Friday, December 7, 2012

How Long Does It Take To Get To MIT?

34 years. At least in my case.

I applied to MIT in 1978, intending to major in mechanical engineering so I could work for NASA. They turned me down, as did CalTech.

They made the right decision. Based on my poor showing at Northwestern, I didn't have the necessary academic discipline. I should have followed the example of my roommate, who completed a 5-year accelerated BS/MS in biochemistry before getting his PhD at Stanford.

I eventually learned that discipline (see my simple recipe for how to crush calculus), but by then I was off on my software career and going to MIT was a distant dream.

Well, I finally made it. Monday I started a new job at Akamai Technologies in Cambridge, MA, a  block from MIT. Ok, so I'm not technically at MIT, but I'm as close as you can get without actually being on campus, working at a company founded by an MIT algorithms professor and one of his grad students. I'm in the zone: The MIT Zone.

Walking around the area makes your skin tingle. You see big high-tech and bio-tech names on all the buildings, Google, Microsoft, VMware, Biogen Idec, Amgen, many more. The place vibrates with intensity, and it's not just the subway running underneath. Some of the finest minds in the world are concentrated here, doing things that affect the whole world.

You may have noticed a dearth of woodworking posts here over the last two months. That's because I spent the first month preparing for the interview, studying books and papers. Then I spent a couple weeks just decompressing; even under the best of circumstances, changing jobs is stressful. The last two weeks I've just started to get back into stride.

I wasn't looking for a new job, but this is another LinkedIn success story. An Akamai recruiter contacted me via LinkedIn, and as I started looking into their technical publications, I realized this was really cool.

According to Akamai's website, they serve up to 30% of all web traffic; they have a distributed network of over 119,000 servers spread all over the globe, handling over 2 trillion daily Internet interactions. That's over 23 million per second.

Companies like Apple and Facebook are the high-profile rock stars of the Internet, but Akamai is the group of session musicians everyone relies on, the low-profile professionals working behind the scenes, like Glen Campbell and The Wrecking Crew. Their list of representative customers is full of big names.

Founder Tom Leighton of MIT's CSAIL, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, got to thinking about the technology that became Akamai when fellow MIT professor Tim Berners-Lee talked to him about what was slowing down Internet traffic.

Yeah, Tim-the-inventor-of-the-World-Wide-Web, that Tim. Leighton and co-founder Danny Lewin eventually realized the only way to put this technology into practice was to start their own company.

Who wouldn't want to work at a place like this, with people like this, on problems at this scale? I jumped at the chance. The people I worked with at Dell/EqualLogic were all great people, working on a great product at a great company, but this really hooked me. Perhaps you can tell I'm excited to be working here!

They've seen dark times. The worst was when Danny Lewin was killed on September 11, 2001, aboard American Airlines Flight 11. A small park next to the Akamai building honors his memory.

On the business side, Akamai was one of those companies whose stock shot to stratospheric levels during the tech bubble, only to lose nearly all its value when the bubble burst and many of their customers went out of business. But the company survived, and that resilience is another thing that attracted me.

Bostonians tell you it's the hub of the universe. I'm starting to believe it. The inexorable pull of its gravity well has drawn in not only me, but also two of my roommates from distant places and times. That college roommate from 34 years ago in Chicago works five blocks away. I just recently discovered that my roommate from when I worked at Texas Instruments in Sherman, Texas 30 years ago has been in the Boston area for 17 years.

The commute between Cambridge and the suburbs does mean I'll have less time for woodworking during the week. At least I can do it riding the train and reading a book instead of fighting traffic for an hour or more. The commuter trains even have Wi-Fi, so I can check email or work on the blog.

I always said I would never work in Boston (yep, never say never), and the traffic was the reason. But I live just a 15-minute walk from a commuter rail station, and Akamai is a block from the subway. The monthly rail pass costs just a little more than a month's worth of gas, and I won't be putting a thousand miles a month on my van, so I won't have to buy a new one before the kids finish college. I can be green while saving green.

Another perk is that I'm just a short subway trip from Boston Harbor. In the Spring I can get a weekday membership at Boston Sailing Center and take a J-24 out after work, bringing it back in after dark. I'm sure I can find willing hands to man the sheets and halyards; if not, I can single-hand a boat easily enough. Night sailing along the waterfront is glorious.

Quick update: commenter TJIC also pointed out I'm just a short subway trip from North Bennet Street School in the North End! I can take some short courses at one of the finest woodworking schools in the country.

But wait, there's more! My wife says you can't make this stuff up.

I first heard about Akamai when I worked at a startup named Verivue, building video streaming servers. There were some parallels between what we were trying to do and what Akamai was doing with their content distribution service. Unfortunately, it didn't work out; Verivue shifted technical strategy and laid me off with half the rest of the company two years ago today.

