29 March 2012


Doing stuff in your own workshop as a hobbyist generally is a fairly relaxing activity...I make a bit here, a bit there, whenever the fancy takes me really, but whichever way you slice it there comes a point when the stress levels can go through the roof because you've come to that 'make or break' point...the dreaded glue up!

Such was the case yesterday.  I got to the point on my current project (a bit of a secret here, but all will be revealed in due course) when that moment had arrived, however sanity (or should it be senility?) was preserved as I took extra pains to ensure that the process would go as smoothly and hick-up free as possible.

The first 'pain' was that I cleaned the 'shop.  I like a clean, clutter free 'shop normally, but at glue-up time it's so pristine it's like an operating theatre.  Secondly, there's the application of copious amounts of masking tape so that all internal parts can be polished.  This has a two fold effect as it's impossible to do the inside afterwards and also the wax acts as a 'resist' so that dried glue lifts off with the point of a scalpel.

But perhaps the biggest change was that I used 'Cascamite', a urea-formaldehyde glue sold as a white powder.  Mixed with water, it forms a gloopy, gruel like, viscous liquid which has a much longer 'open' time (around an hour) so that once the whole ghastly process is under way, you've got better than a fighting chance of getting the project together correctly.

There are down sides though.  The glue sets glass hard so that when you come to plane off the residue from the outside of the joints, the plane iron after a few moments use is liable to resemble a hacksaw blade.  Then there's the waste...mix too much and it can't be put back into the tub, it just sits there in the mixing container gradually going to the consistency of jelly and then to a solid lump of rock!

And then there's the storage.  UF glues have a wonderful, almost magical affinity for humidity...the slightest breath of moisture in the tub and the whole lot after a while is liable to set to a mass of granite hard stone.  Fingers crossed, I hope I've got round this one by decanting a small amount into a clip-lid plastic container and then lobbing in a couple of silica gel sachets, which I hope will keep the stuff usable in the 'shop, whilst the bulk of the powder is kept sealed in our nice, toasty airing cupboard.

Having taken the job out of the cramps this morning, it looks like it's gone together well...at least the mitres have pulled up which is a bit of a miracle in itself.  Having used the LN block plane to roughly clean up the joints I've just got to work out how to re-sharpen a hacksaw blade...

26 March 2012


Here's another simple little thing that I flung together the other day, or rather if I'm to be more accurate, it took me about three attempts and a lot of wasted timber (one board of which was a nice piece of brown oak...hell!)  It's just a slightly bigger version of the traditional school boys pencil box, complete with a sliding lid.

Having been a bit frustrated in munching through so much timber to make something so relatively simple, I eventually got hold of a suitably sized piece of ash and managed to get the thing reasonably well put together, so that it looks like a half-respectable little job.  However, when the lid is removed, you can see that nestling within it's cocoon of Cedar of Lebanon shavings is a ...

...small bottle of 15 year old Dalwhinnie, single malt, scotch whiskey.

You may recollect that very shortly, SWIMBO and I are off on our travels once more, this time to the far flung distant shores of Japan and one of our visits will be to a swordsmith, who still makes the fearsome and awe inspiring katana blades in the traditional and time honoured way. There's a better than even chance that yours truly may have in part, learned a new practical skill by the end of the visit! 

Fujiyasu-san is an old craftsman, living close to the prefecture in Japan so recently hit by the earthquake and tsunami.  I hope that the box itself and the contents will be appreciated in a quiet moment, but that's not really important...it's the act of presenting the gift which matters.

All I have to do now is to learn to wrap it in the Japanese style, which is another matter entirely...

22 March 2012


The pic below shows a nice little wall hung cabinet, nothing very complicated on indeed fancy.  There are  a couple of things that make it a little bit special though and the first is that it's been made entirely out of a scabby old bit of elm that I picked up some years ago for a fiver.  Construction is entirely band sawn veneers over a multi-layered hardboard substrate. 

 The second thing is that the back panel...

...has also been made from the same piece of elm and it has a rather distinctive and somewhat foreboding appearance if you care to look at it for long enough.  Making the cabinet and hanging it on the wall in one 
of the bedrooms went without a hitch, until about a week later...

...when I noticed the door as I walked by it one morning.  There was something not quite right as the door wasn't level with the bottom so that when I came round to the side I could see clearly that the lower section of the door had warped by around 1mm...if you scrutinise the pic you'll see that the gap is bigger at the bottom than the top.  When is was completed, it was dead parallel.
Why did the bloody thing warp?...I haven't the faintest idea, though the material is elm, which is notorious for warping and twisting at the drop of a hat.  However, this stuff was bone dry (it had been drying for at least 5 years) and it was a veneer, not even a solid elm door.  As the little green guy with the pointy ears was heard to say in a galaxy far far away...'perplexed am I'

Some folks would just accept that the door warped and would put up and shut up...but it would irritate me  beyond belief every time I saw it.  So I need to persevere...which is the reason that a little pile of elm for a panelled door is conditioning indoors in the same room. 

18 March 2012


Here's an odd looking thing and I bet you're wondering what on earth it is?  To put you out of your angst, this is a mock-up of one side of a new cabinet that I'll be starting soon and it has one or two features that I've not incorporated into anything in the past, namely the corner stiles that are set at 45deg to the main rectangular sections.

It's going to cause all sorts of problems, particularly at door hanging time, but it should make for an interesting piece.  I can also hear you chundering to yourself about what it's for?

