Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Woodworking Shows

I got a nice email from the PR firm for The Woodworking & D.I.Y. Shows, and I'm happy to pass the information along. This is a series of shows across the country, with the New England show coming up in West Springfield, MA, January 14-16.

I'll be frostbite racing in Boston Harbor on the 15th, but I'd like to get to the Friday or Sunday session. The exhibitor and seminar list is pretty power-tool centric, which doesn't hold much interest for me, but there are other exhibitors such as Lee Valley/Veritas, one of my favorite hand-tool suppliers. So there appears to be something for everybody.

Then there's one that looks worth the price of admission alone: The Shelter Institute. They come from Woolwich, ME, just across the road from the Montsweag Flea Market, where one of my favorite old tool sellers hangs out. They teach classes in building timber-frame structures, plus they have a retail tool and book store (formerly Woodbutcher Tools). I haven't been in there in a few years, but it's a fun place. I'd love to take one of their classes some time.

The Shelter Institute is going to be building a full-size timber-frame structure on the show floor. That's cool! Also seems like a big job when it's time to go home. But I want to see that! Wonder if someone will be doing a time-lapse video of the build and teardown...hint, hint.

Fine Woodworking editors will also be doing seminars, so let's hope Matt Kenney will be there with a bunch of hand-tool presentations.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

First Annual Blog Report

Google Analytics map overlay showing the countries where visitors have been located, keyed in shades of green. Not too many blank spots left!

A little late, since this blog is now 14 months old, but I'm pleased to report that it's read all over the world. Woodworking is a universal endeavor with a long history. There's clearly a wide interest in working with hand tools.

First post was October 23, 2009; this will be the 56th. I added Google Analytics on February 24, 2010, so all statistics are from Analytics reports starting on that date. I also added a modest level of advertising at that point.

The best thing about Analytics for me is the feedback it provides. Going by the number of comments and emails I get, you'd think nobody was reading this. But I can see from the statistics that many people are indeed reading it, and I hope getting as much enjoyment as I get writing it.

Now, to the numbers. One of my favorite quotes, mistakenly attributed by Mark Twain to Benjamin Disraeli: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics". These figures are subject to some error and interpretation.

(For the record, my other most favorite quote is this little exchange between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla; Edison: "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."; Tesla: "A little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.")

There are some counts where the location is shown as "(not set)", so I can't attribute them to any particular country. There's also a counter called "Bounce Rate," which means someone only visited one page before leaving the site. Presumably this is due either to someone doing a search that lands here and it wasn't what they were looking for, or to someone just checking in to see if there are any new posts.

Visits for the period Feb 24, 2009 to Dec 15, 2010.

I'm now averaging about 150 visits per day, with a low of 100 and a high of 300, for 150 to 1100 total pageviews per day. The peaks are usually the day after posting, when feeds and aggregators pick it up.

Traffic sources. I think "Other" means Twitter.

By far, the most common terms of the 4200 searches that resulted in a visit (other than various forms of the blog name) were related to "Roubo" and "workbench". The direct traffic shows that people have the site bookmarked. The referring sites are those that have linked to me (thank you!), or where I've posted comments or forum entries that allow links. I only got added to the blog roll on the Popular Woodworking Magazine blog in September, and after 3 months it accounts for over 1/6 of all referrals.

If you're looking for interesting woodworking sites, many of these are worth checking out.

Referring Site Visits 2557 2340 1842 785 702 507 470 421 353 347 305 272 272 263 222 213 206 176 134 94 90 69 59 55 53 50 47 36 32 30 20 15 12 12 9 8 8 7 6 6 6 5 4 4 4 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

From a content perspective, the top pages visited were again anything "Roubo" and "workbench", followed by "Grimsdale sharpening", "Gramercy Bowsaw", and "Intro Hand Tools".

To try to reasonably gauge which countries actually have interested readers, for countries with fewer than 10 visits and 10 pages per visit, I throw out any where the average time on site is less than 30 seconds. This should filter out most of the countries where one or two people randomly stumbled in by accident, though there are a few that just squeak by on the list. All very scientific.

