Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Unplugged Woodshop

Hey reader-

thanks for stopping by.
I'm afraid I haven't had much time to update this blog lately but I have been busy on my website

If you'd like to follow along with current projects you'll find me there.


Friday, September 21, 2012


PM-V11. Sounds like a new music video station, no?
I know I’m a little late on this post but I wanted to share my two cents about the new steel alloy from Veritas. So what is PM-V11?
PM refers to the process known as powder metallurgy, whereby molten metals are atomized into small particles, which cool and harden into a fine powder that is then heated under pressure to form an ingot.
So what’s an ingot?
An ingot is a material, usually metal, that is cast into a shape suitable for further processing.
This mixture of metals combined into a proprietary alloy, yields a steel with a very fine, uniform grain structure that is much more durable than steels produced using ordinary manufacturing processes. So, what does all that really mean to hand tool users?
Blades made from PM-V11 are highly resistant to dulling yet are as easy to sharpen as A2 tool steel and blades made from PM-V11 will hold an edge up to two times longer than one made of A2.
I was given a PM-V11 replacement blade for my Veritas bevel-up Jack plane last Spring and can say that I was absolutely blown away. If you frequent these blogs you’ll know I generally prefer O1 blades over A2. Why? I always felt I could get a sharp edge in less time than on an A2 iron. In use, I never found issues with my O1 irons dulling any more quickly than an A2. Well all that has changed since using the PM-V11. Seriously. What a difference. I was able to polish a fine edge without any difficulty and found the longevity of the edge was much longer. That’s an understatement. I found the longevity of the edge to last MUCH-MUCH longer!! We’re talking EverReady bunnies over here! This sh**  holds a serious edge!
I use water stones for 90% of my sharpening needs and the PM-V11 was just as easy to resharpen once dull.
Now I’m not saying you should run out and replace all of your irons with PM-V11 tool steel but, in the future, whenever I have the option when buying new, I’ll choose the PM-V11 steel every time. It really made a noticeable difference.
For my everyday, go-to planes, ie: Jack, low-angle block and Smoother, I will make the investment and change them over to PM-V11. The time I’ll save sharpening for me, justifies the expense.
Lee Valley offers replacement blades in PM-V11 for most of their existing planes.
If you’d like to find out more information on the new PM-V11 tool steel and read extensively about all of their test results,
go to www.pm-v11.com
and for replacement blades for your favorite Veritas planes check out: www.leevalley.com


Friday, September 7, 2012

What did I miss?

Piper and I in one of the oldest Sugar Maple stands in North America. About an hour North of our home on Cape Breton Island.

It’s been awhile…after two amazing months out East I’m back in the city and finding my way into the familiar routine of urban life. The summer was busy but we did manage to get a little down time. July was spent finishing off 8 more chapters for the new book and with a final deadline at the end of October, I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I’ve had more requests for classes over the last few weeks than I ever have before. Lots of people interested in working wood with hand tools. Well, you’ve come to the right place! My plan is to resume a steady class schedule once the new book is complete so please be patient and I’ll start making dates for early November.
The new projects are all coming along as planed and every week I get more excited to start sharing them with you. A year in the making and believe me, it’s tough not only to focus on one thing for that long but, not being able to blog about what I’ve been up to is killing me! -; )
I hope/think/pray? it’ll be worth the wait. It’s been a pleasure working with the folks at the Taunton Press and as soon as I get the word, we can start previewing some of the work. Until then I have a few more ideas and projects to complete so I’ll say thanks again for waiting and I hope you’ll be as excited about the new projects as I am.
Back to the bench….

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

In The Balance

” The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price has been forgotten.”  Benjamin Franklin

Well in case you haven’t heard, Veritas has released their new line of Bench Chisels. I first laid my eyes (and hands) on them back in 2011,  while visiting the Lee Valley Tools head office in Ottawa, Ontario. After a year of anticipation, I finally have a set that I’ve been putting through their paces and wanted to finally share my thoughts with you. I’ve read a few reviews and comments already on the inter-webs and thought I’d throw my two cents into the mix. This review may seem a little late but I wanted to actually work with these things for a while before giving any opinions.  I think that’s a pretty important step to take before spewing opinions around the internet, don’t you?

These things are FLAT.

