Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Peace in Our Time

Over on the Popular Woodworking Editors’ Blog, Glen Huey has been getting torn apart for telling people that he uses gloves at the jointer.

Honestly, when I read his posting, a light went off in my head that told me gloves were the brilliant solution to a problem I have recently encountered…..Stiction.

Now, I will admit that stiction is probably only understood by Stephen Hawking and four other people (one of whom is Warren Coolidge from The White Shadow who wrote a technical white paper on Stiction as part of getting his engineering degree from The University of Phoenix….but I digress). I first heard “stiction” in a racing suspension context. One of the definitions of stiction is when two bodies stick together in what should be a frictionless environment….like inside a strut/shock absorber. You have a hardened steel rod surrounded by oil moving inside of a bushing…how could it ever stick??? Well, my belief is that it is exactly like wringing gauge blocks. (However, I am not implying I am one of the 5 people who understand stiction.) (Aside: Stephen Hawking shares a birthday with Elvis and me.)

In a metrology lab (or anywhere measurements are taken) steel gauge blocks (sometimes called Jo Blocks) can be stacked together to create a single steel body that measures a given dimension. In other words, there is not a block made for 1.163 inches. However, if you stack the 1.00 inch block with the 0.163 inch block …you get a single block 1.163 inches tall. The blocks aren’t just set on top of each other…they are put together with a wiping motion (called wringing) that forces out all air between the blocks and causes the block to literally stick together through molecular attraction…or surface tension…or magic… I believe this phenomenon is the same thing that happens with stiction.

Well, in my recent jointing of a boatload of hard maple, I have encountered stiction on my outfeed table. On those last passes, as the wood exits my Byrd Helical cutter head, it is basically perfectly flat. And as I push that across the outfeed table (even with a ton of wax on it) the perfectly smooth, planar piece of wood moving across the perfectly smooth, planar piece of cast iron causes the two bodies to almost wring together like gauge blocks, and the force required to keep the board moving begins to rise. (Also, as the board becomes flatter there is more wood being engaged by the cutters, so that force increases also.) Please note…I NEVER cut more than 1/32”, because I am not in a production shop. I don't have to worry about the time it takes. I take light passes to try to minimize the amount of force required to push the wood through.

Here’s where I’m going. Based upon what I learned from Marc Adams, I now believe that one has more control at the jointer if he puts his hands directly on the wood rather than using push sticks. The caveat is that the hands must ALWAYS be kept a safe distance from the moving parts/cutters (Marc’s 3 inch rule), AND the wood has to be long enough, wide enough, and thick enough to even warrant the use of a jointer. So when I am face jointing boards, I have much more control with my palms on the top of the board than with my hands teetering on push blocks above the board.

When face jointing, I end up with both hands on the outfeed side (as soon as possible) and I pull the board across the cutters. However, with the stiction phenomenon I find that the force required to pull the wood from the outfeed side is often too much for my hands. I have also found that push blocks are no better. Even with sand paper glued to the bottom of the pushblocks, they still tend to slip (or worse teeter and roll) on top of the board rather than just pulling the wood through.

So Glen Huey’s idea of wearing TIGHT, GRIPPY gloves makes sense to me. I can have grippy gloves to improve my ability to pull the wood from the outfeed side of the jointer. Well, the main complaint people had with Glen’s post is the countless horror stories of leather gloves getting caught in the knives and pulled into the cutters causing the mauling of an entire hand as opposed to the loss of a finger tip. Glen counters that his gloves are too tight to be hanging loosely enough to get caught. So, are you ready for the best of both worlds…


You don’t get much tighter. They are latex so they are as grippy as my fat fingers on a donut. And they are not strong enough to cause “extra” damage should one ever face the horror of getting a digit into the blade. Unlike leather fibers the thin latex would easily cut or tear.

