Sunday, July 20, 2008

Thoughts on painted furniture

People have been making painted furniture for a long time. It ranges from gilded, lacquered, 'regal' furniture, to homely painted country furniture. Some feel that 'painted' means 'inferior'. I disagree. If I have to pick between press-board furniture with a thin veneer of hardwood on it, or solid wood furniture with paint on it, I'll take the real wood, thanks. When it comes to furniture that you're likely to find in an average person's home, painted pine is probably the most common painted furniture. There are other common finds, like 'princess suite' bedrooms which are painted white with faux gilding, and whatnot, but painted pine is probably the most common, in my opinion.
I like this furniture. I'm going to focus on making a few pieces in the near future. I'm not 100% decided whether I'll use poplar or pine, but I'll pick some wood up in the next few days and get going on at least something simple.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A plethora of Woodworking Books!

In the last two days I have received in the mail:
"Ancient Carpenter's Tools" by Henry C. Mercer
"Illustrated Cabinetmaking" by Bill Hylton
"Hand Tools" by Aldren A. Watson
"Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking" all three books including
"Shaping, Veneering, Finishing"
"Identifying Wood" by R. Bruce Hoadley
"Understanding Wood" by R. Bruce Hoadley
"Pleasant Hill Shaker Furniture" by Kerry Pierce

I read the book on Shaker Furniture last night (most of it) and today I'll be starting on "Ancient Carpenter's Tools." Sweet.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

To crown or not to crown

Gentle readers, I have had an epiphany. It has to do with crowning plane blades, and names for planes.
I read an article by Adam Cherubini about the subject, and it resonated with me to such an extent that my ears are still ringing.
An archaeologist and historian named Henry Chapman Mercer wrote a book in 1929 called "Ancient Carpenter's Tools" wherein he decided to classify tools in order to give them 'true names', similar to the way biological nomenclature works. I liken it to genus and species. Using this analogy, the three genus of planes were set as levelling when the plane is used on a surface to make it flat and/or smooth, fitting when the plane is used on a surface no wider than its blade to create a new surface that will match another surface, and lastly ornamentation, which is where a plane is used strictly for a decorative effect.
Within each genus there are many possible species, but all share common traits. Yes, there are exceptions. There are always exceptions. However, here are some common traits:
Levelling planes like fore planes, smoothers, and try planes, have crowned irons and tight mouths. Exception - the fore plane has wider mouth as the surface finish isn't as important as speed.
Fitting planes like rabbet planes, match planes, plow planes, router planes, etc. have irons ground straight across and are used to produce the surfaces of joints. They have wide mouths because the surface won't be seen in the final product, so the surface finish isn't important. The exception is the jointer plane, which should have an iron ground straight across like other fitting planes, but it has a tight mouth because leaving a rough surface can be visible from the side when the joint is glued.
"But Mike!," I hear you exclaim, "the experts pretty much all use crowned irons in their jointer planes!"
Here's the interesting bit. Are you ready for this? Those aren't jointer planes. Those are try planes. Try planes are levelling planes, with a crowned iron. A jointer plane is used only for jointing edges for glue-up. Making a joint. That's it. It's a fitting plane.
Long has the nomenclature been rather... lax. Jack planes and fore planes are, in some books, the same, and in other books different. The same goes with try planes and jointers. I think Mercer was on to something.
I have a 'jack plane' which I use only for fitting, with a straight iron, so it is actually a short jointer.
I have a 'jointer plane' which I use for levelling, with a crowned iron, so it is actually a try plane.
I have a 'block plane' which I use for levelling, with a crowned iron, so it is actually a smoother.

It may seem complicated, but for me it has made things a whole lot clearer, and also clears up the reasons for some of the previous confusion. A wooden plane 24" long could be either a jointer or try plane depending on what you were going to use it for. Put a flat grind on it and it's a jointer. Put a camber on it and it's a try plane. If the plane didn't have an iron in it, then what kind of plane would it be?

The common jack plane, I suspect, was called such because you would have multiple blades for it and convert it from a short jointer to a fore plane to a short try plane on a whim.

Overhead Rack

Above the bench I mounted a 12" wide, 5' long piece of laminated pine shelving, which I drill into and mount shaker pegs on. I don't have that much on it yet, but I'd rather have the space and not need it then need it and not have it.
Currently I have my small egg-beater drill, breast drill, three braces, drawknife and pull-knife, and hammers all mounted there, with lots of room to expand.