The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up one of these chisels is the weight of them. For their size, they’re extremely light. A good thing in my book. The second thing you’ll notice is they’re balanced. Let me say that again, they’re really, really balanced! That point is probably the most important thing with any hand tool- how does it feel in hand? How does it feel while in use? These things simply put- feel great. From paring and chopping to fine tuning joinery, I find these chisels an absolute joy to use.
The standard set comes in O1 tool steel and that suites me just fine. I personally prefer O1 for it’s ease of sharpening. Some will argue that in laboratory tests, A2 steel will hold an edge longer. While that may be true, I don’t work in a laboratory! I’ve never found a noticeable difference in wear between the two except as mentioned, when it comes to sharpening. I prefer  O1 tool steel but if you often work with dense exotic timbers and need a tool that will hold up longer in the hardest woods, then  you’re in luck. Veritas will be producing these things in a ‘powdered-metallurgy steel known as PM-V11™ – a tough, wear-resistant alloy that retains its edge longer when used on dense, abrasive woods, yet sharpens as easily as A2 steel.
And speaking of the steel, the chisels come to you absolutely flat and when I say flat, I mean FLAT!
‘… flatness tolerance of ±0.0005″ (half of one thousandth of an inch!)
Half of one thousandth of an inch? Well then, that should do it, eh? In fact, these things are so flat they they’re actually a little sharp on the edges. If I could say anything negative about these chisels it would be just that. The outside edges should be ‘broken’ a little before use. Nothing more than a gentle rolling across a stone or a rub with some sand paper to ease the edges. Maybe this is something Veritas will address in the future? I asked about the sharp outside edges (or lands as they’re called in Galoot World) and was told it’s due to the extensive lapping process carried out during manufacturing to insure these things come to you absolutely flat. Fair enough.

Baked Maple...mmmm.

The handles are made from hard maple that goes through a high temperature, kiln-baking process that eliminates almost all moisture content and caramelizes the sugars in the wood. Oh how Canadian, chisels with maple syrup handles~;) But seriously, the handles feel great in use and that’s the important part. Aesthetically,  they look fantastic and I for one was happy to see a Veritas tool made from a Domestic wood species instead of their instantly recognizable, Bubinga handles and totes. They have small flats on the handle sides that feel great in hand. The blade to handle connection is an innovative cross between a tang and a socket-like ferrule. This makes for a perfect union between the two and you won’t have to worry about loose chisel handles anymore. Something I couldn’t say about ANY of my other chisels.
So, if you’ve been thinking about purchasing a new set of chisels and want something that will last a few lifetimes then I think it would be hard to beat the new chisels from Veritas. The full set of five is priced at just under $300. That is an extremely reasonable price to pay for a set of premium hand tools that will no doubt become extensions of your arms.
Already, they’ve become my go-to chisels and I think they were well worth the wait.

Size compared to some of my other chisels.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Spring Classes Wrap Up

Well it’s the middle of June and that means that the Spring Class Session is over. Thanks to all my students who spent some time with me over the last few months in the wood shop. From beginners to experienced, young and old, Mothers, daughters, sisters and well, a bunch of guys! It’s always a pleasure to share the knowledge of wood working.
I’ll be offering classes again in the Fall so drop me a note if you’re interested in attending. I’m finishing up another book project this week and will be taking some time off for some much needed R & R on the East Coast. Stay tuned…

Monday, June 11, 2012

Teak Legs From Burma

I was thrilled to receive a letter from a reader in Burma this past week who made a version of my side table – Skinny legs and all… In case you don’t know, Burma is in South East Asia and lies between Bangladesh and Thailand.The table was made from reclaimed Teak with a local wood called Pinkado for the drawer fronts.

Ashley writes:   “In this country there are only a limited range of timbers available for woodwork and, if you buy from a local supplier, would likely come from some bit of old growth forest and be unsustainably (and possibly illegally) logged.  To get around this I work with a British guy who has set up a small scale furniture production business using salvaged timber and local workers.  His is another story but he has an amazing set-up and produces excellent furniture using mostly hand tools and traditional joinery techniques.  They even re-size all their boards – which come from old buildings being torn down – by hand, using planes they make themselves!  Very old school.  So that’s where I get my reclaimed teak and pinkado.”

I think artisans here in the West may sometimes forget just what a luxury it truly is to be able to walk into a local saw mill or big box store and purchase any number of wood species. This letter reminds me to be thankful for all we have!

Ashley writes: “the table took about 100-120 hours to build over a four month period, which includes a modest amount of stock preparation.  It also includes practice joints on scrap wood as I had not tried several of the techniques and had never built a drawer before.”

