Mark ( on October 5th, 2009

So, it’s finally the fall season and I’m again getting back into the shop.  Man, do I have a lot of work waiting for me!  In addition to the always present shop clean-up activities, I have to finish my work on the Huntboard and then get back to the Sculpted Rocking Chair – oh, and let’s not forget that I still have that project for in between projects – the Dreadnought Guitar – still to be completed!

As I’ve stated before, summer is usually a slow time of year for me in the shop.  There are just too many other things vying for time in the summer months – and in Upstate New York we have to take every advantage of the little bit of nice weather we get!

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been doing a bunch of turning lately.   I have been working to improve my skills and focusing more on the design aspects of various types of turned forms.  I’ve done a bunch of open bowls and also some semi-closed forms en route to developing my skills to do hollow-forms.

What you see in the (somewhat poorly photographed) pictures is a sampling of some of the pieces that I’ve done over the summer.  I did do a few more, but have already given them away to folks that offered up some freshly cut wood for my efforts.  As you can see there are open bowls, and semi-closed forms that I used to help develop the ability to cut away under the rim of a bowl.

Table of turningsSpalted Maple Bowl 1Spalted Maple Bowl 2Turning Group

I recently tried a hollow-form with some green Maple.  This was done with the limited hollowing tools that I own (the Sorby Multi-tip scraper and Sorby Hollow Master – the Multi-tip is a decent tool but, I would not recommend Hollow Master).  Well, let’s just say that I have more work to do to refine my skills.  I had a catch while hollowing and nearly tore the tenon right off the bottom of this piece (sorry for the somewhat blurry pictures).  Luckily, the piece did not go into orbit, but the catch was still exciting to say the least.  I think this was caused by the awkward curve of the Sorby Hollow Master tool as my not clearing out the shavings frequently enough.

Hollow FormHollow Form RimHollow Form Foot

Oh well, the wood was free and I’m learning with every piece that I spin on the lathe.  This event also gave me the impetus to order some real hollowing tools to satisfy this addiction…I mean hobby.

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Mark ( on August 28th, 2009

Recently, I was reading Doug Stowe’s blog: Wisdom of the Hands.  Doug had a post there about some testing of new tools he had been doing recently.  In the post, Doug discussed that he did not want his tools to allow his work to “self-identify” with the viewer.  His feeling is that if someone views his work and immediately identifies with some aspect of it as:  “oh, he had to use tool XYZ to do that” then he has missed the mark with respect to it’s design being a unique expression of his creativity.

I tend to agree with this.  From my perspective, when we design, we should  start with a blank canvas and design from the top down, thinking about the statement we want a piece to make as well as its function, as necessary.   We should design from the top down without undue constraints (as much a possible) and when we build (the implementation phase) that  should be done from the bottom up.  This is where we must exercise our skills and problem-solving abilities as we endeavor to realize the design that we desire.  For me, tools do not enter the picture until the implementation phase.  If I do not have the tool for the job, then I have to try to find a way to execute the design by some other means. or in rare cases by purchasing a tool.  However, I try to never let the tools that I have on hand limit what I design.  I posted a comment on Doug’s blog in response to his post that I’ll reproduce here:


Interesting thoughts…I agree with what you have said.

I am constantly amazed while reading at woodworking blogs and message forums about all the new tools and gizmos that woodworkers are buying with reckless abandon – often times with no real need!

It sometimes seems that tool acquisition (and display) is the goal as opposed to the use of the tools in pursuit of our craft. I routinely see shops full of all manner of new tools (both hand and power) and purchased jigs and often very little production of woodworking objects.

It is interesting to see woodworkers frustrated and avoiding building pieces that they perceive to require a specialized tool to complete. Ironically, many times all that is needed is to build a simple and quick jig or fixture to accomplish the task.

Woodworkers are missing out on an important aspect of the craft that requires developing skills of problem-solving and design when they avoid creating simple jigs and fixtures as part of their build process. As you stated, without the ability (and/or desire) to do this, our designs will become limited by what we have in our shops and/or what we think we can buy at the nearest woodworking tool outlet.

So, I thought I’d take the pulse of the internet woodworking community regarding this topic.  Please let me know what you think by responding to the poll.   More importantly, expand on your thoughts in the comments of this post.  This is an interesting topic regarding design that I think deserves some discussion.  So, don’t hold back, let’s hear your thoughts!

