Monday, February 27, 2012

At WoodExpo 2012, part 4

(Go back to part 3)

Glen Guarino giving a design presentation at the main bench.

The final day was another very busy one. The young man watching with his mother in the photo above had stopped by my bench for a while shortly after the doors opened and tried a number of different tools. He's very interested in hand tool woodworking and will be visiting Lie-Nielsen Toolworks this summer. He's clearly on a mission. I think we can expect to see him exhibiting at a future WoodExpo.

Several times throughout the show, people said to me, "That's just like that guy on PBS with the hat who uses all the hand tools!" I'd pull out my copy of The Woodwright's Apprentice and say, "You mean this guy? He's one of my heroes!" I'd explain that I built my workbench from the first project in the book, and that it was practically a whole course in hand tool woodworking by itself.

Al Breed, SAPFM member and another of my woodworking heroes, did several presentations Sunday. He demonstrated ball-and-claw carving, working with incredibly effortless speed. When I tell people about Al, I always describe him as the guy Sotheby's calls when they need a reproduction of a $2 million antique.

He really is that good, museum-class skills and knowledge. I've taken a couple of classes from him, and am building a reproduction Townsend document chest with him through the Guild of New Hampshire Woodworkers. He's also very generous with his information. He let me copy his carving vise and post it here; that's the one I used at the show. Any time spent with him is like drinking from a fire hose.

Al Breed at the main bench. His carving vise looks just like mine!

The show was a success on multiple fronts. Several people sold exhibit pieces and generated leads. I think I convinced a few people to try working with hand tools, and we'll pick up some new SAPFM members. I sent people to Freddy Roman for restoration work and balusters, to Mickey Callahan for furniture pieces, including his beautiful corner chair, and to other exhibitors representing various schools. I connected up with the manager of the Woburn Woodcraft and discussed offering my Intro Hand Tools classes there.

Mike McCoy told me the thing about going to shows is not necessarily what happens during the show, but the residuals that come weeks or months after. Making connections that turn into later business can be even more important than immediate sales.

I even had a couple people ask me how much it would cost to make a foot stool like the one I was building. I sent them to Mickey since I'm just a hobbyist for now, and you don't want to take on work unless you're sure you can deliver.

One of the fun things was seeing people respond to the demo. Some are engaged as soon as they see the tools, but many aren't. There's a distance as they walk by, keeping outside the zone of engagement as they look. I look up from my work and say hi, watching the non-committal skepticism as they try to figure out what I'm selling. They stop and watch, still outside that line, then move closer, fascinated by the curve of the leg in the vise, the smooth grain of the walnut glowing under the spokeshave.

I start explaining what I'm doing, offer them the spokeshave and assure them they won't hurt the piece. Even the ones who don't try it start to pay close attention. The real transformation comes when I explain that I do it all with hand tools. However crazy they might find that, there's always a genuine respect for the skill involved. By the time they're ready to move on, having watched and listened now for 5 or 10 minutes, even the most jaded ones are smiling, thanking me and shaking my hand.

Steve Skillins with his beautiful mahogany serpentine chest that sold Friday, and his Queen Anne chair. I had seen this chest at Phil Lowe's when I demonstrated at the Lie-Nielsen hand tool event there; Steve is one of Phil's students.

SAPFM member Roger Meyers demonstrating line and berry inlay.

Mickey Callahan carving a ball-and-claw foot. There certainly was a lot of leg carving going on.

Thanks for a great WoodExpo, Tommy!

Thanks again to Tommy MacDonald for giving us the opportunity. The last of the WoodExpo organizers I haven't mentioned yet is Neil Lamens. Unfortunately, right before the show health problems prevented him from attending after all the work he had put in. But thanks to his efforts and the rest of the WoodExpo crew, I think it was a real success.

I'm beat after four days of standing at the bench. It'll take me a week to recover. But it was a blast, and I look forward to doing it again. It was a great way to spend a couple days of vacation and a weekend.

As we wound down, Glen Guarino and Kevin Mack were very flattering. Since Glen had liked my Gramercy Tools rasp, I gave him my copy of the Tools For Working Wood retro catalog. He was very appreciative and said, "We should definitely keep in touch!" You know, with a guy who exhibits at various museums and high-end shows and galleries.

