Thursday, March 17, 2016

Steam-Bent Spooncarving Class April 2nd and 3rd


I'm teaching a steam-bent spooncarving workshop at Plymouth CRAFT the weekend of April 2nd and 3rd and there are still a couple of openings to get in on it. Plymouth CRAFT is an exceptional, relatively young, organization that is offering classes in everything from greenwoodworking to fiber arts to cooking with fire.

My course is listed as one of their upcoming events, but while you are at their website, take a minute to look around and check out their other great offerings.  They are doing things that no other school is doing, and you won't meet a nicer group of people than those who run the organization.  Everyone is exceptional and I am thrilled to be associated with them in any way that I can be.

This class is a great opportunity to learn to carve elegant spoons and to try your hand at steam bending. If you've been thinking about building chairs, but you are intimidated by the bends, this weekend will get you over that hump.  Or maybe you just want to carve spoons.  Bending the blanks is a great way to create unique flowing forms that function as nicely as they look.


We'll be prepping blanks for bending at the shaving horse with drawknives and then after the bends have set, we'll move on to carving with knives and gouges.  It is fast and fun process.

 Hope to see you there!

Friday, December 18, 2015

More Chiavari Chair Videos

The lightly built and elegant Chiavari chairs continue to fascinate and inspire me.  I recently stumbled on some new to me videos from some of the well known Italian makers.  The first is my favorite, I love the sounds.  If you aren't familiar with these chairs check out the seat weaving!!  Truly astounding.  Notice how the pace of the video is rapid fire until they get to the seat weaving.  Seems about right to me.

 This one is subtitled.  I can't get enough of this stuff.

Another quick one of the seat weaving.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Use Your Reamer to Make a Matching Tenon Cutter

With a reamer and a matching tenon cutter, making perfect fitting tapered mortise and tenons is a breeze.  Recently, I've been trying to come up with a simple process to make a first rate tenon cutter to match the reamers that I sell.  This is the simplest that I've come up with.  If you want detailed instructions read the text, but you can probably follow the process from the pictures alone.

Start by drilling a hole (the size of the narrow end of your desired tenon) through a block of wood.  The block of wood should be close to square in cross section and it should match the width of the blade you plan to use for the cutter.  For this rounder I used a two inch wide blade, so I started with a two inch square piece of wood that was about ten inches long.  Drill the hole closer to one edge, but far enough away from it that there will still be material between the edge of the blank and the edge of the reamed hole.

Sighting to make sure the reaming is staying on course.

Ream the full depth of the hole so that the reamer is just barely cutting at the narrow.  I hold both the reamer and the tenon cutter blank in my hands and turn them both.  In hard wood, this will require some torque and it may be easier on your hands to clamp the blank to the benchtop and use two hands on the reamer.  I like to hold both in my hands so that I can flip them over and check the narrow end to make sure the small end of the reamer stays roughly centered in the hole as I ream.

The marks in the hole show that the reamer has cut the full depth.

When you can see that the reamer has cut the full depth of the blank.  Stop reaming.

The pencil line in the photo above describes the waste portion of the blank, which will be cut away.  My goal when cutting away the waste is to leave a sliver of material still connecting the hole at the wide end.  I do this at my bandsaw with my bandsaw fence, but you could plane it all off or use a tablesaw.  It doesn't matter how, but all the material above the hole has to be removed.

This will leave just a sliver of wood above the hole on the wide side and a more substantial amount on the narrow end of the taper.  Plane the thicker side so that there is an equal amount of wood above the hole on both faces of the blank.

Note that in this picture the waste has been sawn off, but you are viewing the blank from the narrow side which is why there is so much material still above the top edge of the hole.

Edge of the hole peeking through the face.

Plane until the edge of the hole starts to come through the face that you are planing.  Try to keep the width of the opening equal across the face of the blank as you plane down.   When the width of the opening is even across the blank I clean up the edges of the opening with a knife and start to test the cutting action of the blank.

Width of the opening is now even across the width of the blank.

Lines layed out across the blank.  Excess is trimmed away with a knife.

Blade clamped in place to check the cut.

This part in the process is where this tenon cutter shines.  With the blade in place, I use a hammer to tap the blade into place and check the cutting action.  In the photo above, you can see that the blade is just barely cutting.  If I adjust the blade forward or back, it stops cutting.  So to get the tool to work correctly I need to plane a little bit more off the face of the blank, which will make the blade cut more aggressively.  I took a couple of passes with a handplane and then re-tested with the blade.

There's that pencil sharpener shaving I was looking for.

When your tenon cutter is working properly it should cut along the full width and the tenon should fit tightly in the hole at both sides with no space visible between the tenon and the cutter.  When using thin blades, like the old Stanley stock blades, the clamp has to be positioned relatively close to the cutting edge.  It matters less with thicker blades that are less prone to deflection.

I clamp the tenon cutter to my workbench and turn the spindle through the cutter with my hands.

I'm dreaming up more elegant blade clamping systems for a commercial version that I will probably offer for sale at some point, but the simple cutter illustrated above functions perfectly and can easliy be made in under an hour and yields perfectly sized tenons every time.  The process is the same for making tenon cutters for straight tenons.

These cutters are easy to tune and so fast to make that you can have a small arsenal of them on hand for creating a wide range of tenon sizes, tapered and straight.  And they finally give you a use for all those vintage Stanley blades you have tucked away in drawers and boxes.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Skin on Frame Kayak: Bending in the Ribs

Most builders of skin on frame kayaks don't build their boats on a strongback with molds.  I chose to use molds in building this boat because I was trying to exactly replicate Brian Schulz's design.  I used the molds to hold all the longitudinal members (gunnels, chines, and keelson) in place.  Then I used this structure as a jig to bend the ribs to the correct shape.  The process was effective, but inefficient and inelegant.  I'll be building future kayaks without molds.

The ribs are 1" wide and 1/4" thick hard maple.  I soaked the maple in water until it reached the fiber saturation point.  You can tell that the wood is at fiber saturation by measuring it with dial calipers.  When the wood stops swelling, it has absorbed all of the water that it can into it's cellular structure.  In the steambox, water in the wood acts as a conductor of heat from the steam.  When the wood is full of water (fiber saturation) the heat transfer from the steam to the wood is better.

Throwback.  Coopering class at Country Workshops 2010.

I've been fortunate to have several opportunities to learn from woodworking genius Carl Swensson.  I cannot say enough good things about Carl.  He doesn't teach much, usually one class every summer at Country Workshops, but seize the opportunity to learn from him.  During my summer internship at Country Workshops in 2010 I took Carl's coopering class.  He developed a brilliant technique to limber the wood that becomes the coopered bucket's hoops.  The heart of the technique is a simple compression strap limbering jig.

The jig is a compression strap with two end blocks that can be clamped in a workbench vise.  The wood is placed between the end blocks, pulled into a tight spiral, then opened, flipped, and bent into a spiral with the opposite face on the inside of the bend.  The strap takes on the tension load of the bend, forcing the wood into compression.  The result is a super-compressed blank that can be taken out of the strap and pretty much tied into knots long after the wood cools down.

The technique works great for the hoops of Carl's coopered buckets and I thought it would be perfect for bending the deep v-shaped ribs in the bow of the kayak.  The resulting super-compressed wood is mostly unbreakable and the bends are very stable and do not spring back.

Lots of clamps.

I bent all twenty ribs into place without breaking one of them.  I hope this technique is useful to other skin on frame kayak builders.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Skin on Frame Kayak: Fitting the Deckbeams

One of the challenges of building things that are all curves and no squares is figuring out how to bring all of the parts together without an advanced degree in mathematics.  The front three deckbeams of this kayak are curved and they are tenoned into the gunwales which are sprung out to shape at a 25 degree angle.

A couple of minutes with a scrap of wood, a bevel gauge, and a pencil gave me the offset that I needed to be able to scribe the shoulders of my tenon with the deckbeams clamped in place.

A spacer creates the offset and extends the angle of the gunnel across the deckbeam.

