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 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

Big Discounts on Festool Vacuums, Demo Days, and Sharpening Classes, and Surprise Sale Bin Stuff   


Before I get into the details of the Festool promo I want to apologize in advance to those readers who have complained about the occasion business driven blog. I just spent part of the day at the Brooklyn Library seeing the original of the Saw Book Quarterly that I mentioned a few weeks ago. But that blog entry won't be ready until next week (and I discovered some interesting factoids) But the Festool sale, demo stuff and classes info is timely. So here goes.

After months of worrying about moving, moving, (and then finding where we should put stuff) a whole bunch of things are happening at once. The really big news for May and June is a 15% off sale on all Festool vacuums and accessories. The new CT SYS (more on that later) isn't included but otherwise the sale starts May 1, ends June 30th, and gets you an instant 15% off on qualifying merchandise. This offer isn't connected to buying a tool so it is the ideal time to pick up an extra vac for the shop or jobsite. Bags, filters, and accessories and also included! Note: The promo is 15% off list, not on top of the 10% off you get when you buy a tool. After 5:00 on April 30th the promo prices will magically appear on the website and you can place orders for Monday shipping. Free shipping on all Festool orders over $50 still applies!

The New CT SYS vac is here and you can pre-order now. This is the most popular vac sold by Festool in Europe (after the CT 26) although when people first heard about it in the US we got a lot of pretty negative feedback. Too small, no wheels, under-powered, etc. More than one customer told me that it was a non-starter. Then, once we had our demo unit and could show people in the store, we got a lot of enthusiasm and pre-orders. I think it's a tool you just have to see. So if you are unable to come and you think it might suit just order one. You have 30 days to return any Festool tool and we pay return shipping.

Now that we have a proper ground floor store we are having classes and Festool demo days. First the Festool Demo Days.
Put Saturday May 14th, 2016 from 11am-2pm and Saturday June 4th, 2016 from 11am-2pm on your calendar. The cool bit is that in addition to having some serious Festool demos and the chance to try out just about any Festool setup, ask questions, etc. I plan to be there with our bins of sale stuff. When we moved we found tons of stuff that really we need to get rid of - but it's a lot of work to put it on the website. So I plan to just make up prices on the spot. Lots of new stuff, discontinued stuff, and stuff I just want to get rid of. Now I realize we are short sheeting our customers who live far away and can't come by. I apologize for that but I can't figure out any other way to do it that makes sense for us.

Sharpening classes. We thought a lot about what form the classes should take and we realized that the more people who can sharpen properly, the more people who will enjoy woodworking, and that's great all around. So we decided to offer our seminars for FREE. On Saturday May 21st from 12-1 and again on Saturday June 11th, from 12-1 I will be teaching an "Introduction to Sharpening Woodworking Tools". The call will be about an hour long but I will be hanging out longer to answer questions and stuff. I'm a big believer in technique more than the sharpening media and my goal is to teach hand skills not gizmos. I'm not sure if we will have a pre-registration, and most of the class will be explanation and demonstration. But I will have space set up so people can try the basic hand motions and technique. I also want everyone to get a sense of what a really sharp tool feels like in action. If you want to bring one (and I mean one) of your chisels to the class - by all means bring it. Please however don't bring chisels that have chipped edges or need to be reground (lots of secondary bevels). I will have tools to practice on and it might be easier to learn on those. Depending on demand and response I will in future also schedule sessions on learning to grind. Our goal is to start a steady stream of free classes that teach basic skills as a way to get started woodworking, or as a refresher. For the moment these classes are all on Saturdays, and as soon as my weekday schedule changes - and I have more time in the evenings during the week - we will add free sessions during the week too. Parking BTW on the weekends is pretty easy. Either in our driveway, near our driveway, or under the expressway. The subway (R train to 25th street in Brooklyn) is only 3 1/2 blocks away.

