Tools for Working Wood

 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

July Fourth Weekend and Objects That Connect.   


On July 3rd I went down to the South Street Seaport of visit the Hermione, a reproduction of Layfayette's ship when he returned to the US in 1780. The line was crazy so instead we had lunch and went over first to Federal Hall and then to the Custom House. The latter is the home of the New York branch of the Museum of the Native American. There were two fabulous exhibits. First, a superb exhibit of modern jewellery by the Yazzie family, a Navajo family of silversmiths. What a treat (which I was forbidden to photograph)! I was just blow away. Then across the hall was an exhibit of really fun Central American ceramics.

As a rule I am not as enthused by ceramics as is my wife (who missed this visit) but this was really really nice stuff. Now I rate all exhibits with one rule "DO I WANT THIS" and I did, but a thought crossed my mind.

My dinnerware, a set of china my parents gave us, is nice stuff, but it is factory produced. It doesn't say much about us as a family. We have some a few pots and dishes that we picked on on trips and stuff that we use for company. Some of that is hand made. And I have a set of rice bowls that I bought at a craft fair directly from the maker over 20 years ago. I loved and still love the idea of using craft goods in my everyday life. But we don't. We just never bring out the interesting stuff except for company.

And this is what I was thinking of when I was looking at the ceramic bowls in the picture above. Did the users of these bowls appreciate the decorations and the designs? Were they used regularly or only trotted out for special occasions. Did some bored diner turn the bowl to see what the designs were on the other side, instead of hearing yet again the story of Uncle Fred and the Big Bear. And the sixty four dollar question: Why is it that some much of the things I own (and I have way too much stuff) are so forgettable? There is of course a big exception. The furniture I made, which sees daily use.

This is important and for me at least is at the core of why I started building stuff as a kid, continued as an adult, and eventually focused on making furniture. As a kid I built models and dreamed of big stuff. But I didn't have access to a real shop or grown-up materials. As an adult I had spent way to much time looking at great, but un-affordable furniture in museums to really not be disappointed by the mass market stuff I could actually afford. (good furniture is expensive - always has been). And my dream has always been to live in a home with nice stuff and the only way I could get nice stuff was to build it. And I did. I'm not done, and selling tools and raising a kid has limited my time at the bench by a lot. I also started a project over twenty years ago of making pieces for relatives. I didn't go far in that project, but I still get comments on the pieces I did make.
But, getting back to the thread of what I wanted to say, every day I sit on settles I made, and eat at a dining table I made, I have other pieces here too, but these are the ones I use daily, and feel good that I have real wood furniture, that is the right size for us, and fits in our apartment, and isn't expected to fall apart anytime soon.

(One of the settles is solid walnut and eight feet long. I don't think Stickley never made one that long, or out of walnut, and he certainly never made it using bed hardware so that it can be taken apart and moved from apartment to apartment as life changes.)

Tags:Woodworking Tools and Techniques,Historical Subjects
Comments: 2

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
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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