Friday, January 27, 2012

CloseGrain T-Shirts

If you like the information you find here, you can show your support with a CloseGrain T-shirt or other logo item! All proceeds help fund this site.

Click on a logo above to select the design. You'll be taken to the CafePress store where you can order.

You can order from the CloseGrain Blue, CloseGrain Black, and CloseGrain White stores at All items are added to the same shopping cart, so you can mix and match before checkout.

You can email me a family-friendly photo with your CloseGrain item at, and I'll do a blog post with every 10 photos I receive, with your name, location, and a link.

Or you can create your own T-shirts!

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

WoodExpo 2012

Where one door closes, another opens. My Queen Anne foot stool wasn't selected for the SAPFM exhibition at the Connecticut Historical Society. I knew I was up against some tough competition for limited space. SAPFM includes some of the finest period furniture makers in the country, so I was just happy to be able to throw my hat in the ring, and it pushed me to expand my skills. Out of over 90 pieces submitted, 34 were chosen.

However, the foot stool was selected for the WoodExpo 2012, part of the New England Home Show at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, MA, February 23-26. This is an exhibition of custom crafted furniture organized by Tommy MacDonald, aka Tommy Mac of the PBS woodworking show Rough Cut, and Neil Lamens of Furnitology Productions. Thanks for the opportunity, guys! Had I not been spurred on by the SAPFM exhibition, I wouldn't have had something to submit for the WoodExpo.

The Expo also features presentations by guest speakers such as Allan Breed and Freddy Roman, among others. Al is truly a world-class craftsman, winner of the SAPFM 2012 Cartouche Award; I've had the privilege of taking several classes from him. Freddy is the coordinator for the SAPFM New England chapter, and specializes in inlay banding and Federal style.

One of the requirements for craftsmen accepted for exhibition at the Expo is to be present and bring an educational/teaching tool to aid in educating the public about custom furniture fabrication. So if you're at the Home Show, stop by and say hello! Looking at the photos from past Expos, you can expect to see a range of furniture, from my modest little foot stool to spectacular large inlaid Federal pieces.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Two Miter Shooting Boards, part 2

(Go back to part 1)

Second version of the miter shooting board, per Paul Sellers' article.

Paul Sellers did a blog post on his shooting board that provided some additional information. It also turns out he had a very nice article on the subject in the December, 2006 issue of Popular Woodworking, along with a PDF containing expanded information available for download from the magazine's website.

When I saw the PDF, I realized I had seen it before, but had lost track of it. I dug out my copy of the magazine and made another shooting board according to the article. I used poplar for this one, which is a little harder to work than the pine. The tapered wedges for the stops kept slipping in my vise when I was forming them with the chisel.

This version maintains the same orientation of the miter wedges as the last one I made, since that's what Paul described in his article. While that differs from what I've seen in other books, it's simply a different design. It also has two 90 degree shooting positions, so it requires one wedge cut at 45 on the end and one at 90. You move a wedge to the matching recess to shoot the opposite angle.

One challenge is that it's tricky to get identical recesses for the wedges. It's easy enough to just make four separate wedges. The reason for the tapered stops in the first place is to allow them to be trimmed as they get chewed up over time. Then just take a swipe off the taper with a plane and tap them back into place. The recesses on the shooting board need to be cut precisely, so it's worth trying a couple for practice. Even with a perfectly made board, you still have to be careful handling the plane.

Once again, I've made a sped-up video so you can see the process without falling asleep.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two Miter Shooting Boards

Paul Sellers holds a piece of picture frame molding on the miter shooting board he just made.

When I met Paul Sellers at The Woodworking Show this past Sunday, I watched him build a simple miter shooting board. This allowed him to precisely tune miter joints for picture frames. I had intended to post a video of it, but failed to record it properly. So I made my own video building one.

Meanwhile, Nick Roulleau, who owns Mansfield Fine Furniture and also attended the show, had the same idea. He made a very nice video you can see here on his blog.

