Time well spent

I spent a few hours this weekend cutting up a small cherry tree that came down in one of this winter’s ice storms. The sumptuous spring weather, the screams of the chainsaw (I do like most any kind of saw, so long as it is sharp), and the exhilirating scents of fresh sawdust and two-stroke exhaust conspired to stimulate all of the senses and push all cares to the side.

While the joy of being outside was reward enough for the labor, the wood haul made it even better. While the main pursuit was to salvage a blank large enough to make a dough bowl, I ended up with enough quartersawn lumber for at least a dozen saw handles, as well as some turning stock. But the most intriguing piece turned out to be a slab I cut from the crotch of the tree.

I haven’t had much luck cutting crotch wood in the past, but decided to give this one a try; after all, the only cost was my time and some small amount of gas. Having seen a few walnut crotches cut, I have learned that if there is any figure to be had, it is strongest and most interesting when cut along the plane that all three of the piths run in. If you center a cut on the piths, you will end up with bookmatched slabs. The figure also fades away very quickly as you move away from this plane. Usually these two slabs will be the only ones with desirable figure, although an exceptional crotch may give another slab on either side (the slabs I have cut are typically sawn at 5/4).

Milling freehand with a chainsaw is not the most accurate method of sawing (not to mention the kerf it takes), so I roughed out a slab about three inches thick, centered on the piths. The figure on the cut surfaces was obscured by the roughness, but didn’t seem particularly inspiring. Since it was free, I threw it in the trunk with the rest of the lumber anyway, and went home.

Slab straight off of the chainsaw.

The slab straight off of the chainsaw. In this picture, the base of the tree was to right, and the rounded notch on the left was where the tree forked.

 

Although I intended to do nothing more with it that day, it sat there in my shop calling out plaintively to me. By now I was shirking shop-cleaning duty, so decided to soothe my conscience by actually doing some work. I set into the slab with my trusty Disston 196 docking saw, a 30 inch beast that was refiled to a rip profile years ago, and has served admirably for resawing since then.

Opening a piece of wood like this is always a bit breathtaking. Rather, I should say that resawing by hand is breathtaking; waiting for the first glimpse of the newly cleaved surface is more accurately described as nerve-wracking. Pockets of bark, rot, or cracks can turn a half hour of handsawing into pointless exercise. But sometimes you get lucky and the wood turns out to be special. Today I was lucky.

The first glimpse of some very nice figured crotch.

The first glimpse of some very nice figured crotch.

A close-up shot of the figure.

A close-up shot of the figure.

The docking saw I use for a lot of my resawing.

The docking saw I use for a lot of my resawing.

What remains of the slabs after trimming off any visible cracks and defects.

What remains of the slabs after trimming off any visible cracks and defects.

 

After trimming off all of the visible cracks, I coated the end grain and both sides of the slabs with AnchorSeal, a wax-based emulsion that slows down moisture loss. In my limited experience, cutting the wood into a narrow strip and slowing down moisture loss is the most reliable way of avoiding degradation of crotch wood. If all goes well, these slabs will yield a half dozen beautiful handles in a year or two.

Posted in Wood | 1 Comment

Crafts of New Jersey Spring Tool Auction 2014 (April 12)

For several years I have been a member of CRAFTS, a tool collecting club in New Jersey, and it remains one of the best clubs I have participated in. From the get-go, they welcomed me and the saw elves, making us feel at home.

While the four regular meetings are always worth attending, the Spring Tool Auction (and Fall Picnic) is not to be missed. With over 500 lots, the auction features tools that range from user grade to highly collectible.

Tailgating (a great attraction in its own right) begins around 6 am, and is free for buyers (sellers need to be members, or pay a $15 table fee).

The auction preview begins at 7:30 am; selling begins at 9:30 am. A full pdf list of the lots is available online.

I will also have a few of my saws and kits there for people to look at and try.

And once again, the saw elves will be selling their home-baked cookies.

