Thursday, April 30, 2009

And the Lathe Turns On

Well, it doesn't turn on for long in this video about the skew, but now that the basics are covered, we'll get to the action next!

On the teaching front, it looks like I only have a couple of more slots for teaching at the shop this year, so anyone interested should get in touch with me to secure a slot. Thanks

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nice Grouping

Ahhh Spring!!

Here is Chris Durbin putting the wedges in the continuous arm settee that he made last week. It came out great. The alignment of the legs was especially impressive. Even more than a chair, the legs on a settee need to align closely, otherwise they draw the eye, especially the center legs which have no splay.

Below is a photo of the center leg. The string that you see passing by is taped to the same spot on the outer legs. As you can see, he really stuck the landing on this one.

Here is the same idea with the stretchers that pass from the front legs to the back. The picture shows the center stretcher with a string that passes from one outer stretcher to the other!

In order to keep the diameter of all of the back to front stretchers the same, Chris cut this lapping tenon that met in the center of a hole drilled clear through the stretcher. I'd never done it this way, but had been meaning to try it. It looks nice that the diameters stay constant and I don't think there is any loss of strength.

Sometimes I find myself explaining to a student why I am so fastidious in choosing and executing my methods for reaming in the legs. They just need to hit the floor, right?! The settees present the perfect example of a reason to be so focused. Granted, some folks may not be bothered if a leg is out of whack, and some variance is acceptable, but what I try to avoid is using and teaching methods that can't live up to new challenges.

A couple of quick tips about settee reaming. Start with the outer legs, then use a string connecting them at similar details while reaming the center legs.
Because the center legs have no splay, they only need to be perpendicular to the seat and barely touching the string. Also, take few turns of the reamer before checking the angle. This is necessary because the center legs are canted less than the outer ones (once again because of the lack of splay) and will ream deeply more quickly!
And finally, when you trim the legs, let the center legs hang in the air 1/32" or so to help prevent rocking on the center on uneven floors (like mine).

With a week to myself, I'll be shooting the next video about the skew.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More Legs

Here is Chris Durbin working on the seat for the settee that he is making this week. Chris has come a long ways as a craftsman since I met him a few years ago, it's a joy to see his progress.

One of the elements of a settee that is missing from chairs(or at least less noticable) is the alignment of the three legs in the front and back. It's important that the legs are all raked to the same degree. Another important aspect of the legs is that the various elements line up between the side legs and the center one. Because the center leg has no splay (meaning it doesn't tilt to the side when viewed from the front), it is a slightly compressed version of its neighbors. To achieve the correct proportions for the turning, I draw a leg at the splay angle of the outer legs and then draw horizontal lines from each element to a leg without splay to arrive at the template for the center leg. You can see the drawing below.

Although the compression is minor, you can see the results in the photo below. When all of the legs are reamed into the seat, the elements of all three turnings align. Subtle, but it's there.

For those of you keeping up on the farm developments, we have 8 new chicks. These are "meat" birds and will be with us for about 2 months. I'm dedicated to giving these little guys the highest quality of life possible, so they moved into the insulated coop while my layers got new housing.

Here are the summer digs for my layers. A bit more open and airy. As you can see, they are confined to the area defined by the electric netting, our perennial gardens could not longer take the abuse! In winter they'll get their other coop back, but as of tonight, they were all happily perched inside their new home, ready for bed.

Another example of crappy construction that fits the bill, and all with materials that I had laying around! (forgive the pun)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Movement and the Skew

I'm very pleased to say that Fine Woodworking Magazine has a review of the Galbert Caliper in the May/ June issue. Check it out!

Here is a short video about more steps that can be taken to make your skew work better. As I've said before, there is much to know before starting cutting to avoid that moment where the skew seems like it just won't work for you. Patience and prep are all that's needed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good and Better

Here is Wayne Grove making spindles last week. Wayne was in my class at Peters Valley last year and made good on the promise to come up and make a chair with me. He has already made a slew of chairs in his time, so we spent a lot of the week discussing the finer points and trying to raise the bar in quality, technique and focus.

I've heard it said that "better is the enemy of good", and if I understand the quote, I am not much of an adherent to it. To me, a huge part of my interest lies in looking deeper beyond the skills that I already possess, even if it means the occasional (or often) ruined workpiece. I find trying irresistible and the consequence of failure tolerable. This is definitely evident in my turning. I can't tell you how many times I've gone back for "one more clean up pass with the skew" and blown off an entire detail!

But thanks to those efforts, I've gotten to control my skew.
Below on the left is one of the legs that I turned at the NWA showcase out of soft maple next to one that I did in the shop in hard maple.

Of course, standing in front of a crowd full of observers and questions while trying to explain my caliper is bound to lead to a drop in focus and quality. When I got back to the shop and set out to turn more legs, with a slightly more robust pattern, the time and quiet let me shoot for "better".

Hopefully you can see the sharper edges and more delicate shaping in the leg on the right.
Perhaps viewed under the paint and from across the room there wouldn't seem to be much of a difference, but by making the details more refined and challenging there was a huge pay off,
I had fun.

Here's Wayne gluing up his undercarraige. We used my new marking method and it worked out great.

Today is one of those days. All errands, paperwork and computer work (why should I be any different, right?!" I started by getting photos taken of the chair that's heading to Maine for the faculty exhibit at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. The chair is cherry (remember me cutting it down last fall), white oak and butternut, with walnut wedges.

Here's a detail of the arm joint. For a diseased tree, it sure had some lovely wood.

I am close to loading up the next video on skew technique. We are getting closer to actually cutting wood, but not quite!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Grinding and Honing the Skew (Video)

Something besides the skew is giving me trouble these days at the lathe! This is what I get during thunderstorms, and all the reasoning in the world doesn't seem to work.

Here is a video of grinding and honing the skew chisel.

Here is the edge part of the way through the honing process. You can see where the arrow indicates a small portion that the stone hasn't reached. It's vital to easy skewing that the entire edge be honed, so back to the stones. If I experience a catch (and it does happen, I assure you) I immediately check the edge. More often than not, I find a small area that has a burr or some other distortion. Think about the tracks left by a chipped plane blade, and the different force needed to push it. Now imagine that spot engaging a whirling piece of wood.

A few benefits come from maintaining such a large hollow grind.
The tool rides on two distinct edges while on the stone which helps maintain the correct position while honing.
The second is that the area being honed is so small that even a fine stone cuts to the edge quickly.
Also, the smooth stone offers less resistance while honing which increases the sensitivity to the contact between the tool and the stone, which may also help maintaining the correct position.

Below you can see a wonderful telltale sign of correct contact with the stone. You can see the distinct trail marks left where the edge and back of the bevel contact. It is always better to fault by having the edge of the bevel rise up, because it doesn't matter if the back part of the bevel is slightly rounded.

As usual, the real test of a sharp tool is to cut the endgrain of pine.

I feel like I can't stress the importance of sharpening enough when it comes to learning the skew. I can turn with a compromised gouge, but I can't create good turnings with a dull skew. I did check the geometry of my cutting edge and found that the radius edge is at around a 70 degree angle to the length of the skew and the bevels are around 25 degrees. It's the first time I've measured them. I generally look at the length of the bevel for information about its correctness. I know folks who turn beautifully with bevels so long that I get chills!

And as far as the radius goes, I like to keep it subtle so that I can still use the toe and heel of the edge easily. They come into play a lot in more advanced techniques, but we've still got a ways to go before that.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Skew Nitty Gritty

During my turning demonstrations last week, a tense hush would come over the folks watching when I started using the skew. Being a self taught turner, I knew exactly why.

One man came up to me and said that he always had trouble with the skew and I immediately apologized for what I was about to say.

"It's the tool, it's not sharp."

