Hurricane’s a coming …

All the prep is done, now I’m trying to distract myself by making a french marking gauge. It’s hard, since a giant hurricane is bearing down upon us. Oh, well. Anyhow, I’m making the prototype out of a 3 year old off cut of Southern Yellow Pine from my bench build. It’s pretty hard. I love syp, because its cheap and easy to work. It also gets VERY hard the older it gets. We’ll see how it comes out. I have a beautiful 8/4 piece of Padauk that will make 8 or 10 gauge heads. I’ve realized,unlike other tools that you may want multiples of, you really do need like 6 or 7 gauges. You should leave them set during a project so they can be reused for acurrately and repeatably marking. I struggle along with a harbor frieght combo gauge and a crown marking gauge. They work fine, but I have to think twice about unsetting them during a project to use them to layout a cut of some other part. I really do need a bunch, but I’m forcing myself to make them. Once I started down the hand tool route, I told myself I would do everything by hand to get as much practice as I could. Frustrating, yes. But after a few years I can see myself progressing. I’m a better sawyer now, because I cut every 16 foot long 2×12 for my bench with handsaws. I made myself a saw bench by hand and learned you need really sharp chisels to work in pine. Anyhow, if you want to get better don’t take the easy route. And yes, I gave away my table saw and chop saw to friends to remove  the temptation to go fast. Call me crazy, but it made me better.

I’m following Bob Rosieski’s build video. I’m having trouble centering and locating the 5/8 mortise that needs to go through. I’ve left the piece over long and a little wide so I can clean it up. I’m probably fussing over nothing and I should just layout a hole and chop it. I’m not going to drill, at least that’s the plan now, since I’m only slightly better at drilling straight holes with my brace than I am cutting curves with my coping saw. Thanks to Paul Sellers, I’ve gotten pretty good with my chisles. So far I’m getting pretty good at mortising and cutting dados with just my chisels. Anyhow, here’s the start of the layout.

Please ignore the dirt marks. I went ahead and cleaned up the old square that seems to be the only square in my shop that is actually square. I’ve wiped it down a dozen times, but it seems to be oozing rusty mineral oil every time I pick it up. Glamour shot here.

Thanks for reading.

Chris from hurricane alley.

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Royal Game of UR game board.

Just sharing a quick pic. Thanks to Brian Eve over at my family and I have been obsessed with the Royal Game of UR. Go to his blog and see all the great videos and posts of game boards and dice making. Here’s our makeshift board below, we us buttons for pieces and I’m working on dice.

Here’s is mark 1 mod 1 of our family board.

Here’s the dice in the making. You can see I haven’t gotten far.

Take Care and thanks for reading,

Chris Barnes

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How to tell if your combination square is square.

… or when it’s not. Arghh!

That photo is a teaser. The square I made those beautifully parallel lines with looks like it was in the ocean for a few centuries.
Anyhow, the story in a second. The traditional method for checking your combination square , or any square for that matter is to place it against a face edge and then draw a line. You then flip the square over and try and draw a parallel line. You’d be surprised, your eye can tell parallel pretty acurrately. I think the human eye can discern upto a 64th. Don’t quote me on that, but that piece of trivia is kicking around my noggin.

So here’s where things started to go wrong. I’ve been making the carcass for a laundry cabinet so I can get rid of mdf shelves over my washer and dryer. I was making knife lines on the tail board and I noticed the knife line severely deviated from my pencil line.  This could have been me not holding the square right. So I grabbed another combo square and things began to get fishy. Here’s the pin board.