 

CRAFTS of New Jersey Spring Tool Auction 2014

Saturday, April 12 2014

Tailgating begins at 6:00 am

Auction begins at 9:30 am (preview begins at 7:30 am)

Oldwick Fire House

Rt 523 Oldwick, NJ 08889

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Who ya callin’ yeller?

This is one of my latest saws, a ten inch dovetail saw. I made it for myself, so it is a left-handed model (bolt heads and stamp on what is usually considered the back side of the saw).

The handle is made of yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea), a tree native to the southeastern United States. I came across it at a local sawmill, and couldn’t resist its distinctive (and downright unusual, if not jarring) color and attractive grain. Pennsylvania is a bit outside of its normal range, but I am happy to have found it. The color is not for everyone, but its oddity appeals to me. I am told the wood is colorfast, so time will tell if I tire of it.

The wood is fairly dense, but worked well with hand tools and took a great finish (there are several coats of Tru-Oil on this handle). From a materials property standpoint, it is a wonderful wood for a handle. The color? I leave the passing of judgment on that matter to you.

Ten inch dovetail saw with yellowwood handle. Left-handed model.

Ten inch dovetail saw with yellowwood handle. Left-handed model.

Yellowwood handle with inlaid bolts.

Yellowwood handle with inlaid bolts.

Yellowwood handle, show side.

Yellowwood handle, show side.

Detail of yellowwood handle.

Detail of yellowwood handle.

Detail of yellowwood handle.

Detail of yellowwood handle.

Detail of yellowwood handle.

Detail of yellowwood handle.

Detail of yellowwood handle showing bark inclusions and colored epoxy fill.

Detail of yellowwood handle showing bark inclusions and colored epoxy fill.

Detail of yellowwood handle.

Detail of yellowwood handle.

Detail of yellowwood handle showing bark inclusions and colored epoxy fill.

Detail of yellowwood handle showing bark inclusions and colored epoxy fill.

Closeup of Blackburn stamp on back.

Closeup of Blackburn stamp on back.

Posted in Completed saws - gratuitous pictures | 6 Comments

Woodworker’s Showcase 2014 report

The Woodworker’s Showcase was larger than I had anticipated. Although I had precious little time to wander around, there was an impressive array of woodworking talent on display, ranging from small carvings and turnings to a teardrop camper and Adirondack guide boat, with a little bit of everything in between.

I was able to meet several online friends, and was encouraged (and a little surprised, I must admit) to hear that a few people have actually read this blog or portions of my website.

By far, however, the most exciting highlight of my weekend was watching a handful of kids pick up and try some of my saws. Watching their shock at being allowed to play with real tools give way to the excitement of cutting all on their own was immensely gratifying, and was enough to make the trip worthwhile.

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Woodworker’s Showcase 2014 (March 29 & 30)

Now that tailgating under a full moon (sure wish I had a picture of that) is done (I told you that PATINA started early), I am preparing for my next show. I am particularly excited to travel to Saratoga Springs, NY to participate in this weekend’s Woodworker’s Showcase, the annual woodworking exposition hosted by the Northeastern Woodworkers Association. Not only do I have a two day furlough from the shop, but I have the privelege of spending it amongst some of the finest furniture and toolmakers in the nation.

Besides woodworking vendors, there are lectures and classes throughout the weekend, exhibits, and hundreds of woodworking pieces on display.

Woodworker’s Showcase 2014

Saturday & Sunday, March 29 & 30

10:00 – 5:00 (both days)

Saratoga Springs City Center

522 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY

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Frame saw build along – hardware design

The hardware for this saw has three functions. It must hold the blade in tension, accommodate blade rotation (when desired), and hold a turned handle. Of these, the first and last are nearly trivial. The second, to allow rotation, yet lock securely when tensioned, is a little more troublesome.

