Sharp Fixes Everything

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Writing about sharpening has always felt pretty redundant to me, simply because everything that needs to be written about how to sharpen has already been written – read “The Perfect Edge” by Ron Hock, the “Sharpen This” series by Chris Schwarz, and then get back to making your nicely sharpened edge tools blunt again (that’s the fun part!). So, over the five years of the blog I’ve always resisted writing about sharpening.

But this year a number of factors caused me to re-examine my sharpening routine and to change my system. So after getting acquainted with my new approach to sharpening, I thought a brief blog post was in order. I want to be clear though, there are many sharpening systems out  in the world, and all work providing you spend enough time to understand them. I”m not saying my current system is “best” (whatever that means), just that right now, it satisfies my needs. At Totness we used a Tormek followed by a fine water stone, finishing with a leather strop. After Totness I used oil stones for quite a while, because that’s what my Grandfather used. And for the past six years I’ve used Scary Sharp film on a sheet of 10mm thick float glass, lubricated with Liberon honing oil. All of those systems achieved a razor sharp edge, and I put in enough hours on each system to understand how to get my edge tools sharp. Each sharpening medium has different foibles, and there is always a period of familiarisation, which is why flitting between different systems is a recipe for blunt tools and frustration.

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Shapton Pro water stones – 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000 grits (top to bottom)

Scary Sharp worked really well, and the cost of admission is very low (£20 for an A4 sized piece of float glass, and a couple of pounds for the film itself). For those on a tight budget, or who are just starting out, it is an excellent system. So why did I make the switch? Parly because the Apprentice is starting to come into the ‘shop with me, and shows an interest in doing some basic tasks. It’s going to be a good few years before she’s sharpening edge tools, but with her being in the workshop I wanted to reduce the number of unpleasant chemicals splashing around. So honing oil was out.

The other factor that started to grate on my with Scary Sharp was the need to replenish the film every so often. Peeling off the old film, scrubbing away the residue and dried swarf with a meths soaked rag, and then applying the new film, all of this takes time. No one sharpens as often as they should, and anything which presents even a minor barrier to sharpening is less than ideal. Added to this is the fact that the film sharpens very nicely when new, but then cuts slower and slower as the abrasive is worn away. Which is not to knock Scary Sharp as a medium – if you have the patience and discipline to change films often, and if this doesn’t interrupt your workflow, then it is an excellent system.

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Setting the correct amount of projection to hone a 35 degree bevel, thanks to the angle block by Derek Jones

So a sharpening medium that can be lubricated without oil, and has a sustainable and fast cutting action? My solution was a set of Shapton Pro water stones (available in the UK from Knives and Tools). This isn’t a cheap option by any means, even using a minimal set of 1,000 grit (Orange), 5,000 grit (Pink) and 8,000 (Green). Adding a flattening solution to keep the stones true (I went with a DMT Dia-Flat plate) also adds to the cost. But after 6 weeks or so of using this system in the shop, I’m very pleased. Using a gentle spritz of tap water from a plant spray meets my criteria of having a non-harmful lubricant. And the Shapton stones cut very quickly, helping to achieve a keen edge in very little time. The faster it is to sharpen, the more often I sharpen. Flattening the stones with the Dia Flat is also a very quick process – the stones don’t dish particularly quickly, which means that minimal flattening is needed after each use. So right now this system works for me, and I am staying sharp.

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Honing the bevel

The rest of my sharpening kit is very simple. Honing guides are a whole other topic (and one I want to write about even less than I want to write about shaprning). After using a couple of different guides over the past six years, I’ve spent the past 3 being monogamouse to the Lie Nielsen honing guide, which holds blades firmly and allows a consistent bevel to be honed with ease. Again, it’s not better than the others, but it works for me. Derek Jones makes a very nice angle block for use with the Lie Nielsen guide, and that has been my go to for over 18 months now. I also keep a small engineer’s square in my sharpeng kit to check for square cross the width of the blade. The only thing I need to get now is a tray to hold the stones on in use.

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My simple, but effective, sharpening kit

Back to the Boot Bench… Part 4

Events have been conspiring to keep me out of the ‘shop for the past couple of weeks, although I did manage to steal a couple of hours on Sunday to fit the backboards to the boot bench.

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Preparing the tongue and groove joints

I’m not sure if I approach this method in the same way as everyone else, or whether I’m a bit screwball about it, as I prefer to fit the outer pair of boards, and then work my way in to the middle of the carcase. This ensures that I end up with a symmetrical arrangement of boards, and can adjust the size of the middle board (or pair of boards) to fit the aperture without too much measuring.

