Tools for Working Wood

 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

Designing a Moxon Vise  

10/15/2014

In the past few years what has become to be known as a "Moxon Vise" has become a pretty popular workbench accessory. The basic theory behind it is that lots of joinery operations, especially dovetailing, need to be done at a higher bench height than a typical bench - which is usually set for planing operations. In Moxon's engraving from Mechanick Exercises(1678) the vise is placed at an obviously incorrect position, with no way of attaching it to the bench. Felibien, in an earlier book, (which Moxon liberally copied from) shows a group of these vises hanging from a wall behind the main workbench.
I think it was the Lost Art Press' edition of The Art of Joinery that brought the vise back to the limelight and it is now a very popular accessory.
Today several vendors, ourselves included, stock complete Moxon vises ready for use or hardware kits for making your own. Our vise, which was designed and is made for us by the Philadelphia Furniture Workshop, has a couple of unique features, notably a cambered from jaw for ease of clamping, and handles that can be moved out of the way while working. The hardware for the vise, which was a joint design by ourselves and the PFW is specially designed to allow for wear and a lot of give in the wood. Our hardware kit doesn't include drawings for the vise because, while the PFW design is perfect for hordes of people, if you are going to the trouble of making a vise for yourself, you might as well take a moment and decide if some customization is in order. However so many people have asked us for some guidance I thought explaining some design considerations might be in order.

At its most simple the vise is just two boards with screws to clamp them together and enough thickness on the back jaw so that the vise in turn it can be clamped to your bench. The actual size isn't critical. The screws need to be inset far enough in from the ends so the wood doesn't split - a couple of inches at most - and the main dimension is the clamping distance between the screws and the overall height of the vise. Unless you have the urge to have several vises, you want a clamping distance wide enough for any carcase you are likely to make - say 24" max, but 18" or 20" between the screws is probably more realistic. Also you don't want to make such a heavy monster that moving it all the time is a chore. The height is the next issue - you want it high enough so it brings dovetailing to a comfortable height. 4" is fine for most people, 6" might be better for a tall person on a short bench - here is one area where personal preference is important.


Now we are already into two tweaks. By cutting down the ends of the rear jaw into ears you give yourself clamping surfaces that will keep cutting tools away from your holdfasts - the usual device for attaching the vise to your bench.


Among the innovations made by the Philadelphia Furniture Workshop in our vise - a narrow shelf is glued on the back of the rear jaw to create a clamping ledge so that you can clamp your tails down firmly when you lay out your pins.


The way our kit works is that the two acme screws thread into two nuts mortised into the back jaw of the vise. Just locate the holes far enough from the bottom so the nuts have enough clearance and first drill the holes and then mortise away. The nuts we use are custom for the vise and are offset. We found that, especially with a sloppy mortise, a regular nut can spin in the mortises as the vise wears. This design gives you plenty of room for error and you won't have to worry about wear.


The front jaw can be as thin as 4/4 but here again the Philadelphia furniture workshop design has a great innovation. The inside of the jaw is slightly cambered so even if the jaws are tightened unevenly the vise will hold in the center perfectly. Also the thinner front jaw, not only makes the vise lighter, the jaw can bend a little when clamping for a better fit on the work.


Finally it's nice to have a little something to help align the vise to the front edge of your bench.


We didn't use Moxon type vises when I was learning woodworking. What a shame. I cannot imagine not having one now. Especially since between my back and my eyesight (lack of) getting the work closer to me, and not having to slouch down to work is a real boon, Whichever design you use I think it's a really great addition for work holding in the workshop.




Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Woodworking Tools and Techniques
Comments: 5

The Modern Split  

10/01/2014

I was at the Met this past weekend with a guest, and we ended up in one of the 20th century galleries that I almost never visit. On display among the paintings were four 20th century chairs (from the left). The "Zig Zag" chair by Gerrit Rietveld (1937), an armchair by Koloman Moser (1903), the "31" armchair by Alvar Aalto (1931-32) and the "DCW" Side Chair by Charles Eames (1948).

By the very fact of the display, the Met shows that it considers these chairs important landmarks of 20th Century furniture design. But to me, the chairs also signify the shift in furniture craft: from the craftsman making furniture for a client to the designer making furniture specifically for mass manufacture.

The Rietveld and Moser pieces were designed to be made in a typical cabinet shop. We sell a great book about Rietveld, complete with plans, and you can pretty much make everything in his book with a fairly basic shop. I am not familiar with Moser, but the Moser piece is also pretty accessible. It's woodworking. I get it.

