“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” — Albert Einstein
I love teaching as is allows me to share my passion for traditional woodworking. This spring and summer I will be teaching several workshops I developed for the North Bennet Street School. If you have previously been a student in one of my courses and can share the information below with others who may be interested, I would very much appreciate the referral.
Instructor: Bill Rainford $425 Learn about traditional wooden shutters in this two-day workshop. Using traditional joinery, students build a sample shutter and learn the skills to layout and build shutters for your house. Discussion includes interior and exterior uses, fielded panels and louvered styles Students should be able to plane and square up a board by hand and have some experience laying out and cutting traditional mortise and tenon joinery by hand. Some experience with tuned hand tools and power tools is required.
Bill Rainford is a graduate of the Preservation Carpentry program and many PC and CFM workshops. A long time woodworker, Bill currently works on commissioned pieces from his own workshop, site projects, and personalized instruction. More Shuttermaking Workshop Info From A Previous Running of the workshop can be found here.
Instructor: Bill Rainford $400 Build a pair of heavy duty work-site saw horses and a pair of neatly joined nesting horses (or ‘Hurdles’) for using in the workshop. Learn various mortise-and-tenon joinery, trestle structures, hollow chisel and plunge router mortising, table saw tenoning, and laying out of splayed legs. If time allows, we also discuss additional fixtures/accessories. You’ll wonder how you ever worked without them.
Prerequisites: Either Fundamentals of fine woodworking or Fundamentals of machine woodworking or equivalent experience.
Learn the basics of building a traditional window sash. The sash you make can be used as a small window or a wall hanging. Skills learned include: milling muntin stock, layout from a story stick, mortise and tenon work, coping a profile, draw boring, making pins, cutting glass and the basics of glazing. If time allows, we discuss other styles and tips on fitting a sash to a frame. Prerequisites: Fundamentals of fine woodworking and Fundamentals of machine woodworking or equivalent experience.
Learn more about building a window sash here. As always my current teaching schedule can be found at the top of my blog on the page titled ‘Instruction‘. If there are other topics you want to see covered — either new workshops offered, or bring back a few I haven’t run in a while, please let me know. I look forward to seeing many of you in class. Take care,
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s that wonderful time of year — after Thanksgiving and before Christmas — where the Black-Friday and Cyber-Monday frenzy has died down and last minute shoppers are coming to the realization they’ll have to visit a brick and mortar store or start clicking on expedited shipping if they want their gifts to arrive in time for holidays. It’s also the time of year where bloggers offer their holiday gift guides, last minute project ideas and holiday drink recipes.
Fear not, I’m willing to attempt the holiday blogging trifecta with this post.
Gift Idea for the Woodworker In Your Life — Learn the basics of Drafting by hand
Earlier this year I made a 2 hour video ‘webinar’ for Popular Woodworking titled “Hand Drafting Skill Builder” wherein I talked about the basic tools and techniques required to draft by hand. I started with a terminology and supply overview, then walked through several samples and discussed appropriate practice exercises.
From the course description:
With the basic drafting skills covered in this course you can quickly and efficiently communicate ideas and generate working plans.With a solid set of plans in hand, your woodworking in the shop will benefit from all the design details you worked out on the drawing board, where changes are easier to make. Your wood rack and your wallet will also benefit from the decreased waste.
What constitutes a basic drafting tool kit
How to layout a good working drawing with standard elevations, scales etc.
How to properly draw lines and make use of line weights
How to dimension a drawing
Where to find more information
The recorded version of this course is now available online and you can learn more about the course and see a sample video here on ShopWoodworking.com
The above content is also available as part of a 9 piece bundle called ‘9 Key Tools For Better Furniture Design’ which includes a lot of other great resources for anyone interested in stepping up their furniture design skills and sells for half off of what the 9 items would cost individually. This bundle can be found online here.
Both of the above are digital download content so there is no waiting or shipping necessary.
