Saturday, May 18, 2013

Why Phillip Lowe should be sainted...

I ran across an interview today of Phil Lowe on Fine that became surprisingly controversial. Typical to most internet articles I run across, the comments afterward seem to take things to the extreme, hypothesizing attitudes and making statements about the person in question that were a far stretch from the actual article. But something about this one really frosted me. Not only did many of those responding to the article take Mr. Lowe's statements out of context, but also took to criticizing him for the way the author decided to spell "vise" - as if Phil had some influence on the way the article was spell checked. It was totally ridiculous. Now, I don't know Mr. Lowe personally, nor have I taken any classes he's taught. I did take the post-article firestorm personally, however, and for reasons you might not first think of.

Apparently, Mr. Lowe has a bit of an aversion to block planes. He believes - and I'm sure with some significant knowledge of his craft and the tools used - that block plane origins were primarily designed for carpenters to do light trimming on the job site. They were especially useful for when you only had one hand free, such as when standing on a ladder. He also feels that since the furniture maker has a bench and vise (or "vice", if the alternative spelling offends you) that a bench plane is better suited for the work they do because they can use both hands on the plane. It was stated that Mr. Lowe makes this point in his classes by insisting that if anyone wants to use a block plane in his class, then they should use it one handed while standing on a ladder. I know you can see the horror inherent, in such a teaching technique.

Now, you may think I'm full of sympathy for the poor students that must endure such block plane oppression. On the contrary, I feel sympathy for Mr. Lowe and am embarrassed for the internet woodworking community. Here you have a master craftsman and teacher being ridiculed by what is obviously a bunch of armchair, weekend woodworkers who think they know better. I personally use a block plane on occasion, but, I did see a video of Phil a few years ago showing him using a #4 smoother to flush up dovetails and dados in a fashion that many would use a block plane for. Well, I tried it out myself, and found that having the extra mass of a bench plane made the cuts I was attempting much easier and potentially more stable. It gave me a new perspective on how to use some of my planes and I was thankful for Phil's video. The same can be said for Frank Klausz's "3 minute dovetail" video where he bangs out some decent, workable dovetails quickly with two rather large frame saws. His statement " if they don't fit right away, get a bigger hammer" was funny, but it also disarmed the notion that dovetails HAVE to be so exact in every situation. I believe with that statement, he was trying to lessen the mystique and level of "expertise" of hand cutting dovetails that typically hinders amateur woodworkers from trying to make them when they first start out.

Woodworking was a relatively untouchable hobby for most people not that long ago. To truly learn the craft, most had to rely on previous generations or, if they were lucky, be able to spend time in a cabinet shop as an apprentice. Now we have this huge internet woodworking community that allows the average hobbyist to learn from masters of the craft, free of charge. The problem with the internet is that the anonymity it affords sometimes breeds a false sense of expertise and lack of respect for our teachers and each other. My point that I have been fumbling around trying to make is that we should be thankful for masters like James Krenov, Sam Maloof, Frank Klauz, and yes, Phil Lowe for taking the time to share their knowledge, often free to thousands on the internet. When those masters share that knowledge, we should give them the respect they have earned through years of the craft. Then, filter the info for ourselves, give their suggestions a try and see if they work for us. Finally, we need to stop taking ourselves and the craft so seriously. Most of us are simply hobbyists and we are all taking this journey together. Share your knowledge freely, but remember that everyone has different experiences to contribute and your opinion isn't the only one that matters. True craftsmanship is a blend of technical skill and art, and you can't be successful without balancing daring ingenuity with time honored techniques.

Many of us grew up with the desire to work wood but thought it would never be accessible to the average Joe. Thanks to Phil and other true masters of woodworking for sharing their knowledge and time honored techniques so freely, enabling us to be successful in our woodworking pursuits.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Woodworking Safety Day: Sometimes safety is in the tool you chose to do the job

   This is going to ruffle a few feathers...

   In honor of Woodworking Safety Day, there's been a number of great posts discussing ways we can be safe and protect ourselves in our shops. One point I would like to contribute is that in some cases, the tool you chose for a particular job can make that difference. Now, we all have our favorite tools to use and confidence in a tool is really important. But, sometimes the simple nature of how a tool is designed and how it performs might make it less safe than another tool for a particular job.

   For example: mortising with a router. I know there are a few gasps and cynical looks with this suggestion, but hear me out. Routers are top heavy, and balancing a spinning bit as you plunge down to make multiple passes on a piece of 3/4 stock can be unnerving. It can also be dangerous, and we do our best to support either side of the piece, take our time, and hope we don't rock it slightly and chew up the sides of the mortise. The bit can be difficult to see as well, and the first time I did it I really screwed up the mortise. What could be a safer way to do it? Well, a hollow chisel mortiser is nice if you have one, as are mortising chisels, but you could simply hog out the mortise with a forstner bit on the drill press. Even if you finish the mortise with the router, you can get a decent start on it with the forstner bit and take those initial couple of shaky router passes out of the picture. It may take a little more time, but it can certainly make the job safer. How about cutting a tenon? If the idea of running a tall, thin piece of wood on its end over a table saw blade makes you a little nervous, why not try it on the band saw? The point is, there is always more than one way to get the job done, so why not consider all options and go with the safest choice?

