Saturday, June 25, 2011

Building A Lie-Nielsen Saw Vise

This simple saw vise took about 30 minutes to build from scraps. The upper and lower spacers provide clearance for saw handles and backsaw spines. The halves are hinged with squares of leather.

In his videos about sharpening rip and crosscut saws, Tom Lie-Nielsen uses a simple plywood saw vise that he says they use every day in the saw shop. It sits on the screw and guide rails of a bench vise and grips the edge of the saw for filing. I like its simplicity and ease of use for both tiny backsaws and large panel saws.

I made mine 8"x18". That's larger than necessary for joinery backsaws, but accommodates my largest rip saw. It's made from 1/2" plywood and 3/4" pine. Since I have a leg vise on my Roubo workbench rather than a bench vise with guide rods, I added cleats to the sides, 4 1/2" from the bottom edge; they sit on the top of the bench and leg vise chop to support the saw vise when the leg vise is loose. They also work well with my bench-on-bench.

Cutting the sides from 1/2" plywood.

Ripping a pine 1x2 (actual dimensions 3/4"x1 1/2") down the middle for the upper spacers.

Nailing on an upper spacer; the lower spacer is 3/4"x1 1/4". The spacers are also  glued on.

A sharp chisel makes a good leather cutter.

Nailing a leather hinge onto the lower spacers.

Nailing on a side cleat.

With the saw vise clamped into the leg vise, chamfering the outside edges and planing the spacers down even. Other than good mating surfaces, there's not much precision required here.

My largest saw clamped up for sharpening. The bottom edge of the handle just sits on the lower spacer, leaving the teeth exposed for filing, but fully gripped by the upper spacer to minimize vibration (i.e. SCREECHING as you run the file across).

My smallest backsaw, a fine LN dovetail saw, going in for sharpening. You can see how the cleats on the sides support the saw vise when the leg vise is loose.

This vise also works well with my bench-on-bench, bringing the sharpening work up to a good height so I don't have to stoop over. Again, the cleats support the saw vise when the twin-screw vise is loose.

Sharpening saws is easy, only takes about 10 minutes and well worth the time, but is a bit close and tedious. A 26"-long saw plate filed at 6 PPI has 156 little teeth, and a 9" backsaw plate at 15 PPI has 135! A decent saw vise is a big help.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

IACS Endersession: Dory Skiff Daisy

My daughter, Shelby, is a junior at Innovation Academy Charter School, a public high school in Tyngsboro, MA. At the end of the year, they offer the students various choices of week-long "endersession" activities. These range from backpacking trips in Vermont, to theater tours in Boston, to various creative projects. Shelby's choice: building the Harry Bryan dory skiff "Daisy", from Wooden Boat issues 126 and 127, Sept/Oct and Nov/Dec, 1995. Makes a father proud!

Click on the covers to order hardcopy or PDF downloads of these issues. The left cover photo shows the Daisy a-building.

Building a boat like this is an ambitious project. There's hardly a straight line or square angle to be found. It's all sweeping curves and odd compound angles. That means lots of shaping with chisels, shaves, drawknives, rasps, and planes. It's built upside down by laying chines and planking on station molds. Then the shell is removed and the interior and topside work is done.

Add to that inherent complexity the fact that most of the students have little if any experience with tools. That makes for a challenging project, with many opportunities for mistakes that have to be dealt with. And of course everything takes four times as long under classroom conditions. But this is the true essence of education. Complexity, challenge, problem solving.

They knew they wouldn't have time to complete it; just building the ladder frame and molds took the first two days. The goal was to complete the planking and remove it from the mold. They got close, but didn't quite make it. Finishing it will be a project for next year.

Teacher David Smith led the group, with help from several parents throughout the week. In addition to Shelby, there were 8 other students, though a couple were out sick part of the week. I didn't get a chance to talk to all their parents, so I'll just use some initials here for now, but the other students were Niamh (from the Gaelic, pronounced "Neeve"), Rick, Gustav, Jess, Chris, JH, BY, and ZM. Mr. Smith spent seven years as a boatbuilder in Maine, New York, and Massachusetts before becoming a history teacher.

I wasn't able to stay the first two days, but Niamh's mother, Colleen, was there those days, and her father, Chris, made it Friday. Arthur, a professional woodworker and father of a student in a different session, was also there most of the week. I took vacation the last three days to be there.

They had benchtop planer, tablesaw, chopsaw, bandsaw, cordless drill,  several hand tools, and an assortment of clamps. I still had all my tools and portable Underhill workbench in my van after participating in the SAPFM demo in Newport Sunday, so Monday when I dropped Shelby off, I also dropped these off, along with another bin full of clamps (you really can't have too many clamps building boats!). I setup the bench and gave Mr. Smith a quick demonstration of how to use it's work-holding features with holdfasts.

