Woodworking in America, Crucible Tool & Lost Art Press

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Next week, Woodworking in America will command all our attention. We’ll be selling books and tools in the Marketplace, Raney Nelson and I will be teaching classes upstairs for registrants and we will officially launch Crucible Tool. Here are some details.

Crucible Tool
We’re holding a launch party on Thursday night at our Covington storefront. We are booked up, so if you don’t have a ticket, please visit us in the Marketplace on Friday and Saturday where we will have tools for you to check out. During the launch event, we will demonstrate (and sell) our holdfasts and the second tool in our line.

I’ll be honest, we have been working like crazy to build up inventory, but I’m not sure how many units of our tools we will have on hand. Getting our production levels cranked up has been a challenge.

Lost Art Press
Lost Art Press and Crucible Tool will share a booth at the Marketplace for Woodworking in America. We’ll be selling our full line of books and tools – plus special T-shirts and posters. You’ll be able to try the tools out, check out all our books and even try out the two Roman workbenches I’ve built this summer.

However, we won’t have our storefront on Willard Street open during Woodworking in America. Our companies are – in essence – three guys. And we will both be working hard at Woodworking in America with no time to keep the storefront open. Sorry. I wish we had a way to make everyone happy here.

Classes at Woodworking in America
I’ll be teaching three classes at Woodworking in America and moderating a roundtable discussion amongst the leading planemakers of the day. Raney Nelson, who is one of the three principals at Crucible, will also be teaching classes. Check out his classes here. Here are the official descriptions of my classes:

Nails & the Decline of Western Civilization
Class Times: Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
In the early 19th century, nails represented one-half of one percent of the country’s GNP. That percentage is equivalent to everything that everyone in the country today spends on computers and personal technology in a year (a lot). This country was built with nails. But about 1860, something horrible happened: Nails became terrible, and furniture makers rightly turned their backs on this once-critical fastener. What happened? And what can we do to restore the nail to its rightful place in the shop and as a historical hero? It’s easier than you think. Come learn everything you need to know about nails.

The Roman Workbench – How does it Work?
Class Times: Sunday, 8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
The Romans (or perhaps the Greeks) invented the woodworking bench, and this robust and simple design lasted more than 1,500 years. Then the form disappeared. Christopher Schwarz has spent years studying benches, and he’s built two of the most famous Roman-style workbenches: one from 79 AD that was shown at Herculaneum, and another from 1505 that was both the last Roman bench and the first modern one – a fascinating example. During this session, Chris takes you on a tour of how these two benches work and shares his thoughts on why they have survived in isolated pockets of civilization, such as Estonia and rural Maine. Participants will even get the opportunity to try the benches for themselves.

Build a Chair without Chairmaking Tools
Class Times: Sunday, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Many woodworkers are put off by chairmaking because you typically need a lot of specialty tools, green wood and skills that are outside of the typical garage workshop. For the last 12 years, Christopher Schwarz has been developing a number of techniques and joints that allow the typical entertainment-center-building woodworker to make a traditional chair without investing in a lot of new tools, having to take a week-long class or having to chop down a tree. If you own a jack plane, a brace and a spokeshave you are almost there. Come see.

Planemaker’ Roundtable
Class Times: Saturday, 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
The plane is one of the fundamental tools of woodworking – even if you use machines, you likely pull out a block plane from time to time. In this roundtable discussion, Christopher Schwarz moderates a discussion of handplanes in the modern shop. With Konrad Sauer, Raney Nelson, Caleb James, Terry Saunders of Lee Valley, Thomas Lie-Nielsen of Lie-Nielsen and more.

Somehow all of this will happen, and it will be as mind-blowingly awesome as it always has been for the last eight years. So if you are in Covington next week, please stop by the booth and say hello.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Crucible Tool, Products We Sell, Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Joinery: Mortises

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Fig. 4.1. Learn to chop mortises accurately and efficiently and you’ll be able to build most anything. Joint stools will give you lots of practice – there are 16 joints in each one.


This is an excerpt from “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” by Jennie Alexander and Peter Follansbee. 

Now we can return to the framing parts, starting with the stiles. The first step is to layout the mortises. We’ll outline these steps one at a time because it can get confusing. We will call the mortises for the front and rear rails “straight” mortises, those for the canted ends of the stool we will call “angled” mortises.

Stack the four stiles together, with their beveled inside corners touching, and with radial faces up.

These radial faces become the “front” and “back” faces of the stool. Take one stile, and work on its radial face.

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Fig. 4.2. This story stick is another example of something for which we lack period evidence; but its effectiveness can’t be beat. In addition to serving as the principal layout reference, it functions as a wooden notebook of sorts. If you make a number of different stool patterns, mark them with the date.

To lay out the stiles’ square blocks and the straight mortises, it’s easier to use what a carpenter now calls a “story stick” that is marked with the stiles’ details, rather than working from paper drawings or patterns. This shop-made stick records the markings that are then transferred to the stile. We have made these sticks to record different stools. The locations and heights of the squared blocks, turning details and positions of mortises can all be taken from the stick to the stile. It is best to mark ONE stile from the stick, then the other three stiles from that first stile.

Make sure the foot of the stile is trimmed square. Line up the foot of the story stick and the feet of the stile. With an awl, mark the limits of the square blocks and scribe these marks across all four faces of the stile, with one exception – the top of the stile is marked only on the radial face and the corresponding inside tangential face (where the straight apron mortise is located).

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Fig. 4.3. Prick the points with the awl, then scribe them with the square and awl. Sharpen the awl with a file from time to time. Careful, it can draw blood when it’s sharp.

Now line the stick up on the inside face and mark the locations of the mortises on this tangential face.

One thing to keep in mind is that the top of the apron mortise is not at the same height as the top of the stile. This mortise drops down about 3/4″ from the stile’s top end. Eyeball the top of the apron mortise and scribe it with the awl and square.


The next step is to mark the mortises with the mortise gauge. To set the gauge, make a mark with your chisel’s edge perpendicular to, but right against the stile’s arris. Next, move over one chisel width and bear down hard enough to make a mark in the wood. Then set the pins of your mortise gauge according to the location of this second chisel mark. The result is a mortise that is set in from the face of the stock the thickness of the chisel. Our mortises are usually 5/16″, set in from the face 5/16″. This spacing is based on studies of period work; 5/16″ is almost a standard from what we have seen.

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Fig. 4.6. Using both hands on a marking or mortise gauge might seem like overkill, but the oak is very fibrous, and when it’s green it can catch the gauge’s pins. The result can be irregular and it’s hard to re-mark a line once it goes astray. Extend the marking lines beyond the top and bottom of the mortise, this way you can check the spacing of the joint if you find you need to reset your gauge – if, for instance, it falls on the floor.

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Fig. 4.7. Here is an adjustable bevel, and the modified one Alexander turned into a fixed bevel. If you are using one flare angle regularly, this is the way to go. It’s easy enough to come up with an extra adjustable bevel.


The Angled Mortises 

To find the location for the angled side mortises, use an adjustable bevel set to the desired flare angle. A slope of 1:6 is what we have used on several stools. Our studies of 17th-century stools show flare angles right around that figure, some less, none more. To set the bevel, set a straightedge on a framing square, positioning it at 1″ on one leg, and 6″ on the other. Then adjust the bevel to this angle and lock its nut to secure the setting. You can then scribe this angle on a piece of wood, or even scribe it on the wall. Like the adjustable gauges, the bevel can lose its setting if bumped. Having the angle scribed somewhere makes it easy to reset it. Alexander turned an adjustable bevel into a fixed one by threading a bolt through its stock and blade.

To lay out the side mortises, you must carry the line that designates the top of the stool from the front radial face across the side tangential face. Set the bevel with its handle on the front face of the stile. Line it up with the marked top of the stool, with its angled blade pointing upwards on the other outside face of that stile. Scribe this line with the awl.

Then use a square to carry this line across the other inside face. So the sequence is square, bevel, square. Remember that it’s best to carry the lines across the outside faces; the inside faces are unreliable. This layout is both simple and complicated at the same time. Sometimes it helps to stand the stile up and tilt it as it will be in the finished stool. Then you can easily visualize where the angled mortises are and how they rise up higher than the straight mortises.

You can repeat this process for the top edge of the stretchers’ mortises. Or you can mark this from the story stick, this time lining up the top of the stool with the scribed line that designates the top of the side apron.

Now mark the mortises’ height and width on these faces of the stile. After you mark out two stiles, lay them side by side and check that they agree. A front or rear pair should have their radial faces matching, with the straight mortises aiming at each other, and the side, angled mortises rising up toward the top of the stool.

Meghan Bates

Posted in Make a Joint Stool from a Tree | 1 Comment

Horses for Courses; Benches for Trenches

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This morning at 11:48, I finished tuning the tail vise for the 1505 Holy Roman workbench and then John walked through the door of the storefront. His task: Help me build a rolling book display for Woodworking in America.

So after a month of being constructed using mostly traditional handwork, the first job for the 1505 workbench was to be a sanding station so we could process a ton of Dragonply for the shelves.

I don’t give this ironic situation a second thought. Once I complete a piece, I set it out into the wild without any emotional attachment about how it should be used. If I’ve done my job, the piece will survive the ordeal (i.e. children’s toy chests) and look better for the ordeal.

For me, furniture is like the Velveteen Rabbit:

“It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

— The Skin Horse in “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Roman Workbenches | 15 Comments

Happy Labor Day! Forum Update 9/5

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I hope that Labor Day means free time around your house and not “try to catch up day” like it it is here. I’m not complaining though. When catching up consists of picking up after a fun weekend and reading through a bunch of Lost Art Press folks sharing ideas and builds then life is good. Hopefully you are doing the same. Remember, if you have a question about our products, procedures in our books or anything related to Lost Art Press, the fastest way to get an answer is our forum. Check it out here.

Rehandling a Hammer
Jacob has a ball peen hammer that he loves using, but it has a crack in the handle right near the head that makes him a little nervous. (picture at right) He is looking for advice from anyone who has tried re-handling a hammer. Help him out here. And learn about a tool that can fix the problem.

Kitchen/dining Table Finish
Have any suggestions on a durable finish for a beech kitchen table? Martin wants the table to maintain its natural look but still be able to stand up to his family’s nightly dinners. Let him know what you think would work best.

Softwood Chop
Jason is building a knockdown Nicholson bench and is getting to the point where he needs to figure out his plan for the chop on the leg vise. He is thinking he will laminate 2×12 Douglas fir boards but hasn’t decided on the final method yet. Vote for one of his two proposed plans here.

Left-Handed Workbench
Are you a lefty? Are you a lefty who has a preference on whether your bench is built for a lefty or not? Perfect. Marvin wants to know what you think. He is building his own bench and can’t decide which route to take.

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Repair My Ash – Kerf on the Wrong Place
Nathan originally posted looking for help on how to repair a few dings to his bench build. As it turns out, the LAP community pretty much all suggested he leave them and and let the bench have the early battle scars that it has earned. I think it was the right move and the final product looks sweet (picture above). It gets my vote for best build of the week. See the story here.

Meghan Bates

Posted in Forum, Uncategorized, Workbenches | Leave a comment

This Saturday: A WIA Preview

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The Lost Art Press storefront will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 10, less than a week before Woodworking in America.

We’ll have all our books for sale, plus some new T-shirts for Lost Art Press and Crucible Tool for $20 each.

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In addition to commerce, we’ll have both Roman workbenches out in the shop and available for you to play with. And we’ll have a Crucible holdfast on the bench for you to hit as much as you please (sorry, we won’t start selling these until Sept. 15 – we still don’t have the retail pricing calculated).

I’ll also be finishing the construction of a mobile book cart we’re taking to the Marketplace at WIA. It will feature some of my finest craftsmanship (actually, plywood and pocket screws).

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So do stop by if you can. The storefront is located at 837 Willard St., Covington, Ky., 41011.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. If you come to town that day, check out the newly opened Covington Coffee three blocks away. They have outstanding pour-over coffee, they sell Lil’s Bagels and they make waffles on Saturday. Also worth drinking: Stop by Braxton Brewing and order a pint of Haven – the best weissbier I’ve had outside Bavaria. Finally, if you want to please your spouse, get brunch at Otto’s that morning. The Benedict Otto’s is fantastic.