The Aalto and Eames pieces were designed for manufacture. Their clients were furniture corporations, not a person. To make either piece, you would need forms, presses, and equipment. Even if you only want to make one chair, you would still have to make molds and forms for the bent plywood. Most of the work is in the forms, and once you have done that, making multiples is fairly easy.

The Aalto and Rietveld pieces date from about the same time, but it's clear to me that Rietveld is looking backward at the A&C movement and its idea that furniture should be accessible to anyone to build. Aalto, on the other hand, is looking forward to the disconnect between the factory, which can manufacture his flowing designs, and the individual maker who is then left in the dust.

Now, before you point out to me that most American furniture was made in factories, let me point out that the furniture factories of the early 20th Century America made traditional furniture the traditional way -- just faster, with the aid of machines. Stickley made his A&C furniture in a factory, but he published plans so that any competent shop, amateur or professional, could make a copy. (Maybe not as efficiently, but certainly as well.)

These chairs document the two paths furniture has taken in the past century. It's not about traditional versus modern design. It's about designing for mass production versus designing for small production. I am not saying mass production is bad, just that the designs for mass production don't leave room for traditional workshops. And so the modern small shop is caught between two worlds: a desire to explore the limits of craft, and the mass vocabulary of manufacture that people are used to and have come to expect.


Tags:Woodworking Tools and Techniques,Historical Subjects
Comments: 4

This Weekend: Maker Faire AND The Saturday Market Project at The London Design Festival  

09/19/2014

One of the fun things about running a business like ours is that you get to meet cool people interested in process and manufacturing. At last year's Maker Faire we met Melinda and Laylah from Saturday Market Project. Over the past year we got together a few times and we decided to collaborate on something.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Saturday Market Project retails online through their website. They're based out of the US and UK and have slightly different product offerings from both. Their main focus is on collaborating to develop project kits, and selling raw materials for maker and craft type projects.

Whats interesting about SMP is that in addition to fancy french string, wool, and really nice staplers, they're selling electronics kits, resistors, and a paint pen that draws in conductive ink link.

The idea that those products make sense together is really contemporary - and I think reflects how interesting the maker movement is becoming as it grows. The idea that something like SMP would, or even could exist 10 years ago or even 3 or 4 years ago is impossible.

For those of you in the UK, you may already know that the London Design Festival is going on this week. There are more events that we can mention - but suffice to say that were jealous of any of you who are in London this week.

During LDF, Saturday Market project is hosting a space for, as they put it "making, material experimentation, masterclasses, demonstrations, free drop-in workshops and a temporary shop" in Shoreditch near the Old Street tube stop.

We provided a set of Gramercy Saws, rasps and Hammers for the work bench at their space, and they've got events all weekend including a cool (LDF runs through the 21st)

If you're in London check it out and tell them we say Hi!!

For more information about SMP at London Design Fair check their Tumblr here.

Or visit their website.

Cheers!!

Meanwhile, In New York, It's Maker Faire and this year I'll be making a presentation on Sunday at 2:30. Check here for details.
Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Misc.
Comments: 0

The English Arts & Crafts Movement  

09/17/2014

A small exhibit on Pre-Raphaelite art at the Met was an opportunity for me not only to take another gander at the lovely Jane Morris but also to revisit the Cabinet by Sir Edward Burne-Jones that, for me, epitomizes the early English Arts and Crafts Movement. The English A&C movement was founded based on ideas by John Ruskin, and William Morris was one of its most important proponents. While the movement was the inspiration for the American A&C movement, there is very little commonality of styles.

The American A&C movement as promoted by Gustav Stickley, The Roycroft Movement and others, was very much a machine-made movement. For all the accessibility of the designs for modern makers, the originals were designed and built in furniture factories. Stickley published his designs because he felt strongly that people should be able to make the work themselves; however, his fumed finishes, for example, were done with strong ammonia by professionals in a factory - a technique really outside the ability of all but the most determined amateurs.

Greene & Greene and Frank Lloyd Wright represent the high end of the A&C movement in the US. Greene & Greene and Frank Lloyd Wright were very much like their English counterparts in that their work was fancier than Stickley's and custom made. Both were also heavily influenced by Japanese styles.

