First some tool news:
This Saturday we are hosting a Festool demo day. Come one, come all, details HERE.
I've just put up a series of vintage tools for sale. Mostly planes that are either dups in my collection of I just seem to have for no reason. All are great users. Pricing is market but everything is covered by are 6 month warranty including return postage. Take a look Here.
I was a kid but I remember when the Whitney Museum opened in a crazy modernist building designed by Marcel Breuer back in 1966. It was a big deal then and even fifty years later the building still looks modern, more so in fact than bunches of newer buildings. In any case the Whitney moved downtown and the Metropolitan Museum of Art took over the building to give more space for their modern art collection.
This past weekend I went to visit the new Met Breuer. I had wanted to see the exhibit by Diane Arbus - who I like and there was a major exhibition by Kerry James Marshall. I started at the top floor with an exhibit of Paul Klee.
My eleven year old son said "These are just doddles". I was wondering "did I really dislike this stuff" or did I just had a closed mind and was being negative". I'm still not sure.
Then I went to the Diane Arbus show. It was early work, and like most creative people showed a glimmer of what she would become, but like most creative people, I cannot imagine her wanting this stuff to see the light of day anymore. Technically it wasn't very good, it was awkwardly displayed, poorly printed, and a lot of the shots were out of focus. In the context of modern ubiquitous cell phone photography lots of it seemed invasive without being informative. You really knew it was a show about having the material, not about what information and emotion the material was communicating when outside the restrooms the very storage cases the negatives were kept in were also on display.
Finally two floor were given over to Kerry James Marshall, a major artist of our time. I didn't hate the stuff, his stuff is narrative which usually appeals to me but his overall lack or technique turned me off. Of the three exhibits his was the only one that I thought established a communication with the audience, but by the same token I think he could reach a larger audience if his technique was better. The questions I have for myself are: Would I have liked the work better if it wasn't in a crowded room? Would I have like it better if there were fewer pieces? Why am I missing the point?
What do I mean by this? To me great art, whether it is a play, a piece of furniture, a painting, a book, a movie, or a dance performance is about communication. Shakespeare's plays are 400 years old but they still communicate ideas and people still marvel at their ideas. Federalist furniture is two centuries old but it still tells us a story of proportion, restraint, and upper middle class but not regal luxury.
Older art by definition is pretty much filtered by time. Most of the crap doesn't survive and museum warehouses are full of the crap that does. Except as historical curiosities it stays hidden from view. The problem I have with so much of modern art is that I see it unfiltered by time. It's in a museum because some curator said it should be. The sad part is that the public, those wonderful folks who support the arts with grants, tax credits, and visits, aren't such fans as the curators would like them to be. If the art doesn't communicate with an audience, and the public stays away then our great institutions will find it harder and harder to get funded. And increasingly museums are places not for the citizens, but for tourists to cross off the map. Oh - I was asked by a staffer where we came from and on questioning I found that most of the visitors that day (and I think every day - even though it was a Sunday) are tourists, not locals. Not from around here. I can guess why.
Note: When you visit the Met - any branch, their policy is "pay what you wish" as long as you give them something you can get an admission pass. Kids under 12 are free. They have a large suggested donation but I pay based on how much time I plan to stay there and how flush I am feeling at the moment. The important point and I applaud the museum for this is that they would rather you and your friends and relations come visit and pay what you can, than be scared off by the not inconsequential suggestion of a $25 donation a head.
Note: I have been reliably informed that the Museum of Modern Art is getting rid of their once awesome design galleries and instead are spreading their design collections though other shows. I am not sure if this is to increase the overall quality of some of their other shows, or because they want to get people like me to rush through all their galleries in search of practical objects (I do need the exercise) but I pray that I am wrong and the design exhibitions will continue. Did you know that MOMA once, a long time ago, had practical classes in woodworking, pottery, and jewelry? I feel another blog entry coming on.
