Sunday, December 13, 2015

Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event At FIM 2015

The Lie-Nielsen tools on display and available to try out.

Last Friday and Saturday, December 4th and 5th, was another great Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Phil Lowe's Furniture Institute of Massachusetts.

The front room was the main LN display. The back room had additional demonstrators:

Visitors trying out the tools. LN staff member Roger Benton is at the back bench.

Danielle and Deneb manning the register.

They had this lovely toolchest next to the planing bench.

Outside, Paul Lelito demonstrated custom milling of a pine log on his portable Wood Miser bandsaw mill. He milled both flatsawn and quartersawn pieces. This lumber is available for purchase at FIM.

Paul operating the mill.

The bandsaw travels down the log cutting a precise slab.

John Cameron with his Krenov-style handplanes. He teaches a class in making these.

The setup in the back machine room.

Tico Vogt with his Superchute shooting board.

Peter Follansbee demonstrating green spoon carving.

Matt Cianci sharpening a handsaw.

Freddy Roman demonstrating Federal inlay techniques.

Joseph Karagezian demonstrating reupholstering an old wing chair.

Like the last event in November, I was promoting my Popular Woodworking University online video course Intro To Hand Tools. I also had my violin-making items.

Once again, this proved to be a great combination for engaging people. I gave several demos of sharpening and dovetailing, and went over the violin-making process with a number of people. Hopefully by the next event I'll have more progress to show with the luthiery practice pieces.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

LN Hand Tool Event Shackleton Thomas 2015

We followed this rainbow to the Lie-Nielsen event at Shackleton Thomas.

Last weekend was an excellent Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Shackleton Thomas in Bridgewater, VT. This was a new venue for the event.

Shackleton Thomas makes high end hand-made furniture and pottery. Much of the furniture is in a clean, crisp style reminiscent of the Shakers, with additional decorative elements. Stopped chamfers abound.

Growing up in Ireland, co-owner Charles Shackleton was trained in traditional methods in Surrey, England. His wife Miranda Thomas is a renowned potter who trained in Farnham, England.

I wondered about the name. Then I saw a calendar on the wall with a photo of Tom Crean. When I met Miranda setting out some cookies, I asked if he was that Shackleton. Indeed, Charles is a cousin of Ernest Shackleton, leader of the first expedition to reach the South Pole. Charles and his brother have also been there. How's that for a family tradition?

The Shackleton Thomas workshops are in an old wooden mill building along the river in Bridgewater. The woodshop is on the second floor, with multiple large windows on three sides. That makes it a very comfortable, open space among the heavy timber beams.

Each piece of furniture is made by an individual craftsperson. In addition to the employees, they also have an apprenticeship program. This would be an awesome place to develop into a furniture maker.

There was a pretty steady crowd both days. Charles is a member of the Guild Of Vermont Furniture Makers, and there are several other woodworking organizations in the area. In addition to locals, I talked to people from Montreal, New York, and Connecticut.

The Vermont Standard has a nice photo gallery of the event. I'm the guy in the maroon shirt with the Society of American Period Furniture Makers logo.

Deneb Puchalski demonstrating a plane.

David Yepez demonstrating some chisel work.

In addition to the LN staff, there was Tico Vogt with his Super Chute shooting boards and a new magnetic fence for drill press and bandsaw, Isaac Smith with his Blackburn Tools framesaws and backsaws, Matt Bickford with his wooden moulding planes and spectacular book "Mouldings In Practice", and Travis Knapp with a supply of exotic woods. I picked up a nice supply of quartersawn steamed beech from Travis so I can finally try making my own planes.

Matt Bickford showing someone one of his wooden moulding planes. Travis Knapp is in back in front of the window.

Isaac Smith with his saws.

Tico Vogt demonstrating his Super Chute board.

I was promoting my Popular Woodworking University online video course Intro To Hand Tools. I also had my current assortment of items for practicing the skills involved in violin-making.

That made a nice combination. For the people who were interested in learning hand tools, I gave impromptu lessons on several basic skills, encouraging them to take the tools in hand and try them out. For others, I went over my process for riving out stock, forming and shaping violin body plates, sawing out veneers for sides, and bending them on a heat-gun-powered bending iron.

One family I talked to was there with their teenage son. His mother said the course might make a good class for his home schooling, so I showed him how to remove 1/16" shavings with my meat-eater wooden jack plane, then had him try out the LN Boggs spokeshave.

Since I had my Society Of American Period Furniture Makers shirt on, I talked to several people about SAPFM. One lady was an instructor at a nearby woodworking school who was there with some of her students. She said a several people had expressed interest in making period furniture, so perhaps there might be an opportunity to form a new chapter in that area.

