Friday, November 23, 2012

Woodworking, Part I

I wouldn't say I have a fear of loud noises, but when I hear the power come on a table saw or even the vacuum, I become paranoid.  In fact, my wife spooks me while I am vacuuming.  Putting psychology aside, I've come to appreciate the hand made creation of our home and the furnishings from it's time period; so much so that I would like to get my hands dirty, so to speak.

In a prior post, I mentioned a company called D.R. Dimes (A Lack of Furniture).  As if it weren't already apparently obvious, given a new child (our first) and a "money pit" of a home, purchasing reproduction furniture of such a high price tag will not be possible.  Instead, and I am going out on a limb here, my future plans are now to make the furniture pieces myself.  After talking with my fellow co-workers, I received that look.  We've all seen it (or given it).  The look only a sympathetic parent can give to their struggling child, "...oh isn't that nice" with an underlying meaning of "yeah, good luck with that, ha!"

My lovely wife has gone along with my new ambition.  For my birthday this past October 19, she purchased a woodworking class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.  The class was called Practical Handtool Joinery with Will Neptune.
The basis for all joinery is the ability to work to layout lines with saws, chisels and planes.  To do this, your tools must be properly prepared and sharpened.  If you are frustrated with the results you get with hand tools or doubt that you can improve the fit of machine cut joints then this is the class to improve your skills and take your woodworking to the next level.
In this class you will learn a controlled and repeatable method for sharpening edge tools that will cut end grain cleanly and accurately.  We will tune up and adjust rabbet and router planes so they can be used for accurate joinery.  Then in a series of bench work exercises, beginning with accurate layout techniques, you will learn how to work from reference surfaces to hand cut accurate joinery, usually more quickly and accurately than you could by machine.  These exercises include half laps, bridle joints on curved rails and housed tapered (sliding) dovetails.  This is a chance to practice working with chisels and planes and hand saws with one of this country's master furniture makers.  You will need certain tools - including a rabbet (shoulder) plane and a standard size router plane.  The full tool list can be seen on the school's website.  Don't let handtools continue to frustrate you - sign up today.
-From the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, Section 102712A description.
Prior to the class, I purchased a set of four Stanley Sweetheart Chisels, a Wood Is Good 18 oz. Mallet and thanks to my enrollment at CVSW, 10% off a Lie-Nielsen Router Plane.  As it turns out, the Lie-Nielsen company is your Mercedes of wood working tools, not very cheap, but a quality tool.

 The class was truly enjoyable.  I learned how to make the joints mentioned above.  The instructor, Will Neptune, is a fascinating teacher.  I highly recommend this class should the reader wish to travel down my path.  However, due to time restraints, not all components of the joints mentioned were completed with hand tools.  But I was really excited and convinced my wife to allow me to buy more tools while I dove into reading and watching articles/videos on making other joints.

A fully fledged dovetail joint was not apart of the class, but it was the one joint that all woodworkers aspire to master.  A dovetail is the joint most often seen on the sides drawers from 18th century furniture and the corners of boxes that often distinguishes quality from everything else.  Here's an example from Boston's Museaum of Fine Arts (from  

After the class, I purchased a dovetail kit from Woodcraft (which also gave a 10% discount due to the class) and found numerous how-to videos on youtube.  Combining them with the techniques I learned from the class, I made my first attempt at hand made dovetails:

Not perfect, but doable.  Next step is to simply make a box.  Then progress from there to eventually make a dinning room table and then reproduction windows in our home... but patience is key, stepping stones are important.

$ 99.00 Stanley 78 Rabbet Plane (new vintage from eBay, info on plane)
$791.29 Ouch!

I'd better stop buying tools for the time being and make something for my wife.