Monday, July 23, 2012

Canoe Strokes

I haven't made any headway on my canoe, mostly due to working lots and the nice weather drawing me to participate in all the outdoors sports I enjoy partaking in.  I've also broken several ribs trying to bend them, but I don't have the patience with everything else going on to build a proper steam bending setup.

Here's a quick video I shot a couple days ago when I was fooling around in a flat bottom john boat, playing with some canoeing strokes.  The boat surprised me with it's responsiveness, it's far better than the 16' Boston Whaler I had to paddle back to shore from a floating dock once (due to a dead battery failing to start the outboard motor).

While I'm at it, here's a butterfly:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Skin on Frame Canoe

 I started working at a canoe shop this spring, and while I was brushing up on the technical aspects of canoes to better be able to articulate the merits of various canoes with customers, I stumbled upon the skin on frame building style.  Naturally, I decided that I should make one.  I have a bad habit of losing steam partway through a project and never finishing it, but hopefully this is simple enough in the construction that I can keep chugging along to the end.  So far I've purchased 5 furring strips from the lumberyard, a couple of which I've ripped down into gunwales and a keelson.  I've "dry bent" the two ends by ripping many 1/8" strips and laminating them with glue around a simple plywood form.  I may do the same thing for the ribs, it may be easier for me than building a steam box and toying with that.

 Above you can see the gluing of the scarf joint that joins the keelson (the strip that runs down the center of the canoe) to one of the ends.  It's a simple 5" long lap joint.  After the glue is dry I will probably drill a couple of small dowels into it for reinforcement, and maybe whip the whole joint with cord.

Below is the selection of tools I used to make the scarf joint.  This project so far has required very few tools, which is good for beginning boat builders looking to avoid a huge investment right away.

This is my simple form.  It was originally a shelf inside one of those recycled canoe shelves made from the ends of busted canoes.  The shelf didn't fit right, so I rescued it from the trash and drilled a couple of holes.  I decided I was pleased with the curve, so simply used it as-is.  I'll make a different form for the ribs since this is for a 38" wide Old Town, and my boat is going to be 32" at the widest.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Portable Woodworking

I bought this cheap Ryobi table saw a few weeks ago.  I've been thinking about some sort of power saw ever since I broke that little bandsaw I got last year.  A casted part simply snapped on me, and replacement parts don't exist for that model.  A real shame.  So I finally broke down and picked up this table saw, for now it will do what I need.  I am mostly using it for long rips, such as ripping stock to width.  I've also used it to cut the shoulders of a couple of cross grain rabbets on some wide boards (12") that I couldn't easily do with my handsaw.

The stock blade that came with it is far inferior to the Diablo blade I picked up for the saw.  The Diablo blade is thinner, which helps to make up for the less-than-monstrous motor, and it feels like the Diablo blade has less vibration and tendency to jam.  Overall an inexpensive upgrade that makes this saw cut noticeably better.

Here are a couple of pictures of my portable planing beam I've been toying with.  The first picture here is it on the floor, without any cleats to raise it.  It's not terribly comfortable to use, I think cleats will help some.  It would also help to have some sort of stick to brace it against a wall so that I don't have to hold it in place with my foot.

I'm also trying it on horses, this time with a stick keeping it off of the wall so I can just focus on planing.  The trouble with this setup for edge planing is that if the opposite edge isn't square, it's hard to make the top edge square.  I may try getting a couple of wood screw clamps to hold the two faces of the board, so it's held perpendicular to the workbench.

I tried attaching this cheap little vise, looks like it was originally designed for a kid's bench, and it worked okay but it doesn't have a ton of holding power.  Maybe some grippy cloth in the jaws would help.  For now I pulled it back off.

Just for fun, I moved my planing plank inside to the kitchen sink and glued up some legs.  

