Sunday, November 29, 2009

Harvesting & Housekeeping

Nothing makes you feel like more of a man than cutting logs with Dan's new monster rig. The inaugural firing-up of Dan's 6' bar went well, and we were pleased, and we felt like real men. Sliced up a nice wide crotch piece of Manitoba Maple (Box elder) and a Birch. 12 slabs, a good days takings.

I decided to do some housekeeping before xmas, in between working on the panels for my doors, so the shop roof has been insulated, and a drying shed has been built in the backyard compound.
Here's a cool clip about a man whose in the zone after 30 years of dedication to his craft. I like that he's found the zone, and his multi-medium, japanese influence combination, nice work.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Jack

A cool print from Brabant "the days last lesson"; makes trying to build a table that's bigger than your shop look like a walk in the park. I like it. Hand planing the western Maple door frames; what a pleasure planing something that actually fits on the bench.
The pleasure was heightened with the newly acquired Lie-Nielson No.62 low angle jack. what a sweet plane! Doing all that hand planing on the walnut gave me a chance to do some soul searching. While wooden planes are a beautiful thing, I've decided to reserve them for things like coopering or compass planes for now. Working in a garage has it's challenges, one being that I need to re-flatten the sole of wooden planes regularly, which opens the mouth. What i like about the bevel-up planes is you can easily change the angle of cut, depending on the angle of the micro bevel. With a bevel down wooden plane, you have to go make another plane with a different bed angle. I'm now using a honing guide & stop block jig to get repeatable micro bevels, and I also have a spare blade prepped with a steep angle for those difficult situations. The mouth on the bevel up planes is also adjustable, so it can be tightened up for fine shavings & less tear-out. I actually thought this plane was going to be on the first truck back to Lie-Nielson, it had a taper on the sole, so the leading edge of the iron was not parallel with the mouth. But I managed to lap it true in the end, & it seems to be running well. It's really like using a big block plane, very similar feel, I like it, I like it a lot.

I'm also really liking the Western Maple. One of my new favourites. It didn't machine that well, but it came to the party with hand planing & responds well to a good burnishing with the plane shavings. Nice to find a good local wood that's not too expensive (~$6/board foot). Hopefully Dan & I can harvest more soon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Table No. 2

Equally at home in a converted barn loft, or the conference room. Measuring in at 118 1/2" x 40 1/2" x 30". XXL. 8 planks of Black Walnut finished with hand rubbed Kunos, a waterproof all-natural product, clear coated cold rolled steel and acrylic lacquered hot rolled steel.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Edge joints

After a quick tune-up the slot mortiser was thrown into production. I got carried away. an aircraft will be able to land on this table. Lots of dowels. But then, table tops do see lots of moisture over the years, so maybe aircraft carrier construction is not such a bad thing. Here's a couple planks getting stitched up for a dry fit. Before I got the mortiser, I was planning on using biscuits for the edge joints, but dowels provide more strength & a precise fit.

The scene of the crime - the nice thing about making tables is you have an assembly table for glue ups all ready to go. I glued up the planks in pairs, & flattened each pair with my jointer hand plane, top & bottom. Then started gluing up the pairs & re-flattening by hand until I had one big flat table top. About 9 days of hand planing! Nathan at Chapel Arts in East Van has a CNC machine for getting big wood flat, about 100/hr (he has the most awesome shop in a heritage building). Gluing up the whole table top, then flattening with the CNC machine & finishing with a smoother plane would be a more economical approach. I decided to do it by hand this time round because it's a good exercise to go through & was curious how flat I could get it by hand (pretty damn flat).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Workbench maintenance

My workbench is a Sjorbergs Elite 2500. A good bench; my most prized tool in the shop. I love my bench almost as much as I love my woman and my boy. So it's been a little distressing watching her move out of flat, as workbenches do, and deciding it was time for surgery. I hadn't made any adjustments to her since she moved in 1 year ago, this would be the first. We were both a little nervous considering it was our first time, but once I got my jointer plane tuned in & got my head into it, it wasn't too painful. I didn't plane the entire surface, just the trouble spots for now, to get her reasonably flat. oiled her up, & we're back on track. I'll probably do more regular maintenace with a plane stroke here & there as needed. A workbench is a tool after all & all tools need tuning up.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Edge prep

I prepped & fitted each edge joint with my shop made jointer plane. All cut to final width & ready for laminating. I like to fine-tune the machined edges with a hand plane. This gets the edges nice & square and mating well with the adjacent plank. I wasn't sure how the edge jointing would go given the length, but it worked out ok, it just took some time, especially having 8 planks. After all that noisy milling it sure was nice to work quietly at the bench with no machines running.

