Sunday, October 28, 2007

Curly Maple Bass Back

The most unusual task I do at work is preparing stock for an acoustic bass maker. He brings in amazing pieces of old lumber which I resaw, joint, glue, and sand. Most shops don't have a band saw as large as ours to accommodate such wide boards for resawing. Likewise, there aren't many places in town with digitally calibrated belt sanders. When this bass maker says he wants his lumber to be 2.5 mm thick, he really means it. So he brings his lumber to us, and I get to enjoy working with it. Here are some photos detailing the procedure I recently used for gluing up a beautiful curly maple bass back.

I began by attaching straight boards to my work table spaced apart one inch wider than the two pieces to be glued. The pieces were irregularly shaped at the top which accounts for the blocks at the far side of the table. I place pairs of wedges along the perimeter of the blocking. The combined thickness of the wedges is greater than the gap between the blocking and the workpiece.

Next I place a piece of Tyvek tape down the center line of the board. This will prevent the glue from adhering the bass back to my work table. Packing tape would work equally well.

After the two boards to be joined have been jointed, the first piece is laid into the clamping form. The two boards were resawn from one piece, resulting in a bookmatched set.

Glue is applied to the second piece, and it goes into the clamping form. I put a weight in the center to prevent the blank from buckling when I drive the wedges home around the perimeter.

Here you see the wedges holding the two sides together. Once I'm satisfied that no buckling is occurring, I remove the weight from the center.

This photo shows a detail of the bass back. This was some of the most beautiful curly maple I'd ever seen.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hooker Furniture

I drove to Martinsville, VA yesterday to pick up the odds and ends I'd won at an auction of the old Hooker Furniture factory's equipment. Folks have been picking up their goodies for about a month now, so the place was mostly empty. 760,000 square feet of indoor space is a lot of emptiness. I saw many marvels of 20th century manufacturing there including wooden carts with four swiveling feet and a post in the center that ran in a track in the floor like a streetcar. Although I was excited about my loot, it was sobering to think of all the long careers that ended there last March.

The stuff I bought includes a 20 gallon flammable liquids cabinet, a 5,000 lb pallet jack (for moving machines around), an old factory cart with giant iron wheels, an assortment of levels and framing squares, and this beauty:

It's a 72" stainless steel precision straight edge manufactured by Phillipp Zimlich of Aschaffenburg, Germany.  There's a shipping label on the outside of the box indicating that it was supplied to Hooker by Weinig, the leading manufacturers of moulders and other industrial woodworking equipment.  I called Weinig today to get a sense of the replacement cost for this hunk of metal, and...well...I was shocked.  I had kind of an "Antiques Road Show" moment.

Precision straight edges are useful for machine setup in a woodworking shop.  I've found them especially helpful when adjusting jointer outfeed tables.  They can also be used when making full-size shop drawings, but a relatively straight piece of plywood will suffice for that.  For the most part, my interest in this kind of precision measuring and calibration instrument hovers somewhere between the realms of respect for their usefulness and just plain-old fetishism.

Lastly, if anyone reading this ever worked at the Hooker facility in Martinsville, please drop me a note.  I would love to hear your stories.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Stanley #5 Restored!

I recently finished restoring this old Stanley #5 jack plane for my friend Jamie. His parents had bought it for him at a yard sale, and it was in a sorry state. In addition to never having been tuned when new, it had picked up a lot of rust and other crud over the years.

I disassembled the plane, being careful to note where each part went.  Next, I lapped the bottom and sides on an edge sander.  It took a long time since it had never been trued when new.  Planes don't come ready to use from the factory.  The soles have to be flattened (or "lapped"), the chipbreaker requires modification, and the iron needs grinding and honing.  I did all of these things then shined all the loose metal pieces.

I also refinished the knob and handle.  Instead of the thick lacquer that had been on the wooden parts, I used boiled linseed oil and wax.  That finish has a nice feel in the hand.

Incidentally, old Stanley #5's don't hold a lot of monetary value, so there's nothing much to be lost by doing whatever you want to them.  They can often be found on eBay for $30 or so.  After a couple of hours of work they can usually be restored to a better-than-new state.  If you take on a project like this and want to go whole hog, invest in a replacement iron from Lie-Nielsen.  They produce irons of thicker steel which are harder and hold a better edge for a longer time.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tannewitz XJW Table Saw Manual

This morning I created an electronic copy of the manual for the Tannewitz XJW table saw we have at work. Mid-20th century machines like this one were so well made. Their cast iron bodies weighed a ton or more and dampened vibration to an extent rarely seen in contemporary machines. Saws like this one can be had at auction for around $1,200; a comparable new 16" table saw runs in the $6,000 range.

The manual itself is a small work of art. The last ten pages or so are mimeographed copies of hand-drafted schematics. I've included some of my favorites below.

If you would like a full copy of the manual (it's for machines from the mid/late 1960's), send me an email, and I'll happily send you the file. Hopefully it will also soon be available from the Old Woodworking Machines Publication Reprint site.

This is a schematic of the blade raising assembly.  Nowadays it's almost impossible to imagine someone doing drafting of this quality by hand.

Here is my favorite of the schematics in the manual; it details the blade guard. I wonder how long it took to make this drawing!