So tonight I face jointed some maple wearing surgical gloves, and they gripped the wood so well that I was able to easily pull the wood from the safety of the outfeed side. And the gloves were thin enough to counter all of the anti-glove arguments that were raised on Glen’s blog posting. Also, as for the argument that the gloves could cause problems by reducing the sense of touch/feel… all I can say is for decades surgical gloves have been good enough for use in activities that require a delicate sense of touch. You know…activities like heart transplants and brain surgery.

Perhaps surgical gloves can be an example that supports Glen Huey’s position while not being objectionable to the majority of his responders. Surgical gloves might be the key to our achieving the request of Humanitarian/Great American (Convicted Felon) Rodney King who asked, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Great News, Boys & Girls!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I just got word from the Edwards Camp that as soon as John officially drops out of the election his very first (back in the saddle) ambulance chasing case is going to be a multi-billion dollar suit against WHM/JET and Forrest for the tragic loss of the tip of my thumb.

I actually thought we had no case given the tip grew back within a few days, but I have been assured that the American Legal System is all about the emotions of one's communications and has no connection to facts.

So if you have a Forrest blade that needs to be resharpened you had better send that baby in quick. Because a couple of months from now I'll own 5% of that company, and John Edwards will own the other 95%. And we won't be in the blade sharpening business for long. We'll liquidate the assets and put the employees on the street and blame the current administration for ignoring the economy.

Please note: my injury actually occurred with an Oldham blade, since it happened before I discovered the perfection of the Forrest Woodworker II. However, John's people pulled some D&B's and found that Forrest has a more lucrative capital position than Oldham. So next thing you know...I suddenly remember it as a Forrest blade that I jammed my thumb into. (That's how law suits work...)

By the way, when I questioned John about the 95/5 split I was told that justice isn't about money for the victims...our focus should be on making the big boys pay. Part of my brain thought it was insane that the lawyer would get 95% and I would get 5% since I am the one who lost the tip of a thumb for the 9 days or so it took to grow back, but the emotion with with John explained it to me was so sincere and compelling that I just signed the contract.

Also, to my friend Steve... I'm going to need to get that Jet Contractor saw back that I sold you two years ago. John says we're going to need it for evidence. He also said something about needing to OJ it up. (That's lawyer talk for spreading my blood/DNA all over it.) So when we get it back to you after the trial you might want to wash it down. You can email Detective Drew Peterson for tips on removing blood stains....he's more helpful than Heloise when it comes to cleaning up a crime scene. If Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean had paid attention to the techniques of Detective Drew, he could be still showing off some Esprit de Corps at Camp Lejeune instead of eating real authentic Mexican food and battling gastrointestinal disorders as his system adjusts to the Agua.

I want to confirm that the above posting about John Edwards has nothing to do with politics. Please remember that if a Southern guy isn't even going to carry the Democratic Primary in his own birth state against a couple of Yankees who fall into a category South Carolinians refer to as DIIIIIII-VERRRRRRRS-SITY...well, then he's not really even a politician. In other words it's ok to say anything about John Edwards. Apparently NOBODY likes him...

In an effort to provide equal hatred for all, perhaps tomorrow we'll go after Ann Coulter and The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. However, I don't want to offend Ann because I have almost gotten her to agree to be in an Anorexia Tag Team Cage Match with Calista Flockhart, Victoria Beckham, and Mary-Kate Olsen. So I don't want to piss her off and have her cancel out before we get to experience that bone clanking catfight.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I hope we're at Notre Dame, because I just saw 4 Horsemen

The Apocalypse has come...

I am on assignment for Popular Woodworking. In a manner of speaking Chris Schwarz sent me on the road this weekend to do actual Magazine type work.

If you have a Safe Room in your home, I suggest you go there now.

My assignment must be proof that defeat, war, famine, and death are riding into town at a full gallop.

In fact, go dig up your dusty old Mike and the Mechanix cassette and then go call the people you care about and tell them you love them while there's still time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I am Glad Wells Fargo is Watching Out for Me

Wells Fargo must be a truly great bank.