Kevin paid me the highest compliment when he came over to see Mickey and said to me, "Was that you did that foot stool all with hand tools? Awesome! I could never do that!" This from a guy whose magnificent Federal pieces have won best-in-show three out of the past four years at the Providence Fine Furnishings Show.

Once again, the opportunity to spend time with people like this is priceless.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

At WoodExpo 2012, part 3

(Go back to part 2)

Mike R., one of my readers! In the background, you can see a rough leg held in my Moxon vise on the bench.

Day 3 of the New England Home Show was the longest, 10AM-9PM. It was also by far the busiest and most crowded, since it was Saturday. I gave many repeated demonstrations and walkthroughs of the process making my carbriole legs, and let a number of people try the tools. A few walked away with a definite gleam in their eye.

After struggling a bit with the clamping setup on my portable bench the previous two days when sawing out the straight segments of the curves, I brought in my Moxon vise. That made for good secure work holding in different orientations. I had been thinking I should add a face vise to this bench, but the Moxon took care of it. It's modularity and portability provide a better benefit. While heavy, it can be carried around separately from the bench.

An interesting thing happened. Pictured above is Mike R. He came by with a buddy and was very interested, looking things over, watching my demonstration. We probably talked and went over things for 10 minutes. I finally showed him the SAPFM brochure and offered my card with the blog on it. He looked at it and said, "You're Steve Branam? I read your blog all the time!". Wow, that's cool! So I had to get his picture.

It happened again when a gentleman stopped to watch with his son. We were talking about things and going over the process, and he saw the Guild Of New Hampshire Craftsmen logo on my sign. He said, "I see you have the Guild logo there, I'm a new member." Then he looked again and saw my blog logo and said, "And you're the reason I joined!". Turned out he had emailed me in the past and I had recommended he look into the guild.

There were a couple more people like that. The last one was a fellow who was looking things over very closely in the booth as I worked. I looked up and said hi and asked if he had any questions, and he said, "I'm just looking at all the things you show building in your blog." All of this is of course very satisfying. I love to get comments and emails, and now the opportunity to meet people in person, and see that I've given them some genuinely useful information.

In the afternoon, there was a very interesting panel discussion with some of the real pros at the WoodExpo. In addition to Tommy Mac, the panel consisted of Glen Guarino, Tom McLaughlin, and Terry Moore. These guys have long experience in the custom furniture business. They aren't competing with the furniture stores you see on TV. They're doing high-end commission work selling for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Glen Guarino is a world-renowned sculptural furniture maker, while Tom McLaughlin and Terry Moore are members of the New Hampshire Furniture Masters Association; membership is by invitation only. These are all the kind of furniture makers we aspire to be.

The topic of discussion was the business of connecting buyers and makers of custom furniture, led by prepared questions from Scott Oja. As a hobbyist, I found it very interesting to hear the wisdom of people who have been successful for decades. When you talk to them individually, they are all the nicest guys, happy to talk shop and share information. They are the cream of the crop, not only in furniture making skills, but as businessmen in a select client-driven field, where you live and die by your reputation. They have a strong ethos of craftsmanship, service, and integrity. The opportunity to mix with them is one of the real benefits of society and guild membership and participation in shows.

From left, Glen Guarino, Tom McLaughlin, Terry Moore, and Tommy MacDonald.

Glen Guarino stopped by and we talked about sculpting wood and the tools. He saw my Gramercy Tools rasp and asked how I liked it. I told him I loved it, but had no experience with other good rasps to compare. I offered to let him try it for himself, so he pulled out a mirror frame that he's in the process of shaping, secured it to my sawbench, and went to work. He liked it. So I think that speaks very highly of them, from someone who makes a living with rasp in hand.

Glen Guarino testing my Gramercy Tools rasp.

Today is the last day of the show. By now I've actually completed most of the shaping of four legs. Demonstrating means a lot of stop and start, pulling things out to show people. The two questions I get most frequently are how long does it take to make a leg, and how do I get them all alike?

