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 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

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

Linoleum Block Printing  


It was at an exhibit at the Met a few years ago that I learned, much to my amazement, that linoleum block prints weren't just an art students' thing, or a kids' project. The linoleum block prints in the exhibit were from a sophisticated school of art practiced in England in the 1920's and 30's. I was really taken with the prints, most of which were about 12" x 15" or thereabouts. They had real power. The experience of seeing them was one of those serendipitous moments when you turn a corner in a gallery and say "Wow." The exhibit included a book in a glass case that had been written by Claude Flight, one of the leaders of the movement, about making color linoleum prints. I took down the details and located a copy; since then I located another contemporary text on the subject. Unlike most of the later texts on the subject, these two books tried to teach how to make professional grade prints of quality and complexity.

I haven't actually tried doing this myself - I can't draw. But it's important to understand that the medium, in this case linoleum, very much shapes the form of the piece. Nowadays you can duplicate just about any style with Adobe Illustrator, but you can't easily duplicate the rules enforced by a medium, or in the case of block printing, the depth and dimension of something actually printed on a block in a press.

A quick search on google immediately comes up with hundreds of modern linoleum images, most in just B+W, but some in color.

I also happen to have in my book collection "Treatise on Wood Engraving" by John Jackson, with two additional engravings by Baxter. The book, which was published in 1839, is the gospel of woodcut engravings, written at a time when the art form was at its technical peak. The book is sometimes found with the Baxter prints removed, since the prints are valuable on their own. George Baxter (1804-1867) was the first person in England who managed to produce color wood engravings in any quantity. He used a variety of techniques and the last image in this blog, "Parsonage at Ovingham" is by him. (Apologies for the mediocre reproduction.)

Why do it in the first place? That question can actually be asked of any craft endeavor, or any activity, really. Why carve? Why make furniture? Why decorate a cake? The actual urge to make stuff is intensely personal, primal, and way more complicated than can be addressed here. But unlike furniture or carving, block printing can allow you to create multiples. With good paper and ink, block printing gives you a result that is unlike any modern printing. The bags we use for the BT&C nails are printed on a letterpress, using ink blocks for the graphics, and pressure to stamp the ink onto the paper. We do it this way mostly because we need to cut and score the bags for folding, but the result, with depth to the letters, is so satisfying to the touch, that even if we didn't need to score anything we would still use letterpress.

You don't need a printing press - although building a small press out of wood is pretty easy, and the actual carving is well within the ability of just about everyone. Any hand printed item - a business card, an invitation, a thank you card - printed with your own block is a far more personal form of communication than the laser printed equivalent.

For those of you who might be interested in giving it a go, the basic idea is pretty simple: carve, in reverse, the pattern you want to print. Actually, that's not true. Unlike engraving, where you remove material where a line goes, in linoleum printing you carve away all of the top surface that doesn't print. The skill comes in leaving clean lines remaining, and carving in a way so that the thinner lines remaining, and the edges or the printed parts, have strength and won't collapse under the press. (I know it's more complicated than that, and the final result is the printed paper, not the carved printing block, which is just the vehicle.) You do need sharp tools, of course. Printing the blocks also requires some basic skill which can be easily learned.

We recently started stocking a linoleum block cutting kit by Flexcut and block printing supplies, which I hope will become popular. We also stock a large selection of "Block cutters" by Ashley Iles. Most of the block cutting tools we sell are used by carvers who happen to like the smaller tools, but it's gratifying to know that we do have a fair number of print makers amongst our customers.

I would hate to think that all the traditional methods of printing will get swept away by the computer.

The main picture at the top of this blog is from "Lino Cutting and Printing" by Claude Flight (1934) and the second print is from "Colour Block Print Making from Linoleum Blocks" by Hesketh Hubbard (1927). This is the final proof print after the book works its way step by step through all the plates, printing each color one by one.

The second to last picture, a wood engraving from the early 19th century, is by Jackson and is from his book.

As someone who collects books I can say that part of the appeal for me of 18th century and earlier books is the physical beauty of early printed engravings, woodcuts, and the way the letters are embedded in the page.

