Saturday, November 26, 2011

Information from a sells pitch

Yesterday my wife picked up Stanley Tools Catalogue No 34 for me.  A complete list of Stanley’s tool line from 1937, when they still made tools instead of “tool shaped objects” as the Schwarz calls them.  I stared at the book but didn’t want to spend the money they wanted, well she decided I should have it and I’m very happy she did.  I knew I wanted to look at the pictures of all those strange tools and maybe soak up some information from the descriptions from yesteryear.  However, I am surprised by the different types of information that are given over for thought from this little book.  Everything from social-economic differences in the generations, what tools we need, where we are in American manufacturing, to why do we value what we value. 
This may seem extreme from a silly little catalogue meant to sell stuff, but there is so much there between the lines.  I figured that I would point out five of those things I have pulled from this little book in one evening.  Now these aren’t hashed out here, frankly because I haven’t finished thinking through them.  I simply want to throw them out there for thought and maybe show someone what types of things can be pulled from them; hopefully encouraging other to seek old catalogues, books, and magazines as well."
  1. Did you know that ‘Jack’ Plane is short for ‘Jackass’ Plane; an appropriate name for the Plane that is used for the hardest and roughest kind of work.” –From the description of the jack plane on pg 42.  I have heard a few different reasons for why the jack is so named, but this one is new to me.  Besides the odd description of where the name comes from it tells us something about what the tool was used for then and what tool the used for this rough work.  They also list the number 6 fore plane as “simply a short jointer.”
  2.  A Stanley Bailey number 5 was $5.50, as Bedrock 605 was $5.75.  According to a US Government online inflation calculator $.25 in 1937 is the same as $3.93 in 2011.  That’s right, less than a $4 difference between a run of the mill jack and a Bedrock in today’s money.  The descriptions also don’t tote the Bedrock as some super superior tool either, simply that you can adjust the mouth without removing the iron.  Why then is a 605 more than $100 more than a 5 today? 
  3.  A number 750 chisel ranged from $1.05 up to a $1.85 for a 2” monster.  That’s $16.51 to $29.09 in today’s dollars.  Now I will grant that the quality tools today are built to a higher standard than they were then, but do you think you can get a Lie-Nielsen 750 replica chisel for $16.51?  Why is this?
  4.  On page 6 of the catalog there is a list of the essential list of tools for the hobbyist woodworker, page 7 contains the “Tools to add as needed.”  Now of course they are trying to sell you these tools, but their essential list is surprisingly short and even contains items that Stanley didn't sell.  More importantly is the tools they chose to add, and what they chose to leave off.  I’m not going to go into what tools make the list here, but it gives a lot to think about.
  5.  “Be sure you get good tools. We cannot emphasize this too strongly.  The long life of a quality tool makes it decidedly more economical.”  -From page 6, information to new hobbyist.  This statement was made by the largest tool manufacturer of the time.  The largest tool maker was making tools that last lifetimes.  You could apparently get cheaply made tools it seems, but most of the tools on the market were made well, seem opposite of now to anyone?

Friday, November 11, 2011

It’s a power tool, not a tailed apprentice

I hear a lot about “tailed apprentices” online.  I don’t like the term.  I don’t like cutesy terminology when there is already a perfectly good word, (ie, power tool), and I don’t like what is being implied.
Let me start with the fact that these tools do not do what an apprentice would do.  One, people use the term for everything powered in there shop, not just the jointer, planner, etc.  But more importantly, when was the last time you gave a rough sawn board to a power jointer and it gave you back a tried and true board at dimensions?    Your powertools are just that, tools.  I think people sell them self short when they call them tailed apprentices, or more importantly when they view them as such.  You are still doing milling the stuff, your just using power.
I have seen others mill boards much faster, with much more ease than I do.  Now I’m no scrub plane hack, but others sling it a lot better than I.  You know what that means to me?  It means I am not a master craftsman yet, I have not earned the right to an apprentice.  Now I don’t mean I haven’t earned the right to use power, it a hobby, I could use a CNC if I had the room to put one, you don’t have to earn the right to use any tool in a hobby.  But what I mean is people imply this is the simple, boring tasks that the apprentice would do.  I have a feeling not everyone using that term is quite the master they seem to think.  I am not yet as good at milling by hand as I want to be, I get the end product, but I want to get there better.  Now you may suck at milling by hand and not give a crap, you don’t want to mill by hand, you want to cut dovetails and make thin wispy shavings.  Cool, rock on with your 220 volt board flattening machine, but there is no need to imply that milling by hand is under a master such as yourself.
Now, do I think people read this much into the term, that they are carefully choosing the words to make the greatest impact?  Nope, they just think it’s funny, but my favorite subject is philosophy and I read way too much into everything, especially words and the subconscious meanings.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Handtool design

