Category Archives: furniture making

Deja Vu…All Over Again….

As The Tiny Shop begins to see action these days, I find myself wishing for just a bit more floor space for assembly. So far, I have been able to get the job done using a combination of what floor space I do have available, and using the 8’+ long out feed table of my table saw.

While this has been serviceable so far, I see that having just a bit more space on the end of the out feed table would be nice. Specifically for building casework larger than four feet tall.

As an admitted cool junkie and workbench ponderer, you can guess the places that my mind takes me. None of these places, I assure you, include simply cutting the well built, fully functional out feed table I currently have to provide the desired space. Parish the thought.

No, I am of course considering the construction of yet another, slightly smaller workbench.

The question I am chewing in right now is, if I build another bench, what design should I make?

I have a full sized Scandinavian / hybrid style right now. It is sturdy, and is the jewel of The Tiny Shop.

Here she is just prior to the vise being fitted.

I like the design, and it works fine for my needs. Perhaps making a version shorter in length and height (to double as another out feed table again.)?

Or….

Do I venture into Franco history and do what all the other kids are doing, and build a Round like this….

I have to admit, the allure of having one of each design really does speak to my inner OCD. I like the Features that a Round would provide me.

Super stout construction, easy construction, and the six foot length I am considering lends itself well to this design.

On the other hand, I have built several of the traditional, more commonly built bench designs, and would be just as happy with it.

I dunno, I need to think a bit more about this.

Madcap-ery Interrupted

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Sure as shit….just as soon as I post here that I am writing a “book,” I come down with the most horrendous, unending, torturous case of writers block that I have had to date.

No matter what, as soon as I would sit down to write, my mind that had moments ago been filled with the most brilliant and innovative or profound topics and notions just decides to delete any semblance of coherent text.

I would sit and try to put anything I could down. ANYTHING. Sometimes even getting a page or two tip-tapped out on my lovely new Thinkpad. Once or twice I even had a session or two where I had nearly an entire chapter of this thing written.

Then I would reread what I had written…..

The horror….the horror.

Finally, I set the Thinkpad aside and tried to write in longhand. Anything to get ideas that seemed to be just out of reach, fleshed out in some way. A word, a sentence, a phrase….anything. All to no avail.

So, in an effort to get the creative juices flowing again I write this blog post to whine about having lost my voice.

The bright side may be that, in having this wretched case of writers block, AGAIN, I am forced to take my own advice and simply be in the moment. Perhaps I should view these many months as a needed recharging of the creative batteries.

Speaking of creativity, I have finally been doing some light restoration work in the Tiny Shop.

I have a friend who rescued a couple of Art Deco pieces from being consigned to the landfill. He got a dresser and also a combination vanity/dresser that were obviously a set just for the cost of picking them up.

they both have some water damage and also some veneer issues, but I have been able to bring the dresser back to life and work is starting on the vanity/dresser now.resto

This piece still had the original mid-century Bakelite handles. It is back together and just got swapped for the soon-to-be-refreshed vanity.

I am excited to see how these two look side by side. I will be sure to snap a couple of before pictures and post them here.

So while the restoration/refreshing pieces are fun and all, what I really want to do is start building some furniture of my own.

When I say “my own,” What I really  mean to say is that I will more than likely be building clones, or my take on pieces that interest me. This is an ongoing method of mine. I start by putting together classic design pieces, and end up sketching and eventually craving to build variations on that particular theme.

For example, I have long wanted to build this.

 

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This is a “Stand Up Desk” by Thos. Moser of New Gloucester Maine. It is on my short list of “to-build pieces.

I also want to build a blanket chest for The Love Of My Life,blanketchest

as well as a glove table for our entry to the house.glovetable

So while I may be somewhat hamstrung by my literary ineptitude, i do have a great deal I wish to get built out in The Tiny Shop to help salve my seemingly empty head.

 

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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A Day In The Life … or … The spirit of James Krenov is alive and well and living in Denver.

image Now that I have made some headway on sorting the shop, my thoughts turn to just what it is exactly, I intend to do with it. Obviously, there will be much lolly gagging, and pondering over steaming cups of coffee. There will be plenty of tinkering, and tweaking, and fussing about with the machines. I can also imagine a period of building jigs, and shop cabinetry, not to mention those pieces promised to the Love of my life (LOML) once the shop is operational. After that, it is a little foggy. If I were asked what my fantasy life would be like, I would have to say that I would be quite content to stroll out to the shop early in the morning, smelling the lilac as I passed by, coffee cup in hand. I can clearly envision opening the shop up, turning on some music (perhaps Bach, or Brahms. Maybe some Miles Davis, or Duke Ellington.) and sketching something from the catalogue of project ideas I have stored up in my minds eye. Once a suitable direction has been selected, the rough dimensions and scale imagined, it is time to saunter to the lumber rack and select from the gobbs and gobbs  of North American hardwoods or perhaps something European and mysterious. Something I have yet to cut into or work with yet. Perhaps some Olive wood, or Steamed Beech. Running my hands over the rough sawn boards, I wait for one or two to speak to me. As esoteric and deluded as this may sound, I have ALMOST felt this experience as described by James Krenov in his books, from time to time in my career. The experience of being patient, and waiting for the wood to “Tell” you what it wants to be. Once the boards have been selected, it is time to begin the day by bringing these precious pieces of wood into square so that they can begin their metamorphosis from rough sawn stock, into something fine and pleasing to the touch. The anticipation of the finished piece is present, to be sure. However, there is great joy in handling the boards, discovering their grain and figure as they are milled carefully. As the day progresses, a break for a drink from a refrigerated water bottle, and a bite to eat. Mustn’t forget to feed the Koi also. I can imagine spending 20 minutes or so, munching on a sandwich, drinking cold water, and watching the Koi Hoover up every last morsel of food tossed in their pond. Once snack time is over, it is back to the shop to lay out joinery, or to take glue-up’s out of the clamps and scrape the squeeze out from the joints before preparing them for their intended use. As mid day turns to late afternoon, good headway has been made. The piece is ready to be dry fit. With the remaining time in the day, perhaps even getting the piece into glue up is possible if executed well. Should I? Or shouldn’t I? Will I have to rush through the glue up process? Or can I take my time, and allow the piece to come together, rather than bullying it into submission? Maybe there would be someone waiting to buy the piece. Someone who knows what went into it’s construction. Someone who sees the same synchronicity  between the wood itself, and the piece as a whole. This would be the ideal way to spend my days. Yes, this would be an ideal day in the life of the Madcap Woodwright. A day spent exploring my imagination, and making useful things for people to enjoy. Definitely something to work for…no question. Like me on Facebook @ Madcapwoodwright Follow me on Twitter @ mdcpwoodwright

