Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Using a Polissoir and Meeting Snakeye

Yesterday I had a really great day.  I got to spend time in the shop, try out a new finishing technique, and meet a fellow woodworking blogger.

Perhaps I should explain.

Not long ago, I noticed a cool woodworking blog:  Snakeye Woodworks.  The author and I have made a few comments on each other's blogs, and we also have in common that we are both in Europe affiliated with the US military.  It turns out he is moving from Italy to England, and on his way past Munich I suggested we get together for a beer.

I decided that I was going to impose upon him one of my try-squares, as I needed to do a post on them again, anyway.  So, I built two.

Of course I restricted myself to my Beginner's Tool Kit (essentially a jack plane, two chisels, a Japanese saw and some marking tools), and added a router plane on one of the squares so I could show how to use this tool to facilitate making lap joints.  I think I'll save that for a future blog post.

However, I will talk about the new finishing process I used.  I needed something fast because I procrastinated with this project until the day of his arrival.  So, I had about three hours in which to cut the joints, glue up, and finish this project so I could present a finished product that evening.

No problem.  I knew I could cut the joints no problem, I have  been practicing this.  I settled on white PVA glue, as I could take it out of the clamp after about 30 minutes.  But to also finish it?

A perfect opportunity to whip out my new polissoir.  This is a recently re-discovered tool by Don Williams, who started using one after reading about it in the Roubo translation he is working on.

These things are awesome.

Essentially, it is a handful of broom straw tied together tightly and trimmed.  I have been using one the past several weeks as a burnisher.  In other words, I have just been using it dry as a final treatment before applying any kind of finish.  It really shines up the bare wood nicely.

I was so impressed with this, I was scared to use it with wax and contaminate the straw making it unusable in this fashion any more.  So, I ordered another one.

Following the directions sent out with the polissoir, I had to find some bees wax.  I think any furniture paste wax will do, but I couldn't resist the stuff at Dictum.  This is a really fine product, with a lot of pure beeswax and carnuba wax in it.  The other stuff I bought at the big box store said it contains beeswax, but looking at it's ingredients it is apparent that there is only the smallest amount there.

Dick Wax
I heated some of it up in a double boiler (while the Frau wasn't home, of course) and let the polissoir soak up as much molten wax as it could.

Polissoir soaking in wax
Just before glue up on the pair of new try squares (walnut and oak), I burnished the wood, and then used the newly-waxed polissoir to waxify them.
HOLY CRAP!  This thing works good!

I just wiped some wax on the wood with a paper towel, dabbed the end in the wax container and started scrubbing the surface of the wood.  Here are the results right after glue-up:

Snakeye paid me the best compliment possible when I presented him with his new try square.  He asked if I could blog about the finish, as he felt his finishing skills needed some help.

This wax finish is incredibly easy, and looks really good. 

We had a really nice evening drinking some of the local nectar (Tegernseer HofBräu) and chatted about woodworking, and other things.

Celebrity Deathmatch:  Snakeye vs. Toolerable
He really is a nice guy and has a beautiful family.  Check out his blog at:


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Retirement of the old workbench.

After finishing the Roubo workbench, I had to find another place for my old workbench. I considered keeping it on the loft in the barn, since I could then give it to one of my children, when they were to move away from home (they are 7, 10 and 12 years old, so there is still some time left).
Then one day my next door neighbour came by and I showed him the new and finished workbench. He asked what I would do to the old one, and I explained it to him. He then said, that he had always thought that it could be nice having one.
The day before he had said that he wanted to start woodturning, now that he was getting near his retirement age (67). I off course said it was a good idea, and even supplied him with a set of turning tools that I had picked up some years ago.

My wife asked me, if I needed any help to move the old bench, and I said that I wasn't quite sure if it should go to the barn anyway.
I told her about our neighbour, and we agreed that it would be better to give it to him as a birthday gift.
So she helped me load it into the back of the truck, and we drove up to him (he lives across a field, some 500 m away).

I can't forget the look on his face, as we gave it to him. He said that he had wished for a workbench since he was 12 years old, and now he finally got one. He also said (even in front of his wife), that it was the best gift he had ever received.

I talked to him two days later, on his actual 67th birthday, and he said that his grandchildren had visited him in the morning, and they had never seen a workbench before. So he had found some old wooden bodied planes and they had tried to plane a piece of wood. The grandchildren had really liked it.

So the bottom line is, I hope that by giving my old bench to my neighbour, I have made it possible for him to start a woodworking hobby, and he has got the potential of getting his grandchildren to work wood as well.
I think that is a better retirement for my old bench, than being kept in the barn.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What I Do When I'm Not Woodworking

The Frau and I spent last weekend hiking in the beautiful Bavarian Alps.

This trail is in walking distance of our apartment.
We went wandering around a mountain named the "Wank" (pronounced "vahnk").  This beautiful place (where I work) is about an hour's drive from our other house in Munich.  We stay there often to enjoy the scenery.

