The Blog’s Namesake’s Little Brother

One of the first (and still best) hand tools I made was my bowsaw… courtesy of the excellent class at the Dallas Woodcraft store. Howard Hale’s bowsaw class was great, but it’s sadly been discontinued due to unavailability of the blades. But the design was great, and has some distinct advantages over some traditional designs. The blade is fairly big – about 1 1/4″ wide – and works for everything from breaking down stock to cutting dovetails.

But sometimes, I’ve longed for something a little finer – more like a coping saw. Let’s face it; commercial coping saws either A) suck or B) are waaaay too expensive titanium-framed creatures. Gramercy Tools makes an excellent small bowsaw ($150), and sells the hardware separately… just handle pins and blades. The blades are a little unusual; they’re 12″ coping saw blades.

But the construction plans are kind of a pain. It calls for a loose-tenon mount of the stretcher to the frame, and it’s fiddly and often unstable. There’s a tradeoff between stability and flexibility. I found the mount used in my larger bowsaw both easier and more stable, and still allows the right amount of tension. This is the original, and was the namesake of this blog:

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Its little brother is for tight curves, but is essentially the same design: U-shaped joints for the stretcher, but with the narrow blade and excellent mounting hardware from Gramercy tools.

wood-11-of-17This is a five-piece project: two side frames (walnut), the stretcher and handles (walnut and ash), and the tensioning pin (laminated ash and padauk). I traced the original frames and printed an 80% size copy to build from. It was a couple of hours work making the parts on a bandsaw and spindle sander.

wood-10-of-17The handles are octagonal, and the pins from Gramercy are set in with epoxy. I don’t really care for the traditional round handles. These just fit my hand better. (And I steadfastly refuse to own a lathe; all I’d do is make toothpicks all day.) One octagon cut on the table saw, cut into long and short handles, then evened up with a plane on the joinery bench I described in the last post.

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The pins turn freely in the frame. The stretcher took a slight adjustment in the depth of the joint to allow the right amount of tension to be applied.

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The tensioner is wound with some nylon cord. This design will take a lot of tension – you’ll have no problem at all keeping the blade at whatever tension you’d like, and don’t have to worry about stressing the frame. As usual, the parts were finished in a few minutes on the Beall Wood Buff. I should point out that every hand tool I’ve made has been finished the same way, and I’ve never had to retouch one of them – planes, handles, saws, anything.

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The result… smaller, lighter – weighs almost nothing – and turns on a dime.

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And it works as advertised: the 16 tpi blade turns a 1/4″ circle easily, and will likely go much smaller without complaining.

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This is a real keeper. Six hours to make, $25.95 for the pins and three blades, and a trip to the scrap bin for the wood. This one goes front and center in the tool cabinet. And I think my other coping saws go in the next garage sale. There is absolutely no comparison.

Today’s project was brought to you by The Paul Tillotson Trio, Erik Satie, and Bob Culbertson on Chapman Stick.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Ross Henton

September 2016

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Woodworking and Travel: Part 1

When you travel, look around you at the legacy of woodworkers from the past. Remember the work that was done with simple tools, and consider the possibility of making things that outlive yourself. Think of it if you decide that hand planing a board is too much work.

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This view is looking up into the spire of Salisbury Cathedral; one of the most amazing feats of engineering I’ve ever seen. Centuries old. No table saw. No thickness planer. Not even a battery-powered drill. Four hundred steps of climbing just to get high enough to take this photograph.

“In France, we dug trenches ten miles long. We took earth from here and made hills there. We moved entire fields. You wouldn’t believe what we did. It’s possible. It’s just hard work.” – Johnny Shellshocked, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain
I’ve seen a lot of amazing, lasting woodwork while traveling this year. More to come.

(Not to say technology ain’t great. This post comes to you from Virgin America flight 720, somewhere over the Southwest. Ain’t it great.)

Ross Henton
July 2012

Wicked Cool… and How Knot to Make Vise Handles

I read several woodworking magazines. Shop Notes gets browsed and filed, Woodsmith gets read in more detail, Popular Woodworking I read almost cover-to-cover, Wood magazine gets read (mostly), Fine Woodworking I pick up off the newsstand occasionally. The late, (and by me) lamented Woodworking – the finest of them all- gets read again and again and again, and resides in its entirety on my iPad. I look at projects that might be interesting, read the technique articles and tool reviews, and usually extract some things worth keeping. The downside of this armchair-woodworking is that I occasionally find something that is way too cool to not build as soon as I have a chance, no matter what other projects I’m behind on.

