Dovetails continued – eventually…

My health hasn’t been up to snuff lately so the shop has been on standby.  Back in July (IIRC), I laid out and sawed the tails to one side of the carcass of my Dutch tool chest.  Yesterday, I got to chop out the waste.  I was afraid, at the time that I’d bungled up cutting near the baseline.  When I went back to them, I was glad to say that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had envisioned.

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Frustratingly, I had to take a rest day today.  Tomorrow I hope to finish paring and get on to the pins.  No wonder it takes me forever to get anything done in the shop!


The Essential Woodworker by Robert Wearing

What he said.


I have spoken quite a bit to anyone that cared to listen about how easily frustrated you can get trying to learn this craft on your own.

I’ve gone on about how what is out there on television, in magazines, and online really assumes someone has some knowledge already, and how there’s a need for material that makes this craft accessible to people that are curious and want to find out if it’s something they’ll enjoy.

Heck, it’s essential for the future of the craft.

Here’s what I wish someone had told me, no later than the second time I went on about this:

“Shut up already and quit your whining. Go buy The Essential Woodworker by Robert Wearing.”

Somewhere yesterday I ran across another accolade for this book, decided I’d heard enough good things, and bought it. I’ve only had time to read through the first twenty pages or…

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East versus West

When I started hand tool woodwork I was convinced that Japanese tools were the answer to my flagging physical strength. I started out with a 6mm nomi and a small ryoba. I struggled.  I couldn’t saw to a line and setting the hoop and sharpening the chisel didn’t turn out just so.

Then I got a Bad Axe hybrid tenon/dovetail saw. It was sharp out of the box and glided through the wood.  Of course the wood was poplar but still…

Over the next few years I learned I could struggle with any tool; I often did. East or west, the tool needed input from the user. I also learned that if I persevered that I could do better.

This was brought into sharper focus today as I worked on roughing out the pieces of my milkman’s workbench.  I worked ripping down the 8/4 cherry I’m using.  I was struggling with my very nice Wenzloff rip panel saw.  I decided to give my larger ryoba a try. It worked quite nicely.

For me, I’m coming to the conclusion that I like both sets of tools depending on which of my muscles are working on a given day.

For everyone else? To quote an old supervisor and mentor: “practice makes better.”  There is no magic tool that will transform us into A world class woodworker; patience and perseverance just might. It will at least help us along the road.


New Project: Milkman’s Workbench

Not long ago I blogged about the backlog of projects I had in my workshop.  I decided to ‘just do it’ to steal a slogan.  My solution – of course – to start a New project.  I got out some 8/4 cherry I had randomly added on to a wood order a while back and started to lay out the pieces for a Milkman’s Workbench.  I don’t drink a lot of milk (nor deliver it) but I guess the current title sounds better than a ‘half-dead old Soldier’s workbench’.

Why did I pick this particular project.  I was reminded of it when I was virtually thumbing through some old Popular Woodworking magazines.  My biggest challenge thus far in my woodworking journey has been work holding.  I’ve managed to kludge together solutions ranging from a workmate to a Moxon style vise.  I’ve employed my commercial workbench thus far but I’ve been hesitant to drill holes into it.  I want to return it to it’s original general garage/auto purpose without looking like Swiss cheese.

And thus enters my newest project.  A bench I can clamp onto my other bench and have all the luxuries (I hope) of a ‘real’ bench.

Here’s a Link to Christopher Schwarz’ blog entry about it…


‘If I finish it will be wrong’ syndrome

It’s been a while since I’ve been out to my workbench (more on that in a different entry).  I went out to dust off my tools and straighten up in preparation for what i hope would be an imminent return to working at it.  What I discovered was a few projects in various states of completion.  It’s then that I self-diagnosed a serious complex – with no respects to the DSM I call it ‘if I finish it will be wrong’ syndrome.

I figure it must be a corollary condition to perfectionism.  I peer over the stacked and leaned bits of a shaker table.  All the pieces aside from the drawer are at least roughed dimensioned.  The top is glued up, flattened, and basically ready to be put in place.  Aye and there’s the rub.  It’s not perfect.  It’s a little smaller than I intended – due to that perfectionism thing.  Every time I look at it I see imperfection so there it sits.

The there’s the Dutch chest.  The sides and bottom are ready to be dovetailed.  I cut the dovetails on the first side – my first dovetails ever.  But – yes you guessed it – they weren’t perfect.  I cut them fine – so I believe – but when I went to chisel out the waste I was a bit aggressive.  So it was set aside as I pondered whether to cut them off and try again.  What exactly is the record for the shortest dutch chest anyway?

So there you have it – my neuroses laid bare.  I know the cure – just do it.  If you see completed projects here in the future you’ll know that I conquered them.  If you see me advertising firewood here (or the worlds shortest Dutch chest) then you’ll know I still have work to do on it.


Tools to Make the Anarchist’s Tool Chest

I’m building a Dutch chest now but I want to build one of these someday too.

Lost Art Press


The following is a list I should have made four years ago when I first started teaching people how to build the full-size tool chest in “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest.”

