It’s been almost a year since I last used my tablesaw. It currently stores a bunch of parts for the screen door, a bandsaw tire set, a partially finished dovetailed box, and some random scraps. It’s also the place I hang my version of the woobie.
I’m seriously considering selling it. I only use it for long rips and now that I have the bandsaw it might have lost that use as well. The other issue is saftey. This thing scares the crap out of me every time I use it. I have never had an accident, or even a close call, in the 20-plus years I have had this saw, but past performance does not predict the future (full disclosure, I typed “hand an accident” first. Unintentionally. That was chilling).
Regardless, this saw’s time is probably up. If I am going to keep a tablesaw, I am probably going to buy a saw stop. I want to introduce my daughters to the fun, and power, of making things, but the possibility of an accident is so high. My dad has been cut, twice. Once as a kid and once as an adult. The adult accident damaged his ability to fully use his left hand.
It’s hard for me to let go of this chunk of stamped steel and cast iron. It was my first major power tool and an important transition point in my life. But sometimes you just have to end relationships for your personal mental health.
I laid the stool legs out on an equilateral triangle.
Each leg has the same splay and rake (which might not make sense here). There are a couple of ways to lay out this pattern, both start with drawing a circle that defines where you want your stool legs to to enter the seat. You can see that circle above in the picture of my stool seat blank. I determined what looked good by following an article from Mike Dunbar in popular woodworking and by making a model.
The simplest way, in my opinion, to lay out the triangle is to drop a diameter through the circle using your compass prick point as a reference, then you set your compass to the radius of the circle and strike an arc using the intersection of the diameter and the circle edge as the pivot point. Then you connect the dots.
The other way is essentially the same approach, but you define the diameter using a right angle construction with your compass. First you use the center point of your circle to set the compass to the radius. Then you strike to intersecting lines from a random point on the circle edge. Next, set your compass to the distance between those two intersections and draw another arc. Connect the dots.
No matter which approach you use, you then draw diameters into the center of the circle to set you sight lines for the legs.
Since I posted my last blog, I’ve actually completed two stools. The one on the left is my first stool and has a “chunkier” edge and no stretchers. It’s also normal seat height at about 18 inches tall. My second attempt is on the right and is a counter height stool with stretchers. It now lives at my bench and serves as a rear support and impromptu sawhorse on occasion.
A couple of observations before I move on to what I really want to talk about.
Both stools have the same thickness seat, but the second one looks visually thinner.
Stretchers make the stool feel much stiffer. Way more than I expected.
Spend the time chamfering and carving the seat. It doesn’t really improve comfort that much, but the visual effect is worth the time. Stretchers are also worth it. While the legs are plenty strong (see this post), there is noticiable flex when my 195 pound rear sits down. Doesn’t really make me worried, but it was disconcerting when I first experienced it. The stretchers were easy and fun to make, plus I think they look way cool. Which brings me to the real point of this post. I want to talk about turning.
I suck at turning.
The image below clearly demonstrates this.
I turned these tapers for the legs using an Easywood tool and was utterly unable to keep the corners from chipping. Need more practice. But you know what, chair still worked. I planed off the chip out, tapered the tenons, and wedged that leg into the seat. The stretchers worked out a little better. I used a sharpened wrench to size the tenons for the 5/8 hole I made in the legs. I suggest you use a metric wrench one size larger than the hole. That made a squeaky tight fit that worked great. I think that wrench is a 16 mm. You can see the sharpened cutting edge on the top. Wrench steel does not make for a really durable edge.
The other thing I took away from this experience is that it’s way easier to turn maple. This should be a ‘doh thing, but nothing matches personal experience. If you are going to turn only one wood in your life, make it maple. It’s great. Oak is a pain in the ass.
This did make me want to turn a lot more. It’s fun. You produce mountains of shavings and there’s lots of toys you could buy. But you don’t really need the toys. I have an ancient and crappy 12 inch craftsman lathe (it’s from the ’90s, so not really ancient), and two turning tools. An easywood rougher and a skew chisel. I can’t use the skew well, but I’m learning. I’m pretty convinced that you don’t really need much more in the way of tools to do turnings for chairs or furniture.
I recently pulled the trigger on a new brace, picking up a Stanley 2101A in addition to my “hold all” brace that I have had for about a year. There wasn’t anything wrong with the holdall, it’s a great brace and I’ve built two nice stools with it. But the 2101 sits in a class of tools I call “grails.”
Most of these holy relics have been given grail status by being blessed by Christopher Schwarz (see, for example, the miller falls 42 and the stanley 47 bit gauge). I have yet to purchase a tool that Schwarz has recommended and been disappointed, so historically he’s been spot on. I do wonder, however, if I am also falling prey to the recent (maybe?) societal need to buy the “best” version of a product to show people that you’re in the know. Ignoring the meta angst of this post, I do love the ratchet and chuck mechanism on the new brace. The plastic handles, not so much.
There’s a weird anxiety of having a tool you know is fine and works for you, while simultaneously knowing that there is something out there that is considered to be better. I love my Stanley type 11 smoothing plane and jack plane, but part of me wonders if I love them because they’re considered to be one of the best versions of that plane made by Stanley. Is it because they actually work better than a type 17 or 18? Probably not. At least at my skill level, probably not. I’m also not implying that The Schwarz, or any other respected reviewer of tools, generates this anxiety. I believe that it’s symptomatic of the level of choice that’s available to me, an American living in the 2010s with access to the internet. I now have a significant amount of societal pressure to spend inordinate amounts of time researching every purchase so that I don’t appear foolish to the rest of my peer group. Yay modernity.
Depsite of (inspite of?) this, there is a definite joy in something that is useful and beautifully made. It’s part of the reason I hunt the grail tools when I can. For example, the dividers below do the same thing, almost equally well. One I just use (flat bladed) and the others actually make me happy when I use them. Which is pretty shallow, but why waste your time doing something that you enjoy with tools that don’t make you happy, even if they work well.
For me, the scariest part of building a chair, or stool in this case, was choosing the leg stock. Watching you tube, TV, or the internet told me that I was going to have to rive some wood to make sure that I didn’t have weak legs. That’s a challenging prospect for an urban woodworker. Logs are hard to come by and sourcing appropriate wood to rive is difficult, to say the least. Where I live there are a couple of hardwood stores in town, but they tend not to stock a lot of material, preferring to order as the customer needs it. Which leaves me combing the small lumber racks at woodcraft most of the time. Kinda sad. Even though, I’ve had pretty good success with this approach and was able to score enough stock for a couple of 3-legged stools.
I thought I’d just show a few pictures of what I looked for in the leg stock. I was following some suggestions made by Brendan Gaffney of burnHeart Made about how he approached choosing stock for his tools. After I started this post, he posted a fantastic informational video on what he looks for.
I pretty much followed his advice, looking for nearly perfectly flatsawn growth rings on the end as shown below.
Then I went to the side of the board and tried to make sure that the grain didn’t run out. This is about as good as I could get in the 8/4 stock that was available. There is a little run out at the end, but if you put that toward the floor then you should be safe (I know that might seem counter intuitive, but the highest stresses are at the top of the leg).
So while I couldn’t get riven stock for this build, I was able to get some leg stock that I feel comfortable sitting on. The hardest part was getting a good look at how the grain ran along the length of the board. The rough-sawn texture makes the grain hard to see and so you have to spend a bit of time angling it around in the light before it reveals itself. The other option I had thought of involved finding 12/4 stock and just trying to rive the oak dry. I am pretty certain that would be at least moderately successful.
Apparently the stool is on everyone’s list at the moment. I like it because it is a sorta halfway point between a chair and, well, nothing. Sitting on the ground? Maybe. Plus there are only three legs, so I only have to worry about one drilling angle once I laid out the mortise locations. To locate the leg positions, I played with the wireform model I put up a couple of posts earlier and decided on a 4 inch diameter leg circle on a 12 inch seat. The next thing to do was to lay out an equilateral triangle on the seat bottom so I could get the legs equidistant from one another. Just a little bit of simple geometry construction was all it took.
I have some pictures of me constructing that triangle that I will post a little later. Good old high-school geometry reminders from the teacher in me. After laying this out, I drilled the 5/8 in holes with a wood owl bit and an 8 inch brace with a holdall chuck. On instagram I joked that the leg layout lines looked like the cover of a metal album, it definitely has that archaic magic symbol look to it. For this stool seat, I beveled the underside with a jack plane and then cleaned up the bevel with a new, to me, stanley M151. I fell in love with the spokeshave almost immediately. Get the thing sharp and it is a blast to use. It’s definitely an ongoing lesson in reading grain though. The spokeshave is like the chisel in that regard.
After I beveled the underside, I reamed the 5/8 holes with the large veritas reamer, checking my leg angle as I went. You don’t have to have a fancy sliding bevel like the Blue Spruce Toolworks one below, but man, it makes it nicer. Everything I have ever picked up from David’s company has been ultra nice and super functional. You can see my 16 oz Blue Spruce mallet in the background of this photo, which is acrylic infused and indestructible. After this step, I started in on shaping the legs.
I recently read David Pye’s book The Nature and Art of Workmanship. I was introduced to this book through the frequent quoting of his catchphrase “the craftsmanship of risk,” which he uses to differentiate craftsman-made work from mass production. It’s an interesting read and is still relevant almost 50 years later. I found Pye’s book focused on developing a working definition of craft and individual workmanship that is focused on the refutation of definitions of craft that Morris and Ruskin (particularly Ruskin), of the English Arts and Crafts movement, put forth. Academic invective is probably an appropriate description of his tone.
However, his final chapter is interesting in that it makes suggestions and predictions about individual craft in the future. The four points in the final chapter are interesting and are still relevant today. Particularly point 1)
The workmanship of certainty has not yet found out, except in certain restricted fields, how to produce diversity and exploit it
I had never seen these before and these last 4 points he makes are far more important, in my opinion, than the notion of the “workmanship of risk”. Some 50 years ago, Pye had already identified the problem that rapid protyping and 3D printing is trying to solve. By designing in the virtual space (computers or CAD), you can marry the workmanship of certainty to the diversity associted with the workmanship of risk. Now, this is far from perfect, anyone who has used a makerbot or similar home system knows that any given print is far from certain, but if you’ve had access to expensive production machines the world is different. Those machines just work. Almost without fail. Assuming you have some skill in designing items that work for printing.
This is all rosy and optimistic, especially since 3D printing is pretty limited in size and scope at this point. But the basic idea is there, great diversity is achievable within the framework of certainty. Even if it is only doll furniture.