardware for nicer Schlage ‘Georgian’ style knobs and hinges with a satin nickel finish.

We’re lucky in that our house is from 1999 and has had a minimal amount of settling — especially compared to the 1910 Craftsman Bungalow we used to rent wherein virtually no door closed properly until I spent a Thanksgiving break adjusting all those doors as well.

With all that door tweaking I’ve refined my method for adjusting the doors and wanted to share a few tips on how I tune up a sagging door.

Evaluate the door:
* Does it close? (and stay closed)
* Do you feel the door rub against the jamb at all? (Are there visible wear marks from rubbing?)
* Is the hardware securely fastened? (Any stripped out or cammed out screws? Lift the door handle a bit and see how the hinges react — do you see slop in their movement? Are some of the screws loose?)
* Has the door been modified? (Anything removed to make room for a crooked or settled door frame? Has the hardware been modified?)

BEFORE: Existing door with brass hardware sagging
BEFORE: Existing door with brass hardware sagging

The above door is door to my upstairs hall closet. It rubs a little bit when you open or close it. Let’s take a look and see why.

Example of lower left side of door rubbing as door sagged.
Example of lower left side of door rubbing as door sagged.

Looking at the lower left side of the door I can see the door is pressing against the jamb. At the bottom you can see the spacing between the door and the frame tapers off into the place where they are touching.

Top right of door rubbing against the frame.
Top right of door rubbing against the frame.

As is no real surprise if we look at the top right of the door we can see where the door is touching and rubbing on the right jamb. If I pull up on the door handle I can see the door go back into the position it should be — looks like the top most hinge is a little loose.

How do we fix this problem?

In my case I want to examine the doors as they were and also swap out the hardware so anything brass is a ‘before’ photo and anything nickel is an ‘after’ photo.

The first thing I like to do is make sure the screws holding the hinges in place are nice and tight. The default screw most hinges come with are short ~3/4″ screws. After years of use or abuse (say something heavy like a shoe tree hanging from the inside of a door) the screws can come loose and/or strip the wood that once held them securely.

Brushed nickel screws. Better hinge sets will include some longer screws that are helpful in correcting/preventing door sag when used.
Brushed nickel screws. Better hinge sets will include some longer screws that are helpful in correcting/preventing door sag when used.

Better hinge sets will often include some longer screws — usually enough for 1 long screw in each hinge. I’ll start by installing 2 screws — one each in the top and bottom of each leaf. As I screw them in firmly — and by hand — I can feel how well the screw is gripping into the wood of the jamb and the wood of the door. If any of the screws just keep spinning then the screw has been stripped out and is now a candidate for one of the longer screws. If the screws are holding then I will use the longer screw in the center hole on the hinge leaf that is on the jamb. This longer screw should go through the jamb and into the heavier framing and provide a strong and longer lasting connection. If the center screw hole was sound but one of the others was stripped out I will put the longer screw into that hole.

Pro-Tip: The hinge leaf with three knuckles should be installed on the door jamb and the leaf with two knuckles should be installed on the door itself.  (This will provide a better bearing surface for the door’s hinge leaf to ride on and make it easier to remove the door and put it back in the future). If the pin is removable you can drive it out with a transfer punch and install it the opposite way for a door that opens in the opposite direction.

What do to if the long screws won’t grip either?

Sounds like the screw hole has been damaged too much. If you don’t want to replace the door and/or jamb a reasonable fix can be made using a small diameter dowel. You’ll want to drill out a bigger hole, say 1/4″ diameter, through the stripped out screw hole. Then glue and hammer in a small length of 1/4″ dowel to fill the new hole. Allow the glue to dry and cut it flush with the hinge mortise. Then mark the hole using the hinge as a template and re-drill the hole with a bit that is narrower than the screw you are using. Ideally the bit should be the size of the shank (the solid core) of the screw, thus allowing the threads to get a nice grip into sound/solid wood.

Use one of the hinges as a template.
Use one of the hinges as a template.

Securely affixing the new hardware fixed the issue on that particular door, but other doors in the house still didn’t line up the way I wanted and/or the hinge was set too deep and needed something more — some shims — to get the door back into proper alignment.

