Category Archives: crafts

It Really Is Something Of A Sickness…

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Above is the first picture of the as yet, undecided, workbench.

I continue to waver back and forth between calling this a Holtzapffel, and building a twin screw front vise for it, and calling it a Roubo, and building a leg vise for it….lol.

I’m pitiful. It is something of a characteristic feature of my particular brand of bench building insanity, that I am just not content unless I have wrung my hands and paced the floor late at night churning over the various options available for a particular build.

All this mental energy over what….the choice between two vises and if I call the thing by a long dead German guys name, or a long dead Frenchman? Sheesh….I need to take a bit of my own advice and just enjoy the moment.

I only have a little more to do yet on this unnamed bench. Drill dog holes for my hold-fasts and possibly a Veritas fixture or two. I am thinking that I may be running a row of dog holes along the front edge for use with this….

veritassurfacevise

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It is a Veritas Surface vise. I can use it in conjunction with dog holes in the bench top as a stand in for the end vise I have elected to delete in this build since the bench is going to double as an out feed table for my table saw.

I’ll just need to see how things go. For now, I am basking in the glow of having not hosed this project up. It’s been a bit of an adventure.

In related news, There is a series in the works for my column over at Highland Woodworking. (I love saying that.)

If you have interest in seeing what I did to get to this place, stay tuned as I think I will be writing it up here in the next few weeks.

 

 

 

The Once And Future Madcap

Big doings here in Madcap land. 

It seems I have managed to weasel a real writing position out of some poor, unsuspecting editor.

That’s right, The Madcap Woodwright will be a regular contributor to the Highland Woodworking Blog. 

(http://www.highlandwoodworking.com/highland-woodworking-blog.aspx)

I will have a monthly byline at the blog with additional contributing duties for the newsletter as well.

The good folks at Highland Woodworking have been among the very finest of tool addiction enablers. A true boon to the tool addiction addled minds of the woodworking masses.They have been providing extremely high quality woodworking tooling, education, and support for the woodworking community for as long as I can remember. They are a true stalwart in American woodworking, and I am very excited to be joining the team.

Check out their website at:

http://www.highlandwoodworking.com/index.aspx
And…..

Look for my first articles to begin appearing in the blog and news letter beginning in February.

Literacy is so cool.

…and so it begins…again.

Above: Roubo In Repose.
Resting comfortably are the Douglas Fir timbers that will soon be the Roubo. The plan is to let them rest and dry out a little bit more before beginning milling operations on them. 

My hope is that with some creativity, my Delta jointer and elderly Ryobi planer will accept the challenge that milling these beasts will present. We shall see.

Also newly arrived at The Tiny Shop, both the bench vise screw from Veritas as well as the hold fasts from Gramercy/Tools For Working Wood.

Both arrived as promised and both display signs of exceptional craftsmanship. I am well pleased.

Edit to add:

The Scandinavian bench I built a year or so ago was also a Borg lumber build. It turned out so nice that I haven’t had the heart to really do any work on her without a blanket or other form of protection. Much to my embarrassment, I have allowed it to become something of a princess bench.

The Roubo on the other hand is slated to be the real work horse of the shop once completed. At least, that’s what I say now. Knowing myself the way I do, I may be making a trip to Harbor Freight during one of their (daily) sales, and picking up still more $5 moving blankets. 

It’s not that I fear the dings and dents of the work on the bench, it’s just that I have such a weakness for the beauty each of these designs impart to The Tiny Shop.  My hope is that the first ding, scratch etc. will then liberate me to finally get to putting these beasts to work properly and without bench condoms….. otherwise, I’ll be cutting dovetails in the snow on saw horses.

“Dry my lovelies,dry!”

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

niagra

 

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.

target finishes

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.

Mindful Woodworking… or …Gonzo Woodworking, Let Weirdness Reign

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Just as Dr. Hunter S. Thompson gave himself permission to create “Gonzo Journalism” , I have decided that I will champion the cause of Gonzo Woodworking.

Now, let it be said that my approach to this particular mutation of woodworking will be mostly focused on encouragement and exploration rather than cynicism and hallucinogens. Not that I have anything against cynicism or hallucinogens, its just that my focus is much more fixed much more on the evolution of woodworking norms rather than the journalling of their failures and hypocrisies.

The thing is, I am convinced that the woodworking community as a whole is badly in need of some fresh air. A little bit of deviance. A little bit of a shake up to see what comes of it. A little weirdness.

