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Pay For Play  

01/21/2015

I am tired of reading blogs that tell you that everyone except themselves are corrupt and everyone just recommends stuff they have an interest in. Salesmen, of course, recommend only what they make the most money on, and magazine endorse any product if the manufacturers advertise enough or pay a bribe.

Not only isn't this true - it makes no sense. Of course a bad salesman in a crappy store might do that. And a fly-by-night magazine may do it, but good magazine? Good retailers? No chance.

First let's discuss salesman. Good stores make their money off of repeat customers. Better stores (and I hope we count amongst them) have free return shipping. So any company that doesn't try to make sure that a customer walks out with the best choice of product that they can is just shooting themselves in the foot. Retailers rarely care what you buy. They care that you by it from them, and you walk away happy. Happy customers return and buy more. The big problem for good stores is when a customer wants to buy something that isn't right. While we might gently suggest an alternative, we don't want to get into an argument, and we are just unhappy because we know the customer might be disappointed and blame us.

The only time this breaks down is with stores where the salesperson gets a commission. This means the longer term goals of the company might not be in line with the shorter term goals of a salesperson who has quarterly goals to make. Retailers we like, ourselves included, don't pay sales commissions and that solves that. (N.B. the following added on 1/25/2015). A reader pointed out that this statement isn't fair to the multitude of salespeople who are on commission and strive to do their best for their customers - for the same reason we all do - happy customers are good, repeat customers. He's right and I apologize. While we all have been exposed to bad salesman - the real key I suppose is company policy and company goals. - not commission.

While it is easy to suspect woodworking magazines of requiring payment for a favorable review, it doesn't happen. The reason is simple: Magazines make their money by selling subscriptions and advertising. Readers aren't stupid and if a magazine really was pay for play readers would figure it out and ignore them.

We would happily send just about any tool, or any shop full of tools, to any magazine reviewer in the United States or Canada. Except that since every manufacturer is willing to do the same thing the bribe effect is totally cancelled out. In addition no reputable magazine of any kind allows their editors or writers to accept free stuff, and if they do borrow stuff for a test or an article it's generally understood that there are no strings attached and will be returned or donated when they are done. Otherwise it's just too complicated for everyone.

Most magazine do have columns for mentioning new products. These aren't reviews and they don't have the impact of a recommendation. Even in this case editors print what they want. As manufacturers we can influence content by sending in a relentless stream of new products and press releases, but we can't force them to be printed (and I've tried for years). Editors are happy to look at new products. Sometimes they say send them along, and sometimes they say please no as they have tons of stuff to do and no place to put anything. Sometimes we have something interesting that jumps the queue, most of the time something we think is really interesting falls into the editorial abyss.

The American magazines keep a barrier between the editorial and advertising departments. In general (and I am hopeful this can change) even if a magazine writes a glowing review about a product we sell we don't find out about it until we get our copy in the mail - usually after sales spike, and we are out of stock for reasons we cannot fathom. Sometimes the editors do drop a hint and that way we don't disappoint readers who want the product. But it's always after the magazine has gone to press. English magazines work almost the same way, although we do occasionally get calls from advertising departments saying our product will be in the next issue and would we like to advertise. We don't.

What keeps the magazines honest is you, their readers. Readers aren't stupid, Once readers figure out that a tool recommendation makes no sense based on performance, they start figuring out what's going on, and the few bucks a magazine might make in bribes will kill readership pretty quick. It's just not worth the risk. Even advertisers don't have an advantage. We don't advertise in Fine Woodworking very often, Lee Valley doesn't either (just one large example), but what do you know, both companies get products reviewed and recommended all the time. Even when our products aren't recommended magazines the articles usually explain why and even if I don't agree, it's pretty obvious that taping a couple of Benjamins to the tool when we send it in wouldn't do any good.

Most magazines don't publish bad reviews. While a bad review can be hysterically amusing to read, there are way to many good products to write about and why waste the space on a turkey? From a purely statistical point of view a lot of good products never get written about either. Not enough pages on the planet.

While I am sure there might be some magazines with a pay for play policy I haven't found them, they are not influential, you probably don't read them, and they won't last long.

So when you read a good review in a mainstream magazine you can be pretty sure that the magazine writers and editors like the product well enough to write about it, or in the case of announcements they thought the item newsworthy. If you disagree with a review (and gosh knows I do all the time) take a look at the review and figure out why. It's more than possible that the features of the tool that you find important aren't the same ones as an editor finds important. Just because their conclusion isn't the same as yours doesn't mean anyone was paid off. They weren't.