Posted in Lost Art Press Storefront, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Roman End Vise Installed (with a Frankenstein Assist)

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The Holy Roman end vise is installed and functioning quite well, though at one point I thought I was going to curl under the bench and shed some Holy Roman tears.

After bashing out the slot and mortises for the end vise gear and then paring them true, I fit the two maple blocks that support the screw. One block is a vise nut. The other, at the end of the bench, acts like a bushing to support the screw. Both support the moving dog from below.

These had to be planed so everything was in the same plane, allowing the wooden screw to move without binding. The threaded vise nut is merely friction fit into its mortise. It needs to be easily adjustable so you can lower all the components after several flattenings of the benchtop.

The end block is lag bolted to the bench with two 5/16” x 5” Spax lags (I recommend you always pay the upcharge for Spax). When I need to lower the position of this block I’ll drill new holes for the Spax lags or make a new bushing.

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Then came the fun part (I use the word “fun” ironically): Installing the metal screw that mates the wooden screw to the movable dog. This had to be screwed into the end of the vise screw with a lot of fuss. It had to be centered, and the hole needed to be dang vertical.

So I spent about an hour fussily boring a perfect pilot hole. Then chasing a clearance hole for the unthreaded section of the screw that was going to be buried in the screw. I cut threads in the pilot hole with a regular old steel screw. Then I lubricated the vise screw with some paraffin and drove the screw in.

And snap. Literally. Not like the kids say “snap.” The screw snapped about 1” below the rim of the hole.

After weighing about 100 options, I decided to use a 5/16” x 1” lag and washer to do the job temporarily until I could devise a solution that didn’t look so Mary Shelley.

Tomorrow I’ll drill the dog holes, make some nicer nuts for the face vise and do the “make pretty” so it’s presentable for Woodworking in America. If I’m lucky I’ll get to replace the wooden tommy bar for the end vise with a crank that Peter Ross made me. But time is running out.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

A Big’un Showed Up

I absolutely love to use wide boards in my projects. Wide stuff shows up quiet often in old  pieces of furniture, and I try to use the same whenever possible. It seems most folks these days think there is no way to get these wide boards anymore. They think there are simply no trees this big. And if they do find them, they are cost-prohibitive.

That’s not true; they are out there.

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Most really large trees are not in the forest; they come from people’s yards most of the time. The great majority are big shade trees that eventually get too big and have to be removed, or they finally come down in a storm. Most of the big commercial mills do not want timber like this because it is often too big for their equipment and there is the chance of iron, such as old nails in the wood.

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My advice is to find a small sawmill. Even if they do not have anything when you visit, leave your contact info for when something does show up. Smaller operations can and will deal with these kinds of logs. The biggest negative to lumber from sources such as this is that the lumber is usually fresh cut and green. Depending on the species and thickness, it can take months or years to air-dry. On the positive side, the lumber can be had a much lower cost than a lumber-supply house.

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A few days back, Lesley Caudle of Lesley’s Sawmill called me and said he had a big cherry log come in. I have done business with Lesley for several years and he knows the kind of stuff I am looking for. In my part of the world, cherry is a pretty common tree, but large ones are rare. This one had been growing on a property line between two tracts of land. Apparently it did not get cut because neither owner knew whose tree it was. We had some pretty rough storms pass through a few weeks back, and the big cherry blew down.

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The log that this tree yielded was 44′ long, 30″ in diameter on the butt end and 22″ on the small end. The tree was not perfectly straight, and the heart was out of center in a couple  places. Cherry is an easy wood to air-dry and not usually temperamental; the lumber should work out fine. Leslie made me a deal, and I bought the whole tree. The big logs yielded dozens of wide clear boards from 24″ wide down to 20″.

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This is one of three loads of wide boards from the big cherry.

If you are not looking, you won’t find anything. Get out and beat the bush. The big stuff will turn up.

— Will Myers

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments