I’m finally breaking radio silence.

It’s been a while since I last posted anything here, but like the duck on the pond, all the action is going on below the surface. So I’ll end my long silence by noting that Bonny and I recently closed on a fantastic 95 year-old house.

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This was not the plan I had for the year, but nothing this year has gone according to plan. In fact, the story seems straight out of a Laura Numeroff children’s book.

Last December, I set out with a plan to get my woodworking house in order. I’d started reading about 5S workplace organization, and aimed to make my workshop more functional. I built a lumber rack that got my sheet goods up off the concrete, but then the sheet goods didn’t clear the western-most rafter tie.

The bowing sheet goods (and January’s Polar Vortex) motivated me to reframe for a vaulted ceiling and insulation, but then a new job opportunity came up in April before I finished the framing, and I haven’t really made it back out to finish up.

With May came my kids’ end of school rituals: concerts, awards ceremonies, and enrollment for fall. Enrollment was a difficult topic this year, as our school district wasn’t making important programming available for David. Bonny and I found ourselves discussing policy and curriculum with the assistant superintendent for middle school and high school, but our best negotiated agreement was that we’d monitor how David’s school year went.

Negotiators will tell you to evaluate your BATNA – your best alternative to a negotiated agreement – to understand your bargaining position. Looking around at other districts, our BATNA was much better than we realized; all we had to do was move. Sure enough, one night in May, Bonny suggested moving to a neighboring school district. Eight days later, we had a contract on a house we loved in a school district we admired, and I was rethinking all of my woodworking plans.

The new house, a foursquare with lap siding and a wrap-around porch, offers some interesting alternatives to my previous woodworking arrangement. The one-car garage is built in to the nearly 1,000 sq. ft. basement. On the plus side, anything I build in this basement can go out the garage door and up the stairs to the front door. I won’t have to worry about extreme heat and cold like I did with the freestanding garage, and I won’t have to deal with my tools being divided between the garage and the basement.

It’s by no means an ideal workspace, though. I’ll need to buy a dehumidifier soon. The ceilings are somewhat low (I can reach up and touch the bottoms of the floor joists in some places), and the central location of the furnace and hot water heater (not to mention the boiler) means I’ll need to be careful with my space, setting up workstations to accommodate all of my tools.

Rather than waiting to sell our old house, we decided to keep it as a rental, so most of my tools and materials are still in the old workshop, waiting for a weekend when my time is my own.

For a wood nerd, the house itself offers much to be excited about, including oak pocket doors to the parlor and the dining room. The floors and trim on the first floor are all oak, the trim stained a rich brown color.

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Most of the trim is in great shape, but as in our last house, the remodeler made no attempt to tie the kitchen trim in with the rest of the house. The kitchen cabinets were installed fairly recently, but they are cheap, home center units that will need to be replaced someday.

Our first official act was to take up the pet-stain-saturated wall-to-wall carpet in the parlor and the dining room. We’ll need to refinish the floors, but once we do, I think they will be beautiful.

My woodworking focus for the rest of 2015 (and maybe 2016 as well) will likely be to restore the original double-hung windows and wooden storm sash. While the house has two high-efficiency furnaces and air conditioners, plus a boiler and (presumably working) radiators, it’s obvious which rooms need storm windows.

I’m already excited by what my initial research has uncovered on window restoration. There is a lot of material on the internet about the restoration process, but I’ll share what I learn along the way.

I’d love to try my hand at making window sash. With all of the storm sash we need, it might be easier to make than to find in architectural salvage.

I sense some tool purchases in my future. After all, if you give a woodworker a project, he’ll want to buy the right tools….

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Bill Rainford on the Craft

Bill Rainford of North Bennet Street School recently filmed a series for Fine Homebuilding on reproducing period molding for a historic home in Boston. These videos complement his article for the August/September 2013 issue of the magazine (subscription required). I had let my Fine Homebuilding membership lapse, but the few videos outside the pay wall convinced me to renew my membership.

Many of the experiences he spoke of hit home for me: learning from his father and grandfather; coming from a machine woodworking bias; realizing that all the personal protective equipment he used to save his lungs, hearing, and eyesight from machines were coming between him and the work; recognizing that as the craftsman’s skill and muscle memory increases, the use of hand tools overcomes the initial efficiency of power tools.

These videos are worth viewing, not just for his thoughts on the craft, but also for the practical insight into the work of sticking architectural moulding by hand. As Rainford demonstrates, it’s a surprisingly practical approach to reproduction work, and an incredibly handy skill for a woodworker to have.

