Curly wood is truly a beautiful sight to behold. The chatoyance is amazing and the curlier the wood the more pronounced the effect will be. The property of the wood that gives it such an amazing appearance is that the grain of the wood is not straight and smooth but is instead highly convoluted. When a board composed of curly grain is cut into a board, the flat side of the board reveals a cross-section of all those waves.
What Is Figured Wood?
Instead of looking at the face of a figured wood, look instead at the side grain or end grain, which reveals a great deal about how the wood grew to give the effect you are seeing. The picture at the left reveals the side-grain of a piece of curly makore (from my 5th wedding anniversary
project). If you look carefully at the grain, you can see waves moving away from you and back towards you. The face of the board has cut across all these waves, and shows a profile of wood grain in smooth transitions from one angle to another, then back again.
The problem with curly or other highly figured woods is that the constantly changing grain angles causes havoc with tools that rely on a straight grain, or on your ability to cut with the grain. If you were to pass the above piece of curly makore through a surface planer, you would get alternating smooth and rough patches. In the worst case, you would get gouges where the blades of the planer will have lifted up the grain and pulled a chunk of wood out of your beautiful board. Even thoughts of sending this board through a router should make you think twice or thrice about safety and extra precautions that you can take to protect yourself and your wood from hazardous kickbacks.
Scraper To The Rescue!
Of course, this is precisely where hand tools can have an advantage. A hand plane might still have trouble with the grain on figured woods, but a scraper is exactly the tool that you need to dress the surface of figured woods! First, a bit of a clarification: A scraper does not "quite" scrape. It is instead a very high-angle hand-plane over which you have control of the blade height and the force that is used on the wood.
At its core, a scraper is simply a thin piece of metal that is pushed across a surface to remove small amounts of wood. The edge of the metal is dressed with an edging tool that adds a small curved profile, giving the scraper the required "bite". Proper technique on burnishing the edge and using the scraper can be covered in another posting, if someone asks...
Holding the scraper card can be a challenging experience, especially on hard woods or when alot of material must be removed. The thumbs are used to curve the card and to apply pressure, and after a while the hands get tired and the workmanship can get sloppy.
Veritas Scraper Holder to the rescue! I wanted to show you the Veritas Scraper Holder (part number 05K33.01
) (Unfortunately, Rockler
does not carry Veritas equipment) They have put alot of time and effort to get this tool to work the way it does and feel as comfortable as it does, and it shows! The holder has a nice ergonomic place for your thumbs, and it is dead simple to set the card's curve (see the big dial at the front?).
So, how well does it work? Scrapers have limited usability on soft woods, however on hard woods it does a great job. The shavings at left were produced with NO force being applied to the tool. The scraper was simply dragged along the curly makore to show how cleanly it can remove surface imperfections. With moderate effort more wood can be removed, and in no time the surface will be mirror smooth.
Why Not Sandpaper?
Sandpaper is essentially paper to which various size and sharpness particles are affixed. In general, the smaller the particles, the higher the grade of sandpaper, and the finer the finish obtained. As you drag the sandpaper over the surface of any wood, the grains cut into and through the wood's grain. Sanding with the grain is desirable for a smooth finish since the sandpaper's particles ride along and between the ridges of the wood's grain, and won't tear apart the wood's grain unless the wood's surface isn't smooth, and therefore it will produce a smooth surface. If you sand across the grain, you are essentially cutting through the wood's grain and creating a fuzzy mess on the surface. True, this is on a microscopic level, however it does effect the finish of your project.
On figured woods, using sandpaper is a risky proposition because at some locations it is like sanding with the grain, and at others it is like sanding against the grain: the finish will definitely be affected. On the curly makore I was working on, sanding would effectively made nice smooth sections with alternating fuzzy sections as it raised the "end grain" of the waves.
The scraper is a perfect tool for figured wood since it does not create any fuzz on the surface of the wood. It creates nice clean cuts along all angles of the wood's grain, and produces a mi
After finishing the sanding of the three hearts on the 5th anniversary present I intend to give to my wife, I was ready to layout the hearts on a mounting board and frame them.
