Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Fingers In the Till - Lee Valley Low Angle Jack

Things have been a bit quiet in my shop lately.  I have a couple projects down there that are itching to get finished, but for one reason or another, time in the shop just seems to come up less frequently than I would like.

As a way to continue to record my thoughts for posterity, I thought I might take some time occasionally to dip my hand into my tool chest and share with you whatever comes out.

I think I'll dub this series:  Fingers In the Till.

A rather fetching photo of my LV LA Jack in action.
First up is my beloved Lee Valley Low Angle Jack plane.

I've written about jack planes before, and I think now that I have been using this plane differently since then, I can say a bit more about it.
Used to bevel this large panel.
In my original treatise on my take of what a Beginner's Tool Kit should look like,  I stated that one can do woodworking with just a few tools.  One of them should be a jack plane.  To put my money where my mouth is, I built a few projects using only those tools.

Something unexpected happened when I moved to exclusively using this plane:  I really got to like it.
Rough work across the grain.  In this case, flattening my workbench.
I think that using one plane, to the point where you know every single little quirk about it and can use that knowledge to the tool's best advantage is far more useful than having a choice between 50 specialty planes to do specific tasks.  Up until the time I wrote that beggining tool kit post, I would typically use a scrub, a jointer and a smoother for those respective jobs, and 99% of my work with this plane was relegated to use on a shooting board.
This plane excels on a shooting board, but that's not all it can do.
Intelectually, I knew this plane could do all this other stuff, but figured that if I had a dedicated smoothing plane and a dedicated jointer plane, those should work better for those tasks.  Right?

Thickness planing with the jack.
Well, the truth of the matter is for most furniture sized work, the jack plane works just fine for those tasks.  In fact, it can be easier.  Not only do I only have one plane to maintain and sharpen vs. three, this one plane can stay on my benchtop within easy reach to do whatever task is next. 
Dimensioning a piece of cherry.
I feel like this plane is now an extension of my arm.  I know how this plane will work and what to do to it for any particular job.  I have never experienced that before.  Continually switching between different planes prevented me from really getting the most from those planes.  Using this one exclusively (mostly) not only helped me get the most out of this plane, but made me a better planer in general. 

In short, I thought using only one plane would be do-able, but instead I found out using only one plane increased my skill exponentially. This was a far bigger gift than only having to buy one plane.
It only took minutes to get this nasty piece of pear looking silky smooth using only one plane.
If it sounds like I am going crazy over the experience of getting good with one plane rather than specifically this Lee Valley plane, well, that's true.  I know that Jonas thinks the same about a wooden smoother he has.  He switches out his smoothing blade to a radiused blade when he needs to take thick shavings.  Paul Sellers recommends a vintage Stanley smoother is really the only bench plane one needs.  Christopher Schwarz has only a jack plane on his list of essential tools in the Anarchist's Tool Chest (incidentally, this book is what set me on the path to what I currently keep in my tool chest).

So, enough about all that philosophy.  Let's get to this plane specifically:
Sometimes I clamp it upside down in the vice when working small parts.
This plane is of the bevel up variety, similar to a standard block plane.  This means there is no chipbreaker, and the cutting angle includes whatever angle the blade happens to be sharpened at.  This can be a powerful feature to use to your advantage!

What I really like about this plane is it's versatility.  I find myself twisting the front knob to adjust the mouth all the time.  I always set up the plane by adjusting it for a fine shaving, ensuring the shaving is the same thickness all the way across.  Then, I will turn the adjuster knob to make a more agressive cut, depending on the task at hand.  I like to take the most agressive cut appropriate for the task.
Smoothing a cribbage board.  I love this shaving!
Generally, the deeper the cut, the more I open the mouth.  I think the mechanism to adjust the mouth on this Lee Valley plane is better than anything else out there.  Even better than the Lee Valley jointer!
Chamfering with the aid of my Moxon vice.
I like the fact that you can change blades out for what you are doing.  I have the standard 25 degree blade, a 38 degree blade, a 50 degree blade, and the toothing blade.  I bought them all before I really started using this plane.  In my experience 99% of usage with this plane works with the standard blade.  If it doesn't, try sharpening it before you go crazy with other blades.  But, when you need it, those steeper angles really do the trick.  I've only "needed" to use the 50 degree blade once.
I think in the old days I would have bevelled this board with a block plane.
This plane is also built like a tank.  I am embarassed to say that it has fallen from my bench twice (that I can remember, anyway), no worse for wear.  However, I wouldn't recommend trying that out just to see if it works.
Here's a photo of my friend John playing trombone.  He sometimes reads this blog, and I'm sure he'll be amused to see his picture completely out of context here.
A famous woodworker said in a class I attended that this is the finest plane Lee Valley makes.  I don't know about that, but it's the finest one I have.
More little parts.  If you try this, watch your fingers!  I have clamped the handle in the bench vise.
When I first bought this plane, I wanted it for use with a shooting board.  I also didn't know if I wanted this one, or the one made by Lie Nielsen.  I chose this one based solely on that it was cheaper in price.