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Roman nails and a hammer by CE Hammond of Philadelphia

There are four backboards for the boot bench, and each are 1/2″ thick and pine, just like the rest of the project, and joined together with tongue and groove. The two outer boards are glued along their outermost long edge into the rabbet in the casework, and all four boards are nailed to the rear edge of the shelves with the Roman nails I wrote about last time.  I processed the two outer boards first, shooting the top edge square and planing the tongue and groove joinery into the inner edge with the Lie-Nielsen No.49. To trim the boards to length I dispensed with the shooting board, and instead struck a line across the widh of the board at 26 3/4″ along the length – this will give an overhang of 1/2″ beyond the bottom shelf. I then chiselled a trench to the waste side of the line (as you would for a “first class” cut), and then cut down the line with a Bad Axe 20″ mitre saw. This saw leaves a nice clean edge, and this method offered a very quick way to cut the boards to length keeping a good square end. Once all the boards are fitted I can then clean up the bottom edge with a block plane if necessary, but to be honest as this surface will be only a couple of inches above the floor and at the rear of the casework I’m not sure if it will need any clean up. Reading Mortise & Tenon has had a real impact in how I approach my work, in terms of the decisions between which surfaces must be pristine, and where it is more efficient to leave signs of process.

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The bead adds a nice shadow line for decoration, and also hides any gaps that occur as a result of seasonal movement in the backbords

Once the outer two boards were processed, I held them in place and drilled pilot holes for the nails using an egg beater hand drill. Each board has four nails for each shelf, and I partially inserted four nails per board to hold it in place while I measured up for the inner pair of boards, which turned out to be a little narrower than the outer pair. The final touch was to add a bead to the shoulder of each tongue with my Philly Planes 1/8″ beading plane.

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The Apprentice helping to nail the backboards in place

This stage of the build also offered a significant milestone. The workshop was too cold to use hide glue, so I relocated to the kitchen to glue and fit the outer boards. As I was doing so, the Apprentice was finishing her dinner and I asked if she’d like to help me fit the boards in place. She readily agreed, and was super focused while she knocked in nails (using the vintage CE Hammond hammer she received just after she was born) and cleaning up squeezeout with a toothbrush. This was the Apprentice’s first experience of woodwork, and she seemed to really enjoy it, so hopefully we will have many hours of father-daughter time in the workshop – she’s already talking about “making a chair for mummy” (although we may need to build up to chairmaking).

Back to the Boot Bench… Part 3

One of my favourite elements of any project is choosing the hardware and finish options. These are the finishing details which add character and flair to the piece, but which must be carefully selected so as not to distract from the essential form – no one wants to add chaps to a squirrel. This process often involves looking at the context in which the project will sit, and making decisions based on what would complement that context, and what combination of elements would work together to present a harmonious piece of furniture.

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Planing drawer stock

When we first moved in to our house (nearly) four years ago, the hall felt pretty dingy, in part thanks to the rather drab magnolia paint job we’d inherited, and also because the only natural light comes from a small pane in the front door, which spends much of the year shaded by two large lime trees in the front garden. When it came to decorating the hall (part of the great magnolia-eradication campaign which continues to this day) we wanted a colour scheme that would brighten the hall and make it an inviting space. After painting many test panels on the walls, we settled on a vibrant Mediterranean-style yellow. The yellow was then complemented with copper accents on a mirror frame and lampshade.

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Our sample boards in situ against the hall wall – the Basil Green (second, left) was the winner, closely followed by Persimmon (far right)

I knew from the start that the boot bench would have a milk painted exterior, and oiled interior. I’m not a big fan of unpainted pine, and this combination provides a more pleasing exterior, while allowing the pale yellow of the interior to pop a little, which will add the appearance of a light piece of furniture. But what colour of milk paint? I collected offcuts of the shelves and casework so that I would have material for test painting that was consistent with the boot bench. After scouring the colour charts for General Finishes and Old Fashioned Milk Paint, we identified a number of possible contenders which were duly ordered and sample panels prepared. After the addition of a top coat of Osmo, the sample boards were then lined up in the hall to judge in situ. The winner was Basil Green by Old Fashioned Milk Paint, although we were both tempted by the (very bold) choice of Persimmon by General Finishes.

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“Roman” nails by Rivierre

So, with the finish selected, it was on to the hardware. The shelves will be pinned through the dados, partly to ensure longevity, and also as a means of subtle decoration. I have always used cut nails by Tremont Nail (available from Tools for Woking Wood), and their rosehead nails hold like the dickens, and are very nice to look at. I’ve been interested in using the “Roman” nails by Rivierre (and available from Dictum) since Chris first wrote about them, and this looked like a good opportunity. The gently faceted head of the Rivierre nails is very attractive, and the black finish means that they will be understated but visible against the milk paint.

