Heavy Hardware

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Today, whilst I was slaving away at the temple of toil, my better half picked up some really sweet hardware courtesy of blacksmith Michael Clifford.  Michael has done a great job and I am pleased to say this is exactly the sort of hardware the Dutch Tool Chest is made for.  The solid and elegantly proportioned strap-hinges, hasp and comfortably shaped handles (what else would you specify for lifting a 35 kg chest?) have a beautiful, hammered patina and a nice, low-tone wax finish.

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Michael puts a lot of work into these pieces and at £145.00 for the lot we are really pleased with the set.  The hinges stop at just over 100 degrees so that your lid won’t slam back down once open, the handles rotate to just over 90 degrees before resting on the shaped stops and the chunky hasp will accommodate even the biggest of padlocks.  We couldn’t ask for more.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Thank you Michael.

– Paul Mayon

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10,000 Hours

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The writer Malcolm Gladwell has been famously misquoted by many people who have never read his books as saying that ‘to become expert in anything you need to put in 10,000 hours’. The problem is, Gladwell never said you needed 10,000 hours to be an expert, he said that you need 10,000 hours to be a phenom (slang term): To be so freakishly good at something, to be such a standout among your peers, that sometimes your first name is enough to tell people who you are: Ayrton (Senna), Tiger (Woods) or Venus (Williams) spring to mind.

But, as clever as Mr Gladwell is in his book ‘Outliers, the Story of Success’, this thought was not his:  In fact it was the neurologist Daniel Levitin who stated, when discussing K Anders Ericsson’s study of violinists’ practice time that “The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything,” 

It doesn’t take 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert woodworker. It takes less than that. Don’t get me wrong, you have to know a lot about the things you make, why you make them, how you make them. You have to have spent thousands of hours doing it. You have to have put the craft into your hands by practising the right things repeatedly.

If that all seems a little overwhelming, remember that my point is this: The wood won’t change shape all by itself. So, go and and add a few more minutes to your total practice because it is enjoyable. You won’t regret it.

Have fun.

– Paul Mayon

N.E.W. at David Stanley Auctions

 

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A couple of weekends ago DJ and I sauntered up the M42 to visit David Stanley Auctions who will be auctioning the Anarchist’s Tool Chest that Chris Schwarz will build with us in July.  David Stanley hold several specialist tool auctions every year. Twenty years of specialist auctioneering has provided them with an in-depth knowledge of the tools and related items which they sell. As David Stanley explained this enables them to offer advice to both buyer and seller on all aspects of tools and tool collecting. Since 1980 they have sold more over 250,000 lots of tools by auction, way ahead of any other tool auction house in the world.

DJ and I were on the lookout for bargains and DJ at least was not disappointed:  Over 900 lots were auctioned and among those were two English cabinetmaker’s tool chests one of which was one owned by David R. Russell. Amassed over nearly forty years, the David Russell collection has brought together a stunning array of edge and boring tools from Britain, continental Europe and North America. It is one of the finest collections of hand tools in any collection from prehistory to today.  It was fabulous to take a look at some of the tools that are rarely seen and now being auctioned off by Russell.

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In addition to the auction itself there was a separate tool sale which was almost overrun from 7 am on the first day by woodworkers and tool collectors. Suffice it to say DJ and I managed to get at least some of what we came for: DJ scoring a very fine Stanley No.6 fore plane.  I was beaten to the punch on a minty L-N No.1 as it rocketed off into the stratosphere on price.  My better half (there surely there to make sure I didn’t succumb to auction fever…) also managed to pick up a lovely piece: A heavy brass naval compass made for His Majesty’s Royal Navy by Stanley in 1941.  Though I returned empty handed from the day all was not lost as we met up with the ever affable David Barron, the writer and publisher John Adamson and I later returned home to an entirely unexpected low price eBay win of an unused Lie Nielsen No.8! I’ll post a review of this; the freight train of planes, very soon.

– Paul Mayon

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Dovetails Set 5 18 minutes on the money.

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Yeeeeeahhhh! It has been a long time hasn’t it? I have made another improvement in time on this last set of dovetails (if you don’t count the two weeks when the clock was stopped…). And, I am pleased that I have maintained my quality level (which is ‘exceedingly average’ but at least I do show you close-ups of my efforts…).  It may not seem like much but I have managed to take 3 minutes off my best time. Frank Klausz and Rob Cosman are probably laughing their socks off at 18 minutes to do a set like this but the key thing is that there is an improvement.

How am I cutting my dovetails? I am using what is a hybrid between the method set down all of those years ago by Robert Wearing in The Essential Woodworker and that demonstrated by the deft and elegant Christian Becksvoort in issues 238 and 239 of Fine Woodworking.  Both use a tails first approach and i’d encourage anyone who has not attempted dovetails before to checkout Wearing’s clear instructions.  Becksvoort adds the tricks and tips to the method that really help to make your joints accurate. I don’t know how rapid Mr Becksvoort is on this operation but his article doesn’t appear to help speed. If you are struggling with accuracy, check it out.

So what did I do to speed up but stay accurate?

1. I analysed the tools used to dovetail and set them out to my left (being a leftie) in the order that they would be used.

2. I marked quickly and accurately with my spearpoint knife but I managed to stop measuring everything! I used my chisels to size the gaps between the tails – much quicker than measuring.  I did not go over lines with a pencil though: I made sure that the bench was set so that natural daylight was raking across the piece so I could see the knife lines clearly.

3. Saw cuts were quick but not overly aggressive. The saw began at 45-50 degrees upward on the near edge and gradually was brought level as I came down to my baseline.

4. I stood up for sawing and made sure my posture was correct as Jeff Miller makes clear: one foot at 90 degrees to the face of the board, the other at 45 degrees, stood slightly off to one side so that my arm formed a straight line between the saw to the fulcrum at my elbow. My upper arm was then kept in line with this.

5. I cut the shoulders on the tailboard horizontally (I can hear the hiss of the professionals’ sharp intake of breath at this) so that I did not need to unclamp my board and turn it 90 degrees.  That in itself saved 30 seconds.  I cut just above the baseline and cleaned each shoulder with a wiiiide chisel (which I probably would have had to do anyway even if I had moved the board and cut vertically).

6. I ….s-l-o-o-o-w-e-d.. d-o-o-o-w-n… to transfer the tail dimensions to mark out the pins (no points gained for rushing this as the final result looks utterly bobbins* if this bit goes wrong). I had a scrap board ready at the right height to support the tail board when resting it on the pin board in the vice.

7. After too many fretsaw blade breakages (alright my technique is crap; so sue me) I stopped sawing out waste and decided to chop it out instead. I sat down to chop out waste between the pins and tails (as Becksvoort suggests). A light cut to establish the line to cut to and then in heavy to remove the waste.

The times I established were just shy of 21 minutes for the set 1 to 18 minutes to set 5.  Now, if little old me can improve by that amount in 5 sets…just think what you can do!

What have I learned? Nothing. Nothing? Nothing. 

I simply reminded myself that no activity gets better without practice.  To quote the racing driver, team manager and author Carroll Smith “There is no magic, only acres of hard work and fanatical attention to detail”.  I could not have put it better.

Now; stop reading this and go and cut some tails….go on.

– Paul Mayon

*bobbins: v. Northern English colloquial denoting an absence of quality and distinction (usually in any ale brewed south of Birmingham).