Monday, January 31, 2011

Lee Valley Carcass Saw Review

I recently bought the Lee Valley and Veritas Rip Carcass Saw and have been using it the last few days, so I thought I would write up my feelings on it so far.

First, how I came to the decision of buying the saw: I bought a Zona razor saw from Lee Valley, hoping that it would be a good budget dovetailing saw, and while it's halfway decent, I had a lot of trouble making it behave. The plate is so thin that I can't guide the saw, and it's hard to aim because it's so small. It also bottoms out at 1 1/8", which is fine for cutting dovetails in 3/4" stock like what I had in mind when I bought it. However, when I came up with both the framesaw project and the picture frame, I found I needed a deeper saw, and I had wanted a better quality joint cutting saw since I got the Zona. Unfortunately, I also had a budget to work within. I had read a couple of reports that said the Lee Valley saws came very sharp and ready to use out of the box (definitely a benefit, even for an expert saw sharpener, which I am not). It was also about half the price of the really nice saws that I had my eyes on, like the Wenzloff or Lie Nielson. So I decided to pull the trigger, and I don't regret it. I only wish I had bought one sooner!

Fit and Finish: The saw has a good level, but not great. And for this price, it is quite good. The seam from the mold used on the back is visible (a few swipes with some sandpaper would make this disappear), there are some sanding marks on the handle visible at some angles, but nothing that impacts function. And taking the time to make the saw perfect would likely raise it's price up to the premium makers, which would negate it's purpose. The saw did come sharp, and I used it straight out of the box with good results.

I've used the saw to cut 10 or 12 really nice finished joints, plus a pile of practice joints on scraps. I've also been using it to do some cross cutting, such as on the shoulders of tenons. It works great! The teeth are a bit aggressive for some of the cuts I'm using it on, but that just means I have to be a bit more careful about where I place it. After using the Zona, with practically no kerf, it took a minute to get used to. I find the saw very easy to aim and it tracks a line nicely.

The handle is the tiniest bit small for my hand, but I have large hands (size XXL glove), and I got used to it after the first few cuts. I think for most people it would be perfect or at least very comfortable.

Overall, I give this saw an A+ for being a very good saw for a very reasonable price. It's a great deal, especially if you are fairly new to cutting precise joints like myself and aren't quite sure what exactly you are looking for in a saw. I think that after I've cut a couple hundred joints with this saw I will know what I want in a saw, and will feel confident investing in something like the Wenzloff or Lie Nielson.

Picture Frame

The picture frame is coming along slowly. I don't know if it's the Cherry or the way it's sawn relative to the grain on some of the pieces, but I'm having some trouble with chipping out. Part of the problem is that the joints I cut leave some very weak sections of end grain standing out there all alone, but it seems to be more fragile than it ought to be. I've chipped pieces off while initially sawing the joints, planing for width, and trying to cut the rabbet on the back to hold the glass and picture. I've glued all but one back on (I lost it), and I'm trying to figure out what to do about the missing one. I don't have enough to make a whole new stile, and trying to glue a patch on and cut it to fit didn't work out. I could bevel the whole outside of the frame, but I tried that on one of my test joints and I don't think it would look right with this frame.


I decided on an open mortise and tenon for the corners of the frame, and ended up cutting two of them a tad on the loose side, so it was tricky holding the frame together and fitting the blade by myself. I took the saw for a test drive resawing a few feet of 2x4, and it worked okay. Better than anything I already had, but it wanted to wander in the cut even when I couldn't get the blade any tighter.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Framesaw Pieces

I snagged a clear 2x4 from work the other day for the stretchers of my framesaw, and first rough cut a length about 40 inches long. I planed it a little to smooth and even out the surfaces. Then I marked off 1.5" all around the four sides, and clamped it upright (checking for level) to the front of my bench. Then I used my cheap Japanese crosscut saw to rip down the lines. I would lay the saw flattish on the face and draw the kerf down the line, then do it on the opposite face, then clear out the wood in between. This way the saw tended to (but didn't always) follow the kerfs, staying straight in the cut.

You may notice that my batten is clamped at the end of my bench because in it's usual place the board I was planing would hang off the end. This worked well, and saved me having to drill out holes to accept the pins on the batten.

For the Maple arms (made from a 6/4 quartersawn Maple board), I first squared the edges, then marked off the same 1.5" lines and ripped. This time I used a combination of my cheap crosscut saw and the rip side of my cheap Ryoba. I hate that the perfect tool for the task at hand is so often the one that I'm building. It took me almost an hour to make my two rip cuts through the Maple. I could have scrubbed the 3/4" off the side of one of them, but I didn't want to waste the wood.

