A Special Pair of Saws

A couple of months ago, I saw the very saddening news that Stephen Shepherd, proprietor of the Full Chisel Blog, had suffered a serious stroke. I have been a follower of Stephen’s site since its very early days and had communicated with Stephen somewhat regularly through email and our two blogs over the years. While we have never had the chance to meet in person, being physically separated by almost an entire continent, I have always considered Stephen a friend. So it was very hard for me to hear of this event. I was and continue to be very thankful that Stephen survived the ordeal and that his condition continues to slowly improve with therapy. But it is still hard to think that he may never put a tool to wood again. 

Recently, I was browsing the big auction site as I occasionally do, and I stumbled across two auctions for saws that looked very familiar to me. The seller advertised them as “Shepherd” gentleman’s saws. When I inquired with the seller if they were a friend of Stephen’s, they simply replied that they did not know Stephen. I didn’t ask where the seller obtained the saws from, but I did press the Buy It Now button on both to ensure that they continued to stay together and that they continued to do the work that they were so carefully crafted by Stephen’s hands to do.

I do hope that you continue to recover Stephen, and that by God’s blessing you are one day able to put tool to wood again. In the mean time, I hope that you can at least find some satisfaction in knowing that these saws will become a permanent addition to my tool kit, and that they will continue to live on and work as they were intended to do for at least the rest on my days. Godspeed my friend.

Quick Tip #14: Choosing Chisels

It’s Get Woodworking Week 2013, and that means that it’s time once again to do our part to promote woodworking and grow the craft. Of course this should be a year long activity, but this week, we really focus on newcomers and rank beginners to the craft. Today, I want to talk about chisels. There are a lot of different styles as well as specialty chisels designed for specific tasks. They’re not all needed to get started though. You just need a few basic bench chisels. So that’s the topic of today’s tip.


Great Expectations

A recent post written on the Arts & Mysteries Blog by Adam Cherubini really got me thinking about how we view our own experiences, specifically related to the woodworking we do and the tools we use to do it. Adam is specifically speaking about his experiences using his version of the Roubo veneer saw and how through his use of it over the last few years, he has come to the conclusion that the saw doesn’t work all that well. This style of saw has received a small amount of publicity in recent months, partially perhaps due to my own experiences with it and partially due to Shannon Roger’s version as well.

I have indeed recommended this style of saw for resawing to several folks who have asked me about it, though I have recommended it be shortened to a 3′ blade for one person use. My own experience with the saw has proven it to be a better option than a regular hand saw FOR ME when I need to resaw stuff wider than about 8″. In addition, while I’ve not made veneer for a project using this saw, I have sawn a few small pieces for practice and demonstration that have finished out at just under 3/32″ thick after planing away the saw marks. So my frame saw retains a prominent position in my shop, patiently waiting until it is needed.

The difference in experiences with the saw that Adam and I have had got me thinking though. How much do my expectations from my tools and my work differ from other folks? Are my positive [in my opinion] results with my version of the frame saw and Adam’s not so positive [in his opinion] results merely a difference in expectations? Or is there something inherrently different in the cuts I’ve made with my saw and the cuts Adam has made with his that would lead a person to have a good experience with one saw and a not so good experience with another (of the same design and configuration)?

I suppose like with any tool, project or process, most of the satisfaction that we do get from our work is very closely related to our own personal expectations and what we deem an acceptable result. For example, I am not averse to leaving a small bit of tearout on a show surface of a project if during smoothing I run into a section of difficult, reversing grain. If I can remove it easily I will, but if it requires me to contort myself in uncomfortable ways or if it just isn’t easily worked with the tools I have, I am perfectly satisfied with just leaving it and moving on. I’ve seen enough period examples with similar “flaws” to know that I am not alone in this kind of thinking. However, I have spoken to many other woodworkers who would never do such a thing and consider leaving any amount of “imperfection” (such as minor tearout, scribe lines, over cuts, etc.) in any surface poor craftsmanship.

I think this must be a real struggle for folks like Adam, Chris Schwarz, the guys at FWW and PWW, and anyone else who writes about this stuff for a wide reaching audience. Based upon my own experiences answering questions about tools, methods, wood, etc., that have been asked as a result of my writing this blog for a very small audience, I’m guessing that those folks are constantly inundated with questions about tool recommendations and techniques. With all of the different expectations people have, however, I think it must be a losing battle for them trying to respond to all of these inquiries. Some folks are going to agree with them and have good experiences as a result of their advice and put them on a pedestal; and some folks are going to cry foul and brand them as liars and heretics.

