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Another poor man’s router

Poor man’s router

Someone recently shared with me a jobsite poor man’s router he uses regularly and I tried it out in an inspired moment recently. It’s made from a #14 (about 44mm shank it looks like) screw and block like the poor man’s beading-cum-marking gauge I have posted on in the recent and distant past. This is infinitely adjustable with screwdriver or screw bit in a drill-driver. Probably everyone knows about this except me, but there will likely be some of you that don’t. Here are my findings and resolutions.

I found that the screw alone didn’t work at all. No surprises there, rounded edges machined in every modern screw, but even when filed the flat head face of the screw with a file and thereby sharpened the rounded edges, I found that it clumsily stumbled in the recess. Analyzing the whole, I concluded a couple of issues. One, my expectation of a push-me-pull-you wasn’t realistic. The accuracy levels of hand filing the rim of a screw to lie perfectly level and parallel all around to a recessed surface wasn’t going to happen and if it didn’t the tool would be absolutely intolerant of any and all ineptitude on my part. Two, just as with a regular hand router cutting iron, the cutting edge could only cut effectively if the heel was higher than the cutting edge. Once this was resolved, the router became a highly effective cutting tool that readily developed a pristine cut resulting and a perfectly surfaced recess as good if not better than any developed specialist router plane.

Because the angled head is angled, and the cutting edge is only one half of the screw head, that meant that turning the screw for infinite adjustment would be compromised, but by slewing the stock of the ‘plane I found I could easily continue with my work even though I forfeited any alignment of my stock perpendicular to the length of my wood.

Oh, safety issues are your responsibility every time, so remove the excess screw point before use and don’t risk the palms of your hands.

Global woodworkers, Welcome!!!

To all our friends following in Eastern and mainland Europe, welcome, welcome and thank you for your support and emails. Africa, thank you too and then those of you in China, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Argentina, Indonesia, Israel, India and Egypt I hope that you are enjoying working wood as much as I do. Best regards to all of you. Please remember that my blog is for everyone and as freely as possible. What we have been given we should freely give, regardless of what it is.

Many of you above are experiencing difficulties we Brits don’t have and that is finding the right tools at the right price. Finding wood is a problem for some of you too. I am sorry that I cannot help you with this problem at this moment, but who knows what can happen. One thing that I have learned and that is by necessity you will find a way to do this. I hope that you can persevere under this adverse situation to reconcile what you lack. Please keep your emails and encouragements coming in. Perhaps globally we can find solutions by networking together in the Real Woodworking Campaign.

For those countries I missed, please let us know where you are and I will add you to the list of global woodworkers who love the idea of Real Woodworking and seek skill and mastery through a working knowledge of real wood as apposed to machine only woodworking where skill has been dumbed down to little more than an evaporating cloud of nothingness.

How to Build a Workbench – Intro and Laminating the Tops (part1)

Making the Workbench with Paul Sellers

This replicates my personal workbench, one I have used and preferred over all others for, well, actually, half a century. Let’s talk briefly about benches and specifically working workbenches and not images of what a bench should be. Anyone can build any bench type they like, regardless of whether it works well or not, is big and clunky and lacks versatility. I know at the end of the day when you finished making your workbench you will have fallen in love with it.

Aside from all of that, when you work at a bench there are several criteria that must be faced. Probably the most critical is size, this then comes down to you building into what you have available as your creative workspace. There is a lot in my earlier blogs on developing a Creative Workspace. This is a critical phase in that development so the allotted space is important and then there is you. You are tall or short or average. The bench needs to fit you. If someone will be using your bench and is a different height it is a simple matter to make a floor board or jack the bench up on a 2×4. I here many fallacious statements about bench heights. Fact is you must try to find one beforehand to try out. All of my benches at the workshop are 38” high. That suits me as mister average height but my friend Matt at 6’4” finds it too low, but not the 5” discrepancy between him and me. He likes the bench to be at 40”. You can make the bench taller, try it for a week and cut some off the legs if you feel doubtful at all. My 38” bench seems to suit everyone between 5’4 and 6’0”. Most men and women fall within that range.

My bench is a traditional British joiner’s workbench. My personal knowledge and research shows this bench to be typical of just about every workbench made and has been used by boat builders, joiners and furniture makers throughout history. Pine of some type be it pine, spruce, fir or a hybrid of each is an ideal wood for workbenches and a bench made using the methods and design that follow will last you for at least a century and more. So let’s get started.

