Thursday, November 11, 2010

Beginning a Journey of Homeric Proportions (1:6)

Perhaps my favorite woodworking blog is Chris Schwarz's over at Popular Woodworking. How he produces the discharge of substantive output is beyond me.  Then again, it is his job.

John Economaki recently pointed out that Chris has the exact voice of Tom Brokaw. Click the hyperlinks to see for yourself. Watching his videos are never the same anymore. I also see that Mr. Schwarz is coming to Alpharetta in March to teach some classes. That might be fun.

Anyhow, yesterday's blog entry was titled "A Dovetail a Day-Hurray." Not the cleverest title, I know. Apparently he had written a little article in Popular Woodworking a couple of months ago about getting really good at dovetailing by knocking out one every day for a month. His blog links to the article which I think raises a really good point. I'll quote:

"So many times we learn woodworking on the fly as we build something. We get our skills just good enough to accomplish that project and then we move on. It's rare to get out a board and just saw it. Or plane it. Or mortise it with our router."

True, true. A reader took him up on this and the results are pretty good. By limiting yourself to only one at a time you have time to scrutinize your previous mistakes and try to do better the next time.

So that's my plan: 30 joints. I have some poplar ("the other softwood") floating around that I think will be pretty good for it. Poplar is pretty soft and can be unforgiving to the heavy-handed. I'm also going to add speed to the mix too. My goal--inspired by Konrad Sauer--is to be very efficient while increasing accuracy.

Here are the rules:
-the stock will be prepped and ready to go
-tools will be laid out and ready to go
-no pre-layout is allowed
-all marking and measuring gauges must be zeroed presetting
-Start=touch tools
-Finish=plane the pieces flush and put down the plane

Cell phone kept time.

Every joint will have 3 tails, 2 pins and 2 half-pins. Here are the results of day one:

Some observations:

-I think I should throw away my dovetail angle guides. The slope of my tails here were defined by eye and cut freehand. I think that they are pretty darn consistent. 

-It would be worth the time to be a little more mindful of my depth of cut. I'm shooting through my scribe line just about every time. Usually I'm not too bad with this but I neglected it here because of the clock...not smart.

-The jointer plane was used to finish out the joint. There was no need for that big time I'm using the smoother.

As the picture says, I finished this one in 12 minutes and 7 seconds. That's not really too bad but the quality needs to come way up. Joinery maestro Rob Cosman (another Canadian, by the way) has it down to under 4 minutes and Frank Klausz has it closer to 3.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Miller Time!

It has finally started to get cold here in Atlanta and at our house that means it's time for fires. At one point I had a firewood collection that I thought would last us through 2013 at least. That does not appear to be the case. At this point I'm not sure it will last us through this winter. With this weighing on my mind I went out to split some wood yesterday. I'm a bit of a neighborhood scavenger: whenever I'm out walking the dogs and see that someone has felled a hardwood and left the logs for the county to pick up I'm instantly on them.

This summer some yellow jackets took up residence in my splitting area which prevented me from getting at a couple of nice truck pieces during the warm seasons--I'm rather allergic to stings. Besides who wants to split wood when it's hot out? The yellow jackets have now left (or are hibernating, or have died...whatever they do during the winter) so the splitting can commence.

This trunk log had been sitting on the ground for at least 6 months, so I wasn't surprised that there was some spalting. What did surprise me was how much there was. Hmmm, warm the house or have some interesting wood to work? There will always be firewood out there...I decided to slice it up. 

Here's what I started with:
It's big and chucky and won't really fit on my bandsaw.

By slicing off some of the more extreme areas I can make it fit into the mouth of the saw.. Take care in doing this, it's a good way to break a blade.

If you are going to all of the trouble to mill your own wood, you might as well quarter-saw it, right? My first cut on the sled is a cut parallel to the tangent of the arc of the outside of the tree (arc of the bark, if you will). This will serve as the base of the log and all cuts afterwards will be normal to this. Here's the resulting first cut:

Pretty dramatic, isn't it? The picture is a little misleading because it looks like this cut is radiating out from the middle of the tree. It isn't...that log just split funny. My sled is a copy of Matthias Wandel's...I wish I had a bandsaw as big as his.

Then I planed the surface with my jointer to flatten it:

Next I put the log flat face down on the sled and ran it through again:

Now I had two faces normal to each other. At this point I just set the fence on the bandsaw and sliced away:

Of note: this was a funky piece of wood with wavy grain:

Wood like this is much easier to plane when it is still moist.

Now I'll just let it sit in the shop for a while and dry out. I'm not sure what to do with it just yet but it never hurts to have some decorative wood on hand. I wonder how much Carlton's pays for stuff like this.