Alter the Tips of Your Dividers

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Note: This is crossposted from Crucible Tool.

Dividers work better if the tips match the job you’re doing. For layout chores, such as scribing arcs or setting out your joinery, the dividers’ tips need to match the wood you are using. Sharper tips will prevent the tips from skating on hard woods. And dull tips are needed in soft woods to prevent from marking the work too deeply.

In this video, Raney demonstrates how to make the tips sharper or duller using fine sandpaper stuck to a flat surface (a granite block in this instance). Changing the tips from dull to sharp takes only about two minutes (I timed him). And the results are worth the extra effort.

These techniques work on almost all dividers, not just our Improved Pattern Dividers.

— Christopher Schwarz

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New Book from Nancy Hiller & Lost Art Press

Editor’s note: Aside from my family, my three deepest passions in life are woodworking, food and music. Almost every night I cook a meal while listening to music and surrounded by the things I’ve built. I have deep-seated philosophies about kitchens and kitchen tools that parallel my writings on shops, tools and workbenches. So after talking to Nancy Hiller about her approach to kitchens and cabinets, I knew we had to do a book together on this topic.

It will be a book that seeks to overturn the decades of “rip it out” advice you get from television, magazines, books and the Internet. It will be a be a book for people who would rather build than buy. And who want their kitchen to be in harmony with their house, their families and their lives. And so let me turn things over to Nancy.

— Christopher Schwarz

Kitchen cabinets are the poor step-sister of the furniture making world. You know – the homely one with a sixth-grade education who processes fish for a living and always seems to have that smell.

“He builds cabinets,” sniffed one of my woodworking friends a few years back, referring to an acquaintance. The statement was nowhere near as straightforward as those three simple words might suggest. He spoke with a pained expression, lowering his voice to a near-whisper when he got to “cabinets.” Clearly this was some kind of shameful secret; building cabinets made the acquaintance…well, you know, not a real woodworker. He might as well have been telling me the guy’d been caught in flagrante with a blow-up doll.

“Why would I want to build plywood boxes when I could be building 18th-century highboys?” remarked another woodworking friend. The question was rhetorical, more a way of announcing that he’d broken into the East Coast market for period Americana and so escaped the obscurity of the rural workshop where he’d spent years building cabinets, millwork and furniture for the local market.

You get the picture. Among woodworkers, kitchen cabinets are the Zero Bar to the highboys’ Lindt truffle: a species of work beneath those with refined taste and higher skills.

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One wall of the kitchen Daniel and I did in Washington, D.C., in 2006, described in the story “Daniel” in Making Things Work.

Most woodworkers who build cabinets do so for the same reason as our furniture-making forebears built coffins in addition to tables and chairs: because they offer a source of income that helps even out the road between freestanding furniture commissions. It’s easy to look down on built-ins when your livelihood doesn’t depend on woodworking, or when you are:

• Retired
• Your woodworking venture is subsidized by a spouse’s income
• You’ve tapped into a rich vein of market popularity
• Etc.

Not everyone is so fortunate.

How did the lowly kitchen cabinet become a friend to many who trained as furniture makers, imagining we’d spend our days hand cutting dovetails and French polishing meticulously inlaid cutlery canteens? The answer has as much to do with publishing, advertising and banking as with wood and tools. Ultimately it boils down to the commodification of the home.

We’re talking real estate. Home ownership today is light years away from that of 200, 100 or even 70 years ago, when the people who owned what’s now my acre of semi-rural land cut down some trees, dug up some rocks and built themselves a simple board-and-batten-sided cabin worthy of Snuffy Smith. Today a massive industry surrounds home ownership, from Realtors (yes, that term is trademarked and officially requires an upper-case “R”) and appraisers to title companies, banks and building inspectors. There has been a serious shift during the past century in how many of us think of our homes: They no longer simply represent shelter and a central base for family, but are the largest financial investment most of us will ever make – one that, with luck, may increase our wealth at a rate that leaves inflation panting breathlessly in the dust.

As with any investment, we’re urged to put ourselves in the hands of expert advisers. And there’s an army of them out there. Take the wildly popular hosts of home improvement shows on HGTV (please, take them) – that cast of smiling, perfectly groomed characters eager to instruct you in the magical art of transforming a hovel into an “urban oasis” or liberating yourself from the corporate rat race by hitching a ride on the house-flipping bandwagon. Take the legions of salespeople at home stores across the nation, who will gladly guide you through one cabinet display after another until you’re dizzy from over-exposure to CNC-routed fretwork, dedicated mixer cabinets with lift-up stands and decorative wine racks. Take the web-based magazines with their daily examples of designer ideas to “steal” and big-name-brand “hacks.” Or that modern means to keep yourself forever in debt, the home equity loan, advertisements for which have long encouraged us to treat our houses as ATMs.