The Map Overlay report lists visits from 107 countries, of which 1 is the "(not set)" country and 28 get thrown out due to the 10/10/30 rule. So I'll call that readers in 78 countries!

I can always tell when a new reader shows up, because the stats for some city show one visit with 10 to 20 pages read.

Country Visits Pages/Visit Avg. Time on Site (sec)
United States 16421 2.83 270
Canada 1958 2.99 251
United Kingdom 1318 2.99 313
Australia 918 1.75 122
Germany 545 2.95 236
Mexico 342 2.35 132
Italy 278 3.45 254
Sweden 271 2.04 208
Hungary 261 1.74 70
France 214 2.95 178
New Zealand 199 2.93 279
Netherlands 152 3.53 351
Poland 137 3.92 168
Finland 132 3.87 354
Belgium 130 3.25 212
Spain 108 4.05 393
Brazil 98 4.45 445
Norway 86 3.35 451
Croatia 69 5.19 380
Colombia 65 2.94 216
Switzerland 60 6.12 546
Czech Republic 55 2.76 180
Philippines 50 2.94 188
Greece 49 3.12 304
South Korea 45 2.42 138
India 41 1.9 93
Russia 40 2.73 126
Chile 38 4.58 545
Japan 38 2 174
Austria 38 2.08 155
Romania 36 1.78 75
Ireland 34 2.09 273
Israel 33 4.15 460
South Africa 29 3.31 339
Denmark 25 6.52 257
Portugal 25 3.08 130
Malaysia 19 4.32 683
Thailand 19 1.58 27
Estonia 18 2.17 250
Trinidad and Tobago 18 3.33 413
Dominican Republic 16 1.25 17
Turkey 16 2.75 211
Ukraine 15 4.87 377
RĂ©union 13 3.62 528
Jamaica 12 1.42 11
Indonesia 12 1.75 245
Serbia 12 4.58 326
Argentina 12 3.33 254
Slovenia 12 4.42 398
Luxembourg 10 7 845
Bulgaria 9 8.11 643
Tajikistan 9 3.78 670
Latvia 8 5.5 672
Hong Kong 8 2.38 604
Taiwan 8 2 266
Slovakia 7 31 694
Venezuela 7 3.71 483
Singapore 6 1.67 33
Ecuador 6 6.67 559
Guernsey 5 1.6 76
Belarus 4 2 178
Costa Rica 4 1.5 33
Libya 4 2 110
Afghanistan 4 5 737
Iran 4 1.75 40
Qatar 4 4.25 127
Lithuania 4 2.75 423
Barbados 3 5 306
Belize 3 6.33 1770
Iceland 3 7.33 1106
Peru 3 5.67 203
Vietnam 2 1.5 32
Uruguay 2 1.5 80
French Polynesia 2 1.5 89
Macedonia 1 5 123
Mongolia 1 3 176
Bermuda 1 18 4340
Armenia 1 2 40

Regarding advertising via AdSense and affiliate links, let me just say that readers are as rigorous as I am about ignoring ads! I'm getting my little slice of the Internet Millions, but so far this year it hasn't been enough to take my wife out to dinner. Perhaps next year I'll be able to retire off it. Perhaps not.

For those of you who have reached the riveting conclusion here, thanks! And a big thank you to all those who have visited this past year, you make it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bad News and Good News

There's bad news and there's good news. The bad news: I got laid off today. Time to update my resume. Need someone to work on high-performance, high-scale Internet routers or digital video delivery systems? Need someone to work on real-time MPEG-2 and AVC video splicing and stream control? Need someone to work on embedded real-time systems? Data plane? Control plane? I can do that. Got some other kind of system? I'm versatile. I can do that.

The good news: now I have more time to develop my woodworking skills and do some non-blog writing. I can probably finally get the garage and basement cleaned up, too.

Given the current crazy economy, this may just be an unplanned vacation, or it may turn into a whole new career path as long as I have a place to maintain a workshop. Opportunity is as much what you make as what you take.

