Monday, February 27, 2012

Ian Agrell's Carving Class

Acanthus Leaf
     Well, I'm putting it out there for all to see.  To think that this started out as a 1" thick piece of African Mahogany that is about 7" wide and 13" long.  All hand work and to get to this stage was about two and a half days.  I put a couple of coats of shellac on it to seal and protect the piece.  The class was pretty intensive and with only 4 of us there we were able to get as much help as we asked for.  There's nothing like individual instruction from someone who's mastered this craft to point you in the right direction!  A dvd or pictures and text in a book just can't do that.
     I really felt like the table's were turned, many times my students would ask how in the world I'd do something and make it look so easy.  My reply was always "experience and learning from my mistakes", now I can feel their frustration in my own attempts to complete this leaf.  The class went from 9-5 every day and we'd take a lunch break but then keep on carving.  Very inspired and used the remainder of a gift certificate from Lee Valley to buy a couple of Hirsch carving tools as soon as I returned home.  Then I went to Woodcraft to order a few more Pfiel tools from them that I feel I needed.  Really like them and Ian highly recommended them as well.  Can't wait to get them and continue my learning curve.
     After finishing this required project I began work on two picture frames I'd brought from home.  They're made of Basswood so much easier carving but also easier to blow out the edges.  One of them is reeded and I plan to use it to work on my water gilding technique -- honestly not sure if there's enough time left for me to accomplish all I want to do in this life.  Some refer to that as a "bucket list" but since I keep adding things to it it's really not a list!  A plus to taking this workshop was being able to spend the week with my sister, something we hadn't done since we were kids and that was some time ago!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Time to Put it to Bed!

Acanthus Leave
     This is a photo of what I've been able to accomplish on Monday, Tuesday, and part of Wednesday until Ian Agrell told me "it's time to put it to bed"!  That's the expression he uses when he figures it's time to move on to something new.  I can see that this is similar to when Diane would be working on a painting and finally decide that it's done and walk away from it.  This is something that's hard to do because you look at what you've done and know that a little tweak here or there could improve it.  Unfortunately, you could do this forever and still not be satisfied with your results!  I think anyone working on an artistic level is rarely satisfied with their work --- there's always a little something we think we can do to improve it.  By the way, the wood is African Mahogany -- remember the troubles I had with it on the wine cupboards?
     I brought two, small picture frames and hope to learn techniques on those that I can take home Saturday and use in my work.  I was right in thinking that these five days would be real intense, that they are!!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Off to Carving Class

     Depending on whether or not I can get WiFi and how much energy I have left after 5 days of 9-5 classes, this may be my last post for a week!  I'm headed up to San Rafael to take an extensive carving class from Ian Agrell  If you're unfamiliar with him and his work check out the link to his website.  I'm looking forward to this with some apprehension.  My carving is pretty much self taught from books, dvd's, and lots of trial and error. I plan to walk away from this class with much more knowledge about proper carving techniques.  Notice I'm not saying I'll have it, just some sound background and then practice, practice, and more practice!  The only other time I've enrolled in an extensive 5 day workshop like this was to study water gilding in Scottsdale.  I was pretty amazed how tired I was after each day of concentration on the techniques -- I'm anticipating that this won't be any different!
     In a recent post I talked about making the new throat plate and the problems I had reconfiguring the MJ ProSteel splitters.  The problem was compounded by the fact that one of them had bent and another  had a pin break off.  Well, I contacted  MicroJig with an email and explained the situation to them.  Very encouraged by the quality and concern from the company since they replied to my email quickly and offered to send me the two splitters I needed to configure them correctly.  I also learned from them that for some reason when you use a throat plate made on phenolic material the splitters are difficult to insert and remove.  I found that to be the case when I tried to use them in that type of material.  The bottom line is that they mailed me the two splitters I was missing at no charge to me.  Companies like that are pretty rare so I'll whole heartedly recommend them to any of you if you need any of their products.  If you're not familiar with them check out my link and see what they have to offer.
     The Wednesday after I return will be the first session of the class I'm teaching on making wooden, Krenov style, planes.  Also looking forward to that one as it should be lots of fun working with my students.  I know one of them wants to make a scrub plane similar to my design and another plans to make a block plane for herself.  Looks like we'll have the full gamut of sizes and purposes going on in that class.  I expect that everyone will enjoy the work and walk away with a tool they made themselves.  It's always cool to use a tool  that you personally made, I'm excited to guide them in that process.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lie-Nielsen Dowel Plate ReDo

