What could you possibly need a router plane for? That’s what I thought before this week. You use this tool by setting the cutter height at the depth of the groove you are trying to flatten out, then you run it back and forth till it smoothes everything out. Sounds simple? That’s cause this tool is incredibly simple. I used it a ton this week on the mortise and tenon joints in my side table. Fitting the tenons into the mortises needs precision down to the 1000th of an inch, and this little plane made my life much easier. As far as planes go it’s pretty cheap at under $60 each. Apparently the blade is tricky to sharpen, luckily that wasn’t for me to do…
After getting a grasp on hand tools and machines in week 1 and 2, we put all our new knowledge to good use this week making a shaker side table. We had to follow a set design (way too difficult to have each student doing their own thing), but we were free to chose whichever wood combination we liked best. Ron gave some good input into what combinations work best, and really helped me to get the most pieces out of the least amount of wood, saving me some $$$ in the end. While all tools are supplied at school, you do have to pay for your own lumber which you can either bring yourself, or buy from the school (rates are competitive with local shops).
The table is 18″ square at the top and includes a 3″ drawer (to be made in a future week). I decided to make mine out of Black Walnut, a favourite wood of mine. While some people like to avoid the light coloured sapwood of walnut, I love the contrast and chose my pieces in order to highlight it. For the drawer front, there was a piece of curly birdseye maple that was just asking to be used.
While this seems like a simple table, it did take most of the week to get all the parts milled to size and all the joinery cut. The aprons of the table are held together with mortise and tenon joints, while the top is held on with screws in oblong holes from the stretchers below. Besides a few screws in the top, everything else is held together with wood glue. The glue up was a little harry as I had a bit of twist to deal with, but nothing that a half a dozen clamps couldn’t fix…
The finish is about 12 coats of blonde shellac, padded on over several days. I may still put a coat of poly or varnish on the top of the table to give it some more durability.
What I really liked about this week was learning all the steps and proper order of operations to be able to finish a project like this. Knowing which parts to cut first and when parts should be finished made a huge difference in completing this project. For instance, the entire table had finish applied before I glued it up, as many of the parts would be hard to access once it was assembled. I also liked how Ron was very approachable with questions on how I might apply these techniques to my own projects down the road.
Next week we’re on to joinery!
This week’s tool is another simple one. It’s a small pocket-sized square from Veritas (Lee Valley Tools). My teacher has one of these in his apron pocket at all times as they are incredibly useful for checking the thickness of boards as you are preparing them, and for adjusting many of the machines. After an entire day of me constantly asking to borrow his, I bought my own. I keep it on me at all times as I am constantly using it, a must have tool in my books!
Last week was all about hand tools, mainly hand planes and saws, and boy are my arms sore. This week we are on to the machinery, and over the week we worked with the band saw, table saw, drill press, thickness planer, jointer, mitre saw, horizontal mortiser, as well as various hand held power tools.
The week was broken up into how to use the tools properly and safely, and how to maintain them. The maintenance part was particularly interesting for me as I have many tools that have never been properly setup, leaving them functioning sub par and even being dangerous in some cases. We took apart each machine and made sure they were all perfectly aligned (down to the 1000th of an inch), replaced blades, sharpened others. I really wish I could have video’d the entire week as it’s hard to remember everything we did. Because it’s such a hands on experience, it’s hard to take notes when you’re in the middle of tearing a machine apart!
Biggest revelation this week was regarding band saw drift. In short, it’s a total myth! Most bandsaws have adjustable tables, and when the saw doesn’t cut straight, it’s because the table needs to be adjusted square to the blade, and not the fence to the blade as most fence companies would have you believe.
My only regret is that I hadn’t waited to buy some of my bigger machines until after taking this course as I now feel much better prepared to know what machine to buy (how big, how powerful), as well as accurately being able to tell if a used machine is worth buying.