I'll be posting here more frequently for the duration, since I have a backlog of things I've been wanting to work on. I'll also add some e-commerce features that I've been thinking about, though I'll continue to keep the ads to a minimum, since I like a clean, uncluttered site.

I received my brochure for the Littleton Parks, Recreation, and Community Education Winter 2011 session in the mail today. It's not online yet, but will be available at, listing my Introduction to Hand Tool Woodworking and Hand Tool Woodworking, Part 2 classes.

Since the part 2 class focuses on joinery, I came up with this adaptation to my portable work surface for holding workpieces upright after watching Bob Razaieski's video on workbench workholding. He added a twin-screw vise to the front of his bench, similar to Moxon's removable twin-screw.

A simple T-track version of a twin-screw face vise. This holds the piece securely for dovetailing, tenoning, or resawing. The movable crochets do a similar job, but this can apply better clamping pressure for small pieces. If necessary, I can drill holes for the T-bolts closer together.

The final classes of the Fall session went well. Here are some photos of chisel night, showing what every instructor likes to see: heads down, busily at work.

Keri rolling out the waste from a dado with a chisel held bevel-down. This was everybody's favorite operation.

I've known Keri's husband, Bob, for nearly 15 years. He taught me many of my outdoor skills, rock and ice climbing, winter backpacking, light mountaineering (New England mountains, not K2!).

Keri had signed up for a power tool woodworking night class over a year ago, but it was canceled due to insufficient enrollment. I had been focusing on my hand tool skills for a while, so that gave me the idea to do a basic hand tool class. Thanks for the inspiration, Keri! I was very happy that I could do some skills exchange after everything I had learned from Bob.

Rob (no, not Keri's husband Bob) working backwards along a rabbet with a chisel tucked up against his right shoulder, again bevel-down. This method gives both power and control. The upper body mass provides the power, the hand on the blade provides the control.

From left, Erik forming a fillister on the end of a board with a moving fillister plane, Rob cleaning out a dado, and Lance marking a dado for shoulder cuts.

Finally, speaking of outdoor skills, indulge me in a few proud fatherly moments with my daughter, Shelby. Nothing to do with woodworking.

She was an infant when I met Bob. Now she's doing these activities with us. Last week she asked when we could go snow camping and spend the night in a hollowed-out snowcave. Brings a tear to my eye!

Shelby on her first ever rappel. Bob's on tug belay below for safety. There's that magic moment as you lean out over the edge and your center of mass crosses the vertical plane of the cliff face. Your brain screams THIS JUST AIN'T RIGHT!

Here she's doing an Australian rappel at the same spot. This is a surreptitious entry method used by SWAT teams, MP5's in hand. Her harness is reversed, with the figure-8 in back and brake hand in front; Bob ran a separate top belay safety line for this one. This takes a lot of nerve, because she's facing down a 40' cliff the whole way. I don't think we need to worry about her suffering from acrophobia.

Shelby top-roping on a frozen waterfall near the MA/NH state line (not too far from the Merchant of Ashby).

Now that's what I call quality father-daughter time!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Making A Cutting Gauge

The finished gauge. I should probably chamfer the ends of the arm a bit.

Bob Rozaieski recently did a very nice video blog post on making Dean Jansa's marking gauge from the December, 2006 issue of Popular Woodworking. I remembered wanting to build that gauge then; this finally gave me the kick to do it, so I dug out my old copy.

However, I ended up making one change. The original was a pin marking gauge based on one in the Seaton chest, but I turned it into a cutting gauge instead, for several reasons.

The first was watching Steve Brown of the North Bennet Street School on an epsiode of Rough Cut, where he and Tommy Mac built a "Shaker-inspired night stand." Steve marked out the leg mortises with a cutting gauge, and it was beautiful to see how smoothly the gauge flowed along the wood as he pulled it. He also had a particular way of holding it that I'll come back to.

Second, in Ian Kirby's The Complete Dovetail, he strongly recommends a cutting gauge rather than a pin gauge, due to the clean cut line. He pushes it, using an overhand grip.