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Every day, this site welcomes somewhere between 20 and 50 people who have been directed to it by a Google search.  Often, they've entered a search term like "how to fit boxwood stringing" or "Tannewitz  bandsaws" or "cupola roof framing."  If you're one of these people, and you're pondering some kind of woodworking question, it sure would be nice if you sent me an email.  I may not be able to answer your query, but at least we could puzzle over it together.

As for the Dante scholars who end up here...sorry, I can't help you.

Before I go, here are pictures of the fir louvers I just finished.  The second picture shows the weird cutout that was in back of the original.  I have no idea if it needed to be reproduced exactly, but I went ahead and did it for fun.  The difficulty was that including the cutout necessitated four different sizes of slat in each louver.  Does anybody know why these louvers had the cutout?  Another good reason to send me an email!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

All in a Week's Work

Last week I worked on four projects.  The first was fine-tuning the calibration of our new moulder, about which I've written in earlier posts and about which I'll surely write more in the future.  The others were actual woodworking projects, which was nice since I feel like tweaking the moulder has been taking me away from actually making stuff.  

This decrepit old column base came in at the tail end of the week before last.  The customer wanted two new ones just like it.  For some mysterious reason, the customer wanted these out of poplar, which will rot very quickly out in the elements.  Maybe they enjoy paying a ton of money to have parts of their house replaced and plan to have more column bases made in 2009.  

Here's one of the reproduction bases I made.  Each one is comprised of two layers, one for the bullnose and a second for the cove.  First I built splined hexagons of the proper thickness. I decided to make complete circles because they'd be stronger (and thus safer) when it came time to cut profiles on the shaper.   I then established the circumference of each circle with a router compass, and sawed off the waste on the band saw.  After flush-trimming to the initial routed circumference, I passed off the blanks to our brilliant shaper man who cut the profiles.    Then all that was left was to glue the bullnose circle to the cove circle and cut the flat across the back which will presumably sit against an exterior wall.

This week I also made the box columns below out of 5/4" fir.  Making box columns is a giant snore, and they usually don't land on my bench, but this order included one that was L-shaped in cross-section, which you can see sitting on top of the pile.

On Thursday and Friday I worked on reproducing this rotten foundation louver.  Usually we make new custom louvers out of PVC, but this particular customer thankfully wanted them out of fir.  I didn't take a picture of the backside, but it's a little odd.  I'll take appropriate photos of the reproductions and explain in a future post.

Before I sign off for the day, I'd like to draw your attention to the new link I've posted on the right-hand side of this page.  It's an incredible resource about Stanley and Bedrock planes.  Check it out if you ever need any info about the hand planes in your collection.  

Monday, October 01, 2007

Woodworking Sites I like

In lieu of anything interesting to photograph at work, I thought I'd post links to some of the woodworking sites I frequent. If you know of cool sites I'm missing in this not-at-all-exhaustive list, please leave a comment.

When I want to drool over amazing mid-20th century machines (like the Tannewitz band saw I very nearly won at auction last week), I head to the Old Woodworking Machines site. There you can find all kinds of useful information, including years of manufacture, parts lists, photographs, and so on. I've found it very helpful recently while restoring the old Craftsman lathe I inherited from my grandfather. By the way, it's a good thing I lost that auction for the Tannewitz--after I'd placed my high bid, further research uncovered the fact that the thing weighs 3000 lbs. I think that's more than my car.

Many people think that Garrett Wade is the best catalog for tools, and while it is very nice, I prefer Lee Valley. They produce three catalogs, one each for woodworking, woodworking hardware, and gardening. Each one is good for many hours of couch-based perusal. I recently bought a set of their hardened steel scrapers and have been wowed by their performance. Ditto for the rare earth magnets they sell.

If you're curious about state-of-the-art "wood technology" equipment, head over to the Stiles Machinery site. If you work in a shop like the ones I've worked in, then the products on offer at Stiles may look like science fiction. But they're real! I swear! I've seen them.

WoodWeb is a useful site for all kinds of things, but I mostly look at it to find old machines for sale and for woodworking jobs. It's not that I'm looking for a job, mind you--I just like to know what's out there. You know how it is. If you go to WoodWeb looking for machines, be sure to try the Woodworking Machinery Finder a ways down the left-most column on the home page; it's different than the online classifieds.

Industrial Recovery Services seems like kind of a sad business to me, but I'm sure glad they're out there. They liquidate old mills and shops that go under, and there are incredible deals to be had at their auctions. I just got a 72" machinist's straight edge for well-under what a new 36" one would cost. I love precision measuring instruments. A lot. This is where my wife would fake pushing a pair of glasses up the bridge of her nose while cough-speaking: "NERD." Takes one to know one!

Lastly, I mention Fine Woodworking because the online subscription, which is about $5.00 per month is an incredible resource. I use it over and over again and I can't overstate its utility. I wish I could say the good people at Taunton Press were paying me to say this, but they're not. If you want to avoid reinventing the wheel before attempting some new process in the shop, do two quick keyword searches at the Fine Woodworking site--one that searches the magazine's archives and a second in the "Knots" forum, where other subscribers share their techniques and insights.