We will have more details as the classes and Festool demo days develop. See You Soon!
Comments: 2

The Old Merchant's House  


Most of the time when we see old furniture it's out of context. It's in a museum, on display, but not in any sense in situ. The exception of course is historic houses. Of course, even in that case, there is a goodly chance of the furnishing being a reconstruction of the original, rather than the original thing.

The Old Merchant's House, on 4th street between the Bowery and Lafyette was build in 1832. Seabury Tredwell, bought the house in 1835 and after his last daughter died in the 1930's the house became a museum. Aside from some odds and ends work the family never redecorated, or threw anything out. Consequently what you see is a coherent picture of the living quarters of an upper middle class family, their servants and the furniture they used on a daily basis in the mid-19th century. In context.

While the furniture itself is very interesting, the most important thing I learned on my recent visit was how the role of furniture and entertaining has changed over the last 170 years. These folks had a fancy parlor with an early pianoforte ready for frequent entertaining. And of course they had a card table. In the US today, due to long hours and television, adults socialize far, far less than ever before. So places in the home meant for social events have been replaced by big televisions, and eating out.
Young people socialize by going out in groups. I don't think Facebook is the same thing and chatting face to face. I used to have a poker game with friends every couple of weeks. I miss that. It was fun.

One reason for joining your local woodworking club or attending gallery and woodworking events and classes in your neighborhood is the social element. And it should not be underestimated. I still have the friends I made in woodworking class and so many people I know get real enjoyment from the people they meet at through their local club.

So visit The Old Merchant's House with some friends. Heck, make a day of it. Bring the whole family, and split up if you need to. Have lunch in the area - Katz's isn't too far away but you are in the downtown on the Bowery and if you can't find something to eat that everyone likes you have larger issues than we have room to discuss here. A walk in the area will reveal lots of buildings from the 19th century in various states of modification, not to mention new stuff of every ilk.

An important issue that the Old Merchant's House faces today is in danger of destruction. Next door a tall apartment building has received building department approval and engineering studies have determined that in the process of drilling for the foundation for the new building the chance of the Tredwell house foundation being shifted is very very high. Reports say that even a quarter of an inch shift will crack the original, fantastic, decorative plaster found throughout the house. Permanently damaging the building and doing incalculable historic damage.
Tags:Historical Subjects
Comments: 2

Festool All Brilliant Abrasives and 15V Cordless Drills Being Discontinued  


About two years ago Festool introduced their Granat abrasives line. It has a larger range of grits than Brilliant 2 and is also more versatile. So this year, this month in fact, Festool is discontinuing all the Brilliant 2 abrasives and suggesting Granat as a replacement. Brilliant 2 is less expensive than Granat but is really meant only for sanding finishes. We still have lots of stock and will leave it on the site for the next week or so when we will pull it off the shelves. We might keep the 5" and 6" disks around longer but some of the less popular sizes will be disappear. We cannot take backorders on Brilliant.

In addition to the Brilliant, Festool is discontinuing their line of 15V cordless drills. Don't worry, batteries will still be available. The general thought is that most people opt for the stronger 18V system and while 15V drills have a place they are too niche to warrant shelve space. So again, we have stock in both "T" and "C" handled drills and they will be available for the next week on our site. Please see here and here for the C type and T type styles respectively.

As usual all Festool products orders over $50 are eligible for free shipping.

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

Six Reasons Why You Have Trouble Getting a Razor Sharp Edge  


In a previous blog I mentioned that we plan to start offering various classes in our new space on 26th street. AsI was preparing notes on sharpening for a class I realized that with over 300 million people in this country, not to mention the several billion on the planet, even if only one million people sign up for the class at maybe 10 people a class that's one hundred thousand classes and at 2 classes a day and teaching seven days a week that's over 300 years worth of classes. Not to mention people signing up again for a refresher. So I decided making that my notes public would be a good idea.