The first answer is that it's hard to say. The foot stool was my first ever attempt at cabriole legs by any method, so I was doing a lot of learning as I was going, sorting out the tools and the process, figuring out how to improve my efficiency. These legs I'm demonstrating are only my second set, and that's while talking to people and letting them try the tools. The whole stool took me about 40 hours, which is ridiculously long for such a small piece. I figure I can cut that down to 20 hours after a little more experience. I do have the process of sawing out the rough shape with rip saw and bow saw pretty well refined, though I was driving Mickey Callahan crazy with the slow speed of the bow saw and its fine teeth. He said, "Steve, we have to get you a piece of bandsaw blade with faster teeth!"

The second answer is that I don't. While the legs need to be consistent, there's no need for absolute perfection. If you want that, make them with a CNC robot. But for handmade work, reasonable perfection is sufficient. Even on the highest quality work, no two legs are ever perfectly alike. Once you separate them and build them into a piece of furniture, with the different sight lines and perspectives, you never see the difference unless there's some gross defect. Reasonable perfection means you'd have to get down on the floor with a caliper to detect the differences.

(Continue to part 4)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

At WoodExpo 2012, part 2

(Go back to part 1)

At the MFA in a light snow. Appealing to the Great Spirit: will we finally have winter this winter?

The second day actually started before the show opened, at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Seven of us from the WoodExpo were given a tour of the furniture in the new wing by Dennis Carr, the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Art of the Americas. They have a number of magnificent pieces. My favorite exhibit was the Newport room, with Townsend pieces like the one I'm building with Al Breed. The 17th century collection includes a reproduction by Peter Follansbee.

In the half-billion dollar new wing at the MFA, from left, Freddy Roman, Rick Waters, Steve Skillins, Dennis Carr, Scott Oja, Ryan Messier, and Rusty Burwell.

Peter Follansbee's reproduction top over an original base.

In the afternoon, another group of us were given a tour of the North Bennett St. School by provost Claire Fruitman. Tommy Mac and Eli Cleveland are both graduates of the cabinet and furniture making program. The school also has programs in bookbinding, violin making (one of only 4 in the country), piano technology, carpentry, preservation carpentry, locksmithing, and jewelry making.

Neils Cosman listens as Claire Fruitman describes the program in the violin making room.

Claire shows us one of the furniture and cabinet making rooms.

Back at the WoodExpo, we had a steady stream of people coming through. I gave a number of demos of carbriole leg shaping and let people try the tools. One little girl was so small that even standing on my toolbox her chin was barely even with the leg in the carving vise, but she was still able to take shavings with the spokeshave.

My demo at the main bench, videotaped by Justin DiPalma, was resawing by hand. The background noise was so loud we didn't bother with the mike. I started off with a piece of construction-grade 2x6, resawing off a 3/8" panel. Then I did a little stunt resawing, using a Japanese ryoba pull saw to cut a 1/16" veneer from a small piece of pine.

But of course, anybody can resaw soft pine, so for the last piece I resawed a length of 4"-wide oak. There's your Jim Kingshott fine oak drawer sides! Just need 50 sets to be dovetailed up.

I'll post a link to the video once they have it up. Yes, this is indeed work, I worked up a sweat doing it! Most people are surprised to see everything done by hand. Some clearly think I'm a nut case!

The guys running the WoodExpo for the rest of us: Rick Waters, Justin DiPalma, Scott Oja, and Eli Cleveland.

Freddy Roman at work on one of his own cabriole legs. He's working on a bench built by Justin DiPalma. On the front left corner is a card with the QR code for his website that I made up for him. However, I only saw one person all day try one of the QR codes I had on my bench.

WoodExpo exhibitors Mike Morton, Mike McCoy, and Quentin Kelley in front of  McCoy's contemporary lamps. Morton lives about 3 miles from me, McCoy less than 10. We all have to drive at least an hour away before we ever meet up anywhere. Same with Freddy, and he lives less than half a mile from me!

Ryan Messier discussing some of his tables with potential customers.

