Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event

Wow.  I am tardy.  A month ago I went to the Minneapolis version of the Lie-Nielsen hand tool event.  After reading other blog reports I was incredibly excited.  My wife didn’t even tell me I couldn’t buy anything – but she did remind me that we have another financial obligation on the way.

When I got there I was a little disappointed.  It was really small, it looked like it was set up in a storage closet.  Like a lot of the wood working shows that come through the Twin Cities, we got the bare bones version.  Glen-Drake was there, Lie-Nielsen was there (of course), and a local woodworking school was there (whose name I forget).  Once I got into though, I really enjoyed myself.  The staff were really focused on making sure we got something out of it.


The first thing I checked out was the sharpening demo put on by a LN staff member.  The moral here was the simpler the better.  He had some p180 glued to a granite block, I don’t think it was a reference plate, and an 8000 Norton stone.  He used a honing jig and established a bevel at 25° with the p180, skootched it up a bit and polished it at 30º on the 8000 stone.  Easy-peesy, extra-cheesy as my students say.  He did flatten his stone on wet-dry paper every time he used it; I wish I had asked him if he thought that was necessary or was doing it for the purpose of the demonstration.

Glen Drake Toolworks

Glen Drake was there and he was totally interesting; I could could have spent the entire afternoon at his bench.  He’s a bit curmudgeonly; the first thing I did was pick up a Tite Hammer only to have him stop his demonstration on the other side of the bench, take it out of my hands, and show me how to hold it properly.  When I tried the dovetail saw he tore it out my hands and showed me how to use it properly.  I learned two things, I don’t know how to use tools and Glen Drake is quite serious about proper tool use.

Glen Drake Saw System

Glen Drake has put a lot of thought into making a useful saw system.  I didn’t try it long enough to explain it well, but I think that if I had had a longer time to experiment with it I would have ordered the whole shooting match.  His saws don’t have teeth at the ends, this makes them easier to start and allow you to keep your momentum.  The Wild West saw has two handles making it easier to keep plumb.  This is because it is lined up with your body and using both hands keeps it counter balanced and uses each hand to it’s strength.  I couldn’t saw any straighter than I can with my dull Disston backsaw, but I am intrigued.  The kerf starter was pretty impressive too, instead of marking and sawing to the line you use the kerf starter to start a kerf, just like the name implies.  This is on my need to buy list.

Woodworking School

I didn’t watch the woodworking school, whose name I can’t remember.  I’ve seen them before, they do nice work, and I wish I could find time to take classes there, but they are boring to watch.  Their M.O. is to quietly go about their business, building whatever it is they’re building, without interacting with the viewer.  They have a few pamphlets laying about if you’re interested.  Definitely a soft sell approach.


The Lie-Nielsen tool board was there.  Their stuff is awesome.  If I hit the lottery, the first thing I’m going to do is go to their products page and hit the one of everything button.  I didn’t spend much time trying out their stuff.  I just spent enough time with it to confirm my suspicions that the largest versions of their tools are too big for me to be comfortable with.  This will be good to know when I can afford to stop scavenging flea markets and junk shops and can buy new tools.

February Update

As the lack of posts indicate, I haven’t done much in the shop recently.  I’ve been really crabby lately, I’m sure there’s a correlation; I need regular doses of solitude in order to recharge my batteries.

My wife was given a potter’s wheel and this thing is huge.  The only place it can go is the basement.  Giving up such a large piece of my tiny bit of real estate really disheartened and discouraged me and I just didn’t feel like going down there.  I’m not looking for an elaborate man-cave, just a small place of my own where I can do my own stuff.

Once I left the pity party, I spent quite some time reorganizing and moving stuff to the garage and the garbage.  There’s still quite a bit of stuff to deal with though.  I finally got the Subaru fixed and brought some 2X4s home and sawn into bench-leg sized pieces.  If the stars are aligned in my favor, I’ll get the new base on the bench this weekend.

