Friday, August 27, 2010

Boats away

Slight hiatus in the doors at the moment, but on the other hand I was finally able to get a pic of something made of wood in the entrance of our local supermarket. For a few weeks now, this rowing boat - about 10ft I reckon - has been gracing the foyer (Foyer? Of a supermarket? Well you know what I mean). As the weeks have gone on, it's been submerged under more and more footballs, so it'll probably be utterly invisible by the end of the month.

It was made by students at the local Marine School, where, amongst other things, you can learn how to build boats the old fashioned way. Alas, because of the footballs, I couldn't get as much detail as I'd have liked, but if memory serves, like the bow thwart here, all the bottom boards are similarly beaded along their edges, as well as other similar marks of care in construction and finishing.

I like it very much, not least because craftsmanship is thin on the ground during the weekly shop and it maketh me to smile (which is something that's also a little thin on the ground as you play dodgems with shopping trolleys). But the very fact that the supermarket has agreed to have it there and advertise the skills and teaching at the local education emporium is a good deed in a bad world.

I'm sure it has absolutely nothing to do with the torrential rain we've had and not merely the manager lining up his escape pod when the flood comes... ;)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Draw Bore Bore

Caution: Many pictures and musings follow - not all of them necessarily relevant to the main event. For a no-nonsense guide to draw boring, see either Woodworking Magazine Autumn 2005 (also available in book form) or the Forgotten Hand Tools DVD.

Right, first let me be quite clear about this; I've never done this before. Not even a practice joint. This whole project is one great big practice. And yes, I was bricking it. I came very, very close to just saying "Drawboring? Never heard of it. Pass me the Titebond and a shedload of clamps and we'll speak no more of such madness."

But I didn't. Instead I scanned and printed the one page summary of the steps, pinned it up on the wall over the bench for easy reference, offered up the necessary incantations to the tool gods, and...

...did the first door without taking a single pic. I focused on the job, and I think I was better for it. Took one corner at a time, concentrated, and then took the risk of taking pics of the process for the second door.

So, first up I set the ever-present 4" double square to 3/8" and marked off where the pegs would end up going in the stiles. Then I got out the Stanley #803 hand drill, AKA eggbeater or wheel brace. Being as how I wasn't quite the novice I was before the first door, I realised ganging up the stiles and doing all the holes in them in one go made sense. If I'd have an off-cut long enough to act as backer to limit the breakout on the reverse, I could even have dispensed with having to move them and reclamp for the other end. But I didn't, so I had to. No great hardship, to be honest.

Now the #803 and I go back a long way. Approximately 28 years in fact. Not this 803 though; this one was left behind in the house my brother moved into, and he passed it on to me in a pretty sorry state. I cleaned it up, replaced the gear wheel with one from a 803 that was only good for parts, refinished all the woodwork, and quite honestly I think he then rather regretted giving it to me... No, the 803 I used in my formative years was my dad's - he still has it in his ready-use toolbox - and I spent many an hour boring pretty aimless holes in scraps of wood at the bench in the garden shed. Up 'til now I was pretty sure I had nothing to show for those hours, except the long-gone shirts forever marked with the tell-tale marks of the gear wheel. Not so. It was only quite late on in this boring adventure that I realised I hadn't checked to see if I was boring at right angles, so I checked. I was. It had come quite naturally to me, like knowing my times tables. Both habits were painfully learnt at an early stage and both, apparently, stick with me still. It was a good omen.

Please take note of the carefully set out tools for the job in the background. Watch as they become less and less organised...

Now the march of the metricated system being what it is in this fair land, I didn't have a 1/4" brad point about my person and had to use a jobber bit instead. Not a problem really, as long as you punch the point you want to start the drill at to discourage it from wandering, but not helpful for marking the centre of the bored hole on the tenon. I pondered, then remembered I had an extra long brad point bit of 1/4" that I've used on the lathe. Bingo! Hopeless for actually drilling the hole, but ideal for marking the tenons - which I duly did.

Then following the instruction, I marked the off-set at 1/16" to 3/32". I started at 1/16" on the first joint, but it didn't seem quite enough, so went to a bare 3/32". I think, in hindsight, maybe a full 1/16" might have been better. Could I really be that accurate? Well... Oh, all right, probably not. A girl can dream.