Easy to make shims

I grabbed a manila folder and traced one of the hinge leaves onto the folder. I then cut out what I traced being sure to ‘take the line’ that way I could be sure the template would fit. Also by leaving the folder folded up I could get two shims from each cutting operation.  I would test fit the shim and use one as the template for subsequent operations. Also make sure the shim only fills the area where wood would be under the hinge, you don’t want the shims going all the way out to the knuckle of the hinge where they would be visible. Once I had a small stack of these shims I could take a few test fittings and see how many I needed to pad out the hinge so it would be flush with the door jamb or door surface. I would then scotch tape the shims (if I needed to use more than 1) to each other and into the jamb using a small loop of tape. With the shim(s) in place the I’d use the same screw installation procedure described above.

Completed template.
Completed template.

What about the hinge pin door bumper?

A hinge pin door bumper is the little metal bracket with adjustable rubber pads on it used to stop a door from opening too wide and potentially damaging walls or furniture. Once you have your hinges installed you can use a transfer punch (or in a pinch a nail set, nail or another hinge pin) to drive the pin up and out of your hinge. You then put the pin through the bumper and gently tap it back down into the knuckles of the hinge.  Once installed you’ll want to adjust the bumper so that the door only opens as far as you want — the bumper may have some spring to it so if you have some heavy handed folks in your house you may want to test it so folks are not over powering the bumper and denting your walls. I put the adjustable side of the bumper facing the trim and the fixed side against the door.

Pro-Tip: Oftentimes I see these hinge pin bumpers installed on the top most hinge. In my view the top and bottom most hinges are under the most stress and when the bumper is used its putting even more stress on the hinge and screws. I prefer to put the bumper on the middle hinge as feel that it is in the best position to deal with the additional stresses.

Note that the spacing between the door and the jamb is consistent.
Note that the spacing between the door and the jamb is consistent.

Mind the Gap

As you are making these adjustments to the door you’ll want to watch the gap between the door and the jamb. Ideally you want this to be even all around — see photo above.

What to do if the gaps aren’t perfect?

Your house may have settled a bit causing the jamb to go out of square or it may never have been installed perfectly in the first place. If that is the case, use your judgement to do the best that you can. Ideally you want at least some space around the door on all sides so that it can swing freely, but you don’t need to obsess over it as houses will often continue to settle over time and functionality should be your top objective.

AFTER: Properly adjusted door with new Schlage 'Georgian' style knobs. The knobs and hinges are finished in brushed nickel.
AFTER: Properly adjusted door with new Schlage ‘Georgian’ style knobs. The knobs and hinges are finished in brushed nickel.

What if all the gaps look good, but now the door knob won’t catch on the strike plate?

If the strike plate is now way off, say 1/4″ or more– double check to make sure you haven’t misaligned anything. If you are confident in your work and happy with your gaps you could remove the strike plate, use the doweling repair method above, cut a new mortise and re-install the strike plate. This can take a lot of time and work and gets ugly as you don’t want to chew up a lot of the wood in the door jamb, graft on wood dutchmen or shims to fill gaps left by the old mortise nor do you want a lot of putty to fill the gap left by the old location. If the strike plate is only off by say 1/8″ or so you may want to consider filing the strike plate. You can take the strike plate off, put it in a vise and file the opening a bit so that the  latch now properly catches in the strike plate. Just be careful not to remove so much metal that you weaken the mounting screws’ ability to securely hold the strike plate in place.

Pro-Tip: Files only cut on the push stroke. After each push you should lift the file slightly and then pull back so that you don’t prematurely dull your file(s). Also be mindful that you don’t leave any burs and make sure you are cutting straight up and down in line with the existing opening in the strike plate.

By working through the above steps you should be able to fix most of the common problems you’ll encounter with interior doors. I know I am a lot happier to have all my doors properly closing and staying closed now. And the new hardware color also makes my OCD happy as the older brass hardware always bothered me as I have been slowly replacing/upgrading other hardware around the house to match that more modern design aesthetic and get rid of any remaining brass.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. This post will be the first in an occasional series of Handyman 101 and/or Woodworking 101 posts to help folks new to this sort of work get acclimated to doing common projects.
If you have specific requests for topics you want to see covered, please let me know in the comments or via the form on the contact page.

