Fair Woodworking

April 13, 2017

The 3 Minute Dovetail Challenge

Filed under: dove tail,dovetail,Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development,Video — fairwoodworking @ 8:13 pm

Seven months ago I got a little hooked on cutting fast dovetails. You may think it’s silly, but it’s no different that racing the 1/4 mile or timing how fast you can complete a level on your favorite video game. Shortly after I started, I competed in the WIA Handtool Olympics and was very surprised when I won the Dovetail competition with a time of 5 min 41 sec.  That is a good time, even a very good time, but for some reason I didn’t believe it was what should have been a winning time. I’ve written before about how I’m not really comfortable with the idea that as a joke, I have blown way out of proportion.

You do realize you are reading the immortal words of The Champ right?

By the time I’d returned home from WIA, I’d become very dissatisfied with my accomplishment, although I was still thrilled with the Bad Axe Saw I won! I knew I could do better, I needed to do better to feel that I’d earned one of the nicest saws I’d never paid for.

Since that time I’ve cut countless dovetails in secret. I’ve studied tape both my own and that of the masters, I’ve tried new techniques, and reworked old ones. Really, I’ve a little bit obsessed on a silly little task to see what I, an ordinary guy with very ordinary skills, could do.

I had to bite my lip when I discovered that a regular guy could get under the 4 min mark. I had to sit down and stare at the wall for a while, when I reached 3 min 30 sec, and wonder how this was possible. I remember the day I discovered that I was just 9 seconds short of Mike Siemsen’s time, and had to go back to re-watch the video to be sure it wasn’t running slow. (In Mikes defense, if you have ever really watched that video, you will see that Mike made a couple mistakes he’s probably never made in the past ten years, and had it not been for that, he would have come pretty close to Franks time.)

Somewhere during this process, I had passed that arbitrary number that I thought was a “respectable” winning time, but there was still the Holy Grail. My hero! Frank is the supreme grand poobah of dovetails.

And that was my White Whale.

When you get in to the 3 min mark, every movement counts. The 3 min mark is a time I hit a lot for a good long time. Really after that point you feel like you have to take the rotation of the earth into account to improve. 2:36 is a time that I knew had the potential to elude me for years.

If you’ve watched the video you now know that just about anything is possible.  As I mentioned in the video, it was just a test run. I’d hit a bit of a wall and as I mentioned, I have found that recording a run gives you a chance to see what you are doing wrong.

Apparently I did something right this time, but I also saw some little nagging issues that I’ve been working on resolving.

I know I goof off a lot here on the blog and on other forms of social media. I talk a lot of trash, and claim to be some big shot. I’m just having fun. Most of what I say is at best a partial truth, but this next statement is as real as I can make it.

There is an amazing amount of skill locked inside of your hands. It will remain locked until you put in the work to release it. No amount of positive thinking will do what a little hard work and determination will do.

You can’t because you don’t, not because you don’t believe. Belief comes from seeing the accomplishments you previously thought were impossible.

I’d also like to give a shout out to those of you out there in Instagram land that seem to have grabbed a hold of this idea and are diving into this challenge already. Watching you guys (hopefully one day it will include some girls) fills me with glee. Let’s make the next Handtool Olympics a blood bath of killer times!

April 9, 2017

Consider pins first with a withering eye

You are not getting any younger. Unlike myself who is ageless and perfect, you are getting older with every word you are reading. And so, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with same old arguments in pins vs tails.

Actually that’s not true.

Although whenever I’m looking to make a dovetail look or fit really good, I’ll pretty quickly go to tails first. But in the case of the historically accurate dovetail, good enough was good enough for 99% or possibly even 100% of the time. I think perfect dovetails, as much as I love them, are a modern misinterpretation of a historically un-exotic joint.

Recently while discussing the low Roman work bench the thought came up that on such a low bench, it’s nearly impossible to transfer from tails to pins because it’s so low and doesn’t have a vise.

So there you go.

Strike number one for tails-first. You need just the right type of bench to transfer. Conversely you could transfer from pins to tails while sitting on the sidewalk nearly as easily as any of your most functional workbenches. Now that I think about it, I can hardly think of a step in tails first that doesn’t call out for a better tool or a slick new idea to make the next step easier. You need a vise, and some thing to rest the tail board on while you transfer so the other end doesn’t wobble in the air. You need shallow rebate, you need a thin marking knife, you need dividers. And that all seems odd seeing as they are promoted by being easier than pins first because you don’t have to perfectly cut to the lines on the tails.