The juvenile in me loves the name of this place.

This photo is for Jonas.
Anyway, the point of this is it is not always possible to spend all of one's free time in the shop.  In my case, I would never leave, and it is probably good to get out on occasion.

So, what do I do when I am not in my shop?

I came up with a list of some things I do that actually help when I am in the shop.

Think about woodworking 

If you are anything like me, you will find yourself daydreaming a lot about wood.  I actually find that this helps me in the shop, as when I finally get there for my 30 minutes I may get in that day, I will have thought about what it is that I am going to accomplish and how to do it.  I think a lot when I am in the shop.  Sometimes it slows me down.  If I do my thinking away from the shop, perhaps a variety of solutions present itself to me.  Take your time and then go for it!

Plan projects

As a continuation of thinking, I sometimes come up with projects and joint processes.  It isn't a bad idea to write down some of your ideas here.  There's nothing worse than figuring it all out, and then wondering what your idea was when you get in the shop.


Blogging about woodworking has done more to help me focus as a woodworker than almost anything else.  After all, any yahoo can have a woodworking blog.  Why not me?  I soon found out that once people start reading it, your standards go up fast.  Plus, it is an ego trip.  It is neat to see that 500 people bothered to check out your latest project.

Fondle tools

I love this new Miller's Falls knuckle joint block plane that I got from Sanford Moss.  Luckily, I have a few really cool tools that are worth drooling over.  I like to think about the quality of the tool I am holding, envision ways to use it, and just hold it in my hand.  I haven't got the chance to use this tool all that much yet, but it fits my hand like a glove, and I feel just holding it helps me get to know the balance and operation of this tool that will be of assistance when I pull it out of the tool chest next to use.

Miller's Falls #47
Gawk at tool catalogs/webpages

Get to know tools.  All kinds of tools.  They are fun to look at.  I imagine using them.

Don't go crazy with your credit card.  Buy essential tools in the order that you need them, and dream about the rest.

It is important to get to know the different options from different manufacturers of tools.  Also, it is good to look at old tools this way.  If you decide you need a vintage tool, it helps if you know exactly what you want.

Read woodworking books/blogs/etc.

 If you didn't know the value of this, you wouldn't be reading this!

Actually, reading about woodworking is the second best way to learn about it.  Since you can't be in a live class all the time, reading everything you can get your hands on is invaluable.

Think more about woodworking

If you have done all the rest, you won't be able to help this step.

What do you do that helps you with woodworking when you are out of the shop?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tom Lie-Nielsen at Dictum

Today Dictum in Munich had an open house, and Tom Lie-Nielsen himself was there!

Tom Lie-Nielsen
Yesterday he taught a class about handplanes that sadly, I could not attend.  Today Dictum hosted an open house where he was available to speak to people about his tools.

I was there early in the day, and had the good fortune of speaking with him.  He really seems to be a nice guy and easy to talk to.

We spoke for a time about sharpening.  He said that sharpening is a critical skill that you need before you can really do anything else.  He advocates a system similar to what I use (and learned from Christopher Schwarz).  I mentioned to him that there are many people who advocate sharpening to a level much sharper than what you get with this method.  I said it should be good enough for about 99% of what woodworkers really need.  He added (if I may paraphrase) that the blade sharpened to that high of a level degrades so fast in woodworking tools that it doesn't take long before those super-sharp tools are at the same level of sharpness that tools sharpened using this method are.  Interesting point.

Dictum sells planes from manufacturers other than Lie-Nielsen, so I asked him what he thought of having a company like Lee Valley for a competitor.  His reply was that Lee Valley makes fine tools and having them in the business is good for all of woodworking, which in turn is good for Lie-Nielsen (more paraphrasing). 

I can see his point.  My first totally successful handtool was Lee Valley's bevel up jack plane.  I had success with this tool and therefore sought out other hand tools as I needed them.  One will see several Lie-Nielsen tools in my chest now, because Lee Valley showed me what quality new tools should be like.  If I had instead an experience with a first tool from a cheap foreign manufacturer, I could very well have become frustrated thinking hand tools were too hard or no fun, and I never would have gone to Lie-Nielsen for anything.

Something else he said that I really liked was that he thinks a tool should look beautiful and feel good in your hand.  It is obvious looking at his tool line that his company invests a lot of time and effort ensuring LN products reflect this. 

I got to see a super-secret new product that he will have coming out later this summer.  He didn't want it to get out, as to avoid someone making a cheap copy too early, so I won't tell you what it is.  Except, that I want one.  You probably will, too.

