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From Flakes to Finish, Mixing Shellac

Shellac is one of my favorite finishes and sanding sealer. It’s goes on well, dries quickly and  is compatible with many other finish types. Many folks new to woodworking seem to be afraid of it for whatever reasons — bad experiences using stale shellac from a can, association with antique or high end furniture, fear of a water ring or simply not knowing much about it the finish, where to get it or how to use it. I’m hoping to clear the air a bit and encourage more folks to try out this versatile finish.

The most common way most folks have accessed shellac is via a can of Zinsser ‘Bulls-Eye’ shellac which is available from most big box and hardware stores. There is nothing wrong with this product when it is fresh, but it does have a shelf life, so make sure to read the date on the package and get the most recent jar you can find — after 1-2 years on the shelf the canned shellac seems to deteriorate, and even faster once you open the can. You can dilute the canned finish by adding more denatured alcohol to it, thus making it into a lower cut and thus a thinner/lighter finish.

I prefer to mix my own shellac from flakes which is a straightforward process and ensures I always have fresh shellac on hand and of the ‘cut’ I want. (More on shellac ‘cuts’ in a bit..)  When kept in a cool dry place shellac flakes will last for years. Once mixed shellac generally will stay fresh for 6-12 months in a tightly sealed container.

Supplies needed to prepare shellac
Supplies needed to prepare shellac

Where do you get shellac flakes?

Thankfully we are living in a modern hand tool renaissance wherein it seems more and more cottage industries keep popping up with high quality tools and supplies. In recent years I’ve purchased de-waxed shellac flakes from Hock Tools, ToolsForWorkingWood.com, Liberon, Rockler, Woodcraft and Shellac.net .  Sometimes there are seasonal shortages as shellac is a natural product that mostly comes from India and similar parts of the world and in recent years the price of good quality flakes has risen as the result of decreased output due to environmental factors. I most often use blonde or super blonde shellac on lighter woods and as a sanding sealer as it imparts very little color to the wood. I used darker shellacs like amber and garnet on cherry and walnut and similar woods where I want to warm up the color of the wood.

How do I mix up shellac?

With some fresh shellac flakes in hand I will measure out by weight the amount of shellac I want to make. For this example I want to make a pint of 2lb cut of garnet shellac. In order to do this I first needed to weigh out 4oz of shellac. (Remember to zero out your scale taking into account the weight of your empty measuring cup)

Weighing out for the cut you want
Weighing out for the cut you want

Next up I measure out 16oz of denatured alcohol by volume and put it in a re-sealable jar. I like to use glass jars with a rubber seal around them, often made by Fido and similar companies. I usually can get them in good sizes for very reasonable prices at places like ‘The Christmas Tree Shop’ and other discount retailers. The clear glass allows me to see how far along the flakes are in terms of dissolving and how much I have left at a given time.

Flakes dissolving in the alcohol
Flakes dissolving in the alcohol

Before adding the flakes to the alcohol I like to grind them up as much as possible being sure to remove any large lumps. By breaking up the flakes I am increasing the surface area of the flakes thereby helping the shellac to dissolve faster and not leave as many or any clumps in the jar.  In the photo below on the left you can see the flakes as they came from the supplier. On the right are the same flakes after I broke them up. Breaking of the flakes is a quick and easy process. I put the flakes in a strong container where the neck narrows a bit and I crush them using the bottom of my hammer handle. (Wood handle and clean) As I crush a bit of what I measured out I put it into the alcohol to start dissolving.

Shellac as it arrives (Left), Shellac after being broken up (Right)
Shellac as it arrives (Left), Shellac after being broken up (Right)

For the bigger lumps I use the head of the hammer to break them up, again trying to do this in or on a container that will not allow the pieces to fly all over the shop.

Breaking up the chunks
Breaking up the chunks

Once I have all the ground up shellac in the alcohol I swirl it around in the jar and then let it sit someplace in the shop near where I am working. Every so often I give it a quick shake until all the flakes are dissolved. Usually takes about a day and the finer you grind the flakes the better it dissolves.

