A place for me to display some of the varied projects that come out of my shop, as well as to "talk" about some of my experiences working with wood.

Wednesday 3 April 2019

Woodworking and Walking in the UK

Since retiring almost 16 months ago, I have been thinking of heading back to the UK for a visit. For the previous couple years I was in London at least once a month and sometimes more, so I had developed an affinity for all things British.

In March I took a couple weeks and planned a hectic itinerary to check off a few boxes for me in the UK. With a couple days at the front end to manage the jet lag and a couple at the end, both in London, I walked around the city, most days averaging almost 20 km per day. When I worked there, this was a regular routine, allowing me to experience most parts of the city close up.

Trafalgar Square on a typical Spring Day

To the Midlands...

This was mostly to be a woodworking focused trip, so I headed up to Birmingham to connect with friend and woodworker Kieran Binnie of Over the Wireless fame. I would stay with him and his wonderful family for the weekend and we would drive over to Newark to attend the Midlands Woodworking Show where he had a booth. This was a good show with Classic Hand Tools (CHT) from Ipswich hosting a number of Hand Tool folks during the show. This allowed me to reconnect with the likes of Ollie Sparks, Shane Skelton and Mike Hancock from CHT. Since the European Woodworking Show's hiatus, it has been tough to see these guys in person. I also wrote a piece for Furniture and Cabinetmaking magazine on the show to be published in the next issue.
Ollie sparks new lugged plane in gorgeous Phosphor Bronze and ebony.

Shane and Jacqueline Skelton talking all things saws

There were some amazing turners there and Andrew Hall let me try on this Elm beauty

Very cool to see my hammer in the CMT booth.

Curtis Turner from LN and Kieran Binnie working out the nuance of the scraper plane.

Kieran Binnie showing off his 12-string to a show attendee
Plane making legend Bill Carter was there - great to catch up.

After the show it was back to Birmigham for the weekend to enjoy some down time in the Midlands; we spent Sunday in Kieran's shop talking shop organization and his Roubo bench project underway. Great to catch up with a good friend.

Time for some teaching...

Lots of prep work organized for the big day
Monday morning's train took me to Leamington Spa for a true highlight of the trip for me. I was to teach the Furniture Making students of Warwickshire College how to make Shaker boxes. I had been working with Jamie Ward, the Lead Instructor for the program for a few months preparing for this day. Jamie used the CNC to make the bending and drying forms we would use to make a #3 size box, as well as resawing enough material to make 40 boxes; this was many hours after class hours for Jamie - he is truly dedicated to his students. I spent Monday afternoon and evening preparing the strips for the students, and making a couple test boxes to ensure that everything worked.

Talk - he does.
Tuesday arrived and it was 9 hours of full on box making, dividing the class in two and working through the steps necessary to ensure every student had a box at the end of the day. We were successful, with only one real bending failure out of 25, I was very happy. Jamie said it has been a long time since he has seen this much engagement from the entire class, who were focused on getting their boxes done that day. It seemed with UK's Mother's Day the following Sunday, many were motivated to get their gift needs met. Indeed, after I left I had seen many student's continue to personalize their boxes with inlay and pyrography, The fact that they valued their accomplishment this much was very rewarding for me.
Cooking up some goodness
Very interested in the next step...

The happy group showing off their boxes

After an exhausting day and post-class beer(s) with Jamie I was back to London on Wednesday to connect with a good friend from my work days in London. This meant thinking about the flight home and managing the time change the other way.

All in all, a very rewarding and enjoyable trip, already thinking when I will head over again -maybe later this year, who knows?

Monday 10 September 2018

From Burn Boxes to Shaker Boxes - a natural transition

In my last post, I explored how I use leftover material in my Guerrilla Segmenting approach which has been very effective in eroding my pile of offcuts. Recently I have been using shaker boxes as a way to use some of the thinner material I have been holding onto.

Many size options!

Shaker Boxes reduces mountain of thin stock to a molehill...

Many years ago I bought a Shaker box kit from Lee Valley which contained the gubbins to make 3 shaker boxes and instructions on how to build them. Finally getting motivated to use the kit, I made them in my electric frying pan as a boiler and they turned out quite well, with only one minor wood explosion. In the process of manufacturing a replacement strip I realized that this would be a way to use up those strips I had been saving. And I was off to make some boxes. 

