Tuesday, 18 June 2013

No Electrons Were Harmed...

...In the making of this pen box.

There it is, my first totally by hand, no power tools, no sandpaper project.  All the cuts were made by handsaw, the surfaces smoothed by planes and scrapers.  Modern form, traditional methods.

I started off with a block of maple and and a piece of Brazilian rosewood (thanks to my local Windsor Plywood for the clear labelling).

The biggest part of this project is cutting everything to size.  I started off by cross cutting the maple to length.  Once that was done I wanted to smooth and square up one end. My biggest fear was that I would not be able to do the end grain. I had never done it before.

Wow.  End grain shavings.  From maple.  So cool.  This sort of thing excites me.  I had to show my wife.  While she may not quite share my excitement over end grain shavings, she does understand the feeling of trying something new and succeeding.  Just one of the reasons why I love her.

 Next came a rip cut to get the blank to rough thickness.  Before, I always did my rip cutting with the table saw or the band saw.  I found that even on a small piece like this I had to do it in stages. I am really getting out of shape.

Yes, I am using a Japanese style ryoba saw.  I have been pretty happy with this saw.  It works for both rip and cross cuts, and the lack of a spine means it can cut through material that is thicker than width of the blade.  It also means that the blade is more prone to vibrate as you cut if you get too carried away, so it pays to take it easy sometimes.  And yes, I realise as I write this that I put the wrong set of teeth in the kerf to take this picture.

After planing down all six sides I was left with this nice, smooth little block of wood.  All of the sides were as close to square as they would ever be.

My next move was to take my marking gauge and mark a line just over 1/8" down from the top all the way around the blank.
And then cut the top off.  Look, I'm using the right teeth and everything.
And I am following the line.  That may not seem like such a big deal to some, but you probably haven't tried to do it.  Actually I have been working at my accuracy for a while, mostly on crosscuts, and I am getting better.  Taking breaks to take pictures and other things helped me to maintain my concentration.  A light touch and a lot of patience (as in "don't push too hard, let the saw do the cutting") helped too.
 Here it is with the lid cut off.  There are some bad scratches near the start, but the rest of the cut was remarkably smooth.  I had cut the lid just a little thick so the scratches planed out with no problem.  I was feeling pretty pleased with myself at this point.  The cut was smoother than anything I had ever been able to do with a power saw.
The next step was to cut a 3/8" strip off the back side of the main block to act as a hinge for the lid.  Again, this cut turned out very well, better than the last even.  I carried on by cutting the sidewalls from the rosewood.
I wasn' t comfortable with the idea of just gluing the sidewalls to the ends of the body because end grain glue joints are notoriously weak, even for a light duty piece like this.  I also needed a pivot for the hinge for the lid.  The solution to both problems turned out to be 1/8" dowels.  Lining up the holes, though, was too precise a job to be left to something as inaccurate as measuring.  my solution was to use small nails to mark the spots where they went.

I drove the nails in and then clipped the heads off with pliers.  I also glued the lid to the hinge so that everything would be in place to mark the holes on the sides.

Here is the way I transferred the marks.  The lid is upside down on the jointer table with the back of the hinge against the fence.  The body of the case is upside down on top of it.  The sidewall is placed next to them and then a block, which protects the sidewall from being dented by the mallet.  A few sharp taps with the mallet and the ends of the nails have marked the inside of the sidewall.