My workbenches, new banner, and silent video trailer with scenes from the course running on the flat screen TV.

One tool I ended up talking about a lot was the LN skew block plane. This has become my new favorite plane. I had originally bought both right- and left-handed versions a couple years ago for panel-raising, but just had the right-handed one with me.

A still shot from my course segment on panel raising showing the skew block planes.

It's incredibly versatile. The secret is the combination of very low bedding angle with the skewed iron, along with the removable side and built-in fence. With the side attached and fence removed, it functions as a regular block plane. With the side removed and the fence installed, it can rabbet along or across the grain, chamfer, form panel edges, or even plane end grain directly.

The low angle and skew of the iron are able to deal with any grain orientation. And by rotating the workpiece from flat on the bench to up on edge, the single right-handed plane can cover both right- and left-side chamfers.

It was great fun having people try out all the different orientations and seeing their amazement at the beautiful shavings produced, from long flowing edge rabbet ribbons and spiraling cross grain chamfer spills to the amazing pencil-sharpener end-grain ribbons. This plane was pure joy to use. I'll have to do a full-blown blog post on it.

After the event, Miranda invited us all to select a coffee mug from the showroom. Thank you, Miranda!

I liked the fish motif on this mug.

Since Sunday was my 55th birthday and 32nd wedding anniversary, my wife and I made a long weekend out of it, a lovely late autumn Vermont getaway. This is ski country, so the seasonal patterns we're used to with Cape Code and downeast Maine are reversed. There, places close down at the beginning of November, after the end of leaf season. Here, many places don't even open until the end of November.

This was the quiet time, after all the leaves have fallen, before the snows have started. But there's something going on all year in this beautiful area that follows the cycles of nature, with maple sugaring season bridging the end of winter into spring.

We stayed at the wonderful antique-filled Jackson House Inn bed and breakfast, owned by Rick and Kathy Terwelp just down the road in Woodstock. The dining room is full of Shackleton Thomas furniture.

Our view from the back balcony. Late Fall, bare trees!

First course of Rick's Sunday morning breakfast, an apple concoction with homemade caramel (foamed caramel on the right side). Oh yeah, this was good!

Rick is the breakfast chef. He's an artist as skilled as the craftspeople at Shackleton Thomas. Both of our breakfasts were exquisite creations, composed entirely of local ingredients. This is a very self-sufficient area. Rick used fruit from local orchards, vegetables and meats from local farms, breads from local mills and bakeries, and cheeses from local dairies. Even the maple bourbon in the sauces were locally made.

We're looking forward to repeating this event next year!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Fall 2015 Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Events

My portable workbench with new banner clipped on, ready for the demo.

I'll be demonstrating at two Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Events coming up, promoting my Popular Woodworking University online course Intro To Hand Tools (a full episode guide to the 12 hours of video instruction is here).

I'll also have my current assortment of greenish luthiery stuff as I practice the techniques for building violins by hand. Come up to the bench, try out some of my tools, bend a violin side.

The first event is this coming Friday and Saturday, November 13-14, at Shackleton Thomas Furniture, in Bridgewater, VT. Details here.

The second is December 4-5, at The Furniture Institute Of Massachusetts, in Beverly, MA. Details here.

If you've never been to one of these, they're great fun. Lie-Nielsen has all of their tools available to try out, with skilled staff to answer questions and provide on-the-spot instruction.

The other great thing is that they invite local regional woodworkers and toolmakers to demonstrate and sell their wares.

This is a great opportunity for hand tool enthusiasts to meet and hang out and make some shavings. And of course buy some great tools!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Phil Lowe Scraper Sharpening Video

I finally finished up the video below that I recorded of Philip C. Lowe, founder of the Furniture Institute Of Massachusetts, demonstrating how to use a burnisher to sharpen cabinet and card scrapers. I shot this at a meeting of the Society Of American Period Furniture Makers New England chapter held at FIM last winter.

Scrapers are mysterious beasts, often a challenge for beginners to sharpen. I've collected a number of sharpening methods over the years. This is one of two methods I've learned recently that are far superior to what I had been doing in the past.

While there's a lot of information out there on card scrapers, there isn't much on cabinet scrapers. In the hands of someone who knows how to sharpen them, both are spectacular tools.

You use the cabinet scraper first, after planing, to remove any plane tracks or machine marks. This is the rougher of the two tools. Phil says to scrape from both ends into the middle, even though one direction will be working against the grain and might raise it a bit. Then follow up with the card scraper for a final smooth surface.

