Hi guys, welcome to another edition of Behind the Sawdust, our weekly-ish vlog about what goes on when the cameras are off at the Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal shops.
It’s actually been pretty quiet, at least on the production side of things. We got so buried with preparations for some upcoming public events that we had to combine the August issue with the September issue, and release it as a double-issue after WIA in mid-September. I hated doing that, but it’s the only way we are going to get things done. I am calling this next month, from now until that issue release, “Hell month.” I got the idea from the grueling final part of the training US Navy Seals go through. They call it “Hell week.” And I like to think what I do is at least as hard as becoming a Navy Seal, as my steely gaze and manly physique proves. Like I told you in the last episode, I’ll be at the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta next weekly then I’m doing a book signing in the Detroit area, then teaching at Woodworking in America, and finally another book signing near Chicago. But it’s not the events that take up the most time, it’s the preparations. Take IWF for example.
My job at IWF in Atlanta next week will be to meet Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal subscribers and other fans of what we do, but also to showcase the products of the sponsors that are footing the bill. I can’t just stand around looking handsome, posing for photos like I did the last time I was in Atlanta for the Video Woodworker’s booth. I have to be doing something that shows how I use my Sjobergs workbench and my Tormek sharpening system. No big deal, right? I mean, I use those things all the time. But it’s different when you take them out of my workshop and put them in the world’s largest woodworking show. I get a little bit nervous. What am I going to do that’s interesting to watch live? I can’t build jigs because I won’t have a table saw. I can’t build furniture with hand tools because it just isn’t practical to get all of those expensive tools there, and keep them safe. So I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what would be the best project to make, which would showcase the features of both the workbench, and the sharpening system; would require a minimum number of tools; and would be interesting to watch and talk about among the crowds that will surely flock to see me. I mean, after all, there’s going to be a 9’ tall banner with my big fat face on it. That’s sure to draw crowds!
So I decided to learn wood carving. Yes, I decided to learn an entirely new skill over the course of a few weeks just to keep the masses entertained at WIA. That’s dedication. I’m not an expert by any means, but I can do enough to impress the ladies. And it’s an ideal task for showcasing the bench and sharpening system. How else am I going to keep all of those gouges sharp? I don’t have time to learn hand sharpening AND carving. Luckily the Tormek is pretty much idiot proof. With one little jig I can sharpen every profile. So I signed up for Mary May’s online carving school, and learned to cut dogwood blossoms from basswood. I made a lot of mistakes, but I managed to re-work the design to incorporate them, so it came out fine. And that was it. One lesson was all I had time for. I made myself a diploma, had a party and officially labeled myself a wood carver.
But what am I going to carve at WIA? I can’t just carve dogwood blossoms all day, every day. That would get old fast. And while it would showcase the capabilities of the Tormek, it doesn’t do a whole lot for the Sjobergs bench. I needed something that would incorporate a few woodworking tasks into my wood carving. So I got out some old, reclaimed pine car-siding that I’ve been saving for the last sixty years and started cleaning it up for milling. I always think better when I’m brushing cobwebs and mouse turds of old lumber. Of course that’s not the only reason I use my fancy triple-laminated wire brush on rough lumber. I also do it because it gets rid of all the grit that would otherwise dull my jointer and planer knives. Well, it didn’t take long before I was marking out the good pieces and lost in the moment, my worries carried away in a light cloud of floating rodent poo. I knew what I was going to make. Boxes. But not just any boxes. Carved boxes. And not just any carved boxes. Carved wine gift boxes. Everybody likes wine, right? And the only thing better than a nice bottle of wine is getting one as a gift. And the only thing better than getting one as a gift, is getting it in a nice gift box, handmade from antique reclaimed pine that has been cleaned of all traces of feces. So I milled up a bunch of boards, and since I won’t have access to a table saw at the show, I cut all of the parts to size in my shop. We’ll put together a video about these boxes for the August/September issue.
Anyway. these types of sliding lid boxes are usually put together with simple rabbet joints. But I wanted the process to more interesting for the folks at the show to watch. So I decided to dovetail them. I wanted to make one ahead of time so it could sit on the bench, and people there would see it and know what the heck I was making. Plus, my hand-cut dovetail skills are a little out of practice lately, so I needed the warm-up. Anyway, I dovetailed the four corners, only messing up three of them, and then it occurred to me that I would also have to cut grooves for the top and bottom panels. How am I going to do that at the show? I don’t want to have to take another tool, like a plow plane or a router plane. So I decided to cut all of the grooves on the parts ahead of time.
For this I used my Ready2Rout automatic fence and lift. No, they are not a sponsor. I just love the thing and I thought it was a little ironic to be using a high tech, computerized router to cut grooves in antique pine for an old-timey hand tool project. I think that’s what irony means, right? Or does it mean made entirely of iron? So I routed all the parts and shrink-wrapped them in small bundles so the moisture changes won’t cause them to cup between now and when I actually use them. You can’t cut good dovetails on stock that isn’t flat. And even though I dovetailed one box in the shop, I plan on dovetailing the rest at the show.
Now, for the carving I decided to do a grape design on the lid. For these I used thick basswood because it’s easy to carve and still looks a lot like pine. Choosing grapes may have been a mistake, though. They are a lot of work! This design is way more complex than my dogwood blossoms! It took about eight or ten hours to carve one lid. I don’t know how many hours of actual carving time I will have at the show, but that seems like too much if I want to get two or three boxes made there. So I may have to simplify the design. Maybe I’ll do some leaves and cut out the grapes. Or maybe some flowers. I don’t know, we’ll see.
Anyway, I got my test box finished so I knew exactly what tools I needed to take, and I started piling them on my bench, hoping they would all fit in a small crate. It took some creative packing, but I managed to get it all in. I was uneasy about putting some of the expensive tools in the crate, I would have preferred to carry them on the plane with me. But ever since those terrorist woodworkers tried to hijack a plane with a dovetail saw, you know how security can be. So I shrink-wrapped the whole thing and drove it to Affinity Tools, the US distributer for Tormek and Sjobergs that also happens to be about two hours from my shop. They’ll ship it with their other stuff to Atlanta for me.
Now, that covers the preparations for IWF, besides for the mundane stuff like packing extra silk boxers and getting my malaria vaccine. For us northerners, going down to Atlanta is like traveling to Rio. But I do hope to bring back some gold medals and maybe a few good stories that I can tell you about in our next episode. In the meantime, be sure to support our sponsors who make it possible for us to produce this and all of our other woodworking goodness over at Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal. You’ll find links to their websites in the notes below the video, and if you click them all, you get to sit back and have a cold one, because you’ve earned it my friend! (Cold one not included.)
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