As true as this is, I gotta stop you for a sec…

Are we not woodworkers? Are we not to at least some degree Handtool Woodworkers? Have we not belittled power tool only types with how we don’t need to know the angles of cuts because we just strike a line and cut to it? Is not the line of the dovetail striken, striked, struck… for our sawing pleasure?

Yes, with all the gizmos, tails first is easier for beginners, but you should only be a beginner in the beginning. Once you get some experience, sawing to a line shouldn’t be that difficult. We really need to get past this very weak argument.

Ever try to saw to a knife line in bad lighting? That’s right. You need a work light to get that sweet raking light. But you only need the raking light for the knife line. In most woods a pencil line is easier to see, especially as you get older and your vision starts to fade. But a pencil won’t fit between the tails when we do those smart looking narrow London pattern dovetails. Not a problem if you’re pins first.

It’s just a thought.  I’m probably wrong. But what if the predecessors of our hard core pins first advocates didn’t really care what method was easier for the apprentices to learn. What if what they really cared about was that their method be possible no matter where the next job took them. Good bench, no bench. Good raking morning light, or a grey cloudy day. Young clear eyes of an apprentice or the weak old eyes of the master.

As I’ve gotten older, and I resisted accepting that I may need reading glasses. Switching to pins may be worth considering for my withering eyes.

Ahh… Who am I kidding? I got two work lights. I can see anything!!!

And this bench! What can’t it do?

And that reminds me!

Why the Hell would I be transferring pins OR tails on the sidewalk?

Honestly? I don’t know if I ever will strictly choose one or the other.

January 26, 2017

5 Dovetail Techniques and Tools You Don’t Really Need. 

As the Undisputed Dovetail World Champion, I feel that I have a duty to give back of myself to the dovetail world. It’s the least I can do to with the position I now hold.

Ha, ha. Ya right.  Just as soon as I’ve finished getting my nails done.

Really I’m just thinking back to when I first dreamed of the day I’d be a real woodworker that knew the “Dark Art” of dovetails. It’s funny now how mystical they seemed at the time. One of the reasons they seemed unobtainable was that it seemed to require so many tools. I’d attended the demonstrations, watched the videos, and I’d sat through the sales pitches. I did the math on what my first set of dovetails would cost in tools, and at over $800.00, I’d still be without a workbench, a marking knife or even a mallet.

It took a few years to be able to afford all the tools in the “beginner” set, but along the way I managed to find an affordable mallet (no longer available), and a marking knife. $500 later I had a usable workbench as well.

All told, it must have been about 5 years from the day I discovered the idea of dovetails to the day I cut them, and that’s just silly.

It didn’t need to be that complicated.

  1. You do need a workbench, and if you don’t have one, I’d highly recommend downloading The Naked Woodworker video. Had I just had access to this one resource when I first started, I’d be years ahead of where I am now as a woodworker.
  2. You will need a vise, or holdfasts like are shown in Mike’s video above.
  3. You need a Dovetail saw. Duhhh…. You can’t go wrong in product or price with the Veritas Dovetail Saw
  4. You need a Chisel. Ya, just one chisel, if you have a set already, please don’t throw the rest away, but if you don’t, just get one 1/2″ chisel. That’s all you really need to get started. Again, you can’t really go wrong with Narex if money is tight.
  5. I like using a Fret saw to remove the waste. Rob Cosman sells a pretty good one on his web site,  although I’d personally pass on the Hockey tape…
  6. You need a square. Would you believe you can lay out your dovetails with just a square? Ya! I’ll show you how later, but even the angles can be laid out fairly accurately with just the tip of your finger and your average square.
  7. You need a pencil. I like using a mechanical pencil because the mark it leaves is uniform. It never dulls, so it fits everywhere the same, line after line, after line.
  8. You need a mallet. NOT a carvers mallet, and NOT a hammer. I like a larger mallet, or even better, a mini sledge.

