Archive for the ‘Old tools’ Category

Religion, Politics, and Woodworking

23 January, 2009

Now that Obama has been inaugurated, I figure it’s safe to say that we might have a new president.  I’ve perceived that he’s rather controversial despite the fact that I’ve tried really hard to ignore current events these last few months.  I think I’m to where I care a lot more about a thin, wispy shaving coming off of a well-tuned vintage Stanley plane than what people are predicting about the future of our country.  My country, dagnabit, sweet land of liberty!  So far, I still have the liberty to behave that way, too, and to use my energy blogging, podcasting, writing, woodworking, EMT’ing and firefighting, all while being a father to my children.  So that’s the politics end of things.  And then there is the religious…

In a former, not-too-distant past I was, shall we say, a religious leader.  I stopped doing that as a vocation for a variety of reasons, but one thing still sticks: I never quite got over how many people’s behavior would change toward me when they found out what I was.  I’m a shy person, and when someone would suddenly start treating me like I was waiting and watching, hoping they would make a boo-boo so that I could pounce on them, rebuke them and correct them, I get even more shy.  So my relief valve always came in the form of thin, wispy shavings.  That was the religious part.

So, in the midst of a virtual rolling sea of pundits with opinions as firm as said rolling sea, there lies around my ankles batches of shavings, and life is good.  Knowing that the woodworking community is remarkably free of chest-pounding and sabre-rattling (with the notable exception of those of us that are Galoots enjoying the ironic humor in identifying ourselves as part of a subversive woodworking movement.)  Knowing that when it comes down to it, when I meet a fellow woodworker online or in person, the odds are that they are going to have certain characteristics in common with me: an appreciation for a quick wit, an insatiable curiosity about our common activity, probably an interest in history, the desire to exchange concepts, techniques, and lore with others of like mind, and usually the desire to remain focused on this beautiful medium we are blessed to work in, leaving politics and religion out of it.

So, I predict that 2009 is going to be the best woodworking year we have ever experienced together!


Pre-game Jitters

11 November, 2008

Today my wife and I will be packing, double checking reservations, double checking what we’ve packed, getting folks lined up to feed the critters while we are gone, and making sure everything is lined out for our trip to Berea, Kentucky.  There I will be attending the Woodworking in America conference, a kind of a dream-come-true for Galoots and aspiring Galoots.logo

In case you haven’t already heard, this conference is an opportunity to learn woodworking tips and techniques from the likes of Adam Cherubini, Mike Dunbar, Frank Klausz, Christopher “The Schwartz,” Roy “St. Roy” Underhill, and to rub elbows with esteemed toolmakers such as Thomas Lie-Nielsen, John Economaki, Robin Lee, and Mike Wenzloff (I’ve left many other names off because you can click on the link faster than I can type.)  You can see why I would be excited… and anxious because I want to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything I need to take!

BUT THERE’S MORE!  Yes, as I’ve contended in previous blogs, woodworking is a hobby or a profession, but it is also a community.  Berea is an opportunity to get together with the extremely cool people that have become fast friends via the web, podcasts, and Twitter.  Since I seem to be in a name-dropping posture this morning, I’m looking forward to seeing Marc Spagnuolo (The Wood Whisperer), Matt Vanderlist (Matt’s Basement Workshop), Shannon Rogers (The Renaissance Woodworker/Rogers Fine Woodworking), Kari Hultman (The Village Carpenter Blog), and about 320 potential new Galoot-type friends.  This promises to be the coolest event of 2008, and I’m hopeing we can get signed up for 2009 while we are there.

AND EVEN MORE!  A decade ago, over the protests of the more insightfull professors, I was released from a an intensive study program with a Masters of Divinity degree taken at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.  As in, roughly an hour’s drive north of Berea.  This is like going home!  So, here’s my perspective: going home to somewhere I haven’t been in 10 years, meeting old friends I’ve never seen before, making new friends I don’t know yet, and rubbing elbows with people I’ve seen on TV and in print.

I can’t wait for tomorrow!

A lesson in business from an 11 year old…

1 November, 2008

I’m trying to keep it all in the family, and it seems to make sense, at least to a degree.  You see, in an effort to take a part of my woodworking business to the internet, I decided to pick up a pen turning lathe, a bunch of kits, and some padauk and rosewood.  Good start, then I could get a feel for it, and perhaps hone my business skills.  I shared all this great thinking with my bride, who thought it was great thinking and was therefore intrigued by the whole idea.  Little did I know…

I turned about 8 pens, and then she came out to the shop and said, “Teach me.”  Okay, sounds very cool.  Pen turning is great fun, but I really enjoy case work which I could get back to if she were turning.  So, I gave her a crash course, and before long her pens looked as good as mine.  Or, at least as good as mine.  Okay, I can handle this, I must be a pretty good teacher.  Soon, my lathe was our lathe, and once in awhile I get to use it.  While she is at work, that is.