   Ultimately, you should use the tool you feel the most comfortable with. However, if you find you have to use a handful of jigs to accomplish the job with that tool, maybe there's another tool that is better suited for the job and will make the task safer in the long run.

Ok... I'm going to go duck for cover now :)


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A fresh start for Fresh Shavings...

   Well, here we are, almost 3 years since my last post. That's how my hobbies go sometimes - I might not hike a trail or pick up one of my guitars for years but I eventually get back to it. The truth is, between work and life obligations I was short on time... and woodworking inspiration. But here I am reorganizing the shop, finding time again, and finding new inspiration.

   One thing that I had problems with was how the shop was set up. When I first moved the shop to the basement, I had located it in a cozy back alcove. As my tool collection grew, I felt my space needs were greater and I moved the shop area to another part of the basement. Based on the influence of so many professional and hobbyist shops, I was looking to put the table saw front and center and needed to relocate the space to accommodate the design. But, it just didn't feel right. Over the years I have pulled away from the table saw, partially because my saw is relatively inadequate for fine woodworking and because my attitudes about the way I prefer to work wood have evolved. I also have fond, youthful memories of spending time with my grandfather in his dinky little garage shop and I think that those early years imprinted a great deal more than I had originally thought. I guess I just underestimated how important it is for me to "feel" good in a work space.

   So, there's some shop workstations, cabinets, wall organizers, and a workbench to build. Then, I have a couple of home projects in mind before an eventual guitar build. I would also like to revisit the hand plane tune up video. I've had so many great responses to that video, but the filming quality was pretty awful and the live format made it too long and difficult to follow.

I would like to add that it's been great getting back into The Woodwhisperer chat room and rekindling some old friendships. It's nice to know that you can pick up where you left off that easily. If you haven't checked it out, I suggest you do.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Battling the minimalist within

So, this is a bit of a philosophical post. Looking around my trashed shop I see a number of tools. Some get quite a bit of use, some barely touched for a couple of years. OK... I know.... most of them have been barely touched for years but let's just say some more than others. Still, my mind wanders off to thinking about future tool purchases. I would love a lathe. Nothing fancy, just a decent midi lathe to do some turnings. A Scroll saw would be nice too. A couple more routers would be handy. But the most glaring tool need is a new table saw. I've been using a Ryobi BT3100 for years now and it's demise is eminent. It really has been a decent saw packed with forward-looking features when it was still being made. It had a true riving knife when even the nicest saws didn't come with one. It has a sliding miter table and accessory table that could easily be repositioned on the rails for various configurations. It has been quite versatile, but at it's heart it's still a 15 amp, direct drive, job site saw that bogs down easily with thick hardwoods and can have 1/16 inch of runnout.

Looking through the catalogs, I'm noticing decent table saws aren't cheap. It looks like Grizzly has all but abandoned their reasonably priced contractor saw models at this time. Jet still has one old model that shows up here and there, and the Ridgid contractor saw models seem to only show up on the HD site occasionally. The Hitachi and Porter Cable saws look nice, but it seems like they are just another direct drive model underneath. Dare I say, Craftsman has a new one out that looks promising but you never know with them. So, I find myself asking a strange question - do I really need a table saw? Can I get away with what I have?

Now, now - I know I NEED a table saw, so don't go getting your panties in a bunch just yet. BUT - do I really need a hybrid or cabinet saw? Of all the tools, the table saw takes up the most room. In my little shop, the idea of being able to use a Bosch jobsite saw that unfolds and folds up easily to be stored out of the way is actually... appealing. I'm finding myself getting more comfortable with the idea of supplementing with the router, bandsaw, and hand tools. And I'm finding this concept a little liberating.

If you used to watch David Marks "Woodworks" show, you might have caught his masters episode where he visited James Krenov and Art Carpenter. One thing that was very interesting was that their shops - especially Krenov's - were relatively sparse when it came to a variety of tools. Krenov has reduced himself to a bench top band saw, bench top jointer, and a few well thought out hand tools. Yet, he was still doing some beautiful work. And it makes me think that sometimes I miss the point. I can get so wrapped up in the collection of tools I forget there is more than one way to do the work at hand. When forced to the confines of a small basement shop and tool budget limitations, my mind starts thinking going minimal is... good.

All this thinking gives me a headache, but it also makes me wonder if anyone else goes through this. Maybe I should pose the question in the TWW forum? Hmmm.. it might ruffle a few feathers, that's for sure :)


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'm back.... and I'm so ashamed......

