How to Sharpen a Curved or Flat Scraper

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Note: In the next day or two, we will release our new Williams Welsh Card Scraper over at Crucible Tool. In preparation for the release, I am preparing a lot of instructional material, including a video and a photo tutorial of how I sharpen a card scraper. You might find this helpful. You might not.

I’ve never met two people who sharpen their card scrapers using identical methods. As a result, there is more misinformation about sharpening card scrapers than sharpening any other woodworking tool. And that is saying a lot.

The following technique is based on 20 years of daily practice and a decade of research into historical methods. I won’t bore you with the spreadsheets and the bibliography. Instead, I’m going to explain the process using as few words as possible.

For those of you who learn using video information, I’ve also made a short film that will be released soon.

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Step 1: Remove any Existing Burr or Hook
The first step for me is always – always – to burnish the faces of the scraper to eliminate any existing burr or hook. The burr could be the result of manufacturing. Or it is the remnants of the hook on the tool you’ve been using.

Place the scraper down flat near the edge of the workbench. Press the burnisher dead flat on the scraper. Press down – hard! – and glide the burnisher across the face of the tool. Five or six good strokes will do. Repeat on the other three faces.

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Step 2: Stone the Narrow Edges
To get perfect 90° corners, use a block of wood as guide and stone the long edges of the tool. Shift the block of wood around so you don’t wear a groove in your stone. Use the sharpening stone that you use to begin your typical honing process (a #1,000-grit waterstone or a soft Arkansas oilstone, for example). Seven or 10 strokes should be enough to stone away any extra metal. (Note: There is no need to hone the short ends of the scraper as these don’t cut.)

If, however, this is a new scraper, you might need to stone the edges on a coarse stone for a few minutes to ensure the edges are dead 90° to the faces and consistent. Future stonings will go faster once the tool is set up.

Repeat this process with the block of wood on a polishing stone, such as a #5,000-grit waterstone or a hard Arkansas oilstone. Look closely and continue the work until the edge is consistently polished. The first time you do this on your tool it might take a few minutes. Subsequent sharpenings will require only 10 strokes or so.

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Step 3: Burnish the Faces
Wipe a little oil on the scraper and the burnisher. Place the scraper flat on the bench again and repeat the same burnishing process you used to remove the burr. Remember: Use hard downward pressure (yet the burnisher should still glide across the face of the tool).

This burnishing polishes the face of the scraper (much the way a hard bone will burnish soft wood) and push a little steel up on the tool’s edge. This step improves the durability of your hook and makes the hook easier to turn.

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Step 4: Burnish the Edges
Secure the scraper in a vise with one edge upright. Wipe a little oil on both the scraper and the burnisher to make your work easier. Hold the burnisher parallel to the floor and burnish the edge with moderate downward pressure (a bit less than you used on the faces). Five or six smooth strokes will do.

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Tilt the burnisher about 5° to the right and burnish one corner of the scraper with five or six smooth strokes. Run your fingers up the scraper to feel if you have turned a hook. The hook is slight and subtle, much like the burr you turn on the backside of a chisel when sharpening it.

If the hook is not there, repeat with more strokes with the burnisher tilted at 5° to the right until a hook appears. Try adding more downward pressure to see if that helps.

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When you have a hook, tilt the burnisher 5° to the left and repeat the burnishing process for the other corner. When you have two good hooks, flip the scraper over in the vise and repeat Step 4 for the second edge.

Clean the scraper with an oily rag and get to work. To improve the longevity of your burr, store the tool in a cardboard or paper envelope. The hook is as fragile as the edge on a paring chisel.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Timeless Design

Making Things Work

tumblr_inline_pmdfyqeTWl1sppt0x_1280 Timeless? Image from the laugh-out-loud-funny website McMansion Hell.

Like so many other words (curate, custom, master, local, artisan, and sustainable, to cite a few), “timeless” has been reduced to little more than a marketing term. OK, so the object being described isn’t readily associated with any particular style or period. That doesn’t make it “timeless.” What it usually means is that it hasn’t occurred to the person who wrote the marketing copy that everything, including most cutting-edge work of today (whenever “today” happens to be), will one day be associated with products that were considered desirable for a particular span of years–in other words, expressive of some period or other.