If I were to do it over again, I might choose the Lie Nielsen plane because the fit and finish on the Lie Nielsen is a bit finer, and it might be a bit easier to push since the blade is somewhat narrower.  I think that the two plane manufacturers both came out with an excellent tool, and it is not worth it for me to make that small of an upgrade (and learn another tool).
Here I am smoothing the grooves made with the toothed iron in the same plane.
I suppose the moral of this extremely long blog post is that if you are an experienced hand tool woodworker, and don't yet have an LA jack, you probably don't need to go out and buy one.  Instead, try narrowing your working arsenal of planes down to just the minimal amount.  If you are new to woodworking and looking to buy a plane to fill a hole in your tool chest, this is a fine choice that comes with my highest recommendation.

Do you have experience with this plane?  Do you have a favorite plane?  I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Almost Done, but Need a Little Help

Joy of joy, I got some real time in the shop yesterday and today.  With the holidays, work, and the general lack of motion in my shop, it has been a real challenge getting to a couple of old projects.

Most importantly was the Welsh stick chair that I started in Denmark at Jonas'.  Here is where I am at now:
Finally - Almost done!
 Basically the chair is done except for finish.
Here is a view from above that shows what I was trying to do with the arms.
So far, the chair has exceeded all of my expectations.  I think it is really cool, and was a good first Windsor style chair.

My main problems with this build (really, I wouldn't bring it up but this bit is important to explain why I need a bit of advice) started when I tried to fit the arm rail on the sticks that I had attached to the seat.  That particular part of the glue up was very stressful.
This was what happened when I first glued the arm rail on.
I wound up getting it to look decent enough by squirting some hide glue in there and clamping it up overnight.  However, at this point I was just glad to have the arm rail on, and didn't stress too much that it didn't go all the way down to where it was originally supposed to go.  It now is an inch or two higher than my original intent.

I think this really doesn't make any difference, as it is relatively straight and looks good where it is.  I did have to get creative planing the lamination flat after this glue up so I could glue the crest on, but it worked out.

The problem is that since it is higher than I wanted, there are two sticks that don't quite stick out high enough that I could cut them off flush with the arm rail. 
Part of this stick isn't out far enough. 
Indeed, there are parts of them that sit below the level of the arm and look unsightly.
#2.  Yeah, it looks like #2.
There are a couple different ways I could deal with this.  However, I am not sure I like any of my ideas yet.  I have a couple days before I can work on this chair again, so I would love to year what you would do to fix this if it was your build.  Please leave a comment, I'd love to hear from you.
The chair is amazingly comfortable.
BTW, I am a bit slow on reading up on some of the blogs.  I just read this one today, and was pleased to see my chair mentioned in this contest!  Thanks to MWA for putting on this contest.

Monday, January 12, 2015


I've mentioned it before; sometimes one just needs to finish something quick and easy to get some momentum going in the shop.  This project hardly is fine furniture building, but it does yield an opportunity to practice some basic skills.

My wife has always had these clunky coat hangers that were probably in fashion 20 years ago.  They are made from scots pine (Pinus sylvestrus), and every once in a while the screw-in hook on this style comes out and needs to be glued back in.

I had one in my shop, thinking that it might be a nice exercise to do some kind of double sliding dovetail patch.

Needless to say, this hasn't ever gotten done because there always is something more important than that to spend a few hours fiddling with this patch.

