Category Archives: art

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

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It has been far too long since I have contributed to my blog. I am a little ashamed to say that it has slipped from my conscious thought for several months now.

So then, I offer this little….ok, who am I fooling….this long winded update.

The kind folks at Highland Woodworking have inexplicably continued to accept and actually publish my daft ramblings. This is one reason why I have been remiss in my blogging duties. I have been submitting articles in my “Roubo bench Build With a Twist” series for the online magazine, as well as some various meandering musings for their blog. It has been a lot of fun working with an actual editor (now two editors) and I feel my writing is better for the effort.

I have done several “cameo appearances” at a few of the local shops here in town. These tend to be of limited duration and can either be really fun and rewarding, or dull and frustrating. Either way, they all help to keep the lights on, feed my tool addiction, and keep me off the streets. Even the less than positive gigs are educational and help me appreciate the work that I do in The Tiny Shop.

Speaking of The Tiny Shop, The Roubo has some fresh dings and dents now. I absolutely love the pair of benches I have in the shop. Even though they are both Nimitz class aircraft carrier size, they each have their own personality and each have their own quirks. Someday, mark my words, there will also be a Nicholson-English style bench in the shop too. However, that will need to wait until I have the actual shop space to accommodate a trio of full size work benches. Overkill? I think not.

I have been doing quite a bit of restoration and repair work from The Tiny Shop. While it is a means of keeping food in the belly, it is also a minor distraction from developing some prototypes that I continue to mull over. There are a couple of small tables, a set of small nesting tables, a chair design and also a rocker that I would like to prototype and move forward in their development. I just have not had the time or the material to get cracking on these yet. With warmer weather becoming more consistent though, I am hopeful that this spring and summer will see the return of my furniture designing and building in earnest.

On the more literary side of things, keep an eye out for an up coming series or articles I am working on. It is an interview with my former wood shop teacher and longtime friend, Don Rauh. Don has some things to say, and has always been one to “tell it like it is.” The series is shaping up to be quite interesting indeed.

So there you have it folks, just a little update on the Madcap Woodwright’s ongoing adventures. As always, I continue to work wood with joy and abandon because life is just too damn short.

Makers Gonna Make

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With the onslaught of negativity and strife that my country, as well as many others, seems to be embroiled in, I felt the tug of the Muse to jot down some thoughts that might bring a little smile or even a wholesale perspective change to someone.

lately I have been keeping something of a low profile on social media. In these pages here, I have been pretty good about keeping my personal beliefs and feelings about politics, media, pop culture, and any of the other distractions that most of us, if we were to be honest with ourselves, indulge in out of the mix.

Make no mistake, I have some very profound beliefs about the above listed topics, but it all pales in comparison to my passion for being a woodwright. Further, as I have expanded out into the germinating world of the artisanal, I have developed a growing passion for the community that seems to be developing around “Making.”

Somewhere along the line the word Making and Maker evolved from simply being a conjugation of the verb make, into a movement.

Artisans and craftspeople are commonly being refered to as Makers. Fine, works for me.

In previous posts I discussed how generations younger than my own, have begun exploring the path less traveled. They have elected to take up woodworking or blacksmithing or glass blowing. They have explored artisanal distilling or brewing. They have taken to crafts baking or cooking. Anything but following the well-worn and traditional path of going to school. Taking on crushing debt to get the diploma and social network that higher education promises has taken a back seat to self-determination and self-education.

I am encouraged by this small, but passionate community. In small numbers I see people who are engaging their life with fearlessness. They may be doing so out of necessity, or out of an intuition that the normally followed path to career and family and “adulthood” has run its course. They may share in my observation that life is just too fucking short to be shackled to the seeming safety of the 9 to 5 to retirement means of living a life.

Granted, most of these folks are 20 years or more my junior. They do not have a mortgage, or kids, or other traditional obligations to provide for. It took a divorce, a remarriage, and a spouse who supports my need to make and to create for me to sit here and preach the gospel of “Madcap Woodworking.”

That is what makes these up-and-commers so amazing in my eyes. They just don’t care about the pressures that come with the traditional path. At a much earlier stage in the great game of life, they seem to grasp the wisdom of exploration and creativity at a gut level. They seem to understand that there is so, so, so much more to life than just the college you graduate from, the car you drive, the house you cover your head with or the amount of liquid capitol you have on hand at any one time. They improvise, they adapt, they share, they collaborate. They succeed.

In adopting such non-traditional approaches to life, they seem to be able to create a very satisfying life for themselves. Once the relative stability of this life takes root, they really start to expand out into their world creatively. They make things. Beautiful things.

