The 5 Faces of Woodworking

The Tattooed Woodworker makes some interesting observations in his classification of woodworkers.

Where do I fit? I guess with a hint of regret, I’d have to fit into slot number 1. Almost my sum total of woodworking involves murdering electrons, with just a few scant visits to “The Dark Side” (or as Rob calls them less controvertially, “The Purists”).

I don’t deliberately avoid handtools, and in fact those that take pride-of-place in my workshop (or will when I build the Krenov-inspired cabinet when on the Ideal Tools course) are all handtools that “The Purists” would be very happy with – HNT Gordon planes, Chris Vesper’s marking knife (I really need some more of his tools I think) etc.

What is interesting for me, is how I evolved to this point where I can and do pretty much every single task in woodworking with some form of (typically) large machine, yet I seem to crave the purity of hand tools, without having the time to do anything about it.  Not that I regret the path chosen – I am a mechanical/materials engineer in practice and thought, if not by vocation.  I enjoy mastering machines, and all that comes with the ability to precisely process a material, be that wood or steel. (Aluminium doesn’t rate – horrible stuff that doesn’t have the decency to burn, or melt properly!)  But I do look at the hand tool purists with a sense of loss – there is a skill set there that I am sadly lacking, and I’m not sure what is blocking me from going there – time perhaps, a desire for precision, who knows.  A rough-cut dovetail doesn’t evoke the same reaction in me as it does for some, but when watching a real artisan produce a drawer with handtools that is so precise that it can hardly close properly because of the cushion of air behind it that becomes compressed keeps me enthrawled.

Have a think about it, particularly against Rob’s list – where do you choose to fit as a woodworker, and why, or how did you get to the point that you are?

A Subtle Rebranding…

is occurring for Chris Vesper’s tools.  Instead of the original “CV” inside an outline of Australia, the new branding is

Vesper Tools

Vesper Tools

as he transitions the brand to “Vesper Tools

Vesper Tools Workshop pt 2

While there, Chris was working on making some more of his sliding bevels, precisely machining the blades to the required width.  He certainly takes a significant amount of care with the manufacture of the tools, and it was very interesting watching part of the overall process.

Exotic Timber Storage

Exotic Timber Storage

I also got a bit of a peek around some of the functional areas, including his exotic timber storage room, with carefully controlled temperature and humidity.  Sure is some nice pieces in there!

Preparing the Grind

Preparing the Grind

The grinder reminded me very much of the wetstone waterwheels we use for sharpening.  I’m sure quite a typical sort of metalworking workshop tool (in the bigger shops of course), but I hadn’t seen one in operation.  The stock is held down on the magnetic base, ready for the grind to commence.

Grinding

Grinding

It is a wet grinding process, despite the copious amounts of sparks!  There is a lot of cutting fluid being added (from the right – the fluorescent green liquid), but because of the overall speed of the grinding wheel (significantly faster than the slow speed wet grinders I’m used to for sharpening), the surface speed of the grinding wheel still results in the stream of sparks.  The liquid cools both the wheel and the job, and also helps in catching the metal particles that are removed.  In the photo below, you can see the collection of metal shavings that have been caught by the magnetic base.  The amount of material that is removed is very carefully controlled, and takes a number of passes to get the thicknesses within tolerances.

Another Bunch of Sliding Bevel Blades

Another Bunch of Sliding Bevel Blades

While this process was going on, I had a look at the new batch of tools Chris has been developing.  His Try Squares with a self-supporting tab.  You can read more about it, and its development on his blog here. In that article, he refers to a stack of try square handles ready to go, and that is what I was looking at:

Try Square Handles

Try Square Handles

I also got to play with some of the prototypes (before the documented minor redesign!) (Thus why we have prototypes!)

Try Squares

Try Squares

Finish Bottle

Finish Bottle

Vesper Tools

I had an opportunity to visit Chris Vesper’s workshop recently, and to see some of his collections of historic tools, his current production tools, and some of the handtools in the production process.

The first couple of photos sets the context – not far from Melbourne, a traditional outback is still very much evident. It may normally be this brown a lot further north, nearer the centre of this dry land, but the decade-long drought is really taking its toll.  Vesper’s shed is in the middle of this, surrounded by some of his collection of large, old cast iron machines.  Outside, there are a couple of shipping containers, one full of timbers, the other full of old machines, printing presses and other parts of his extensive collection.

The Mesh Filtering Stack is quite interesting given recent discussions on grits. Each layer is of an increasingly fine mesh. By putting an abrasive (or whatever needs sorting) into the top layer and vibrating it, the substances will slowly sort themselves by size.

Chris’ collection is substantial – drawers of plane blades, cupboards of planes, walls of axe heads, containers of printing presses.  If you are interested in more of what he has, his recently upgraded website now has a museum tag that takes you to a better look at some of his collection.