Kenny's handiwork

I asked my buddy Kenny to make me a stainless steamer box, which has turned out to be very useful, holding parts for all sizes up to a #6 box (about 9"x12"), 

A variety of materials yield varied results

One of these boxes requires very little material to build and highlights the genius of the shakers making the most of what they had. One thin (090") strip 19" by 2" long makes the base of a box and a small piece 1/4" thick by 4"x 6.25" makes the bottom of a #2. To me this is a classic case of value-added labour, taking a very small amount (pennies really) of material and turning it into something that most people sell for around $40.

I had also accumulated a number of small pieces of baltic birch plywood and veneer offcuts, allowing me to use these for tops and bottoms in the larger boxes. Most folks seem to use plywood for the larger sizes so it does not cup over time. 

And cherry is not the only material to be used here, painted boxes are quite common, so this allowed me to use some "boring" maple and ash for box sides, mixing and matching painted and natural materials for some cool effects.

Having made over 30 boxes now, my hoard of thin material has diminished greatly, time to get back to making some more offcuts...

Process shot, I have two sets of holders per box size.

Two #2's and a #6 with veneered plywood top.

A selection of various sizes and finishes makes a rewarding haul.

Friday 31 August 2018

Creative Techniques Save Good Wood from the Stove

A common trait amongst all the woodworkers I know is that we store far too much leftover material from our projects over the years. A few years ago these bits were taking up far too much room, and many had sat for 20+ years unused, something had to be done. There wold be rules going forward on what gets kept and what goes in the burnbox - diligence would be my new regime.

So my new rules going forward would be to keep all bits of exotics, no matter how small, this material is harder to come by and worth the work to incorporate into projects. In my lifetime, materials that were easy to come by have virtually disappeared from mainstream availability. We are resorted to relying on connections to access these materials as they are released from the hoards of woodworkers out there. The other rule was for domestics, I would only keep reasonable sized pieces, knowing if I needed a small piece I could always make it without much trouble. So about 10 years ago I retroactively applied it to my hoard and sent boxes of bits of maple, cherry, pine, walnut and birch to the stove. Since that time I have been rather vigilant and have 3-4 burnboxes scattered around the shop to ensure these bits are collected and not saved.

Even larger pieces pile up after a while...

Some odd size Cherry offcuts from Rocking Chairs
After several major projects such as rocking chairs, tables, bedroom and dining room sets, I had accumulated many bits of 2" material and larger offcuts of odd shapes that were starting to take over. A solution had to be found, so I put some thought into it and have come up with a couple of strategies to productively use this material. The first strategy to employ was came to be known by me as guerrilla segmenting.

And a box of Walnut from a Maloof Dining Set

Serendipitous Segmenting

Many turners have used segmenting to build up a simple or complex designs, employing algebra, layout grids and micrometer adjusted sawcuts to achieve some magnificent results. I too have gone down this OCD road a few times in the past - well, what I am talking about here is nothing like that!

In the true spirit of letting the wood tell you want it wants to be, I started cutting up the odd shaped pieces of thicker material into various sized segments to be built into segment rings for eventual turning. I had a pretty good pile of random shaped 2" cherry from rocking chairs and went at it. Starting with a segment template for 12-section circles of various diameters, I marked them out on the scrap, to maximize the yield, not mixing up the sizes too much to ensure I had enough for complete circles.

Sanding to the line to get the angle perfect
And the next step is where my approach differs from the usual ultra-precise exacting work of building segmented rings. I mark the scrap material with a fine marker giving me a precise line to work with. Each segment is rough cut on the bandsaw to about 1/16" oversize, and sanded up to the line on the disc sander, this efficient method quickly yields segments that are very close to the necessary length and angle. Since I am using thicker material I cut it to 1.5 to 2" deep to give me maximum flexibility in the future project.

Once I have a dozen blocks of the same size I glue them up into rings. For this I use the "rub" method by putting plenty of glue on one piece and rubbing the two faces together until it starts to stick, hold it flat on some wax paper for 10 seconds and leave them to dry. After a couple hours I take the sections of two and make sections of four, and then add another pair for half sections of 6 pieces. In all likelihood these two halves are not exactly half of a circle, usually a liitle more or a little less. Over to the belt sander, carefully holding it by the end pieces, set it down on the moving belt until the two faces sit perfectly flat - I use the bed on the tablesaw as a test. It is also important to keep the semi-circle 90 degrees to the bed so everything stays in plane. Smaller rings can be done on the disc sander, but mine only goes to 9".
Double check for any gaps on the saw table

Blocks of various sizes being glued up in pairs (no clamping required)

Two Walnut circles in progress

Lots of segments, rings and finished pieces showing the variety of work possible.