I know, I know - where the hell have I been? Sorry guys, but sometimes life takes us in many different directions at once and it's hard to keep up with the refinements. I do have some excuses that you're welcome to take your pick from:

  • The backyard stone patio project took way too long - still going, in fact.
  • Obligations to my family have delayed progress.
  • Work has been engulfing, finally concluding with a promotion last week.
  • The new puppy still sucks all of the life and free time out of us.
  • The fishing was just alright, but I was fulfilling an obligation to help my best friend de-stress.
  • I was forced to take up golf by my nephews and future son in law.
If it's any consolation, I haven't kept up with my fishing/hiking blog either. So, here we go into Autumn when sunny thoughts give way to blustery mornings on the trail or the river. They give me a feeling of being alive, and my soul warms at the thought of coming home from a long day of hiking or fishing to be in the warmth of the house and savoring the smells of sawdust in my shop. So, as I put the finishing touches on the outside of my house, my mind is swimming with the plans for the basement and the shop, especially. I don't know exactly when I will be able to start posting consistently again but it's soon - even if it's just to complain at the slow progress. I do have some plans for the coming months, however:

  • the shop redesigned and refined
  • bench plane tune up redux - this time, less time, more content
  • fun with block planes - fine points of tuning
  • sharpening for the realistic, and financially frugal
  • a comparison of bench plane vs. power tool stock milling
  • back bevels - why you NEED 4 or more smoothing planes
  • shooting board designs
  • the workbench
  • Why even Charger needs at least a couple working planes
  • a strangely designed piece of living room furniture
  • my favorite books, favorite tools, and favorite artists features
I was getting fired up like this around Autumn two years ago, and the result was a significant increase in my plane ownership as well as this blog, so I can say I'm getting back in the right frame of mind. Hopefully, my contributions will have some value among all of this online content. Until then, questions are always welcomed.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring is in the air, so, time for an update...

Well, most of you know my best laid plans have gone awry. The holidays resulted in so much demand of my time that the basement project - and, consequently, the shop remodel - have been on hold. Granted, I complicated it all with a new addition to the family - a blonde babe who seems to take up all of my time. Now, I realize you all were on the edge of your seat, waiting for me to complete the basement, and now the depression is setting in because of your bitter disappointment. So sorry.

So, here's the update. I have resumed the basement project and am also starting a stone patio in the backyard. I'm hoping to get them both done in the next month. From that point, it will be peak trout fishing season here in central NY. You know what that means. I will hopefully be working on shop projects during the heat of the summer, in between fishing and hiking excursions. It would be nice to be done with the shop by the Fall, but we'll see. It is still my intention to do a back bevel demo, and possibly redo the plane tune up demo at some point.

Oh, and the maple is dried and ready to work as I had hoped. So, hopefully, you'll see more in the months to come. Now, go make some sawdust in the meantime!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Northeast Woodworkers Show

So, many of you from the chat knew a few of us were meeting up in Saratoga NY for the Northeast Woodworkers show. I picked up Charger in the morning and we headed up together. Meeting up with everyone else proved to be easier than I thought. Despite arriving a little late which was complicated by a lack of parking, we got in to the first Chris Schwarz demo just after it started. Who was sitting in a few rows from the back? Mystyk. Bingo - one down, a few more to go. A couple of phone calls later and Gotham showed up in the demo. In the lobby after the demo, we met up with Dannyboy. Go figure...

So, my critique of the show. Thank God for the Schwarz. I went to 4 demos, 2 by Chris and two others by what turned out to be rank amateurs. I'll give it up to the guys in being able to stand up in front of a small crowd and show a slide presentation. that was about it. The guy doing the marquetry demo seemed to know what he was talking about, but spent more time talking about other artists and their work. he did offer some structure to his lecture, but 5 minutes of online research could have gotten you that info. The guy doing the guitar building demo was worse. Very little structure to his lecture, and it was clear he's only built one guitar and knows little about it. Granted, I've never built one but I've played for 30 years and am pretty versed on how the process is done. I guess my disappointment was mainly because I had some real questions about some details that he had no clue about. Something as simple as the effect of scale length on the bracing or tap tuning the soundboard. Oh well...

Chris Schwarz's presentations were much better. His first about joinery planes was very good, but still a bit rudimentary. At least it had structure, and it was a pretty complete review of joinery planes. His second seminar on workbench evolution was quite entertaining. He's an excellent speaker and laid out the info well. In hind sight, I wish I skipped the joinery plane demo and went to see Phil Lowe carving a ball and claw foot, but how could I miss the only demo on planes - I'd never live it down.

The vendors were OK, but most of us agreed that there were few deals to be had and we felt little desire to buy anything. That was very strange. I did come across a couple of antique tool dealers, but no transitional planes that I have been looking for. One of them had too many Norris planes - it was overwhelming. I heard angels singing as I picked up an A4, only to hear the same angels cough at the $375 price tag. I know - not bad, considering, but still. This was my first time fondling a Norris, and frankly it didn't feel heavier or better quality than most of my iron planes. Back on the shelf. The same vendor had an old, funky Stanley #72 chamfer plane - pretty cool and the first time I saw one of those in person as well. Lots of back saws, levels, shoulder planes, plenty of semi rarities and such.

The exhibits were nice. there were some amazing work, some stuff that didn't excite, and one guy that obviously needed to get laid based on his sculptures. But the major disappointment was that we really didn't get to spend much time with each other. I would've gladly given up a couple of demos for a long lunch and hang out with everyone. The show was over before we knew it, and Lance and I grabbed a late lunch on the way home. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday, just wish I had more time.

And, ironically, I had good weather on the ride home for the second time.