This wasn't my first introduction to the sharpening method. Phil published the card scraper part in an article in Fine Woodworking #147 back in 2001. I saw it reprinted in the book Working with Handplanes: The New Best of Fine Woodworkingin 2005 when I was just in the process of figuring out this hand tool stuff. He published the cabinet scraper part in FW #234 in 2013.

But it wasn't until I actually watched him do it at this meeting that it really clicked for me. I hope the video will do the same for you. This is a free lesson from a master craftsman.

Phil sells a reproduction of a specific type of burnisher that Stanley used to make, and the video provides instructions on how to use its unique feature. The key point is dealing with the problem of over-rolling the hook, a primary source of difficulty for beginners (I was definitely one of them).

Whether you use this style of burnisher or a different style, the method he shows is excellent. The magnificent shavings he produces with it attest to that. He uses waterstones for the honing portion of the process, but the method works fine with other types of stones as well.

If you're interested in purchasing one of these burnishers, you can find them at the FIM tools page.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Greenish Luthiery

My first shop-made finger planes, 8mm wide iron, 60 degree body in back, 40 degree body in front with maple shavings.

I have a new obsession. I'm familiar with the feeling of obsession settling around my shoulders. That's how I got started working with hand tools.

Back in August, someone posted a link in the Facebook Unplugged Woodworkers group to this video of Dominique Nicosia making a violin by hand. He's a master instructor at the Ecole Nationale de Lutherie de Mirecourt (National School Of Luthiery of Mirecourt, France). It's a beautiful documentary of a fascinating process. I was absolutely enthralled and inspired.

I watched it a second time, and thinking about the set of videos I had recently put together for my Intro To Hand Tools course, I realized that except for a few specialized tools and procedures, I knew how to do everything he was doing. I could do this!

That was the moment I felt the obsession take hold. Over the past two months, I've watched several dozen other violin-making videos and read 5 books on the subject. The videos range from short summaries to whole multi-part series detailing the process from start to finish. The books range from the late 1800's to the modern day. I've started lurking on several luthiery forums and attended a meeting of the Guild Of New Hampshire Woodworkers' Granite State Luthiers group.

In the shop, I've made several specialty tools, refined my carving gouge sharpening skills, and practiced the procedures for gluing up a bookmatched body plate and bending rib pieces.

Of course, this has all been hobby pace, a few hours at a time, plus reading on the train to and from work. It will supply an abundance of future blog posts. This is just a summary of what I've learned and done so far.


Luthiery requires several tools that I didn't already have, some general-purpose, some very specialized. Specifically, glue pot for hot hide glue, bending iron, finger planes, purfling tools (purfling is the inlay around the edge of the body plates), carving knives, reamers, and peg shapers. That comes to over $600.

Since we're currently being ground into the dirt by the oppressive boot heels of college costs, I've tried to improvise as much as I could. I've managed to assemble a reasonable set of shop-made tools for under $100.

For the glue pot, I went with the universal cheap solution and got a hot plate and pot. I boil the glue in a glass jar.

For the bending iron, I mounted a piece of 1" aluminum tubing to a 2x4 with a metal gate handle and pipe clamps. I found that  3/4" copper pipe fits in it nicely to add thermal mass. I heat this with a propane torch, or where open flame isn't practical, a 3/4" curling iron stuck inside.

Torch-heated bending iron, with a bent practice rib and the raw billet it was sawn from.

I made a couple of wooden finger planes based on a photo essay by Mario Proulx in the Musical Instrument Makers Forum Library. I made irons for them by cutting up an old, mostly used up bench plane iron with a hacksaw and file.

The purfling gauge is a specialized cutting-style marking gauge. One of the books has an illustration of one I can make. I can make a purfling chisel (for picking out the waste between the cut lines) from an old allen wrench.

For carving knives, I'll use my chip-carving and pocket knives. I may try making a simple violin-making blade from an old plane iron, experimenting with some backyard heat-treating.

The irons I've cut up so far have only been hardened on the cutting end, from the edge up to the chipbreaker slot. The remaining metal is soft, surprisingly easy to hacksaw, about like handsawing 3/4" hardwood. To cut the hardened portion, I score a line with the corner of a file, then grip the piece with vise-grips and work it back and forth gently until it comes off through metal fatigue.

Old plane iron cut up to make 3 finger plane irons in 8, 10, and 12mm widths.

For the reamers, I'm going to try a version of Drew Langsner's chairmaking reamer. I should be able to make up a peg shaper from an old plane iron.

One additional item I've made is a veneering saw for sawing out the 1mm rib stock. This is similar to a kerfing plane, but setup specifically to cut rib stock to its 1.5mm rough thickness. I remove the last half mm with cabinet and card scrapers. Being able to precisely resaw close to final thickness is a significant timesaver.