To be a contemporary homeowner is to feel an almost moral obligation to spend money on your house. Never mind how your friends may judge your taste on seeing you still have that Laura Ashley “Dandelion” wallpaper from circa 1983; there’s a sense that if you’re not religiously “updating,” you may be losing financial ground.

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I hung this Laura Ashley “Dandelion” wallpaper in the kitchen of the first house my husband and I bought, a skinny terrace (row) house in a working-class neighborhood of the English city Reading. How I loved that wallpaper.

One result of this topsy-turvy mindset is that customers are generally more willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars on something they believe will increase the value of their house than on a piece of freestanding furniture. Built-in cabinets even fall into a different category in the world of sales tax: They are “improvements to real estate.” People rationalize them as an investment. That artisan-made dining table? Arguably a frivolous buy in comparison.

Of course, you can only get the value of a kitchen remodel out of a house so many times. Property values in most regions don’t increase at anything like the rate that would be necessary to cover the tens (sometimes hundreds) of thousands spent on kitchens. And then there’s the troublesome fact that new cabinets installed as part of a kitchen update undertaken to help sell a house are routinely ripped out by the new homeowners, only to be replaced by something more in line with their own taste. Never mind the so-called “green design” professional who encourages you to tear out your laminate counters and replace them with a “sustainable” composite incorporating recycled glass. The preoccupation with updating results in a mind-boggling amount of waste. These are real-world caveats that some of us point out to prospective clients as we urge them to think about what they really want and need, as distinct from what other experts (and friends, and relatives) are telling them they should want. Despite being urged repeatedly by contractors to blow out the walls of their 1910s kitchens per the dictates of “open concept” design, I have found clients almost giddy with relief at encountering a professional who appreciates the value of rooms.

That said, I understand the desire for a change of scene, a shift in tone. There are ways to rework your kitchen without spending a fortune or increasing the elevation of your local landfill. The first requirement is simply to think. In this process, context is your friend. I’m talking about context broadly understood: where you are in life; what resources you have access to in terms of money, unusual materials or time; the architectural style of your home; and so forth. For the past 20 years I have made my living largely by working with clients to respond creatively to a variety of realities many designers and cabinetmakers consider limitations. The book I’m writing for Lost Art Press will be full of these and other ways to approach kitchen design, build cabinets and devise creative solutions to problems.

— Nancy Hiller, the author of “Making Things Work.”

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Lay Out a Chair’s Pommel

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There’s a quick tutorial on laying out a traditional pommel on a seat with a French curve and only two points. Check it out on the Crucible Tool site here.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Two More Upcoming Classes at our Storefront

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Megan Fitzpatrick and Brendan Gaffney will each teach a weekend class in April at our storefront in Covington, Ky. Registration will open at noon on Friday, Oct. 20.

Just like with the Welsh stick chair class with Chris Williams, these will be small classes with only six attendees. Also, these are not money-making enterprises for me or Lost Art Press. All proceeds go directly to the instructor.

I’m allowing them to use the space for free because they are my friends, I think they each have something valuable to teach and the classes build the local woodworking community in Covington. Here are the details.

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Build a Shaker Silverware Tray with Megan Fitzpatrick
April 7-8, 2018
Cost: $250, plus a small materials fee for wood & cut brads (likely around $30)

Make a classic Shaker silverware tray in this introduction to hand-cut dovetails. In this two-day class, you’ll learn:

  • Dovetail layout using dividers
  • How to use a backsaw to saw to a line
  • How to wield a coping or fret saw
  • How to pare and chop to a line with a chisel
  •  Several strategies for transferring the tails to the pin board
  • Techniques for fitting the joint
  • Why dovetails work – and we’ll look at some examples of long-lasting period dovetails that look as if they were gnawed out by a beaver – “perfection” is overrated when it comes to the efficacy of this joint. (That said, you’ll also learn some “tricks” for fixing less-than-stellar dovetails.)
  • How to lay out then cut and fair the handles (both the hand holds and the curved top edge)
  • How to smooth-plane your surfaces
  • How to use cut nails (to secure the bottom board)
  • And of course, how to put it all together (and why I recommend liquid hide glue).

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Build the Cabinetmaker’s Sector with Brendan Gaffney
April 21-22, 2018
Cost: $300, which includes all raw materials

In this two-day class, students will build their own Cabinetmaker’s Sector, my modernized design for the ancient geometer’s tool, used for drawing, drafting and (in my shop) the layout of dimensions and joinery on woodwork. The class will revolve around the skills of modern hand-tool makers, including careful marking and measuring, mixing metal and wood, hand shaping, finishing and (of course) how to use the tool.

Each student will be provided the wood and the necessary brass hinges and pins, everything needed to produce the sector. The first day will revolve around affixing the brass and wooden tabs into the tools, riveting the leaves together, flattening and lapping the tools and reviewing the principles behind the geometry of the sector. The second day will revolve around shaping the sectors, stamping and inking the sector marks, finishing the sectors and learning to use them in the shop. Every student will leave with a completed sector, plus the knowledge of how it works and how to use it.