[polldaddy poll=1927691]

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Mark ( on June 30th, 2009

Since I returned from the Marc Adam’s School, life has not offered much opportunity for me to get into the shop.  Rest assured that I will soon be doing some work to complete the Huntboard project and then I will be back onto the Sculpted Rocking Chair…nothing like having too many irons in the fire, huh?  Well summer is traditioonally my slowest woodworking time so, at least I’m consistent!

What I have been doing when I get a little time in the shop is more turning on the lathe.  As I have mentioned in the past, I’m a member of the Rochester Woodworkers Society.  I’m also a member of the Turning special interest group of the club.  This is a segment of RWS that is associated with the American Association of Woodturners.  For a couple of months now I have been working with a mentor from the Turning SIG in his shop.  My mentor Ralph has been turning for something like 30 years and teaching woodturning for a good portion of that time.

I started  the mentoring relationship because I wanted to learn more about turning hollow-forms.  However before we got started we thought it might be a good idea to work through some basic bowls in order to check and refine technique.   The thinking was that we could progress from an open bowl to a semi-closed form then to a hollow-form.  At this point we are working on a semi-closed form and I can definitely tell you that starting with the basics was the right way to go. I have learned as much about sanding as I have about refinements in tool technique!  Additionally, the process has taught me a lot about looking for the right form in a piece and the subtleties of why some forms look better than others.

I have said in the past that certain techniques seem to be well-suited to subtle hands-on illustration and correction.  Hand tool operations are one, and I think that woodturning is another.  There are certain things that are difficult to learn from a book or even videos. However, when a mentor reaches over and slightly adjusts the angle of your gouge as you turn a bowl, the message becomes clear very quickly!

Me at the LatheTurning with Gouge CloseupSemi-hollow Form 2Semi-hollow Form 1In the pictures you can see a Chinese Elm semi-closed form that we are working on in Ralph’s shop (a couple of the pictures are of the bowl on my lathe as I complete the sanding sequence).  Also, you can see a Walnut bowl that I did in my shop after some mentoring by Ralph.  For the Walnut bowl I followed the sanding and finishing sequence that Ralph teaches to achieve a nearly flawless glossy finish.

Walnut Bowl 1Walnut Bowl 2If you don’t belong to a woodworking club, I’d urge you to join one – the commeraderie alone is a great benefit.  If you turn wood, finding a mentor is also a definite plus to help you progress at a much faster pace than you would if otherwise on your own.

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Mark ( on May 17th, 2009

Well I knew it had to come to an end some time.  Friday was the final day of the Hut Board Class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking and to boot it was a shortened day due to shop clean-up and packing at the end of the day.

The morning was filled with  some lectures and demonstrations on dovetails and drawer making.  One of the assistants demonstrated the Rob Cosman method of laying out evenly spaced dovetails using a set of dividers.  Then, Jeff Headley showed how he and Steve cut dovetails for drawers.  Interestingly they gang the two side boards together back to back with a couple of brads.  Then they plow a groove on each side for the drawer bottom and lay out their dovetails on each end.  No special methods for layout here – just done by eye and using a shop made brass layout marker for the slope of the tails ( approximately a 1:5 angle).  They also scribe a baseline for the tails first.

Next, it was on to the band saw to cut out the tails.  Jeff demonstrated this by cutting to the line and nibbling out the waste in between tails leaving very little paring to be done afterward.  The remainder of the joint was done in the traditional way.  They did use a 1/4″ block set into the drawer bottom grooves in the front and side pieces when marking the pins.  This was done with the front board in the vise and the side board laying across it and on top of a plane laying on the bench.  The 1/4″ block kept things locked together while marking out the pins.  These are half-blind dovetails and the marking gage was set slightly wider than the side thickness when marking the baseline for the pins.  This causes the pins to be slightly proud after the joint is assembled – they can then be planed flush.  Also, when cutting the pins they make no issues of cutting well below the baseline in order to get as far into the pin as possible – this was very commonly done on period furniture.

