All posts by Gerhard Marx

Psychiatrist and Woodworker

My second commission – part 12

19/6/2017

Let’s start with a confession. I did stuff around with some of the photos in this post. It is the first time that any of JNSQ’s photos have been altered, as far as I can remember anyway.

The previous posts in this series can be found here.

In this edition we will take a look at some of the joinery and the first phase of preparation of the top for finishing.

The first bit of joinery I attempted was to fit a small block to the top of each leg construction. It will be the point that fix the centre of the leg to the centre of the top. All the other connection points will allow for wood movement, but these two will not. This means that the top will be able to move freely with changes in humidity, but the centre will remain fix to the centre of the legs. I think this is called a T-bridle joint. One feature of my Langdon mitre box and saw that came in handy here was it’s ability to set the depth of cut. Obviously you can simply do this by hand, which would also be much quicker. Where the mitre box might have an advantage is when you need to do heaps of these joints with the same dimensions. In this case it was an opportunity to work out how to set the mitre box for a job like this. That way it will be easier next time.

A router plane works well for the cheeks of the bridal section. It was a bit of a challenge to hold such a small piece while cutting the cheeks to depth. The solution was two dogs and a Veritas gadget. That could be a good name for a progressive rock band or a retrogressive gin mill (Two dogs and a Veritas gadget), come to think of it.

Next up were the slots in the top of the legs.

The two aprons are also jointed to the legs by means of T-bridal joints. Here I am marking the exact location of the shoulders using the leg.

That was followed by the same sequence involving the mitre box, router plane and careful chisel work to perfect the shoulders.

7/7/2017

So then on a crisp and bright winter’s Friday morning I started to flatten the bottom side of the top. Seeing that it is the first table top of this size in Kershout that I am doing by hand I thought that the bottom side would provide an ideal opportunity to work out which method works best. The major challenges posed by this top are the schizophrenogenic nature of grain and the extreme hardness of the wood. As every self-respecting JNSQ Woodworking reader should know by now, we deal almost exclusively with feral boards from the ancient Knysna forest. Each of the trees that the boards for this top were sawn from would have been over 500 years old.

If you deal with wood like that it is my opinion that one has a real responsibility to do the best possible job of allowing the story of the tree to be told. In my estimation that means a delicate balance between careful surface preparation and leaving certain imperfections that relates to the history of the piece of wood. George Nakashima’s immortal oeuvre of work (which inspired this design) lends itself perfectly to getting the most out of feral hardwood such as what I chose for this top. How much and which imperfections are left to tell the story is of course in the eye of the beholder.

Anyway, I started experimenting with various different tools to see what might work best in flattening such a challenging top. The techniques I tried included a belt sander, a low angle jack plane with a toothed blade, a standard no.3 smoothing plane (45° frog) with a back bevel of 25° creating an effective pitch of 70° and a shop made fore plane with a blade pitched at 50° (aka York pitch).

The belt sander has always been one of my least favourite tools. It makes noise, it is all over the place and seems to be the best possible tool to turn a flat surface into the famous Valley of a Thousand Hills. What I found was that it is less harmful in such hard wood, but still not an option if you are aiming for a superior surface. The low angle Jack plane (12° bedding angle + 38° micro bevel for an effective pitch of 50° and a tight throat) worked diagonally to the grain clearly had the measure of the wonky grain, but would have taken too long for what would suffice for the bottom side of the top. I did not aim for a perfectly flat bottom side.

Next up was the back-bevelled smoothing plane. It worked even better (in terms of finish) than the low angle plane, but was difficult to push due to the high effective pitch and therefore even slower at removing material. It is also important to mention that this strategie seize to be effective in difficult grain when you try to take a fat shaving.

So I rolled the dice and tried the shop made fore plane (50° effective pitch) diagonal across the grain. It wreaked havoc in a semi controlled sort of way. This particular blade has a fairly substantial camber and it took no prisoners in the process of removing the necessary material in a timely fashion. In the pictures below you can see the characteristic scalloped appearance of a surface smarting from such treatment.

This is one of my attempts at manipulating the photos to highlight the pattern left by the plane.

The wooden plane in the picture below enforced the above damage. Of note in the picture is the bottles of water I consumed during this arduous labour of bellicosity.

Here we have an example of a part of the history of the tree that is often neglected to be told. Yes I know some of you will think I have lost the plot. Probably something along the lines of: “The #%$@&* hippy has been smoking too much pot.” The reality for me is however that the wood I in my collection have all sorts of imperfections and it would be impossible to create anything of reasonable size without these imperfections exposing themselves. I have therefore made peace with having to incorporate imperfections and try to design in such a way that the eccentricity of the stock enhance the aesthetics of the piece I am building.

Here are a few more tweaked pics with an array of tools that were used to tidy up the bottom side of the top.

Then finally it became time to employ some of the lessons learnt on the bottom side to the face side of the top. It took me three full days of planing at 45° to the grain with a toothed blade in a low angle jack plane to get the top as flat as I wanted it. The two pictures below were taken after the first day.

The dogs on my assembly table came in quite handy during this brutal process.

The toothed blade created these beautiful patterns in the areas that were approaching flatness.

This was the end of day two.