Chris Pye is one of the best teachers I have ever had the pleasure of learning from. Certainly a decent part of his success with students is due to his insistence on getting the basics right. If you study with him in person or on-line through his most excellent website one of the first things he talks about is how to hold a carving tool effectively. For me, following his advice made my carving much easier. I have both more control and more power at the same time. Also by learning that there are two basic grips and using the right grip for the right operation made it possible for me to control my tools and feel a lot less hesitant about carving. So I feel really great being able to share this basic tutorial on carving, written by Chris Pye. Chris's website works by paid subscription. It is worth every dime. You can subscribe directly on his site (we don't get a dime if you go direct) - He has hundreds of videos on all facets of carving.
- Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving to you and yours - from everyone at TFWW.
Get a Grip - by Chris Pye
Golfers know it. Baseball players know it. Even those who putt balls into little holes know it: The grip on the bat or club makes all the difference to how successfully you play the game.
It's also true of woodcarving, which is all about making the tools work for you. Once you have a properly sharpened, keen gouge in your hand, how you hold and manipulate the thing is crucial not just to the success of the carving but to the very joy of carving itself.
We carvers need grips that are safe, efficient, versatile, controlled and strong. I see students straining their wrists or elbows; limiting the flow of cutting edge through the wood; or making a lot more work about carving than is really necessary.
Putting aside what you shouldn't do, here are 2 exemplary ways of holding and manipulating full-sized carving tools. I use variations of these grips all the time. They will feel unfamiliar to begin with; your muscles and hand-eye co-ordination need to develop. But if you start with good practice and keep going, one day you'll find yourself swapping between these two hand positions continuously and without thinking - and your carving will have improved enormously.
Ground rules for both these carving grips:
These are 2-handed grips: one hand on the handle, the other on some part of the blade. Both hands work together.
The "blade hand" must rest in some way on your wood or bench adding so much extra control.
Keep your elbows in and move your body behind the tool.
The "Low Angle Grip"
Use this grip when the tool is cutting at a low angle to the wood, perhaps when running a groove, or cleaning up a surface.
1. Take a firm grip of the blade with one hand, so the little finger curls over about an inch or so behind the cutting edge. You should be able to see the back of the hand.
2. Depending on the width of your hand and the length of the tool, your thumb will wrap across a portion of the handle. Increase the control of this hand has over the tool by extending your thumb onto the handle.
3. Rest the heel of this blade hand on your wood. Sometimes I rest the whole of my forearm on the wood as well.
4. With the other hand, grip the handle comfortably. This hand is going to push.
Here's the secret: While you are pushing the tool with one hand, resist the forward movement with the other.
Thus there is a tension between your hands, a balancing of forces: pushing and resisting. It is the difference that allows the tool to cut in a controlled manner, starting and stopping precisely as you choose.
It's great if you learn to swap hands with this grip so you can work easily between left and right in either direction.
The "High Angle" Grip
This is an extremely important grip to master, combining control with finesse and, when you can involve your shoulder, a fair degree of power. Use it for setting in and detail work - any time the tool is presented more perpendicular to the wood.
1. Place a gouge upright on the wood surface.
2. Hold the handle somewhat like a dagger in your non-dominant hand.
3. Place the tip of the middle finger of your dominant hand onto the wood and tucked tight up behind the bevel of the tool, thus bridging tool and wood. The middle finger tip controls the blade in the same way as the heel of your hand did in the low angle grip.
4. Bring up the ring and little finger behind the middle finger to support it. t
5. You should have a finger and thumb of your dominant hand remaining. Use these to grip the blade.
6. At times, you can bring the heel of your hand down onto the wood surface too.
You needn't swap hands with this grip and, to get the most from this way of holding takes time: you will need to develop the gripping muscle between your index finger and thumb.
Those are the two basic grips: you will develop these ways of holding as you become familiar with them, adapting to circumstances. Eventually you will not notice yourself swapping between the two in a fluid manner and find yourself carving more comfortably and successfully.
This coming Saturday I will be giving my first class ever in grinding. It's actually not the first time I have taught this - I did an abbreviated demo years ago at a show. However this will be the first time I'm teaching grinding in a formal way. The class, as are all the classes I teach is free. Our basic thought on teaching is that the more people, especially beginners that can get past the hump of basic skills the more enjoyable and more involved they will be in woodworking, and I guess participating rin craft overall. For me it's also a chance to chat with woodworkers at more depth than usual. You can read about the class here. I hope you can come. I'm pretty excited.