I just got an email from them discussing security. Here's what it said:

Dear customer of Wells Fargo Bank,

Wells Fargo Bank is committed to safeguarding customer information and combating fraud. We have implemented industry leading security initiatives, and our online banking services are protected by the strongest encryption methods and security protocols available. We continue to develop new solutions to provide our online banking services and their customers with confidence and security.

The added security measures require all Commercial Electronic Office® customers to complete on a regular basis Commercial Electronic Office Form (CEO Form).

Please use the hyperlink below to access CEO Form:

There are two strange things, though....

1) I never knew that Wells Fargo was part of the Old Money Establishment in Singapore. For some reason I always thought they were headquartered in San Francisco. However, the hyperlink they provided to update my account information clearly had a Singapore net address. I feel so stupid for thinking they were an American Bank.

2) The other strange thing is that I didn't even realize I had an account there. However, I guess when I was traveling through Viet Nam, China, and Hong Kong back in 2005 I must have made a junket through Singapore and set up an account. I am curious to know how much money I have there. Perhaps it is a huge wad of cash, and I can just go crazy spending it all on toys for me.

I entered all of the information they asked for (Name, Date of Birth, Social Security Number, Credit Card Numbers, Debit Card PIN's, etc.). I made sure I gave them all of the information I could think of so that they wouldn't have any trouble confirming my identity and getting me the information on this account I didn't even know I had.

All I can say is GOD BLESS THE INTERNET!!!!!!!!!! For all of those people out there who surmise that the world wide web is nothing but a vehicle for looking at porn in the privacy of your own home, I provide the story of this email from Well Fargo. If it weren't for this glorious internet of ours, they would have never been able to find me, and I would probably never have known about this account that I don't even remember setting up.

Thank you, Al Gore. This little invention of yours just keeps touching lives. Perhaps I'll use my new found Wells Fargo money to buy some carbon credits.

Gone... January 15, 2007

One year ago today I lost someone I loved with all my heart.

I miss him, and it hurts.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Most Elite Woodworking Tool…Surprisingly Affordable

I am feeling elitist. I have learned a little of the Indian Caste System from talking with a friend who lived the first 20+ years of his life in India. I don’t agree with that philosophy, but I spent some time today with the most elite tool of the fine furniture maker, and somehow I feel like I am suddenly on the cool side of the velvet rope.

I finished the glue up of my Bench top last night. I am happy with how it turned out. I want my bench top to be 3” thick. My four sub-assemblies were each exactly 3” thick. So I knew if I glued these 4 sections together without keeping them perfectly aligned, the finished bench top could never be 3” thick; it would be whatever the dimension was between the lowest spot on the top side and highest spot on the bottom side.

So I decided to Domino the 4 sections of the final glue up.

I believe I am the last woodworker in North America to get a Festool Domino, but I did get one two weeks ago. The benchtop doesn't need the Dominos for strength, but I put 4 Dominos in the face of each of the four 7 foot long section so that the top side (Class A Surface) would be as flat as possible with no noticeably proud spots. I’ll tell you the results in a second, but first a word on biscuits.

My biscuit joiner is the biggest piece of junk on the planet. It’s a name brand tool. It’s named after the psychotherapist who was sure every boy on the planet wanted to get busy with his mom. As whacky as that is, I still think he was better at that line of work than his namesakes are at copying Lamello. I bought my biscuit joiner in 2005, and I’ve used it twice. This is the God’s honest truth…if one uses my biscuit joiner to face glue two 3/4” boards, placing biscuits at the mid point to align the faces…one board could easily stand at least 1/16” proud of the other. The biscuit joiner cuts slots. The biscuits glue in. But the thickness of the kerf and its location relative to the registry face of the board have no consistency from one cut to the next. Basically, I managed to get the worst biscuit joiner in the history of the world. If a company rep took my biscuit joiner to Harbor Freight, they would refuse to carry it in their catalog saying it would tarnish their company’s reputation.