A good example of this was something I stumbled on in a back issue of Popular Woodworking (October 2005).  An article by Samuel Peterson called Build an Oil Wicke.  Drop-everything-and-go-build.

If you’ve used hand planes for any length of time, you’ve probably discovered that it helps a great deal if you keep the sole of the plane slightly lubricated.  Some people keep an oily rag handy. I’ve seen some woodworkers with a block of paraffin wax that they swipe over the sole of the plane occasionally.  An oil wicke (or plane wicke) is a beautifully archaic tool – a can or box with a rag soaked in oil.  Before planing and every few strokes, you pull the plane backwards across the rag, and it lightly oils the surface.  It helps prevent chatter, lessens the friction in planing, and helps get you through abrupt ‘catching’ in hard woods.

The article recommended using a tin can inset in a block of wood – and the author had a very cool old Kayes oil can he used, with a removable lid.  I couldn’t find anything but a tuna fish can.  That was out.  Then I remembered a post on The Art of Manliness (one of my favorite blogs), called 22 Manly Ways to Reuse an Altoids Tin. I had one handy (Ginger, of course), and decided it would be perfect for #23.

I had a pretty hefty rectangular scrap of mesquite in the bin left over from the Roubo du Garage. That was ideal, because I wanted the wicke to be heavy enough that it wouldn’t try to slide around the bench in use.  I sawed the top third off the block, and routed out the openings to hold the two pieces, leaving the bottom of the tin protruding about 1/8″ above the block.  (No, I didn’t route out the recesses by hand, and if you’ve ever worked in mesquite, you know why.)  I glued the two pieces in with epoxy, and when finished setting, the lid snaps into place pretty tightly.  I cut the beveled sides of the box, and shaped it with a smoothing plane and the belt sander.  The handle is a piece of scrap left over from the recent picture frame (wine stoppers, box handles, and I’ve still got a couple of feet left over. Who knows?). One coat of danish oil, and a pass through the Beall Wood Buffer.

The article recommended using raw linseed oil (not boiled; it’s a combustion risk) or mineral oil. I have a bottle of camellia oil I use to help prevent rust, and decided to try that.  Not only does it work, it works so beautifully that I had to be careful to hang on to the plane.  One swipe backwards, ten strokes, swipe again.  I’m completely converted, and the wicke looks good enough that I can put it in my tool cabinet without wincing whenever I see it.

Since that went so smoothly (sorry), I decided to piddle around on another shop project I’ve been putting off. One of the problems with woodworking is that it’s self-perpetuating – I tend to spend as much time on small projects for the shop as I do actually making other stuff. 

The handle for my Veritas sliding tail vise is either soft maple or poplar or some other innocuous white wood, and I decided that I wanted to replace it with a mesquite handle to match the other mesquite vise hardware on the Roubo.  Mesquite doweling isn’t exactly available at Lowe’s (surprise, surprise).

I grabbed another scrap of mesquite, milled it square, and clamped it in the vise.  A few minutes with a plane (sliding gracefully thanks to the oil wicke) and a spokeshave, and I had a dowel – even round enough to pass the “roll across the workbench” test.  Beautiful grain; it had a large knot in the middle, as mesquite so often does.  I polished it, screwed the ends back on, and the vise handle no longer glared at me in shining white.

I clamped up a scrap of wood, racked the vise shut, tightened it… and BAM.  The handle shattered across the knot.  D’oh.  What was I thinking? Vise handles take a lot of stress.  Stick to straight grain. <sigh> 

From tree to cutoff to vise handle to firewood.  What a journey for that little piece of mesquite. Meanwhile, it was good practice in planing dowels.

Ross Henton

Cool Tools, and the Beauty of Being Wrong

I like tools. Big surprise to everybody. It’s a rare day when a new tool gets a permanent place in my shop apron, but my new Gerber 600 does.

