Tools for Working Wood

 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

On the Diversity of Saws  


I get routinely asked what saws someone needs for woodworking and why some people have so many saws and do I need one of every type.

When one is a professional, working by hand, having a perfectly tuned tool is productive. Historically each trade had it's own specialized equipment which in each case was tuned for specific tasks more efficiently than the generic version of the same tool. In the United States, where houses were predominately made of softwood, the generic 26" crosscut saw more than suited most tasks. For most carpenters, specializing on one area of the trade, a very small number of saws were actually required. Speed was everything and there was nothing to be gained by using a dull tool, or the wrong tool. Duplicates were needed so that during the course of a day as tool started getting dull, one could switch to a sharp saw (and have someone else sharpen the dull one). For a carpenter who did a diverse set of tasks, for example on flooring where the underfloor might be of pine and the finished flooring oak, separate saws filed for both soft and hard woods would be wanted. And that made professional sense. But, and this is important, except for the most common saw - a handsaw used for crosscutting softwood, which rips abysmally, most saws can be used for most tasks. This is especially true with hardwoods, and our combo filed sash saw is basically a rip saw with a little negative rake and fleam so it cuts great on hardwood in all directions. But if I was cross-cutting pine 2x4's all day I would want something with far more fleam and rake for faster action. "one size fits all" may not be appropriate for traditional professionals but for everyone else one sharp saw is perfectly adequate.

What I own:

In my toolbox I have five saws. First up are two 26" handsaws, both by Disston. I used a pair of for years which were I liked a lot, but about a decade ago I got the saw collector bug and found these Disstons, and that's what's in my tool box now. Over the years my backsaws have evolved from a Sanderson I bought from Garrett Wade in the early 80's (or '70s I don't remember), and then some Adria saws, but now I my backsaws are totally Gramercy Tools (which of course makes tons of sense on lots of levels) but I only use two backsaws, a Gramercy Tools Sash Saw and a Gramercy Tools Dovetail saw. For curves and cutting waste I round out the lot with a Gramercy Tools Turning Saw. That's it.

I used to have an cross-cut carcase saw but I don't use it anymore as the sash saw is combo filed and fits the entire bill for sawing straight joinery cuts except when you need a smaller saw. So i took it out of my tool box where it was wasting space.

In the near future I will probably add a BT&C Hardware store saw, simply because it's a shorter, cuts faster, and also useful for carrying around. I don't do veneering (or haven't yet) so I don't own a veneer saw (I know I can get one by walking about 20 feet in in any direction from my office but I don't have one yet), and since I have a turning saw I don't use a coping saw.

All my saws are sharpened for hardwood, but they work on pine in a pinch, if not ideally. When they get dull I get them sharpened (I don't sharpen my own saws because it is far far easier and better to let our saw sharpening service do it for me - so I have never gotten the practice to be good (and I can't see the teeth anymore anyway). I don't feel the need to have duplicates of the saws.

I have lots of saws I don't use, I got them because I collect tools and they are a useful reference. By keeping the actual number of saws I use sharp and accessible and ignoring the rest, I don't have to justify why I own so many saws, and waste time looking for the saw I actually want to use. It's right there in my toolbox.

Tags:Woodworking Tools and Techniques
Comments: 1

Woodcarving At Coney Island  


Last Sunday we went to see the Cyclones play at Coney Island. While not specifically woodworking related, going to see a baseball game in a small stadium, wandering around the boardwalk, the arcade, eating hot-dogs, and of course the beach is traditional entertainment and has a similar tradition to making stuff in your basement. I wasn't expecting to talk about woodworking because I wasn't expecting to find any woodworking on Coney. I am a huge fan of small entertainments. By comparison to say 6 Flags, which is a totally corporate managed environment Coney Island is a tiny jumble of rides, food, things to do, all reflecting a mishmash of different vendors and ideas crammed into a small space. For example, right behind a giant Nathan's is the Coney Island Smorgasbord, which includes booths by Mile End and Blue Marble (to name a few) and might have just closed down for the season I am not sure. And this historic mess of pop and high culture (the aquarium is there too) it's a one hour subway ride from Manhattan and costs a fraction of crappy seats at Yankee Stadium.