What I’m saying is my history of using biscuits to align glue ups is even less successful than my history of convincing state troopers that I had the cruise control set 2 mph under the posted speed.

So as bad as my biscuit joiner is…the Festool Domino is at the opposite extreme for aligning glue ups. I really needed my 4 subassemblies to align so that I could maintain the 3” thickness, and the Festool Domino was beyond amazing.

It allowed me to glue the bench up vertically, all by myself. I precut all of my domino slots. Then, I lay the front face of my new workbench top flat on my work surface and spread glue on the 3” x 7’ surface that was sitting 6 inches up from the table. Then I pressed in 4 Dominos and I grabbed the next 3” x 6” x 7’ section and dropped it onto the four Dominos standing on the field of glue. It slid down and aligned perfectly with the first. I had now created a little fence 7 feet long, 3 inches thick, and 12 inches tall. I spread glue on top of it, dropped in 4 Dominos, grabbed the next 6 inch tall fence and dropped it on top. My fence was now 18 inches tall and one would have thought it was a single plank given how perfectly aligned it was. I spread glue on it, dropped in 4 Dominos and then grabbed the last section of bench top and plopped it on top.

Then, I screamed for Gail to get down to the basement and make herself useful by putting clamps on while I lifted the 200 pounds of glued up bench top off of the work surface. My little helper came through and afterwards she helped me push my hernia back in, she wrapped duct tape around my midsection, and she drove me to the hospital where they rushed me to surgery to fix the hernia.

OK…there was no hernia. After Gail helped me get a clamp on each side, I was able to add 9 more by myself, and it sat overnight.

The Festool Domino made my difficult task incredibly easy, but it is NOT what I referred to above as “the most elite tool of the fine furniture maker.” Here is my definition of elite:

If you can get it at a big box home center, it cannot truly be elite. I have a lot of high dollar tools. Yeah, my Lie-Nielsen planes are better than the Stanleys at Lowes, but the point is you can still get a Stanley at Lowes. My Bridge City layout tools are nice. There is no comparison between a Bridge City Combination Square and the mass produced one you can get at Home Depot, but you can at least get a Combination Square at Home Depot. Have you seen Blue Spruce Chisels? If you have not had Dave Jeske make you a set of marking knives or chisels…then you just aren’t living large. However, Menards sells regular chisels. So by my definition above, Lie-Nielsen Planes, Bridge City Layout Tools and Blue Spruce Chisels are not elite. So, what is “the most elite tool of the fine furniture maker?”

DRUM ROLL……………………..

Card Scrapers are the most elite tool used by the skilled woodworker. They must be elite, because no one but us knows what they are. You won’t find Sandvik/Bahco scrapers at a home center. The general public knows far more about the Freemasons, the Knights Templar, and Springfield Stonecutters than they know about card scrapers. So they are obviously the secret tool of the elite masters.

There are seminal moments in life that still affect me:

1) Love at first sight…I still remember when she turned around and our eyes met. I’ll carry that memory until the day I die.

2) The first time I was sitting in a jet aircraft and I felt the wheels leave the ground and knew I was doing something men had only dreamed of just 100 years before.

3) When I finally figured out what a sharp card scraper was and how to use it.

Tonight I released the clamps on the bench top and I scraped off the glue squeeze out. Then I shot the photo below, because it serves as a testimony of the craft I love. When I tell people I am a “woodworker” they picture 2 by 4’s, a chop saw, and a nail gun firing 16 penny nails. However, my mind takes on a haughty little elitist attitude as I picture the non-identical twins of my card scraper…wispy push shavings and long curly pull shavings. My woodworking has gone from scrapers that created nondescript dust to the ability to create two distinctly different types of shavings depending upon the direction I move the steel. I feel smug. I feel special. But more than that I feel like I have gained access to a most secretive society. And I love my scraper for providing the entry key. Scraper Love…it’s a woodworker thing…you wouldn’t understand.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Happy Birthday to Elvis and Me

Today is the most important birthday of the year….mine.