In the early 1990s, housing developers thought they could achieve “timeless design” by patching together bits of different styles into single houses: a clinker-brick façade with fake stone everywhere else, a Storybook Tudor roofline for the entryway with other rooflines…

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‘Joiner’s Work’ Now Available to Order

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Peter Follansbee’s fantastic and sprawling tome on early American woodworking is now available for pre-publication ordering here. The book is $49 and will ship in May. Customers who order before the publication’s release date will receive a free pdf of the book at checkout.

Joiner’s Work” took eight years for Peter to complete, and it shows. Not only does it cover a lot of haircuts and wardrobe changes in his step photos, it also covers an enormous swath of Peter’s work. For the last eight years, Peter has been documenting his work at the bench and the many variations and iterations of the typical pieces from a 17th-century joinery shop.

As a result, Peter illustrates not just one joined chest, but more than a dozen variations, all with different carving patterns, slight joinery variations and different arrangements of rails, muntins and panels. It is a visual feast and I spent many hours just digesting the carved panels.

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If you’re new to 17th-century furniture, here’s what you need to know: It’s neither dark nor boring. Instead, it’s a riot of geometric carvings and bright colors – all built upon simple constructions that use rabbets, nails and mortise-and-tenon joints. Even if you don’t fancy yourself a period furniture maker, there is a lot in here to learn.

If you like green woodworking, “Joiner’s Work” is doctoral thesis on processing furniture-shaped chunks of lumber from the tree using and axe, froe, hatchet and brake. If you are into carving, Peter dives into deep detail on how he festoons his pieces with carvings that appear complex but are remarkably straightforward. And if you love casework, “Joiner’s Work” is a lesson on the topic that you won’t find in many places. Peter’s approach to the work, which is based on examining original pieces and endless shop experimentation, is a liberating and honest foil to the world of micrometers and precision routing.

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The book features six projects, starting with a simple box with a hinged lid. Peter then shows how to add a drawer to the box, then a slanted lid for writing. He then plunges into the world of joined chests and their many variations, including those with a paneled lid and those with drawers below. And he finishes up with a fantastic little bookstand.

Construction of these projects is covered in exquisite detail in both the text and hundreds of step photos. Peter assumes you know almost nothing of 17th-century joinery, and so he walks you through the joints and carving as if it were your first day on the job. Plus he offers ideas for historical finishes.

What Peter doesn’t provide, however, is detailed construction drawings of each piece with a cutting list and list of supplies you might need. As you quickly learn in the opening chapters, the size of the projects (and their components) are based on what you can harvest from the tree.

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There’s immense flexibility in this method of work. But to help keep you oriented, Peter provides pencil sketches (made by the wonderful Dave Fisher) that explain the anatomy of each project, plus rough sizes that will help you plan out your work in the woods and at the workbench.

If you are accustomed to CAD renderings, this will feel unfamiliar. But if you are brave, I think you’ll find it a freeing way to build these pieces (which frankly look weird when built using contemporary precision techniques).

Throughout the book you’ll have the voice of Follansbee to guide you. If you’ve ever heard him speak, you will instantly recognize the rhythm of the language and the dry humor. We took great pains to retain Peter’s voice in this book (I think we succeeded).

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“Joiner’s Work” is a massive tome, coming in at 264 pages in an 8-1/2″ x 11″ format. The text and full-color images are printed on coated #80 paper. The pages are bound to create a permanent book. We sew the signatures then glue and tape the spine with fibrous tape. The pages are then wrapped by heavy hardbound covers that are covered in cotton cloth. The whole package is wrapped in a #100 dust jacket that is coated with a supermatte laminate to resist tearing and long-term wear.

And, of course, all of this is done in the United States.

Order your copy here.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Megan Fitzpatrick on The Highland Woodworker

Charles Brock of The Highland Woodworker sat down with Megan Fitzpatrick recently to talk about how she went from a scholar of literature to become a woodworker, editor and publisher.