My first design placed an O-ring between the handle and the arm of the frame, hoping that it might provide enough friction to lock the blade in place when it was tensioned. I had some reservations concerning the viability and durability of this design, but went so far as to make the tooling for cutting the O-ring seat.

I had read in the past that some (or maybe most) old frame saws used tapered pins to prevent rotation, but could not think of a good way to make them. When Tony (of Raven’s Edge Toolworks) brought up tapered pins on the WoodNet Hand Tool forum, I started considering them a little more seriously.

The traditional pin is tapered over most of its length. Presumably, the hole it fits into is also reamed out with a matching taper. Now, I have a few tapered reamers, but the idea of using wood as the bearing surface for the pin does not appeal to me. I know that this design has worked well for hundreds of years and millions of people, but still…

Last night, I finally realized that a flanged sleeve with an internal taper (to match that on the pin) might be an even better solution. The flange of the sleeve bears on the outside of the arm, preventing it from being pulled through, while the sleeve eliminates metal on wood wear.

I spent several hours this afternoon at my lathe, and came up with the prototype below. For two reasons, the taper is shorter and steeper than is usually seen. It is easier and faster than turning a long taper, but I also hope that it will be less prone to sticking when the blade is loosened.

The pins are made from two pieces of brass. The blade end is bored out to receive the smaller (handle) end, then the two are soldered together.  This is faster and easier than machining the entire part from a solid bar.

The flanged sleeve is made from steel that was heated to 550 degrees in an oven, then wiped down with mineral oil. This heat “bluing” provides some measure of protection against rust.

Frame saw pins and sleeves, picture 1.

Frame saw pins and sleeves, picture 1.

Frame saw pins and sleeves, picture 2.

Frame saw pins and sleeves, picture 2.

Frame saw pin and sleeve, picture 3

Frame saw pin and sleeve, picture 3.

Posted in Saw design, Saw making | 8 Comments

Burr saw toother update

For the past month, I have been sporadically working on the Burr toother I bought in January. While the machine had little wear, it did need some attention. The most pressing need was to sharpen the punch and die. A few minutes on my friend’s grinder took care of that.

Grinding the die.

Grinding the die.

 

When the grinding was done, I mentioned needing a new motor for it. I should have known that he would have the perfect one for this machine – a 1/4 HP Wagner, decades older than the machine itself, with classic cast iron styling. Weighing in at over 30 pounds, there is nothing frail about this motor.

This has no particular elevance, but you have to appreciate the beauty and durability of this nameplate.

This has no particular relevance, but you have to appreciate the beauty and durability of this nameplate.

 

Other than a light cleaning, the machine itself needed no real work. The design is simple, rugged, and machined to very tight tolerances. A few new bolts and nuts and a spring  were all that was needed to bring it back to good operating condition.

Broken down and cleaned.

Broken down, cleaned, and ready for reassembly.

Setting the clearance between the die and punch. I used a sheet of newspaper for a shim.

Setting the clearance between the die and punch. I used a sheet of newspaper for a shim.

Marking out the scale for rake angles. The toother can be set for any rake angle between 0 and 30 degrees.

Marking out the scale for rake angles. The toother can be set for any rake angle between 0 and 30 degrees.

Another view of the toother and motor.

Another view of the toother and motor.

The finished toother.

The finished toother.

The back side of the toother and motor.

The back side of the toother and motor.

 

The carrier and ratchet bars were a little rough, and only went as fine as 11 ppi. Since most of my saws are more finely toothed than that, I had a new set of ratchets and carriers made. Unlike the original ratchet bars, the new ones are double-sided, and are cut for 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 ppi. By skipping every other tooth, they can also do 5, 5 1/2, 6, 6 1/2, 7, 7 1/2, 8, and 8 1/2 ppi, respectively. Yes, the math to come up with those numbers makes my head hurt, too.

The new carrier and ratchet bars.

The new carrier and ratchet bars.

The carrier is made in two pieces, then spot welded together.

The carrier is made in two pieces, then spot welded together.

