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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On Exhibit at The Walter Gallery


Framed marquetry panels by David Fleming

Ten members of ‘The Wood Splinter Group’, an organization of woodworkers in the greater Phoenix area, will have work on display during the month of December (2012) at The Walter Gallery, 6425 East Thomas Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85251.

Opening reception(s) will be held Thursday and Friday, January 6 & 7, 7:00p to 10:00p both evenings. Thereafter, the gallery will be open each Thursday evening in December from 7:00p to 10:00p.

Some of my own work is included in the show, as well as work by Jeremiah Polynone, Doug and Rhonda Forsha, Kerry Vesper, Marco Cecala, Bill Barrand, Andy Glantz, Raul Ramirez,  Dominic Ferrara and Loyd Parker.

It’s interesting and eclectic mixture of fine furniture and wood art, worth seeing if you have the chance to stop by.

Walter Gallery Show Postcard

Postcard for the Wood Splinter Group show at The Walter Gallery

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Two Planes

I recently added a couple more planes to my stable. I didn’t own any Stanley “transitional’ planes, though I’ve refurbished a couple for other folks. So I picked up this fair example of a Stanley #36 in an antique/junk shop in Illinois this fall, for $22. It’s a ‘Sweetheart’ model, exact vintage unknown but made between 1919 and 1929 or so. I’ll call it 1925. The beech body was in excellent shape, except for a bit of ‘wind’ in the bottom (normal) and a small crack near the mouth (of no practical importance). The frog, blade, chipbreaker and cap iron were all in good condition.

I paid a little more (ahem) for the E.C.E. Primus #711, which I got off of eBay. This is not old, and of course you can buy these brand new any day of the week for about $260. I paid somewhat less than half of that for this one, which is in essentially perfect condition. My interest in these, and why I wanted to add one to the ‘collection’, is the spring-loaded ‘Regulator’ blade adjustment system. It works unbelievable well – there is absolutely no ‘lash’, or slack, in the blade adjustment screw. Turn the screw, left or right, and the blade instantly responds. Compare this to the average old Stanley (or, I daresay, a Lie-Nielsen right off the shelf), which may have a couple of complete turns of slack when reversing adjustment direction.

The Primus required only polishing the back of the iron and grinding and honing the bevel to put it in service. The Stanley 36 required the same, plus taking the ‘wind’ out of the beech sole — easily done. The frog is movable on these planes, but if you refurbish one, resist the temptation to adjust it for a fine mouth opening. In that position the blade/chipbreaker will be unsupported for much of it’s length, and will chatter like crazy. Adjust the frog so the metal and wood beds line up perfectly, regardless of the mouth opening — it’s the best you can do. If you need a closer mouth, shim the wooden bed or let in an insert.


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Hot Time in the Old Town …



With my lab furnace ready for action, I needed a good first project. I have an old Stanley 103 block plane that needed a blade, so I prepared a blank from 1/8″ O-1 tool steel. I rough ground a bevel in the annealed steel to save time later on. I also volunteered to make a run of small plane blades for a project my woodworker’s group is doing — making “itty-bitty” planes —  so I prepared two blanks of each size (1/2″ x 1″ x 1/32″, and 3/4″ x 2″ x 1/16″) as a test run. In all I had five pieces ready for firing.

My friend Ron Hock recommends peanut oil for quenching O-1 steel, so I had a gallon of that on hand. A trip to Harbor Freight tools yielded a 16″ long needlenose plier that would serve as tongs, as well as some cheap long-cuff welder’s gloves. I bought a single firebrick and a stainless steel woven mat from Lonnie’s, and created my ‘stilt’ from that. Nothing for it now but to fire the thing up.

I ran the furnace up to 1500°F and let the pieces ‘soak’ at that temp for a good 20 minutes.    I then pulled each piece out separately with my ‘tongs’ and quenched in the peanut oil. While the steel rested I shut the furnace off and opened the door to let the internal temp drop, monitoring it with the digital PID readout. Meanwhile I descaled the steel and polished some of it to clean metal, in order to see the color produced in tempering. I also performed the only hardness test available to me, testing the edges of the pieces with a file — which simply skipped off the metal, indicating a dead-hard condition.

