Monday, June 28, 2010

Tools - Hand Vs Power

The tendonitis in my shoulder is not going away just yet. 5 minutes in the garage clamping up a drawer frame caused it to start aching again. A longing for my naproxen (an anti-inflammatory) reminded me that I forgot to take it after dinner. Having only finished dinner 30 minutes earlier, I turned off the lights in my shop and walked dejected back into the house. I'm not sure what brought on this malady. I didn't do much over the last week and a half with my mum and sister visiting. I guess it just happens sometimes. Enough with feeling sorry for myself though.

Over the past few days, I've been pondering my tool usage. I've been using my hand tools more of late. Not because of a conscious decision to suddenly turn into a galoot or neanderthal (terms of which I've learned that wood workers who are primarily hand tool users affectionately call themselves) but rather because my power tools just don't seem to be up to the task in some cases.
I have a 10" Ryobi compound miter saw. The problem is that it is a non-sliding model that will only cut 5 7/8" boards despite having a 10" blade. Additionally, I have problems with getting perfectly cut angles even though I've gone through the tune up process a couple of times (maybe it's not really reliable after all?). Also, it's heavy. Because it's a garage, I normally have it along the back wall which is no good for trying to cut lengths longer than 6 feet really. In order to use it I have to haul it out to my makeshift workbench, make all my anticipated cuts and then haul it back so that I can then break out the planer to begin surfacing. As a result, for the longer lengths, I've switched over to using my hand miter saw (a cheapie from a big orange box store bought a couple of years ago) and a Japanese pull saw that I picked up on sale at Lee Valley. There's also the shooting board I previously mentioned that gets my edges to that perfect 90 degrees. So the power tool in this case has been all but shelved.

Don't get me wrong, I consider myself the amongst the ultimate of Gemini's of wood working. I have no problem what-so-ever in enslaving electrons to do my bidding (some refer it to smashing them, but as a science geek, that would be very hazardous to ones health in the long run). Picture Tim the Toolman with his head thrown back grunting and calling out "More Power!". On the other hand, the quiet 'Shish' of a freshly sharpened hand plan across a piece of walnut or cherry is intoxicating and very zen. Just ask Shannon (The Renaissance Woodworker).

It's simply that I've learned early on that buying 'budget' tools will cost you more in the long run. Tools aren't cheap, and power tools are more expensive. At least the quality ones are. I'm sure there's someone out there that will argue the point and I welcome the education if you should happen to dare. I'm talking about the cost of the tools, not the labour that goes into using them. I don't care about that as I'm in this for the pleasure and not the money.

So, where does one start out when it comes to tools? I can't say that I'm fully qualified to give advice on the matter, but I would ask if you're interested in hand or power tools? If you don't know, check out your local wood working guild. Ask a buddy if you could watch her/him while they work. Even if you decide to go the power route, you will need some hand tools. A block plane, some chisels, a flush trim saw.

I recommend that you buy the best you can afford when it comes to the block plane and chisels. Lee Valley sells their Veritas brand of hand planes and they come ready to use right out of the box. I had a crap cheap smoothing plane (equivalent to a #4) from a Canadian general merchandise retailer that did not work very well at all. I was scared to use it because of the issues that it caused. The fact that I had never been instructed how to use a plane contributed, but the quality was a major factor as well. My first time using a Veritas plane was like the sun coming up after a night of Thunderstorms in a dark forest. Or am I being too melodramatic?

On another note regarding tool selection, I observed and participated earlier today in a conversation on Twitter with Brian (of Extremely Average noted to the right in my blog roll) on the merits between a Festool Track Saw and a SawStop table saw with the initial discussion on which to get. I was observing at this point, silently cheering on the table saw as in my opinion while Festool makes good products, a circular saw with a clamping guide or even a drywall square can do the job just as effectively as long as you have a decent blade in the saw). I think the Saw Stop won, but the winner was never really announced before changing over to a discussion on the merits between getting a band saw or a table saw first. Brian was being mercilessly herded to go the band saw route by Shannon and another fellow Canadian (Larry AKA @woodnbits).