The stop that the ratchet bars butt up to. Unlike the original ratchet bars, the new ones are double-sided.

The stop that the ratchet bars butt up to. Unlike the original ratchet bars, the new ones are double-sided.

A ratchet bar in place.

A ratchet bar in place.

 

Since the new carrier looked so much better than the old, I needed to make new clamps for it. These are made from bronze bar, with a milled slot for relief and clearance, and have brass studs soldered into them.

Bronze bar for clamps, after milling and tapping.

Bronze bar for clamps, after milling and tapping.

Bronze bar cut into lengths, with threaded rods.

Bronze bar cut into lengths, with threaded rods.

Threaded rods soldered into bars.

Threaded rods soldered into bars.

How the clamps work.

How the clamps work.

 

With all of the hard work done, there was nothing left but to spin it up and punch a few teeth. The first video shows the toother on a dry run. The second shows me toothing a scrap piece of saw plate to 10 ppi, and the third is a dimly lit closeup view of the punch. Because they were taken before I got the new carrier back from the welder, I used the old carrier bar. It works exactly the same as the new, but the new looks much better doing it.

 

 

 

 

Test plate after toothing.

Test plate after toothing.

Closeup of test teeth. The rake on this is about 30 degrees, which is rather relaxed.

Closeup of test teeth. The rake on this is about 30 degrees, which is rather relaxed.

Posted in Saw filing, Saw making, Tools of a saw wright | 5 Comments

Frame saw build along – wood selection and design

I have wanted to build a frame saw for years. I have no pressing need for one, and don’t know if I will use it regularly, but have always admired the graceful forms that some of these saws take on.

I am fortunate to have accumulated a variety of domestic woods over the years, and have access to even more. I thought of using black locust, ash, and a few others, but finally settled on beech. Strengthwise, it is comparable to ash and within spitting distance of most hickories and black locust. Although splitting or riving the arms from the log was my first instinct, I already have a large amount of straight-grained and quartersawn beech. It has been air drying for 18 months, and its moisture content is down to around 12%, so work can begin immediately.

Measuring the moisture content.

Measuring the moisture content.

Quarter-sawn and stright grained, with some nice ray flecking.

Quarter-sawn and stright grained, with some nice ray flecking.

 

With the wood chosen, I moved on to sketching out the arms. Almost everything I have drawn in the last few years has been done with a mouse and on a screen. While the computer has certain advantages, I dug out my old lead holders, French curves, scales, and eraser, and sat down at the kitchen table for this project.

The next several hours were very enjoyable, and reminded me of just how easy it is to get lost with a pencil and paper. The different feels of soft and hard lead on paper, sketching out and shifting lines, shading, and erasing – these all provide freedom from the mathematical constraints of computerized design.

To really understand why a tool has the form it does, there is no better start than to begin sketching it out. Try changing the shapes, curves, and proportions, and you will most likely learn that, for the most part, these shapes have evolved deliberately and logically.

As a case in point, my first sketch had the arms curving outwards. The shape pleased me, and I wondered why I had never seen it elsewhere. As I sketched on, I realized that the outward curve would force the tensioning string to slip down towards the stretcher. While the string can be held in place by passing it through an eye or around a nock, the better design uses the geometry of the curves to keep it in its place.

An early sketch. When the cord is tensioned, it will wedge itself into the return of the eye.

An early sketch. When the cord is tensioned, it will wedge itself into the return of the eye.

 

I finally finished this design in the early hours of the morning, and think it will be a good jumping off point. It will undoubtedly be refined (hopefully for the better) as I translate the sketch into wood. For now, the sketch hangs above my bench where I can glance at it throughout the day. Doing this is a good way for me to see it from different angles and through fresh (and sometimes tired) eyes, often revealing subtle imperfections and unfaired curves.

Sketch of the arm and stretcher.

Sketch of the arm and stretcher.