I’m enjoying the heck out of my scroll-saw class.  The students have become independent at making a pattern, hand-sawing wood blanks, scroll-sawing and painting their projects.  It’s pretty awesome to see their creativity and motivation.  The kids get totally engrossed in what they are doing and as a result this is the only class where I never have any behavior problems.

My Next Workbench

I’ve finally gotten the gumption to rebuild my workbench/bar table only to be sidelined by the Subaru.  I tried to open the hatch when it was frozen shut and broke the latch, now I can’t get lumber home.  I’ll start working on the bench just as soon as the dealer gets the part in, or more realistically, sometime after that when I finally get around to it.

I really like the Nicholson type benches, here’s an example and another, I like all of clamping options.   I’d love to build one, but I don’t have the space for it yet.  But as soon as the young adult moves out of our basement, I’m reclaiming some of that space and expanding the workshop.  What I can do now is put a Nicholson type base on the bar table I use for a bench.

I drew at least a dozen variations and what I came up with looks almost exactly like Henry’s bench which was posted at the Logan Cabinet Shoppe blog.  (I just discovered that blog and it looks like there’s a lot of good stuff there.)  It’s a good design, but some changes I’ve planned: I think mine will be lower, so I’ll have a narrower stretcher to allow for more storage space – I was thinking a 2X10 LVL; I’ll use a solid top and put planing stops in dog holes; I’ll skip the front vice for now and just clamp work to the bench; I was going to use the Veritas Wonder Dogs for face planing, but they have come up with something that looks even better, the Inset Vise – here’s a review; also I want to paint it red or green and brighten up the drab basement.  I’m excited to have a stable work surface, the quality of my work should increase greatly.

Henry's Bench as seen at Logan Cabinet Shoppe.

Shop time has been limited lately.  I needed a break from the world, so last night I stayed up way later than I should have and spent some time sawing 2X4 scraps into building blocks for the toddler.  The stuff in my cut-off box was too random for a decent tower, but a bunch of blocks 3 1/2″ by 3 1/2″ and 3 1/2″ by 7″ ought to work nicely.

Kids in the Workshop – Safety

First off, use your common sense.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s just the stuff that I could think of.


• The number one thing is to use your common sense.  Tools and woodworking can be dangerous if it isn’t done correctly, make sure your child is safe.

• Don’t leave kids alone in the shop, not for an instant.

• Kids are are curious and grabby, no matter what their age.  If you don’t want them getting in to something, you had better put it away or at least out of sight.  Before I brought our toddler into the basement I took all the solvents and finishes off of the shelves and into a child-proofed cabinet.  Chisels, gouges, and carving tools came out of a low drawer and onto a high shelf.  Because she’s a toddler I made sure choking hazard size wood scraps were thrown out.

• Things falling on them is a danger.  I looked at the shelves from kid height and anything that she might want to grab (shiny stuff, dangling electric cords) was pushed back far enough that she either couldn’t see it, or couldn’t reach it, and pull it on top of herself.  You might want to walk around and give things a hip check, if it’s shaky you’ll want to find a way to make it solid –  I had to restack my lumber pile and should probably restack the plane pile.  I also cleaned up and reorganized the shop so that there is more open space, making it easier for us to move around.

• Power tools should not be used when you have a child in the shop.  If they are little, the noise will scare them right out of the shop anyway.  But mostly because you can’t be focused on keeping them safe and you safe at the same time.  The tools should be unplugged, especially if you have a little one – if they see a button they will push it and if they see a dial they will turn it.

• Think about what they will land on if they slip and fall or what they will bump into if they get excited and run over to you.  Most shops are pretty cluttered and there are pointy corners everywhere; I’m not suggesting that you bubble wrap everything, but take a look around and use your common sense to decrease the danger.  I learned this when our toddler was trying to tighten a clamp (she already knows to say, “Righty-tighty,” I’m so proud.) and slipped and hit her face on one of the clamp’s bar less than half an inch from her eye.  She ended up with a good scare, a little scab, and a nice shiner.  Depending on where you fall on the fretful parent scale, this was a near calamity or just another day in the life of a toddler, but since then I’ve been placing clamps with the bars pointing inward.