I'm having a bit of trouble getting my new Japanese plane to cut a straight line, it seems to like to make hollows.  I need to take a closer look at the sole, maybe it's not quite as relieved in the right places as I thought.  Anyways, I'm not giving up on my #8 jointer just yet. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Some Small Projects

A friend of mine recently moved into her own place, and has been furnishing it with free and cheap furniture.  This particular piece was originally picked up at the dump for firewood.  After taking a look at the solid Maple top and halfway decent construction underneath, I suggested instead refinishing.  For about an hour of work and $2 of paint (a pint of mis-tint from Ace Hardware), the table looks much better.  Good enough to go into the living room, in fact.  I simply planed the top down a little, taking off the old finish and most of the grime.  As you can see, I didn't want to go deep enough to totally remove that ugly stain, but it's significantly minimized at least.  Then I ragged on a few coats of Formby's tung oil finish and painted the base.  Not perfect, but good enough for now.

This past weekend I took some time off work and headed up to Holyoke, MA to run in the 7 Sisters Trail Race, a 12 mile (3700 feet elevation gain) trail race on some rocky, rooty, and generally tough trails.  Three days later, my legs still feel as though they've been beat with hammers.  I'm looking forward to getting ready for the mile and 5k races coming later this summer.

As I'm spending more time bouncing around between a few locations on a weekly or daily basis (and the weather is warming up so when I get the time to work wood, I want to be doing it outside), I'm trying to get my whole woodworking kit smaller and more portable.  For a while I was trying to work out a portable work bench solution (the Close Grain blog has a great write-up on this), but I've since abandoned that idea and have been studying Japanese methods.  Below you can see my solution at the moment.  This is a planing beam made from a solid Red Oak plank that used to be a mantle in a house I worked on last summer.  They didn't notice it missing, but I took their reading glasses too.

I planed the top flat and removed a little twist from it.  I'm thinking about adding cleats or feet for use on the floor, and alternatively I set it on a pair of horses to bring it to standing height.  The two incomplete holes in the right are for sliding planing stops.  It's about 4 feet long and maybe 10 inches wide.  You can see some stains on the left from where I used the far end as a sharpening station.

I have been reading up on and have been wanting to try a Japanese plane for a while, so I finally ordered the cheapest one from Japan Woodworker in California.  It arrived a few days ago, and I put it to use.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the body pretty much ready to use right away, with the area behind the blade relieved, the sole in wind, and a slight hollow scraped in the appropriate place.  Unfortunately, while flattening the blade I apparently removed too much metal so that now the blade sticks out too far when inserted.  For now I'm simply using the chipbreaker as a wedge to hold the blade in place much like a western wood bodied plane.  Eventually I may glue some paper shims into the blade bed to fix the issue.  I need to sharpen the blade some more, but so far it cuts very well, and I am enjoying using it.

As time permits, I plan on writing more about a portable woodworking setup in the future.  My goal is to fit as much functionality and versatility as possible into the smallest, most portable setup.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cherry Tree

Last week I discovered a decent size Cherry tree out back while looking for something to chop with my new axe (more on this later).  I came upon the top of the tree, which was knocked down in the October snow storm some months ago.  When I realized what I had found, I went and fetched the chainsaw.  I cut the tree trunk down, and cut the smaller diameter branches and trunk sections (many of which were twisty and bent-good for ladles).   I cut off a section of the base of the tree and split it into planks radially.  Most of them came out fairly twisted, but the few that were quite straight I planed down one face, leaving the back axed or scrub planed roughly. 

The planks that were more twisted became axe handles.  I have a couple of nice vintage handles that are superbly elegant and feel great, but the wood in the eye was in bad shape, so they had to come out of the heads they came with.   I saved them for patterns, they've become my goal for axe handles.  Below you can see three of the four I've made up so far, I already hung one in a head.  I've tucked these away to dry out, it's good to have handles ready for when one breaks or if I get a new head.

I've made a few spoons from the Cherry so far.  It's definitely harder than Birch, I would say it's roughly as hard as the Maple I use sometimes.  This spoon I'm particularly pleased with, I feel that it's very successful in terms of visual balance and form, as well as feeling fairly elegant.