14/8/2017

Once the entire (well almost) face side were in the same plane I removed the bulk of the rhombi left by the toothed blade using a no. 112 scraping plane. It was the first time I used this particular tool for a huge job like this. I prepared the blade the way that is recommended by my woodworking icon David Charlesworth. In my case a 45° main bevel, 50° polished micro bevel with a 75° burr set up in the plane with the blade leaning forward at 20°. The plane is an absolute joy to use when set up like this. You have to make sure you take very thin shavings of course. Some sanding with my shop made sanding planes took care of the rest of the rhombi.

While grappling with the rhombi I took short breaks to tidy up the cracks in the top. They all had lots of loose splinters of wood and other ancient bits of debris inhabiting their depths. This task was mainly accomplished by using a very old pocket knife that used to belong to my grandparents.

At this stage I shaped the curved ends of the top. As you can see I marked out two lines using my fingers as a fence. These lines guided the removal of waste to create a very gentle yet quite wide bevel. Once the bevel were established, the end grain area were rounded off ever so slightly using the same technique. My no. 9½ Stanley block plane did most of the donkey work and was then followed by a low angle smaller block plane, which was in turn followed by gentle sanding.

When I got a bit tired of the top I continued to chip away at the last bits of joinery.

Once the two aprons were fitted to the legs with very precise bridal joints, I started working on the massive beam that connects the legs at floor level. The Witpeer beam was laminated and squared up more than a year ago. It gave the wood a very generous time frame within which it could settle all possible disputes the fibres might care to raise (so to speak). It turns out that a very dense laminated beam like this stayed pretty much dead straight in all it’s  dimensions, but managed to go out of square by what appeared to be a full mm. That was fixed by hand planing a face side and face edge perfectly square with each other and using those reference surfaces to square up the others with my electric planer.

I transferred the inside measurements of the joinery from the aprons to the beam.

Using the above reference point I took the beam to the Windsor leg to mark out the exact location of the other side of the fairly complex stopped bridal joint (my own name not necessarily correct terminology) which will marry these two structures.

This is how far I got with this joint at present.

It was now time to break in my precious polissior that one of my favourite woodworking personalities and über craftsmen Don Williams (of The Barn on Whiterun fame) sent me earlier this year. That entailed rubbing the heads of the grass/straw on a rough piece of scrap wood and tidying up the appearance on a spindle sander.

I can thoroughly recommend reading Don’s article on this epic tool from the past.

Before.

After.

I used the Polissior to burnish the top after perfecting the finish with gradually increasing grid sander paper on a orbital sander. I went all the way to 600 grid and did two rounds of wiping the surface with a damp cloth to raise the grain before sanding it back down with the 600 grid. You can see the effect of the burnishing in the pictures below.

Aoife helped me to apply a tung oil/turpentine mixture. We kept the surface quite wet for 30 minutes by reapplying the mixture where the wood absorbed it and then wiped it down with a clean and dry cloth.

As you can see it was one of those unbelievably satisfying moments in woodworking where the wood rewards you for months of painstaking elbow grease. Kershout is simply one of the most beautiful species of wood on the planet. I want to reiterate that there were no pigment added what so ever. This is what it looks like after tung oil mixed with turps were applied!!

The top will now rest for two weeks before we will apply beeswax with the polissior. Stay tuned my brethren!!

My second commission – part 11

15/3/2017

As promised we will look into the process of jointing, gluing, and inserting dovetail keys into the top of the table in part eleven of our journey.

The rest of this particular chronicle can be found here.

The Kershout boards in the picture below were prepared up to this point towards the end of last year and has since been kicking it with my 1969 MGB in a separate garage.

The first task is to arrange the boards as best as you can with regards to colour matching and balancing out defects. This is where you whip out your artistic licence. This is after all a tribute to the legendary George Nakashima.

I took the opportunity to see what the trapezoid leg would add to the overall look. The top looks very light in colour (in this picture), but I can assure you that it will be transformed to a very dark reddish brown once the finish is applied. The Kershout dovetail keys contrasts exquisitely with the lighter Witpeer boards that makes up the trapezoid leg. I also like the darker lines created by the defects on the leg. It was strategically place to balance out from an aesthetic point of view. We will see later in this post how the reverse of the mentioned timber combination has a similar effect with regards to the top.

As you can see here my bench really came into it’s own working on the edges of these boards during the jointing process. I first prepared the edges so that they were close to the desired configuration, which is a very slight bow in the length.

Then the boards are clamped together with the two edges that will mate (so to speak) flush with each other and folded much like book-matched pieces before opening the “book”. This nifty trick leads to a cancelling out of the minute error that might arise in squareness of these edges with regards to each other. This technique is sometimes referred to as match planing.

Didi gave me a few pointers.

The Kershout is so ridiculously hard that I had to resort to using an alternating attack with my Lie-Nielsen low angle Jack plane armed with a toothed blade and a Shaw’s Patent Sargent no. 14C armed with an aggressively cambered blade.

Once the artillery softened up the enemy, I moved on to this shop made jointer plane to finish off the job.

I find my Festool Domino to be a very useful tool to keep the edges flush during glue-up.

It has become my custom to do only one of these edge joints at any one time given the short window to get the job done in our dry climate. Each joint is then left in the clamps for at least 16 hours. In other words, I tend to leave the glue-up for my final task each day. It is usually done at around 17h00 and left over night until around 09h00 the next morning.

Repeat.

Ditto.

Ready for the final glue-up.

I had to buy a set of 1.3m long 1″ pipes for my pipe clamps in order to do this final glue-up. Of course, as you would expect, my 1.2 meter wide assembly table was too narrow to accommodated the clamps for this glue-up. The situation therefore necessitated some problem solving on my behalf.