The table is finished with Teak oil.
I love what he did with the design by simply eliminating the upper apron thus changing the over-all appearance of the piece. This version has almost a mid-modern feel and I think he did an incredible job.

Ashley writes: “I made a few design changes – most notably dropping the front rail, but stuck to the essence of your design.  And, of course, i did it all with hand tools.  I must say, at the beginning i didn’t think my skills would be up to it, but it worked out OK (my wife likes it which is all the praise i need!). Thanks for the inspiration.”

Ashley, I really should be the one saying-thanks for the inspiration! It’s  amazing to see readers finding ways to make these designs  their own. This is probably the best example I’ve seen to date. Thanks for sharing and I encourage other readers to share any projects they may have tackled over the course of the last three years since Made by Hand was published. I love seeing variations on the designs and hearing from readers from all over this truly amazing planet we share.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A New Review

I just received the new issue of Wood News Online, the monthly newsletter by Highland Woodworking. I always like reading this newsletter as it’s been full of great information. The new video series, The Highland Woodworker has also been great to watch. Only two episodes in but it’s a great show…and free if you can believe that! The first episode was with Roy Underhill and the last one featured Brian Boggs and Ron Brese. Great to see these guys in action and get a glimpse into their work shops.
I was surprised to see a new review for my book- Made by Hand at the top of this new issue and thought I’d share it here.

Made by Hand: A Delightful Journey into the
World of Hand Tool Possibilities

by J. Norman Reid
Delaplane, Virginia

Working wood by hand is becoming increasingly popular. What’s the attraction? Perhaps it’s the elimination of noxious dust, the satisfaction of building something beautiful entirely by hand, achieving closer tolerances than are possible with powered machines, or working quietly and achieving a deeper intimacy with the wood that’s our medium of expression.
Whatever the reason for choosing to work with hand tools, Fidgen’s book is a diverting introduction to working wood by hand. Written in a highly accessible style, more like a conversation with a woodworking friend than a beginner’s manual, Fidgen explains the essentials for setting up a hand tool shop—basic tools, sharpening, constructing key appliances, processes for design and construction—then progresses to six innovative and beautiful projects, each building on skills developed in constructing the previous ones.
He begins with tools: layout tools, cutting tools, hand planes, special-purpose planes and tools, and chisels. He gives an introductory discussion of sharpening, urging the use of honing guides to assure consistency in the shape of the cutting edges.
Next he covers several appliances to guide and ease handwork: bench hooks, miter hooks, shooting boards, winding sticks and workhorses or, as he calls them, shop ‘bents.’ For each of these, Fidgen discusses and illustrates their construction—perhaps these will be your first handmade projects—but provides little information about their use.
He next progresses to processes of construction. Included are making a cut list, selecting wood, planing, sawing, cutting dovetails and making mortises and tenons. Readers will find these sections interesting and useful, though more detailed treatments are available elsewhere.
The second half of the book consists of six projects that build on each other and so are intended to be undertaken in sequence. The first is a cabinetmaker’s tool chest, a small handheld case to carry hand tools to a job site or store them in the woodshop. Following that is a hanging wall cabinet featuring half-blind dovetails, sliding dovetails, a pair of inside drawers and a single-board door. Third is a side table that bears hints of the Shaker style but is clearly modern in design. This project employs six different joints and is intended to stretch your hand tool skills one step further. The next project is a charming small bookcase that features through tenons and front doors with mullions backed by Japanese paper. After that comes a cabinet with six drawers and a door on the left side. The final project is a hunt board or sideboard with sliding panel doors.
The book concludes with a gallery of some of Fidgen’s other work that is intended to inspire other possibilities with handwork.
The large-format, beautifully illustrated book is accompanied by a 45-minute DVD that gives a personal overview of the tools Fidgen employs in his hand tool-only workshop. Introduced by a song, “Working Wood,” written and performed admirably by Fidgen himself, the DVD contains recommendations and tips on selecting, buying and what’s essential for getting started with hand tools.
In sum, I found this book a pleasure to read. For the armchair woodworker, it’s a delightful journey into the world of possibilities. For the beginning hand tool worker, it provides enough information to get you started. The experienced hand tool enthusiast will already know much of what he presents but may find the review enjoyable and the projects inspirational. In short, there’s a little something for everyone here.