The blogosphere seems a different matter. According to the law if a blogger accepts a product for free, or for payment, they have to disclose it. Some do, unfortunately many do not. In the woodworking world, just by reading the blogs it's pretty easy to see which blogs are pay for play so I don't need to tell you here.

I get asked to write blogs on this or that all the time, or just publish a press release. I don't. I do try to write about new products, but just like a magazine my creditability depends on material that rings true. Otherwise you wouldn't both to read it. I have written blogs based on suggestions from other people, but it's because I find the subject interesting. Now I am writing a series on diamond sharpening. Why am I writing it? Because we just started stocking DMT and I need to learn about the stones so I can write product descriptions and answer questions. The series of blogs is about my testing and how it will effect my approach to sharpening. My suggestions on stone selection apply to me. I think they also apply to many of you but not necessarily. Part of my testing is so I can figure out what we should recommend to customers. But our general recommendations might have little to do with your actual situation. We stock a lot more permutations of diamond stones than anyone needs, myself included, and there are whole sizes of stones that I can't see myself ever wanting but might be appropriate for you. I need to learn enough to recommend the right stuff depending on application. So that's why I am working with diamond stones and why I am writing about them. And yes maybe reading about my testing might help sales. I certainly hope so. But even if it doesn't, long term having good content brings people to the site, lets us recommend equipment appropriately, and leads to sales - or at any rate that's the theory.




Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions
Comments: 11

Diamond Sharpening - Part 2 - Grits and Scratches  

01/14/2015

I ended part one with a bunch of questions.

I've got two goals here - the first is figure out if I can get an edge that is the equal to or better of the edges I get using oil or water stones. The next goal is to figure out what's the fastest way of getting there. Finally, and make that three or four goals, can diamonds be used on my carving tools and are they an improvement on what I am already using? The last goal and let's just say, amongst my many goals, is answering the question: are diamonds a good solution for sharpening kitchens knives and other things that I get regularly asked to sharpen?


My first task was selecting stones and coming up with some testing process. I picked 8" Dia-sharp steel stones and a non-skid mat. These are the most appropriate for the shop. Selecting the 10" stones - normally I like the extra length - I figured wasn't justified just for testing. For grits I picked Coarse, Fine, Extra-Fine, Medium Extra Fine, and Extra, Extra Fine.

I included the coarse stone because I had one open, but I didn't use it. I just didn't need it. The fine stone - 600 mesh was a credit card sized stone that we had left over from product photography. Both the medium extra fine and the extra-extra fine I wanted to try because DMT says you can get a finished edge right from these stones. The extra fine (1200 mesh) is where Paul Sellers finishes up so I thought that it would be a good mainstream benchmark.
I also used a plain strop and a treated strop. The latter I never use except for carving tools as the honing compound used to treat a strop is coarser than my finishing water stones, but I wanted to see if I needed any finishing stones at all. Remember of course that I am trying all the stones to test them - I doubt my final recommendations will include even half of these. The non-skid mat is awesome. I know that over time they get dirty and don't work as well but for my testing and a lot of other sharpening stuff I do the mat has saved a lot of time in clamping and setups. It doesn't work well for holding wood for carving because the tools get jabbed in the work and everything moves, but for sharpening, especially with these heavy steel diamond stones it's awesome. (For water stones I use a wet paper towel which works wonders too).

All the pictures were taken with my cheapo USB microscope. For this test I just used a typical carbon steel chisel. I am going to try a D2 mortise chisel later.

The chisel wasn't completely hollow ground. I started working the bevel and back using my fine grit (600 mesh) credit card stone. What is amazing was how fast the little credit card stone cut. In probably less than a minute I was ready to move on to a finer grit. What this tells me is that my preference for 8" stones -is just that - a preference. 6" stones or even 4" stones would work fine. (for wider blades just skew them on the stone). The major application of the larger stones really is for people using a honing guide and they need a larger surface to work efficiently. The picture i took was out of focus so lets just immediately go to the 1200 grit stone. Again, very, very fast cutting. The end result cleanly pared both maple and pine. You can honestly say - as some teachers do - that there is no need to go further. But a look under the microscope shows a ragged edge, and while the chisel works well - the action isn't as buttery or as effortless as I would like (first picture at the top).

So I stropped the edge on a green rouge covered piece of horse butt. A big improvement. The cutting edge was cleaner, although scratches remain. Paring end grain was easier.

Then I tried the medium extra fine stone. Again, very fast cutting, but Ben says I can't recommend this stone because it's only available in the 8" size and it's much more expensive than everything else. The grit pattern is finer than previously, but my polished edge from the strop has disappeared. It pares about the same as the previous stropped edge.