Keep shaking until dissolved
Keep shaking until dissolved

Once you have your batch of shellac ready to go I usually decant the volume I want to use into a smaller container and filter it during that operation. The smaller paper filters can be found at better finishing supply houses (used a lot with auto finishing) or medical suppliers. I first heard about them at medical suppliers when I had a kidney stone and learned more that I ever wanted to about filtration.

Samples
Samples

When applying shellac by hand I normally make a rectangular rag from old (clean) white undershirts folding the rag to be the size and thickness I want and dip it into the shellac and apply via motions that are similar to using a paint brush. You want to avoid leaving streaks and making sure to take strokes that go from end to end on the piece. You’ll also want to sand between coats with 200+ grit sandpaper, 000 or 0000 steel wool or my new favorite — synthetic steel wool like Mirka Mirlon.

What ‘cut’ is right for me?

A ‘cut‘ or ‘pound cut‘ is the term used to describe the number of pounds of shellac dissolved into a gallon of alcohol. If you want a specific pound cut but don’t need a gallon you simply maintain the same ratio of flakes to alcohol. The table below will show you the most common cuts:

Alcohol (Vol.) 1 pound cut 2 pound cut 3 pound cut
1 Gallon (128 fluid oz) 1Lb. (16oz.) flakes 2Lb. (16oz.) flakes 3Lb. (16oz.) flakes
1/2 Gallon (64 fluid oz) 1/2Lb. (8oz.) flakes 1Lb. (16oz.) flakes 1.5Lb. (24oz.) flakes
1 Quart (32 fluid oz) 1/4Lb. (4oz.) flakes 1/2Lb. (8oz.) flakes 3/4Lb. (12oz.) flakes
1 Pint (16 fluid oz) 1/8Lb. (2oz.) flakes 1/4Lb. (4oz.) flakes 1/2Lb. (8oz.) flakes
1 Cup (8 fluid oz) 1/16Lb. (1oz.) flakes 1/8Lb. (2oz.) flakes 1/4Lb. (4oz.) flakes

I normally start off with a 2lb cut and thin it if I need a lighter cut.

Shellac.net has a nice description of some basic uses for common ‘cut’s of shellac:

In general a “2 Pound Cut” is a good place to start. Several thinner coats are often easier to apply and finish than few heaver coats. work methods, tools, weather, and environment will dictate your ‘pound cut’ preference. A 3 pound cut is generally reserved for priming or sealing of stains, and sap, or knots prior to painting, especially on softer woods. Always use a Dewaxed Shellac as a primer under paint or as a seal-coat under clear finishes.

And ‘Natural Handyman’ has a nice description of the most common uses of shellac here and the relevant snippet for common cut usage would be:

1-lb. – Pre-stain sealing, French Polish finishing
2-lb. – Pre-finish sealing; general wood finishing
3-lb. – Floor finishing; sealing knots & sap streaks
4-lb. – Sealing tough knots & sap streaks, stains

I hope the above has de-mystified some aspects of mixing and working with shellac and I hope that you will incorporate it into some of your own projects.

Time for me to get back out into the shop.

Take care,
-Bill

Building a Budget Spray Booth

I don’t like to sand. It is my least favorite part of woodworking. I use sharp hand tools and scrapers to cut down on how much sanding I need to do, but like death and taxes, for the woodworker sanding is a necessary part of the woodworking lifecycle. This summer I saved up some of what I made from teaching and bought a nice HVLP system. (FujiSpray Mini-Mite 4 with Gravity Fed Gun — more on that in a future post). With a nice HVLP I figured I could cut down on the amount of time I spend sanding a finish as each finish coat will generally go on faster and flatter with the spray gun. I figured I could just setup some cardboard or spray outside, but the New England winter set in and I had a LOT of finishing I need to take care of this season and too much stuff in the shop that I don’t want to get any overspray on so I decided I needed to build a proper spray booth in the basement that would not break the bank and could easily be taken down when I need the space back.

Formufit PVC Spray Booth Kit
Formufit PVC Spray Booth Kit

When looking online for some inspiration the main things I found were — tiny kits for model makers, spray corrals or zip fit walls or full blown industrial car painting booths — none of which really met my needs. I eventually found a company called ‘Formufit’ that sells a kit of specialty PVC connectors that would allow you to build a 7’x7’x7 PVC cube with a hinged door. It looked like a good design to start off with. I also wanted to add filtered air to help deal with overspray.