As you know I do have beautiful workshops to work in and teach from, but making your bench presents several challenges not the least of which are planing, sawing and jointing the various components and then assembling the units as you develop the bench. That being the case, I am working in my own back yard (American for lawned garden) for the development of the whole bench. This is going to take a few days because of my commitments but it will be worth it. In my earlier blog you saw me picking the wood from the racks. Again, it is unreal to think that you have access to a sawmill and machines to mill your own. You must work milling sizes out for yourself. I know in B&Q and Home Depot or Lowes, you can find wood that is around the sizes I am using and so you must sort through that for yourself. If you have machines, all the better. And remember, no matter what anyone tells you, a machine is NOT a tool, it’s a machine. A tool is powered and directed by you and responds to your senses. All machines were developed for mass manufacturing so no matter which editor or author tells you differently, a machine is a machine.

The thickness of your bench top needs to be about 75mm. That’s 3” in imperial. I would say that the bench top needs to be a minimum of 63mm or 2 ½” thick if you have stock already or that’s a size you can find. Now in the US, Home Depot stocks a spruce type (they call it white wood, which is not a species at all) stud that is about 1 ½” x 2 ½” and this will work. It would be better to use regular 2×4 and rip to 3” if you can. These are a dead 1/12” thick, which works great.

Choice of stud

There are a variety pine-type choices. I have used Douglas fir and that worked fine, I have also used Southern Yellow Pine, which also works well but can be a little soft. Hemlock works well but is more difficult to hand plane and then there is Spruce, which I favour the most along with European redwood which is a true pine that is harder than most North American pines. This is my absolute favourite for weight, strength, colour and consistency as well as for working with hand tools. For my bench I used spruce and was able to find lengths that were fairly consistent in grain, straight and minimally knotted. Southern Yellow Pine is fine straight from the bundle but you must work with it quickly as it does distort unless laminated. It’s greatest advantage is that t planes so well with hand tools. Look for minimum amount of knots. hey tend to be big and this species of pine grows rapidly and can have soft aspects in the spring and summer growth which also makes it soft.

The boys and I set up a pair of sawhorses in the garden because we don’t have a picnic table. You could use a workmate or other collapsible temporary work station or a couple of garden benches. This is the challenge for you to work through.

We used a laburnum tree to push against and I think it took the three of us about an hour to surface plane the large flat faces ready for gluing up the laminated tops. This was fun even though rainclouds hovered overhead the whole time.

When all of the pieces were planed, I placed them on edge in position and squeezed them with arm and hand pressure to make sure the surfaces came easily together. It is not necessary to plane the wood dead straight or straight at all. Choose wood that’s straight to start with and look for warpage or twist ahead of time. Choose the best you can get. The act of planing is purely to smooth the wood and remove machine ,arks from planers and saws that might hold the surfaces apart and prevent good glue surfaces.

My bench is about 8’0” long, so I used 8’ stock. That means that after glue up and completion, my top may end up 7’10” long. You must think of the bench size that fits your situation. I often work from a 5’ long bench and find it most comfortable.

My bench has two laminated sections, on each long length, which allows for a well in the middle. The well hold tools during construction and nothing slips to the floor that way. The 12” laminated bench tops are more than adequate for all work and any wider will span to the other side.

So here we are, we have planed the meeting surfaces using only a smoothing plane. Forget heavyweights, a plain Stanley #4 or 4 ½ will do better than any other. You don’t need a longer plane, that’s unnecessary and will slow down the process though I can concede a #5 or 5 ½ if you insist. Also, you don’t need any retrofit irons with extra thickness, they take twice as much effort to sharpen, take twice as long and wastes twice as much steel for half the results of a regular thickness iron.

Set up your clamps and rehearse your glue up using the clamps. This will ensure you have the clamps set, the right number of clamps and that you have a procedure to follow that you feel comfortable with. It means that you have a strategy and a plan and that it works well. Once the glue goes on you have reached the point of no return and you must move efficiently and decisively.

Flush up the ends incase you want the fullest length possible.

 

I use a single clamp in the centre to start as I want to make certain there is no unevenness before I add glue. It is extremely hard to plane glued surfaces and far better to test beforehand.

 

 

 

 

I have rigged up a table with saw horses and a couple of boards. I place my underside clamps first and preset the clamps so that my wood will just slot straight in during glue up. Pre setting the clamps saves awkwardness and time. It should be come a habit. Also, though we call this a dry fit or dry run, it is really a rehearsal and helps look ahead for snags.

 

 

I zigzag my glue so that the glue is even. When I rub the joining faces the glue spreads evenly across both and I have minimal squeeze out and wastage.