Last Minute Holiday Project Idea — Cutting Boards
I bet you have a lot of scrap around your workshop — most woodworkers are also wood hoarders. A cutting board is a great way to use up some of that scrap stock that has been haunting your woodpile for way too long. It’s also a great way to make room for the next project.
Holiday Drink — Gløgg
This classic warm Scandinavian holiday drink is great at a party and everyone seems to have their own recipe for it. Here’s a good starting recipe.
With the holidays quickly approaching it’s time to don the holiday sweater, have a warm drink and a snack and start drafting the next project.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Throughout history many craftsmen (and craftswomen) have worn aprons as they ply their trade. A good workshop apron will help to keep some dust and dirt off of your clothes, keep your pencil(s), block plane and other essentials close at hand. It’s also an item you will spend a LOT of time wearing, so you better get something you like and make sure if fits comfortably.
For the past ten years or so my main apron has been the standard canvas apron from Lee Valley (seen below). Made in Canada this apron met all the basic criteria — covered by torso, had a pocket with a cover, has a pocket for my pencils etc. Over the years the pencil pocket has worn out at the top edges, saw dust finds its way into the pockets (and I empty it every so often), it has survived many a washing though the chest is becoming a bit on the thin side. All in all I have been very happy with this apron.
Since that time I also bought a Rockler apron that goes over the shoulder instead of around your neck, and a nice festool apron that wears a bit more like a vest. The Rockler apron was a pain to get on sometimes (the shoulder straps often got messed up, though I liked the idea of not having weight around my neck) and the Festool apron while nice didn’t cover as much and so I hardly ever wore these aprons and preferred to keep adding miles to the old Lee Valley apron. (Plus it was a Christmas present from my Dad).
I wear a lot of Carhartt gear — I find it is made better and lasts a lot longer than other brands I’ve had in the past. (I’m looking at you Lee Carpenter Jeans that wore out way too fast…). Where I live we have one of the few Carhartt owned retail stores which caries most of the lines Carhartt makes and sells. While much of the stuff they make is made overseas — they do still make a line of Made In the USA garments and accessories and whenever possible I try to buy from this line.
According to Carhartt’s web page, less than 2% of all the clothing sold in America is actually made in America — that is a very scary number. The only way more clothing is going to be made in the USA is customers seek out and buy more of the clothing made in this country. (I also like American Apparel and Red Wing who also still make clothing products in the USA) You can learn more about Carhartt’s Made in the USA line here along with an interesting video talking about how and why they still make some products in the USA.
During my most recent visit I saw they had a table full of Carhartt 125th Anniversary gear and accessories including the workshop apron above.
Also from the tag above that came with the apron some portion of the sale will help support Carhartt’s $25,000 donation to SkillsUSA which helps train students for careers in technical, skilled and service occupations while fostering “total quality at work — high ethical standards, superior work skills, lifelong education, and pride in the dignity of work” and promoting community service.
So far I am very happy with this new apron. (It was $34.99 — about the same price as my old Lee Valley apron which goes for $38 today) It is well made from Carhartt’s famous heavy duck canvas with rivet reinforced pockets. The fabric is noticeably thicker than my old apron and much longer though it does not seem to get in the way of my movements.
A nice wide (and soft) adjustable strap that goes around your neck along with a loop for hanging it up
Reinforced pockets (double layer of fabric) to help keep sharp objects from poking through the bottom.
A pocket much like that on my carpenter jeans — great for cell phone, utility knife or similar.
Along with my favorite feature — a loop for holding my combination square.
The apron ties in the back much as you see on other traditional aprons. I may get a set of plastic side release buckles as that was what I was used to, or maybe an Apron Hook but so far tying the apron behind my back has not been bad.
If you are in the market for a reasonably priced, Made In The USA workshop apron I would suggest checking this apron out before they stop making it — seems like it will be a limited run item.
P.S. They also seem to make a line of tool rolls and tool pouches out of the same materials. If you’d like to learn about making some of your own tools rolls and similar items for the shop check out these earlier posts.