However, down the block from the stadium, behind the farmers market (also a surprise) and next to the Thunderbolt, knee deep in a bed of wood chips, was a outdoor yard devoted to chainsaw carving!!! This totally blew me away. The work ranged from eh to excellent and there were several people carving away with chainsaws, which is cool to watch and a carving experience that totally scares the willies out of me. And, after the game, amid all those people eating more hot-dogs, ice cream, fries, and more fried stuff than you can possibly imagine, and drinking beer, I saw a customer who had just come from the carving yard carrying a very nice carving of a sea horse. That people come to Coney Island to ride the Cyclone, have a hot dog, and buy a decorative carving (and not such a small one either) is totally awesome!

N.B. Normally I try to lead off my blogs with a picture of what the blog is about. But hey - It's Coney Island and it's THE WONDER WHEEL
Comments: 0

The Philadephia Museum of Art and Festool Fall News  


This past weekend I was in Philadelphia and had a chance to spend some time at the very wonderful Philadelphia Museum of Art. I didn't see the special exhibit on Impressionists because the only thing I hate more than paying extra for a special exhibit is waiting on a line for over an hour or more to see it. I did however have a fabulous time in their American collection.
I am far more used to the Met in NYC which I love, but the Met whacks you over the head in excess and luxury. I relate to the PMA collection far more. In other words if I had an empty room and I picked out a few pieces (which I am sure they wouldn't let me but PMA if you are reading this I am open to the offer) I could really make myself a comfortable space where I could store my stuff, have a proper desk, and a place to relax. Even the Shaker rooms have a certain appeal to me.
While I like a wide range of furniture styles, seeing the PMA collection makes me better understand the appeal of Federalist and earlier styles and why furniture makers today enjoy building in those styles. Since I was a kid I have rated all art and decorative objects based on whether or not I would like to own it and the PMA collection passes in spades. This is what the job of the curator is all about. Like any media, book, film, performance, etc. an exhibit has to connect with an audience or the audience will just check the exhibit off a list of stuff they did and then make a beeline to the gift shop.

After seeing the American Furniture, a thoroughly enjoyable selection from the museum's huge collection of paintings by Thomas Eakins, and other great American paintings and prints we had lunch at the museum's cafeteria and I give PMA a lot of credit. After years of getting ripped of by expensive mediocre food at museums everywhere I had a very nice burrito for under nine bucks, a fair price I thought, and certainly a much better use of my time then trudging out of the museum to someplace else. Then we walked a block or so away to the Perelman Building which is part of the PMA and specializes in modern works that I mostly can't stand. However, one reason for my trip in the first place was to see "Northern Light: Scandinavian Design" which is a one-room retrospective of the high end of post war Scandinavian furniture and industrial design. It's a small exhibit but has all the big names, and lots of the signature pieces. It was good to see it all in one place. Some of the works I liked a lot. My only complaint is that I wish it was a larger exhibit. There was a "minecraft" poster on display, which is a very recent piece of Scandinavian design, but Ikea was omitted. And Ikea, which took so much of the modern Scandinavian design vocabulary and for better or worse, made it less expensive and a massive, mass success deserves inclusion if you are also adding Minecraft.

CORRECTION: I was wrong about Ikea. My wife (who was with me) pointed out to me a small chair and said "look - Ikea" I thought she meant: "Here's a chair that Ikea copied". In fact what she meant was "Here is an actual chair made by Ikea" So my whole point on Ikea being left out was wrong. Although, considering I missed it, I think a larger presence and larger captions might be called for.

The last museum picture is from their medieval collection and i think it's awesomely cool but I didn't spend much time there (hungry on way to lunch).