Saw Till

Now that I have some saws worth having (Medallion Tools... nice...) and more on the way, it was time to build a saw till. My needs are relatively meagre compared to a serious saw aficionado, so I went with a relatively meagre saw till. Still, it stores all of my saws, so far, and also stores all of my saw sharpening gear and other 'saw oriented' stuff.
Right now I'm light on cross-cut saws. I have two on order from Medallion, but it takes a while. I have my saws made with light coloured steamed-beech totes if they're a rip pattern saw, and dark totes (some weird carmelized maple) if they're a crosscut saw. It keeps me from grabbing the wrong saw as easily.
At the top left of the rack is a Veritas 'dovetail saw'. It came packaged with a magnetic dovetail guide that I got as a gift. It actually has its moments. Moving clockwise, next comes the legendary Rip Tooth Dozuki from Lee Valley Tools. Great little saw, but after trying them, I'm not so happy with pull-saws, and I'm going back to push-saws. Next is a somewhat generic 'gent's saw' which I rarely use. My big rip saw is a Disston, but not old enough to be particularly good. It works. The cross-cut panel saw is also a Disston. Same comment. It works, but I'm looking forward to replacing it. Next is my Medallion Tenon Saw. Nice... and my custom big-ass Medallion Dovetail Saw with a 12" blade and 2.5" depth of cut below the back. Ooooh baby. Lotsa beef, there. Fab on hardwood. Grabby on pine. It's worth it. Oh, and last but not least is the Kugihiki from Lee Valley tools. It's a flush-cut saw, and a pull-saw is better for that particular application. It's a great saw, particularly for the price. "Woodworking" Magazine did a comparison between several brands of flush-cutting saw and this one won. Colour me smug. :)
Past the saw till is the clamp rack for the gluing clamps. Those are the Lee Valley 30th anniversary aluminum clamps. Not fabulous clamps, but an excellent deal.

Main tool shelf

This shelf was my first storage project for the wood shop. The general idea is cribbed from Robert W. Lang's column in the Autumn 2007 issue of "Woodworking" magazine. When I first built it it was so full of tools that it was virtually unusable. Now that I have the plane till and saw till and overhead storage... it looks a bit bare. :)
This shelf will be used to store my more often used chisels and layout tools. My gimlets and awls are in holes along the left vertical of the shelf. I also store my surface clamp and bench dogs here.

Plane Till

When I built my plane till I first built it much flatter to the wall. I did some experimentation to show that the angle was sufficient for the planes to stay in place. What I didn't calculate in was the 'pucker factor' every time I set a plane on the till and just wondered if this would be the time that it would fall off. After a week I hadn't dropped a single plane, but it was wearing on my nerves so I rebuilt it with almost twice the depth. This causes more 'shadow' over the bench, but it's worth it both for my peace of mind, and for the extra shelf space below.
To the left we see the plane till. From left to right, top to bottom, we have a Veritas Bevel-Up Jointer, which I use as a try plane, not a jointer, and old Stanley #6 which I use as a fore plane, a Veritas Low-Angle Jack plane, which I use as a fitting plane, not as a levelling plane. Next comes the Veritas Bevel-Up Smoother, the Veritas Scrub Plane, a Veritas Low-Angle Block Plane with the extra tote and knob to turn it into a "#3 Smoother", Veritas winding sticks, a Stanley G12 low-angle block plane that I bought, perhaps, 15 years ago, and a Veritas low-angle block plane which normally always has a Veritas Chamfer Guide on it. On the shelf below we have a Veritas Router Plane with all of the trimmings, a Veritas Small Router Plane, a Veritas Jointer Fence for the Low-Angle Jack, a Veritas Small Plow Plane plus the blades, a Stanley #78 Duplex Fillister plane, and a Veritas Small Shoulder Plane.
Attached to the side is the piece of 2x4 that I use as an index for my augers, and that stick hanging on the tie peg is just a piece with different sized holes in it (all bored by my auger bits) which helps me figure out what size hole I need for various applications.

First entry - my shop, and why I have it.

I'm a metalworker by trade and training. In the past I've worked in structural steel, machining, welding, fabrication, and machine building. Now I've dusted off the other half of my training in industrial mechanics, and work in maintenance keeping machines running for a manufacturing company.
My shop is an anodyne for what I do at work. I don't want to come home and turn on a milling machine. I'd rather do something different. I went with woodworking, which believe it or not I had some training in as a millwright. At first I considered getting a planer, jointer, and other woodworking machines... after all, I like machines... but the environment that I work in requires eye protection, hearing protection, etc. I wondered how much fun it would be to have to put ear plugs in to work in my own shop after wearing ear plugs all day at work. I decided I'd rather give that a miss. So my shop is pretty much hand tools only. I have a cordless drill that I use when I need to drill a hole with one hand, or where an egg-beater won't fit, and I have a grinder to grind primary bevels on the plane irons when that is required (rarely).
My shop is a modern hand-tool shop. Although some of the techniques that I use may be 18th century, as a general rule I like new tools. The boys and girls at Lee Valley Tools and Veritas have made a ton of money off of me. :)Above is the widest aspect picture I could take of my shop. I ended up using a digital super-zoomer to get this much in. At the left is the plane till, then the main tool shelf, then the saw till, then the clamp rack. Above is the overhead storage.