In the segment, Brock gets Megan to explain how she got started in the craft, and during the piece she shows off her first project from summer camp, plus many of the big Shaker-style pieces that adorn her home in Northside. She also talks about gender in the craft (and how she wants it to become a non-issue) and her books with Rude Mechanicals Press.

It’s a good story – one she doesn’t talk about very often. And it helps show that simply being fearless and determined in woodworking can carry you a long way.

Check out the segment above. Have your dictionary handy.

— Christopher Schwarz

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The Sliding Square

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This is an excerpt from “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: Volume I” published by Lost Art Press. 

This type of square was produced originally for engineers, but woodworkers have come to realise that it can be very handy to them. Of course the high precision tool needed for engineering is extremely expensive, but a low cost square of sufficient accuracy for woodwork is available, and this article deals with some of its advantages.

It will be seen that the blade of the square is separate from the stock, and is free to slide to give any required amount of projection. It is fixed by means of the small thumb screw. The advantage of this is that it becomes two squares in one. Every practical man knows that, whereas the 12 in. square is necessary for larger work, the 6 in. size is handier for general bench work. Thus, in the ordinary way the square is used with about 6 in. projection as in Fig. 1. When wanted for larger jobs it is merely a matter of sliding it along.

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It can be used equally well for mitres as shown in Fig. 2. For this it has not the same usefulness as the set mitre because it can be used for the acute angle only, not the obtuse one, but it is suitable for the majority of jobs.

Apart from its general bench handiness, however, it can be used for purposes for which the ordinary square would be useless. Suppose you have to work a large rebate. How would you test it to see that it is square? The ordinary square could not be used because the blade projects too far. By giving the blade of the engineer’s square projection slightly less than the rebate width it can be used to test as shown in Fig. 3. In the same way if lines have to be squared across a rebate the square can be used as shown in Fig. 4. The advantage is that the butt of the square rests on the edge of the wood, not the bottom of the rebate. It might be that the rebate is tapered, and in this case the only way of marking a square line would be to work from the edge, not the rebate. This is made clear in Fig. 4 (inset).

The square can be obtained with or without a spirit level. Fig. 5 shows it in use to test a horizontal surface. The blade is either pushed in level or withdrawn entirely. For testing the vertically of a post or whatever it might be the square is held as in Fig. 6, the blade resting against the post. As a still further use, the blade of the square is marked out as a rule.

Meghan Bates

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Take a Photo of Your Shop

We’re putting the finishing touches on “The Difference Makers,” an inspiring book by Marc Adams, founder and owner of the largest woodworking school in North America. In this 11″ x 11″ book (which will likely be 250 pages) Marc profiles 30 furniture makers, artists and toolmakers he’s worked with at his school. Each profile includes a biography of the person, Marc’s personal history with the person and lots of drool-worthy photos of each maker’s work.

The photo above is not drool-worthy. It’s a photo, taken at 1 a.m., of my desk. If I had known I was going to post that picture I would have taken it in daylight. I would have fixed the crooked blinds, removed those pens out of their packaging (the red pens I bought at the same time were long-ago broken into), tucked away the big gold earrings that had grown heavy on my head, tossed my son’s Nerf bullet off my desk and at least turned over the Post-It note pad with Girl Scout cookie orders scribbled on it, the red ink bleeding because I used the same pad as a second coaster a couple hours prior.

But then I looked at the piles of papers – Marc’s book with Nancy Hiller’s copy edits – and I fell in love with the photo. That pile of papers represents more than three years of Marc’s life – hours spent researching, interviewing, writing, gathering, organizing, editing. That pile of papers represents hundreds of photos sifted through and chosen, checked for size (and in a quarter of the cases higher-resolution images requested, some re-taken), saved as CMYK and .tiff, each one cropped, edited and clipped. That pile of papers represents Chris’s edits and my edits and hundreds of emails sent and received with fact checks. That pile of papers represents hours of design work by Linda Watts, who turned all of this work into a beautiful book, one well worth placing on a coffee table to be thumbed through, often. That messy desk photo is the truth behind all that work and I imagine, 20 years from now, I’ll be thankful to come across it and remember.