Whacking in a punch at the appropriate point, I drilled the tenons on the rails. The oak scrap back-up reduced the breakout a bit.

The anxious woodworker, hoping not to mess up. You can tell that by the perspiration...

Behold, the off-set hole. Looks quite a lot, don't it? Yeah, I was worried.

Enter the coachbuilder's drawbore pin. Honestly, I have to ask - why are they made with the handle in line like a chisel? It works a treat with a T-handle, and surely it's easier and cheaper to produce a short square shank? Oh well, no matter. I'm very happy with this design, and will clean up the others ASAP.

Gratuitous shot of how tight that shoulder is...

The knife came out to taper the ends of the pegs a little more. Note how less organised those tools are getting...

Because the pegs weren't all as round at the end as I'd have hoped, I didn't whack them all the way through, but rather trimmed them off on both sides. Cue the flush cut saw from Lee Valley. Long-time readers may remember that the arrival of two lovely Wenzloff & Sons saws was accompanied by this saw. It kind of got overlooked in the Oooo-Ahhh stuff and I really haven't had cause to use it since I got it anyway. It was bought solely on the basis that it was the one that won the test in Woodworking Magazine. Oh, and because every other one I've tried has been a disappointment; to such an extent that I resorted to cutting things flush with a backsaw and spacer, and trimming back (a lot) with a chisel.

Well once I'd got in the way of keeping the blade flush and stopped trying to move my thumb with the action of the saw, I positively flew through the job.

It did exactly what it's supposed to do and needed just a light pare flat - and that only because I like doing it. Not a mark on the surrounding wood. Wonderful. I like this saw very much indeed.

So the panel was slipped into the frame, and I hope to goodness I allowed enough room for expansion. If the thing's gonna explode, it'll have done it today, 'cos it's been wet enough to make me wonder about a change of career to ark building.

Anyway, the other joints were finished up and I had a second complete door on my hands. With horns. Those were sawn off with the half-back (Have I mentioned how much I'm coming to like that saw lately?) I really need to work on my photo backdrops though; not nearly enough olde worlde wooden floorboard and strategically-placed tool chests and workbenches in the background. Those buckets are my rubbish bins, for heaven's sakes. And the Maxi's just, well... rubbish.

So did you notice the missing ingredient? No glue. Yup, I didn't glue the joints. It's another opportunity to experiment, so I thought "Why not?" Everything seems as tight as a drum, and it reduced possible complications quite a bit. We'll see if I come to regret it. Or thank my foresight if, even now, those panels have exploded everything...

Anyway, drawboring. I like it. I can see why it fell out of favour, it being an extra step that took time and was largely unnecessary as adhesives have improved. It's also decidedly "country" in style. I can think of quite a few woodworkers who'd absolutely do their nut about the slight gaps I've got on the off-side of some of the peg holes. On the other hand I needed no clamps, I could have gone onto the next stage of cleaning up with a smoothing plane straight away if I'd been so inclined, and there's something very satisfactory about a mechanical joint like that. I'll certainly be doing it again. Oh, and kudos to Chris Schwarz - I followed his article and got the right result first time, even allowing for operator error (i.e. Me). That speaks for itself really.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Heavens, but I hate preparation. Scraping and sanding the panels was excessively tedious - and it may be that I wasn't quite as diligent with it as I usually am. I started out with the best of intentions, but that mix of *cough* "mahoganies" is a bugger to scrape. Or rather some of it will, but other bits simply won't. And suddenly it dawned on my the things are riddled with old screw and nail holes anyway, so I laid down my tools at "good enough". It pained me, it really did, but I will get this project finished this year come hell, high water and a little bit of tear out.

While a coat or two of shellac was doing its thing, my mind turned to planning ahead to putting the things together. In the continued spirit of using this project to do things maybe I haven't done before, I bethought me to try this drawboring lark that The Schwarz is so keen on. I applied myself to the article on same in Woodworking Magazine from Autumn 2005 (Really five years ago? How can it be?!) and cast my eye over the relevant bit of the Forgotten Hand Tools DVD.

Then watched all the rest of the DVD, just because.

Primed and ready - and once again wondering about asking the Glasgow Nail Co. for a quote on some cut nails - I fished an ideal piece of straight-grained oak out of the scraps box to make some pegs. It's very dry, must have been in there at least as long as that WM article is old, and probably survived at least three scrap throwing-out sessions. It was meant to be.

