Diversion: Wood Extraction Attempt

There I was, milling away for the nightstand project, when I felt like I’d really like to take a break. I remembered a recent thread over at Dan’s Shop where I mused that I really ought to do something with that madrone that I had gotten back at Bagathon. My idea has been to make a handle for my “dream dovetail saw” that I’ve had in mind for a while, so I picked up a chunk, looked at it, and then fastened it to the workbench:

Now, this piece hadn’t really been properly cut or dried or anything. It’s just a piece of a log that Larry had sitting out, and by the time we got to it, it was plenty dry. Tom Holloway and I split it up and several people took pieces home. I have two of them. The other one is thinner than this one but it might be a little more straight-grained.

And so there it was, sitting on my bench, and I was wondering if its checks were too many and deep to get a piece unbroken enough for a saw handle. To find out, I started sawing. The first cut I took wasn’t too promising (pieces kept falling away), so I went in deeper:

It looked better, so I went in even deeper and got this far:

As it turns out, sawing this stuff is a pain in the butt. And I’ve been sawing beech for the last several months, and let me assure you that beech is not particularly pleasant in that respect, either.

I was far enough that I thought, hmm, maybe I have a shot at this. Maybe if it fails I can just get two smaller pieces and glue them together. But first, I wanted to split off some sections that I definitely knew were not going to be of much use to the handle but might be useful for something else. I marked them with a pencil:

Then I went outside with the wedge and small sledge (I can’t remember now, where did I get a wedge? Or the hammer?) and took a few swings. Then it occurred to me that the sound was propagating (loudly) all over the neighborhood and that it wasn’t really the time of day that I should be doing that kind of thing, so I went back inside to finish the job. I managed to find a spot that has even worse lighting than the shop, resulting in this bizarre 8-second exposure:

Hey, it worked though. I should warn you, though, that my foot is not transparent in real life.

Then I sawed away some more and now still wonder if I have enough wood in there for what I want. I know that it’s close. And I also wonder why it is that I’m doing this, exactly. After all, I have pieces of apple, cherry, as well as a near-infinite supply of beech, and I supposedly don’t care too much about the way my tools look, anyway. I think I probably just want to reduce my wood supply.

New Dog Holes, More Milled Wood

I’ve been doing a lot of milling and resawing lately. My prototype bookshelf will use the following pieces of yellow-poplar that I dimensioned:

Yeah, I know, it’s not too exciting, it’s just some wood.

This stuff was quite cupped when I started out, so I had to do a lot of work with the scrub plane to get it flat. To do so, I decided to put a second row of dog holes in the workbench so that it would be easier to plane across the grain:

To use them, just add some dogs in the appropriate holes, as shown here by this evil piece of beech:

It’s been working well so far. I’m considering adding one more at the corner so that it really doesn’t have any room to move around, but it’s not important right now.

Why, you ask, is that board evil? Well, it’s from a piece of 8/4 stock, about 11″ wide. To get to the point of resawing it, I had to flatten one face. No problem, except when you don’t hammer in the scrub plane wedge enough. When that happens, the blade can pop out when you’re doing hard work. The overall consequence, then, is minor carnage. Ouch. I lost a few days of shop time from that.

In any case, this board is for another project that I haven’t talked about yet. I’ll post more details on it later.

Taiwan: More Tools, Sitou

Continuing with the survey of tools that I got in Taiwan, here’s a funky rabbet plane:



The body is pretty clearly some sort of white oak, the only such example that I picked up. The blade is laminated and decently thick. This was one of the more expensive tools that I got; I think the cost was about $15.

The big characters on the blade and on the red part of the sticker comprise the brand name. On the rest of the sticker, it says something like, “very good quality,” and it seems to hold true. Everything mates perfectly, the mouth is tight, and it produces good, smooth shavings. I managed to do some panel-raising with it.

[edit: This seems to be a Taiwanese version of the mado-waku-shakuri-kanna that Toshio Odate mentions on page 106 of his Japanese Woodworking Tools book.]

Next up is this wooden spokeshave:


This is a little larger than most western wooden shaves (maybe about 60% larger), and it was not their biggest model, which was enormous. The “37″ is the production number (apparently out of a run of 100). The blade is hand-forged and decently easy to hone; you can straddle a 2.5″ stone with it. It works well. Cost was about $8.

Next up is a rounding plane. We’ve seen a bunch of similar tools under the brand Mujingfang, but this Taiwanese version uses a metal plate rather than the wooden wedge found in most of the others (I didn’t see a single wooden wedge in any Taiwanese-made plane while I was there):


The size is printed on the top near the toe. As with all of the other tools I bought, it works spendidly. I think the cost was about $10.

