Friday, March 29, 2013


It's that time of year for tricky decisions.

Easter eggs?
Marples 12in draw knife with egg-shaped beech handles.

Or Easter Bunnies?
Veritas detail rabbet planes. 

Amongst the classier-looking Veritas tools, without a doubt, and very cute, those little bunnies. Only problem is I've yet to think of a task I'll ever attempt that they, and only they, can do. Can't decide whether that's because I have too many other tools (I do) or whether it's because the little woodworking I attempt is so pedestrian. 

It's the last one, isn't it? Ack.

But they're so cute.

Anyway, Happy whatever you choose as your favoured "Huzzah, it's Spring at last!" celebration. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Baby, it's cold outside

A while back I came across a discussion of favoured braces, and one chap voted for a make that eludes my memory, but rather than the familiar hardwood handle on the crank, instead favoured the bulge-in-the-metal variety. Like this one on the wagon builder's brace I picked up a while back:

Yes, that bit furthest away from the camera. We'll call it an arty shot as opposed to a helpful one, 'kay?

Anyway, as I currently find the skin of my hand fusing to any metal handle I unwisely grasp, and the bones within freezing to so many shards of ice, I came to a rapid conclusion about this choice.

It may be a fortuitous location or just a really good heater, but this guy has a really well heated w'shop.

I don't. It's cold out there. That's why I'm in here.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Thing

An exchange on one of the woodworking fora over the weekend reminded me that I don't think I've ever shared a particularly useful, but oh-so-ugly, homemade tool that lurks here at The Towers.

I call it the Thing.

As in "Where's the Thing?", "Oh, the Thing will do that", "Good grief, I really should make a nicer version of this Thing". It's not so much a tool for woodworking per se, although it's been used on a fair few handles in its time. But there are very few pre-owned tools in the w'shop that haven't been on the business end of The Thing at some point.

Yes, this is the glamour shot. Envious, aren't you? Even with that little bit of damage to the custom-made handle, the Thing exudes toolish loveliness.

No? Well, no. It is pretty darn hideous.

It came about quite by chance, many years ago. Early in my learning curve of cutting up old saw blades, I ended up with a new plate for a Sorby 18in panel saw, a number of scrapers, some scratchstock blades (in potenia) - and a 5in length of really vicious splinter-like saw plate. Somehow the usefulness inherent in this utterly fortuitously created piece of steel grabbed me immediately, and I kept it.

Within 20 seconds, I gave it a handle from electrical tape. Go on, wonder why...

One end is pointy and can get into all sorts of little areas of tools that need cleaning out. Screw head hopelessly gummed up with the detritus of the centuries? The pointy end of the Thing will clear out the slot in a moment. So much gunk in your knurled chuck you'd think it was smooth? The Thing can, with applied patience, do a cracking job. And so forth; you can probably easily imagine the sort of things it helps with. For a while I used to use an awl for those kinds of jobs, but why spoil the awl with such work? And anyway, often the shaft of an awl widens too quickly to fit in the necessary hole. The edge of this end also works pretty well for scraping widish areas.

The other end provides the scraper element. You can push with the end, or pull with the hook. Many a paint spot on a tool has been popped off with this, and you know how old tools were always apparently owned by Jackson Pollock when it comes to paint splatter. The point of the hook also comes in handy, especially when you want a very controlled movement to avoid creating damage on the surrounding surface. Just treated like a carving knife really.

Of course, after many years of service, those viciously sharp edges are getting rounded and not quite so effective anymore. On the other hand, a less aggressive edge/point can be equally useful to have. So rather than refresh the edges with a file (which does rather strike me as faintly ridiculous) I may have to actually see if I can deliberately make myself a new one.