Black Belt Display Case

Who doesn’t like a nice curve?
I recently had the honor of building an appropriate display case for my friend Lee Lemoine who is a Tae Kwon Do black belt.  We talked a bit about what he was looking for, captured some dimensions for the coiled belt and looked at some sources for inspiration and then it was time to hit the drawing board.

Completed Black Belt Case
Completed Black Belt Case

I spent about a day and a half drafting and revising my design until I could find something that would work. The cabinet is wide but not too deep nor terribly tall so it was going to be a challenge to make the joinery work. I thought about making the back access panel hinged or sliding or secured in some other manner, but I really didn’t want to see any hardware on this piece. I bought some small brass hinges and a clasp and just didn’t like how it would look. After sleeping on it an idea hit me….to hide a magnet catch since this case will rarely be opened. I also had Jim Tolpin and George Walker’s writing (By Hand and By Eye) echoing around in my head as I worked out pleasing proportions for the overhang of the top, size of the curve etc.

Planing the stock to final dimensions
Planing the stock to final dimensions

After completing the plans, I planed all my stock and started working on the joinery.

Quick template to remove material for the magnet catch
Quick template to remove material for the magnet catch

For the magnet catch I made a template on the band saw and used a router with a template bit to cut out the recess.

Test fitting the magnet catch
Test fitting the magnet catch

The catch was captured and would not be seen from the front (shown below)

Preparing the core of the box to accept the top
Preparing the core of the box to accept the top

Next up was constructing the core of the box. The core box needed to capture the glass front in a series of dadoes. I also wanted the box to be serviceable if the glass was ever broken. I needed to keep the joinery simple and decided to go with pocket hole screws since that would allow someone in the future to take the top off of the box and remove the top of the core of the box as well. The overhanging box top is affixed to the core box via screws. The challenge with the screws was the interior of the box was only 2-1/4″ tall so I had to use a square drive bit in a set of vise grips in order to secure the screws through the core box and into the top. (I pre-drilled both to make sure everything lined up where I wanted it)

Cutting a strip of glass
Cutting a strip of glass

Next up was cutting the very long strip of glass for the front of the box. I used a stained glass ‘strip cutter’ which works much like a woodworking panel gauge with a fence.  You score the glass in one even stroke and break it as you would any other piece of glass.

Laying out the curve with a faring stick
Laying out the curve with a faring stick

Next up was laying out the curve using a faring stick — which is a thin strip of even grained wood that you can bend to make the curve you want, then clamp it in place and draw your line with a pencil. If you thin out the strip you can adjust the rate of curvature.

Cutting the curves on the band saw
Cutting the curves on the band saw

I cut out the curves using the band saw and cleaned them up with some spoke shaves.

Rabbet will fit into a dado on the back of the case
Rabbet will fit into a dado on the back of the case

For the back of the case I needed it to fit tightly so it doesn’t let any light in and also created a rabbet to keep the bottom in the correct place. The magnet catch secures the top in place.

Back removed to show how the magnet catch works.
Back removed to show how the magnet catch works.

Shown above you can see the box opened and below you can see it closed.

Rear of the case when closed.
Rear of the case when closed.

A small turned knob allows someone to remove the back and is often hidden in the shadow from the top — so when the case is on a table or similar you generally cannot even see it.

Small pull and clean lines on the back of the case
Small pull and clean lines on the back of the case

The piece is made from a single piece of cherry, finished with a Tung Oil Varnish and wax.

Master Lee describing what the belt means to him and the long road it took to get it
Master Lee describing what the belt means to him and the long road it took to get it

As I was building this case I was reading up on Asian design aesthetics and Tae Kwon Do (TKD) and all that Lee had to go through and master. As he rose through various levels of black belt he had to demonstrate skills and self control and continually work to learn and improve himself.

In my research, a concept that really jumped out at me was Wabi-Sabi — which represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.  The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. TKD comes from Korea, but from what I could find also has a similar concept in that country as well.

Lee presenting his black belt to his parents
Lee presenting his black belt to his parents

With all the clean lines and symmetry on this piece I wanted to incorporate a tiny little something to try and capture a bit more of that Wabi-Sabi aesthetic or at least some of that spirit. So between the top of the core box and the overhanging box top I inlaid a tiny veneer strip of mahogany. It’s almost imperceptible as it hides in the shadows from the overhanging box top. As I worked on the piece I felt it was a reminder of imperfect beauty, self improvement and a reward for anyone really exploring the piece in detail in their hands.