[Edit: The place where I got these tools is JCwoodworking. They're at Section 1, ZhongQing North Rd, 100, Taipei (台北市重慶北路1段100號). The Google maps location is currently a block off; it's about one block north, just south of the circle on the east side of the road. The "about us" map on their web site has a better map.]

So switching away from tools, let’s look at some tree stuff. One of the places we went was Sitou, which is home to the Sitou Forest Recreation/Nature Education Area. It’s an experimental forest run by National Taiwan University, and you can see many different kinds of trees that they’re playing around with. They even have a California redwood or two there, which is kind of fitting, since we have a Dawn redwood in Henry Cowell Redwoods Park here.

In any case, there are a bunch of things you can look at, and one of the most interesting is the Skywalk, a walkway on a trestle that extends from the side of a hill that goes right into the forest canopy. It’s not every day that you can just walk around the middle of a bunch of Japanese Red Cedars:


(Yes, there are birds, bugs, spiders, and all sorts of stuff up there.)

The forest is hardly old-growth, though. It was once dominated by the Formosan Cypress (Chamaecyparis formosensis), but like so many good trees, it grows slowly and is far too valuable for people to actually want to conserve in any reasonable fashion until all of the trees are gone. But there’s one cypress of note there, a giant 2800-year-old cypress considered a “sacred tree:”


Of course, the only real reason it was spared is because it is too hollow and crummy to be used for timber, so they called it “sacred” instead. Hmph. In any case, it’s pretty amazing.

Taiwan: Sanyi Wood Sculpture Museum

I’ve been in Taiwan for the last couple of weeks, so I haven’t been in the shop. However, I got to see a lot of stuff on the trip, and now that I’m back, I can start to post about some of the wood-related things I did.

First up was a trip to Sanyi Village to see the Wood Sculpture Musuem (三義木雕博物館):


Sorry about the lack of photos inside the museum. They don’t allow photos.

If you’re into sculpture or carving at all, this museum is pretty much a must-see for the island. It contains stuff from ancient times, to the Formosan aborigines, to the Han and Hakka sculptors, to contemporary pieces from their annual contest. There are also galleries containing temporary exhibitions. Make sure you get the audio tour, especially if you can’t read Chinese characters–there is an English one available. There’s quite a lot of information in the audio tour and it takes quite a while to go through it all.

There’s also a studio inside the museum where you can see and talk to a sculptor at work with traditional carving tools. I’ll try to explain this in a later post, but I think I need to do a little more research on the matter.

The village itself is full of shops containing lots and lots of pieces for sale. A lot of this consists of the garden variety happy/laughing Buddha sculptures and carved fruit (sometimes made from cypress; take off the cap and smell inside for the effect), but there are some interesting pieces as well.

By this point, you’re probably wondering if I went tool hunting during this trip. The answer to that question is, “yes,” the answer to the next question is, “quite a bit,” and here is a sampler:


This rabbet/shoulder plane was handmade in Taiwan, somewhere in the south. I’m guessing that the wood shaping was done by machine, but the finish looks handplaned, and the blades are hand-forged. The iron is laminated. I’ll have more on this plane later, when I have a chance to play with it.

And, no, Dan, I don’t know why we both posted about weird rabbet planes on the same day.

Pennsylvania Fall

Lately, I’ve been trying to visit PA every fall, when the weather is nice and the leaves look good. This year, the weather was not so great most of the time, but there were some nice spots and we did get to do some hiking around. This hiking, it’s fun not only because the leaves look really nice, but you also get to see the trees where your wood comes from.

One of the more interesting places was David’s Vista up on the Jackson Trail by Pine Grove Mills (near State College). It was there where this tree shows how a ridgetop tree weathers:


There wasn’t really much burl here, but the cambium layer has definitely been twisted around the crotch area between two branches. Talk about reversing grain! As to what kind of tree it is, there was a red oak growing out the side of this, if I recall, so that might be a good guess (even though everything else in the background was a pine).

Other sights from the trip include the vista itself, some leaves collected on Mt. Nittany, and leaves from one of the chestnuts growing on Mt. Nittany:


And now it’s time to get back to work here at home.

A-Lumberin’ We’ll Go

I finally made it to the lumberyard today. My official excuse was that I was waiting until I fitted the roof rack to my car. I did that last weekend, and then today, I decided that since I don’t have any fancy needs right now, that I’d just have it chopped into 5-foot lengths, which do fit into my car. That’s a hell of a lot easier than strapping boards to the rack.

This was pretty much my first experience at a place that actually has a lot of hardwood. The English spoken there was kind of spotty, but they were nice enough, and after a lot of back-and-forth, I’d selected a few FAS roughsawn yellow-poplar boards, and one nice roughsawn piece of cherry.