Plinth Block Progress

Halloween seems to have marked the beginning of the social season this year – at least for my family. While I’ve made good progress on the plinth blocks, I realized tonight that I hadn’t shared much in the past month.

David's Jack O'Lantern

October brought some good progress on the plinth blocks I’ve been working on. Following Matt Bickford’s advice in Mouldings in Practice, I began with dados for the cove.

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The coves took a little extra time while I tuned up the No. 12 round. The wedge wasn’t making good contact in the throat mortise, allowing the plane iron to slip in the cut. Without a float in my kit, I used a triangular file to clean up the mortise. The triangular file was a good width, but it cut pretty slowly, so it wasn’t ideal. (I later bought the planemaker’s edge float from Lie-Nielsen with the idea that it would allow me to tune up my wooden planes to a finer degree. I’ll share the results when I’ve had more time to experiment.)

Along with the throat, the iron needed some reshaping. The arc of the iron was a bit too broad, so I needed to regrind slightly. This is not an exact science. All I’m looking for is the iron to emerge uniformly from the mouth. If it looks right and feels right, it’ll do the job.

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The tuned-up round follows the dados and results in a nice cove. Note the open cup of coffee. I couldn’t enjoy that with machines!

Spelching is still an issue when planing across grain. For the cove at the top, I chose to make these a bit wide and plane away the torn fibers.

With the four coves complete, I moved on to the v-groove at the bottom of the ogee. When working through my prototype, I discovered that I need to use my skewed rabbet trailing edge down. This helped quite a bit with the reliability of my cut, allowing the plane to follow the reference edge and not overshoot it.

scribing the reference line

I found, though, that this technique wasn’t quite yielding the crisp surface I wanted to see. The plane iron left a nice, flat surface, but the reference surface was not uniform. I’m not sure whether to attribute this to technique, tool, or unreasonable expectations.

Luckily, a few passes with a heavy shoulder plane cleaned up the reference surface on the first workpiece.

For the remaining grooves, though, I flipped the workpiece around and planed from the opposite approach. Since the upper surface of this v-groove serves as the chamfer for the convex portion of the ogee, it will be worked further with the hollow and doesn’t need to be perfect.

This switch allowed the iron of my rabbet plane to leave the nice crisp surface where I need it.

With the v-grooves complete, it was time to tackle the ogees. A combination of grooves allowed me to waste away the concavities of the ogee. Here, I plowed a groove with my combination plane, and used my rabbet plane for another v-groove to form the transition from concave to convex.

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I’m pleased with the results so far. I’ve completed two of the blocks, am nearly finished with the third, and the fourth is awaiting its ogee.

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Plinth Block Prototype

After spending all of Saturday morning on yard work, I escaped to our local woodworking store, Metro Hardwoods, who were celebrating their fifth anniversary. I’m really pleased to have a them so close, and the irony of a woodworking store located in a building once occupied by Pier 1 Imports just makes this place all the more special.

While I was there, I picked up a fine India gouge slip for sharpening my hollows and rounds, and so far it’s been a great investment. I got back to my workshop and started tuning up my No. 12 hollows and rounds. These are the planes I’ll need to make the plinth blocks for my current project.

Carpenter's Hatchet
As a warm-up project on Sunday, I put a new handle on my carpenter’s hatchet. It’s heavier than I expected.

The plinth blocks I’m reproducing for my current project seem fairly straight-forward: an ogee and a cove. However, the fact that these elements run across the grain makes for a surprisingly tricky situation. Instead of using my plow plane to make the grooves for the round to ride in, I used a backsaw and my router plane.

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The piece I grabbed from the scrap pile was pretty ugly, but it presented some worst-case scenarios to consider. The big risk, I found, is that the grain blows out as you reach the far edge of the workpiece. To protect against blowout as I approach the profile, I’ve inscribed the profile along the far side. Working with very straight-grained wood will help, too.

To begin the convex side of the ogee, I began by striking a knife line at the far edge for a v-groove. My rabbet plane followed the scribed line to start, but I noticed the guide edge of the groove was becoming distorted. It turned out that the leading edge of the skewed iron has a crisp arris, which was scraping the opposite face of the groove. Using the rabbet leading edge up allowed the plane to track straight.

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The concave and v-groove established, I moved on to the convex portion of the ogee. After fine-tuning the plane iron in my hollow, I found the convex a little easier to stick than the concave.

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Starting with a prototype turned out to be a great way to shake out the challenges of this task.