Thursday, 22 December 2011

Inspiration, Disaster, and Recovery

I was shutting down my lathe the other night when I took a casual glance at the bowl that I was working on.  It's an egg shaped thing with a bit of natural edge at the top, and the way it came to rest the length of the oval opening was horizontal.  "It looks like a fish mouth" I thought.  "I could put some googly eyes on it, some fins, and it would look just like a fish ... fish bowl!"  As soon as I thought it I knew I would have to make it.  And I was mad. 

Although I am not a 'serious' woodworker, there is still a big part of me that wants to be taken seriously.  Making silly fish bowls is not the way to do it.  Was I just being pretentious?  I had put a lot of work into my 'serious' bowl and was close to being finished.  I decided to sleep on it and see what my inner voice would whisper.  What I didn't know was that I had already placed myself on the path and soon I would be unable to turn back.  Boy, that sounds ominous.

My first mistake, which I had made minutes befor that casual glance, was to turn the sidewall a little too thin about half way down the bowl.  I then compounded the error by leaving a step on the inside wall of the bowl rather than gradually increasing the thickness back to the width I wanted.

After sleeping on it I was still undecided on which way I wanted to go with the bowl.  I did know, though, that I wanted to get rid of that step in the side wall.  So that's what I proceeded to do.  After a minute or so the shavings built up so I stopped to clear them and check my progress.  This is what I found.

Disaster!  The bowl had changed shape slightly overnight as it lost moisture.At first, I tried to treat it as a 'design opportunity' but  there was no way I could make it work.  My 'serious' bowl was done.

Maybe though, if I could repair it to be smooth enough, I could paint it.  Fish bowl was on, pending a successful repair effort.  The question was, how?  The wall was paper thin at one end and less than 1/16th at the other.  I decided to build it up in layers.  The layers would have to be even thinner than the walls of the bowl.  My solution was to use shavings from a chunk of birch that I had in the shop.

Here is a shot after the first layer:

And the last.

After sanding it was still pretty rough, so I made a paste of sawdust and glue and covered it with that.

I let it dry overnight and I was pleasantly surprised at how strong it turned out to be.  I sanded it again and used a little wood filler to finally get a surface smooth enough for paint.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Lesson Relearned

In my very first turning class I learned three things that have stuck with me ever since:
1: Rub the bevel agaunst the bowl, then slide the tool down the rest while lifting the handle until the tool just starts shaving the wood.
2: Pay attention to where the bevel is pointed, because that is the direction your cut will go.
3: Always cut from the larger diameter to the smaller diameter so the wood fibres are supported by the ones below for a cleaner cut.

The first two were eye opening at the time, but now make total sense.  They are comfirmed with every bowl that I turn and feel very natural.

But I still struggle with the last one.

It just seems to be wrong to me. I think that if you were to cut from the small diameter to the larger one, the fibres higher up stick out further than the one being cut so that the ones being cut are completely supported.  When cutting from a larger diameter to a smaller one, the fibres being cut are always overhanging the the ones further down and hence are not fully suported.  So why am I wrong?

I know that I am because of a little experiment I tried on the inside of the bowl I am working on now.  I was rough hollowing the inside and I was working both from the outside in and from the inside out.  Here is what it looked like when I went from the outside in:

This is what it looked like when I worked from the inside out:

So why the big difference?  Both cuts were made with the same tool in the same wood taking the same depth of cut.  The surface here is fairly flat.  I still just don't get it.

You can't argue with the results though.  I have tried to make some changes to the way I work on bowls to accomodate this, like turning the outside of the bowl between centres with the bottom facing the tailstock and then turning the bowl around and chucking it to do the inside.  Being right handed it is easier to work toward the tailstock because there is more room.  I just don't like taking the bowl off the lathe because it never seems to go back on to the exactly the same centre.  Maybe I just need more practise.  You know, more time in the shop

Sunday, 20 November 2011


This is the first plane I made.  I made it about three years ago following the instructions in the book "Making & Mastering Wood Planes" by David Finck.  If you are thinking about making a wooden plane, this is the book to have.  The instructions are so detailed it is hard to go wrong (I still did, but not before it was too late).  This style of plane is attributed to the late James Krenov, so I refer to thisplane as "the Krenov."

The main body is acacia and the wedge and cross pin are made from walnut.  The body is 10-1/2" long by 2-1/2" wide.  The blade and cap iron, which were made by Hock Tools, are 1-1/2" wide,  which makes this kind of an odd sized plane.  I chose the wood because the blank was about the right length, had a consistent slope to the grain, and felt heavier than other woods in the shop.  I chose the blade to fit the blank based on the instructions in the book.  The walnut became the wedge because I had a piece that was the same width as the blade and was already wedge shaped.

I am absurdly proud of this plane.  The throat opening is less than .004" and I have measured shavings as thin as .0015".  It is comfortable to hold.  It looks good.  It can plane curly maple without tearout.  It's my first one.  All the credit belongs to the book and it's author.

If I do have any complaint about this plane it is that the narrow throat makes it purely a smoother and not so good for general purpose work.  Hence my second plane, the Primus.

Although this plane looks almost nothing like the Krenov it does have the same basic structure.  The only real changes are the addition of the front horn and the rear tote.  The body is 9" long by 3" wide with a 2-1/8" wide blade.  The throat opening is .010" which makes this plane better for rougher work.  The sole is pau ferro, the body is mahogany, the wedge is ash and the cross pin is 1/4" brass rod.

I made this plane during a class I took from Lee Valley.  When I signed up for the class I thought it would be about Krenov planes but we came out with this instead.  The class took place over a Friday evening and a Saturday so this plane came together pretty quickly.  We worked exclusively with power tools, inclding the tablesaw, bandsaw, planer, jointer, belt sander, drill press and lathe.  Cutting the front horn on the bandsaw was an adventure and no two were alike, or even close.  The horn on mine is probably a good inch and a half longer than it needs to be, but I couldn't bring myself to cut it.  Freud would probably have something to say about that.

Although this plane is not as refined as the Krenov it works quite well.  It is not nearly as comfortable to hold though.  The front horn is curved to fit my left hand but the top edge digs into the heel of my palm.  My right hand feels both corners of the body when I am pushing the plane.  At some point in the future I will revisit this plane and round over some corners to make it more comfortable to use.

Building both of these planes showed me the versatility of this form.  I can see a razee style plane with a closed tote in my future, maybe a jack.  I have a couple of other projects that I want to do before that, though. 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

It's all about me.

Well, sort of.  I'm not really sure if anyone else is ever going to read this (other than my wife, maybe) so it seems a little pointless to record my thoughts on my work for all those people who will never read it.  As a result I have decided that this is going to be a record of what I did, how I did it and why I did the the things I did.  That way I can look back on it and remember the things I did right and hopefully not repeat the mistakes I made.
If you do want to come along for the journey (and I really hope you do) you're welcome to tag along.  To be honest, I'd be crushed if nobody else ever read this blog.  Just remember, it's all about me.