Writing “The Difference Makers” was often Marc’s in-his-spare-time work. Here he teaches a class at MASW in 2018. I love the messy benches, the fact that no one’s posed, the guy filming, the chalkboard that had just been erased – this is the kind of photo that gets to the heart of one side of Marc.

And unlike any of our other titles, each chapter in “The Difference Makers” represents the life work of each person profiled. That’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of weight. I’ve only met Marc in person a couple times, but I’ve known him for years. I imagine he’s someone who excels under pressure. I mean, he did this – he wrote this. Not many folk would attempt this. And he’s made it all seem so simple. The chapters are written as if you were having a conversation with Marc about the profiled person over coffee. And the part when he leans in a bit closer, to tell you a funny or surprising story about the maker? It’s in there. Over and over. It’s the insider’s view, a sneak peak into the life of – it’s brilliant.

Maybe that’s why, when clicking through hundreds of photos for this book, I found myself lingering on the makers’ shop photos. We didn’t include many of them (if any) in the book – it’s not what the book is about. But after reading accolade after accolade, and zooming in on all those jaw-dropping beautiful pieces of work, I found myself wanting to know the truth behind the work. And the few shop photos we received felt like paths to the hearts of these chapters.

John Owen at his workplace, Indiana Bell, in the late 1930s or early 1940s. Photo by Tom Heifel.

I’ve always been drawn to workplace photography. We spend a huge percentage of our lives at work and so rarely is it documented. Same with hobbies. It’s why I loved writing the “Great Woodshops” column at Popular Woodworking Magazine. And it’s why I spent so long writing for my small city’s blog. My neighbors’ basements and garages held the most wonderful workplaces. Examples include a studio for painting, one for wood turning, another for music recording and still another for casting and painting pewter figurines. Hours of time are spent in these environments and even if you never make it into a book called “The Difference Makers” or you “just” end up written about in a small city blog, I believe those places should be documented and remembered. I recently came across the photo above while helping my mother-in-law go through things – it’s her father, John Owen, at work in the late 1930s or early 1940s at Indiana Bell. All I’ve ever seen are pictures of him with friends and family. Never before had I seen a picture of a space in which he spent so much time. I love it.

My father-in-law took this picture without me knowing, in 2011. I’m grateful for it now.

The same could be said for a parent in a kitchen – all those meals cooked for people they love. Or someone working in a well-tended garden or tinkering with an old car in a garage. A child doing homework. A teenager raking leaves. A young adult mopping a floor, trying to make ends meet. The work that we do, whether for pay, in order to survive or for pleasure, makes a difference to someone – maybe to just that person alone, maybe to a baby who will never remember, maybe to a small group trying to make a difference, maybe to hundreds of thousands of visitors to a museum. We’re all difference makers, to a degree. And I think the space we make those differences in should be documented and remembered.

Of course, this doesn’t mean tidying up, because that’s not truthful. That doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. If your shop is always immaculate, so be it. But let the coffee cup stay. And if you consider your shop to be an embarrassment, so be it. Leave it. And someday soon, after you finally finish that project on which you’ve worked so hard, or you cut that near-perfect dovetail, or the glue-up works out despite the worry, take a photo. Not a fake one, for Instagram. But a real one. For you. One that gets forgotten about until someone finds it, and lingers.

And know that in shops a lot like yours work comes out, daily. Maybe it’s a simple table a family gathers around every night or maybe it’s a piece of work so beautiful some editor somewhere, well past midnight, is lingering on an image of it when she should be editing.

Production update: All the makers have received their profiles for review, and I am making their edits now. (Fun fact: The personal stories from Marc in each chapter will be a surprise for each of them – we have kept them hidden until the book is released.) Marc will do his final review in the next two weeks, before MASW classes ramp up again in April. We don’t have a printer date yet, or a release date, but as soon as we do we’ll let you know.

— Kara Gebhart Uhl

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Psst. Wanna Lump Hammer?

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We have them in stock here as of 7:45 p.m. Eastern. (SOLD OUT)

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