Just for fun, I decided to do a rudimentary strength test on the Maple bars. I placed a stool near my bench and used a Maple bar to span the distance, with only about 3/4" at each end. I put my full 190 pounds on the center of the bar and bounced up and down, with no noticeable flex. I think these will be fine for the saw. When I performed a similar test (with the stool moved farther away) with the mystery wood bars, they were also very stiff (though not quite so). This saw will probably end up being a little overbuilt, but with my history of breaking tools, I'm not concerned about it. Next move is to make the hardware!

As a sidenote, this morning I ran in an "un-race", the 42nd Tradition Run 5k with my crazy Canadian friend graham. I'm the one with the green hat. We elected to run back down the course for a nice round 10k.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Clamp Improvement

I keep meaning to toss this up here, but then forgetting. I saw these leather clamp pads on Lee Valley a couple months ago, and decided to do one better by just gluing some scrap leather bits to my clamp faces. They work great, I haven't marred a piece of wood since I put them on, and I don't have to fuss with spacer blocks. I think they also marginally increase friction.

Sharpening and Practice Joints

My friend recently spent a couple months in Nepal doing some volunteer work, and brought back a nice painting for her dad. The painting is very long and narrow, though, so it's difficult to find a frame for it. It measures about 5x15". I suggested finding one of those frames that is designed to hold a few 4x6" prints one above the other, but we decided on something else. Her dad happens to be the carpenter that I work for from time to time, and during slow January he is remodeling his kitchen. He is using a lot of Cherry wood, and has some scraps left over. I'm going to make a nice (hopefully) custom frame for the picture. My friend came over for a couple of hours yesterday with the wood and some tools her dad wants me to sharpen. The plan was for me to start working right then, but we started discussing some different options for the corner joints. My friend isn't terribly savvy about woodworking, so when I started mentioning different joints we could use, she was a bit lost. I decided to demonstrate on some Fir scraps the two joints I was thinking most about. This ended up being some good practice and it was also good to have a physical representation of the joints right in front of us, instead of the abstract concepts or pictures off the internets.

After she left I broke out my sharpening gear to take care of the blade on my Jack plane, the one that I mentioned is looking like a toothing blade. Now it leaves a surface like glass. I ground the edge down on a piece of Norton 3x 220 grit paper spray glued to a piece of 1/4" thick glass. I got the glass for free from the local glass shop, it was a scrap and the guy was nice. Just out of curiosity (I sharpen freehand), I checked the angle using my sliding bevel and my speedsquare, and found that I was grinding the primary bevel at about 21 degrees. Then I ground a small bevel at the very edge on a piece of 1200 grit paper, I'm guessing at closer to 30. I also polished the back to 1200 grit. I took out almost all of the camber on the 220 grit paper, just leaving the corners a little turned up to help reduce tracks. The whole operation took about 10 minutes. If I wasn't taking the camber out (or if I had started on 100 grit), it would have taken half as long at most. After the 1200 grit sandpaper, I carefully stropped the wire edge away on a leather strop loaded with green chromium oxide compound (.5 micron average particle size). While I had the blade out I took the opportunity to polish a little pastewax onto the sole.

A tip (this is probably already out there or common knowledge, but just in case...); If you spray the adhesive onto the sandpaper instead of the glass, less of it sticks to the glass when you change paper, making it easier to scrape off. I follow the directions on the can for a "temporary hold" and it always works fine for me.

Also, a note. The front edge of my bench is straight, not bowed, and the glass is straight on all edges, also not bowed. The distortion is due to my camera lens.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dimensioning Some Stock

I just ordered a frame saw blade with rip filed teeth from, so I figured I could start preparing the frame pieces for when it gets here. I took a decent sized plainsawn Maple plank from the backyard, split it down the middle to make two quartersawn pieces, and roughly hewed the edges straight.

Following that, I clamped the pieces to my bench and hit the edges with the scrub plane first, then my #5. The blade in the #5 is in need of a sharpening, the surface it's leaving behind is beginning to resemble that left by a toothed blade. Fine for my framesaw, but I prefer a smooth finish on most of my pieces. I might also take the opportunity to reduce the camber in the blade now that I have a dedicated scrub plane.

After that, I went ahead and re-scrubbed the faces and then evened them out with the #5.

I discovered a little bit of flame in these boards. Subtle, but pleasant to look at.

Unfortunately, after I did all this work I pulled out a tape measure and did some arithmetic, and I'm pretty sure these are too short to work for the stretchers of the frame based on the length of the blade. I'll have to hunt up some other decent wood. I suppose I could even use pine, since these pieces will be under compression, and that would lighten things up a bit besides. I might raid the pallet stack at the auto body shop down the street.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Shooting Board and My First Dovetail Project

The shooting board was made by gluing up another panel as in the previous post about the subject, gluing and finish nailing them together, and nailing the fence on. I also applied some Ultra High Molecular Weight (slippery) tape to the part the plane rides on. It's very handy to have, it makes squaring up and fine tuning the length of boards much easier.

For my first dovetail project (I've cut a dozen dovetails before on scraps) I decided to go for a simple box that I can use to transport tools or the like. I started by cutting the stock to length, shooting the ends, and removing the tongues on the long edges (these boards came to me ship-lapped). To remove the tongues I split/cut them off with a knife, then planed the edges square.

After that, I marked off the baselines with my knife marking gauge. Next step was to lay out the tails, not that it did me much good. I think I hit the line twice on the whole box. They still work fine, but they don't look as nice.

Saw, coping saw, then chisel to the baseline.

You can see the advantage to using a marking gauge with a knife on this soft pine in these pins. The baselines look fine once the joint is assembled, but if you look at the endgrain, you can see that it's all torn up.

I started losing my patience trying to get the edges of the bottom boards to match up so I could glue them into a panel and set the bottom inside the frame. I ended up just nailing the boards to the bottom with some cut nails that I saved when I helped pull out an old hardwood floor over a year ago.

When I was cutting the pins on the first end board, I cut to the wrong side of the line so they are very sloppy. I corrected the issue on the other end, but they still aren't spectacular. The nailed-on bottom and a couple of judiciously placed finish nails have the whole thing more-or-less ship shape. It's good enough to lug some hammers around in anyways.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


We went to visit Yosemite today, it was a beautiful park, and we were lucky with a very dramatic sunset.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Away For A Few Days

For the 7 loyal (maybe more like "occasional") followers of this blog, I thought I would post up saying that I don't expect to be posting anything for the next week, not that I'm in the habit of posting incredibly frequently anyways.

I'm in the air over Texas as I write this, on my way to Fresno to visit with one or two of my good friends that were on my team in AmeriCorps NCCC last year. I will then be flying to Reno, Nevada, where I will take a bus to a tiny school in the middle of a high desert called Deep Springs. I will be spending a few days there touring the school and being interviewed. I'm hoping to be accepted, but it's a very competitive group of 45 young men, of which only about 13 will be admitted.

Sorry for not having any pictures. I don't like reading blog posts without pictures. Unfortunately, the in flight wifi doesn't seem to want to let me upload pictures. Se la vie.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!

This morning (actually this afternoon) when I woke up I finished up my new saw bench that I started yesterday before joining my friends to celebrate the holiday. The top is a chunk of Maple that I cut out of the back yard, barely flattened and thicknessed (as is evident by the 1/2" variation in thickness across the length of the board), and planed a bevel on the long edges to give the legs a bit of splay. The legs are rough sawn Hemlock scraps from work, which I brought home along with some 1x ship lap Pine and a couple Yellow Pine floor boards the other day (photo below). The stretchers are some of that ship lap Pine. I screwed it all together, and did a pretty rough job of the whole thing. I wasn't interested in making a nice piece of furniture, just something that would make sawing a bit easier. For my imaginary future shop I'm planning on a nicer one, maybe with some real joints, but this will do for now.

I decided to use some of the ship lap Pine to make a shooting board so that I could finally easily square my crosscuts. First step is to plane the joint edges of the boards together. I learned this trick on some other blog (Correction: I was reading back through Roy Underhill's The Woodwright's Guide and realized I saw it in there), but it's such a good trick it's worth repeating in one more place. By planing the edges together, any out-of-squareness will be transferred equally, so the boards will still go together perfectly flat. In fact, to get a bit more face grain for glue up, it might be a good idea to put a pretty good angle on there.

My first experiment rubbing boards together for glue up. You just apply glue and rub the boards back and forth a few times. As long as you did a good job planing, the edges will suction together just like two wet plates of glass. In the picture I have the board perched on the Veritas Wonder Dog because I'm too afraid to set it down against a wall, for fear of the joint coming out of line. I just used regular Elmer's white glue because that's what I have right now, and I don't expect to be getting my shooting board wet.

The fence for the shooting board is next to the glued up panel. It's a rip off of one of the Yellow Pine boards, planed square.