Lie-Nielsen Dowel Plate

      If you've ever needed a dowel that wasn't the whitewood variety from the Big Box store or even one of the more common species available on line you just have to make your own.  Another reason for making your own is that way they'll be the exact size you want.  That's what motivated my  decision to buy one.  Add to that, I'd just received a $50.00 certificate from Highland Woodworking -- they featured my scrub plane in their Show Your Stuff column of the February issue.
     A while back I borrowed a friends dowel plate for a project I was working on.  I decided to make him a nice holder as a way of saying thanks.  I made something similar for my own plate but had some problems.  While researching on the net, someone mentioned that they thought the dowel that is made got crooked because there wasn't any way to guide the dowel as it went through.  The suggestion was to use a hole beneath the dowel plate that's slightly larger than the dowel size to guide it as it's formed.  I took that to heart and here's what that process looked like:

Drilling the Guide Holes

I centered and temporarily screwed the dowel plate to a piece of Oak.  Next, each hole was drawn in using the plate as a guide.  The holes were then drilled through the block, each is about 1/8" larger than the size of the dowel.

Counter Bore, 2 Large Holes were Filed
     To make sure the dowel would go through easily I decided to counter bore each one.  If you're going to take the time to make a tool, might as well make it attractive as well as functional.  I had some Australian Lacewood, planed it down to match the thickness of the dowel plate then glued & clamped it on:

Lacewood Applied
     I wanted to achieve a good fit so I wrapped the dowel plate in wax paper, screwed it to the Oak, then cut the Lacewood pieces oversized.

After Glue-Up
     The Lacewood was planed flush with the Oak, slight chamfers with a block plane to ease the edges, Danish Oil, and a coat or two of my 3-part topcoat and we have a good looking tool -- but, how does it work?

Drawn Circle for Guideline
     For the test I got a square piece of straight grained Walnut and using a circle guide, shaded in a 3/16" circle.  You can't just take a square chunk of wood and drive it through the plate!  I experimented to find the best way to reduce the size of the piece with spokeshaves and planes.

Creating the Octagon

     Here's what worked the best; I took a scrap piece of 3/4" MDF and routed a shallow V-groove in it.  A little work with a chisel to create a stop in that groove was all it took.  Now that I had the visual circle at the end of the stick as a guide it was a simple matter of creating more of an octagon shape with a block plane.  One last thing to do to the stick is to create a chamfer at one end to help start it.

Dowel Plate in Use
     I clamped the tool over the vise and started to drive the stick through the plate.  You can see the shavings created.

Quality Check
     The proof is right here, perfect 3/16" dowel with very little roughness and much, much straighter than the ones I'd made previously without the guide holes.  The dowel plate is one of those tools that may only see occasional use but when you need that perfectly sized dowel of a specific wood this can't be beat.  I'll be teaching a class on making wooden planes and my students will be able to use this to make the short dowel pins needed from almost any species they may want.

      Oh yea, what happened to the first holder?  Well, here it is; at least the glue joint held and the wood failed!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thought About This for Years

A New (old) Splitter
     I know every table saw comes with the manual and any picture you ever see in a magazine that shows a picture like the one above it will say: "Guard Removed for Illustration -- Always use all Safety Equipment"
But I'll bet that 90% of all small shops will not use the guard or splitter that comes with the machine.  When I taught there was a type of guard called a Brett Guard and it worked in a school shop situation but still wasn't ideal.  The technology of the SawStop is very good but also pretty pricey and a one-man shop isn't likely to invest in that upgrade, especially in these economic times.  I will confess that I've had my Jet cabinet saw for over 12 years and after using the factory guard for a week, took it off and it's never been back on since.  The splitter is a necessity, especially when doing a lot of ripping and I'd use that if I felt like taking the time to mess with three bolts and alignment issues.  I found that a good solution was to make a zero clearance throat plate and install a micro jig splitter.

