Curriculum aliud*

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Fixin’s for tofu and carrot pizza. (Yum?)

My father assigned his office assistant, Bambi, to be my teacher. One of our early lessons involved learning to copy maps, an essential life skill if there ever was one. She showed me how to copy an outline using a grid. “Just draw in some squiggles around the edges,” she instructed as I worked on a map of Florida’s east coast.

“But what about everyone who lives along those bays and beaches?” I asked, concerned that such a laissez-faire approach to cartography might result in the flooding of countless homes, drowning the pets who lived in them. (Never mind their human inhabitants, who were of less concern to me in those days.)

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said. “It’s just a map.”

It wasn’t long before we dispensed with this farce and I sought instruction from the young people who were living in assorted small structures they had erected around our tropical half-acre backyard. I learned to make whole wheat bread, tofu and carrot pizza, and home-churned ice milk, washed my clothes in a puddle, and took cold showers to fortify my character.  I dispensed with my hair brush and allowed my dirty-blond tresses to spin themselves into a head of dreadlocks that unsophisticated acquaintances of my parents dismissed as filthy matted hair.

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Norman Stanley Hippietoe on the way to dreadlocks — emphatically not a sexualized image, but the opposite: a ten-year-old’s attempt to escape the confines of gendered expectations.

In a nod toward formal study, I read several entries in the World Book Encyclopedia each day and was so taken with the one for panpipes that I wrote to the editor and asked for plans that I might use to make a set. I signed my letter Norman Stanley Hippietoe, an androgynous persona I had invented to replace my birth name and gender. I was elated when a letter addressed to Mr. N. Hippietoe arrived in the mail, even though it carried the disappointing news that the publisher could offer no plans for constructing the instrument.–Excerpted from Making Things Work by Nancy R. Hiller

*Fancy Lass-speak for different curriculum. There’s nothing like learning to make tofu and carrot pizza and wash your clothes in a puddle to set a kid up for the discipline and structure offered by the Fancy Lads Academy.

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The Last Soft Wax of the Year

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Katy has made a big batch of soft wax this week – 63 tins that are ready to ship immediately. Click here to order if you don’t need any more information than that.

Soft wax is a nice addition to the tool kit of the finisher or tool restorer. It can be used as a stand-alone finish on bare wood. It imparts just a little color and a little protection. Its advantage is it’s incredibly easy to apply. Because it is so high in solvent (Georgia turpentine), it is easy to rub onto a surface and does not need to be buffed like floor wax. You simply wipe the excess soft wax away for a nice matte finish.

For tools, it helps lubricate the sticky bits and prevents rust. A thin coat is all it takes.

It is not a good finish for high-traffic items (bathroom cabinets) or your hipster mustache. It is high in solvents that could irritate your baby-smooth Fancy Lad skin.

The wax is made in our basement entirely by a 16-year-old who never ceases to amaze me. She is intent on forging her own path through this world without relying on institutions to prop her up. (Sounds strangely familiar.)

You can order tins of her wax through her etsy store here.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Richard Jones: Why I Wrote This Book

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Richard recently completed this massive oak refectory table for a client. Here it sits in the workshop, waiting for the client to make a decision on a wood finish.

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of blog posts by Richard Jones, who has written a detailed book about timber technology. The book is scheduled to be released in early 2018.

— Kara Gebhart Uhl

I didn’t set out to write a book on timber technology. Doing so was an accident of circumstances. In 2003, I closed my furniture business in Texas, moved home to the UK and started teaching furniture undergraduates at Rycotewood, which I mentioned here. I was given the task of introducing the students to the craft furniture maker’s primary material of wood in the Timber Technology module. I possessed a relatively good expertise in the subject but I’d never prepared and delivered learning materials on it. It was a challenging sink-or-swim moment for me – well, more of an ongoing fight against drowning throughout a 12-week term. But it got easier with practice and as the years passed.

In 2005, I started creating illustrated Timber Tech PowerPoint presentations as learning tools. From that, I converted the PowerPoints into articles to sell to woodworking magazines, a sideline of mine. At some stage in this article production I decided the topic was too involved to be covered adequately in a series of articles in several magazine issues. So, being a bit bloody minded, I decided to create a manuscript covering the key issues relevant and of interest to me as a woodworker. Further, I decided to write it in such a way that non-specialists could understand some of the more challenging elements, and my students were the model non-specialists. Of course, this meant I was writing speculatively, without having a publisher on board – but more on that in a later post.

Most books on timber technology are written by timber technologists for wood scientist colleagues, or students of the topic. They’re consequently a difficult read for the general reader, something probably true of most woodworkers, myself included. Wood science authors assume a certain background knowledge in their expected readership. And why not? They’re generally singing to the choir, or at least aspirant wood scientists. It doesn’t really help the non-scientific woodworker who wants a better understanding of their material as simply as possible. In creating my manuscript I took pains to try and make some difficult science accessible and useful to all woodworkers – carpenters, joiners, furniture makers and so on.

