Monday, February 22, 2010

I Meet thomas Lie-Neilson

Who is the most well known person you ever met?  I met an ex-Senator once at work, and I was with a Congressman the other day when he brought a large check to our community.  Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity came to town a few years ago and he autographed the hammer I use to help build Habitat houses.  I should have framed it (no pun intended) because Mr. Fuller died awhile back, but it is too expensive not to use.   I do think he would want me to continue to use it to build houses. 

When I narrow the field to woodworking, I met Norm Abram once, and I've taken a class at Highland from Roy Underhill and another one from Mike Mahoney.  I read several books by James Krenov and bought one of the planes he made, and once I sat in that Sam Maloof chair at Highland.

Thomas Lie-Nielsen
Then a couple of weeks ago, I dropped by the store and got to meet Thomas Lie-Nielsen, founder and owner of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks and maker of some of the finest woodworking hand planes and tools made in the world (and they're made right here in America, up in Maine).  He was in town to teach a class at Highland, and also gave some hand tool demos at the store's big winter sale day the day before.  I stand in awe.  Everybody in woodworking knows about these planes and they are beautiful. 

Lie-Nielsen No. 102 low angle block plane
I picked one up and the weight and feel is such that you just know they are the best.  The finish is outstanding and the blades are honed to perfection.  After I picked out the one I wanted, a No. 102 low angle block plane, Thomas autographed it for me with one of those electric engraving pens right on the spot.  I suppose I will have to decide whether to frame this one or actually use it like I do with my Fuller hammer. 

Given enough time and energy, I can pretty much make anything I want out of wood.  But when I look at one of these planes, I cannot even imagine how to begin.  The scope of the metal work, the foundry work, the machining, the fitting, not to mention the actual design to make it beautiful, is just beyond me.  Then on top of all that, it has to cut wood perfectly.  Oh, and by the way, the Lie-Nielsen factory makes a hundred planes a day, which to me is amazing!

I really enjoyed talking to Thomas and I admire his work, but I feel like he did leave all of us short on one thing.  Go look at Chris Schwartz, the editor over at Popular Woodworking magazine and see the clip of him throwing double bit axes at a target.  Thomas taught him how to throw this week when Chris went to visit the Lie-Nielsen factory.  (By the way, we've got plenty of those kinds of axes at Highland. You'll need one of the double bit ones.)

It just occurred to me to wonder: Will Thomas ever be back down here to show the rest of us how to throw an axe?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tool Ignorance vs Tool Stupidity

All woodworkers know if necessity is the mother of invention, then laziness is the grandfather and stupid is the father.  (I think I'll try to get that added to Bartlett's Quotations.)  All jigs, templates, shortcuts, power tools, dumb moves and safety practices are heirs of this illustrious family.  

I must admit that grandfather laziness is high in my gene list, but father stupid works quicker for me than the other two.  Fifteen years ago, in the very first two minutes I had my brand new table saw in the shop, I stuck a scrap of 1/4 inch plywood in the blade free hand.  It kicked back into my midsection and the palm of my hand and I learned a good lesson very early.  I instantly gained an immense respect for the tool with thankfully little damage.  Good lesson not soon forgotten. 

band saw.jpg
Long as we are on stupid (ignorance can be cured, stupid is forever), I was working on the switch on my new Steel City band saw a few weeks ago, and like a good boy, I unplugged it first.  When I finished I pushed the "on" button to check my work, and to my surprise and horror, the saw started.  Totally not logical and I instantly looked to see the plug still on the table where I put it before starting to work.  Now I only had one course in electricity in college a long time ago, but transmitting electricity through the air is not common even if it is possible.  Soon as I got back from the bathroom, I turned the saw off and checked the cord.  There are two cords on the saw, one to the task light attached to the back of the saw and the other for the saw itself.  They are identical and both were next to each other in a filled four socket outlet.  I had unplugged the light but not the saw.  Another lesson not soon forgotten.  (I taped the cords together so it wouldn't happen again.)

Then yesterday when I put a new piece of old wood on the lathe, I failed to note sufficiently the crack across the top of the wood.  Ever stand out in the yard and watch a vee formation of geese fly over (never do that with your mouth open) heading away for winter vacation?  I remember standing there and watching that chunk of wood fly across the top of the shop like a flock of geese. Seemed like it took a week.  I have learned instinctively to stand out of the line of fire and I always wear a full face shield and thank goodness for that.

spax screws
When it finally landed, I picked that missile up off the floor and screwed it to the wall (love them Spax screws) behind the lathe to remind me of what can happen.  At least there was no blood or brains on it.  Maybe that started curing stupid.
More Free Woodworking Tips

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wood for Turning

Do you think you will ever have enough wood? I intend to have way too much wood left over when I stop working.  There are several sources for wood and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Right now let's talk about wood for turning bowls.

The first place you might try is Dave and Sandy's house and get some of what is left of that cherry tree they cut down last week.  They are two of my church friends and they took down a large cherry tree next to their driveway.  I went by with my chainsaw and chopped out some wet pieces of beautiful native cherry and lugged it home.  I dropped it by the back door of the shop and put the bark side up so it could dry for a few weeks.  It has some beautiful crotch wood but lots of soft sap wood and I can't wait to get it turned out. 

