Many woodworkers struggle with leveling the front edges of a frameless cabinet. You have grain running at right angles all over the place. How do you get all the front edges flush without spelching the corners and also produce a shimmering, ready-to finish surface?
The trick is to use a little sandpaper to break the edges that can spelch, then plane the joint at an angle that fools the wood into producing a nice finished surface.
To break the edges, I take a piece of worn-out sandpaper and lightly chamfer the corners that could spelch if planed cross-grain. Don’t over-do it. Just a couple swipes will strengthen the corners enough for a couple strokes of planing.
Then level the joint, getting the surfaces almost flush. Here I’m planing a shelf flush to a cabinet sides. When I’m a stroke or two away from flushing the two surfaces, I set the tool for a light cut and skew the plane at 45°. Then I level the joint.
The 45° skew fools the grain of both pieces into producing a clean surface on both the shelf and the side.
After every three or four strokes with the plane, feel the corners to see if the corners you sanded away have become sharp again from planing. Break the edges gently again with paper and continue to work the joint until it looks flush and ready to finish.
Small chamfers made with sandpaper – invisible to the naked eye – can save your butt from spelching in many cases. This is just one example.
The highlight of the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event in Covington, Ky., last weekend was finally getting to meet planemaker Steve Voigt and try out his tools. His double-iron wooden-bodied planes are fantastic – nimble, responsive and quite well-made.
They also are different than what most modern makers are producing. Voigt uses double irons, and he has just started a blog series about the history of the double iron that is very much worth reading. The first installment is here.
Check it out. And check back for the rest of the story, too.
When a flat-sawn board has reversing grain it will usually exhibit a swirling grain pattern on its faces or edges, warning you that it could be difficult to plane.
I have always heard this swirl as being called a “cat’s face,” though I cannot remember where I first heard it. In 1993 in a hand tool class? Who knows.
Whenever I teach handplaning I warn students to look for a cat’s face nested amongst the cathedrals of the plainsawn boards. Mostly they think my explanation is nuts. So I point it out to them.
“Look. That’s a cat. See it?”
I swear that they don’t even humor me. And you wonder why I stopped teaching.
Today I was sanding down the first coat of paint on 1.2 miles of moulding for our new storefront and the sun reflected this perfect cat’s face. Our Cincinnati Zoo is famous for its white tigers, and that’s exactly what I saw.
One of the benefits of not teaching this year (or the next) is that I have some extra time to visit friends and hang out in their shops. Yesterday I visited my friend and toolmaker Raney Nelson of Daed Toolworks at his shop in Greenfield, Ind., a small burg outside of Indianapolis.
Raney makes bad-ass planes, mostly miters and coffin smoothing planes, and I was one of his first customers to order a miter plane from him when he opened his doors of business after years of research and development.
The infill miter I own from him is superb. It’s so nice that it was one of the few high-end tools I didn’t sell off when I left my job at Popular Woodworking Magazine and radically reduced my tool inventory.
Raney’s shop is a freestanding structure located on the cusp of a hill that overlooks bottomland and pretty much nothing else – though his house is about 30 paces away. The structure looks small from the outside, but it actually is three floors with an incredible amount of space. As a result, Raney can keep his metalworking and benches on the main floor. In the basement (with a walkout garage door), he has a complete suite of woodworking tools. The third floor is for storage, packing materials and (for now) photography.
The main floor features four woodworking benches (and people say I have a problem) – everything from an Ace Hardware special up to a gargantuan French oak Roubo. This bench area is where he keeps his computer, his music (a turntable in a shop? Awesome) and a 6’ coffin stuffed with books and papers.
All the walls are lined with woodworking and metalworking hand tools. This area features a nice wooden floor.
Immediately adjacent to this is the metalworking area, which is filled with a milling machine, lathes, a surface grinder, metal band saw, grinders and all the other accoutrements of the toolmaker. It is all incredibly tidy – like a well-run machine shop. And yet Raney is hard at work on two infills for customers when I visited.
I took a bunch of photos while he wasn’t looking, and so below you have a tour of his shop. It’s a sweet set-up – something to study and be a little jealous of.
In the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area we have three IADs. Most people aren’t aware of the first one, the Institute of American Deltiology, part of the University of Maryland Special Collections. There you can find over one million postcards and related materials! I wonder if they have this one by Mainzer:
Then there is IAD, as in Dulles Airport. Besides a lot of people flying in and out, Dulles has hosted the arrivals of pandas, a Komodo dragon and a lowland gorilla to name a few. The traffic you might encounter on the way to the airport is also very famous. From my house the trip should take about 1-1/2 hours; I plan on at least 2 hours, three if it’s raining.
The IAD you might be most interested in is the artworks of the Index of American Design in collection of the National Gallery of Art.
The idea for documenting hand works and decorative arts started as an effort to define the American aesthetic. During the Great Depression the Federal Arts Project, part of the Works Progess Administration (WPA), employed more than 300 artists to draw and paint a huge variety of items. The project ran from 1935 to 1942. The artists were paid a weekly wage of $23.86, an amount that enabled many of them to survive the Depression.
The artists drew and painted clothing, textiles, all variety of household items, toys, furniture, tools and so on. The output was over 20,000 images. The National Gallery of Art has more than 18,000 images available online. When furniture was documented it might be done as a watercolor, a measured drawing or a combination of both:
Within the overall project there was an effort to document three uniquely American design groups: Pennsylvania German, Shaker and Southwestern. Furniture designs range from the very simple to the refined work of 18th and 19th century urban cabinetmakers. The Index is a great resource for furniture makers and historians, especially since many of the documented pieces could now be lost. In the gallery below there are several examples of furniture and as many woodworking tools as I could find.
Earlier this year film maker, Michael Maglaras, released “Enough to Live On – The Arts of the WPA.” In a short intro segment he sums up the purpose of the Index of American Design as “…to copy the work of the great, and many anonymous, hand skill artists of the past.” We in turn are the recipients of the work done by the hands of the WPA artists. The Index of American Design is our family heirloom.
You can read much more about the Index here. Once on the page there is an option to “Tour the Index.” You can select several surveys (overviews) such as Furniture, Metalwork, Shaker, etc.
If you would like to go to the online listings of the Index at the National Gallery of Art go here. In the search box you can search for chairs, setttees, desks, spurs and so on, but keep in mind the results will include artworks outside the Index.
To watch a brief (4 minute) film by Michael Maglaras introducing the Index on Vimeo go here. Maglaras’ company is 217 Films. You can also look for another short piece on the WPA artist by Carl W. Peters.