I may also rig up a toothing gauge for breaking up the surface prior to scraping. This is based on a description of a tool called a filliere, a veneer thicknessing gauge, though I haven't been able to find a picture of one. Lie-Nielsen makes a similar tool for precisely thicknessing narrower pieces, a stringing gauge.


Initially I was wondering what to do about materials. My first plan was to buy some inexpensive beginner's top and body blanks. These are quartersawn segments of log cuts.

I recalled watching Peter Follansbee plane green oak log splits into boards for his carved wooden boxes. If only I had some logs I could use for my own blanks using the green woodworking techniques I had learned from Peter and his teachers, Drew Langsner and Jenny Alexander.

Then I realized that I did have some. Back in 2006 when I had first started learning green woodworking, the brother of one of my coworkers had a good size walnut tree come down in his yard. I bartered some oak log lengths I had been collecting and riving for a 4' clear section of the trunk, about 20" in diameter.

I had left this log in my yard for several years, not really treating it properly as I tried to decide what to do with it, then finally quartered it with wedge and sledge. The quarters have been sitting in the corner of my workshop now for about 5 years. They're cracked and checked considerably due to poor storage, but there's still plenty of usable wood.

This walnut will make an excellent supply of practice material. And I don't have to discard the practice pieces. I can make decorative boxes using luthiery techniques as I refine my skills. After all, a violin body is simply a box with curved top and bottom; use a flat bottom instead and you have a lovely delicate box. It doesn't have to produce sound. That will come later.

I also have a small supply of yard maples that I've collected from people, quartered, stacked, and stickered. Most of it is in firewood lengths, because that's what people do when they're cleaning up fallen trees, but that's just fine for this work. All of the wood is nice and dry, seasoned in my basement for the past 5 to 7 years.

The traditional woods for a violin body are spruce for the front (the top plate), and maple for the sides and back (ribs and bottom plate), all quartersawn. Walnut is somewhere in between, closer to the spruce in hardness than to the maple. It's a very workable and beautiful wood. The traditional woods for the neck and fittings are maple and ebony.

The Process

The process for making body plates is to join two quartersawn wedges at the bark side (i.e. the thicker outer edge of the wedge) in a bookmatch, after having planed the edge square to one flattened face. So the two wedges are glued back to back.

This forms a plate, flat on one side, with a thick center and thin edges. The plate will be arched, shaped and hollowed to a thin shell curved in length and width. This forms the graceful outer surface and hollow body. The centerline joint is the apex of the arch.

The outside arching process is one of carving to convex curves. The inside arching process is one of excavating to concave curves. The result is a thin shell just a few millimeters thick, carefully contoured and smoothed.

The ribs, just 1mm thick, are shaped on a hot bending iron and glued up to blocks on a body mold. The plates are glued to the ribs, separating them to produce the sound cavity. The carved neck is joined to the body with a glued dovetail joint.

The glue is hot hide glue. This is reversible, so the body can be opened up for repairs. The finish is varnish.

Over the centuries, many old violins have had their necks replaced to adapt them to the new, higher modern concert pitch (modern as of, say, 1800). Beyond that, the design hasn't changed in 500 years.

The bare violin is then fitted up with pegs, fingerboard, bridge, and tailpiece. Only the fingerboard is glued in place. The strings are fitted to the tail, run across the bridge, down the length of the fingerboard on the neck, across the nut, and wound on the pegs.

As they are tautened and tuned to pitch they exert pressure through the bridge onto the top plate. Inside the body, the bass bar reinforces the top plate under the bass foot of the bridge. A loose dowel (the post) is wedged between top and bottom plates under the treble foot.

The science of violin acoustics is amazingly complex. However, the basic mechanics are straightforward. The horsehair in the bow actually has a microscopically toothed surface. Bowing this over the strings makes them vibrate. The bridge transmits these vibrations to the top plate, while the post and ribs transmit the vibrations to the bottom plate. All of this sets the air in the cavity vibrating, moving through the "f" holes.

As with any other woodworking endeavor, there are multiple ways to build a violin. The sources I'm using cover a range of hand and power tool techniques, different order of operations, and different types of inside and outside molds.

This is why I like to learn from multiple teachers. Each one has a different perspective and process, emphasizing different details. By themselves, no single reference quite captures everything, but the aggregate knowledge across all of them covers it well.

Practice Plates

Step one of making a body plate is to cut down a tree, section it into manageable lengths, then quarter it with wedge and sledge and season it for 5-10 years.

However, you can speed up this step by ordering seasoned, quartersawn body stock from a luthiery supplier. They sell it in a range of quality levels from beginner to masterpiece. Start with the cheap stuff.

