Tools for Working Wood

 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

Gabba Gabba Hey!  

08/17/2016 (I just Saw An Exhibit That I Could Go For)

Before I get into the body of this week's blog, I want to mention that tomorrow afternoon (August 18th) from 3 - 6 pm we will be having a Festool Demo Day at the showroom. In addition to seeing all the current tools, you will have a chance to take a first-hand look at some new tools for the fall. This includes a new carpentry saw - with a built in miter fence! - and a new screw-gun that takes magazine loads of screws for really fast professional work.

This has nothing to do with woodworking (well, maybe see the last paragraph) but it does have lots to do with getting people's attention. The most popular exhibit ever at the Guggenheim Museum was about motorcycles as art. People came from all over the country and from all walks of life to see the show. There were lines to get in outside the museum almost every day. Why? Because the topic resonated with people.

Learning about motorcycles interests people much more so than does an exhibit of self-indulgent paintings or sculptures. The Queens Museum, an interesting, but mostly off-people's-radar museum located in Flushing Meadow Park (where the 1963-64 World's Fair was held, and right near the spaceship restaurants from Men in Black) mounted two of the best museum shows I have seen in a long time. Hey Ho Let's Go just closed. (Sorry.) The line on opening day at the Ramones show was four hours long.

I had in mind to go to the show since first hearing about it well before its opening, but various other things in life intervened, so I made sure to see it shortly before it closed. The show consisted mostly a collection of memorabilia with videos of performances. It's very interesting to see that first wave of crudely printed punk music magazines (before we knew they were punk), a great photo article on the Ramones buying their first touring sound system. The Ramones were all Queens guys, though only Dee Dee continued to live in Queens after they had a bit of fame, and first got acquainted at Forest Hills High School (one town over from Kew Gardens, where my parents moved, allegedly "for the children's sake").

The coolest bit was Tommy Ramone's Forest Hill High School yearbook, opened to the page with Tommy's picture. Smiling on the same page was a larger picture of a teacher, young Gasper Fabricant, who five years later was the principal at my high school. The Ramones weren't famous yet; perhaps later on he enjoyed some bragging rights.

The most poignant part of the exhibit was two pages of lyrics scrawled by Joey Ramone in the hospital, miserable, writing: "I want my life." Joey Ramone died of cancer in 2001.

Even on its last weeks the exhibit was pretty packed, and there were more people taking pictures than any exhibit I can recall.

There were two other exhibits going on at the same time that haven't closed just yet and are very, very good. The first is a permanent exhibit of the museums Tiffany lamp collection. That was fun.

The other is an exhibit of cartoons, illustrations, and paintings by William Gropper, a leftist illustrator of mostly social issues. I thought his work had real power, enough to get criticized by the Japanese government before WW II for his caricature of the emperor and by Joseph McCarthy of his painting of lazy senators. Gropper was blacklisted by the House Un-American Committee.

Is there a connection between these shows and woodworking? Certainly woodworkers face constant pressure on woodworkers to make stuff that is "different," "new," or that "explores the condition of humanity in the 21st century." But what our customers really want is a nice chair or table. I complain about the loss of skill, about the industrialization of furniture making, and the decline of traditional skills -- and then along come the Ramones, with the musical skill equivalent of using a hot melt glue gun. And I find the result incredibly compelling! 40 years after the punk rock movement made headway, the lack of musicianship is being overlooked (okay, not by metalheads) because of the compelling style that was developed. So when you design furniture, worry less about your ability to make it and more about what you are trying to achieve both practically and emotionally. That's the message of the Ramones for the modern woodworker.

BTW in case anyone is curious, my favorite Ramones songs are "Rockaway Beach" (Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock, Rockaway Beach, we can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach...) and "We're a Happy Family" (Sitting here in Queens, Eating refried beans...). In case you are curious, no I didn't need to look up the lyrics for either song.

Comments: 1

Summer News!  


A lot of interesting things are happening here at TFWW. Summer, while not extremely busy from a woodworking standpoint, is really busy from a retailing perspective. Summer is when we put pedal to the metal and try to get new products on-line. Here's a wrap-up.

On August 18th from 3 - 6 pm we are having a Festool Demo day. This event is the important one where you can see the new Festool tools for fall. Some exciting stuff! Of course we will have the entire range of demo tools out so you can look, try, and compare.

A few weeks we introduced crowned CBN grinding wheels. CBN wheels run really cool, need no dressing, and are great for grinding tool steel. Crowning the wheel, as you would do with a regular wheel, makes free-hand grinding a breeze and much easier to control. The 6" wheels are on-line here. 8" wheels and additional new versions of the Gramercy Custom Grinders are coming soon.

Over the years we have seen, rightly so, more and more people becoming concerned about chemical toxicity in paint. The concerns are about both the long term toxicity of the finish - especially important when there are young children around - and toxicity during application. In response, we've just started stocking the complete range of all colors of Real Milk Paint. Milk paint is a traditional paint that is basically pigment and milk solids. It's about as safe a colored paint as you can apply.

Stabila Levels, Tapes, and Folding Rules are the gold standard of what these tools should be. Stabila keeps on pushing the envelope of what these basic tools can be and do. Dumb stuff that should be obvious, such as rubber bumpers on the ends of the level so that you don't ding the tool when dropped (notice I didn't say "if," I said "when"). Tape measures with measurements on both sides of the tape and grippy end hooks. We also stock their digital level that allows much more sophisticated layout than ever before.

Between now and early fall expect a flood of new products from lots of vendors.

Comments: 1

The Unisphere  


Happy Summer! As a veteran of the 1963-64 World's fair I have distinct memories of the Unisphere - the giant globe in the center of the fair. After the fair most of the buildings and rides were demolished but the Unisphere became the centerpiece of Flushing Meadow Park. In its original setting of the fair the Unisphere and its surrounding pool were a giant, forbidding, off-limits symbol of peace, understanding, and the space age. Designed by Gilmore David Clarke the Unisphere stands 120 feet tall and is made out of stainless steel.

It's no longer off limits and has become a giant wading, sprinkler pond for the summer. In the pictures below I tried to get some sense of the hulking size of the sphere that totally dwarfs all the kids below. The last picture is of my mom,my sister, and I on one of our many visits to the fair (my dad took the picture).

PS. In the background of one of the photos you can see the derelict towers made famous in the first Men In Black movie. Originally the towers were very large rotating resturants and while there have been noises about trying to restore and reopen them, they have been derelict since the fair.

Comments: 8

The Joiner and Cabinetmaker - Free Downloads  


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.

Comments: 5

Chisel Detective  


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.

Tags:Historical Subjects
Comments: 8

Chairs from China  


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.

N.B. This coming Friday and Saturday is our scratch and dent sale. For more info click here!
Comments: 13
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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