Notice my clamps alternate between top and bottom or underside of the laminations. This ensures even pressure across the width of each laminated piece and thereby even squeeze out of excess glue. You will need a minimum of 11 clamps but perhaps if you don’t have enough you can borrow them. Even pressure along the whole length is important.

Wipe off any excess glue with the shavings. This will help the glue to dry and prevent hard glue on the surface before you plane. This can damage the cutting iron. Set the tops aside for 24 hours for the glue to completely set up and dry.

 

We had a great day!!!

Answers behind the Questions

I think that it is no small thing that so many people ask questions of me that tell me what is on their mind, or, perhaps more relevant, what is on their heart. Now this is a good cross section of the general public, not so much woodworkers but them too. These people would naturally be interested in history, conservation, culture, workmanship in craft (as distinct from hobbyism) and so hold concern for the future and good management of resources and so on. Now this makes my perspective different than say someone going in to the tyre (tire US) depot or the printing suppliers, Home Depot or B&Q, where there is no dialogue beyond buying and selling. Somehow, my workshop breaks down all barriers and I mean every and all barriers, to the point that they feel confident that they can ask honest questions and I have a point in saying what I am saying.

In my view people are concerned about the future. They are misguided by false prophets, bad teaching and people preaching wrong messages about materials, methods of work and so on. For instance, TV, as we all know, has done much to draw people to the screen for entertainment. If you can hook people into being entertained and at the same time sell them a router, jig and bits then more power to you (sarcasm intended). Those good at using power equipment with plugs and batteries create a stage and blast their message of freedom from the drudgery of hard work, new speed and efficiency, accuracy, mastery and before you know it everyone has jumped on the industrial bandwagon in pursuit of happiness. In reality these gurus have done more damage to real woodworking than any other medium and we are left with a society totally persuaded that mass manufacturing methods for cutting a simple dovetail is the only answer for woodworkers. This has so dumbed-down what woodworking was that we have spent two decades and more trying to reverse the damage and I am not convinced that we will ever recover from the damage caused by the giant manufacturers and their bought presenters.

Here are the types of questions I fielded today:

“Do you use local woods from around here?”

“Is this school for youngsters to learn in?”

“Do you apprentice people?”

” Can you sell what you make?”

People say things like:

“The smell takes me back to school.”

“I love that smell.”

“The smell drew me in.”

“This is the best smell I have smelled all day.”

Children with parents are:

Silenced.

Intrigued.

Fascinated.

Blown away.

Reluctant to leave.

All of this tells me what’s going on in people’s hearts.They cannot understand why we can’t apprentice young people without compromising our livelihoods because of Government legislation and lack of help, health and safety and so on. I could stop what I am doing and apprentice 20 young people tomorrow and make them highly skilled woodworkers in just a few short months; to the point that they could be making a living. “The problem is that we cannot produce products as cheaply as Asia.” I hear people saying. That’s true, our expectations are so high we cannot live up to them any more. But let’s not worry about that yet. Can young people be trained and are we listening to the questions behind the questions. What will happen to our young people and the next generation of woodworkers if we do not turn the tide to embrace methods that inspire them rather than preclude them. There is  not a machine manufacturer in the country that can put a young and aspiring woodworker on any of their commercial machines without admitting that the dangers are too high. Governments legislates against it and I am so glad that they do. We woodworkers must listen to the public who are equally concerned about the future of young people. We must come up with a solution, otherwise woodworking will always be an adults-only craft controlled by mass machine makers like Dewalt, Makita, Powermatic, Delta, Bosch, Rikon and dozens more. Obviously there is a place for machines and hand held equipment, but it seems to me that these megagiants have a responsibility to support hand methods that will enable young people to get back in the woodshop with teachers who can help them. Instead of seeing machines as something to aspire and mature into though, they should accept that hand tools are as valuable to today’s woodworker as they ever were. It’s all about balance and we all need to play our part and we need help.

Successes leave New Legacy New York Again!

At the risk of sounding redundant, about twenty more students left New Legacy New York equipped to pass on their skills to others looking for real woodworking. Without naming names and castigating others, many woodworkers have been denied the joy of working wood because protagonists so promoted machine methods they threw the baby from the tub with the bathwater, which commonly occurs when we make gods of mere skilled machinists with personalities that persuade us against better judgement.

