Category Archives: furniture maker

OLD ‘ARN……IS THE BEST ‘ARN

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Hello, I’m The Madcap Woodwright, and I am an old ‘Arn – aholic.

Yet another year has passed and I am two days into my…..ahem….46th year here on this planet. As a gift to me for this auspicious occasion, the love of my life gave me the green light to drop a little coin on a birthday gift.

The Delta 768 10″ band saw was made between 1937 and 1943….I think….which makes this one of the more rare and very desirable machines in the vintage Delta line up.

Rare, because it was only made for those 5 or 6 years. Desirable because it is, for all intents and purposes, the exact same machine as it’s larger brother the vaunted 14″ delta band saw, but with smaller wheels top and bottom.

O.K. maybe not the exact same. But all the major components are interchangeable with the larger machine and it is bristling with all the heavy, thick cast iron that the larger capacity machine has, and then some.

Since the Delta 14″ band saw is ubiquitous, this means that most if not all of the parts that may fail on this little treasure, are easily replaceable. Nearly unheard of with a machine this old.

Add to it’s rarity and desirability that is is nice and compact which makes it a natural fit for The Tiny Shop.

Do not let it’s diminutive stature deceive you though, this machine is built … well … to last a lifetime or two. It’s just a beast for something so small in overall dimension.

I brought her home, gave her a bath, assembled her and plugged her in. As the saw ran, I began tweaking some adjustments here and there to take out some play in the blade and to see what I was dealing with as far as any needed rehab. As the machine scraped and squealed I was fearing that a total and complete strip and restoration was going to have to be done.

Imagine my joy when, the more she ran, the more smooth and quiet she became. Those old “sealed and lubricated for life” bearings were providing testimony to the craftsmanship and care with which these old tools were built before the advent of disposable tooling.

I let the saw run unloaded for a while and let her settle into a very smooth and content hum. Knowing that the blade that came with this was destined for replacement anyway, I went ahead and attempted a trial cut to see if the motor was going to have enough “umpfh” behind it, or if I were going to have to replace it. As it turns out, the thing made perfectly serviceable cuts, although at a diminished feed rate, in spite of the horribly dull condition of the blade.

Mind you, this is with the saw exactly as I got it. Un-tuned, all parts just as they came on it, and with a blade that could not cut warm butter on an August afternoon in the sun. This, not 20 minutes after having assembled the thing, rust, grunge and all.

Impressive.

Plans call for new wheel tires, thrust bearings, and some new fangled blades. A nominal outlay of dosh over and above the fire sale price that the love of my life and I paid for this.

After seeing that I was in pretty good shape here, I have decided to defer any hardcore restoration of this tool. (Disassembly, painting, parts replacement/upgrade)

The patina on her matches well with the Unisaw and the Jointer, and I can see no reason to get crazy with it’s rehab. Just whatever it takes to make it as accurate and useful as all the other tooling that I am finding a way to stuff into The tiny Shop.

Now, where should I put a lathe?

 

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“He Who Hesitates……”

……procrastinates indefinitely.

 

It’s not that I am lazy, It’s more a case of having a lot of ideas and not knowing how to put order to them.

Since the first of the year I have been off to a good start with my level of productivity. I have discovered that I am quite adept at disgorging myself of various literary ideas now that I have cajoled an actual periodical to publish some of my ramblings. No shortage of copy for Highland Woodworking’s online magazine of blog.

Nor have I been lacking in the work to do in The Tiny Shop. Since the phonograph refinish, I have had a string of small furniture repairs and/or refinishes. Throw in another workbench build, and you are up to date with my current state of workshop projects.

Aside from a few model train display cases and the long promised step stool for my dear wife, I am starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Now what?

Well, that is where things are getting a little sticky. I really need to get some furniture built as prototypes and proof of concepts. I have been wanting to get some things built not only as a means of developing some design ideas, my take on some more traditional styles, but also as fodder for my photographer son to take some beauty shots of for a hypothetical website for The Tiny Shop.

Since I have yet to actually put pencil to paper in many months, I am relegated to my minds eye for developing ideas. This poses a bit of a problem, you see I tend to bounce from idea to idea and end up with a collection of fractured ideas bouncing around in my melon.

Best to choose one, and get on with it.

My intention is to build one of three ideas I have right now. The first is the glove table I had mentioned in a previous post. Next idea would be a blanket chest for my dear wife.