An oak tabletop, such as the one shown above, 1100 mm (~43-1/4″) wide with end clamps (aka breadboard ends) needs allowance for expansion and contraction on the main panel across the grain. A tongue and groove, incorporating three tenons worked in the main panel fit motices in the clamps. The central tenon is glued, and the two end tenons are free to move side to side in extended mortices, but held tight in the main panel with dowels passing through slots in the tenons.

– Richard Jones

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It Takes Only 100 Workbenches

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Some things in woodworking are hard-earned. Translation: I might not be so bright.

This week I performed some maintenance to my circa 1505 workbench designed by Martin Löffelholz. I’d built the bench last year using components that were soaking wet. This was not my preference, but sometimes we don’t have a choice when it comes to wood.

So what would be my preference? A wet top and bone-dry legs.

In my case, the tenons on the four wet legs had dried out faster than the wet benchtop. Because the ends of a stick of wood dry out before its middle, this was to be expected. As a result, three of the tenons became loose in their mortises, and I needed to re-glue and re-wedge them.

This is quick and easy work, maybe an hour. And because I use hide glue, there was no need to scrape off the dried PVA glue to remake the joints. (Yay for animal glue – for the 102nd billionth time.)

What’s the point here? Well, if you’ve ever made a workbench with through-tenons or through-dovetails then you know that the most difficult part of flattening the benchtop is dealing with the recalcitrant end grain. It can stop your handplane short, no matter how sharp it is or strong you think you are.

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This week I got smart. Usually when you make a through-tenon, you make the tenon over-long and then saw or plane it flush to the surrounding wood. This is a good idea when making doors or small boxes. But when making workbenches, perhaps not.

This week I decided to cut the tenons 1/16” shy so they would end up recessed instead of proud when the joints were assembled. And, after assembly, I chiseled the wedges down flush with the tenon.

As a result, the benchtop was easy to flatten. My jack plane didn’t encounter any end grain until the last few strokes of flattening the benchtop.

Why haven’t I done this for the last 100 workbenches that I’ve built with my students, for customers or for me?

Lesson: Don’t be a Schwarz. Cut your workbench tenons short.

— Christopher Schwarz

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New Stickers Available my Fancy Lads (and Lasses)

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Perchance would you care to procure a new sticker set for your divan, boudoir or your dearest fainting couch? (Translation: Want some stickers for your pie hole?) We have a new set of three stickers available now from my daughter Maddy the sticker princess (not be confused with Katy the wax princess).

This set features a 3”-diameter sticker from the Fancy Lad Academy of Woodworking & Charcuterie. Click here if that doesn’t mean anything to you. The second sticker is 4” wide and is an original piece of art from Suzanne Ellison – a crow made from tools from A.J. Roubo’s “l’Art du menuisier.” The third sticker is the gorgeous cover from “Calvin Cobb: Radio Woodworker!” by Roy Underhill.

These are quality 100 percent vinyl stickers. They will survive the outdoors – heck you could put one on your car. Want a set? You can order them from Maddy’s etsy store here. They are $6 delivered ($10 for international orders).

Or, for customers in the United States, you can send a $5 bill and a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) to by daughter Maddy at:

Stick it to the Man
P.O. Box 3284
Columbus, OH 43210

As always, this is not a money-making venture for me or Lost Art Press. All profits help Maddy escape her undergraduate education with both kidneys.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Door Types

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This is an excerpt from “The Essential Woodworker” by Robert Wearing. 

In making plain or flush doors the obvious choice of material appears to be a well-chosen board of solid wood (Fig 353). However this is no solution since the wood may swell or shrink, spoiling the fit, or warp, making any fit impossible. A stable, light door suitable for painting or lower-quality work can be made from a mitred frame to which are glued two sheets of thin ply (Fig 354).

A heavier and more robust door is shown in Fig 355. Here a stronger frame is dowelled or tenoned together with two ply skins. Extra cross members are added to stiffen the door. Air holes are drilled in the cross members and in the bottom rail to equalize air pressure inside and outside. Such cross members must not be too far apart, nor should the ply be too thin (minimum 6mm (1/4in.)), otherwise an impression of the framing may show through.

 

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A door from multi-ply or blockboard is extremely stable, but the edges are unattractive and do not take the hinge screws well. Such a door is generally lipped (Fig 356). The lipping may be butted or mitred at the corners. The tongue is essential for good adhesion, particularly on the end grain of blockboard. The lipping may be applied to veneered material but for better work the lipping is concealed by veneering the whole face after the lippings have been glued and planed flush. Lippings must be made from thoroughly dry material, otherwise shrinkage will take place and the lipping will show through the veneer.

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Good-quality handwork makes frequent use of the framed and panelled door (Fig 357), the inner edge of which is moulded or chamfered. The following illustrations show some of the possible combinations of frame and panel.

 

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Meghan Bates

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The 6 Personalities of Workbench Builders

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This post is by request. Several people have asked me to assemble all the links to the stories in this series in one posting so it would be easy to share or to find in the future.

Workbench Personality No. 1: The Engineer

Workbench Personality No. 2: The Traditionalist

Workbench Personality No. 3: The Cheapskate

Workbench Personality No. 4: The Best of Everything

Workbench Personality No. 5: Frank Sinatra

Workbench Personality No. 6: The Undecider

— Christopher Schwarz

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