OK – so if you are going to be isolated, you might as well be isolated to your workshop. Except, of course – the workshop is not looking for the moment like the kind of shop I want to be isolated in. It’s truly a mess.
So how did I get here you ask? Well, I don’t tend to beat myself up over any situation I get myself into – it’s more of an amusement to ask the question and maybe a chance for a lesson learned – hopefully not one that I will have to learn again if I can figure out how to avoid it in future. The answer to the question this time is a bit complex, but not hard to understand: several commissions landing at the same time as we launch a new line of products (our PlayBall game boards); our coming into a large collection of wood from a long time woodworker who is retiring and (urgently) moving from his home; a chance opportunity to get another large quantity of wood from a local museum (from disassembled weaving looms); and then there’s a little pandemic thrown in for good measure sucking the energy out of me for any normal Spring cleaning. And all of this six months from when we hoped to build our new wood storage/ solar kiln (more to come soon).
So the shop has become a bit of a dumping ground and there are at least six projects underway, several buried under the rubble somewhere. Where to start, where to start? OK, so this is the setup. The next few blogs will chronicle what I hope will be an incredible transition to the workshop of my dreams. Better still, the workshop of YOUR dreams! Feel free to throw in ideas about how to organize this effort. Wish me luck.
I have, lately, been reading Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens – a Brief History of Mankind” – a fascinating story about our evolution from simple and unspectacular members of the ape family to become the most powerful, dangerous, and innovative creatures on the planet. Imagining Harari’s description of Neanderthals and early sapiens who made tools (and weapons) with wood and stone, I can’t help but wonder if after making that first stone spear or cutting instrument, that early human might have next thought “maybe I can make a jig for that”? Or “Where can I find a new sharpening device for that”?
I am not alone in this thinking, Interviewing the new Chair of our local woodworker’s association, I was reminded of this theme when I asked how he came into woodworking. He told me his story about how his wife went to a wine convention and while she was away he decided to build a small wine box for her. He bought a few tools, built the box, and both of them were pleased with the result. So, he began to imagine other projects and bought more tools, and so on… and the workshop tool collection has continued to evolve ever since. I suspect that many woodworkers can tell a similar story.
Just before Christmas, we were able to purchase a new cabinet table saw to replace our aging contractor-grade unit, a piece of equipment that had gotten us as far as it could but reaching its limits of utility. It was a significant investment for a small firm like ours but the thought was that we would not have to make such an investment for a very long time – maybe never again. What we hadn’t counted on, perhaps, were the other supporting investments that this one might require. For example, because the format of the saw top was very different than the previous unit, nearly every related jig and appliance we owned was now useless. So, time, money and material gets invested in building a whole new collection of tools to support the one I just bought.
Now I am not complaining about building jigs – as you will know if you have ever read my four-part series on the Joy of Jigs. Anyway, it was great to be able to take my cross-cut sled to the next level. But it doesn’t end there. Having a new powerful saw means a new dust collection solution, a few new blades, maybe a new dado set – and let’s not forget a new built-in router insert (since the old one won’t fit the extension wing) and, oh yes, I can finally get one of those nice adjustable clamping units that fit right over that new fence. And, by the way, since adding the new table means I now have almost all I need to do another kind of project I’ve been considering, I might as well just fill in that gap, too by buying the remaining things to finish up.
Thankfully, some of the existing jigs and tools could simply be re-configured like my favourite box-joint jig (aka The Beast) that really only needed to have the miter slider moved by about an inch to fit where the slot is located in the new saw. I’ve no doubt, however, that in the coming months I will find even more absolutely invaluable complementary devices and supports to acquire that will ultimately eclipse and surpass the initial investment in the saw. It’s just one of those unwritten “laws” of shop evolution (tools beget tools) – and just maybe, a primitive instinct – for woodworkers everywhere.
In April, Mary Elizabeth addressed traditional technology in one of our Tech Talk blog posts. Her post focused on hand planes, one of Mary Elizabeth’s (and my) favorite tools. The typical woodworker has at least four or five unique purpose planes (flattening, smoothing, shaping, profiling, etc.) of varying sizes – some so distinct from another that it is hard to reckon them to be in the same class of tools.
