Monday, January 30, 2012


Did you know one Monday this January saw National Handwriting Day? Well in the States, anyway - something to do with John Hancock's birth or death or summat like that. It's a 'Murrican thing. Anyway, one of the steady trickle of advertising emails I get to this blog was promoting something or other to do with handwriting (clearly not very effectively, as it escaped me as to what it was) and told me this fascinating thing.

Of course the fact it was last Monday is neither here nor there. Tool chests have priority.

Anyway, it whittered on about how the art of writing was lost etc etc, write something by hand to celebrate and so forth. As I went through the final box of my Spring Cleaning this weekend, and laboriously listed the contents, I had feel that you should all rejoice most exceedingly that this blog comes to you in the form of the printed word:

Alternatively, perhaps you'd prefer an illegible scrawl and then you wouldn't have to actually read the content. Please, feel free not to express an opinion on that in the comments box... ;)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Snatched by gypsies

"The cheapest things are bought in India; as much labour or manufacture may be had there for two pence as in England for a shilling. The carriage there is dear, the customs are high, the merchant has great gains, and so has the retailer; yet still with all this charge, the Indians are a great deal cheaper than equal English manufacture"

Considerations upon the East India Trade, 1701.

Most people seem to want to attribute Considerations to Henry Martyn (or Martin), but the source that threw this across my path firmly says Sir Dudley North. I'll go with Sir Dudley because apparently he was snatched by gypsies when a child (Yes! Really!), and that's strangely hard to resist. Not least as a post title...

And yes, this is a little Schwarz-ish, but the quote struck me as such a case of plus çe change etc, I had to share.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Screw Heads

The reason why I put up with stuff like this in my other online lives, is so I can run across stuff like this:

Perplexed? Full and better details here. (And yes, I'm aware I'm a full eleven months behind the times here, so apologies of it's old news to you.)

Now aside from the artistic aspect - and personally I think the sort of 3D mosaic effect is trés cool and definitely the best use I've ever seen for that many cross-head screws, but it's a subjective thing- this brought up many questions of a woodworker's variety:

How many impact screwdrivers does he get through in a year? (This surely has to be a helluva endorsement of the Milwaukee's trigger control if he really never tweaks a screw with a regular power-less screwdriver...)
What's the ply thickness? And how often does he inadvertently screw the picture to the wall?
What's the preferred make of screw?
Has he ever considered branching out into Pozidrive, or even Robertson square heads, for variety?
How about a background made of all the empty screw boxes he must have? ('cos let's face it - telephone directory pages are a bit... grey)
How about going old school and driving all those screws with a Yankee? Or a brace?
Ever considered slotted screws and then, um... lining up all the slots...?
And finally; it'd be truly amazing if he could do it with nails...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tool Chest

A little belated this, but as tool chests are "in", I sought permission from TTS to let the reader drool all over the pics of this tool chest. Well I had to suffer, so why not spread the agony around...?

Solid mahogany throughout. Solid mahogany. Oh, brother.

Luckily its already gone to enjoy a new life on the Scilly Isles, so we're all safe from temptation *dashes persp from brow in relief* And I don't care how practical it is or anything like that - just, aargh, that beading detail on the tills. J'adore. (The glazier's square is 24" long, btw; for scale)

Suggestion/deduction is it originates from a coach works at such a railway mecca as Swindon (if I recall correctly). Oral history doth speak of workers in the non-wood-related workshops slipping the artisans therein the necessary to make chests for them too. From the, um... "off cuts" and "scrap", one assumes. You've heard of the "black economy"? Was this the "mahogany economy"...

Friday, January 20, 2012


As part of my Christmas pressie to myself, but that wasn't really - and as I've still to actually get to most of it anyway, it could still end up being an unexpected Easter Egg after all that - as part of that I finally got myself a copy of The Anarchist's Tool Chest. Naturally just after I'd given up hope and ordered from Forn Parts, announcement came of UK stockists, but so it goes.