The early English Arts and Crafts artists, Burne-Jones and Morris among them, were also part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of artists who wanted to roll back time and work in styles that existed before the time of Raphael. They also were stuck in a Dungeons and Dragons world of knights, shining armor, damsels in distress, and long tales of chivalry. J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis both were inspired by the long tales that Morris wrote (poorly).


This piece from 1861 of painted and gilded pine, painted leather, copper hardware, and painted iron hinges is called "The Backgammon Players" and was designed by Philip Webb and painted by Burne-Jones. It was one of the earliest pieces manufactured by William Morris' company, and one of the first pieces of the English A&C movement. Morris's furniture, and English Arts and Crafts furniture in general, very much reflect 19th century interpretations of what a knight would want in his baronial hall or boudoir. This piece, stripped of its paintings, is a fairly straightforward Victorian cabinet. With its decoration and painted scene, it becomes a masterwork of the Pre-Raphaelite era, and a really cool English A&C piece.

There is a lesson to be learned here, of course. What would happen if you took a fairly simple cabinet, and painted it up? Wouldn't that be cool? It certainly would be a much more interesting piece of furniture than lots of the stuff we see today. But it also shows off a difference in the way modern designers view furniture. Today, we look at furniture as a form, and the interest comes from the way the form interacts with the surrounding spaces. Material and grain choices are used to amplify the form. Contrast this with what Burne-Jones did. He created a complete narrative in the work. The interest in his piece comes from the story in the painting and the rest of the decoration reenforces that narrative and the mood of the piece.


N.B. There are exceptions to the modern fixation about form, notably that of Silas Kopf, a master of marquetry whose work very much is about the story on the piece in addition to the materials used and form of the pieces. But he is a glorious exception.

In Other News
I am very sad to report of the passing of John Whelan at age 93. The author of two seminal books on wooden planes, "The Wooden Plane, Its History, Form and Function" and "Making Tradition Wooden Planes," John was one of the giants in the field of American tool collecting.


Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Historical Subjects
Comments: 2

Maker Faire 2014 - Sept 20-21, NYC - My presentation  

09/10/2014

Buy Tickets to Maker Faire Today!
Last week I found out that I am presenting a talk at Maker Faire 2014 in New York City on Sept 20-21 entitled: "How One Small Company is Using Maker Technology to Stay Competitive in an Old World Industry".

What my talk is about is how we have been automating our Foley Saw filing machine to allow us to do some operations automatically and also enable some very complex filings that an all mechanical Foley filer can't do. The reason I find this subject so interesting and why I wanted to give the talk is I think that for the past ten years the Maker Revolution has been building infrastructure so inexpensive that anyone can make pretty complex robots, CNC stuff, and general gadgets. At Maker Faire 2013 we saw a lot of cool stuff and then when we decided that we needed to add some automation to some of our processes it made a lot more sense for us to go the Maker route instead of the substantially more expensive, and much harder to implement, industrial machinery route.

While my specific professional interest is in tool manufacture the revolution in personal automation will (and maybe has started to) effect woodworkers all over the country. But don't think that the job of being a cabinetmaker will be any easier. Good construction is good construction, whether or not you use a hand saw, a giant factory saw, a table saw, a CNC router, or a fancy Altendorf. The difference is really in the amount of capital the maker has and the volume that is produced. As CNC equipment becomes less expensive and easier to use some cabinetmakers will find ways of lowering their costs without compromising the type of quality they are interested in offering. Some cabinetmakers will come up with whole new ideas in design and assembly that weren't possible before. It's mostly all good. Low cost automation might give a small shop a way to compete with factories. And the traditional factory will lose lots of their advantages.

I already know a fair number of shops that have CNC routers, laser cutters and some of them are doing some very interesting stuff. But don't jump down my throat. I like early American furniture. I love lots of early, sometimes very decorative forms. The big sin of furniture makers over the past generation has been simplifying and simplifying forms until most of the stuff I see in stores is pretty boring. I don't expect any machine to be able to grind out a colonial highboy - ever. And I would hate that anyway. I don't want dumbed down designs. What I want to happen, and I think it might, is that with new machinery will come new techniques and new designs. Hopefully furniture makers of the 21st century will produce stuff as new and exciting as say Chippendale furniture was to the customers of the mid-18th century.

Here is the link to Maker Faire NYC . It's an awesome show. And every year I am truly overwhelmed at what folks are making. Bring your kids!! you will all have a great time. If you don't live anywhere near NYC there are Maker Faires all over the country and the world. Even Mini-maker faires for smaller venues that are just starting up.