Lopped off some suitable lengths with the 13.5 ppi back saw that came with the wrong but wonderfully comfortable handle that I tried to replicate and failed. As saws go, it's a total dog. Cuts beautifully. Then used the wide Chinese chisel I have handy in the rack to split off the embryonic pegs. Yes, they look weird as all hell, but actually it's a pretty nifty chisel.

Point one end with a knife, then to the LN dowel plate (You can hear the teeth of the anti-posh-tool folks grinding from here). I've had it for years, it's proved useful, I'm glad I have it. Anyway, I started with the 5/16in hole first, then to the final 1/4in size. Worked a treat.

Of course I really also need a draw bore pin too, if I'm to do the job properly. Luckily no pound notes need be harmed in fulfilling that need, as I managed to actually find the coachbuilder's draw bore pins from the set of tools I picked up a couple of years ago. And yes, I'm absolutely sure that's what they are now; the taper seems to correspond with Joel Moskowitz's description here. There's a pair in one size and a single one that's slightly smaller. I opted to clean that one up for the job.

The (obviously user-made) handles on the other two were a little loose, and I was able to shift the pin a little and found a clear maker's name - W Baker, London. A scan of my usual sources found nada, zip, zilch, nowt. Nothing daunted, I bethought me of the trade directories that are online. A few happy hours spent perusing same and in the 1884 Business Directory of London found a William Baker of 96 Pembroke Street off Caledonian Road listed as a tool dealer. And a needle maker. And as an awl maker. I believe that's our boy. Happily the dates ties in with many of the other tools too. Huzzah.

Now to see if it'll do the job, and whether T-handles don't make rather more sense for the task - which, in theory, I'd have thought they must do.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Base thoughts

Now it may be you're thinking that I'm neglecting plans for workbenches and associated deliberations. Not so. They are never far from my thoughts and the torch still burns brightly. Indeed I was reminded that building a workbench base is not a new thing for me at all.

Way back in the mists of time (It might have been 1996 or 7) an ex-display Sjorberg's workbench was purchased for my old man from Brimarc. As workbenches go, it was not the worst - but it became apparent that it would really benefit from some customisation. The main one being changing the painfully thin leg structure for something a little more robust. Some well-seasoned builder's softwood later, and I came up with this:

Laminated up from 2" thick stuff, the mortises for the stretchers were cunningly made before glue-up. The rail joints, if I recall correctly, are enough to give you all palpitations - biscuit jointed no less. I'm fairly sure that was an option picked up from a workbench-making article by David Savage. On the one hand, from a handtool-using, proper-joinery point of view, it pains me terribly - but on the other it's not showing any sign of giving up the ghost yet. And it was awfully easy to do. (Ignore the bar across there - it was put in at one time to store some large G-clamps)

The knockdown stretcher joint would probably pain the purist too - the stretcher was far too thin to accommodate a vertical wedge, so I simply put two horizontal ones, one from each side. Reading The Schwartz's book appendix on knockdown workbench joinery I believe we should be finding the need to knock in these wedges on a regular basis as they loosen. Alas, they don't read the right books and remain rock solid.

So what does this tell me? That I should damn well stop over-thinking this thing, that's what. Yeah, I want to do the job properly, but much more importantly, I just want to do the job. The safest place for the Emmert is on a bench and the longer he has to skull about the w'shop without a home, the more danger he's in. If necessary I'll rebuild the base in a couple of years. If the need arises, the top can be replaced. It'll still be Emmert's workbench. I just need to get on and build something for it.

But first I need to finish those blessed saw till doors and get them out of the way...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Brace Yourself

I may not have mentioned it, but I have been dabbling in a little rust hunting this summer. Nothing serious; the number of car boot sales visited can be accommodated on the fingers of one hand, but I have looked a bit. And bought bugger all.

In part I was rendered somewhat nonplussed to find that the tool guy in Pool Market was no longer an outside tool guy, but a tool guy with premises inside. And more stuff. In some kind of order. It's almost like a real old tool shop. At one end, anyway - the rest is the usual Amtech/Rolson tat. Well history shows that when faced with a real old tool shop I tend to be rendered stingy and seldom buy anything. And so it has proved - not a thing has this way come, despite being regularly offered the Record fibreboard plane... As it happens the other available rust has been uninspiring and I haven't bought a thing.

