This is not a spill your guts blog... unless you're tree, but lately the sky looks awfully grey. I've been spending most of my energy fending off doom, and because of this I haven't managed to finish nearly as many projects as I've started, and I haven't started as many as I hoped I would.
But, as Metallica points out, Time Marches On. So what have I been doing?
I moved out of my bedroom workshop into a nice new cave/spray-foam-boho-palace/basement. The space has been used as artist studios for several years, and has collected several little extras including nautical themed bathroom candles, vertebrae, and ancient Mexican beverage vessels. I've got more space than before and more importantly I can mortise till 3am without guilt. My original plan was to move in one weekend, wire in some lights the next, and be building a real bench by the end of the month. That was three months ago.
What actually happened was that I moved the first weekend. I put up lights a month later, and set up the Lucky Bench three weeks ago so I could begin slogging through the parquetry for the humidor.
Moving is a time to search ones soul/belongings and decide what needs tending, what needs junking, and what needs archiving. I found a lamp I never posted about (and never finished) along with a bunch of wood and tools that I had forgotten about. The lamp will have to wait until a later entry because for now I'm still neck deep in arranging my new work space.
Wiring is above my pay grade. So I bribed Joe with some beer to help me install a mix of fluorescent and incandescent lights. Because I don't have any windows I wanted to add more rather than less lighting. The fluorescent tubes give a nice flood of light, and I've got clamp lights and some halogen lamps for directional and bench lighting. Everything went smoothly, until I plugged in a wire that Joe was working on. Sorry Joe, my bad.
My Lucky Bench is set up along the only wall in the room not made of ancient Brooklyn stone. The bench isn't as sturdy as it used to be because the legs are no longer screwed into the floor, but so far it has withstood quite a bit of sawing, planing, veneer taping and beer drinking.
It's strange to be in a new space, and I can't say that I've managed to use it to its potential. Still I have been managing to sneak out of work before 6 o'clock a few days a week, pick up some chinese/mexican/beer/chex mix along the way, and get to work on the veneer for the my humidor.
As much as I wish my studio could represent a clean and fresh start the reality is obviously more complicated. Still I'm hopeful for the future because when the world leaves you at loose ends, it's a good opportunity to open up Army Field Manual 5-125 and learn some new knots.
Last week I took an hour off work to go down the street to Brooklyn Guild, a design/build collective with a shop in Brooklyn. I met Brooklyn Guild when they came to Tools for Working Wood for hide glue. They began casually with 5 pounds, but within a week had bought nearly my weight in granulated hide. I had to know what they were working on that used so much glue, so I asked if I could visit their shop.
Over the course of two visits Brooklyn Guild let me snoop around their Gowanus Brooklyn facility and take photos of their technique for making pressed laminations using hide glue. On my first visit, I walked around with Mike, the shop manager, and asked a lot of questions about the process. He showed me their soak tank, hide glue vats and double boilers, pre-pressed sheets of plywood and (most awesomely) several giant presses made of solid plywood. Each press sits on a stand, placing the hulking mass of plywood at mid torso, and forming a Brutalist plywood monument to the anachronistic. A good approximation of the surroundings can be had by closing your eyes and imagining a busy sculpture garden under construction. Got it? Good, now just as you begin to zen out on that scene switch on a CNC router, chop saw, welder, and orbital sander. Ahhh... sweet, dusty, cacophonous paradise!
This project was run on a very tight deadline, and the process shown in the photos was run once a day, on each of the 7 presses, for two weeks, to get the finished pieces up and ready for their client ASAP.
Each lamination begins as a stack of properly sized sheets of thin plywood. Each morning the sheets are soaked in water and put into the presses for pre-bending. In the afternoon the bent sheets are taken out and stickered for drying. The previous days stickerd stacks, now dry, have already been set next to the glue table. The complete stack for each of the 7 presses is kept in order so the sheets will nest correctly.
With the press prepped, two crafts-folk ladle and roller glue onto the sheets of bent ply. They work together, one ladeling while the other stacks the sheets, and then both rollering the the glue into place.
