Here are two new(ish) books worth your attention and interesting in different ways. We don't stock either book, but the links showing where you could get them are below.
"John Green: 18th Century York Planemaker" by Peter Young should appeal to anyone interested in social and business history. The book's subtitle is "The Rise and Fall of a Business Empire," consists of three sections. The first is the saga -- and it is a saga -- of the Green family, from its from humble beginnings to be a major powerhouse of 18th and early 19th century planes. The story of the Greens of York is both a human and business story. England was then in the throes of the Industrial Revolution and the growth of business dynasties like the Greens' happened in many industries; the Greens' happened to be in toolmaking.
The second part of the book is how plane-making was done industrially. This is different from you or I making a few planes. This is a look at how factories make huge numbers of wooden planes, by hand with the aid of many jigs and production methods. Finally you have a section, mostly for collectors, detailing different types of planes by John Green and their characteristics. The author, Peter Young, is a passionate collector of planes, and he has the intellectual curiosity to explore York's rise as an unlikely center of toolmaking.
The writing is good, the narrative compelling, and I learned stuff. You can order a copy here.
The second book "Infill Planes - A Collector's Guide to Identification and Value" by Hans Brunner is the most comprehensive book available on the history and planes of the top four infill plane makers: Spiers, Norris, Mathieson, and Preston. The author, a well-respected Australian tool dealer who often sold as many as 2,000 tools per year, describes his book as "the result of two decades of answering the same questions over and over again: What is it? When was it made? How much is it worth?" The book includes photographs from Mr. Brunner's library of over 60,000 images with some help from his customers. The book is intended to be a savvy guide to tools that might actually show up in the market, "not a showpiece of unique, perfect and basically unobtainable tools." There's quite a bit of background history of the major firms, some of it new to me.
I have to note that Mr. Bruner did not sell me on all of his views: for example, I think his notion that the screw lever cap was an copy of an American idea is totally wrong. To my knowledge, the screw lever cap was introduced in Britain in the 1840's by Fenn. But putting that aside, I think anyone who is interested in English steel or infill planes should get a copy. Brunner is a thorough and companionable guide who strikes a note of well-informed admiration for the planes and their makers.
In Other News...
I will be teaching a free two hour class on measuring in the shop tomorrow June 23 at 6:30. Click here for more info.
Back in 2011 I wrote a long blog entry called Which Festool Sander Should I Get? It still gets a lot of clicks, but I still get the question all the time. Festool has added a few sanders to the lineup since 2011, so I thought another look was in order.
All Festool sanders have three features that make them so attractive. The first is fabulous dust collection. The second is proper internal balancing that makes the sander run more smoothly and therefore less fatiguing to use. The final feature is a three-year warranty. Beyond that, which sander to buy depends on what material you're sanding and how much use you envision your particular sander will get.
Unless you are doing something really weird, you would normally want either a 5" or 6" random orbital sander (ROS). Festool makes six versions. The overwhelmingly most popular Festool sander is the 5" diameter ETS 125. It's light, powerful, and has the finest sanding pattern (2mm) of all the sanders mentioned here. A random orbital sander (ROS) has the sandpaper going around and around and back and forth at the same time, but - and this is what makes it a ROS - a sliding weight inside the base shifts around and arbitrarily moves the offset (back and forth) of the stroke around. The scratch pattern of the sander thereby varies, giving you a smoother finish. A newer version of the ETS series, the ETS EC sanders, are brushless and have a very low, more ergonomic profile. They are also about a 1/3 more powerful. The downside: they lack a fan so they must be used with a vacuum. While they are about 1/3 more powerful, they are nearly double the price. The older ETS sanders have fans and come with dust bags.
Not sure whether the 125 (5") or the 150 (6") sander is the way to go? 5" disks are a little less expensive than 6" disks, but the smaller sander is a lot lighter. In general, the 5" sanders are more comfortable to use (not that the 6" is bad in this respect). On the other hand, the 6" sander, with nearly 50% more sanding area, makes faster work of your project.
There are two versions of both 6" ETS sanders available - 3mm and 5mm stroke. Almost everyone gets the 3mm version, except flooring guys who want the more aggressive sander.
N. B. I am a firm believer in the advantages of having proper dust collection and Festool has the best. (You get 10% off all vacs when purchased with a tool - and 15% on most vacs until June 30th 2016! - but for anyone on a budget, get the regular ETS sanders, put it to work, and later add the vac.