That's an interesting question, because the answer is quite lengthy.  Some years ago we had a long weekend trip to Venice and during the course of our long and varied wanderings in the city we happened on a Venetian carnival mask shop called Tragicomica, which was filled with the most fantastical creations in papier mache.  We spent around an hour in there and kept on coming back over the course of the weekend, wondering how we could take a couple of these extremely fragile masks back on the aircraft to the UK.

Of course, the short answer was...we couldn't.  Roll on ten years and Gareth also paid a visit Venice and  the shop just before Christmas and achieved what we hadn't been able to, so as a consequence we had a couple of beautiful, ornate, gold-leaf encrusted Venetian carnival masks which duly went under the tree.

To say that he was wetting himself when he wrapped them up, or indeed when we were opening them on Christmas morning is something of a distinct understatement.

So, the masks are beautiful and perfect and deserving of a cabinet to show them off.  As befits the contents, there's only one timber to make it out of...English Walnut, which is just about as perfect a timber as any woodworker could possibly hope to use.

Fortunately, I now have a few boards in stock, so the material for the frames has been sawn and is now quietly doing it's own thing in a corner of the workshop, ready for later on in the summer.

However, we have three weeks in Japan first of all...

13 March 2012

Penance in my Pocket...

Looks fairly innocuous doesn't it?...it's just a lump of sprung steel, almost exactly the right size for a convenient straight edge and it's even got a hanging-up hole in one end.

I thought so too when I picked it up from the last place I worked as everyone else seemed to be using it as well, so I lobbed it into the back of the motor and thought no more about it.

I found a place for it on the 'Tool Wall', hung it on a pin and have been using it as my bench straight edge for around the last ten years, thinking, as you do, that it's bound to be straight...

Stupid boy!

It wasn't until I came to 'check' something I was doing the other day where I was slightly puzzled when the piece of wood appeared convex one minute and concave the next...what the hell was going on! Eventually, being of relatively sound mind I put two and two together and by some miracle managed to arrive at four.

The bloody straight edge, so called, was bent like a banana!

In the pic above, it's positioned on the table saw, leaning against the crown guard. The little yellow disc that you can see around half way down is a 1mm brass spacer which will almost, but not quite, fit underneath! Faced with thoughts of impending doom and wondering how the hell I'd ever managed to make something straight for the last ten years, I reckoned the only way out was to literally pay penance at Axminster last week...

...and get hold of a couple of really top quality Veritas workshop straight edges. Fortunately, I only had to pay my penance into the coffers at Axminster, rather than submit to other delights...

11 March 2012

The Workshop...March 2102

Keeping a Blog going is a strange and surreal experience. Me, and thousands like me, sit in our little rooms at our little keyboards merrily pecking away at the keys...we hit 'publish' and wooooooooosh...off it goes into the ether.
If you use an Apple Mac, as I do now, you'll know the sound when you send an email.

I digress, as I'm apt to do, but bear with me. Last Friday, the MD of Axminster Power Tools, Ian Styles (shown here nattering to yours truly) hosted a fantastic day for UKWorkshop members at the head office, pics of which can be seen here and during the course of our natterings he enquired 'whether I still did the Blog?'

I 'haa'd' and I 'hummed' but eventually got out of the black hole I'd dug for myself by mentioning the thing that was at the back of my mind...'who actually reads it?' To my surprise, when I checked the stats, around 40,000 people, have dipped into this drivel so I guess, now that I'm retired, I'd better continue with it...

Much has happened in the 'shop over the last 12 months and in particular, the whole of the interior has been stripped, refurbished and upgraded. The main culprit was the floor...anyone unfortunate enough to spend a prolonged amount of time will have noticed the distinct 'wibbli-wobbliness' in there due mainly to an extreme attack of parsimoniousness...

...and as you can see from the pic, there's not a lot of support under the joists, the net effect being to induce a slightly queasy feeling of sea-sickness after a short while.

To cut a very long story sideways, that's all been fixed. The floor has been considerably beefed up with some of my early retirement money from the MOD as well as spending a trifling amount on some new gear.

In early November all the gear was delivered from Axminster and Yandles...

with some assistance from a few of the 'lads' (suitably recompensed with coffee and fresh cream sticky buns) so that by the end of the day it was all safely under cover in the 'shop.

If you look very carefully at the saw take-off table, there are one or two little lime green and black trinkets that I decided to invest in.

But I ramble, as usual and as is said in circles far more eminent than miserable offering, a 'picture speaks a thousand words', so herewith the new 'shop...

The hand tool bench, substantially unchanged, but note the lights over the top of the bench which makes it far easier to take pics.

The new Charwood W650 table saw, complete with router table in the RHS extension table, carbon fibre riving knife, new and vastly improved crown guard and many other modifications too numerous to mention (but they are documented in the next issue of F&C)

Jet 260 p/t and extender bin, all powered by the Camvac 386

The wood store, complete with several large, prime boards of English Walnut (the big ones, standing up in the corner)

The new lathe and Jet heavy duty disc sander, with the Camvac 386 tucked underneath

The Startrite 352E bandsaw, complete with a 20mm M42 blade, together with the new racking for the cramps

...and finally the new Jet pillar drill and metalwork bench. Much of the other stuff in the workshop has remained unchanged, but it does mean now that I'll be able to tackle a larger range of more complex projects.

That's the theory anyway, practice will probably be very different...

Comments awaited with some trepidation.