Two days ago, Akamai publicly announced they have acquired Verivue. How's that for amazing? Just goes to show how small the high tech networking community is. I said back then I would be happy to work with those folks again, because I like and respect them, despite getting laid off. While unpleasant, that wasn't personal. If it ain't happenin', it ain't happenin', so move on to something that is.

I don't know who will end up doing what where, since the company Akamai bought is different from the one I left, having completed their technology shift. But if I run into any of them in the hall, I'll shake their hands, we can all roll our eyes at life and then go build cool stuff.

So begins a new adventure! By the way, if you're interested, they're still looking for more people.

Disclaimer: The postings on this site are my own and do not express the positions, strategies, or opinions of Akamai or any other company mentioned here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event At FIM 2012


Phil Lowe in front of the Lie-Nielsen tool display.

This past Friday and Saturday I again participated in the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Phil Lowe's Furniture Institute of Massachusetts, representing the Society of American Period Furniture Makers. Like last year, this was a great opportunity to see some great woodworkers at work and tell people about SAPFM membership.

Phil is one of my woodworking heroes. While I've never taken any of his classes, I've learned a tremendous amount over the years from his articles and videos. Formerly head of the cabinetmaking and furniture program at North Bennet St. School, he's superbly skilled and enjoys passing the craft on to others.


Peter Follansbee carving details in a chest stile.

Peter Follansbee was busy working on a full-sized chest of drawers made of riven oak. You can read more about this chest on his blog. I had him autograph my copy of his new book co-authored with Jennie Alexander, Make a Joint Stool From a Tree.


Tico Vogt, left, talking to SAPFM member Bruce Wedlock.

Tico Vogt was promoting his Super Chute 2.0 shooting board, demonstrating how precisely he could fit a piece to an opening.


Matt Bickford, rear, talking to blog reader Albert Oullette.

Matt Bickford was demonstrating his gorgeous wooden moulding planes and selling copies of his new book, Mouldings in Practice.

One of the new people I met was John Cameron, an instructor at FIM. I had seen some of his work on display at Topsfield Fair. In addition to woodworking, he also teaches metal engraving. His engravings are beautiful, amazingly detailed small pictures of line art, lettering, stippling, and deep chisel carving. He uses these for custom furniture hardware and decorations.


John Cameron engraving a small metal plate.


I loved John's gorgeous stippled trout.

Another new woodworker I met was Roger Benton, working as LN event staff. In addition to making custom furniture, he runs a lumber mill that uses only fallen wood from the New York City area. This is the true essence of Harvesting Urban Timber.


LN event staff Roger Benton, left, and Deneb Puchalski demonstrating hand plane use.

Since a couple of people had to cancel for the event, I had extra space, so I made like the Three Stooges and spread out. I brought my portable workbench to use as an auxiliary tool and display space. I set up my always-popular portable sharpening station and SAPFM brochures on it, along with a variety of tools I was using.

That helped keep the main workbench from getting completely overwhelmed with stuff. When not talking to people, I continued working on the cherry frame and panel door I had started at the previous Hand Tool Event at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.

One thing I've started doing is orienting the workbench so that I'm working on the same side as people coming by. That way I can offer the tools to them to let them try. If they're afraid of ruining my work, I have plenty of scraps for them to use. I gave several impromptu demonstrations of chisel sharpening, saw sharpening, and panel raising.

Modern Woodworkers Association Boston chapter members Nick Roulleau and Keith Peterson also stopped by to visit.


Using my recently-acquired Stanley 48 tongue and groove plane to groove a door rail. Photo by Nick Roulleau.


Sawing a tenon shoulder. Photo by Nick Roulleau.


My progress for the event: mortise and tenons and grooves cut into 1 rail and 2 stiles.


LN show staff, left to right, Tim Lovett, Ted Dishner, Deneb Puchalski, and Roger Benton.

Ted asked how the event had gone for me, and I told him I judge my success by how little I get done on my project. Small progress means I spent a lot of time talking to people, showing them things and letting them try the tools out. So this was definitely a success!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

New Hand Tool Classes at Woodcraft of Boston

I'm pleased to announce that I'll be offering hand tool woodworking classes at Woodcraft of Boston, 313 Montvale Ave., Woburn, MA.

Currently scheduled Saturday group classes for Winter 2013:
Date Time Title Cost
Sat Jan 19 2PM-5PM Sharpening: Planes, Chisels, and Saws $89
Sat Mar 9 2PM-5PM Hand Cut Mortise and Tenon Joinery $89

See the store website for further details, including information on special discounts for related tools and supplies.

This provides another option and venue for hand tool instruction. I expect to schedule further classes in the future.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: Veritas Gent's Saws

This past Spring, M. Scott Morton, better known to fans of Highland Woodworking simply as Morton, asked me to try out a pair of the new Veritas Gent's Saws. Morton does video reviews of tools for Highland.