After the whole stack is gluey it is placed on the press/form. The high sides of the press help to keep the stack in line as the upper half of the press is lowered into position. The weight of the press helps because even before tightening the screws, the sheets are being squished together. The guys check the whole thing to make sure everything looks good and then quickly thread nuts onto the compresson screws and crank the whole press closed using wrenches that look large enough to dismantle the BQE. It's only been 4 minuts since they dropped the first dollop of glue onto the first sheet of ply.
The real stars here are the presses that Mike made for the job. They are humungous and well though out. Their solid construction allows them to press time and again with enormous force for an entire production run. The stands helped the guys keep up with the short open time of the hide glue. Looking at the dry laminations, the edges are surprisingly well aligned, which makes cleaning them up on a custom table saw fixture a little easier.
The screws that hold the presses are threaded rod. I didn't measure them but I would guess they're 3/4"-10. They go all the way through the press and end with a nut welded in place. Mike pointed out the holes for the screws and I sort of thought "Hmm cool." Then he pulled out a huge custom drill bit and it dawned on me how insane drilling a 2 foot deep hole in plywood is.
Brooklyn Guild chose hide glue as an alternative way to create flowing laminations quickly, and without using toxic chemicals. In a busy shop you might be wearing a respirator while mixing up a batch of epoxy, but the guy adjusting the router table isn't. Hide glue is low dust and non toxic, it has a short open time but by coordinating the gluing process like the guys here did, it's possible to use hide glue for very large pieces.
What I like about this project at Brooklyn Guild is that it's smart, cool and a little anachronistic, especially since the forms were cut on a cnc router. Watching the guys expertly work in tandem to move from flat plywood blanks to finished laminations reminded me ALOT of Roubo. I tried to capture the bizarre perspective of the Roubo Plates in the photos by changing my camera angle, and preferencing abstract scenes, and architecture. The result is unclear...but until Chris Schwarz finishes adding the animated .gif's to the Lost Art Press' Roubo translation so it can be released, I think this is as close as I have come to reading in French.
ABOUT BROOKLYN GUILD
I would like to thank Brooklyn Guild for letting me photograph in their workshop TWICE during working hours. These friendly and skilled crafts-people do more than just bend wood. The Brooklyn Guild collective does design and fabrication work in metal, foam, castings, faux chrystals, Wood, MDF, and Plastics for fashion houses, museums, retailers, and advertising. Their website is epic.
I wrote this entry in an airplane cruising over the clouds as Tim and I headed home to Brooklyn from Woodworking in America.
One week ago, after leaving work at midnight because we were finishing up the new Gramercy Tools Kings County Hammer, I rushed home to pack my underwater-camera and some socks before flopping into a cab for the ride to LGA.
Tim and I arrived in Cincinnati a little bleary eyed but enthusiastic. Our first official work event was the Bloggers Beer Bash. It was a hoot, but the next morning as I walked past Roy Underhill with my pile of bacon and coffee we had this exchange:
"Oh, you look fresh, you wern't out with Tim last night?"
"Huh, No, I mean yes... what?" (I look over at Tim huddled around his third cup of coffee and gently groaning into his untouched breakfast)
Roy peers into my eyes...
"Ahhh yes. I can see it now, you just hide it better."
er.... thanks Roy?
Running the booth was a lot of fun, but didn't leave much time to look around. I tried my best to walk around a bit and check out all the sweet stuff while not abandoning my co-worker. Here's my run-down of the coolest things I saw/did:
The Sauer and Steiner K13 has been all over the web, but seeing it in person was sweet, and when Konrad Sauer handed it to me to try I couldn't believe it. The plane cut a gossamer shaving. It was startlingly smooth and of course had that bombproof infill feel. It also looks like the million bucks it must have cost. I would give a fuller assessment but I'm not allowed to use the necessary language in this blog.
In other news Matt Bickford's planes are some of my faves. The conical escapement on his rabbet and side round planes is both traditional and amazing. It's walls twist like a cherry ribbon gracefully encasing the mouth and the iron. Now if only he used a year stamp like Old Street...