This afternoon she brought my 11 year old son out and taught him how to turn pens while I was working on another project.  He learns very quickly, and he got to finish his first pen and pencil set, made out of padauk with “rhodesium” hardware.  Since he’s left handed, I teased him about making the set upside-down.

As I’m merrily banging away on this casework, my son starts asking my bride why we are doing so many.  One of the reasons I love my wife so much is because she’s easily able to expound on the inner workings of capitalism and supply-side economics, which my son got a working lesson in as the chips flew.

After he was finished with his set, he brought them over to show me.  “If I sell some of these for you, can I get a commission?”  I like the way he thinks, at such a young and tender age.  “Sure, of course you would.”  “Well, Dad, how much?”  “Well, Son, it would have to be a percentage of the net.  Do you know what the net is?”  “Is that the total profit?”  I don’t know where he got his grasp of things.  Not from me — I still don’t have all this figured out.  “Exactly.  How does 30% of the profit sound?”  “How does 50% sound, since I am helping make the pens?”  “Okay.”  He dickered, I lost.  Go figure.

So What’s Wrong With Luddites, Anyway?

29 September, 2008

Once again the literary blog of Chris Schwartz has stimulated my own (somewhat cranked) chain of consciousness toward the philosophical side of woodworking.  “The Schwartz” recently offered a very positive review of Roy Underhill’s newest book (the link is here), which wasn’t fair because I can’t go out and buy it yet, and pre-ordering it only makes me feel like I’m 8 years old and it’s three weeks before Christmas.  Dang.  I’m pre-ordering it anyway, and I had a good Christmas when I was 8.


One of the commentators on the blog mentioned that some view St. Roy in particular, and from that I assume the Galooterati in general, as being Luddite.  I pondered that for a little bit, checked Wikipedia to make sure the commentator was talking about the Luddite movement of England in the throes of the Industrial Revolution, and then concluded that such a thrown stone packed all the wallop of being called a “Neanderthal Woodworker” or a “Galoot.”  Hit me again, please!


Now, to be a Luddite in the purest sense of the word, I would need to be militantly against the use of power tools.  Personally, I’m not that way; I really don’t have the time to spend felling a maple tree (the hardest part is FINDING a maple tree in central Texas), hewing it, pit sawing it, stickering the flitches, ripping them with a hand saw, scrub planning them to near thickness, well, you get the idea.  If I had to rely on those methods, it would be a very long time before anything would ever come out of my shop, with the possible exception of me in a pine box.


On the other hand, I fully concur with Chris that it is essential that we never, ever lose the techniques that correspond with the old tools that we celebrate.  We venerate St. Roy because he takes such joy in passing along that knowledge (in his own inimitable style.)  In an earlier blog, I expounded on how I feel that passing on the knowledge of those who have gone before us honors them and connects us to them.  If that’s Luddite, bring it!

The Fate of Old Tools

23 September, 2008

One of my favorite blogs to follow (and do my best to be a nuscance on) is Chris Schwartz’s Woodworking Magazine blog.  I was reading today’s post about hand saw rehabillitation,  and that started my creative juices flowing.  You can see Chris’ blog by clicking the link here.  I admire Chris and find much wisdom (and considerable wit) in what he writes.  If you aren’t reading his blog regularly, get off this one and go pick that one up now!

Somewhere in the midst of his shill for a great-sounding hand saw sharpening service, I was confronted by two thoughts.  The first thought is that one can not really call oneself a Galoot unless one knows how to sharpen one’s own saws.  I don’t.  Yet.  So, after I dried myself off from my self-recrimination immersion, I went on to the next big thought of the day, which occurred to me when Chris referenced a shelf of “damned tools.”  Said another way, Chris referred to a particular saw residing on a “Shelf of Hopeless Tools.”  It evoked images of some childhood Christmas claymation reference “The Island of Misfit Toys.”  I immediately had images of choo-choos with square wheels and polka-dotted dollies with alligator tears all singing around a campfire on Christmas eve… you know what I mean.  The concept of Hopless Tools is just to provocative for me.  So I became provoked, and Chris will probably justifiably delete my reply.

