Crucible Dividers: a Tool and Totem

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During the day, I hold a pair of our Crucible dividers and rub them like a worry stone or a rosary as I write, think or ponder my path forward at my workbench or my laptop.

The curves and chamfers of my dividers – I own only one pair – are as familiar to me as my wife’s hands or the tote of my Lie-Nielsen No. 3. The weight is reassuring. The stiffness of its hinge is something I measure every time I pick them up.

And when my mind runs out of ideas, I look down at the dividers in my hand and marvel at how difficult it has been for us to get these five pieces of steel to fit together and move deliberately.

During the last two years Raney, John and I have had to learn a lot about metal, casting, machining, laser-cutting and a host of other allied skills to keep Crucible Tool afloat, making tools and growing. Despite all this effort (and sometime anguish), these dividers remain a true wonder to me.

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Raney began his design with an Art Deco pair my mother found in an antique stall. That vintage pair was an interesting design, and Raney and I stared at them for a long time, knowing they contained the kernel of a good idea.

But the tension in its hinge wasn’t adjustable. It was difficult to pull the legs apart. They had unnecessary bulk.

After weeks (months?) in his lab, Raney emerged with this tool. And it has replaced my pocketknife as “the thing” that is always in my hand.

Truth: They are a total b&^%h to manufacture. The fit between the sex nuts and the two legs has to be within a half of a thousandth of an inch. If we miss that specification, the legs have a bit of slop in them that we consider unacceptable. Many dividers have this slop, which can make your layouts a bit cattywumpus (though not disastrous).

John, who does our quality control, puts it this way: “That slop would be fine if these dividers were $50. But for $187? They have to be better than that.”

They are. Thanks to Raney and John, these are the best pair of dividers I’ve ever owned. I know this sounds like bullcrap coming from someone who is part of Crucible, but so be it. I am unashamed at my love for this tool. It is the result of hundreds of hours of grief and inspiration.

Every day, dozens of times I day, I test them. They open smoothly. They close the same (and without slipping). And so I test them again and stare at the work on my bench.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. We have 30 dividers in stock today with another 30 about to go to the warehouse and another 100 in the CNC mill. You can order a pair here.

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Repairing Drawers

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FIG. 6. TESTING RUNNERS FOR WINDING.

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

Runners. Generally the remedy is fairly obvious for worn runners—they are just replaced. It is merely a matter of removing the old ones, cleaning off any dried glue, and fitting fresh ones. There is one snag to look out for when there is no groove into which they fit. This absence of groove means that the exact position has to be measured, and there is the danger that the runners may be in winding.

The best plan is to use parallel strips as in Fig. 6. Cut a piece of wood A to a length exactly equal to the distance between the drawer rails. Place it at the rear and fix the runner with nails or screws as the case may be. Put the one strip on the front rail, and the other on a waste piece reaching between the runners.

Obviously the sides of the waste piece must be parallel. It need not be used of course when the strips are long enough to reach to the runners. Sighting across the strips ensures the runners being free from winding (it is clear that the drawer could not run properly if the runners were in winding).

To make good any wear at the front drawer rails the best plan is that in Fig. 7. A small notch or groove is cut right across and a new piece of hardwood let in.

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FIG. 7. NEW PIECE LET INTO THE WORN SURFACE OF THE RUNNER

The Drawers. It is clear that it is impossible to add new strips to the bottom edges of the drawer sides as they are. They would be too rounded over and out of shape to make a joint. The only plan is to cut them back to form a straight edge and glue in new pieces. It may be necessary to vary the method slightly in accordance with the construction. For instance, most Victorian and later furniture will be found to be fitted with drawer slips as at A, Fig. 8, whereas older pieces were made as at B.

Generally, however, it is a case of cutting back the old wood as given in Fig. 8. Little need be removed at the back; it is at the front that most attention is needed. Mark a straight line along the side in pencil and ease away the wood with the chisel. When practically down and smooth as far as possible with the smoothing or block plane, finish off close up to the corner at the front with the bullnose.

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FIG. 8. HOW THE SIDES ARE CUT AWAY TO ENABLE STRAIGHT JOINTS TO BE FORMED FOR THE NEW PIECES.