Then comes the extra-extra fine stone (picture on right). Very fast cutting, but I run into a problem. Because the diamonds cut so fast if I am not extremely careful the chisel can stutter a bit on the stone and then I get rounding at the tip. I think - although I haven't tested this - I'm working dry and working with water or oil would mitigate the stuttering and minimize this problem. The chisel does cut easier but the difference in quality of cut is minimal.

But I still have scratches. So out comes an 8K Norton waterstone (third picture) and to the naked eye a decent but not great polish quickly comes up. However under the microscope it is still pretty scratchy. The chisel works even better, with less effort.

Finally (last picture) - A plain strop, no abrasive (as I have advocated for years). No dubbing of the edge, and the edge works easier still. The quality of the cut is marginally better than before.

My conclusion so far. Everything works. If you stop after the extra fine diamond stone you get a very useable edge. If you keep on going you get a better, easier to control, better surface leaving edge. With diamonds, getting rid of scratches is hard. In theory the absence of scratches give you a longer lasting edge, but I don't really have a controlled way of testing that.
This test wasn't about longevity, I can increase the longevity of the edge by using a microbevel ( 5 strokes of my finest stone at a very slightly raised angle) but that is a separate issue. For complete instructions on how I learned to sharpen visit my old web page here.

Where to go from here? Definitely using all the steps I used here is overkill, but I was just testing. The question now is what should be my final sequence? It's more than just grit and polish. It's time, convenience, I'm not to thrilled about dry sharpening, the dust is getting everywhere. Also, maybe following the extra extra fine with an Arkansas stone will be easier. I don't know. Also this is carbon steel. The next step is to repeat everything with a D2 chisel and maybe an exotic plane blade. Stay turned.


Tags:Woodworking Tools and Techniques
Comments: 10

One Book - Three Editions  

01/07/2015

As someone who collects books on woodworking I am routinely faced with the conflict of Cost vs. Space vs Ease of Use. While many people love their E-Books - and I have a bunch myself, the physicallity of an actual printed book makes the world of difference for me. That being said I have run out of room for books in my apartment and any new volume really has to be worth the space. For me at least, I find that a well made and well printed book is a joy to read and that joy makes assimilating information all the easier.

The Dover reprint of Paul Hasluck's 1908 Traditional Woodcarving has been a staple in our store for years. It's an important book on woodcarving, not so much for the beginner, but for carvers trying to expand their options in architectural and furniture decoration. There is nothing really wrong with the reprint. It's about the same size as the original, The photos are OK for a reprint, but I've never found it engaging. The writing is Victorian crotchety, and the reprint being a modern, even if well made, paperback just doesn't make the connection for me. Before the Internet, and both the worldwide accessibility of the used book market, and Google's insistence on scanning every book on the planet, the reprint was the only game in town.

The Google scan - which is freely available here , when viewed on my ipad is an immediately easier to read volume than the reprint. The scan is fine, but the text seems larger and reading it I don't feel strained. Maybe because the medium is so removed from the original I don't expect anything and it's easier to concentrate on the book. However being able to view just one page at a time, and getting no sense of the volume, or not being able to easily flip through pages, for me is a vastly unsatisfying experience. It might really be just the glass screen that sits between me and the text that makes it appear distant. I am not sure if this is a generational thing and younger folks might not feel this way but I do.

Finally, just arrived, is a luscious original copy, bound in leather with gilt edges, from 1908. It's basically the same size as the reprint, but for some reason it's easy to assimilate. The book lies flat, the photos are clear, but it's not immediately obvious why I find that it just begs my attention. Is it the off white of the paper? The feel of the leather cover? The immediate physiological connection with its history? I don't exactly know but I find myself wanting to sit and read it more than my other copies.

Now I understand the with the availability of the scanned version my sales of the reprinted version will drop, and I know original copies like that I just bought are not readily available. But here's what scares me: Ebooks, no matter how nice, are still read behind glass on a machine full of distractions. Unless you have multiple screens you can't have more than one book open at a time. And for me at least, the assimilation of information is less. A cheap reprint may present the information but but the involvement isn't there. Of course if publisher feels they can't make a profit in print, there won't be nice printed books. And if publishers feel they can't earn enough money from a book, they won't pay much to get it written and the working writer with something to say might need a day job. All that's bad news. My original hardback Hasluck reminds me of what a craft book can be. It's not the best book ever written, but the presentation makes it a lot easier to learn from. I don't know what the future holds.