Nick and I did things pretty similarly, but there are some differences. Each board has two angled fences for the opposing miter cuts, formed with a 1:7 angle on one side to wedge into large dadoes cut into the surface. Accurate dadoes are the key to the board's precision, because they hold the fences at the proper angles.

I oriented my fence blocks on the board such that the 45's were inside the fences, which is how Paul made his (note that he holds the workpiece on the inside of the fences in the photo above). Nick oriented his such that the 45's were outside the fences, which is the more common method I've seen in books, such as Bernard E. Jones' circa 1918 The Practical Woodworker.

Both methods work, but the way I did mine, I have to remove the fence block for one side in order to shoot the opposite miter. The other thing I could have done was make the board longer, so that there was room between the two fences.

My video is a little more of the Benny Hill version. You can see the process, but I've sped it up so much for brevity that it's almost comical. My hands never looked so sure handling the tools!

I'll make another one of these with the fences oriented like Nick's. The other thing is that Paul used narrower stock for his board, so the dadoes required less work. I'll do that as well.

You need to do a careful job making one of these in order to get good joints, but the process is pretty easy. If necessary you can throw one together quickly in the middle of a project or on a job site. The method for a 90-degree shooting board is the same, except that you just need one fence, squared across.

(Continue to part 2)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Paul Sellers At The Woodworking Show

Paul Sellers doing a Masterclass presentation at The Woodworking Show, Springfield.

Yesterday I went to The Woodworking Show in Springfield, MA. It's primarily a power tool show, with only a few hand tool vendors and presenters. However, what made it entirely worthwhile was the chance to meet Paul Sellers. He was giving Masterclass presentations every 2 hours, and selling his Working Wood DVD and book series (which I reviewed recently).

I sat up front for his first presentation. I've seen the other show presentations he has on YouTube, making basic dovetail joints, and this was just as outstanding. For this show he's added raising a basic panel, and making one joint of a walnut-inlaid picture frame.

Dovetail demonstrations have almost become passé. Everybody does them, but I found the picture frame really spectacular. Everyone in the audience was amazed (make no mistake, they were equally impressed by his dovetails). Part of it is that he works very fast. As he says, "I've got the frame done, and you're still setting up your router and putting on your dust mask and hearing and eye protection." People got the message that with just a few basic tools and some skills, you can do good work quickly.

The frame is made from two simple boards of pine and walnut. In minutes, he molds the pine edge, grooves it, molds a walnut strip, puts it in the groove, rips the piece off the board, saws out the rabbet, cuts and shoots the miters, and assembles the joint with walnut splines. The finished piece is tight and crisp even without glue. Add glue and it will hold for centuries. While this was only one corner of a frame, it wouldn't take much longer to do the whole thing.

He cut the miters freehand, with no guides of any kind, then held one up to the 45 on a small Starrett combination square and walked it around the audience. It was perfect as far as we could see, even before shooting. One of the important points he made is that he has trained his body, his arms and his hand-eye-coordination to make these cuts through repeated practice. We tend to assume such precision is not humanly possible, but it is. I liken it to a violinist who has trained his hands to find the notes on the strings, without frets or levers or any other guides.

Paul's picture frame corner. The dovetail saw kerfs with splines lock the joint mechanically. It holds together even without glue.

There were two interesting bits of tool detail. First, I noticed that Paul is constantly adjusting the depth of cut on his plane to the task at hand. Need a deep cut? Flick of the adjuster wheel. Fine shaving? Flick it back the other way. I asked him about how easily his adjusters turn, he said to make sure you clean the threads thoroughly so it only takes a little finger pressure.

Second, he pointed out to the audience that he sharpens the first inch of his small ripsaws with a passive rake to make starting the cut easier, then progressing to an aggressive rake. This means the cutting edges of the first teeth are actually at a trailing angle, like crosscut teeth. You can see that in the detail picture of teeth in this post on his blog. This also allows a small ripsaw to make crosscuts.

He gave me permission to film him making the picture frame at the next session. I've included the panel raising at the beginning. I had also meant to include a segment where he had shown someone how to make a miter shooting board after the first presentation, but I didn't hit the Record button on my camera. By the time I realized my mistake, he was almost done. Like I said, he works fast.