P.P.S. Not related to woodworking at all, but Carhartt also made a nice Made in the USA duck canvas blanket that is sherpa lined and is my new favorite couch accessory.
Woodworking books tend to be on the dry side — and a bit saw-dusty. Tired of reading about this year’s Ultimate Power Tool, the overly complex jig you can’t live without or yet another shaker nightstand I often find myself digging around in old woodworking books or reprints for inspiration and a glimpse into the past. I find it interesting to see what other generations found interesting and what they took for granted.
When I heard that Roy Underhill’s latest book — “Calvin Cobb: Radio Woodworker! A Novel With Measured Drawings” a period novel set in 1930s Washington D.C. and the surrounding area was available I quickly snagged a copy.
I have a tendency to buy books faster than I find the time to read them cover to cover, and I ordered the hard-copy (forthcoming) along with the digital edition figuring I might find some time to read it via my phone as I am tending to our newborn baby at odd hours. The book moved along at a frenetic pace and I got through it in a couple of evenings.
Before I go much further I do have to note the following — I grew up watching Roy Underhill and visiting historic sites up and down the east coast. I remember seeing Roy’s work at Colonial Williamsburg as a child. Over the years I got into modern woodworking (yes I watched a lot of This Old House and New Yankee Workshop with my Dad) and not satisfied with that went deep into traditional woodworking chasing ‘rabbets’. As an adult I rediscovered Roy and found a new appreciation for his work and his story-telling. If you watch an episode of the Woodwright’s Shop learning about the project or technique at hand is only part of the experience — Roy is also filling your head with history, funny anecdotes, philosophical questions and of course ‘subversive‘ woodworking concepts.
We’re dumped out of a cab as we meet Calvin for the first time and follow him as he navigates the city, a section of strong personalities and some brushes with history. If you’re a fan of Roy’s storytelling style — a mixture of fact, humor, interesting and sometimes obscure details — I found myself Googling the occasional odd term like ‘ziggurat’ and ‘swagger stick’ and enjoyed learning about them — then I think you will also enjoy this book.
There is not much time to dawdle on the vivid details of Calvin’s world as he is surrounded by an energetic team of wounded female WWI vets with a penchant for computing, a mysterious woman who caught his attention, and the challenge of woodworking over the radio all while trying to hold down the government day job as the section chief of ‘Broadcast Research’. Let’s just say their agricultural muck-spreader gets a workout.
Since I know Roy usually has a story to tell on a few levels I felt a bit like a detective with a hunch — knowing a bit about Roy’s work and having met him a couple of times I had a nagging feeling that some of the story followed aspect’s of Roy’s own life — stylized of course given this is a work of fiction. Some of the evocative imagery also reminded me of my own trips through the area. So I put on my deerstalker cap and made some notes about what seemed to click with me as I felt like I had crossed paths with the world of Calvin Cobb on several occasions.
I read that Roy had grown up in the D.C. area and after reading the book’s description of the Old Post Office Building I kept thinking — wow, I know I must have seen this building at some point, but now I really have to visit it the next time I am in D.C.. In the photo above from my last trip to the Capitol I did snap a picture that shows how prominent that clock tower still is today. (At the time of this writing that building is being re-developed as a Trump property, but the tower will re-open again to the public next year as a publicly owned section of the building run by the parks service)
I also make an annual pilgrimage to Colonial Williamsburg and have visited the colonial Capitol building on many an occasion. It’s interesting to think of the restoration — which is historic in its own right given its age — as an active construction site. The carpenters in that building when Calvin visited acted much the same as guys I met while I was a preservation carpentry student. I still vividly recall Rich (the second year instructor) sending one of the students to another classroom to retrieve the ‘board-stretcher’ and on other occasions to pass the ‘screw hammer’ — so it seems that some things do not change with time.
I also recall, from a blog post on Chris Schwarz’ blog that an early version of Roy’s manuscript for this book was hanging on the wall in his classroom so I went back to look at photos from when I was at the Woodwright’s School and sure enough it was there — I wish I knew to look for it at the time.