Oh and one last thing…. You NEED flat and square material. As a beginner, this should be the most challenging thing to get your hands on, but the flatter and the squarrrr’errr your material, the better off you will be.

That’s it. That’s all you really should need to get started, but there are other tools you will see out there, all of them I use regularly, that you don’t really need to have to get started.

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  1. Dividers – Dividers are great, but they add steps to your layout. If money is tight, you can get by for now without them.
  2. Rebate plane – First introduced to me as the “140 Trick” it’s used to make a shallow rabbet on the back of your tails. This aids in holding them against the pin board so it doesn’t slip while transferring the layout. It’s a really good trick when done properly, but Rebate planes are tricky to set up, and learning to use them well can be a hard learned skill. Again, it’s a great trick, but if done incorrectly will make learning dovetails all the more difficult.
  3. Marking knife – I found using the marking knife the most difficult skill to master with dovetails. It’s a real trick to mark all your lines accurately without accidentally moving the tail board out of alignment, and really that is a big reason people use the 140 trick. If you just want to cut some dovetails, the transfer is way, WAY easier with a pencil. You can learn how to use a marking knife later if you want.
  4. Dovetail marker – Remember how I said you can layout your dovetails with just a square? I’d much prefer to use and Dovetail marker as it is way easier, but if you don’t have one yet, don’t let it stop you.
  5. Marking gauge – You use a marking gauge to create the base line for your dovetails and also your pins. I have a few of them and they are great, but lately, for through dovetails, I’ve just been using my chisel.

Again, they are all great tools to have, they are all very, very useful, but you don’t really need them to learn how to cut your first dovetail.

If you would like to see how you can cut a reasonable dovetail with just 8 simple tools, I made yet another dovetail video.

Enjoy…

December 18, 2016

Photography for Woodworking Fools. Got’a’light?

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 10:53 pm

Well the year is almost over and I find that of the three topics I promised to write about, I have written about exactly none of them.

Shame, shame on this bad little blogger, so with a micky of rum in hand, here we go…..

About a year and a half ago I wrote about some of the things I’ve learned about taking pictures in the shop. It has been one of my more well received posts, so I thought I should add a little more, especially since I really botched one of the tips. For years I’d just used my work light for all my lighting needs, because I thought that having proper lights would be too much of a hassle for the benefit they would allow.

And that broke a very important rule in my shop.

Only have opinions about things you have tested and proven to be true or false.

After acknowledging my sin, I ordered the cheapo set recommended by Chris Schwarz, and have been using it for about a year. For starters, it is as horribly cheap as it ever could be. However they do work, and so let’s go ahead and see what I think about them in my shop.

But before we do, if you only have the money for lighting or a tripod, screw the lighting. FOR HEAVENS SAKE GET THE TRIPOD ALREADY!!!

Anyways, what really discouraged me from getting a lighting set was how much trouble just having a tripod in the shop was. They have a very wide base and in a small shop their legs are always just one inattentive step away from tripping over. Then there is storage. Opening and closing, finding a spot to keep it where it wont fall and break. It sucks, it’s a pain.

It’s worth it.

This set comes with two floor stands and one smaller stand, three fluorescent lights, two umbrellas, and an utterly useless case. Forget about the case, I did, and had a problem finding it so it could be in the picture. Again, forget about the bag, it is the least of the issues, but don’t get me wrong, as bad as this set is, I don’t hate it, as bad as it is, let’s move on.

The build quality of the… well… everything is as horrible as it can be for the price, but with a little care I’ve managed to get by.

What you see before you is a bunch of cheap plastic that is just daring you to over tighten a knob until it prematurely snaps. Handle with care.

See that one smaller round knob?

It holds the umbrella, and by hold, I mean leverages against the umbrella rod in hopes that it can split the head apart. DO NOT TIGHTEN THIS KNOB. Get it close, and then notice how the power cord hangs against the rod? That will hold the umbrella in place in most cases. If not, some tape or something. That will work better than the mini knob of destruction.

The stands themselves are also very light duty, but with care not to over torque them open too quickly, they should be ok.

I’ve read some reviews that complain that this set does not have the lighting capacity they had hoped, and it’s true with three 45w bulbs, it’s a little dim, but since we are all good little boys and girls who use our tripods, we don’t have to worry about that. The trick is to get a good balance of light vs shadows for the shot you are after. You can compensate with the camera if you have a tripod.

