When I first started TFWW, we stocked VHS tapes. Then one day we switched over to DVDs. Remember when Netflix had their red envelopes for DVDs, and then made the revolutionary transition to streaming? Increasingly everyone is streaming videos, and consequently the market for DVDs has gotten smaller and smaller. Lots of people don't even have DVD players anymore. Time marches on.
When the Joiner and Cabinetmaker was first published, co-author Chris Schwarz, who had built the three projects in the book, had hundreds of extra pictures that just didn't fit in the book. From a construction guide standpoint these pictures were very useful, but adding several hundred pictures and pages to the book wasn't very practical. So Chris instead used the photos to produce a DVD slide show with audio that takes the viewer through the process of building the projects --a nice complement and amplification of the information in the book.
Before Chris actually built the projects - the Packing Crate, the School Box, and the Chest of Drawers - he, as any craftsman would, took the original sketchy dimensions for each project and made real plans using SketchUp, the free CAD software you can download from Google. So when he made the DVD he adding those Sketchup files so that you can examine and alter the plans to your heart's content.
These slide shows and plans are now available as a free download. Click here to get to the product page. We've embedded the three slide shows in the picture viewer. A sample of the book and the SketchUp downloads are at the bottom of the screen.
Earlier today a I was handed this tool - by a guy who found it in a basement and had no use for it.
What can we determine by looking at it?
My first impression, because of the tool's rounded nose, was that it was a turning tool. But it's not. It's too short -- which of course could just mean wear. The dead giveaway, however, is the bolster. Bolsters exist so that hitting a handle with a mallet doesn't cause the tang to drive further into the handle. In the days before ferrules (pre-1850) bolsters were wide and essential for preventing splitting the handle. Post ferrule introduction, bolsters were largely (but not entirely) redundant, and they got smaller and smaller. Turning tools, which aren't struck, don't need bolsters and therefore don't have them. So this tool is a gouge of some sort.
What kind of gouge? It's not a carving tool. The lines of the tool are wrong, and the curved grind in front it pretty useless for carving. It's a firmer gouge used by cabinetmakers. The curved nose makes it easy to shave off bits of wood to a line precisely.
The octagonal bolster, which is in very good shape and is pretty crisp, tells me that the tool is probably from the 19th or early 20th century. (I need to check the maker to be more specific). I'm also struck by how gracefully the neck tapers down, is interrupted by the bolster, and then picks up and continued on the tang on the same lines. The bolster was forged in and finished up with a file.
The front of the tool bears the maker's stamp (Butcher) and the back is the trademark. I haven't been able to track down details on the maker. I think I have more information on Butcher -- but the information is my library, just about the only part of TFWW's move that hasn't been unpacked. A book I need is in a box, on a pallet, on a rack twelve feet up in the air.
The front also bears a faint stamp, from either the retailer or the user. I'm a little confused by it. That part of the tool near the neck would be hardened but not so much that a stamp would not work. The deep maker's mark and brand were stamped when the tool was finished but not hardened.
If we look closely at the cutting edge, we can see that it isn't perfectly curved and is worn a bit at the center. If you look carefully, you can see faint grind marks. This tool was used, but it was carefully used, and properly maintained for most of its life. There are clear grind marks on the neck that suggest that that part of the tool never rusted. The back of the tool has some evidence of putting, which suggest rust at some point but not a lot. The inside of the gouge is clear now but shows lots of pits. However, because the initials are fairly crisp I think the rust on this side was also pretty minimal. The rough inside texture of the gouge might come from pitting caused by rust that was subsequently removed, but more likely - based on the typical practice of the time - the gouge simply wasn't ground on the inside when it was manufactured.
About 65 years ago my father bought six Danish dining chairs and a glass-topped table to go with them. The table ended up with my cousin many years ago, and I've had the chairs for over twenty years. The chairs are light and strong, but mass produced. The legs aren't attached as well as they should be, and 65 years of use have taken their toll. I love the chairs' devoted service to my family and their utilitarian but elegant lines. (This photo is a little deceptive - the dining chair doesn't usually hang out on my balcony, but -- as in the old joke -- the light was better here.)
