Monday, June 14, 2010

10 Tool Features that Frustrate Me

Some days I forget that not all woodworking tools are designed by woodworkers (see: many of the honing guides on the market).

And I forget that some tools are just designed to trick your family members into buying them for you at Christmas (see also: the battery-operated tape measure and C-clamp).

This weekend as I was cleaning up the shop a bit, I started thinking about many of the odd, unnecessary or downright counterproductive features on tools and machinery. Here's my short list. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments below. Remember, this is about features, not about particular brands.

1. Slick Miter Saw Tables. Every miter saw that has come into our shop has had a polished and slick table (usually aluminum). I hate this feature, and it is one of the reasons these saws aren't as accurate as they could be. The slick table makes your work slide around unless it is secured by a stop or a clamp. The result is that your cut is not at the desired angle. Add some sticky-back sandpaper to the fence of your saw and you'll be impressed by how much more accurate you are.

2. Jointer Fences that Bevel. Every jointer fence pivots. And every jointer fence (except one – ours. We set ours at a permanent 90° with lock-nuts) tends to loosen up in time and go out of square. In all my years of woodworking, I've never wanted to pivot my jointer fence. I've always had a better way to put a bevel on a board. But I am constantly frustrated by having to re-square my jointer fence to the table. For the five people who make bevels on their jointers, manufacturers can offer an accessory fence that bevels.

Oh, and the same goes for the rabbeting ledge on the jointer. The only reason I've used it is to see how it works.

3. Wacky Ruler Markings. I have two beefs here. The first one is about rulers that are marked in tenths of an inch and are sold to furniture makers. The only thing I need tenths of an inch for is measuring rainfall. These rulers have caused so many errors that I've banished them from my shop. Beef two: When the graduations on the ruler are all the same length (or nearly the same length). The marks for 1/4", 1/2" and 3/4" should be the longest. Then the eighths should be shorter. And the sixteenths even shorter than that. I have a 24" rule that makes me crazy because of this.

4. All-metal Hammers.
Have you ever used one of these for more than a couple nails? Has your arm recovered yet?

5. Chisels With Bucky Sides. If you make a bevel-edge chisel, make it so the bevels actually do something. The bevels are supposed to allow you to get into acute angles, especially in dovetails. If they don't do that, then they are as useless as mammaries on a tomcat.

6. Collet Locks on Routers.
I know I'm going to take heat for this one because every manufacturer tells me that the consumers love collet locks. I find them awkward and fragile (I've busted at least four). Please let me tighten my collets with two well-fitted wrenches in peace.

7. Plastic Tool Cases.
Space is at a premium in my shop at home. These hard plastic cases take up way too much space, and it's always difficult to get the tool and the accessories into it. When I get one, I give it to the kids to mess with. I actually do like the soft tool bags that some manufacturers use. Those get filled with all sorts of things when I need to install a c abinet or my kids have a sleepover.

8. A Junky Stock Blade.
Not everyone does this, but some makers of table saws, miter saws, jigsaws and circular saws ship the tool with a blade that is, at best, suited for cutting goat cheese. I hate throwing away a blade and having to buy a decent one. Either put a good blade on the tool (and charge me more) or ship the tool without a blade (and charge me less).

9. Router Table Fences that Offset for Jointing. Do you know how hard it is to joint an edge on a router table on a board that is 6' long? Setting it up to do that operation is silly if you have a jointer or a jointer plane.

10. Unnecessary Lasers. On a jigsaw? Really?

— Christopher Schwarz

Tool Resources that Will Help You Make Good Decisions

• "Bill Hylton's Ultimate Guide to the Router Table" by Bill Hylton.

• "Handplane Essentials" by Christopher Schwarz.

• "Cutting-Edge Router Tips & Tricks" by Jim Stack note what routers he uses....

• "Working With Power Tools" by Paul Anthony.

This page has lots of good information on the turncrafter plus from PSI.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

SketchUp for Woodworkers

Bob Lang sent me a pre-production copy of his new 184-page digital format book Woodworker's Guide to SketchUp. Bob is producing the book himself through his website, where you can order it for the discounted price of $29.95 with free shipping until July 1.