And from that same visit I saw Roy with his trusty Stanley Multi-plane plowing a groove. Near the end of the book Calvin is thrust on stage and asked to wear a tool-belt which he sees as ridiculous in that context — which of course made me think of some of the occasional jabs Roy has made over the years at Norm who regularly wore a tool belt in the workshop though it seemed unnecessary and I thought it was a pretty funny reference. So why all the focus on Roy? I found it interesting that there seemed to be a lot of Roy in Calvin — maybe a revisionist/time traveling biography. Calvin struggles with his new-found stardom, pressures from the media superiors, communicating through media, meeting fans and trying to do what you love — all things that seem relevant to a certain TV Woodwright.
While you won’t learn much actual woodworking from this book (though there are some PDF plans that come with the book and tie into some of Grandpa Sam’s Woodshop of the Air episodes; the Roy faithful may be familiar with them from his books and TV show), you will go on an enjoyable ride through the late 1930s D.C., learn a bit about some of the woodworking tools, general technological advances and social issues of the time (segregation/racism, anti-semitism, etc), and may find a new appreciation for Roy’s storytelling abilities and fact that the truth is about as crazy as the fiction given all the absurdity he’s encountered over the years to bring us woodworking over the air via TV and now the radio too. Let’s hope that Calvin Cobb gets picked up for a second season so we can see what else he has in store for Grandpa Sam’s Woodshop of the Air.
As Calvin would like to say at the end of a broadcast: “This is Calvin Cobb wishing that, as you slide down the bannister of life, all the splinters go in your direction!”
P.S. If you have other anecdotes about Roy or Calvin’s adventures, or if you build your own ‘Liberty Ladder’ please share them with us in the comments.
Some tools have an interesting story to tell. The little known Stanley H104 is one of those tools. Below is another guest post by my good friend James A. Clarke who shared with me a detailed write-up on this 1960s Stanley bench plane with disposable cutters that worked much the way a Gillette shaving razor cartridge works today. The content below is mildly edited from Jim’s original text to better suit delivery via a blog post, but I tried to capture the essence of his message and included some additional images. I hope that you will enjoy learning about the Stanley H104 plane — “The Little Plane That Could!”
The Stanley “Handyman” H-104 Plane by James A. Clarke
Introduction to “The Little Plane That Could!”
This post is about the Stanley Tool Company’s “Handyman” Bench Plane Model H-104 offered in 1962 as a low cost alternative to their many other higher priced offerings. The so-called “do-it-yourself” movement was well underway following WWII through the 50’s and early 60’s, but by this time demand for higher priced planes was significantly reduced and thus gave rise to the need for manufacturers to appeal to budget-minded buyers with low-cost alternatives. It was also apparent that do-it-yourselfers and the “handyman” didn’t require the top-end line of tools for household tasks.
At this point it needs to be mentioned that Clarence Blanchard in his excellent publication “Fine Tool Journal”, Vol 53, No.2 Fall ’03, had a rather thorough coverage of this plane from the standpoint of how Stanley progressed the development from inception to production based on an actual production folder containing drawings and correspondence between various departments withing Stanley. This is recommended reading and can be found here: Stanley H104 Bench Plane Article by Clarence Blanchard.
Of interest, it seems that the plan began as a Model No. 140, but then was changed to the Model No. H104. (It is believed that it started out as a higher-end offering!) What is clear, however, is that the H104 had a relatively short lifespan (4-5 years) when Stanley discontinued it on June 13, 1967 due to poor sales. (< 20,000 were likely ever made). This plane is ‘collectible’ and the most sought after Stanley “Handyman” low cost plane due to its low production numbers and unique features.
Polished side-rails, painted (blue) based, knob and tote, red lever cap
About the same size as the standard Stanley No. 4 with cast-in non-movable frog
Distinctive low side rails (lower cost!)