What I tried to point out was that the Path of the Galoot includes the pride of bottom-feeding.  Our greatest scores come when we can report back to other Galooterati on a great estate sale score or better yet — a bona fide flea market “Neener!”  As illustration, I pointed out the crispy No.-4 that looked like a University of Texas football jersey when I got it, and after TLC is my daily go-to smoother.

It is my particular thesis that there is no such thing as a hopeless tool.  So your saw blade winds up with a 90 degree bend in it: use it to saw dovetails in three mintues like Frank Klaus, or salvage the usable parts and rehab an ailing saw.  You find a plane that has bounced off concrete one too many times and has a broken mouth?  It can’t sing anymore, but like the young boy who gives up his heart in death in order to let a young girl across the country live, there are parts and pieces to be used in the rehab of a needy plane.

No hope?  Never give up hope in old tools, I say.  Send them to me.

The Master

18 September, 2008
     Recently there has been a video floating around of Frank Klaus cutting dovetails (using bow saws) in three minutes.  If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the link, but please note: all safety precautions need to be taken.  Please fasten your seatbelt, look around you and find the nearest exit, double check your parachute, and make sure your helmet and protective eyewear are in place.
      A very long time ago, before there was something called the “New Testament,” God used to show up to the Old Testament folk in strange and unexpected manners.  He might show up in a burning bush, or on a mountaintop, or as a soft, gentle breeze, or in a valley of dry, dusty bones.  In whatever manner God chose His current self-revelation, the ancient Hebrews knew they were in for something big, as in Charlton Heston and Cecile B. DeMille; something that they had no control over, something that would change their lives for the better and would last forever, and something that kind of set them apart from the other tribes of the Ancient Near East.  But they also knew it was something they could only watch, because the Being they were watching was actually DOING things (rather than just talking, like a lot of the other gods,) and because they knew what was happening was just so far beyond themselves.  Sometimes you have to watch stuff and spend the rest of your life processing it in order to understand it.  Sometimes you never understand it.
     I had a similar epiphany watching Mr. Klaus cut his dovetails.  Just every now and then you realize you are in the presence of someone who early on discerned what he or she had been born to do, and acted upon it.  I want to be that way when I grow up.




A Community of Believers

30 July, 2008

One of the glorious things about being a woodworker today is our ability to be served by the Internet. Through this amazing channel of funneled electrons, we can blog and Twitter and post websites full of our projects and join together with others in songs of praise over the latest Veritas or Lie-Nielsen acquisition, or remind one another to be wary of the dangers of spinning carbide tips.

Recently I read a blog posted by Christopher Schwarz on the Woodworking Magazine reviewing a brand new Veritas plane coming onto the scene, which led me to a link by the Village Carpenter, a person after my own heart, pondering the “certain something” that draws those of us that are hand tool enthusiasts to prefer (to be polite) human powered woodworking over our electric counterparts.

Just so that there is no confusion: My alternative (older) online persona is Texasgaloot, a term derived from the combination of my obvious proximity along with my decade-old membership on the OldTools listserv. I joined that listerv not too long after a number of luminaries on “The Porch” found themselves refugees from the even older Rec.Woodworking. Rather than accept humiliation and defeat at being branded “Galoots” and “Neanderthals,” they accepted the terms as badges of honor, picked up their crispy Stanley No.-7’s, dovetail saws and marking gauges and formed their own group, still going strong (see

As I was permitted to lurk on The Porch and learn from folks who started out as teachers and truly came to be valued friends, I began to realize how close-knit the hand tool community really is. One old tool vendor patiently carried my debt as my first marriage collapsed leaving me destitute, despite the fact that I had his tools in my possession. I kept them carefully wrapped and separated out from my users to preserve them in case I needed to return them, but the vendor insisted that I pay him when I could, which after three or four years, I was finally able to do. Try that at your local big box store!

There is a certain peaceful, spiritual connection that exists among those of us that are members of the Neander-community. Although many of us succumb to the stresses of time commitments and wind up using our table saws and drill presses to help us along (too often, myself included,) we reserve the hallowed finishing process of our hard work for our handwork. As soon as I finally get some decent photos made of my shaker night stand, I will be posting them; it is a project I did the initial milling using electricity, but hand-fitting and hand finishing from there on. The piece is now one of those things in my house I can just look at on a bad day, and it takes the knots out of my rope.