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It handles well, feels good to use, and it has a lot of functions that I reach for a lot – particularly when I’m doing adjustments or setup to power tools. It saves me going across the shop to the toolboxes and digging around for the pliers/screwdriver/whatever I need to adjust a fence or a jig or whatever the task at hand might be. Merry Christmas to me (thanks, mom).

On the other end of the scale is something very far removed from the various blades, files, and bits of the Gerber. A few Christmases back, I was given a couple of old drawknives. That’s not exactly a tool I reach for every day. Mostly, I just don’t need one. On the occasions I need to round something, I use a spokeshave… and I seldom have to hog off much stock. But recently, I found myself needing one, and decided to reexamine the ones I have.

One is extremely large, and I’ll address it another day. The other, a Fulton #8, is about the right size for the work I needed to do. But it had some problems. (Actually, it was a mess, and I thought it might not be salvagable.)

First problem: rust. Again, big surprise. I hate dealing with large amounts of rust. Mostly because I hate dealing with rust remover. If you’ve ever used naval jelly, or any other serious rust remover, you’ll know why… phosphoric acid is nastly. Smells bad. Really corrosive.

Recently, I heard about a product called Evapo-Rust. Supposedly non-toxic, non-corrosive, non-smelly. My first thought? “Nonsense. Can’t possibly actually work.” My second thought? “Anything is better than naval jelly.”

Yes, it really works. It works beautifully. The end result is a little different; it removes rust and leaves a light grey patina. It also takes longer – I had to soak it overnight. Fortunately, I’m not in that much of a hurry, and I’m never going back. A little mineral spirits and some 220-grit sandpaper, and it was vastly improved.

Second problem: Way too much rust.

20120129-201553.jpg A couple of sections of the metal holding the handles on had completely corroded away. Replacing them was going to be a real problem. Instead, I decided to fill the missing areas with epoxy. The problem was goign to be keeping it from just dripping out before it set, because it needed to actually build up the missing metal. I grabbed an old tube of caulking, and ran a bead around the area to be filled, and overfilled it with a mix of epoxy and a few drops of dye. When it was set – but not set hard – I scraped off the caulking, and trimmed the epoxy fill to shape.

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After the epoxy had set completely, I sanded out the handles (and the epoxy), ragged on some dark walnut dye, and finished them with oil and the Beall wood buffer. Sharpening it meant reshaping the edge, but I wasn’t comfortable doing it on a grinder. The edge was too thin and fragile to do it without inadvertently changing the curve.

Fortunately, the WorkSharp is perfect for this kind of work. It took a couple of minutes on each grit, and viola.

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It took a great edge, and I stuck a piece of cherry in the vise and started. It feels good, cuts beautifully, and leaves a great surface for a finer tool like a spokeshave.

This one’s going to get a new place of honor in my tool cabinet (location to be determined). And I thought it was a junker, and that I wouldn’t use it much. Wrong on both points. Excellent. Sometimes being wrong is cool.

It may not be beautiful, but it’s going to be fun to use. For today, it’s 5:00, and time for a beer. And beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.

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Ross Henton

French-Speaking Stuff

My shop is currently beyond my reach. Real life interfered, and I’ve been traveling back and forth between Dallas and San Francisco every week, with no time in between to do much besides laundry. (I miss my wife, I miss my dogs, I miss my shop, I miss my car… Woe Is Ross.)

But there are worse places to travel to on the planet than San Francisco… especially when it has incredibly cool places like the Musee Mechanique, on Fisherman’s Wharf. It has an incredible collection of antique arcade machines and games. One caught my eye when I walked in the door, because of its faux pegged through tenons. I’ve seen faux through tenons before, but nothing like these. (Sorry about the fuzzy iPhone photos.)

Meanwhile, my shop work has to be vicarious. There are a lot of terrific woodworking (particularly hand tool woodworking) blogs, and one of the best has to be Kari Hultman’s The Village Carpenter. If you’re not reading it, you should be. When you’re done here, go there.

In fact, she’s forcing me to break a rule… I normally don’t re-blog other people’s posts, but this one is just too incredibly cool to pass up. It’s a french woodworking video from 1912. It’s fascinating, and it shows that the really, really good stuff never changes much.

Pity me while I miss my shop. Wah.

Ross Henton