Today I decided just to make a new one.  I am not talented with a bowsaw, so even with all the clean up involved there, this took about 30 minutes from marking out to applying finish.

The top one is the original, the bottom is my copy.
This is the perfect piece to do with a scrap piece of paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa).  It is so easy to saw this stuff.

I just traced the pattern from the original onto my roughstock, sawed it out with my bowsaw, and cleaned it up with some spokeshaves, rasps, and a little bit of 180 grit sandpaper.

I finished it with some leftover tung oil I had mixed up with turpentine on a previous project.

I know that you can buy these screw-in hangers from some woodworking supply places, and can recommend them for a quick and dirty project.

Time will tell if this wood holds up any better than the pine did.

I think my next hangers will be copies of these hangers I found in a Bavarian open air museum.  I think these would be a fantastic short exercise, too!

Bavarian farm hangers
I really like the bottom two.  Those are next.

Meanwhile, after I got this hanger made, I got to work on my proper project:

Getting back to work on an old project.
 More about this one next time!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Coffee and Cream Roorkee - Merry Christmas, Janet!

Merry Christmas to my wonderful sister Janet!  Since I didn't plan far enough ahead to build your gift in time for you to receive it by Christmas, here are some photos of your gift to show you what is on it's way via the US Postal system:

The Coffee and Cream Roorkee.
I am the youngest of seven children, and to make things less painful for us when we were kids, we used to draw names from a hat to determine for which of our siblings we would get a Christmas gift.  We continue this tradition today, although we rotate who gets whom for Christmas.  This year, I had my sister Janet, the third girl in our family.
Here is an old photo of the whole family.  I'm the youngest, the boy with his fly open.  Janet is the third oldest, the one whose head is hidden behind my brother Chuck.
The chair is made from wenge (Millettia laurentii) and a hair-on cow hide.  I was originally going to use oak or ash.  On my way to the lumber yard to buy some lumber for this project, The Frau asked if I had anything in my own lumber pile that would work.  It turns out I had some wenge from a project that never got started.  Lucky for Janet, it was perfect for this project.

Wenge and hair-on cowhide.
I am extremely happy with how this chair turned out.  It was a bit of a challenge:  I did most of the work at the Dictum woodshop, but didn't quite get everything done in the few days I had allotted. 

It was a comedy of errors that prevented this chair from getting done in plenty of time to be mailed by Christmas.  It was finished just yesterday.  Mental note, start Linda's gift earlier next year.

Details, details.
Most all of the woodwork was done with machines this time, in order to make this a fast project.  The woodwork actually did go fast.  Rough work such as cutting rough stock to dimension, jointing and planing are undoubtedly quicker with good machines.  I turned the legs using both my Easy Rougher, and a roughing gouge that Andy at Dictum helped me with.  I even used a router table to make the octagonal stretchers.  It worked well.  The trick is finishing everything off with a swipe from a plane to remove machine marks.

Laminated leather.
One challenge I had to overcome was the relative delicacy of the cowhide.  It was too soft, pliable and stretchy to be used by itself.  For the arms, I toyed with the idea of using only 10 ounce vegetable tanned leather with the color seen on the belting elsewhere on this chair.  It didn't look quite right.  The cowhide was way too thin for use in the arms of this chair, so I glued the cowhide to the veg-tan for a stout arm strap that looked the way I wanted it to.
The carriage bolt shown was stripped, sanded and blued with gun-blue.
I finished this chair with pure tongue oil thinned with some organic turpentine.  Once this was well cured, I applied a thin layer of paste wax.  This is a nice, no-nonsense finish that leaves you admiring the wood, as opposed to the finish. 

One other thing that I had to think about when cutting out the leather, was the fact that the direction the hair fell on the hide needed to be in a certain orientation.  I wanted it to go front to back on all parts.  This I did, but it required wasting a bit more material than when I use plain leather.

Merry Christmas, Janet!  Here's your gift.
The seat needed some strengthening, too.  I chose to leave the back piece alone, but I knew the chair would not last more than a few days if I didn't do something with the seat.  I thought a long time about how to attach canvas to the leather.  I decided to use wood glue on the front and back.  While I was fetching some glue, I realized I had some spray glue, and instantly knew this was the way to go.