The world has had more than enough opinions and reviews of same for anyone's lifetime (and it doesn't seem to have hurt sales any), so I shall not indulge. Actually I haven't read most of what's been said by other readers, so don't know if my thoughts about it are wildly off-base or not. I shall confine myself to merely observing that I believe I prefer His Schwarzness's words of wisdom when they're a little more... focused. The limitations of either space (such as in magazine articles) or an existing framework (such as The Joiner and Cabinet Maker) are, by my reckoning, of benefit.

Anyway, while reading the section on actually making the tool chest, and while fully admitting that it did nothing whatsoever for my conviction that a tool chest is just about the last form of tool storage to opt for, I was moved to ho-hum over one particular decision. Something that probably hasn't even bothered one single other person on the face of the planet. But it bothered me.

It's about joinery. And skirts.

Oh, I know; I hardly ever talk about actual woodworking these days, and joinery? Hardly ever at all. And I fully acknowledge that the amount of practical experience of same I have compared to, well, almost anyone you care to mention, leads this to be of little value. But it's my workbench to muse from, so...

As for skirts; I haven't worn one in 20 years. But that's not important right now. This is about tool chest skirts. The dovetailing of same, and the moulding (or molding) thereof. Now The Schwarz opts for simple through dovetails and is happy to chamfer the end grain because it's all going to be painted anyway. Well, o-kay... But he also mentions the "through dovetail with mitred shoulders" option, but he didn't fancy the work of the extra layout. Here's one I made earlier, in case you're not familiar with same:

This one is orientated to accommodate a groove for a box base, but flip it up the other way, and you can see how it's "of special value even when there is no rebate because it gives a neat finish; also because it enables the edges to be rounded over... or to be moulded." (Thank you Charles Hayward and the ever excellent Woodwork Joints; a book you will refer back to again and again if you own a copy.)

See? Ready for all your moulding (or molding) needs. Although I believe you'd be advised to mould first and dovetail second.

Now it pains me (and God knows, I've been sitting on this post for a coupla weeks, wondering whether to voice it at all) but a little bit of my respect for Chris died at reading this. Yeah, there's still more than plenty to go round, but a tiny bit was lost.

a) Paint hiding stuff is just... arrgh. How you can write a book bemoaning the crapola sold in the big stores and then write this is... well, I just don't understand. I feel like the boy on the courtroom steps begging "Say it ain't so, Joe". By-the-by, one of the reasons painted furniture is regarded with such suspicion (at least in Blighty) is the habit of it hiding all sorts of heinous crimes of woodworking.

b) In other places (more than one, even) I think Chris has written how if he's had to ask the question, then he already knows the answer. Honestly, I think the very fact he even mentions the mitred shoulder says he asked himself the question. I truly hope he did, because I'd like to think he maybe regrets the option he went with. (Should Chris read this; don't disabuse me of this thought, 'kay? ;)

c) The extra step of layout is nothing in the scheme of things. I mean dovetailing by hand is three-quarters layout anyway. Laying out the mitre (or miter) is as a mere drop in the ocean, and would be the correct joint for the job (in my opinion, and yes, I will argue in favour of it until death if necessary. How long have you got? ;)

But I was willing to swallow all of this and point out to myself just how very little right I have to criticise anyone's joinery choices, until I read on and reached the application of a bead on the top edge of the upper skirt. Oooo, nooooooo.

Hands up who's had a go at working a bead across grain. Fun, isn't it? Then throw in the eye-wateringly nightmarish only option to work the bead after the skirt is glued and nailed to the carcass. I've been guilty of wilfully riding the "workmanship of risk" roller coaster a few times myself, but this just gives me the horrors. Why did Chris opt to do it this way?

So I thought about this. A lot. I mulled. I rolled it around my mind, wondering what I missed. Then I looked at it another way, and imagined I was thinking like a tailed router user - and then it all made complete sense. That's exactly how you'd do it with a screaming demon - because it'd be hellish difficult to do the mitred shoulder with a tailed router (although I think the WoodRat claimed it as possible, but at least one additional fixture was needed, if I recall correctly). But conversely, working any profile cross-grain is a piece of gateau.