Notice the lines begin to diverge. So I decided to check my squares. I have a box store Swanson that I considered my best square, then I have a Stanley I got on Amazon with a nut that sticks all the time for some reason. I did the parallel test on both and they were BOTH off. Arghh! The stanley was slightly better than the Swanson but man, you can’t trust a not square square you know. This is where the fun part comes in. A month or 2 back a buddy of mine came by with a truck load of junk from helping clean out a barn. He saw a plane and some breast drills and thought of me. He was so kind I couldn’t tell him I already had enough rusty junk. I politely took all the handtool looking items including two socket chisles that looked like king Kong had worked then over with a sledge during a bad Friday night bender. Anyhow, in the pile was a strange looking combo square with what looked like a cast head. I tossed it in the maybe save and restore bin and promptly forgot about it. Here it is. It looks better because I hit it for a minute or two with 220 grit sanding disks to see if it had a manufacturer name on it. No luck. I was hoping for a Brown and Sharpe or maybe a Starret. Here it is.

So for kicks I did a parallel test on this boat anchor. Guess what. Perfect. I laughed our loud. I figured it might happen when I grabbed it. I have luck like that sometimes, plus I figured it was made during a time when a machinist square had better be well made or its manufacturer would go out of business. Apparently, today you can happily go along making shitty hand tools and stay in buisness. Here’s a shot of the parallel lines they all make right next to each other. S is for swanson, u is for unknown and the other is the stanley.

Here’s all three together. 

Oh yeah those two lines in the first pic are from the boat anchor. Looks like first thing tomorrow I’ll be sanding and oiling  new square and deciding if I just toss the other squares or waste time trying to figure out how to square them. 
Thanks for reading.


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How to chop out the pin board.

… cause I still don’t like my coping saw skills.

My son Ethan, whose 6 feet tall at 12 and taller than me, came out to the shop and said “what are you doing?” I said I was chopping out tails and asked if he wanted to try it. To my suprise he said yes so I let him at it. He did a great job. I just had to sit and hold my breath so I could savor the moment. My kids, like most kids, have only a passing interest in woodworking. I don’t force them to do it, so when they show interest I just let them jump in. Worst that can happen is I have to make another pin board. Totally worth it. I treasure these small moments.

I follow the Paul Sellers method and I have ok results. Any errors are mine.
Step 1. Mark out the tails. I have a long side that didn’t fit on my joinery bench that’s up against the wall so I resorted to my scab bench. This is my first bench. It’s a scabbard together collection of 2x4s and plywood. It wobbles and squeaks, but I can’t bring myself to ditch it. I have a small vise mounted on the front and I used it to hold the pin board while the grill holds up the tail board. Hey, you use what you got. I’m pretty much of the mind to get a vise and mount it on my joinery bench, but a Record 53, which is what I’m holding out for, is harder to find than unicorn fleece.

I use Paul’s method of clamping boards to the faces to deal with the skinny pine cupping on me.

Take your time. The trick, as I understand it, is to line up the tail edges it’s a frog hair onto the tail board or you Will have a gap. I also made sure I had the faces out. It pays to triple check. I’ve cut them wrong before.

Step 2. Cleanup the marks and carry the vertices lines down to your depth mark amd then saw them out straight across focusing on staying verticle. I try to make a few swipes across to form a kerf and then keep my eyes on the vertices line as I saw. Paul says to use pencil on pine since it will compress and this will ensure tight joints. I also read recently, “if in pine, leave the line” so I’ve been repeating this to myself and focused on leaving the lines in.

I tried to make sure I had the angle without forcing a wobbly line from any variance in the tail. I then went back in with a square as a straight edge and drew in a straight line across the endgrain.

I sawed down. I’m still amazed at the little curly q shavings that come out of the cut. I don’t know why, but it usually means I’ve made a good clean cut.

Step 3. Sharpen up.

