Monday, November 24, 2008

User, Collector, or just an A$$hole?

I have had a love hate relationship with my brothers over at Woodnet Forums. Every so often the forum turns from a community of woodworkers sharing information into a mob of hateful critics. During the Norm Abrams storm about 5 years ago I quit the forum cold turkey. I just couldn't take some hack putting down Norm again. After about two years I started taking a look into the forums again. This time I limited myself to the Hand Tool Forum.

Over the last few weeks Lee Valley Tools released a few new tools. They released their new dovetail saw and two new high end block planes. While at the Woodworking in America Conference I had a chance to try the new dovetail saw. It felt very comfortable in my hand and it seemed to cut very well. This dovetail saw was intended to fill the gap between the $20 dovetail saw and the $135 dovetail saw. While at the show I tried many premium saws, I even purchased a Lie Nielsen Progressive pitch saw. I certainly wouldn't be ashamed to hang the Veritas saw up next to my Lie Nielsen in my tool cabinet. Apparently the progressive design of this saw is just to much for many to handle.

These new block planes were just unveiled today and already the critics are roaring. I haven't had the privilege to hold, much less use, these block planes. I understand that Robin Lee gave some woodnetter's a sneak peek that the Woodnet dinner at the WIA Conference. Unfortunately I didn't attend. From what I have heard from some who have used the tool they say fit and finish is impeccable and and performs just as well as the Lie Nielsen block planes.

I unfortunately didn't take advantage of the opportunity at the WIA Conference to formally meet Mr. Lee. I will say that I find his company's willingness to attempt to advance tool design awe inspiring. I hope that in the years to come it will yield them their deserved respect. So many tools makers today simply regurgitate the designs of yesteryear with no thought on how to improve on those designs. I, and I'm sure Mr. Lee, don't feel that the evolution of hand tool design is at its end.
I hope that some of my brother woodnetters will be able to open their minds to what Lee Valley is attempting to do. If you don't like the tools because it doesn't perform to your expectations, I can understand that. To dismiss or blatantly ridicule the company for their modern design is, well, juvenile. I expect more from the hand tool community. Who is generally an older and wiser crowd.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Woodworking In America Conference in review

The conference, while not void of problems, was a great success. I got to meet people like Frank Klausz, Chris Schwarz, Roy Underhill, Mike Dunbar and Adam Cherubini. Just to name a few. Like any other event like this there was more than enough praise and complaints to go around. I tried to keep the fact that this is the first time Popular woodworking has ever put on a show like this. Sure, there were going to be problems. Overall I felt very good about the show.

My main complaint was the the class length. Some classes were about 1.5 hours and some were about 2.5 hours. Some of the instructors had a 2.5 hour time slot with 1 hour of material to share. You would see a lot of people just get up and leave when the instructors seemed like they were just passing time. People wanted to get the vendor area to look at tools, or get a jump start on their walk back across campus.

I do think It would be nice if everyone who attended the conference had a chance to take a hands on class. That class should be of the 2.5 hour variety. My hands on class was a mess from the minute I signed up. I signed up for a hands on class that was later canceled and got moved to another class. This class was scheduled to be a 1.5 hour class and later got downgraded from hands on to demonstration. I decided this class wasn't worth the walk across campus and just took that time to buy some tools.

On a positive note I was very impressed by some of the instructors. Frank Klausz really shined. His personality kept everyone involved. I just wish I had signed up for one of Roy Underhill's classes. I'm sure he had some very interesting classes.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Dovetailing Continued

I thought a follow up in order on my dovetailing efforts. Dovetails, especially hand-cut dovetails, are very intimidating to most of us. I have unveiled the mysticism behind dovetails but I do still need a little help with my hand tool usage. Here is a pic of some of my early dovetails...

The top one is red oak and the bottom is treated pine. These where just some boards I had laying around the shop. Thought It would be good to do both a hard and soft woods. Here is a pic of workbench and tools I've been using to cut the dovetails. You could probably get all of the tools, workbench and and all, for under $200.

I haven't had time to cut and dovetails for a few days so I thought I better get back out there keep this fresh in my mind. I'm a little amazed that these dovetails look ok...not great...but not bad for a guy who has cut less than 10 dovetails joints in his life. Here's some pics of the Latest attempt...

And The Money Shot...

You don't have to be a critic to see a ton of flaws with what I have done. Bad sawing, poor chiseling, and careless dings just to name a few. After all is said and done...those look undeniably like dovetails. A little glue and a goining over with a plane and I think they would look pretty reasonable.

Now that I have the concept down I'm looking for a few tools that will make my life a little easier. Like a dovetail layout tool, butt chisel set, maybe a 2" engineer square, or even a LN Progressive Pitch Dovetail Saw. I know upgrading the tools probably won't make me a better dovetailer but maybe they will make practice more enjoyable. Who knows maybe I'll find some new tools at the Woodworking In America Conference this weekend?

Friday, November 7, 2008


Dovetailing by hand is something that I a going to have to be proficient at.  Its the obvious choice for drawers and many carcass assemblies.  When customers see dovetails in a project it automatically elevates their opinion of the piece.

So I began my quest some time ago by watching dovetailing video's.  So far I have watch Frank Klausz's "Dovetail a Drawer" and Jim Kingshott's "Dovetails Made Easy."  Sadly I haven't watch Rob Cosman's video yet, although I have seen his method on short clips on the internet.  All Of these guys have their own method.  I feel you will impedes your learning if you keep trying different methods.  So I decided to pick the one that I felt was the best overall and run with it.  I chose Frank Klausz's method for 3 reasons:
  • Speed:  Frank has a certain amount of emphasis and being fast at this process.  He mentions in his video that he charges 20 minutes labor for each drawer.
  • Streamlined Process:  I feel that one way to tell how efficient a method is, is to see how many tools are involved in the process.  Frank only uses a dovetail saw, chisel, mallet,  and a pencil.  It doesn't get much more streamlined than that. There is virtually no layout for Frank's method.  I would be done with the joint using Frank's method before I could get the dovetails laid out using other methods.
  • Strength over vanity:  Most of the dovetails I have seen Cosman and Kingshott cut have very small pins.  This is supposed to be more visually appealing at the cost of loosing strength.  I'm a utilitarian guy,  I use this joint for its strength, first and foremost.  Guess this is what draws me to Shaker furniture.  Frank's method yields dovetails and pins that are roughly the same size.  Which also produces optimal strength.
So I began my quest.  Armed with a $20 Lynx dovetail saw and almost no hand sawing experience.  The first thing I did was watch Frank's video half a dozen times.  Just trying to pick up on the subtleties I may have missed.  Frank goes way to fast for you to pick up on everything the first time through.  After letting that info soak in for a while I went out to shop and give it a whirl.  It was ugly but I did learn a lot.  I was just happy that even though it was ugly it was surprisingly strong.  The biggest problem is I was trying to do it exactly like frank does.  He doesn't have to mark a few things that I do.  For instance he doesn't carry his layout lines across the end grain so that you can tell if you are cutting straight across the board.  So feeling bold one morning I decided to give it another shot but put a few more layout lines on the work.  I was simply amazed.  While the joints weren't perfect, they were d*mn good.  Especially for someone with no real sawing experience.  So I'm thinking this must be a fluke.  Go out the next morning cut the dovetails off my board and begin anew.  It looked a little better.  Still a few gaps, but not bad.  While my joints aren't great they are consistent.  So with a little practice I think I will have this thing down.

Its less than week before the Woodworking in America Conference.  Its no coincidence that I have 3 classes with Frank.  Two of them being dovetail classes.  Maybe I'll pick up on something at the workshop's that will propel me forward.