Why don’t somebody be a dear and run get me a Chocolate Pastry from Panera. That’s my latest version of an awesome birthday cake.

Yes, I share a birthday with Elvis.

Then again my nephews Harrison and Jackson share a birthday with each other. Everyone knows Elvis was cool. Most people realize I am fairly hip. Take a look at this picture of Harrison and Jackson, and you will see that these cats are fly.

This photo was taken last fall when Scott Phillips visited Johnson’s Workbench in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I knew from years past that if you want to come away with a souvenir from Scott Phillips, you need to bring a kid. Scott won’t give a bandsawn box away to a bunch of old gummers when he can give it to a little kid who just wants to fill it with half-chewed gum and cover it with stickers.

Even on this day, the twins just didn’t get it. As Gail and I drove them home, I said, “Wasn’t Mr. Phillips just the coolest dude ever? He used that lathe to turn you a top out of Walnut.” Harrison responded, “The cool thing was he had a big sticker on his shirt.” (At that moment I decided to hang onto the Walnut top until they are old enough to appreciate it.)

That day Scott Phillips said something that has stuck with me. He said that we woodworkers need to learn to accept complements and stop doing the “yeah, buts.”

Yeah, but…

You know…somebody looks at a hall table you’ve made and they say, “Oh my Gosh, Skiver, I had no idea you made real furniture. This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Holy Crap, I knew you bought a bunch of tools, but I had no idea you had real talent. Hazel, go get the kids and bring them over here to see this table that Skiver made!!!!!!! Now, honestly, Jeff, did you really make this or did you buy it at Israel’s? (That’s the classiest furniture store in West Michigan).” In an attempt at humility, I as a woodworker must respond, “Yeah, but if you look right here you can see where I slipped while rounding over this edge. If you look real, real close right over here you can see where I had to use veneer to clean up a gap in that miter.”

It’s true for the most part. When complimented we often feel compelled to tear ourselves down. Wouldn’t it be better to just say nothing and let someone take away as nice an image as possible of us and our ability. Why would we consciously destroy our shot at a positive legacy?

Then again, I recently came across a non-woodworking example of the same thing. A friend of the family (let’s call him Festus) passed away, and for some reason known only to God, his wife (let’s call her Glendaweena) told the tale in the following way:

Typical Mourner: “Glendaweena, I was so saddened to hear about Festus’ passing. I am sorry for your loss.”

Glendaweena: “Yeah, Festus was doing better, but when I went into the bathroom and seen him settin’ on the toilet, slumped agin’ the wall I knowed he was dead.”

Truly…Honest to God...she could not tell about her husband’s death without telling people (anyone... EVERYONE...even strangers) that he had died on the toilet.

When Gail and I left the funeral home I told her that I had managed to come up with a song, and I wanted to go to the wake and sing the song in honor of Festus.

So today, on Elvis’ Birthday, I now give you the song I wrote in honor of my old friend…

He died like Elvis on the pot.

For movin’ on to Glory, he chose his favorite spot.

Around his ankles was his drawers,

As he slid off on the floor.

When he died like Elvis on the pot.

In fact, I have decided to even give you an audio file so you’ll know the tune. I should have cracked out my Buck Owens Signature Edition Red, White, and Blue guitar, but I have decided to do this A cappella.

In case you don’t like the Bluegrass flavor, I managed to track down a couple of friends to give you their versions as well.

So here is the original Jeff Skiver song “Elvis on the Pot” as sung by Neil Diamond...

and Michael McDonald....


Elvis, I want to set up a play date for 75 years from now. Either you come to my mansion in Heaven or I'll head over to yours, but we'll just hang out and jam. Of course we'll change the words...."There IS NOW peace in the valley for me.............."