We also discussed the fine-line inlay, cock-beading and escutcheon for the drawers. The escutcheon for the Hunt Board is the same as done in the embellishments class that I discussed in an earlier post – it’s put in after the fine-line is completed.  They do the fine line with a shop-made scraping tool after the dovetails are cut,  but before the drawer is assembled.  In this case the fine-line is only about 1/16″ wide.  An important thing here is that the fine line must be allowed to dry completely after gluing before scraping it flush otherwise, it may shrink below the surface when dry due to swelling while wet with glue.  In this piece there will also be some fine-line installed in the top.  The cock-beading is installed after the drawer is assembled.  The top and bottom pieces are installed to the full depth of the drawer front.  The side pieces are mitered to the top and bottom but are not as deep so that the dovetails on the sides of the drawers are not covered.

Most of the remaining time for me on Friday was spent fitting the drawer fronts very closely to their openings.  This took a bit of time, but I have them now fit precisely.  After the dovetailing and fine-line is installed I will plane them down to leave a very small reveal around the drawer.  Unfortunately this work will be done at home in my shop because the class had to come to an end.

me-and-the-hunt-boardhunt-board-at-end-of-classAfter cleaning up the shop and packing my piece for the long ride home, I bid farewell to the school, the assistants and Jeff and Steve.  This was a great experience and I will definitely do it again.  There were no great revelations learned, but rather many, many little refinements in technique and process plus, the comeraderie was great.  I’m already searching for my next class!  I’ll leave you with a couple of pictures of the piece with the drawer fronts fitted before I packed it for the trip home.

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Mark ( on May 14th, 2009

Well  I am still at work here in Franklin, Indiana at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.  The Hunt Board class has certainly been a marathon of woodworking…sometimes bordering on speed-woodworking.

I did not update you with a post yesterday because I was attending the traditional school dinner that is put on during each week long class. at the school.  After the dinner students are treated to a slide show and/or demonstration by each of the visiting instructors for that week.  This was a great event not only because of the camaraderie that it fosters between the students but also because it provides additional inspiration to the students by exposing them to other aspects of woodworking that they may not have considered.  Certainly it’s a great marketing tool for Marc Adams to promote the school.

fitting-tenonschopping-back-mortisesYesterday was spent fitting tenons on the case.  Lot’s of mortises and tenons…did I mention how many mortises and tenons are in this thing?  In fact as of the close of the day yesterday, I was uncertain if we would even near completion.  We also chopped out the mortises on the back of the case and created the tenons on the back of the interior partitions.  Lots of chopping, planing, chiseling, paring and fitting later it was finally time to dry fit the entire case and move on the glue up.

steve-hamilton-glue-demofront-center-glue-upThe glue-up was a several step process.  We started with the center of the front of the case including the bridle-jointed top rail.  Steve Hamilton, Jeff Headley’s partner in business and the second instructor in the class demoed the process for this glue up.  In the pictures you can see that two cauls from the center scroll were saved in order to assist in the glue-up and to avoid over-stressing the scroll and possibly cracking it.

complete-front-glue-uptop-glue-upNext , the remainder of the front of the case was glued up.  We were very careful to not apply too much pressure with the clamp across the top because it could easily bow the assebmly.  I did not get a picture, but at the same time, the back and back legs were also glued up.  This was a fairly straight-forward glue up because the back is a solid 3/4″ thick and the tenons had been pre-fit.  If things were not so hectic I would have snapped a picture of the completed case glue-up.  However, this process was very complex and complicated…so much that for every one of these anyone who was available in the shop stopped and came to help gluing the process.  That process involved lot’s of glue, mortises and tenons, and was finished by driving wedged into the through tenons from the interior partitions into the case back!  Oh, and by the way…now I know why Jeff and Steve use Elmer’s White glue for everything.  It dries clear and it have a longer open time for complicated gluing tasks like this one.  The last thing that I glued up was the hunt board top – this was a glue-up with two pieces taken from the same board for a good color match.

day-4-resultsWhile the case was drying I started on the drawer bearers. These are glued to the case sides and interior partitions and keep the drawers from skewing and tipping out as they are inserted and extended.  I also started sizing the drawer fronts.  These are initially sized for the exact size of the openings and will then be mildly embellished and will also have cock beading applied.  I’m hopeful that we will get at least one drawer completed on Friday.  In the picture you can see the result of the last two days work on my bench at the school.

masters-walls-and-furnitureanother-machine-shop-viewThe last two pictures show one of walls with little plaques of every woodworking Master’s recipient from the school.  These are awarded to each student who completes a curiculim of certain class requirements.  From there students can go on to a fellowship with an extended stay at the school and working with a specific instructor.  The last shot is another view of the machine room after the days work had been completed.

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