Saturday, April 13, 2013

Am I a Hybrid Woodworker?

     You don't have to read too many woodworker's blogs or have discussions with other woodworkers to see that there is more than one school of thought when it comes to woodworking styles.  Having been doing this for almost 50 years if you consider junior high school shops and even scouting before that (dang, am I that old?) there have been trends that come and go.  Currently, there seems to be quite a resurgance in hand tool woodwork.  A noted author/woodworker such as Jim Tolpin is one I've read throughout the years and is now promoting a new traditional woodworking style that focuses on hand work.  Another noted author, editor, woodworker, and blogger Chris Schwarz  is a staunch hand tool woodworker.  I find myself between the two philosophies and will go by my own term as a Hybrid Woodworker.  
     So, what do I mean by that?  Through the years I've acquired stationary power tools to either make my own furniture work easier and also to prepare wood for my classes.  Especially when I taught at the boy's prison which didn't have a woodshop on site.  I spent countless hours in my own shop preparing scale sized materials to teach them how to frame and build houses.  As my funds became available and with a little help from my principal I made this task easier with some power tools.  Same thing went for my furniture work.  When faced with making 6 dining chairs, a hollow chisel mortiser was an attractive purchase!
     On the flip side of that though is the enjoyment I get from the quiet planing, chiseling, and forming wood joints using my hands and the traditional tools used by woodworkers for centuries.  Matter of fact, that's the only teaching I do these days either at my own shop or at Wooditis where I'm currently scheduled to teach a 6 week course utilizing primarily hand tools.  My woodworking style has evolved to where I'll use the cabinet saw to cut materials to approximate size.  Joinery is usually roughed out and then brought to exact sizes to get the fit hand work can only do.  Surfacing begins with a scrub plane since I've never had a jointer and goes through the surface planer but is always followed up with hand planing to achieve that surface unobtainable any other way.  Why should I resaw a piece of 8/4 Walnut with a rip saw when I have a perfectly good bandsaw?  This "hybrid" philosophy makes perfect sense to me and I'd be interested in hearing comments from my fellow woodworkers.

Last Brag -- Honest!


     So, the Etsy store has given me a number of orders this month, and for that I'm thankful.  One is for a finger-jointed box made of Alder, that's destined for Canada.  I just had to throw in one more picture of the shaving I'm able to get from this antique plane after tuning it up as part of the plane seminar I gave at Woodworker's Emporium last weekend.  This underscores what I said at the beginning of this blog -- nothing compares to the thrill of using hand tools on wood!   Let me use this blog to illustrate what I mean by my term of Hybrid Woodworking.  For starters, the piece of wood is a 4/4 piece of Alder purchased from the local lumberyard as surfaced and straight line rip.  The first step was to use the tablesaw to rip it slightly over the required width and rough cut a good 8" over the required length.  Next up was the surface planer.

     The sides for this box will be 1/2" thick which was easily and quickly accomplished with the surface planer.  The piece for the top was left at it's original thickness so that the edges could be beveled.  You know that surface planers; no matter how carefully set up and sharpened, will always leave their tell-tale chatter pattern on the face of the board.  The edges were carefully hand planed as shown in my, I promise, last bragging picture above.  Next up was to cut the pieces for the boxes.  If possible, I make duplicates of special orders since much of the time spent making a project is taken up by machine set ups.  I had enough of the Alder to make two boxes at the same time.  To cut them to the required size I use a sled on the tablesaw.

Cutting Pieces to Size
     It's important to me that the grain pattern of the wood is continuous all the way around the box.  Three of your four corners will be a perfect match, the last is usually close unless the grain is really pronounced.  To accomplish that I'll set a stop block for the longest piece, clamped on the far left of the sled.  Cut that piece and then use a filler piece as a temporary stop block for the shorter piece.  In this instance, the long piece measures 10", the short 7".  That filler piece I'm pointing to with a pencil, is 3" long to make up the difference in the two sizes.  Mark the grain match as you go to keep the grain pattern intact.  Since this box is made with finger joints, the ends of the board are fine right off the tablesaw.  They'll be planed smooth after the box is assembled.
     Next up is cutting the finger joints themselves.  This always takes a bit of futzing around to get the jig set up perfectly.  That's why, if possible, I'll make more than just one box at a time.

Finger Joint aka Box Joint Jig
     It'll take some doing to dial it in just right.  A combination of trial and error, slight tapping of the moveable fence, and even the aid of a dial indicator is called for.  On those rare occasions I have been able to have them fit the first try but that is oh so unusual!  I didn't photograph it but the grooves for the top and bottom were done on the router table using Lee Valley's wonderful bit, here's a LINK to it.  It's eliminated the need for making stopped dado's or grooves.  Also didn't show beveling the sides of the top to create a raised panel but you can see it in these pictures.  I have a sled that rides on my tablesaw's rip fence dedicated for that purpose.  Easier to use a sled than it is to tilt the blade in my opinion.

     This is where the hand work on a project begins.  Now that all of the "grunt" work is completed with the machinery it's time for that quiet and enjoyable phase of woodworking.  Here you see some of the tools used for this.  In the hand tool class I'll be teaching next month my plan is to start the students out making some of these appliances.

A Better Look
     In the foreground is a Bench Hook which will be the first project for the class.  This one is definitely overkill!  Honest, a piece of plywood, some glue, and a couple of screws would suffice but it's a good project to practice cutting dovetails.  The Bench Hook is being used to hold the top while planing out the marks made by the tablesaw when raising the panel in the middle.  For that a rabbet block plane is ideal.
     There is a simple planing stop clamped into the vise.  Now is the time to use the smooth plane and remove all of the chatter marks left by the surface planer on the insides of the box.  My #4 Smooth plane is made of bronze and weighs a hefty 4 1/2 pounds so it really gets the job done!  You can see the other box dry fit together towards the right side of the bench.
     Finally time to assemble these two boxes.  The temperature isn't too high yet so mid-morning worked assembly worked out okay.  In the summer time it'll be in the low to mid 80's in the shop at 6 am which makes glue ups even more stressful.  I use Old Brown Glue for most operations like this as it cleans up well but most importantly, has a longer open time so I'm not overly stressed.  Kind of looks like a porcupine with all of the clamps but this should keep the boxes sufficiently clamped until morning when the glue will be fully cured.  I'll spend some time on it after church tomorrow.

Lunch Time!

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