I did however change the bulbs to get a little more light mostly for video. In my original post I said that I used an old-fashioned 100w bulb in my work light, but the problem with incandescent bulbs is that they get really hot, and that is not ideal when you are setting up light stands, for a quick picture and then tearing down again. Also that amount of heat could melt the cheapo plastic.

Stupid cheap plastic.

In the end I chose to switch to LED bulbs, but when considering this change, it’s a really good idea to consider what color of light is in your shop.

On the left is the fluorescent bulb from the lighting set. On the right is my old 100w incandescent. In the middle the LED light that I now have for all my shop lighting.

The color of your lighting is very important for photography. Your camera can adjust for the color of your lighting with the setting called “White Balance”, but only for one color. Many bulbs now will have a color rating in units of the Kelvin scale. A high number will be whiter (colder) a lower number more yellow (warmer). The fluorescent bulb here is rated for 5500k, the LED 3000k, and the incandescent is probably 3200-3500k(?).

Anyways, I prefer a warmer light to work in so I switched ALL my lights to the same 3000k bulbs. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find them in more than the equivalent of a 60w.

The bottom line is you will get better richer color out of your pictures if all your lighting is of the same color. Keep in mind that there is a Kelvin rating on sunlight as well. Unfortunately it varies through the day, and also in different weather. I prefer photography in my shop after dark since I never get enough sunlight to not need electric lights.

With our choice of bulbs made, what’s the deal with umbrellas?

Well the problem with using my work light is that it has a very direct light. It’s great for working but it causes very harsh shadows, and very concentrated bright points. The lighting stands with the umbrellas diffuse the light. It widens the angle of the light source, and softens both the shadows, and also the lighter, more reflective areas.

Here’s a great example.

Look how over exposed the top of that piece of wood is. At the same time the toe of the saw is almost lost in the shadow of the dark room. There is nothing pleasant about this picture. The over exposed areas and glare is distracting. Shame on me for ever taking this picture! Even worse, I posted it on Instagram. Yuck!

Speaking of Instagram,

Here is another picture I posted there a while ago. It’s not perfect, I’m still learning as I go, but it’s just so much more comfortable.

Here’s another one.

Often times I’ll even just use one of the light stands with the umbrella set at a fairly low angle. It throws a long soft shadow that I really like.

If you use your shadows correctly, they can really help define the details in a picture.

I’m getting distracted with my awesomeness…

Each of the two umbrellas were supplied with these clear plastic sleeves. DON’T THROW THEM OUT!!! I’m very careful to always store them in the sleeves to keep them clean. Don’t touch the white of the umbrellas, and don’t leave them out of the sleeves any longer than you have to. Once they are dirty, they won’t spread a nice even light anymore, so be a good lad and practice safe umbrella-ing.

So what am I really saying?

Just like tripods. Having to set up lighting, step carefully around it take the shot, tear it down, and safely stow it away sucks unbearably, it is necessary it if you want your photography to improve. It will take practice to utilize properly, and quite possibly, it will suck the will to live out of your very soul, but in the end…

It is worth it.

 

 

November 25, 2016

That’s How We Do

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 6:17 pm

I learned my trade from my father in Hungary. It was a pretty rough going because after I start apprenticing with my father, I had no more father, I just had a master. The first time I made a drawer he threw it in the corner. He told me, “That’s no good. You gotta be a lot better than that”. Once I learn how, then he told me, “It has to be a lot faster”, because the good craftsman not only do things well, but do it with a speed.

Frank Klausz 

This quote is from the DVD Dovetail a Drawer, available from Lie-Nielsen

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For a multitude of reasons, very few of us have a story even remotely similar to Frank’s. Apprenticeships of this nature are very rare, and few of us have fathers that are at a high level of skill to teach us. Far too many of us are Google apprentices.

By that I mean that we search for woodworking nuggets and try to add them to our woodworking from an international cesspool of woodworking knowledge/anti-knowledge. The problem is that while even if every answer Google gave you was correct, they still would lack the context of your shop, and your workflow.