• Hand tools are safer than power tools, but they are still dangerous.  Quality tools that are sharp and well maintained are easier to use and therefore safer to use.  Teach the tools one at a time, they won’t remember how to use them correctly if they are getting too much information all at once.  Children are still developing their strength, endurance, and coordination.  Tools that are too big or too heavy are going to be hard to use.  They won’t be able to hold their work with one hand and the tool with the other, teach them to clamp down their work so that they can focus on using the tool correctly.

•  Model safe behavior, even if that means having to wear safety glasses.  Your kids want to be like you and are learning from your example.  I just ordered these and bought some similar ones for myself.

I’m sure there is more that I haven’t thought of, I can’t emphasize this enough, please use your common sense when you are bringing children into your shop.  You can see another take on safety in the shop at this LumberJocks post.

If you want to read even more about it, the Woodworking for Kids blog looks pretty good.

Getting On My Soapbox.

It’s report card time at my middle school.  As I do every quarter, I’m reflecting on the differences between the students who are succeeding and those who are not.  There are too many factors to address here in a woodworking blog, but for years now I’ve noticed that one of the clearest differences is the divide between the students who do real, actual things and those who have been raised and are living in front of a video screen.

The students who do actual things, whether it is helping their parents take care of the house, arts and crafts, or simply old-fashioned, non-electronic play have a much stronger ability and willingness to work hard, are more patient/ less impulsive, more engaged and focused, have a stronger follow through, are more willing to revamp their assignments, more empathetic…  I could go on and on.

Children’s brains are sponges.  They are learning every minute, but what are we teaching them if they live in front of a screen?  I can’t think of a single positive virtue that vidoe games have for children unless you think that the impulsivity of a constant stimulus/reaction mindset is worthwhile.  Is people getting hurt really funny?  Most TV and movies seem predicated on the audience laughing at people getting hurt or humiliated.  Is this how we want our children to be raised?  TV is passive, what are you actually doing when you watch it?  One of the biggest problems I have with student who aren’t learning is their passivity, they want to just sit, sit and let the world go by – I blame TV.

Woodworkers, more than any other group, seem to get it.  As a group we are the most likely to get our kids off their butts and creating, making, fixing, doing something.

Doug Stowe, educator and famous box maker, writes thoughtful, if curmudgeonly, posts about education’s roll in getting children learning through their hands.  His take is that learning must begin in the hands with the concrete and then can move toward the abstract.  He wrote about how he does it for Fine Woodworking, you can read it here, there’s a link at the bottom to three nice projects that you can do with kids.

Christopher Schwarz wrote an inspiration editorial in this months Popular Woodworking magazine.  What he has with his daughter is what I’m aiming for with mine.  Although I’ll have to keep the workbenches in the basement.

Blogger and teacher  Dan gets it, it sure looks like his boy is learning how to be successful.  He also makes a pencil box for each of his students on their birthday.  I think I’ll steal his idea next year, although I’ll have to go into mass production.

My next post will explain how I’m getting our toddler into the workshop.  It took a few changes to my methods of work.

I Need More Clamps; Trying Out Miller Dowels

I started assembling the sawbench.  I decided to try Miller Dowels instead of screws.  I thought the toddler would enjoy whacking them in as we built something together, plus shop projects are a good place to try something new.

Almost all of my clamps.

Miller Dowels don’t pull the pieces together like screws would, so you have to clamp everything together before you start drilling.  Construction lumber isn’t very straight or flat, so it took a lot of clamps to get everything in the right place.  The toddler got excited when the clamps came out and brought her tools over and gave everything a whack with a mallet every chance she got.  The hardest part of the whole project was getting everything lined up just right and as soon as I thought I had had it, whack, whack.  If I was a smarter man, I’d have kept the mallet out of sight.