Body 10″ long, 2 1/2″ wide, with 2″ cutter
Low cost alternative to Sears 4 sided throw-away cutter line of planes
Lever (Screw) cap — knurled 1/4-20 screw to tighten
Depth of cut adjustment with shouldered/knurled 1/4-20 screw (this was a poor choice as it had too much slack)
Tote & Front Knob Screws #12-24 threads
Author’s appraisal — this is a very nice low-cost plane for casual (“Handyman”) service. The disposable blades can be sharpened or replaced as intended.
This description is accompanied by the hand drawn sketch above labeled as ‘Figure 1: Stanley H104’
To make these planes easier to use and maintain, Stanley revived the disposable blade concept, at a reasonable price and called it the “Handyman ‘Ready-Edge’ Bench Plane.” How many were actually made is unknown (From Blanchard — Less than 20,000) since not everyone was of the “disposable” cutter ilk, although it did have its merits and thus more than likely had a serious following. The real appeal of this little brother to the “standard” line (maybe not so little at 10″ long) is the various design solutions used for cutter height and lateral adjustments — the nicely executing castings and machined parts. For a so-called low-cost tool, this was a keeper! The H104 is about the same size as the other No. 4 planes in Stanley’s many-fold lines, although slightly longer but much lighter in weight at 2 1/2 pounds versus 3 3/4+/-.
The H104 doesn’t have the traditional frog arrangement as used widely on Stanley and competitive bench planes. The fixed frog (making it a bit more like a block plane) is narrow, slanted (40 degree) “tower” cast as part of the base with two (1/4-20) tapped holes to accept the lever cap, the cap iron knurled blade adjustment knob. In this configuration there are three 1/4-20 screws:
Pan head screw to hold the lever cap in place
Special shouldered/knurled screw for adjustment of the cap iron/blade assembly
Knurled screw to tighten the lever cap against the cap iron/blade and thus against the frog at its top
This simple design was also effective. One of the quarrels I have with this configuration is the use of 1/4-20 threads which are not normally closely machined resulting in considerable slack (“backlash”) which is not appropriate for this type of application wherein adjustments are made frequently. (Especially when Stanley used a finer #12-24 thread for the tote and front knob screws where it doesn’t matter!)
The Blade/Cutter Cap Iron Assembly
Chatter must have been an issue with this plane as the uppermost tip (an area of about 1/8″ x 1/2″) of the slanted “tower” frog is the only part of the frog that comes into contact with the cap iron/blade assembly. This arrangement is only slightly stiffened by the attachment of the “Ready-Edge” blade to the cap iron that doubles as lateral adjuster and facilitates setting the depth of cut. It should also be noted that the cap iron is about the size of a credit card and only about twice as thick which is not a lot considering the minimal support provided for it.
The disposable “standard” 25 degree bevel-angled “Ready-Edge” blade has two sharpened edges allowing it to be rotated and re-installed into position via two small (#6-40) pan head screws. This arrangement provides a narrow semi-adjustable cutting edge (reveal) between the cutter edge and the chip breaker (~1/32″-1/16″) and thus satisfactory for fine, medium or coarse shavings. When new the plane came with an extra blade in the box and additional blades could be purchased — similar to a shaving razor. A limited amount of sharpening was possible although apparently not expected by the “Handyman” population.
Lateral adjustment was a simple to the point solution (compared to what was used on Bailey, Traut and Shade designs) utilizing a slot in the cap iron engaged by a shouldered machine screw.
An interesting refinement is the key-hole slot in the lever cap — this shouldered/countersunk recess traps the head of the pan head screws to prevent creep/movement of the lever cap when the cutter depth adjustment is being made. Stanley originally used a ‘key-hole’ design on their top of the line bench plane offerings, but then “patented” a new kidney shaped design around 1933 intended to eliminate creep. While none of these designs effectively eliminated creep the H104 design was pretty much fool-proof — when the lever cap was locked into place it could not move.