Revolutionising Woodworking one Stitch at a Time

Ever tried to draw up a hexagon?  No, it shouldn’t be hard (any 4th grader probably does it on a daily basis), but if you haven’t done it for a while, you start to forget the technique for getting all the sides even, and the angles correct.  How about a pentagon, or a dodecagon?

What about getting the pentagon to align up accurately with a particular feature in a veneer, or finding the centre of an uneven turning blank?

For many woodworkers, these are probably not questions we’ve contemplated often (other than finding the centre of a blank), however, it is the bread and butter of embroiders, patchworkers, and quilters (other than finding the centre of a blank). So it would come as no surprise that a great solution for woodworkers can be found being made by a company called The Sewing Revolution!

They produce a number of different polycarbonate templates, but the primary two are the company’s namesake.

The Sewing Revolution

The Sewing Revolution

There is the one pictured here (which is a 6/8), and another which is the 5/7.

The numbers equate to the number of sides the template is designed to create, including multiples, and derivatives. Ie, the 6/8 can also create 3 and 4 sided figures, as well as 12 and 16.

The 5/7 is also for 10 and 14 sided.

At each junction, the template has a hole for a pencil, or an awl to mark each corner. Of course you are not limited to basic polygons either.  Creating an 8 pointed star for example is also very simple with these templates.

Pencil/Awl Holes

Pencil/Awl Holes

The holes are specifically designed for a felt pen, so to get the accuracy you need for marquetry, you’d want to ensure your awl or pencil was a suitable taper to neatly fit the hole when it was deep enough to create the required mark.

I’ve not tried marquetry before, and after the following little exercise, I have a lot of respect for the amount of skill, and patience they have!  The laying out was a breeze using the Sewing Revolution.

Ready for some Marquetry

Ready for some Marquetry

So I have selected a veneer of Blackwood, the 6/8 Sewing Revolution, the Woodpecker Rule, and the a Chris Vesper marking knife.

And so I begin.  I’ve decided to create an 8 sided star as a bit of a test.  Marking each outside corner was simplicity – just mark the same distance from the centre on each of the 22.5 degree lines.  I then needed to inside corner 1/2 way between those lines.  Again, there is a simple way of rotating the template through 12.25 degrees so the 22.5 degree lines are again in a useful orientation.  Mark those corners, remove the template, and draw connecting lines.  It took longer to write this paragraph, than it took to mark out the star itself!

Resulting Star

Resulting Star

The picture here is not quite life-size, but it is close.

Beginning the Cutting

Beginning the Cutting

As I started this step in the process, I started to become really aware what is involved in marquetry (or patchwork!)  Don’t bother trying a full pattern if you are not a patient person!

Resulting Blackwood Star

Resulting Blackwood Star with Huon Pine Background

So I’m pretty pleased with the final result – having all the right tools makes these sorts of tasks a breeze, and a pleasure.  And of course, getting the process started on the right track with an accurate layout tool makes all the difference.  Where it would really have started to show its benefit would be making contrasting corners to fit the star, all the right size, easily.

I can certainly see where it got it’s “Sewing Revolution” name – and that there is a real crossover between the different pasttimes – perhaps some quilters etc should try some marquetry (and vice versa).  Or perhaps not – do woodworkers need the extra challenge of absolute experts at patchwork turning their skill set to working with wood veneers?!!!

PatchworkThis is some of the work the Sewing Revolution owners have produced.  A tidy, simple pattern, which when you imagine it in different timbers, would look stunning.

There are plenty of patterns, examples and tutorials on the Sewing Revolution website that can easily be translated across to a woodworking situation.  But it is more than just patterns.  I am sure that there are plenty of other layout, setting out etc problems that will be found in the workshop that these templates will be discovered to be the ideal solution.

And as to getting one (both) – what other excuse do you need, than buying a tool that can be used for both partners’ hobbies! (Being a bit stereotypical for a sec, wonder if any wives will become suspicious why their husbands actually want to go to the Stitches and Craft show for the first time ever 🙂 )

The product is designed, and manufacturered in Australia.  Cost for each template (the 5/7 and 6/8) is $50.

A Night at the Opera

Or more like, a night in the shed 🙂  Got a number of things done out there which was very refreshing, and actually felt like real woodworking for once. I even got to make some sawdust!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had some trouble with my current inadequate power supply to allow me to use dado blades on my tablesaw. As a bit of a test, I purchased a tradesman’s extension cord yesterday which has a 1.5 mm core rather than the standard 1.0 mm (or even smaller) in typical household extension cords.  I plugged this feed directly into the tablesaw, and gave that a try and the difference was quite remarkable. Even running a standard blade, the saw sounded somehow different.