Certain designs are better made with powertools.  Seemingly odd first statement for a handtool guy I guess, but I happen to think it’s true.  There are three things that can make a design better suited for power in my mind, not fun to make by hand, ridiculously hard to make by hand, and will look better if made by powertools.  That third one will probably make me lose any handtool street cred I have, but I think it’s the most important. 
I currently have Roubo laminated bench top made from 2”x10” stock in clamps.  Making it consisted of ten 8’ rips, planing those twenty 8 foot long boards flat and parallel to be glued up.  To me, this falls squarely in the not fun to make by hand camp.  I ripped with a bandsaw and planed with a powered jointer and planner to get those twenty pieces in five 4”x5”x8’ pieces.   Once they were in that configuration, I could gladly be done with the screaming machines.  My jointer plane worked better at that point anyway, even if I had fell in love with the dust spitting, ear piercing monsters.  Now some of you may think that doing that all by hand would have been fun, great, go do it.  If I didn’t have access to those machines, I would have to choose one of three options. Suck it up and do it by hand, could have worked but bluh. Option two, find some monster beams so I wouldn’t have to glue up from small stuff, which would have been great, I wish that is what I did. I also could have changed the design, which could have worked, and I did consider it. 
Some things just are very difficult to do with hand tools.  Specifically I’m thinking end grain cutting boards with designs in them and the like.  You need all four reference faces, and the all need to be the exact same, otherwise they won’t line up.  You need some serious saw and handplane skills to pull that off.  And even if you’re good enough, it probably will still fall under the not fun to make group. 
The third group I said that is better made with powertools is designs that look better made by power, I guess the power isn’t the important part, the fence is.  Some Modern furniture looks better with dead flat, consistent thickness boards. The industrial designs if you will, the design begs to look mass produced.   The designs that benefit from that look are rare, and most of the time not the stuff most of us want in our houses, but I think they should be mentioned.
For pretty much everything else I prefer handtools, from the process to the look of the final piece.  Nearly every wood furniture design looks better when a machine wasn’t the last thing to touch the board.  The slight irregularities make the light do amazing things across a surface.  I’m not really going to get into that handtools are simply the safer, better choice in some circumstances.  I think that’s pretty well known and not really worth spending the time on.  I will say though if you are working completely by hand, take the design into consideration.  Do all the pieces need to be ¾” thick?  Does it matter if the box is 2” or 2 3/8” high?  Don’t think that I am simply placing restrictions on the design, they are also a lot of freeing aspects to working with handtools.  It doesn’t matter the size of the pieces or how different they are.  I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to flatten a 20” wide board, I can cut dovetails at any angle I want, not just to the type of router bit I have. I’ve rambled on a bit about design, and am still not done, pretty much just an intro to design and haven’t even considered lumber selection yet. I have a feeling this will be more than three posts.
-Have fun replacing your machines.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Been out and about

Due to some personal issues and a very busy schedule I haven't been able to post anything in a while.  I will be getting up the three posts I talked about in my last post shortly though.  I also have a few more ideas for posts that should be coming out soon, from reviews to technique based.  Hopefully soon I will be doing some project based series as well.  Hope all is well for the rest of you wood slayers out there.
-Have fun replacing your machines.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sniper Rifles and Handtools

I build sniper rifles for the US Marine Corps as my day job.  The shop I work in builds not only precision combat arms but also guns for the USMC Shooting Team.  Now, any gun plumber worth their salt knows that the most important thing to putting a shot on target isn’t the rifle, but the confidence the shooter has in that gun.  This does not change between competitive shooters and a sniper, what changes is what their confidence is in.  The competitive shooter wants his rifle to be reliable; they do not want to deal with the gun jamming during a rapid fire, but they need confidence that the gun is as precise as possible.  They want to know where their sights are when they pull the trigger is where the round will go.  Now the sniper really wants a very precise rifle, he wants that bullet to go where he aimed.  However, he needs to know that when he pulls the trigger the rifle will fire.  If the rifle doesn’t go off every time, without fail, it will affect his mindset and therefore his shooting. 

You may wonder, what does this have to do with woodworking?  Well, a competitive shooter and a sniper both want to put a projectile through a target with a rifle, but they have very different mindsets.  The same can be said for woodworkers, we either have a powertool mindset or a handtool mindset.  Now some of you may be saying that you have a hybrid mindset; no you don’t.  I am not talking about what tools you use, you may be a true half and half hybrid when it comes to you tools, but you aren’t when it comes to your mindset.  How we look at our projects from design to finishing, is set one way or the other.  Every step along the way is dictated by how we view our tools.  If you’re a powertool woodworker or if you use handtools to assist your powertools, you are probably going to come at your project from a powertool mindset.  Now, there is nothing at all wrong with that, I do not look down on woodworkers that use their powertools to their full extent.  However, I use metal working machines at work all the time and look to get away from all the machinery and setup I do at work in my off time.  The hybrid especially may think that this mindset difference is strictly related to milling stock, it’s not.  It is about milling the stuff, but that’s not all.

I think that one of the biggest problems people have with handtools is coming at handtool work from a powertool mindset.  Now I am sure some people come to powertool work from a handtool mindset, but I think that it is rare.  If you try to do handtool work from start to stop with a powertool mindset, you are probably in for frustration.  It will lead to needless work, slow progress, and ultimately, just thinking handtools are drudgery.