N.B. You might have noticed that in the past months I am blogging considerably less. I would much rather blog less than just publish endless drivel, and in the past months, continuing to the present, we have been remodeling our entire space. We now have a passenger elevator, and we expect to add Saturday hours by the fall. This means that while we reorganize, my toolboxes and carving bench have been moved to a corner, and I am loath to start doing anything useful because the entire shop is at sixes and sevens. I'm also changing my role at TFWW. Over the coming months I will be doing less day-to-day management and more computer work (which is actually my main area of expertise) and more woodworking content. I realized that unless I stopped working on day-to-day problems I would never get a chance to resume making stuff - which is the reason I ended up in this industry in the first place.

Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Woodworking Tools and Techniques,Historical Subjects
Comments: 3

Blasts from the Past - Reimagined - and Made For the Future  


There still is a lot of innovation in hand tool design - innovation that ranges from tweaks to completely new approaches in design and manufacture. Modern makers of tools, all of us, are using new materials and new manufacturing techniques to advance tool performance and tool appearance. The hand tool innovators of the 19th century did the same and did their best to industrialize handtool manufacture and wring the most performance from human-powered machinery. They did a great job. It's always been the philosophy at TFWW to look to the past for direction, and then push forward using the advantages we have today. Two years ago, at the first Handworks show in Amana, Iowa, we got a chance to see a real Montague-Woodrough handsaw. The saw, made by a small competitor of the giant saw companies of the time (Disston, Atkins & Simmonds), had an innovative tooth design that ripped brilliantly, crosscut smoothly in hardwood, and while looking bizarre, was no more difficult to sharpen by hand than any other good saw. It probably didn't succeed in the marketplace due to its lack of distribution and the difficulty of sharpening it using the machines available at the time.

We are closing the circle today, and it is fitting that we are introducing the BT&C hardware store saw with our version of the Montague-Woodrough tooth pattern at Handworks 2015. (The saw will be available on our website shortly after we return from the show and finish catalog photography and related things).

The tooth pattern of our saw was inspired by the Montague-Woodrough saw, but isn't identical. We have the benefit of studying what they did so we can move forward. We did a lot of prototyping and we think our tooth pattern has some advantages over the original. We also added a few other 19th century innovations. The saw cuts like a demon and also functions as a pretty accurate square; ruler; protractor; layout guide for dovetails; and many other tools. The idea of using a saw for layout is of course a 19th century idea, but it never caught on much and was hard to manufacture reliably. The graphic details on the saw are inspired by the mid 20th century machine tools in our workshop and the background texture (you can't really etch a flat surface evenly, and it would wear too fast too) takes its original design from an 18th century leather instrument case.

But this is a high tech 21st century saw. Really. The detailed etches on each side of the saw are accurate and clear to read. The black color of the etch is below the surface of the saw and will last for years. In the 19th century, makers could not effectively etch that amount of detail. In the 20th century, the shallow electo-etch that was popular would wear off over time and even initially rarely had the detail needed. In the 21st century, we use a state-of-the-art etching mask, lots of computer time and precision in punching to register the blade and pattern correctly from each side of the saw. Unlike the fancy square saws of the 1900's, these saws can be made to a precise standard at reasonable, if not rock-bottom, price. In the USA.

The end result is a saw that you would want around the house or shop. A saw that you might take with you on the road. A saw with a comfortable full sized wood handle, that cuts fast, but is short enough (16" cutting length) to carry around without damage. A toolbox kit, an all-around saw, a household saw. You know that saw your dad had, that he got from his dad, who got it at the local hardware store a long time ago. The saw that he used for everything. You just wish it was a better saw. This one is. We also wanted to make it versatile so you don't have to go around with a kit of tools just to cut a square line or measure off a few inches on a board or cut at an angle.

When we were first discussing the concept for this saw, we referred to it as "the hardware store saw" because that was our frame of reference: the useful saw you get at any hardware store. We figured we'd call it something different later on but the name stuck, so Hardware Store Saw it is.

Here are a few pictures. In the next weeks we will release the saw to the world. We hope you like it. I'll be writing more material about the engineering and manufacturing of the saw, because for all that it's a hand saw with 19th century roots, it really is high-tech. High-tech for what a 19th century saw can do, and high-tech in some areas even for 21st century manufacturing.

Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Woodworking Tools and Techniques,Historical Subjects
Comments: 28

Festool Package News and Some Long-Term Things You Should Be Aware Of  


Festool just released an official statement about packages. In the past if you bought a tool along with a vacuum at the same time you would be entitled to a 10% discount on the vacuum. Two tools, two vacs, two discounts. And so on. In the Festool catalog there were specific part numbers to deal with these discount packages. As the number of tools rose the number of packages got out of hand so Festool said "No More". The new policy is that if you buy a tool, any tool, including a drill, or a Vecturo, which don't even connect to a vac, you can get 10% off any vacuum or MFT/3 table that you want. It's the same discount as before but much easier to determine. So under all the tools we have added a drop-down which lists all the package add-ons. The discount is shown in the shopping cart. If you purchase more than one tool, or several vacuums the system will automatically give you the best discount it can. If you want a drill and a vacuum they aren't listed on the same page but you can add them separately and the cart will know how to calculate the best discount. I wrote the code for this feature last week. It seems to work, please let me know what you think.

While we are on the subject of Festool I want to talk about some issues that have occasionally come up with the line.

Sanding pads that wear out. Over time you might notice that the sanding pads on your sander seem to stop holding the sandpaper well. This is normal, pads do wear out, but there are a couple of things you can do to make the pads last a lot longer:

Turn down your vacuum to about 1/2 power. There is just too much suck going on for sander dust collection. What happens is that the suction from the vac pulls the sander to the work, making it stick to the work and therefore making it harder to move the sander and harder for the sander to oscillate and do sanding. So the extra friction gives you more heat, the heat softens and destroys the pad. Cure: turn down the vacuum to about 1/2 power, or actually the minimum level needed to get great dust collection. Your pads will last a lot longer, and sanding will be a lot easier.

Another reason sanding pads can wear out is if you use Abranet sanding mesh. Holes in the mesh mean that the hooks on the pad stick through the mesh and will be worn out. The solution is Mirka makes an inter-pad for Abranet (we don't stock it as we don't stock Mirka) that you should use between the pad and the Abranet.

Motor Brushes - If you use your tools a LOT. and I mean a lot, weekend warriors will probably never wear out the motor brushes on their tools, but professionals who use their tools a lot might. If you wait too long before changing brushes your tool might start operating irregularly, and if you wait even long you will damage the motor armature, requiring an expensive repair. Brushes are considered consumables and replacing brushes is a normal long-term care item. You can change your own brushes pretty easily. If you bring the tool in we will do it while you wait - it takes about five minutes. We do not charge except for the actual brushes, which are pretty inexpensive. We stock all the replacement brushes here. (we try to stock all the brushes for every tool but we probably are missing a few - give us a holler if we don't have what you need).

Tool sockets: The concept of detachable cords is great and convenient but in order for it to work you need to twist the cord in the socket on the tool a complete 1/4 turn. Otherwise you don't get a complete connection and inside the socket you get arcing. This coats both the cord and socket with carbon, reducing efficiency even further and causing even more arcing. And if you use a carbonized cord or socket with a nice clean cord of socket, the carbon layer will cause arcing and destroy the good cord or good socket. The solution: replace both the cord and socket as soon as you see carbon develop. We stock both sockets and cords for just about every tool and you can easily change it yourself. If you come to the showroom with the tool we can do it for you at no charge in about 5 minutes.

Vacuum sockets. The way the socket on your vacuum works is there are two leaf springs that form the connector to the plug of the tool. When you plug your tool into the socket on the vacuum the springs give a great contact and everything works perfectly. However over time as you move your tool back and forth, the cords sways back and forth in the sockets, and especially with sanders, those springs can wear and suddenly you get an intermediate contact. The solution is to unplug the vac and bend the socket prongs back together. This will work for ages although eventually you might have to replace the socket.

Finally, a few months ago Festool changed it's warranty. In the old days in the case of a problem Festool paid for shipping both ways in the first year of purchase, one way the second year, and you paid all shipping in the third year. The NEW and much improved policy is that Festool will pay shipping both ways for ALL THREE YEARS. You can either bring the tool to us and we will be happy to arrange shipping to Festool for you, or you can go to and create your own ticket and get a pre-paid return label. In either case Festool turns the tools around pretty quickly.

N. B. After writing this blog I reread it and I am hoping that you don't get the impression that Festool products aren't what their reputation has lead you to believe. The actual number of tools that come in for repair of any sort is tiny. With a three year warranty Festool simply cannot afford to make junk. But like any high end item the tools aren't meant to be disposable, and at some point some of your tools might need some assistance. What makes Festool a great tool company is not just that they make great tools, but also that support them in a professional way. Part of both our and Festool's job is making sure that if you do have a problem you aren't alone.
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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