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Didn't catch my earlier posts on this anniversary present? Click on the 5th anniversary tag to the right to see all the posts in this series.
I laid out the hearts in a pattern that I thought was pleasing (representing myself, my wife, and our daughter) on the corner of my router table and "framed" it using a block plane and a measuring tape. I then noted the dimensions of the inside of the frame, then added 1/2" to both width and height to get the size of the mounting board I would need. I had intended to use something interesting as the backer board, something lighter than the hearts to add contrast, but my stock of 1/8" hardwood plywood seems to be missing... I guess I used it all making the bathroom cabinets! I may end up using some spalted birch I have lying around, but I'll need to send it through the bandsaw to make the most of the wood I have. But for now, I set aside the thoughts of the backer board and started to plan for the frame itself.
I have some beautiful curly makore
which is truly a wonder to see. Its curls are really tight and consistent. I wanted a wide frame to show off the curl and give depth to the "artwork", so I calculated to give me the least waste and proceeded to cut the blanks out. If you plan on doing something like this, don't forget that you added approximately 1/2" to the size of the backer board which will actually be inside or behind the frame!
I didn't take any pictures of me cutting out the rails and stiles of the frame, however I did make one interesting feature. I cut the bottom rail slightly larger than the side stiles, and I cut the top rail even larger than the bottom. I then went to the bandsaw and cut out a curve along the top of the frame. The curve has a radius of approximately 30", so while the centre of the rail is full-height, the two ends are only 2/3 of its original height.
The next steps will be to rout the edges to give it a softer profile instead of a hard edge, and to rout a lip on the underside to match the thickness of the mounting board for the hearts. Before I assemble the frame, I will do some basic sanding/planing to ensure the wood is smooth, but that is for another post. In fact, I'll get to show you an interesting tool that you can use to dress the surface of highly figured woods like this curly makore, with little to no risk of damaging the wood with tearouts!
Well, my wife has been reluctant to let me work in the workshop these last few weeks, with the weather being beautiful on the weekends and my 23-month-old daughter itching to play outside with her daddy :)
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But I finally had to tell her that if she wanted an anniversary present this year she would have to let me spend a few hours in the shop! This is only the second or third time I've had the time to work on my 5th anniversary gift, and if you missed it you can start at the beginning of the adventure
.The traditional 5th anniversary gift is wood, and I wanted to make something special to celebrate this year. No, it's not going to find its way into the Louvres
, but I always try to make my anniversary gifts sentimental, and never practical. Let me re-phrase that, practicality is not the reason for the gift, it's an added bonus.
So this year's gift was to be two larger bloodwood hearts, with a smaller bloodwood heart between and below the two, representing myself, my wife, and our daughter, all to be set on a backdrop of some wood (I'm leaning towards bird's eye maple
for contrast), and framed with some curly makore I have.
Last session I detailed how I had cut out the hearts and had done the rough shaping with a plane and a variety of hand files. Now I needed to get the rough-hewn surface smooth, or at least smooth enough that I could see what the final sizes of the hearts would be.
If you look closely at the top heart, you can clearly see deep gouges left by the files. The bloodwood is a very dense hardwood but it can be worked quite well with sharp tools. At this stage, I started to sand the hearts using a square-sheet palm sander and some 80-grit sandpaper. Because the curves I made were not too concave, I was able to sand the insides of the curves nicely. Overall, the most challenging part of this stage was to ensure I had removed all the tool marks, and that the taper towards the edge of the hearts was smooth and even all around the heart, on both sides. The hearts will be mounted in a later stage, and I wanted both front and back of the hearts to be presentable, and to let the hearts stand off from the background slightly. The larger heart at the bottom has already received some sanding with the 80-grit paper, but is not quite finished yet.
And at this stage, the three hearts have been sanded to about 120-grit, and I will continue up to about 220-grit before declaring them ready for their finish. But I will not finish the pieces until just before I mount them, in case I need to make any last-minute adjustments.
What's next? After sanding the hearts, I will lay them out on a piece of paper to try to find out the most pleasing layout. I will then draw the inner and outer edges where I want the frame to be, and I will see how everything fits together. Once I find something I like, I will cut and shape the frame, then cut and veneer some plywood or hardboard stock for the background. But that will have to wait for another posting!
Of your hand saw blades...
Create a simple protective sheath for your handsaws for when you are not using them. Cut open a length of garden hose and slide it onto the blade. Or use rigid Styrofoam in the same way. You can also use a block of wood with a slot cut down the middle for even more protection!
Well, it's quickly approaching that time of year again: my wedding anniversary! This year will be my 5th wedding anniversary which, as a woodworker, gave me something special to look forward to. The traditional gift for a 5th wedding anniversary is wood.
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I have always tried to stay away from "practical" gifts for anniversary gifts. For me, I try to give something with some emotional connection, something personal. So this year I decided to give something with a little bit of heart (pun intended). Since our daughter will turn two less than a month after our anniversary, and since our daughter is such a large part of our relationship, I felt that my gift to my wife should include some representation of our daughter as well.
The design that I came up with is relatively simple yet very representative. Two larger hearts side-by-side (possibly interlocked) with a third, smaller heart below or on top of the first two, all three set in a frame of some sort. I looked at the wood that I had on-hand, and I chose bloodwood for the hearts, curly makore for the frame, and I'm still undecided as to what wood should serve as the backdrop.
My first step was to draw the three hearts out on my bloodwood board, then I moved over to the bandsaw to cut out the rough shapes. I tried to keep pretty close to my marked lines, however I felt no pressure to stay exactly on the line since this would essentially be a work of art, not a tight-fitting dovetail joint! Besides, there is still much work that needs to be done before any wood gets attached anywhere...
Though I do not have a picture of any earlier steps, you can see from this picture the original chalk line, as well as some of the early shaping that I did. I had originally intended to do the rough-shaping using the router, however once I got the router setup and I pushed a few
test pieces through the router, I was concerned for my own safety, since the hearts are rather small (about 7 inches for the large ones, 4 inches for the smaller one), and even with push blocks I was worried the heart would catch at some point and be tossed towards me with considerable force... As the old saying goes, "if something doesn't feel safe, don't do it," and so I didn't! The router is essentially a time-saving device, and there are other means to the same end. In this case, the alternate method was using planes and cabinet rasps. The cabinet planes were used to remove the bulk of the material from the top of the hearts, where the curve is convex, and the plane can easily be used without much concern about curves. But near the bottom tip of the hearts, there is a concave section which can not be worked with a plane. So when I could no longer work with the plane, I reached for my two rasps.
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The rasp with the red rag around the handle is a four-in-hand rasp, which has one side curved and the other side flat, with coarse and fine teeth on alternate ends. This is a great tool for removing alot of material very quickly, and the convex side was perfect for the curves on the hearts. The next file I used was a standard cabinet file, which has only one coarseness, but is much less aggressive and left the surface with fewer tool marks.
While using the rasps and planes, I clamped the hearts to the corner of my router table. Since the hearts were so small they wanted to move around no matter how hard I clamped them, so I resorted to using a rubber mat under the heart. This works great to increase the friction on your workpiece without scoring its surface, however it does have the problem of leaving an oily residue on the wood's surface. You can see its effect on the partially completed hearts to the right. It is most evident on the small hart (top centre) where I had to clamp the hardest to keep it from shifting. I am not too concerned about this because I will be removing most of the top surface of the wood before I am completed.
To the right is a picture of what the final project will look like... of course, the three hearts will be locked together in some fashion, perhaps puzzle-piece style, or perhaps I will just mount them temporarily with blocks to keep them level while I pass them through the bandsaw to get them to match perfectly... but that is a design decision for tomorrow! What I wanted to point out is the detail you can carve into your pieces if you think a bit ahead. In my hearts, I wanted one "lobe" to overlap the other, so it becomes more of a three-dimensional effect instead of a straight-on view of a heart. If you click on the image and look at the small heart, at the top centre where the two curves join, you may see what I mean.
And this is just a piece of curly makore that I will use to make a frame for this piece. Once I finish with the hearts and get them mounted, I will cut and join the frame pieces. Until then, this piece goes back on the rack!