Thirty to forty years ago this all began with the fastest and the bestest being touted as the only way in the evolutionary process of progressive woodworking. The machine wood rule and strategise to run down handwork and destroy skills once common to everyone by creating the illusion that it’s all about speed and efficiency. Supported by the media looking for a new buzz they almost succeeded in destroying all memory of skilled men and women and skilled work to substitute quantity for quality in workmanship and wellbeing. Sucked (succoured) in and spat out bald, woodworkers began searching the pages for something real. Some proponents unwittingly did more damage to the future of woodworking than anyone I know and so caused the casting aside of tradition that would and should and could have held good for a two more centuries and beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The goal by machine manufacturers was to get rid of tradition and the “old fashioned ways’ and introduce a new tradition whereby they would substitute dumb methods that require no skill for skilled work. If they could accomplish that they would have control of people in such a way that they had to keep returning for each new development. All they would need to do would periodically change something such as the plastic handle shape and people would always need the new  and progressive look. Bit like fashion for men and women in clothing and shoes.They were putting ordinary home woodworkers on the conveyor belt of mass making so that the human being became part of the stop-start mechanism as well. Woodworkers who knew no different fell for it and within three decades real woodworking was abandoned for emptiness and unfulfilment. Today we have decades to make up for in the shortfall in the next generation so that we can preserve the seed of real woodworking.

This is their next six-day workshop

I cannot describe the sense of wellbeing my students feel as they walk from the shop with shelves and tables made by their own hands. Of course this is only the beginning but this is real woodworking making real progress in the lives of real people looking for real work skills. They found, felt happy, returned home contented and proud and will take all that I gave and expand it for themselves in the lives of others. I felt proudly happy as I lay my head on my pillow last night. I woke several times and smiled as I felt others smiled walking from the New Legacy New York workshop. You cannot buy this. It’s not for sale.

Success immeasurable.

I really liked this picture I took this morning. Thought you might like it. It’s a huge oak with a stunted stem and flailing immeasurable branches.

 I continued sharpening a range of hand saws with the original Bahco saw file again today. I want to see at what point the file becomes too dull to readily surface, shape and sharpen a saw. One thing that I have noticed is the difference in hardness between saws in that some saw teeth are so hard they can dull the file in one filing. As soon as the file hits the teeth of a saw like that I can tell and I usually do not sharpen it further. Saws like this frequently have a few teeth missing and that is often indicative that the steel used was hardened too much and was left brittle. Of course there is always overset teeth on the other hand, which causes breakage, or setting the teeth one way and then making a mistake during setting and setting the opposite and wrong way. This can also result in broken teeth. An isolated tooth or two in different areas of a saw is not usually an issue, a bank of missing teeth together can mean one section of the saw was for some reason overheated and therefore brittle or the user hit an extra hard object that then snapped off the teeth. If a lone tooth or two is missing, simply ignore the gap and allow the tooth to emerge with subsequent sharpenings. This usually takes 4-5 sharpening sessions depending on the number of teeth per inch of saw length. There is no point (no pun intended) in filing a hundred teeth to regain just one or two.

I have introduced a new refinement to my method of sharpening saws that further enhances the teeth and I am looking forward to releasing it in the near future.

Today went really fast and everyone finished their shelf units on time. Relief seems to ease its way to ease tensions from the workshop and smiles, jokes, chats back and forth all happen simultaneously as the clamps come off. This success cannot be bought or measured by income but outcome. The outcome has health built in, wellbeing permeates the room and so too real sanity for everyone including or especially me.

Turning off the lights is a sort of ritual for me at the end of class. It’s a private moment every time when everyone else is gone. I close the door behind me as I leave and my mind races as I watch someone place their project on the backseat of the car.

Questions answered – chisels and quality

Getting off the conveyor belt post

Re getting off the conveyor belt I posted earlier. It’s unrealistic to think that everyone can follow a vocational calling whereby they earn there living full time from craft work. If the 13 million people that enjoy woodworking in the USA all became woodworkers earning their living from it they would soon find themselves broke, on the dole and homeless. On the other hand you can enjoy the challenges of making your own furniture, building your canoe or boat, violin, guitar or build yourself a timber-framed home, garden shed or anything you choose by following a foundational training in woodworking and then diverting into any specific channel or channels you choose to. Build a shed, a workbench and follow my foundational course from cover to cover and in about 20 days, with about 20 hand tools, you can make a handmade guitar following instructions from another book. That should take you about 2 months total in evenings and weekends without neglecting your families.

If you work with just my book you can have enough to equip yourself for a lifetime of lifestyle Working Wood. How about that for a strategy?

Now then, one of my students emailed a question he thought that you all might be helped by if I answer publicly. Here is his email:

Hi Paul,

Hope all is well back with your family in the UK.

Just had a question you may want to answer on your blog sometime.