For example, toothing a bench top. I’ve never tried this, but it comes from a respected source, and I would love to test it. I even bought a plane specifically for toothing, but my current bench is made of soft wood, and is wondrously grippy. With such a soft wood, I suspect that the toothing wouldn’t really add anything, and the toothed ridges would be so fragile they would simply break off. My last bench was maple and working on it was like walking on ice. Hey Brad? Be a good fellow and tooth my bench and get back to me on how it works will you? That’s a good fellow.

What I am saying is that a toothing plane has very little value in my shop.

So if Google or the forums is not a good teacher what should we do?

I really think the best thing ever would be to have a highly skilled woodworker with at fully equipped shop, that would let you work along side them, but for most of us that is a pipe dream that will never ever come true.

For the rest of us, I think the best compromise we can find is to sort through all the mess of opinions on the web and from all of that, pick a master to diligently follow. Edit – Not because they know everything. Simply because you have to start somewhere.

Pick someone you respect, one that has a proven track record of work history, especially one that shares your woodworking interests. Finally, find someone that has well documented their work so you can get an exhaustive view of their shop life, their work flow, and techniques. Edit – Someone accomplished in works, and prolific in sharing what they have learned from their works.

Pick one, and strive to follow them as closely as you can. If they use wooden planes, learn to use wood planes. If they use a bench that is pinky high, build yours pinky high. If their bench is nipple high, well…. ya, give’er a try… chances are it will work with whatever other techniques they do. Pinky high techniques will not work with nipple high benches, and nipple high techniques will seem ludicrous on a pinky high bench. Edit – Once you are well established, you will easily see a good idea that will fit your work flow. As a beginner any hair brained idea can lead you astray. 

Don’t mix and match. DO NOT MIX AND MATCH! And for heaven’s sake, avoid the recommendations of other beginners even/especially if they seem to make more sense than those of more experienced woodworkers. Edit – See edit above. This is a lesson I’ve learned over the past 10 or so years. Many of those years wasted chasing contradicting techniques.

Choose your master wisely because it will be a large investment of time and money, but so is buying tools that won’t work with your workflow.

There are not many choices that you will be able to find. I personally, would fall short on pretty much all of the criteria, but if you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, it should pretty obvious who I have chosen to follow. If this is your first time, I pretty clearly laid it out HERE, so there is really no need to rehash it.

From there, take whatever classes you can get your hands on, and apply whatever you can that fits to the base of what you have learned from your adopted master.

Do your level best to not get distracted. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing, and as you learn you will find others that will supplement fairly seamlessly to what you already have learned.

These days there are three guys that through all the white noise out there I strive to listen to. They don’t all agree on every topic, but they do for lack of a better term, “harmonize” nicely.

Chris Schwarz obviously is the first. (Resisting the urge to break into a Barry White solo…)

Frank Klausz is the second because while he is not as prolific Edit – prolific in his teaching, his down to earth and simple opinion Edit – based on his accomplishments, cuts through all the mumbo jumbo. His father said do better, so he did better. His father said be faster, so he got faster. There is no discussion about talent or natural aptitude, and I suspect that while we see him as a woodworking god, really he is just an average guy that chose to develop his hand skills. Skills that first felt foreign, diligently practiced into second nature movements, in hopes of avoiding the wrath of an impatient master. The first time I watched his videos I thought they didn’t apply because he was so matter of fact with what you as a beginner should do, that he must have forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner. Now I can see that he hasn’t forgotten a thing. In my words I’d say “we can’t, because we won’t”.

 

Thirdly is Konrad Sauer. Konrad is more than a pretty face, in pretty boots with long flowing hair. Konrad to me is an extension of what I’ve learned from Frank. There is almost no limit to what we can teach our hands to do. Perfection is not flawlessness. Perfection is the opposite of compromise. And no matter how skilled you get, to achieve your very best work, it will still be a little terrifying. If you don’t follow Konrad on Instagram you should.

That’s how we do!

Edit – It may seem like I’m selling myself short by narrowing who I chose to learn from. I think there are two ways to look at this. I have a limited time on this earth to learn what I’m going to learn about woodworking, so I can choose to learn almost nothing about everything in woodworking, or I can learn as much as I can about a few things in woodworking. If that means I’m selling myself short so be it. One of us is the reining Dovetail World Champion, and the rest of you are not… I’m laughing as I type this. It just never gets old, Well at least not to me. I’m such a dork! Ha, ha, ha.