By Monday afternoon they had the first station mold mounted and had planed all the cedar planking to proper thickness. By Tuesday afternoon they had the remainder of the molds in place and had completed most of the transom and stem.

The task for Wednesday was getting the transom, stem, and chines, all of oak, temporarily mounted on the molds. The transom and stem require careful work due to the curves and compound bevels that have to be worked. The chines (the corners where bottom and sides meet) in this design are split most of their length with the bandsaw to make them flexible, then clamped across the mold corners with epoxy in the split. When the epoxy cures, the chines hold the compound curves they've been fitted to.

From left, Shelby, Mr. Smith, Jess, and Niamh with frame and molds, ready for the transom, stem, and chines. Note that for this design, the strongback runs across the top of the molds rather than across the ladder frame.

Chris finishes up the last segment of transom bevel with a spokeshave while Gustav steadies the bench. I told him you won't find much tougher stuff to work than oak end grain.

Jess learning how to plane a scrap of oak left over from the stem. I showed her how to thickness it with a #5, flatten the face with a #6, and smooth it with a #4, each step producing different characteristic shavings. After I showed her how to shape the curve and edges with spokeshave and Shinto rasp, she said she wished the school had a woodshop, and spent the next half hour sculpting the piece. As always, making shavings is addictive!

Shelby roughing in the bevel on the curved stem with my large drawknife. Mr. Smith was nervous about the kids handling such a large blade, but gave Shelby permission as long as I provided parental supervision. She followed up with a spokeshave, then I finished taking it down to the lines with shave, block plane, and chisel.

With the transom and stem temporarily screwed in place, the whole group working on the chine glue up, brushing the epoxy into the splits. Things start to get hectic once the epoxy is mixed, especially on a warm, sunny day to speed the chemical reaction.

The chines clamped in place across the molds and screwed to cleats on the transom, with additional clamps to hold the splits together while the epoxy cures.

Thursday's task was to bevel the chines and install the first layer of bottom planking. These run athwartships; the outer layer runs fore-and-aft, like the side planking.

Mr. Smith holds a batten as a guide for Shelby to mark a fair curve for the top of the chine bevel.

JH sands off the excess cured epoxy on the other chine. In the background, Jess is putting on sunscreen; it got to 90 degrees. Thank goodness for portable canopies, we never would have been able to work without shade.

Shelby using a gauge block to mark the top edge of the chine bevel.

While BY and Jess watch, JH and ZM practice beveling with a block plane and spokeshave.

Beveling the chines to match the angle at the molds.

This is a critical point: joining the chines to the stem at the bow. We hadn't brought them in close enough when the epoxy was wet, so once it cured they were a little too far apart. This required a bit of force to bring them together and screw them in, springing them out a bit from the molds.

Jess applies marine adhesive to the top of the chines. This will seal the joint with the inner bottom planks.

Temporarily nailing the second plank to the strongback and chines.

Halfway there. The mating edges of the planks have expoxy, so this all has to be completed before the batch of epoxy sets up. The plastic wrap keeps them from bonding to the strongback.

From behind it looks like some kind of big fish flopped over onto the molds.

After rough trimming of the bottom planks close to the chines with a saber saw, Arthur, Rick, and Shelby finish the day by doing some planing down to the chine bevel.

Friday's job was to finish the bottom planking and get the garboard strakes on (these are the lowest planks on the side, meeting the bottom). The bow section of the chines still needed to be beveled, and the last few bottom planks attached and trimmed. The whole bottom also needed to be beveled down to the chines before the garboards could go on.

Shelby using a ryoba to trim closely to the chine bevel. The closer the cut here, the less time required to plane and shave it down, as the others are doing.

Rick using a spokeshave to delicately trim the bevel at the very tip of the bow.

Bending the starboard side garboard into place for scribing. Niamh is underneath to mark it from the plank lines on the molds.

Gustav scribes along the bottom planks for the bottom cut line. Nobody move!

With a light rain starting outside, curving a batten between nails tacked lightly into the plank (but not the floor!). The batten defines the fair curve to mark the upper cut line.

The bottom fully trimmed, ready to accept the garboards. Once again, the portable canopies allowed us to work regardless of the weather.

After rough cutting to within a quarter inch of the cut lines with a saber saw, Niamh, Jess, and Shelby trim down to the lines with block planes and spokeshave.

While Niamh's father works with Shelby in the background, Gustav works on the other garboard, perfecting the art of making long spills with a spokeshave skewed to the work.

With the result that Chris and Rick appear to be in need of a barber.

Jess applies marine adhesive to the chine and bottom edge.

Preparing to secure the port garboard. This is geometrically counter-intuitive: the bottom of the boat curves downward from the center, while the garboard curves upward. But bending it around another curve at an angle will match the curves.