I call this "greenish" luthiery because I'm using green woodworking techniques, but the wood is seasoned. I used a froe and wooden maul to rive a quarter into eighths, then sixteenths. I used a drawknife and heavily cambered jack plane to remove the sapwood from two splits.

Walnut log wedge riven out with froe and maul.

Planing a rough split requires special workholding, since neither side is flat, and the surface to be planed is at angle. The clamping method I used is something Paul Sellers showed me. It works very well for awkward shapes.

Holding the rough wedge for planing. There's a scrap underneath to support the thin side and bring the top approximately level.

Once I had planed a reference face, I planed the wide edge roughly square to it. The shape was still a little awkward, but it mounted edge-up easily in my face vise. If necessary, a wedge-shaped spacer can be used to help steady it.

For the final precision squaring of the edge, I used my large edge-shooting board. This is the method luthiers use for planing bookmatched guitar bodies. With flat pieces, you can fold them back and plane the matching edge of both pieces together. However, with these wedges you have to do them individually.

A good rub joint requires edges as perfectly planed as you can manage. You should be able to hold the pieces together on their planed edges up to the light and not see any pass through the joint.

Test the joint by rubbing the two pieces together along it and pivoting them back and forth. There should be no high, low, or twisted spots. Anything less compromises the integrity of the joint, and it may come apart during construction or when tightening up the strings.

I mounted one piece edge up in the vise, spread glue along the edge with a brush, and set the other piece on it. I rubbed it back and forth to remove any air bubbles and spread the glue uniformly. It started to set up quickly. This was the first time I had ever used hide glue, so I wasn't entirely sure I had the viscosity or temperature right. Another reason to practice!

I drove small pinch dogs into each end of the joint and set it aside to cure. It's now ready for practice shaping.

The glued up plate (secured with pinch dogs) and practice rib on my large edge-shooting board.

Practice Ribs

I planed an additional walnut 1/8th wedge into a rough billet, then tried several methods for resawing quartersawn rib pieces.

The main challenge is that they are so thin. The finished thickness is 1mm, so I tried to resaw around 2mm to minimize the subsequent planing and scraping required. With such thin material, one errant twist of the saw easily cracks it off. That made a full-size rip saw a littly tricky to handle.

A ryoba, a Japanese pull-saw with thin blade and no set to the teeth, worked well. I tried sawing completely through, and starting fresh from each side. This required close attention to maintain proper thickness. An error of just one thickness of the saw was a good 10% of the final thickness!

Next I tried creating a starter kerf on each side with a 10ppi joinery backsaw for better thickness control. This worked well enough that I tried a deeper kerf, leaving just a little to finish off with the ryoba.

That led to the idea of making a stepped guide fence that I could clamp to the backsaw to precisely space the kerf and maintain it flat to the face. The only problem with that was the backsaw teeth were too fine, taking too long.

The final iteration of all this was to clean up a rusty flea market 7ppi ripsaw, sharpen it, then cut it down to avoid the twist off problem I had with the full length saw, and secure the guide fence to it.

The veneering saw with guide attachment and a couple of bent practice ribs. I'll drill and bolt the guide piece with wing nuts so I can remove it for sharpening. The saw plate cutoff will make some nice scrapers.

The veneering saw in action. In the background you can see my fancy hot glue setup.

The end result was a fast, repeatable method for cutting ribs close to final thickness. I clamped one end of the rib to the benchtop and scraped it down to final thickness with a cabinet scraper and a card scraper.

Scraping a rib to final thickness.

Closeup of the shavings produced by the cabinet scraper and card scraper (thanks to Phil Lowe for the cabinet scraper sharpening technique and GNHW cofounder Terry Moore for the card scraper sharpening technique!).

You can also use a bench plane or block plane, but planing thin stuff like this can be tricky. I found that well-tuned scrapers did an excellent job with lots of control. I could easily scrape down any high spots.

The torch-heated pipe made a good bending iron. I could quickly heat it to the point that water droplets would skitter around on it, then turn the torch to minimum to maintain the temperature. Of course you have to be careful using this setup to avoid burning yourself or starting a fire.

A 3/4" curling iron stuck in the tube didn't get quite as hot, but was still reasonably effective. I may see if I can find a different iron capable of higher temperature. People have also tried soldering irons and various heating elements in pipes, such as water heater elements and electric charcoal starters.

One of the keys to bending without cracking is to back the piece with a metal bending strap. I bought a small roll of aluminum flashing and cut out a strap about 10" long by 2 1/2" wide. The strap applies the bending force across the surface of the wood as you rub the moistened piece back and forth on the iron.

The walnut bent easily and quickly. The hot iron heats the lignin in the wood to a pliable state, which then cools to hold the formed shape. Moistening the surface helps spread the heat; it's not quite steaming the wood.

Using the various rib pieces I had prepared, I bent loose and tight curves. The curved rib sections are called bouts. The center bout is called the C bout, because it's in the shape of a letter C. This has the tightest curves, at the curled ends.

Next Steps

Next I'll shape the top plate I've glued up, and make up some more plates and ribs to refine my process. Then I'll try inlaying some purling. I'll use all these pieces to make up some nice gift boxes.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fall 2015 Session Of Online Intro To Hand Tools Registration

Join me to learn how to use the tools you see on the wall!

The Fall 2015 session of my Popular Woodworking University "Intro To Hand Tools" course is now open for registration here. The course consists entirely of online videos you can watch on your own schedule, running October  21 through January 21. Cost is $59.99.

Note that Popular Woodworking University provides registered students permanent read-only access to courses after they end. That means you can watch the videos any time after the course end date, but you won’t be able to ask questions or use the discussions after that.

This is over 12 hours of instruction in 7 major parts. You can find a complete episode guide here to see what's covered, as well as links to a free sample lesson, trailer video, and tool list.

Whether you want to learn to do everything with hand tools, or just want to add some hand skills to your power tool workshop, you can find it here.

Why do everything with hand tools? The main reason is that not everyone has space or money for a power tool workshop. Hand tools allow you to work in the tiniest space, quietly so you don't disturb your family or your neighbors, starting with a modest investment.

Here are the reviews of the first session that ran this summer:
"Great course. Although I don't own a number of the tools demonstrated, it still shows the proper techniques if I ever do obtain them. Also shows how to properly use the ones I do own."
"This was some of the best time I've spent on woodworking instruction. Lessons were clean and well paced. Mistakes and pitfalls were addressed with fixes. It was great to see the operations performed with the "why" narration in the background. If this becomes (or is) available on DVD, it will be added to my library. Thanks Steve....."
 "Great course, got me back into woodworking quickly and efficiently. Much better than searching YouTube for videos on similar subjects. Quality of video, editing, and audio was great, as well as the logical approach taken by the instructor."
"Thank you so much for this opportunity in learning the crafting skills of woodworking. Steve offers his skills, techniques and insights on how to achieve the in product. Excellent job Steve!"
Thank you! As noted in that first comment, one of my goals is to provide a thorough introduction with a broad range of coverage. I want to be sure to cover not just the tools you have now, but the ones you might run into in the future.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Brooklyn Fair 2015

My setup at the Brooklyn Fair.

A couple weeks ago I was invited to demonstrate traditional woodworking at the Brooklyn CT Fair. This is the oldest continuous active agricultural fair in the US, started in 1809.

I setup my two portable workbenchesMoxon vise, and portable sharpening station under a canopy across from the blacksmith shop. My wife and our friend Gary Hicks, the musician and guitar repairman who you'll be reading about in an upcoming post, joined me and explored the fair.

Throughout the weekend I demonstrated various hand tool woodworking operations. Since this was mostly a family crowd with very little experience with hand tools, I primarily kept to the basics of planing and chiseling.

Whenever anyone stopped to watch, I asked if they'd like to try out any tools, make some chips or shavings. Many were willing to try, then try out some additional tools as I piqued their interest.

I also gave several impromptu sharpening lessons. The portable sharpening station is always very popular.

For those interested in learning more, I handed out business cards with links to my Popular Woodworking University online video course Intro To Hand Tools.

Brothers Andrew, 8, Patrick, 12, and Carter, 5 from Rhode Island, using a #4 plane after boring holes with a Spofford brace and bit.

The boys were very excited to get the tools making holes and shavings.

Interestingly, I got a lot more participation from the kids than the adults. Most were pretty eager to imitate the curls I produced. I started with the spokeshave, since that's a very safe tool with very little blade exposure, lightweight and easy to handle, with about a 30-second learning curve.

I could also hold onto the back of the blade to guide it until they were able to handle it on their own. The spokeshave I had brought was a metal Leonard Bailey that I pointed out was almost 160 years old.

Then I showed them how to handle the planes, as well as the chisels for a couple of the older ones ("This is very sharp; the safe way to use it is to have both hands on the tool at all times."). I heard several parents ask their kids, "Isn't this more fun than video games?" Most agreed that it was a lot of fun.

For the smaller kids, I dragged my toolbox over and had them stand on that. I found that I could help them get shavings out of a plane if I pulled it from the front Japanese style as they used it, guiding it and maintaining contact with the wood. That even worked for my meat-eater wooden jack plane set for a heavy 1/16" cut; they really liked that.