For Christmas this year I bought all the supplies I needed to build a nice home spray booth — thank you to my wife Alyssa for letting me buy them — and I’ll walk you through the process here.

Supplies
Supplies

The PVC fittings kit cost me $65.00 with shipping and you can find the Formufit Spray Booth Kit here. Below is a rough list of materials I put into this project. I had the tape, 2x4s, pine and screws on hand but added them since not everyone may have that on hand.

Spray Booth Materials List
Spray Booth Materials List

The total I arrived at was $264.62 which is a reasonable price considering how big this booth is and what it can do. I put together a nice time lapse video you can video by clicking here or via the image below.

Spray Booth Time Lapse Video
Spray Booth Time Lapse Video (Click photo to view video)

I’m quite happy with how the booth turned out and bet it will see a lot of use this winter.

If you attempt build your own here are some additional details which may help you along the way:

  1. Covering the floor — for $4 I bought a two pack of disposable painter drop cloths. The upper is paper that can absorb drips and below it is plastic to stop bigger spills. It was good for the price, but if you are not careful can easily be ripped so I found myself taping up some holes I made. Next time out I might get something heavier duty.
  2. Lighting — add some extra lighting above the booth so you can see what you are spraying. In my basement I added three 48″ 2 bulb flourescent fixtures with daylight color temp bulbs I had on hand and they did a great job illuminating the booth.
  3. Finding box fans in New England in the dead of winter is not easy. The only place I could find any was ironically at Walmart via the webpage pick up in store option. I bought 3 ‘Galaxy’ 20″ box fans which use 0.8amps and amazingly are made in the USA. They cost me $16.88 each. Even with the filters in place they are pretty quiet and move a good amount of air.
  4. I built a frame out of 2x4s to house the box fans and allow me to stand them vertically. The 2xs are attached with 3″ ceramic deck screws. The box fans are attached to the frame via #14 x 3/4″ pan head screws. I used holes already in the bottom of the fans to attach one side.
    Fan Housing
    Fan Housing

    On the other sides I used a starter punch to make a dent and then drilled through the sheet metal into the frame. That method worked great. When making the frame make sure you leave enough space for your hand to get to the control knob on the fan. The bottom is left long to function as feet and keep the bottom fan above the bottom PVC of the booth. I also zip tied the wires together and used a 3 way splitter to connect them. This way I can control the fans via a single extension cord. I also screwed on some wood scrap legs/supports to keep the fan enclosure standing upright on its own.

    Fan Housing
    Fan Housing
  5. Plastic Sheeting — get the thickest stuff you budget will allow. I bought 10’x25′ rolls of 4mil plastic which you can find in the roofing section of a large building supply store. I put one roll over the top and left and right side of the booth. From the second roll I cut out 9′ sections to make a front and back. I used the remainder of the roll to cover the fan frame and allowing overlap. Once stapled to the fan frame I cut out circles to direct the air flow and seal the booth. I used medium sized spring clamps to hold the plastic onto the spray booth frame.
  6. 1-1/4″ PVC was a little harder to find at the store, but once you had it in hand it cuts easily on a chop saw with a carbide blade. Cutting the pieces to length was easy via the plans that came with the kit. I could measure and cut one piece then use that as a template with a sharpie to transfer it to the others and cut off the sharpie line each time. Use a rubber mallet or arm strength to seat all the pipe pieces in the fitting. The only joints that were glued were the small pieces holding the hinges together. Everything else can be broken down or altered to fit your space.
  7. Filters — buy the cheapest filters you can find that looks like they’d actually do some filtering. Some were so cheap and thin you could see them. I bought two 3 packs of 3M filtrete filters that cost $7.99 for each pack and have some wire to help stiffen the filter as well. On the fan housing I tacked on some wood blocks that allow me to tape the filters in place. When the fans are on they hold themselves on so the tape really just keeps them from falling when the fans are off.
    Fans ready for testing. (Filter holding blocks in place)
    Fans ready for testing. (Filter holding blocks in place)

    For the intake air frame I just pocket screwed together some scrap pine I had in the shop being careful to tightly fit the opening to the size of the filters. I then tape the filters in place from the outside. This frame was hung from that PVC frame via a small bit of chain and some ‘S’ hooks.