So now I'm resolved to stop thinking about it and have (correctly or not - again, hold the disabusing, 'kay?) put it all down to one simple thing: The power tool-using petticoat of former years subconsciously slipped a bit and showed under The Schwarz's skirt...

Long way round to muse: Why doesn't anyone ever seem to use mitred shouldered dovetails these days?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Shooting Party

Today I discovered the Swedish for shooting board is "stötlåda", and translates as "box for shooting". Who knew?* In Ikea it's probably also the name for a bookcase... Here in Merrie Olde Englande, a shooting box is a small house to accommodate shooting parties. Apparently. Who knew (again)?

See? Doesn't even take a foreign language to surprise me.

But as a result, in my head I now have an image of happy woodworkers gathering together at a small country house for a shooting party - bringing their favourite shooting planes, having a square-off, and possibly pinning the tail on the Donkey's Ear. It sounds like fun. Although it occurs to me that after enough drinks (Shots, obviously) absolutely no-one would be able to tell if your shooting board gave a 90° (or 45°) result, so you'd maybe have to schedule the square-off for early in the festivities.

I've been giving this entirely too much thought, haven't I? So shoot me ;)

*Yes, yes, all the Swedish speakers out there may put their hands down now. Thank you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Oooo, la la

So were you expecting a trip into the deepest corners of the w'shop to find the Mythical O-Ring fields, wherein these useful fittings grow in plentiful profusion, just ripe for harvesting. You weren't? Just me then.

No, I knew exactly where the O-rings were, so that was the easy bit. See? Add in a length of nylon cord that I got in amongst a bag of reel ends from a chandlers about 25 years ago (Please refer back to the phenomenon of Things That Will Come In Handy from yesterday's post), coupla bowlines, and behold. Proof of concept.

Mrs F was so-so about it at first, but once she'd discovered that the hexagonal nuts weren't actually going to hurt like she thought they might, happiness ensued and it's been worn extensively. Not a thing of beauty, but a joy for several weeks anyway. Now I really need to find out if such a thing as a clear O-ring exists, and whether it'll work if they do. And find some beads so I can get my brass nuts back...

But the observant may be raising a hand at this juncture, and pointing out that I claimed happy w'shop results plural. i.e. More than one. So onto number two we go.

The reason I have a selection of O-rings at my fingertips is not because I wanted to make some sort of Olympic symbol, but because of coping saws. Or rather coping saw-sized bow saws. I like coping saws for dovetailing; can't get along with piercing saws at all. I've tried, but just, no. Not for me. Not that I was getting along with my coping saw that well either, really. Couldn't find a decent one at all. (Does this sound familiar to you? The Schwarz and I are actually clones - only he got all the skinny genes and I got the shorter haircut...) Legend told me that the older Eclipse was the best one to get, but despite legend also telling me they were two-a-penny at any boot sale of your choice, I simply never saw one. In the meantime I even resorted to trying the modern Bahco model, which merely demonstrated that throwing money at the problem only made it much worse. BugBear came to my rescue one Christmas though, and furnished me with this shiny beauty:

Now the Eclipse is pretty good for applying tension on the blade, which is usually the major problem with inferior coping saws. I mean really pretty good. But like the unloved Bahco - although not anywhere near to the same infuriating level - it still has a nasty tendency to allow the blade to swivel when you don't want it to. The very feature of a coping saw that I so prefer over the fixed blade piercing saw is also, in fact, its Achilles Heel.


So, in a bid to improve the coping saw experience, many a user has ended up making a bow saw sized to take coping saw blades. They're very beautiful, apply loads of tension, and... still apparently some of them swivel when you don't want them to. But some don't. So I've had one on my To Make List for several years now, in the hopes I'd hit the magic formula and make one that resolved all my coping saw issues. I read all I could find on them, saved all the pics, in short did my usual prevarication cunningly disguised as in-depth research.

