Monthly Archives: March 2015

“You Can Never Have Too Many Clamps”

It is an  exceptionally beautiful morning here in my fair city (Wheat Ridge Colorado). Thus, I went out on to my deck, obscenely large coffee cup in hand, and sat down for a “think”.

As the water fall in our Koi pond sang it’s relaxing song, I went over my new shop’s inventory…..again. Not only did I mentally note what implements of construction I had already, but also what they may need in order to be fully tuned, and ready for service. In addition, I pondered what was left to do. That particular list was much, much longer than the first.

I have my sights set on a little lunch box planer at an unbeatable price. (thanks Glenn for sitting on it for me until I can get up to Greeley to get it) I also have settled on a design for the bench for the shop as well as having priced out everything I will need to build it. (comparatively speaking, it’s dirt cheap to build. The vises will be nearly as expensive as the lumber).

One issue that rears it’s ugly head when going through my favorite mental exercises is the issue of clamps. Clamps may not be as sexy as that new table saw, or jointer, or planer, or hand plane, but without them, at least for the work I do, nothing can be done. Without the ability to clamp joints together, the woodwright is dead in the water.

In a previous post, I mentioned my favorite type of clamp, the Pony clamp, or 3/4″ pipe clamp. In my view, NO shop should be without a large complement of these clamps. They are simple, robust, and economical. However, they are also not cheap when you factor in the purchase of the fixtures, and the black pipe. They are certainly less expensive than 90% of the other options out there, that is why I sing their praises, but my mind tends to look for other options to add to the ponies in an effort to economize and round out the arsenal of clamps for the shop.

Some time ago, I stumbled upon Mr. Paul Sellers woodworking blog. For those of you who don’t know of him, do yourself a favor and seek out his blog for a good read. Mr. Sellers advocates  the use of aluminum (or as the Brits say….Al-loo-min-eee-um) bar clamps. He relates that in his shop(s) both in Wales, and in Texas, he uses them virtually exclusively. He says that unless he is gluing up something REALLY heavy or REALLY big, he uses these lightweight clamps for 90% of his operations.

The clamps are often referred to as “bar clamps” or “Sash clamps”  (or “cramps”). There are two different flavors of these. One flavor made by The Dubuque Clampworks are the creme de la creme of aluminum clamps, and made right here in the the U.S.A.  They are well known for their quality, but nearly as expensive as the equally vaunted Bessy clamps. WAY too rich for my blood at nearly $30 a pop.

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The second flavor the Mr. Sellers advocates comes from a suprising source. According to Mr. Sellers, the sash clamps available from Harbor Freight Tools work as a very, very good alternative to the Dubuque clamps with just a little modification. When I went to Harbor Freight’s web site to find out what the financial hit would be for these clamps, I was shocked….SHOCKED I tell you. One of these clamps, in either 24″ or 36″ will set you back $9.99 at the Harbor. (48″clamps run $13). So, at full price at Harbor Freight, I could get three clamps for the price of one Pony (with black pipe included) or Debuque.  You have my attention Mr. Sellers, please do go on.

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Below is a link to Paul Seller’s Blog. Specifically, to a post from 2011 in which he describes some very simple modifications that can be made to vastly improve these economical clamps. Copy and paste this into your browser to read, or simply google “Paul Sellers/aluminum clamp”.

http://paulsellers.com/2011/11/4473/

Basically, all these clamps need is a batton of some decent hardwood to be cut to fit inside the extruded aluminum bar to provide improved rigidity, and perhaps some other minor fettleing to make them smooth and easier to use.

BUT WAIT…..THERE’S MORE!!!

I have also been shocked to read that Harbor Freight also has suprisingly good quality “F” style clamps at rock-bottom-prices. I’m talking REALLY cheap.

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The name brand version of the above pictured clamp starts at around $8 per in most stores. The Harbor has these starting at ….get this….$3.99.

For those not aware of Harbor Freight Tools, they are a national chain that supplies very inexpensive tools and supplies. Most folks steer clear of them because the quality of a large percentage of their tooling is …well….known to be less than high quality.