Let me know what you think!
A great way to enjoy your hobby without having to spend any money is to get active with your local woodworking group. You can easily find one using the Internet by using Google or another search engine with your local city and "woodworking association". Alternately, you can try using other social networking sites like Meetup.com to find like-minded enthusiasts in your region.
In my neck of the woods, the Ottawa Woodworking Association hosts numerous activities throughout the year and promotes woodworking in the community and helps its members to improve their skills by hosting numerous challenges, meetings, and other events.
Most of these groups allow a few free visits before asking you to join, so get involved in a local community's woodworking group! There is no excuse to be away from woodworking, even if your workshop is closed for the winter!
Every steel and cast iron tool you own have one common enemy that is constantly working to undermine your effectiveness with that tool. The enemy attacks while you are sleeping because it never rests. The enemy can get in from the narrowest of cracks, and in fact it thrives in confined spaces. That enemy is rust.
Yes, rust and corrosion will make your tools more difficult to use, and if you do not take action it may even render your precious tools useless. Some tools may be rejuvenated and brought back to life, however many are damaged beyond repair.
But there is a simple regimen of maintenance that you can perform annually, or optimally once in late fall and once in early summer, that can keep your tools protected and safe from transient atmospheric moisture, the most common cause for rust to develop in your workshop. If you have a problem with actual water accumulation in your workshop, where water is pooling, dripping, or otherwise entering your workshop from a source other than simple moisture, you have bigger problems and I suggest you deal with those problems post-haste!
Where Does the Moisture Come From?
Except for locations with extremely dry climates, there is a fair amount of moisture in the air that we breathe. Without that moisture, life would truly be difficult for us since most of us would be forced to deal with continual nosebleeds and we would not be able to go far without a glass of water to ease our parched throats.
The actual amount of water that a certain volume of air can hold is determined by its temperature. The hotter the air, the more water it can hold, and conversely the cooler the air the less water it can hold. This is where things become relevant for woodworkers. Whenever a volume of air is cooled, that water has to go somewhere.
Think of a warm summer day outdoors, and imagine yourself with an ice-cold glass of your favourite beverage. What do you see on the outside of your imaginary glass? Condensation! Some call it dew, but it is essentially the same thing. The warm air touches the cold glass, and the water contained in the air is forced out because the colder air can not hold that much water. It emerges on the surface as condensation.
The same process happens in your workshop or garage. The workshop is essentially a large volume of air surrounded by many surfaces (the walls, the tools, the floor, etc.) Now as the warm day ends and the evening progresses, the workshop will tend to cool down. The moisture that was in the air in your workshop has to go somewhere, and just like your imaginary glass it will condense onto the surfaces. If the temperature difference is not that great, or the humidity of the air (the amount of moisture it is holding) is not that great, you may not be able to see actual drops of condensation, but take my word for it, condensation is forming and it will work on your tools!
How to Protect Your Tools
You have three basic choices for how to deal with this condensation.
- Keep your workspace heated to a temperature at or above the ambient air temperature outside. This will ensure that the air in your workshop has the ability to hold more moisture than the air outside, so you will reduce the likelihood of moisture condensing. The big downside of this is that you end up throwing your money towards your heating bill and you contribute to global warming when there are better alternatives available.
- Give the condensation something safe to form on. This does not seem evident at first, but if you keep your tools in a box or cloth bag that can keep the outside air out, you are effectively protecting your tools. When the ambient temperature changes swiftly, the air within the box stays at its original temperature. In effect, the contents will all warm and cool together, and it will only be on the surface of the box that the condensation will form and not the surface of your tools. The trick here is to keep the amount of air within the container to a minimum, and to ensure that air is as dry as possible.
- The easiest and least intrusive technique is to provide a protective layer of on the surface of your tools. The best protection in this situation is a simple coating of paste wax.
Why Wax Your Tools?
Controlling the ambient temperature and humidity of your workshop is a difficult and expensive ordeal. If your workshop is a garage, just opening your garage door can upset the balance of moisture that you have worked to achieve. Keeping your tools in an appropriate container is a great option, though it is often impossible to do for larger tools such as your table saw or jointer.