I didn't get any pictures of the rough work, cutting and splitting, but it's not too exciting to look at.  I will make sure I get some pictures of new axe though.  I'm very excited about it.  A week and a half ago I traded for a racing axe (one of the inexpensive made in China ones), and have been really pleased with it so far.  I forget at the moment, but I believe it's a 6 pound head, with a very aggressive grind.  It practically chops by itself!  It seems to prefer a slightly different technique than my other big choppers, the 3.5 Snow and Neally and the others.  Or maybe the heavier head is just forcing me to use better form...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Frame and Panel (and spoons)

 Here's a photo of a frame and panel that I've been working on the last couple of days.  The frame is Cherry with the panel in Curly Maple with bug stains.  The Maple came from the pallet stack at the lumber yard about a year ago, I don't know whether I posted much if anything about it then.  It's been sitting in my basement since, and is dry enough to use now.  I chopped the 1/4" mortises with my Narex mortise chisel and used my Ryoba to cut the tenons, and I got quite a bit of use out of my Veritas plow plane for the grooves and rebates that allow the panel to sit flush with the top of the frame.  For the cross grain rebates, I scored deeply with my marking gauge (pin filed into a knife edge) and ran the first dozen passes carefully to preserve the visible edge.  This worked out fine, and saved me have to make or buy a rebate plane.  The Veritas only works for rebates up to about 3/8" wide (the widest blade), but that was fine for this application.  For a wider rebate, you could simply plow a groove and then use a bench plane to remove the relish. 

On the panel is a collection of spoons I've been accumulating the last couple of weeks, most in Black Birch.  I've been building up a collection to bring to a couple of stores, and after reviewing the terms on Etsy again, I'm considering selling some there as well.  This was my first time using Black Birch for anything but walking sticks as a kid, and it's interesting to work.  It's harder than the Paper Birch I'm also using, and the grain is a little more distinct.  Most of these spoons are made from vertical grain wood, split radially from a small log.  A couple are made from bent or straight branches.  I found one branch that worked nicely so that I ended up with some curly grain in the bowl.  Overall I'm pleased with where the spoons are going.  They're getting closer to the spoons I've been trying to create from the start.  A new hook or two would help me get the inside of the bowl right, I still only have the small radius Mora hook.  I'm talking to a blacksmith friend of mine about a couple of ideas.

Here's a picture of me with the panel, to get a feel for the size of it.  It's about 18x18", not including the untrimmed ends.  I'm thinking this would make a nice little tabletop.  Some finish will help the grain really show up, and I'll probably let it sit in the sun to darken the Cherry up a bit.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Spoon: Further Developments

 In retrospect, most problems or challenges seem trivial.  I have been struggling on and off to create an elegant scoop to the top of the bowl of my spoons.  Until today, I was unsuccessful.  The difference in today is that Barn The Spoon posted up a short video on his blog in which he carves one of his octagonal handled eating spoons.  Watching him carve, everything clicked (or at least in relation to this particular issue). 

In order to achieve the scooped top to the bowl, Barn creates a convex top first, then when everything in the middle is carved away, only the perimeter of the bowl defines the topography.  It's much easier to see in the video than try to understand by writing.  The reason I couldn't work out how to create this effect is that I was thinking too much in two dimensions; top view and side view.  To create this effect, it must be approached in three dimensions.  Once it's clear in the mind, it's very easy to achieve. 

An interesting side effect of creating this scoop top to the bowl is that hollowing the bowl seems much easier.  I am having fewer issues with fibers tearing and running out, and overall am getting a pretty smooth finish in there.

The two spoons shown here (and I also carved a third) are fairly crude overall, but my main focus was on that one aspect of the bowl, which with a little refining will be exactly what I have been seeking.  In short, this is a public thanks to Barn The Spoon for helping out fellow spooners around the world refine their craft, and for acting as inspiration to anyone that thinks they can't be successful in pursuing their dream.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Breaking In a New Knife

Mora #106 Review

I decided that I should give one of these Mora carving knives a shot, usually what I use is a wider, slightly longer knife like the Mora #2 I have, or the #510, or a Woodjewel.  Still all narrow compared to many of the poplar bushcraft and outdoors knives, but quite wide feeling after using this new #106.

I ordered this one from, he has a really wide selection of a lot of bushcraft gear, good prices, and quite unparalleled shipping prices, especially for how quickly he gets things out the door.  I buy from him whenever I get the chance.