However, it is also known that there are a number of “Harbor Freight Gems” to be found. Tools that somehow got through the quality controll department at the Harbor, and are of “More than acceptable” quality. The above clamps, their 1hp 70 gallon dust collector, shipping blankets, 4 wheeled dollies, and most of the “consumables” they offer, are of generally good quality, and real bargins.

So, whaile I am indeed a tool snob, and only try to use the very best I can find, I am also no spendthrift. When a quality tool can be had at more than half off a name branded tool (and often even more than that with H.F.’s perpetual 20% off cupon) I am more than happy to do a little modification to improve on an already perfectly functional tool if I am saving well over 50% to do so.

Now this may seem like a huge commercial for Harbor Freight Tools…..well on some level I suppose it might be. That said, I was just floored by the news that I did not have to plan only for a huge investment in Pony clamps, and that I could supplement them with some really versatile and well regarded bargins.

There you go fellow woodwrights, a couple of true “gems” that can be found in the bargin basement…..happy hunting!!!

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Some Thoughts On The Modern Woodwright….OR……Chris Becksvoort Is My Hero.

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As of late, I have found it a bit difficult to sit down to tap out a post here, as has become my habit. Suffice to say, the muse has not been upon me.

That is until I began researching clamps (of all things) to use in the soon-to-be-new-to-me shop.

I remembered reading an article in Fine Woodworking Magizine some time ago, that had some pictures of one of their long time editor’s, Christian Becksvoort in his home shop.

The article was about small shops of different sizes and scale. In one of the pictures that described Mr. Becksvoort’s shop at his home in New Gloucester, Maine, there was a wall full of sturdy looking clamps. These were clamps that I had never seen before, and felt that I simply MUST have them……..as I have mentioned before, it’s a sickness.

Me being…well… “Me”, I Googled Mr. Becksvoort, and through his website sent an e-mail asking him if he would be kind enough to send me any information on those clamps if he could. (NOTE: please notice the request by him to direct any “woodworking questions” to his contact info at Taunton Press. He provides a link. I must confess that in my zeal, I did not notice this little request until AFTER I had sent the email to his business email…lessons learned, and he still took the time to respond to me. Nice guy)

Now, Christian Becksvoort is a well known name in woodworking circles. He has written books, gives workshops, edits a well known and established woodworking journal, AND finds time to produce fine, handcrafted furniture in limited quantities. In short, the man is a woodworking God to many….myself included.

So, imagine my delight when, in ten minutes time, I had received a reply from him graciously forwarding to me the contact information for the company that made his clamps. We traded a couple of emails, and that was that.

Or was it?

You see, in this day and age, it can be difficult to find a Woodwright like Mr. Becksvoort. Successful, well known, self employed, and solvent. Granted, he, like so many talented Woodwrights out there, supplements his income giving lectures, and writing, but that is only because he had made his name by hand crafting such fine pieces in the first place. The man is truly living the dream after having paid many, many dues. To me, having any expectation of getting a response from him, let alone within ten minutes, was a lot to ask. At least in my mind it was.

Anyhow, I may sound a little surprised by the personal response by one of my hero’s.  The truth is, if I really thought about it,  I shouldn’t be. Chris has a long standing reputation as a true ambassador for the art of woodworking, and also as a thoughtful and well respected “stand up” guy. I have followed his work for as long as I can remember, and can attest to this. Granted that my endorsement means very little, and that on a personal level,it is based only on three or four gushing emails traded with him in the span of an hour. Still and all, he did respond personally, and was just as gracious, encouraging, and friendly as a hero SHOULD be.

So, this begs the question, “Why so few Woodworkers like Mr. Becksvoort?” Why is it so, that so many aspiring woodworkers either never move past the hobby stage in their woodworking, or if they do try to strike out on their own professionally, fail to make a living at it? How do the Sam Maloofs, Christian Becksvoorts, and James Krenovs “make it” and others do not?

All good questions. All questions that I wish I had an answer to.

If you listen to some, you may get the idea that fine woodworking as a trade, is dead. That it is relegated to being a craft or hobby only, and that mass production and the IKEAs of the world have replaced it with disposable furniture. In some respects, and for some people, this may be true. However, for me at least, I do not think that it is asking too much of the world to make room for and appreciate finely crafted furniture. Pieces that started as a tree, and were lovingly, respectfully, and honestly worked into a table, book case,chair, or cabinet designed and built to last several lifetimes, and the people whose hands make them, surely still have value and an audience.

