Wine, women and woodworking…a well-travelled life

When I was a wee lad of four, my civil-engineering dad’s work took us to live in Puerto Rico. By the time we left, at age six, I took with me my (now long gone) vintage GI Joe and a fluency in Puerto Rican street Spanish. I’ve come to realize that I also brought home a love of travel. The never-ending wonder of new places, new people, new customs, new foods, new vistas and climates gives me a rush to this very day.

And so it was on a recent wine tasting trip to Walla Walla, Washington, a region that has earned international viniculture renown.

One of the best parts of wine tasting trips is that it allows me to get the most out of my vacations. Away from the rigors and demands of work, I can freely pursue many of my passions unfettered. Things like tasting new dishes by creative chefs…

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Wood-fired oven-roasted asparagus in olive-oil topped with a poached egg, salt and pepper.

…communing with nature on sea-side runs in the environs of Seattle…

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…snapping artsy pictures…

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…and, of course, woodworking.

Just when I think that there’s absolutely nothing left in this universe for a woodworker to do with a retired wine barrel, they go and prove me wrong. Take this stool for example.

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Just look at how the artisan wove the curved staves into the design. The gentle slopes add visual interest while providing the tensile strength to safely support a reveler. The seat is cool too, the product of edge-gluing five stave fragments. In so doing, it leverages the curvature of the staves to provide an ergonomic fit to the sitter’s bottom.

I’ve always admired woodworkers that combine both form and function into their work. That’s because function—the building of a solid object out of wood complete with tight-fitting joinery—requires a large measure of left-brain planning and execution. By contrast, the rendering of a pleasing form draws upon right-brain creativity and vision. When a craftsperson melds together both form and function they create a woodworking gestalt that is decidedly greater than the sum of its parts.

Another example of this concept is a hand-carved doorway at a business mogul’s former estate-now-turned winery.

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The detail work is splendid because the carved relief is about two inches deep. And that adds three-dimensional mass for the eye to weigh.

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Note the intricacy of the horse’s mane along with the muscular tone that brings to life the shape of the underlying sinews, muscles and tendons. The cottage relief brings to mind a ski lodge and I can all but smell the smoke drifting from the chimney.

One appointment-only tasting at Garrison Creek Cellars offered a breathtaking show of function-based woodwork. This picture from the Cellars’ Website gives an expansive view.

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The concrete floor is strewn with barrels aging vini-delicious elixir. From this base the ceiling rises about 60 feet to an arched apex. The Douglas-fir beams and slats are native to Washington State and had to be special ordered from a local miller.

The details are impressive.
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To the right, you can see the curved ceiling support beams. These are laminations of multiple layers (10?!) of boards.

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Surely, the laminated beams, along with their arched shape, provide significantly more strength and support than single beams at a parallel angle to the floor. Interestingly, the builders couldn’t keep themselves from adding some creative design elements like the finials at the bottom of some vertical support beams.

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The sheer mass and size of the room as well as the exposed roof beams inspire an architectural awe.

That’s similar to emotional experiences I’ve had standing amidst European churches and cathedrals. For a moment, upon tasting the wine-maker’s articulation of a Syrah, I was moved to fall to my knees in homage, eyes to the heavens and arms outstretched as a symbol of my gracious acceptance of such a gift. But the moment passed and I sipped the wine to mingle with a prosciutto-loaded cracker instead.

Back home, I get to enjoy still another one of my passions, writing about it all. Wine, women and woodworking. Such are the rewards of a travel-rich life.

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Your opinion matters-Tell me what you think.

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My new, old coffin smoother

Recently, I spent time with my girlfriend’s brother Bob, tasting the latest in sour bear offerings at the Crooked Stave.  After our taste buds gave out we made our way to the parking lot. But before we said our goodbyes, Bob handed me a coffin smoother. Apparently, the pastor at his church was downsizing his home and had to part with a number of woodworking tools. Bob knows I prefer using hand tools so he asked me if I wanted to give it a loving home. The Lord giveth.

Here’s what I brought home.

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Good heavens. This tool has seen a lot of mileage in the shop. If you look at the pic with an inset above, you can see a crack in the plane body. It’s suspiciously close to the wedge, which looks like this up close.