    Frame for intake air filters
    Frame for intake air filters
  8. For the door make sure to use some double sided tape (or looped tape in my case) to keep the plastic on the door frame and make sure there is overlap so you can have some level of seal when the fans are on.
  9. Integrating the filter and fan frames. I put the wall sheeting in place, then places the fan frame where I wanted it. I then cut in like how you’d cut house wrap for a window and then stapled the plastic onto the wood frame thus making a good overlapping seal. The intake filter frame was hung up first, then overlaid with plastic and cut in, in a similar manner. With the door closed there is a pretty good amount of suction — you’ll see the plastic on the walls and ceiling suck in a bit, but that is good news and shows the power of the fans. (The clamps on the frame will keep the plastic from coming down on your head or your work.)

This was a fun project to build and I look forward to finally getting some more practice in with the spray gun.

Take care,
-Bill

IMPORTANT NOTE:
See safety disclaimer for the website here. The fans used here are not rated for flammable materials. I am only using this booth to spray water based finishes and a ways from the filters. If you plan to spray flammable materials you should do so outside or with a setup that includes a spark proof fan. Information provided on this blog is without warranty, so please use common sense when trying anything like this at home. If anything feels dangerous, do not do it. Also make sure to wear proper eye, ear and lung protection when working with finishes.

Organic Buttery Spread and Hide Glue

When I am out in the workshop and I need to glue something up quickly using hide glue or need only a small amount of hide glue where it is not worth the time and trouble to mix up some traditional hide glue from the pellets, I place a bottle of Old Brown Glue  (OBG) in my electric glue pot and let it warm up in the water. (When not in use that bottle lives in the workshop refrigerator to extend it’s life).

Old Brown Glue in my electric glue pot
Old Brown Glue in my electric glue pot

Once heated up the glue flows a lot better. The one thing I don’t like about the OBG bottle after heating is that it has a tendency to flow quickly and can quickly release way too much glue onto a given surface. Also after pouring out some glue, when you return the bottle to an upright position the air in the bottle has a tendency to shoot a blob of molten glue which can land on your project, your face, your cat, your wife — basically anywhere except the glue joint.

Hot hide glue ready to be used
Hot hide glue ready to be used

To combat this I normally pour some glue out onto the TOP of the lid of a plastic container. Usually Earth Balance Organic Buttery Spread (which is a surprisingly good butter substitute) or the lid to a container of Breakstone’s Sour Cream work well as they both have a depression in the center that keeps the glue on the lid. You want a lid that is made of a flexible plastic and one that has a logo that will not come off.  If the glue gets cold I can add some more warm glue and reinvigorate some of the glue that gelled on the lid but eventually the lid can get covered with glue that has cooled down.

The dried glue is easily removed from the lid
The dried glue is easily removed from the lid

At the end of the day whatever is left on the lid will sit until it hardens. In a day or so I can bend the plastic lid and peel off the glue as a big disc. If the glue is still fairly fresh you can reheat it in a glue pot and use it again or if it is old or contaminated by dust or other foreign materials you can toss it and start over.

I’ve been a big fan of hide glue in recent years — for its reversibility, workability, compatibility with finishes and historical accuracy. If you’d like to learn more about hide glue and its many properties and uses check out the book “Hide Glue: Historical and Practical Applications” by my friend Stephen A. Shepherd via his blog here.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. The woodworking community was sad to learn that Stephen A. Shepherd recently had a serious stroke. He is in our thoughts and prayers and we all wish him a speedy and full recovery.

Modern Make-Dos

A ‘make-do’ is a term often used to describe damaged items that are repaired to remain functional — usually due to a combination of what was available, economics and a sense of thrift. Some of the repairs were rather modest, some were ingenious. An archetypical example of a ‘make-do’ is a piece of mochaware or similar pottery with a tin handle grafted on. Nowadays some folks collect make-dos for their quirkiness, functionality and price relative to other antiques which I think is fitting.

Earlier generations seemed to have a better sense of worth — if you invested all that time and money into the item, why not try to get as much use out of it as you can? I wish more folks today had that sentiment — it would help us get away from our disposable society.

Several years ago I bought a Delta X5 ‘Professional’ 6″ jointer. It’s a nice machine with an extra long bed for a machine of its size and generally well built. One big shortcoming on this machine is the large knob used to advance or retract the fence.

Delta X5 'Professional' 6" Jointer
Delta X5 ‘Professional’ 6″ Jointer

Within a few months of owning the machine this knob developed a crack. Apparently the knob was formed over a pinion gear that engages a rack connected to the fence.

Broken Knob
Broken Knob

When the knob slips you cannot advance the fence. At first I made do with the tape solution — ‘It’s only temporary unless it works‘.  I lived with this headache for several years, running out the machine’s 5 year warranty in the meantime as I knew a replacement knob meant pulling that pinion and getting a knob that would likely fail the exact same way.

Knob removed
Knob removed

While at NBSS I saw several of this same model jointer come and go as donations — units from the 1980s-present and all seemed to have the same affliction — broken or missing knobs. The really old iron stationary tools (including old Delta/Rockwells) we had, had knobs with metal handles that served their purpose for generations.

Band clamp variety pack
Band clamp variety pack

I figured there must be a better way to fix this knob and make-do. So I picked up a variety package of band clamps and test fitted them to the knob. The 1-1/16″ size fit perfectly. I applied some CA glue to the knob, attached it to the jointer and cinched down the clamp.

Band Clamp Test Fit
Band Clamp Test Fit

It’s not pretty, but it’s a a great make-do solution — I finally have a working fence adjustment knob again and it cost me less than a buck.

Working fix
Working fix

I wonder if my make-do will become a collector’s item for some future generation of tool collector.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. Why did I finally fix this knob after all these years? Yesterday the spring pin on the tilt wheel of my table saw was sheared off. Not from cranking overly hard on it, I assume due to metal fatigue. Apparently spring pins are not as common as they used to be as Delta no longer stocks the part, and other online tool parts suppliers and my local Home Depot, Lowes and True Value all did not have any in the correct size.

Spring or Roll Pins Variety Set
Spring or Roll Pins Variety Set

When I was ready to give up and search more online sources like Grainger or auto part stores I found that Harbor Freight was selling a set of 315 spring pins for $7, so I bit the bullet, went over there and bought the spring pin kit and a band clamp kit which was on sale for $5.99. While I would have liked to have purchased American made hardware for both of these projects I could not find anything else locally stocked that would fit the bill, so for about $13 these machines are up and running again and I have a drawer full of spares for the future. The old spring pin was driven out by using a roll pin punch and a hammer and the new pin was inserted by compressing the pin with some vise-grips and some light hammer taps to insert it. Both machines are back up and running and the shop is humming again.

Table saw tilt adjustment knob
Table saw tilt adjustment knob

If you have similar make-do tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Rocking Horse 33 Years In The Making

First off, I want to share some good news with everyone — in late August my wife Alyssa gave birth to our first child — a son named Bradley who came in at 10lbs 15oz and 23 inches long!  We’re both proud parents and my wife and the baby are both doing well. With the new baby, work, and teaching this semester,  I haven’t had as much time to blog as I would like. As things are calming down and and the cold weather sets in I’ll get some more time at the computer and will catch everyone up on what projects I’ve been working on. In the meantime I wanted to share with you one of the few family heirlooms I have — in this case my old rocking horse.

Oak Rocking Horse
Oak Rocking Horse

I’m convinced that Woodworking skills and appreciation for woodwork are hereditary to some degree. When I was a child my Dad — William D. Rainford — made a very nice rocking horse for me. The horse was constructed from solid oak and was just about complete — the woodworking was done, the seat was on there, but the horse lacked his eyes, mane and tail. The horse worked great and as a child I fondly remember riding on it.

Front View of Oak Rocking Horse
Front View of Oak Rocking Horse

With the impending birth of my son I bugged Dad to finish off the horse, teasing him that he had 33 years to finish it — that’s how old I am right now. I’m happy to report that my Dad came through and finished the horse off properly — he now has his eyes (which we are all still amazed that he had and was able to find after all of these years), a nice mane, leather ears and even a bridle.

Close Up Of Rocking Horse Head
Close Up Of Rocking Horse Head

I look forward to when Bradley is old enough to ride it. Right now it’s keeping watch over the other toys in Bradley’s room. Speaking of Bradley’s room and finishing off projects, I need to finish building the crib for Bradley before he outgrows his bassinet and starts giving me a hard time for not finishing off that project.