One of the keys to advancing this mindset, and thus securing the livelihood of present and future generations of Woodwrights,  is through connection to folks like Mr. Becksvoort. Connection with like minded artisans. It used to be that trade shows and guilds were the mainstays of this connection. Over the years, the guilds have either died off, or are only barely there, and the trade shows/craft shows have degenerated largely into not much more than living commercials for … gasp … tools and jigs that are not really NEEDED.

There is one area that has brought hope though. The internet.

The internet has been a wonderful resource not just for researching woodworking, but also for connecting like minded artisans. I belong to a handful of quality online woodworking forums. (sawmillcreek.org , woodworkingtalk.com , lumberjocks.com, etc.)These forums are an absolute treasure trove of folks who, of vastly differing skill levels and woodworking interests, gather to shoot the breeze, talk about tools, and generally be there for one another. I doubt very highly that you could ask a question on one of these forums, and not get a researched, and thought out answer. More likely, you will get several. Even more likely, you will get several DIFFERENT answers. While it may sound like getting a bunch of different answers to a question is like spinning your wheels, think about this…..

In getting several different answers to a question, you are presented not only with differing opinions and options, but also with little morsels of information  that you can use to further your search, should you not find a satisfying answer initially.
A word to the wise, if you ask a question, and get several different answers that don’t really satisfy you, go out and research what morsels you get in those answers. If you come up with an answer all your own…. go back to your original post and SHARE THAT INFORMATION.

It is through the continual sharing of information that we help keep woodworking alive. Sure, you really DO need to go out to the shop and build stuff. To spend your days writing blog posts and researching tools and blabbering about workbench design, is an exercise in mental masturbation. It feels good, but produces very little.

However, sharing information, and helping fellow woodworkers develop and grow their skills and knowledge base, is a foundational move to keeping the trade moving forward, keeping it from dying. It is through this connection with one another that we help to evolve the art of working wood in that, methods and processes, both old and new, are passed on. Questions about various joinery techniques are answered. Help with applying finishes can be had. Critiques of design ideas are available for the asking. Discussions of forestry and responsible timber harvesting, renewable forestry, and general knowledge sharing on the subject of the proper management of our forests for future Woodwrights, are all facilitated  and made much more available via the internet now.

Therefore, a simple personal response to a very simple question, asked by a VERY simple Woodwright, is indeed a hallmark of someone who values working wood not just as a means to provide for a family, but also as something worth sharing and passing on to future simple Woodwrights.

Thanks Chris.

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The Once and Future……..Shop.

As winter has begun it’s annual transformation into springtime, my creative juices have begun to thaw.

Yes, this blog has done well to quell the ongoing need to express myself, as have aspects of the classes I am taking at the Fine Woodworking Program at Red Rocks Community College. However, I find myself desperately craving to flip the switch on my “New-to-me” shop.

Allow me to recap some of the previous posts I have made here. I am the proud owner of a “lightly used” General International contractors table saw. She comes equipped with General (Canada)’s Biesemeyer rip fence. This is, by it self, worth the paltry admission price I paid for the saw. The saw also has a true 2 horse power motor, and a full cast iron top.  All very, very desirable features to be sure.  Though, on the down side, she will need arbor bearings soon. She does have the beginnings of the tell tale “whine” that signals the need for some tender loving care.
Also, if I were a smart man, I would tune the saw to the “nth” degree while I was elbow deep in the saw’s guts. Aligning the blade to the mitre slots, and also aligning the fence to the blade. In addition, it would seem to make sense to add a couple of modifications while I am at it. The PALS system, is a very, very simple add on that makes alignment procedures much, much simpler. Add the PALS, some machined pulleys, and a new drive belt, and the saw should perform quite well for my needs….quite well indeed.

Next in the line up is my “new-to-me” Inca 510 jointer/planer. Since I have not had a chance to fire it up yet, I am forced into trusting the previous owner’s description and anticipating nothing more than a good lubricating of moving parts, and waxing the jointer and planer beds. It’s promise of an exceptional cut quality, and precision have me chomping at the bit to put it through its paces.