No, I still haven't made one, but I did start to gather together some of the necessary hardware last Christmas.

Ah, no. The Christmas before last now. Whoops.

Anyway, somewhere, and I can't for the life of me recall where, I read someone had worried about the fact that the old full-sized bow saws used to have tapered rods that actively wedged themselves as the tension was increased, thus negating the tendency to swivel, but what about this small version with parallel rods? So they decided to fit it out with some O-rings and behold, it worked and the thing didn't not swivel unless actively demanded so to do.

So I also procured myself some O-rings for when I made that coping saw-sized bow saw.

Why on Earth the penny took so long to drop, I have no idea, but as I threaded the doubled-up O-ring through the brass nut for the spectacle chain, I suddenly wondered "Self, would the O-ring idea work on our existing coping saw?" I had the O-rings, I had the coping saw - 'twas but the work of a moment to find out.

The Eclipse tends to swivel most at the handle end (The Bahco isn't as picky and swivels at both ends...); after trial and error, I found it worked better with the O-ring here, rather than between the handle ferrule and the frame.

The other end has no other option than this, but it works.

Boy, does it work. I'm not holding back in trying to get this thing to move once the blade is tensioned, and it simply does not budge.

A very quick and dirty cut in some seasoned oak with the blade swivelled to an angle. Didn't move a jot, and I certainly didn't coddle it.


Now I'm sure I can't be the first person to do this, but as a tip it seems to have utterly passed me by. So here it is, just in case it's passed you by too.

Of course it may not work for every coping saw. The fit between the blade holders and the frame on the Bahco is so atrocious there's not enough for the O-ring to bear on in order to do the job. Sigh.

So that's it; a long way round to saying "Made my mum a spec chain and improved a coupla tools". Next week - woodworking.

Nah. Just kidding... ;)

Virtual Scotsman

As promised, The Tall Scotsman, local tool pusher well known to these pages, has sent me info on his emporium down in Hayle. It's a little light, tool-wise, but it does have the all-important contact details. Yes, it's an actual web presence, no less!

(Caution if you're having a goof when you shouldn't be - it's all singing and dancing so make sure you have the volume on your speakers under control.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bead and Wheels

I like beads; indeed I've written on the matter and how much I like them before. Many are the sizes and variety of bead-making tools Chez Alf. Unfortunately absolutely none of them were any good for the kind of bead I needed in order to make some Do It Yourself Spectacle Chain fittings. I needed a bead with a hole. Like a Polo, but less minty.

Now any self-respecting workshop (Or, in my case, any shameful workshop) has a stash of Things That Will Come In Handy. I have one or two - or maybe four - plastic tubs of the assorted small "You Never Knows" of this variety, but Tobacco Tins of Things is the classic Old School method. I know this because I have several of those too. Tool chests are rich pickings for these, and as a couple of contents of tool chests have darkened these doors, the tobacco tins have stacked up. So I was fairly confident of finding something bead-like.

I hunted amongst the shirt collar stiffeners, the razor blades, the Blakeys, the uncut Yale keys, the Vacant/Occupied door bolt, and so forth, but no beads or bead-like objects. Okay then, how about a suitable nut of the "and bolt" variety? Not zinc plated, methinks, but something in stainless steel or, ooo, brass? Just as I was about to dig out my box o'brass bits, my eye fell on something in amongst the upholstery tacks and fibre washers.

Something with a hole in it that otherwise looked kinda like a straw boater. Or a train wheel.

If the Reader will cast his or her mind back to, um, last January (Really? Gosh, how time does insist on flying) and my acquisition of an older Millers Falls #2 hand drill. Missing the Little Rail Road Car Wheel that bears on the main gear wheel, wasn't it? Have I done anything about it yet? Have I heck. But would this fortunate find fit?