While I'm geeking out on wooden tools, I want to mention a v. v. nice antique vice brought to the show by Jameel Abraham of Bench Crafted. At first I thought it was an unusual mill vise made of wood. Jameel corrected me and said that although it looks similar it is a carvers vise... perhaps I can mount one on the Bridgeport...
I tried my first Bad Axe Saw. Mark called me a spy every time I had my camera out, but honestly, I was more interested in the color combinations he offers than how he makes his saws because I already know his secret: Attention to detail, high quality components, and giving a damn. A few people now have asked me if a Bad Axe is nicer than a Gramercy. I don't know if an answer is possible, and it's not just because I know which side my bread is buttered on. Bad Axe and Gramercy are different styles. The Gramercy is built to be light and nimble while the Bad Axe has the Ker-chunk of a firearm. They both cut so well you have only yourself to blame. I think that in the competition between the contemporary saw makers the only folks winning are the customers. Y'all have your choice of the best hand saws ever made!!! And now thanks to Bad Axe you can even have your back saw murdered out. Hand tool renaissance much?
I finally got to see a real live Bridge City Tool, a first for me. John Economaki showed me his take on the shoulder plane, which uses a clever toggle clamp to hold the blade in place. He also confided in me that he is pretty sure he can computer render anodized aluminum so well that no one can tell its not a photo. Which begs the question: if a plane is anodized in the forest and no one sees it...
The metal tool to wooden tool cross-over was (for me) best exemplified by Lie Nielsen's new No. 81 Spoke shave. Its shape is a little reminicent of the Kansas City Windsor Tool Works spokeshaves (RIP) which I own and love, but I have to say that I prefer the Lie Nielsen. I use my spoke shaves pretty heavily some times, but they feel like the blade is bending when I try to take too deep a cut, the Lie Neilsen felt rock solid even as I accidentally shaved against the grain of a piece of walnut and tore off a goodly sized chunk wood.
After trying to break the Godfather's new tool I was feeling a little sheepish, but luckily Michael Auriou is the type of guy who makes you feel like you're doing a good job. In addition to running an eponymously named and GREAT, tool company, he's just a friendly dude. Tim surprised me with a special treat, by asking Michael to show me how to hand punch a rasp. I learned the proper punch holding technique (detailed here) and started punching. MAKING A RASP IS SOOO HARD, but Michael was encouraging and told me I did a good job to which I said "Merci, c'est Super Cool" in my best french accent.
Speaking of French accents, Tim and I put on our suits to attended the Roubo Society Dinner. During the dinner Tim and I had the unexpected pleasure of sitting next to Peter Follansbee, which was awesome because he, like Roy Underhill, is one of those folks who makes me excited about human potential.
All in all the show was really wonderful both because of the well crafted tools on display and the folks making and using them. Tim and I were super stoked on meeting/catching up with so many customers, comrades, and compatriots. As a tool maker I'm honored to be a part of the small community of folks dedicated to hand tools. It was great to meet everyone, and if you are ever in Brooklyn come visit us!
I take an insane number of photos for this blog. Each published entry is culled from 200-500 photos. The idea is that through editorial adeptitude I can over-power my photographic ineptitude. Occasionally this works, and sometimes there are even some nice pictures I didn't have room for in the entry. I've been holding back these photos awhile now. Saving them up. Aging them like a fine booze. Well, it's time to pop the cork and let'er rip because this weekend I'm at Woodworking in America which ironically means I've been in a hotel swimming in the pool hanging out with my woodworking heros, and not woodworking.
Expect a full WIA report soon. But until then, enjoy these photos of patterns...
Cheers, and props from Cin Sitty.
A large copy of Roubo sits high up on a shelf above my desk at Tools for Working Wood. It is a deliciously large edition with enormous detailed plates. One of my favorite groups of plates details several abstract patterns and several tools of the Eboniste. Some of the pages also include small vignettes showing little men at work. These miniature two dimensional craftsmen complete tasks in bizarre quasi-isometric perspective. In one plate they saw an entire log into a stack of veneer, in another a man wearing a jacket, vest, ruffled shirt and tights burns the edges of his veneer...