After the furnace had cooled considerably, I found I was able to keep the residual heat in the furnace right at 400°F by cracking the door open just so. I loaded the semi-polished steel back onto the stilt platform and monitored the ‘soak’ for almost one hour. At that point the polished steel revealed a uniform ‘straw’ color, typical of a 400°F temper, so out they came. I polished the backs, ground and polished the bevels, and voila! — sharp tools! The Rockwell is theoretically 61-63RC at 400°F, so perhaps a little harder than some would like. We’ll see how they do in use. I’ll have to make 20 or so of each of the small blade sizes for the group project.

The furnace worked perfectly, and exactly as expected. I’m excited about making more plane blades, as well as knife blades and other specialty tools such as Innuit-style crooked knives.


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Hotter ‘n a scalded dog ….

Another of my ongoing projects — this one now pretty much complete. Following a presentation at the Furniture Society Conference back in June, 2012, I got interested in ‘metal clay’ as a medium for hand forming or casting custom bronze parts for cabinets or tools. Here’s a link to some info on bronze metal clay. To use this stuff you need to be able to fire it at around 1500°F, which coincidentally happens to also be the Curie point for 0-1 tool steel. So I set out on a search for a kiln or furnace capable of such temps. I was about to try building my own (insulated fire brick, Kanthal wire and other components are readily available), but happened upon this unit being sold locally via CraigsList. Professionally made by Applied Test Systems, it is a hell-for-stout stainless steel box with the requisite insulation and three 115v heating elements. Designed as a lab furnace for who-knows-what, I got the thing for reasonably cheap, but of course found out later that two of the elements were burned out (I think the previous owner had connected it to 220v wiring). I called ATS and had them send the two new elements (raising the cost of my new treasure considerably, but not ridiculously). With those in place you could just plug the thing in and let ‘er heat up to the max, but for firing the metal clay and especially for precisely heat treating tool steel you need a ‘process controller’, or PID, a thermocouple (temp sensor) and solid state relay. These I got from eBay, and with a few other local parts wired up a control box. Test firings proved easy and accurate, so the furnace is now ready for activity. I have to get some kiln ‘stilts’, or make some supports for the work pieces out of Kanthal or nichrome wire, plus I also need some good tongs and thick leather gloves (1500°F is pretty danged hot!). I’ll report on my experiments in the future.

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Cross one off the ‘Bucket List’ ….

I’m a sucker for old iron machinery, and for reasons arguably insane I’ve just always had a thing for big, aircraft-carrier-like jointers. I’ve never owned one, and never really needed one — I’ve been very happy, over the years, with my Inca 10.5″ jointer/planer, and am very accustomed to it’s relatively short bed. But I’ve always had a hankering for a big one, and have kept my eye out religiously for a likely candidate (i.e.: old, cast iron, 12″ or larger, rebuildable but CHEAP).

One came up on the Phoenix Craigslist — a 1905-ish, 12″ x 86″ Yerkes & Finan, with a Crescent 4-knife cutter head, a 3hp-3ph motor, and babbitt bearings. It was sitting on a pallet under a shed roof on a 5-acre farm in Glendale. My friend Kim Thoma went along with me to check it out, and ended up scoring a beautiful little Newton dual-spindle horizontal borer that the jointer owner also wished to sell. Both machines were prizes and after a little negotiation and a handshake we made arrangements to come back the next day to transport them.

Moving machinery like this can be a problem — according to, the jointer weighed almost 1200 pounds without the motor. The owner had a small forklift on the property, and we were able to use that to easily sling the thing into the bed of Kim’s trailer. Oh, yeah … back at our shop, a neighbor also had a fork lift we were able to use to get the jointer out of the trailer and into the shop.

A few minor things to fix — a broken bolt here and there, replacing the wicks in the babbitt bearing oil reservoirs, drilling out a rusted gib screw, etc. Otherwise just washing, de-rusting, polishing and lubing as it goes back together. It should be running within a couple of weeks, time permitting.