Overall, if you are an occasional sander, the older ETS125 is the way to go. It's less expensive, it does a great job, and the extra power your missing isn't critical for most applications. But if you're in a professional shop that does a lot of sanding, you should definitely consider the EC model. They're more powerful and easier to use for long periods, really justifying the extra cost.
Rotex sanders have dual modes which can be used in either fine (ROS) or coarse (rotary) mode. In general, they are special purpose tools. While for some occasional users having the extra versatility is a great thing, the extra weight of the Rotex sanders is a downer for regular finish sanding. Almost everyone getting a larger Rotex gets the 6", but we sell a few 5" Rotexes -- mostly because if you are using a lot of 5" ETS 125 sanders in your shop already, not having to stock another size of sandpaper is a good thing. The rotary modes of the Rotex really shine when you have need for a coarse sander for paint removal or a polisher. That being said, the Festool Rotex 90, the little guy of the group, is fabulous in these areas. The triangular pad gets into corners easily, especially great for restoration, and having a rotary mode is great for fast removal of anything.
For your average finish sanding, most customers get either the ETS 125 or 150. From there you could add the Rotex 90, to give you regular light sander for doing regular work and the Rotex 90 in rotary mode for aggressive sanding, paint and rust removal, and polishing. The smaller head size is just great for precisely removing rust etc. The smaller head also makes polishing detail stuff much easier. But the deal closer is the triangular head. Getting into corners isn't an everyday requirement, but when it is, having a sander that can really work tight spots is a wonderful complement to the larger workhorse machines.
Festool's line of sanders include a bunch of specialty sanders. I'm most impressed by the LS-130, a linear sander and a godsend for sanding molding. Festool's half sheet sander ( RS 2) is a great sander for those you who are doing big panels all the time. We sell a few every year, along with a punch jig for making your own sandpaper for it. (We do stock 1/2 sheet sandpaper for the sander, but it's a limited range.) I can't recommend the RS 2 for general purpose. It's an orbital-only, not a random orbital, sander, and it's too big to be a one - and - only sander to have. Get the ETS 150 instead if your first project is a table.
There are a few more oddball orbital sanders in the Festool range: oddball unless you actually need them for particular tasks. I would never recommend an oddball as a first tool.
We've finally come to the largest sander of the group: the Planex. This is an awesome machine that is constantly growing in popularity with painters and plasterers. This sander reflects a major step forward in sanding plaster and drywall, and comes with one extension for going up to 8 1/2 feet. More extensions can be added to do tall ceiling and high walls.
BTW - if you are re-modelling a home and have a need for specialty tools like the Planex - it will save you oddles of time - remember that there is a healthy used market for Festool. Many people get the tools they need to do the re-modelling job properly and easily, and then sell the tools when the job is over. The cost is just the difference between the original and resale price. Not nothing, but better than having to work with the wrong tool, or giving up and hiring someone.
We stock all the Festool sanders, accessories and all the sizes and varieties of sandpaper to go with them. We offer free delivery anywhere in the US on Festool orders over $50. Click here.
Have you ever walked unto a museum to find yourself totally thrilled? The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the United States' oldest art museum and school, was founded in 1805 in Philadelphia by Charles Willson Peale (whose portrait of Gouverneur and Robert Morris above positively radiates with their smug sense of superiority), William Rush and other artists. Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, Charles Demuth and Maxfield Parrish are some of the school's graduates. The Academy's permanent collection is housed in a Neo-Gothic 1876 building in downtown Philadelphia that has the exuberance of style of the period, with lots of entertaining architectural detail. The Academy reminds me so much of the V+A in London. The collection of American art, especially from before the American Civil war is engaging, exciting, and wonderfully curated.
The museum had a modest but very good new exhibit on display, but the point is the permanent collection. The collection consist mostly of representational art, spectacularly crafted and profoundly untrendy. I've been visiting Philadelphia regularly for nearly twenty years, and this was my first visit. The museum maintains a low profile, without glitzy work and a buzzy change of exhibits that attracts tourists and social media. During my visit, the exhibition halls were pretty empty. I found this poignant, but also enjoyed the sense of peace that is so often missing from crowded touristy art museums. The Academy is hoping for some crowds during the Democratic Convention - the Academy is directly across the street from Philadelphia's Convention Center - and will probably program some activities to lure conventioneers and press into the museum. I hope this gem does get the recognition it deserves. After we spent several hours looking at the permanent collection, we went next door to see the senior and graduate art shows. While I am not normally a big fan of modern art, and I thought the quality of work was uneven, I did find some wonderful stuff to look at. Here are some photos I took, along with captions of some of the highlights of the building and the collections.