Lee presented the case with his black belt to his parents during a touching speech and I hear it enjoys a sunny place in their living room.

Cherry Black Belt Case
Cherry Black Belt Case

It was great to see Master Lee Lemoine’s ceremony and I have a whole new respect for what Tae Kwon Do offers and what students can achieve through it. If you’d like to learn more about TKD and specifically the Tiger Claw NH school where Lee is now a Master you can visit their website here.

Take care,
-Bill

Nashua Tool Show, September 2015

If you love old tools, the Nashua Tool Show is always the place to be. I used to get up at dawn and drive up from MA, but the past few years living in Merrimack, NH I’ve been lucky as the show is on my way to work so I can go extra early on Thursday and Friday morning before work.

We had some beautiful weather for the September 2015 Live Free or Die Tool Show and Auction.  Below is a recap of my semi-annual pilgrimage to tool nirvana:

A sampling of some of the wares you'll find out in the parking lot.
A sampling of some of the wares you’ll find out in the parking lot.

We interrupt this blog post for a quick Public Service Announcement:

The lot looked pretty full with some different vendors I had not seen before, but a few of my old favorites were not around. Apparently the hotel — the Nashua Holiday Inn — decided they wanted to try and make more money off of the event and start charging to tool vendors out in the lot for spaces and by the table. Many of these vendors are retirees who drive from around the country to be at this event, buy from the auction and pay to stay in the hotel for several days — most doing it for fun as I doubt what these folks are making off the tools goes too much further than covering expenses. Some of the elders of the tool selling crowd apparently spoke with the Holiday Inn management and threatened to move the long running event and management capitulated, which is good news. Unfortunately several folks had already left when they heard about the fees, and since this event is not overly advertised, they may never come back. Given my posts about the show seem to get a lot of hits around the time of the show I am hoping some folks may read this and return to the show in April. So if you get this message and know of some other vendors you didn’t see, especially those who may not be on the internet, please reach out to them as I want to see this event continue to be a highlight of the tool year. 🙂

This concludes our PSA, now back to the tools:

The first of three aisles of vendors out in the parking lot.
The first of three aisles of vendors out in the parking lot.

The first aisle closest to the hotel is where all the high end tools tend to live. The closer you get to the highway the more likely you’ll find a deal or a diamond in the rough. As a user more than a collector I do tend to buy from the vendors in the middle aisles.

Studley-ish Workbench
An almost Studley looking workbench. The seller said it was the first bench like this he was able to get in 30+ years of selling tools and that it had vises very similar to those on the Studley workbench. He also sold it at the show to another collector for a good amount of money.

Above is a great looking bench that had a vaguely Studley look to it. Apparently it also has vises with very similar hand wheels. The seller mentioned Don C. Williams book on Studley and said he was searching for a bench like this for the past 30+ years. Given the hunt I thought it was interesting that he already sold it to someone else for a pretty penny. I hope it gets cleaned up and back into service for the lucky person who picked it up.

Jugs of Johnson's Wood Dye
Jugs of Johnson’s Wood Dye

Above are some old and still sealed gallon jugs of Johnson’s Wood Dye.

A view of the till
A view of the till

An interesting tool chest for sale with LOTs of round headed screws for decoration and as part of the construction of the chest.

Side view of tool chest
Side view of tool chest

The carcass was dovetailed and the screws seemed to be backup support and decoration.

A view into the open chest.
A view into the open chest.

Interior of the chest. The lower tills were open trays. The top till had a lid and a single divider inside. On the front wall was a nice tool rack carefully sized for the various chisels and tools that once inhabited the chest. The hinges for the lid were also nice.

Interesting pattern of round headed screws on the chest lid
Interesting pattern of round headed screws on the chest lid

The lid also made liberal use of the round headed screws in an interesting pattern and likely helped protect the wood top as wood and other things were inevitably put on the lid and slid across the chest. The wood on the top looked to be in remarkably good shape.

Tool chests displayed by Bill Garrett of Sparrowbush NY
Tool chests displayed by Bill Garrett of Sparrowbush NY

Above are some chests on display by Bill Garrett of Sparrowbush, NY. You may remember him from this earlier post.

What I bought at the tool show this year.
What I bought at the tool show this year.