Finally, I met Matt Kenney, Fine Woodworking associate editor, at the Lie-Nielsen hand tool event at Phil Lowe's Furniture Institute of Massachusetts last Friday, after I had already started making my gauge. He had a bench setup with grooving planes, gauges, and bench appliances, all of which he had made. His gauges were cutting style, and he said he made the cutters from sabre saw blades with the teeth ground off. As I was admiring them, I decided to adapt the one I had in progress to a cutter.

So yes, it took inspiration from five people to get me to make this gauge.

This is a good project for using up scraps. I had a few small scraps of mahogany, so used those. Mahogany probably isn't the greatest wood for a gauge due its relative softness, but as I started working it I was reminded once again what a fabulous material it is. It works like butter.

Ripping the piece for the head.

Final smoothing to width with a #4.

Resawing to thickness. The waste will provide the wedge stock.

Chopping out the tapered wedge mortise.

Final cleanup of the mortise with a plane float (which is meant for a different kind of wedge mortise, but it's the same operation).

Chopping the arm mortise. I didn't have a 5/8" chisel, so I did it with a 3/8".

Ripping out the arm piece.

Final very careful smoothing of the arm. I still managed to get it a little too thin, so there's gappage in the mortise, but the wedge locks it tight.

Grinding the teeth off a sabre saw blade. I sanded the paint off the sides, put a round profile on the end per Kirby's recommendation, and sharpened it up on oilstones.

Mortising the arm for the cutter and wedge. This is getting pretty delicate, so the machinist's parallel clamp prevents splitting.

After hogging off most of the waste with a chisel, tapering the wedge by running it over the bottom of the #4. Just watch those fingertips!

Final delicate paring on the bench hook to shape the wedge with a little finial at the end.

Roughing out the curve on the head with a chisel.

Final shaping with a cheap four-in-hand rasp. The file card on the bench is necessary to clean out the dust in the rasp's teeth periodically.

Last step before wedging it up is to pare down the bevel on the bottom edge of the head.

I may have to remake the arm wedge. I ended up paring it down a little too much, so when I push it in to lock the arm, the wedge goes almost all the way into the head. When I loosen it, the finial is too small to keep the wedge in the head; it can fall out if I'm not careful.

Now, back to the way Steve Brown used the gauge. He held it in an underhand grip, thumb on top, the arm between first and second fingers. The fingers curl around the bottom bevel.

Marking out on some scrap for practice. Smooth!

This is very comfortable, but more importantly, as you draw it back along the wood, your fingertips press the bottom bevel against the side face of the work, while your thumb presses the gauge down on the top face. This gives very smooth control, even if the grain tries to carry the gauge off course. With a sharp cutter, the result is a crisp clean line. Very subtle, but very effective.

I tried it with the bevel on the cutter oriented both ways, toward the head and away. It works best with the bevel facing the head, due to the wedging action of the bevel drawing the head against the work. That's good for rabbets, fillisters, dovetail baselines, and tenon shoulders. However, for mortise outlines, bevel away from the head is better. Depending on the operation, put it on the waste side of the line, leaving a flat cut on the good side.

Recommended Books
The Complete Dovetail: Handmade Furniture's Signature Joint 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Supporting Coppice Agroforestry

Not as in the practice of, but as in the book project. CNN had a story today about Kickstarter, a website that allows you to help fund creative projects directly. I found this very interesting.

Poking around a bit on their list of current projects, I found this one: Dave and Mark write "Coppice Agroforestry". Dave Jacke and Mark Krawczyk are using Kickstarter to fund a book they'll be writing on the practice of coppicing. This is the management of woodland resources to harvest and regrow wood repeatedly on the same plant, sustainable over periods measured in decades. The wood produced this way is used for a variety of purposes.

Mark has a website dedicated to green woodworking, He has links to Drew Langsner, Don Weber, Jennie Alexander, and Mike Abbott, all people I'm familiar with. This falls right smack in my area of interest.

