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


Bit of a Fart in a Wind Storm

As the title would suggest, I feel like I've been all over the place lately. So many writing and building projects on the go and many new things happening in my shop. I started and ended another blog that hopefully none of you saw. I was concerned that as my shop grew that maybe you weren't going to be interested in this growth. There are machines making their way in and so my thoughts were "that's not very Minimalist". It was pointed out by many people (some more delicately than others) that I should focus on one blog and not split my time any more than I have. 

So there is going to be some non-minimalist content on my site. I'm growing and so should my blog. There will still be plenty of hand tool content ...  I'm not becoming a wood machinist. I still believe that hand tools in the shop can certainly be faster when working on one-off projects as I do. I just have the ability to bring in some apprentices now that I have the space.

There you have it. I'm done explaining and I hope you continue to enjoy what you see here. There are so many cool things happening here in my shop and I'm looking forward to boring you with them. Most importantly, always remember - In order to understand, you must do. 

- V

Everyone Needs A Blacksmith

Can you imagine having the ability to have tools made for you, to your specs and your design? You can - you just need a blacksmith. I've got one and he's always keen to try something new. My brother (in arms) Nick is a great buddy to have. I first met him at a community wood shop in Ottawa called My Urban Workshop. He has the skills of a woodworker aaaand does cool stuff with hot steel. 

My first tool I bought from him was a drawknife. This neat piece of kit is made from a railway tie clip and not only does it work really well, it looks pretty rockin'.

Not long after the drawknife I saw this cool hammer that Nick made. It was originally intended as a wooden plane hammer. I have a strange fascination with hammers and for some reason I collect them like ticks on a dog. The hammer is double annealed so its softness is perfect for  hitting wood. I've used this beauty on planes and chisels and it works like a charm. Sweet balance and wicked aesthetics make it the tool I reach for when wood needs a beating. 

About a month ago I saw a selection of kiridashi-style marking knives that he made. Typically these knives have a single-bevel but I asked Nick if he could make a custom ground double-bevel and as usual I got the 'no problem' answer. I met Nick at my favourite shawarma place the other day and he brought out this little beauty. He even personalized it for me with the Minimalist Woodworker logo using a laser. 

I 've dropped a few other tool ideas on him and I'm looking forward to seeing what he comes up with. In the mean time, I'm going to enjoy using tools that are crafted in a similar fashion as I work wood. BTW if your interested in Nick's stuff and want some of it then check out his site oldsoldiertoolworks.com. He has links on his site for social media as well. I will warm you - knowing a blacksmith gets expensive.

In order to understand, you must do. - V

He's the Saw Man

I may be naive, but I don't think there is a human being alive that knows more about hand saws than Mark Harrell at Bad Axe Tool Works. He has acheived a level of saw geek-dome that is awe inspiring...and I say that with respect. Whenever I need saw info, I head to his site and surf through the hockey-sock of info there. Recently Mark made it even easier to parse out what you need.

Mark takes you through the steps of how to maintain your saw or completely rehab a vintage model. Mark is a prime example of my typical sign off - In order to understand, you must do. Mark has spent thousands of hours doing research,  experimenting and testing everything from handle material to tooth patterns. If you have any interest in saws at all go here and get ready to learn. My buddy Mark is a fantastic teacher.

In order to understand, you must do. - V

1/2"...Was ist das?

When you travel outside of North America you quickly realize that inches and feet are not used in a lot of places (well most places). Standing in front of a group of German wood workers and talking about a ½” chisel resulted in the question “Was ist das?”.

Now technically Canada was metricized in the 1970's but we only did it half way. So now, like England, we're stuck using a combination of imperial and metric measures that makes things kind of confusing to say the least. Not one of our brightest moves as a nation. For the record, there are only three countries in the world that haven't adopted the International System of Units (metric system): Burma, Liberia, and the USA.  

Now I'm not a mathamagician but I must say that working in base 10 is much easier than base...well...base everything else but 10 that is the imperial system.  For example:

15/16” + 5/8” + 1-1/2” = X
Find the common denominator and add the numerators
15/16 + 10/16 + 24/16 = 49/16
Then convert the improper fraction to a mixed fraction
x = 3-1/16”

Now in metric with the same dimensions:
23.8mm + 15.9mm + 38.1mm = 77.8mm All Done!

To be fair, most of the measurements I use in my woodworking are referential. I can take a scrap of wood, place it in front of a drawer opening, then mark the width on the board. This will give me the exact width of the drawer opening without getting numbers or math involved. Who cares what the numbers are...I sure don't. It doesn't happen often but when I do want to quantify a measurement I will use the metric system because it greatly simplifies the math.

Ultimately do what you want, (I won’t judge you) but it’s hard to argue with the ease of the metric system.

In order to understand, you must do. - V


Shine Your Shoes Gov'na!

Whenever I go abroad for work, I try to get to see antique furniture in the wild. 

15 metres(ish) of carved opulence

15 metres(ish) of carved opulence

While I was visiting the Warwick castle in the UK, I couldn't help but notice this buffet in the main hall. Now to be fair, this was a late addition to the castle in the 1800's not a medieval piece but impressed with it I was. The whole thing was carved from one end to the other and I tried to imagine how long this would have taken to make.


How long did this take?

How long did this take?

We have all heard stories about projects from yesteryear that took a craftsman their entire life to complete. In some cases the commission went on after their death, finished by an offspring of the craftsman.

Personally, I start getting antsy for a project to be done after a week or two. I couldn't imagine a lifelong commission. Needless to say this was an impressive sight... made even more cool by the display medieval weapons and armour. 

In order to understand, you must do. - V

The Loss of a Good Man

This week the woodworking industry lost a wonderful man Mr Leonard Lee, the founder of Lee Valley and Veritas Tools died and his absence from this world will leave a hole in many hearts - especially in those of his employees. Having joined the company 6 years ago, I didn't have the opportunity to work with Mr Lee day-to-day but I did get to know him when I was a student at Rosewood Studio. Canica (the medical company Mr Lee founded) was just down the street from Rosewood so it was common to meet up with Mr. Lee at The Groundz, Baker Bob's or at the school and community events like Puppets Up. 

When I first started working for the company, one of my first jobs was to get the video production project going in conjunction with many talented people. Mr Lee's office in Almonte had video equipment and a computer with a video editing suite that Mr Lee offered to us to use to make our first video. This meant that myself and Shawn (camera guy and editing guru) spent a couple of days in the Canica offices cutting our video teeth.

If you have ever met me personally, you will know that I have a sense of humor that can get me into trouble at times. I am loud, self-deprecating and occasionally crass and most people either love or hate me. Mr Lee recognized this and would throw a well-meaning hack at me from time to time. In the army we used to say that if they teased you, they liked you.

While we were editing the first video, Mr Lee poked his head in the office to see how things were going. 

"How's it going in here gents"? Mr Lee asked.

"The technical aspects of the project are going well but the talent is no raving hell." I responded. (I was the talent in question)

Mr Lee stepped up to the monitor Shawn was working at, circled me with the butt of his pen and retorted "....and that's a lot of talent."

We all burst out laughing and Mr Lee apologized saying "It couldn't be helped."

About 30 minutes later Mr Lee came down the hall and asked if I had a minute and beckoned me down the hall to his office. When I walked in my jaw hit the floor. There was all matters of antiquity displayed in there. Everything from hand woodworking tools to a WW2-era gunner's quadrant from the Canadian Artillery. He let me look around and anything I focused on or touched he gave me the provenance. I must have spent an hour and a half in there listening to Mr Lee's stories and soaking up every bit that I could. Mr Lee was an excellent story teller and I could have spent a week in that office listening to him talk. The tour ended when Mr Lee said, "Neither of us is getting any work done doing this so get out of here." All said with his signature smile and a chuckle. 

Image source www.jenniferkingsley.ca

Image source www.jenniferkingsley.ca

I realized as I read what I've written here today that I used the honorific "Mr" often. True respect for another human being is earned through a person's  actions, not title or station. Some people just command respect because they deserve it. Mr Lee was one of these people.  We address Leonard Lee as "Mr Lee" out of respect for a man that respected us and I always cringe when I hear someone who didn't know him very well as Leonard ... it just doesn't sound right. 

I will always treasure the time I spent with Mr Lee. He was a smart guy and a gentleman who always had time for people no matter who you were. I'm not a believer in God but science tells us that energy can not be destroyed. Even though Mr Lee's physical presence is gone, it gives me great solace to know that his energy is still with us to influence and guide us down the right path ... so long Mr Lee. - V

Visiting Another of the Colonies

The last couple of weeks have been a blur. My family was gearing up to take possession of the house we had built and finally moved in last Friday. As most of you know packing, moving and unpacking is quite a lot of work. As the movers where bringing my machines and tool chest into my new basement shop, I tried to stay sequestered in there to get things set up but the boss had other plans for my talents. That being said the shop is only about 50% set up with the important bits ready to go.

This is what happens when movers are left unattended.

This is what happens when movers are left unattended.

All the essentials are ready to go.

All the essentials are ready to go.

Alas, the shop will have to wait because on Saturday I will be boarding a plane headed for Australia! I'm heading down with my co-worker Wally to work with our Australian and New Zealander distributors Carbatec or more specifically, Maxis. It's going to be a hectic schedule of both staff training and public lectures on the joys of Veritas tools. The link will give you more info on the tour and where Wally and I are going to be. I've never been to Australia so I'm really looking forward to the trip...though the 16-hour flight might be a bit of a drag but it sure beats walking eh?

Speaking of Australia...Australian Wood Review magazine recently wrote a thoughtful review of The Minimalist Woodworker. Have a read if you like. [proud papa moment]

At the end of the tour we will be heading north to spend some time with our Chinese distributors in Nanjing and then east to Seoul to meeting with out Korean counterparts. All told, Wally and I are looking at 4 weeks and over 40 000 km total for this trip. Poor Wally is going to have had enough of my big personality by the end of it.

So if you are able to attend any of the events it would be great to see you. I'm looking forward to talking to all the woodworkers from Down Under and Asia - so stop by and say hey. I likely won't have much time for full-on blog posts but keep an eye on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds for photos and fun from the trip.

In order to understand, you must do. - V

On The Fence

We take possession of our new house and 10 days which means that I'll be into my new shop soon. I spent some time in my current shop yesterday just looking around at what I have, what I can get rid of and what is defiantly coming. I've spent almost 10 years in this shop and even though my new shop will be much larger and better set up, I'm going to miss this place.

One of the things I have been struggling with is a new tool purchase. My wife Christina has asked for some built-in furniture in the new house and that means working with plywood. I suppose I don't have to work in plywood but it's the best approach for what we have planned. I don't have a table saw and certainly don't want one so I'm taking a serious look at a Festool TS75 and extractor. I have worked with them before and a couple of my private students own them and I think it is going to be the right approach. Taking the tool to the 4 x 8 sheet makes more sense to me than slinging heavy sheets onto a table saw. 

I'm also pretty impressed with the dust collection you get when teamed up with a dust extractor. Dust is a big concern in my shop because it is in the basement and I don't want the stuff scattered all over the house. 

I guess the part I'm struggling with is the cost - at just under $2k I'm cringing a bit. I'm wondering if I can just get by with my Skilsaw and a straight-edge. This wouldn't even be an issue in my current shop because I wouldn't have the space to handle sheet goods in the first place. 

Any how....1st world problems, I know.

How do you deal with plywood in your shop? Other than a table saw what are your methods for breaking down sheets?

In order to understand, you must do. V