Archive for July 2012

Is that a “Lamb’s Tongue” or Gene Simmons in the distance

July 27, 2012

The new workbench is going a little slower than I’d like.  And one of the reasons for the delay is my decision to include some absolutely useless decoration on the base.  The decorative effect I’ve chosen to use is an old, and very traditional, edge treatment known as a stopped chamfer with a “Lambs Tongue” terminus.  You don’t have to have a fantastic imagination to understand why the terminus picked up its common name.  And you would only need to see Gene Simmons and the “KISS” gang to understand why our younger brethern (and sistern) might identify it with something seen on the concert stage.

This was a very common edge treatment for posts, beams, balusters and other architectural details.  So in times past, carpenters and joiners, alike would have been very familiar with its use.  Upon closer inspection, it’s obvious that, viewed from the side, it is simply an ogee shape that has been rotated 45°.  Some folks go to a great deal of trouble, laying out small ogee patterns on both sides of the chamfer, then shape the “tongue” with rasps and files.   Believe me, if you were a carpenter or joiner on a job site with dozens of posts and beams to complete, or a joiner with hundreds of balusters to shape, you’d take a somewhat more pragmatic approach.  You would simply mark the length of the tongue, then, with its bevel down, you’d tap a bench chisel through the cove, then the bead.  That would be that.  Practical craftsmen simply didn’t “overthink” things like this.  They were busy, trying to make a living.

Turners also employed the “Lamb’s Tongue” on pommels that would lead to a full cylinder or simply an “eased edge” shape.  It’s a wonderful little “touch” that still “holds up” and all serious woodworkers should get familiar with it.

Big Walnut slab + Emmert’s style pattern makers vise = just one more distraction

July 22, 2012

The poor little lowboy is sitting there, dry-fit, in-the-white, just waiting to be finished.  It should be my priority.  Then again, I should be turning out some bowls or anything else for the marketplace.  But what am I doing?  I’m screwing around with yet another workbench!  But, this one is really going to be special.

Remember that big slab of walnut that Charlie dropped off a couple of weeks ago?  Well, I planed it up in a previous post and I believe  I mentioned that I had something very special in mind for it. 

It just so happens that I was lucky enough to buy one of the last of the Emmert’s style pattern makers vises that Woodcraft discontinued a few years ago.  I can only guess that the vise was just too expensive for most pocketbooks.  Lee Valley manufactured one called the “Tucker” vise, which was discontinued about the same time.  It’s a real shame that these vises didn’t get the attention they deserved.  Anyone who has used either of these vises, or one of the originals, knows what wonderful tools they are.  And, if you’re a woodworker who does any carving or shave work, these vises are really without peers.  Authentic Emmert’s can sell for $1500 +, so the several hundred dollar price tag on the Woodcraft or Lee Valley version was a real bargain. 

The WC version weighs in at 55 pounds.  So a heavy-duty bench is in order.  Also, I’m contemplating another antique, cast-iron vise for use as a tail vise.  So the combined weight of the vises and bench could (easily) be in the range of 250-300 lbs.  Ought to be good and steady.

Trestles are made from 3 1/2″ square Ash.  Stretchers are of 1 5’8″ x 5 3/4″ Ash and cut with a half dove-tail tenon.  The stretchers will be held in place with a wedge that will complete the dovetailed connection.

Lay-out is critical.  You’ll note any number of matchmarks and “surface messages” to myself.  (It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve cut a mortise on the wrong surface.)  So tomorrow I’ll finish up the stretcher mortises in the legs and with any luck at all, the base should be ready for glue up and assembly by mid-day.

Planing big slabs

July 15, 2012

My friend Charlie just dropped off a couple nice big slabs of walnut.  The original intention was to cut them into heavy veneer and squares for legs.  But one of them was was just dead straight and I immediately knew that I had something else in mind for this particular piece.

Big slabs seem to pose problems for many woodworkers.  They’re hard to move around.  They’re usually too heavy or too large to run through planers and sanders.  But for the folks that understand how to “walk” a board and use handplanes, big slabs can be handled with relative ease.