I went to my 600 arkansas stone and worked the back and then the bevel then I stropped and got back to work. This is just my procedure. It gets me shave sharp. Some folks say it causes uneccesary wear on the back and that may be true, but I do it for 2 reasons. One it’s a habit and I can do it fast without dreading sharpening. So whatever ritual you have to develop to encourage yourself to sharpen often, do it. If you need to sing a song or dance a jig, do it. Reason 2, is that I didn’t spend a whole day flattening the back of my narex chisles. Its not worth it. I just worked on the quarter inch closest to the edge, so working on the back a little every time I sharpen up seems to be getting the back flatter. I can see the flat moving ever so slowly away from the edge. I have also been forcing myself to do this freehand. I have an eclipse style jig and I use it. It’s great, but I think if I every want to be able to do a good job sharpening gouges and carving tools I need to get good at freehand sharpening my chisels.  Sure there’s a whole Internet of people out there to tell me I’m an idiot and don’t know how to sharpen, but I’ll tell you this. One day when I accidentally,  and I mean accidentally because I didn’t really understand sharpeneing, got a chisel really sharp it was like the sky opened up. The wood I was cutting sliced so easily. It was from then on that I knew the difference between sharp and what I had thought sharp was. It made the work fun. Anyhow, end of rant. Learn to sharpen, if people say handtools suck it’s because the aren’t using sharp tools.

I use stones because I got tired of tearing sandpaper and I didn’t want to have to flatten a water stone everytime I sharpen. I also worried that as a novice I’d end up gouging my delicate waterstone. So I ponied up 99 dollars at woodcraft for a set of 3 stones. I think I got lucky since prices seem to have gone up. If my stones aren’t cutting quickly enough in drop back to my combination India stone and work back up through the grits. Once sharp though, I rarely have to go down too far in grit. WATCH Paul’s video on YouTube on sharpening to 250 grit and you’ll be a convert. I don’t think you need 20000 grit stones. The strop with green honing compound does that for you. Watch the video. I use a mineral oil, non toxic, oil called ballistol. It’s pretty awesome. Google it.

Step last. Chop out the pins  like you do the tails. Knife in lines using the actual mating side as a reference. Do the fingertip trick to line up the edges. One thing to watch out for is not chopping into the angled side of your pins. Cut from the middle out and look at the endgrain to follow your lines. Go slow and you’ll get it.

Go half way from each side.

Thanks for reading.

Chris Barnes

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How to chisel out dovetail waste.

Or how much I hate my coping saw and my inability to saw with it. 

I really have tried the coping saw method. It’s just not for me. I also refuse to buy a 100 plus dollar fret saw, which would be more than all 5 or 6 of my old distons combined, just to go faster. So instead, again, I follow the sage method of Mr. Sellers. In all his dovetail work I see him use a knife wall and then slowly chop and chisel. Flipping the board to go half way through from both sides. Works fast enough for me and I don’t have to use curse words for sawing into one of my tails. Now here’s the glamour shots.

Step 1. Knife in the waste using the face edge of the board. Lay the actual pin board flush to the edge. Use your fingertips to ensure the flushness. Reach in with a marking knife and make a nick like your trying to reach almost under the pin board. Then use your square to mark just the lines under the waste going around both sides while registering your square on the face edge and face. Some people I’ve seen just mark all the way across or use a marking gauge. My work is bad enough so I don’t want a line across the tails making it look worse. Also, go shallow with the first knife lines and then go back in and deepen them. Less tendency to wander this way.


Step 2. Go in with a small chisel, mine is 8mm, and make a tiny cut to relieve the edge of the knife wall so it doesn’t move too far back. I’m working in pine and my wall will compress if I don’t do this. If the wall moves back too far this will show as a gap.

Step 3. Chop and chisel out the waste. Only go half way from each side. If it’s pine, take shallow cuts or you will blowout the end grain inside the pin socket from chopping down too aggressively. Don’t ask how I know this. I’m not telling. Eventually the waste pops out. Try not to force it out. You may have to push it back in from the end to get them to slide out.

Waste right after chopping through.

I used a small screw driver to tease out the waste. 