But here's some great news:


I want to shout out to Megan at Popular Woodworking for the latest issue! In it are two of the best furniture projects I have seen in print in ages. And in the same issue!! An aumbry by Chris Schwarz and an article by Peter Marcucci on how to make a reproduction of an 1898 chair by Charles Rohlfs. Everyone here I showed the issue to wants the pieces, and wanting the pieces is the first step towards inspiring new woodworkers and getting the old ones off their duff. The rest of the issue has great stuff on shooting boards, tung oil and etc. Really a job wonderfully done and I am looking forward to more of the same!! You can get the issue at a lot of bookstores and newstands and through the Pop Wood website here - Although the current issue they show is the previous issue - I am writing about the Feb. 2015 issue.

While I am on the subject of great news. We stock all the books from Lost Art Press. Chris Schwarz, the publisher, understands the important of a book not just containing useful information, but also looking the part. Lost Art Press books are more expensive that typical books on woodworking, but they are hardbound, elegantly done, and a joy to read.
Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Historical Subjects
Comments: 6

Diamond Sharpening - Introduction  

12/11/2014

In the past 30 years sharpening with diamond stones has gotten more and more popular. Some teachers, notably Paul Sellers have been huge advocates of the technology, and more and more people are using diamonds for some of all or their hand sharpening needs. The largest US maker of diamond stones for sharpening, and one of the best is DMT and lately we have started to stock most of their entire range. This is the first of two blogs on diamond sharpening, this entry being about the issues involved, and the next part about with my personal experiences with the stuff.

30 years ago the major complaints about diamond stones were that the stones weren't flat enough for precision sharpening, the stones didn't last, and you could not get a finished edge from one. The major positives about the technology were that the rise of exotic alloys in woodworking tools such as A2 and D2 increased the demand for a sharpening media what could handle these tough materials with speed. Also diamond stones didn't need lubrication or flattening.

Another popular application of diamonds in sharpening is to charge a plate with diamond paste, which turns the plate into a fine abrasive stone. This works great,especially for very fine grits. This is an old method of sharpening that has been applied to woodworking tools for the past ten or twenty years.

In addition to directly sharpening stones another very popular use of diamond stones is to flatten waterstones. It's a quick method and works great with one major problem. The problem is that the way you make a diamond stone is by taking a flat piece of steel, sprinkling diamond dust of a specific grade on the plate, and then nickel plating the entire plate, rocks and all, to cover the stone. The plating bonds the diamonds to the plate. When you use a diamond stone to flatten a waterstone, the water stone particles are abrasive and wear away the the plating that keeps the diamonds on the stone - so the diamond stones work slower and slower. In the photo (taken with my inexpensive not very sharp USB microscope) on the right you can see the plating surrounding the diamond particles like irregular halos.

When sharpening diamonds produce a coarser edge than does the same grit waterstone. There are two reasons for this. Diamonds, like most abrasives have a nominal grit assigned to the stone. The grit - 220, 600, or 1200 or so mesh is the maximum size of the diamond particle. This is the same with all abrasive stones - there is a nominal abrasive grade and an actual variance on the particles. Lower quality stones will have a greater grit variance but all diamond stones have some variance. With regular waterstones the second you start sharpening, any large grit particle shatters, and all the particles start to round over and wear. So very quickly you get an even scratch pattern that we associate with the grit of stone. Diamonds, which cut fast, don't shatter (very much) and the larger diamonds on plate scratch the edge deeper, and don't get worn down. The end result is that for the same grit stone, the diamond scratch pattern is a fair amount coarser. But, because the diamonds don't break down, very fine diamond pastes can sharpen quickly and for a long time.

Pre-diamond my basic sharpening sequence for waterstones was, Hollow grind, use a 1000 grit stone to create the wire edge, then chase it with first a 4000 or 5000 stone, followed by an 8000 grit or better finishing stone. For harder Japanese tools I stop there, for Western steels which are typically softer I follow with a plain, untreated leather strop.

The question now is what's an appropriate sequence of diamond stones? Do I need as many? of what size? DMT makes two basic styles: the original DuoSharp with spots of diamonds on plastic substrate, and the DiaSharp which is a continuous diamond surface on a precisely flattened steel substrate. For woodworking tools the steel plate is the way to go - it's what they were designed for. They do weigh a ton, are more expensive than the earlier stones, and are overkill for knives and other non-precision tools. I like large stones, but the weight of the steel stones has kept me on the 8" size, not the 10". A fair number of customers like the 6" length because it's a lot less expensive, and much lighter. To keep the stones from slipping around a bench we stock the absolutely fab non-skid mat or a magnetic holder that comes with 12" stones and has the advantage of lifting the stone off the bench for more clearance.