In other News

We will have added three new sanders and a fancy vacuum hose to our Festool offerings. After getting bashed by Mirka with their tiny little sander, on October 1 we will be shipping three new Festool sanders. All lightweight, all brushless, all designed to have the feel of a pneumatic sander but with proper "Festool quality" dust collection, which of course is a necessity in this day and age. And a cord, not a bulky air supply. The lightness of the sander makes it less fatiguing, and of course it's designed for full time use in any shop. I don't have any practical experience with these tools yet, we won't get our demo tools for at least another week, but we are taking pre-orders now.
There are three sanders, a 5", and two Two 6" versions. The new 5" has a longer stroke (3mm) and more powerful motor, but many people will like the extra coverage of a larger 6" pad. There is also a 5mm stroke 6" sander which we mostly recommend for people doing flooring, or larger surfaces, but not necessarily furniture. The 6" weighs a lot less than the old ETS 6" sanders. The 5" weights about the same. Cost is more than the 5" ETS sanders or 6" ETS sanders, which are staying in the line as they are great less-expensive sanders. The cost of the new sanders is less than the FS-ROT150.XX,Rotex line), which with its dual mode is another animal entirely. The new 6" sanders use the same pads as the older ETS sanders, but the new 5" use a new pad style that does not fit the older models. Sandpaper is of course all interchangeable. As always we stock it all.

In addition to the sanders Festool is also introducing a new tapered vacuum hose with a built in power cord. There are two models a 11ft (same as the regular hose) and a 37ft hose, which is some giant. For the first time you can also get a 37 foot electric cord.
Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Historical Subjects
Comments: 6

New Saturday Hours  


Back in 1999, when I first started TFWW one of the main appeals of selling on the Internet was that we could be closed a lot and I would have time for my family. I come from a long line of shopkeepers (small grocery stores on my father's side and "Max's Luncheonette" on my mother's). Both of my parents went screaming in the opposite direction from retail, and at best, selling perishables is not a business I would wish on anyone. It's just too much work. Anyway the concept of taking orders electronically and closing on weekends seemed ideal for someone as lazy as I.

However the reality of this turned out to be bogus. From the very beginning we had customers visit us from all over the country. Even just a few weeks ago I found out that a friend of my son's grandparents came a visiting NYC and one place they wanted to visit was here. I was out with the flu, and they had no idea it was my place and I had no idea any of this went down until a week later, it's just one of those crazy coincidences.

Anyway as we grew more and more people stopped by. And it's great to see who our customers actually are. Put faces to names and stuff. We also get a fair amount of visits from local cabinetmakers who need something right away (usually Festool) and non-professionals who need stuff for home projects, usually to get stuff done on the weekends.

Every last one of these customers hates that we close at 5 and aren't opened on the weekends.

Until Now!

Starting this weekend we are open on Saturdays from 11:00 - 5:00. Our building finally added a passenger elevator (it's behind the loading docks) and we hired Brendan, a recent graduate of the College of the Redwoods and first prize winner at the most recent IWFS fair in Vegas for his cabinetmaker's zither, to run the store. So for the first time we have a proper staff and we plan to upgrade the store displays in the future. Anyway starting this Saturday we will be open. You can park most place s- although don't block the loading dock, we are on the fifth floor, here is a . If the front door happens to be locked (we are still sorting out security) give us a call at 800-426-4613 and someone will come down to let you in.
N.B. The website is still being updated for the new hours so no matter what it says we are open on Saturdays!

Remember of course we have everything Festool, all the Gramercy Tools, our new Hardware Store Saw, fabulous Brace Bits, and tons of other stuff. Brendan will be happy to give you a demo and answer any questions you might have. In addition to Brendan, Annie is also on this Saturday as in Ben. So we have you covered for just about any question you might have.

Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions
Comments: 6

A Look at Violin-Maker's Planes  


Luthiers have a problem. When making a stringed instrument the belly (front) and back need to be thin in the right places so that they will vibrate correctly, and thick and strong in other places so that string tension doesn't break the instrument. To do this they have a need to carefully remove slivers of wood in very localized areas. While scrapers are very useful, small, metal "violin-makers planes" evolved at least as far back as the 16th century and in France by the mid-eighteen century (Diderot plate 1205) had evolved to essentially the same form as the C. 1910 Preston violin-makers plane seen at the left of the photo. Available sizes listed in the 1909 Preston catalog ranged from 5/16" - 15/16" in either a flat or convex sole. Preston's planes were supplied with both a regular plane blade and a toothed blade. The latter blade significantly reduces the tearout you get when planing and cannot always plane with the grain. The second picture has a closeup of the toothed iron. Preston's offerings were similar to most British planemakers. Preston closed in 1932.

The second plane from the left was made by an English company named ESE. They made similarly styled planes in a full range of sizes. Machined from solid bronze, which negated the need for a fancy casting, the style is boxy but ESE planes worked well. ESE ceased production shortly after the turn of the twenty first century.

The two planes on the right are by an American, Christopher Laarman. I had the privilege of stocking a few of his planes for the few years he made them C. 1990's-2003. The highly sculptured bodies were investment cast and fit fingers perfectly. The irons, which are solid and thick were by Ron Hock. The sculptured bodies are a joy to hold, a joy to use, and a feast for the eye. His planes are treasured today. The larger of the two Laarman planes in the picture has a palm rest, which many people feel gives them even more control.

Luthiers also use small block planes, which are sometimes also called "violin planes". But the larger violin planes, (which are still pretty small) developed separately, with a different set of roots that also go back to the Renaissance. These larger block planes are the ancestors of the entire modern family of mitre, block, and bench planes.

There are a few makers of violin-maker's planes around today. IBEX is probably the most well known although I haven't used one and don't have an opinion on if they are any good.

N.B. I am calling their planes "violin maker's planes" rather than just the more common "violin planes" because that's how Preston listed them in their index. Also it's more pretentious. Either term is obviously correct. "Finger Plane" is another term that is used, but in my view, that term is more suited for the family of small boxwood planes that were used by cabinetmakers and casemakers, not by luthiers.

Tags:Historical Subjects
Comments: 4

Linoleum Block Printing  


It was at an exhibit at the Met a few years ago that I learned, much to my amazement, that linoleum block prints weren't just an art students' thing, or a kids' project. The linoleum block prints in the exhibit were from a sophisticated school of art practiced in England in the 1920's and 30's. I was really taken with the prints, most of which were about 12" x 15" or thereabouts. They had real power. The experience of seeing them was one of those serendipitous moments when you turn a corner in a gallery and say "Wow." The exhibit included a book in a glass case that had been written by Claude Flight, one of the leaders of the movement, about making color linoleum prints. I took down the details and located a copy; since then I located another contemporary text on the subject. Unlike most of the later texts on the subject, these two books tried to teach how to make professional grade prints of quality and complexity.

I haven't actually tried doing this myself - I can't draw. But it's important to understand that the medium, in this case linoleum, very much shapes the form of the piece. Nowadays you can duplicate just about any style with Adobe Illustrator, but you can't easily duplicate the rules enforced by a medium, or in the case of block printing, the depth and dimension of something actually printed on a block in a press.

A quick search on google immediately comes up with hundreds of modern linoleum images, most in just B+W, but some in color.

I also happen to have in my book collection "Treatise on Wood Engraving" by John Jackson, with two additional engravings by Baxter. The book, which was published in 1839, is the gospel of woodcut engravings, written at a time when the art form was at its technical peak. The book is sometimes found with the Baxter prints removed, since the prints are valuable on their own. George Baxter (1804-1867) was the first person in England who managed to produce color wood engravings in any quantity. He used a variety of techniques and the last image in this blog, "Parsonage at Ovingham" is by him. (Apologies for the mediocre reproduction.)

Why do it in the first place? That question can actually be asked of any craft endeavor, or any activity, really. Why carve? Why make furniture? Why decorate a cake? The actual urge to make stuff is intensely personal, primal, and way more complicated than can be addressed here. But unlike furniture or carving, block printing can allow you to create multiples. With good paper and ink, block printing gives you a result that is unlike any modern printing. The bags we use for the BT&C nails are printed on a letterpress, using ink blocks for the graphics, and pressure to stamp the ink onto the paper. We do it this way mostly because we need to cut and score the bags for folding, but the result, with depth to the letters, is so satisfying to the touch, that even if we didn't need to score anything we would still use letterpress.

