Which Way Do You Lean?

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In my last post I talked about the book 'Making Things Right' and in that book the author described an all too often conversation between him and a group of fellow tradespeople. They were at a bar after a week of hard work and were discussing (with vigor) which was better: an Olfa snap-blade knife or a Stanley-style utility knife. I had a chuckle when I read this because I have to say, craftspeople often have these kinds of conversations. In some cases they go way off the deep-end, arguing about what effectively amounts to how many fairies can dance on the head of a pin - I believe they are referred to as forum threads.

All that being said, I feel like I need to weigh in on this. I'm a big fan of the Stanley-type of utility  knife. The blades seem to be more stout than the snap-blades so there is less flex to them. This same stoutness also lends them to a few honings before I have to flip them around. Once dull on both sides I've also been known to use them as small card scrapers but that usage is admittedly a bit weak.

So I may regret this but - which do you prefer and why? There is room in this world for the two most common styles of utility knife but I'm interested which way you lean. Are you an Olfa-type user or do you do things right and use a Stanley-type? ;-)

To understand, you must do. - V

Book Review - Making Things Right

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The most important marketing tool a craftsperson has is doing things well. Whether you are a furniture maker, carpenter or spoon carver, you're really only as good as your last job. Those jobs, done correctly and with care should stand the test of time.
Making Things Right - The Simple Philosophy of a Working Life, by Ole Thorstensen is a fantastic book that talks about doing things right, quality and integrity. Ole is a Norwegian Master carpenter and contractor and in his book he takes the reader through the trials of being a one-man show in a world that seems to be flush with big firms. He talks about the impact of doing good work and how in the building world, you get what you pay for. You follow Ole through a job from the bidding process all the way to completion. 
I found it interesting that a lot of the struggles he mentions in the book are the same struggles I hear from my builder friends here in Canada. You realize pretty quickly that personal relationships and customer service have just as much of an impact as manual skills do. As a woodworker who still does the odd bit of commission work, I definitely identified with Ole through his struggles and his accomplishments when dealing with other humans.
The refreshing part of the book for me is Ole's unrelenting commitment to integrity. Integrity is how a person conducts themselves when no one is looking. He serves as a reminder that there are still good, conscientious people in the world who are ever mindful of how their actions will affect others around them. The book is humorous at times and nail-biting in others which for me makes for a great story. I realized quickly that Ole is the kind of guy that I'd like to have a few beers with. I tore through this book over a weekend and have already recommended it to a bunch of friends who work with their hands.


To understand, you must do - V

When East Meets West

East, West, and something in between.

Lately I have been doing a lot of research on the Japanese traditions of woodworking. I've always found their methods of work to be interesting and their tools are very different than ours. They pull their saws and planes, their edge tools are laminated steel and some of them work seated on the floor instead of standing at a bench.

My curiosity likely won’t have me on the floor woodworking (to be fair, if it did I would likely not get up). Instead, I will likely find some different techniques that I can apply to my own skillset, complimenting my own method of work. For example, I’m really digging pulling planes. It feels (to me) that I have more control of the stroke and I also feel that I have more power when I’m taking heavy shavings. 

I had a friend come by the shop the other day and he taught me the basics of making a Japanese plane. That was like drinking out of a fire hose. They look deceivingly simple, and how hard could it be? I’ve been making Krenovian-style planes for many years now so how much different could it be? Without going into too much detail, I was wrong.

So with that experience fresh in mind, I set out to make a western-style plane that fI could pull. I’m not sure if it’s going to work, which is the case for a lot of things that I try, but I’m giving it a whirl. The glue-up pictured above is the result of a few failed experiments. I have tweaked dimensions and worked with different blades and blade adjustors. I hope this one is the one that bridges the gap between East and West…If not, in the words of Marvin the Martian, “Back to the old drawing board”.

To understand, you must do. - V

Heading for Indiana

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Last year I received an email from Marc Adams asking if I would be available to teach at MASW. You don’t say no to a question like that so off I go. The class is called The Minimalist Woodworker: It All Starts with a Plane. 

You really develop a sensitivity when using hand tools to woodwork. Every nuance of the wood is experienced through a truly hands-on approach. For me, the ultimate experience is working wood with a tool that I made. There is something powerful about making a tool and then using that it to create other wood works. 

In future entries I will give more details on the individual tools we’ll be making including a wooden plane, plane adjusting hammer, shooting board and violin knife. I would be lost without these tools and making them myself makes them even more special.

So check out the course and sign up will ya? As usually with me, the class will be light-hearted and entertaining while learning a ton. I hope to see you there.