Take care,
-Bill

Woods the Difference?

As a woodworker we spend our time working with wood. But how well do we know this material? Do you know how a piece of wood is going to plane? Do you know how it will react to changes in humidity? Did you pick the right piece for the job? Is it the right species? Before I got into traditional woodworking I thought the old-timers spent an incredible amount of energy to do the most basic of operations and I was thankful for all the power tools at my disposal. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Many of our traditional woodworking forefathers had what seemed to be a much better connection to the wood and how it could be used and worked.

“They were friends, as only a craftsman can be, with timber and iron. The grain of the wood told secrets to them.” – George Sturt, 1923

The old timers used this knowledge to work the wood more efficiently with the tools they had on hand. They took advantage of wood’s strength in joinery, took advantage of planes of weakness in splitting wood, worked green wood when it was advantageous and dried wood as needed. They selected species suited to the task at hand and availability, they used parts of the tree like crotches, taproots and burls for purposes they were supremely suited for. They read the grain of the wood as they sized it up and felt how it handled when planed by hand.

This information is not dead to us in the modern world, but it takes some digging to find good sources and there is no substitute for getting out in the shop, experimenting with as many species as you can get your hands on and developing that close relationship to the wood. The woods are still out there waiting for you to make that connection.

The first step your journey to understanding wood is to learn the basics — what are the most prevalent wood species in your area and what are they most often used for? The info-graphic below is a great first step on this quest:

Wood Differences Infographic
Wood Differences Info-graphic — From http://www.furnitureuk.co.uk

The next step is to understand and identify the woods you have to work with. The seminal modern references on both of these topics were written by R. Bruce Hoadley in his books “Identifying Wood: Accurate Results with Simple Tools” and “Understanding Wood: A Craftsman’s Guide to Wood Technology”. Both are excellent additions to your woodworking library and wonderful reference books, but if you plan to read them cover to cover be prepared for some sometimes dry reading material. I love that I can look up the coefficient of expansion of a given species but that is not an everyday need. If you want a more craftsman to craftsman introduction to wood as a material you might want to check out With the Grain: A Craftsman’s Guide to Understanding Wood’ by Christian Becksvoort. This book gives a nice crash course in how wood grows and works, how to identify common species and even a bit on how to grow and harvest your own wood.

What if I don’t want to share in all your fancy book learning?

While I am a bookworm I know that is not for everyone and that’s fine too. The board itself will tell you many of its secrets if you know how to listen. Grab a board you have on hand and go through the basic exercise of flattening it with a plane. The board will tell you its grain orientation — it will tear out if you are going against the grain. Spend some time with the board. Let it sit overnight in your shop and see if that flattened board moves at all. It will tell you when it reaches equilibrium with your current shop conditions. Experiment with your favorite finishes — the wood will tell you how it likes to react to that finish. Each minute you spend working with this material it will reveal more information that helps you improve your relationship with the material. If you are patient, spend some quality time with your hand tools and your wood, your skills and relationship will improve. In time you’ll be able to size up a board at the lumber yard and visualize how you are going to use it. You’ll break out your planes and get a feel for a given piece of wood — is it planing nicely or does it need to be coerced? Have you finished the board in such a way that your finish will turn out the way you want?  Does the species have the characteristics you need for this application? The investment in this relationship will pay dividends throughout your woodworking career. Your ability to listen to the secrets the wood has to share with you will make all the difference in the speed, results and enjoyment you get from your woodworking.

It’s time to get out into the workshop and and start that relationship….

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. A big thank you to Peter JS for sharing the above info-graphic with me. His company made the above graphic for their client furnitureuk.co.uk and said that we could share it here on the blog.

First Hand Sloyd

When investigating history there is often no better source than a first hand account. In this post I’d like to share with you a first hand account from my friend James A. Clarke of what it was like to participate in a manual training based program back in 1947. (If you are new to the blog or would like a refresher on Sloyd please check out some of my posts on this topic here) All of my experiences have been fairly recent and/or from research into a lot of Salomon and Larsson’s writings and from old North Bennet Street School newsletters so to meet someone with first hand experience from when the original movement was going strong is quite the treat.