And now on to what I bought. I happy to say I didn’t spent too much this year and got some interesting items. From left to right: Some interesting books (The Barn, The First American Finishers Manual, The American Craftsman, and the Little Book of Early American Crafts &Trades). A new in package Bahco scraper, New in package Stabilia Torpedo Level (I’ve had one for years that lives in my toolbelt so its nice to have a spare/one for the shop), Ulmia Jointer Plane, ECE Shoulder Plane (Being of German Descent, and the fact that Americans don’t seem to like these sorts of plane, it has been interesting to collect and test out German style tools in my shop),  Inside/Outside Calipers similar to what you see in the Studley Tool Cabinet, Dixon wood marking crayons donated by a friend, Paring Chisel with modern handle crammed on, a nice box of small carvers slip stones, a nice big gouge for coping when timber framing, and a very neat brass stencil given to me by Cynthia and George Short that says “W.W. & C.R. NOYES, 2388, BOSTON” that was likely used to mark crates or similar objects. As I have been reading up on Civil War re-enactors who build their own furniture, crates etc it was something I wanted to try out. So if anyone out there knows who the Noyes were or what they sold I would be interested to hear from you. The prior owners contacted some historical societies and didn’t get a firm answer. I’m hoping to use it as a model as I eventually want to make my own similar stencil with my own name on it.  I’ll be sure to post about it.

Canvas print of a group of carpenters and joiners.
Canvas print of a group of carpenters and joiners.

And last, but not least the photo above, on canvas, though a modern reprinting of an historic photo. It’s a great shot of carpenters and joiners in the mid-late 19th century. I’m making that date assumption based on the architecture in the background and the more modern lumber they are sitting on. Even though they are sitting on a fairly modern looking lumber, likely to be used in a balloon frame, the men are holding slicks, mallets, draw knives, chisels of the scale used for timber framing, an earlier pre-bailey bench plane, framing square, bits with wooden handles, an adze, boxwood rules, a hand saw, a two man crosscut saw etc. It looks to be an amazing image of the time when things were transitioning from the old ways and heavy timber work to lighter construction methods. Other things of note in this picture are the various hats, pipes, aprons and overalls the guys are wearing. The guy in the first row, third from the left who looks like he’s in pretty rough shape. The well dressed man in the front row, third from the right  with no tools in his hand — was he the owner? Or the foreman?  Often the man with the framing square in a photo like this is the master, but the young man to the right of the well dressed man does not look like he’s the most experienced out of this lot. There is also an unusual building behind the head of the bearded man holding the two man saw that might help identify where this photo was taken. The seller thought it might be from southern MA, in the New Bedford or Fall River area. So if anyone has any further insights to add, please add them to the comments below.  The photo opens up as many questions as it answers and will look nice hanging up out in my workshop.

I hope to see you at the next Nashua tool show in April.

Take care,
-Bill

Virtuoso DVD

The Studley Tool-Cabinet and Workbench are the stuff of woodworking legend. I’ve seen the now famous poster of the cabinet in many woodworking shop, school and store.  It’s the benchmark by which every other tool cabinet is compared. I know it ran through my head when I was researching the Chandler and Barber Sloyd tool cabinet.

To gaze upon this woodworking masterpiece in person is to be in awe…

Don Williams gazing upon the Studley Tool Cabinet (Photo by Narayan Nayar and linked from http://www.studleytoolchest.com/)
Don Williams gazing upon the Studley Tool Cabinet (Photo by Narayan Nayar and linked from http://www.studleytoolchest.com/)

Or so I’ve heard. The cabinet has been in private hands in recent years and other than a grainy New Yankee Workshop DVD and the FWW Poster and Article there were not a lot of places to see it or learn about it.

Earlier this year Donald C. Williams and others organized an exhibit to coincide with Handworks 2 wherein a limited number of folks could visit the cabinet and bench in person. I would have loved to have seen it in person but New Hampshire is a LONG way away from Amana, Iowa and with an infant son at home I could not make a trip of that distance.

I did pre-order Don’s book “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley” by the Lost Art Press which can be described as high class tool porn. 🙂  It provides lots of background, research and in depth photographic record of each tool in the cabinet along with vivid photographs by Narayan Nayar.  The comprehensive book is well worth the read and can be inspirational to even non-woodworkers.  There are several reviews of it on other well known websites.

