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.


Andy said...

There's a "photo below"? Is it just me that's missing it?

Actually, thanks for the writeup - I enjoyed it and I can identify! Well, I can't identify with your use about the Domino, but maybe someday...


Jeff Skiver said...

Yeah, there are 4 photos in this posting. The one the article references as "below" is a picture of my bench top covered in scraper shavings.

Blogger craps out sometimes with the preview/thumbnail photos, but yet if you move the mouse around you can find the link and open the photo. Then, 5 minutes later the thumbnail photo is back in the middle of the text where it's supposed to be. 2 days later it's gone. Then, it comes back. I expect better photo management and blog hosting for the $0 I am paying for this....

Anonymous said...

Oh, I get it, the computer ate the photo!

Andy said...

I see now - if I click on the blank bar, it brings up a new window that says "[IMG_0199.JPG]". It's all much clearer with images!

Jeff Skiver said...

Yes...this is a blogger moment. NO PHOTOS visible (even when clicking the links). They were there 3 hours ago. Man, I hope they come back. Do you think they were unhappy? I never heard them complain...did you? Is it that this blog isn't hip enough for them? Are their friends posted on cooler blogs? Have they been chatting with older photos online and possibly ran away, bought a Trailways ticket to Rapid City, and they are just now finding out that these older photos aren't every thing they seemed to be during the email exchange and that really they just want to adjust their RGB settings and play with their pixels? What is the criteria for issuing an Amber Alert for my Blog Photos?

Jeff Skiver said...

OK...I'm going to experiment. I am going to repost them, and I know we will end up with double photos, but dang it I have photos of clamps and stuff that need to be shared. It shows actual woodwork, and I may need this as proof of true business activity should I face the perils of an intense IRS digit exam (that's like an accountant/doctor pun for an audit.)

Andy said...

Now there are pictures! And they're not doubles - but there are still blank bars that are links to non-pictures. Overall, not bad - thanks for working on it!

Ron said...

Dang, now you have pictures, which clearly show I have no clue how to sharpen a scraper blade. I thought I was making progress.

Oh well, if you can make a scraper cut like that surely I can.

Wait, that didn't sound quite right. Maybe I just need the right accounting degree to sharpen scrapers properly. Or was that pencils?

In any event - keep us posted on the workbench. Good preview for our attempts. :^)

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