Since I’m sure some disagree with me, let’s us look at the steps of a project and see.  What are those steps?  Well, I have broken them down to these:
  1. Design
  2. Lumber selection
  3. Breakdown
  4. Milling lumber
  5. Joinery
  6. Assembly
  7.  Finishing
Now, since if I cover all seven of these topics in this post it will get rather ridiculously long, they will be broken down into three different posts.  Numbers one and two will be post one, numbers three and four will be post two, and five through seven will be the third post.  Hopefully they will help you think about your mindset when it comes to woodworking if you haven’t already. 
-Have fun replacing your machines.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bike flipping is all about transferring weight

When I was a kid I had a propensity for hurting myself.  Not that I was extraordinarily clumsy, but rather extraordinarily foolish.  I would ride my skateboard off of my buddy’s roof onto a pile of mattresses, stand on my bike seat going down hills with no hands, and other random stuff that makes me wonder how I survived.  One day that stands out in particular was the first time I watched a motocross stunt show on television.  I can’t remember the rider, but it was the first time I had ever seen anyone do a back flip on a bike.  Well, guess what I had to do.  Yep, go try and flip my bike.  It didn’t matter that he had a specially designed motocross bike and I had a huffy, it didn’t matter that he had a custom ramp and all I had was a loading dock.  And it defiantly didn’t matter that he was a pro and I was just some skinny 12 year old kid, he could do it, so could I.  Well, turns out I was able to get upside down, just wasn’t able to get back right side up, so I performed my first and only half back flip on a bike that day.   
So, nearly 20 years later what have I learned?  Apparently not much.  I saw Roy Underhill flatten a board while talking and looking the other way.  I seen Shannon Rogers flatten a board and tell me how to do it.  Guess what I thought I could do no problem.  Yep, flatten a board. Turns out it was a little trickier than I thought I would be, and while I didn’t end up in the hospital that time, I sure did deform a board.  Now, I had seen very good instruction, I fully understood how to work across the grain first (cup side up, just like Bob), take out twist, and knew that I had to start with my weight over the knob and transfer to tote as I went.  See, I even knew the terminology, I wasn’t just some newb calling them handles.  Well, just like transferring the weight to flip the bike, transferring the weight on a handplane proved to be more difficult than I thought.  So I figured I would right a post explaining how I go about doing it, and maybe help someone if they to are having a problem with it.  Now, I have no idea if the way I do it is “correct”, but it works for me.  So, if you’re having a problem creating great big humps in your boards, give it a try, it just might help.  Of course it might make it worse, if that happens just blame the tool.

So to start, I tend to line up my right hip with the right end of the board (flip it over lefties, but I’m sure you knew that).  This causes the plane to be farther back that what I think it should be, but that is what helps me.  I am pretty much pulling with my front hand for the first part of the cut, the knob is getting all of the weight at this point.

As my rear hand gets in line with my right hip (also in line with the end of the board) I am now pushing forward with my left hand, still focusing on putting the weight on the knob. (notice the bald left hand, somebody’s been sharpening)

As my rear hand approaches my forward hip, I am starting to lean the weight back onto my right hand, pushing the tote forward and down.

As my right hand clears my hips the rear of the plane is totally on the board and all my weight is over the tote. I can, and do sometimes, take my front hand from the knob.  It is strictly there at this point to guide the plane.  

Now keep in mind that this reference is for my body and my jointer.  They are slightly different with my jack and smoother.  And it may be different for you with your jointer, but I find it to be a good starting point.  I also find the jointer to be the hardest to get the transfer down with, but of course, you may think the block plane is.  But that just means you’re strange.  Have fun replacing your machines.

A Newage Neanderthal

To start this blog I was going to go straight into my first post, however I guess a little about me and why I am writing this blog will serve well.  To start with I use only handtools on my hobby woodworking.  For full disclosure I do own powertools, a good bit of them.  Pretty much all of them except a hollow chisel mortiser and a drumsander, and I use them.  However they are regulated to the world of DIY and utility.  For my enjoyment though, for the woodworking I love, the only power is my lights and ipod dock.  Even though I am a handtool junkie, I don’t care about them being old; which seems to be a theme amongst my handtool brethren.  Some old tools are nice, some aren’t.  I look for what I think is the best deal and the best tool. I use them not because it’s a connection to the past, but because they’re more challenging and much more peaceful to use.  I might enjoy the end project using powertools but I enjoy the process with handtools.
Now that I have jabbered on about me and what I like, onto the reason I am writing this blog.  I have been woodworking for a few years, and like a lot of us that are somewhat new to this I grew up in this hobby on the internet.  The WoodWhisperer was my first real intro to woodworking information.  From his podcast I moved on to other podcasts and blogs.  This had lead to a great amount of knowledge but also some problems as not seeing things in person, with hands-on instructions, can take you to some odd working habits.  One of those things that I found was transferring weight while handplaning.  That will be the topic of my first real post.