The main thing that I got out of today is that one should buy good quality tools, especially when starting out.  I think I might even go so far as to say that someone new to woodworking may want to suck it up and pay for new LN tools, as they will last forever and they should work right out of the box.  Vintage tools can be great (indeed I have some fine ones), but they will need some fettling to get working optimally.  This is a skill in it's own, and you may want to start woodworking by learning woodworking rather than learning old tool rehabilitating.  I would definitely recommend staying away from trying to save a few bucks buying cheap foreign tools thinking they are good enough for the level you are at.  Give yourself a chance to succeed, as you will either eventually buy the LN tool anyway, or quit woodworking in frustration.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Awesome Swiss Woodworking Video

Joshua Clark from Hyperkitten found a cool woodworking video and shared it with the folks on the Old Tools List.  I thought it interesting enough to re-post here.

I just finished watching it, and was very impressed.  Some really cool tools being used (and made).

It appears this video was made in the 1970s.  I don't understand much, as nothing in spoken in English.  But, after music, perhaps woodworking is the next-best universal language. 

Maybe a translation will present itself on the Porch soon.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The finished workbench

With the last obstacles out of the way, I managed to finish the workbench.

Installing the wagon vise was actually easier than anticipated.
I applied some wipe on finish for the top and the sliding deadman. Maybe I'll manage to remove the old workbench tomorrow, and move this one to its position.

I drilled some 30 mm holes for dogs in the top. The throw of the vise is 12 cm, and the holes are spaced 8 cm apart. In the far end of the bench, I couldn't make the holes, as they would coincide with the leg of the workbench. Therefore there are 3 holes missing.
The holes in the deadman are 3/4".

The next part of this project is to turn some dogs to fit in the holes.

Monday, February 4, 2013

My Basic Hand Tool Poll Results Are In - And the Winner Is...

The Router Plane!

My Lie-Nielsen router plane
As a recap, I have been writing about what tools a beginner should focus on, in my humble opinion.  I decided to take a poll about which tool my readers think a beginner should next put on his/her list.

I was surprised that the router was a clear winner by a big margin.  I kind of always consider the shoulder plane the partner of the router plane, but the shoulder plane got only two votes, one of which was my wife who voted for it because it was first on the list.

Here are the results of my poll, in order of popularity:
  1. Router Plane - 30%
  2. Proper Back Saw - 21%
  3. Brace and Bit - 18%
  4. Plow Plane - 9%
  5. More Chisels - 6%
  6. Rabbet Plane - 6%
  7. Shoulder Plane - 6%
  8.  Other (Coping Saw) - 3%
  9. More Bench Planes - 0%
Let me mention here that there was absolutely nothing scientific about this poll.  About 350 people read the post, and of those only 33 voted.  

I happen to agree with this poll, in that a router would be an excellent tool to put on your wish list.  I have been making a few projects using only my Basic Tool Kit (BTK), and have missed being able to use some of these tools, but a router plane would have made some of these projects even easier.

My favorite use for a router plane is to clean up the cheeks on a tenon or a lap joint.  Since I have been using a lot of lap joints with this basic tool kit, a router plane would have been nice.

Here is how you use it to clean up the cheek:  secure the piece with the newly cut tenon or lap joint on your bench with a clamp or a hold-fast.  Then, put another piece of wood that is the exact same thickness next to the tenon.  You will use this for support when cleaning the tenon. 

If you can still see your layout mark on the side of the tennon, lower the blade on the router until the sharp edge is right on that mark.  Now, set your depth stop to this position.  This is easy on a Lie-Nielsen, and is the main reason I chose this router. 

Before making a cut, back the blade off a few turns, so that you make very light cuts.

To make the cut, use one hand to secure one of the knobs in place and use the other hand to push the opposite handle, like a lever.  This gives a lot of control and finesse on this cut.  If you push with both hands, you may wind up taking more than you want.

Once the router cuts no more wood, lower the blade a half a turn or so and repeat.  Keep this up until you bottom out on your depth stop.

Just to be on the safe side, you should be looking at that gauge line to make sure you don't cut too far.

If you are cleaning up a tenon, keep your depth stop adjustment, flip the piece over and repeat.  Now, your tenon is perfectly centered on your stock!

If you would like to cut a lap joint that is exactly half the thickness of your stock, use your router like a marking gauge to find the middle of your stick of wood.  Eyeball it about half way, make a mark from each side.  If the marks aren't perfectly in the same spot, move the blade to split the difference and check again.  Once you have the middle, set your depth stop, mark the lap joint, saw it out and use the router to clean up.  When your depth stop bottoms out, you are perfectly in the middle.

I do have to admit, though, that I think I may have been using this plane a little bit as a crutch.  Practicing these joints using only a chisel has given me confidence and improved my skill in flattening with only a chisel.  I think from now on, I'll only use the router if I have multiple pieces that need to be the exact same, or some other reason the accuracy needs to be dead-nuts on. 

Paring with a chisel is faster than all of that fussing with depth stops and adjustments.  What you gain is surgical accuracy, if you need it.

Next up, some tool porn as I go through the merits and uses of the other tools on the poll.