It is a little humbling to allow myself to remain at this crossroad between fully committing to The Tiny Shop full-time, and continuing to dance around the edges of it as I continue to look for a safe, well-paying “day job.”

Balls, these folks have BIG BRASS BALLS.

One in particular that will remain nameless here, decided one day to take up photography.

“I want to do…this” said he. Then he picked up his camera, went to the mountains, and took pictures. Upon his return, he begins leveraging his social networking skills and posting these images online. Inside of 30 days, he begins to get inquires from outdoor goods manufacturers, ski resorts, and outdoor sports bloggers requesting information about his services. NOT just here in the U.S.A, but also in several countries in Europe as well. He just up and decided to go DO IT, and see what happens….no  biggie….BALLS.

More of this please. More of people saying to hell with status quo. More of people following their bliss…responsibly. More of a departure from the self-imposed enslavement of traditionally valued benchmarks of success. more of the redefining of what it looks like to be successful, happy, and content. Not in a self deluding or lazy way, but in a heart-felt, deep down in your gut, “these are the things that are important to me” way.

Bravo to the makers. Bravo to the craftsman young and old. Bravo to those who ignore what is considered the “right way’ to do things. Bravo to the explorers. You are all having a very empowering impact on me for sure, and I suspect and hope on the world around you as well….just….bravo.

 

 

FINE TEETH…OR HOW I “SAW” THE LIGHT…..

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Above are a trio of hand saws that I will be procuring in the very near future. The can normally be purchased through http://www.Leevalleytools.com, a purveyor of fine woodworking tooling.

Having broken out my vintage Stanley Bailey planes for fettling and fondling, I began a short meditation on hand cut joinery.

Now, I realize that I have mentioned that my hands just do not work the way they once did, and that I find hand cutting lots of dovetails etc. to be hard on my hands. However, I was thinking about it, and it seems to me that since I had been taught, long ago, the means and methods of hand cutting and fitting joinery, it might be a wee bit of a waste if I did not at least try to keep the practice up for as long as I am able.

Therefore, I have elected to leave the door open to hand cut joinery for special projects, or by special request.

Because hand cutting joinery is a bit more involved than using a router and a jig, it requires a few specialized tools in order to do it. Hand cutting mortises and tenons, dovetails and the like normally require a few specialized hand saws and some chisels that are a few steps above the run of the mill Marples Blue chip chisel set.

I know you are saying to yourself…”self…he is just creating a need for more tools to be purchased”. Yep, you are correct…Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa.

I did not start out looking for an excuse to go Ebay surfing for saws and chisels, but as a happy byproduct of my decision to maintain my chops vis-a-vis hand cut joinery, I will need to make a few additions to my hand tool ensemble.

The thoughtful folks at Lee Valley Tools have a lovely selection of hand tools. The saws that I am going to be buying…sometime soon I hope…are from a Canadian company named Veritas.

Veritas also makes some very high quality hand planes, chisels, jigs, vises, and many other woodworking accoutrements.

In this particular case, I am departing from my norm and am planning to buy new tools rather than recycling vintage pieces. This is for several reasons.

The first has to do with economy. For the cost of those three saws above, (conveniently put into a package deal by Lee Valley Tools) I “might” be able to get one or two of their counterparts in fair condition on Ebay…MAYBE.

Don’t let the woodworking talking heads convince you that Ebay is the one stop shop for quality, though maybe needing TLC, tooling at bargain basement prices. It seems that anyone who goes to flea markets, yard sales, and second-hand tool stores has a “buy-it-now” on Ebay with a price that will make you wonder what the color of the sky really is on the planet that these people are from. I think they plan to retire on the proceeds of their tool sales there.

So, buying new tools that will require next to no tuning, that come with a warranty, and that are of proven high quality, seem to me to be something of a bargain.

Another reason is that these tools come backed by unbiased reviews by some fairly heavy hitters in the woodworking world. Paul Sellers being the one whose opinion sealed the deal for me. He had a few of Veritas’s saws in his shop for some long-term (three years) testing and gave them glowing reviews. Mr. Sellers is a revered hand tool aficionado. He knows good tooling, and how to rescue it from the landfill and tune it up for another 50-100-150 years of faithful service. He is an inspiration to me. So if he green-lights a particular tool…new or old….I pay attention. Add in my own personal experience with some of Veritas tooling, and it really is a no-brainer for me.

