Monday, May 26, 2008

Live from Studio B

I’ve been thinking about nomenclature. I’ve been thinking about what I call the area where I do my woodworking thing (or at least where all of the tools and equipment live when I am busy surfing the internet or playing Wii Fit and complaining about having no time to do any woodworking.)

Some people call those tool filled places their “SHOP.” However, that seems a little too generic for me because I have more than one shop in my life. All of the car stuff happens in my garage, but it is more of a combination garage/bicycle shop. I’ve said before that somewhere in between my Park Double Arm repair stand and Park TS-3 Master Truing Stand are enough tools to make 90% of the bicycle shops in North America jealous. Do you need to re-tap a bottom bracket? All decent shops can do either English or Italian Threads. However, for some reason I also have a tap for French Threaded bottom brackets, even though I neither work on bikes professionally nor have any French Bicycles. (I never know why I buy every tool I see, whether I’ll ever need it or not).

The non-bicycle part of the garage is pretty well set up for anything I need to do with cars. In the last ten years I have done engine swaps, clutch replacements, Air Locker installations, countless tune-ups, 30 or so brake jobs, 100 oil changes, water pump and radiator replacements, Axle replacements, ring and pinion set-ups, and on and on and on.

Before my wife and I moved to this house, most of the automotive stuff was done at my father-in-law’s shop. Long before I met him he ran a 2000 sq ft body shop behind his house, but he retired and closed his body shop before I ever came on the scene. So in the early days of my marriage, I would commandeer his shop for various automotive projects.

So now to differentiate between his shop, my bike shop, my garage shop, and the area of my plantation where I do welding and metal work, I always refer to my basement area as my WOOD SHOP. I say to Gail, “I’ll be downstairs in the Wood Shop. If the lazy dog should wake up, feel free to convince him to come keep me company.”

I am very happy with the Wood Shop in my basement. However, I will inevitably have to rename that space. Eventually my work will be good enough for me to call my wood shop a “Studio.” It’s a subtle little thing, but it is the key to being a wood artist. Adirondack Chairs are made in Wood Shops by woodworkers. Commissioned furniture projects are done in studios by two types of guys. To the uninitiated, woodshops and studios look a heck of a lot alike. They have identical equipment and tools. The difference between woodshops and studios is the guy doing the work and the deposit slips for his bank account. Today I came up with the official list of criteria required for a woodshop to be called a studio, and here it is:

1) If the woodworker went to art school then it is acceptable to call it a studio. Art School guys are different. A couple of years ago I was a Mechanical Engineer who worked with a bunch of Industrial Designers designing Office Furniture. It was my job to make sure the roll-formed steel and the drawer slides could support the required loads. It was the responsibility of the Industrial Designers to make sure the theme of the company was represented with a passionate design that made one think, “If I have to spend 10 hours a day in a cubicle, this is the work space I want.” Those left handed, beret-wearing guys were studio types.

2) If you are a woodworker who has ever made $1000 profit on a piece then you can call your woodshop a studio. The keyword here is profit. It’s more than selling cherry cabinets for $2000 when you have more than half of that total tied up in materials, overhead, labor, and burden. Woodshops produce items that either generate no income or can sometimes sell for as much as one half of the price of the lumber they use. However, studios are the setting where profitable wooden art projects are created.

Someday my basement woodshop will become my Studio. I am not able to go to art school, so criterion 1 will not happen. However, I have a plan for creating a 4 digit profit on a piece of furniture or a similar woodworking project. I’ll share that plan with you now.

Someday I am going to resaw a walnut plank and find that the bookmatched inner faces form a distinctive picture of Jesus. Then, I will put the resawn slabs on eBay, and send out a press release. Within 24 hours of FoxNews and Headline News doing bits on Jesus in the Walnut, my auction will have bids over $5000. And when the auction ends and the buyer’s PayPal clears, my basement woodshop with the resawing 18” bandsaw will forever be referred to as “My Studio.”

And I’ll get to show pictures to people and say things like, “here is a picture of my Studio. The Unisaw is in the middle, and on the left is my hand crafted maple workbench. If you look closely in the corner you can see my bandsaw where I created my most famous pieces, Jesus in the Walnut, as I was resawing stock one day…”

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Perfection Among Mortals

Yesterday, I witnessed earthly perfection. I saw something that was profound enough to be one of those things that sticks with you for your entire life. I didn’t know it was coming when I woke up yesterday. However, by the time I went to bed last night I had something I can point at and say, “That is perfection!!!”

It started as Gail and I were backing out of the garage on our way to dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. I had the car about 6 feet out of the garage when I looked over and saw a box sitting on the porch. I stopped, pushed the shift lever out of reverse, yanked the parking brake and ran over to find a heavy box that had originated in Oregon.