My last visitors for the weekend were a family with several boys. The two older boys, about 5 or 6 years old, tried out the spokeshave. Then their brother Colin, watching from his mother's arms, piped up, "I want to try it!".

So I lifted him up on the toolbox and showed him how to do it. Colin is 2 years, 8 months old. He did just fine with the spokeshave.

Colin learning how to use a 160 year-old spokeshave.

He holds the record as the youngest participant I've had.

The crowd was pretty steady, so I didn't get much chance to look around. I filled in the odd moments making shavings and working on a Shaker candle box. I only got as far as dimensioning the stock and sawing out the dovetails. That means it was a good event, because I spent more time showing people things than working.

The blacksmith shop across the walkway.

Mike, one of the blacksmiths, working at the side forge.

Big Tractors! Gary in front of a large tractor on display.

I experimented with my booth layout a bit. I want people to realize they can step up to the bench and do stuff, so I initially had it oriented that way. However, my wife pointed out that meant I had my back to people when they first walked up.

What I eventually settled on was having the two benches oriented in a V with me working on the far side facing the front, but room to get by for people to step around.

I taped up a hand-written sign inviting them to come in and try the tools. I need to make up a short banner like that to attach to the front of the bench, plus a banner to go on the canopy.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Lie-Nielsen Open House 2015

Mary May roughing out carving blanks using the double-overhand throw method.

It's been a busy summer and I'm a little behind posting about events!

Friday and Saturday July 10-11 I had the honor of representing Popular Woodworking Magazine at the Lie-Nielsen Open House in Warren, ME. I was promoting my Popular Woodworking University online video course Intro To Hand Tools, doing open demonstration of various skills.

The guest of honor was Roy Underhill, one of my heroes and the source of a great deal of my woodworking knowledge. He was a huge attraction, as entertaining as ever. Someone joked that he drew a crowd just tying his shoe.

The one and only Roy Underhill. I'm the grinning fool on the right.

There were a number of other demonstrators present as well from several parts of the country, even a blacksmith from Wales. The attendees were just as geographically varied. This has become quite an event, a major happening in the woodworking community!

At my workbench, I had a a number of tools from the course spread out, with a TV suspended in the background looping the silent trade show trailer for the course. On my small portable Underhill workbench, I had a stack of PWM issues for people to take and a display of my Underhill books and DVDs, plus a flyer on the course and copies of the tool list.

My main workbench and toolbox. Tom LN said he liked my caution sign.

I like to make these demos very hands-on. My standard questions to those who stopped to look were, "Would you like to try any of the tools? Can I answer any questions for you?"

I had enough specialty planes laid out that most people could find something to pique their curiosity. This invariably led to 20 or 30 minutes of ad hoc demonstration and use, with spectators drifting in and out.

One of the great things about all the Lie-Neilsen events is that it's an engaged, motivated crowd. Not like a typical trade show where the attendees avoid eye contact with the vendors. People are eager to watch and talk and try things out. Most offer a handshake as they leave the bench.

The demonstrators and vendors were in two venues, a giant canopy erected in the dirt parking lot, and in the classroom above the machine shop.

Rory Wood with his display of fine domestic and exotic woods.

Next to me under the canopy was Rory Wood, of Rare Woods USA, in Mexico, ME ( I had never met him before, but I knew him as the legendary "Mexico wood guy" from numerous references on woodworking forums. He's well known as the go-to source for fine and exotic hardwoods in large and small quantities, large and small sizes, shipping all over the world.

He had a display of spectacular domestic and exotic hardwoods. He runs a full-service operation, importing whole trees from all over the world. He has full milling and storage capacity, and a huge inventory of 508,000 board feet of these woods, over 165 different species.

I was particularly interested to hear that he had quartersawn beech, the wood of choice for making wooden handplanes. While not as exotic as many of the other species he stocks, this stuff is very hard to find. I'll definitely be placing my order. He said he also has big thick beech slabs suitable for building workbenches, as well as a variety of fine luthiery woods and turning and musical instrument blanks.

Reading the blog posts on his site gives some appreciation of the insane logistics he has to go through to get this stuff to us. Global shipping over land and sea, customs, pest control, and dealing with crazy weather. Thank you, Rory!

This is a spectacular resource for woodworkers, a mother lode source that helps drive many other small businesses.

If you're not sure where Mexico is, it's centrally located between Norway, Paris, Denmark, Naples, Sweden, Poland, Peru, and China, Maine.

Joshua Klein.

I finally got to meet Joshua Klein, Klein Furniture Restoration. He's in the process of putting together a new annual publication, Mortise and Tenon Magazine. He calls this the magazine he would like to read. I'm really looking forward to it.

