Hand Planes — January 2017

One of the first things we did with Jim Krenov at the College of the Redwoods was learn to make and use a hand plane. 30+ years later I’m still making them, and introducing others to the experience. This session was in early January, 2017, with Christine, Josh, Mo, and DJ, and was among the most successful and satisfying classes I’ve held. Their planes were made from 12/4 hard maple, with walnut pins and wedges, sporting 1.5″ x 3.5″ Hock irons. The 3.2oz brass adjusting hammer heads are made in the shop, fitted to handles shaped by the students.

 

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Plane Essentials — January 2017

Hand planes are simple tools that need to be set up and maintained properly to work effectively. The definition or details of “properly” can differ, but in general it means a really sharp blade and a sole that is flat. Tangent factors such as chip breaker setting and fineness of the mouth opening certainly come into play, especially in certain circumstances, but for practical purposes sharp and flat are the essential qualities. With the blade set fine and parallel to the sole, great things happen. John, Mike, Josh, and I spent the weekend of Jan 21-22 sharpening, tuning, and using a variety of bench planes that they brought in.

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Blushing, a little …

In addition to teaching small classes on my own, over the past eight or nine years (see Schedule), I also teach classes in the Fundamentals of Traditional Woodworking series for the Southwest School of Woodworking here in Phoenix. Jamie Hanson, one of my students from the spring 2016 class maintains a blog, and wrote about his experience at the Southwest School. He included a few kind words about me, which I appreciate very much:

A WORD IN PRAISE OF MY TEACHER

The man who taught my class was David Fleming (he has his own site here).

David was my kind of teacher: he has a mastery of his subject, and he has the sense to know how much of that subject a novice needs to know. He was very good at communicating just the right amount of information — enough to keep me interested, but not so much that I became bewildered or discouraged.

He was also laudably patient: answer every question and never making me feel like a dumb-dumb (e..g, when I confused camber and camphor).

Thank you, Jamie — I enjoyed working with you very much, and hope to have the chance to work with you again in the future.

You can read Jamie’s entire post and review of the Southwest School here …

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Mortise & Tenon Workshop

The latest Mortise & Tenon workshop was held October 3-4, 2015. For this class we make a pair of Krenov-style shop stands, using both blind and through mortises and a bridle joint. These stands are remarkably useful and utilitarian, most folks end up making several pairs for use in the shop. We used some 4/4 ash in this case, I’ve made them from maple, oak, cherry, poplar, even kiln dried spruce 2×3′s from the big box store.

 

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David Finck, Woodworker

David Finck

David Finck

David Finck and I were bench mates at the College of the Redwoods for two academic years (’85-’86), studying with James Krenov. David has lived in North Carolina for many years now, building furniture and guitars, teaching, and more recently building violins. He is a consummate craftsman with a gentle but uncompromising approach to his work and attention to detail. He is perhaps most well known for authoring the book, “Making and Mastering Wood Planes”, now considered the authoritative work on making Krenov-style wooden planes.

David and his wife, Marie Hoepfl (also a 2-year alum of CR) have two daughters who are violin prodigies. After making a number of guitars over the years, David decided to have a go at making a couple of violins for his girls — keepsakes, if not exceptional instruments. Except, as it turned out, they were exceptional instruments, and David caught the violin making bug. He has made a number of violins by now, and these have enjoyed wide and high praise from people prominent in the violin world. In more than one prestigious blind comparison, David’s violins have been judged superior to iconic instruments made by recognized masters from the past 2-3 centuries.

Violin by David Finck

Violin by David Finck

From our days studying with Krenov, David has carried over and — if anything — intensified his devotion to precise, uncompromising craftsmanship in his furniture and his musical instruments. He has been an inspiration to me, and to many others. It doesn’t get any better. Visit the links below for more information …

JK's Last Cabinet, completed by David Finck

JK’s Last Cabinet, completed by David Finck

www.davidfinck.com
www.davidfinckviolins.com
Making and Mastering Wood Plane (book)

 

 

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Dovetail Boxes – August 2014

I was joined by students Jared Reasy and Dr. Ed Perlstein for three days of dovetail box making, Aug 15-17. Our goal was a simple but elegant hand dovetailed box with a removable, solid lid. We used some nice cherry for the boxes, with a touch of sapwood around the bottom, and a bookmatched cherry lid. We made a pile of practice joints before diving into the real deal, with excellent results. Dovetails done well are all about care, patience and technique. This class was a real pleasure, one of my favorite things.

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Small Cherry Box

June, 2014

I enjoy making small dovetailed boxes like this one, which is similar to what we make in my Dovetailed Box class.