What are the odds that it'll be harder to do it on purpose...?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Goodness Gracious Me

Sheesh, folks; a vague mutter on a mildly controversial thing and I get comments; a carefully crafted post on chisels and nothing? Nothing?!! It's about chisels. If you're not interested in chisels are you sure you're on the right blog...? ;)

Anyway, Paul Sellers; during my Advent blogging marathon, someone did ask if maybe I could blog about what I thought. So no time like the present- er, three months later... I could dress this up as a review of his first two DVDs, which I happened to see last year, but I can't honestly remember enough to be able to do that convincingly. So straight up in your face instead and entirely off the top of my head; in an inevitable mangling of a cultural reference, I'll call it the Good, the Ho-Hum, and the Ugly.

Try and stop me.

The Good, and the thing that really swayed me from a knee-jerk instinctive "I don't like this guy", is that PS really seems to like the raw material. Wood. Timber. Lumber. Dead Tree. An enthusiasm for the stuff came right through, and honestly, that's not always the case with some of the "gurus". Some folks seem so utterly focused on the tool skills that the material you're using them on could almost be anything. Even *gasp* plastic.

Which leads me to that side issue we'll outrageously simplify as "machine woodworking bad, hand tool woodworking good" where we came in. Except I didn't come in there, but never mind. Now completely idiotic though that statement is (and it is, it really is), if you were foolishly inclined to equate machining wood with treating it like any old raw material, then yeah, you might ill-advisedly describe machining as not being the crafting of wood. Of course it's much, much harder to ignore the habits of dead tree - principally grain direction - when you're the one providing the horsepower to work it. You'd be a damn fool to do so. But you'd be pretty foolish if you ignored it on your planer or jointer too. Wrong blade choice on your powered saw, and those electrons will be labouring, and you'll likely get a poor end result. And so forth.

Sure, if you're working wood like it was so much poly-carbon-multi-syllable-athene then odds are you'll be doing so via machinery. But just because you're using machinery, it doesn't mean you're not fully cognisant of the nature and beauty of timber either.

Okay, now The Ho-Hum. I have to be totally honest and say, no, I don't entirely agree with some of PS's methods. Not because I know better, but because so many other people who do know better seem to have done it otherwise that I can't believe that wasn't for good reason. I'll take as an example, because it stands out to my mind, mortising in the face vice. Or vise. Everything I've ever read or seen has said Don't Do It. There are good reasons not to. If you don't mind putting unnecessary strain on your vice and the mounting of same in the bench, that's up to you, but come within a mile of the Emmert with the idea of mortising in it, and I'll brain you. More relevant to the finished product, if the work is driven down in the vice as you chop, you face a real risk of damaging the back side of the work on the vice screw/guide rods. That can't be good by any man's, or woman's, measure.

I think a few folks have maybe chuntered a little over the chisel use too. Now that just made me speculate that half the divergence of opinion on chisels, and preparation of same, possibly comes down to where the protagonists are on the sliding scale between, "Patternmaker" and "Carver". They're the extremes, as I see it. At one end is the use of the chisel back as an absolute to register the cut, such as a patternmaker might with a paring chisel. David Charlesworth would be a good example of that approach in furniture making - and incidentally his DVD on chisels is excellent if you're looking for some guidance in that respect.

At the extreme other end is the carver who will manipulate a double bevel edge to cut to the depth and angle desired, dictated solely by their own control over the angle of the tool. Coming back down that sliding scale a ways - and losing the double bevel, but not fretting too much about the angles of the edge - I reckon you find PS. From the few bits I've seen, he pretty much carves with his bench chisels. The first project he tackles - a spoon - is perhaps an odd choice to start folks towards making furniture, until you realise he doesn't use much of the naturally built-in guidance from his chisels, and you're effectively carving everything. That also, if you think about it, probably explains why he doesn't find any benefit from a dedicated mortise chisel over an ordinary firmer. Personally I think that approach steepens the learning curve quite a bit and I'm not a fan, but clearly it works, and if it suits you...

So no, quite a bit of it doesn't gel for me, but that's a personal choice, and you can't fault the number of folks he seems to have enthused with the desire to torment trees. Personally I have no quibbles with anyone following their personal "guru" of choice.