As I move closer and closer to my goal of full-time woodworking, I have done quite a bit of research on the advantages of being in business for oneself. I’ve noticed that advocates for entrepreneur-ship communicate a certain undertone, itself with a spiritual component that links me to the Galoot lifestyle as well. Entrepreneurs talk about two things in the same breath: freedom and control, and it boils down to the ability to have the freedom to control one’s life, rather than to abdicate control to someone else. While working for someone, one doesn’t have the ability to stay connected to Twitter, for example, and may only be permitted to check on one’s friends during “breaks.” In contrast to that is the person in business for him or herself, who has the freedom to go broke or be independently wealthy, the freedom to read blogs without concern over getting fired. Such is the sense of control I seek, and I think our woodworking forefathers knew the peace that it yielded.

The parallels are obvious: With hand tools, we have the freedom to hog huge slices of wood off that $50 cherry board, or to smooth it to a polish that shows your smile. We can chop narrow dovetails or take our time finessing a mortise-and-tenon fit rather than adjusting our trunions to micrometer precision. We have the ability to tell the in-laws, “I did that,” and not mean a whirring, spinning, screaming machine manufactured to leave that too-perfect pattern in the wood.

When I was young, my grandparents kept a cottage amidst the breathtaking Finger Lakes in Center New York State. At least a few times each summer my grandfather’s brothers and sisters would all gather, each bringing beans and radishes and fresh corn from their farms. We would have a great country feast, topped off with my grandmother’s fresh-baked apple and cherry pies. I would eat until my stomach hurt, and then the men would gather in the rockers on the front porch, smoke their pipes and tell lies about one another that were so funny my stomach would hurt all over again. The fragrances of the lake air combined with the lingering smells of supper and pipe tobacco in one of my favorite places in the world formed a synergistic aroma the memory of which I would never part with for any price. That was a time when everything was just right in my world.

As a micron-thin wisp of pine shaving curls from my smoothing plane, a shaving that if tossed in the air would have measurable “hang time,” I sense the connection to other woodworkers, past and present. I come as close as I ever will again to that spiritual experience of tasting a slice of Gram’s apple pie.

The Woodworking Afterburners

19 July, 2008

After reading Chris Schwarz’s blog entitled “Yesterday’s Shame (and Tomorrow’s,” I began to ponder some of the woodworking projects I had made in my younger days.  Some were so embarrassing I won’t even pass the details of them along to you.  Some were not that embarrassing, but they were almost.  Certainly I’ve come a long way.  Pondering these projects, I began to think about an Oldtools listserv post from a few years ago.

It’s a truism that woodworkers as a lot tend to be their own worst critics.  We will see every flaw, every boo-boo, every place in a piece that we wish we had done something differently.  We will seek out our long-suffering spouses’ opinion, the opinions of our family, friends, significant others, and even the in-laws, and they will openly admire your craftsmanship, and you will still stare at the “glaring imperfections” of your work and think, “Chris Schwarz would never have done anything this bad.”

Our forum settled on an ugly project criteria: if you can take the piece you have just built and toss it in the fire, then it needs to be there.  If you cannot burn your work, then you cannot threaten to.  Fencing sitting doesn’t work; you must accept your work silently and resolve to try harder next time.  I’ve decided to call this effect “Woodworking afterburners.”  If you can burn the piece after you’ve built it… well, you get it.

I’ve been able to recycle the wood from an old project, but I’ve never been able to toss one on the burn pile.  I guess that’s because the Scotsman in me sees the raw material and echoes my dad’s words, “I might use that for something some day.”  You know what?  Even those afterburners still have something to teach me.  I wonder what I’m going to learn from the pieces I turn out today.

It’s 97 degrees outside!

30 June, 2008

That was my mid-afternoon weather observation offering to my patient, devoted wife, as I stood dripping in our kitchen. I’m not like other woodworkers; I have the benefit of an air conditioned shop. I’m bragging, I realize, but after all that’s something worth bragging about. I’m just very glad to have a shop at all, let alone one that is so well air conditioned, and air conditioning that uses no electricity as a bonus!

Okay, by now you are beginning to catch on. My shop is set up in a barn that was erected in the 1920’s (that’s unimaginably old by Texas standards) using lumber that was obviously milled there on the ranch. The belt-driven circular saw that hooks up to the old McCormick H-model’s PTO still spins freely! The barn was built in order to house feed and hay for cattle and goats, and therefore it had no particular need to be, shall we say, pristine. Since it was built, a shed roof was added to the south side of the barn, and then the sides under the shed roof enclosed as well, creating what Texans call a lean-to. This was to house cattle and goats during feeding time. The upper 1/3 of the south wall of the barn was then removed in order to facilitate this feeding. Not a bad plan, if you are either a rancher, cow, or goat.

