Greg_lasers

Building a bench in a weekend

 

Have you ever taken a weekend woodworking class?  I hadn’t before this month.  I made the drive up to Nashville, TN with a friend to build a bench with Greg Pennington.

Greg-teaching Greg-tenon_cutter

Greg was a great instructor and kept no trade secrets.  His unique techniques made the process of joining the legs and the top much easier than I expected.  I had to do very little math, which helps reduce errors.  I was a little surprised that he uses the 5/8 inch Lee Valley tenon cutter that I mentioned in my last post.  Apparently that tool is not just for rookies like me with no lathe.  Greg gave lots of tips on how to use mine more efficiently, which I will share in time.

Greg_lasers

Greg has updated traditional alignment techniques by using lasers in several steps of the process.  He has described it on his blog.  I really liked using the lasers and plan to us them whenever I get done with this monstrous dresser project. No update on the dresser, but I’m making progress on it.

Bob-lathe

I was able to turn for the first time – what a nice lathe that OneWay is!

At the shop

Hanging out at Greg’s shop was a blast for a woodworker (I’m eating a camp style dinner on the shop porch).  

Ok, the highlight of the trip was staying in the shop.  Yep, I slept in the loft on my camping cot.  Greg and his family were gracious hosts and let my friend and I stay in the shop all weekend.  It was a great environment and I was able to play in the shop from the time I woke up until I was too tired to move.  The environment of the shop was perfect for working.  I missed my family, but I was sorry to leave.  If only my family would be willing to uproot and live in the bunk house. Hmm…

Project_complete

Completed benches and happy students ready for the trip back to Hernando, MS.

What’s the most valuable thing I got from the class? Confidence. Greg took something that I previously thought was really complicated and unpacked it into understandable pieces. This type of joinery is still not simple, but it is now obtainable. Thanks Greg!

Bob Jones

Book

Book Review – Going with the Grain, Making Chairs in the 21st Century

Green_work

I haven’t made much progress on my dresser recently, and it is mostly because I’ve been dabbling in some green woodworking, following the instructions in Mike Abbott’s book, Going with the Grain, Building a Chair in the 21st Century.

Book

This is really more than a book review, it’s also a process review.  The author of this book, Mike Abbott teaches green woodworking courses in a magical woodworking Neverland in the UK and has for many years.  In this book, he has documented exactly how he teaches the art of building chairs from green wood.  And I do mean EXACTLY.  This is a picture book that is detailed beyond any other woodworking source (DVD’s included) I’ve ever seen. This book was designed to show anyone precisely what to do in building a chair with green techniques and why they should.  Typically, I’m far too prideful to follow any published plans too closely, but while reading this book I decided that Mike made his process look so easy that I had to try it just like he teaches it.  He lays out the whole process from the perspective of someone who has no tools and no experience building anything. It starts with the tools required (probably obtained for less than $300) then moves in to building a shaving horse with construction grade lumber.  To his credit, he skipped the token 2 pages on sharpening tools.  He covered that in his other book (Living Wood), and there is tons of sharpening instruction freely available online.

 

Reading

One day I expect I will build a pretty, hardwood shaving horse.  In the meantime, this version that took me 2 hours to build is no compromise on functionality (only looks and comfort).  I built it 100% to Mike’s specifications, including a hardwood pin, which is the first thing I made using the shave horse.  I’m not publishing a how-to here because that is well documented in his book (you should buy it).

Club

I then turned to the next page and made a club (in the trustworthy hands of my nephew) with a piece of red oak firewood, again following his step by step process. The dabbling that I have been doing now is learning to use my froe and drawknife to make the first furniture project in the book – a footstool.  I thought this simple little stool was beneath me, but I decided that since these green techniques were new to me, I should start with the stool.

Stool_parts

I haven’t finished the stool yet, but I’m close.  Here’s all the pieces that I have so far.  I’m waiting for the rails/rungs to finish drying out so I can knock them into the legs. I rate this book as excellent for how-to instruction and highly recommend it to anyone considering building chairs.  Even if you think you want to saw chairs out of kiln dried lumber, this book is a great source and may convince you to find a fresh cut log instead.

Enough glowing, there are 2 problems opportunities with the book.  First, it was definitely written for woodworkers who love their Queen.  Almost all sources listed are UK based and all dimensions are given in metric (most have conversions given in Imperial).  If you can’t convert units (1 inch = 25.4mm), try Google.  (Apparently a new 2nd edition corrects this.)

One plus for North Americans is easy access to the only proprietary tool he recommends, the Lee Valley 5/8 inch tenon cutter.  So, living in North America actually makes it easier to follow this distinctive teaching.