Because the Inca is now safely in hand, I had turned my attention to finding it’s companion, and I finally got a line on one of those lunch box planers I mentioned some time ago.

The Ryobi AP-10 was the original lunch box planer. Originally designed, built, and sold in the mid to late ’80s, the little Ryobi is of advanced age now, no question about it. This does not worry me in the least. The Ryobi AP-10 has always had, and continues to have, a reputation for longevity.

Ryobi had something to prove back then, so they “over engineered” the little surfacer. They are beloved by their owners because of their ease of upkeep, solid construction, and unwillingness to provide an owner a reason to replace it. They just keep going, and going, and going. The only reason I am able to get my hands on one at all, is because the owner willing to let this one go, has a second one that he has been bouncing back and forth between. He feels that that is a bit of overkill. HA! … HA HA HA!!!

I don’t think I need to mention how difficult it was for me to keep my mouth shut. To NOT preach that there is absolutely no reason to feel guilty about having two planers….It pained me like none other, but … I WANT this little planer. So discretion proved to be the better part of valor in this case.

Add to an insanely low asking price for this machine ($75), the current owner is also including the original manual, the blade setting jig, and a NEW set of resharpenable blades. Not only is the little workhorse well equipped, but it is also in really good condition based on several pictures I got from the current owner. Seems he is a bit anal retentive about his tools too….my kind of guy.
Normally, IF you can find one of these little gems for sale AT ALL, they NEVER have the manual and usually have the disposable, NON-resharpenable blades.

THIS is one of the original machines, one of the good ones.

As soon as I am able, I will be adding this machine to my current line up, thus inching closer to basic operating ability.

The only other pieces to the puzzle that need to be fitted into place for basic operational capability are, installation and powering of the “new-to-me” sub panel I acquired for free from a friend, the running of the Romex to the soon to be installed outlet boxes and ceiling lighting fixtures, and find the best deal on Pony brand 3/4″ pipe clamp fixtures and black iron pipe.

THEN

…wait for it….

BUILD MY FREAKING BENCH!!!!!!

Now, I know you all will miss my incessant blogging on which bench to build for myself and why.
So, in an effort to keep ALL of you happy, I will say that as soon as this bench is finally built, I am QUITE sure I will be dissecting it’s good qualities and failings in an effort to justify the building of a MUCH BETTER (insert a “knowing” … as in… “Knowing” I will be building many benches in the future, as it’s my weakness … tone of voice here) bench, to replace the one I just finished building.

In the meantime, I am going to go on the hunt for worthy 4×4 Douglas Fir  material for the top and the trestle. I know already that Lee Valley Tools has my two bench vises for this bench at reasonable prices. For now, it’s about the wood.

Ill be looking for dry, non-pithy, non “Boxed Heart” boards to laminate into a top. The trestle will consist mostly of 4×4 construction, but the two rails that connect the left side to the right side of the base, will most likely be 2×6 boards. The top will be laminated, yes that’s true, but the base is all mortise and tenon construction. It will be heavy, and stout.
Right now, I am planning to put a tool well on the back of the bench. As I have said before, I have never had a bench with one, and I WANT one. If I like it, it might be a regular feature on future benches I build. If not…bonus…it’s an excuse to design and build another BENCH!!!!

As it is now, I am inching closer to making the little shop that could, a reality. With any luck, I will be able to make things minimally operational this spring/summer. Once that happens, I can begin moving to fill in the blanks that will round out the tooling needs. Routers, band saw, dust collection, etc.

For now, the goal is just to get the space set up to accept the shop, and to begin tuning and using the tools I have/am getting very soon, so that I can begin both creating, and building shop fixtures. (like a super cool tool cabinet)………

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Home Of The Mustangs!

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I got a phone call today, from my high school wood shop teacher. (Names are withheld to protect the tool addicted) This is not really an abnormal occurrence, as he and I will talk from time to time. This is usually when I have a question, or if I am trying to remember some woodworking tid bit that I know he will know off the top of his head. I will ring him up, and we can spend a few minutes chatting about woodworking, how I am doing, how he is getting on etc.