Splitters & Test Boards
     The MicroJig splitter is a nice item that I've used for years.  A couple of things have happened though during that time.  Although they're very sturdy one of them was no match for me sliding the fence into it!  Another got bent and last of all the throat plate I made for them (on far right) finally needed to be replaced.  The red plate on the saw is the Jet original which is great for rough work and angled cuts even though the MicroJig splitters couldn't be used with it.  I decided to order one from Highland Woodworking, it's a nice, fully adjustable one and very flat and stable.  That's the buff colored one in the middle.  Since I had saved all of the MicroJig parts I followed their instructions and attempted to mount the splitters I had left to the new throat plate.
     Well, that sounded easy enough but unfortunately it wasn't!  No matter how I tried to configure the two splitters I had left they just didn't line up with the saw kerf.  Since I didn't want to spend more money and time to re-order them I finally did what I had thought of doing years ago --- made my own darn splitter!  Did a bit of web searching and found several possibilities but most required gluing a wooden splitter into the throat plate.  I took the stock splitter, drew out a piece that would protrude about an inch above the table.  This piece is quite sturdy and is bolted to the trunnion bracket with one bolt only.  It'll be easy enough to remove for dado work and will tilt with the blade for angled cuts -- nice!  The only thing to figure out was how to cut the back of the plate so it would clear.  Here's the solution:

I found that if I clamped an extension to the miter gauge I could then securely clamp the plate upright to pass it over the blade.

What made it more secure can be seen in the back view.  The bottom of the leveling screws hooked over the top of the extension and kept the throat plate square to the blade.  It took two passes to make a slot wide enough for the splitter.

     So that's it, what started out to be a frustrating experience in trying to use the used and abused MicroJig pieces on the new throat plate inspired me to re-visit my original thought of years ago and repurpose the factory splitter to suit my work habits.  A little head scratching, hack sawing, filing, and painting and now I believe I have a splitter that will last a long time.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Making Ebony Dowels

     In yesterdays blog, I showed how I went about making the holder for the dowel plate.  Here it is in use to illustrate why I designed it this way.  Remember there are two legs, the Mahogany in the center, and these are clamped into the vise.  Now, the entire plate is supported by the side pieces and they're firm on the bench.  It takes quite a bit of force to drive the dowels through and this gives a very solid platform.

Lie-Nielsen Dowel Plate in Use

     Through the wonder of the internet I got an email a few days ago from a jewelry artist who found one of my previous posts on making Ebony dowels.  Those were for a Greene & Greene inspired stool I made last March.  In any case, I had some of the Ebony left so told her no problem.  Isn't it great that life has a learning curve and the longer we do something the wider the curve becomes?  Generally for pegging joints, as used on the stool, the dowel may be an inch long or so.  Even though you make them a bit longer you do that because there will tend to be some inconsistencies.  She needed them to be 2-3 inches long so I went for 6"+ to start.
Here's what I accomplished in a couple of hours (remember that learning curve!):

Ebony Dowels
     The first step of the process was to figure out the proper width to cut the initial blanks in.  They need to be 1/4" in diameter so with something that small the bandsaw was the logical choice.  Using a piece of plywood, I created a zero clearance table so the thin piece wouldn't fall through.  My goal was to get as close to 9/32 as possible:

Initial Sizing of Ebony
    If you've ever used a dowel plate you know that, unfortunately, you can't just take a square piece of wood and begin banging it through the hole!  You need to create an octagon shape first and my first thought was to use a spokeshave:

Spokeshave, Notice the end - that's the goal
     That had mixed success since the thin piece would flex a bit.  Another obstacle is that with Ebony it's really difficult to see which way the grain is running so with trial and error the piece sometimes chipped out.  The next thought I had was to use a block plane, clamped into the bench vise:

Block Plane
     This worked much better because you can hear when you're going against the grain and go the opposite way.  Also a good way to trim your fingernails and get cramped up!  The ends of the piece needed to be tapered a bit to start in the hole, this was done with a chisel.  What seemed to work the best was to start it in the hole so it looked like this:

The Goal

Now that you have a visual as to what you need to work to it can be used as a guide on the block plane. Once the pieces were hammered through the dowel plate they needed some sanding to eliminate any imperfections and they're ready to ship to the jewelry artist.  I plan to ask her to send me a picture of her finished work and I'll show them in the blog if she does.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Get Woodworking Week -- My Contribution

     Many of you are probably aware of Tom Lovino's website and his push to promote woodworking, well, here's my contribution based on what I love to teach.  That would be the basics using hand tools that don't cost a ton of money, create an equal amount of dust and noise, and just plain keep folks from enjoying the craft.  Don't get me wrong, I have my share of power equipment and use it as my apprentices but I've always taught on the premise that using hand tools is an affordable way to enjoy our craft.
     From these three items and some hand tools I'm going to show you how to improve your hand skills and end up with a nice little project.

