Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Old Tool Mecca

I was recently in touch with an acquaintance from high school who informed me that he was also interested in hand tools, particularly for boat building. Through some back and forth messages he  directed me to Liberty Tool Co which is an antique tool store dealing almost exclusively in used woodworking, black smithing, and mechanics tools. This is the kind of place that I have been searching for during my antiquing on the weekends, and it is just too much of a gem to keep to myself.

I found this video online which sums up how incredible this place really is. I encourage anyone in the New England area, or anyone visiting, to stop by this hidden treasure (it is within driving distance from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks so double trouble!). Happy rust hunting!

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that the video may not play on some popular mobile browsers. I don't have a good fix for this so you can simply follow this Link to the video on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Blue Spruce Marking Knife

Although I do not have an abundance of money, I believe in the "buy your last tool first" philosophy (see contradiction here). When I was deciding which marking knife I wanted to buy, I found a great independent tool maker, David Jeske, who owns and runs Blue Spruce Tool Works. His marking knives come highly recommended throughout the hand tool blogosphere, so I figured that I would buy the small marking knife...with a special piece of wood for the handle.

Truly a work of art.

I had some holly wood (insert witty movie star joke here) that I was saving for the right project and figured my one and only marking knife would be the perfect candidate for such nice wood. So I contacted David Jeske to ask about the use of holly as a handle material. David was more than helpful with my questions and even went into some details about the finishing processes that he uses for his tools and how they hold up in use. After discussing the details through several emails I dropped my piece of holly in the mail and anxiously checked my mailbox morning and night. Within two weeks, pretty amazing for a custom handmade knife, I received an awesome little cardboard box in the mail from Oregon.

A detail of the intricate turning.

When I opened the box I was immediately impressed by the quality of my marking knife; other people's reviews didn't even begin to do David's work justice. The blade was bright, the ferrule had a lustrous brushed look and the handle, well the hand-rubbed lacquered holly handle looked and felt like polished ivory. DISCLAIMER: No Woolly Mammoths were exhumed for the making of my marking knife.

Detail of the two part ferrule and perfectly formed handle. 

Since receiving the marking knife, I have had several projects which I have used it on. The handle fits my hand perfectly and the knife is crisp and sharp, severing the wood fibers for a nice clean line. I am very pleased with how well the knife feels and tracks in a mark. Making things by hand is a deeply personal matter and the tools one uses to do so are just as personal. I have no doubt that I will get to know this small knife very well throughout my journey of hand joinery.

Tools of the trade.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Used Desk?

That is exactly (kind of) what I made The Boss for her Valentines Day present. I wanted to make an environmentally conscious piece of furniture using as much reclaimed material and natural finishes that I could find.

The Boss loves it, and that is all that counts.

It all started at work. We were doing a basement remodel and tearing down some 100 year old walls made out of what I thought was gorgeous old growth pine studs. I asked my employer if it was OK if I took home some of the more usable pieces. "Usable pieces?" he asked me with a very confused look, the studs were twisted, knotty, and full of staples and nails; he thought I was joking.

The character in the wood is amazing.

I couldn't be happier with my "luck". I immediately went to the shop and started de-nailing all of the lumber. This is a tedious task, and fortunately there wasn't any need to be too careful because I wanted a reclaimed look to my final product, so it was OK to make dings and dents.

The next step was "jointing" all of the edges of the studs for the lamination glue up, which essentially means running the pieces through the table saw to get a reasonably uniform glue face. I don't have a power jointer  or a jointing plane, so up until this point the table saw is my method for preparing glue joints (feel free to tell me how important it is to have perfectly straight and square glue joints in the comments section, but be warned I will probably resume using worst practices).

The top looks great with the knots and nail holes!

The base is made from a combination of new and used black gas pipe fittings. I had to supplement in some new pieces in order to get the dimensions necessary for a desk. I de-greased the pipe with some GooGone (made from citrus oils!), and then gave it a couple coats of clear spray paint to prevent rusting in the future (I am currently looking for an all natural alternative for this step as I really don't like working with spray paint).

The iron pipe frame gives a cool industrial look.

This is where the original design was intended to stop, but  I was making this desk for my wife who is starting up her photography business so I got to thinking that it would be great if she could have some storage to hide her equipment, paper work, hard drives, etc. After a little poking around my favorite antique shops and prodding the shop keepers I found some amazing old soda bottle crates that were both the same width, and stacked up to approximately the right height.

It is amazing the crates were exactly the same width.

Back at the shop I added a couple nails here and there to reinforce some of the more delicate and aged joints on the crates and then added some old reused leather from an old couch onto the bottom of the drawers to give a nice uniform, padded surface.

Smooth suede keeps lenses safe!

The drawer action is surprisingly smooth!

The task of mounting my new found "drawers" was a whole different beast entirely. This was difficult because I wanted to keep within the style of the desk, but I didn't want to hide the great graphics on the sides of the soda crates inside the drawer frame. After scratching my head for a few nights, I came up with a plan of using old bed frame stock as angle iron runners from which to construct a carcass.

A closeup of my "carcass" and "runners."

The printing on the side of the crates can still be seen!

To finish the piece I found a really great Eco-friendly, low VOC polyurethane replacement that is actually made out of processed whey protein (the byproduct from the dairy industry). The company is Vermont Natural Coatings and the product goes by the name PolyWhey. I plan on doing a separate post on my perceived pros and cons of this finish, so stay tuned.

Ready for action...now The Boss wants a new computer...what have I done?

PS. I am very proud of this project. It is by far the most unique piece of furniture I have made to date. I am interested in doing some commission pieces (anything to get out of work right?) so feel free to email me if you would like to discuss a similar item.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Say That Again

Introducing the really cheap Clueless Woodwright's version of the Close Grain School of Woodworking workbenches inspired by Paul Sellers' adaptation of the traditional English workbench design. Confused? Me too, and I'm building the dang thing.

So as I get more into hand tool woodworking it has become abundantly clear that I need a traditional style workbench. However, my workshop is tiny...in fact tinier than my tool budget if you can believe it. So a massive oak Roubo bench with the latest and greatest vise hardware is kind of out of the question. As a result I took to the web to find a low cost, small space, fast build time bench design that I could make within my budget so that I can get onto woodworking.

Richard from Maguire Workbenches made this amazing English style bench

As it turns out I found the Close Grain School of Woodworking, which is actually in Pepperell, MA (a hop, skip, and a jump away from Groton). Steve Brennan, the founder and instructor at the school, had a post about his low cost, easy to build workbenches based on Paul Sellers' designs. The benches were made from construction grade lumber (which means Spruce or Fir in New England) and had a single face vise.

Steve Brennan's finished workbench for his school

So being the delinquent engineer that I am, I immediately took to Solidworks to sketch out a basic plan for my bench design. I made some adjustments to the Close Grain workbench, mainly a beefier tool tray with dust ramps and some bread board type end caps that would help keep everything together in the long run (hopefully).

Rough model of the workbench. 54" L x 23" W x 29" H (Yes I am that short)

The next day I ran to the lumber yard, before The Boss could talk me out of it, and bought $63 worth of knotty, twisted Spruce 2x4s, 2x6s, and 2x8s (I shudder to think that these were the best specimens in the yard!). Also, that night I went online and ordered the cheapest face vise that I could find as well as a pair of Gramercy holdfasts.

Face vise and holdfasts. As you can see my current workbench is lacking!

There is no turning back now, so next there will be a lot of laminations, exclamations, and frustrations before the bench is done. And don't judge me and say things like "it is really worth it to get a nice vise, and quality lumber" blah, blah, blah. My very objective is to build the cheapest, fastest bench possible so that I can get to woodworking and develop the real skills and tools that I will need to build my next workbench, which I promise will have no less than $500 worth of vise hardware and 300lbs of hardwood.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Birth of a Tool

More interweb wanderings, and yet another inspiring find. Recently I ran across a series of videos made by John Neeman Tools, a collective of Latvia craftsman who create beautiful tools. It shows the art, passion, care , and artisanship that goes into each and every tool that they make.

These videos make me want to grow a beard, move to a cabin in the woods, and start making tools. Come to think about it I am already half way there (you figure out which half).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The P Word

Not that word you knuckle draggers. An even worse word, Plastic! That is right, my mortal enemy, the cause of everything cheap and mass manufactured. The very reason why things don't last as long, wear as well, or look as nice.