To be clear, I treasure and revere classic woodworking techniques. I love traditional joinery, I love traditional design. I adore a hand squared board. I covet antique hand and power tooling.

What I do not love, and what I am starting to see as an impediment of  the evolution of woodworking, is the ceaseless demand for adherence to the “Rules of Woodworking” .

“Its not woodworking unless you do everything by hand”     “Only this tool or that tool or that machine is used in true woodworking”. “Template cut dovetails are inferior to hand cut dovetails”. and on, and on.

The religion of woodworking and craftsmanship has become stale and tired. Still fun, still interesting, especially to a novice. Still a rush to the beginner tool junkie. But there is such fanaticism in most of the woodworking community. I think that this may be the result of the craft having been passed on, father to son, master to apprentice, thereby instilling rigidity.”This is the way I was taught, this is the way it has been done for centuries so it must be the right way”. I admire traditional woodworking and trust that it has it’s place. Especially as it relates to craftsmanship. There is “good” and “bad” woodworking. “Good” being woodworking that was executed with thought, attention to detail, and with abandon. “Bad” being woodworking that was done with no thought, carelessness, and with only the bottom line in mind.

Where I start wandering from the “one true path” is when woodworkers start choosing sides. Hand cut joinery verses machine cut or machine assisted, ALL hand tools/no machines verses all machines/mostly machines. Totally irrelevant.

The Gonzo in Gonzo Woodworking, is the view that a woodworker should derive joy and satisfaction from their pursuit of excellence in the design, planning, and execution of a particular project. The rubber meets the road, so to speak, as a woodworker takes his design idea and thinks it through. Edits the design for scale, function, and taking the limitations of the wood into consideration. He ensures that the concept is sound, plans the  joinery around the limitations of the medium, plans the order of operations, lays out the materials and tooling, and finally begins making sawdust.

These steps are where a bit of mindful woodworking comes in. By that I mean, it is taking each operation as an opportunity to enjoy as a “moment”. Be in the “moment” of developing the design. Be in the “moment” of cutting that dovetail regardless of the method you employ to do it.

Furthermore, and this may be another Gonzo philosophy, it is important to savor the setbacks as much as the victories. Each set back, in my view, should be viewed as opportunity, rather than failure. Life is too short to be looked through the success or failure lens. Too short indeed.

Rather, what once would be looked at as failure, could now be viewed as an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to modify, an opportunity to change. There are very few mistakes in woodworking. Very few slips that either cannot be fixed, or worked around. If, as a woodworker you find yourself staring at a project that simply cannot be reworked to satisfaction or to a level of craftsmanship that is appropriate to the task, put it in the “burn pile” and start again.

It is O.K. Give yourself permission to make the attempts regardless of the eventual outcome. Turn the table saw on and make the cut. Forget that there is potential to cut proud of a layout line. Forget that the project is on a deadline. Forget that Harry Handyman says you have to work the joinery this way or that. It is your moment to enjoy, not his.

That brings up another issue. I feel that a preponderance of the woodworking community feels that anything less than perfection is failure. Ask any craftsman about their project, and I would be willing to bet that they, if they are honest, would be able to show you exactly where things went “wrong” in its development and execution. That is if you could get them to talk about where things got sideways on them.

It is an undeniable truth of the woodworking universe that no project, and I do mean NO project goes exactly as planned. EVER. It just does not work that way. Enjoy it, don’t shy away from that little gift, because that is exactly what that is, a gift. It is the gift of imperfection that makes the project unique and therefore desirable. It is the gift of imperfection, among other things,that imparts the otherwise unobtainable feel of humanity to the piece.

That gift is, in my opinion, one of the things that makes working wood so enjoyable. To be sure, we attempt each project with the intention and the desire to work it through with no missteps, no errors, and pure perfection. Where most miss out, and only get half of what is available to them in doing so, is when they become disappointed or discouraged by a mis-reading of the tape measure or misguided stroke of steel on wood. Sure there may be a flash of disappointment, but I challenge the reader to reorient your perspective to the misstep. Change how you view it and see it as a chance to become creative in your repair or in how you decide to work around it. Once you give yourself permission to actually work wood, rather than chase perfection and only perfection will suffice, then your can relax into the moment. you can take each step, moment by moment, as something to be enjoyed and savored rather than approached with fear or with trepidation. The end result,in my experience, usually ends up being very satisfactory. The end result is one that expresses more richness than one that is built with tension or fear of failure. It is palpable, this difference between a project built out of the dogged pursuit of perfection and one that was built moment by moment.