Rusty Burwell with his beautiful Japanese step-chest in Greene and Greene Art and Crafts style. One of the themes for exhibition pieces was "The Next Step", building some kind of step stool in any style from traditional to whimsical.

Chuck Bender working on line and berry inlay. In the background you can see his ball-and-claw carving DVD playing.

Tom McLaughlin with several of his magnificent pieces.

Thank you to Dennis Carr and Claire Fruitman for taking the time to show us around. Rusty said from now on he was only going to go on museum tours led by the curators, because those are the best!

(Continue to part 3)

Friday, February 24, 2012

At WoodExpo 2012

My portable bench setup at the WoodExpo, demonstrating making cabriole legs entirely with hand tools. Here I'm at work with a rasp on a nearly-finished leg, with another squared-up leg blank sitting on the carving vise, ready to be sawn out.

Yesterday was the first day of Tommy Mac's WoodExpo 2012 at the New England Home Show. I was there in two capacities, first as an exhibitor in the furniture exhibition with my modest little Queen Anne foot stool, and second as a member of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers, demonstrating techniques for making period furniture alongside Mickey Callahan and Freddy Roman.

I had my portable bench setup, along with various shop accoutrements. Other than one more box of tools, this was a complete portable hand tool workshop. My mother suggested I get a large backdrop made from the photos of my tool wall, so I can look like I'm in my home workshop. I'll have to do that for next time!

Being a Thursday, it was relatively quiet, but I had a number of people stop to watch and talk; the weekend will get crazy. I invited everybody to try their hand at it. Some were reluctant, afraid they would ruin my work, but I assured them it would be fine. You can only remove so much stock at a time with a spokeshave! Others took the opportunity enthusiastically.

The sign on the front of my bench.

Several families stopped by, and I showed the kids how and guided their hands. One mother got a picture of her young son standing on my tool box shaving away, then asked if she could try. She got the hang of it pretty quickly and said, "Wow, this is a lot of fun!". They were both hooked. I always say there's nothing more satisfying than shaping a piece with a spokeshave.

As people asked questions, in addition to the spokeshave, I gave several impromptu demos on the use of rasp and scraper, chisel sharpening, scraper sharpening, dovetail sawing exercises, and chopping half-blind dovetails. I also showed them how I sawed out the cabriole leg blanks with ripsaw and bowsaw.

I always explain that one of my main points is to show that people can do this kind of work even if they don't have access to power tools, such as a bandsaw for sawing out the legs. Whether they are restricted by space, finances, or noise, hand tools allow them to do everything. Some operations may be a little more time consuming and laborious, such as ripping full boards, but many operations can actually be done faster once you've invested some time in developing the skills.

I point out that you work on each skill individually rather than be overwhelmed by trying to master everything at once. You're training your brain and your body to develop overall eye-hand coordination and control, so improvement in one skill actually contributes to other skills bit by bit. It's like a musician who starts out squealing out notes that make you cringe, progressing through practice to make beautiful music.

In addition to Tommy Mac's booth for the PBS show Rough Cut, there's a main bench setup for presentations to be filmed, plus the WoodExpo exhibitors; Chuck Bender has a full show booth setup. Al Breed will be presenting Sunday. Phil Lowe was scheduled to do a couple of presentations, but he unfortunately is out with the flu. Freddy Roman will be taking over one of his time slots. Guess who will fill the other one? This is probably the only time in life I will ever be the replacement for Phil Lowe. I'll be demonstrating how to resaw by hand.

On behalf of SAPFM and all the WoodExpo participants, I'd like to thank Rich Castiglione, Show Director, for donating the space to allow us to do this. This is a great way to promote custom woodworking and furniture making. Unlike me, most of the participants are professionals earning a living this way, so it gives them a great opportunity to connect with potential customers and highlight the craft. Thanks also to Tommy for organizing it, and to Eli Cleveland, Justin DiPalma, and Scott Oja for running things. This is Tommy's fifth year here.

(Continue to part 2)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Visit To Fine Woodworking Magazine

The MWA group in the bench room at Fine Woodworking. From left, me, Nick Roulleau, Dyami Plotke, Mike Morton, Michael McCoy, Doug Plotke, Chris Adkins, Jim Ashley, and Freddie Ellis. Photo by Matt Kenney.