Which brings me to The Ugly. It's a habit that's soured many a woodworking forum too, but controversy sells and PS is nothing if not an energetic self-publicist. That is the habit of convincing people of your methods not on the basis of why they're good and could work for you, but by rubbishing everything else. Explain to me why you're advocating what you do, present the evidence, and I may still not agree with you, but I'll respect you. Grudgingly. ;)  Dismissing other woodworkers because their woodworking world view doesn't agree 100% with yours is the route to my internal Ignore Button. It's unnecessary, small-minded, and incidentally makes you look rather insecure.

Dammit, folks, we're all in this against a common foe. If we squabble amongst ourselves the trees could easily get the upper hand while our backs are turned.

So there ya go, chew on that; I expect the comments box to be heaving. Hey, we could talk about chisels in there...


Oh, you rotten lot.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Frustration here at The Towers; keep wanting to get down to the w'shop, only to be thwarted by coughing up a lung like someone with a forty-a-day habit. Pesky colds.

So confined to barracks as I am, I need cheering up. Non-woodworking comforts in these times of feeling sorry for oneself traditionally veer towards re-reading Pride and Prejudice and having an inexplicable desire to eat Marmite and honey on toast.

Yes, together. No, it's not weird. People eat sweet and sour combos all the time.

Okay, it's a bit weird. Moving on then...

What woodworking thing will cheer me? Ooo, I dunno. It's a truth universally acknowledged that I do like a nice chisel or two though... (Okay, who saw that coming? Predictable, ain't I?)

Cast you mind, or even your browser, back to the acquisition of the contents of a tool chest that proved to be that of a coachbuilder. More specifically, the chisels of same. Not being a big fan of picking up a chisel and coming away with an orange palm from all the rust thereon, I'm gradually getting round to cleaning them up. In this case, a pair of socketed beauties by Thomas Ibbotson & Co.

That's no six inch rule there either; them's a big ol' pair of chisellin' devices. 1in. and 5/8in. 'Cos I was curious I threw them on the scales and they came in at 1lb 3oz and 15oz respectively, but they don't feel at all unwieldy. Just really nice chisels.

Now inexplicably I don't have an Ibbotson catalogue about my person (cries of "Shame!" and that's just from me) but I do have a 1934 Marples one handy, and also because Salaman's Dictionary copped out and lumped all the firmers together with gay abandon, I referred to Bill and his boys compendium of toolish goodness.

Now isn't it interesting that the ones like these Ibbotsons, with no overly mannered shoulder, are just "Socket chisels", while the ones with the obvious shoulders get the "Firmer" moniker. I wonder why. I included the others just for kicks and giggles, and who doesn't like playing the Time Machine Game and pricing themselves up a set of bevel-edge cabinet chisels?

Many of us also like to play the "What can this tool tell me about the labouring woodworker of yore and his (or, it's remotely possible, her) habits?" In this case we meet the complete antithesis to the story of the planemaker's flat backed paring chisel. You can easily see with the naked eye just how not flat the 5/8in one is; it's well clear of the bench surface at the edge. The other one's none too hot either. Is that David Charlesworth's low scream of horror I can hear from over the border in Devon? It might be.

Depressingly, I know damn well that certain folks will take this and declare it supports their assertion that no-one bothered with flat backs until the modern era. I'd argue that it merely supports the evidence that the canny woodworker puts only the effort into a tool that's required for the tool to do the job. Like not sharpening a rough jack plane iron to a superfine edge; there's just no point. I don't suppose these two chisels were doing much paring to nths of a gnat's pay slip.

Also, we should probably bear in mind that in the same kit of tools was this error of chisel-using judgement, so, y'know, maybe this guy, or possibly gal, is not the ideal example of what to do.

It also struck me as interesting that there was a noticeable hollow grind and at a not especially sturdy 25° too. Heavy duty chisels though these clearly are, no concerns about the edge not holding up.

And finally, because not everyone will have the opportunity and it's really annoying when you read about this stuff but can't see it, the very obvious lamination of the hard steel to the blade.