To understand, you must do. - V

Back To The Old Stompin’ Grounds

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There is something surreal about heading back to the place where I studied as a furniture designer and woodworker. Rosewood Studio brings back a lot of memories for me. I spent many hours learning, screwing up, and making mistakes at the school which is probably why it feels weird for me to return as an instructor. I have taught at many places around the globe but this space is different. I cut my teeth here as a woodworker under the tutelage of Ron Barter and continued to learn from him (and others) when I returned as a Craftsman in Residence. 

Ron and Mary Anne have invited me back on the 9th of April to teach, what I feel, is one of the most important classes they offer. The Excellence with Hand Tools course is where it all begins and for good reason. Students learn fundamental skills like sharpening, basic hand tool use and wood technology. Hands-on skills like creating the ‘Perfect Board’ (a board made 6-square with only planes) and through dovetails are where the week leads, not to mention learning what sharp is and the importance of achieving it.

So if you’ve never been to Rosewood Studio or taken a class with me, why not kill two birds with one stone. Or better yet, don’t kill anything and come take the class. As always, a class with me will be a barrel of monkeys and you’re guaranteed to learn, laugh and have a good time.

To understand, you must do - V

What are ye at?

As my East coast buddies would say, "What are ye at"? Over the last six months I've, sent a young lady off to university, worked on a ton of articles for various publications and been on many trips around the world. It hasn't left me much time for this blog.  There isn't much sign of slowing down and in fact it seems like things might be ramping up. 

I have a few books that I'm working on and I'm also looking at some other extra curricular activities that should keep me off the streets for a few years. I'm also going to be doing some teaching at Rosewood Studio and Marc Adams School of Woodworking but more on those in a bit. I also want to do more blog writing so here's to that!!

So thanks for your patience with me and you should be seeing more of me in the future months.
 - Vic

Remember me?

Hey there! Remember me? I'm Vic...the guy who is supposed to maintain this blog and website. It's been awhile and I have no good excuses tother than being busy with magazine articles and a few book contracts. Not to mention a bunch of work travel and teaching. I'll stop moaning now and encourage you to check out the Events & Classes page to see where I'll be next. 

There are also some very cool projects that I'm involved with at the moment but have been sworn to secrecy so you'll just have to wait. Thanks for your patience with me...I can be a bit of a fart in a wind storm.

To understand, you must do. - V

The Great Canadian Rust Junkie Fest

Things are cranking up pretty hard here in the Ottawa area for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is the celebration of Canada's 150th birthday. The other event that should be obvious to woodworkers is The Great Canadian Rust Junkie Fest. If you've never been, then you need to be there.  The event started out with a focus on old English heavy metal but every year the event includes more and more.

 Before....

Before....

 ....after.

....after.

Big machines being unearthed from their holes and brought back to life. The man behind this event is Jack Forsberg. When he's not running a successful heritage millwork business he is tinkering away on old machines, getting them up and running so they can be put back to work for his business.

 The Wadkin Temple

The Wadkin Temple

It all takes place at what has been coined 'The Wadkin Temple' and the event has been going on annually for 5 years now. Jack loves getting like minded people together to share what they know and what they do. 

The Rust Fest initially started five years ago after the American model called "Arnfest" The idea was to have a more Canadian model and one that promoted vintage machinery and vintage woodworking techniques. I initially announced the idea on the Canadian woodworking forum. My intentions were for a gathering and approximately 35 people came the first year . It has slowly evolved into what I would like to refer as the Sturgis Falls event for woodwork and more Carnival with people showing their unique tools or customized creations. It is most certainly a celebration of quality in every aspect. The theme of the temple is a play on the worship we have with our tools and brands. Junkies are actually part of the clergy. We have for the first time this year"Holy Wadkin Lubricating Oil" for those not yet baptized. My hope for the future is that the"Wadkin Temple" becomes a craft center for those of us pursuing woodworking - either professionally or passionately, or in my case both . A place anyone in all the world interested in the woodworking would have to come and see. The annual celebration being a return to Mecca . The holy ground of woodworking.    - Jack

This year Jack has invited me to lead the charge into the hand-tool world of woodworking for the event and I must say I'm pretty excited. While there, I will be demonstrating the use of hand tools while making a Moxon-style vise for my shop. The hardware I will be using is quite unique and will also be making it's debut at Rust Junkie Fest. I'll be just one of many volunteers who help out to make the event a success. 

There will also be blacksmithing demos going on, demos on rehabbing machines, a BBQ and later a bonfire with music and likely a fair amount of BEvERage's. Visit the site for more info and to register...also, did I mention that it's all FREE! You can even pitch a tent Saturday night and watch the sun come up on Sunday. We hope to see you there.

