Today we are being hit with an ice storm. The forecast is for up to 1/2″ of ice this afternoon. No way was I about to drive my old pick up truck into work this morning. I live on one side of the Milwaukee River and my shop is on the other side. You have to travel down into the river valley and then back up going in either direction and the roads can get pretty treacherous with an ice covering. Luckily I only live about 2-1/2 miles from my studio so when I need to I can walk. There have been times when I’ve cross country skied in. Today I chose to walk it.
As I walked. more like trudged in I was thinking about some of the images of my shop I posted yesterday. They sure make the shop look messy. I know that part of it has to do with the nature of photography, collapsing the foreground and background onto a single plane, and I didn’t monkey with adjusting the depth field on any of the shots. But, to be honest, my shop is pretty messy. When I look at some of the woodworking magazines I subscribe to I am always impressed with how clean and organized the shops they show in them look. Although, I must say, there is definitely a trend toward showing ever cleaner, ever more well organized shops in some of those magazines over the last 20 years.
I think that messes are very personal, neat and organized is very impersonal. Of course every one can be neat in their own way, but there are some obvious rules about neatness and organization that everyone must follow if they want a space to look organized and neat to others. As far as the magazines go it maybe that neat, organized shop spaces appeal to more people than more individualistic spaces. More appeal, more copies sold.
There is also the issue of safety. An organized, clean and neat shop is without doubt safer if there are several people working in that shop. Actually, there is an imperative to organization and neatness when working with several people in one shop. Each person will likely need to know where all the various shared tools are to be kept so that they can find them. When I’ve had apprentices and employees my shop has been much neater, if for no other reason than there are more people available to put things away and sweep up.
Yesterday, as I was working on the surfboard table base I reached for my cabinet scraper and it wasn’t in its little cubby hole where I keep it. I spent about 15 minutes searching for it. That is actually a pretty rare experience for me. My shop looks messy, but it is really very personalized and I can usually put my hands on any of the 100’s of tools in the 2,500 square feet of the shop within a minute or less. I really hated to loose that scraper. I’ve had it for at least 15 years. Eventually I grabbed another, even older one for the task but kept my mind exploring for that thing.
Pop, of course, I used it when I had gone out to help a friend with a finishing problem, and there it was packed away in my touch-up tool kit.
Here it is, in its plastic case. It is a small tool but immensely useful.
Part of the reason I hated loosing it so much is that I’ve worked that scraper so many times, both in sharpening and scraping wood. The sharpening process is particularly a matter of feel and interaction with your skin and hands. It’s almost like your hands have to know how to sharpen it more than your brain. You start by using a file to square the long edges with the faces as the scraper is held in a vice. You have to hold the file as square to the faces as you can, using your knuckles to brace and guide it, then you lean your whole body forward to push the file along the edge. You repeat this with a sharpening stone to remove the file marks.
At this point you should be able to run your finger across the face, over the edge and feel a smooth path. You then hold the scraper down on the bench with one hand and take a tool called a burr, a piece of very hard steel that is either a rod or a rounded in an oval and draw it down the edge of the scraper at just the right angle to push up the corner edge made between the scraper edge and face to create a very small curl of metal. This hook is very sharp and can make the finest shavings if scraped against a piece of wood.
There are other tools that I am quite connected to. Here are a couple of hand planes.
The larger plane is a jack plane that once was my dad’s. When he gave it to me I had to tune it up and have, over the years, slightly modified it to suit me. The smaller plane is a block plane which I have also tuned and modified. Both I keep within easy reach, sometimes just needing to take a few strokes to get the final dimension of a work piece just right. Sometimes I’ve spent an entire afternoon planing wood by hand with one of these.
One more tool for now, as I really need to get back into the shop. Something about a snowy day that seems to say everything is different today. Anyway, I made this mallet many years ago while working in the shop of a great freind of mine.
As a matter fact, the friend is Dan Cramer and you can see his link in my blog roll. He was teaching about the wood lathe and I made this as an exercise. Somehow I got it just right the first time and although I’ve made several other mallets over the years this one fits my hand the best. The little knob at the end of the handle keeps the mallet from slipping out of my grip without me having to hold it really tightly and it can be used to give a very gentle tap by reversing the mallet.
I was thinking about saying something about the various wood shapes I stash in my shop.
And the lathe in the northeast corner of the shop.
The lathe which I just recently used to complete a small turning project and haven’t yet cleaned up, but I really need to get back to work now. Maybe more on neatness later.