After pulling the nails out it was time to drill all the holes.  But how to do it?  I do own a brace, but it was way too big and too aggressive for this work.  Besides, it wouldn't hold a 1/8" bit. I considered going out and buying a hand drill, but I am too cheap for that.  Here is my solution.
It's the tap wrench from my incredibly cheap tap & die set.  At least something from that set has turned out to be useful.  If you look really close you can see the holes in the sides.
 Now it was time to make the groove in the body to hold the pen.  There were lots of ways I could have done this but I wanted to try my #45 combination plane.  I have had this plane in my shop for a few years now and have never used it, so I sharpened a 5/8" wide blade and gave it a try.  On a piece of scrap first.
I have to say I can see why these planes had so much appeal and why nobody makes them any more.  The extreme versatility of this plane makes it seem like such a good idea.  The wide selection of blades available and all the adjustability make it seem like this plane can do almost anything.  When these planes first came out they must have seemed like a great way to save money.  When the metal hit the wood, however, the other side of this plane was revealed.  It was heavy to use, I assume it was a lot heavier than the wooden planes it replaced.  The big problem I had with this plane though was setting the blade.  I simply could not get a decent shaving from this plane.
Another problem I had with this plane, although it wasn't really the plane's fault, was that I had trouble keeping it upright.  The result was that I had one sidewall of the groove that was pretty bad until half way down, where I figured out what the problem was.
Once I held it straight the side was just fine.  I smoothed it out using a float.  Back to the nice, fluffy shavings.
Now it was time to cut the 1/8" dowels to hold things together.
After a test fit I cleaned up the end grain of the sides a bit. 
End grain shavings from rosewood. Still a thrill.  All that was left was to put it together.  Here's a couple of shots of the completed piece, with a mineral oil & beeswax finish.

I have to say, this was a really satisfying project.  I feel like I have gained a lot of confidence in my ability to work with hand tools.  Not that I'm selling my power tools or anything like that, but I will have no problem increasing the amount of work I do by hand in future projects. 


Saturday, 1 June 2013

What Am I?... And What Are You?

When I started this blog I did it for two reasons.  The first reason was to have a record of how I did things that I could go back to so I could remember how I did things and hopefully prevent repeating the mistakes.  The other reason was the hope that by writing about it I could start to understand why I do what I do, and that this clarity would help me to improve my woodworking.  This post is all about reason  two.

A while ago I was reading the Lost Art Press Blog and came across this essay attempting to define the difference between the terms artist, artisan, and craftsperson.  It really made me think about these labels and how I felt about them.  You should read it now, and then come back to this, as it will help to make sense of what I have to say. It is neither a long or nor difficult read.  Go ahead... I'll wait...

Done? OK, here they are, my definitions of the terms artist, artisan, and craftsperson:

Artist - One who creates original works for the purpose of self expression.

Artisan - One who creates original works for practical purposes.

Craftsperson - One who creates works based on the designs of others.

I want to point out that to me these distinctions have nothing to do with skill.  I think that if you asked each of these types of people to build a chair, the craftsperson would be the most likely to succeed, the artist the least likely.  The craftsperson would draw on previous designs to build something solid, comfortable, and attractive.  An artisan would probably build a solid chair, but their original design may not be as comfortable as some existing designs or the design may not be appealing to as many people.  The artist may not even consider those things to be important in comparison to what they are trying to communicate to someone looking at it.

What is important to these definitions is the idea of originality.  If I were to see a pattern in the inlay around the edge of a coffee table and reproduce it in a segmented bowl am I being original?  If I come up with one original idea, does that move me from craftsperson to artisan?  The lines start to blur.  It doesn't help that in order to become good at something you need to practise the methods of those who have gone before, until you don't just know them, you understand them.

That idea, that you need to understand what you are doing, is very important to me.  In mathematics, when you know an equation, you can plug in the numbers and use it to solve a problem.  When you understand how that equation was derived, get down to its roots, you can play with it, make changes, and solve a wider range of problems.  The same is true of throwing a football, playing music, or designing a chair.  Understanding what you are doing makes it possible to be both original and successful.

I've gotten a little off track with that last paragraph.  Anyway, if you are still with me, I invite you to take a look back through some of my previous posts and see where you think I might land in those three classes.  If you are also someone who likes to create things, take a look through your own work and see how you feel about that.  And if you've read through all of this and you think that I'm way off base, I'm willing to admit you may be right.