The first thing is to get one side in plane.  This becomes the datum, the surface from which all other dimensions are taken.  Using a set of winding sticks, the rough surface is checked for wind, cup or bow and imperfections in sawing.  Those areas are marked.


Rough planing is done with a long plane with substantial camber in the iron.  My favorite plane for this part of the process is a 20″ wooden foreplane.  Planing is usually done at about 45 degrees to the grain direction of the workpiece, although many times I find that I’m planing cross grain.  The heavy camber of the iron allows for large shavings to be taken without an irordinate amount of edge tearout.

After the datum surface is in plane, a smooth plane is used to remove the wide, shallow “scallops” left by the foreplane and render the datum dead flat.  Then the slab is flipped and the required thickness is measured and marked with a cutting or panel gauge.  Again the foreplane if used to produce a plane second surface, parallel to the datum.  If a large amount of material must be removed from certain areas, a scrub plane can be used.  The scrub plane has a narrower iron with greater camber than the foreplane.  This enables the plane to take very thick, narrow shavings and speeds the work of stock removal.  The foreplane can then be used to remove the deep grooves created by the scrub plane.

Trueness in length can be checked by a straightedge or the winding sticks can be laid flat at both ends of the slab and a line can be stretched across them. Any variance will be quickly determined by simply measuring at points along the line to the surface of the slab. And remember that the human eye is a very precise instrument.

Only time will tell what this slab will become.

Get to know your local sawyer

July 14, 2012

Most folks go to the lumber yard and pick up their project material.  I prefer to go right to the source, the sawyer.

“Eyeballing” the cut line. Mr. Sharples at work.

I’ve been dealing with my local sawyer, Dennis Sharples, for about a decade now.  I’ve spent a lot of time out in his log yard and rooting through stacks of lumber for just the right stock.   But a couple of days ago I made another trip out to Sharples Hardwood Lumber in Swanton Ohio.  Unlike most days when I’m in a rush and just want to load up and get back to the shop, I had no particular schedule.  Dennis was out in the yard running the mill.  So I just sat myself down on a stack of freshly sawn honey locust boards and quietly watched while he systematically sawed a log into a cant, then sawed the cant into lumber.  All done with a quiet precision that comes from years spent at his trade.  It’s intriquing to watch the mechanical manipulation of the mill machinery to turn, locate and dog down the log.  Then the saw starts its trip down the track and slices to the log like a knife through hot butter.

But apart from roaming around in the log yard, there are a number of very good reasons to get to know your local sawyer.  First you can select the material you want at the source.  You can actually see the lumber you’ll be buying while it’s still “in the log”.  You can buy the lumber in any state you wish; sawn, dried and planed if you like.  Or green, for those folks who work with riven lumber such as chairmakers and early American furniture builders.  Also you’ll find species that won’t normally be stocked at your local big box store.  When’s the last time you saw Sassafrass or Honey Locust at Home Depot or Lowes?

So get to know your local sawyer.  It’ll be time well spent.

Lowboy project – almost there…………

July 1, 2012

It’s hard to believe that this little dressing table would take this long to build.  Of course between my part-time “retirement job”, summer visitors, golf and a myriad of other distractions, I’ve been lucky to get ten hours a week in the shop.  At that rate projects seem to take forever to complete.

Anyroad.  The drawers are trimmed and fitted, but they still need the application of the cockbeads.  Drawer sides and backs are of CWP.  Since these drawers won’t be seeing action day-in and day-out, the pine will wear well enough.  If someone has to put a “runner” on in fifty years…  While I would normally use a rabbet plane and a hollow for the drawer bottom panel edges, I opted for a diagonal fence on the table saw and “raised” the panel, much the same as you would do in raising a door panel.  It saved some time and time is at a premium around here.  Mea culpa.

There are still a few guides and kickers to put in place.  But, with any luck, by the end of the week I’ll be painting the carcass.  Fingers crossed..

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