Welcome back to behind the sawdust, our weekly-ish vlog that takes a look at what goes on when the cameras are off here in the Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal Shops. We asked subscribers of Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal to send us their questions. Today we’ll answer some of them. This is going to be fun!
Q- Who did you learn woodworking from?
A- I actually grew up in a family full of welders. My great-grandfather and his four brothers were iron worker from the early days of Detroit and I used to watch him as an old man making things with scrap iron in his garage. My grandfather was a well driller and he was always making his own tools and jigs to solve problems on the job. My father was a window cleaner and then a locksmith and he was always welding scaffolding or other tools. So tinkering and making things is sort of in my DNA. But when I was a kid, I couldn’t use the welder. All I was allowed to use were a few hand tools, and I had limited access to my grandfather’s big pile of old boards. No glue, and no new nails. I would pull out and straighten the old nails I found in the wood and then recycle the materials into whatever I could. I found that I liked wood because it wasn’t as dirty and greasy as iron. So while most of my cousins went into iron work, I just stuck with wood. In fact, other than a cordless drill and a little electric sander, I only used hand tools until I was about thirty years old; then, as I had the money and the space I started buying some power tools and machines. But my progression was always tied to the tools I had, so I learned the craft slowly, one project at a time, learning each lesson through experience and mistakes. Then, the internet came along and I discovered fine woodworkers like Charles Neil and others and that when I really started learning, and I still am.
Q- Are Mustache Mike and Chip family members?
A- People ask that all the time. If I had a mustache and a little more grey in my hair, and I was a lot less good looking, the Stash and I would look like twins. So, yes, we are related. He’s my father. Chip is also related, he’s my step-brother. His real name is Matthew. He’s always been in a wheelchair because he was born with spinabifida. He also looks a lot younger than he is, I think he’s 25 or something. And his nose is a lot bigger in real life than it is on camera.
Q- Where did you get the name Stumpy Nubs?
A- That’s a long story…. Actually, it’s not. It’s not even an interesting story. But, here goes… Back when I first started making videos, YouTube was a much smaller place. There weren’t nearly as many channels at all, let alone woodworking channels. But pretty much everyone had a nickname they used for their channel. So I wanted to pick one that people would remember, and nobody forgets a woodworker with a name like Stumpy Nubs. So, it has nothing to do with a horrific shop accident or anything like that, it’s a marketing thing. My friends and family call me Jim, and because I write books and teach using James Hamilton, I have started using that at the beginning of videos now. But it’s not an official change away from Stumpy Nubs. I still embrace it, people at woodworking shows and other events still call me Stumpy, we call our e-magazine Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal, you are going to see it in a lot more places in the coming months, including some products. So stay tuned.
Q- How big is your workshop?
A- We actually have two workshops. This shop is for hand tools and commercially made power tools, and it’s 17X24 feet with nice, high 10 foot ceilings. This is where we make jigs and test out tools for reviews and it’s also where do we most of the filming. The other shop is a little bit smaller and it’s full of homemade woodworking tools and jigs that I designed and built. All of those homemade machines you see me make in videos and in the project plans we have on our website- those actually get used regularly making small projects in the other shop, including a lot of the non-jig related projects you see in our videos. So it is nice to have two shops, but neither one is particularly large. I think I may add on to this one in a year or two. We’ll see.
Q- Is that a green screen behind you in the videos, or are those hand tools real?
A- I had a guy one time that left some comments on a video who just refused to believe I wasn’t using a green screen. He said I took a picture of some old guy’s shop and was pretending it was mine. I told him to go back and look at how the wall changes over time in different videos, and how I use some of the tools in the hand tool videos we’ve made. But he wasn’t buying it. And other people ask once in a while too. So let me prove it is not a green screen by moving some tools around.
I love hand tools. Remember, I didn’t use many power tools until the last several years. And it’s not just the tools themselves that I love, it’s also the history behind them. I am a big history buff, so it’s amazing to me to hold a plane used by some woodworker 200 years ago like some of these molding planes. I find hand tool use relaxing, but also very time consuming. So I don’t get to use them nearly as often as I would like. But I still keep adding to my collection with the hopes that someday I will get to work with them more. In the meantime I use as many as I can and we’ve been trying to show how some of them work in some of our new videos for Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal, so if you’re into hand tools, keep an eye out for that.
By the way, we do have a green screen here in the shop, but we don’t use it much. I think we’ve done one video with it in the last two years, and that was obviously a green screen video.
Q- Have you ever met Roy Underhill? What’s he like?
