Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Hold It Now.............Hit It"

Recently there has been a surge of information and articles on the simplest ( and often forgotten) of all tools, the workbench. So much in fact that every issue of every magazine I have gotten in the past few months has some sort of plan, or re-vamped design, or some lost workbench configuration from the Jurassic period.

Article after article,and blog after blog after blog about workbench this, or workbench that. It is enough to make one try to mortise and tenon their left leg to the right one in hopes that the excruciating pain would be enough of a distraction from workbench overload AAAARRRGGGHH!

All of the "experts" are soapbox happy these days telling us that if you don't have one you can't perform this operation, or that joint, in an effort to convince us that it is "The most important tool in your shop" And all I can say to that is..............They're right!!!

It took an overload of workbench mania for me to discover that what I called a"workbench" was nothing more than a closet door on saw horses. There are so many things wrong with that statement that i don't even know where to start. So let's start with this.

Woodworking broken down to it's most basic form requires one action first and foremost "The ability to securely hold your workpiece". The "only"and I mean "only" way to do this is with a workbench. About a year ago I decided that it was time to get a serious surface to do my projects on. So I researched all sorts of designs from every woodworking era I could and found that it was all in the vises. Front vises, and tail vises; leg vises; face vises and some really crazy vises.

Truth is you should decide on what type of bench you need based on the type of work you do, and which vise or vises setup will work the best for you! I do a lot of cabinetry personally, so I settled on a French - German hybrid Holzapfel workbench (May the Schwarz be with you!) which is centered around what the vises can do for you and not what the work surface itself is capable of .

So do a lot of research on this important subject and make your decision based on "your" needs because I will tell you that my work since introducing a workbench to my tool collection is much better and one hundred percent more efficient and productive. And by the way a really good way to practice a wide range of woodworking techniques is to build it yourself. I did, and already looking forward to building another one, because who says you can't have two benches or three....or four.......

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mail Order Madness!

As you get started on your woodworking pilgrimage, it is all too tempting to acquire your tools from on-line or mail order catalogs.Unless you live in a remote region of the country where the Red Cross air drops all of your food and clothing to you, I would recommend against this practice.

I find it to be important to find a local shop in which to buy all or most of your tools. Not only does this stimulate the local economy, you actually get to see and hold the item you are about to purchase. And as an added benefit you get to talk to actual people with product knowledge about your potential tool purchase. It might be possible that a $20 chisel could get the job done just as well as the $50 chisel you are lusting after, and any "good" tool merchant will tell you so.

Finding a local store to shop at is also a good place to network with other woodworkers, to get advice on projects or just to swap stories about woodworking. A lot of hometown woodworking suppliers even offer classes and seminars on woodworking, wood turning, or other wood related topics.

Now I know that not all stores may carry the item you just" have to have" so the occasional internet purchase isn't taboo, but chances are that you could get a similar item just down the street.

So in conclusion " buy local" when possible, and chances are your woodworking aspirations will be a lot more pleasurable when you don't have to wait (please allow 10 to 12 business days for prompt delivery!) to get what you need!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Let's Be Rational!

I have started this blog with one goal in mind. To help those who are suffering from woodworking dimentia. The inability to decide on "What tool should I use" or "Should I use a power tool or hand tool" and the ever popular "Maybe I should just turn a baseball bat on my new eight hundred dollar lathe, and club myself repeatedly, because so far that is all I can make." This blog is aimed more towards the beginning wood enthusiast, but seasoned professionals may occasionally find a morsel to use as well. So let us start with the big controversy.

Hand Tools vs. Power Tools

There seems to be a very defined line separating those who need voltage to get it done and those who like it "unplugged" so to speak. Power tools are convenient, time saving and tend to be easier to do projects with minimal detail, for the most part. With hand tools there is a real satisfaction of actually "handmade" attached to using them, but are tedious and time consuming to master. So what direction should you go in ? I say both! Keep your power tools, but slowly start adding hand tools to your arsenal, a chisel here, a hand saw there, and practice using them, before you know it you won't set up your dovetail jig to do one or two dovetail drawers because by the time you get the jig set you could have already done it by hand. Here is an example. Several years ago I wanted to learn mortise and tenon joinery and decided on a machine to do my mortises (Hollow mortiser) until I saw how much they cost. So I researched hand tool methods to do them, and went that route instead. So one honking mortise chisel and two backsaws later I was off to my so called shop to start chopping. Endless frustration ensued for the first month, and the second, third and so on. Just when I was on the verge of giving up, I decided to compare a joint I had just completed with one of the first ones I did. I was amazed and delighted at the difference in the two. I had actually become fairly proficient at it. So the point is I will use hand tools when I have a small amount of things to do (I still cut all of my mortises by hand) ,but if I have twenty or thirty tenons to make, it's time to fire up the table saw. The truth of the matter is this. You should learn to use as many types of both as possible, if you truly want to do woodworking. There are things one can do that the other cannot. Embrace both freely and try to blur the lines between the two schools of thought, because if I had to choose between my router or my dovetail saw, let's just say i wouldn't.