I then fitted a dado blade, and this time I was successful. The saw easily managed to bring the dado set up to speed. I must admit, that it has been a while since I’ve been that nervous around woodworking equipment- the first time you use a dado set is scary!  When a typical blade has lots of whirling teeth looking for something to eat, like a circling shark, a dado set looks like a whole school of sharks, and they know what they want.

On the other hand, it sure makes cutting a trench or a dado easy! (Funny that).  This dado test is going to be very interesting, and I’m now in a position to start testing the various blade sets that I have.  There have already been some irregularities come to light, so that is what this battle of the dado blades is all about.  One set appears to have the wrong outside blades, as the tooth count is incorrect to match with the chipper blades so that they cannot stack correctly (and I’m getting some feedback from the relevant company about that), and the set I used last night (CMT) had a very poor trench, because one of the chipper blades is over 1mm oversized which I was very surprised about with a set costing over $400.  Anyway, all this will be revealed in full Cinecolor in the reviews in the near future.

Next, a very rusty demonstrator got to shoot the raw footage for Episode 41 of Stu’s Shed TV which briefly covers some of the jigs that can be used on a wetstone sharpener.  I did get a very respectable edge on my carving knife, so the next tomato will pay the price in the kitchen!  I’ve said it before – the Triton sharpener should come with a knife jig – it is the best excuse to justify buying a tool ever!

Then finally, and inspired by my article about the Chris Vesper Joinery Knife, I had a further play with that laying out some rudimentary dovetails, and that inspired me to (finally) assemble the Dovetail Master I got from the Australian Wood Review over a year ago.  I had put it into the “too hard to think about now” basket, but last night everything just clicked.

Dovetail Master

Dovetail Master

It comes disassembled, but it isn’t actually that hard to put together.  Of course the proof will be if I actually can use it to produce a handcut dovetail, but it looks like I managed to assemble it without too much drama.

Disassembled Dovetail Master

Disassembled Dovetail Master

It is currently on special for all of $35 from Australian Wood Review (direct link to the product) fwiw.

So it was a good night – some sawdust made, some video shot, some old jobs completed.  Good times 🙂

Chris Vesper Joinery Knife

As long-time readers of Stu’s Shed will know, I am quite a fan of, for want of a better term, cottage industry products, such as are made by Terry Gordon (HNT Gordon Planes), Colen Clenton, and Chris Vesper.  These tools are both a pleasure to use and own.

The Chris Vesper Joinery Knife is no exception.  A combination of a well thought out design, precision manufacturing methods and stunning timber results in a tool that is destined to become an heirloom.

Chris Vesper Joinery Knife

Chris Vesper Joinery Knife

This particular knife is made from Tasmanian Blackwood.

The handle is shaped so that it is comfortable to grip, won’t twist in the hand if applying extra pressure, and won’t roll off the workbench and onto the floor, breaking the knife tip.

Chris Vesper Logo

Chris Vesper Logo

The handle is stamped with the Chris Vesper Logo.

The blade can be used both (and primarily) as a marking knife and a chisel. As a marking knife, it produces a very fine line – much more accurate than any 0.5mm pencil can produce, and a much cleaner line than can be achieved with a scratch awl.  A scratch awl still has a significant advantage over a pencil, but leaves a mark that is less clean than can be achieved with a joinery knife.  The awl pushes the wood fibres aside until they are met by the tip, which then scores the line.  This can cause some tearing of the fibres in some timbers (still at a very localised level).  A joinery knife on the other hand severs the fibres from the very first point of contact, resulting in a very clean, and accurate line, perfect (for example) in joinery as this further adds to the accuracy and cleanliness of any subsequent cut.

It can also be used as a chisel, to clean up the corners of joints (such as handcut dovetail joint).

Bevelled Blade

Bevelled Blade

Only one side of the blade is bevelled, so the other side can run up against a rule or square to create the marking lines.  It is made out of tool steel, so is strong and capable of withstanding a reasonable amount of pressure.

Blade Edge

Blade Edge

The blade is bevelled to approximately 25 degrees, although this angle is not critical.  It is resharpened in the same way as you would a chisel.

However, the tip of the blade is rounded at the bevel, and this is deliberate. At the actual tip it is sharp, but is the meeting point of one flat, rather than three, so the tip is stronger, and less inclined to break. It doesn’t affect the operation of the knife either for marking, or as a chisel.  It is easily achieved with a few wipes over a waterstone, so is a pretty mild rounding never-the-less.

Rounded Tip

Rounded Tip

Just having one is seriously tempting me to try my hand at some handcut dovetails. Precision tools, beautifully made. You can find his whole product range at www.vespertools.com.au

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