What are their contemporary equivalents? On a family walk this weekend I ducked into a store to check my email without the sun's glare. The shop was West Elm. West Elm is a furniture chain that caters to stylish young people who would be insulted if you thought they shopped at Ikea, with "modern" styles and better built quality. A dining table and chairs were right in the front of the store, tempting shoppers with primo product placement and a 20% off sale. What caught my eye was the chairs' obvious resemblance to my own chairs, albeit in a clunkier version. I had some questions for the very nice salesman, and he seemed surprised by my questions. What wood? I asked. He said the sales staff wouldn't know, but he thought the chairs were made of was Mango wood. Where were the chairs made? He said probably India or Vietnam. I thought Mango wood was improbable - more likely the chairs were made of whatever tropical hardwood that was available to manufacturer. The salesman turned the chair over, revealing a "Made in China" label. Screwed to the bottom of the seat was a steel strap held on with four big screws. There was no allowance for wood movement. My guess is there is no real expectation that these chairs be built to last. I think that no strap would be needed at all if the wood were properly dried, but the salesman said there were issues with drying and shrinkage.
The chairs were priced at $249 each -- a fifth or so of the price of the chairs in last week's blog on Thomas Moser,
But they won't last. Needless to say I had no interest in them.
When I thought about my experience at West Elm I realized that what is being sold is not a well made chair that is less expensive because it came from China, but a poorly made chair that is designed to look stronger than it is, made out of a random rain forest wood that the company can't even identify, sold by a multinational company. I bet it is far more profitable to sell this chair than the Moser chair. I assume, however, that West Elm employees earn less than the Moser counterparts just because the commission on a sale of a more expensive item would be higher.
I was walking to the subway after 11:00 PM after seeing "The Taming of the Shrew" (Not Will's finest hours) in Central Park. On Madison Avenue I was pleased to see the Thomas Moser's showroom has moved to the ground floor. As Madison Avenue has some of the most expensive rents in the world for retail ($500-$1000/sq foot/year) I am hopeful that business is good. There just aren't too many traditional American furniture makers left. Moser, rightly so, has chosen the high end, and seeing his solid wood wonderfully made pieces in a lit window at night next to stores with thousand dollar bathing suits and three thousand dollar purses made me hopeful.
I've been busy this past week with my son's graduation and getting ready for our scratch and dent sale next friday (july 8). But last Friday my son and I wandered by the 42nd street Library (to see the Hamilton exhibit) and once again the architectural woodworking caught my eye. The ceilings of the entire library are grand but far up in the sky. Take a look at some of the details that are closer by.
The bench is very simple, at least in concept. It's a bench, one of many set all around the library. The library was build between 1897 - 1911 so this bench would most probably have been made by machine. Looking at the detail there is a lot of shaper and pin router work. The big difference between it and public furniture from the post depression period is that while machinery was used in its construction the design, especially the details of the design, the flowing curves and worked moldings go back to an earlier Victorian age of detailing. The Bauhaus movement argued that something made by machine should also like like it was made by machine and there was no need for detailing. But this bench, from a previous generation of design, really uses machines to enable detail. The designers still want to entertain our eyes, even while also making a comfortable place to sit.
The last photo is of a bit of molding on a wall near the bench. This must have been done nearly entirely by hand. I don't know if work like this was done to print and installed or if the rough moldings were fitted then taken down for carving. In any case this is a tour de force of architectural carving. This period was at the height of decorative architectural detail in the US. and it shows. It's just a decoration but it is solid - because it is at human height and it needs to withstand damage. It's detailed without being prissy, and fairly big. And the building is full of it. In wood, stone, and plaster. This isn't a single carving that is a centerpiece of something, it's a fairly nondescript decoration in a room full of decorations and a killer ceiling.
N.B. I was very annoyed when a remodeling of our local library removed lots of indestructible oak chairs and tables and replaced them with melamine :(.
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.