Manual Training Scissors Holder
Manual Training Scissors Holder

Here are Jim’s recollections of the manual training and one of the projects that survives:

Sloyd — Manual Training (Woodworking)

J. Clarke’s Recollection of Early Woodworking Training While in Public School Grades
As a small boy in Toronto, while attending Bowmore Road Public School (from Kindergarten thru 8th grade), between about 1941-1949 I also attended Manual Training Classes held at Norway Public School a few miles (walking distance) from home. How often this was, I’m not sure (can’t remember) — maybe about once per week in the 7th or 8th grades?? One thing for sure it was in 1947, at least, because there is an item still in our possession (a wall hung scissors holder) dated that year, made by J. Clarke. I do remember, however, the teacher being very disgruntled, and disappointed in me because I elected to draw and paint the chamfers (bevels) on the item, rather than use the chisel and plane, because it was easier! (I was always looking for the easy way out!)

Whether or not this was a “Sloyd” program is not clear, but certainly was a “Manual Training” program of the Toronto School System.  ” — by James A. Clarke, July 2014, Age 79

James A. Clarke sharing his love for woodworking with the next generation.
James A. Clarke sharing his love for woodworking with the next generation.

 

In most Sloyd and similar Manual Training programs the teachers were encouraged to modify the set of models they used to suit the personality needs of the class and tastes of the local culture. I don’t know if the project below was from a book or developed by the instructor, but it certainly is in line with the other models I’ve studied in the extant publications on this topic. (I scanned through what I had but didn’t find this exact project — if any of my bibliophile friends find the project, please share it here as that would also be interesting to check out)

Jim shared with me the following photos of the wall hung Scissors holder he made back in 1947:

(The photos above were taken by James A. Clarke, scanned from hard copy by Bill Rainford both in 2014)

It looks like it was a well designed project and has survived the test of time. If you’d like to build your own version of this project — either for yourself or with any children or grand-children who are on their to becoming Sloyders — Jim has also drafted up a very nice and very detailed set of plans which you can download here:

Scissors Holder from James A. Clarke

If you wind up making your own version of this Scissors holder, please drop me a line or leave a comment as I’m sure others would be interested to see it as well.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. Thank you again to James A. Clarke for sharing this material with us. Jim lives in Hilton NY with his wife Margaret. Jim is an avid tool collector and generous with his time and knowledge. I have his phone and email address but I am hesitant to put that on the open internet, so if you’d like to contact him directly please send me an email or leave a comment and I can provide that info in a less public way. (I don’t want him to wind up with lots of spam etc)

 

 

The best $1 you can spend on your workbench

I recently finished off my never-ending project — building a proper workbench. I snapped some photos figuring it will never look this pristine again. Time to press the bench into service…

Things started off great, but I wanted to set my jack plane to take a heavy cut and see how just how aggressive I could get before the bench started to move. I’m 6′-1.5″ tall and 240lbs, so if I really get going I’ve moved many a sizable bench over the years. At 7′ long and made of solid maple the bench has a good amount of mass. The problem I have is a very smooth concrete floor which provides little traction for wood.

With a concrete slab I won’t be bolting the bench to the floor so I needed an alternative. I ran through several alternatives in my head but couldn’t come up with a good solution that didn’t jack up the bench. As I sat on my sawbench looking around the shop I recalled a blog post by Chris Schwarz from earlier in the year wherein he put some sandpaper on a shim and have very good results. (You can see Chris’ post here). Sandpaper didn’t get much traction on the concrete floor, but it triggered a different thought. Years ago Rockler marketed a ‘routing mat’ which was effectively an expensive roll of rubber drawer liner. The cheap Yankee in me promptly went out and bought a roll of drawer liner for a couple of dollars and he has served me well for a decade or so now.  I went to my router station, grabbed the mat and cut out four squares roughly the size of the foot pads on my bench. I put them under the bench and repeated my experiment…

Rubber mat can help your bench stay put
Rubber mat can help your bench stay put

To my surprise it worked great. The weight of the bench compressed the pad so much the bench height is negligibly higher off the ground. I was able to aggressively plane some hard maple scraps left over from the bench and it was solid and stationary. I’m sure someone who really wanted to move it enough could find a way, but the increase in traction was impressive. If you’re also living with a concrete floor in the shop you’ll want to give this a try — it’s about the best $1 bench upgrade you can make.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. I’ll make some posts about building the bench, but right now I have a some competing priorities taking my much of my time. We have a baby on the way in August, I need to build a crib, and I’m teaching for much of the rest of the summer. I’ll be posting as I get some free time here and there but it may be in spurts.