 

Since this is my first frame saw, there will be some missteps along the way. If anyone has some friendly advice or criticism about the project, I welcome your comments.

Posted in Saw design, Saw making | 3 Comments

PATINA Auction 2014 (Saturday, March 15)

The annual PATINA auction is one of the largest and best old tool events around, and for the second consecutive year, the saw elves and I will make the short trek to set up and sell some of our tools.

I am the least of the attractions, however.

If the weather cooperates, tailgating starts at 0-dark-thirty (seriously, it starts well before any sane person is up), and continues into the early afternoon. There are dozens of sellers set up, and many bargains to be found. Do make sure to bring a flashlight, though, or you may never find them.

Early entry into the hall begins at eight (for a $15 fee), and opens to all at nine (no charge). Inside are scores of dealers and sellers, with tools ranging from affordable users to the rare and collectible.

Finally, the auction begins at 2 pm, and goes until all 291 lots have been sold.

And if you need any further incentive, the elves have been hard at work baking cookies. They will have their shop set up during tailgating and inside the hall, with some of the best homemade cookies and hot chocolate around.

 

PATINA 2014

Saturday, 15 March

10211 Lewis Drive, Damascus, MD 20872

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Closing the slot: An addendum to “Saw build along – Back, Part III”

One of the posts in my saw build along series showed how I squeeze the slot closed so that the blade is held in the back by friction. Although this works well for me, it requires the use of a hydraulic press that is not likely to be found in most workshops. The method shown below requires nothing more than an ordinary machinist’s or mechanic’s vise and two short pieces of aluminum angle.

Before squeezing the slot closed, I now chamfer the edges of the blade slot slightly. I use an old needle file to cut the chamfer, but any file with a sharp corner will work. This chamfer, along with the roundover on the edge of the blade, makes it easier to install the blade into the back.

Chamfering the edges of the blade slot.

Chamfering the edges of the blade slot.

Chamfering the edges of the blade slot.

Chamfering the edges of the blade slot.

End view of back or spine.

End view of back or spine.

 

 

To squeeze the slot, I line the jaws of the vise with aluminum angle to prevent the steel jaws from marring the brass. I had some 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 1/8″ angle laying around, but the actual size is not too important.

To concentrate the force on a shorter section of the back, I cut one of the pieces to 1″, which means that you will need to squeeze the blade in 1″ increments along its length. I also trimmed one of the legs to a 3/8″ width so that I could keep the force at the edge of the back (first picture below).

Squeezing slot closed, end view.

Squeezing slot closed, end view.

Squeezing slot closed, top view.

Squeezing slot closed, top view.

 

There are a few things to keep in mind when doing this:

  • The force required to close the slot in a brass back is much greater than that for a bronze back.
  • The slots in brass backs will spring back open when the vise is opened, and may require multiple squeezes before it takes a set.
  • If you are unable to generate enough force to close the slot up, try a bigger vise. Or, cut the angle shorter; by halving the length of the aluminum angle, you effectively double the force applied to the back.
  • A set of feeler gauges is invaluable in measuring how wide the slot is. These have many uses around the shop, and can be had for short money at most auto parts or hardware store.
  • Aim for a slot that is about 0.002″ – 0.009″ narrower than the blade (the thicker the blade, the more you can close the slot up without getting in trouble). This difference generates enough friction to securely hold the blade without making it overly difficult to install the blade.  For the math averse, I have included a short table at the end showing the slot widths that I use for various blades.
  • Above all, take it slowly. It is far, far easier to squeeze the blade back (Corrected 28 Feb 2014. Does no one proofread these entries? – Ed.) a little more than it is to try installing a blade into a slot that is mashed shut.
Feeler gauge set.

Feeler gauge set.

Blade thickness and slot width table. Includes metric measurements for use in the civilized (civilised?) world.

Blade thickness and slot width table. Includes metric measurements for use in the civilized (civilised?) world.

 

Posted in Saw making | 4 Comments