Category Archives: Woodworking

Tech Talk: Building Tradition with a Spokeshave

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.

The spokeshave is ideal to shape this broadsword.

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.

Scrapers, spokeshaves, and hand planes.

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.

Replica broadsword.

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.

New Life – Small Scale

Our woodworking challenge for November was to work on a small scale.  I decided this would be the perfect time for a refinishing project that I have had on my list.

My find after general and basic repairs to drawer fronts.
My find after cleaning and basic repairs to drawer fronts.

The Original Find

This was one of my ‘street finds’ that someone had thrown in the garbage.  When I found it, there was no top and the drawers were stacked beside the carcass.  It had been exposed to some rain so there was slight water damage.  The carcass was strong and needed only minor repairs. There were four small drawers that were in generally good shape but required some touch up and cleaning.  Two of the drawer fronts had to be repaired or replaced.

One drawer was lined with felt and had clearly been home to a mouse family at some point.   Not too appealing but the felt could be fairly easily removed and the drawer completely cleaned.

The Refinishing Process

The first step was to remove the extra large base.   My plan was to make the finish project look more like a small scale chest of drawers and the base didn’t seem to fit that design style.  I wanted to see if I needed to replace the bottom and thought about perhaps making small feet.  Once I took off the bottom, I decided that the piece was sturdy enough and  did not require a new smaller bottom added.  I did not add feet but might still do that.  If I do go that way, I will first add a plywood base for stability and weight distribution.

It turned out that the base was solid at about 1 1/4 inches thick with a decorative edging.  I would like to know what was on the top as it would likely have been solid as well.  I wonder if this might have been part of a larger piece.   I chose to trim down the bottom and make use of the decorative edging as a top.  By trimming, the decorative edge on the side was lost.  Fortunately, we had a router bit that duplicated the edge quite closely.  The other alternative would have been a straight side with a rounded edge.

The bottom had been screwed in place so there were existing screw holes that fit the top dimensions.   Typically, the top would be screwed in from the bottom so the holes would not show on the top but since I  didn’t want to take the carcass apart unnecessarily, I decided to live with the holes and cover them with plugs later.  This also results in the option of removing the top later.

With all the touch-ups and repairs completed, I sanded everything through several phases down to 400 grit sand paper.  I chose to finish with shellac because Stephen had just picked some up for another project.  I haven’t worked with shellac have been wanting to try it.  I applied three coats using a foam brush and sanding with fine grit between coats.

Top drawer after felt removed and top sanded.
Top drawer after felt removed and top sanded.

While the outside pieces were drying,   I removed the old felt and cleaned the drawer then made sure top and bottom were level.  The belt sander came in handing for smoothing and removing last bits of the felt from the top surface.

The Results

Here is my finished scale model set of drawers.  Actually, it is not technically an official scale of a larger project  – at least not a specific one that I had in mind – but at 21″ h x 12 “d x 9″w, it is a small version of a full size dresser, perfect for jewellery, art supplies or other small treasures.  The top currently has plugs that are slightly proud (not flush). Stephen calls that a ‘feature’ but I have not decided whether to leave them like that or cut them flat.  Either way, I might put a piece of glass on top, which could be used to hold favourite images.

 

2×4 and Tech Challenges

 

The 2×4 Challenge

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

Tech Talk: Traditional Technology

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

Renaissance Man or ADD?

Today’s post is written by Stephen Parsons.

Leonardo DaVinci – the Maestro

I have long been fascinated by the life and work of Leonardo Davinci. So, when my wife and I traveled to Italy in 2015, we sought out opportunities to explore historic sites that were connected to  the maestro. This renaissance painter, sculptor, mathematician, physician, builder, inventor and philosopher (among other talents) is an inspiration to me. My own Portfolio speaks to my curiosita and interest in numerous fields inspired, in part, by Davinci and other renaissance men. But recently, I came to wonder if I (and the maestro, for that matter) are actually renaissance men, or simply suffering attention deficit? Continue reading Renaissance Man or ADD?

Work in Progress: Passing the Torch

Today’s post was written by Stephen Parsons.

Warren Ervine – 1988 Olympic Torchbearer

Warren Ervine may not look like a legend, but thirty years ago, he did something extraordinary – something that only a few Canadians will ever do. Warren ran a leg of the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Calgary in 1988. On February 20, during our country’s sesquicentennial birthday celebration he will relive that event at the annual Sackville Business Association Snow Days Parade with a replica of the torch that he held high in ’88. That’s where I came in… Continue reading Work in Progress: Passing the Torch

For the Love of Wood

Today’s post is written by Stephen Parsons

The wood hoard…

As a kid, my first impressions of wood were those concerning its utility. Wood was for whittlin’, buildin’, and burnin’ and I knew certain woods were better at those things than others. As I got a little older and had the chance to work with my Dad in his workshop, I came to recognize distinctions between species and cuts of wood. To this day, I believe that one of the things that may have set me on a path to enjoy woodworking so much was the smell of wood in that workshop and the appreciation of the distinct odors of cedar, spruce, pine and birch. Continue reading For the Love of Wood

Tech Tuesday: That Internet Thing

Today’s post is written by Stephen Parsons

The staff at my office think that either I am becoming totally antisocial or have a secret affair going on. While they are gathering in the lunch room to share their sandwiches and a little office gossip, I heat up my bit of soup or leftover chili and biscuits, then skulk off to my office Continue reading Tech Tuesday: That Internet Thing