As you can see here a piece of wood (for each of the bottom clamps) was cantilevered off the edge of the table held in place by a clamp through a dog hole. Oh! … and yes, in case you wondered, it is my daughter’s “Biscuit finds a friend”. My English is not advanced enough to indulge in such haute literate.

As I have mentioned before, a mere mortal tends to sweat like a Gypsy with a mortgage during our sweltering rainy season. Didi is the master of African Climate Control (aka toplessness).

… and Bob’s your Uncle.

I modified the strip of wood that links my trammel points to draw a curve to soften the appearance of both ends of the top.

Marking the location of the dominos like this helps to remember where they are when further shaping is done.

The waste was removed with an electric jigsaw. It is a crappy old Black & Decker that I bought many moons ago while still living in New Zealand. I do not use it very often to start with and do not recall ever calling upon it to munch through Kershout. As most things you do for the first time there were a few lesson to be learnt. These things (for lack of a better insult) cut on the pull stroke, which translates into a messy splitting out of fibres at the top edge. Therefore (in hind sight) it is desirable to have the bottom of the top facing the jigsaw when doing this job. Secondly, I realised that I used a blade that was too aggressive, which did not help either.

On the flip side, this indiscretion coerced me into a design tweak that might (or might not) add an interesting twist. You will have to wait and see just like me.

Another reason I chose this shape for the ends of the top, is to enhance the appearance of it being sliced from a massive tree trunk. The idea is that this shape resembles the end of a trunk that was chopped off by axe. If you imagine a board cut from a trunk like the one in the first photo below, it would probably resemble the top of my table as seen in the picture below. That is in my mind anyway, you might feel different.

Then it became time to fashion a few dovetail keys to stabilise the obvious cracks in the top.

I worked out how many is needed of each size.

Here I tried to work out where to place the keys with regards to my sense of (randomly planned) artistic balance. The picture below was not the final version that was decided on, but somewhere towards getting there.

For the design of the keys I chose an angle of 9º, which repeats all through the design of the table. This is an idea you might want to consider. You draw only one key, chopped off at different lengths, and write on the template the number of keys needed of each length. It is then cut out, traced onto the wood as many times as the key tells you and then you chop off the ends and repeat on the next sized key. This way they all have the same shape, but of different lengths in an attempt to add visual interest.

As so.

The keys were liberated from the above Witpeer board by means of a bandsaw.

19/6/2017

Another useful trick is illustrated below. Clamping a piece of scrap wood across the top to hold the dovetail key firmly in place while it’s exact configuration gets marked out on the top.

Drilling out the waste by hand in such hard wood is no joke. “Trust you me”, as they say around these parts.

Enter: Lie-Nielsen merchandise in tandem with my trusty shop made Assegaai mallet. I chose the mallet as I needed a bit more heft than what the so-called Je ne sais quoi Persuader can deliver. When working “stone”, the extra heft is a must.

The lazy winter sun give us a better idea of the warm colours of the Kershout as it infiltrates my shop during the late afternoon.

It seems as if this post is riddled with tips, so here is another one. In order to see the scribe line better, one can have a small torch lying on the top to cast a shadow into the line. On my bench this is usually accomplished by positioning the bench light in a similar fashion, but clearly this top is too big to take to the bench.

Once the key enter it’s mortise like this I stop refining the fit. The key is then clobbered home after a frugal application of Epoxy, which acts as lubricant as well as an adhesive. The clobbering is done with a heavy mallet furnished with a thick sealskin face (not pictured).

As you can see here (minus the heavy mallet).

One week later the keys were planed flush using the two planes pictured.

As you can see the Witpeer keys contrasts nicely with the Kershout, much in the same way as the opposite combination works splendidly in the trapeziod leg.

We will get into the preparation of the top for finishing and the key bits of joinery in our next riveting edition of this series.

Shaw’s (re)Patent

25/5/2017

One day in May while sitting in my shop at the end of a long day sipping usquebaugh I found myself staring at this so-called Shaw’s Patent no. 5 Jack plane of mine. It is the Jack plane that I use for heavy stock removal, which means it ends up on the receiving end of some significant elbow grease. As a result, the plane tends to reciprocate the well intended elbow grease with fervent vesication of that part of my hand that flirts with the ribbed edge of the main casting.  It got me thinking that the plane could possibly be modified to amend this particular quirk.

You can read a post on how I restored it when I initially got my discombobulated mitts on it.

As you can see here, the slight design glitch with this Sargent plane is twofold. There is a lot of wasted space between the top of the tote and the lateral adjuster. Also the bottom end of the tote slopes downwards, which has the effect that the side of one’s hand tends to end up on the rib of the main casting. Thus a combinations of these two inadequacies coerce the hand of the user into a position much lower than what is needed.

As you can see in the example below, the bottom part of the tote on this Lie-Nielsen low angle Jack plane does not slope down, but runs parallel to the sole of the plane. This design element stops the hand from sliding down too far. I thought that the Shaw’s Patent could benefit from a tote that employs the same strategy. Together with that I could utilize the dead space between the top of the tote and the lateral adjuster by lengthening the tote, which would also aid the user’s hand to ride higher.

I found a piece of Kaapse Swarthout, that would not suffice for any other purpose. This is by far my favourite indigenous species for producing totes.