In my own case I pursued sharpening because in my early years of woodworking I could not get my tools to work as easily as Roy Underhill did on his TV show. A lot of people, well meaning people, people who are trying to work wood, have trouble with getting their tools to work because the tools are not sharp and I think the reasons they cannot get their tools sharp fall into the following categories.

Note: at the bottom of this entry is a list of links to lots of the sharpening topics I have written about over the years.

You don't know what a sharp tool really is and how well it can work

If you have never seen a sharp tool slice effortlessly through wood it's hard to figure out how far you need to go. It's also instructive to have practical experience on how different applications have different requirements of "sharp". For example my bench chisels are sharp. The edges are robust and can take a mallet. But when I started carving I had a go with one of Chris Pye's tools and in one second I got a visceral lesson on the requirements of sharpening for carving and how much further I needed to go.


Find someone whose ability you respect and ask to borrow a chisel for a few minutes. Failing that take a look at some videos. Not videos on sharpening, but videos of people who you respect actually using tools. See how their tools behave. This will be an instant lesson on how far you have come and where you need to go.

Your Technique Sucks

In sharpening the lessons are all about "easy" and having the right stones and gadgets. The biggest issue I see in sharpening is that people have inconsistent technique (freehand or with a jig). With inefficient technique most of the effort on flattening a back or trying to raise a wire edge is wasted. The only thing that counts is the effort made at the cutting edge. Spending hours flattening a part of a chisel an inch from the cutting edge does nothing and can easily result in rounding the back. If, when you sharpen, you are mostly honing the middle of the bevel, not the cutting edge, you are achieving nothing. And for those constantly raising the chisel on the stone to ensure that you are honing at the cutting edge, raising the angle reduces the penetrating ability of a chisel and makes the tool harder to use.


Learn one consistent technique and practice it. Freehand or honing guide, it doesn't matter. Being consistent does matter, so that each time you sharpen you are working the same edge, not reestablishing some new sort of bevel.

You Need A Grinder

Really! You do! A grinder will easily repair edges that have chipped or bellied bevels that are hard to sharpen and easily reestablish cutting angles. We stock Baldor grinders which are awesome and at the top of price curve. You can also get a very inexpensive imported grinder, just put good wheels on it, and keep the wheels dressed. Until I upgraded to a Baldor I had an inexpensive noisy grinder for years and it worked fine. Think of it this way: You are spending thousands on tools and wood, why would you not also invest in making sure the tools are working correctly. I like a hollow grind - it makes sharpening easier so I don't really have a use for any of the flat grinding systems out there. I think the Tormak is cool, but way too slow for what it is.


Get a grinder. Get good wheels on it. Keep them dressed. Learn to grind.

Your Stones Aren't Flat Enough

I get tired of reading contrarians who tell us that in the old days nobody flattened their stones and you routinely see dished stones at flea markets. In theory, especially for knife sharpening, if a stone is only used by one person, who sharpens consistently a dish doesn't matter because blade and stone will conform. This is sort of true. For woodworking tools it's a falsehood. First of all even as far back as 1839, in The Joiner and Cabinetmaker, the text tells us about keeping stones flat and that joiners would pay a fine if they neglected flattening the shop stones after use. But the real reason for keeping flat stones is consistency. It is far, far easier to sharpen something if you know that when you rub a bevel on a stone it contracts the full width of the iron. And when you work a back your stone is actually contracting the back of the blade, evenly, not wearing it to a curve. If you use multiple stones (of different grits as we usually do) you want the same behavior from the stone as you go from grit to grit. Otherwise you will get weird results and sometimes screw up your blade geometry.


If you use waterstones flatten your stones regularly. If you use any other stones make sure they are flat. You can use either a abrasive flattening stone, a diamond flattening stone, or wet or dry sandpaper on glass. All work great.