But for those wanting more instant gratification or those of us who don’t have as much reading time as we used to — these days with the baby I’m lucky if I can get an exhausted hour or so in front of a screen to watch something enjoyable, so I figured I’d take a gamble and check out the companion DVD — “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley” also by Lost Art Press.

Virtuoso DVD + Studley Style Caliper
Virtuoso DVD + Studley Style Caliper

The DVD runs for about an hour and fifteen minutes and feels a bit like a PBS style documentary. (Which is something I often enjoy).  It’s interesting to see how much emotion folks close to this project felt as they worked with the cabinet and its tools. Don Williams, Chris Schwarz and Narayan Nayar talk about what moved them, their favorite tools from the cabinet, their adventures in researching the cabinet and Studley and even some of the open questions they’d like to learn about if someone out there is sitting on a cache of Studley documents.   The disc also has a section wherein Don removes all of the tools from the main compartments of the cabinet and shows each tool to you — basically everything except the drawers.  It was very interesting to watch that happen in video as it gives an idea of how well the various trays, doors and holders held in their respective tools and how Studley layered the tools to make an incredible visual composition.  Given how hard some were to locate and get in and out I don’t think Studley loaded up his tools each day and night as part of his regular work as I am in the camp that views this as something he did at the end of his career to make a statement/preserve some of the tools, but it was interesting to see some areas did have some wear from repeated use. The video reinforced the inspirational value the cabinet provides and helps to showcase the quiet beauty found in these high quality and time worn tools.

My criticisms about the DVD are all pretty minor: The disc comes in a cardboard sleeve — I’d rather have had a plastic case so it doesn’t get lost on my DVD shelf or a digital download option instead.  The chapter transitions all use the same cover image with different text and were a bit slow to transition — and again that is likely just me being a tech nerd. Having attempted to edit a few videos for YouTube and for classes I have a lot of respect for anyone attempting to edit video as it is a VERY tedious process and everyone is a critic. 🙂

So, if you missed the Studley Exhibit in Amana, Iowa this video is the next best thing to seeing the cabinet and workbench in person and I’d recommend watching it.  Feel free to share your thoughts on the video in the comments section below.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. I bought the caliper shown in the featured image at this year’s Nashua Tool Show thinking of the Studley Tool Cabinet.
P.P.S. I bought the now famous poster from Robin Lee as part of the EAIA Annual Meeting Auction — now I just have to find some time to make a proper frame for it, so I can proudly hang it up out in the shop.
P.P.P.S I don’t have a direct association with the Lost Art Press other than Chris being a friend of mine and having bought a ton of stuff from LAP over the years. The links above generate no income for me and are provided for your ease in finding the book and DVD.

From Molding To Picture Frame

It’s always fun to travel back in time. This past weekend I traveled back to the 19th century as I participated in the Early American Industries Association Historic Trades Sampler Program at Eastfield Village.

On Saturday I taught a workshop on the use of traditional molding planes to make a picture frame.  In this post I’ll cover some of the highlights of the course and share some details for folks who might want to give it a try at home.

Demonstrating the use of a molding plane on a sticking board. (Photo by Carol Coutinho)
Demonstrating the use of a molding plane on a sticking board. (Photo by Carol Coutinho)

One of the joys of an event at Eastfield Village is to work by natural light in a beautiful and immersive setting — in this case Don Carpentier’s village of carefully moved and restored historic buildings — taverns, trade shops, homes and outbuildings.

Brian and Tom working with the molding planes.
Brian and Tom working with the molding planes.

After an orientation to the tools and classroom setup I demonstrated how to evaluate a molding plane and how to tune up an iron.  We also talked about the wide variety of profiles that can be created from even a very modest set of molding planes. The profiles below can be created using a beading plane, a pair of hollows and rounds (say #8) and a rabbet plane.

A sampling of how a few simple profiles can generate a large variety of frames.
A sampling of how a few simple profiles can generate a large variety of frames.

And with hollows and rounds the profiles are only limited by your imagination.