The wood in this case is cherry, the inner tray is Port Orford cedar, and the finger grips are desert ironwood. The cherry is what I call ‘box-matched’, a method of bookmatching that results in the grain pattern running continuously around the outside of the box, meeting (nearly) perfectly at all four corners.

This box was donated to the Furniture Society’s 2014 Silent Auction, held at the conference in Pt. Townsend, WA, and now happily resides in the collection of my friends Roz Young and Alan Wilkinson of Hawaii.

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Cabinet With Spalted Panel

This cabinet is similar to the one we make in my Cabinetmaking class – in fact, this one remained unassembled for a couple of years while it served as the teaching model. I finally decided it was time to finish it, put it together and hang it on the wall. Often when you cut joinery but leave it unassembled for a period of time, nothing fits quite the way it’s supposed to. I was lucky in this case, the Honduras mahogany behaved nicely, as did the spalted maple and Port Orford cedar panels.

The spalted panel is a bookmatch, which deserves mention. Often the fungal pattern (“spalting”) in wood moves so rapidly and unpredictably, and without regard to grain structure, that when bookmatching a piece the two faces seem to have little relationship to each other. In this case — a 19mm board found in some wood shop or another — I could see that the spalting pattern remained fairly consistent  through the board, and I was rewarded with a fair match. This particular piece was very punky and fragile. It absorbed many, many coats of shellac before any finish build was noticeable.

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The Gallivant

In May 2014 a group of woodworkers from New Zealand and Australia traveled to the North America to visit woodworkers and tour woodworking-related sites in the US and Canada. The trip was organized by my old CR classmate, John Shaw, who is a principal at the Centre For Fine Woodworking in Nelson, NZ. His five companions have been either students or teachers (or both!) at the school. They are Lachlan Park (Aus), Ben Percy (Aus), Katalin Sallai (Aus), Ian Gillespie (NZ) and Pat Oughton (NZ).

After arriving in San Francisco, the group rented a van and drove through Yosemite NP, Death Valley NP, Las Vegas and Grand Canyon NP before arriving here in Scottsdale/Phoenix. While here we visited Taliesin West, Bob Howard at the St. James Bay Tool Co., the Heard Museum, furniture makers Doug and Rhonda Forsha of De La Madera, and more. From here the group flew over to Philadelphia, with me in tow.

In Pennsylvania we based out of Oxford, PA, an hour west of Philly. World famous Hearne Hardwoods is located in Oxford, and Brian Hearne (one of the family owners) was a student at the school in NZ several years ago. Hearne Hardwoods specializes in large, flitch-sawn lumber that is often highly figured. Brian and his father Rick buy logs from around the world, as well as locally, and ship them to the yard where eventually they are opened on the big (67″?) bandsaw, a chain mill capable of cuts up to 9′ in width, or a WoodMizer bandmill. It’s an incredible place. We had the pleasure of serving as the sawmill crew for one day, on the big saw, slicing up a maple burl, a couple of Tasmanian blackwood logs, a big English walnut and even bigger Black walnut log. (see images below)

While in Oxford we took day trips to visit the Nakashima workshop, in New Hope, PA, where Mira Nakashima graciously gave us a tour, and the Wharton Esherick home/studio in Paoli, PA. To anyone spendingt ime in the Philadelphia area, I highly recommend visiting all of these incredible places – Hearne’s, Nakashima’s and Esherick’s.

After a visit to the Center for Art in Wood, in Philly, to view the Bartram’s Boxes Remix exhibition, I took my leave from the group and returned home to Phoenix. They spent several more days in Oxford before setting out on the road to visit Falling Water, Frank Loyd Wright’s masterpiece in eastern PA; Certainly Wood, the veneer supplier in Buffalo, NY; Niagara Falls; Michael Fortune, the well known Canadian furniture maker and teacher near Toronto; Lee Valley Tools in Ottawa; and Peter Korn’s Center For Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine. After that they spent some time in New York City before flying back to San Francisco. There they took a couple of days to visit the College of the Redwoods (our alma mater), up the coast in Ft. Bragg, CA, before flying back home to NZ and Australia.

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Krenov in the Renwick

JK ash cabinet

Cabinet, ash and pernambuco, 1985, by James Krenov

The Smithsonian Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. had long sought one of James Krenov’s signature pieces for their collection, but had neither a suitable piece nor the funds to purchase one. In the fall of 2012 Dr. Oscar Fitzgerald, professor of Art History at George Mason University and the author of several important books on furniture history, in addition to his work with the Smithsonian, approached David Welter at the College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking Program with a proposal: If an amount of money could be raised by donation, Oscar and his daughter Molly would match the amount to create a sum sufficient to buy a piece for donation to the Renwick,  should one become available. Continue reading

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