You Don't Finish With A Fine Enough Abrasive

You can cut wood with any blade sharpened at a few hundred grit and above. It's really a matter of ease of cutting and control. Stopping at a 1200 grit diamond stone, a 4000 grit water stone, or a soft Arkansas stone just doesn't give me an edge I can feel in control of, and for carving softwood - forget it. I was told by Toshio Odate, who related a story told to him by a master Japanese planemaker, that typically people don't spend enough time on their finishing stones. You know how it is. You've gone this far and you want to be done. But water stones get finer as you work them. As an experiment I worked a finishing stone on a plane iron far longer than I thought was necessary. It's true. The edge was better.


If you use water stones or diamond stones finish up with an 8000 grit water stone or better. If you use lapping film 1 micron or finer works great. Modern Arkansas stones are cut with diamond saws and start out a little rough. They do work in to glass smooth. Follow them with a plain leather strop.

Your Abrasives Can't handle the Steel Alloy.

Just about any stone technology can handle regular old fashioned carbon steel - usually O1 alloy. But these days we love A2 and D2, and other much tougher alloys that bounce off of lots of sharpening media. Sure you can sharpen D2 on an oilstone but it will take ages and there is an excellent chance you aren't getting nearly the best edge you can. We have also found issues on A2 and D2 with some harder water stones. The A2 steel sharpens a bit on these water stones but the stone aren't friable enough so the abrasive dulls and stops working before the abrasive is released from the stone and new sharp abrasive is exposed. I won't go into brands much but one thing I really like about our Norton Water stones is that they work great on wierd alloys. Naniwa Chosera stones (which we used to carry) also work really well but Naniwa Superstones - which are hard - suck on A2 and D2. It works but it way too slow.


If you are using non-carbon steel tools a lot make sure your stones are up to the task. If not, hollow grinding the tool saves oodles of time and makes getting a sharp edge much easier. Also think about switching to diamond stones. But use an 8K water stone for finishing. The extra,extra fine DMT stone which is nominally 8K doesn't have slurry and as a result leaves a coarser edge than a regular 8K water stone (which wears finer as you sharpen a tool) .

Your Final Sharpening Angle Is Too High

The typical recommendation for bench chisels is about 25° and maybe a 5° secondary bevel. With modern alloys sharpening at lower angles doesn't work in a lot of cases as the steel crumbles. If you are constantly raising the angle of the bevel to guarantee contact with the cutting edge when sharpening your final angle might be even higher. I won't even get into back bevels and tricks. Higher angles mean more force is required for the tool to penetrate the wood. More force means less control. Paring chisels were traditionally sharpened at a very fragile 20° with a small micro-bevel. The edge was fragile but the control you get is wonderfully precise.


Take a look at your sharpening angles and if the steel permits it try lowering the angle. Remember to include all micro, secondary, and back bevels in your calculation.

Bonus Extra Reason:

You have no idea what I am talking about. There are terms and topics I am writing about here that you might not be familiar with. This isn't your fault. It's easy for me and many writers on sharpening to get caught in minutia. But the main thrust here is that you need to learn how to sharpen. You can learn from on-line resources, videos, a class, or any mentor. But without finding a way of keeping your tools sharp - or more properly sharp enough - you will find working with hand tools an exercise in frustration. Frustration that can be easily avoided.


Do your homework. You have been this far. This isn't brain surgery. Woodworking is mostly learning some basic technique and then practicing enough to train your hands.

To get you started here are some links to sharpening lessons and essays I have been involved in over the years:

Step by step lessons on how to hone a chisel
Is This Tool Sharp?
A Better Way to Flatten Waterstones;
Feel The Burr
Flat Back? Good Idea? How Flat is Flat?
In The Belly of The Bevel - Or How To Ineffectively Sharpen Anything
The Mechanics of Stropping - Why Stropping Works
Further Thoughts On Grinding

My Article on how to Grind from June 2008 Fine Woodworking magazine;

N.B. Because of the recent move my tools are still packed away and I have no idea what happened to the boxes of sample stones I used for demonstrations. So the picture at the top of this blog is the best I could do. It shows the contents from a boxed "Salesman Sample" that Norton Abrasives gave to me some years ago. It contains all their sharpening stones in a boxed set, each 1" x 4" x 1/4". The set includes some grades of Arkansas stones that aren't typically available like their "Opaque Hard Arkansas" stone and the gone but not forgotten much lamented Lilywhite Washita stone.