Dyami Plotke, of the Modern Woodworkers Association, recently contacted Matt Kenney, senior editor of Fine Woodworking, about doing a blog post on the magazine's shop. Matt very graciously invited him to bring a few of his fellow MWA members for a visit. Friday, nine of us converged on the Fine Woodworking offices in Newtown, CT, where Matt and art director Mike Pekovich discussed the process of putting together an issue, then gave us a shop tour and demos on methods for streamlining shop efficiency.

Dyami will be doing a post with video on his blog, The Penultimate Woodshop, in a few days, so I'll just do a quick summary here.

The MWA is a new woodworking organization of professionals and hobbyists. The "modern" part refers not specifically to anything about woodworking, but to the fact that the Internet provides us a modern medium for participation and communication. These are people who have met online through forums, blogs, and social media sites, and occasionally get to meet in person. Join in; you've probably already bumped into some of these folks online!

Mike Pekovich shows us the final layout of the April, 2012 issue, pinned to the aisle wall. Everyone in the office gets to walk by and critique it for a few weeks, checking for errors, layout problems, and overall flow.

Matt and Mike started the day by talking about the separation between editorial and advertising departments. Matt went through the process of working with authors to bring articles to press. Fine Woodworking is a reader-written magazine (you can find their author guidelines here), and many of the authors are extremely busy. He works with them to refine story ideas, write copy, and take photos. He said the magazine may work with nearly 100 authors a year, ranging from world-renowned experts to hobbyists.

Space limitations prevent them from showing every step of a project, so they have to find the unique essence to emphasize in an article. For project articles, they have to assume readers are familiar with specific techniques, but then they'll periodically publish technique articles to make sure that information doesn't get overlooked. They have to find a balance for a varied readership. The Internet helps out with this by allowing them to provide extra content on their website.

Matt discusses several tools in the machine room. They try to make sure they have the same types of tools that their readers have (though the aircraft-carrier of a jointer not shown in the photo is probably stretching what most shops have!).

Matt said all the tools in their shop are purchased. They don't accept anything free from any manufacturer, whether it's a large company or a mom-and-pop operation, because they want to avoid any perception of influence or favoritism. Anything provided by manufacturers for evaluation is sent back once the evaluation is complete.

For shop demos, Matt started off in the bench room, showing his hand tool pipeline for working on parts for boxes.

Matt cuts a piece to rough length on the bench hook before shooting it to precise length with the shooting board on the left.

Matt showed us the dedicated grooving planes he made and asked if anyone would like to try them, so I did. The nice thing about a dedicated tool is that you don't have to fiddle with any adjustments for width or depth, you just go. And of course that's how you end up owning dozens of specialized molding planes!

Next Mike showed us a hybrid tails-first technique for dovetailing. In another variation on the theme of dedicated tools, he has a specially-ground blade mounted on his table saw. The tooth edge is ground to 9.5 degrees  (which he said can be done for about $25), then the blade is canted to that same angle. The result is that the top of the cut forms the dovetail shoulder straight across, while the side forms the angled dovetail side.

Using a simple sled on the saw's miter gauge, Mike nibbles the dovetail sides away.

This close-up of a test scrap of MDF show how the custom-ground blade forms the straight shoulders. This piece can also be used as a setup gauge for resetting the blade angle.

Now Mike shifts to typical hand-cut dovetail methods. Here he cuts out the remaining waste between the tails with a coping saw...

...followed by paring to the baseline with a chisel. Given these precisely-formed tails, the pins can be easily cut by hand on the mating piece.

Over lunch, Matt asked if we had any suggestions for improving the magazine. Simultaneously, three of us all said some version of "More!". I also told Mike I was happy to see the magazine engaging with people; in fact, I had met him briefly last year at the Woodworking Show in Springfield, and I had met Matt a couple times before at Lie-Nielsen hand tool events at Phil Lowe's school.