I did, however, put forth the word that I was looking for a 12" or 14" sweep brace. Bench building? Lots of large holes? Seemed the time to kick an intermittent search up a gear or three and get serious. I even looked on the dealer sites, on the off-chance. I've come to the conclusion that I'd have better luck looking for an orthodontist specialising in the treatment of chickens. Yeah, they're listed in all the catalogues as something you could purchase, but did anyone ever actually do so? In fairness, in part I believe I'm hampered by the undesirability of the common woodworking brace. Viz: No-one thinks they're worth trying to sell, and hardly anyone bothers to differentiate between a 8", 10" or 12" sweep even if they do. But nevertheless I asked.

Last weekend I checked in with aforementioned tool guy on the off-chance, noticed the fibreboard plane was still there, lingered over some spankingly shiny auger bits I don't need and can't afford, and went on my way - brace-less. Naturally I had a look round the stalls outside, and found a tool guy I don't recall seeing before. He's probably been doing it for years, but so out of touch am I, I really wouldn't know. Anyway, he had all sorts of cool stuff (F'rinstance a Mathieson firmer chisel who's blade really was a serious hunk of steel, and judging by the state of the handle had been treated as such) and some braces. Shiny, well-loved braces with ratchets and chucks and so forth.

All of them 10" sweep.

But, lo! Next to the shininess was a thing of glowering darkness and rust. A thing with no chuck, no ratchet and no shine, but a thing with a really big sweep. I pounced like a cheetah faced with a three-legged antelope. I peered. I saw a shamrock mark:

I peered at the other part of the arm, and saw a very clear size stamp:

16"? Sixteen inches?! Holy smokes... The stained hardwood pad was a bit beaten up, but it did sort of rotate, with some encouragement.

The chuck... isn't. It's your basic tapered hole with a thumbscrew to hold the tang of the auger in. Except the thumbscrew went walkies at some point, so it has a bolt that doesn't turn terribly easily. But it's not a deal breaker - the tool gods also bestow spanners on their believers ;)

That's not a brace, that's a brace. Next to a Stanley #901 10" brace for scale.

So, yes, the tool gods got a little over-enthusiastic, to be honest. I'd swap a couple of those inches for a ratchet and a proper chuck. But spurning the tool gods is not a wise thing to do, and I snatched it up and sauntered up to the seller with absolutely no idea of his prices.

Part of me likes this bit, but most of the rest of me hates it. There's no telling whether you're going to be ripping off the seller's arm with gladsome cries and handing over a quid or two - or doing the slow walk of misery and returning the desired item or items to their rusty brethren. I offered up the time-honoured and nonchalant I'm-hardly-even-interested-in-the-answer "What d'you want for this?" Tone of voice naturally implies that what you really mean is "How much are you willing to give me to take this undesirable item off your hands, just out the goodness of my heart?" He stared out worryingly.

"That's an old one, that is"

That can mean one of two things. The one you don't want it to be is the six penny brace one. For some (almost) inexplicable reason, six penny braces make even the most brace-indifferent dealer see pound signs. I haven't seen many of them, but virtually all of them have had double figure prices on them. The one that didn't, I bought and simply re-tapped it for a new thumbscrew. But they're old, aren't they? At least they look old, and quite decorative. Unlike other braces, they're not just floating about in the huge pool of secondhand boring equipment, begging for a user. They're desirable just to be decorative. Price accordingly.

Well, I looked at the dark and rusty monster in my hands and figured I had a good chance that beauty was only in the eye of this beholder. The next words were encouraging.

"There are some newer one's there, only three pounds."

The man evidently thought me unhinged to be considering this metal behemoth when there were nicer examples to be had and was giving me the chance to see the light. Bless him. See what I mean? Brace sizes just escape folks as anything to be considered an issue. A brace is a brace is a brace. Some are rustier than others, and that's about it.

I declined the newer examples, and paid the man the price demanded (A fiver - not wholly gloatable, but not bad and worth the price if one is to keep the tool gods sweet) and went on my way. I may have whistled a little under my breath and the discerning observer might have noticed my step was considerably lighter despite the extra weight of metal I was carrying, but overall I think I did pretty well not to do an undignified dance of celebration.