PS - Thanks very much for all the kind notes and comments about Maurice Fraser. It was he who first taught me how to sharpen.

Tags:Woodworking Tools and Techniques
Comments: 4

Maurice Fraser 1928-2016 RIP  


Maurice Fraser, my friend and woodworking mentor, passed away last Sunday night. He was 87. I first met Maurice in the mid-1980's when I took a summer class in woodworking at the Craft Students League of the YWCA in Midtown Manhattan. From there I spent three years taking Maurice's woodworking classes at various levels, eventually becoming one of Maurice's class assistants. Maurice taught evenings at the Craft Students League for over 30 years.

While it is fair to say that different styles of teaching appeal to different types of students - and not every teacher is right for every student - in my case, the match was perfect. Maurice wasn't interested in teaching students how to build projects. He wanted students to learn basic techniques well so that they could build anything.

Each lesson was a careful dissection of a technique, sharpening, mortising, dovetailing, finishes, etc. Maurice taught using not just one method, but a comparison of advantages and disadvantages of many different approaches. Each class was accompanied by a distribution of "notes," a series of papers that illustrated the methodology being taught. Many students, including me, would routinely consult the notes for sequence and tips when we did the actual work. Like many of Maurice's students, I kept these notes all these years, long after evening classes ended. If you click on the picture below I have scanned and uploaded a set from his mortise-and-tenon lectures. The last page, which is very poorly reproduced, was typical of Maurice. Every year, before each topic was introduced he would routinely cross out, re-edit, and alter the notes. Trying each time to make them clearer and more focused. Many students - and there were a fair number from the publishing industry - urged him to write a book of his notes. But Maurice had trouble with that because he said, "They need to be cleaned up and some of the material could be a lot clearer." Sadly, this is a project he never completed.

Maurice's great skill was as a teacher. He understood how to experiment, dissect, then simplify and explain a subject so it made sense. For example, when the class studied hand planing, Maurice brought in a complete line of Stanley Bedrock planes and Norris planes from his personal collection so all the students could try them out for size. The goal was to understand which plane did what, and (within the family of bench planes, for example), which size fit your best. Maurice preferred a Bedrock 603. I ended up with a Bedrock 604.

Maurice did write articles for magazines, including Fine Woodworking, and contributed to a woodworking book by Reader's Digest. His sharpening lesson, which he taught first thing to every class of beginners, was adapted for the web back in 1999, and you can see it here. As a traditionalist he used Arkansas stones for sharpening all his life, but very much believed that developing good technique for sharpening was more important than which stones you used. His lesson was turned into a short video which is available here.

Born in Philadelphia, Maurice served in the Army in post-war Japan; among his many jobs was guarding Prime Minister Tojo in prison. After the war Maurice became a bookkeeper in New York and hated every second of it. In desperation he quit his job and took a long trip to Germany. It was there his great love of music went from a dream to an active passion. Back in New York he worked as a harpsichord tuner and a taxi driver to make ends meet. In the 1960's Maurice decided to learn how to make musical instruments and took classes under Jere Osgood at the Craft Students League. When Jere Osgood left the position Maurice took over as the instructor.

Maurice's real passions in life were music and Connie, his wife of 60 years. Maurice moved into a boarding house in NYC in 1954 and met a roommate's gorgeous sister: Connie. They fell immediately in love and moved into a small apartment in the then rough-and-tough Upper West Side. They were together as a passionately devoted couple until Connie's death in 2013. Maurice stayed in that same apartment for the remainder of his life, surrounded by Connie's paintings and things that were beautiful of their own or made significant by the life Maurice and Connie lived together. Connie actually enrolled in his class a couple of times, unmasked as not just another attentive student by the the endearments Maurice couldn't help but use with her.