Big thank you's to Dyami Plotke for arranging the visit, and to Matt Kenney and Mike Pekovich for spending their time with us!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Frostbite Sailing, part 2

(Go back to part 1)

I got a chance to film a day of frostbite racing in the snow yesterday, though it was pretty light. This time I kept the spare battery warm in my shirt pocket, but I made the mistake of using the camera out of its waterproof housing mounted on the stern rail, then put it back without wiping it off. There was just enough moisture on it to fog up the housing a bit, and I didn't wipe off the new snow that fell on it. The result was that most of the video was unwatchable, too fogged up to see much. I did manage to salvage a bit, though it's on the edge of watchability.

Naturally, just as we were getting ready for the first race, we all had to pull off to the side to let a barge head up the harbor, immediately followed by a tanker outbound. The tanker was the reason I took the camera out, so I could shoot it going past. It was moving at a pretty good clip, creating an impressive bow-wave. Large displacement hulls like this have a bulb at the bow to improve their hydrodynamics, increasing efficiency, but requiring them to operate near maximum speed at all times (you can read about it here, fascinating!).

The bulb also reduces the wake; you'll note in the video one of the small power boats of the Race Committee is pretty close to the ship, yet remains largely undisturbed by its passing. Meanwhile, a small Coast Guard boat not much longer than our boats went out at high speed later and produced enough wake to rattle all our shrouds.

Jonathan was on the tiller, and got us a first place in one race. Matt was on the foredeck, and I was in the pit. On sheets was Bud Ris, president and CEO of the New England Aquarium and former president of the Union of Concerned Scientists (you meet the most interesting people on these crews, conversation can range from the Super Bowl to nuclear non-proliferation!).

The air was a bit light for the first race, so you'll notice Matt sitting on the lower side of the boat, between the headsail and the mast. We use our body weight to balance out the heel of the boat, but sometimes we actually have to use it to contribute to the heel so that we can point on a closer course to our mark.

One of the fun things about sailing is that it's the embodiment of applied Newtonian physics. You feel it! The wind on the sails produces lift through the Bernoulli effect, causing heeling moment that pulls the boat over. Meanwhile, the weight of the keel (and the human ballast) produces righting moment that pulls the boat back upright. The forward component of the lift propels the boat. Better than magic!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Review: Jim Kingshott's DVDs and Books

Jim Kingshott's DVDs and books.

After seeing multiple recommendations for Jim Kingshott's DVDs over time on woodworking forums, I recently bought them, and liked them so much I bought most of his books. These were all produced in the 90's. The DVDs are still available new at reasonable prices, but the new prices for the books indicate they are out of print; I got mine used. Note that the books especially were each written to stand alone, so there is some duplication of information between them.

I bought several of the DVDs from Tools For Working Wood, and the rest through Amazon (full disclosure: I earn a small affiliate commission on purchases made through Amazon links). These are an excellent resource for anyone from beginner to experienced hand tool woodworker.

Having recently reviewed Paul Sellers' new DVD series and book, it's interesting to compare and contrast the two. Kingshott preceded Sellers by 20 years. What I find particularly interesting about him is that he apprenticed in the UK in the late '40's, among the last of those to come up through the system that predominated prior to World War II. Following that was when we saw the significant growth of power tools, and the corresponding decline in hand tool usage.

Kingshott passed away 10 years ago, in February, 2002. He was a strong proponent of traditional hand tool methods, and has left us a wonderful legacy.

He was highly skilled, an excellent writer and teacher with a wonderful presence. He clearly loved his work and loved to pass it on. His accent reminds me of Michael Caine. Imagine Caine in his most grandfatherly role, showing how to sharpen a plane or cut a dovetail. You would have loved to have sat on a stool in Kingshott's shop to watch him work, and in point of fact, that's what the DVDs are like.

The DVDs are Bench Planes (Amazon shows an incorrect photo for this), Special PlanesDovetails, and Mortise And Tenon; they cover strictly hand tool techniques. The books I have are Sharpening, The Complete GuideA Woodworker's Guide To Joints, and The Workshop: Designing, Building, Equipping; they show some power tools in addition to the hand tools. The writing about traditional techniques has evolved from the very stilted days of Bernard E. Jones and earlier, smoothing out in the work of Charles Hayward, and Kingshott's modern style makes for easy reading.