Several nights ago I was walking with my wife in the East Village (searching for dessert) when she pointed out that we were walking by the buildings on Led Zeppelin's 1972 Physical Graffiti album cover. It had never occurred to me that the buildings were somewhere - let alone New York. I would have guessed London - although when you think about the buildings they really aren't in a London style. These days some might call the buildings "tenements" but they weren't. "Walk-ups" would be a better name - You can tell by the decoration and size that they were typical middle class apartments of the late 19th / early 20th century. Actually pretty fancy. And these days expensive. And I bet the landlord even gets a little premium because it's cool living in an album cover.
What is important is what happened to vinyl records, record art, and their revival. The original album release was a big deal. Maybe no bigger than an album by Beyonce or Adele and of course I was younger then so I paid more attention. But the album release meant hundreds of thousands of people didn't just listen to the radio and buy the record. They bought a souvenir - the record itself. Well known artists, with big budgets, were hired to create the art that made a 12" x 12" cardboard container interesting. It could be the working zipper on the Rolling Stones "Sticky Fingers" (by Andy Warhol), the cutout mustaches that came with "Sgt. Pepper", or the big poster that came with the Clash's "Sandinista". (And I still have all of this ephermera somewhere). I suppose this is just like hiring a famous filmmaker to make a music video today.
Album art for the masses disappeared with the advent of ITunes and streaming replacing record stores.
In the case of Physical Graffiti all the windows in the buildings are punched out so we can see what's going on in the apartments, just like real windows, and the cut outs give everything depth.
But vinyl sales have come back in a small, but fast growing way. They cost a lot more than the $6.95 of my youth. In many cases they are limited editions. They are bought by hard core fans who want to participate more in the music and small groups of collectors who want to enjoy the physicality that actually getting up to play an album requires. It's a limited market but it's a real market. Oh, and the total gross of vinyl exceeds the total gross of all revenue from streaming music.
It's a lot like the furniture market today. The traditional market of furniture made to order has disappeared. Worse, average Americans are less interested in fancy furniture than ever before. Even formally custom items such as kitchens are increasingly assemblages of stock items. What people do buy is on average not meant for longevity, and is less expensive than the cost of the materials for a typical American woodworker.
What's a cabinetmaker to do?
Following the vinyl model is one way. Ignore the idea that everyone needs a table and chairs. The average person will never be your customer. You can't compete with Ikea, Walmart, or even Ethan-Allan. Pump up your prices so not only will you make a decent living for actually making the stuff you will have a budget for marketing, marketing materials, and that can include travel, commissions for agents, and other hopefully original ideas to get the word out. Oh - and very important - the stuff you make has to look like it's worth what you charge, which is in the eye of the beholder. But if someone asks you why your chair costs so much you need to have a reason better than it took 20 hours to make. This is important. Nobody cares about the blood, sweat, & tears you put into a project. People care about what it means to them. Furniture is about a lot more than just having a place to sit. If someone looks at the dresser you made (or design you showed them) and thinks - Oh wow - This will make my spouse and I feel happy - finally something that shows we care how the undies are stowed - and what's ten grand in the cosmic equation of happiness? You make a sale. Okay that's a really flippant reason, but making someone feel good about having a room filled with stuff that validates their taste, makes them feel good about their success, or makes them feel happier about living where they live is a real valid reason why people buy the things they do. Now that bit about ten grand is about having access to well heeled customers but the rest is about design and craft. By the way, a good decorator or architect looking at your stuff will hopefully think "This is just wonderful - it raises the quality of all my offerings, I can get it customized just for my clients, and I have enough clients with money who are just aching to give it to me" can be just as effective as filling up your order book.
You know when I kick back with my vinyl copy of Physical Graffiti on my turntable and I look at my stereo system blinking at me on my custom stereo stand I built myself many many years ago I think - no matter how stressful the day is -- life is good.