Test the new piece to see that it beds down everywhere and glue down. There is no harm in using nails to hold the strip in position whilst the glue sets, providing they are pulled out later. Allow them to stand up for the purpose. The new strip should be full all round to allow for fitting. Test the drawer in position and trim where necessary. Do not lubricate the edges until after the new piece has been stained to match the surrounding wood.

Drawer Bottoms. These often need attention, especially if in solid wood rather than ply. In most cases the grain runs from side to side, and, since in a deep drawer the shrinkage may be considerable, it is usual to allow the bottom to project at the back 1∕4 in. to 1∕2 in. This enables it to be pushed forwards into the front groove and be screwed again as in Fig. 9. A in this same illustration shows how the bottom is liable to sag at the front owing to its having pulled out of its groove. It is an annoying fault leading to papers and small items being lost. In bad cases it may sag so that it scrapes the drawer rail beneath.

Fig9

FIG. 9. WHY BOTTOM PROJECTS AT THE BACK TO ALLOW FOR SHRINKAGE.

In older pieces of the 18th century the grain of drawer bottoms frequently ran from back to front, and the whole was jointed up to width and fixed in rebates worked in the sides (see B, Fig. 8). Being held rigidly they invariably split in course of time, especially along joints. In really bad cases the only remedy is to remove the whole, reshoot the joints, make up to width, and replace. In a slight opening, however, the simplest plan is to glue strips of fine canvas over the joints at the underside. Sometimes slivers can be inserted in the openings from above. These are levelled down after the glue has set and strengthened with canvas beneath as before. This is shown in Fig. 10.

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FIG. 10. CANVAS GLUED OVER SPLIT IN BOTTOM.

It sometimes happens that in these front-to-back drawer bottoms all the pieces can be removed except the two side ones which are glued and nailed in rebates and have bearing fillets below (B, Fig. 8). If the joints are good you can replace the parts straightway, gluing and nailing as you go. When you come to the last piece there will necessarily be a large gap, possibly 1∕2 in. wide. This will require filling. An excellent plan is to plane the edge so that the gap is about 1∕2 in. wider at back than at front. Then, when the last piece has been fixed, a tapered filling can be slid in from the rear. This is shown in Fig. 11.

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IG. 11. REPAIRING OLD TYPE DRAWER BOTTOM.

If the main dovetails of the drawer are loose, the only plan is to knock the whole thing apart and re-glue. Mark the parts so that they can be replaced in the same positions, and scrape away all dried-up glue. Don’t drive nails into the joints, they look dreadful.

Meghan Bates

 

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Learn to ‘Sharpen This’ – or Any Other Tool

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Lie-Nielsen Toolworks has just posted its fall schedule of Hand Tool Events – eight free events held all over the country where you can learn to sharpen any woodworking tool from people who are eager to teach you.

The Lie-Nielsen crew won’t try to sell you anything – this is not like going for a test drive at a car dealership. Instead, they will take as much time as necessary to show you the basic principles of sharpening and coach you on the process.

All you have to do is show up and admit to yourself that you could use the help. I promise that one free lesson will make a huge difference in your woodworking.

Also, if you are in the Midwest, feel free to come get a free sharpening lesson at our Lost Art Press storefront in Covington, Ky., during our open days this fall. We’re open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 9, Oct. 14, Nov. 11 and Dec. 9.

Again, I won’t try to sell you anything (I don’t sell sharpening equipment and we don’t publish a book on sharpening). But I’ll be happy to give you a personal lesson for free.

— Christopher Schwarz

Want to read my “Sharpen This” series? Check it out here.

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One More Roman Workbench

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Before I can complete the expanded edition of “Roman Workbenches,” I have to build a reproduction of the bench I saw at Saalburg this summer – the oldest surviving workbench I know of (about 187 A.D.).

I took complete measurements of the intact bench during my visit and I will reproduce the bench as best I can, right down to the unusual dovetail-shaped recesses in one edge of the benchtop.

What I won’t be reproducing, however, is the bench’s waterlogged, black and shriveled appearance. When wooden objects were pulled from the wells at Saalburg, Rudiger Schwarz says they were well-preserved. But as they dried out, the objects distorted a bit.

The original bench was oak and was perhaps rived from a trunk, according to Peter Galbert, who studied my collection of photos of the Saalburg bench this July.