Of course at this point I needed a distraction. I spotted a second hand slot mortiser. Nice to have my final machine in place. She's in good shape, a Rojek, cuts a sweet mortise, and the xyz table is very cool, allowing for repeatable mortises once the stops are set. Could have spent a whole day cutting mortises, I was in some kind of mortise nirvana. Also a pic of the 4 flute extra long end mills. The right end mill is hard to find, there's thousands of different types out there, I got these through Sowa Tools

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Milling & Mortises

While the walnut rested after it's initial milling, I got to spend time at my bench, cutting & fitting the mortise & tenon joints for the doors. They're through mortises & with wedged tenons, doubled up for even more strength. This meant deep mortises 3 1/4". Cut with an end-mill & sliding table on the drill press. Time to pull the trigger on a slot mortising machine. With the tenons being so long, I roughed them out on the bandsaw first, then used the new 184 delta tenon jog to dial them in (really like the rapid fire macro adjust, & micro-adjust to creep up on it, nice jig), then did the final fitting with handtools. A card scraper works well to dial in the radius on the tenons, after initial shaping with a chisel or file.
Here's the Walnut all milled up to final thickness. moving these 8/4, 10 footers between machines takes some time. Setting up co-planer in-feed & out-feed work support stands becomes a Zen art form. How about a support stand with rack & pinion adjustment, & how about some levelling feet. I see Lee Valley has stands that look pretty good. These planks are tense. beautiful grain, but seriously tense. Dealing with such long lengths must be partly to blame, but maybe also because it's kiln dried, so probably drier on the inside than outside. But they just want to bow like madmen after a pass, and resawing really pissed them off.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Making Planks

The rough F1F grade walnut had rested in the shop. Now acclimatised with her surroundings, it was time to mill for the Mr Smith table. I had a cat to skin, these are not light, short boards. So I did some experimentation & research & serious head scratching. I knocked up this planer sled based on FWW plans. She slid through the planer nicely, & I like the adjustable wedges on the runners. Given the length, the sled was never going to get the first surface perfectly flat, but it got me really close & meant no humps & bumps trouble spots that can leave you cursing at the jointer as most of your precious wood ends up in the dust collector. After sledding it was just a couple smooth, light passes on the jointer to get a perfectly flat surface. Heavy machines mandatory, this is not for wussy sub 300 Lbs models. just wish I had the space to take my machines off the rollers.

Here's the western Maple planks I milled for the door frames. This was after the prelim milling & couple week resting period to calm down, then final milling. A little tear out from the machining will leave some handwork. maybe western is not as forgiving as hard maple. The walnut on the other hand didn't care which way it went through the machines, forget grain direction, absolutely remarkable wood & so pretty. Despite the scale & labour intensiveness of this project, and the tired forearms, I must remember how privileged I am to be working with so much nice wood. The motherload really.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Table 2 - Metalwork

Can I go back to my bench now? I have missed my woodwork bench. Metalwork is a lot of fun, but I'm looking forward to working with clean hands and getting hold of that Black Walnut. Here's the metal frame for table 2. The aprons will be painted black. I'm experimenting with automotive acrylic lacquer & sandable primers. Seem to be getting nice results, just wish I could find something a little less toxic, is there any chemical they don't need in these paints? Hot-rod flat black or gloss black? Tough call. Managed to get her reasonably accurate. Weld heat distortion makes furniture building a challenge, when in doubt add another clamp.

Also, the welding table I knocked up for the job. had to go with a puny 1/4" plate for the table top, just to make unloading from the trailer more manageable. 3/8" would have been nice & solid. Amazing how heavy these plates are, even the 1/4" weighed 245 pounds.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Planning, Planning, Planning...