I believe Brian is going to blog about his discussion, but for what it's worth, I would love to have both. I have a table saw which I enjoy, but I have a lot of 6/4 and 8/4 lumber waiting to be used and I don't want to waste it by trying to resaw to have both. I have a table saw which I enjoy, but I have a lot of 6/4 and 8/4 lumber waiting to be used and I don't want to waste it by trying to resaw it by hand (exhausting) or trying to resaw it on my table saw (losing 1/8" before surfacing).

While I was disappointed to not be able to be in the shop longer, I am satisfied that this was a good day as I got to really put my thoughts down on the subject and now I need to wrap this up as my daughter is in need of her 10 PM snack before bed. Brian, I look forward to your blog on the discussion as well.

-Authors note 6/29/2010-
Because it was late and in my eagerness to get this article published, I didn't take the time to proof my post. I seem to have used the term 'mercilessly herded' without realizing its context and how it may be interpreted. It was meant to be taken in fun as a gentle ribbing that occurs between galoots and electron worshipers. Lesson learned.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A bad day at golf and a good day in the shop

The forecast called for a chance of scattered showers today and only a 40% chance of that at least until about 3 PM. "A good day for golfing at Bushwood," I thought. What a day for the meteorologists to be wrong.

Yes, it's actually named after the course in the movie 'Caddy Shack'. They even have a gopher as their logo right above the entrance to the clubhouse. I haven't seen any greenskeepers that look like Bill Murray, but I guess that doesn't prove that they don't have one somewhere waiting with a sack of C4 to go 'varmint hunting'.

To make a long story short (or am I shooting myself in the foot here? This is a blog after all!). We got to the 3rd hole before it really started raining. I mean a steady rain like Vancouver or Seattle experiences for 3-6 months of the year. We actually ended up calling it quits after 9 holes (and 3 lost balls). We couldn't even see the ball once it got above the horizon.

2 hot coffees later, a fresh change of clothes and watching some of the news coverage of the protests in downtown Toronto (bad coverage at that) found me back in the shop continuing my work on the drawers.

I cut the slots and grooves into the pieces and sanded all the boards down today and assembled the first drawer body. The glue up went pretty straight forward and I even managed to get it square and on plane. I attribute that partially to the skills I've developed and partially to the shooting board that helped ensure square edges before cutting the grooves.

I couldn't really do much more as I have developed tendinitis in my right shoulder and reaching across the bench started to hurt. My doctor prescribed some anti-inflammatories, but I should have also been resting the shoulder. I'm just too stubborn that way.

As promised, here is a picture of the shooting board that I made yesterday. It is made from 3/4" birch plywood for the work surface, 1/4" plywood for the plane to ride on and bamboo for the fence. It really works quite well and I look forward to using it again.

They say that a bad day at golf beats a good day at work, but I have to say that this saying also applies to woodworking. I'm torn however as to which is better. A bad day at golf or a bad day in the shop. Is there such a thing?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Vacation, sharpening, shooting board and drawers

So, my vacation is almost over. Much has happened to keep me out of the shop. My mom and my sister Anneli, came out for a visit from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. There was my cousin's wedding last Saturday, My daughter Vanessa's baptism on Sunday (and it was my first Father's day), lots of bar-b-que cooking by yours truely and plenty of card playing.

Card playing is a long time family tradition. We play a game called "May I?" (apparently it's similar to old maid) and Euchre. When my mom and Anneli partner up in Euchre, watch out!

It was sad to see them go this morning, but I'll see them again at Christmas this year. Normally, I only see mom once a year, so this year is going to be a treat!

Today, I got back into the shop to rebuild the drawers for the Nursery Cabinet. It seems that due to my eagerness to make progress and learn on the fly is coming back to haunt me. See, when I installed the face frame, the drawers were too big for the opening and also, I used big box store pine to build the drawer shells, so here were twists to the boards that I didn't notice until fitting the drawer front. That was before buying my planer or hand planes (not that I can hand plane a board flat and true yet).