It was quite a mission to fashion a tote that would fit the plane and at the same time tick the desired design tweaks. I used a combination of the original tote, the Lie-Nielsen tote, and documents on Stanley totes to accomplish the task.

The final product looks like this. You can see how the top of the tote is now much closer to the lateral lever and the bottom of it has a parallel section to hold the user’s hand up. Another neat little trick I discovered is to cut a leather washer to sit between the sole of the tote and the main casting. It makes a huge difference to the feel of the plane when using it. The difference is hard to explain, but try it and you will know what I mean.

The changes to the tote also necessitated a tweak to the length of the tote bolt. Unfortunately it is a change in the more challenging direction i.e. making it longer.

While I was at it I also changed the knob. I prefer a flat section at the top of the knob for my thumb when gripping the front end of the plane with the rest of my fingers on the sole acting as a fence.

The final adjustment I made was to file down the part of the rib in question by about 1 mm and rounded it. After all that the Shaw’s (re)Patent works like a dream. If you prefer woodworking rather than tool tweaking, I suggest that it might be better to buy a Lie-Nielsen plane from the start.

A Table for a shebeen – part 3

16/11/2016

The year is hurrying towards it’s inevitable end and the temperatures in my tropical haven are racing upwards at the same rate. The massive shift in ambient humidity that a good rainy season can induce always wind me up to get joinery that is supposed to last a really long time assembled during the driest part of the year. In my case that means before the end-of-year holidays, as the proper electric storm driven downpours tend to ignite a sudden hike in humidity around mid January. That is of course if we are lucky, because water has been in short supply in this sweltering savanna of ours.

For the purpose of this project I wanted to get the two leg-assemblies done before we leave for a hitherto tranquil spot on the Azanian south coast. Unfortunately the Zuptopian conglomerate has since done it’s utmost to “poison and destroy my brothers”, but let’s not dwell on the bane of my life while we could be discussing woodwork.

As discussed before, I prefer using Assegaai for my custom made drawbore pegs. I usually try and find a perfectly straight-grained piece before ripping strips on the table saw that are then fed to my Stanley no. 77 dowel making machine (not pictured). Unfortunately it is pretty much impossible to split (as apposed to rip) stock along the grain then using the no. 77 as you need perfectly square strips, but if you use fairly straight stuff it still turns out dowels that are far superior to the rubbish bought in local stores. I wrote in more detail on this process in previous posts.

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For the sake of trying something new I decided not to go with wedged through tenons as I did with the two workbenches that was built with similar sized stock. I am however partial to the idea of using wedges to ensure maximum strength. Therefore it was decided to experiment with wedges in a closed mortise. You will notice the kerf prepared for the wedge in the monstrous tenons. The sides of the mortise that needs to allow for the wedge to expand the tenon were adjusted. Then it is simply a matter of positioning the wedge in such a way that it sits in the entrance to the mentioned kerf while using pipe clamps to coerce the tendon into it’s mortise. That is of course followed by tapping the drawbore pegs home while the clamps are still in situ. The pictures below also show how I used my Festool Domino to cut the slots for the bits of wood that will fix the aprons to the top.

This was how the two leg-assemblies spent their festive season.

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16/1/2017

The drawbore pegs were then worked flush by sawing and hand planing.

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In order to mark out the exact location of the tenons of the two beams that link the two beams between the leg-assemblies (at an angle), I had to assemble the undercarriage.

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By clamping the linking beams at exactly the right angle, I was able to mark out the shoulders of the tenons.

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For some reason I found it very difficult to keep to the marked out lines while sawing away the waste by hand. It was the first time that I encountered this problem and still do not know exactly what was going on as I have done many similarly sized tenons in the same wood with the same saw?? Therefore I switched to the bandsaw for the rest of the work.

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I usually like to saw close to the line and hone in on it by planing the cheeks to a perfect fit.

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Marking out the location of the mortises.

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15/3/2017

Drilling out waste.

Removed the rest of the waste by vertical chopping.

Then it was time for the final glue-up of the undercarriage. I was very happy with how it came together and it sure is a robust construction.

The undercarriage received a few layers of Woodoc.

Before installing the undercarriage, the bottom of the top received a few layers of boiled linseed oil.

The pictures should do a better job than words to explain how the top was fix to the undercarriage.

Once that was done it became time to bring in some strength to get this baby to it’s feet.

Now I have to flatten the top by hand and trust me it looks a lot flatter than it is in the pictures below. I hope to complete this task before the end of the year.

North Brothers venturing south – PG

17/1/2017

No, this is not the title of a cheap porn movie aimed at the well known niche market for this particular genre of cinematic gems amongst serial tool collectors. The whole family should thus be able to digest this post, however JNSQ Woodworkings refuse to be held responsible for any unforeseen ailments that might result from indiscriminate consumption of the material. Parental guidance is therefore advised.

On a more serious note, I would like to apologise to my great friend, fellow blogger and tool historian par excellence Robert “Bob’s your Uncle” Demers for not posting this much earlier in the year. After all he found me a freakin legendary example of 20th century American tool manufacturing.

After using a couple of different examples of eggbeater drills it became apparent that my stockpile of African hardwoods necessitates contrivances with either massive drive wheels or a favourably geared two speed setup or ideally both. To give you an example, my first eggbeater was a Wiktor Kuc restored 1938 edition Miller’s Falls no. 2. It is supposed to be an ideal allrounder for the frugal (more recently known as “anarchical” in the prevailing Schwarzian vernacular) woodworker, but it really struggles to drive anything larger than a ¼” bit in lumber from the Dark Continent.