These Mora knives are great deals, most being between $10-20.  The steel is quite good, the handles comfortable, and because of the low cost I'm not afraid to use them quite hard, which means they get more use than the expensive knives I used to own.  The biggest issue is that the sheaths they come with are not amazing.  The sheaths with the wood handled knives don't retain the knife very well if you do much moving around.  The plastic handles all click in fairly securely to their sheaths, but can still be a tad bulky and a tad ugly.  The Mora #1 would probably be my favorite knife except the handle is too small for the meat paws that pass for my hands.

The other drag about Mora knives is that they require a bit of a break-in.  The very edge is apparently not kept cool enough during finishing of the blades (leading to the steel at the edge being annealed), so until this is sharpened through the edge is fairly fragile and prone to rolling.  Normally on Mora knives when I first get them I grind the angle a bit thinner, and very slightly convex the edge on my 1x30 belt sander, in the process being sure to take off enough metal to get to the good, hard stuff beneath the initial soft layer.  I hesitated to use that process on this knife because of the narrowness of the blade and the illusion of delicacy it presents.  I instead chose to repeatedly cut into some various hard woods like seasoned Maple, Birch knots, and across the growth rings of a few different species of Pine, using both push cuts and draw or slicing cuts.  After making feather sticks and some various other cuts, the edge is rolled and visibly dull in several spots, so I lay it on the stone real quick and sharpen them out, and go back to cutting.  I did this a half dozen times or maybe a couple more, and it's still rolling.  I guess I'm not taking off that much metal when I really think about it, so this one may end up on the grinder yet.

In the meantime, I've been pleased with being able to cut tighter curves using more of the blade, because previously for tight cuts I would have to choke up and use only the very tip of my other knives.  The larger barrel handle is pretty comfortable so far, it's about the same as the handle on the #2.  Overall I'm quite pleased with this knife, I imagine I'll be using it quite a bit in the future.   

Monday, January 23, 2012

Attempted Wood Plane, Camping

I've had my eye out for a good old plane iron for a while, and finally a couple of weeks ago I came across a wood bodied Jack or Try plane that wasn't in great shape with a good laminated, tapered iron.  After I bought the plane and an axe, I gave him back the body and just left with the blade.  Maybe he can sell the body to someone looking for a mantle decoration.

After I ground the iron, sharpened the bevel and got the back into satisfactory condition I started working on a body made from some Red Oak I saved from a house I worked on over the summer.  I've been curious to try a Japanese style setup for some time, so that's where I started with my layout.  The body is about 12" long, with the blade bedded at 45 degrees, or a tad less because of the tapered iron.  I think I might scrap this body, the Oak is really brittle and even being careful I ended up with quite a bit of breakout in front of the mouth.  The shavings aren't too bad, but I don't think it's worth trying to go any further with fettling it.  I might try again with some Cherry or Maple that I have.

In other news, I went camping a couple of weeks ago up in New York, right by the Canadian border with some friends.  The high for the weekend was about 5 degrees F, with nighttime lows close to -20.  A few days before we went out one of the guys that's local to the area went in with a chainsaw and cut several piles of standing dead Ash and Oak for the fire.  I think we went through just about all of it in the two nights we were there.  We walked in a mile or so, most of us using sleds to carry our gear over the 8" of snow.  I took three axes, my Gransfors carving axe, my 3.5 pound Snow and Nealley, and a 3.75 or 4 pound antique on an experimental handle.  The antique ended up splitting all the wood for the weekend, since my S&N is ground pretty thin and would just get stuck in logs, and no one else brought a big axe.  The experimental handle on the antique is Maple, with the growth rings oriented perpendicular to the way traditional wisdom says they ought to be.  My reasoning for trying that is that most wood splits more easily across the growth rings, and the way growth rings are oriented in a common axe handle, it seems that they would be more prone to splitting.  Anyways, the handle did alright, but toward the end a large section split off.  I think Maple is perhaps not the best axe handle material, and the cold also negatively affected another guy's axe handle, so perhaps that was a factor in this case.  Either way, I think it merits some more experimentation.  Maybe sometime I'll put together a proper scientific test.

My camp: