Monday, November 17, 2014

Breaking The Silence

It has seriously been too long since I last blogged. You would think I had nothing good to talk about or show off, but that would not be true. I have, in fact, been so busy that the days just seem to whiz by.

I blame it on two things. One is that I started posting pictures of shop stuff on Instagram and that seems to give me an outlet for my desire to share happenings in the shop. Honestly, it is pretty superficial in that regard, though. I like the meat, the deeper stuff. That only takes place here at the blog, so I need to get my butt back in the chair and out of the shop on occasion.

Second, since I have been full on switching the shop from chairmaking to planemaking, I have had a blast of new inspiration going on. It has kept my head going so much that to stop and put it into words has escaped me. Subjects are there but only half formed. Prototype planes are in the works but only half completed or nearly completed. I have hardware and other things being designed and out sourced on their way to me. And, in all that, I have made a load of beading planes and communicated with a load of customers.

On that note, I am getting used to working with what looks to be a few hundred customers a year as opposed to doing 15-20 big furniture projects a year as before. And, as far as furniture goes, I recently finished up my last furniture project that I had on the books. It's all feeling pretty strange to me but I'm really loving the transition and excited to see how the next year progresses as a full on planemaker.

That all said, I still have several projects for Danish furniture that I will be doing as a personal project. More on that to come. I first have to get my daily work lined out, and it seems to be coming together beautifully.

I have a list of topics for blog posts that I think everyone will find interesting. You chairmakers and planemakers out there will be sure to find some educational stuff in there. Several short videos I have shot on subjects like glue up and a brief one on weaving. One on putting in boxing for planes and making mother planes and the list goes on. So stay tuned I am going to try and catch up.

In the meantime enjoy a few photos of the stacks of beading planes that I have been making.

Take care all!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Making Traditional Wooden Planes by John M. Whelan

I am excited to share this news... John M. Whelan's book on Making Traditional Wooden Planes is finally being reprinted. I had called the publisher a couple of years ago and pleaded with them to reprint this book and pointed there attention to the crazy prices on Amazon. It got there attention, I think. 

When I continued to follow up and encouraged others online to do so as well I noticed they started moving in that direction. I talked to the publisher again last year and they had said they were trying to improve the quality of the images etc before moving forward. I started to think that this might be a lot longer than I had hoped. However I got a bit of a surprise when I got this notice. They are taking pre-orders with the expectation that it will be ready in Mid-November! Price is $22.95. Only about a buck more than the original. Buy it/Pre-order it here.

This is the best book on the subject of traditional one piece solid bodied planes out there. It isn't perfect but it is what is available. Maybe someday we can hope Old Street will write a book covering the subject in-depth and we all can learn a bit more on the nuances of the craft. 


Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Nicholson Bench With Holdfast Vice

About six months ago I had a dilemma. I was doing my first Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event and I needed a bench. Well the thing was I had a bench. I had two benches, in fact. The thing was I needed a bench that one person or well sort of one person could hall around to shows.

I needed a few things from this bench. As I alluded to it needed to be light or a least a lot lighter than my current benches. Second it needed to be something I could take apart. In other words, knockdown designed. Third I really didn't want to drop anymore money on vice hardware considering this would be used only on occasion. 

Nicholson Work Bench

About that time I had seen Mike Siemsen make a no non-sense Nicholson bench from home center materials. It really caught my eye as a simple solution. Now all I needed to do was make the legs removable. I decided to use some barrel nuts or bed bolts. These are cross-locking nut thingamajigs.

Here are some pictures to see the way it assembles/disassembles for transport.

Bottom of knockdown Nicholson bench with four legs on top disassembled

The leg is notched to make it flush with the front of the bench

The leg slides in a dado and the bolt is installed

The legs are dadoed into the front and back boards to stop lateral shifting in heavy use.

Barrel nut

How the bolt functions with out the leg installed just for clarity

Once I had that down I needed to address my last concern. The methods of securing materials to work them. Obviously the faces, edges and ends of boards.

For working the faces a simple holdfast and batten method seemed to be the best option rather than a costly and time consuming instillation of and end vice. This is something Richard over at The English Woodworker resurrected and works incredibly well. I use the sliding lock from my Dutch tool chest as the batten since it travels with me and the bench.

For working the edges of a board I use bench dogs or holdfasts in the holes on the face of the bench to support the board while holding it securely with at least one hold fast. Just that simple.

Since I was on the hold fast kick, up to this, at some point a new fangled face vice contraption just popped into my head. What was the inspiration? Who knows. I have never seen anything like it thought it is so simple I genuinely doubt it could be entirely unique. But I guess it could be. If so I am dubbing it the Jamesfast Vice. Boy thats a little egotistical, don't you think. :) Feel free to call it the Holdfast Vise. That makes more sense anyways.

Jamesfast Vice

Note the supports that hold the holdfasts up when not "clamping"

This is a simple device really. It is just a pair of holdfasts and a board for a vice jaw. Hit them both down to secure. Hit the backs of the fasts to loosen. The key to making it work is to insure that the front jaw has a slot rather than a straight hole for the holdfast to pass through. This allows the holdfast to properly "grab" in the rear jaw while not binding in the front jaw. 

I added a couple of "L" shaped blocks of wood to hold up the ends of the holdfasts while they are not knocked securely in place. 

I will admit this is not a perfect vice. What is, right? Anyway, it works best if the end of the fast lands over some part of the piece that you are holding. If you do, it works just like you would expect. If not then it might not want to really grab, duh!

Heres is one other detail that might help you see how the parts interlock. The top and sides are tongue and grooved. The top is floating and the sides are glued. These are the only "fancy" joints on the bench and I debated doing them. I think the top benefited the most from this.  This is how I did it but I am sure it could be altered without ill effect.

All the cross ribbing was installed with pocket holes and screws but could have been face drilled straight through if one didn't have that gizmo.

Once I was done with the bench I got really excited about what I had just accomplished. I had made a bench for around a hundred bucks (not including holdfasts) that actually worked and worked really well. When I consider how many new woodworkers could have an authentic way to have a serious hand tool woodworking bench without a major chunk of money, that no doubt they have other real world things to spend on, it is pretty cool in my book.

At the event that I first brought this to I was surprising how many people asked me about the bench (rather than my tools). Did I have plans, etc? 

Chris Schwarz was at this event as well and we had a short chat about it. After that I went home and stored it away. I am happy that Chris ran with the knockdown aspect of the bench and applied the deep wealth of knowledge on workbenches and really rocked a new design. Read about it here if you haven't seen it already. Or watch this video he posted on it.

My bench looks pretty lame compared to what he put together. But lame or not it works! So good news is that you can make one too. No, I don't have plans. I would love to but at this moment in time I am jam packed with tasks. Please look at the photos and go buy some lumber. It really is as simple as it looks. 


No New Pre-Orders On Beading Planes- Thank You! Oh And I Got A Secretary!

Thats a long title. Anyways I am probably not thinking straight after getting Schwarzed, as so many of my recent customers kidded me about. He probably laughs an evil villain laugh as he hits the publish post button. Muahahahahahaha Muuuahahahahahaha. Then drinks a beer with his feet up. OK OK OK, I kid. (...just fanning the flames.)

Anyhow I must put the breaks on the beading plane orders at this time (8/28/14, 9:14 est). I know, who turns away business these days. Well I would love to make beading planes for the next year but I think for the next 4-5 months is good enough to start with. I have a number of other obligations and personal endeavors in the furniture, planemaking and teaching world that I need to allow room for in my schedule. I hope you understand.

Plus, I am not a big fan of making people hurry up and wait so I prefer to stop for a while and then open up orders again just as soon as I can. I sincerely appreciate everyones enthusiasm for moulding planes. I love them too.

I thought it might be an appropriate time to share a recent family photo. I don't talk a lot about myself here because this blog has always been about the ins and outs of my interest in woodworking and sharing those things in a hope others can benefit from it. But now that my readers also support me and my family then I figure you should see who benefits.

Oh and this leads me to my next exciting announcement. I have an official secretary to help me manage my correspondence and invoicing. Its my wife! Tracy and I worked together in a similar way for about 7 years in the past so we fit like a glove and it feels kinda nostalgic. So, expect her to reply to some of your emails regarding standard inquiry related things. Like notifying you when something is going to ship, etc. I will still be responding to most things as a general rule as I like to get to know my customers. That is important to me.

From left to right: Tracy, Petra, Claire, Caleb

One good thing about this secretary is she makes good coffee. (If only my Dr of Chinese medicine would let me drink it like I want to.)

Tracy making coffee

Oh and she knows how to give me that look that says you have been goofing off on Instagram too much, get back to work. I know some of you will appreciate that. :)

Thanks again ya'll!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Now Taking Pre-Orders on Side Beading Planes!

UPDATE: As of 8/28/14 -9:14 est- no more new pre-orders on this plane until next time. Thank you for your enthusiasm! UPDATE

It is official. I am finally getting around to straightening out my schedule enough to open up to new orders again. As some of you know I stopped taking orders on planes back in the spring to catch up on work and to take an inventory of my beech stock.

In an effort to manage my time as efficiently as possible I am producing planes in batches that align with my carefully dried beech plane stock. I am opening up to beading planes as the first phase and will open up to other planes in the coming weeks and months.

3/16" side beading plane

For the sake of new readers... My planes are made from stock that I cut, dry and season. It is american beech and the planes are made in a traditional 18th century style and construction. These are not four piece planes glued together here. They are solid one piece construction that will last a couple hundred years if you and your grandchildren store them properly. Once the stock is roughed out on the table saw, the making process is done entirely with hand tools. The blades are Lie-Nielsen tapered moulding blanks that I profile and heat treat in house.

Side bead plane

OK, on to the bead planes. I am offering 1/8", 3/16" and 1/4" sizes. These are sizes appropriate for furniture size work. If you have no beading planes then definitely start with the 3/16". It is very versatile. The 1/4" is good for larger scale pieces. Think bead on the apron of a table. 1/8" is good for small scale pieces possibly like a spice or jewelry box.

Here is a short video of the 3/16" plane in use.

As of this post, all these sizes are $285 US each + $10 shipping. International customers please send me your address and I will calculate exact shipping for you.

I hope to get my but in gear so that my web designer can finish up my new website and store so that you can purchase directly but for now you will need to email me at calebjames(at)me(dot)com. I will respond with an emailed invoice that you can pay through and that will include a window of completion date.

I appreciate your interest and patience!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Man Behind The Camera (or in front?)

As everyone one could probably guess, my name is Caleb. But what you probably didn't know is where I started from and how I got into woodworking.  Recently a short documentary was made about my work and who I am. I didn't plan to make it. It just happened.

It all hinges around a magazine article that was written up about me and my chairs from when I lived back out west. So check it out and let me know what you think and don't laugh too hard, please.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Making Of A Traditional Wooden Moulding / Molding Plane

I was having a little fun with a new app on my phone that allows me to take a time lapse video. So, I decided to do a video of me making a moulding plane. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough memory on my phone to do the whole process. Didn't realize this until I was completely done.

Anyhow, this is a little time lapse video of me making the plane from the point of the blank being roughed out to the initial fitting of the wedge. This is probably about 1/6th of the plane making process not including the time to cut the tree, process the log and dry the wood. Nor does it account for iron work or the heat treating process. So in other words it is a snippet of the process but gives you a taste of what is involved.

As you can see, lots of hand work is involved. I would estimate that about 95% of the making of these planes is with hand tools. I use a chainsaw to process the log into manageable sections from the log and then to the bandsaw to take it down to smaller blanks. Then to the kiln for slow drying.

Once it is dried I size the blank on the table saw and cut the shoulder there as well. The wedge is roughed out at the table saw as well on a jig. One of only two jigs for the entire process. Everything after that is done with hand tools all the way to the finish.

All surfaces are left straight from a cutting tool. Either plane, chisel or card scraper. The only exception is truing the final profile with sandpaper to tune it.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Planemaking And Chairmaking Classes In The Works! *PLUS* Surprise Visitors To The Shop!

So, yesterday I had a nice surprise. If you keep up with chairmaker Glen Rundell then you know he has been touring the Eastern half of the United States over the past few weeks. Mostly hanging with Pete and the gang up in Massachusetts, doing the Lie-Nielsen open house (which I missed, ugh!) and things like that. Glen hails from down under in Melbourne. He has come a long way to get some fresh inspiration to take back home with him.

Anyway, Glen was in Virginia taking a class with Jeff Lefkowitz, who teaches the chairmaking courses for Brian Boggs and after the class they loaded up and came down for a visit to the shop. It was a very pleasant surprise.

