Spend a weekend in October cutting dovetails with me (Megan Fitzpatrick) in gorgeous central Kentucky at the Woodworking School at Pine Croft (with luck, the trees surrounding the school will be a riot of fall color by then!).
It’s a two-day class – Oct. 14 & 15 – in making a classic Shaker silverware tray, with gently arced ends, handholds and, of course, dovetails. And speaking of Shakers – if you’re in the area, why not also plan a day at Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.
In the class, you’ll learn:
Dovetail layout with dividers
How to cut the joints, aiming to “fit off the saw”
How to wield a coping or fret saw
How to pare and chop to a line with a chisel
Strategies for transferring the tails to the pin board
Techniques for fitting the joint
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…if you wish – but there’s an argument for leaving it loose)
And of course, how to put it all together (and why I recommend liquid hide glue).
The following short excerpt is from Christopher Schwarz’s “Sharpen This” – a 120-page pocket book on how to get great edges, regardless of the sharpening system you choose. It is about what is important: Creating a sharp edge quickly with a minimum amount of equipment.
Simple side-clamp honing guides are a godsend for quick and repeatable work when it comes to chisels and plane irons. I do sharpen freehand a lot of unusually shaped tools, but when it comes to plane blades and straight chisels, I am happy to let the honing guide do the work.
Side-clamp honing guides can be had for a song – inexpensive ones cost less than $20.2 And I have found no valid downside to using them.
Critics of honing guides deride them as “training wheels” or as a crutch that slows you down. I have regularly challenged these people to sharpening contests for speed and fineness of edge – the winner determined by a judge who doesn’t know whose blade is whose. I have never lost – not because I’m a great sharpener but because the honing guide is an enormous asset.
While I do love my honing guide, my love has limits. I don’t use the endless attachments that allow honing guides to be used for oddball tools or skewed tools or short tools or extra thick tools. For those tools, the honing guide and its accessories slow me down. So I stick with the base model, which works well for chisels and plane blades.
So if you stick with the base-model honing guide, you are five minutes away from being a speedy sharpener. All you need is a simple block of wood that sets the blade at the proper angle in the guide so the steel at the tip of the blade immediately touches the sharpening media perfectly. Which brings us to a discussion of sharpening angles.
Honing Angles – the Argument for Fewer (or One) Most sharpening experts steer you toward using a wide variety of angles for different jobs in the workshop. Lower angles for paring tools. Higher angles for chopping tools. And soon you are engraving all the sharpening angles on all your tools and doing more sharpening than woodworking.3
In my experience, the sharpness of the edge is more important than the angle (within reason). A 25° paring chisel and a 35° paring chisel will both do a fine job when really sharp.
When I realized this, I decided to see if I could hone and polish all my tools at 35° and be happy. That was about 10 years ago, and I remain committed to this simple approach. I am sure there are tools out there on the fringes that won’t work with a 35° hone and polish, but I have yet to encounter them.
So I have a block of wood with a stop on it. I put the tool in my honing guide, I press the guide and blade against the stop block, then I tighten the guide. I am ready to sharpen. (Making a setting block is simple. Use a school protractor to set the blade to the correct angle in your honing guide. Then screw a stop to a block of wood that matches that projection.)
Katherine cranked up her soft wax machine this week and has put up a batch of it in her etsy store. Katherine is keeping up wax production, even with her job at Rookwood Pottery and the heat, which is sapping us all.
She cooks it up using the raw ingredients of yellow beeswax, raw linseed oil and a little bit of citrus solvent. She then packages it in a tough glass jar with a metal screw-top lid. She applies her hand-designed label to each lid, boxes up the jars and ships them in a durable cardboard mailer. The money she makes from wax helps her make ends meet at her new place in Covington. Instructions for the wax are below. You can watch a video of how to use the wax here.
Instructions for Soft Wax 2.0
Soft Wax 2.0 is a safe finish for bare wood that is incredibly easy to apply and imparts a beautiful low luster to the wood.The finish is made by cooking raw linseed oil (from the flax plant) and combining it with cosmetics-grade beeswax and a small amount of a citrus-based solvent. The result is that this finish can be applied without special safety equipment, such as a respirator. The only safety caution is to dry the rags out flat you used to apply before throwing them away. (All linseed oil generates heat as it cures, and there is a small but real chance of the rags catching fire if they are bunched up while wet.)
Soft Wax 2.0 is an ideal finish for pieces that will be touched a lot, such as chairs, turned objects and spoons. The finish does not build a film, so the wood feels like wood – not plastic. Because of this, the wax does not provide a strong barrier against water or alcohol. If you use it on countertops or a kitchen table, you will need to touch it up every once in a while. (I have it on our kitchen countertops and love it.) Simply add a little more Soft Wax to a deteriorated finish and the repair is done – no stripping or additional chemicals needed.
Soft Wax 2.0 is not intended to be used over a film finish (such as lacquer, shellac or varnish). It is best used on bare wood. However, you can apply it over a porous finish, such as milk paint.
APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS (VERY IMPORTANT): Applying Soft Wax 2.0 is easy if you follow the simple instructions. On bare wood, apply a thin coat of soft wax using a rag, applicator pad, 3M gray pad or steel wool. Allow the finish to soak in about 15 minutes. Then, with a clean rag or towel, wipe the entire surface until it feels dry. Do not leave any excess finish on the surface. If you do leave some behind, the wood will get gummy and sticky.The finish will be dry enough to use in a couple hours. After a couple weeks, the oil will be fully cured. After that, you can add a second coat (or not). A second coat will add more sheen and a little more protection to the wood.Soft Wax 2.0 is made in small batches in Covington, Kentucky. Each glass jar contains 8 oz. of soft wax, enough for about five chairs.
“Roy’s sense of wonder is part of his charm, delighting anyone who will listen with stories about the connected past, present and future of man and nature. ‘My whole interest in [working with hand tools] stems from this point – quality of life and responsibility,’ Roy says. “Working with muscle power is a good thing. It’s like riding a bicycle instead of driving a truck. The environmental impact of this. And that’s why I think this is the way of the future.
“He is a master craftsman, entrepreneur, author, historian and teacher. He is also a husband of 50- plus years and father to two adult daughters. After more than 15 years teaching woodworking classes, Roy has no immediate plans to retire but he feels compelled to close the school in Pittsboro. He will empty the storefront windows, clear out the piles of wood and hand tools and sweep out the sawdust by the end of summer.”
“Standard” lump hammers are now back in stock (that is, the ones without any engraving). With 2.2 pounds of hardened-steel heft in the head, the Crucible Lump Hammer is the perfect tool for knocking large and/or recalcitrant things together and apart, plus it does a fine job of breaking up chocolate (after first placing said chocolate in a sturdy bag) for all your baking needs.
p.s. We do still have some “Anthe Hammers” available – same great lump hammer, but with a “Fancy Lad/Lass” engraving of our new headquarters on one side (and the extra $ goes right to our building restoration/renovation fund).