The microphone didn't pick up his voice very well over all the background noise. I've replaced the sound of screaming routers with music; for brevity, I've edited out spots where he paused in his work to talk.

During this second session, I noticed a man and his teenage sons in the audience. One of the boys was straining to see more, and at one point got up and leaned over the front to see something more closely. He was clearly hooked. When Paul asked if anyone had questions after doing a quick run through of his sharpening method, he asked if the process would work on water stones, so he clearly had some hand tool experience. It was good to see a teenager with that interest and knowledge.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Portable Sharpening Station, part 2

(Go back to part 1)

With the main base and box assembled, it was time to build the lid. It has two parts, with a pair of hinges in the middle so that it folds back out of the way. I started with the rear section.

Using the jack plane to quickly reduce the width to the right size for the sides. I followed up with the jointer for a crisp edge.

Using the jack to thin down the 3/4" oak to 5/8"....

...followed by the jointer for flatness...

...and the smoother for smoothness.

I had already made up the rear banding piece where the first set of hinges would go. To join it to the sides, I used a cross between a lap joint and a dovetail.

The joint dry fit. I used dovetailing methods to cut it.

Dry fitting the sides to check the hinge. Um, do you see a problem here?

Argh! The change in the position of the rear hinge strikes again. Now the sides don't come down to meet the base. There's an hour's work wasted. In his book on joints, Jim Kingshott writes about mental attitude, saying you should be ready to remake any part. Ok, get over it. Get through the anger, denial, and acceptance and move on.

After remaking the sides, gluing up the rear lid section, with the 1/4" plywood in the rabbet.

Closeup of the joint where all three pieces meet.

While this dried, I made a riser base. This is a holder for a single stone, that will rest on top of another stone. That way I can stack one stone on another if I want to use it from the side more, even if it's not the one sitting in the right-most position. The riser is just a piece of 1/2" plywood wrapped in an oak frame.

This is the reason I added the spacer between the stones and the divider (which threw off the spacing in the box which threw off the hinge position which resulted in having to remake the sides!). The spacer provides a lip for the far edge of the riser to rest on as it sits over another stone, so it will stay in place during use (you'll see pictures of this at the end).

Using a wooden plow to mold the groove for the plywood. It's offset from center so that it holds the stone up away from the one it's stacked on.

Fine-tuning the groove with a side-rabbet plane. You can see the piece of plywood that will fit in it.

The dry-assembled riser, with the horns on the ends still to be cut off.

After trimming and gluing the base, chamfering the edges with a smoother.

Once the rear section of the lid was dry, I fitted up the front section to it. It went together much the same way, except that the front of the lid is fully dovetailed, again using Paul Sellers' method. The joints came out nice and tight, though I still had to fill in a few small gaps with glue and sawdust.

Planing the lid front dovetails flush. This really makes things look crisp and sharp.

Flushing up the oak banding to the plywood surface on the rear section.

Flushing up the bottom side of the base.

Next was installing the hardware. The hinges were straightforward, since I had pre-mortised the oak. The latches were another story.

Initially, I used window latches from Home Depot. I ended up shearing off 3 of the screws as I drove them. What do they make these from, aluminum? Ok, I realize that window sashes aren't normally made of oak, so lighter grade metal should suffice. But then one of the latches started jamming up when I rotated it.

Urgh, why does Home Depot sell this crap? It's as much the fault of the manufacturers in their race to the bottom for lowest price. Don't they realize that while we want low cost, we don't want it so cheap it falls apart? Are we going to have problems over the next 50 years where the houses built with this stuff start coming down around our ears?

I ended up making a trip to Rockler and picking up some catches. These were a different style and heavier gauge metal.

Drilling the holes for a window latch. You can just barely make out the sheared-off screws buried in the wood.

Driving the replacement screws for the lower latch part. I replaced this with the Rockler latches, but the process is the same.

There was one little bit of woodworking left, installing some spacers in the lid to hold the stones in place when it's closed. There are two of them, near each end of the stones. This ensures nothing moves around when I carry the box around.