In order to understand, you must do. - V

Old English Heavy Metal

In this case, not Iron Maiden but you can fine them in my vinyl stack in the shop too.

One of the cool things about getting a larger space is I can start to fill it. While I still have no need for a table saw, having a power jointer again would be nice. Now some of you may remember hearing me say that most jointers that are on the market today are too small. I mean ... how are you supposed to flatten a 12" wide board with a 6" jointer? My solution? Buy a 12" jointer!

 12" of wood flattening heavy metal

12" of wood flattening heavy metal

I don't have the year this old fella was made but I'm sure I will once Jack Forsberg is through with me. He assures me that this is going to be an involved restoration but I'm looking forward to getting my hands dirty. My friend Karen has been through the old tool refurb deal in her shop so I'm sure with these two in my corner I won't get into too much trouble. 

 A time before crumby stickers

A time before crumby stickers

I will be doing a full restoration including all things that whir and cut, down to the paint and aesthetics. If any one sees (or has) any cool vintage start/stop buttons, let me know.

And then there is this tall fella.

 Would you look at the lines on the hood

Would you look at the lines on the hood

This is a Buffalo 18  drill press - a serious drilling machine and I'm looking forward to getting it cleaned up and running. The press promises to be less work than the jointer but as Jack has warned me, you never know what you'll find one you start taking things apart. This Buffalo is a Canadian made machine from Kitchener, Ontario.

These tools were designed for pattern makers and machinists respectively, a discerning group if there ever was one. There is a bit of work in this heavy metal game but it will be worth every minute when I eventually work with tools that were bred for accuracy.

In order to understand, you must do. - V

Meet My Apprentices

Not everything I do is centered around hand tools. There ... I said it. Many people know me for my book The Minimalist Woodworker that I wrote a while back. Some of those people are shocked to find out that I use machines as part of my daily woodworking. I wrote the book because I was tired of hearing people tell me that they couldn't woodwork because they didn't have enough space or money. Other notable excuses for not taking woodworking was not wanting to make excessive dust and noise. I wrote the book because I knew that woodworking can be done with very little and if you didn't have the space, money or other limitations you could still make things from wood.

 Two of my capable apprentices

Two of my capable apprentices

I've been in many different sized shops ranging from 40 sq ft under the basement stairs of a townhouse when I was in the military to a couple thousand sq ft when I studied at Rosewood. Regardless of the size of space I have continued making. Currently I have a wonderful basement shop in out new house that I designed from the word 'go'.  It's just under 500 sq ft and I feel that I have finally arrived.

In that shop are machines. Machines that I call my apprentices. They do the things that I'm not interested in doing like breaking out lumber. I haven't named any of them yet but I might yet. Mostly I run machines because I can. I have the room for them and I have the luxury of making noise and some dust in a contained area. This is mostly because my most important client lives upstairs with me and she likes what I make for her.

I'm not a production woodworker so I don't need production machines but I have a few that make my life a bit easier. Here is what is currently in my shop:

Bandsaw - 14" General International with riser kit
Thickness Planer - Dewalt 735
Drill Press - Ridgid floor model
Track saw - Festool TS-55 with vac and MFT-3


You'll note that there is no mention of a table saw, jointer and chop saw. When I studied at Rosewood we were encourage not to use the table saw to rip wood because the safer option was to use the bandsaw. This meant that the table saw only got used for crosscutting and dealing with sheet goods. I've gone many years without a table saw and don't feel that I'm missing out on anything. Now that I'm in a shop that can handle swinging plywood around, I went with the track saw because it makes much more sense bringing the saw to a large sheet rather than muscling that same sheet up onto a saw table. We've all been there ripping big sheets on a table saw and we know some of the weird sounds the saw makes while we do it.  The table saw is also a huge space hog. I also use the track saw to crosscut so no need for a chop saw.

 German apprentices!

German apprentices!

I don't use a power jointer because I don't have the thousands of dollars to buy the size I want. The minimum size I would want is 12" because most of the wood that I use is 10" wide easily. How to you joint a face of a 10" board on a 6 or 8" jointer? You don't. You grab your jointer or jack plane and get the one face flat, then joint an edge and carry on. Although recently I have been exploring the world of vintage woodworking machines so I may end up with a jointer one day.

So yes I use machines. I use them were they make sense to me but turn to my hand tools for certain joinery, refining surfaces and generally anywhere that I can do it faster with a hand tool instead of setting up a machine. I also can sleep easier knowing that if I lost my shop for whatever reason, I can turn to my hand skills to keep my love of making in wood alive.

In order to understand, you must do. - V