I am torn. It is a hand tool...but is cheap and kind of disposable.

I am currently in the process of making a traditional English style workbench (a step by step tutorial to come) and I needed a saw to do some mortise and tenon work, crosscuts, and ripping. Because my tool budget is non existent, and I don't have the time to find an antique saw to tune and sharpen I went against all my morals and bought the Stanley SharpTooth saw from Home Depot. It is recommended by Chris Schwarz so I figured it was worth a shot.

The teeth are induction hardened so they can not be resharpened.

I know what you are thinking, you can't have one saw to do fine joinery and breaking down stock and making finishing cuts. Well I figured that one handsaw that does a barely mediocre job at all those tasks is better than an imaginary set of saws that do...well...nothing. So I sold my soul and bought a mass manufactured, uncomfortable plasticky handled $12 hand saw with unsharpenable Japanese style teeth. Excuse me while I go feel shame.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

My Mallet is Cooler Than Yours

I know that those are fightin' words, but I have full confidence that my wickedly awesome mallet can hold its own. As I mentioned in a previous post I was recently in Southern Maine along Rte 1 looking for some antique tools. At a large antique mall I found the most interesting mallet I have ever seen. It has a brass (or maybe bronze) head, weighs in at a hefty 21.5 oz. and has a handle that is about 6 inches long.

The original mallet before cleaning.

The head looks as if it got in a fight with a wolverine and then thrown into a blender. Obviously this mallet was abused by its last owner, or maybe it was well loved depending on how you look at it. Anyhow, the marred head, sweat-stained handle, and crude steel wedge holding the two together immediately won me over.

Even the Wedge Holding on the Handle is Cool!

There are however a couple hang ups I have with this mallet. First, the handle is twisted...and by that I mean the flats on the sides of the handle don't line up with the orientation of the head. To fix this I pounded out the handle from the head, and re-wedged the two back together.

The original handle was twisted in an awkward position.

The straightened handle... yes, that is Isabelle photo bombing my post.

Next, the faces have some sharp burrs that could possibly dent and ruin the handles on my chisels. I don't mind inward dents...it is the outwards ones that bug me (best Freudian slip ever?) so I took some coarse emery cloth to remove the burs. I then went to progressively finer grit papers until I had nice shiny but textured faces.

The Original Marred and Dented Face

The final step was to take this bad boy for a test spin. With my first solid thump on a 1" butt chisel I was head over heels in love (don't tell The Boss). Not convinced yet? That is because I didn't tell you the best part. I got this sweet piece of hardware for the low low price of $8. So before you comment about your Wood is Good, Lee Valley Journeyman, or Blue Spruce mass manufactured chisel beater, think about weather or not your mallet is 3x, 4x, or even 10x better than mine. And to set the record straight my mallet could beat yours up in a fight, it already has the battle scars to prove it.

A highly polished face doesn't hurt your chisel handles.

PS. I mean no disrespect to any of the above mentioned tool dealer mallets...I just have tool envy and am lashing out on account of my low tool budget.

PPS. Insert Mjolnir joke here.

Friday, March 1, 2013


Polissoir. That is right, although I have been away on business for the last couple days The Boss called the day I left and said that I had a package waiting at our home. 'My Polissoirs are there' I exclaimed! After explaining to her what a Polissoir is and used for she quickly lost interest.

Two are better than one.

So I got home tonight and opened the box and was very impressed on the overall quality of the Polissoirs. They are very tightly bound and the weave of the straw and twine is very appealing. For those of the uninitiated a Polissoir is a finishing tool described by AJ Roubo in his grand novels "L'Art du Menuisier." You use the Polissoir with wax by burnishing a piece of wood in order to infuse the wax into the pores.

I plan on putting these through their paces with some of the wood species that I commonly use. So stay tuned for the results. But until then, I will probably just continue twirling them in my hands marveling at the intricacy of their construction.

To get your own Polissoirs you can contact Don Williams by emailing him at DonsBarn250@msn.com. He charges $20 for each Polissoir, and $4.50 for shipping, which is a true bargain for the quality and rarity of the product. Also, the man who makes these for Don is an artisan broom maker so I think it is great to keep such a dying craft alive.