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Obviously a philistine pounded it with a stone axe. That’s probably what led to the crack…and the subsequent repair with a pin nail.

The wedge has other irregularities, such as missing side “prongs” and a bit of owner-made carving out of the material at the tip.

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That’s all wrong. It should look something a bit like this:

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 Perhaps when the wedge prongs broke off, the owner carved some of the tip off for a better fit. But to be honest, I’ve never seen a modification like this before.

A look at the sole shows a protracted, sad story of its own.

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As the area in front of the mouth wore out, a previous owner installed an inset piece of mahogany to close up the mouth. Either he didn’t do a very good job, or the plane’s sole has worn considerably since the inset was installed because the mouth shows a performance-damning ¼” opening. That’s about four times what the opening should be for very fine work.

What’s really interesting is that the owner used pin nails to affix the inset to the body. And that’s a sin because the size of this plane—8” long with a 2 3/16” blade—suggests to me that it was used as a smoothing plane. And the last thing one of God’s children wants is for his pin-nails to mar the wood whose very surface he’s trying to make mirror smooth. Still, it must not have affected the tool’s performance much because the tops of the nails show signs of heavy wear.

This plane’s wear and damage remind me of Moses’ escape from Egypt across an unforgiving desert. In fact, the body is so worn that the front of the sole is a fraction of a cubit—that’s 9/16 of an inch—shorter than the rear.

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That suggests to me that the user should have spent more time in the confessional, rather than working out his feelings of guilt by applying unneeded downward pressure on the front of the plane during use.

Surprisingly, the sole was perfectly flat as measured from side to side.

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Still, it’s a wonder that its owner(s) kept using it for all those years rather than crafting a new body to house the iron. But obviously, he/they had an attachment to it. Plus, there’s the whole “Waste not, want not,” angle to consider too.

Who made it?
My initial once-over in search of a maker’s mark didn’t turn up anything. However, the plane iron did have a rather conspicuous maker’s mark.

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 Now that looks a lot like the logo featured in this biography of W. Butcher.

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From the article, I concluded that the plane iron was manufactured in the years of our Lord c. 1822-1826, making it at least 187 years old. It was during that time that W. Butcher used only his name on his tools from what I can tell. Later, he added partners—and their names—to his business and future products.

Since I wasn’t able to find a plane maker’s mark on the toe of the tool initially, I thought that I had a craftsman-made plane. Meaning that a woodworker built the tool himself rather than buying it. And that’s a perfectly logical conclusion to come to considering that God helps those who help themselves. But then, when I was preparing pictures of the toe for this post, I made out the faint etchings of a maker’s name.

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 E. F. KRAFT & Co. of ST. LOUIS. That’s a new name to me and my search through the archives of a local monastery failed to turn up any history for them.

About the same time I made out the maker’s marks, I also spied an owner’s mark. “W WOAKS”

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Owner’s marks are very common on wooden planes and no wonder. The tool fetched good money back in the day and their owners didn’t want them “wondering off.” This is clear evidence that not everyone obeyed the 10 commandments in the 19th century like we all do today.

WOAKS is the only owner’s mark I could find, which suggests to me that this plane stayed among their progeny through many entries of marriages and births in the family bible. By the time it found its way into the pastor’s hands, it was no longer necessary to stamp initials to thwart thieves. Besides, who would risk God’s wrath by stealing from a pastor?

 To make this plane usable again would require a small miracle, not to mention a significant amount of work. Frankly, I don’t have the heart to disturb the rich patina of the beech body. So even though its working days are past, I’ll enjoy its worn history and beauty by displaying it around the house.

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I’m loving it Bob. The next beer is on me.

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Computer Monitor Pedestal for Dad

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My Dad is a civil engineer. That means he loves to build things, and, if necessary, he’s quite resourceful at crafting viable solutions. That’s my way of saying that around the house, he jury-rigs things to suit his needs.

So when I plopped down at his desk during a recent Mesa, AZ visit it came as no surprise to me to find his computer monitor sitting on two, side-by-side lengths of 2 x 4s. That’s it. No joining, no equal board length, just a raggedy-looking monitor pedestal to keep the heights of his two monitors at roughly the same level.