I was making a pair of replica broadswords for my son and grandson this week and – after preliminary cutting and shaping – had to refine the angles and surfaces of the swords’ blades. The right tool for this, in my mind is the lowly spokeshave and so I reached for one of mine to help me with this task. Evolving from primitive shaping tools like the draw knife and scraper, and considered to be a form of hand plane, the spokeshave has been around for eons in one form or another. Like all hand planes, a spokeshave may have a cap iron and a frog, is set up against the work with a sole , and slices off fine shavings using a fixed position blade that goes through the body. For me, that’s about where the similarities end.
I find that the spokeshave is much more versatile wherever practical, and, moreover, more tactile than typical flat-sole hand planes. This is in part because the motion is a pulling one using a set of handles at the side of the body (of course, there are many other planes that use a pulling motion). The sole may be flat, convex or concave depending on its function but, in either case, it takes practice to get the shave to address the surface for optimum effect. It also takes (and gives) a feel for the wood and the grain that is very special. When you have addressed the grain and surface well, long thin shavings feed out from the mouth of the unit with consistent dimensions, and the wood surface takes on a beautiful smoothness that is often ready for finish without any additional sanding or other surface preparation. The feel of that spokeshave slicing through the wood (as felt through those winged handles) is like no other tool I know.
Bill Howe’s presentation to the Atlantic Woodworkers’ Association in April inspired me to think about and use the spokeshave more and so I find I am increasingly going to it in projects of this nature – not only because it is an effective tool, but also because the feel of working with a spokeshave is extremely gratifying. For me there is also a sense that I am working with an ages-old technology/ tool using traditional techniques – and that, in itself, is certainly appealing.
In the current project, this sense of building and preserving tradition is even more enhanced since what I am making is a traditional weapon that dates back to the 6th century and which endured for centuries. The broadsword was used in battle by medieval knights and was considered one of the knight’s most prized assets. For training and tournaments, rebated (blunted) and wooden swords were used to limit injury and so there must have been a time when wooden swords like this were being made to closely replicate the look and feel of their iron counterparts. I can imagine some 11th century woodsmith or swordsmith sitting down to a similar task with a spokeshave or draw knife to carve those same sword facets for a Lancelot or a Galahad.
Anon, with spokeshave at hand, I must away to this labor of love.
This week, I have been finishing a 2×4 Challenge through Taylor Timber Mart in Musquodobit Harbour. If you are a woodworker, you might be familiar with the 2×4 challenge idea, which is popular with guilds and online woodworking groups. The challenge is to create a unique project from a single 2×4, usually construction-grade wood. This is not the best wood to work with but its availability and low cost making this contest great for woodworkers of all levels. Rules can vary. For this contest, rules are simple– you pick up a free 8’ 2×4 and create anything you like as long as it is comprised of 90% wood from the supplied 2×4 and no more than 10% of any other elements (adhesive, fasteners, decorative features…), determined by weight. Continue reading 2×4 and Tech Challenges→
The Eastern Shore has a great new service for quilters. Wendy Pehrsson has opened Songbird Quilter in Lawrencetown. Songbird offers longarm instruction and rental services to help people finish their quilts without the expense of purchasing a longarm. After a short orientation session, quilters can rent Wendy’s machine by the hour to complete projects at a very reasonable rates.
This weekend when we were puttering in the shop, Stephen and I chatted about some ongoing projects. It is a rare occasion that we are both in the woodshop at the same time because of the size and layout, combined with the fact that about 1/3 of our area is currently being used for storage and work-in-progress. In addition, when we are both in there creating, usually there are power tools that preclude much conversation. Continue reading Tech Talk: Traditional Technology→
The topic of today’s technology in art creation post is machine embroidery. Some people have pretty strong opinions about the look of machine embroidery and I didn’t use to be much of a fan myself. However, when I decided to invest in a new machine and started researching options, I became more interested and I purchased a quilting / embroidery machine. The embroidery offered opportunity to create patterns, customize gifts, and add simple designs for quilting on finished projects. Continue reading Tech Talk: Machine Embroidery→
As a web application developer around the start of the 21st century, I recall the beginning of the e-commerce era as being one of extremely complex and technical development. I developed and taught e-commerce/ e-marketing programs at Holland College and Nova Scotia Community College from about 1998 through 2003 when the depth of technical knowledge that both developers and business owners needed to implement e-commerce was substantial, often prohibitively so for small craft businesses like ours. Continue reading Tech Tuesday: Selling Art & Crafts Online→