Roughsawn wood is not exciting for most people to behold.

That’s the cherry on the left, and one of the pieces of poplar on the right. However dull this looks to most people, though, it’s thrilling to me. And somehow I feel like I’m on some sort of slippery slope now, because my downstairs storage now contains a bunch of boards, just waiting for me to take a whack at them.

So now I’m ready. The only excuses I have for not seriously practicing joinery are either that I’m being lazy or I’m doing something stupid, like playing a video game or doing laundry.

In other news, I finally got a low-angle block plane. I had a prepaid visa gift card to blow, so I blew it on the offering from Lee Valley/Veritas. It was not a trivial expense.

Some people complain that it “doesn’t look traditional.” Traditional compared to what? The cast iron planes that looked all non-traditional in the 19th century? Yeah… okay… right.

Anyway, that plane is freakin’ awesome. Those guys do not monkey around when making a tool.

Oh, yeah, and I have my 8000x waterstone now. Yippee.

Workbench: Day 1

Yesterday was the first real day of the workbench project. I had a drawing of what I wanted, and I had all the tools I needed, so it was time to buy the materials and get started.

So I loaded up the CRX with three boxes of tools and my Workmate®, then headed down to the gpshead abode:

It was to be a day of driving around with a lot of big heavy stuff piled in old Hondas; for the next stage, we’d be using The Karen’s Civic Wagon (nostalgia for me, since my mom had one just like it.). I had decided that I was going to save a lot of time on the workbench top by purchasing a “Numerär” countertop from Ikea. This thing is basically a 1.5″ thick block top available in solid beech that weighs 70lbs. After my days of living in Europe, I’d never thought that I’d ever buy anything from Ikea again, but my only real regret about this is that Ikea didn’t bestow the countertop with the “Skänka” name, because of the obvious yet still hilarious joke.

This was already a bit of driving. I’d started out from my place in the city and gone to Menlo Park, then we had driven all the way back up to Emeryville because that was the closest Ikea that actually had the top in stock. Now we had to head all the way back down the the south bay again to go to Minton’s to pick up the lumber for the base.

My workbench base is going to be a trestle-style, made out of softwood (because the larger stock is cheaper than hardwood and you can get the good stuff in dimensioned stock).

Minton’s was a great place for this. They’re really good at cutting stuff there, so I was going to have them do that part of the work. Because I already had a drawing and a cutting list, I was able to go right to lumber selection. It didn’t take long to decide that I wanted clear fir boards because that stuff was really good-looking, and wouldn’t require a lot of finishing work. I also decided to splurge on the stretchers and get 2x8s instead of 2x4s or 2x6s (this added a considerable amount to the bill, but it also adds considerable mass, and doesn’t look bad, either). Within about 25 minutes, we had what we needed (including the fastening hardware):

You can see some of the grain on the clear fir boards on the left here (the stuff on the right is just some junk for sawhorses). There’s also a sheet of plywood in here and a spare board in case I mess up.

Then we got lunch, drove back to the ranch in Menlo Park, and unloaded. Then I decided that I was tired from all this driving around and was going to lounge around a while until I felt ready to do a little work.

When I felt a little up to doing a little something, I pulled the Workmate® out of the CRX and set up a few jigs. Then I clamped some boards in the vise and started some drilling on the legs:

This photo shows some more of that really nice grain on the clamped board.

I approached the drilling task by using a drill guide to bore a small pilot hole at the right spot, then drilled the final 3/8″ hole with my brace and an auger bit. The bit followed the pilot hole perfectly. I was a little surprised at how warm the bit got because this was “only” softwood. However, I shouldn’t have been; this is Douglas Fir, one of the heaviest softwoods, and that’s one of the reasons I chose it in the first place.

One other note here is that this is the first time I’d actually ever used a brace and auger bit in any serious manner. My Millers Falls #773 is a very effective tool. Certainly not a quick as a power drill, but great for the muscles.

After I’d drilled a few holes, I decided that it was getting late, and since I was already tired, it was time to pack it in. But first I couldn’t resist showing off my handplanes to gpshead. The #9 needs more tweaking, but the #14 jack plane takes awesome shavings, so I took some off of the sawhorse stock.

Reflecting on how thin the shavings were, gpshead decided to pull out his big fresnel lens and see how quickly they would catch on fire in the California sun. About a half a second, as it turns out…

Now it was time to pack up and go home. I loaded everything into the CRX, including the countertop (yes, it really does fit in that little car!). And then I drove home. And then the really fun part: singlehandedly unload everything, and haul it up two flights of steps to my apartment. Or as some of us would say, “just another day of work at the farm.” Except that you don’t have apartments down at the farm.

I’ll be able to resume work here. However, I’m taking today off.