I handed it to Gail as I got back in the car. She cut it open to find my CT14 Foxtail Shoulder Plane had arrived from Bridge City. I hadn’t purchased one when they first came out, but a few weeks ago I got to hold one. As I held it, I listened as Bridge City Tool Works owner John Economaki spoke of his theory that beautiful tools serve as an inspiration to perform beautiful work. Holding it that night, I felt the magic, and finally placed my order for one.

Yesterday while driving to BW3’s I felt teased as Gail sat in the passenger seat telling me how pretty the Foxtail is, and telling me how heavy it is, and I could hear her playing with the locking lever and the wheel that holds the front part of the plane and allows for adjusting the throat.

Rather than taking it into the restaurant, I left the plane in the car. Gail said she would drive, and I could look at it on the way home. (I am actually a five year old kid trapped in the body of an old man, and Gail understands how to deal with me). With the Foxtail out in the car, Gail and I sat down at our table, and that is where I saw a thing of beauty and perfection. It was not brass and chrome; it was brown. As beautiful as the Foxtail may be, and as great as its design may be…it pales in comparison to what I saw as I ate dinner yesterday afternoon. Yesterday on the huge televisions inside BW3’s I saw The Preakness, and for me it took me back to Italian days in May from a few years ago.

I am not a horse person, but one didn’t need to be to recognize the perfect dominance of Big Brown in the race yesterday. Big Brown was the favorite. Big Brown was EXPECTED to win. Big Brown’s reputation mandated that anything other than victory was complete and total failure. The weird thing is that everyone involved in that race knew that except for the horses. Big Brown has no concept of his reputation. He just knew he was jogging. All of the way to turn four, Big Brown was a horse that was doing a fun run. Then, with the urging of his rider, Big Brown turned to the other gasping horses and said, “Kids, what do you say we stop this strolling along and make a run for the finish. I bet I can beat you.” And out of the fourth turn, Big Brown started running. Instantly The Preakness became a race with one amazing horse and a bunch of ponies struggling to see who could come in second.

I have only seen one other thing like that I can recall. Before his retirement a few years ago, I had the privilege of seeing the greatest bicycle sprinter of all time: Mario Cipollini. When Mario’s team would form up the train to lead him to the finish, it was the most beautiful thing in sport. It was perfectly orchestrated teamwork that would take control of a bike race to put Mario where he needed to be with 200 meters to go. And when his final leadout man, Giovanni Lombardi¸ pulled off there was never any doubt that Mario would end the day atop the podium. At his prime, Mario was a man among a peloton of boys. Yesterday took me back to the Giro d’Italia’s of old. Because at the fourth turn of The Preakness I saw an invisible Giovanni Lombardi peel off, and the Mario Cipollini of Thoroughbreds, a horse named Big Brown, allowed me to experience again the joy of seeing athletic perfection.

We mortals do not get to see perfection very often. My new Foxtail is nice, and I know John Economaki is happy with this tool he designed. And as much as Mr. Economaki hopes this beautiful tool will serve as a muse that inspires the highest level of craftsmanship, I don’t know if the Foxtail will ever move me to tears.

The following is a language censored quote from a scene (available on YouTube) from the film Vision Quest, one of my favorite coming of age movies from my youth:

Elmo: I was in the room here one day... watchin' the Mexican channel on TV. I don't know nothin' about Pele. I'm watchin' what this guy can do with a ball and his feet. Next thing I know, he jumps in the air and flips into a somersault and kicks the ball in - upside down and backwards... the ^%$damn goalie never knew what the %$# hit him. Pele gets excited and he rips off his jersey and starts running around the stadium waving it around over his head. Everybody's screaming in Spanish. I'm here, sitting alone in my room, and I start crying.


Elmo: That's right, I start crying. Because another human being, a species which I happen to belong to, could kick a ball, and lift himself, and the rest of us sad-assed human beings, up to a better place to be, if only for a minute... let me tell ya, kid - it was pretty %$#damned glorious.

Yesterday afternoon, a horse named Big Brown did that same thing to me. Out of nowhere as I sat at a sports bar in Michigan I started crying as I witnessed the glorious moment when another creature on this planet achieved a moment of perfection that lifted me to a better place.

It made me think that perhaps I have what it takes to follow those dreams I keep buried down inside. Perhaps this is my moment to drop down to 168 and take on Shute…

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Cat Scratch Fever

In 1980, my brother and our friends (a couple of toe-headed twins named Keith and Kevin) decided to start a club. We figured since we liked riding our BMX bikes along the side of the tracks of the Burlington Northern route than ran west out of Lima, through our village of Elida, and off toward Delphos we naturally needed a club to encompass the excitement of peddling 20” bikes in the blazing sunlight. We discussed some names, and somewhere between Danny Zucko’s T-Birds and the Doug Henning Magic Men we came up with a name…The Black Panthers.