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In any case, I am looking forward to rounding out my arsenal of hand tools with some new saws, a couple of sets of new chisels, some vintage layout tools, and maybe even a small coffeemaker for The Tiny Shop.coffee

Another new addition on the horizon is a place to put all this woodworking finery. I have a great, OLD, Craftsman brand tool chest combo that has been a real God send. I very close friend of mine passed it on to me when I first started putting The Tiny Shop together. I cleaned, waxed and buffed it up, took the useless casters that were on it…barely…off, and plopped it down on a dolly for mobility. Better than new.

Still, even with the tool box from heaven, I would like a set up dedicated to the “finer” tools that I have and that I plan to get.

Initially, I had considered just finding another Craftsman set up like the one I have now. That morphed into building a duplicate out of wood. That then morphed further into something of a hybrid. I would like a base chest of say, four deep drawers. Then perhaps another case that has several more drawers of various depth on top of that. On top of both of those cases, I want to build a plane till and some dedicated spaces for chisels, hand saws, layout tools, and a couple of small drawers for…well….just because they are cool. Something like a cross between this….

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…and these…

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Perhaps you can see where my sudden interest in hand cutting dovetails is coming from now?

The first two pictures of a tool chest above, are pictures I grabbed from Paul Sellers blog site. (www.paulsellers.com)

They are of his personal tool chest. I love this chest, but can see a plane till like the one just above here, sitting on top. Also, instead of a stand, I would set the cases on a very low, cradle of sorts, to make use of the dead space for those deeper drawers I want in the bottom case.

It looks like I just made a lot of fun work for myself again….I feel no shame in saying….I can’t wait to go shopping and then get to making some saw dust in The Tiny Shop.

The PLANE Truth…

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When I say I am a tool junkie, I am not kidding. I love them.

More importantly, I love old tools.

Now, it has been some time since I have written on tools, tooling, or the like. Moreover, it seems like anyone who has ever swung a hammer has something to say about hand planes.

I am no exception it seems. Though I would like to point out that it has been nearly two years that The Madcap Woodwright has been a blog and I can’t for the life of me remember if I had EVER written about hand planes. I know I can scroll back through my previous posts and try to see if I had done a piece on them, but that seems too much like work. More to the point, it would require me to revisit some of my earlier, less finessed, pieces and I just don’t have the intestinal fortitude to do that.

The above picture is of my beloved “Daily Driver” hand planes. Each is vintage. The #7 (the jointer plane/Longest plane) being 106 years old.  The #5 (Jack plane/Medium length) and the #3 (Smoothy Plane/Smallest plane) are both from the early 1930’s

Each one is in superb condition for having such a long life thus far. Each has a flat-bed and complete complement of hardware. This is important as over the years these pieces sometimes tend to be modified and parts can sometimes get lost.

For example, My #7 Jointer plane is actually somewhat of a “franken-plane.”

It has a replacement front knob and also rear tote. The cap lever is also non-original as it is obviously japanned/painted from a previous owner and bears no manufacturer marking. Little things like this often driver collectors bat-shit-crazy. However, at least in my example above, a more than century old tool is still alive and kicking. Plus, either by happenstance or by design, the original cap lever’s replacement is actually of heavier, better quality. So since I have these planes to shave wood and not to collect or turn profit on E-bay, I appreciate the “up-grade.”

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With the advent of foundries like Lie Nielson and boutique makers that  hand craft superb tools, there are plenty of folks who ask why someone would ever consider buying such seemingly antiquated tools to work professionally when there are so many newer, and purportedly better, tools available.

It is for a number of reasons actually. Some practical, and some more romantic.

The first reason that comes to mind is that, despite their antiquity and implied rarity, these planes can be had for far, far less than their modern counterparts provided you are shopping for tools that are in “user” condition rather than “collector” condition. The above examples were acquired for the miserly sum of $150 for the trio.

I got lucky with the find, to be sure. They were found in exceptionally fine user condition. No collector would be all that interested as they show signs of having been refurbished/cleaned/modified. In other words, they had had their patina cleaned off, and had been modified for improved performance. These are working class antiques, not shop display queens.

Another reason to seek these out is the same as I had described with my early Delta stationary equipment. The materials used are of very high quality and crafted by old world plane makers, using traditional techniques, from an era when tools were developed and manufactured with long service life and durability as a  primary selling point.

Lastly, there is just something about the feel of tools of this vintage. They just feel good in the hand, and are obviously happy to be put to work the way they were designed. It is a little difficult to describe, but tools this old just feel more willing to be used. They don’t have the feel of a tool that was made to be admired and put on a shelf to be looked at. A tool to only be used sparingly for fear of any sort of damage. At the risk of anthropomorphizing the planes any further, they are just so willing to be used that they beg for it.