Apologies for the delay.

Here are the tools you need.

Dovetailing Equipment
Dovetail saw (15 point or coarser)
Cutting gauge, such as the Tite-Mark
Mechanical pencil
Dovetail layout square (Or a bevel gauge and smallish try square)
Coping saw with several blades (coarse blades, 12 tpi or so)
1/2” bevel-edge chisel
Mallet (I like a 16 oz. model)
Two pair of small dividers

One bench plane, such as a jack, jointer or smoother
Block plane
Rabbet plane or shoulder plane (if you have one)
If you have a tongue-and-groove plane (or match planes), use them
Beading plane (1/8”, 3/16” or 1/4”)
Plow plane with 1/4” cutter

Nailing equipment
Hand drill
Variety of small bits (1/16” up to…

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Having Re-, Re-, Relearned the Lesson

Perhaps it’s because it’s almost midnight and I’m watching a woodworking video for the second time in the last couple of weeks but a question just struck me.  What does learning to work wood have in common with the movie, Airplane!?

You may be wondering what I’m doing watching the same video for a second time in such a short period of time.  However, I suspect, you may have done the same thing as well. (At least I hope you have for the sake of my sanity)  In trying to learn this hobby, this is not an unusual occurrence for me.  In fact, there are some videos that I’ve watched several times and articles and books that I’ve read several times.

It’s not unusual for me to run into a problem or new realization that sends me scurrying to the bookshelf, computer, or DVD player.  Occasionally (or often if I admit) I’ll read something that sparks a memory that sends me searching through my resources to check that I got it down.  Even without that spark I’ll go back and back and back again to something I learned.  I started with so little knowledge of the craft, at first what I read was as if I was reading it in a foreign language I didn’t speak.  As I’ve learned the vocabulary of the wood and the tools and learned to conjugate the grain, some of what I glossed over before suddenly makes sense.

“That’s great,” you may say, “but surely that doesn’t have anything to do with that oddball movie.”  My reply: “Ah but it does, and don’t call me Shirley.”  Airplane! was one of my favorite movies and I’ve seen it many times over the years.  One thing about that movie is that you have to pay attention.  In fact, it’s so loaded with little off-beat images that you can’t take them all in in one viewing.  That’s what I’ve been experiencing with my virtual apprenticeship in woodworking.

The first time I see something, I get the obvious and the main meanings (if I’m lucky).  The second time I may notice enough to ask myself why do it that way instead of another.  The third time I may actually have an ‘aha’ moment and figure out a nuance  or a reason for doing things a certain way.

I may get tired of some of these videos but I hope I never loose that thirst for learning that sends me back to them.  Now I’m off to see if the Autopilot can rip that long piece of 8/4 Maple for me.


The First Completed Project – two pieces of wood with two sets of holes

I bought my first woodworking tools with an eye towards starting my hobby/journey a couple of years ago.  I bought some Poplar and was going to build what I thought would be and easy project – a box.  I even had a plan for said box – to house an old torque wrench.  But there was one problem – I had no idea what I was doing.  I couldn’t even saw or plane the wood straight – and Poplar is oh such a difficult wood.  Maybe a box wasn’t such a great idea.

So I began reading, watching Youtube, and buying DVD’s.  I asked my share of stupid questions on forums (now I’m working on more than my share).  I had started out working with a Japanese ryoba saw, chisel, and small kanna block plane.  After doing some reading I decided that the Japanese “pull philosophy’ of tools would work better with my failing body.  That changed with the introduction of one tool to my arsenal.  I read an article about Mark Harrell and Bad Axe saws; reading that he was retired Army just like me made me decide to give one of his saws a go.  I got a 12” hybrid filed dovetail/carcass saw and it cut just oh so sweetly.  Any lingering doubts over the ability of Western tools was erased shortly thereafter when I was gifted an Old Street Tools wooden coffin smoothing plane.

I gathered up tools for about a year and tried to gather up knowledge.  However, I still didn’t have a completed project to my name.  In fact, thanks to a gift from a relative, I had a collection of tools that should have allowed me to build anything my heart would have desired but the reality was nada, zilch, bubkus.

I got a DVD on how to build a Shaker table from one of the Authors/Teachers I’d relied on most in my earliest woodworking readings (Christopher Schwarz).  I ordered some primo Walnut and set to sawing.  I made some pretty good progress.

So finally I get to my first finished project – a shaker table!  well, not exactly.  Sawing out the leg stock from 8/4 walnut with only a rip saw (even if it was a fine thumb-hole Disston D8 rip saw) with my noodle arms was beyond me.  But that process did leave me with the ‘middles’ of those primo walnut 8/4 boards left to do something with.  One of the biggest problems I’d encountered though out this entire journey was work-holding.  I used the boards and ordered hardware from Benchcrafted to make a twin-screw (a.k.a. Moxon) vise.

It’s just two boards cut to length and planed straight (and not well at that) with a ledger board glued on the back (on the wrong side the first time around) and threads, nuts, and cool cast wheels holding them together.  It’s just all that but I call it done – and I call it my first completed project!