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

The Power of the Hobbyist

There is one of two ways that I hear the term ‘hobbyist’ being thrown around. The first is by ‘professional’ woodworkers and more times than not it has been in a disparaging tone. Like a hobbyist couldn’t possibly be a good, fast, talented as a pro. The other way I’ve heard it use is by the hobbyist themselves and is usually preceded by the words: I’m just a... 
In either case, I don’t understand why this is. 

Just because a person charges money for their woodworking doesn’t mean that they are any good at it. You’d be shocked at what non-woodworking patrons will not notice or care about. To my way of thinking, being a pro woodworker means that you are a slave to the grind. I’ve been there and it isn’t always pretty. It’s not often that you get to do the kind of work that you want and often times you are left begging to be paid for the work that you do complete. Not to mention having to do all of the other drudgery like book keeping, accounting, website upkeep and marketing. All of these tasks need doing and no one person is good at them all. When you’re a small shop, putting food on the table as a one-person operation can be difficult. The other thing to keep in mind that even the most successful furniture makers supplement their incomes with teaching and writing. 

Turning furniture making into a hobby was the best thing I could have ever done. For a while there I was starting to dislike woodworking because of all the other stuff I mentioned earlier. Add more stress to the situation by having a young family and wanting to contribute to the household income. Getting a job outside of making allowed me the freedom to build what I wanted, when I wanted. I’ve stayed in the woodworking industry but what I make in my hobbyist shop simply brings in play money to help feed a healthy tool addiction. 

So don’t be ashamed of your hobbyist designation. Hobbyists get to explore as many (or as few) aspects of the craft as they want. They don’t have the pressure of eating and making rent so they can do whatever they want. No rabbit holes are off limits for the hobbyist because in the end it’s just your personal time and some materials. So go ahead, be a proud hobbyist and hold your chest out with pride. 

In order to understand, you must do. - V


Why The Heck Not?

The other day I was reading a post from Over the Wireless by Kieran. In that post he was talking about making a bench and was preparing to jump down the rabbit hole associated with researching the build. In some of the comments on Face Book, the topic of what woods to use came up and the word 'oak' got mentioned.

With so much maple available in North America, It never really dawned on me to use oak for a bench...but why the heck not? It's hard and heavy and would work just fine. I will be adding two new benches to my new larger shop: a joinery bench at elbow height and a lower bench for assembly. I think I may have just found the wood I'm going to use for the joinery bench. 

I'll keep you posted.

Out of curiosity...what's your bench made out of? Comment below or on Face Book or Twitter.

In order to understand, you must do. - V

It's About Time

When I first got into woodworking I built simple projects that I needed for my home. The first project was a horribly designed night stand for my daughter. Then I built a recipe box that still gets used to this day in our kitchen. I like the old paper recipe cards in the kitchen - the thought of spilling something on my tablet or smartphone makes me cringe. Oh, and then there was the cool mailbox that had a closed area on the top for mail (bills) and an open area at the bottom for newspapers and flyers. Now I get my news from The Onion...it's not nearly as far fetched as the real stuff these days. 

I then studied furniture design and making and tried to make a go of things as a furniture maker. I had to price things into the stratosphere so that I wan't competing with the Ikea's and the Walmart's of the world. Studio furniture was what I needed to be making so that I could set myself apart from the others. The problem was that the people who needed a $10 000 hall table were few and far between and they were already giving their money to someone else. 

It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I realized that I was happiest with my woodworking by making the normal mundane stuff for around the house. The problem was that finding books on vernacular furniture was not that easy. The closest I had come was books that had the word 'country' in the title and that didn't really seem to fit the bill. Museums didn't really have much to offer because their collection where more on the high style side of the scale. So short of finding old pieces in antique shops and older homes, I didn't have much to go on ... until now.

Chris Schwarz has released another book with the word 'Anarchy' in the title. In our scared society I'm surprised he can ship them anywhere without going on a no-fly list. I really enjoyed the first book he wrote so titled, The Anarchist's Tool Chest, because it was no bull-crap (is that hyphenated?) book on the one of the fundamentals of woodworking, the tools. On my third reading of the book I discovered that for me it was less about tools and more about an attitude towards woodworking and life in general. So it was no surprise to me that his latest book, The Anarchist's Design Book, was no different. 

To me, this book speaks to a way of life. A simple approach to furniture and the techniques for making it. Clean lines and simple concepts that would look at home in almost any decor (unless you're still rocking the black, brass and glass of the early '90's). There is no lack of design in this stuff and making it look right takes some practice. Material thicknesses and sympathetic components that make or break the pieces are crucial for success. 

Add to the mix Chris's sense of humor, thoughtfully laid out chapters and beautiful plates and you have a real winner. Small details like the cotton-covered boards and the black-painted page edges make me feel funny in my bathing suit area. I own almost every book that Lost Art Press has published and I love them all. The Anarchist's Design Book has become my favorite of the lot. Now I must put the book down and get into my shop. 

In order to understand, you must do. - V

I'm Surrounded

Working at Veritas is admittedly a pretty cool gig. One of the best things about my job is the people I get to work with. In my office there are many talented designers and engineers that do what they do really well - on top of that, they are good people. Among those folks are some pretty talented woodworkers. I have friends/co-workers that are timber framers, heritage carpenters, boat builders and luthiers just to name a few.

Scott works for Veritas as a buyer. He brings in all the material needed to make all the tools the we produce. Scott is also an incredibly talented woodworker. For months he has been sharing photos of his period work but I wanted to see it in the flesh.

Proud Papa Scott with his chair.

He brought in a Connecticut Chippendale chair that he recently made. This style of chair would have been popular in the mid to late 1700's and was stripped down in regards to carving from it's Philadelphia cousin.

The chair is crafted in mahogany and the workmanship is primarily with hand tools. The thing I like best is the surfaces are off the tool and not sanded to the point of unnecessary smoothness. To my eye, this piece has so much character because of those tool marks. No only is the overall form of the chair pleasing but you can also see and appreciate the human being that was behind its creation. By the way, Scott is a self-trained woodworker who follows my mantra: "In order to understand, you must do". He is proof that if you get into your shop and try things, anything is possible.

A lot of my writings in the past haven't featured much on other's woodworking but I think that is about to change. I enjoy seeing other peoples' work and so I think it's time to share some of that with you. You may be asking yourself: "When are you going to be making some projects Mr. Minimalist-pants". Well I have quite a list that my wife has developed for our new house that I will be getting started on once I get some work travel out of the way. I think she has about five piece in the queue for me so I'll be a busy fella in the next few months. I've got some basic design work done and now I'm ready to prove those designs with some maquettes that I'll be putting together.

Stay tuned for a multi-part blog on the design and making of my dining room table. I'll be trying some unconventional joinery for the legs that I'm hoping will let me ditch the aprons. Or....it could all fail miserably. Either way it should be as fun as watching a train wreck - you may want to look away but you can't. 

In order to understand, you must do. - V