The notion that modern planes are better and much better than their ancestors is , in my view, a bit subjective. Given the relative low-cost, the comparable material and build quality, and the intangible benefits of keeping these tools working and useful, I fail to see any reason not to keep them as primary day-to-day tools.

Sure, I would love a full complement of Lie Nielson Stanley Bedrock clones to admire and show off. What self-respecting tool junkie and woodworker wouldn’t? But for my needs, my daily forays into Neanderthal woodworking, I like my very vintage Stanley Bailey #3-#5-& #7 just fine thank you very much.

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A Little bit about Finishing

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In my last blog post, I mentioned that I was planning to switch from my tried and true solvent based lacquer finish to a more eco friendly water based finish. A reader commented on the switch, and this lead me to jot down some thoughts I have been having on this issue…well…and as another excuse to avoid working on  The Madcap Woodwright-Thoughts On Joyfully Working Wood With Abandon manuscript.

As the Muse has continued to elude me of late, I figured that writing ANYTHING was better than hiding from my ThinkPad. (A true hot rod of a laptop by the way)

As I mentioned, my normal film finish (as opposed to a penetrating finish like Danish oil) was always some version of a traditional lacquer finish. Nitrocellulose, or “pre catalyzed” lacquer being the two main versions most commonly used, until recent changes to environmental law began making finding reliable and affordable sources for these finishes difficult.

In addition, I have many, many, MANY years under my belt using these finishes. They are wonderful, and provide a good protective, and visually pleasing finish. Ease of use and over all versatility round out the reasons why they are traditionally preferred finish choice.

Their downsides, for me at least, include toxic vapor, flammable vapor, environmentally negative, and they require specialized EXPLOSION PROOF exhaust equipment to be anywhere near compliant with safety regulations in most areas.

Enter water based finishes.

Since their initial introduction, some 15(?) plus years ago, they developed a reputation for being cranky, finicky, and generally not ready for prime time.

A lot has changed in that time.

Now, let me say here, I have yet to actually use a waterborne finish. To say that I am hopeful, yet skeptical, would be an apt description.

However, word on the street among those who have actually used these finishes, say that they act very much like their solvent based predecessors. The word is that the newest generations of waterborne finishes cure to a tough, hard, and nearly identical to the traditional lacquers they are moving to replace.

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One thing to note, ANY solvent free finish that calls itself  “Lacquer”, is NOT lacquer in the strictest sense. Rather, most water based lacquers are in fact an ACRYLIC rather than a true lacquer. This is important because it has some significant differences in performance. Acrylic finishes are difficult to strip off when doing a refinish as compared to traditional lacquer, it does not “move” in the same way a traditional lacquer does either. This is, or could be important, for instrument makers or craftsman who take wood movement into consideration.

That said, the latest generations of acrylic lacquers are said to have much improved elasticity properties, and  perform very, very closely to solvent based lacquers but tends to be brand dependent.

All of this leads me to the decision to begin working with the above pictured finish. By all accounts the Target Coatings acrylic lacquer is as close to traditional lacquer as one can get in the latest generation of waterborne finishes.

My hope is that I will find that this is the case. I really want to be able to make the switch from solvent based to water based spray-able finishes.

Much more on this as events unfold……stay tuned.

Writer’s Block Sucks…

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Since I had been using my poor, much overtaxed, little tablet to do the majority of my writing since starting this blog, I had a built in excuse to avoid the subject of the dreaded “Writer’s Block.”

Now that I have obtained an incredible, new-to-me, Lenovo Thinkpad, I no longer have technical difficulties as an excuse for the denial I have been wallowing in regarding the case of writer’s block I have.

So, while I have been remarkably negligent in my writing, I am now, as they say, “Back in the saddle.”

Attempting to get myself back in the game, I figured I would whip something up for this blog as a means of stirring up the creative juices, and reconnect with my muse.

Thus far, I have been somewhat mired in finishing off the equipping of The Tiny Shop, and doing some light restoration work to keep the mind and hands supple and well practiced.

I had the good fortune to find a deal on a brand new 1 1/2 HP motor for my Delta jointer, and it is now semi operational. I need to dial in the knives still, but otherwise it is fairly tuned and ready to do real woodworking finally. wpid-wp-1444014009777.jpg

 

Also, after much research and hand wringing, I decided that using the tried and true HVLP conversion set up that I had been using for years for applying finish was just not in keeping with my position on environmental responsibility. Further, It just had far too much in the way of “tweaking” that always seemed to need to be done in order to get the level of quality I wanted in a finish.