So a nice pair of chisels that leave me with all kinds of decisions over how best to get them working. Add in some rusting on the backs, and I'm looking at quite a bit of effort needed there. i.e. Those backs aren't likely to be getting much flatter, unless I want to kiss the steel goodbye. Heigh ho. On the up side I already have a similar Marples in a 3/8in size (if I recall correctly), so it'll be worth doing to get something of a "set".

You know how people advise you to have a set of "beater" chisels that you can safely whale on without worry? Yeah, I reckon they might fit the bill just dandy.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Feminist Woodworking Rant*

Stuff like this makes me uncomfortable and feeling like I should Make A Contribution. Y'know, being all equipped with lady bits an' all.

But honestly, I don't feel qualified. I don't understand what the hell goes through most women's heads, never mind men's. To my mind, people are just people; take each one as he, she, or it comes.

As woodworkers, or would-be woodworkers, we're all infected with that crazy notion to make wood do our bidding despite what it has to say about the matter. That should unite us against a common, and splintery, foe. Quite frankly, nothing else matters a damn.

Having said that, I could do with 90% fewer opinionated old men from the north of England. But that means I'd have to stop listening to Test Match Special too, so I guess I have to take the unbearably tedious with the smooth....

*Not really.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Working wood

Onslaught of a heavy cold equals the only wood-working I'm currently interested in being thus:

Home-grown eucalyptus and such providing the heat, which is rather satisfactory. Mind you, the heat is even more satisfactory. If I did more actual projects, I could get shot of a lot of mistakes this way...

Friday, March 08, 2013

Ugly Tree

Gosh, I'm flying through this job, aren't I? I do hope you're keeping up...

Waddaya mean, "What's changed?" That bit bottom left wasn't there before. See? Total pig to do it was too, and, ye gods, it's as ugly as sin. The drawback to using the materials available, and making it knockdownable, is the hideous result. On the other hand, that's three planes no longer in rust-beckoning cardboard boxes.

Although the rebate plane may yet be thrown back in there, as it's already bitten me and I have yet to put it to wood. Cheeky blighter.

First try at using pigeonhole type storage, so we'll see how that goes. If I like it, I've definitely learnt a useful thing, in that planes take up quite different spaces than you think they do. Again, the rebate plane is the culprit here, turning out to require that much more space than I'd thought. Fortuitously, the flexibility of the rather snug divider allows just enough leeway to angle it slightly and make it fit. (Yes, it looks like it's curving because, well, it is curving.) The stupid ex-kitchen cabinet design then throws a centre strut into the mix, which I initially thought to work around. Somehow. In the end it was easier to cut the pigeonholes short, and give myself the opportunity of seeing whether really narrow slots for shoulder planes are actually practical.

Mistake? Nooooo. That's what we at Alf Towers call a Design Opportunity...

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


You know those toys for kiddies where they have to put the right shaped piece in the correct shaped hole? Here's one for w'shop owning grown-ups.

Just needs a "No idea what this it, but it may come in handy" slot to be perfect.

The idea is to ease the pain of the first stage of sorting outing out the inevitable pile of mixed hardware that always seems to accumulate. All it needs is a suitably enthusiastic - but careful and responsible - kiddie to go with it to do the actual sorting.

The How It Works is very simple, once you realise. Definitely need to line up your categories so you don't have the smallest drawer for something you have a lot of. Such as the "No idea what this it, but it may come in handy" things.

Right, that's your lot today. Got an eye test and I haven't revised...

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Where Roubos Go To Die

I don't want to put a downer on your day, but have you considered what will become of your workbench when you pass on? Is it doomed to end up lost and alone? Will it sit forlorn, being abused and mis-treated, gradually falling into disrepair? Perhaps only to be - and those of a fragile disposition may wish to avert their gaze - "rescued" and, in this case, shot-blasted into interior design hell:

 Yes, they've put a table lamp on it. Yes, it looks ridiculous.