Bending the plank onto the molds and lining up the marks.

While half the group holds it in place, Mr. Smith drills pilot holes through the garboard into the chine, and Jess and Rick screw in brass screws.

With the port garboard in place, securing the starboard side.

Rick finishes the final screw at the bow.

Packing up, out of time. It would have been nice to complete the planking, but at least you can see a real boat taking shape.

Below are some of my tools that I think were most effective on this project. It's not always obvious which specific tool will work best on a specific task, so it's nice to have a variety to try. The spokeshaves and planes were used quite a bit. The marine adhesive wasn't quite cured, so the tiniest gob would get all over stuff, but denatured alcohol cleaned it right up.

From upper left: #5 jack plane with cambered iron, for fast trimming of chine and plank bevels. #4 smooth plane with Pinnacle iron, set a little fatter than for normal smoothing, did a great follow-up job on the bevels. Framing slick (the large chisel), had mass for finely controlled paring into tight spots. Veritas NX60 block plane, which took beautiful long endgrain shavings across the bottom planks. Shinto rasp, which just eats wood, whether oak or cedar. Ryoba, for close trimming in place. From lower left: ECE wooden block plane was great for endgrain. Antique Stanley cast iron spokeshave worked well shaping plank edges. Lie-Nielsen spokeshave was used on a variety of things, always working magnificently.

The round thing in the photo above? That's what happens when you mix up too much epoxy in a round container; you make a hockey puck. That's not a hockey stick embedded in it, it's a solidified paintbrush. Put a bird on it and call it art!

The kids rapidly figured out the Veritas block plane and Lie-Nielsen spokeshave were standout performers. They were arguing about whose turn it was use them next, not because they were shiny, but because they worked. No surprise; these are some of the finest premium hand tools on the market.

My fine Lie-Nielsen joinery saws were also in the toolbox, but Mr. Smith was worried about letting the kids use such high-end tools. My feeling is, they were meant to be used, so as long as they're treated with care and respect, I'd like to see the kids get the benefit of using quality tools. They could tell the difference.

Good tools also make for good demonstrations. I showed a couple of the boys how to sharpen the slick. I had hollow-ground it the night before, so I showed them how to do 30 seconds each side on medium and fine India stones, then hard Arkansas, then green rouge strop. That got it satisfyingly shaving-sharp: one pass of the chisel flat across my forearm swept the hairs right off. I also went over safe handling of chisels with them; Arthur showed them the scar where he had opened up his hand once with a carving chisel. Sharp hand tools are not to be messed with!

It was a blast working on this with my daughter as we head into Father's Day. I'd like to thank Mr. Smith and the staff at IACS for running it and allowing parents to participate. I think the students enjoyed it just as much.

Oh yeah, I gotta try this at home!

(Continue to part 2)

Monday, June 13, 2011

SAPFM Demo at Whitehorne House, Newport, RI

The e-mail flyer sent out by the Newport Restoration Foundation.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to participate in a truly unique event.

The Whitehorne House, in Newport, RI, was celebrating its 200th anniversary with an open house. It's one of several properties owned by the Newport Restoration Foundation, founded in 1968 by Doris Duke. Built in 1811, it now serves as a museum of fine Newport and Rhode Island furniture from the late 18th century, featuring Townsend and Goddard pieces, among others.

As part of the celebration, the Foundation had contacted the Society of American Period Furniture Makers about doing a demonstration of period furniture-making techniques. Founded in 1999, SAPFM is a national organization, though its membership is primarily in the eastern half of the country. At the SAPFM New England chapter May meeting, Freddy Roman had asked me if I would be interested in participating. Of course! Once again, I feel blessed to live in an area so rich in history, with so many exceptional woodworkers willing to share their passion for the craft.

There were four of us in attendance: Mickey Callahan, SAPFM co-founder; Freddy Roman, SAPFM NE chapter coordinator; Paul Williard, professor of chemistry at Brown University; and myself. Together, we provided a broad range of experience, from the 25-year professional down to the weekend hobbyist.

You can see in the flyer above they mention "expert craftsmen"! Well, three experts and an apprentice, me! My skills are 10 to 20 years away from the museum-quality work of people like Al Breed and Phil Lowe. I mention them because there was a tea table much like the one I saw at Al's in the Whitehorne's drawing room, and two chairs much like the one I saw at Phil's in the dining room.

Mickey Callahan working on a ball-and-claw carving in mahogany.

Freddy Roman veneering a serpentine card table with banding.

Paul Williard carving a fan in mahogany. Note his use of a bench-on-bench to elevate the work.

I'm chopping a mortise in poplar, banging away noisily with mallet and pig-sticker chisel.