Initially I thought this is simply how it is with these eccentric drilling apparatuses, until by sheer chance I happened to stumble upon a two speed no. 5½ B Goodell-Pratt with a positively massive drive wheel. These babies know how to roll, innit. The GP has more torque than my 8 year old daughter, except in her case it is spelled slightly different.

Given this revelation I set out to procure another torque-ative eggbeater to torment my hardwoods with. Bob was of course my first port of call and I explained my predicament in some detail. You can read his summation of the tool here, which (by the way) is a hell of a lot more informative than this post. He agreed to keep his well educated eye out for a suitable monstrosity. It did not take him long to find Utopia in the form of a two speed North Brothers no. 1545.

Bob refused that I reimburse him for the tool or the shipment cost and sent it on it’s merry southward journey at the end of 2016. Luckily it did not embark upon a protracted sub-Saharan voyage like a particular parcel several moons ago.  It arrived somewhat promptly, for trans equatorial pilgrimages, in mid January 2017. I did return the favour by sending him a locally made hammer, but clearly I received more value than he did.

It is only my second true North Brothers tool (as apposed to Stanley made attempts) and completely lives up to my very high estimation of this famous tool manufacturer. The low gear munches through anything Africa can throw at it and the considerable weight lends some advantageous momentum to drive wheel as well as a general feeling of old school quality.

The no. 1545
The NB no. 1545 with the GP no. 5.5B
The NB no.1545 with a 1938 edition MF no. 2
The NB no. 1545 with it’s smaller cousin the no. 1530

 

I took the drive wheel off and cleaned everything I could reach. It presently purrs like a cat on crystal meths.

Thank you Uncle Bob I will cherish this gem as long as I have the privilege to do so and hope to pass it on to someone who will continue to do so long after both of us joined the choir invisible.

My second commission – part 10

15/3/2017

My dear reader, I would like to apologise for my extended absence from the wonder world of virtual woodworking via the internet. You would find the reasons quite boring so let’s not waste any time nor effort ruminating on such drivel. This instalment of an apparently mammoth series will concern itself with the addition of the third and final layer of the so-called trapezoid leg. You can find earlier posts in this series here.

Seeing that the third layer would ultimately close up the internal workings of the whole construction, I took the opportunity to unscrew the second layer’s three ‘cross members’ (for lack of a better term). As you should be able to observe in the photos below, the old school mild steel wood screws received a coat of beeswax. This was accomplished by melting a block of wax in a small tin containing these traditional fasteners. The idea with this is that the wax should reduce the effort required to seat the screws and at the same time providing a layer that would resist future corrosion.

The screws were then seated after the surfaces that is supposed to be able to slide ever so slightly with the changes in ambient humidity over the years, were rubbed with beeswax. Whether this is useful (or possibly the opposite) I do not know, but I tried it anyway. Therefore I would urge you to ask someone who knows before following suite. Maybe some of our more experienced and properly trained cadres could assist in the matter.

Seeing that the plan was to fix the third and final layer using panel pins I had to fashion a custom punch to seat the nails below the surface of the wood. A short section of a round file which I picked up somewhere served perfectly well for this purpose. It was shaped carefully (not to take the temper out of the hardened steel) on a bench grinder to fit the head of the panel pin to a T. There are some picks further down to show the business end of my new redneck punch.

As is so common here in Africa, I also had to modify the panel pins somewhat to serve my purpose. In order to allow layer one and two to be able to move relative to each other, these panel pins had to stop short of layer one. In other words they should only fix layer three to the cross members of layer two. That was accomplished by snipping off the required amount, followed by resharpening on the bench grinder.

The two Kershout strips were fitted first, as they needed to be absolutely spot on given the fact that they mirror the spindles of the so-called Windsor leg. Kershout seems to enjoy spending time off  the Janka hardness charts (literally and figuratively) so it hard to say where it rates in comparison to better known species, but let’s just say it tends to take exception when a nail wants to upset it’s feng shui. For that reason I had to drill shank holes for each panel pin, which allowed the shank through and only caught the slightly wider head. This way the panel pins were more inclined to retain it’s linear configuration and the Kershout refrained from flexing it’s muscles.

As discussed in earlier posts, the third layer only needs to add another 8 mm for the trapezoid leg to reach it’s intended thickness of 44 mm. Therefore I decided to challenge my new bandsaw with fairly wide re-sawing in very hard Witpeer. Of course that also allowed me to introduce visual interest by means of a book-matched arrangement of the various pieces.

In order to do that I needed one flat, square and twist-free face side and face edge.

The resultant 8 mm stock were then fitted from the centre of the leg towards the outside. I again used the hitherto unproven technique of rubbing beeswax on the surfaces that is supposed to be able to slide.

I used a no. 78 and a no. 10 Stanley rabbet plane to cut the rabbets that hides the space allowed for movement.

The book-matched pattern is already vaguely apparent.

All the sides were then worked flush.

By hand plane along the grain …

… and by track saw followed by hand plane across the grain.

The small cavities created by seating the panel pins below the surface of the wood were filled with a concoction conjured up by mixing very fine wood dust (of the same wood of course) and epoxy.

Once the elixir had time to set I did a preliminary round of surface preparation.

As you can see the book-matched pattern is starting to emerge nicely. Once it receives oil it should be positively stunning.