After spending a couple of weeks working with them, I stopped by his shop, just 10 minutes away, to record a review with him. Highland has just posted the video here, in time for their Black Friday Savings.

The saws did a great job, far nicer than any gent's style saw I'd used in the past. Watch the video for the details.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

November GNHW Demo At Woodcraft


GNHW member Norm Miner tries out the shooting board. He's left-handed, so he said he would make himself a left-handed shooting board.

This past Saturday I spent several hours demonstrating hand tool techniques at the Portsmouth, NH Woodcraft store as a member of the Guild Of New Hampshire Woodworkers. The Guild is working on holding demonstrations there the 2nd Saturday of each month. Meanwhile, Assistant Manager Fred Chellis, also a GNHW member, was in back running a meeting of the Guild's Windsor Chair Subgroup. He carries on a long family tradition of chairmaking at Little River Windsors. I'll be back at the store on December 8th, noon to 3.

I brought my portable toolbox with a full complement of tools, portable sharpening station, sawbench, sawhorse, bench appliances, and bin of practice lumber. Mark, the store manager, helped me set up one  of their workbenches. I had also meant to bring my Queen Anne foot stool as a small example of a finished piece, but forgot to pack it in the van. Next time! I'll also bring my portable workbench as a tool table, because the main bench gets cluttered quickly.

I was busy the whole time, from the first question asking how you saw straight, to Norm Miner pictured above trying out a shooting board. I also covered sharpening plane irons, chisels, and saws, and demonstrated various bench and specialty planes, including a quick bit of panel-raising. Several people said they were just developing an interest in learning how to work with hand tools.

Since my goal at demonstrations is always to get people to try out the tools, I oriented the bench so I was working in front of it, rather than on the far side. That encourages people to step up to it when I step aside and offer the tools to them, bringing them into the workspace. That's what really convinces them they can do it.

One of the things I emphasized was that hand tools allow you to work to incredible precision. That's how we got onto the shooting board, when someone asked about planing end grain. I showed them the beautiful fine sheets of pencil-sharpener shavings the plane takes off, then demonstrated the resulting flatness and squareness by standing the board up on its shot end and banging on the bench. The board didn't wobble a bit.

If you're in the area December 8th, stop in and give things a try. I'm happy to demonstrate just about any procedure, from rough to fine work. I also encourage you to consider Guild membership (you don't have to live in New Hampshire). The cost is modest, yet provides access to a wide variety of area woodworkers, an equally wide variety of subgroup activities, and subscriptions to the excellent quarterly Journal.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event At CVSW


People examining the full line of Lie-Nielsen tools.

Last Friday and Saturday I participated in the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, representing the Society of American Period Furniture Makers. These events are a chance for people to see the full line of Lie-Nielsen tools, try them out, and talk to LN staff about how to use them.

CVSW is a fantastic venue. It's huge, located in a warehouse-sized space behind the Manchester, CT, Woodcraft store. Founder and director Bob Van Dyke teaches and hosts a number of different instructors for classes at all skill levels, using both power and hand tools. This is where SAPFM New England Chapter Coordinator Freddy Roman got his start.

Guest instructors on the schedule for the next year include well-known names like former Popular Woodworking Magazine editor Chris Schwarz, furniture-makers Steve Latta and Will Neptune, carver Mary May, chairmaker Peter Galbert, SAPFM co-founder Mickey Callahan, Fine Woodworking Art Director Mike Pekovich, and 17th-century furniture-maker Peter Follansbee, as well as up-and-coming people like planemaker Matt Bickford and handsaw expert Matt Cianci. The range of skills, techniques, and styles offers tremendous opportunity for students.

Bob also keeps great music going in the background. I told him it had been years since I heard Robin Trower!


Bob Van Dyke working on sand-shaded fan inlay for a Federal-style table.


Bob's workbench with Federal-style legs with inlaid stringing, pan of sand on hot-plate for sand-shading, and raised mini-bench at upper right.

One of the really nice things that Lie-Nielsen does at these events is bring in a number of people who are hand tool woodworkers or have their own small businesses making hand tools and related items.
  • Freddy Roman worked on inlaying a set of walnut table legs.
  • Peter Follansbee worked on building a joined stool from freshly riven oak, like the one in the new book he co-authored with Jennie Alexander, Make a Joint Stool From a Tree.
  • Tico Vogt of Vogt Toolworks demonstrated his Super Chute 2.0 shooting board.
  • Matt Bickford demonstrated the magnificent wooden moulding planes he makes. I had him autograph my copy of his new book Mouldings in Practice.
  • Joshua Clark of Hyperkitten Tools had antique tools for sale.
  • Matt Cianci had handsaws for sale.
  • Peter Galbert and North Bennet St. School graduate Claire Minihan demonstrated chair-making techniques. He was taking orders for his travishers and had several for people to try. Claire works for Peter making them; these were amazing, excavating a pine chair seat so fast there's hardly need for an adze or in-shave. Shavings just shoot out the back as you work. Peter's blog is full of information and great videos that helped me with my turning skills. In fact, I just now had a "Holy crap!" moment watching this one; I had to run downstairs to the workshop for a few minutes to try out my wooden spokeshaves that I've been struggling with. Thanks, Peter!
  • Will Neptune came on Saturday, demonstrating carving on turnings.
Hot off the press: Will Neptune was just announced as the SAPFM 2013 Cartouche Award Winner. Congratulations, Will!