The original plan was to have us working outside in the beautiful urban garden, but the weather was uncooperative. It rained the day and night before, and in the morning. So as a backup plan, we laid a dropcloth on the floor and set up in the house's kitchen. It was a bit tight, but Mickey, Freddy, and Paul shared Mickey's bench, and I worked on my portable Underhill bench.

Mickey had brought a beautiful, nearly-completed mahogany corner chair with ball-and-claw feet, and worked on the carving for a matching chair. Freddy worked on a serpentine card table similar to the ones in the house's dining room. Paul had a mahogany fan carving and a tall clock case.

I chose to demonstrate basic skills. I made a mortise-and-tenon joint and a dovetail joint as people watched. Since this was intended to be interactive and hands-on, I also brought some pieces of walnut in raw and dressed condition to let people try out different bench and molding planes. There's nothing that brings a smile to someone's face like making shavings!

I ended up making two mortises, demonstrating both a failed joint and a successful one (unintended, since I neglected to leave a horn on the first one and it blew out the end-grain). The dovetail was truly ugly, but nevertheless demonstrated the fine mechanical properties of the joint. They're all teaching moments!

None of us completed much actual woodworking, because we had many questions from numerous interested visitors, but of course engagement was the real goal for the day, not projects. In fact, after closing the doors, Lisa Dady, the NRF Director of Education and Public Programs, said it was a record day, with 175 visitors. For a small specialty museum, that was good to hear.

Mickey gave several impromptu lessons in blade sharpening, and I even got as far as showing one group the differences between rip and crosscut saws and how they are sharpened. People were fascinated by the results that could be achieved with hand tools, and the variety and specialization of tools. To most people, a saw is just a saw, and about all they expect to do with it is cut off the end of a 2x4.

Several people asked if I had run my dressed walnut board through a planer or sanded it, and I explained that it was all hand-planed, and I wouldn't want to ruin that satiny surface with sandpaper. With a little oil finish, it would flash as beautifully as the mahogany antiques behind the ropes in the other rooms.

I had people scrubbing the rough board with a #5, edge jointing the dressed board with a #6, taking gossamer face curls with a #4, and rabbeting and chamfering edges with a wooden skew rabbet molding plane. Some quick lessons in tool handling and body mechanics produced satisfying results.

These two pieces of the same walnut board show rough and partially dressed condition in back, and fully planed to thickness and smoothness in front. It's always hard to capture grain, but you can just make out some flash in the figure at the right end of the smooth board. This wood had been sitting in a basement in Durham, NH for nearly 30 years.

A little about the Whitehorne House and its contents: it was built as a symbol of prosperity by Samuel Whitehorne, Jr. in 1811. He had accumulated his wealth through shipping and other enterprises following the American Revolution. But as readers of Patrick O'Brian's sea stories know, fortunes can turn in an instant on the blue water. Whitehorne was bankrupted by the loss of two ships at sea. The house was sold at auction in 1843, and over the next 125 years, through use as shops and apartments, fell into disrepair.

In 1969, Doris Duke, heiress to tobacco and energy tycoon James Buchanan Duke, bought the house and had it restored. It was in shockingly hideous condition inside and out. You can see before and after photos of the exterior here, and another pre-restoration photo here. The fact that she could discern anything of value in it is amazing. But much like a rusted hulk of a tool a woodworker finds in the back in the dark in some old barn, she had a vision of what it could be.

Once it was restored, she set about acquiring authentic period pieces to furnish it. The house now contains a wonderful collection. As one of the guides pointed out the secret drawers in one of the desks, I was again reminded of a scene from O'Brian, where a British warship is docked for repairs after being mauled in battle by a French frigate. The shipwrights and carpenters having completed their tasks, the "confidential joiners" move in to build secret compartments into the captain's cabin for hiding gold and admiralty documents.

This was my first demonstration, and it was instructive. I brought far too much stuff. I was prepared to do every possible operation (9 years as a Scoutmaster does that to you), but in the end a couple of interesting joints and a variety of planing operations suffice for a general demo. Maybe a little sawing, since the humble saw is the least intimidating to most people.

Many of the same questions were repeated as one group of visitors left and another came in. We all offered to let people try their hand at things, and the responses were either that they were afraid to damage our work, or they were eager to jump in and try it.

My gift of appreciation for Freddy: a Fray and Pigg Spofford brace that I found in an antique store in Maine, made sometime between 1859 and 1866. A little rusty, I tested it and found it to be dead-on in alignment. A few drops of oil in the handle restored it to perfect operation. It should serve him and his descendents for another 150 years.

This morning my toolbox went straight from Newport to my daughter's school, where for her end-of-year session, her group is building the 12' dory Daisy from the 1995 Wooden Boat issues 126 and 127. They only have a week, so they won't complete it, but they hope to put her under sail next year. I'll be taking two days vacation to help out, so hopefully that will be my next post. They got the first station mold up today.