You see immediately that he worked to the highest standard. One of the most fascinating aspects is that he mentions various anecdotes about working in a high-end shop in the old days. Did you know you could be fired ("get the sack") for wearing glasses? For sitting down? You would be fined for every stray tool mark; too many mistakes and you would end up owing the guv'n'r come payday.

If you have some experience with these techniques already, you can see the various differences that typically show up among different instructors. That's one reason I like to learn from different people, to get varying perspectives. I figure any method someone has used for decades is worth considering, even if it's diametrically opposed to someone else's method. If Kingshott's books and DVDs were your only resources as a beginner, they would serve you well, with knowledge passed along through generations.

Beyond the basic methods, they're stuffed with little tidbits of knowledge that even the most experienced woodworker will find interesting and useful. For instance, the origin of the double bevel is due to grinding on a large-diameter hand-cranked grindstone for heavy metal removal, followed by hand honing on a stone. I made an oil wick after watching him use one to lubricate the bottom of his bench planes. He strove for precision and efficiency, required to earn a living at the workbench.

While much of his work is in the traditional English style, with English tools, Kingshott also enjoyed working with Japanese tools. There are several sections devoted to them, particularly in the sharpening book.

He clearly had his preferences, such as in the choice of planes, but he was willing to admit to the possibilities of other tools and methods. Thus he addressed variations in the ways to doing things.

The bench planes DVD includes an excellent explanation of how bench planes work, using large wood and plastic models. It covers the use of wooden planes, metal Bailey-style Stanley planes, and fine infill planes, including sharpening and their use in basic stock preparation.

Similarly, the special planes DVD explains their use in making window sash and casing with models and diagrams (you'll appreciate what a complex bit of engineering a window is, letting the light in while keeping the weather out!). Then it covers rabbeting, grooving, molding, curves, trenching, and shoulder and miter planes.

The mortise and tenon DVD covers through and blind mortises, drawbored and wedged mortises, and a more complex joint in the corner of a frame.

The dovetail DVD starts out showing the magnificent tool chest Kingshott built at the end of his apprenticeship. Then it goes through the basics of the joint. Somewhat unique among dovetail videos, it focuses on half-blind dovetails, the more difficult cousin of the through dovetail joint.

The sharpening book covers a variety of tools, not just edge tools. There's a nice section on saw sharpening, as well as boring tools.

The workshop book covers many aspects of building one from scratch or adapting an existing space. It includes sections on workbenches, appliances, sharpening, and machines.

The joinery book covers a wide range, from simple edge joints to compound angled dovetails. Joinery is where the DVDs are especially helpful, since trying to visualize the process from the written word and one or two diagrams can be difficult. Meanwhile, in order to show that level of detail, the DVDs must be limited to just a few joints. However, in the process they include many related bits of information.

It's that vast wealth of fine details that really makes these worthwhile. They're all treasures, reflecting a lifetime of fine workmanship.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Frostbite Sailing

Snow-covered J-24's docked at Boston Sailing Center, Lewis Wharf, Boston, MA, February, 2003. The old wharf building is still standing in this photo, upper right. Now the area is just bare pilings.

This post doesn't have anything to do with woodworking, it's about one of my other hobbies, sailing. In particular, frostbite sailing/frostbite racing at Boston Sailing Center (see the short video at the bottom of this post).

I first heard about BSC in 2000 from a coworker. What a concept! You pay for a membership, cost depending on what size boat you want to use. Then call them up and reserve a boat when you want to go out. It's a fraction of the cost of ownership for a boat, dockage, winter storage, hauling in and out, and maintenance. Most of the boats are 20-30 years old and show some less-than-gentle use, but they're all seaworthy.

There was the minor detail that I didn't know anything about sailing, but they also offer lessons. I took my first class that Fall, where I learned just enough to take a daysailer out and back without getting myself killed. As the season came to a close, I heard about Frostbite Racing. Join a crew or sign up as a floater! That sounded like a good way to get experience with someone who knew what they were doing.