Drilling was pretty straight forward, except that the clamps were in the way, so I had to do it in two steps – the top yesterday and the bottom today.  The rest is really simple, a squirt of glue (I always use too much),

insert dowel,

and drive it home.  I kept everything clamped up overnight to make show the boards didn’t sproing back to their native cupped, twisted, and bowed state and fling the dowels out of their holes.

Miller Dowels are incredibly easy to use, I’ll definitely use them again, but next time I’ll make sure I’m starting with square and flat lumber.  I’m not crazy about the look, so they’ll probably be relegated to places where they won’t be seen.  They seem perfect for places where you’d use a screw and plug; I bought black locust dowels for building patio furniture.

*I still haven’t gotten anyone to compensate me for my tool reviews.

**Tool purchases justified: Miller Dowel kit and a couple more Clamps.

***Shoptunes: Mason Jennings a formerly local folk singer.

Block Plane Shoot Out

My block planes as seen through a smudgy camera lens.

My sawbenches are getting an upgrade.  While I’m content to let shop furnishing languish unfinished, toddler furniture needs to be nice.  So I decided that I’d paint the benches.  Which meant properly cleaning up the end grain, which meant block planes.

I almost never use one, usually a #4 is somewhere on the bench and it’s my go-to plane for trimming.  Anyway, the first plane I dug out of the pile was the Record 60 1/2.  This was the first plane I ever bought, but I never had good luck with it.  The blade seemed sharp and it sliced through the end grain nicely, it worked much better then I remembered.  Curious, I pulled out the ancient Stanley 9 1/2 clone to compare.  It also worked well.  Now, I wanted to know what was best, so I grabbed the Veritas Low Angle for my first ever tool test shoot out.

My planing jig demonstrating my need for a real bench.

To make it fair, I sharpened everything on the P600/P1200/green rouge strop set-up that was still sitting out.  All the planes were all set up with about the same projection and a real tight mouth (less than a 32nd).  I chamfered the ends of the boards, going in from the corners to avoid blow out and went to work on the end grain.  This was followed by a swipe along the edge to remove the planer marks.

They all worked equally well on the first board,leaving a glossy/waxy surface.  The Veritas was the most comfortable, but it was much heavier.  The Record was somewhat uncomfortable to hold, it felt too squat and wide.  After a couple of boards the Record’s edge was toast, it crumpled and was smushing instead of slicing the end grain.  It was tossed back into the tool pile.

I had a hard time picking a winner among the Veritas and the Stanley-clone.  Both left a waxy surface, the Stanley perhaps worked quicker, but I’d assume that was due to slight differences in set-up.  The Veritas also worked better on the edge of the board, it handled the reversing grain by the knots with ease, perhaps due to the additional mass.   As you would expect after a hundred years of use, the adjuster on the Stanley-clone had several turns worth of backlash, the Record had a couple, and the Veritas had very little backlash.  The Stanley-clone seemed like it started sharper, but the Veritas stayed sharper longer (due to the A2 blade?), except that it started to leave tracks from mircro chips on the edge after only 10 or 12 boards.  I’ve had this problem before, I wonder if a slightly steeper bevel would make the edge more durable – it’s currently at ~23 deg, if my haphazard sharpening wasn’t good enough, or if I got a bum blade.

Update 1/22/11: While trying to make curly shavings with the toddler – a task she is eager for, but not ready for – the Veritas plane was dropped several times from about two feet.  It suffered no apparent damage, all I had to do was adjust the blade and tighten the cap.  Yay for ductile iron!

Blogger’s Choice Award: Veritas Low Angle Block Plane.

Best Value: Ancient generic Stanley 9 1/2 at $10; I think I’ll look for more next time I go to a MWTCA meet.

*I have not been endorsed or compensated for this review.

**Shop-tunes: Radiohead’s Pablo Honey