Students tuned up their planes, squared up their stock, and tested their plane setup on some scrap and set about making the stepped rabbet needed to hold the glass in place and the plywood back.  The plywood back is carefully screwed in place and helps created a very solid/rigid frame compared to the floating backs held in by stamped metal retainers we see on many modern store bought frames. The  long piece of plywood with an MDF fence and screws at the end to secure the stock is called a ‘sticking board’ and can be as long or as short as your project stock requires.

Don making a profile on the edge of his frame stock.
Don making a profile on the edge of his frame stock.

Next up students started molding their chosen profile(s). We talked about how to work backwards withe the molding planes building on the work of an earlier swipe, how to adjust irons as needed and how to get a nice finish on the profile.

Making the miters with a miter box. (Photo by Carol Coutinho)
Making the miters with a miter box. (Photo by Carol Coutinho)

With a fully molded piece of stock now it was time to layout your cuts and cut the miters. In this case students left the line knowing that we could creep up on it by using my Lion Mitre-Master (large metal frame-makers guillotine) or a shooting board with 45 degree insert to clean up the corners and ensure we have a nice tight miter at each corner.

Frame baking in the band clamps
Frame baking in the band clamps

With the woodworking complete, next up was a test fit in the band clamps and then final gluing of the frame. While the frames baked in the clamps it was time to cut the glass to size and test fit it. We did this with a self-oiling glass cutter and a layout I made on the bench. Once the glass was fit it was time to layout and countersink the plywood back which was made if 1/4″ thick Baltic birch plywood and secured with #6 1/2″ waxed screws. We used bit braces and egg-beater drills to make quick work of this step.

Hanging hardware came in the form of a self leveling hanger (Think saw-tooth that hangs on single nail) which is affixed with two tiny brads.  An appropriate finish would be stain and shellac or a nice bright milk-paint.

Tom with his finished picture frame.
Tom with his finished picture frame.

I’m happy to report that everyone in the class was able to complete their frame, and I had a great time working with Tom, Don, Carol and Brian. (Carol I’m sorry that I didn’t have any photos of you working to add to this post, but I did make use of some of those photos of me you share with me — thanks again) .

If you’d like to make a frame of your own the plans I put together for this workshop can be seen and downloaded from the link below.  The seemingly odd size of this frame was dictated by two factors — the smallest size glass I can get at my local home center is 10×12″ so if you cut it in half you wind up with two 6×10″ pieces which allows each student to have a spare in case their glass cutting didn’t go well and they need a spare or they find time to make a second frame. The size is also dictated by the sticking board and stock. I wanted something that would fit on the 8′ sticking boards I had and allow some extra space in layout and for cutting and to have a bit for testing/trial. The plans below could be scaled up or down to fit whatever size frame you desire.

Picture Frame Cutting Diagram
Picture Frame Cutting Diagram

Click here to download PDF Version of the handouts I made for this class.

If you make a frame of your own and take some photos of it, please share it in the comments below. It’s a great project that can add some unique personality to your pictures and add valuable skills to your woodworking repertoire.

Take care,
-Bill

The Noble Ax

The ax is a noble tool. One of, if not the earliest tools used by man it has been by our side since time immemorial. Different cultures mythologize different axes as part of their cultural heritage, from prehistoric cave drawings, to vikings to Native Americans to western pioneers but at their core the ax and its purpose is the same.  All of these cultures had similar needs– to provide food, shelter, and protection for its citizens.

Over time this commonality seemed to fade away, relegated to a cob-webbed corner of the barn or missing from the home altogether as many people live in a world where providing for food, shelter, protection etc is derived from modern trade and conveniences.  For those that remember their father or grandfather using an ax and want to re-capture that piece of their heritage, even finding a decent ax in a modern store will often only turn up cheap caricatures of what an ax used to be.

Rather than lament this loss I fell down the hand-tool rabbet hole many years ago and I have no intention of returning to ignorant life I led when I thought power tools and jigs were the best way forward. Sure I still have plenty of power tools for some mundane tasks like thicknessing wood in volume, but more often than not I reach for a hand tool — to enjoy the relative quiet (always good as their is a baby in the house), the energy efficiency (I can stand to lose more weight so burning calories is better than burning kilowatts), the speed, the accuracy and connection to the past.

Wandering out into the woods with an ax....
Wandering out into the woods with an ax….