And now to help the non Barry White fans get my attempt at humor…

For the rest of us, here is a great chance to watch one of the great tenors of our time die a little with every lyric he sings.

 

 

September 27, 2016

Just call me Champ

Yes I know, much has happened in the past week, and yet again I am at the center of it. I hate to brag about it since I’m sure you already know. I understand how the Monday morning water cooler talk was all a buzz about where you were, and what you were doing when you learned that Fairwoodworking became the Dovetailing Champion Of The World.

You already know about all that, so I need not mention it.

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Well I’ve come to learn that winning was the easy part. The parades, the ceremonial mall openings, the charity golf tournaments and working the international talk show circuit (I’ll admit my Mandarin is a little rusty), meeting with government officials and running from all my new found dovetail groupies. It’s not a life I’m familiar with, but don’t worry.

I’m still Jenny from the block.

I’m not changing and neither is the blog.

Well.  Not much anyway.

I’d prefer it if you did call me Champ, and also please don’t look at me directly. Oh. And only speak in hushed tones.

The blog will remain fully accessible to all… that pay their subscription fees on time.

Yes it’s business as usual here at “Champion Of The World Woodworking”.

Did you guys catch where I compared myself to J-Low?

She wishes.

Are you buying this?

I’m certainly not.

While I greatly appreciate the donated prize of a 14″ BadAxe Sash Saw, I really don’t get how a 5:41 time with a 2 card deduction won. You can argue that I’m being modest, or more accurately falsely modest, but I assure you that you have misunderstood. I think my results under the gun, with people watching was fantastic. My only goal was to perform at a level that I could look back on and know I had done the best that I was capable of. Oh, and I really, really, REALLY wanted to better my good friend Neil Cronk.

Done, and DONE!!!

By the narrowest of margins (1 second and 4 point deductions) I win, and this time you can’t claim to have the nicer fit.

EDITORS NOTE – If the next time I’m spotted in public, I have shards of an award winning stool sticking out of the side of my head, don’t call the police. I deserved it…

The thing is I am not especially talented, and also anyone who has seen me work at anything knows I progress at a snail’s pace. I’ve been working on the same chest of drawers for over a year now, and I’ve yet to finish the carcass. The only things I brought to the table was the accumulation of two key skills, a well thought out game plan, and an average of cutting two joints per day for 14 days.

If there is one thing I can brag to the world about it’s that I came prepared, but by that logic, I should also be bragging that every day I manage to leave the house with both my shoes on the right feet.

I should not have won this event, and if I get the chance to compete again, I hope I am obliterated by one of you out there.

Then I’ll crack you on the head and steal your prize!

So let’s see if we can’t bring this in for a landing.

After the completion of the Handtool Olympics, I got a chance to thank Mike Siemsen personally for running the competition. As we talked I commented that as fun as it was to practice and then compete, such a rushed process has no real value to real life dovetails or woodworking. Mike very kindly stopped me right there and in words I have now forgotten, he essentially told me, “you’re wrong, you’ll see”. Since that time I’ve had some time to consider it, and I now believe him to be correct.

Even if you never compete in a dovetail race, you can learn from it, and in the next while I hope to share with you the skills and strategies necessary to cut a fast’ish dovetail.

The first two skills I mentioned above.

  1. Learn how to start a square cut free hand. (for cutting the tails)
  2. Learn how to cut straight down free hand. (for cutting the pins)

If you are looking at this skeptically, hoping that I will tell you that “You can do it big guy!!!”, don’t bother, you can’t.

However, if you are willing to try, and fail, and try, and fail, and keep trying until you succeed? Who knows what will happen.

Either way, hand wringing 101 is one blog over from here.

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Additional thanks to Popular Woodworking for a great Popular Woodworking in America I hope to come again next year!

 

HEY! WAIT A SEC! WHO SORTED THESE GUMMIE BEARS!!??!!

I SAID ONLY GIRL GUMMIE BEARS!

I’LL HAVE YOUR JOB FOR THIS!

DO YOU REALIZE WHO I AM?

I OWN THIS TOWN!