Chairmaker Peter Galbert with some of his beautiful Windsor chairs.

Peter Galbert had a nice collection of Windsor chairs set out. I got an autographed copy of his new book, The Chairmaker's Notebook. I haven't had a chance to look it over thoroughly, but what I did get to see was excellent.

Carver Mary May sharpening a gouge.

Mary May was demonstrating carving and preparing for an upcoming class at Lie-Nielsen. She has a nice series of DVD's, and was telling me about her online school and videos.

Nic Westermann and Lie-Nielsen's Deneb Puchalski forging an axe head.

Blacksmith Nic Westermann had come over from Wales especially for the Open House. He demonstrated forging a magnificent axe (similar to the ones in this post on his blog). He used a small portable gas forge. That thing sounded like an F-14 afterburner lighting up every time he started it.

Travis Knapp selling workbench appliances.

Travis Knapp, who sells at the RareWoodsUS eBay store (not to be confused with Rare Woods USA above in Mexico, ME, which is where Travis gets his materials), had turning blanks, mallet kits, and finished items such as Moxon vises in a variety of exotic species. He also had some beautifully restored eggbeater drills.

Texas Heritage Woodworks selling tool rolls and aprons.

Matt Kenney, Fine Woodworking editor, working on a series of beautiful small boxes.

Crafting a pine coffin at the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship booth.

Luthier Patrick Sebrey with beautiful hand crafted guitars.

I missed getting pictures of a couple of benches, including Bill Forbes, a happy LN customer, who was building a standing cabinet for his fly rods with his toolbox full of LN tools. My buddy Burt Ouellette was with him, selling his cutting-style marking gauges.

I forgot to take my camera when I checked out the classroom, so I don't have any photos, but there were a number of excellent folks there.
  • Daniel Schwank of Red Rose Reproductions was demonstrating his beautiful wooden planes. My favorite was his new panel raising plane. This did a magnificent job of finishing off a stepped, raised field panel after roughing down the chamfers with a jack plane.
  • Isaac Smith of Blackburn Tools had his huge Roubo frame saw and a collection of magnificent backsaws for sale. I have one of these frame saw kits, I just need to take the time to build the frame; stay tuned for further information!
  • Tico Vogt of Vogt Toolworks was demonstrating and selling his Super Chute shooting boards.
  • Matt Cianci, The Sawright, demonstrated saw sharpening.
  • Christian Becksvoort was building a small Shaker cabinet. He had a beautiful miniature tall cabinet in cherry on display.
For more photos, see the Lie-Nielsen Facebook album on the event.

You'll notice I say "beautiful", "magnificent", "spectacular" a lot. That's only because it's true. Everyone here from Tom Lie-Nielsen on down is a dedicated craftsman, pouring their heart and effort into what they make. These are inspiring design, materials, and workmanship, reflecting long investment to develop their technical mastery.

Friday evening after closing for the day and dinner, the Lie-Nielsen employees and the guest demonstrators got together for some axe throwing competition. We were using full size double-bit axes and throwing tomahawks, with a 2'-diameter log round screwed to 2x4 legs for the target. I think at least one axe handle needed replacement afterwards. A couple of people managed to stick the target.

Roy throwing a tomahawk.

Saturday night was the lobster dinner. They made a 20' campfire ring, piled on seaweed, 250 lobsters, nets of steamers, and more seaweed. The fire was partly fueled by a front-loader bucket-full of rejected plane handles and blanks, must have been a year's accumulation. One of the employees called it a Viking funeral.

Roy finished off the event by showing us the latest LN prototype, Excalibur, the 2-foot long "one and done" single-stroke dovetail saw (which just may have been forged from a fallen meteor on April 1), followed by a dramatic reading of Homer's Odyssey, in which our hero must brave the Sirens' song while avoiding the lands of the Normites and the CAPSLOCKS.

The LN beer taps. Would you like Block Plane Pale Ale, or Bench Chisel Lager?

We stayed at the charming Le Vatout Bed and Breakfast (pronounced "va-too") just down the road in Waldoboro. The highlights of our stay were the excellent breakfasts cooked by Dominika, and Linda's sprawling gardens. They make the property seem much larger.

Deep in the back garden at Le Vatout.

I asked Linda if this was permaculture, and she said it was hugulkultur (pronounced "hoogle-cul-tor", German for "mound culture"). The permaculture book I'm reading, Gaia's Garden, describes this as the practice of mounding logs and wood debris, covering with greens and topsoil, and planting on that. One of the main advantage is that the wood acts as a sponge to retain moisture.