This past Saturday I did another session of my class on sharpening. Since the class is free we don't always know how many people will should up. We ask everyone to register but there are usually cancellations and additions at the last minute, which isn't a big deal. I would much rather people try to make it, or make it at the last moment than skip it. It's also an interesting delemma for me. A small turnout means I can have more hands on for everyone. A larger turnout is good for my ego.
I will be repeating the sharpening and grinding class at some point in the future so if you can't make it no worries.
December 3rd we will be having a Festool Demo Day. What happens is that we set up all the tools and our local Festool rep, will exhaustively demo any tool you have questions about. We do this anytime if you need a demo but - he gives great demo. The official hours are from 11-1 but if people should up around 1 or so we will keep it going as long as we need to.
Our showroom is constantly being expanded - it's just everything takes longer. We are replacing one of our doors with a glass door so we look less like a warehouse and more like a store. But at the same time saw production is greatly expanded and piles of Hardware Store Saw, which btw now comes in an awesome presentation box, and our Gramercy Tools saws are being produced.
This fall we just added a new line of china bristle brushes. It's what we use for painting milk paint but we also use it for regular paint and varnish. Unlike our ox and fake badger brushes which have a super fine hair for shellac and lacquer these are moderately priced general purpose brushes for general work. We also have them with round ferrules, the latter being a traditional shape that holds more paint.
Green woodworking is more popular than ever and for lots of people that means "Spoon Carving" Take a look at these spoon carving tools by Ray Iles, Solid, heavy duty, and with very comfortable handles.
Lost Art Press will have a bunch of new books this fall, including volume 3 of Hayward. I am very excited and looking forward to that.
In the power tool areas Festool has a new box of workbench accessories. Like every year it is probably more expensive than it should be but it also contains a couple of new items - 2 low profile fences and 4 bench dogs. We will stock them when they are available.
We also took in a huge range of Make it Snappy tools. Snappy is one of those great Made in USA company that is constantly facing pressure from knockoffs overseas. But their stuff is better quality than their imitators and they make a huge range of useful accessories.
In other news I am in the middle of writing - well actually I haven't started - some software to help track inventory better so in theory that should result in fewer things out of stock, and I am also getting ready for a Cyber Monday sale.
This year our Cyber Monday sale will be smaller than usual, and should really be the start of some regular special stuff. We will be selling off about 25 planes that are excess to my collection. Pricing is lower than some dealers but higher than random flea market stuff and, unlike Ebay, you can return anything you don't like. The descriptions are as accurate as I can make them. I have tons more stuff I need to sell off but I don't know how much more will be ready in time. So hopefully we will just release stuff weekly for awhile.
Last time this year I was in a blind panic about finding a new home for TFWW. We had been in negotiations with our then landlord for several months, and I honestly thought we would have a deal. But when I got the lease, it was a non-starter. So my lawyer said, Find a new place, and I listened to him. Instead of getting new products for the fall and winter seasons, I spent my time and energy looking at overpriced warehouse spaces.
We actually found our current home, 112 26th Street, Brooklyn 11232, during Christmas week 2015, when I, the only guy dumb or desperate enough to try to find a new warehouse in the snow during Christmas week, and the only real estate agent working that week in Brooklyn met at at the space. Done! We worked out a deal.
The next few months were a mad dash of packing up a warehouse - about 12 25' truckloads of stuff, machinery movers, and gangs of people disassembling and reassembling everything. I am extremely proud of my crew as we only stopped shipping for two days.
Flash forward to the present. This year we're managing to do what retailers are supposed to do this time of year - get some new stuff in.
We decided to focus on rounding out product lines. So we have Milk Paint, Snappy Tools which are made in USA, and basically have a gazillion attachments for drills, socket drivers, even stuff especially for Festool.
We took in a wide range of Occidental Leather goods. These guys make the best work belts and pouches - all in the USA.
We have new books. We are now carrying something Ray Iles has been after me for years to carry - Spoon carving tools. We stocked these on Ray's recommendation and they are really solid and well made. Sharp too!. In addition to the spoon carving tools Ray snuck in a tiny froe - he calls it a Micro Froe into the box he sent us. I'm not sure if I formally ordered them, or said send me a sample, or said throw in a dozen or so, but for small work they are perfect, and even in the small size the blade geometry is spot on.