Peter Galbert also deserves a special mention because he's featured in Jonathan Binzen's monthly profile on the back of the current issue of Fine Woodworking ("Tools and Shops Annual Issue", Winter 2012/13 No. 230). There's an accompanying audio slideshow in FW's extras. Congratulations, Peter!

Peter Follansbee and Matt Cianci were only there Friday, but I forgot to get pictures that day. Peter wasn't on the list of demonstrators at the LN website, so I didn't bring my copy of his book for him to autograph. Next time!

I spent the two days telling people about SAPFM and demonstrating techniques like sharpening, dovetailing, and using planes and spokeshaves. As always, my LN Brian Boggs spokeshave is a great tool to engage people and have them try. It's just a joy to use. I had my portable sharpening station with me, which a number of people liked.

I also started work on the door for a small cherry hanging cabinet, so I demonstrated how to raise the panel with #5 plane with cambered iron, #10 rabbet plane, and shoulder plane. The door will be like the one I made this summer in the class I took at LN with Roy Underhill. This is a great demonstration project because it's small and portable, yet encompasses a lot of different skills, from raw stock preparation to mortise and tenon and dovetail joints along with the panel-raising.

A couple of people who I've given private home classes to came by to say hi, Larry Ciccolo and Rick Roberts, as did hand plane doctor Bill Rittner, whom I had met at Rick's. Late Saturday Rob Porcaro of the Heartwood blog introduced himself and had some very nice things to say about my blog. He asked if I ever sleep! Yes, occasionally.


Freddy Roman unwrapping some of the inlay pieces he's using to decorate a set of table legs.


Will Neptune, Freddy's shop partner, demonstrating carving on turnings.


Matt Bickford talking about moulding planes.

Peter Galbert turning chair parts.


Peter with his beautiful and amazingly comfortable Windsor chair made out of walnut.

Claire Minihan makes Peter's travishers. These things are a dream to use.


Tico Vogt talking about his Super Chute 2.0 shooting board.


Joshua Clark with his array of antique hand tools for sale.


The progress I made on the cherry cabinet door, starting from the rough board on the bottom. The piece of scrap on top is my story stick, where I laid out all the door joinery.

I got a fair amount of work done on my cabinet project in between talking and demonstrating other things. I dimensioned the door parts from rough board, raised the panel, and completed one stile mortise. I worked up a sweat planing, but I just love working with cherry. It's gorgeous with the grain flashing in the light, leaving a magnificent surface from the plane, and shapes with incredibly crisp edges.

I'd like to thank Deneb Puchalski of Lie-Nielsen and Bob Van Dyke for letting me participate. November 30 and December 1, I'll be representing SAPFM again at the LN Hand Tool Event at the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts. If you get a chance, come out, say hi, and try out some of the finest hand tools on the planet.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Resawing By Hand

Resawing is the technique of ripping boards across their width to make thinner boards. It's useful for making things like drawer sides, box dividers, custom veneers, or slices for bent wood laminations. This is the alternative to planing thicker stock down, which wastes a lot of wood.

This past February I gave a demo on resawing by hand at WoodExpo in Boston, which Justin DiPalma recorded on video. I've edited the raw video down to the interesting parts for The Furniture Project website (recall that WoodExpo is now The Furniture Project).

Here it is on YouTube:



Below are photos from the video. There are three examples of resawing, with both soft and hard woods:
  • resawing a 14" piece of construction-grade 2x6 with a full-size ripsaw;
  • resawing a 5" piece of pine 1x4 into a very thin slice with a Japanese ryoba;
  • resawing an 8" piece of oak 1x4 with the ripsaw.
These pieces took 10.5, 3.5, and 10.5 minutes to do.


First piece, 2x6 with ripsaw. From left: my 26", 6 TPI ripsaw; starting the resaw; progress after flipping the piece a couple times.


About halfway through; down the length to the far corner; opening it up to check the cut surface after doing the other end.