I attached the red canvas with spray glue - you know, the stuff that is used in the cartoons.
I cut it to the exact width and a couple inches longer than the seat piece.  I folded over the edges, and ironed the creases crisp.  Then, I sprayed a little glue under the fold before spraying both the canvas and the leather seat liberally with glue.

This worked awesome.
Canvas spray glued to the cowhide for strength.
I wasn't sure how this would work with copper rivets, but I needn't have worried.  Everything turned out perfectly.

Copper rivets fix the leather straps with the canvas-backed cowhide.
One other bit that required attention was the edges of the arm straps.  The leather on the cowhide was a grey color, and the veg-tan is a flesh color.  The answer was after trimming and smoothing the edge, to paint with some brown Edge Kote.  I think it turned out just right, if I do say so myself!

Edge Kote on the laminated arm strap (it is upside down on the floor in this photo).
This is the third Roorkee chair that I have built.  Having done a few of these now, I think I would like to comment a bit on their construction.
The new and the old:  My first chair from pear.
A chair I built with my dad:  diamond willow.
Much of the woodworking can easily be done by hand, and there really isn't too much wood that is needed.  Care should be given to the stretchers, that the grain is as straight as possible with no runout, if possible.  Strong stretchers are a necessity. 

All three chairs I built had a different style of dowel:  The first one I cut the wood along the grain and turned the dowels to a cigar shape as laid out in Chritopher Schwarz's book, Campaign Furniture. 

The second, diamond willow chair I used store bought oak dowels, but picked out ones that had as straight of grain that was possible. 

This chair I sawed out the stretcher blanks along the grain as best I could, and made them octagonal with a chamfer bit on a router table.  The octagonal shape left a little more meat on the one inch dowel blanks, and was a bit simpler for me as a novice turner.

All three methods I can recommend.

Also, do not be afraid to drill the holes for the stretchers and ream the tapers by hand.  Using a bit and brace is not much slower than a drill press, once setting up the machine is added to the time.  Just use a square to check your work once the taper gets close.  You can 'steer' the brace one way or the other a bit until it is dialled in just perfect.

Most of all, I think that one should not be afraid to go outside of the box when making a Roorkee chair.  Unless you are trying to make a faithful reproduction, why not put your own stamp on it?  This chair has a lot of room for being flexible with the design.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Side Trip to London

The Frau and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in London this week, and we had a great time.  The first thing we did was 'afternoon tea.'  The Frau ordered a traditional afternoon tea.  It came with Earl Grey, cucumber sandwiches and the whole works.

I intended to do this, but there was something on the menu called 'Gentleman's Tea,' and I felt morally obligated to order it.  Turns out this version of afternoon tea came with beer and meat.  Perfect!

Afternoon tea at the Kensington Close Hotel.
Having been to London as a tourist before, I didn't need too many more photos of me with Big Ben, so it turns out I took relatively few pictures this time.  One of the things I forgot to take pictures of, was a fellow woodworker I got to meet up with, Travis from Snakeye Toolworks for a few pints.  That was fun.

What I did find on my camera on my way home was a bunch of pics of furniture from one of the museums we went to:  the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Technically this museum is free, but they do a good job of guilting you into donating a few bucks to see the displays.

There was a lot of cool future in this place.  I saw a couple pieces of note that I will share here.

The first is a sideboard designed by E.W. Godwin around 1870.  I can't see myself building either of these two pieces, but of the two I can see including some elements from this piece on a future project.

Designed by E.W. Godwin
Here's  the placard describing the piece.
Close up of some details.
Interesting hardware.
The next piece I want to show you is another sideboard.  This one says it is made of ebony with ivory inlay.  I don't know if it is solid ebony, or ebony veneer.  The sensible thinking part of my brain says it must be veneered, but the Tim Taylor part of my brain really would like to think it is solid ebony.  Just for posterity and all of your amazement, here it is:

This piece is even more incredible in person.  Designed by Bruce James Talbert.

The museum's blurb.
Close up of the detail.  It is amazingly clean and crisp, and there is a LOT of it.
I wound up at the V&A museum because The Frau wanted to see a photography exhibition there.  What I really wanted to see this time was the Museum of London, with all the history of the local area there.  Unfortunately, there was very little woodworking of note displayed there.  The coolest piece I found was this wooden Highlander.  It was used to sell snuff much like wooden tobacco indians were in the U.S.
Me and the Highlander.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Stupid Table

Although it has been a couple months (!) since I have posted last, it doesn't mean I haven't been doing any woodworking.

