Winter Skin.

Working with your hands during the dry winter months, especially when working with wood, can lead to cracked dry hands.  Before this post turns into a Martha Stewart article on hand cream, I must point out that I have, on more than one occasion, ruined a project near completion with smears of blood from cracked dry hands.  This requires me to go back and refinish the project with gloves (which drive me nuts) or band-aid laden hands which is as bad as the gloves.  I can't be the only one this happens to...I hope.

My wife offered me some advice on salve for severely dry skin, the problem was that it was greasy and smelled like cookies...which just made me hungry.  I have always hated putting lotion on my hands, not necessarily because I look like a nancy doing it, but because it leaves a greasy mess on everything I touch.  This is why I was glad when I found this stuff called "O'Keeffe's Working Hands."  It isnt oily, it doesn't smell like cookies or lavender or kerosene, and it works.  I am in no way affiliated with this company, I just like this stuff, and it helps keep blood off my tools and projects (blood from dry hands that is, it doesn't prevent stupidity related injuries from sharp tools).

If you aren't into something out of a can, I found a good recipe for making your own hand cream as well.  As a woodworker, I had almost everything this recipe called for in my shop and my wife had the coconut oil.  It took me about twenty minutes to make and it works great!  Just leave out the essential oil and you won't smell like a shopping mall candle store. Make Your Own Beeswax Lotion


John Neeman Does It Again.

Other Peoples Videos

Once again the fellas at John Neeman Tools have set a benchmark with a beautiful video demonstrating a portion of the extensive process required to hand forge tools.  This is the third video in their growing set entitled "The Birth Of A Tool," and the Damascus knife/sheath combination made in the video is drool-worthy.  I wrote a very short post a while ago about this group from Latvia started by John Neeman, and had a short email exchange with the gents there.  These guys are the real deal from the ground up.  They seem to be able to perfectly marry some modern power tools with traditional techniques to produce some of the most beautiful tools.  They have grown their inventory of traditional hand made tools and are working on portions of their website to make more of them available for purchase.  Mr. Neeman puts his heart and soul into each tool he forges and it shows in their beauty, function, and elegance through simplicity.

Well made, handmade tools are a rarity anymore.  It is not as rare to find someone making knives, however, forging Damascus patterned steel from raw materials is rather rare.  The sheath that is made in the video is equally impressive as it is custom made for the forged knife...with the forged knife, awesome.  A deep understanding of raw materials is what sets this tool maker apart from many others.  Knowing how raw materials work, helps to make a better product in the end.  By understanding the limitations of each material involved in making a tool, the craftsman can exploit each materials strength.  This is apparent in the end result of these tools.  Bravo, Neeman Tools, keep it up.

John Neeman has indeed left Neeman Toolworks and has started his new company called Autine.  The same principles apply here and all his tools are handcrafted to the highest standards.  He also offers a lifetime warranty on all his tools.  Here is a video of his new endeavor, I wish him all the best and I intend to place an order sometime this year, after which I'll post a review.  Now, to go buy some lotto tickets!


Convexity...Another Option

I recently got a great email from a YouTube viewer concerned about having to buy a honing/sharpening guide.  I freehand sharpen almost all of my tools once an initial bevel has been set, however, his question got me thinking about how I used to set initial bevels on hand tools before I owned a grinding wheel or a honing guide.

I used to set up an angled piece of wood next to my sharpening stone and eyeball the iron on the stone at that angle.  I had one cut at 25deg. and another at 30deg.  After a lot of practice this provided, more often than not, a nice solid bevel on which I could easily sharpen the iron every time.  The issue was that all of my edges were at slightly different angles and sometimes the different angles reacted differently in various species of wood which sometimes changed between sharpenings/honings.  In truth, this wasn't really a problem, but I knew I could make it better.  The way I looked at it was this, I could watch the game on a black and white 1954 Packard Bell tabletop TV and struggle to see the players, or, I could watch the game on a new 50" HD LCD wall mounted television and easily see the individual hairs on the players faces.  Just because the old ways work just fine, doesn't mean there's not room for improvement.

During the last year or so, I have been experimenting with a sharpening option that I originally thought was bunk.  After I tried it one time, I started singing another tune (which wasn't pleasant for anyone within earshot).  If anything, this process removes some of the inaccuracies inherent in trying to hold the iron at a perfect angle while setting the bevel, while balancing on one foot, while whistling Beethoven's Fifth.  This process is repeatable, relatively accurate, provides a strong edge, and most importantly...it's quick.  The process I am referring to has been around for an extremely long time, and upon some further research is used by some very well known woodworkers, whom in order to avoid starting any controversy shall remain nameless.  The sharpening technique I am referring to puts a convex bevel on the tool in question.  This convex bevel helps clear chips in the same way a flat bevel does, but it works like a microbevel providing an increase in edge durability (due to a higher edge angle than the primary bevel) and making honing and sharpening extremely quick.
Three Of Many, Many Bevel Types
I'll make a video demonstrating this technique, I promise, but in the interim here is a quick rundown of how it works.  After you have flattened the back of the iron sufficiently, flip it over and rest the heel of the bevel  on the front edge of the sharpening stone and draw it back while raising the handle until the bevel rests at approximately 25-30 degrees at the back of the stone.  I recommend using moderate to heavy pressure on the steel for this procedure.  Continue this process sweeping the bevel on the stone in a shallow arc until a light burr has been raised on the back of the iron.  Be very careful not to raise the handle too high, or you will  round over the nice sharp edge you are working to create.  Use this same technique up through the grits of your available stones and then hone on your favorite honing medium (leather, paper and polishing compound, honing film, etc.), being as careful as you can to maintain the same angle on the final swing of the sharpening stroke.  I really like a piece of leather charged with some polishing compound for honing with this method as it stands up to the process a little better than some of the other methods.
Side Profile Of an Iron Bevel
Being Drawn Back Across A Sharpening Stone
The beauty in this method is that in its inherent inaccuracy there is an ability to provide better consistency.  Rather than trying to hold a perfect angle through the entire process and ending up with a moderately faceted bevel, muscle memory comes into play and this process becomes easily repeatable.  I will continue to discuss this method, however controversial, in more blog entries to come because I have seen how successful this method can be, not to mention how inexpensive!


Twice Warmed.

"Chop your own firewood, and it will warm you twice," is a quote often attributed to Henry Ford, however, it seems obvious that it was probably around long before he was born.  Henry Ford, despite some of his shortcomings, was not a man to waste anything.  In fact, Kingsford charcoal was originally started by Henry Ford and E.G. Kingsford (a relative of Mr. Ford) as a way to make money from some of the scrap wood coming off of the Ford Motor Companies assembly lines.  The wood was turned into charcoal and suddenly his waste wood became a useful and profitable industry.

While I am not particularly interested (at the moment) in starting an industry from waste products, I am interested in some wood that people are ready to set ablaze.  I like splitting firewood by hand.  It is good exercise, it's simple and repetitive, it gets me outdoors, it gives me a chance to zone out, and it's both aggressive and zen-like at the same time.  The only drawback is that I don't have a fireplace.  Our house was originally outfitted with potbelly stoves for warmth instead of full fireplaces, a bummer for me over a hundred years later (as small children and hot iron stoves in the middle of the room do not mix well).  I do, however, have friends and family that appreciate some split firewood from time to time so, fortunately, I don't have huge mounds of chopped wood just sitting around.  One of the best results of splitting wood is that occasionally, I'll find something that I decide to hoard in my shop (along with too much other junk).

While sending the splitting maul through a piece of maple, I found the beautiful piece of pink hued, slightly spalted maple below.  I set that section of the tree aside and set back to work splitting up the rest of the wood.  From maple, to walnut, to oak, I have found quite a few beautiful pieces of lumber just by paying attention to the wood I'm splitting for the winter...plus its free!  I'll let this piece, and the other four or five just like it, dry in the shop for a season before I turn it into something.  In this case this piece will become a saw handle, as will some of the others if I don't turn one or two on the lathe first.

Speaking of the lathe, I have turned more practice pieces from "firewood" than I care to count since I set up my lathe last year.  They are often great pieces of wood which take only seconds of prep with a small hatchet or the bandsaw prior to chucking them into the lathe.  Additionally, if I screw up and wreck one I can just toss it in my neighbors fireplace and keep warm while I mooch his wine without worrying about how much I paid for my practice mistake (read: kindling).  Now that I think of it, another benefit to splitting wood for other people is that sometimes they will give you booze for firewood (suckers)!

So next time you have a small project planned, need a new handle for a chisel or saw, are in need of inspiration, or just want to stay warm, consider splitting some wood.


Virtue in Rest

The author of Why Your Life Sucks, Alan Cohen wrote, "There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest.  Use both and overlook neither."  Unfortunately, the first time I had seen that quote was about ten minutes before I decided to write this.

2012 was a terribly, ridiculously, extremely, ass on fire type of year a really busy year.  So, I took a break (crashed in a fiery blaze) for a few weeks...from just about everything to spend some time with my family and really try to soak in the holiday season.  By soak in the holiday season, I mean I drank beer and ate food until I exploded.  This busy schedule of eating and drinking left me little time to do much else, I know, poor me. Fortunately, that rest was what I needed to get reinvigorated.  Once I started to get fidgety from all the sitting around, I was able to make a list of blog ideas, get some plans ready for a few projects this year and cram in a little reading.

Books are always a welcome gift in my house, especially old ones.  My sister recently took a trip abroad to visit her favorite place on earth, London.  Fortunately for me, I had the wherewithal to remember to ask her to keep an eye out for old woodworking books while she shopped for weird European fashion.  I too love London, but rather than shopping for umbrellas I like to look for antiques.  England (and a lot of Europe for that matter) is a great place to search for old books because, as Eddie Izzard famously pointed out, Europe is where history comes from, which makes finding some of these old out of print books easier in antique book stores in England than here in the U.S.  So in between trying on rubber rain boots and taking artsy photos of old castles, my sister had time to stroll through a few antique book stores.  It just so happened that she brought me back a real gem.

Mmmmmm Delicious Knowledge
This book is chock full of awesome information.  It starts with known properties of wood, touches on species identification, and contains a plethora of plans for woodworking projects from beginner to advanced.    I found some similar books online from a London publisher edited by the same man from the early 1900s.  The book isn't dated so it is hard to tell but it has many traditional projects from the early 1900s inside.  Yes, there is even a rummage tool chest.  I will be building some of these projects this year and I'll scan and post the projects I build as they are being constructed should anyone in need of a good project happen across this blog while looking for cat videos.
Tool Chest Plans, Which I Will Post...

Loaded With Projects From Simple To Chippendale Furniture 

I have a lot in store for the blog this year including some interviews with local woodworkers, the Roubo bench (FINALLY!), some tool making, and a bunch of videos!  Stay tuned because it's about to get exhausting.