The Knob and Tote
The hardwood front knob and rear tote were painted dark blue to blend in with the painted base (not the usual Japanning) with “STANLEY HANDYMAN H104” embossed/stenciled in red or white on the tote and “MADE IN USA” in the bottom casting. The rear tote is somewhat awkward to the feel and definitely not of the caliber of top of the line Stanleys.
Another interesting refinement can be found under the the front knob — three little spurs cast in at 120 degrees apart around the perimeter of the indented knob seat — presumably to prevent the knob from rotating. This was an unusual detail usually reserved for higher end planes and backs up Blanchard’s allusion to this plane possibly being developed as a higher end plane and then being downgraded to the Handyman line.
The bottom casting is an excellent example of integral-base-casting and Frog “pillar” or “tower”with a raised boss around the tote and lateral brace ribs near the mouth that extend from side to side. The base side wall profile has a more modernistic look with rounded corners unlike the traditional curves you see on other planes. (This was likely a cost saving measure). The toe of the casting has the usual shallow curvature, but the heel has a blunted, almost squared off edge. Behind the frog a letter ‘U’ is cast and a ‘2’ is cast near the throat — presumably foundry casting numbers. The H104, although shorter, in profile looks vaguely like the Stanley No. 62 low angle plane, except for the side wall treatment and different bed angle — 40 vs 12 degrees.
H104 In Use
After sharpening and honing the blade at 25 degrees with a micro bevel at 30 degrees we were ready to make a few trial shavings. The plane was applied to pieces of 3/4″ x 6″ x 12″ of Pine, Butternut, Hard Maple, Soft Maple, White Oak, Red Oak, Ash and Cherry with honing taking place frequently but not for each wood sample. Skewing the plane was always necessary! Planing was done on two faces — the two long grain edges and finally the two end-grain edges. Planing effort was handicapped without the ability to vary the mouth opening — it is fixed, thus fine shavings were difficult to achieve. A variable mouth opening and more mass would be a significant improvements.
The plane performed as expected — adequate but not exceptional. It would be satisfactory for “Handyman” tasks (via sharpening or extra blades) but unacceptable for serious woodworking/cabinetmaking. The plane cannot compare to a finely tuned vintage Stanley Bailey or modern premium plane (Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, Clifton etc)
Taking into account all of the opposing forces in play as this plane was developed it seems like a great deal of engineering design and manufacturing-engineering went into this presumably low end, and unfortunately low volume plane. It seems that parallel developments inside of Stanley and economic forces from outside forced them to release this plane into the “Handyman” line even if it was originally intended to be a higher end offering. Nonetheless this plane inherited some subtle levels of engineering excellence that often go overlooked when compared to its higher end brethren.
It’s unfortunate that the times (economic and technological change — moving to power equipment) lead to an early demise for this tool — in another time it may have seen a lot more use and wider adoption.
Approximate value — $75-$150 (Higher if in excellent condition and with box).
Acknowledgements from James A. Clarke:
I would like to thank fellow member of the WNYATCA Club (Wester New York Antique Tool Collector’s Association) Tim Rhubart for bringing this little ‘gem’ to the light of day. If it wasn’t for that, this author might never have known or become interested in the H104 since it’s not on everyone’s radar as a need to have collectible. Tim agreed to sell it to me for a reasonable price, and with some preliminary observations it appeared to have a story that needed to be told, and thus here in this post.
This writeup is dedicated to Tim, my “favorite tool dealer” and friend for bringing it to my attention and the “giants” of research — Roger K. Smith, Alvin Sellens, John Walter, Clarence Blanchard, Patrick Leach, Bob Kaune, David Heckel and several others — although they are not all necessarily students of the “Handyman” line, their methods and approach to research on the study of planes has greatly influenced this author’s modest efforts.
