Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Why?

Perhaps you've seen my video showing how the Drawsharp works, and, as with most advertisements, your natural reaction was to think that this was just another gizmo that attempts to replace a valuable skill with money. I'd usually be right there with you, so I hope you'll bear with me, because I want to go beyond how the tool works, and to "the Why?", which regardless of whether you are interested in the Drawsharp, will hopefully offer you some useful information about the drawknives and how to deal with them.

The top knife was polished on the back while the bottom was a rusty pitted mess
Here are a couple of drawknives that my current students brought to the shop. The polished blade on top was a breeze because there was no chipping or pitting to deal with, but the bottom blade, which showed signs that someone had started and given up, was definitely in need of serious attention.

The bevel wasn't much better
I have tuned hundreds of drawknives and I always started with flattening back and grinding the bevel. I am happy, and a little embarrassed to say that this is wrong, plain old wrong. The reason that I used to flatten the back and grind the bevel was to create a proper bevel angle and stable surfaces to register on the waterstones. Hollowing the bevel and back made it easier to consistently reach the edge, which let's face it, is the only part that cuts the wood. And that would be the end of the story if we were talking about chisels, which always keep the flat geometry off of the stones. But a drawknife requires a slight rounding just behind the edge on the side that rides on the surface of the wood. This is so that the tool can enter and exit a cut, otherwise, when sharpened flat like a chisel, it will dig, like a chisel.

So after honing, I would strop the edge, which gives a subtle rounding and allows the drawknife to follow the fibers and come out of the cut on command.  Just the right amount of rounding has always been tough to accurately reproduce. The problem is that once the edge is rounded, resharpening means either reflattening the bevel and back on the stones to reach the edge and then stropping it again to re-establish the correct shape or simply stropping the edge until the rounding becomes too much for a good cutting angle, at which point it's back to the grinder. Does this sound at all familiar?
The back is still largely a rusty mess, but after 10 minutes of work, the edge is sharp
As much as this process would give me pause before taking on a drawknife in sad shape or sharpening one that was good but not great, it would also keep me from really addressing and understanding what what going on on the real business edge of the tool.

I suppose my understanding started to change when a student, Steve Kinnane, came up with the idea of grinding the drawknife using the back (spine) of the tool as a reference. I adopted this wholeheartedly for it's ingenious simplicity. You can grind a curved or straight knife with control and ease after smoothing the spine of the tool, which is almost always soft enough to be done quickly (and only once) with a file and some abrasive.

Then one day, I thought, why not use that same unchanging reference to hone the edge? And the wheels started turning, leading to the Drawsharp. I suppose my reluctance to spend time tuning my collection of drawknives should have highlighted the problem sooner. Flattening the back of a drawknife is really just labor, not skill. Yes, honing a ground edge freehand is a valuable skill for some tools, but doesn't offer an advantage to drawknife geometry or sharpness.

I use the drawknife from the time that I split a piece from the log to the last cuts on a finished chair, so it must be as sharp as any tool that I own. Using the spine as the correct reference has made sharpening knife easier and I can honestly say that I no longer have a "favorite" drawknife. I used to coddle certain knives, never letting them touch green wood. No, these were my finish knives and unlike the other lugs, they were kept in top shape, mainly because of their seldom and restricted use. Now that I know the exact geometry of my edges and have a way to quickly and repeatedly tune them, I can get all of my blades singing. The only difference between my knives is the quality of the steel and the comfort of the handles. As far as top performance and geometry for cutting wood, the mystery is gone.

I appreciate that you've stuck with me through this and hope that you understand my intention in enlisting the help of Benchcrafted to make the Drawsharp available. I want folks to work with sharp tools instead of fussing about and eventually giving up thinking that a razor sharp drawknife is limited to those experts who possess skills that they cannot muster. After much practice, I can freehand grind a drawknife and hone it beautifully on my waterstones, but honestly, it's no longer a skill that I value. Sharpening a drawknife to work at it's peak is no more complex than using the correct references, the real skill building belongs to using the tool to make great furniture, and having fun doing it.

Soon, I will be posting a video of fully rehabilitating a drawknife in hopes of getting more folks using the most versatile tool in my shop.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I've been recovering from my trip to WIA this week.  I felt incredibly proud to be there with Claire Minihan, Tim Manney and Caleb James. The next time you hear someone grumbling about todays youth...just send them my way and I will blow them out of the water with the talent and incredible work ethic of these three. I could go on and on about the show, it was a highlight of my year.

Here is a stool that I brought along. I really shouldn't have heaped building this onto my plate while preparing to leave, but I had this itch to build something new and fun and it certainly fit the bill.

The "magic" part of this is twofold. First of all, in the first photo, it looks like a 3 legged stool in the photo even though it has 4. With curved legs like this, that can only mean one thing. The sightlines run directly from the front leg to the rear on the opposite side of the seat. I've never done this before and am very pleased with the results.

The rear legs are closer together in the seat and are reamed at a slightly greater angle.

The other "magic" is the finish, which only took a few hours start to finish and came out great. I was hoping for a worn black lacquer look to go with the Asian style and am very pleased. I'll share the process in another post soon.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Buy Your Drawsharp!

You can now order your Drawsharp by clicking below!

The price is $84.00 plus $12.00 shipping and handling (Shipping rate calculated for the continental U.S., Massachusetts residents add local sales tax)
International shipping will be calculated per destination

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Drawsharp is Here!