Wax, on the other hand, is something that you can apply to your tools then continue to use them as you normally would. Other than applying it one or two times a year, it does not interfere with your woodworking. Wax creates a barrier on the surface of your tools, keeping the moisture in the air from contacting the metal itself, thus preventing rust.
But why wax, you may ask? Why not use oil, Teflon, or some other product? As a woodworker, wax is very friendly to your tools and the wood itself. It will adhere to the surface it is applied to, will not transfer to the wood you run over that waxed surface, and therefore it will not interfere with the finish you choose to apply to that wood.
Oil is something else you can apply to your tools, however oil has the distinct disadvantage of transferring easily to your woodworking project, which will then interfere with the finish you apply afterwards (unless that finish involves oil, of course). Also, since oil transfers, by its very nature less of the oil will be left behind to protect your surface with each pass of your workpiece!
Applying Paste Wax
Applying paste wax is a simple process but it does have three main steps. The wax that I will demonstrate here is a carnauba-based paste wax that is sold in a can called Blue Label Paste Wax, available from Lee Valley Tools.
The process of waxing my tools involves the wax, a couple of clean lint-free rags, and in my situation I needed a sheet of sandpaper though 000 or 0000 steel wool would have have been suitable as well.
Remove Existing Rust
Of course, before you add any wax to your tools you should remove any and all rust from the surfaces of your tools. This is an easy task, and simply involves a bit of elbow-grease. As you can see in the image to the left, my jointer has a small amount of rust forming at the edge of the outfeed table.
When you are cleaning up your tool, remember to remove rust from all the surfaces. The flat tables, the vertical surfaces, and also non-working surfaces that are made from metal. Do not remove any existing paint because that paint is already a barrier to moisture, however if that paint is already compromised from rust, you should remove the rust and some of the surrounding paint to ensure you can apply wax to that surface.
Remember to remove any rust, dust, and sawdust from the tool.
Apply Wax Thoroughly
Fold your clean rag over a few times until it forms a pad a few layers thick. Use the rag to scoop a small quantity of wax from the tin then rub it along all metal surfaces of your tool. The wax contains a solvent so keep the tin closed, and work in small areas so your rag does not dry out.
The layer of wax that you are applying should not be thick! The solvent in the wax and a little pressure will ensure the wax penetrates into all the cracks and scratches of your tool. You should barely be able to see the wax that you have just applied, similar to the look of having wet down the tool.
If you apply the wax too thickly, you are just wasting the wax and you will have to waste some time in the next step, since all that excess wax will have to be removed... the hard way.
Once the solvent in the wax has evaporated, the wax will be left behind on the surface of your tool. The tool will now look like it has a white powder over its surface, and this must now be removed. This is excess wax that will not help your tool, and may make using it more difficult.
The way to remove this excess wax is to buff the surface of the tool. Use a clean rag that you have folded into multiple layers, and buff the surface of your tool until the white layer has been removed and your cloth slides smoothly over the tool's surface. Buff all the surfaces to which you applied wax, and be sure you do not shove wax into any inaccessible corners as this will leave an unsightly reminder of your inattention.
Once your tool is buffed up, the surface will shine as shown in the image above and to the right.
The process that I have demonstrated above will also work on other tools, such as a table saw. Here you can see the state of my table saw which spends its winters in a heavily used garage, with numerous heating and cooling cycles, and therefore many unfortunate opportunities to encounter condensation.
Because of this, its top surface occasionally develops a fine sheen of rust. The effect of this rust is to make it much more difficult to pass wood over the surface, and it also produces small rust-coloured scratches on some soft woods.
The process for table saws are the same as anything else. Sand the surface (photos below) to remove any visible rust, apply the wax, buff the surface, and voila! Your table saw is now set to work smoothly. Just look at this photo below that shows the table top after it has been cleaned up. The rust is gone, and the surface is slippery-smooth!
Now that you see just how easy it is, don't let your tools become the victim of rust! Add a layer of wax to protect your tools!