I don't know anything about these guys other than what I saw on Kickstarter and their websites, but I made a $50 pledge to help fund the project, for which I'll receive a signed copy of the book, for several reasons:
  • I would love to see more books on the subject.
  • I'd like to help support a fellow green woodworker.
  • I like the Kickstarter concept, another way the Internet allows a larger community to support a shared interest. This is an interesting experiment for both the specific project and the general concept.
The way it works is you make a pledge toward the project's fundraising goal, not as an investor, but as a patron of the arts. If the total goal is met or exceeded by a stated deadline, all the people who made pledges are charged for their pledge amounts; if the goal is not met, all pledges are canceled.

Dave and Mark's goal of $5,000 has been exceeded at this point, but they actually expect to need about $18,000 total, which has not yet been met. They have a funding deadline of December 10, so if you'd like to participate as well, time is growing short.

And hopefully sometime next year, we'll all get to read the book. I could probably just wait and get a copy cheaper, but part of the Kickstarter concept is that if it's something that interests you, you get to help make it happen.

That's the thing. Without support up front, these projects might never happen, and something that you might enjoy seeing or reading might never come to be. You never know what these might grow into. This is opportunity creation. You might even want to try a project yourself.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Visit to Artisan Lumber

A stunning slab of Bastogne Walnut. This is destined for a guitar maker.

I've found another candy store! I've mentioned a few times getting lumber from The Woodery in Lunenburg, MA. A reader asked if I was familiar with Artisan Lumber, also in Lunenburg. I wasn't, but I looked up their website and was immediately intrigued.

I got in touch with owner Brian Brown and arranged a visit. Amusingly, after Al Breed and Phil Lowe, this is the third person I've met in recent weeks who was featured on the new PBS woodworking show "Rough Cut", though I haven't yet seen those particular episodes.

Artisan Lumber is a boutique operation on an old farm lot, specializing in big slabs and full log sets. They use a large Wood-Mizer bandsaw mill to process mostly local logs. They stack and sticker most of the lumber for air drying, and there's also a small kiln on-site. This is what I had dreamed of doing back when I read Harvesting Urban Lumber, but I don't have the room.

They also do a lot of quartersawn lumber. That's what particularly interested me at the moment, because I've been looking for a source of thick quartersawn stock for making molding planes.

Another specialty is figured stock, relying on Brian's eye for figure hiding under the bark. There are jaw-dropping pieces all over the place, in the stacks and lined up along the walls of his garage and workshop. The one in the photo above is a particularly fine example.

These are premium pieces, commanding premium prices. For now, they're out of my league. However, Artisan has a range of woods, as well as odd pieces and logs that didn't turn out well enough. Brian says he's too much the thrifty Yankee to let anything go to waste, so he gave me good prices on several pieces that I can break down.

My take for the day: two thick slabs of hard maple (we had to cut one in half to fit in my van), approximately center cuts from two flatsawn log sets. The center cut is effectively quartersawn.

I'll process these into plane blanks. For those small sizes, I can work around the various defects and get the best grain orientation. They're also thick enough to resaw into thin plane bodies. So now it's time to finish building the Hyperkitten framesaw. Resawing this stuff will be some real work.

If this stock turns out well, I'll offer blanks for sale here. I see people looking for them online, and they're hard to find. I'll also pick up some other quartersawn species.

Here are a few pictures of what Sam Talarico calls "wood porn" in Brian's workshop. Brian ships via UPS or common carrier, so you can have some of this in your workshop! Whether you're a turner, instrument maker, cabinet maker, or furniture maker, get in touch with him and let him know what you're looking for and your price range; he has the experience as a woodworker to pick out what you need.

More guitar stock. A figured piece of curly maple from a guitar set, and a bookmatched solid guitar body.

A big beautiful figured maple slab.

A log set featuring some lovely figured crotch.

Another beautiful curly maple slab.

These photos show some of the stacks of stock available.

Some of the stock in the garage.

A stack of spalted maple.

More figured crotch.

Walnut crotch.

The lovely orange wood in the center is wide curly cherry. The narrow pieces on top aren't as valuable, so Brian gave me a good price on them.

Huge thick slabs.

Full walnut log sets.