Left to right; Claire, Caleb, Jeff, Glen

Truthfully, he gave me a day or so notice, so I had good motivation to clean up the shop. I am in the middle of paneling the walls. More on that later. And my wife made some enchiladas verdes as a special treat for lunch. Handmade corn tortillas, umm. She's a Canadian that cooks some good Tex-Mex. Got to love it! (I am really getting off track here)

As I filled them in on the goings on around here I realized I haven't been blogging much lately. I am not one for fluff or filler on the blog but I think maybe I should share with everyone else as well. As I was telling Glen and Jeff, I am planning on taking one half of my shop and dedicating it to a classroom and am almost halfway there. I get pushed by just about every craftsman I know, that I should be teaching classes. I get requests on an ongoing basis as well. I am finally coming around to the idea.

I am looking at, of course, teaching some planemaking classes. Possibly a four day class on making a pair of hollows and rounds and a rabbet plane. I may split these up as two different classes. These would be a really good start and you can make the majority of planes based on those two formats.

The other classes would be some introductory classes on chairmaking. One will be on making a Danish modern stool which will include lathe work, joinery and danish cord weaving. A two or three day class depending on size. The other will be a three leg windsor stool that will have lathe work, hand drilling, reaming and seat carving. Probably a three day class as well depending on size.

I am up in the air about prices as of yet. It has a lot to do with class size and demand. I have room for about six students at a time though I would tend to want the class sizes a bit smaller. We will see.

Send me any suggestions or classes you would prefer to see available so that I can plan accordingly. I am not asking for a commitment but if you are a reader of this blog and see a class here or something related to what I do that you would like to take at some point, then let me know. Your feedback will make a difference.

Thanks and I hope you are enjoying your summer!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Moulding Planes at Woodworking In America 2014

I guess it is about time to officially announce that I will be at Woodworking In America 2014. I decided not to tag along with Peter Galbert this year. We though about recreating the fantastic four crew of 2013 but seeing as another person is going to be in the bunch then I decided to not be a fifth wheel. Sorry Pete! There always has to be that one guy that leaves the band and messes everything up. :) One good album and its all over after that... never to be heard from again. Lets hope that last parts doesn't happen.

Oh, I will have my booth right next to Pete's though. Haha!

Ok, down to business. I will have a 1/2 set of hollows and rounds on hand for your perusal and a number of bench planes but especially a panel raiser along with a couple complex profile planes and side beads. It should be fun so come over and try making some profiles or watch me if you prefer.

If you are really into wooden planes then you might have extra motivation to come since you will find Matt Bickford there as well. He will be one of the speakers also. I've never met Matt so it should be fun to converse with another modern maker.

You might find it odd that I would promote another planemaker but there is enough work to go around for everyone and I must say that I appreciate his book on moulding plane use. It needed to be written. In fact I was hesitating moving into making planes for others until I saw that he was writing it. Its hard to sell a product to the general masses when nearly everyone with the exception of a few don't know where to begin with them. I wrote a review on his book when it came out if you aren't familiar with it. Thanks Matt for writing it and thanks to Lost Art Press for making the publishing of such a book possible in the first place.

OK lets wrap this up. Come on out to Woodworking in America 2014 in Winston-Salem, NC between September 12-14. Its going to be a blast!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Riving Beech For Wooden Planes

So, I am reluctant to admit that I haven't had success riving beech. Why am I reluctant? I really can't say why. I guess I love the idea and frankly the crazy efficiency of riving wood. To those that haven't tried it then it is just mind blowing how quickly you can go form log to working wood. Add to that the way perfectly straight grain wood works has no comparison. You'll wonder why you have been wasting your time with all the sawn stuff. Anyways I love riven wood, OBVIOUSLY. But unfortunately I have not been so fortunate with the beech that I have produced planes from.

Let me explain with a photo. I think it says it all.

I really wish I could find the picture of me trying to split the log this came from. It was like 40" in diameter and had about 10 wedges in it when I gave up and went to rent the biggest chain saw I could get my hands on with a 24" blade. 

If you look closely the fibers follow all the contours. The wood really had that much curl. The distance between the curls is about 7-1/2". That is the biggest curl I have ever seen. 

Anyways, I know that there must be some American beech out there somewhere that is good riving wood. I have yet to find it. It appears the European stuff is much more cooperative from what I read. Until I find some that cooperates with my wedges and froe then I will have to stick with my saw. I still follow the fibers as straight as I can. 

There has been one advantage that seems clear to me and that is the billets that come out of this wood are practically indestructible. I have put some real pressure on thin mortise walls just to test them. They are so tough and that applies to the wedges as well. 

Let me know your experience if you have light to shed on the subject.