Repeat the process on the other side, connect the lines from one side to the other, and lay out a 3/8" tenon to end up with something like this.

Saw away the waste...

And a little paring leaves a tenon that is ready to slide into it's mortise after rounding the corners.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

This Luddite's on Instagram...

It's fair to say that nothing I do is insta.  When I wanted a kayak to do some exploring on the coast near where I live, I spent two months of the paddling season building a skin-on-frame kayak.  This winter when I got into cross country skiing, I spent most of the ski season making myself a new pair of skis.  When I get in the kitchen to cook dinner, I usually start by caramelizing onions to a deep, rich brown.

After a year of goading and encouragement by friends, (mostly from Caleb James) I recently joined Instagram.  If you look to the right on this blog, you will now see a link to my Instagram feed.  I've been posting for a couple of weeks and so far it's been fun.  It gives me the opportunity to share the small things that I wouldn't write a blog post about and I'm starting to see some interesting woodworking that I would have no other way to see.

If you want to follow what I am posting there my username is tim.manney.  You can use the Instagram app or just click the photo link to the right which will take you to my feed.  Expect a lot of spoon carving, toolmaking, chairs, and skin on frame kayaks.  I'll try to keep the thigh gap selfies to a minimum.  Promise.

I'll also be posting pictures of tools for sale when I have them in stock, or when I use materials that are not my standard options,  like these curly maple reamers I've been finishing up.

This batch is all spoken for, but I'll I have about 12 more in a couple of weeks.  They will be $135 each.  Email me or comment if you are interested.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Steam Bent Spoon Blanks

Perfect crooks for spoon carving are rare in the wild, so I've taken to shaving blanks that follow the wood fibers and then steam bending them into the perfect crooks that my heart so desires to carve into spoons.  I lose some of the romance of searching for, finding, and working with a curve that was grown by a tree, but I gain a limitless supply of perfect crooked spoon blanks that are a true joy to carve.  

Because these blanks have no twisting, curling, or knotty fibers, they finish carve beautifully.  This makes it easier to leave the nice, long, consistent knife marks that are one of the calling cards of skillful spoon carving.

The process begins with a straight section of spoon carving wood and a froe.  I'm carving mostly red maple and paper birch these days.

I sight down the blank to orient the split in a way that avoids small knots.
Then tap the froe in...
and pull back...
to yield two halves.
I like to take a moment to look over the blanks and get myself oriented.

Then onto the shaving horse... create a flat face that perfectly follows the wood fibers.
You know you've got it right when the wood cuts cleanly in both directions and the grain runs in straight lines from one end to the other.
Not quite there.  Notice the tearing on the right hand side and the V shaped grain lines starting a couple of inches in front of the shaving horse jaw.  It is a little hard to see on the red maple, but look closely.

Grain lines that run from one end of the blank to the other tell you that the blank follows the wood fibers.

I trim the edges square to the face.  I like to keep the blank a little wider than the spoon I will be carving.

I scribe the blank to 5/8" thickness.

...and shave to the scribed line.

I like the grain pattern inside the bowl when the bark side of the blank is the top side of the spoon.  The top of the spoon will be against the bending form.

I mark the outside of the bend so that I don't get turned around when the blank is hot from the steam box.

Basic bending form shape with blank in position.

Half an hour of steam and a couple of clamps create the bend.

Twelve hours later the blank has set enough to remove from the form and start carving.

Some of the fibers tore on the outside of this blank.

I shave down below the torn fibers...

...and then follow the newly exposed layer of fibers from one end of the blank to the other.

That nice flat surface is ideal for layout.

The back of the bowl should begin a little bit up the curve, for looks.

If you carve them fast these bent blanks are soft, like green wood. which they are!  But you'll want to carve them fast because at close to 1/2" thickness they dry out quickly and become more difficult to work with.  I have a handful of spoons and spatulas that I have bent like this that are in constant use.  Over the past year and a half the bends have opened very little.

Give it a try!  Spoons carved from these blanks can be very thin because they perfectly follow the grain and the sinuous curves make for beautiful, sweeping shapes.

Here is a link to pictures of an eating spoon that I carved like this last year.