Tools for Working Wood

 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

Repair Tip  


In the early 1950's my parents bought a modern, Danish style set of table and chairs that fit quite well in the dining area of the tenement apartment where I grew up until age 11. This is when Danish furniture was something new and exciting and Ikea did not exist. The table is long gone, given away to a cousin, and eventually discarded. But the chairs I have always liked and over the past twenty years, all but one of the set of six have migrated to my apartment.
The newsworthy bit of all of this is that after 60 years the glue that holds the legs on is starting to fail and several legs have collapsed, requiring a repair. The legs are threaded and screwed into threaded holes int he chair bottom. To add some thickness wooden pads build up the thickness around the leg sockets. The pads were simply glued on with four small nails to keep them steady while the glue dried. Wood movement over the years have caused the pads to crack and the glue, which was originally poorly and spottily applied, has given way on many chairs, causing the leg to fail. If the leg comes completely off, what I do is clean off the glue, and reglue the pad and leg on. This seems to work. But on some legs the pad has begun to give way but isn't exactly off, and the leg cannot be just unscrewed. My solution, which is really just a patch, is to force glue into the joint, apply a little pressure and then hope it all sticks. The glue being stronger than the wood.

Many years ago I learned this trick Maurice Fraser to force the glue deep into the joint (which is critical). Ideally you use a piece of cellophane wrapper from a pack of cigarettes (preferably Will's Gold Flake). It's thin and rigid. Sadly I don't smoke so I didn't have any cellophane but I did have a lot of plastic wrap. This didn't work as well but it worked pretty well. You have to be careful as the plastic wrap bunches up as you slide it in and out of the joint. What you do is apply a lot of glue on the outside of the joint and then try to slide a single layer of plastic in and out of the joint pushing and spreading the glue into the joint. Then clamp or squeeze shut the joint and let the glue dry. It works pretty well. Not as well as being able to take apart the joint and cleaning and preparing fresh surfaces, but it's better than nothing. This is a handy trick to use on any glue starved joint where fully dissembling the item is impractical.
I used yellow glue, another option would be Old Brown, which now that i think of it might be stronger, and of course Old Brown is reversible.

A Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving! to everyone and their families. For those looking for a Cyber Monday sale we do plan to discount some of our discontinued products that we have lying around. The sale won't be as big as last years but it will have some nice stuff in it.

In other news, and I will have more about this at another time, we will be moving soon. We don't know where and if you know of (or know someone who knows of) a ground or second floor rental in Brooklyn that isn't outrageous that might work for some toolmaking and a showroom please give us a ring. We might be moving our warehouse upstate, so any good leads in that direction would also be appreciated.
Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Woodworking Tools and Techniques
Comments: 5

A Visit to the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages  


When woodworkers talk about unusual tools in history the conversation invariably turns to the carriage trade. Wooden carriages have the distinction of having to be light, strong, weather resistant, and most important, full of complex frames, moldings and curves. Nothing is square. Over the centuries a myriad of highly specialized carriage-makers tools were developed, However, in this day and age it is rare to get a chance to see the results of these tools.

On Labor Day a month or so ago I had the opportunity to visit out in Stonybrook, Long Island, NY. As you may have noticed I like to write about small museums. And they are so much fun to visit. The Carriage Museum, which is an affiliate of the Smithsonian, has the largest collection of carriages in the country. For me it's the first time I really had the chance to see a really great sample of all sorts of carriages, sleds, private surreys, giant bus transports, and everything in between.

The museum is actually a consolidation of several museums and also had an exhibit of carved duck decoys, and one on the Long Island mansions that used to dot the island. While the mansions are mostly all gone, some of the relics show wonderful woodwork.

I don't really have a larger point with this blog except maybe that whenever you are traveling, even a short distance, visiting the local museum can be a really wonderful surprise. In the case of this museum even more so because unlike a large museum in a big city the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages relies on a small group of patrons, visits from locals and school trips, and doesn't have the mass of tourists that keep the big boys afloat. But, nonetheless, and in spite of the expense and difficulty in maintaining such a collection, the entire museum had exhibits worthy of the best of what the Smithsonian could offer. For example the tools of the carriage maker aren't that strange to me and piece of a production shop, an outdoor shop, and a carriage maker's tool chest are all on display, what I have never ever seen before is a carriage maker's paint and finishing kit, complete with brushes and paints, and a few specialized tools. The brush geometries alone are new to me and who knows, might have application for finishers today. The point is - I learned stuff - and that's always valuable. Here are a few pictures I snapped with my phone. The little lion headed sled is BTW from about 1790.
I urge you all to visit.

Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Woodworking Tools and Techniques,Historical Subjects,Misc.
Comments: 6

Begin at the Beginning  


Before there was Tools for Working Wood, there was The Museum of Woodworking Tools, because I've always wanted to have some sort of display for our tool collection. What we call "The Tools for Working Wood Reference Collection" basically forms the core of our tool development and is the jumping-off point for nearly everything we do. And I personally am interested in how tools develop.

Whereas The Museum of Woodworking Tools provided a virtual look at the collection, our newly revamped showroom finally has given us some small exhibition space for tools. (In the past few months we have completely revamped out showroom and added Saturday hours (11-5). The reason for the additional hours is that a lot of people aren't able to visit during the week, and with the massive rent increases that are happening all across Brooklyn (and to us), we can't afford to let a scheduling conflict prevent visitors. But in order to make it worth your while we have been massively upgrading our showroom experience. More stuff, nicer stuff, and a much more elegant showroom. Come and visit!)

For our first exhibit, we wanted to start at the beginning and show some of the oldest post-Renaissance metal planes in existence. The five featured planes in this exhibit show the evolution of metal plane design from small brazed planes from Continental Europe, to larger proto-mitre planes that were used for marquetry, to the late 18th century fully formed English Box mitre plane. (this sample by Gabriel). Then we have two more planes: a wooden mitre plane (by Moon) that - as near as research can tell us - came after the English box mitre found its form. It's simply a less expensive approach to the genre. We have also included one later (but still early 19th century - possibly by Gabriel ) mitre plane in which you can easily see the dovetailed construction joining the sides to the sole, and the two pieces of the sole being joined together by a tongue and groove joint.

You may be thinking, I just saw the photo. Why why do I need to come see the planes in person? Good question! In the days of the internet, we all see a lot of pictures of interesting things. But seeing in person is different. I like to think that this is one reason why we collect tools: seeing the object itself, even behind glass, gives one a chance to draw some of their own conclusions about design.

It's a small exhibit and we had to leave out a least another half dozen early mitre planes that are also part of the story. But we also plan to have new exhibits every few months and tell more of the story of the history of woodworking tools.

We hope you will come and see for yourself.
Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions,Historical Subjects
Comments: 1

Here Lies Duncan Phyfe  


Duncan Phyfe is probably the most famous of all American furniture makers. Working out of shops and warehouses on the west side of Manhattan he initially became famous making furniture for New York's upper middle class and rich, and then as his business grew, he became known nationwide and his furniture was shipped all over the United States and the Americas. The style he developed, an outgrowth of Federalist style perfectly reflected the growing wealth and importance of America in the first half of the nineteenth century. Rich, luxurious, but not ostentatious. He died in 1854 and after a short stay in Marble Cemetery in Manhattan he was reinterred across the harbor in Brooklyn in the very fashionable Green Haven Cemetery. Only a few blocks from my office. Green-Wood Cemetery was established in 1838 and is now the final resting place of almost a half a million New Yorkers. An important concept in 19th century cemeteries was to make the place attractive, both as a nice place for the residents, and to encourage family visits to keep the deceased as part of the family circle. So the cemetery is landscaped, with hills, lakes, walks, and open space. Many of the memorials, headstones, and mausoleums are of great beauty and imagination. It is now a National Historic Site. It is still a working cemetery. Open to the public, you are encouraged one to wander around and take in the sites. It's a fabulous open air museum of 19th century art and design.

Phyfe, who was quite famous in his time, sadly is not part of the list of 22 famous people (Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Boss Tweed to name a few) who are buried there and listed on the cemetery map. And he is no longer famous enough, or has enough visitors to warrant instant directions by the staff over where his tomb is located. But he is listed in the directory (there are two Duncan Phyfes he's the one who was buried in 1855).
The cemetery is also the site of a big revolutionary battle and on Battle Hill, there is a large Civil War Monument. Hundreds if not thousands of Civil War casualties are buried at various places around the cemetery with most of the graves are just marked with a simple tombstone, the name, unit, and year of death.

Phyfe's mausoleum is in section 78, at about the middle of the entire cemetery. In a dark, not well maintained area, the mausoleum has nothing on it to remind us that here lies one of the great cabinetmakers of all time. The design of the mausoleum itself is exactly the sort of thing that I cannot imagine Phyfe would like. Squat, forbidding, and plain, it has nothing of the elements of design that made the reputation of the man. His wife is buried with him, although neither has their names and dates recorded on the tomb. In front of the mausoleum are headstones memorializing members of the Whitlock family, whose Phyfe's daughter Mary married into.

I have also included several views of the cemetery, including several tombs that I thought were particularly wonderful, and a wooden back gate that is a great example of post - civil war architectural woodworking.

Should you visit our showroom, and we now have Saturday hours too, The cemetery 35th street entrance is just a few blocks away. It's well worth a look around, especially as the leave change in the fall.

Tags:Historical Subjects
Comments: 3

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: 2
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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