I have been working on my dovetails and, after about a half dozen good looking ones in Pine, I decided to try my luck with a small piece of quarter-sawn oak I had. What I noticed right away is that my chisels, while continuing to chop crisp lines, began very quickly to fracture and create a burr on the flat side of the cutting edge. I resharpened, went back to it, and found relatively quickly the same problem. I eased up on the chopping and they came out well, but nonetheless I feel like I shouldn’t have to resharpen two or three times per corner. What’s wrong here? Is it my motion? The wood? Are my chisels just poor quality? Just wondering your thoughts.

 

Side note: I’ve also noticed a tendency on the smaller chisels to skew to my right. Some are pretty significant. I can fix them, but I assume this is just uneven pressure. Correct?

 

Thanks Paul.

Answer:

The issue could be steel quality or type or something else, so lets consider steel type first. Without getting into technicalities of alloys, harder steel can of course be brittle and can readily fracture because though hard it may not be tough. Certain tool steels can have good edge tool qualities that have hardness and toughness in the same alloy. That’s what many toolmakers aim for. A problem with this is that they often require mechanical methods for sharpening, which in and of itself is generally overkill for something that needs only regular sharpening with the quick, simple, efficient hand methods I use and encourage others to use. For a more easily sharpenable cutting edge it’s better to use a softer alloy, but you cannot use steel that is too soft as the edge buckles under pressure whereas the harder edges actually fracture, creating small craters along the edge. This is not what you seem to have. The end result of course is that neither tool will cut well in either condition.

As you know, in general I advise the single- convex-bevel method for all edge tools. Having determined that both steel types have advantages, we should look at wood. Under certain conditions using chisels, as in your case, conditions arise that adversely affect cutting edges. Some pines for instance are even textured throughout the annual rings. The eastern white pine for instance is superbly even textured and has very minimal difference in density and hardness across the growth rings or within each growth ring. With softwoods from Eastern Europe there is often great variance in hardness and density. This can be because of the nature of the species, growth region, weather changes and season changes. Some years, the growth cycle has good levels of water and nutrition resulting in good growth across the seasons. When the weather is less extreme between the seasons, the result is more even texture across the two apparent periods usually associated with softwood growth. In other areas and seasons depending on the year, the growth ring has two extremes of soft and hardness, especially in softwoods. In hardwoods, on the other hand ,the extremes of seasons are much less, and oftentimes the two seasons of early and late growth are indistinguishable—fruit  and nut trees for instance; woods such as cherry or walnut for instance, and dozens of others.

Steel hard and soft – brittle or malleable

This then brings me to the real point. Seeing that hard tool steel is harder to sharpen because of hardness and softer tool steels bend unevenly along the cutting edge, we need to adjust our thinking in both cases. Assuming we have decent steel in either case, because both steel types can indeed produce practical edges, when we shift from paring pressure or slicing along or with the grain using hand pressure or light malleting pressure, we have no problem, but denser hard-grained wood such as oak often require a slight shift in strategy. Your problem may have nothing to do with steel quality or choice at all. It often requires nothing more than creating a steeper bevel right at the cutting edge. Remember that the shallower the angle of a cutting bevel does not mean that the edge is sharper than a steeper bevel, but that it takes a little more effort to counter the resistance created by a steeper bevel pitch. In your case it seems you have more malleable steel that may well be tough, but with a shallow angle the steel buckles. This is often especially true when using mallet blows. Paring pressure may be around 20-30-lbs pressure. Using a mallet blow may increase this to 80+lbs. Under such pressure the edge will either fracture or buckle depending on the alloy and the quality of the materials used. Try altering the pitch by as much as 5-degrees or even more and see if this helps. If it does, most likely it will, you are set. If it doesn’t you may need to invest in different chisels.

Once you have chopped, you can re-establish the 30-degree bevel over two or three sharpenings and need not go all the way back to 30-degrees at once unless of course you need to or don’t mind wasting steel and time.

Re  Buying replacement chisels

My experience proves to me that this has little to do with cost. I have used Marples’ (definitely not UK Irwin) blue-chip chisels since 1965. I am on my third set, but not because of weakness or failure but because I use them more than anyone I ever met and I love them. At the school in the UK I use chisels made for Aldi, the supermarket chain, they are about some of the best I ever used and we really use them heavily, probably more excessively than anyone else. They cost £8.00, $12 usd, for a set of four and a sharpening stone that’s pretty useless. I have so far, after three years of use, been unable to find any fault with them. Now the stuff Irwin makes, and Stanley, with steel tips and ergonomic plastic/rubberised handles, I have no time for because they are extremely uncomfortable, feel really bad in the hand and they encourage a throwaway mentality in tools. These companies are especially bad for craftsmanship and should wherever possible be boycotted until they get their act together.