Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Wenzlovian Onslaught

Long-term inmates of my Musings are probably aware that it's usually at the tenon stage of operations that Cold Feet kick in and the lure of bandsaw or, more likely still, the WoodRat becomes more than I can bear. My claim to Neanderthalism is laid bare in the glare of reality as a pathetic fraud and I try not to catch the eye of any tenon saws in the vicinity. It's not just lack of will-power and the moral fiber of limp celery, although it's that too; the WoodRat is just rather good at tenons and I'm not.

Of course I'm not good at tenons 'cos I never give myself the practice, do I? Well part of the point of taking trouble over trivial workshop furniture is to use it as more meaningful practice of skills and techniques than just a stack of off-cuts turned into a smaller stack of off-cuts. So far I've been Good and jointed the boards, rebated for the back, hand dovetailed the carcass, ploughed the grooves for the door panels and chopped the mortises. Unaccustomed resolve set in and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to do the tenons by hand too.

And that's why progress has halted - while I worry about it and generally put it off. People might have asked me whether I put on this prevaricating, cowardly persona for the benefit of this blog and Comic Effect. They might have asked me that, but they haven't. Perhaps it's all too obvious it comes naturally...?

Anyway, there's another reason for doing it "proper like". Previously the only tenon saws who's eye I haven't been meeting have been of the old, cheap, slightly undervalued persuasion. But now, gentle reader, I have A Wenzloff. That's not a saw you wish to avoid the eye of; no sir. So let battle commence.

Thus I marked up the rail stock, started with the half-back and sawed all the pieces to length. The half-back and I are not entirely au fait as yet; I'm assuming it's going to be one of those slow-burn relationships and we'll end up never to be parted. As things were a little fraught I went a little shy of my line and decided to take the extra step of shooting them to final length. Behold, another opportunity to point out the benefits of knifed line over pencil. See where the knifed line is clearly seen round the perimeter of the planed end? Still a bit to go though.

Once that was done, on to all the tedious and lengthy marking up. Occasionally I feel a modicum of guilt about a slight obsession I have with marking and measuring tools, but then I remember that getting the marking right is half the battle and I feel better. In that vein I, erm, recently invested in a set of TiteMark mortise blades for the cheaper Axminster Tite-A-Like gauge - never yet found a mortise gauge I'm really happy with and thought what the heck... I know, I know - I have Too Much Stuff. Actually I went with the tip to use the scoring blade and one mortise one and I think I may prefer it. Time will tell; possibly another slow-burn.

Where was I? Oh yes, the sawing. Let me say right away that the tenon saw is Nice and absolutely no slow-burn needed for this one. I shall enjoy using it - lots and lots. And indeed here it is in action. Early on I was (sensibly cautiously) generous in how close I was sawing to the line; not because of the saw but rather the sawyer... By the end I was getting pretty good, say it I shouldn't; thus demonstrating that they don't say "practice" for nothing. Well "d'uh". The wriggle on the saw is a scribble of wax - see? It really is A User. (And before you ask, yes, it's a crosscut and you could, fairly, point out that I have probably a "few" tenon saws filed rip I could have used for the cheeks. But they're not long rips, and the saw was calling me...)

It was a bit odd at first though. There seemed to be some funny effects going on; the work looked a little strange. Then it dawned on me - it's the reflection in the blade Chris Schwarz and people are always going on about. The majority of my saws aren't nearly as shiny as this one, or else simply not big enough to reflect so much. Well I felt a bit of a fool, I must admit - and frankly wasn't initially terribly convinced that it was helpful so much as distracting.

Sheesh, that apron looks shocking. If you look really closely towards the bottom of this action shot you can see the sawdust falling away from the Wenzlovian Onslaught.

