Archive for October, 2011

Kill Your Router! (or: how I learned to quit fighting Matt Bickford, and love strikin me some moulding)

Pssst… hey kid. Wanna stick some moulding? Don’t worry – we’ll just do a chair rail – maybe an ogee or two. Not the hard stuff. C’mon – A little ogee never hurt nobody. Tell you what – the first one’s on me.

One of my favorite parts of demonstrating at hand tool events and shows is watching Matt Bickford flip people’s world upside down in 30 minutes or less. As a maker of side escapement planes, Matt’s an incredibly talented and knowledgeable guy. But his greatest genius is in being able to show people how quick, efficient, versatile, and easy it is to use his tools to make moulding profiles. Any moulding. If you can lay it out in profile, you can reproduce it. Exactly.

Last year in Brooklyn I watched a typical scene unfold at a Lie-Nielsen handtool event. A guy sticks his head into Matt’s bench area shaking his head, and commenting that his router is quicker. Matt picks up a piece of poplar, asks the guy to choose a moulding profile from one of the books on his bench, and spends the next 30 or so minutes quietly and carefully shredding every preconception router-guy walked in with. At the end, the man himself has exactly reproduced the profile he picked, his eyes are wide, and he’s leaning excitedly forward like a kid who just discovered you can get sprinkles on an ice cream cone. His only remaining question is whether he wants snipe’s bills to go with his quarter-set right away, or if he should wait to add them later.

So here’s some good news. Matt’s written his experiences and techniques down in a forthcoming book, tentatively titled “Mouldings in Practice.” Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to read through the book and put some of what it suggests to the test. So – does it translate well into print?

Here’s the best answer I can give you – these are my own results, churned out in just over two hours at my bench this week – probably 30-40% of which was in laying the profiles out.

Two of these mouldings are reproductions of step-by-step profiles from the book, and two are simple designs I drew up from my head. All are right off the planes with no scraping or sanding, and all are remarkably faithful to the original layout.

Just to be clear: my own experience with moulding planes isn’t nil, but it’s damn close. I’ve watched Matt do his magic quite a bit, but in terms of actually using the planes, that two hours at my bench more than doubles my lifetime experience. And if I can get this kind of results more or less right out of the gate, I think there’s something to be said for the methods he’s spelled out with this book.

This material hasn’t materialized out of thin air; Matt’s standing on the shoulders of giants in this field – most especially those of Larry Williams and Don McConnell of Old Street Tools. But I think he’s managed to spell all of this out in a way that I’ve never seen presented so completely and concisely anywhere else. At least as important as the methods themselves, though, is the enthusiasm and confidence the book manages to instill. It not only makes a compelling case for why striking your own mouldings is a great endeavor – it also demystifies the work so thoroughly that it’s almost impossible not to go out to your shop and start doing it right away.

The typical attitude that most handtool users seem to hold toward moulding planes is that they’re at the far end of learning – some sort of arcane knowledge that only the truly die-hard pros really have the skills and understanding to use. Matt’s managed to completely demolish that impression here. Striking mouldings isn’t some dark art – it’s just that the instruction manual has been lost for at least a few generations. Now it’s back – three cheers for the hand tool revolution!

Chris Schwarz has started to dole out information on the book in his blog at Lost Art Press (who is publishing the book.) That’s the place to watch for news about the book, pricing, release dates, etc.

Just in the interest of disclosure: there is nothing about my comments here that are unbiased. I’m a huge admirer of Matt Bickford in every way, and he’s a rather good friend. I’m reading the book because I’ve been asked to provide some feedback and a little editing assistance. If that makes you skeptical (and it’s quite understandable if it does) please don’t take my word for it. I’d wholeheartedly suggest you investigate some of the information Matt’s put out over the past year in his outstanding blog. It makes the case better than I ever could anyway.

Worked me some wood

As I mentioned in a previous post, the toolworks has been shut down for a couple of weeks now. This is a nice break, as it allows me to catch up on a LOT of things that have been pushed aside for the last year or so. One of those, for instance, is updating this blog (lucky, lucky you, dear reader). Another one is that I finally managed to squeeze in some time for my first love – bona fide furnituremaking. Specifically, I finally managed to finish a piece that I designed and started work on almost a year ago, and which has been at the top of my ‘yeah – I’ll get right on that’ list ever since.

The backstory is that last year about this time, my friend (and moulding planemaker extraordinaire) Matt Bickford and I decided to share a booth at the Northeast Woodworker’s Association show in Saratoga Springs. He also mentioned that his friends Don and Chris Boule had issued a challenge to him to build a piece for the show. When he told me this, I immediately jumped at the excuse to make some furniture.

To make a long story short, Matt decided to make a Queen Anne table, and I decided to work out a small cabinet with kumiko pattern sliding doors. We were both really excited and pleased at the prospect of stealing some time away from toolmaking to get back to building a little furniture. Ahh, the folly of youth.

Three months later, when we arrived at the show, Matt had finished something like two of the legs for his table, and I had finished one of the two doors for my cabinet. Here are some links to the absolutely stunning (and fully completed) pieces that Don Boule and Chris Boule brought.

So yes – it was a slightly extended build. But I do take consolation from having actually finished it in (just barely) under a year. So I got that going for me. As for Matt’s table… well, you’ll have to ask him about that.