Not much to report. They say before you start building a piece you should have already built it in your mind a couple times. I have a couple big projects on the bench that I've spent about as much time as I can mulling over without going insane. Here's some drawings of a couple shutters I'm making for the windows on either side of our bed. The windows are 7 feet long & fairly narrow, so I designed this single panel door to accentuate the height & slenderness. Here's the rough stock, Western Maple for the frames & reclaimed fir for the panels. I'm looking forward to exploring door contruction & joinery strong enough for all that leverage. I'll also be making my first set of knife hinges so that the doors open 180 degrees.
Also a drawing & a mock-up of a very big table I've been planning for a commission. Hot-rolled & cold rolled steel for the frame, and walnut for the table top. The client had a very specific idea in mind, so not much design/conceptualising needed, just presenting a few options & deciding on proportions/finish etc, without getting too hung up on how I'm going to build such a big table in my tiny shop. For the mock-up I used a chunk of arbutus that had a beautiful beat, really cool wood, and fabricated these levelling feet that finish off the leg nicely & seem to work well. This table is almost 10 feet long, so time to upgrade my welding table & assembly table & shuffle some machinery...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Table 1

Spent the winter learning about table construction and designing and building my first table. A worthy project considering my shop was now operational & needed to stretch it's legs. This one is made of all kinds of wood that I had resting on the lumber rack; bubinga, ash, oak, alder, walnut, with a copper veneer & cold rolled steel thrown in for good measure. Despite the shotgun approach to wood selection, the different tones & grain came together without looking like too much of a circus. and I inevitably find a component better suited to steel than wood, like the table top landing strip which acts as a trivet. I didn't build a mock-up for this project, feeling that it was mainly a learning exercise and so the piece itself would be a mock-up. I milled the wood from rough stock, and also slabs from locally harvested fallen trees. The joinery was easier than expected, incorporating floating mortise & tenon; live double mortise & tenon; handcut dovetails. The leg shape was borrowed from famous woodworker James Krenov, cut free hand on the bandsaw & cleaned up with a spokeshave, a very pleasant way to spend a day in the shop.

Marriage of metal & wood

A perfect example of design using the strength & beauty of both wood and steel. I'd like to continue exploring this relationship where traditional crafts of fine woodworking and blacksmithing are blended. These pieces are backrests/headboards that I designed and built for a bed that I had made with my dad a couple years earlier. The wood comes from a locally harvested slab of Elm that I milled in the shop into two pieces with bookmatched grain. My son had just been born, and I wanted a comfortable backrest on the bed for those early morning feeds. So my design was vertical not horizontal in the traditional headboard thinking. I modeled the steel supports on car leaf springs, they flex when you lean against the backrest, like a supportive suspension system. I'd like to explore using reclaimed car springs in future pieces & need to make a pilgramage to the scrap yard.

Raw Materials

I like the romance of giving found objects a new life. I always think about the amount of energy that went into making a piece of steel that is now considered garbage. Likewise, there's no better way to work wood than from start to finish, where it's been harvested from a fallen city tree, carefully dried, then milled & used in a piece of furniture or architectural millwork. Here's some gorgeous slabs of Elm I harvested with my buddy Dan last winter, using his Husqvarna 2100/36" bar alaskan mill. Reclaimed timbers are equally romantic to work with and present their own unique design possibilities. Often these possibilities exclude fine woodworking (reclaimed timbers are often softwood or perhaps because the wood is traumatised, or has old bolt holes drilled through it) and it takes me in a different direction. Here's a big load on the bandsaw, a 12X6 reclaimed yellow cedar that I used in a mantle piece.

The finer things in life

I was introduced to making & using hand planes at the Inside Passage School of Fine Woodworking in Roberts Creek, BC. The principle being that shearing the wood fibres with a sharp iron produces a better finish than tearing the fibres with sandpaper. Makes sense, especially when you start seeing results for yourself. I'd also be lost without a hand plane for dialing in fit. The lightweight, nice to handle planes can be made for all sorts of purposes. Here's a sweet coopering plane I made from boxwood. I enjoy designing, laying out & cutting joinery. I have so much to learn. I had the priveledge of visiting Machu Pichu in 2006 while cycling around South America. Here's a picture of some Inca joinery that for me puts everything in perpective.


Concrete is a cool medium to work with, it molds to any shape or form. Considering the energy intensiveness of cement, I'd like to explore pouring pieces using completely organic ingredients (like earth, straw, clay, kind of a cob recipe).


Sometimes you just can't beat the efficiency of metal. Classic example, I was asked to build a massive 9'X3' wooden structure to serve as storage for the local kayak centre's dry suits & staff coats. Inexpensive was the overriding requirement. Here's some drawings I came up with, in mild steel, as an alternative to using cumbersome toxic sheet goods & fasteners. The result was less materials, quicker build, stronger, cleaner look. Utility trailers and steel go hand in hand. Next up - learn how to weld aluminium & stainless steel.