I am happy to announce that the Galbert Drawsharp will be available for sale here on Chairnotes next Friday at 9 am and in person at Woodworking in America!
I've been working with Jameel Abraham at Benchcrafted this year with the goal of getting the tool ready for sale in time for Woodworking in America and through no small effort, we did it. I sought out Jameel because of his sterling reputation for making solid tools, and he certainly lived up to it.

The Drawsharp makes the task of sharpening your drawknives simple, fast and repeatable while giving precise control over the geometry of the bevel angles. It works with drawknives of all shapes and sizes regardless of whether the drawknife will be used with the bevel up or down. Unlike other methods of sharpening which follow a similar process to sharpening a chisel, the Drawsharp doesn't require a flat back or a ground bevel to give excellent results.

The Drawsharp uses diamond impregnated plates to shape and refine the edge and self adhesive silica carbide paper to polish the edge to a razor sharp result.

Here is a video explaining the function of the tool.

The price is $84.00 plus $7.00 shipping and handling (Shipping rate calculated for the continental U.S., Massachusetts residents add local sales tax)
International shipping and handling $15.00

You can order yours by returning to Chairnotes on Friday morning or coming to my booth at the Marketplace at Woodworking in America. I will also be posting a page to my website, www.petergalbertchairmaker.com and Chairnotes Tools when I return from WIA.
Thanks for your business!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Autumn Rocker

A few years ago, I was inspired by the colors and new growth of Spring when building a curved settee and I named it the "Spring Settee". It's still the front page of my website.

Now it's a different season and I suppose that it's no surprise that  I've been  drawn toward the earthy browns and oranges. Here is my latest rocking chair.

 I've been playing with the milk paint and shellac combinations to build a burnt orange with some depth.

 The process used the Real Milk paint company colors Goldenrod and Butternut and the shellac was tinted with stains Early American Maple and Engish Oak from Lockwood Stains. I built the color by layering the paint and shellac and then topping it off with Waterlox and finally raw tung oil.
 I tried to keep the warmth and grain of the wood showing through while using the paint to tame the differences in the species. I am pleased with the results and hope to refine them more. I will happily share my recipes and process once I've got a better handle on it. There are just too many variables that I am still grappling with.

It's been a learning experience that began with a chair that I built this spring. I was commissioned to build a replica of a chair owned by Ezra Stiles, an early President of Yale University. It was a gift to the retiring President who loved the chair that sat in his office.
 They asked me to make the chair look as much like the original as I could and I was concerned that using stains alone wouldn't do it. I have lots of old wood in the house and one thing that I noticed was the way that the patina masks the grain. I thought a translucent layering of milkpaint could create this effect. Here is the chair "in the white".
 Here is the finished chair. I had the seat done in natural rush by an expert weaver.
Finishing is always an opportunity to make or break a piece of furniture. I have painted lots of chairs and while the standard results that I've gotten are pleasing, I think there are too many options and possibilities that might add to the chairs to stop trying new things.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

7 Minutes

You may have heard me mention the "Drawsharp" or perhaps even seen it over at Jameels blog at Benchcrafted. It is so close to being ready for sale that I thought I'd start to let you in on what all the fuss is about. Basically, the Drawsharp is a tool that allows you to sharpen drawknives exactly where it counts, at the edge and avoid all the hassle usually associated with tuning these tools. Plus, it is perfectly repeatable and easy to use.
Below is a drawknife that I recently bought.

The edge is somewhat ragged and dull.

You can see the results using it to cut the endgrain of a piece of pine below.
So I decided to time how long it would take me to get this thing sharp.  This is the same piece of pine after 7 minutes of working the drawknife with the Drawsharp.

I think you can see why I am so excited that this tool will be available soon. Here is the honed edge.

There were some knicks still in the edge so I decided to go back to work with the Drawsharp and 6 minutes later, I cut this surface.
 Click on the photo to see it large and up close.
There are still small knicks, but as you can see, the endgrain is clear as can be and super smooth. This knife is ready for work and with a bit more effort, will be knick free.
Of course, not every drawknife will be so ready for honing. Some out there will need more attention than others, but there is no more need to flatten the back of the blade and the need for grinding is nearly eliminated.
There will be a series of videos explaining how this works and talking about getting the most out of your drawknives coming along soon. We hope to have these available at Woodworking in America in a few weeks and then through my website and Benchcrafted.com soon after.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Process

I got a comment earlier asking about the process behind coming up with the Galbert Caliper. I am so close to getting the new Drawsharp in my hands from Jameel at Benchcrafted that I can hardly contain myself. So I thought I'd show a little about how these things come to be.

The calipers were born out of pure frustration with all the other methods that I tried for measuring my turnings. I won't go into it, but suffice it to say, I hated the first part of every turning. Then, one day, I noticed how the large part of a chair leg was harder to clamp in the v blocks that I use to drill mortises because it didn't seat as far as the small parts. When I realized that measuring the distance that each one went into the v block could be translated into the diameter, I dropped what I was doing and made my first crude caliper. You can see it at the top of the image below. I made it by grinding an old plane blade.

Above is a partial series of the caliper prototypes. The early ones worked great, but the range of the tool was limited and the "jaws" were so long that they would hit the tool rest. So I started thinking of other ways to translate the linear motion of the "stylus" to a rotary motion that could use different angles and ratios. I called upon a former student who was a rocket scientist to work out the math for me and I came to what I thought was the best angle for the largest range of measuring.
I am a big believer in ugly prototypes. The point is to prove the concept, not to be pretty.
I can't wait to present the new Drawsharp and the Adze that Tim Manney and I have been developing. The process is such a pleasure, that having an actual tool in the end feels like icing on the cake.