As for a project this week, we made some “Krenov Inspired” saw horses (seen above supporting some pieces of Mahogany). That is to say saw horses so beautiful, they’d put most of the furniture in my house to shame… Who am I kidding, ALL of the furniture in my house to shame. The horses are made from maple, and use bridle joints, mortise and tenon joints, and wedged mortise and tenon joints. Although the week was all about machines, I did have to hand plane the mill marks off the saw horses, and they were finished with several coats of shellac – not the most durable finish, but more used in order to practice for later projects.
I’ll be spending the weekend tuning up my old machines as best I can. I bought a dial gauge on the way home and plan on squaring up my table saw fence (assuming the table is already square…).
While studying at Rosewood, I thought I would initiate a “tool of the week”. By this I mean a tool I found really useful, not someone in my class who did something particularly stupid…
While I did enjoy using the $400 Lie Nielsen jack plane that was in my student tool kit, I really liked the simplicity and ease of use of the card scraper. They sell for a few dollars and can be easily sharpened. Their ability to smooth out wild and curly grained wood is also unmatched. It also probably brought me back to my former life as a ski wax technician as it uses the same motions as XC ski waxing.
I’ve registered myself in Rosewood Studio’s 6 week Craftsman program run out of their school in Perth, Ontario. Each week I’ll be writing a review of what we did to give people a better idea of what the school is all about. While researching a woodworking school to go to, I found the number of reviews or information in general to be very slim, so hopefully this will be of help to some. So without further ado…
Week 1 – Excellence with Hand Tools
My woodworking knowledge consists of what my dad taught me (not necessarily the correct way), what I learnt in grade 7/8 shop class, and whatever I’ve picked up along the way through books and the internet. I’m fairly handy and have made quite a bit of stuff out of wood, but I always felt as if there were better ways to do what I was doing, and that my current tool collection was likely lacking. Most of my tools were either passed down from Grandfathers, or were on sale. The Grandfather tools were neglected (by them not me), and the tools on sale were generally bought for all the wrong reasons. One of the things I loved about this first week at Rosewood was the free student tool kit that everyone gets to use. It’s filled with very high quality tools so you can get a feel for what a good tool is, and it also means that you can “try before you buy”. In fact the school recommends not buying new tools before the course so that they can guide you in your decisions.
We spent the week learning about hand planes, chisels scrapers, and saws, how to use them, sharpen them, and tune them. I was able to restore an old handplane I had got at a pawn shop, but could also see what a Lie Nielsen plane was really like (included in the toolkit). It’s also nice that Ron Barter (instructor) regularly tests tools for Veritas, so he has just about one of everything they make on site for you to try out.
So after sharpening up our chisels and planes, we set to work on our first task: the perfect board. We were each given a piece of poplar about 14″ long, 2″ thick, and 10″ wide. The boards were warped, cupped, and twisted, and we had to make all 6 sides smooth, flat, and square. Many people would think this an easy task, use a jointer, planer and table saw and this task shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, but with only a collection of handplanes and a square, this task took the better part of a day.
Next it was on to cutting dovetails. Using a dovetail saw and chisels, we joined two 3″ wide pieces of poplar together. You start with poplar as it’s cheap and since it’s on the softer side of hardwoods, it’s a bit easier to use when learning. After lots of fidgeting I finished my first set and was told I had done an excellent job for my first try. We were told to write our names and the date on them so we could look back years from now and see how we have progressed over the years. While still basking in the success of my work, Ron went to the table saw and cut two new pieces for me to work on… That’s what you get for finishing first I guess… By the end of the week I had done 4 dovetail joints, each one with more tails and smaller pins, adding to the challenge each time.
We finished the week off with the Rosewood Studio Wood Challenge. Ron laid out 20 pieces of wood and had us try to figure out what each one was. It was way harder than I had thought it would be and I unfortunately only got 7 correct (the winner named 11). Next week is mastering machines, which after a week of handplaning, my arms will be happy for the rest…