The next step up is a raw wood dealer.  I have a dealer I use on a regular basis that used to be a tree surgeon and he has a warehouse full to the ceiling with wood and wood blanks.  The wood spills out into the parking lot and when you go to his place, he's got a better chain saw than you do and you better bring your pickup truck.
bowl turning wood
Last week I bought several bowl blanks from the High.   Highland sells woodturning blanks which are either eight inches or ten inches in diameter and three or four inches thick.  They are coated in a waxy preservative to keep them from drying out and they are already made round, something which Dave and Sandy will not do for you.  Blanks are cherry, pecan, walnut, sycamore and maple amongst others and range in price from about $15 upwards to $30 or so.  They are round and flat and ready to turn, though they are green wood and will need to be dried after they are roughed out.  Sometimes a flat round piece ready to turn is a real pleasure compared to a piece of a green stump and a chain saw.    Unfortunately they don't mail order the wood. You have to drop by the store and browse through the blanks in stock to find the ones you want to buy.

bowl turning wood

bowl turning wood

Now the ultimate wood for turning at Highland Woodworking is outside in the enclosed space next to their parking lot, and you have to go to the store to shop for these also.  If you look to the left just before you enter the store's side door, there is a wonderful collection of huge cherry and walnut burls and crotches back in the corner.  At first glance it looks like some kind of wood graveyard, but don't let appearances fool you -- there are diamonds in the rough here.  One of these days if I keep working and getting better at my craft, I will buy one of those wonderful burls.  I will study it for weeks looking for that one make or break cleavage plane.  I will take a thin steel wedge and place it carefully on the burl and I will probably take it away several times before very carefully and firmly whacking it with a little mallet while holding my breath. Course I may just cut it carefully with my chain saw (while holding my breath).  The result will likely be wonderful.   

Wood is everywhere and if you pay attention, you can have plenty of it.
bowl turning wood

bowl turning wood

Gingerbread House

Let's do something different this year.  Aren't you tired of all that sawdust and building those projects out of cheap plywood and making stuff that everybody wows over when you give it to them at Christmas and then you never see it when you go to their house?  I'm like most of you - I build stuff all the time including houses with my local Habitat Chapter.  But the kids and grandkids will remember this project the rest of their lives.

We're going to build a Gingerbread House.  Trust me, it's easier then you think and I will guide you through the process complete with pictures.  You will need to set aside portions of about three days because if you do it all at once, you will get tired of it and mess it up.  Course if you mess it up, have it for dessert, one of the other joys of working with this stuff.  OK, here we go.

Make up a cardboard pattern for all the pieces.  You will need a pattern for the sides 9 ½ by 5 inches.  You need a pattern for the ends, 6 inches wide and the side of the end is 5 inches to match the side.  The gable goes up another 2 inches to the peak.  That makes an 8 pitch if I calculate correctly on my handy construction calculator.  (Pitch is 33.69 degrees - I love that calculator.).  Uncomfortable to stand on an 8 pitch, but if you put the house on the kitchen table and sit in a chair, you will be fine.  Also make a pattern for a chimney.  Cut a notch in the bottom of the chimney ends (8 pitch, remember) and make it about 2 ½ inches tall and then make sides for the chimney tall enough to reach the roof, about 3 inches.  Save the pattern for next year.

You will need a recipe for gingerbread.  All the magazines at the grocery will have recipes this time of the year.  Roll it out (using that rolling pin you made for your wife last year) fairly thin, just under an eighth of an inch, and then cook it pretty hard.  Watch it closely in the oven and when the edges start to turn a little brown and crispy, it should be done.  If it is cooked too soft the roof will sag.  You will need two sides, a front and a back, and two roof panels plus four pieces for the chimney.    The smell of gingerbread cooking is wonderful and will linger for days.  Your grandchildren will tell their grandchildren about it and the wonderful houses you built for them.   

Run down to your shop and get a piece of eighth inch plywood about 12 by 18 inches and wrap it in foil for the base to build your house. 

Go to the big box store (not the grocery) and get a can of "Meringue Powder."  It is made by the Wilton Company and will be in the cake decorating section.  Get a cake decorating squeeze bag and a couple of pretty wide mouth tips while you are there.  You will need to make one batch of "Butter Creme Icing" and one batch of "Royal Icing" based on the recipes on the insert inside the meringue powder can.

First thing is to assemble the house on your base with the royal icing as a kind of mortar mix.  Give it about 20 minutes and the royal icing will get hard as a rock and hold your house together.  Use the butter creme for everything else and you can ice the yard, set in a fence out of marshmallows and pretzel sticks, make a tree out of ice cream cones with jellybean lights, and then decorate the rest of the house however you like.  Make a woodpile on the side, pave a driveway, make a stepping stone sidewalk, anything you want. Candy canes all over the place.   I love picking out the candy and I spend a good bit of time in the candy aisle trying to picture how the various pieces will fit on the house.  One of my favorite things is to chide everyone about not eating all the candy before we get it on the house, all the time stuffing handfuls in my mouth.  Didn't take long for everyone to catch on to that one.    The final step is to take a sifter of powdered sugar and sift it over the whole thing.  The sugar piles up like snow and the effect is wonderful. 

Send me a picture.  Merry Christmas to all!!