Now, of course, I've never seen his skew, but in my experience, most people learning to use the skew, including myself, never make it out of the gates because of poor edge geometry and maintenance. Of course you can't get the thing to work, it's like trying to drive on 4 flat tires. This should be good news, right?! We get to "blame the tool"!! So my posts on the skew are going to go a ways before we ever see spinning wood.

There are different sized skews for different jobs. The larger skews tend to dampen vibration easily with their added mass and excel at long planing cuts, while the smaller skews are nimble in tight spaces and offer increased sensitivity. But that's not to say that both cannot perform all tasks. Even though I own both skews shown, I almost exclusively work with the smaller one, because when I was learning, it was all I had. You may find yourself in a similar bind. Had I to do it over again, I might wish that all I had was the larger one, because those long planing cuts really are that much easier with it. But alas, the large one still feels too cumbersome to me when rolling beads etc...

You'll notice that I prefer the oval shaped skews. They aid me in rolling the skew while cutting beads or planing shapes. In the early days, when all I had was the crappy 1/2" skew that came with my second hand lathe, I rounded the sharp corners on the grinder with fine results.

Also in the image, you can see that I prefer a slightly curved edge. Not only does this serve to hold the toe and heel of the tool away from the workpiece (and catching), but it allows the tool to take a slightly lighter shaving with more control (isn't that the whole point). Anyone whose monkeyed around with a skew has encountered the hurdle of entering the cut without the tool grabbing too much and going out of control. I like to take every opportunity to gain control when entering the cut, hence the curve.

Hopefully, you can see the grind and the flats in the image. I keep my skews very hollow ground. I don't let the hollow get much small than you see in the image. I do this by carefully hollow grinding it and then honing it directly on my 8000 grit waterstone. This is a new technique (I only brought one stone to Saratoga), but it yielded great results. The 8000 grit stone barely removed any of the hollow while getting rid of the burr and left me lovely shiny little flats on the back and edge of the bevel. When it came time to hone, in between each leg (yep, each leg, how often do you do it?) a couple of strokes on my dry stone kept it in top shape. Because there is such a small amount of surface area contacting the stone, even a fine stone cuts quickly.

Before heading into talking about exact sharpening angles, (which I am avoiding, because there are no such things in my shop) I'd like to end by stressing the most important part, and if you forget all the rest, I hope you remember this. The edge of the skew must not be rounded over.

Even though the flats at the edge are tiny, they must be geometrically exact in their flatness. To have control with the skew, the bevel must always rubbing the workpiece while the edge is cutting. A rounded over edge will force you to roll off of the bevel to get the edge to cut and without the bevel contact, the force of the spinning piece will overwhelm any white knuckled attempts to control the tool.
I suspect that this is the root of most folks initial troubles with the skew, getting it correctly shaped, and keeping it that way.

I'm working on a grinding and honing video for the next posting.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wood Piles

Here are the baluster turnings that I made while demonstrating at the NWA showcase. I went into the show a bit out of practice, not having turned balusters for a chair in some time, but after doing it for a couple of days, I feel like I'm back in the swing of it. In talking to the folks watching, I got some idea of the troubles that are common to learning to turn balusters and am planning a series of videos to post.

One doesn't have to look far in my region to find all manner of farm construction, from elegant and thoughtful barns to the crudest of shelters and fixtures. I have to admit a love of the rougher fare. There's something about building things in the service of necessity that I find freeing. You'll find no dovetails here (the fellow who helped me load my truck at the NWA had a dovetailed flat cart!).

When a new project arises, I look to my various piles of wood leftovers. Today it was a hay crib. I saw a drawing of one in a book and cobbled together a rough fascimile. Of course, once it was built, the real learning began. I now know why they call young goats kids. No sooner was it in their reach than one goat was standing on top of it and the other jamming his head in and pulling it over. So back to the wood pile for some stabilizing boards. Once it was done, and showed itself to function and be relatively goatproof, I looked at it and fantasized about making an elegant one. Someday I will, but for now, I can revel having been there when necessity came calling.