As a side note – for those of you interested in this sort of decorative kumiko work, I cannot recommend Des King’s outstanding website highly enough. Des trained in traditional methods for shoji and kumiko in Japan and has since returned to his native Australia and set up shop. His website is an amazing source of information and inspiration, and provides a unique English-language picture of just how intricate and beautiful this sort of work can be.

Turn On the News (z.e.n. arcana)

Daed Toolworks CS-T coffin smoother

Daddy – your plane looks pretty, but if you want to make it really good you need to paint a unicorn on it. I can help if you don’t know how.
— zoe eden nelson (age 5)

Two weeks ago, I finished the last plane I’ll make in Daed Toolworks Lab v1.0; I’ve shut down planemaking here to get everything ready for our impending move to the Indianapolis area. We’ve been planning this move for a very very long time now, and while I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the shop where I started this little thing, I’ll console myself with the fact that the new toolworks Lab will have an order of magnitude more space. I’ll post some information about the new shop in the future, but for now I’ll just comment that it’s (very) big, but lends itself to organizing, and that I’m pleased with it in much the same way my dog would be pleased with 35 pounds of raw bacon.

So there’s the explanation for the interminable silence of the blog for the past few months. It’s been a mad rush to get a bit ahead on orders before shutting everything down for what I anticipate will probably be most of the remainder of 2011. In the midst of all the mayhem, though, I have managed to squeeze in some prototype work on a few new planes, two of which will be regular offerings, and one of which will not. As part of that prototyping, I have also been working with a new infill species which I’m now quite confident is stable and beautiful enough that I’m adding it to the list of available infill woods.

bronze CS3 with ceylon satinwood infill

The first new plane I’m introducing is one that I actually built about six months ago, but I couldn’t introduce it until now. It is the largest of the unhandled coffins – the CS3 – which uses a 2-inch wide blade, and comes in at just about 8-inches long. The reason it needed to ‘age’ before introduction is that the prototype plane was the first test platform for the new infill material offering: Ceylon Satinwood. To the best of my knowledge, this beautiful species has never before been used in an infill plane. It’s a bit more subtle than some of the other woods I use, and is extremely difficult to photograph adequately; in good lighting, though, it has a degree of chatoyance that I’ve never seen in another wood species. The surface glimmers and shifts with movement like the hologram on my driver’s license. While the bronze sidewalls are a much riskier stylistic choice than steel, I wanted to see how the combination looked over time. It’s an unusual look, and certainly isn’t for everyone, but overall I’m quite taken with it — and so far I like it better and better the longer the bronze has to patinate.

The next plane I made, which was finished at the end of the summer, is one that I’m not going to be replicating again. It’s a thumb plane, about five inches long, in bronze sidewalls and some beautiful kingwood infills.

Bronze/Kingwood thumb plane

I made the plane because I have never used a thumb plane before, and I’ve always been quite taken with the thumb planes Brian Buckner makes. I did redesign the sidewalls and infills to reflect my own sensibilities, though I did incorporate a stepped chamfer at the rear of the plane as an homage to Brian. This is a detail based on one from a damascus rabbeting block plane he made several years ago, and his execution of it is one of the most beautiful details on a plane that I’ve ever seen. I didn’t pull it off nearly as elegantly as he did, but it’s still a detail I appreciate.

In the end, while I do quite like the plane, I really don’t think it fits with the rest of the planes I’m offering. To be honest, if I saw a photo of it online I would think it was another maker’s plane. It just doesn’t look like ‘me’ to me. So even though I like the plane aesthetically, it’s going to be a one-off. I’ll probably revisit the thumb plane at some point — it really is a great configuration for a small plane — but not until I work out a design that reflects my personality better.

And finally, the other new introduction is a plane I’ve been working out in my head for months now. I humbly introduce the Daed Toolworks CS-T handled coffin smoother. I worked with Ceylon Satinwood on this plane as well as the CS3, so I could get a view of the wood with steel sidewalls as well. I think this combination is much more universal, and is a great option for those who prefer a somewhat more subtle aesthetic than many of the rosewoods I use.

There are one or two small details I’ll likely adjust for ‘production’ versions, but the only noticeable change will be just behind the bed, in the profile where the side infills separate from the tote:

In the prototype, the profile is an ogee shape that, in hindsight, is a little ornate for the otherwise sparse design. In subsequent planes, I’ll be using an increasing radius cove profile at this point, which I think will match just a little better with the rest of the design. Other than that, though, I’m quite happy with the smoother, which is a pleasure to use. I can’t wait to make one in African Blackwood!

More ramblings on WIA, the state of handtool toolmaking, and details of Daed Toolworks Lab v2.0 will appear in these pages over the following weeks.

All you need to know about Woodworking in America

I can summarize the carnival smorgasbord of woodworking fury known as Woodworking in America with four words:

Raney Lost his Voice.

Those of you who know him will understand.

Because of his condition, he asked me to post this entry. In a rather hysterical bit of mimery, he’s also asked I convey that he’s sorry to have been so delinquent in blog updates, and that he’ll be rectifying that in the next couple of days with lots of news from the Lab. Either that, or he’s choked on an ostrich bone.


FJ Abraham, man-servant to the DAED household

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