Even the opposite side is starting to display a certain je ne sais quoi.

The edges were then treated to some hand beading to hide the laminations.

As you can see it worked a charm.

In our next instalment we will move on to laminating the various boards that was chosen (many moons ago) for the top.

Akio Tasai Pairing Chisel

January 2017

In January I became the very proud owner of an 18 mm pairing chisel made by the legendary Master Akio Tasai from Sanjo, Niigata. I have been eager to get my hands on one of these ever since I saw David Charlesworth discussing it on one of his Lie-Nielsen videos. He said something along the lines of: “This is a chisel made by a gentle by the name of Tasai and it gives me tremendous pleasure each time I look at it.” In that regard I cannot agree more with David, it is an absolute joy to use and look at.

Due to their considerable price and an unfavourable exchange rate, I have been confined to dreaming about one rather than buying one for several years. That made it so much more special when I finally got to handle a Tasai. As you can see, it comes in a pretty box decorated with Japanese gibberish (to the bovine amongst us anyway).

I have not come across a better made tool in all of my woodworking journey. As per usual for traditional Japanese chisels, it is made up of two distinct metal components. The back (or so-called mirror side) is composed of extremely hard blue steel that is especially made for Master Tasai. The rest of the chisel is made up of a much softer multi laminated steel. It is this Damascus style laminate steel that creates the aesthetic appeal of these chisels.

Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of the so-called “Ura” on the mirror side, but it is basically a very slight hollow that is meant to decrease the time spent on sharpening the chisel. Given this nifty design element I thought it would be a breeze to sharpen. That turned out to be a fantasy. It actually took a lot more effort to polish the back that anticipated, but I am sure the ura will speed up subsequent sharpening sessions.

As I said, this chisel looks impressive, but it’s true worth comes to the fore when it engages with wood. I made a few test cuts on the shoulders of these huge tenons. The shoulder lines were marked out with a knife so it was simply a case of feeling the cutting edge into these tracks and leaning on the chisel. It literally glided through the wood and left a superior polished surface in the end grain.

I have since used the chisel on African hardwood and it does not seem to shy away from the confrontation. If anything, it performed better in the hard stuff.

That then concludes my review of this work of art that happens to be quite a useful tool at the same time. I would say it is worth a lot more than what you find on the price tag.

Master Tasai, I am not worthy!

 

My second commission – part 9

9/3/2017

This post disappeared from my site while it went into hiding. Here it is again for those of you who missed it.

Welcome back to JNSQ woodworking. Here is hoping that we will continue to share woodworking banter and ideas in 2017. This past weekend was my first back in the shop and it was a real joy. Much like 2016, my two main projects to focus on will be this so called “second commission” and the table for the shebeen.

7/11/2016

I will now report on the work done since our previous update in October of 2016. As usual just a quick reminder of what we are aiming for. A few shots of the model I built while developing the design.

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Something that I omitted to illustrate in the previous post is the techniques that were employed to ensure that the spindles end up with zero splay. The first method makes use of a device that we shall call the Tambotie gauge (as I used a small Tambotie off-cut to create this fantastic piece of equipment).

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The Tamboti gauge consists of an appropriately sized off-cut clamped to a square.

While reaming the mortises for the spindles you might remember how I made use of a stick with an appropriately sized tenon to check the rake angle.

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The Tambotie gauge is used to check that there is zero splay by comparing the gap between the Tambotie off-cut and the spindle on both sides, as referenced off the side of the beam with the square. In this case the spindle is leaning ever so slightly towards the right.

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Second of the two strategies again involves a highly complex jig that takes hours to build and set up. I clamped a winding stick to the side of the beam to check wether the spindle (positioned in it’s mortise) runs parallel to it, i.e. zero splay.

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Once all eight mortises received this treatment it was time to test how the assembly would fit together. As you can see it came together nicely.

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It is probably important to report on the stuff-up I made while drilling the pilot holes for the mentioned mortises. You might remember that I drilled one of these holes in the wrong direction and suffered from a Panic Attack subsequently. The solution I came up with was to turn a dowel of the same wood that fitted the hole perfectly and glued it into place. The hole was then drilled in the correct direction and the picture below show the result. There was only a small strip of the plug visible after drilling the new hole.

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After reaming out the mortise there was no evidence left of the blunder on the surface that would be exposed to critical eyes once the tenon gets glued into position. In the pictures below you can however see the edge of the plug inside the hole. Eish, that was a close call. Woodwork has a way of keeping you grounded, isn’t it.

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As these tenons run all the way through the beams, I decided to also wedge them. Here I am widening the mortise on the exit side to accommodate the wedges. I recommend reading Peter Galbert’s seminal work “Chairmaker’s Notebook” on how to orientate these spindles and wedges.

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Next up I had to  camouflage the laminations with a few carefully placed beads before glueing up the leg.

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I used my pre-1900 no. 66 Stanley beadingtool, which I restored quite some time ago. It takes elbow grease beading such incredibly hard wood, but it is very satisfying nonetheless.

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I think it accomplished what I intended as the beam now looks like a solid piece of timber.

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The tenons were then prepared to receive the wedges.

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Made some wedges …

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… and prepared for glue-up.

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I used a combination of mallet blows and clamps to coax the spindles into position.

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Once they were seated to my liking the wedges locked them down for ever (I hope).

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This is how the Windsor leg spent it’s December holidays, resting on the assembly table.