We also extended our range of brushes to include under the BT&C brand some great brushes for regular finishing and to complement our range of milk paint.
Finally - Crowned CBN Wheels - currently we only have them in 6" diameter but 8" wheels should be here shortly. You get the advantage of a very cool running wheel that's crowned for ease of use, but needs NO DRESSING.
The three Stanley scraper planes in the picture above are part of my tool collection and largely unused. I have two more that didn't make it into the shot - a No. 80 and another No. 12 1/2. The No. 80 was purchased in the 1970's for use but I haven't used it in years. I have no idea where it is. My other 12 1/2 gets occasional use.
Scraper planes were a lot more popular in the days before sandpaper became ubiquitous. Cabinet scrapers, and scraper planes if you have a lot of scraping to do, are the best way to smooth patchy grain, knots, and other crazy grain features without doing a lot of sanding. Sanding does cover a multitude of sins, and for most people that what one does and that's it. But for many of you wanting a planed finish, scraper planes still have a place in the shop. Instrument makers who need to take off fractions of a shaving very carefully also have a call for scrapers.
But can anyone explain to me why the Stanley Catalogue No. 34 lists eleven different models including a glue scraper? (BTW that glue scraper is very handy and the Kunz version isn't bad either.)
Tool collectors might need every model of every plane. Tool users don't. Or at least I can't figure out why they would.
The interesting question is why Stanley decided to manufacture all these different versions. It certainly makes sense for an non-adjustable version and an adjustable version. But a plain one (No. 12) and a Rosewood bottomed one (12 1/2 in picture) - does it matter?
Of course the reason is that Stanley, like any large company, wanted to have a tool for every segment of the market. You want the lowest cost? Get the No. 80. You want to treat yourself to the top of the line? Get the 12 1/2. A small one handed scraper plane - for smaller work? The 212 fits the bill perfectly. But all these planes do exactly the same thing. The different models exist primarily to satisfy the needs of the manufacturer, not, except in very rare cases, the end user (you).
The same is true of bench planes. They're conveniently numbered from 1 to 8. You might want a smooth plane (3-4), and a long plane (6-8) ( see last blog). Some people also like the "jack" length found in the "5" family. One per group is easy to justify from a user standpoint. After that, I think you enter collector territory. In my particular case, very early on I realized that If I admitted I was a collector I didn't need to sharpen all the tools I owned, just the ones I used. This saved oodles of time and let me keep expanding my collection guilt free.
Stanley no longer makes the No. 80, but we stock a usable, pretty decent version by Kunz. Most Stanley scraper planes were manufactured in large numbers and are readily available on the used market. We stock replacement blades by Ron Hock for most models which are heavier, better made, and perform better than the original blades.
These are the longest planes I own. I don't actually use any of them although I have tried. The longest planes I use are in my shop, these planes are in my tool collection.
Long planes, "Jointer Planes" as they are called exist for two reasons:
The first reason is for accurately milling wood. The second reason is for making the soles of other shorter planes accurate.
The first reason is the usual reason we are all taught that when milling wood by hand (which I do) the longer the plane you use the more accurate the final result will be. The standard way of planing anything flat is to first intentionally plane it hollow and then with the longest plane you own go from end to end until the high ends disappear into one long continuous shaving. If you use a short plane the concavity under a shorter plane will be less and therefore you will get that continuous shaving over a shorter distance than a longer plane and it is less accurate. It's beyond the scope of this blog entry to go into all the geometry but that's why in the days when people did all their milling by hand a long plane was pretty useful. This is especially true because in the 18th century, when wood was sawn by hand it was sawn pretty accurately and to final thickness and by the time it got to the joiner ideally only a few passes with a jointer plane were needed to finish the job. Smooth planes were used to take care of low spots the jointer missed.
The second reason comes from shops that used wooden planes regularly. The beech soles of hard used wooden planes wore and the occasional pass over by a long accurate jointer plane easily got their soles back to flat. Shops would keep a long plane especially for this purpose and use shorter planes for most things. Milling wood was done with long but not your longest plane - so that the longest plane would stay flat and could be used to fix all the other planes in the shop.