Here are some logs ready for milling, and the bandsaw mill. Running it can be an adventure. They never know what they might hit. Brian showed me where some debris lodged in the wood had torn through his jacket. He said it's like sawing shrapnel.

A short walnut log ready for processing.

Another section with the bark stripped, and a few tools of the trade. This is a laborious process.

This magnificent log is veneer quality, on its way to a veneer mill in Germany. The muscular ripples in the sapwood hint at the figure hidden inside.

The bandsaw mill.

One of the things I love about a place like Artisan is their attitude toward the resource. Brian is passionate about the wood, and he loves to see what he can bring out in it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mastering The Craft

Yesterday was my 50th birthday and 27th wedding anniversary. I figure reaching the half-century mark entitles me to be a pontificating blowhard, er, I mean ponder deeply, for a moment. Mastering the craft; not as in, "I am a master," for I am not, but as in "How long is the path?"

I'll start with an update on the class I've been teaching. For the students, this is part of their first steps on that path. For me, I find that teaching a subject forces me to focus, improving my own skills, another step on the path. It's not necessary to be a master in order to teach, but you do have to be competent.

(Before we get too far, I'd like to thank my wife, who let me spend my birthday and anniversary evening teaching my class. Just one of the many reasons I love her! And don't worry, she got to decide how we spent the rest of the weekend. Thank you, dear!)

The class has been going well. I spent too much time talking the first two nights, so I got permission to add another night to help make up for it. The students have been gracious as I get things sorted out. I've found I need to get their hands on the tools quickly, because the time really flies. No time for gabbing!

There were big grins all around when they ripped 5' lengths off their practice boards. Same when they planed the rough pine to smoothness. There really isn't enough time to do any single skill justice, but there's enough to show them what's possible and give them a taste of the joy and satisfaction. Another step on the path.

I've scheduled a part 2 class to pick up where this one leaves off, starting January 10 at Littleton High School. The basic skills leading up to fine joinery make a good break point. The part 2 class will focus on the joinery itself. I'll also be repeating the part 1 introductory class in a full-weekend format February 13 and 14 at Littleton Town Hall. I enjoyed the intensity of Al Breed's weekend carving class, and I know for some people that's an easier thing to fit on their schedule. I've increased both sessions to 12 hours. As before, the winter brochure will be listed here on the Littleton Parks, Recreation, and Community Education site.

Rob using a wooden jack to surface a rough board. We butted the portable bench up against a post in the middle of the room to keep it from sliding around.

Lance using an improvised stop while surfacing a board left-handed. That gives me an idea!

One thing I didn't prepare for was left-handers. There are two lefties among the students, and the built-in stops on my portable workbench are set up for righties. Lance, in the photo above, improvised a stop on one of the art room tables and was able to work that way, and it gave me an idea. The tables are good and sturdy, and just the right height. If I added a portable work surface, basically a giant bench hook, they could easily be converted to woodworking use. That would protect the surface (I'm sure the art teacher wouldn't be happy if someone ran a tool into a table) as well as provide good work-holding.

The portable work surface I came up with is just a pre-cut quarter-sheet of 3/4" CDX plywood, with 2x4 cleats screwed to the front and one end (left end for the left-handed version, right end for the right-handed version). I originally bought extra pieces to double-up the thickness so I could drill holes for using short bench dogs; I would use battens with dowels glued in as surface stops. However, I started to worry about the weight. The mass is good for a stable work surface, but makes them harder to carry around.

Then I remembered this post where Chris Schwarz showed a Roubo built by Jan Goris. It includes a T-track on the front with movable crochets. There are also a variety of plans online showing T-track layouts for fences and workholding. Perfect! I already had two unused Rockler T-track kits and hold-downs, so I bought some more track to have enough for two setups.

I used Goris' idea for movable crochets in a track on the front cleat, and added two parallel tracks on the surface for the movable batten. Since routing a stopped dado for the track left only 3/8" remaining thickness in the plywood, I epoxied the surface tracks in. These can all use the Rockler hold-downs and other T-bolt jigs; I also made a simple wooden hold-down, similar in effect to a holdfast. The end-stop batten has a dowel glued in at one end to fit in a dog hole in the front cleat. The other end secures to the surface with a T-bolt in a slot; it engages a 1" section of track epoxied into a small mortise.