So will it do the job, this Wagon Builder's Brace (for such it is)? Or will 16" prove to be a sweep too far for your intrepid, but ultimately girlie correspondent? No idea until I try it. I'll keep my hat in the ring for a 12" or 14" chucked and ratcheting model anyway, because one likes to be prepared for all eventualities. The true user always likes to have a wide range of sweeps from which to choose...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Panel Games

And off we go again. What? You didn't think I'd suddenly get a job done in a couple of weeks that's taken over three and a half years to get this far, did ya? We like to really savour a project here at Alf Towers...

For the panel gauge enthusiasts (and it seems to be something of a niche interest) I can report I instinctively ending up pulling it, and that fluid design of stock seems to lend itself to all sorts of grips. I like it, but as I thought, the beam is too heavy. But it worked, and that's the main thing.

As hoped, a combination of cutting to width and length eliminated most of the worst areas of screw and dowel holes. Still a few left, but we'll call that "character". If I was loaded and stupid I daresay I'd be paying someone extra to add them to something in MDF.

Talking of three and a half years - it's not quite that from thought to action, but the panel raiser finally had its change to shine. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't brilliant. The fence still needs tweaking; a more comfortable rear grip is rather an urgent necessity; and the reversing grain I encountered suggests that a pair of panel raisers isn't necessarily a luxury.

I also need to work on the nicker it seems, but nothing that can't be cleaned up. And it was something of a buzz to see the profile appearing so uniformly. An element of smug "I done dat" might have crept in...

A bevel on the reverse side (done by eye, and leaving me wondering how a non-plane-user would have done it) and - blessed relief - the panels fit in their designated homes.

A certain amount of scraping and sanding required before I can finish them (Did I mention the grain reversal?) but it's all starting to come together. In fact I'm going to have to stop putting off thinking about how I'm going to hang them. Bugger. I hate hinges...

In other news, a few updates to the website, and rather overdue at that. Please check the homepage for details.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Square-eyed woodworker No.4

In our occasional series of "Never mind the plot, what's that tool there?" I give an unexpected sighting in the new BBC series Sherlock (episode two, The Blind Banker).

Yes, a cameo role for Axminster's very own - an old APTC ADE1100, if I'm any judge. Lacking waste sack and any sort of hose. Think that's a Dremel on the table as well, but they get everywhere. Anyway, I don't know enough about the restoration of antiquities in museums to really comment on this, but surely a HVLP extractor is all wrong? Wouldn't a fine dust extractor such as the one in the background make more sense?

Of course, plotwise, I was probably supposed to have been spotting the entirely un-tool-related item on the table behind him in the next shot. But a woodworker has their priorities...

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Bit Buzzy

I know what you're thinking - I'm slipping. I'm really not. Well maybe a bit. Life will insist on getting in the way. And bees.

Yes, bees.

Finally had a moment to get in the w'shop and we had a swarm of bees hanging around just outside the workshop door. They were everywhere, like... well, like a swarm of bees. Strangely disconcerting, that incredible buzz. Anyway, the w'shop is no place to be with the door shut at this time of the year, and sure as Karl Holtey makes stunning planes I wasn't planning on being up to my ears in honey bees at the workbench, so that was a no-go.

And yes, I know it sounds like a "dog ate my homework" kind of excuse, but it's true. Really.

Anyway, a shame, as I had planned to share exhibit A in passing as I proceeded with the door panels. Instead it will have to have some wholly unjustified limelight. Gauge, panel, one, gauging the width of panels for the use of. Not an exactly ground-breaking design; the head was modelled after one BugBear took a snap of at an auction. Nor my first choice of materials; the scrap box provided the wherewithall, and frankly the beam is far too heavy for the task.

Taps nicely though. Now if you cast your mind back to the mortising of the door stiles, you might remember I managed to break the end off my sash mortice chisel... Ha-hum. Well that's been floating about the bench tool tray in a slightly recriminating manner ever since, so I decided I couldn't stand the guilt any more and it would have to live again as something useful.

Hole for a pencil (and to hang it up) at the other end, and it works okay. Also reminded me of something I hadn't really forgotten - I absolutely stink at doing through mortices. A more appropriate beam of smaller cross section was available, but by the time I'd made the mortice even vaguely acceptable, it was a bit on the small side... So nope, through mortices for the legs of the workbench are definitely off...