Work the wood fearlessly, work the wood with joy and abandon.

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The Madcap Manifesto – The Evolution of a Madcap Woodwright.

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Throughout my career as a professional cabinetmaker and woodwright, there has always been something of an unspoken understanding in the profession. Professional woodworkers are to be flannel clad, bearded, curmudgeons, with saw dust in their hair and a very serious “air” about them. Think Norm Abrams crossed with William F. Buckley, and you are pretty close to the normal perception of the professional woodworker. This holds true especially in recent years it seems.

When I decided (was “encouraged” by the love of my life) to open the tiny shop and to once again work wood professionally, I committed to myself that come hell or high water, I was NOT going to be the overly serious, cantankerous cranky pants that so many of my brothers and sisters seem to be these days.

Enter The Madcap Woodwright.

An unusual name for a business, I know. Many folks have commented to me that it may not be such a hot idea to name my fledgling business this way. The argument being that folks might not take me seriously, and that I may be looked at as less professional than I really am, and so on.

All perfectly valid points if you approach from a traditional point of view. I…..do not.

mad·cap

ˈmadˌkap/

adjective

1.

amusingly eccentric.

“a surreal, madcap novel”

synonyms:zanyeccentricunconventional

“a madcap comedy”

Because I find that modern woodworking is or has developed something of an …..attitude, I feel that it is high time someone who loves the craft takes a risk and tries to let the joy woodworking offers stand front and center.

Far too many of my cohorts take the art of woodworking far too seriously. Not the tooling, not the need for precision, not the care with which we carry the craft forward, more so that they take themselves far too seriously.

I am much more interested in showing people how much I love and adore working wood, rather than how much I think I should be loved and adored for working wood. This is the ugly little skeleton that can be found in many, many modern woodworker’s closets. Somewhere along the way, they stopped loving working wood for its own sake, and started down the path of entitlement.

“I have done this for years and years, I have written books on the subject. I give speeches and presentations……I DESERVE to be viewed as a deity”!!!!

Naturally, there are many professional woodworkers who DO NOT subscribe to this mindset. They may have written books or give presentations, but still it shows that they are in love with the fine art of woodworking. I find that far too many woodworkers, (a generation ahead of me, a generation or more behind me, and my own generation for that matter)seem to feel that they are due a respect and level of admiration because they take their craft so….seriously.

This is one of the reasons I felt compelled to depart from the norm. I am, by nature, unconventional. Rather than hide this personality anomaly,  I choose to embrace and project it out into the world. An unconventional and, dare I say, madcap notion to say the least.

Therefore, The Madcap Woodwright is dedicated to expressing creativity, craftsmanship, attention to detail in all the work that is produced from the Tiny Shop. Old world techniques, traditional woodworking, hand crafted pieces are all the primary objectives. The difference is, to the extent that I am able, I wish to share this more intimately with those who would do business with me. I wish to attract those patrons who enjoy a good cup of coffee, and a nice leisurely chat about design and joinery techniques.

I am less interested in “on demand” deadlines. I am not at all interested in “production level” woodworking. Anything that interrupts the synchronicity between woodwright-patron-design-execution, is to be avoided. I may never make a gazillion dollars, or  see any of my work on the cover of “Fine Woodworking” , but im just fine with that as long as I have had the chance to draw someone into my love of my craft. I am just fine with that as long as I have had the opportunity to spend some time with someone new, share a cup of Joe, listen to a little Sam Cooke out in the Tiny Shop, and talk design ideas. I am more than fine with that if, when all is said and done, a patron and I stand ankle deep in fresh wood shavings running our hands over a newly completed piece, both of us smiling.

Call me a madcap, but that sure seems infinitely more rewarding than self promotion, and book sales. Sure, it is always nice to be appreciated for what you do or have done. Yes, It is wonderful to be paid well for doing something that you enjoy.  Absolutely I would love to be known for a very high level of craftsmanship. But I feel that in order to bring the level of honesty and integrity to my work that I insist on, it needs to be done with joy, abandon, and a sense of humor. Without these things, I feel that a woodwright risks a loss of “soul”.

Perhaps it is foolhardy to approach business this way. Perhaps it is more sensible to leave “work with soul” to amateurs and hobbyists, but I am convinced that there is very little about working wood as a trade, that is sensible. That is of course, unless you really and truly love what you do, and really and truly want to pass that love on to others. In that case, there is no more sensible thing to do but, be…..a Madcap Woodwright.

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