I don’t know that there is an easy answer to this other than to suggest that folks try as much as they can for themselves. I know that a lot of the folks from the magazines have always suggested just that. I’ve suggested it plenty of times myself. But the more I think about these kinds of opposite experiences like Adam and I have had with our very similar frame saws, the more important I think it is for folks to try things for themselves. Adam says he cannot recommend the saw based upon his experiences and I have said that I like mine based upon my own experiences. For folks who are on the fence about how to accomplish this task by hand, this might be confusing.

Indeed there are plenty of folks who will swear by what one or two people write in a magazine or blog just because of who wrote it. However, with all of the choices we have today in tools and materials and workbenches and working styles and on and on, I think it is more important than ever to draw your own conclusions about these things. My point is, don’t just do what I do or what Adam does, or what Schwarz does or what Asa does, or what anyone else does. I’m sure all of these other guys would agree with me. What we do works for us. If you’d like to try it out, by all means do. But ultimately, get out in your own shop, experiment, and see what works for you!

Wood Dust, Hand Tools & Workshop Location

I received a really good question from one of the viewers of the podcast who was interested in setting up a [hand tool] workshop inside of the main living space of his home, similar to how my shop is set up (as opposed to in a basement, garage or separate building). His main question, or should I say concern, was about dust getting from the shop into the HVAC system and recirculating throughout the rest of the house. It’s a valid concern and one that is certainly worth some thought. However, I don’t think there is much to be concerned about in this regard when it comes to woodworking by hand, with one exception, and here’s why.

When it comes to working by hand, I really don’t find dust in the HVAC system to be a problem. Dust on the shoes being tracked through the house is actually more of a problem :). In my house, I have no HVAC registers in my shop. This is because the room was an addition put on some time after the main house was built, and they never extended the duct-work into the addition. So the closest HVAC register to my shop is 2 rooms away. Even if there is a register in the room though, I wouldn’t be too concerned with dust getting into the registers because they only blow air out. So the simple act of the unit turning on will cause anything that might get into a register to be expelled back into the same room. The one exception would be having an air return intake in the shop. This would likely be a problem, so I’d avoid putting the shop in rooms with an air return intake.

For the most part, I do not find dust in the house to be much of an issue with hand tools. Most of the debris that is generated from hand tools is large shavings and chips. These are too big and heavy to get into an HVAC system and are very visible and easily picked up. I do track an occasional shaving out of the shop and into the family room if it gets stuck to my shoe, but these are easily picked up. The dust that is generated in my shop is mainly from tools like hand saws, rasps and scrapers (the fine shaving from scrapers easily turn to dust). However, this dust is made up of very large particles that are fairly heavy (relatively speaking) compared to say the dust generated by a power sander or a table saw. The combination of the larger, heavier particles with the non-projectile nature of hand tools means that pretty much all of the dust generated with my hand tools falls to the ground instead of remaining airborne. In fact, the time when I generate the most airborne dust is when I sweep up.

With power tools, however, there is much more to be concerned about. The dust from most power tools is much finer. In addition, the nature of power tools is to propel the dust into the air and all over the place. When I used to work with power tools, there wasn’t anything in my shop that wasn’t covered with a thick layer of dust, including the walls, even within a couple of days of cleaning everything in the shop. I also couldn’t work in there without blowing my nose and expelling lots of sawdust. This was even with a dust collector and air cleaner. I don’t have either of these problems in my hand tool shop; no thick layer of dust covering everything, and no dust boogers – and that’s without any kind of dust collection or air cleaner.

So for the most part, I wouldn’t worry about wood dust getting into the HVAC system and circulating throughout the house from a hand tool shop, as long as there are no air returns in the shop space. My main strategy for keeping shop mess out of the rest of the house is to keep the space where I’m standing swept and sweep off my shoes before leaving the shop. While I’m not a broom nazi who sweeps up every little spec as soon as it hits the floor, I try not to walk all over the dust and shavings if I can help it. I’ll simply use a push broom to move the dust and shaving from where I’m working into a pile near the trash can, until I’m ready to clean it all up. I may do this several times in an evening of work just to keep my immediate area generally clear, but I don’t generally pick everything up and put it in the trash can until I run out of room to work. I find simply pushing the shavings and dust away from my immediate working area really helps to minimize the amount of debris that sticks to the bottom of my shoes. When I need to walk out of the shop into the rest of the house, I’ll take my bench brush and brush off the soles of my shoes to remove any stuck on dust and chips so that they stay in the shop.

So while I may have to be a little tidier than I would if my shop was in the garage or in a basement, to me it’s worth the effort. I get to work in a comfortable, climate controlled space, that my family can wander into and out of as they wish. For me, having the shop in an interior room of the house makes it an inviting space rather than a cold/hot, damp, dark, dungeon-esque space that really doesn’t beg you to enter. If you have the space and means to set up a nice, inviting, hand tool shop inside the house, I highly recommend it. You won’t regret it.

Chalk up another victory for hand tools :)!