Resawing by hand is definitely work, probably the most laborious operation you can do, so pace yourself and take breaks. But the point is, it's not that hard, it's definitely doable, and it gives you a lot of freedom, because it allows you to work in any thickness. The technique isn't complex, just time-consuming (10 and half minutes to resaw a 14" length of 2x6). It's really just heavy ripping.

You should take 10 minutes to sharpen your saw before any major resawing, then wax it to minimize friction. You should also minimize the amount of wood you're resawing by cutting the stock down to close rough width and length first.

The resulting resawn surface may be pretty rough, but it cleans up quickly with planes. Just be sure to leave enough margin when you mark out the thickness you'll be cutting to allow for that.

As you get better, you'll be able to get multiple slices out of the same piece should you need to do so. That's why I demonstrated the ryoba; I can get 5 slices out of a 3/4" thickness of wood.

Just remember that the bigger piece, the more challenging, and the more chance of things going wrong (like when I tried to resaw a 12" wide piece of mahogany; the saw bowed inside the cut and eventually cut through the middle of the surface). Try some different sizes and different species to learn your limits.


Second piece, pine 1x4. Starting in with the ryoba; halfway after flipping a couple times; comparing the two thicknesses.


Third piece, oak 1x4. Making a starter kerf with a backsaw; working on the second corner; down the length; about halfway through.

To resaw a piece, mark the edge all around, leaving adequate margin in the thickness for cleanup. Start at an angle on a corner, like you're sawing out a tenon cheek; sometimes it helps to make a small starter cut with a backsaw. You can either saw this corner all the way down until you reach the adjacent corner, or just saw down halfway to it, depending on how heavy the going is. Then flip the board and work from that corner.

Once you've made good progress on the second corner, flip the board again and do more from the other side. Do this repeatedly until you pass the halfway point of the length. Then you can switch the board end for end and repeat the process on those corners. Eventually it all meets in the middle.

You'll notice a couple of things. First, every time you start in from an edge, you're cutting a small triangular corner that grows in size and difficulty as you reach the other edge. Second, the existing kerf where you've already cut guides the saw, helping keep it straight.

More frequent flipping makes it easier and keeps it more accurate. If you find it getting off track, flip it immediately and start from the other edge, but pay attention to the exit of the saw. If it's still getting off track, switch to the other end. This gives you a couple of chances to recover from mistakes.

You can also raise and lower the angle of the saw as you work to change how it's cutting. Experiment with it. Lower it all the way to extend the kerf along the length so you can reach the far end. That then creates a starter kerf for working on that end.

This isn't something you'll want to do a lot of, but it's a very valuable skill. You're no longer limited by the thickness of the available stock, and you don't need to waste large amounts of wood planing down for thin pieces.

Monday, October 1, 2012

With Phil Lowe At Topsfield Fair


Phil Lowe hands out fresh spiral shavings to passers-by. Dana Smith gets ready to help out for the evening inside the booth.

This weekend I had the privilege of helping Phil Lowe promote his Furniture Institute of Massachusetts at the Topsfield Fair, in Topsfield, MA. Begun in 1818, Topsfield is the oldest agricultural county fair in the country.

It's a typical county fair, with agricultural displays, arts and crafts, rides, small business vendors, and food vendors. Lots of food vendors! It runs through October 8. Phil's booth is located on a small loop with other craftsmen near the Kiddieland.

Prior to opening the Institute, Phil was an instructor at Boston's North Bennett St. School from 1975 to 1985, the last 5 years as head of the furniture-making program. He's been a contributor to Fine Woodworking magazine for most of its history. In 2005, he was awarded the Society of American Period Furniture Maker's Cartouche Award.

I consider him one of my true woodworking heroes. Helping out at the fair was my way of paying back for the all the knowledge I've gained from his articles and videos.

The weather was damp and gray. Back when I was a Scoutmaster with my son's Boy Scout troop, this was typical Fall camping weather (where the boys would tell you it rained 25 hours a day). Fortunately the light rain tapered off by the time we had the booth set up Saturday morning, so we pulled the workbench out front.

Phil clamped an 8' pine 1x8 in the vise and started planing full-length curls off the edge with a wooden coffin smoother (notice the board has been somewhat reduced by the end of the day in the photo above). He also had a wooden jointer and a Stanley #4 of about World War I vintage with a Hock iron.

As people walked by he offered them shavings to drape around their necks or over their heads. The kids played with the tight curls like wooden Slinkies.

I clamped a small piece to the corner of the bench and started working on it with my Lie-Nielsen spokeshave. As people stopped to watch, I asked them if they'd like to try it. Most did, men, women, boys and girls as young as 4 or 5. Phil was a little worried about someone dropping my expensive spokeshave, but I want people to see what top quality tools feel like.

A well-tuned spokeshave is highly addictive. It works so easily and leaves such a smooth surface. I explained about using it for curved work, while the planes make things flat and straight. I also showed people how to skew it and produce little corkscrew shavings. While some took just a few passes with it, many kept at it, fascinated.