Acknowledgements from Bill Rainford:
A big thank you to my friend James A. Clarke for sharing this material with me and allowing me to share it with everyone online via the post. Also a big thank you to Clarence Blanchard for giving me permission to share a copy of his article on the Stanley No. 140/H104 Bench Plane from “Fine Tool Journal”, Vol 53, No.2 Fall ’03 here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Learning to draw is akin to learning how to compose music. Everyone has to start somewhere and the rough earlier work will help you build up to more complex pieces. As a kid I loved to sketch — I would copy comic book images by hand. As I got older I wanted to flesh out designs in more detail which required the accuracy of technical drawing or drafting. In High School I first learned the basics of drafting. I took a quarter of mechanical drawing, a quarter of architectural drawing, and a quarter each of the AutoCAD version of each. The drafting skills I learned there have served me well ever since — both with pencil and paper and on a computer. Back then we had a machine that made actual ‘blue’ prints from our drawings and an old DOS version of AutoCAD that was even old by 1990s standards but the basics learned there served me well in later versions and even when using SketchUp today. I can still remember riding my bike 2 towns over with my best friend Jesse to pick up some drafting supplies including architectural templates so we could design houses in our free time. I still use those templates today.
I’m thankful that in the late 1990s the West Islip High School (NY) had a technology wing offering classes in drafting, electronics, woodshop, autoshop etc and that I had some great teachers — Mr. Gerard Weick and Mr. Edwin Ermanovics who taught Industrial Arts and fostered creativity. I loved taking those courses and I still have the ‘Industrial Technology’ award from graduation somewhere — likely at my mother’s house. 🙂
5 years later when I bought my first house I put the skills to use in designing a loft and a custom mantel. When it came time to pull a permit I had all my documentation ready to go. I had my plans reviewed the building inspector — he didn’t make a mark on them and said ‘Wow, I wish we had more people in town like you’ setting the stage for a great working relationship. Meanwhile at the table to my left I could see a professional contractor getting his rear handed to him by another inspector who apparently was not happy with that guys’ plans as it was covered in red ink and there was a lot of heated discussion going on. It goes to show that some careful planning and a clear drawing can go a long way to helping you efficiently go about the work you are interested in completing.
5 more years down the road when I entered the North Bennet Street School I was able to apply those lessons to my drafting exercises and much like riding a bike it comes back to you quite fast. While in the program we had to draft every major project we worked on by hand — that not only helped with speed and accuracy in drafting but it also created a body of work that is handy to refer back to when needed. I still have many plans and story sticks from my time at the school.
Today in my work I usually draft an project by hand on paper — I can get my ideas down faster that way. Most of the time the hand rendered drawing is sufficient. Occasionally I’ll take my drawing and enter it into SketchUp — either to poke around a bit more in 3D, but most often just for the 3D renderings to dress up a blog post or presentation.
The ability to capture you thoughts and designs in a visual representation is quite powerful. A well thought out design on paper can save you considerable time and expense out in the shop. It’s much cheaper to fix a problem on paper than it is in wood — both the cost of the material and the labor involved. A clear working drawing also allows you to communicate to someone else how to fabricate your design.
If you are looking to learn the basics of drafting by hand, I encourage you to check out the Webinar I am teaching on September 10, 2014 8:30pm for Popular Woodworking University here. During the live event participants will have the opportunity to ask me questions etc. If you cannot make the event live the folks at Popular Woodworking will also offer a downloadable recorded version of the Webinar.
The course will cover the basic toolkit for drafting by hand, talk about how to draw a line, line weights, sharpening your leads, cleaning up your mistakes, laying out a basic drawing, lettering, adding dimensions and basic skill building exercises that will get you on the path to generating your own plans. With this basic set of skills under your belt you’ll soon be on your way to composing a great set of plans that will serve you well and make you a better, more efficient woodworker.
If you’d like to learn more about this course, please check out the official description on ShopWoodworking.com here. [Editorial Note: Live event link removed since the course ran as a live event. The link now will take you to where you can purchase the recorded version of the webinar]
I look forward to seeing you there.
P.S. Mr. Weick and Mr. Ermanovics — Thanks again for all that you taught me — I hope that I am making you both proud as I look to share these skills with the next generation of woodworkers and craftsmen.
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