The long wooden plane 26" (second from the back) is a late 18th century jointer plane by Gabriel. It's in very poor condition, but the main reason it probably survived was because unlike short, more useful planes this plane was initially used as a reference and was taken very good care of for at least the first part of it's working life. Long wooden planes are the lightest of the genre and with their high sides by far the easiest to hold square. I learned this from Larry Williams many years ago and put it into practice. When you hold a plane with a high center of gravity vertically, it feels square, much like holding a glass of water and walking across a room. You get this effect with all planes but with woodies the effect is most pronounced. It because far easier to joint something free hand because once you get used to the sensation you can feel when you are out of square.
The long Stanley 28" transitional plane (no. 33) at the back is a rarity, Mimicking the long wooden planes that were readily available Stanley, offered transitional planes with a wooden sole and a metal mechanism in lengths up to 30". By the time this plane was available however almost every cabinet shop in the US of any size would have used powered machinery to do basic jointing and planing, and there wasn't really much of a call for long planes. In use compared to a regular iron Stanley they are at best mediocre.
Thomas Norris & Son - the great ((mostly) 20th century) infill plane maker listed jointers from 13 1/2" to 28 1/2" long in their catalogs and longer one on special order. I included three (that I don't use) here. The 22 1/2" A1 (the "A" is for adjuster) Norris jointer in the picture (middle) is on the rare side, but once you try using it for any length of time you understand why. It's just too heavy for regular use. The 17 1/2" plane plane I have in the shop (not in the picture) is far, far more common because it was far more useful. Of course by the 1930's there was less and less call for long planes and production was never very high.
Behind the Norris jointer is a 1930's Norris A72 22" wooden jointer plane. This is a collectible rather than a working plane. They suck. Norris in a depression era bid to lower the cost of their tools grafted the Norris mechanism onto a fairly random Beech body. The mouths are wide and it's not uncommon for the cheeks to be cracked. You find them in good cosmetic condition because they weren't used much.
The long plane in front of the Norris jointer is a C. 1920's Stanley Bedrock 608. The 608 being the premium line of Stanley No. 8's. The Number 8 and 608 were the longest iron planes Stanley made and is 24" long with a 2 5/8" wide iron. I find the tool way to heavy for regular use. In my toolbox I have a Bedrock 607 ( 22" long - the same length as a regular No 7) which I like a lot, use, and is long but a lot lighter than the #8. Lie-Nielsen and Clifton make long planes, we have a Clifton no.7 in our showroom and it's a wonderful plane, better in many respects than my 607, but both Clifton and Lie-Nielsen use far heavier castings than the original Stanleys. I find the modern 8's and 7's planes unwieldy for a long sessions of planing.
The English use the term "Panel Plane" to describe planes that are too long to be smoothers and too short to be very accurate jointers. 13"-18" long or thereabouts. These planes are a wonderful size and perfect for dressing timber in most cases.
In the front on the left is a C. 1830-18400 panel plane by Robert Towell This is one of the earliest iron panel planes in existence and it might have even been an experiment by Towell. It predates the typical construction of a panel plane and internally it is more like a mitre plane, with the bevel down but a mouth cut in and the sides wrapped around. Next to it on the right is a 13 1/2" A1 Norris panel plane. C. 1920's This is a very very nice plane to have for planing boards when accuracy isn't the primary concern (although it is more accurate than a smooth plane and usually has a wider blade). As mentioned earlier I mostly use a 17 1/2" panel plane, but you can use a longer and less wieldly longer plane to give you your accuracy and do the bulk of your work with this plane. As antique tools go these shorter infills are far more common, although it's important to get one in good original shape, and too much "restoring" can lessen the very properties that make these planes desirable in the first place. Stanley make a panel plane sized number 5 1/2, but I find the balance off and it has never had much appeal for me.
Now that I have a planer (I didn't use to) I find myself reaching for long planes less and less. If you really want to work unplugged even for milling timber a No 7 or better yet a wooden long jointer is a wonderful thing to have. The other options are IMHO too heavy (please don't write me if you love your No. 8 - that's fine but this blog is about what I fine useful).
If you mostly use machines for planing wood really all you need is a smoother you can count on, but a panel plane is really nice to have.