Lance surface planing on the portable work surface. It's just hooked over one corner of the table, with a clamp on the far corner to secure it. The rear batten stops the workpiece in that direction. The knobs are a bit of an obstacle. I might epoxy nuts into flat wooden knobs for a lower profile.

A piece held in the movable crochets on the front track for edge jointing. Here you can see the rear batten and the end batten as well.

The piece held down flat.

Back in the shop hanging off the corner of my Roubo, showing some details from the other end. You can see the T-bolts in the bottom of the rear batten, and the dowel and T-bolt that secure the end batten, as well as the tiny section of T-track that the end locks into. The dados are long enough to allow space for the T-bolts to exit at the back. A workpiece is held in place with aluminum hold-down arms. The wooden hold-down is mounted in the front track for the moment, forming a convenient carry handle.

With this setup, you can do any edge, end, and surface operations needed, such as planing, boring, chiseling, and cutting joinery. Given a stable base to set it on, it's quite versatile. The track and fittings do add to the cost of an otherwise dirt-cheap solution. A track kit with 4' section and assorted T-bolts and knobs is $32, plus $20 for another 4' section. The aluminum hold-down arms are $8 each, although it's easy to make custom wooden ones in any size you need using the bolts and knobs in the kit.

Now back to pontificating. Over the past few years, I've invested hundreds of hours in learning this craft. But how much is that really? Just how far does it take you down the path? I've been thinking about this for a while, and apropos, this thread recently appeared on the Sawmill Creek Neanderthal Haven forum.

As a hobbyist, I get to spend 4 to 8 hours a week woodworking (and occasionally, zero hours). Compared to a full-time job, that's only a tenth to a fifth of the time.

If someone spends 5 years doing something, would you consider them a master? Probably not; just hitting their stride, maybe. But at 40 hours a week, 50 working weeks a year, that's 10,000 hours. Hundreds of hours? That's just a drop in the bucket, a few months' worth, barely time to dry out behind the ears.

Consider that an apprentice in the woodworking trades typically spent 7 years before being called a journeyman, let alone master; that's 14,000 hours. At my current rate, I'll reach that point in 35 years! What that apprentice accomplished in a day takes me one to two weeks. The progress he made in a month takes me nearly a year. That's a pretty long path.

Meanwhile, I've been a software engineer for 28 years. Though I feel I've mastered some areas, in all that time there are still others I haven't even begun to explore. There's still an infinite amount to learn. Another long path.

Looking at it that way, it's pretty daunting. It would seem to be a hopeless task to try to master this craft without an early start. You can see what mastery means. People like Al Breed, Roy Underhill, Phil Lowe (I got the opportunity to see a presentation Phil gave to the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society last week. Wow!). They've invested not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands of hours, across decades. And it shows.

Then you have people like George Wilson, who are simply spectacular. He's recently been posting some of his work from Colonial Williamsburg on Sawmill Creek (Roy is another Williamsburg alumnus). He makes things of great beauty, a true master of his craft.

George doesn't call himself a woodworker. He calls himself a "maker." And that's appropriate. It's clear from his postings he can make anything. He can work metal and wood with far more skill that most of us will ever hope to achieve. Half the things he made were the tools he needed to make the other things. I admire that versatility and self-sufficiency.

Daunting, indeed! But rather than be daunted, I choose to be inspired. The reality is I will never achieve such mastery. There simply isn't time left in this life. But I can follow them and learn what I can, and pass that on to others, spreading the knowledge. I can enjoy the trip.

I'll be happy wherever I end up on the path. Maybe I'll get to increase to full-time pace when I retire, and perhaps complete my apprenticeship before age 70. I enjoy the fact that there's always something new to learn.

I won't ever delude myself into thinking I've mastered it.

Recommended Items
Click on the photo for T-track kit with knobs and T-bolts; extra track; and hold-downs.
Rockler 4' Universal T-Track Kit