With these plates as my inspiration I decided I wanted my humidor to be covered edge to edge in a simple pattern. I chose a simple repeating parallelogram pattern (the one in the center of the Roubo plate/first photo) on the assumption that it was low lying fruit. It turns out I was wrong about the height of this tasty old French fruit (at least in relation to my skill level) but I very much like the pattern; It's figure/ground relationship is down right baroque.
I sawed a maple board into strips of veneer and then used a scraper to scrape one side of each strip smooth. Scraping took hours and a toll on my hands. In hind sight I don't know why at this point I failed to understand that I was shoving off into a sea of monotony. Once I had scraped one side of each of the strips I shuffled through them to find the thinnest one, and then found two pieces of card stock a little thinner than it. I used these on either side of the scraper as a depth stop to allow me to scrape the strips to thickness. This really took a long time, and I began to second guess my methods. The problem was that my scraping technique only got the pieces sort of close in thickness. They're all within a tolerance range of maybe +/- .010". That's very ish.
At this point I should have taken the time to make a real thickness scraper to get the strips consistent. But I didn't. This decision will surely cause problems down the line. I know it will, but honestly my aching fingers couldn't stand the thought of any more scraping.
To get consistent dimensions and angles on 450 identical parallelograms I built a fixture. It has an arm that pivots on a nail and two parallel stops (the walnut bits) to keep the veneer at the correct angle. I used two stops in order to allow me to always have the little parallelogram under the compression of the pivot arm and against the flat back of the veneer blade. Because Veneer saws have a beveled blade (except for King Kong) they cut an asymmetric kerf* in the veneer. One side of the kerf cut by the flat back of the blade is at 90 degrees to the surface. The side cut by the bevel is at about 75 degrees. Having two stops allowed me to keep the edges of my parallelograms square to their faces.
I used the 15-60 blade in my veneer saw. Even though my veneer strips were sawn (not machine sliced) after scraping they weren't thick enough to necessitate using King Kong. Of course King Kong would have cut the strips with fewer strokes of the veneer saw but in this case the difference in cutting speed was only about one stroke. I decided the burnished veneer edge left by a beveled blade was worth 900 extra strokes so I stuck with the 15-60 blade. I may have been wrong.
I took to working in shifts cutting the pieces. I would come home from work and spend an hour cutting each day. As the pile of empty beer cans and bottles on my lucky bench grew I began to imagine myself involved in a slightly sick historical re-enactment, alone and adrift at an endless labor. Like Hemmingway's old fisherman I yearned for the aid of an unpaid intern. I spent hours cutting and thinking about the wildly complicated patterns I would make... if only the boy was here! At times, the beer and Hot 97 took hold and I would pause and count my pieces...105...168...201...289...312... As each count came up short I cursed my weakness, and swore to double my resolve and/or crack a fresh brew.
Finally my parallel maple boat came to shore with 450 gloriously identical parallelograms. Surely Girlfriend would swoon whilst Brooklyn burst into song at my accomplishment...
"Girlfriend!! look how many little pieces of wood I've made! They're identical!"
With my 450 identical bits of wood I did a few maths to approximate how many of each color would be needed. Then I pulled out the Devil Spring Vodka and mixed up 4 batches of Lockwood dye. I dunked/soaked the pieces and set them to dry on artfully crumpled tinfoil to allow air flow on all sides. Once the pieces were dry I piled them together and looked around for some sand to burn the edges. Unfortunately our supply of household sand had been used by an ungrateful hermit crab now panhandling his way down the Bowery.
I decided salt would do just as well...
I poured the salt into a small cast iron pan and heated it on low. I burned two edges on each piece of dyed veneer. I got good enough to where I could place enough pieces in the pan at once that after placing the last one, the first would be ready for flipping. The process went swimmingly and smelled like bacon fat, and maple. I managed to get quite a consistent burn on both the wood and my forearm.