I also clamped a couple pieces to the opposite corner and set out my Spofford brace with a half-inch bit. I like to tell people about the history of the brace, which has a patent date of 1859 and is marked "Fray and Pigg". Since Messrs. Fray and Pigg parted ways in 1869, that dates the brace to a 10-year window. It might have been around when Lincoln was president.

It still works beautifully, my favorite work brace. I had them drill holes with it, not putting any pressure on the pad and observing how the lead screw pulled it into the wood.


When one is at the fair, one must eat fair food. Mmmmm, jalapeƱos on spiral potato chip fries, with sour cream, cheese, and bacon bits! Wilbur Pan assures me via Twitter there's vitamin C in those potatoes, so this is healthy. Just visible above the plate is my copy of the September/October 1983 Fine Woodworking, with Phil's article on making cabriole legs.

After lunch, while Phil worked on a chest of drawers he's building inside the booth, I picked up the planes and continued to make shavings. When people stopped to watch, I asked them if they'd like to make their own.

I showed dozens of people how to grip the various planes and guide them along the edge with their fingers down the length of the board. Most were able to get a decent shaving within a couple tries.

For the kids who were too short to get over the tool, I pulled it from the front. That worked especially well with the wooden jointer, half as big as they were. Then I would have them try the spokeshave and brace. When a good crowd built around the workbench, there was activity on three sides.

All of this was a great way to engage people and tell them about the Institute. Many were just having fun as they passed by with their families, but a number looked more closely at the sample work and picked up fliers. I had several in-depth conversations with quick impromptu lessons.

In addition to full-time programs, Phil offers weekend and weeknight sessions. He covers the full range from hobbyists with limited time to people looking for career training, from beginner to advanced. The Institute is state-licensed and approved for veterans GI Bill.

Whenever someone says they can't do it, I tell them it's like learning to play a musical instrument. You don't try to play Mozart right off, you learn the techniques and practice to develop the skills.

Throughout the day, we had a young visitor who really loved the spokeshave, six-year-old Julian. His mother was one of the blacksmiths at the nearby Prospect Hill Forge booth. In between other people trying it, he spent about an hour working the piece of pine I had setup down to almost nothing.

I set him up another piece, and he said he wanted to make a chair leg (Phil had a number of leg samples set out, in additional to the frame for an upholstered chair). So he spent the rest of the day shaping it and showing other kids how to use the spokeshave. I love seeing kids get fired up like that.

I headed home at 5 after Dana Smith arrived to help Phil for the evening.

Sunday it rained all morning, so I asked at the Forge booth if we could set up the bench under their side overhang. Meanwhile, I had a surprise for Julian. I had cleaned up a Stanley #51 spokeshave of 1920's vintage that I had gotten at the Nashua tool auction for $12. After checking with his mother first, I gave it to him and went over the rules:
  1. Use it only with Mom's permission.
  2. It's not a toy.
  3. Don't let your friends play with it.
  4. Don't touch the sharp part.
He was ecstatic, and immediately went to work on his second chair leg.


Julian pumps the air supply for the forge while the blacksmith heats a piece. By the time this kid is 16, he'll be able to make anything. Anything!


Julian puts his new spokeshave to work.

Several of Phil's instructors and students had pieces in the Coolidge Hall arts and crafts displays. You can see the type of work people learn to do at the Institute. It's just magnificent, covering a range of styles.


Dresser by Freddy Roman. You can read a profile of Freddy here.


Side chair by John Cameron.


Side table by John Cameron.


Table by Art Keenan.


Side table by Brian Days.


Cabinet by Art Keenan.


Corner chair and dressing table by Brian Days and dining chair by Art Keenan.


Nightstand by Mike Fossey.


Shaving stand by Art Keenan.

Once the rain stopped, we pulled the workbench back out. One of Phil's students, TC Mannetta, arrived to help out for the afternoon. He told me he reads the blog and had some very nice things to say about it. He said he had never used a wooden handplane, so I gave him a quick lesson.

The large wooden jointer is a bit awkward at first due to its different shape and balance, but you get used to it after a few passes. Once TC got it down, I showed him how to withdraw and set the iron with a plane hammer to adjust the shaving. We took turns the rest of the day showing people how to use it.

At one point, a gentleman wearing a Wooden Boat cap stopped to watch. I asked him if he was a boat-builder. He said he had built one, but he was really having trouble sharpening his chisels.

So I pulled out my portable sharpening station and an old chisel I got at Nashua and gave a quick lesson on double-bevel oilstone sharpening. However, I told him Phil uses a hollow-ground/waterstone sharpening method, so we would have to fight it out. In a few minutes I had the chisel taking nice end-grain shavings on the pine.