I paid for a floater slot, then found out about a crew who had just had an opening come up. Other than a couple years mid-decade where I was spending all my money on a vacation house, I've been sailing with them every winter since. And it was very educational. Mike C. and Jen especially taught me all kinds of stuff (and managed not to get too upset when I did stupid things).

I also learned what constitutes the range of "normal" conditions, and when it's worth worrying. Under race conditions, you learn to do things fast. You can't stand there wondering what line someone is yelling to haul on. It gave a huge boost to my confidence taking my family out during the warm weather.

We race in Boston Inner Harbor. That's a nice protected area between Logan Airport and the waterfront. The Race Committee (the guys in two small power boats) sets up the course according to the prevailing wind, and 17 J-24's race around it. We usually manage 5 races for a Saturday afternoon.

The RC boats keep an eye on things in case anyone goes in the water. Survival time for full immersion is measured in minutes, so a real man-overboard situation is to be avoided. Plenty of people get wet feet during chaotic maneuvers. We're all wearing 20-30 lbs. of boots, fleece, and foul-weather gear along with PFDs.

For those who think sailing is sitting around sipping champagne with the Howells, think again. Sail racing is a contact sport. This is a small course, and all 17 boats are trying to round the same marks. It gets crowded real fast, with heated calls for "ROOM!" to clear a mark.

Contact is inevitable, resulting in a foul that a boat must clear by doing circles. Occasionally a skipper has to pay for damage, especially when one boat T-bones another. The most dramatic collision I saw was when two boats crossed masts in a stiff breeze and ended up spiraling around each other until one of the masts broke at the spreaders. Always an adventure!

The conditions range from light, flukey air to heavy days that Jen calls "survival sailing". The RC will fly flags restricting what sails we can use when the wind is up. They also have to take into account the chop, since waves overwashing the bow can ice up the deck.

There's also commercial traffic, primarily oil and LNG tankers in and out of the terminal at the head of the harbor, and the occasional barge. These are large, ponderous ships, with deep draft, limited maneuverability, and enough momentum to require a couple miles to stop. They create dangerous currents along their sides and wakes. So everybody gets out of the way when they come through. The police boats and Coast Guard with machine guns make sure.

My favorite days are the jib-and-spinnaker days, where the wind is too heavy for a genoa (a large headsail), but still light enough for a spinnaker. Mike's favorite are the days that are too heavy for a spinnaker. The prettiest days are clear blue sky, but the most awesome experience is racing in a snowstorm.

Some days it's really, really cold. This year has been unusually warm, hardly qualifying as frostbiting, although out in the open breeze it's still pretty cold. We haven't had to shovel or chip the boats out to get them rigged the times I've been on the schedule (we have a pool of people who rotate through different dates, since our families want us to spend Saturday at home occasionally).

Close-hauled on starboard tack, with Jen sitting on the rail and Jonathan in back on sheets. I'm on the rail next to Jen, and the two Mikes are by Jonathan. All those boats behind us? That's a GOOD thing!

Some of the crews are very competitive, some are just out for a fun day on the water. Dave Franzel, who founded BSC back in the 70's, is a world champion. Somehow, no matter how dead the air is, he always seems to be in front. He has a real eye for picking the breeze. That's what 40 years of experience will do for you.

Our boat is more laid back. As long as there's no blood and no damage, we're pretty happy no matter what, and we get our share of top finishes. Whatever happens on the boat stays on the boat, and there's always next time.

I shot a video of last Saturday's races with a new toy. For Christmas I got myself an HD Hero2 camera. This thing is half the size of a deck of cards and includes a watertight case. It shoots full 1080 HD video, with fixed focus and wide angle. I used the bicycle mount to secure it to the bow rail.

Unfortunately, the first race was one of those watching-paint-dry events where the wind had died, and then there were delays for two barges and a tanker. The wind came up nicely for the second race, but by then the camera had been out in the cold for nearly 3 hours. After recording an hour and a half of video and time-lapse, the battery died while rounding the windward mark. So I didn't get to record the best part of the day, but the video's still fun to watch. I posted it in full HD glory, so watch it that way in full screen if you can.

(Continue to part 2)