Happy Birthday, King. I'll see ya in Heaven, Big Guy.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Snowshoeing with Hitler and Muhammad Atta

Yes, folks, Hell has Frozen Over… at least it is cooling rapidly and will be solid ice two paragraphs from now. Because I am about to provide three pieces of actual woodworking advice.

An insider on the Editing Staff of Popular Woodworking told me the following item was said recently, “Sure, we can let this Skiver guy freelance his crappy drivel as our back page feature, but I think we can all agree it will be a cold day in hell before he comes up with any useful woodworking advice.” Well, to quote the maxim at the bottom of Bazooka Joe comics, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

ITEM 1: Here is my advice for making glue clean up easier….disposable plastic table covers. I went to the restaurant supply store (GFS is our West Michigan version) to buy a huge roll of wax paper. Well, the closest thing they had was a $41 roll of butcher style freezer paper. I acted like a 17 year old making out with a sweater-clad cheerleader and slipped my hand under the wrapper to feel the paper, and you know what???? It just didn’t feel very waxy. As I stood there in the aisle contemplating whether or not glue covered lumber would adhere to the expensive freezer paper I happened to look over and see the plastic table cover. Eureka!!!!!!!!!! $11 for 100 feet, and it will be reusable. Cover the bench with it, go hog wild spreading glue, and once it dries just peel or wipe it off. Speaking of wiping off stuff…how do blind people know when they are done wiping? Ah crap, I’m digressing again.

ITEM 2: 50 Cent Chisels… Somehow I keep ending up with crummy chisels to compliment my extensive collection of Lie-Nielsen and Blue Spruce cutlery. Finally, I realized two things that could best be accomplished with worthless chisels:

(2a) Concrete clean up. In case you failed to cover your concrete floor with plastic table cover (see Item 1 above) a sharp chisel is ideal for cleaning up the dried glue blobs, but DON’T use a decent chisel for this task. Use an Uncle Bud (“Hey!!!!!!! Your dad says you’ve gone and taken up woodworkin’….I got a nice set of chisels for you!!!”) hand-me-down chisel like the pictured one bearing the “Popular Mechanics” brand.

(2b) The other legitimate use for 50 cent chisels is to experiment with sharpening techniques. Why try out that brand new slow speed grinder, Wolverine jig, or Japanese Water Stone on a tool you care about when you can experiment with a worthless piece of steel? When I first got my Veritas MK II Sharpening Machine (which, by the way, is FANTABULOUS) I tried out the gnarliest grit of paper and ground up a cheap chisel. Steel was being shed faster than refractory ceramic tiles on the Space Shuttle. (The aggressive paper is approximately a 3 grit; not 36…but 3… maybe -3... Picture river rock epoxied to poster board. We’re talking aggressive.)

ITEM 3: Building my workbench has reminded me of a universal truth that I would like to officially label S.T.O.P.S. (Skiver’s Theorem On Preparing Stock). It’s very simple… You can NEVER have too much wax on your Jointer tables. Take two identical rough sawn boards and a typical jointer that has already been used for 20 minutes. If the first board requires 20 pounds of force to move across the cutter, then rewaxing the tops will drop the required force to 3.8 pounds. Honestly, the other night as I felt my abdominal muscles tear and my internal organs breeched the gap, I paused from the struggle of jointing hard maple and rewaxed the jointer tables. (I even turned the jointer off while I did it). When I fired it back up, the task became so easy that I let my four year old neighbor do the next 150 lineal feet. Timmy is a tough little kid, but there’s no way he could have jointed all of that maple if I hadn’t waxed the tables.

There… just when you thought this blog had no redeeming social value we throw in some useful tidbits. I can just picture Attila the Hun, the Reverend Jim Jones, and Josef Stalin holding hands as they join in song, “The weather outside is frightful…but the fires are so delightful…and since we’ve no place to go….”