Add to that that I was planning a switch to water borne finish media, and the need for a different application tool was obvious.

 

Enter the Fuji Semi-Pro2.

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The Fuji set up is a very well regarded turbine driven High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP) system. The idea is, that with this small, self contained set up, over spray is kept to an absolute minimum,which means a significant boost in savings as it applies to material cost. Also, since there is no traditional compressor, oil, water, and other potential contaminants are no longer a worry.

Since the cup gun is stainless steel, (both the gun and the cup) I can shoot both solvent based finishes as well as water based finishes.

Word on the street about Fuji turbines is universally good. They are regarded as some of the very best finishing equipment at markedly reasonable prices. Far less than other manufacturers like Apollo, and Grayco. Bang for the buck, and considering the space limitations of The tiny Shop, this is a no brainer.

All that remains for initial equipment purchases are another router or two, a hollow chisel mortiser, and a dovetail jig.

I debated long and hard on these last two, expensive, pieces. I decided to add these to my “need to have” list because, as I have aged, hand cutting joinery has begun to take its toll on my hands/joints. As much as I enjoy hand cut joinery, I feel that from a longevity standpoint, it makes sense for me to mechanize these operations. Trust me, if I thought that I could continue indefinitely hand cutting my  joints, I would. It is a wonderful exercise in mindful woodworking. Alas, the ravages of a misspent youth and father time, are beginning to rear their ugly heads.

That, and it gives me two more tools to shop for…..so I got that going for me…..which is nice.

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“Ahhhhhhh……Bach”

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This morning was one of those wonderful mornings that one simply must savor.

LOML and I awoke and only had two “must do items” on our list. First, we sauntered to a tiny little breakfast joint we love. It’s claim to fame being their home made biscuits. Their biscuit breakfast sandwiches joined by a rich and flavorful cup of locally roasted coffee are just the thing to start the day.

After that, it was off to the grocery store for some much needed provisioning.

That was it for the day….well for me at least. LOML then had to forge ahead and work a Saturday shift at her job.

This left me with a full belly, a bright, sun drenched, nearly 65 degree January day, all to myself.

A perfect day to go out to the tiny shop and just….putter.

One thing that I am an ardent believer in, is the correct music selection for blatant “puttering”.

Having an aestheticly pleasing Tiny Shop requires the appropriate “sonic flavor” if it is destined to be a pleasingly productive shop.

Because there is precious little to be managed in the Tiny Shop, (save for a new motor for my poor little Delta jointer), and no major projects on the docket, puttering seemed to me to be just what the doctor ordered.

The music selection started off with a nice dose of Joe Walsh and the James Gang. Purely to get the juices flowing. Followed up by a nice selection of Sam and Dave, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding.

The puttering tasks were menial. Fixing a hinge on the Tiny Shop’s main door, futzing with the shop vac and several lengths of shop vac hose and integrating them with a cyclonic separator I have for the shop vac. Sipping coffee…..sitting on my bench stool…..looking around the Tiny Shop for other anal retentive tasks to perform…..a fantastic way to start the day.

Truely a morning to be savored before enjoying the afternoon.

Now, I am a rhythm and blues kind of guy. R&B, soul, streight up blues, sometimes some reggae, and always Rock and Roll.

Today….well, as the day matured into afternoon, I felt the day dictating something different for me.

Dear reader, please indulge me a short bunny trail. I promise it will circle back nicely to my current ramblings.

My dear grandmother on my mother’s side was a classical music consumer of epic proportions. She and my grand father had a wonderful collection of vinyl records representing both the best of composers as well as recordings of some of the finest performances of their handiwork.

She was also a fan of the t.v.show M.A.S.H. In one particular episode, the character “Radar” was getting dating advice from Hawkeye, or Trapper John, or both.

When the subject of how best to manage conversation with  a lady whose interests include classical music, and if the subject of Bach should come up, Radar was encouraged to keep it simple and just utter the response “ahhhhhhh…. Bach”. My grandmother LOVED this scene and this phrase became something of a family motto.  When the whole family gathered, it was a rare time indeed, that you did not hear someone say this.

So it was this afternoon that I had a hankering for some classical music to take me into the last hours of the warmth of the sun, and the peace of puttering in the Tiny Shop.

What to listen to? With the miracle of streaming music, there is so much to choose from.

Then it hit me.

Ahhhhhhh…… Bach.

A perfect choice for the perfect end to the perfect day of perfectly puttering.

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