Nothing I wax on about in this post is new or novel in the woodworking community, but it strikes a nerve for me that can at times be hard to articulate. A quote from early in Roy’s first book aptly summarizes a core bit of his philosophy that is near and dear to my own heart:

“I teach traditional hand-tool woodworking — how to start with a tree and an axe and make one thing after another until you have a house and everything in it. The satisfactions of this work are immediate and personal. You find the tree, fell it, shape the wood, and join it together. The mistakes and successes, the accidents and discoveries are between you and the tree.” — Roy Underhill ‘The Woodwright’s Shop: A Practical Guide to Traditional Woodcraft’

I owe a big debt of gratitude to Roy Underhill for helping me get in touch with my inner Carpenter/Joyner via his show, his books and in person classes. At NBSS I got real familiar with a felling ax and a hewing ax for hewing timbers, but I never took down a tree by hand using an ax. Even though I had the axes on hand I always used my trusty chainsaw. On a recent weekend of clearing trees in the yard I decided to get an item off my bucket list, grab my trusty Gransfors Bruks felling ax (sharpened/maintained so that I could shave with it if need be), and fell a tree by hand.

Bucking a tree into a log
Bucking a tree into a log

I wandered out in the woods and trimmed some dead branches to clear a bit of a path. Whack — nice clean cut and a lot less work compared to my tree saw on a pole. Let’s go bigger. I took down a small pine tree about 8′ tall. In a few minutes the tree was down. Still too easy. Let’s go bigger. A standing dead remnant of a tree. Now the blood is flowing and adrenaline is kicking in, but apparently there was no fear of death by crushing. Let’s go for something bigger still.  I found a medium sized (~40′ tall) eastern white pine that was between me and where I wanted to dump some stumps in the back acreage. I notched in where I wanted the tree to fall. Each strike with the ax severed fibers or popped out chunks as I worked my way into the tree. I then notched in from the opposite side, though higher, so the tree would hinge over where I wanted. Timber! Down it went. Time to de-limb it and buck it into a movable log size. Bucking the tree into logs was a similar process of working through the tree as I did when felling it, though this time I was going completely through rather than creating notches to pivot on.  Once I got the logs down to about 8′ sections I was able to drag them out of the way, put them up on some rocks to keep them off the ground and make use of this newly created path.  The logs will start to season over the dry winter and we’ll see if they become firewood or maybe some other use around the house or yard.

It was a great workout and came with a sense of accomplishment that stayed with me along with the realization that there are some muscles in my back and shoulders that clearly are not getting enough use. 😉 I felt more a part of a continuum dating back to those earlier generations who started at the tree and made all the items they needed to survive and eventually thrive. It also gave me a new appreciation for the amount of human energy invested in a lot of those earlier buildings.

If you have the opportunity to take down a tree by hand, I encourage you to learn how to do it safely and then give it a try and make something from some of that wood once it is seasoned. It’s good for the mind, the body and the environment.

If you’d like to learn more about the proper use of the ax or see the more eloquent and entertaining philosophizing of Roy Underhill you may want to check out some of these videos:

  1. Great Video Clip of Roy Underhill in Philosopher Mode talking about historic Axes. (I agree with Chris that Roy should have decimated that podium here.)
  2.  Roy’s Ted talk — ‘Have Broad Ax, Will Travel’  here.
Moving ever larger stumps
Moving ever larger stumps

What have I been up to when I haven’t been swinging an ax?

I apologize that I have not been blogging as much this summer as I have in the past, but with work, teaching, a < 1 year old baby and a big project in the works I’ve been spread thin. My free time has been spent on a different sort of project — one that will have been worth the wait. Since April I’ve been spending most of my free time, nights and weekends clearing land out in the back yard to make room for a timber framed shed/barn and I am finally in the home stretch. I’ve removed about 50 stumps, some of them as heavy as the tractor I used to dig them out with and I have cleared about a quarter of an acre of dense woods. It was a LOT more work than I thought, but similar to tree felling experience has been good exercise and a personal accomplishment I am proud of. A little more grading/leveling and blending the transition from yard to woods and I’ll be ready to break ground on a barn/outbuilding.

Finally some clear land...
Finally some clear land…

I’ll be documenting the process from beginning to end in video, in photos on the blog and with some content partners so I hope you will stay tuned for that along with the regular stream of blog posts.

I hope everyone is enjoying the warm weather.

Take care,
-Bill