NB: The snapshot of the most excellent Rhode Island furniture is from the renovated rooms at the American Wing of the Met. OMG. I was rushing en-route to another exhibit and I drolled only a little. I will return for a proper look.


Tags:Woodworking Tools and Techniques,Misc.
Comments: 3

Woodwork On The Streets - And Other News  

09/03/2014

Every year since 1931 the streets of Washington Square Park are filled with booth after booth of artist and craftspeople exhibiting their work. The "Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit" took place this year last weekend and will reprise next weekend (Sept 6-7, 2014). The works range from big paintings for several thousands of dollars to small work in the tens and hundreds. Some of it I would love to hang in my living room, some you would have to pay me to hide in a closet. Unlike the rarefied world of galleries in Chelsea and Soho the art here is more approachable. The artists range from working artists to weekend warriors, all excited by the idea that over the days of the show thousands of people will walk by and some might stop and like their stuff. It's a great way to find decorations for your house. In addition to the many artists and sculptors there were many jewelery makers, fabric arts people, and yes, a few woodworkers. Three that I found, each were looking for a different type of customer, and each had their own slant on how to approach their audience.

Michael Manus is a woodturner who has exhibited at the show for over 20 years. This year he won first prize in the "Crafts Wood" category with a turned piece "Hollow form with finial". When younger he used to exhibit at many shows. Now, in semi-retirement, this is the only show he does. His work is mainstream turned wooden-ware. Well executed, mid-priced pieces from around $40 and up, most of his pieces are designed to be functional in the house. He told me that he's always done well at the show and certainly part of the reason for his success is that his work is priced for the impulse purchaser and can easily be carried away.


Santino Alvarez, furniture maker was exhibiting for the second year. I had a very pleasant talk with Santino and his wife. If I had to characterize his style it would be a very interesting take on modern rectilinear forms, with an organic feel. His work is all custom and the larger table in the photo starts at just under $1000. I asked about how business was because with furniture purchases, even a several hundred dollar purchase isn't really impulsive. Santino said that last year (their first at the show) they sold very little at the actual show, but there were many follow-up commissions which made the show for him a rousing success.

Peter A. Allen is a primarily architectural woodworker hailing from New Bedford, MA. (the exhibitors come from all over) and decided to show some of his original furniture designs at the show. The table, of wide English Brown Elm boards, is on a base of buffed copper pipe. The use of copper really sets off wood and both the brown elm and the copper accent each other without either overcoming the piece. While obviously Peter can use this theme for any custom situation, this particular table is $4200. The smaller solid Wenge coffee tables are 1800.

A city street isn't the most effective means of showing off someone's work so click on the maker's names to check out their websites. (Michael Manus does not have a website).

These were all the woodworkers I saw. Each working in their own milieu, and their own economic model. The problem of course with woodworking as a craft fair product, and the reason for so few woodworker's exhibiting, is that almost any furniture or wooden object is too expensive for an impulse purchase and most custom furniture is out of the average budget. More significant I think is, that in general, as a society we don't understand the idea of what custom furniture can do for you, and understand its value, like we do with clothing and jewelery. This is what I feel is so important about these furniture makers with the courage to exhibit. It turns out to be profitable for them, which makes it sustainable, but they are doing a great job of planting the idea in people walking by that they can get something special, made by a person, not a factory. The show eases people in. How many people bought their first piece of custom furniture only after getting used to the idea of wood as craft by impulsively buying a turned bowl? More than a few. How many people, who would never consider getting anything made for them, start talking about "maybe we should get a proper table for the dining alcove that actually fits?" More than a few. It takes time and many shows. I hope for some viewers, after seeing this exhibit, commissioning some furniture maker somewhere is an idea a little less far fetched. For me the entire show, with it's tens of thousands of visitors walking by, is on the front line of making people aware that not everything they buy needs to come from a factory in a far-away land paying starvation wages and you can get nice stuff made just for you.

N.B. If you wandered past the first exhibitors in the 1931 show you could have picked up a Jackson Pollard or Willem DeKooning for not a lot of money as both according to the exhibition brochure were not yet famous and needed rent money.

Maker Faire is in a few weeks. I'll be giving a presentation called: How One Small Company is Using Maker Technology to Stay Competitive in an Old World Industry. I'll write more about what I will be talking about next week, but I would love to see you come and say hi to me. We might even have some prototypes of new stuff we are working on.
Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Misc.
Comments: 1
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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