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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“Shop Shopping”

One of my absolute favorite pastimes is mental “shop building”. I dearly love shopping for tools. I love researching which ones are the best performing, longest lasting, best made.

What this can create, is a situation where many different configuration options become available to you. I can often times, put together at least three different “Plan A” variations on a collection of tools that would be ideal for my shop. It can be a great way to learn the different levels of quality and the different levels of  versatility that the various tooling options can provide.

In my original shop set up, I had a wonderful European combination machine.

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The above photo is not my old shop, but it is a picture of the combination machine I used to have. The Robland X31 is a Belgian made, 5 function combination machine. It is the combination of a 10″ table saw with a sliding table that makes cutting 4’x8′ sheet goods much easier. Sharing the fixed table with the saw, is a nice 3 horse power shaper. Next to that, is a 3 horse power, 12″ jointer which shares it’s cutter head with a 12″ planer. At the end of the jointer/planer’s cutter head is a chuck for a horizontal boring machine that works very well as a mortising machine. In a 6 square foot footprint, I had five, 3 horse power machines, that were of production level quality. It was a really nice machine.

This time around, I am building from the ground up once again. You may be asking yourself, “Self, why doesn’t he just buy another combination machine?”

While I would love to re-equip with another machine like my old Robland, there are a couple of factors that nix that idea from the get go. The first is that to buy another combination machine like my old one, is in the neighborhood of ten thousand dollars.
The next is that the size and scope of my new shop space is such that, separate machines makes much more sense.

This actually makes things much more interesting for me. I now can research MULTIPLE MACHINES!!!! Oh Happy Day!!!

There are three, main machines that are “must haves” for a woodworking shop. Actually, there are about six or seven, but three that are the foundation of what is needed to efficiently work wood. The table saw, the jointer, and the surface planer. These three machines are what is required to mill stock into square, usable material. If you have these three machines alone, you could mill and dimension rough stock to the point where nearly everything else that needed to be done to the stock, could be done with hand tools. This is actually my plan moving forward. Until such time as I have my larger shop space either built, or leased, I plan to use a well thought out combination of machines and hand tools.

The first machine I was able to get my hands on was a really high quality Contractor’s table saw. Table saws come in a wide variety of sizes and capabilities. My ideal table saw is a three horse power General Canada 350, table saw.

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Unfortunately, General Canada has moved most manufacturing operations over seas, and no longer makes the 350 the way they used to and finding a used machine in the states is both very difficult, as well as cost prohibitive.. So, I was relegated to Craigslist to try to find a serviceable machine.

As I thought out my situation, I settled on finding a contractor’s model table saw rather than the cabinet saw pictured above. Cost, size, and availability were determining factors. Initially, I was focused on finding an old Rockwell Model-10 contractors saw.

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It would have enough power to do most of what I would be asking of it, and they are fairly plentiful. Trouble is, the owners of these saws on Craigslist, felt their machines were worth far, far more than they really are. plus, the “wings” on either side of the cast iron main table are made out of stamped steel…not ideal, but usable.

Finally, finally, I found the perfect set up. The perfect set up and it was so inexpensive, I t was like robbery buying this machine. After much patience and daily Craigslist stalking, I found a used, but not abused, General international 50-185M1 contractors table saw.

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Two horse power, a FULL cast iron table, with a 52″ Biesemeyer rip fence. Yes, yes, I know all that sounds like gobldygook. All you really need to know is that this was a really, really well equipped saw for next to nothing.

Right around this time, I also found a machine that I never in a million years thought I would ever be able to afford, let alone own.

The Inca 510 – 550 – and 560 are all combination jointer/planers. 10″ jointer sharing it’s cutter head with a 10″ planer. Guitar builders, marqueteers, Turners and furniture makers have long been enamored with the little jointer/planer for years. It is Swiss made, finely built, and wonderfully engineered. This goes especially for the first generation 510.

So it was a Godsend to me when someone responded to my request on the Inca Yahoo group. The original owner was retiring and willing to sell for a price I just…could…not…pass up.

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What a great machine.

So there are  my three, foundational machines. In hand, and waiting for the rest of the shop to be cleaned out and for power to be brought over from the house.

Yes, there are a whole lot of other tools that need to procured. Hand tools, and some light duty machines too. But these three machines are a cracking good start to my new shop.

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