It's been over a year since I wrote up my take on diamond sharpening. Since then we have moved, my stones were packed, lost, found, unpacked, shifted about, and finally are sitting in a box next to my desk. More importantly, the diamond stones have worn in a bit and cut smoother, and after going back and forth I think I finally have settled on a sequence that not only works well for me, is faster than what I used to do and has become my new methodology.
This is big news for me. This is the fourth major change in my sharpening practice since I started sharpening anything and being fairly traditional I don't change things for the sake of changing. My technique has not changed. I still find sharpening jigs to finicky and slow, and I hollow grind everything I can. What has changed is my choice of technology. Instead of water stones that need flattening I use diamond for all except the last two steps.
Step one: Fine Diamond Stone. - In the picture I have a double sided DMT 12" diasharp continuous stone in DMT's magnetic base. If my edge was damaged I would regrind the tool. Without a grinder I would use a coarse diamond stone to remove the damage. The 12" long stone is overkill. The 8" stones are fine, and I think if I use the longer stones more I will have to get used to making a longer stroke when sharpening because otherwise it is a waste. However, if you use a honing guide the extra length will be very handy as it leaves room for the guide. I use a little water for lubrication. I was teaching a class and had the magnetic base handy, but normally the non-skid mat is fine(but keep the mat dry). The fine diamond cuts fast enough so I can get a wire edge with no trouble and very fast. I do the back, then the bevel, and work the tool until I have raised a wire edge or burr.
Step three: 8000 Grit Norton Stone. I know Norton stones are out of fashion but they do a really great job with A2 and D2 steel. Being friable they cut much faster than harder, less friable stones. I find that a regular finishing stone, like the Norton 8000, gives me a smooth, sweet edge that I just can't get with even the finest diamond stones. Diamond crystals are sharp and stay that way and I still get more of a scratch pattern than a polish with any fine diamond stone. (Diamond paste does give a polish but I don't see an advantage in this case). I do soak the 8000 stone, but because the edge is basically ready for final steps there isn't much wear and tear on the stone and only a little maintenance for the stone is needed. With the 8000 I chase the burr until I can no longer feel it. If I am adding a microbevel I will then do a half dozen strokes to raise a new tiny burr and chase that. When I cannot feel the burr I stop.
Step four: Strop: For best results strop on a PLAIN leather strop, not a strop covered in honing compound (which has its place but not on straight, hollow ground tools). As I strop - about 10 fast strokes on a side, repeated about 3-5 times - you can feel the edge become smoother, sweeter, and generally sharper.
In the old days if you wanted to learn anything you either took a class or read a book. Then of course came video, some good, some bad. But all these videos were by teachers, Again, some great, some not so great. However with the advent of YouTube everyone is a star. What this means is that if you want to learn about a technique or something, chances are someone, somewhere has put it up on YouTube. And, and this is what's so exciting, it's pretty inexpensive to do this and thousands of have posted their work. We now can see woodworking done by professionals from all walks of life, culture, and specialty. and even if they aren't teaching a lesson.
There is stuff to be learned.
I was working on material for my sharpening class that I am teaching this coming Saturday and I got to thinking about sharpening in the Japanese tradition and then I got distracted by woodworking in Asia in general and it was only much later I climbed out of the YouTube rabbit hole. It's interesting stuff. Now it's your turn (In no particular order. Hit F5 or refresh your browser if the videos are small or don't fit the entire screen on mobile):
Almost all woodworking in Asia, Japan and Korea included, have their roots in China. The Japanese woodworking tradition broke away from China pretty early on and has the most obvious differences from China. Korean woodworking is more recognizably Chinese.
This first video is from Korea. I have no idea what the narrator is saying which is a shame, although there is a little English towards the end. Included are at least three techniques I have never seen demonstrated before, and a bunch of new to me tools.
Traditional Chinese Carpentry. This is one of a series and it's really well done. I do wish I knew Chinese. There is a mastery of craft here where order is made out of chaos and tons of stuff I have never seen before.
Korean Joinery with a Table Saw. I found this video sort of tedious but payoff is a joint you never see in Western furniture.
I added this last one from Japan because it was the first video I clicked but more importantly it shows what happens when modern craftsman, using a mix of traditional and modern methods - build a staircase. It's not 100% traditional, but it's not modern construction either.