Last, and most fear inducing is the design and construction of a wall unit for our basement family room. Our house is on the verge of being too large for us, but with my 18 year old son having moved in with us this summer, the wall unit may be a good way of making the largely unused family room a little more warm and inviting for him during his stay with us, and an investment in our future use of the space once he moves on to his inevitable world domination tour sometime in the future.

Decisions, decisions.

yinyang

 

Refreshed

Above is the before/after of the Art Deco -ish dresser I rehabbed a while back. Next up was it’s bigger brother, a dresser/vanity combo.

Both pieces had some significant veneer damage. Some I could repair, and some were just too far gone.

Over all, with a quick rehab, rather than restoration, I think they turned out rather nice.

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.

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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Mindful Woodworking…or…The Tao of Working Wood

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For several months now, I have been considering my position as The Madcap Woodwright. This meditation is partially because the Tiny Shop is still not completely prepared for full operational status. Some time ago, after having adjusted my vintage Delta jointer, its motor decided to give up the ghost. I have been searching for it’s replacement ever since. So, while I can perform a wide range of operations, and have been engaged in some light restoration work, I am still not completely ready to turn the Tiny Shop and The Madcap Woodwright loose on the world just yet.

I think that part of the issue is that, in addition to having to manage some of my tooling issues,  I am more than a little bit uneasy about starting a business based on  such a non-traditional business model.

In reality, the business model is not all that radical. However, it does attempt to diverge from more traditional models in that, it’s primary focus is less about profit, and more about sustainability and satisfaction. Not just customer satisfaction, but also personal satisfaction. The two being dependent upon each other in my view.

Recently, a reader of this humble blog posted a lovely comment on the Madcap Manifesto post I put up a while ago. Dan H’s comment can be read in its entirety at the bottom of that post.

One portion of his comment summed up nicely, the notion of working for the internal reward verses the external rewards that are normally the driving force behind most business.

QUOTE:

“If I may, I’d like to add a little of my own thoughts. To borrow an analysis from a contemporary critic of modern culture, there are goods that are “external” to a practice and goods that are “internal” to a practice. One can engage in a practice merely to acquire certain external goods; wealth, fame, influence, etc. But, such goods are not uniquely connected to the practice. They can be acquired in many different ways. That’s why they are called external goods. If one is motivated by goods external to the practice he or she naturally will seek to be efficient, to cut corners, maybe even to cheat in order to get the goods.

On the other hand, one can seek to excel in a practice in order to achieve the goods that are internal to that practice. These are goods can only be achieved by participating and attempting to excel in the practice. Moreover, such a craftsman cannot cut corners, cannot cheat, to achieve such goods; it’s simply a contradiction. And, although difficult to prove, you are dead right that one way of doing it is more satisfying. Or, in your words, “…let the joy woodworking offers stand front and center.”
END QUOTE

The root of the Madcap Woodwright’s evolving philosophy summed in that second paragraph. It is the participation and the attempt(s) at excellence that contain the promise of the inner satisfaction that I’m after. But more than that, they are only the very root. There are some ancillary issues here too.

For example, a large part of my passion is also rooted in the desire to pass the love of woodworking on to others. I feel a need to develop my views and philosophies as they relate to woodworking in general, and Madcap Woodworking in particular. As it stands right now, one of my key messages is designed to liberate folks from the high handedness and eliteist dogma that have engulfed woodworking for so long. I feel moved to encourage anyone who will listen, to give themselves permission to just …work…the….wood. Yes, by all means do so with all your best efforts, be they focused on handcut dovetails, or building a shed. By all means, read the articles in Fine Woodwroking or Popular Woodworking or what ever. By all means, explore the lives of the craftsman who have gone before us. Just don’t become bogged in their way of doing things. Feel the freedom of exploring multiple options in both design and execution.

I thank Dan H. for responding the way he did. Not so much because he agrees with me, it’s more a case of gratitude for understanding.

Making peace with the reality of the potential responsibilities that come with promoting a, some would say, progressive view of how to approach woodworking, is proving to be a little more challenging than I first imagined. Be that as it may, I realize that it promises to be as rewarding as putting together a Tiny Shop, or cutting a dovetail, or scoring some vintage bit of woodworking machinery.

This piece seems to be a bit rambling. Clearly there is still work to be done as it relates to sifting through the various thoughts and bits of evolving philisophical perspective that I have. I have a foundational idea of how I view both the art/craft of working wood the way I do, I have a seed that has been planted in my spirit. It occurs to me that the resistance, slight as it may be right now, to moving forward and opening the doors of The Tiny Shop to the public might be the exact thing that may be hindering me from solidifying these philosophies?

