Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Different Woods and Metal Finishes

I'm occasionally ask if I grow tired of making the same model plane time after time. The short answer is "no". Every plane is a challenge and there are a myriad of different woods, metals and metal finishes to try and combine into one plane assembly and that is what keeps every plane build fresh.

The wood in and of itself is enough to keep someone like myself entertained with the work. I've just recently completed a plane of the Winter Smoother variety. The choice of wood for this plane was Macassar ebony. For a real classic look it's hard to beat a darker wood and  Macassar has the added benefit of a variegation in color. Almost as if someone swirled milk chocolate and dark chocolate together and then set the mixture up into a very hard substance.

The Macassar ebony is quite hard and it's of those woods that can cause one to use a few expletives in the process of making it what you want it to be. Of course most woods that are very challenging to work also yield a nice reward for perseverance, for when the finish flows on you're remind of why you chose that particular material.

This tool features an 0-1 tool steel body with a ground finish on the interior and a lapped satin finish on the exterior of the plane body. The brass lever cap, screw and knob seat has a patina'd finish applied and is then oiled and cooked overnight in the finishing kiln to ensure a thorough cure of the oil finish. It's a unique look and also offers the added benefit of the brass actually having a finish and this cuts down on the maintenance required to keep brass bright or even satin which for me is the preferable way to have bright brass. Highly polished brass shows finger prints so readily it's just not a reasonable finish to have on a tool that's meant to be used.

Each plane also presents a challenge to machine parts to very tight tolerances and most people that pursue similar work are typically striving to make the next plane better than the previous tools. You can call it an obsessive compulsion, but believe me it comes with the mindset for doing this work. I was once giving a presentation to the Athens Georgia Woodworkers club. After my presentation a Sociology professor at U.G.A. approached me and said "Ron, you may be one of the most down to earth, obsessive, compulsive people I'ver ever met",....I thought about that just a bit trying to decide if this statement was a compliment or what, I finally just replied "thank you" and decided to ponder that comment on the way home..........


Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Friend is Declining

At breakfast this morning Julie and I were discussing how wonderful being a part of the hand tool woodworking community has been for us. We've met so many wonderful people of extremely high character and intelligence and we have friends literally all over the world as a result of our business pursuit.

We even spent our 40th wedding anniversary at HandWorks this past year and thought nothing of it except that it was very fitting to celebrate among the people that have meant so much to us.

Unfortunately you have to take the bad with the good and this week we've received reports of the rapid decline of our wonderful friend Fred West. Many of you saw the tribute to Fred not long ago on the Lost Art Press blog. None of us had a clue that things would change so rapidly for Fred. We've been told that at this point it's just a matter of time before Fred will be leaving this world. He's at home resting comfortably.

Myself, Fred and Mike Peters at Handworks, in the box was a plane that Fred commissioned me to make as a gift for Mike, Yep, he was that kind of guy

When I was last in Fred's presence we were sitting in the family room at the home of Jameel Abraham and family the day after HandWorks. Don Williams was giving a pictorial review of the occasion when he performed the restoration of the Mace of the United States House of Representatives. Fred and the rest of us were very privileged to witness this personal presentation and it was a special time for all present.

My first inclination was to travel to West Chester, Pa. to see Fred but given the level of pain medication that Fred is being given he most likely would not know I was present. Many of us will suffer from this same dilemma and for those I suggest you just think back to last time you spent time with Fred and cherish the memory of our wonderful friend. I'm sure that will be quite okay with Fred, he was always a giver and he did so graciously with no expectations.

I hate blogging with a heavy heart and presenting bad news is never fun, but like I stated have take the bad with the good.


At approximately 1:30 pm on this day Fred passed surrounded by Friends, Family........and his tools

Friday, January 3, 2014

Resolutions..... Not New Year's

I've made some resolutions this year but they started back at the end of July when Julie and I traveled to Vermont to meet the newest member of our family. Have you been to Vermont? In the little town of Waitsfield lives the healthiest looking population of people that I've observed anywhere. Young and Old they are the fittest, healthiest looking bunch anywhere.  At that time I had accumulated some girth.....okay, I had been getting fat. 

Walking up the hill to the grocery store in Waitsfield was causing my body some distress. That's when I decided something had to be done and when I stepped upon the scales I came to the realization that I was exactly the same weight as when I went on my last diet 15 years ago. Among the fit people of Waitsfield I felt like a whale.

When I returned home I started a life style change. Notice I did not say diet. I did not start a fad diet that promised to take off 15 pounds in 1 1/2 weeks. Like I said I started a life style change. I began walking a manageable distance twice a day. In this route was a long steep hill and once again, like walking up the hill to the grocery store in Waitsfield, I was reminded twice a day why I need to do this. I also began eating less than 2000 calories a day. I limited my intake of refined sugar and start eating more fruit and nuts for snacks in lieu of processed good. I don't know exactly how much weight I've dropped but my waist size has been reduced 2", I wear a size large shirt now in lieu of the extra large I had been requiring, oh and now I've progressed to walking a minimum of 2 miles everyday and somedays I walk that distance twice. The biggest benefit is, I feel better and as an added benefit I'm a more productive person in the shop.

The shop is my other resolution. Just prior to Christmas my shop had gradually become an unorganized mess. In my haste to get things completed and shipped I had been lax in the daily clean up. I felt as though I was working in a bit of a "pig sty" and just could not go forward in those conditions. The weekend before New Years I added two new rolling tool chest to my storage options and performed what I call a "back to ground zero", or back to the starting point type clean up.

This type clean up is when you basically touch everything in the shop and you clean out corners and other spots that haven't been visited by a shop vac in quite some time.

There hasn't been this much room to the right of my table saw in 2 years

You might ask, "why would a person that's a woodworker and plane maker use rolling steel tool chest?" The short answer is time. I needed organization now and with my present schedule there is no way I could take time to build similar storage. In this case it's done and I'm back to making planes.

I also plan to complete the finishing of the interior walls of my shop, having almost everything on wheels will greatly facilitate that project. But that's another resolution, for another time.