The makeshift pedestal was functional enough. But it was an eyesore. Wood + eyesore = perfect opportunity to build a project to expand my skills.

Visions of figured burl veneers swirled in my head. “Yes,” I thought. “This is the project that I’ll finally get my veneer-cutting feet wet.” That thought died after pricing veneer. While I could stomach the price, I couldn’t stand the idea that the pieces that were affordable were small. Meaning that the grain would not have been contiguous across the top and sides. Hell. I don’t need to spend a lot of money to make a project look bad. I can do that with pine.

To flesh out a design, I took a whole gaggle of measurements: the desk cubby opening; the diameter of the monitor base; the length & width of Dad’s glasses and more. My spectical-wearing father uses lots of pencils and needs places to put both. So I included features to accommodate those needs.

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I also chose to make two small drawers to house various Dad nick nacks. My workbench storage drawer build used false fronts for the drawers. However, I didn’t make them high enough to hide the carcass frame. It was my first drawer handy work, so I let it pass. But that error begged to be corrected on this project. If only to establish the concept in my mind for future builds.

The build
I had some old (tight grain, near-knot-free) pine boards 11 inches wide to work with. From one long board I cut the top and bottom parts plus the sides.

 Joinery
Since the pedestal was going to be a gift, it was only fitting that I use the Veritas skew rabbet plane Dad gave me for Christmas to rebate the top/bottom edges to accept the two sides.

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While the dry assembly felt pretty solid, I decided to fortify the carcass against the weight of the monitor with a ¼” plywood center divider. A couple of passes at the router table established the dados to accept the center support.

Top details
With the internal carcass joinery complete, it was time to finish the lid. A pass of the lid across a cove bit at the router table established the pencil well. A quick test showed that the ¼” bit made too small a groove because it took a lot of time to dig out the pencil. So to enlarge it, I set the fence back about ¼” and made a second pass.

Originally, I was going to excavate a ¼” deep eyeglass caddy, then line it with felt. However, after considering my Dad’s work habits, I left the top alone…he’ll put his glasses wherever the mood strikes him.

A dry-fit showed that everything was square and ready to accept some yellow glue on the joints with clamps to hold them in situ until the adhesive set.

The drawers
The drawer dimensions were ½” thick 1” deep by 10” long by 6” wide. With the pieces cut to rough length, I zeroed in on the final dimensions with a shooting board. This approach has served me quite well on past box projects and is a fundamental reason my glue-ups turn out square.

I would have preferred to join the drawers using half-blind dovetails. However, the ½” thick stock seemed too thin to cut my teeth on this new skill. Rabbet joints would have to do.

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To add a little eye candy, I selected cherry for the false fronts.

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Looks ok, but not an ideal match with the pine I’m thinking. To give the finished drawers a more refined air, I lined the 1/8” plywood bottoms with green felt.

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A fruitless search for drawer pulls at the local big-box store prompted me to build my own.

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To make the concave finger holds on both sides I used a number 4 round woodie that I picked up at an antique store several months ago.

The reveal
After finishing with tung oil, this is what adorned my desk.

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May Dad’s new pedestal be as pleasing to his eye as it is functional. And may his favored trinkets quickly find their new home in the green velvet fields within.

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Restoring a $3.00 garage sale backsaw find

The Craig’s List ad said there were some old woodworking tools. That’s it. No pictures, no heart-throbbing prose. Still, the garage sale was in an older neighborhood. And close by in case it was a bust. So I fired up my Chili-Red Mini and motored on over.

Five minutes and $5.00 later I walked to my car clutching a Disston 16″ backsaw, some brass screws and brass l-reinforcing thingies. The saw cost me 300 pennies. A bit of sleuthing on the Disstonian Institutes’ Website revealed that the saw was born between 1878-1888 per its medallion.

P14-Disston and Sons Backsaw Medallion

Here’s the prize of my quest:

P2-BEFORE collage

As grungy as it looked, I was very happy overall. The top horn was split off but I figured I could find some apple wood to mend it.