A- Yes, I know Roy. I wouldn’t say we do sleep-overs at each other’s houses or anything. But I’ve met him on several occasions. He and I did a presentation together at Woodworking in America in Kansas City last year. We talked in front of the audience about the early days of his show, our favorite tools, that sort of thing. There’s some video of it online. I’ll put a link in the notes below the video. What’s he like? He’s a performer. He started out as a theater major in college and the woodworking came later. So whenever Roy is around, he’s going to put on a show. He loves to talk and he’s always very friendly. I’ve seen him drop everything to take photos with fans. I think he knows he’s an icon, but he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. But when I say he likes to perform, I really mean he seems to enjoy every moment of it. I remember just recently we were in an elevator together. It was myself and my wife and Roy and this gigantic tool chest he was pulling on wheels, crammed into an elevator. And it had been a long day and you could tell he just wanted to get to his hotel across the street. He even got a little frustrated with the buttons that weren’t working right, probably because the tool chest was putting the elevator over weight. Anyway, we get downstairs and he drags the tool chest out of the building, and outside there are about a half dozen woodworkers gathered and you could see him instantly cheer up and shift right into character. He drug that tool chest right down the middle of the street, right there in Cincinnati with cars lining up behind him. Right through the intersection like he was towing a trailer and into the hotel across the street where he was staying. It looked like the opening scene to the Woodwright’s shop where this country woodworker is trying to get away from the big city. So, it’s always a good time when Roy is around.
Q- Is there a rule of thumb for how deep a mortise should be?
A- Yes, there is a rule. For centuries the general rule (I say general because while you find it in books, you don’t always find it followed in actually furniture) is a tenon should be 5 times as long as it is thick. So it would stand to reason that the mortise would be sized to fit. But there are a lot of factors that might cause you to deviate from that rule. For example, if your tenon is 3/8” thick, that would mean it should be just over 2” long. But maybe your mating piece isn’t thick enough for a 2” deep blind mortise? So you would have to go shorter. Or maybe you have room for an even deeper mortise, so you decide to go 3” long to help counteract racking forces in that particular joint. So, there really isn’t a hard, fast rule that you absolutely must follow. There are also some standards regarding thickness and width of a tenon, but that’s an entirely different set of what-ifs. Maybe we’ll make a video about it sometime.
Q- I'm pretty big on working safely, you know, like Safety Dan. However, in the last six months I've driven two nails into my fingers with an air compressor nail gun. Have you ever had this problem?
A- Ouch! In my experience, nail gun accidents almost always happen when two things are going on. Either the user is trying to get things done way to fast and so he’s not paying attention, or worse yet, he’s disabled the safety device that keeps the gun from firing unless it is pressed against the wood. If you haven’t messed with the safety, and you are watching where you stick the shooting end, and you still get shot twice in six months, sue the manufacturer. That said, there is a third way you can get hurt, and this has actually happened to me. I once misjudged the length of the nail and I was holding my work piece while shooting a nail into the other side. It came through and got me. That is what we call stupidity. Don’t do that.
Q- I’m cutting down a tree to use for live edge furniture. How much thicker should I cut the boards to allow for milling once they have air-dried?
A- I really can’t give you a set percentage because it depends on a lot of different factors. For one thing, the way you dry your lumber will make a big difference in how much twist and cup and warp you end up having to mill away. Assuming you stack and dry it properly and the movement is minimal, you will take a much smaller percentage of the whole off a 12/4 board compared to a 4/4 one. I look at it this way. When I buy dried lumber from a mill, it’s reasonably straight, especially once I cut it down to furniture size pieces of 4 feet long or so. A 4/4 board is usually a little thicker, maybe 1 1/8”. And I can often get about 7/8” out of that. If it’s a true 4/4 or one-inch board, I’ll get at least ¾” once I mill it. So, I would suggest giving yourself about ¼” extra, or 3/8” if you haven’t ever dried your own lumber before. And I would also run that by someone like Matthew Cremona or one of these other guys online that have a lot of experience cutting and milling their own trees. I’ll put a link to Mat’s website in the notes below the video. Tell him I sent you.
Q- If you could take one tool to the afterlife, what would it be?
A- I suppose that would depend on where you think you will be going after death, doesn’t it? I don’t think I want to touch that one, so let’s do the deserted Island thing. Assuming I was stranded on a island with electricity if I wanted it, I would want to take a bow staff, in case there are any roving gangs that want to recruit me for my skills. That’s a napoleon Dynamite reference. You probably don’t get it. Seriously though, I would have to say an axe. In the old days a man could walk into the forest with nothing but an axe and use it to clear land, build a home, fight off Indians. In fact, didn’t Roy Underhill write a book about going into the woods with an ax and making a house and everything in it. I’m not sure you could do everything with an axe, but it is far more versatile than any other woodworking tool, in my opinion. I suspect this one will lead to a lot of different opinions in the comments.
That’s all the time we have for this edition of behind the Sawdust. We have a lot more questions to answer, so maybe we’ll make this a regular thing. Maybe once a month we’ll do a question and answer episode. So leave your questions below, or on our Facebook page. And don’t forget to visit our sponsors. They are very important to us, we couldn’t make all of the free videos we produce without them paying the bills. So by visiting their websites, even for just a minute, you are supporting us. I really appreciate it. Then you can sit back with the latest issue of Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal over at stumpynubs.com and have yourself a cold one, because you’ve earned it my friend!
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