In hindsight, I should have started with a sheet of machine cut veneer. It remains to be seen what consequences the uneven thickness of my pieces will have. It is my hope that by their careful arrangement I can minimize their thickness differences enough to keep from scraping through the dye while leveling them on the box. If not, well, I cant imagine letting a little thing like screwing up stop me now.
Does a beveled veneer blade cut a kerf? This is the subject of an inconclusive disagreement between Tim and I. I think it does, but I would also say that a knife does and so does a float. Tim and I are in agreement that rasps do not cut kerfs. Tim says kerfs are related to set, and a beveled veneer blade, or knife for that matter doesn't have set so the idea of a kerf becomes irrelevant. Of course it could be argued that a beveled blade has single sided negative set. Put that in your saw spectra chart and smoke it!
For fathers day this year I've decided to make my Dad a Humidor. What's that you say? Fathers' Day has come and gone? Oh boy...
My estimated timeline for this little box was a little (INSANELY) off. But my Dad's temporary loss is your gain, or at least not your loss, and I think this project is going to make for some cool blogging, and eventually a nice cigar box.
I had the idea for the humidor after Tim and I found a mahogany pallet near the freight elevator on the way back from a necessary summer iced coffee break. It was my first fancy-schmancy pallet find, although now that I know that thars gold in them thar hills I've been seeing them more often.
I used our Gramercy crowbar to pry the pallet apart. Big ups to South/Central America for using staples, and not spiral nails, to hold together this stack of exotic tree. From the dismembered bits I selected a hefty bunch and slung them over my shoulder for the bike ride home via Greenwood Cemetery (RIP eco-lumber).
As ever, in the run-up to this project I attempted to research humidor construction and marquetry. I learned that Joel doesn't smoke cigars, everyone says to use waterproof glue, and there is little information on wood movement in humidors re: marquetry. Ill address these concerns in order:
1: Good job Joel, if the Lord had wanted you to smoke cigars he would have stamped them Norris.
2: Really? 70% Humidity is going to dissolve my glue? Its 70% in Brooklyn as I write this.
3: While the box interior should remain static at 70% humidity the exterior and marquetry will be exposed to seasonal changes. To me this sounds like a recipe for disaster, and yet the collected wisdom of millions shrugs and says "dunno, It just works"
Is a marqueted humidor a fools quest? Will the humid interior melt the hide glue so necessary for hammer veneering? Will the shifting exterior surfaces buck like a bronco against the stable interior and send veneer and splinters shooting in all directions? Will Father's cigars taste like eau d'retired-race-horse?!?
ENOUGH! Be gone, doubt! I'm just going to do this, and if the marquetry falls apart and the box dissolves (or explodes) into a pile of True-Blood-dead-vampire-slime, so be it.
Close observation revealed just how checked and cupped the pallet wood was, but careful work with my sash saw and hand planes brought everything into shape. Because its been so humid and hot here lately I planed the wood to flat, and let it sit a week before planing it flat again. I did this twice before the wood stopped moving. Perhaps this shows how fool hardy NYC summer time wood working is, but I enjoyed seeing a former pallet become expensive looking mahogany stock.
I used my saw hook as a shooting board to square the ends of my boards and trim them to exact length. I've tried this move with my old number 3 plane, but it just didn't work that well. This time with the Clifton #4 it worked quite well. My new Clifton is quickly turning me into a snob.
The dovetails on this box will be covered by veneer so for kicks I gang sawed the tails. I like gang sawing for its "Look Ma, no hands!" quality. I trimmed the joints to fit nicely with my Mk2 chisels, and then glued the sides of the box together. With the sides glued my friend Max helped/learned how to plane a dovetail flush. It was his first time using a hand plane on a real project and he did an impressively good job.
Joinery trimmed (Thanks Max!), I rebated the bottom panel and pre drilled for some ol'fashioned rosehead cut nails. I'm going to cover the bottom of the box in felt or leather with punched holes so you can see the nail heads but they wont scratch. I think it will be a classy touch, but maybe that's just because lately all of us at Gramercy Tools have become a little obsessed with hammers and nails...
|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.|