The second issue is that he generally goes from the tree in the woods to completed chair in a week or so.  Why is that a problem?  Mike “turns” tenons while the wood is very green and plans for them to shrink into ovals (like a naturally wedged M&T).  This is fine and good if you are working with wood that is still dripping wet, but what about wood that is semi-green, or closer to dry?  I’m currently working with some cherry that I quartered a few months ago, and I’ve tried to keep green.  In my experimenting so far, this wood does not shrink up as much as Mike teaches, but he shows what to do in this case.

FYI – I’m working on a modified technique for semi-green wood.  I’ll post it here if it works (and if it doesn’t). After I finish the foot stool, I hope to build a few bar stools for our kitchen and then a spindle back chair (or 6).  Both of these builds are covered in this book in plenty of detail.  I’m really enjoying the process of green woodworking.  There is just something great about dominating a massive log with a wedge and maul, then finessing firewood with a froe and drawknife to yield the pieces needed that makes you feel like you can make anything.  That’s a powerful feeling.

Bob Jones

Mr_Green1

Lessons from Mr Greene

Mr_Green1

This plane tells a story from a craftsman who I suppose “retired” a long time ago.  I’ll call him “Mr Greene”.

Mr Greene worked in a shop full of bungling builders who saw no fault in borrowing the tools of the better craftsman.  What hack wants to sharpen his own dilapidated tools, anyway?  Disgusted with their self-serving ways, Mr Greene set out to save his tools from their careless hands of ham.  Engraving his name on his tools wasn’t enough protection – this only helped reclaim his tools upon close inspection.  Mr Greene needed to take a more drastic approach.  With no small amount of reservation Mr Greene disassembled his tools and with care made a mark that would be easily distinguished as his and his alone.  “Now I will be able to spot my tools from across the shop should one of these careless hacks remove it from my workbench.  That will show them.”  Mr Greene inspected his handiwork and rather liked the bold new look.

Mr Greene’s plan worked exactly as intended.  Whenever his tools were in the hands of a hack, he knew it immediately and was able to fetch them before any serious damage was done.  Soon the careless co-workers stopped stealing his tools altogether, knowing it would be folly under his watchful eye.  From that fateful day with paint, Mr Greene’s tools stayed in good order, and no doubt his relationships with his co-laborers were aided by his precaution.

Mr_Green2

Underneath the bright green paint lie the bones of a solid plane that was once well tuned.  I’ve inspected 100’s of vintage planes and most are unusable in their “as found” condition and generally show no evidence of ever being tuned or used by a conscientious carpenter.  This plane is different.  As I found it, the frog was actually well seated in the body.  The blade was dull and pitted from years of neglect, but at the last sharpening was properly ground and had evidence that the back was flattened at some point (this is rare).

I acquired this plane from a rust hunter to be my backup smoother in case I drop my user #4.  I have done nothing more than a light cleaning and I expect I never will.  I wouldn’t want to mess with the legacy of Mr Greene.

There are at least 2 lessons to be learned from this plane.

1 – If you are remembered after “retirement”, it will be by what you leave behind.  Will your legacy be a messy life, messy relationships and evidence of lazy living?  Or will your legacy be one of self control, stewardship, and serving others?  I’m speaking of more than tools.

2 – If you work in a shop with others who are less considerate, paint your tools a really obnoxious color.  When one of your shop mates picks up your tools it will be obvious from across the shop and you can rescue it from the clutches of the bungling builder…

Bob Jones

 

Road-ready Dutch Tool Chest

It is time to finish the Dutch Tool Chest.  I just signed up for my first real woodworking class this August.  I’m going to build a small bench with chair maker Greg Pennington.  It’s not about the bench, it is about learning more green woodworking skills, learning compound joinery, and learning to turn on a lathe.  The bench will be a nice bonus.  This class is the encouragement I needed to complete my Dutch Tool Chest.

DTC_outside  Finished_closed

Racing stripes are guaranteed to make your chest 20% faster.

Monotone was too boring, so I added stripes.  They are a 3:1:2 pattern, which I’m sure George Walker would approve of. I painted the whole chest with Kilz, then 2 coats of white trim paint, then laid blue tape down to create the stripes before painting the whole chest maroon.  I topped it all off with a couple of coats of clear poly.  I guess I have a dozen coats of pain(t) in all.  It’s excessive, but it looks nice and shiny.

DTC_hardware

Hardware after a 24 hour vinegar bath.