Now that it is 2008, we are faced with the reality that the lumber used to sheath this barn, long since unpainted (if it ever was) has become, well, autonomous. Nary a board touches another board. Some boards sport gaps of 1-1\2″ between them, leaving the unwary woodworker inside subject to a fascinating pattern of striped sunburn should he not be wary. I’ve always wanted a unique shop.

This particular arrangement offers a number of advantages. First and foremost, I never need to worry about whether there is enough insulation to make heating and cooling efficient. At this point, that realm is entirely God’s. Another advantage is that I can keep my fan population at a minimum, as there is always a breeze through the building, like it or not. And where I live in Texas, there is always a nice, warm summer breeze… through my shop. Weather reports are easy — look up, and you can see what it’s doing outside. Noise? Who cares? The cows, horses, or deer? Are you a wildlife admirer? Great! Some will be passing through shortly…

Yesterday I spent all but a few hours in my shop, most of the time following the Way of the Galoot (I’m working toward my Galoot merit badge…) Chopping dovetails and planing boards can be strenuous work. At 97 degrees, I tend to be rather wet and rank from perspiration, and since I earned that yesterday, I was making no apologies for it. As we got ready for bed last night, my wife told me my feet were dragging (I thought that I was lucky, because it felt like there were other parts of my anatomy that would qualify.) This morning, my hands won’t work the keyboard and mouse properly. My feet are killing me from being on them so much, my lower back aches from being hunched over my workbench, and various and sundry other parts would much rather have stayed in bed this morning, rather than come to work. As I was inventorying my aches and pains, however, I came to a firm, but probably not startling conclusion.

I would do it all again today.

The Shop Goldfish

27 June, 2008

By way of being employed in a position that moves it’s people around a lot, I’ve had occasion to re-think my shop several times. Each time feels like a start-up shop except with old friends; tools collected during the last set-up. Take, for instance, the squeaky, shiny Rabone folding rule I scored in a Georgetown, KY antique store more than a decade ago. It was a really nice location to visit during a really peaceful time in my life. The fact that it was worth 1000% of what I paid for it doesn’t hurt anything, either. Or the matched pair of Independence Tool saws, one a dovetail, the other a carcass. Tools that to the Galoot need no explanation.

Predictably each location has brought a series of new challenges with it; space utilization, power availability, weather tightness. My first formal shop, so designated because of the addition of a non-mobile tool (read this table saw,) was in the yard barn I had built for the purpose. And when I say purpose, I really mean main purpose, as every “shop” seems to collect the tent and extra coolers and fertilizer spreaders and… Layout was easy in that shop; the table saw got the center of the floor (pre-outfeed tables, stock rip fence.) The workbench (singular) went against the wall. An extension cord from the apartment hooked me up and got taken in at the end of a day. Simple. Soon that shop was a pleasant place to work, as long as you were willing to twist your hips around things as you walked through it.

With a move my shop grew into a single car garage, and with another move it grew into half of a two-car garage, complete with 8 plugs. Since the car could always be backed out of the garage, things like outfeed tables and toolboxes began to show up as my circle of “friends” grew. Full-sized bookcases that would have made an English librarian proud made their way out of that shop. Another move, and I had an entire building all to myself. Originally built for a previous owner’s wife who was into ceramics, it had a built in sink and discarded kitchen cupboards, a garage door at one end, 200v three-phase (for a kiln, I suppose) and windows all around. It also had a car-port off the back of it; just the place to store extra dimensional lumber (hardwood stayed inside.) Cherry and then walnut toy boxes, shaker tables sporting hand-cut dovetails were brought to life there. And again I was twisting and turning my way through that shop.

Another move, and it’s back to a two and a half car garage with no back window and the red sand of the Texas Brush Country defying all my attempts to keep it outside. The 110 degrees tended to keep shop time to a minimum. Another move, and here I am setting up shop in a barn.

Now, you might think that it doesn’t get any better than that, but let me briefly describe the barn; built at least 75 years ago, it’s been used to store hay, goats, feed, plumbing supplies, and various tenant’s trash since the original owner passed away. Amongst the aged hay, baling wire, broken glass, the Chevrolet exhaust, and smashed Coors cans is the one lone outlet, all housed by boards presumably milled on site that have long ago ceased to make physical contact with one another (which is good for lighting during the day.) I’ve learned where to put the horse bucket on my table saw (wrapped in a tarp) to catch the roof leaks.

Yet despite the balmy breezes of Texas blowing through my shop, it too has already given life to a 4′ x 6′ assembly table, a miter saw / radial arm saw station, and soon a permanent table for a portable planer. This is all justifiable; it begs the explanation I’ve offered my wife, which is that good shops have the same condition that goldfish do. They grow to the size of their environment.