 Big ol' hunk o' wood though, no?

Looks like it maybe had a tool tray at some point. Concentrate on the construction details - it helps not to dwell on the overall effect.

Yours for £1250 apparently.

No? Feeling more British maybe? How about a good old joiner's bench:

 Well, "old" anyway. The adjustable lamp is an improvement in overall ambience.

And you do get a vice with it. Part of a vice.

And what looks suspiciously like part of a ladder as the "shelf". Which is different, and something I urge the bench builders of the world to consider in their next designs. Handy in the event of needing to dovetail the end of long boards held upright in the vice.

A mere £720 - but alas, already reserved.

At this point, I would generally have linked to the source for this sort of thing, but in this case I find myself oddly unwilling to risk pointing anymore victims towards this lunacy. But there we are, it's not actually news to me that there's a market for decrepit benches for the discerning nutter. It's hardly the craziest thing in the world. No doubt you can Google it up in short order, if you've a mind.

However, the one that really got me was this one:

 Heaven help us; it's back to the table lamp.

 The darn thing has both vices, and I bet they work.

Honestly, that's a perfectly workable bench - bet you a fiver.

And storage enough to make Chris Schwarz recoil in horror. Drawers! Evil, evil drawers! Mwhahahahahaaaaa.

Alas, a whole £1400 to rescue it, so that ain't happening. "Would make a very strong piece in a Kitchen/hallway or retail situation" apparently. I'm such a naive fool, thinking it'd make a good workbench.

So yep, take heed, ladies and gentlemen. Either we need a workbench rehoming charity, or we must make our own private arrangements. With an emphasis on no shot-blasting, and absolutely no table lamps...

Monday, March 04, 2013

Cabinet Woes

My entire w'shop time this weekend, and I achieved... this.

Am I disheartened?

Well, yes, actually.

I'd hoped for a tad more progress than that. But it's all trying stuff out and ripping it apart again with a view to the long-term solution. Eventually. So I need to keep reminding myself that the physical evidence of my efforts is not the whole story - and at least three planes that previously had no proper homes now do so. But it's other useful stuff that's really important, like how actually 9in of interior depth is not as generous as I thought it was.

Ouch, that's close. About the thickness of a gnat's wage slip in between that tote and those chisels... And things like the bevel-up smoother blow it completely out of the water, being entirely Too Long.

Anyway, lots of things confirmed and/or learned. Such as:
  • An existing cupboard with an interior height of 21 1/2in is not a good research tool. How long is a jointer plane, boys and girls...? Yes, exactly.
  • Saws that may fit within a 21 1/2in height, will not necessarily do so once handle support allowing for flamboyant Wenzloff totes is taken into account (saw storage discarded).
  • Flat doors are, as I knew, a waste of everyone's time and space.
  • The back has to be strong enough to hang things off - obviously not the case here.
  • Hinges have to be well out of the way - again, not the case.
  • It'd help if said case was actually square...
  • Far eastern ply is the most God-awful splintery hell and I hate it. Also one particular piece (on its third or fourth bit of recycling now) smells distressingly of piddle when cut.
  • And...
Well, you get the gist. But it's all grist to the mill, and if I can just get all the tools out of the dust and rust, it'll be something. Then I need to make something to use the Southern Yellow Pine, so I have the room to buy something else with which to build a proper tool cabinet out of. Some time. When I've finally decided what I want.

'Cos guess what? I don't much fancy dovetailing a load of SYP. Coward, ain't I?

Friday, March 01, 2013

Got It Taped

Looking up the Japanese files/rasps that everyone got excited about a while back, it turns out Googling "Iwasaki"can present you with quite unexpected things:

Don't know about you, but just about now I'm feeling pretty inadequate about the uses I've put duct tape to...

Yet more intricate and extraordinary work here. I dunno whether I'd call it art exactly, but as ever, miniature things are always oddly appealing. Even if they're electricity pylons sprouting from tooth brushes.