This book offers many great things, one of which is that it's completely geared toward woodworkers. Meaning, tutorials cover cabriole legs, not cubicles and office buildings.

Another thing is there are videos embedded in the text which are mini-tutorials, so you can read about a technique and then see it in action. And all with Bob's cool-1950-Lee Marvin-esque voiceover.

We've all seen SketchUp models, but many of us have never used the program or are new to it. Bob walks you through all the steps in order to design your own 3D models.

If you're a beginner like me, start at the beginning of the book. He covers the very basics. If you have some cursory knowledge of the program, you might want to skip a chapter or two, but I would at least skim them, because Bob gives you the best configurations for the tools and preferences.

Clearly, Bob knows his way around the program, and with his knowledge, you'll be able to build complex 3D models, complete with crown moulding and half blind dovetails. If you are interested in learning SketchUp, this is an excellent resource for woodworkers.

You can download sample pages and the table of contents for your own preview.

The PSI turncrafter is a very nice wood lathe at an affordable price.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Do You Like Swedes With Bigger Legs?

The Skansen bench that I built for the April 2010 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine has proved to be a popular project with readers. But if you like, you can do a better job of emulating the original than I did.

I built the project for our "I Can Do That" column, which features furniture you can build using basic tools and home-center materials. As a result, we sometimes have to make design changes to our projects because of the rules set down by the column.

For the Skansen bench, I made the bench a little shorter in length (to suit dimensional stock) and I made the legs a little thinner. I wanted big, chunky Swedish tree trunks, like the original. But doubling the thickness of the legs didn't look right (and there is no thickness planer in the "I Can Do That" tool kit). So I used 2 x material and tweaked things until it appeared right to my eye.

However, if you have a planer or some thick stock, you can go full-on Swede. Bengt, a reader in Stockholm, Sweden, recently visited the Skansen and took some photographs. He estimates the legs on the version there are 2" thick (which I think is a good guess).

He also put more photographs of the bench (and other nice pieces from Skansen) on a page on Photobucket that you can view.

I have my version of this bench at home in our dining room, and it has saved our butts (literally) when we had too many butts over for dinner.

— Christopher Schwarz

Other Helpful Resources on the Skansen Bench

• Get a free downloadable copy of our "I Can Do That" manual that will start you out in woodworking with just a few tools.

• Download (for free) our plan, instructions and cutting list for the Skansen bench.

• Visit Bengt's Photobucket pages with lots of great photos of the furniture at Skansen.

• Download a free SketchUp drawing of the bench.

• Read a tutorial on leveling the feet.

• Visit the official Skansen web site.

• Get a copy of our "I Can Do That" book from our store.

You can find more info on wood lathes right here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

42. Sketch of Still Heaven

Moon Shining Still Heaven.

I've started a new piece. I thought I would give you a peek. These are two shots of the sketches I'm working on.

They are kind of hard to see but get a picture in your mind. Picture a water wheel, some jugs and bottles and a stream flowing to power that wheel. Then think about granddad and friends just having a good ol' time.

Stay tuned I'll be back with a finally.


You can read more about woodturning lathe tools right here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Things Are Shaping Up

In preparation for the class I'm taking in August at Country Workshops on making traditional Swedish woodenware, I've been practicing making spoons.

While watching Jögge Sundqvist's video is helping me improve, and my spoons are starting to look more usable, I still don't quite "get" carving.

I'm used to building up, not taking away. As a graphic designer, I add things to a blank page; I build up a composition. In woodworking, we join pieces together to build a table or chair. But in spoon carving, you take everything away from the wood blank that doesn't resemble a spoon.

I've learned a few things along the way: carving green wood is much easier than dry; keeping an eye on your support hand's location in relation to the knife is a must; straight-grained wood is best for carving; chia pets are the best gifts ever.
Not only are my spoons shaping up, so am I. My current physique is called "pome-pear" and that's not going to help matters when I'm swinging an axe and adze and gasping for air.

So I've started walking four miles, doing thirty pushups, and eating 1400 calories or less each day (granted, I'm only on day number three).