I learned a lot more from Maurice than things about woodworking. As I write this I am listening to the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Thomas Tallis. Maurice introduced me to William Byrd, Percell, and others. He never did get me to enjoy Bach, which was truly his favorite. Of course in typical Maurice fashion, after hearing that I liked Byrd, Maurice suggested that Byrd was "nice," but really I should be listening to Tallis (one of Byrd's teachers). He was right. Those who were fortunate enough to be invited to dinner with Connie and Maurice will never forget the experience: the most astounding feasts - technically complex, unless they were disarmingly simple, like a water-based garlic soup flavored with mace - and a succession of rapidly emptied bottles of really good wine. All from a tiny (even by NYC apartment standards), very dimly lit kitchen. Connie's passion was traditional cooking. If you were there on Christmas (and I was), you got a goose dinner that Tiny Tim and Scrooge would recognize. Connie was the single finest home cook I ever had the fortune to sit at table with, but was also a wonderful, encouraging and appreciative guest at someone else's table. Maurice, with his typical attention to detail, introduced me to fine wine and fine dining.

Maurice's passing marks the end of an era for me, and for so many of his former students in the Maurice diaspora.

Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Woodworking Tools and Techniques,Misc.
Comments: 15

Hayward - You Blow Me Away  


"The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: 1939-1967" is another masterpiece from Lost Art Press. The Woodworker magazine, first published in 1901, was the greatest woodworking magazines of all time. In 1923, a young cabinetmaker by the name of Charles H. Hayward decided against going into the family business and instead took a job with the magazine as an illustrator. Hayward had classical training in woodworking, an experience not lost on the editors, and it turned out the young Mr. Hayward not only had a knack for the illustrating he was originally hired to do, but also writing and editing. Hayward had an unusual gift for drawing and writing clearly and succinctly. As an editor, he knew how take material written by others and give it a consistent voice and eliminate confusion. Hayward retired as editor in 1967.

Magazine by their very nature are transient, which means that Hayward's work has been lost to all but a lucky few of us (who might have a few old issues or one of the many books that Hayward wrote). Until now.

Lost Art Press spent eight years (eight years!) combing through all the old issues of The Woodworker, carefully scanning the illustrations and resetting the original text to ensure that it look very readable, and then divided the material into two large, luscious volumes. Volume I is on Tools and Volume II on Technique. It doesn't get better than this. Really. It doesn't.

First of all, the book captures the spirit of magazines, which are by nature meant to be read whenever the reader feels like dipping in. So unlike a giant book on projects, The Woodworker allows you to dip in anywhere, read something, study something, and then put the book down to enjoy on another topic at another time. And what you're reading! Clear text and illustrations in a way you have never seen before. The old expression, A picture is worth a thousand words, is only true if the picture is well thought-out. In this reprint, the pictures have been enlarged from the originals and the text reset and laid out for easy reading. As you can see in the picture the original articles were pretty tightly set due to the economies of space in a magazine.

The book, like all Lost Art Press books, is hardbound, Smyth sewn, and printed in the USA. It's built to last, which makes sense since you will find yourself picking it up and re-reading bits for decades to come. I know this from my own experience, because I still re-read Hayward material I have had for ages. It's not just the learning: the work is so well done, full of style and elegance. Hayward's writing and drawings are so good, re-reading his work is like seeing a fine performance of a song you already know. You learn more each time, but the sheer joy of watching a master is pure entertainment. And of course, for first time readers -- how exciting is that? You are in for a treat!

The volumes are available separately or as a set at a small discount While the set is expensive, we are talking 888 pages of large-size paper in a quality book. Shipped free in the USA.

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