One more case side to do and then on to pins… whoppie! 
Ps. I don’t have to tell you to sharpen up your chisel and strop it before you start right? I mean I sharpen up before I tie my sneakers in the morning. Another lesson I learned was that it is really true that sharp tools make the job easier. For me it let’s me focus in making the cuts. Before I got the sharpening religion I would be distracted from the work. I would be thinking about why my cuts were off or why I had to push so hard or do I need a bigger mallet. It never occurred to me that if my chisel was sharp I wouldn’t even be thinking about it I would be focused on the wood I was trying to remove. Now I sharpen alot and keep the strop on the bench next to me and touch up often. With the strop touch up I find I dont have to go back to the stones during an operation very often. Anyhow, just food for thought. 
Thanks for reading. 

Chris Barnes 

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How to gang cut case dovetails 

Or… how I sort of did it.

Following Paul Sellers method for dealing with boards that cup, I clamped some boards to the back to flatten them out.

I had not intended on attempting to gang cut the dovetails. I was simply trying to mimic Paul’s method for using one set of layout lines to ensure the exactness of the others. After clamping and rotating several times I decided, what the heck why not gang cut them. I only marked out the angles all the way in one face. Paul is all the time saying he only needs one set of lines. I realized today why he does this. For one thing, cutting from the show face ensures any blowout or inconsistencies are on the inside. So on the backside I only had a line for the depth.

Saving a little time only marking out on one face.

I then tried to cut straight across before following the rake of the dovetail. Paul says this helps ensure the tails are square.

Cut straight across for a few strokes before trying to follow the angle.

This was really fast. I was surprised how fast the cuts went. I think having the wider registration surface helped. Maybe it’s just in my head and I am actually improving. And yes, I still put fancy little X’s in the waste. I’m still too new not to get confused and cut NOT in the waste side. Please don’t think too ill of me for my eastern saw. I have several very dull western dovetail saw relics. My saw sharpening skills, however,  are nonexistent so I resort to this saw. Chris Schwarz recommended this saw type a long time back to get you started cheaply and I’ve stuck with it. I cant help it, it cuts great and very fine. I’ll get all my western saws going someday Thanks for reading. 

Chris Barnes 

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How to layout any number of dovetails with dividers and a diagonal line.

So tonight I had one of those moments. I’ve been struggling to figure out how to layout the dovetails for my laundry cabinet. I was inspired to build it after watching Ralphs build over at the accidental woodworker blog on blogspot. I too had been re watching Paul Sellers layout case piece dovetails. On his joiners tool chest he draws a 22 inch line diagonally from the corner where his depth line is across to the other side and then sets his dividers to 2 inches and steps off the center points for all the pins by walking the dividers along the diagonal line he made. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out where he got the number 22 and why 2 inches. Then it hit me. He wanted a number evenly divisible into 22 so he could get 11 tails. Genius. So now all I had to do was figure out how many tails I was brave enough to cut. 11, no way. Hmm. I’d cut 4 for the till I made for my slapped together tool chest. I eyeballed these and they look horrible. So I decided on 5. Now I knew how to do it. I almost ran to the shop. I drew a sketch and then went to the board. I drew a 15 inch diagonal line from the right side bottom to the other edge using a tape measure and a straight edge. Then I used a ruler to set the dividers to 3 inches. I held one edge right on the edge of the board and the other leg in the line and pushed in to make a mark. Then I stepped it off. Next step is to transfer the marks to the top using a combination square against your face edge. These marks are the CENTER of your pins. Now I marked an eight inch on either side, because that’s what Paul did, to get the sides of my tails. Now I used my 1 in 7 dovetail template to draw in my dove tail angles. Finished up square across the top and you’re done. It took me longer to write this post than to do it. I know it’s a small thing, but I feel like I gained a superpower. Now I can do any number of tails I want. Hope this helps someone. I was struggling to get it, but I am kinda slow 😉

My fantastic sanity check drawing for the procedure I was about to do. It’s ok. I’ll look back in my shop note book one day and remember when I first learned how to do this.

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