There I was with some freshly flattened 1/2" pine tonight, cut to width, but without a way to cut square to length. My mitre saw will only cut 5" widths, and I question the trueness of the cut. So I decided that there was no better time to make a shooting board. It was not very difficult to assemble one out of scrap plywood for the base and bamboo for the fence.

I also had to sharpen my Veritas low angle smoothing plane, and thanks to Ron Hock's book on The Perfect Edge, I was able to get the blade sharp enough to take some hair off of my arm. That is a tale for another day though. I will put Ron's teachings to the test with some chisels and my mastercraft hand plane blade.

All in all, it was a great wood working day with much accomplished and a feeling of personal accomplishment. Sorry I didn't post any pictures, but my camera was down. I'll try to get some in on my next post.

Tomorrow I golf and will tackle assembly of the drawer frames. It's great to be back after a well deserved break.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Vacation time. Let's see if we can finish!

I know, it's been a while since I've actually posted anything. It's bee a busy time lately. I've been working on the nursery cabinet when I can and have tried not to get distracted by anything shiney. It's been difficult at best especially since this is a piece I'm not anticipating being particularly proud of. With numerous mistakes along the way, I've had to change my stride almost constantly. I'll write more about it later, but wanted to let you know that I haven't forgotten about my desire to become a better writer. Today my cousin is getting married and I can't dwell on the cabinet for now.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Artfest - Something to Strive for?

It's funny how inspiration can strike. Last Saturday, I saw a video on Woodworking for Mere Mortals on how to build a band saw box. It was also a day where Marsha and I decided to go see the annual Pickering Artfest (not sure how long the link will last, but info can be found here if the first link breaks). Essentially a city run festival in The Esplanade Park outside City Hall where numerous artists display wares mostly for sale, but some hold seminars or activity sessions. This year there were about 80 individual artists and 2 guilds that had stands.

A lot of different styles of art were on display. Paintings, drawings, hand made jewelry, stained glass and some woodwork. One stand had some band saw boxes and sculptures that looked rather last minute, but they were selling. While browsing, I saw 2 coin bank boxes and one puzzle animal snatched up by various patrons. Maybe I'm too critical having been a member on Lumberjocks where some fantastic works have been displayed.

There was also 2 wood carving guilds present. I remembered only at the last minute that I had my phone with me so I decided to take a snap of one exhibit with the permission of Marjorie one of the proprietors of Paterson's Pastimes (sorry, they don't have a website but can probably be found through the local chapter of the Ontario Wood Carvers Association). Marjorie (in the picture) carved the mountain man sculpture and another lady that she was sharing the table with carved the racing horses. It was an interesting show for sure. I picked up some fliers for the 2 carving associations (the other being a more local guild) and may have to check them out to see if carving interests me. I am after all trying to explore as much as possible in wood working to determine what direction I want to take.

So, I mentioned a video back at the beginning. Yes, I mentioned in for a reason. I was feeling creative after our visit to Artfest and decided I wanted to make a heart shaped box for Marsha. After some pondering and some surfing, I ended up downloading an image of another heart box and printing it out (I can't draw worth a darn), I proceeded over the next few days cutting, gluing, and sanding. Sanding and yet more sanding. You see, the 1/8" blade made rough cuts and caused quite a bit of burning even though it was a brand new blade. It ended up snapping causing a fairly loud bang! Checking my workpiece and my shorts, I was thankful that I only needed to change the blade. I had to revert back to my 3/8" blade and surprisingly, it was making smoother cuts with less burning. Go figure.

I finally finished it on Wednesday with Tung Oil/Wax and handed it to Marsha last night after a final coat of wax. It was well received and I'm starting to think that maybe I can make some stuff over the winter this year and enter into Artfest 2011. Let's see how the summer goes first. I am hopeful though! Who knows, maybe I'll even end up selling something!