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16/1/2017

This past weekend I continued my assault on the so called Windsor leg. I clamped it to the trapezoid leg and used the latter to mark out the final shape of the former. This way they are exact copies of each other in terms of measurements.

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My daughter Aoife helped me to make the necessary cuts using my Miller’s Falls Langdon Mitre Box no. 75. It was quite a tricky operation given the awkward shape and size of the leg , but the Langdon made cutting the 9º angles straight forward.

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One day the student will become the master.

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The next big drama will be the third layer of wood that needs to be added to the trapezoid leg. I selected a good Witpeer (Apodytes dimidiata) board that ran pretty much through the centre of the tree and made a cut lengthwise along the pith. This gave me two quarter-sawn pieces. From these boards I then selected appropriate 800 mm chunks for re-sawing.  The idea with re-sawing is to created a book-matched pattern to the inside of this leg. This layer only needs to be about 8 mm thick to get the total thickness of the leg up to 44 mm, which fits perfectly into my  ratio of 22:44:66:88 mm (thickness) for the various parts of the table.

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You will notice the two strips of Kershout (Pterocelastrus tricuspidatus) on top of one of the piles of re-sawn and planed stock. We will use those to create a type of depth confusion for an observer viewing the table from the Windsor leg’s end. This will hopefully enhance the effect of an construction that defies gravity, but you (and unfortunately I) will have to wait until the next post to see how this works or possibly not?? Here’s hoping (that it works, that is)!

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Back with a vengeance

7/3/2017

You might already know that Je Ne Sais Quoi Woodworking almost disappeared into thin air, but alas it was revived albeit still in rehab. One day in mid January my site just vanished and it took days of work by the IT guy who set it up for me and my wife to work out what happened. I really do not want to go into the details of the traumatic event, suffice to say that it was an unsavoury experience.

I would also like to apologise to those who were looking for JNSQW and not being able to find it. A special thanks goes out to my two special blogger friends in Jonathan White (The Bench Blog) and Bob Demers (The Valley Woodworker) who tried to keep my spirits up. They both gave me lots of advice on how to solve the problem and prevent it in future. Thanks gentlemen.

What I have learnt though is that I do not know enough about the technical aspects of websites, wordpress, backups etc etc. I have now made it a mission to first get a better understanding of these vital bits and pieces. At present I am working through a series of videos on how to use wordpress in the best possible way and trying to work out how to optimize my photos before uploading it.

Another thing I realised is how much the blogging has become part of my life and therefore how much I missed it when the site went into hiding. I want to try and hang onto that thought to ensure that I appreciate being able to do it more and hopefully try to improve the quality of my posts and site. One of the tricks I have discovered so far is how to make time-lapse videos and post it on the site. Here is one to wet your appetite.

At least you can now look forward to quite a bit of material that heaped up in the meantime, which I now have to publish to get back on schedule. The two tables I am working on have both evolved significantly since my disappearance. It is wonderful to be back and I look forward to engaging with all of you on woodwork topics yet again.

Viva Je Ne Sais Quoi Woodworking!!!

The Jenesaisquoi Persuader

20/6/2016

This story starts way back in May when Jonathan White (of Bench Blog fame) sent me a William Marples Hibernia Mortise Gauge as a very generous, but completely unexpected present. You can read his and my posts on the tool for background. Anyway it got me thinking how I could return the favour. At the time I already met a delightful young Namibian blacksmith by the name of Hanno Becker. He trained in Germany through the ancient apprenticeship model they have for all craftsmen. Since he finished his training he moved back to Namibia and started his own business. He is a very refreshing change from the often money orientated younger generation. Hanno is driven by excellence.

Hanno and I decided in February to try and create our own version of a Japanese Daruma hammer that I wanted to use with chisels for fine joinery work. I have adopted David Charlesworth’s techniques for this type of work and a good purpose made hammer is essential. These Japanese hammers are so well thought out (over a matter of several centuries) and made that it is not just a case of rocking up and producing a good quality hammer, even with Hanno’s considerable and well polished skills. We wanted to have one perfectly flat face and one slightly convex.

By late June Hanno had the first prototype ready. You can see what it looks like in the picture below. By that time I had ample time to ponder over the shape and choice of wood for the handle. I wanted to create a handle that sloped towards the flat face of the hammer and away from the convex face. The idea behind this is to open the convex face up to keep one’s knuckles away from the work when setting nails, hence the convex design of the face. The curve towards the flat face helps keep the face perfectly square on the butt end of your chisel while doing precision joinery work, hence the flat design of the face.

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This picture illustrates one of the most challenging obstacles in producing these hammers the traditional way. As the blacksmith forms the hole for the handle it deforms the shape of the billet.
This picture illustrate the ergonomic advantage of the sloped handle while doing joinery work with the hammer.
This picture illustrate the ergonomic advantage of the sloped handle while doing joinery work with the hammer.

I made my first handle and used the hammer for a week before handing it as a present to my cousin the Urologist. Apparently he has been using it to chisel out prostates ever since. Apparently it works like a dream, albeit a particularly frightening one.

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My apprentice Connor is helping me to shape the handle.
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The handle gets wedged in two directions. First a wooden wedge longitudinally, followed by purpose made metal wedges diagonally with regards to the aforementioned.

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A trick I learnt from Hanno is to heat up (ever so slightly of course as not to have an effect on hardness or tempering) the head and rub on beeswax. It creates an attractive protective finish that smacks of the old artisan age.

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What I learnt from this first attempt is that the handle needs to fit perfectly in the head otherwise you end up with the metal wedge splitting the handle below the head. There is a learning curve to everything in the shop I guess.

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Another advantage of the handle curving towards the flat face is that it can be placed on the workbench like this while doing joinery work and it is easy to pick up immediately in the desired orientation to continue working. The curve and oval shape of the handle also informs the user immediately which face is at the business end if picked up without looking at the hammer.

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After this first prototype Hanno and I collated our thought on where we could improve the design. What we notice on the positive side was that the hammer is an absolute joy to use. Clearly the age old tradition of hardening only the faces and keeping the rest of the head relatively “soft” works wonders for the feeling of superior power transfer and pretty much eliminating recoil. When I first read about this in Japanese hammer literature I thought it was just hype or marketing, but believe you me it is quite striking (pun intended) when compared to a regular commercially made hammer. I noticed that one needs to use the hammer for a little while before the mentioned effect reaches a peak. All I could think was that it has something to do with the “joint” where the wood meets the metal. It seems as if it needs to settle or mature a bit.

It might have something to do with the properties of the Assegaai (Curtisia dentata) I chose for the handle. Allegedly it was the species favoured by the Zulus for their spears, hence the common name of the species. Assegaai was also heavily favoured by colonial wagen builders, especially for the spokes of the wheels. Assegaai is extremely fine grained and hard, yet surprisingly flexible. Another prized property is the fact that it tends to be extremely stable once well seasoned. A property that is priceless to keep the spokes secured in their mortises and would probably apply to the joint with the metal head. I think it has something to do with these properties of the Assegaai which translates into a joint with the metal that needs a bit of time to settle to give a very noticeable improvement in the feel of the hammer. In conclusion we thought the first prototype was a resounding success, but wanted to see how much better it can get.

We decided to try and aim for a artisan round (as apposed to perfectly round) shape to the head, improve on the inside shape of the hole through the head to increase the grip of the handle, and I wanted to create a more flowing look to the curve of the handle. Hanno then invited me to his shop on a Sunday to witness the process firsthand. At this stage he had already made two more heads and thought he was ready to produce a winner.

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This is one of the two heads Hanno made in phase two.

On the big day Hanno first made a new chisel for punching the hole through the billet. He developed a few ideas on how to improve the chisel from the first two phases. This chisel is made from a special type of steel that is ridiculously hard in order to punch a hole through the special steel that Hanno handpicked for the hammer’s head. The chisel tapers slightly to ensure that the hole first narrows over the first third and then flares out after that when approached from the end where the handle enters. This feature together with the wedges ensures a very sturdy joint with the handle.

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Once the chisel was done he moved on to the billet.

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The hole gets punched through the billet from both ends bit by bit. It was at this stage that I realised just how skilful this young man is.

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As you can see, this process tends to deform the billet somewhat.

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One perfect hole done and dusted.

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At this stage it takes even more skill to regain the round shape without deforming the hole.

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A week later Hanno delivered what would become my bench hammer and it looked liked this. My Jenesaisquoi Persuader (as apply named by Matthew J McGrane on Bench Blog) has become my favourite tool, it is literally the only tool that does not have a dedicated storage spot as it lives on the bench. I use it constantly to set my holdfasts (with the domed face of course) and it is a revelation in tandem with my Lie-Nielsen chisels while doing joinery work. Now I only need a Akio Tasai chisel to go with it. If there is one outstanding feature of this hammer that gives me tremendous pleasure (ala Charlesworth) each time I use it, it would be the incredibly soft efficiency of the power transfer. When hitting a holdfast there is almost no discernible recoil.

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28/11/2016

By late November I received two hammer heads representing phase four of the development. By now my handle shape improved to a more pleasing curve and I picked the best cuts of Assegaai I could lay my hands on.

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Below you can see my hammer’s handle. (i.e. phase three)

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The following photos illustrate the improvements we identified for phase four. We wanted to increase the size of the hammer’s sweat-spot by increasing the diameter of the cylinder shaped head, while retaining the weight of approximately 375 gram. That necessitated the head to become a bit shorter.

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The phase three hammer is on the right and the phase four on the left with a noticeable  increase in diameter.

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Again phase three on the right and phase four on the left. Roughly the same weight yet noticeably shorter.

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I try not to fuss too much when making these handles as they are meant to be working hammers not museum pieces. I also used  the set of tools that I imagined an old artisan from yesteryear would employ for this task. That is perhaps with the exception of the electrivorous bandsaw that was initially used to cut the curves, but was followed by drawknife, spokeshave, card scraper and finally sandpaper. As my talented friend picked up in his assessment of the hammer, it actually balance best when you choke up on the handle somewhat. This is also intentional as that is the grip one would use when doing precision chisel work (illustrated by the picture below). When setting nails or holdfasts the balance is less important.

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The wooden wedge.

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Followed by two (another detail we added) rather than one purposed made metal wedges.

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From right to left, phase 2, phase 3, and finally phase 4.

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And here they are in the opposite direction, with phase 2 on the left and 4 on the right.

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Finally they received a coat of Ballistol. I prefer using only a light coat of oil as it retains a better grip and tends to be less sweaty compared to lots of coats of varnish.

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Then I sent them on their merry way to Washington and Nova Scotia. They are presents for my two blogging friends Jonathan White and Robert “Bob’s your Uncle” Demers. I hope you guys get as much joy out of them as I do.