At class this summer, I'll be rubbing elbows with Peter "HatchetMan" Follansbee, and I don't want to seem as green to carving as the wood we're chopping.

Read all about wood lathe chucks!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Video: Adjust and Use a Woodthreading Set

Threading and tapping wood is fairly easy work, once you get your thread box set up.

When I started here at the magazine in 1996, we had a bunch of threading kits sitting on a shelf. Like the handplanes next to them, they looked great in the background for photographs, but they didn't see much work.

I fooled around with our sets a bit and found that the cutters were dull and knocked out of alignment (a quick trip to the concrete floor can do that). So I fussed with the tools until they worked to my satisfaction.

Now that you can get woodthreading kits for sizes up to 1-1/2" (check Woodcraft and Highland Hardware) for less than $45, you might consider trying a set to make some handscrews, a dedicated twin-screw vise or perhaps a device to threaten unruly neighborhood children with (imagine something with a hole for putting an appendage into, and let your brain do the rest).

To show you how easy it is, I took a new wood threading kit out of the bag this morning and set it up while Megan Fitzpatrick shot this video. Like with any hand tool, the trick is putting the cutter in the right place.

After we shot the video, I finished making a second double-screw vise (shown below). Total elapsed construction time: one hour.

— Christopher Schwarz

Other Workshop-specific Resources You Might Enjoy

• Michael Dunbar shows how to make wooden handscrews using a thread box and tap in the February 2007 issue of Popular Woodworking.

• Download free plans for a traditional sawbench from Woodworking Magazine.

• "Projects for Your Shop" (Taunton) by Matthew Teague.

Take a look at this article on Ezine Articles about wood lathe tools.

Monday, May 31, 2010

39. Experimenting With Chinese Elm

This is something new for me.

I have a few friends who have to cut down trees sometimes. Sometimes the trees are growing in inconvenient places or their root systems are growing into sewer lines. What ever the reason, I asked these guys to cut slabs for me to use in my art. A few weeks ago one of my friends brought me four slabs of Chinese Elm.

Chinese Elm, Ulmus parvifolia, Lacebark, grows to a height of (20 to 60 feet.) Leaves have a broad vase like shape and are (0.8 to 2.5 inches.) They have pendulous branches. Here in Wyoming their leaves are a light grayish green. In warmer regains they are often ever green.

This particular species is resistant to Dutch Elm disease.
Fungal spores, introduced into wounds in the tree caused by the beetles, invade the xylem or vascular system.

Most species produce fine timber with a distinctive pattern. The timber resists decay when waterlogged, thus making it quite useful in certain specialized uses, such as serving as underwater pilings. Other uses include furniture making. Some woodworkers believe that, that's all it is good for. Some say it is only good for fire wood. Others like it for their turning projects, such as making bowls, or decorative carvings.

In my research I have found that the hardest part of working with Chinese Elm is the drying process. The wood tends to want to move, warping every which way. The drying time depends on the thickness of the slab. It also requires a lot of weight on top for it to help prevent the warping. Some woodworkers use kilns to dry it. Others use kilns and time. From what I've found all use weight on top.

I haven't started to prepare any of them for burning. I want to wait for several more weeks to begin the sanding and so fourth. This hard wood and can only be worked with power tools. So when ready I'm going to have to give in and use a power palm sander.

It is obvious to me that this wood was cut against the grain, rather then with the grain. This is another reason I'm going to have to use a power palm sander.

Side 1.

Side 2.

I'm hoping to be able to keep the bark on it when I get ready to start creating a burnt picture on it. I like the way it has separated and resembles a handle. If it turns out that I can I will use wood glue to secure it to the wood.

A shot of how the bark looks right now.

Bark: gray or brown, rough, furrowed.

This is my experiment. When I'm ready to start working it, I plan to do a step by step series. This won't happen for a month or maybe more depending on how it's drying.

In the mean time I have some projects in mind for my favorite wood (pine.) As some of you know pine is my favorite wood to create on. But I want to expand some and experiment. That's what artists do right?

Check out this blog about wood lathe tools.