Now what am I going to lust after? I’m running out of things…. 🙂

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Pictures in Wood

Zivko Radenkov

Cabinet by Zivko Radenkov, photo courtesy of Pritam & Eames

I was introduced to marquetry by Zivko Radenkov, a classmate of mine at CR in 1985. He created an amazing oval cabinet on legs, the cabinet barred as if panes in a window through which the viewer saw dogwood branches, leaves and blossoms. I had to give it a try, although my project was much simpler, and more geometric than Zhivko’s design. I created my wife’s Japanese family crest (called a mon) in the top of a couple of small tables I made for her folks.  It was successful, though far from perfect.

I have dabbled in marquetry in the years since — kept my hand in, but never done anything serious with it. There are many great marquetrarians working out there, and I’m fortunate to know a few of them — Craig Vandall Stevens, Mathew Werner and Silas Kopf. Recently I got marquetry fever, again, and have been making practice panels whenever time allows. I am no expert, but I know my way around the block, and when I was asked to  conduct a class on the subject for Rockler I decided to do that as well as offer a marquetry class in my own workshop.

The Rockler class, held in early August 2012, was a four-hour introduction attended by seven participants. Of course you can only get so far in four hours, but the double-bevel method is fairly simple and forgiving, and I think all the students came away with a good, basic understanding of the process. They all seemed excited to pick up the modest tool kit needed to continue exploring the work in their own shops, and I hope they do.

I’ll be offering a one-day (8 hour) introductory class in marquetry, for those interested, on September 8 coming up.


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East Bound

I traveled to Japan in late March, with my wife and son, to visit my oldest son who is living over there. It was an incredible, nearly three-week journey that left us with impressions that will last a lifetime. We spent four days in Tokyo (including a day trip up into the mountains, to Nikko), followed by a couple of nights and a full day in the mountain craft center of Takayama. From there we moved to Osaka, day-tripping to Nara and Kyoto. Then it was a couple of nights and a full day in Hiroshima — a very sobering place to be — and four days in the western Kyushu town of Omura, where my son lives. From there we also visited Nagasaki, about one hour away by train.

We went nearly everywhere by train — local train, subway and bullet train. The trains are often crowded, but the crowds are quietly polite rather than boisterous. We rode in a few cabs — every one immaculate, the drivers all dressed in business suits and very courteous.

The cities were very clean. Trash and litter were hard to find.

We ate like kings, though not high on the hog. To find lunch or dinner we would just wander the streets and side-streets of wherever we were until we found a place that suited us — usually a very small, hole-in-the-wall noodle shop — and the food was always excellent. We enjoyed the places that used ticket machines — outside, or just inside the entrance there would be a machine with pictures and descriptions of the menu. You insert the proper amount of yen, push the button of your choice, and the machine offers a ticket. Give the ticket to the chef, and within a couple of minutes your food is delivered to your table or spot at the counter.

No tips — not anywhere, not for anything. Stuff costs what it costs, and that’s it.

We were lucky that our trip coincided with the brief bloom of cherry blossoms —  sakura  — in western Japan (they were blooming in Tokyo, too, by the time we got back there). With my sons friends and associates we experienced hanami —  literally, “flower viewing”, a picnic under the cherry trees. Actually yozakura, since it was at nightime. Very beautiful, and the food and sake were excellent as well.

I saw some woodworking and furniture, but nothing like what I had hoped to see. I guess I have to plan another trip, this time just to find and meet furniture and tool makers. I can’t wait!


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Bowl me over …

redwood bowl

Old growth virgin redwood, 2006

I don’t consider myself a turner, but a few years back I got interested in making small bowls and hollow forms. I bought a little lathe and a few tools, and sent bits of wood flying all about the shop as I tried to figure out how to make something bowl-like. Finally I saw a video by a turner named Del Stubbs, and watching him I learned just enough to quit being quite so dangerous. I enjoy working with the shapes and details, and have cranked out quite a few of these things since then. I’ve made a dozen or so bowls of various sizes that we use in the kitchen every day, and others that are used around the house for different purposes. I found the ones pictured here — all made in 2006 — when going through some of our storage boxes.I think there are other such boxes around here, somewhere …

Photography note: In general I prefer black-&-white images, however in this case I thought color was more appropriate.

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