Well yeah, it does. Kinda. It's not the clever cam adjustment design of the original, and I think it's going to need some tweaking once I've tried it under load, but it's definitely a start and 100% better than nothing at all.

Maybe sometimes the tool gods do give us suckers an even break. Just once in a while, to keep us guessing.

Yes, you'll have noticed I found the box o'brass bits too - a couple of M4 nuts seemed just the ticket to fulfil my original quest. Next, the O-rings to go with them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Making a Spectacle of Yourself

Sorry for keeping you waiting; really intended to post on Monday, but the Cold/Flu/Pneumonic Plague that's hung around me all over Christmas and New Year seems to have a nasty habit of coming back for brief encores and upsetting the works. I'm not big on New Year's Eve celebrations as a rule, but one does hope for better than the tricky choice between sitting up, bleary-eyed and sneezing; or lying down and foregoing the option of breathing. (Yes, I opted to breathe; it's one of those things I like to do...)

So, right, where was I? Oh, yeah, spectacle chains. Don't know whether the concept of same is an international one, so a few visual examples that come to mind:

Mrs Slocombe from "Are You Being Served". (Nice specs. Understated...)

And Larry Grayson, host of "The Generation Game". (Seems like a nice boy.)

Good grief, British television in the 70s really was more camp than a Boy Scout Jamboree... So let us find a more woodworking-relevant example. Ah, celebrated woodworker, Mr Frank Klausz:

Got it? Cord or chain attached to glasses to enable wearer of same to have them handy even when not actually in use upon their nose. My mother would be utterly lost without hers; average length of time able to keep track of glasses without one can be measured in parts of a second. One of her favourites is a cord made by a Japanese silk cord making kinda person (san) who she commissioned to so do many years ago, back when the metropolis that is London town was the mollusc of her choice and she came across that kind of thing.

However, the rubbery loopy things that actually fit on the arms of the spectacles get a heavy workout, and one had broken. Happily she was able to find replacements, which equally happily, I was able to fit for her with the aid of needle-nosed pliers. (Pairs, two.)

As an aside, how is it household tasks always seem to demand tools that may only get used one in a blue moon in the workshop? Pliers being one example; I'm endlessly finding a need for pliers in the house, but barely once a year - if that - in the w'shop. Now you could argue, in that case, why not keep the pliers in the house and not the w'shop? Don't be silly; as soon as I do that, I'll need them in the w'shop. All the time. Because Murphy and his famous Law are just made that way. Obviously I just need more pairs of pliers...

Spec cord. Right. Here are the new fittings, which are very lovely (and a lot pricier than you'd think):

Being clear, they obviously appeal on the point of appearance, but unfortunately the clear plastic used is All Wrong and simply will not grip. In short, the things don't work.

Now for some years I've looked at these things (as my mother has worked her way through chain after chain, destroying the rubber fittings - usually black, btw) and bethought myself, "Self, who are they kidding? It's an O-ring and some wire. I could make one of those." Latterly I've seen a bead used instead of the wire, which is easier still. Anyway, it was just before Christmas, Mrs F was down one spectacle cord at a very crucial moment (no-one likes a pair of goggles dropping in their gravy), so I decided now was the time to provide proof of concept.

Which I'll tell you all about tomorrow.

Sorry. I'm trying to get back in the habit of writing, so you get a protracted Saga or nothing. And everyone loves a cliffhanger, right? Although that may be exaggerating the hanging a bit. Not to mention the cliff...

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Happy New Year

It's not too late to wish the Reader a Happy New Year, is it? After all, it's only the last first Saturday of January 2012. Heck, given the 11 days swiped from us in September 1752 when we changed from the Julian to Gregorian calendar, technically I'm too early...

In a perfect world, 2012 will be the year I get back in the workshop, make some stuff, maybe sell some tools. Back here in the real world, it's looking like it might be a little more fraught - at least to start with. However, I do have a coupla things to blog about already, so tune in next week and I'll tell you how a faulty spectacle chain lead to happy w'shop results.