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Selection of drawer pulls from Horton Brasses

The boot bench has a single drawer in the top right corner, and the final hardware choice was for drawer pull. Any excuse to order hardware from Horton Brasses is welcome, so I browsed their catalogue for suitable pulls and ordered three options, all in the “light antique” finish. After trying the three pieces against the drawer front, we settled in the Mackintosh pull, which adds a nice visual detail without being too showy. The light antique finish works also nicely against the darker milk paint.

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The Mackintosh pull works nicely against the Basil Green milk paint, and is a good size for the drawer

With the details selected, I now need to finish fitting the back and making the drawer before cleaning up the casework. There is still plenty to do on this build, but at this rate it will be finished before Christmas.

Back to the Boot Bench… Part 2

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Dovetails for the first corner

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted, but despite the radio silence I have been progressing the boot bench for our hall. The first task was to cut the dovetails which join the sides and top of the casework. I’ve written about my dovetailing process previously (and also here), and the internet probably doesn’t need another treaties on how to cut dovetails. So I shall spare you, dear reader, from having to read another account of the same process. Truth be told, the only changes I’ve made to how I dovetail in the four years since I took the Anarchist’s Tool Chest class with Chris is that I use a Moxon vise for holding the workpiece, and I use a Bad Axe Bayonet saw for dovetailing stock thicker than 1/2″ (for 1/2″ stock I use my original 10″ Bad Axe Doc Holliday dovetail saw).

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Cutting the pin board

The remaining dados in the top (to accept the vertical divider) and the divider (for the shelves), were cut in stages. First, I did a dry fit to check that the carcase went together without any issue, and then marked off the position of the dado in the top to accept the vertical partition. By measuring the location of the dado in the bottom shelf once the casework was assmbled I could ensure that the corresponding dado in the top would be in exactly the right location. With that dado cut, I inserted the vertical divider and then measure the position of the three dados for the shelves, double checking by measuring each dado from both the bottom and the top of the interior of the casework.

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Laying out the dado positions for the vertical divider

With the dados cut I then prepared the shelves to fit their respective dados. A final dry fit confirmed that all of the components were a snug fit and that the casework went together square and true. Glue-up can be stressful enough without having to wrestle multiple parts, and so I prefer to assemble casework in stages. The first stage for this project was the carcase – top, sides, and lowest shelf. I assembled the dovetails first, applying Old Brown Glue to all surfaces and then knocking them together with a 1lb lump hammer. I then sized the end grain of the lower shelf with glue, waiting a few minutes before applying glue to both dados before sliding the shelf in place. This was my first glue up using a flux brush to spread the glue (a tip Chris wrote about recently) and it worked very well for getting an even coat of glue.

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Drilling pilot holes through the vertical divider

The dados will be reinforced with cut nails. The dados in the carcase will be nailed once the glue cures, but there is not enough space inside the casework to drill pilot holes in the vertical divider once assembled. While the carcase was in the clamps I assembled the interior dry, and drilled pilot holes for the cut nails through the vertical divider into the shelves. Those pilot holes were angled in opposite directions to increase holding power. I have just enough space to use a hammer to knock these nails in when gluing the interior assembly, and by inserting the nails into the divider during glue-up they will help to keep the shelves aligned when sliding them into place.

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Next up will be to glue in the shelves and divider, fit the tongue-and-groove back, and finally dovetail the drawer. This project is coming together quite quickly.

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Dry fit and looking ok

Back to the Boot Bench… Part 1

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve written a fair bit about the maple component of the Autumn of Maple and Pine, but not much about the pine. Until now.

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Making out dados while in the throws of Vesper Fever

As I mentioned previously, the pine is for a variation on the Policeman’s Boot Bench for our hall. Our shoe storage needs are slightly different to the client I built the original Boot Bench for, and so while I have retained the overall dimensions the interior will have a slightly different configuration. So instead of four full-length shelves, we have three shelves of greater depth which extend for three quarters of the length of the casework, and a vertical partition which leaves a full-height section for wellington boots. At the top of the partition is a drawer for post, house keys, and all of the usual clutter that accumulates beside the front door. The pine will be milk painted, most likely a sage green to compliment the yellow walls of our hall.

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Laying out the dados with my Hamilton Tool Works small marking gauge

This is the first piece of furniture I have built for a communal area of the house, and I’m looking to solving the shoe storage problems which the Policeman discussed when collecting his boot bench. This will be a piece which we use every day, and which will be the first thing we see when we walk in the front door.