My bench will be red oak from a slab cut by Lesley Caudle in North Carolina, who supplies wood for slab workbenches (read all about that here). Will Myers dried the wood and has roughed out the slab to its final dimensions.

I’ll pick up the slab next week and begin building the bench – the remainder of the work will all be by hand. I’m juggling two other projects currently – a walnut backstool commission and a dugout chair – so my progress will be slow at first. Despite this, the work should go fast. One of the great virtues of Roman workbenches is they take only a couple days of work to build.

So unless something goes haywire, this revised book should be done by the end of 2017.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. We still have a 28 copies of the letterpress edition of “Roman Workbenches” available. Once these are gone, they are gone forever.

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Clothing-optional Caption Challenge!

 

 

 

Tune-up your think melons and caption this painting.

The painting is 17th-century and by an unknown Italian artist. The companion painting featured unclad blacksmiths.

Suzanne Ellison

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Soft Wax: Not Just for Furniture

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While Katy’s soft wax is great for furniture surfaces – especially interiors – she has a new devoted customer: Crucible Tool. Unbeknownst to me, Raney and John have been using the soft wax on our improved-pattern dividers as the final finishing step.

In fact, Raney asked me to make a big batch for him so we didn’t waste so many little 4 oz. tins.

If you’d like to give soft wax a try, Katy has a batch in her etsy store that is ready for shipment. The wax is $12 per 4 oz. tin. I use it on drawers, turnings, chairs and even as a final topcoat on oil finishes.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. We hope to have a new black soft wax soon. Oh, and about the photo of the cat: The wax had nothing to do with the hair loss.

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‘The Peasantry is Unimportant’

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One of the ideas that’s been crashing around in my head for years is that vernacular furniture – what I call the “furniture of necessity” – is divorced, separate and independent from the high styles of furniture that crowd the books in my office.

This idea is not commonly held.

The conventional wisdom is this: Chippenton Sheradale invents a style of furniture that is Neo-Classical Chinese. So he publishes a pattern book to illustrate his new pieces, and the style becomes all the rage. All of the rich people want pieces in Neo-Classical Chinese to replace all the pieces in their houses that were Neo-Chinese Classical.

So the local cabinetmakers oblige and (as a result) can all afford new chrome rims for their carriages.

Rich rural farmers see the pieces in the new style and return home with the crazy idea that they should also have pieces in the latest Neo-Classical Chinese style. So they get Festus, the local cabinetmaker, to build them a Neo-Classical Chinese chair. But Festus uses Redneck Maple (Holdimus beericus) because Festus can’t get New Money Mahogany (Stickusis inbutticus).

Oh, and Festus takes some liberties with the new furniture style to please his rural customers, who want a series of cupholders in the arms that can accommodate a Bigus Gulpus.

Then the poor farmers see the Redneck Maple Neo-Classical Chairs owned by the rich farmers and ask their local carpenters to make copies, who also make changes to the design (a gun rack on the back). And then the dirt farmers see that chair. And so on.

Meanwhile, back in the city, a furniture designer draws up a pattern book for Neo-Gothic Romanian furniture. The cycle begins again.

All this sounds plausible because it has been written down in almost every book of furniture history ever published. The rich make something fashionable, and the poor imitate it until the rich become annoyed or bored. So then the rich find a new style, which the poor imitate again.

The only problem with this theory of degenerate furniture forms is that the furniture record doesn’t always go along with the theory.

I think there’s furniture that is divorced from the gentry. Furniture that is divorced from architecture. Instead of beginning with a pattern book, it begins with these questions: What do I need? What materials do I have? What can I make that will take little time to build but will endure (so I don’t have to frickin’ build it again)?

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For several months now I have been plowing through “Welsh Furniture 1250-1950” (Saer Books) by Richard Bebb and have been thrilled to find someone who thinks the same way. Bebb has done the research on the matter when it comes to Welsh furniture. And he has convinced me that I’m not nuts.

In the first section of Vol. I, Bebb deftly eviscerates these ideas like a fishmonger filleting a brook trout. It’s an amazing thing to read. I’ll be writing more about Bebb’s research in future entries, but if you want to get right to the source, I recommend you snag your own copy of this impressive work.

— Christopher Schwarz

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