Just not much.

Most notably, I finished our stupid walnut (Juglans nigra) table.  It is not a stupid table, it is just one of those stupid projects that takes years to finish just because it is no fun.  Now that I think about it, it wasn't no fun because it was a dining table, it was no fun because of the particular nature of the walnut I used.  It wanted to tear out no matter which way it was planed.

I did all of the joinery, which included gluing up the top panel, planing it flat, and cutting all of the mortises and tenons by hand at the Army woodshop on the post where I work.

Once that was done, I took all the parts to our Garmisch apartment for assembly and finish.  The Frau helped with several parts of this build, most notably the finishing.

Many of you probably won't approve of our choice of finishes, but we are pretty gentle with our furniture, so we used boiled linseed oil followed by pure beeswax applied with a polisoir.  This is truly an amazing finish on walnut.

The walnut panel resting on top of our old, temporary table. 

This is the underside of the table, which shows some of the tearout I was dealing with.  There also are a couple knot holes that don't go all the way through.
M+T joinery with drawbored pins.  This was the most pleasant part of the build.  I really took my time to make sure these joints all fit together perfect before hammering the pegs home.  The goo is just some paste wax which lubricates and assists the pin when driving home.   I chose to drawbore these joints using no glue at all.  Great choice.  It made for a completely stress free assembly.  Oh, and you might notice the end grain looking weird compared to the face grain.  I laminated 8/4 stock together to make the thick legs, then veneered the faces of the legs that showed the glue line.  It looks awesome.

A close-up of the finished top.
The finish is amazing.  However, it turned out a bit different than we expected.  On the base, we went straight from a planed surface to the BLO, then applied the beeswax with straw burnishers.  On the top, we added the step of burnishing the raw wood before applying any finish.  The base looks just the way we wanted, but the top practically glows in the dark.  It is a bit glossy-er than we envisioned.  It almost looks like French Polish.  We wanted a little bit more of a matte finish.  I have let it set for about six weeks to cure, hoping the gloss would mute over time a little bit like paste wax would, but no luck.  I am thinking we might have to apply something else over the top of the wax to subdue the shine a little.

In other news, I have two unfinished projects sitting on my bench in a state of only needing a little more work until they are finished - the Welsh stick chair and the Shaker side table.  I have some time off to myself this week so I should be able to get them both finished - unless I start another project which is exactly what I did.

I need to get a Christmas gift built, so no time for anything until this is done.  Unfortunately, I left my camera in Garmisch so I have no pictures of this chair yet.  I spent two days at the Dictum shop in Munich working on it, so it is almost done.  Diane talked me into using some lumber I already had rather than buying some new ash or oak for this project.  I'm glad she did.

I had some wenge (Millettia laurentii) intended for something else that I haven't started yet laying around from when I used to think that exotic wood was good to use in every project.  I probably will stay away from using exotics for future hand tool projects, but I had this stuff laying around and it looked like it would make a freaking bad-ass Roorkee.  All of the woodworking is done, and it indeed looks bad-ass.  The leather is almost done, and it looks cool, too.  I am using leather from a whole hide of hair-on leather I got a few months back for exactly this project.  I thought it was going to look kind of silly-western, but with the wenge it looks super refined and swanky.  I can't wait to put a picture of it up.  I've decided to call it Coffee and Cream.  Coffee, because the pile of shavings left from the lathe looked exactly like coffee grounds, and Cream, because the rest of the chair was obviously made from cow, and Coffee and Steak just doesn't have the right ring to it.

It would have been finished yesterday, as I had the whole day to myself (The Frau works on Thanksgiving, being it isn't a German federal holiday).  While I was getting my shop ready for working on the Roorkee, I cut my finger bad enough on a loose tool while rooting around in the trunk of my car to earn a trip to the emergency room.  I sliced a chunk of skin off of the end of my finger.  The slice wasn't terribly big, but it was deep enough that it started to bleed like crazy and wouldn't stop.  Note to self - keep your car clean.

Hopefully, in a day or two I'll be back in the shop and the Roorkee will be in the mail.