September 10, 2016

The Man in the Mirror

Short story, I’m a lame techno geek, and I’m too easily obsessed with things that probably were intended to just be fun.

See? That wasn’t so painful?

Ok. Long story?

Hand tool skill is the culmination of many finer, smaller skills that can really be a trick to pull together. As a beginner I was just happy if I didn’t cut myself. As you improve, your internal skill monologue grows, and good motions are obvious in a sea of bad motions. That is if you can remove yourself from the task at hand and watch yourself working. Unfortunately, that level of self awareness is pretty much impossible so you really only have two options. Get someone as skilled as you or better to watch you work, or film yourself with your handy digital camera as God intended.

For the past week I’ve been practicing cutting fast dovetails to compete in the Handtool Olympics at the upcoming Popular Woodworking in America, and I’ve found right off the bat it was less about working fast as it was removing every best practice that was not absolutely necessary.

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No Marking gauge

No dividers

No Dovetail markers

Marking knives are a no, and…

My beloved shallow rebate on the back of the tails?

Gone.

Heck! Tails first is even out the window since I’m pretty sure pins first is faster.

All I’m left with is a Dovetail saw (no crosscut saw), a fret saw, one chisel, a pencil and a mallet.

I feel like such a minimalist!!!

Once I got comfortable, I was sure I could be faster, so I tried to work quicker, and wouldn’t you know it? My times got slower… How could that be?

What I’m coming to realize is that speed is not about rushing so much as it is about removing the slow bits. The hesitations, the missteps. When you make a mistake or are inefficient with your movements the penalty is wasted time, and possibly the need to fix a mistake.

So I got out my camera and shot this little video. It’s pretty easy to see where I’m loosing time.

How I handle the wood, keeping track of what side is the inside, and what is the show side. – If you always place each piece down exactly how you will need it, you don’t have to rearrange later.

Hesitations and lurches with the saw. – I’d thought my sawing skills were pretty solid, and they aren’t really that bad, but it still isn’t a true extension of my arm.

Transferring the pins to the tails. – What a mess, I really need to relax at this point.

How I handle the chisel. – I’m actually pretty happy with it. I feel I’ve really improved in that part although I totally blasted past the base line on one spot of the tail board.

Anyways, feel free to have a look and see if you can pick out some of the flaws in my actions, then chuckle to yourself when you see that I split the pin board.

Ah well. It happens some times.

Who would have thought I’d have so much fun practicing?

 

If you want to see how the pros do it, watch Mike Siemsen go head to head with Frank Klausz.

August 7, 2016

How I flatten a board. THE MOVIE.

Filed under: Skill development,Video — fairwoodworking @ 6:37 pm

So yesterday, as I came to the end of my day, I finished with resawing some boards that will ultimately become the raised panels for a frame and panel back I’m doing. I find resawing to be very stressful to the wood itself, and it takes a day for it to come to grips with its own new existence.

IMG_2863 copy

With nothing left to do but one final sweep up, I often will sit back on my shop stool and enjoy one last of my favorite songs, or two.

Today, with the boards nicely bent out of shape, they have come to grips with their new thinness, and are ready for flattening once again.

As I was working I started thinking about one of my most read posts. It’s an overly wordy, post with a million and one pictures on flattening a board that I still think does not fully capture my process, and when I say my, it is my own way of flattening, that I developed, on my own through trial and error.

I don’t know if anyone has ever been able to decode that post, but when I’ve shown people in person, they seem to get it a little better.

Since you all can’t fit in my shop at one time, I thought it may be better if I grab the camera, and its freshly charged battery, and shoot a quick video.

3 hours later….

Here you go.

How many of you caught me break my own rule, and mistakenly plane the wrong place?

Ya well screw you. It’s flat now isn’t it?

January 22, 2016

Death to clubs. Woodworking that is…

Having “sampled” three different rums in the past hour, I’ll first say that this Mount Gay rum is really not terrible stuff, and excellent primer for a rather tardy, and totally off the cuff first post of the year.

I wonder where this post will lead.

I guess I’ll give you an update on some of the stuff I’ve been working on as I think of something to write, and if nothing else, this whole thing will give me a kick in the butt to get a move on it.