Friction-fitting a piece of white pine for the spacer. I repeatedly shaved its width and closed the lid to see how it bore on the stones, until things closed up snugly.

The second spacer acts as a friction-fit holder for storing the riser.

Making up a matching sanding block out of MDF and pressure-sensitive sandpaper. This is useful for extra-heavy grinding when shaping a damaged tool. That saves my coarse India stone from wear.

Fireplace gold: I save all the large shavings for firestarters. Dry shavings light instantly and burn hot, well-oxygenated to get the fire started. Of course, that makes them a fire hazard in the shop.

With construction complete, I applied two heavy coats of outdoor grade "spar varnish" polyurethane. I laid it on pretty thick, so thick in fact that I had to scrape a little down to fit the stones in place. The finishing job is not great, you can see a few patches where I didn't clean up the glue well enough, but it'll do for shop furniture.

The completed station.

Lid partway open. The riser is resting between the spacers in the lid. I'll be adding a screw from the outside to each spacer to hold them in place better. The far one has come loose.

Fully open and secured for use. These clamps are just long enough for the thickness of my bench top.

While I built this to be portable, I'll be setting it in a dedicated spot in the shop, so I can just lift the lid quickly and sharpen as needed (the lid can be left unsecured as a loose dust cover). The station is held to the bench with a pair of Rockler 5" Clamp-it bar clamps (also available in 8" lengths). They're small enough to fit in the rear box during travel. The box also holds the sanding block, extra sandpaper, strop compound, oil bottle (one that doesn't leak!), small rags for wiping off oil, and file and burnisher for sharpening scrapers.

I'm still refining my sharpening process, but here's a brief description of what I'm currently doing. There are of course many ways to get this job done, feel free to use something different!

The station has, from left to right, Norton coarse, medium, and fine India stones, homemade leather strop block, and Norton translucent Arkansas stone. The Arkansas is on the end so that I can hold irons and chisels off the side. I always use the strop straight down its length, never off the side (see photos below).

Once I have a tool tuned, I keep it sharpened with just the fine India and Arkansas stones, followed by the strop (I recently started using Flexcut Gold compound on the strop, and find it much better than the green stick I've been using). I can actually go awhile just with the strop. Once that wears down too much, sometimes it just takes a little work on the Arkansas before stropping. In general, I try to go back the fewest steps necessary. As long as I maintain the edge in good condition, I only ever need to spend 30-60 seconds at a time.

Occasionally, if I wait too long, I may have to go all the way back to the medium stone for 30 seconds. For heavier work, such as when I've dinged an edge, I'll go back to the coarse. For really heavy shaping, such as to restore a tool fresh from the flea market, I'll use the sanding block. That saves wear and tear on my coarse stone, especially if there's a lot of work to be done; I may go through a several pieces of sandpaper.

I sharpen free-hand without a jig. I use both the Grimsdale method of convex-bevel (also used by Paul Sellers) and a double-bevel. For the double-bevel, I'm experimenting with various patterns on the stone, from straight up and down the length, to side-to-side, to figure-8. Given the variety of blade shapes in width, thicknesses, and length, as well as handle size affecting balance in the hand, it's good to be versatile and be able to shift approach as needed.

Sharpening in different directions also helps to put specific scratch patterns on the blade. Then when you go to the next stone and use a different pattern, once the old pattern is gone, you know you've done the whole area.

Starting some maintenance sharpening with the fine India stone.

After working the bevel on the Arkansas, going up and down the side to remove the burr from the back.

Pulling the bevel down the length of the strop. Then I lay the back of the chisel flat on the strop and draw it down.

Closeup of the riser base holding the sanding block. It's stacked over the Arkansas stone, but will fit over any of the stones. Also, any stone can be removed from its normal position and put in the riser if I need to work off the side of the stone like this. The riser can also be used as a standalone stone holder on the bench.

Have sharpening station, will travel.

Once I set this up in its permanent spot, I'll be able to quickly step away to sharpen, then get back to work. And when I travel for a class or a demo, I'll be just as ready.