     What you see is a piece of Mahogany, a piece of Canarywood, and a Lie-Nielsen Dowel Plate.  The Dowel Plate is a tool used to make accurately sized dowels.  I'll be using it in an upcoming class where I'll show students how to make a Krenov style plane.  The first thing needed for any project is to establish a smooth face and make that square to the edge:

     Before I even started to plane the face it was checked with a straight edge.  You can see light in the middle section that indicates the outer edges are higher than the center.  To plane this, I used a very common Stanley plane, one that was purchased brand new in 1968 or so.  These are easy enough to find on Ebay or you can purchase a new one depending on your finances.  

     Once the initial face and edge is squared, your next step is to bring it down to the desired thickness.

     That is marked with a marking gauge guided against the face you just planed,that is your reference point.  You can see that this tool scribes a line into the wood, you should mark it all the way around the piece.  I couldn't photograph it but what will happen as you plane that second face is what I refer to as "feathering".  Because the line is scribed deeply into the wood, as you plane down to it the wood's edge will "feather". That's your clue to lighten up on your cut and sneak up to the scribed line.  Here are the other pieces prepared the same way:

     Kind of confusing so let me explain.  Think of the the two, tall pieces of Mahogany as the legs.  The longer pieces of Canarywood are the top that the dowel plate will be let in to.  The short piece in the center is a spacer.  The process is to lay down a piece of wax paper so the glue doesn't stick onto your bench.  Apply glue to the Mahogany, clamp one end flush, insert the spacer and push the other leg against it while you glue it down.  The spacer is the distance needed between the holes on the dowel plate.  When you glue these pieces together it's important to check the direction of the grain.  You'll need to plane the top after the glue dries so be certain that the grain runs the same on each piece. Allow this to dry, preferably over night.

     The next step is to screw the dowel plate in position and use a marking knife to scribe all around it. A knife is better than a pencil line because you can set your chisel into it to remove the wood.
Removing the wood; well, you can certainly do this all through hand work but if you have a trim router it's easier to use that to rough it out.

     Since it's difficult to see when routing freehand, put some blue tape on the outline.  If you have a clear base it's easier to see, I don't so using chalk to outline the opening was even more helpful.  The chalk also lets you see how rough the top surface still is.  Remember, the grain should all be running the same direction and that will make it easy to plane it smooth and level.

     This process is similar to chiseling out for a hinge.  Outline the area being sure to cut across the grain first, then work on the sides.  For a hinge, you don't need to go nearly as deep (1/4"+) as I did for the dowel plate. 

     As you continue down your woodworking path, you'll acquire tools that you need.  That's the case of this Stanley router plane.  Again, you can find them on Ebay or buy them new from Lie-Nielsen or Lee Valley.  This ensures that the recess is level and although it can be done with a chisel too, the router plane just makes it easier.

     Here you have it, the almost finished project.  The block plane was used to chamfer the edges to minimize the risk of them getting split.  All it's lacking is a protective finish and screwing the plate in.  In use, the plate is clamped into a vise and your material is hammered through it.  I'll do a future blog on how to make dowels.
     So ----- was this over-kill?  probably so!  Could you simply clamp the dowel plate over a hole and hammer away?  Yep!   Then, why bother you may ask?  This exercise is a great way to work on your hand skills.  It doesn't need to be perfect but most people find that if there is a project involved it's more rewarding to practice those skills.  You know, it's much more fun playing a song on an instrument than it is to just practice your scales!  Woodworking can be the same, challenge yourself to use some of those difficult process on a non essential project like this.  Then, when you need the skills on a project that matters you know you can do it.