P.P.S. In digging up the the blog post above from Chris I learned that I am not the first to do this sort of thing with various forms of rubber padding — nonetheless the simplicity and the results were still worth sharing.

1805 Taylor Old Up and Down Sawmill

One of the hidden gems of Derry NH is the 200+ year old Taylor Sawmill. It’s one of the last surviving and working up and down sawmills in the region and likely the country.

Taylor Sawmill, Derry, NH
Taylor Sawmill, Derry, NH

Powered by a large water wheel, this mill still operates for demonstrations and the occasional bit of restoration work.  It’s amazing to see and hear this mill in action. There is a distinctive noise as the saw makes each powerful stroke like clockwork, and it’s almost scary as you can feel some of the vibration through the floor and feel the air move as this massive timber frame saw blade oscillates up and down.

The mill is powered by a large water wheel which is fed by an adjacent pond.
The mill is powered by a large water wheel which is fed by an adjacent pond.

The blade itself is held in tension by a massive timber frame. You can think of it as a giant frame saw. The blades could be changed based on the type of materials being sawn and desired finish quality results. In the video below you’ll see the mill operating at one of its slowest speeds. Each blade was set and sharpened by hand. As the saw cut the timber, the ratcheting mechanism (driven by the massive geared wheel in the bottom left of the photo below) advanced the entire timber into the blade via a moving carriage.

Up And Down Sawmill in Action
Up And Down Sawmill in Action

The mill itself sits on land in Derry NH purchased by Robert Taylor in 1799. The mill started operating in 1805 and had a fairly long service life. The mill site and 71 acres around it were purchased in 1939 by Ernest Ballard. By that time the original mill itself had been scrapped. Ballard eventually found a similar up and down sawmill in Sandown NH and moved it to the Taylor site. Ernest and his wife spent several years restoring and rebuilding that sawmill. He had to make the missing parts and track down a viable water wheel. Thankfully he persevered and was able to complete this project. In 1953 he donated the mill and 71 acres around it to the state of NH, thus creating Ballard State Forrest.

Back in 2010 I visited the mill with a class of North Bennet Street School students and took several photos and videos which I have edited together into a YouTube video that you can watch  here which includes the water wheel and saw cutting a timber.

 

It was an incredible sight to see, and a great place to have a picnic or do some kayaking. If you are in the area, please check it it out. You can learn more about this mill and plan your visit by visiting it’s official web page here and the Wikipedia entry here.

Take care,
-Bill

Getting the Most from your Combination Square

A combination square is such a ubiquitous tool that many woodworkers take it for granted and do not get the most from it.

Starrett Combination Squares and Accessories
Starrett Combination Squares and Accessories

I recently wrote an article on this topic for Fix.com and thought you might also be interested in reading it. In the article I talk about some of the more interesting uses and accessories that will help you get the most out of your combination square. You can check out the full article here.

Some of you might be asking — ‘What is Fix.com?’

The semi-official marketing answer is:
“We are Fix.com, a lifestyle blog devoted to bringing you expert content to make your life easier. We’’ll cover everything in and around your home, like landscaping, gardening, outdoor activities, home maintenance and repairs. From products to projects, we’ll be providing you with a daily fix of content from our experienced and knowledgeable team of writers.”

My less official answer is:
It’s a new blog site with a distinctive visual style that caters to folks who are passionate about woodworking, cars, exercise, fishing, gardening, grilling and motorsports. It will be interesting to see where this site goes as they produce more content and get a wider base of readers.  If you have a few minutes, it’s worth checking out.

Below is a sample of some of the visuals from this article:

My trusty Starrett Combo Square in the limelight

I’ve got some more articles in the works with Fix.com and you’ll be able to check out those posts as they get linked to my Fix.com author page here.

Take care,
-Bill