In any case, rest assured that more navel gazing will occur as I continue to search out that replacement jointer motor. More thoughtful pondering will be forth comming after it is repaired and I go forth to procure a lovely little Delta shaper to round out my classic machine collection. Once I finally begin actually working wood more purposefully and the doors of The Tiny Shop are finally open for business, I suspect that more of the esoteric pieces shall fall into place.

Or….

Maybe the picture will change entirely….either way, its going to be fun getting back into the saddle. It’s going to be fun to be joyfully working wood with abandon again. Stay Tuned.

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…”WE INTERRUPT THIS MANIFESTO”……..

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As I work on finishing a draft of the first installment of the MADCAP MANIFESTO, I have gotten in the habit of switching over to Craigslist or whatever to peruse tools that I need, might need, want, would like to have, don’t need, but will eventually buy etc.  Work on the first installment of the manifesto has proven to be an exercise in writer’s block, as I have a great deal to say, but am struggling to sort it all out in an intelligent manner.

Anyone who has been following this blog knows what a hopeless woodworking tool … ahem …enthusiast I am. I use that statement as a qualifier because what follows is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me Rockwell Delta.

I stumbled on a post on Craigslist that was simple enough. “Woodworking tools” . These posts normally contain various bits and scraps of cheap throw away hobbyist tools. Sometimes though, they can contain pure gold…..

It seems that a man in a town about 30 miles from me lost his father, an engineer by trade and life long amateur woodworker, to the ravages of time and old age. (Rest in peace). The son and his brothers had all grown and established their own tool collections, so what the Dad had left behind was to be sold.

A couple of really choice machines were for sale at reasonable prices. A Grizzley 15″ planer, a 1955 Craftsman (built by the Atlas Tool Works) 17′ bandsaw, and…..drum roll please…..a 1948 Delta Unisaw..

The son mentioned that his post had been on Craigslist for the better part of 6 weeks with virtually zero interest. In fact, I was only the second person to contact him about any of the tools.

It was the Unisaw I was interested in. For the uninitiated, the Delta Unisaw, especially the pre and immediately post war vintages, are the undisputed Rolls Royce of table saws. They are built with old world attention to detail. Castings were poured into molds, then removed after cooling and buried in sand for two years prior to being milled flat for assembly and sale. This practice ensured that any movement that the table castings or arbor castings would suffer from (twist, warp, cupping, bowing) would occur prior to final milling and finishing and remain true for their life thereafter. Motors were heavy and powerful. They develop an enormous amount of torque despite their anemic horsepower ratings. Better in EVERY WAY than anything built today short of a saw from Germany or Switzerland.

So it was that I entered into half hearted negotiations with this man. Surely he would want to stick to his asking price of nearly $500. Besides, LOML, would never cotton to my bringing home another  dusty old relic that would duplicate what was already in the Tiny Shop.

In talking with the son, he discussed how weary he was of waiting to move this piece of iron. He said he is just looking for the right person to come along, someone who knew what a gem this machine was. Someone who would use it, not just resell it or *GASP* part it out. It was his intention at this point, he said, to let the saw go for the first reasonable offer to such a person. I was beside myself.

The FIRST thing I needed to do was delicately explain to my sainted wife, WHY I needed…not wanted….neeeeeded, this saw. She must have seen the desperation in my eyes since she made a deal with me. If I could sell the General now installed in the tiny Shop, I could have the Unisaw. No disposable income was available for a purchase like this, and whatever funds I could get for my General, were all we had for an offer on the Unisaw.

GAME ON!!!!

In 24 hours, I had the general sold for $50 more than I had paid for it originally, and was locked in to a price with the Unisaw seller that allowed me to remain on speaking terms with my beloved wife.

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Above is a picture taken moments after the arrival of the “table saw de tuti table saw”. 430 pounds of purring smooooooothness. This is prior to any clean up, I have only gotten the extension wings re-attached and the motor rewired by the time I snapped this picture.

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Lovely clean and dead flat top.

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Behold! An all original Delta miter guage

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The Bullet. 90-some pounds of torque, ummph, and coniferous carnage. Just not made like this any more.

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Can I get an…..AMEN!!!!

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Just a little art deco to bring some class and panache into the Tiny Shop.

Ok, I should go now. I have honey-do’s to do, and also need to chip away at the first installment of The Madcap Manifesto. Stay tuned for that!!!!!

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