Time moved on and once again a switch to arty black & white was called for. Alas, the woodworker is slow and the days short. The woodworker's also messy. Ack, terrible habits I get into... Anyway, by this stage I was confident enough with the saw to be hitting the line and in danger of getting carried away enough to cut the tenons off in my enthusiasm. Luckily I didn't and stopped short of a Mortise Chisel Shortening Incident type of disaster. Phew. I was also starting to make use of that reflective blade and Scales Were Falling From My Eyes in that respect.

Of course the tenons aren't actually done. Those sensibly, cautious cuts earlier will need some trimming. Quite a lot, in some cases. Hmm, now which technique shall I use for that...?

I was writing the above when news came through that a friend had passed away after a long battle with cancer. Christopher Whaite was a meticulous and talented woodworker, model engineer and clock restorer, and was the primary cause of my taking up this excellent craft of ours. He gave me a ten minute primer on sharpening a scraper, a whole stack of veneer offcuts and set me on the road away from balsa wood boxes (thank heavens). Over the years I'd tell him what I was doing and he'd ask for detail - and I mean detail. It was excellent discipline; made me think so much more about what I was doing and why. If anyone ever gets anything useful out of my whittering about woodworking, ultimately you can thank Christopher for it. I didn't see nearly enough of him, or learn nearly as much from him as I could have; and the world's a most definitely a poorer place without him.

I'd dedicate these prevaricated tenons to Christopher - but I don't honestly think he'd want them...


  1. Hi Alf,

    Been meaning to tell you what a satisfying few episodes these have been, especially the ploughing, mortising, and sawing. The plough grooves were especially beautiful, and that single fact hath caused me to start eyeing yet another plough plane on the evil bay (screw-stem woodie, yadda yadda). That last B/W photo of tenon sawing convinces me that you and that saw are a great team.


  2. Alf

    I know that I have not been following your blog for as long as others and that, accordingly, I am not as experienced as others in your capacity for prevarication, but if I may be so bold as to make a prediction, it looks like the saw till is going to get doors! Well done (in anticipation) and thanks for your user view on Mike's wood cutter. One day, once the mortgage isn't the size of a small third world country's foreign debt, I will be able to consider buying more tools....

    Also, thanks for your words concerning Christopher - I did not know him, but it is always important for one to mark the passing of those who have had a major influence on one's life and to allow them to become models for the rest of us, for we all have the chance to emulate these people not so much in the things we produce but more importantly, in providing real guidance, support and counsel to those whose lives we touch.



  3. Looks good. Easier to do the tenon cheeks (and haunches and the mortices as aforementioned) before the slots, rebates, mouldings etc. Then the shoulders as just about the last thing.


  4. Those Wenzloffs look wonderful, Alf, and seem to be working well.

    Very sorry to hear of your friend, Christopher, passing away. Each of us has one or two people who we can call genuine friends and who have a real impact on our lives and it is indeed sad when they pass on. But it's good that you, in turn, are passing on your knowledge and inspiring others.


    Paul Chapman

  5. Good to see a couple of record ploughs (is the back one a #044 or #050) in your arty B&W photo...

    None of this modern stuff from the Colonies!


  6. Alf, A prayer and a smile for your friend and teacher Christopher, who surely now is in some special place reserved for those who teach and share and care. When you think of him remember that he continues to live and enlighten in the works of your hands, both in the shop and on the web.

    "Blessed are they that mourn..." Peace.

  7. Wiley, funnily enough I liked that pic too. However I bear no responsibility for your plough plane acquisition! ;-)

    Jacob, yes, it's dawned on me i've boobed with the haunches for certain. However the groove thing I'm not so sure. There are woodworkers I respect on both sides of the argument, and I do like the way the groove guides the mortise chisel. In hindsight it would have been nice to have done one door one way, and t'other the other, but life's probably complicated enough...

    BB, 'tis a 044. Currently no 050 in the place. I know, it worries me too... Nice fence on the 043 of course :-)

    Thanks to all for kind words regarding Christopher. Funeral next Friday :-/


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