Posted in Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Its OK to Think Inside the Box

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Box making department of the T.B. Williams Tobacco Company late 1800’s (Wiki Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Yes it’s fine to think inside the box for a change, especially when there’s no need to think at all! At least not if your goal is to divide the box into any number of divisions. Thanks to the geometry of diagonal lines that occur inherently within a square, you need only a straightedge to reveal these fractions. This truth/tool allows you to lay out the baffles that will keep the bottles of spirits from rattling or worse. Of course there are easier ways to come up with these fractions (the sector springs to mind), but this is still a great way to construct by hand and observe by eye these geometric patterns as they spring to life.

See if you can follow the steps below which I’ve sketched on a sheet of graph paper. Why don’t you grab some paper and follow along too? Bet your kid can (and would like to) help you out! Get out a pair of dividers so you can confirm that the intersections do indeed produce perfectly spaced segments along a line.

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Now isolate the first square…

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…and continue by drawing a pair of diagonal lines as shown in green in the next sketch:

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Next draw a horizontal line through the points that have been given to you where the (green) diagonals cross the first set. If you set your dividers to the intersections along this new horizontal line, you’ll find there are exactly/precisely/perfectly three equal-length segments. Now let’s draw another set of diagonals and connect their intersections with the original diagonals with a horizontal line:

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As your dividers will reveal to you, that line is now automagically broken into four equal segments. Let’s continue the process with two more sets of lines (I really do highly recommend that you stop right now and grab a sheet of graph paper and watch this happen in real time through your own hands and eyes).

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You’ll discover the red lines produces fifth segments while the yellow produce sevenths along their horizontals. Add another set (in blue here) of diagonals and horizontal and you come up with ninths:

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Keep going if you like:

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You’ll get ninths, elevenths and thirteenths – and on to infinity I suppose. What if you want an even number of divisions along a horizontal line, say tenths along the line of fifths? Well they are there waiting for you to discover with your dividers!

— Jim Tolpin, one of the co-authors of “From Truths to Tools

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Posers need not apply

The following is a short excerpt from Making Things Work.

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It was a spacious shop, well lit and outfitted with a tidy mix of old and new equipment. “I’m working on a dining table and chairs for a client in Miami,” [my host] told me. “Quite a famous bloke, actually. To tell the truth, he’s got such a big name that I’m not allowed to say it. Not that that’s anything out of the ordinary in my world. These days it’s rare for me to work for anyone who’s not routinely written up in Esquire or Vanity Fair, that sort of thing.”

“Which part of London are you from?” I asked, curious as to the origin of his accent.

Ignoring my question, he turned his head to the right, saying “Come an’ take a look at this table and chairs” as he strode toward his workbench. The dining set was inspired by the work of French Art Deco designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann. The table, made of rosewood, was stunning. A cross between Deco and neoclassical, it had an extending top that could seat an intimate foursome or expand to accommodate 10. It was waiting to be finished, as soon as the chairs were ready.

“Double tenons hidden in those miters around the seat,” he remarked. “Ever use those darlin’s? I’m telling you, they are quite the challenge to pull off. But what a sturdy bit of join’ry they are. Those chairs will last forever. On the other hand, so will everything I make. That’s one of the reasons my clients are willing to wait years for an opening in my schedule.”

“I took a look at your website,” he went on. “Nice enough work, but really….’Period-authentic furniture and built-ins?’ It’s all been done before, ‘ain’t it? You couldn’t pay me to do that type of guff for common punters. On the other ‘and, someone’s got to do it, so I daresay it might as well be you.”

Now that he’d established I didn’t even rank high enough to engage in a pissing match (not that I am ever inclined to take part in such b.s.) I thought he might answer my question. “Which part of London are you from?” I asked again.

You can read the scintillating remainder of this tale and learn the origin of my host’s accent in Making Things Work.

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Saddling the Dugout Chair (and a Cologne Request)

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I tried to finish the seat of the dugout chair today in preparation for our open day tomorrow (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. – lots to do and see). But I was only able to squeeze in about 30 minutes of work as I was dealing with heavy construction out back with the Lost Art Press Horse Garage.

In any case, I’m trying not to make this seat too refined or precious. I want it to match the ruggedness of the chair. But I don’t want it to look sloppy. So I’m shooting for “done quickly and with purpose.”

This seat is made from the last significant chunk of Eastern white pine from Midwest Woodworking I own. I’m going to miss this stuff.

I don’t wear cologne (heck, I barely wear deodorant). But if someone could make a cologne that smells like Eastern white pine when it’s being cut, I would actually wear that scent. Of course, the scent would only really attract beavers and some bark-eating grubs. But oh well.

— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com

Posted in Yellow Pine Journalism | 14 Comments