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The Bad Axe Bayonet is still my favourite way of cutting dados

The construction methods of our piece will be the same as for the Policeman’s Boot Bench – dovetails, dados and rabbets abound. I will also be using cut nails to further secure the shelves to their dados. I wrote extensively about the process for making the Policeman’s Boot Bench at the time, so I don’t intend to go into the same level of detail this time around. But that is not to say that the blog will be silent on this project, instead I’m going to focus on the differences from the previous build, which I think will be quite interesting.

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Laying out the foot detail with some pre-industrial geometry

So far I’ve been approaching this build in several discreet stages. The top, bottom shelf, and sides, form the main casework into which the partition and internal shelves will fit. I processed the outer components as a set, cut all of the rabbets and then laid out the foot detail. But before cutting the feet, I turned my attention to the dados for the shelves, divider, and drawer.

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The underside of all of the shelves will be textured

 

Laying out the position of the shelves was causing me a headache until I abandoned numbers and used my dividers to step off proportionate locations. The bottom shelf is 3″ from the floor to allow space for the foot detail. I knew that the gap between the bottom and the middle shelf needed to be greater than the shelves in the Policeman’s Boot Bench to accomodate my Dr Marten boots, but laying the shelves out with numbers resulted in a clunky and awkward spacing. Instead, I divided the space between the bottom shelf and the top of the casework (less the thickness of the two higher shelves) into 9 equal units. The middle shelf was positioned four units above the bottom shelf, and the top shelf was positioned 3 units above the middle shelf.

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Cleaning dados with a router plane

I have no idea what the measurement of those 9 units is, but it doesn’t matter. The resulting spacing looks a lot more pleasing than any configuration I could devise using fractions of inches, and will accomodate a wide range of footwear. There is also a single dado in the bottom shelf, and the underside of the top, to take the divider.

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Dados and the foot detail

Once the dados were cut I cut the cyma reversa foot detail with a coping saw, cleaning up the curves with rasps. I fitted the bottom shelf by planing the underside with the scrub plane until the shelf was a snug, but not overtight, fit in the dados. The next task will be to dovetail the top and sides, and then start work on the internal fittings. This project is shaping up quite quickly, and I’m hoping to have it complete before our annual Christmas house party at the begining of December.

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Test fitting the sides and bottom shelf.

The Autumn of Maple and Pine… Part 3

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When the callipers slip over the middle of the tenon, you know you’re done.

The final piece of the puzzle for the Surprise Chair is the leg profile. I want this to add another texture and set of lines to contrast with the seat of the chair. For the Apprentice’s Stick Chair I used irregular facets and a hand-rounded process with the scrub plane and block planes. In the spirit of my last post, for this chair I wanted something different. As the maple takes crisp details really well I decided that a tapered octagon would work very nicely for the child-sized proportions. It’s also been a couple of weeks since I octagonalised anything, which in all honesty is far too long.

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Tapering the square leg blank

As a first step I trimmed the leg blanks to length, allowing 10 1/2″length for the leg, and 2″ for the tenon. Previously when turning tenons at the lathe I’ve used the Easy Rougher tool for the whole job. This approach has been effective as bringing the tenons down to size, but it can take a while to hog off all of the waste and arrive at a completed tenon. I recently picked up the Easy Wood Parting Tool, and thought this would be a good opportunity to put it to use. I used the parting tool to define the shoulder of the tenon, going to final depth. The narrow cutter (1/8″) meant that the tool sank to the finished diameter of the tenon swiftly, but with a lot of control. I then used the shoulder as my guide to shape the rest of the tenon with the Easy Rougher. This also gave me an excuse to use the callipers from my Great-Great Uncle Bill’s Starrett layout kit, setting the callipers to the diameter of the tenon and working the blank down until they just slipped over the middle of the tenon.

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Octagonalising the leg with the No.62

Once the tenon was defined, I tapered the square section of the leg down to 7/8″ at the foot, before laying out the octagonal facets. It was then a simple (and entirely familiar) matter of octagonalising the leg with the No.62 (still on test) until the facets were even all the way round the leg, and tapering smoothly.

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Texture, facets, and chamfers as far as the eye can see

At present the octagon at the taper is a touch fatter than the legs for the Apprentice’s Stick Chair, and I am wondering whether I should thin down the dimensions at the top end a little (while keeping the foot at 7/8″). A test fit of the leg in the mortise will help to judge whether any adjustments are needed to the thicker end of the leg (and then it will be on to the remaining two legs). But otherwise I am pleased with how this leg looks, and the crisp facets of the octagon adds another dimension to the chamfers, and scalloped texture, of the underside of the seat. For the sticks I’m planning a soft, hand-rounded finish, as crisp edges on those would not make for a comfortable chair. This chair is coming on nicely, and I am looking forward to having it legged up soon.