While Phil talks to someone at left, TC Mannetta takes a shaving with the wooden jointer, and a young lady works a curve with the spokeshave.


Another young man uses the spokeshave while Phil works on decorative elements for a dresser and TC adds to the pile of shavings.

I'll be back at FIM November 30 and December 1 demonstrating at the free Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event. Stop by and meet Phil, see the Institute, and try out the full line of Lie-Nielsen tools, which will be available for sale or order. You can read about last year's Hand Tool Event at FIM here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Upcoming Demos

I'll be participating in a number of woodworking demonstrations over the next few months. If you get a chance, stop by to say hello and make some shavings.

Demos are great fun and a great way to get people to try hand tools. There's an element of ego of course, but I get the greatest satisfaction from seeing someone put their hands on a tool and try it out. They think they can't do it, but I can see it in their face as they realize they can, as they feel the tool sing in their hands. My goal is to help spread the craft.

First, I'm thrilled to be helping Phil Lowe and his Furniture Institute of Massachusetts at the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, MA, September 29-30 (the complete event runs September 28-October 8). Phil is an outstanding craftsman. As a member of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers, he received the Cartouche Award for excellence in 2005. His is the kind of work I truly aspire to. While I've never taken any classes at FIM, I've read his articles and watched his videos for years. Helping out is my way of paying back for the knowledge he's passed on.

Second, I'll be at the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Events October 19-20 at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking (information here) and November 30-December 1 back with Phil Lowe at FIM (information here). I participated in the Hand Tool Event at FIM last year.

Third, I'll be helping out with the Guild Of New Hampshire Woodworkers demos at the Portsmouth, NH Woodcraft store on November 10 and December 8. The Guild currently has demonstrations there the 2nd Saturday of each month.

Finally, I'll be at The Furniture Project at the New England Home Show, in Boston, MA, February 21-24. You may remember this is the new name for WoodExpo, which I participated in last year. I'm planning on doing something a little special there, so I'll post more about it once we have details finalized. Sadly, we lost one of the organizers of WoodExpo and The Furniture Project this week, Neil Lamens. I only knew him through email, but he was universally admired for his encouragement of other woodworkers.

Come on out if you can and see what these folks have to offer. I'm always happy to help those who promote the craft and whose products I believe in.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review: Doucette and Wolfe YouTube Videos

Whenever I get a notification from YouTube that someone has subscribed to my video channel (which I've recently switched over to using my real name instead of a rather random account name), I always go check their channel to see what other videos they've linked to.

Since we can't shake hands and introduce each other, it's a quick way to get some idea of who they are and what interests them. However, I usually don't go watch those other things, just because there's so much, and I don't have the time.

This time, fortunately, was different. I don't know what made me click on this one, maybe it was the title, "Nightstand with Reeded Legs Building Process". I'm glad I did; thanks, Fisch8441!

This is one of nearly 80 videos posted by Doucette and Wolfe Furniture Makers, a small shop in the White Mountains of New Hampshire run by Matthew Wolfe and Moriah Doucette. They specialize in custom period and contemporary furniture, with testimonials from customers all over the country.

The videos are a fantastic resource. They're a combination of finished work display and build process. The style is very simple and dynamic, brief video shots interspersed with stills, nice background music and no narration. What makes them so valuable is that they focus closely on all kinds of design and construction details.

And these are top quality pieces they're working on, jaw-droppingly beautiful. It's just a wealth of information, like being a fly on the wall watching masters at work.

They use a combination of power and hand tools. I of course love to see all the fine details of the hand tools in use. Ah, see how he skews the plane; note the specially-ground chisel for cleaning out the half-blind dovetails; see how to trim the breadboard tenons; see the Al Breed carving vise in use; look at the incredible precision of that fit.

One of my favorite images was a tall cascade of drawer sides stacked up for cleaning out the dovetails. These are production techniques for precise, efficient work.

For hand tools, they use a mix of top-end Lie-Nielsen and Veritas planes, Japanese dozukis for sawing out dovetails and tenon sides, and humble Irwin blue-handle chisels for chopping out the dovetail waste. It's just a joy to see the planes in the hands of real professionals. Wow, that's how I want my plane to sing!

Not only do these show how to handle the tools, they show the standard of workmanship you can shoot for. I find this both educational and inspiring. I'm not there yet, but it points me down the path.

I posted a couple comments, and the icing on the cake is that Matthew responded, saying he's looked at my site many times and likes the information I post. I was so flattered that someone doing this caliber of work is reading my blog. Thanks, Matthew!

I'm just a hobbyist working my way along through trial and error, sharing what I learn with others. I show both my successes and failures, since I know from forums and comments other hobbyists are dealing with the same things. That includes the occasional bone-headed mistake like misunderstanding how someone sharpens, or sharpening my paring chisels at the same angle as my bench chisels. It's all a learning experience.