P1-horn chipped

A Horny Situation
In the interests of expanding my rehab skills, I decided to fix the horn. And to ensure an aesthetically-pleasing repair, I sought out two vintage handles. But that didn’t work out too well. The aged applewood didn’t pair well with either of the two donor handles. So I set them aside to wait for another handle repair. The horn would stay as it was.

 The Rehab
I gave the sawplate the usual rehab as I’ve detailed here and here.

Handle
After experiencing a “glassy” look from the use of polyurethane finishes I decided to go with BLO followed by wax. That’s it.

P8-finished handle

I like the natural feel of the wood in my hand. BLO + plus was works pretty well.

Sharpening
The original tooth line suffered from calves and cows so I had some evening out to do. I also tried adding some slope to my sharpening for the first time.

P4-Before-After Sharpening

Here’s the finished rehab.

P5-Before After Picture Comparisons

P7-Before-After saw spine

The Testing
This baby has some pleasing heft to it. I also like the longer, 16” length versus my 12” Disston backsaw. I find it easier to keep it true through the cut. And the longer length allows for a longer stroke through the work piece.

P10-test cut using bench stopP11-test cut using bench stop2P12-test cut quite square 

And here’s a look at the cut finish.

P13-test cut fairly smooth

So all it took to add a nice user to my saw next was a five-minute drive, three dollars and two fun-filled rehab hours.

P6-Added to Saw Nest

Not bad for a 125-year old saw. I wonder if 125 years from now (c 2138) some woodworker will get as much pleasure from finding this treasure as I did. I can see her driving up to the garage sale in her fusion-powered Mini Cooper (some things never go out of style.) “I found it among some other tools on a table,” she’ll say to her husband. “And I only had to hand over three $1,000 bills!” Her ever-supportive husband is sure to reply, “What a steal sweetie!”

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Building a chess-piece box that’s better than the pieces it contains

I’ve always loved playing games. As a kid living in Puerto Rico, my parents complemented the street Spanish I was learning with a Monopoly game in Spanish. I still have it today. By the time I got to high school, I was battling out Gettysburg over a monster, multi-map edition by SPI. Then it was off to college. My dorm room had no surplus space for games. But it did come with a roommate, Roy. So I picked up a cardboard chessboard along with some wood pieces to take my mind off the tough time calculus was giving me.

The pieces came in a wood box that was a bit crowded…

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…and painted a terrible orange.

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 I suppose that’s great if you’re a Bronco fan (which I am,) but not so great now that I’ve become a self-proclaimed woodworker. The quality of the chess pieces themselves pale in comparison to the memories they’ve given me over the last 32 years. So I decided to give them a finely-crafted home.

The old box got the once-over with my ruler. That scrutiny led to this plan.

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 Materials selection & rough-cutting pieces

Classic French furniture draws upon a lot of beautiful mahogany. And if it’s good enough for Louis the XIV it’s good enough for my box. I harvested the side pieces from a piece of African mahogany I had left over from another project. It was ¾” thick so I resawed and planed the pieces to form two 5/16” halves, which were then cut to form the sides and front/back pieces.

For the top panel I resawed a 4/4 piece of maple and edge glued the pieces to yield a book-matched grain worthy of royalty.

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Pre-glue-up details

My design called for everything to be assembled—bottom, lid, divider—for the glue up. So I had to complete many steps before the sticky stuff hit the edges.

With the pieces all trimmed to exacting size on a shooting board, I routed slots for the bottom (1/4” plywood) and the top panel (1/8” wide groove). The top panel got rabetted around the edges to give me a 1/8”.

The box has a divider to separate the black pieces from the white ones. I prefer this setup because it cuts down on the time it takes to sort and separate them for play. The divider is also made of ¼” plywood. I routed stopped dados in the front and back side panels to accept this piece, leaving a tinsy bit of room to accommodate the green lining that would adorn it. Next came a coat of Danish oil for the interior. Once that dried I applied the remaining green felt liner.

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Joinery and glue-up

After dry-fitting the pieces, and tuning a bit here and there on the shooting board, I glued up the box. Once dry, I reinforced the butt joints by drilling 1/8” holes to take brass pins cut from a rod. These were glued in place with 5-minute epoxy.