Gluing the halves into circles is the final stock prep step
The two halves are now ready to be glued together using the same rub method on the table, and I often put a quik-grip on lightly to hold it snug. You now have a segmented ring ready for a turning project. I normally build rings of various sizes with an eye to a design for several bowls. I also ensure that I save material of the right size for the solid base pieces. For smaller bases <8" I will use one piece of wood, above 8" I will glue four quarters together to minimize cross-grain movement.

Surfacing the rings to provide 2 surfaces suitable for gluing.

The final prep phase of the rings is to run them through the thickness sander to give me a smooth surface for gluing. I also trim them more or less round on the disc sanding, eliminating the protruding corners makes tearout less likely when turning.

I am not going to focus on the actual turning process as there are plenty of resources out there to help. Below are a few examples of the work I have done using this method, in my mind it is a very efficient use of materials.

Walnut Salad bowl from Maloof chair offcuts

Kitchen implement holder from Cherry offcuts.
A 14" Salad bowl from Rocker Offcuts.

In the beginning of the piece I mentioned two methods of using up scrap material, the next blog entry will focus on another technique to utilize leftover bits - Shaker Oval Boxes.

Monday 2 July 2018

Been a busy year!!

A new Era Begins

It has been over a year since my last post, with the final push in 2017 for my last year of real work, there was not much time for writing about woodworking. Since January we have been doing quite a bit of travelling to some very cool places, so shop time and blogging took second place.

Now that the warm weather is here, its time for me to settle into a retirement routine and find ways to stay productive. Lots of time for recreation and yard work, as well as plenty of shop time with some very interesting projects. During this past year I had completed a few small projects to keep myself engaged, some of which are below...

A small commode to hold mittens and keys,
with a special spalted Elm top.
A Cherry desk with Ash legs and matching
bowback Windsor side chair

A Curly Cherry block makes a great
base for these Edison LED lamps.

This Asian style tea box with Curly Maple sides
and interior tops from one piece of Cherry

My cycling partner just happens to be a guy some of you may know,
I made a White Oak pen holder for his desk in the House of Commons.

Of course I did quite a bit of turning!

Made a few Damascus knives from blade kits. Top two are
Thuya Burl and Brazilian RW for the paring knife.

We renovated one of our bathrooms this past fall, why buy a vanity
if you can make exactly what you want?

A new set of cabinets for the Laundry Room at my Son's.

Same Son, under the deck shed for yard implements.

A large size Cherry coffee table with opposing drawers and
storage cubbies. (Same Son!)

Atlantic Canadian themed Christmas
 ornaments shaped like lobster buoys

A variety of shaker-style boxes and trays.

A couple of large mallets from a piece of Lignum Vitae I was given.

A few gift boxes for an important upcoming event.

I bought this hammer head last year in UK at a show.
 Made a hefty handle from Cocobolo.

A few copper-roofed Cedar birdhouses for variety.

A small shaker side table, with Cherry base and Elm top

I guess I did get a few things completed after all!!

Keeping the brain occupied is important too...

And now to rekindle an old interest for me - writing. I have always done quite a bit of technical writing for my vocation, including a number of newspaper articles, newspaper columns, a computer science textbook, as well as a number of original articles when I was doing landscape and wildlife photography. Many years teaching computer science at a local university have kept these skills honed for me in the mean time.

I have taken a few stabs at writing in the woodworking realm, including Woodturning Online, which still hosts a number of my build articles. In the past few years, I had written the editors of a few of the North American WW mags, without so much as a reply to my emails, which was kind of disappointing.

My first major woodworking article hits the presses. A collaboration with
the awesome Kieran Binnie from the UK - on newsstands now!
Fast forward to 2018 and with lots of time on my hands to write, I took a more direct approach to getting this started. I got in touch with Kieran Binnie of OverTheWireless fame who has emerged as a clear and articulate young voice in the woodworking community; and we discussed a collaboration. The current issue of Furniture & Cabinetmaking, one of the premier woodworking magazines globally, published in the UK, has the fruits of our labours. The article’s topic focuses on rasps which have been of great interest to me since my time building guitars; during that time I had done some blogging as well as a few YouTube videos on how to use this versatile tool. Now woodworkers can learn how Kieran & I use these tools for themselves.

In addition, I am working on a couple more pieces for this same magazine, including my own project build piece scheduled for the fall. I hope to approach some other magazines abroad to gauge interest in my work in the coming months. Stay tuned for new developments in this domain.

Back to the shop...