I took the cheap, zinc coated hinges and handles off and soaked them in vinegar for 24 hours.  They still look like cheap hardware, but now with a matte finish.  It’s a small improvement, but worth the tiny amount of effort required.

DTC_inside

This rack will hold a surprising number of tools. 

I also needed to finish the tool storage.  I think this shot shows most of it.  The rack consists of a 3/8-inch thick stick against the back wall, a few spacers to create a 3/8-inch open slot, and it is topped off with a 1 1/2-inch piece of Swiss cheese.  The holes are located at 1 1/4-inch centers, which is a little more spread than some.  I don’t like my food or my chisels to touch.

DTC_Sawnest

The 3 vertical pieces of the saw nest are not exactly easy to attach inside the chest.  I nailed them to a couple of scrap sticks (thanks Lowes) and then tacked the whole assembly in place.  It should be stable enough to hold the 4 hand saws that I use most often.

I did depart from the instructions in the PWW article by making the chest longer than described.  I did this so that my full length Stanley handsaw would fit inside the chest.  I probably should have stuck with the plans and purchased a shorter saw.  Longer chests are heavier (maybe too heavy) and harder to move by oneself, but I can manage.

I’m proud that my tools can now travel without the shame of being kept in an unfinished pine box.  If you would like to join the class, sign up now.  Greg said there was only one open spot as of today.

Bob Jones

Thank you, Pinterest

Hook_shelf_1

Thank you, Pinterest, for a constant flood of ideas for cute-sy type projects that the softer side of my household enjoys.  Original design is not a strength for my lovely wife, but she knows what she likes when she sees it and that is where the power of Pinterest shines through. Lindsay regularly shows me pictures of home decor ideas and says, “I really like this, would you build it for me?”  Unfortunately I am compelled to decline most of the time because the projects she finds would either cost too much or just wouldn’t fit in our regular sized house (a high percentage of Pinterest pictures come from Southern Living caliber houses).  But every once in a while she finds something and I get to say, “Yeah, I will do that for you.”

Hook_Shelf_2

Pop projects (from Pinterest or other sites) don’t interest me.  I like to spend my limited shop time building solid wood furniture that needs no stain or paint.  It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m not building things for everyone. I build things for me.  I expect furniture (or other decor) to be durable, timeless, well proportioned, functional – you get the idea.  Lindsay just likes things that look nice and make her life more comfortable, like most Pinterest followers, I suspect.

I didn’t photograph a proper build-along with the hook shelf, but here is a little guidance for construction.

 Hook_Shelf_3

Drafting with thin sections of wood and a sharp chisel is more fun than pencil and paper.

I based the proportions for this shelf on hooks that I bought from my friends at the woodwork shop.  You can order them from Rockler.  Because I can not cut my own complex molding (yet), I picked up a piece of crown molding from the home center that I figured was about the size that would look right.  I then sawed a few thin sections of wood and played with the pieces to get the dimensions that looked about right (no drafting on this project).

The joinery is not pictured.  I planed a shallow rabbet on the bottom back edge of the shelf to fit the back.  This rabbet makes assembly an easy job – try nailing two boards together like this by yourself and you will see the purpose of the rabbet.  I then nailed the crown molding in place, caulked the joints, and painted with regular household trim paint.  After the paint cured I screwed the hooks in place and hung it on the wall using these neat hangers.  I think the end result looks nice.

Hook_shelf_4   Hook_Shelf_5

I added a detail of hand planed moulding at the bottom and top edges of the shelf board.  I did this loosely based on the instructions in Matt Bickford’s excellent book on the topic.  It’s a great read even for those of us who don’t currently own moulding planes.  The best part is that rounds like this can be made with just a rabbet plane and a little patience.  Notice the facets that are apparent only if you look closely.  That is the sign of making a round surface from a straight edge tool.

Even though Pinterest has a very girly feel, I will confess to visiting the site more than once.  It is a powerful search engine that produces a visual flood of images that are often more relevant than a Google image search.  I dare you to search for something related to furniture building or woodworking.  Search specific terms and you may be surprised at the quality of search results delivered.  Warning – Before browsing, make sure no guys are looking over your shoulder when searching there – they may revoke your man privileges.

Bob Jones

I thought you were a woodworker…?

Built_in_after

We just had these cabinets built for our living room.

The title of this post is the most common response I hear when people see our new built-in cabinets and find out that I did not build them.  Why on earth would a “woodworker” pay someone else to build custom cabinets?  Because it made sense, that’s why.  I don’t like to build this style of cabinet and it would have taken me a very long time, so I would have been frustrated and annoyed during construction.  By farming out the construction and to a custom shop we got just what we wanted and fast.