The slow progression of building a rolling cart with 6 to 8 drawers is currently on the bench. This cart will one day be what my thickness planer will live on. Can’t wait till this is done as it is proving to be a real test of a number of skills I thought were well beneath me or at the very least, well within my grasp…

SMOOTHING PLANES!!! Brace yourselves, I’m going nutz on smoothing planes.

Something like nine of them.

Ya, I know. Who the hell has NINE smoothing planes?

*Cautiously raises hand*

We’ve all read what is really necessary to make an old plane into a first string smoother, and I’m looking forward to testing it out with a mess of rust hunting finds.

Oh, and photography.  I caught myself in a trap of hypocrisy that I am currently digging myself out of.

Whatever could it be?

Later this year, I think I’ll be ready to offer more hands on opinions on both the Nicholson bench and my attempt to use Moxon hardware as a twin screw vise.

That and dancing girls, all makes 2016 look like a block buster of a year here at Fairwoodworking!

But on to a more current issue.

Woodworking clubs.

I struggle to remember positive feedback about a woodworking club. I’ve mentioned how I was wrestling with the dilemma of an aging club that seems unaware of how uninviting it has become. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of highly respected woodworkers shunned by their local club because they admitting to a fondness of shoulder planes, and then there is the apparent absence of a desire to grow as woodworkers.

Recently I vowed to hang in there at my woodworking club in hopes of getting them to come around to seeing what outsiders are not returning for.

This last week, faced with the $70 renewal fee, I felt the need to reconsider how effective my perseverance should endeavor to be.  (Bonus points for words I hardly know the meaning of.)

And after a sober (much sober..er that I am now) discussion with a good old woodworking friend of mine. We’ve decided that we may not be able to right the woodworking club ship, and best just move on…

I’ll just let that sink in for a moment while I marvel at what a great guitarist Joe Satriani is… WOW!!!

Ok, Focus!

The thing is that most clubs seem to be a get together with some guest speaker that is NOT A MEMBER, discussing something that few/none of the members will ever endeavor (loose points for using “endeavor” twice in the same post) to emulate, followed by a quick intermission of juice and cookies.

The president then thanks everyone for coming, and we all go home to watch the evening news.

At what point does the club work… How you say… Ahh.. er… wood?

Well, two former club members are hopefully getting together in a basement this weekend to do something about it. There will be no guest speaker. Cookies are doubtful, as is the juice. Not to mention rum, but there may be beer, and there will be wood.

And something sharp to cut the wood.

YES! WOOD WILL BE CUT!!! And dam it! Wood will be worked!

And if we are not careful?

THINGS WILL BE LEARNED!!!

BYOB (Bring Your Own Bandages)

November 21, 2015

Don’t just own. Learn.

Filed under: Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Hand tool,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 5:00 am

I live in a city with a fair amount of disposable income, not to mention a rather healthy appetite for pretty new hand tools. I’ve met a number of people here that openly admit that they really have no interest in building anything. If you are one of them this post is not directed at you.

However, there is a entirely different group out there that have all the tools, who sit there looking at all their shiny bits and wonder, “now what”.

If that is you, it’s time to learn my friend.

If you haven’t noticed over the past 4 years (yes fairwoodworking turned 4 today) I’ve been on a bit of a “develop your skills” kick.  So why wouldn’t my birthday post be directed at pointing a few Calgary locals to a great chance to learn?

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Above is an unauthorized cut & paste from a friend of mine who’s boxes make my offerings look like so much monkey poo.

In early January, Jeremy Pringle will be teaching a class at the Calgary Lee Valley on box building. This is a class that any new woodworker would be fortunate to be able to attend. (Brace yourself Jeremy, the Fairwoodworking effect may overwhelm you…)

Anyways if you are in the area or anywhere near a Lee Valley store, check out their In store seminar schedule.

You just might learn something.

You can find more of Jeremy via
@jeremylachlan on Instagram
and
@JeremyPringle1 on Twitter

Editor’s note – I just read the sad news that the woodworking world lost Carl Bilderback last night to cancer. Like many, I’ve read about what a great guy he was, and all he’s given to the craft. Although I never got to know him beyond a handshake, I hope a little of his Mojo rubbed off, since we all have some pretty big shoes to fill now that he’s passed.

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