These videos kick that learning experience up to level 10. So grab a cup of coffee and check out their YouTube channel for a couple hours of enjoyment. And a huge thanks to Matthew and Moriah for sharing their knowledge with the rest of us.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hollow-Ground DuoSharp Sharpening



Even a hand-cranked grinder makes sparks fly!

In my post and video Single-Bevel DuoSharp Sharpening, I was trying to reproduce the method used by Mark Rhodes, a professional woodworker in the UK. However, I got it wrong. I thought he uses nothing but a single bevel, but he actually hollow-grinds first. So while I was able to get useful results purely with a single-bevel, this corrects that.



The main complaint about strict single-bevel is that, except for Japanese tools which have a softer steel back welded to a hard steel for the edge, it's more time-consuming. In fact, that's why the double-bevel method came about hundreds of years ago. The primary bevel was ground on a grindstone, and the secondary bevel was honed by hand.

Hollow grinding is similar to double-bevel, but has an additional advantage. The grinder removes the bulk of the metal to save time during the honing steps. Then when honing, the two ends of the hollow curve surface form registration points for accurately maintaining the honing angle.

This can produce a flat bevel at the edge comparable to the flat bevel produced with a honing guide. The initial contact points become flats that continue to provide registration over multiple honings before it becomes necessary to re-establish the hollow.

I first saw this method several years ago on an episode of David Marks' TV show Wood Works. He used a hand-crank grinder, followed by honing on waterstones. He had a wooden tool rest that made it easy to maintain the grinding angle.

When I went looking for the Wood Works episode, I couldn't find it, but I did find a reference to Marks using a tool rest from James Krenov's book The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking. Aha! I knew Marks studied under Krenov, and there it was on page 109 of my copy.

I made one with a short surface as he shows for chisels. The only difference was that I mortised out a hole for the clamp, where he just saws a block into a U-shape. Shims under the front edge of the base adjust its angle. It's a little fidgety to adjust and clamp down, and you're setting everything up largely by eye, but it's simple and effective.


The shim under the front edge adjusts the angle of the tool rest.


It's held in place by the clamp.


I made the trough with a round molding plane, though you can also plow out  a square trough.


How to hold the tool on the tool rest. Adjust the shim to produce the desidered grinding angle.

It only took me a few minutes to grind the hollow in the face of the chisel. I used a light touch, and checked it frequently. You may also need to cool it by dipping in water, even with a hand-cranked grinder. Ideally, you only need to grind to within a millimeter of the edge. The reference flats will hone down easily from that.

Similar to the two bevels of a double-bevel chasing each other up and down the face over time, the hollow and the flats will chase each other back and forth over time. Regrind when the two flats are close to joining up into a single flat.

My grinding skills still need practice. I overground one end right out to the edge, so I ground the rest out to make it consistent.


The hollow-ground face.

The key to honing with this method is to rock the edge up and down on the sharpening stone until it "clicks" into place, with the two ends of the hollow grind making even contact. Then hold it in this position while moving the tool sideway up and down the stone.

Mark Rhodes only uses a DMT Red, and sometimes uses a finer stone, then strops. So I used just the Red side of my DuoSharp, followed by a strop. It doesn't take much to hone a flat and produce a burr. I stopped as soon as I had consistent burr along the edge. No need to remove any more metal. That produced a very narrow flat; you may want to have a wider flat, especially if you'll be doing heavy work with the chisel. All it takes is a few mores strokes on the stone.

When stropping, now that I had a dead-flat bevel across the flats, I used a lighter pressure on the face, since I didn't want the flex of the leather surface to round over the edge. People argue over whether that's really a concern or not. I fall on the side of believing it is. When I strop using convex bevel methods, I rely on that flex to make the leather conform to the convexity.

I did about 10 strokes on the face, 10 on the back, then alternately one on each side, twice.


Finding the registration point where the two ends of the hollow contact the stone. Then keep pressure on the end while moving up and down the stone.


The finished edge with a narrow flat that will grow over repeated resharpenings, until it's time to regrind the hollow. The inconsistent flat on the right shows that my grinding still needs work. But it's sufficient to get a sharp edge.


The edge easily passes the paper-cutting test, both along the length, and across it, which is harder because it's across the grain of the paper.


It also takes beautiful fine shavings in white pine end grain.

As with all the other methods I've practiced, I was able to get excellent results. The key lessons to be learned are that there are many ways to sharpen that work well (though people will endlessly debate multiple aspects of each), but that they all take an investment in time and practice. Some may offer quicker success, but it's not that difficult to get them all on par.

I also think that success with one improves your results with others, since you're constantly improving and gaining better overall control. So it's worth circling back and trying some of your earlier methods again.

This completes my obsession with sharpening methods.

For now.

I think.