To give you some reference, Woodshop was THE ONLY class I paid any attention in. I actually took it two years in a row, and was immediately smitten with woodworking from the beginning. I was what was considered a … how do I put this delicately, ….. “non-traditional” student. I was bored out of my mind, and was notorious for acting the fool because of it. However, shop class was a different matter all together. I loved it.

I think that the main reason for this was , as a student, it was really apparent to me just how much my teacher enjoyed what he taught. It really helped to create interest and to make the class something I WANTED to do.

He was also a certifiable tool junkie. Hand tools, machines, jigs, he just loved (loves) tools. So it is no surprise that sharpening is almost a religious event for him. Thankfully, some of us students picked up on this too, and it is a skill I have worked to keep up, and improve on as my early woodworking endeavors turned into a vocation.

In addition to opening my eyes to working wood, He also introduced me to the woodworking deities that are my heroes to this day.  Jim Krenov, Sam Maloof, Tage Frid, Thomas Moser, all names I learned from this shop teacher. I learned them, I read their books,  I was inspired by their designs and their techniques. It all started with this one teacher.

It’s sad really, that for whatever reason, the educational establishment sees fit to de-fund programs like this. My old high school still continues to offer wood shop, but is in the minority. Any more, one is hard pressed to find a high school with any shop class, let alone a quality wood shop like Ponderosa’s. kudos to the county for continuing to provide an avenue for kids to learn this trade.

In any event, It was a real pleasure, as it always is, to hear a voice from the past that reminds me why I chose to make my (meager) living working wood.

Thank you, Mr. Rauh, for sharing your love of woodworking and passing it on to us. Always remember, there ARE guys like me in your classes who ARE listening, and who ARE paying attention. There are knuckle heads in your classes, who just need that ONE teacher to actually give a shit. To be the teacher who looks for untapped talent, rather than be the teacher who is only punching a clock, or enduring yet another day teaching. Thank you.

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On Being Self-taught

One of the many reasons Maloof remains one of my hero’s, though I choose to chase a “degree” in fine woodworking.

Lost Art Press

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People just like what I do and buy it. As for schooling, my clients are my teachers. They’re the ones who bring me the design problems. Schools get too easily divorced from the real world. In many places students graduate and become teachers without ever making a living from their work. They grow stale. There’s a preciousness I see in a lot of student work that comes from having too many hours to put into it. Perfection is fine, and nothing has left my shop that I’m not proud of, but you have to produce if you are going to make a living. I’ve heard people say they have to put a piece of wood aside until the spirit hits them. That’s procrastination. Pick it up and work it – you’ll feel the spirit. No, I think it’s an advantage being self-taught.

— Sam Maloof, December 1980, Fine Woodworking

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GLACIALLY SLOW……..

Ughhhhhh, this poor little tablet/2-n-1 is making my life much more frustrating. My kingdom for a decent laptop!

Technical woes not withstanding, I press on with my blogging efforts. Finances being what they are, and my own natural aversion to buying gear that stands in the way of new tool and/or workbench lumber purchases, I am electing to flog this little machine a while longer.

Speaking of tools and tool purchases, I have been scanning the local Craigslist for someone selling a decent lunch box planer.  Ryobi AP-10 or AP-12, DeWalt DW734 are the three at the top of my “want to have’ list. Good reviews, and enough time elapsed in the crucible of  job site, or small shop operation, has these three as the best bang for your buck . However, it does seem to me that woodworkers in Denver also agree with that assessment because, I can’t for the life of me, find one of these little babies at a price point that befits a used lunch box planer. You would think these things were made of gold.

Oh well, it’s not that big of a deal though. I am still a ways  away from having a shop space that is ready for any new tooling. Electrical still needs to be run over to the garage from the service panel on the house. The good news is, I have a sub panel from another shop available to me for free, and it looks as though the leads from the house to the garage that are there right now, look to be of the appropriate gauge to power at least a 60 amp sub panel.

Since the little shop is planned to be temporary, at least until we are in a position to build a larger structure, or modify the existing structure to enlarge it. Therefore, minimum upgrading is planned for the first iteration of the Madcap’s Woodshop. Minimum in terms of what needs to be done to bring the structure to operational status. Rest assured I will be eyeballing tooling options, and bench building materials……It’s what I do……It’s a gift.

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