Built_in_before

Before the “pro” showed up we cleared the wall of all obstacles.

Built_in_unpainted

Installed in a day.  Amazing, from my timeline.  At this point I took over (with help).  Paying a good painter is expensive and painting didn’t take very long.

This is not my trypical how-to type post.  I’m posting this to show that I do not DIY with every home project.  I limit myself to the projects I enjoy or the ones that I can not afford to hire out.  Maybe since this is finished I can go back to real furniture projects.

Bob Jones

Windsor Chair Kits Now Available – Everywhere

Windsor_01

Is this chair factory made or handmade?  Both.  Keep reading if you are curious to learn more.

The best way to describe this project may be Frustration Free Furniture Restoration.  This is counterintuitive, I know.  The words “furniture restoration” remind me of sanding, staining, repair, and headaches.  It is just not for me, thanks.  A long time ago, I refinished a cabinet for my wonderful wife.  That project went so poorly that I sold my profile sander and swore to never refinish another piece of furniture, but a recent post on Woodnet may make me eat those words.

Windsor_02

The “refinished” chair

Justin, a fellow Mississippian (transplant), posted some pictures of a Windsor chair that he completed in a day.  The project was a mix between a rebuild and a refinish.  From the pictures I hope you can see why I was impressed with his handiwork and requested permission to blog about it.

Windsor_03

The “kit” (after a quick demolition) – a chair that Justin originally described as “clunky”

Justin started his project by selecting a chair that he found in an antique store.  In Mississippi, “antique store” = piles of junk, stored indoors.  He liked a few things about this chair; it was inexpensive, the spindles were made from straight-grain stock, and the crest rail was steam bent – not sawn or laminated.  With the proper subject (aka – kit), he began by knocking the chair apart.  Reportedly, all the joints were loose so this was not a violent process.

Windsor_04

Original (left) and refined (right) spindles

After the chair was reduced to a pile of pieces, he put the legs and larger spindles in his lathe.  Those were reshaped to match styles of other chairs that he preferred.  The smaller, straight spindles were resurfaced with a spokeshave, adding facets that can only be a result of a skillful hand guiding a sharp edge tool.  These two steps were pure genius in my book.  All of the pieces now look (and were) hand finished and he eliminated the need for sanding.

Windsor_05

Major reshaping of the crest rail

Not stopping there, he reshaped the crest rail with some judicious saw cuts, chisels, spokeshaves, etc.

Windsor_06

Next up was deepening the dish of the seat with a gouge, scraper, and sandpaper.  This makes a big difference in appearance and should make the chair more comfortable.

Windsor_07

What Windsor chair seat can be shaped without a drawknife?

Windsor_08

All of the hand finished pieces ready for assembly

With all of the pieces “refinished” (actually reshaped) the chair was ready for reassembly.

Windsor_09

The chair – reassembled and painted with red milk paint

One more construction note.  The joints were loose when he started, so epoxy was required to make the joinery stable.  Justin highly recommends a slow curing epoxy.  Assembling one of these chairs takes time and fast setting adhesives makes the process more stressful.

Windsor_10

The red was nice, but the end result is a step up

Add to the red milk paint a coat of black shellac and judicious rubbing and Justin has a really nicely finished chair.

There are at least three great points with this approach to a “hand made” Windsor.  First, there were no special tools required.  Making a Windsor from scratch requires a significant investment in specialty tools (tapered reamers and such) that many woodworkers are not willing to buy for making one or two chairs.  Second, all of the joinery was pre-cut, which eliminated the most time consuming part of any scratch built project.   Third, no sanding away the old finish.  No further explanation needed on that point.  Thanks to the “kit”, Justin was able to take the chair from a loose collection of pieces to “finish ready” in a day.

Windsor_11

Good spindles = chance of a good kit

Are you wondering how you could begin a project like this?  The primary ingredient is a good starter chair (AKA – the kit).  Look for a chair with as many traditional details as possible – round, delicate spindles for the back (rather than flat or bulky) are a good indicator. Many factory-made Windsors have leg turnings or construction details that are a significant departure from traditional design. These chairs should be a avoided if you want a traditional look.  Also look for components that were made from straight-grained hardwood (maple, beech, or oak are really nice).  Finally, it is best if the crest rail was steam-bent (look for continuous grain all the way around with no layers like plywood).

If you find the right chair (or one close enough to it) and the price is right, snap it up, knock it apart, and get to work.  Enjoy the refinish with minimal (or no) sanding required.  I may even give furniture refinishing another go now that Justin has shown me a method that does not require a profile sander.

Bob Jones