DMT does manufacturer, and we offer, an 8000 grit (extra-extra-fine) DiaSharp, but as I am chock full of finishing stones I haven't tested it. In the next part of this series I will take a closer look at diamonds and start getting into practical experiences. I've got two goals here - the first is figure out if I can get an edge that is the equal to or better of the edges I get using oil or water stones. The next goal is to figure out what's the fastest way of getting there. Finally, and make that three or four goals, can diamonds be used on my carving tools and are they an improvement on what I am already using? The last goal and let's just say, amongst my many goals, is answering the question: are diamonds a good solution for sharpening kitchens knives and other things that I get regularly asked to sharpen?
Tags:Woodworking Tools and Techniques
Comments: 13

Professional Status  

12/03/2014

Dr. Matt Taylor, a physicist and project scientist for the Rosetta mission (the team that landed a probe on a moving comet) recently gained fame for reporting on the mission on the BBC - while wearing a lurid bowling shirt.

You could make the case that he singlehandedly jazzed up the image of scientists all over the world, and if that's so, perhaps we owe him a debt of gratitude. It did bring home the point that every profession has its professional wardrobe. You know, the clothing and image that immediately establishes someone as trustworthy, serious about what they do, and imbued with the appropriate knowledge. Doctors wear lab coats, bankers wear suits, Chefs wear toques and aprons, and Thomas Lie-Nielsen wears a vest.

That's why I'm so pleased we have started to stock Blaklader workwear. The Blaklader line is designed in Sweden and is one of the leaders of what is known as "European Workwear." For me, it's striking that there is such a thing. In Europe, craftspeople are typically paid better than than craftspeople are in the US, and crafts jobs have more structure and training. It's no wonder that a craftsworker would want clothing appropriate for the hard wear shop clothing gets, with pockets and protection where it's needed. It's clothing that will make your job easier and more comfortable.

In the US, we expect our professionals to look the part, and their wardrobe choices help shape our expectation of their professionalism. It's really no different with workwear.

The line is designed with the same cleverness and practical ideas that we appreciate in fine tools. Destroying your knees on the job? Here are pants with reinforced kneepad pockets and two kinds of insertable cushioning . Utility pockets where you need them - and in the right number. Check it out and see what you think - we have jackets, pants, vests, and even a work kilt.


In other news the two books by John Whelan Making Traditional Wooden Planes and The Wooden Plane: Its History are once again back in print and the Festool Vecturo is out on the marketplace in force. We are already sold out of the Festool Toolie and Festool Apron - both limited seasonal items that we apparently understocked. Sorry about that.






Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions
Comments: 3

Cyber Monday - Actually Starts On Sunday Night!  

11/26/2014

This coming Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, has become to be known as "Cyber Monday" and on-line retailers (that's us) are supposed to have some really great deals for you. Most years we have pretty much ignored Cyber Monday because let's be fair we are kind of busy and we have pretty good deals year around. However, and this is a trait pretty common amongst all retailer of a certain age, in business for years at the same location. We have tons and tons of perfectly good merchandise that we can't sell for one reason or another. And it piles up. Usually the only thing wrong is a packaging or cosmetic defect, or something we discontinued and have a few left. But in any case the stuff takes up more and more room. So Ben and Nar have spent weeks photographing the tools, writing one line descriptions and getting over three hundred items ready for the chop.

The list include wonderful new old stock that we never got around to selling normally, and dented crap that someone might want for reasons we don't get.

So that's why there has been that poster up on our webpage for the past week. Sunday night, around 10:00 PM Brooklyn time, it all goes live and it's open season. Why Sunday at 10:00 not midnight? We are a small company and the poor sap who has to release everything and not screw it up is me, and if I wait until midnight I will probably pass out first.

BTW we also have no idea if the web site can take the volume of traffic, and actually everyone in on-line retailing is wondering if the entire Internet can take the volume of traffic. We will see.


Also - and this is important - for the first time we are allowing people to reserve items in their baskets. Once you add a sale item into your basket you will have 30 minutes to close the sale, Theoretically more time if nobody else wants it but by 30 minutes we mean 30 minutes. After that, if your order isn't COMPLETED, anyone can put the item into their shopping cart and it will vanish from your cart. So my suggestion is, set up your cart over the weekend with anything else you might want to order (and save on shipping) - such as some gramercy tools, or the new Festool stuff that is shipping on Dec 1 or some brand new ready for winter Blaklader work clothing, and then after 10:00 put the stuff you want in your basket and check out.

Good luck, have fun!

Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions
Comments: 0
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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