You don't need a printing press - although building a small press out of wood is pretty easy, and the actual carving is well within the ability of just about everyone. Any hand printed item - a business card, an invitation, a thank you card - printed with your own block is a far more personal form of communication than the laser printed equivalent.

For those of you who might be interested in giving it a go, the basic idea is pretty simple: carve, in reverse, the pattern you want to print. Actually, that's not true. Unlike engraving, where you remove material where a line goes, in linoleum printing you carve away all of the top surface that doesn't print. The skill comes in leaving clean lines remaining, and carving in a way so that the thinner lines remaining, and the edges or the printed parts, have strength and won't collapse under the press. (I know it's more complicated than that, and the final result is the printed paper, not the carved printing block, which is just the vehicle.) You do need sharp tools, of course. Printing the blocks also requires some basic skill which can be easily learned.

We recently started stocking a linoleum block cutting kit by Flexcut and block printing supplies, which I hope will become popular. We also stock a large selection of "Block cutters" by Ashley Iles. Most of the block cutting tools we sell are used by carvers who happen to like the smaller tools, but it's gratifying to know that we do have a fair number of print makers amongst our customers.

I would hate to think that all the traditional methods of printing will get swept away by the computer.

The main picture at the top of this blog is from "Lino Cutting and Printing" by Claude Flight (1934) and the second print is from "Colour Block Print Making from Linoleum Blocks" by Hesketh Hubbard (1927). This is the final proof print after the book works its way step by step through all the plates, printing each color one by one.

The second to last picture, a wood engraving from the early 19th century, is by Jackson and is from his book.

As someone who collects books I can say that part of the appeal for me of 18th century and earlier books is the physical beauty of early printed engravings, woodcuts, and the way the letters are embedded in the page.

N.B. You might have noticed that in the past months I am blogging considerably less. I would much rather blog less than just publish endless drivel, and in the past months, continuing to the present, we have been remodeling our entire space. We now have a passenger elevator, and we expect to add Saturday hours by the fall. This means that while we reorganize, my toolboxes and carving bench have been moved to a corner, and I am loath to start doing anything useful because the entire shop is at sixes and sevens. I'm also changing my role at TFWW. Over the coming months I will be doing less day-to-day management and more computer work (which is actually my main area of expertise) and more woodworking content. I realized that unless I stopped working on day-to-day problems I would never get a chance to resume making stuff - which is the reason I ended up in this industry in the first place.

Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Woodworking Tools and Techniques,Historical Subjects
Comments: 3
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.
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Recent Blogs:
On the Diversity of Saws-09/30/2015
Woodcarving At Coney Island-09/09/2015
The Philadephia Museum of Art and Festool Fall News-09/02/2015
New Saturday Hours-08/19/2015
A Look at Violin-Maker's Planes-07/08/2015
Linoleum Block Printing-06/17/2015
Blasts from the Past - Reimagined - and Made For the Future-05/15/2015
Festool Package News and Some Long-Term Things You Should Be Aware Of-04/29/2015
Sleep Like an Egyptian-04/08/2015
Game Changer: Should You Buy the Festool Conturo Edge-Bander?-03/11/2015
Guest Blog: Many Sincere Thanks-02/25/2015
Festool Vacuums and the Changing Jobsite-02/18/2015
News (some good some sad)-02/04/2015
Pay For Play-01/21/2015
Diamond Sharpening - Part 2 - Grits and Scratches-01/14/2015
One Book - Three Editions-01/07/2015
Diamond Sharpening - Introduction-12/11/2014
Professional Status-12/03/2014
Cyber Monday - Actually Starts On Sunday Night!-11/26/2014
American Field Show At Industry City Nov 22 - 23, 2014-11/16/2014
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