After that, I sawed off the excess parts of the rods and sanded the entire external surface, progression from 180 to 2000 grits until I had a pleasing, shiny surface.

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Final touches

The next step was to separate the lid from the rest of the box. I don’t have a table saw, nor do I trust sawing it off accurately by hand. So I put a 1/8” straight-cut bit into the router table and used it to make the kerf to separate box from lid. I took several passes, increasing the depth of cut each time until only the last 1/32” remained. A box cutter dispatched this last bit while also helping to dress up the edges to make them clean and true. A razor blade served to trim the green felt so that it was even with the top edges of the lower-half of the box.

After two coats of Danish oil dried, I attached cheap big-box-store hinges to join the lid with the box body, and a latch to secure the lid. I was a wee bit off, with the lid hanging over one side by about 1/64”, and under by that amount on the opposite side. So I planed these surfaces smooth, sanded them and finished them with Danish oil. The next day I applied two coats of paste wax.

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The fun part came when I transferred the chess pieces to their new home.

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Now they have a quality resting place to match the wonderful memories I’ve collected with them. And when I pass them on to my chess-playing nephew they’ll keep the pieces safe so the next generation of my family can make chess memories of their own in style.

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Restoring a depression-era Miterbox for a 21st-century workshop: Part 4-Restoring, sharpening and testing the saw

In the last post, you read about how I finally tracked down a soul-mate for my Goodell Manufacturing Co. miterbox. Next it was time to clean it up, sharpen it, test its cutting ability and add it to my tool kit.

Clean saw plate
The blade was in pretty good shape overall. I progressed through the grits 220-600 followed by a coat of paste wax. To preserve the etching, I only used sanding-block mounted grits 320-600.

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Clean handle and saw nuts
I loved the aged patina of the handle and elected to keep it rather than sand it off. This got a good cleaning with alcohol followed by a wiping down with Howard Feed-N-Wax wood polish & conditioner.

Since I maintained the aged appearance of the handle, I decided not to polish the nuts and kept the 80+-decades of patina intact.

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Sharpening
While the saw cut ok as I received it I wanted to give it a good jointing and filing of my own.

A query to the collected wisdom on the Lumberjocks “Saws, using collecting, cleaning and buying,” forum helped me settle on these sharpening specifications.

Rake: 25°, Fleam: 30°, Slope: 0°

A jointing was followed by shaping of the teeth. Then another light jointing followed by the fleam-imparting sharpening. A quick test showed that I didn’t need to add any set.

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Test cut
The 28” x 5” Disston has some serious heft to it. It’s nice because the weight generates momentum to propel the teeth through the cut.

The length of the saw is perfect too because I can take a full back stroke without unseating it from the saw guide. Not so for my Ingersoll Rand miter saw which is about 23” long. It used to slip out of the saw guide repeatedly until I figured out that the hole in the top tip of the saw was to house a cotter pin to prevent this very thing.

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My two-foot-deep workbench sits flush against the garage wall. I wanted to be sure that the saw didn’t bump into the wall at its full extension, which it didn’t. The unimpeded clearance gives me liberty to take full-fledged stroke and enlist a large percentage of the saw’s teeth to make a cut.

I was in the middle of making a peg-board clamp holder. The three-piece lamination had dried and it was time to cut the ends to a consistent width. Sounds like a perfect test of my sharpening job.

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Very nice! The 96 year-old saw slid silky-soft along the guide posts and left a baby-smooth finish.

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And most importantly, the cut was square.

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All in all, I’m quite happy with my miterbox, its restoration and the acquisition of a great saw to go with it. I have an excellent user that will serve my miter-cut needs for the rest of my life.

I think that a part of me will pass to it, just as the artisans of years gone by have added some essence of themselves. So that 50 years from now, a future lumberjock will wonder into my estate sale and hear a Goodell Manufacturing Co. miterbox whisper to them, recounting projects long-since done. And they’ll say to them self, “You’re coming home with me.”

And thus, the circle of woodworking life will be renewed.

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