Don’t ask me how four middle class white boys in Northwest Ohio came up with the same name as Huey Newton’s black Mao-ist/socialist movement. There are some who believe the human brain stores every piece of information a person encounters in life, and the limitation of human existence is not the possession of knowledge but the ability to recall. (This leads to the possibility that hypnosis can cause one to recall seemingly tiny, unperceived details from previous life experiences.) So perhaps one of us had heard Walter Cronkite mention the Black Panthers in our pre-teen lives, or perhaps Keith and Kevin were actually black radicals just passing as Arayan twins…who knows. The point is the four of us decided to call ourselves The Black Panthers. We even went to the T-shirt shop at the mall to see if they had any panthers iron on thingies that we could have put on black shirts. They didn’t. We could have had fuzzy block letters spelling out Black Panthers put on shirts, but that seemed lame. We thought about getting custom air-brushed t-shirts, but that was too expensive. So we just waited 3 or 4 days and forgot about it as focused on our 2 on 2 football games where each person running the ball claimed to be Earl Campbell. Edward and I moved back to Indianapolis a few months later, our family having only spent 6 months in Elida.

I spoke to my brother a few days ago. I haven’t heard from Keith or Kevin in over 27 years. 26 years after the disbanding of The Black Panthers of Elida, Ohio, Panther Fever hit me again. In 2006 when I bought my first hand plane and fell into the Galoot Crevasse, I purchased the two volume boxed set of Garrett Hack’s books. I really wanted The Handplane Book. I bought the boxed set because I love books, and I love to think I am getting a bargain. I had no real interest in the second volume of that set, The Handtool Book. But when those books arrived at my house, I got Panther Fever. One look at the Woodrough and McParlin Panther Saw on the cover of The Handtool Book and an abscess formed in my soul. I instantly had an infected cavity that could only be filled and healed with a Panther Saw.

I went looking for them on Ebay. There were none. What’s the deal????? None on EBAY???? Are they rare, or something? Some Googling told me they were rare. One website went as far as to estimate there were only 30 in existence. Obviously, there are probably more than 30 of them around, but I like how some people vehemently disagree with that total. I’ve seen bulletin board posts that say things like, “Oh, he’s full of crap if he says there are only 30 in existence. The total is probably closer to 50!!!! There could even be 100 of them if they were all dragged out of the barns and basements.”

I couldn’t find one. Gail and I went down to John Sindelar’s last year and there were four of them mocking me. I asked John about them, and he said, “I’ve had a few of them through the years, but I kept these because they were unique. These are weird ones…” (Friends that is a man after my own heart. His collection is so extensive he only collects “weird” Panther Saws.)

A year or so ago a Panther Saw finally showed up on Ebay. It was beat to death, and it went for about $600. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t even bid. A few weeks ago another one showed up. It wasn’t in Sindelar Condition. It had a couple of issues. It had a blade that had seen so many sharpenings it was only about an inch and a half tall at the toe. Also, it had a big nasty drip of latex paint on the handle. Even though I felt my background as a black panther (Elida, Ohio white guy pre-teen chapter from 1980) entitled me to own this saw, it was actually my Ebay bid that made it happen.

So, even though I spoiled this story a week and a half ago by showing Gail pruning trees in the backyard with my Panther Saw, I am officially on record as being a panther owner. I have described my Panther Saw as being like a Gutenberg Bible that is missing Psalms. Sure, given its condition, it is not the most desirable sample in the world, but why don’t you show me yours before you say anything bad about mine.

A couple of weeks ago a Panther Saw in really good shape turned up on Ebay, but the final $1800+ bid did not meet the reserve.

How many are out there? There have to be at least 30 Panthers. I think there are still more than 50 Panther Saws in the world. There could be as many as 100. Mine isn’t perfect, but owning it does make me feel like I am special. And I haven’t felt this special since the Nigerian Government sent me that email asking me to help them move some money around through the use of Money Orders...

Friday, May 9, 2008

I'm Not Emotional...I Just Have Allergies!!!!

I want to do another safety related blog entry before Woodworkers Safety Week gets away from us…

In the shop we should use all of our senses to detect danger. Well, use touch as the last sense for detection. Ya know…if you are unsure whether your table saw is on you should listen for the motor or look for the moving blade before reaching out to touch the spinning carbide.

I think our eyes are the most valuable safety tool we have. Hopefully, we see dangers. Even when we know dangers are present we use our eyes to determine our proximity to them.

So the Jeff Skiver Safety Tip of the day is…make sure your vision is clear by avoiding tears that can cause distorted vision. Therefore, never go to work in the shop immediately after watching any of the following movies:

1) Brian’s Song

2) Old Yeller

3) Love Story

4) Ghost

5) The Way We Were

6) Bambi

7) My Girl

8) E.T.

9) Forrest Gump

10) Pay It Forward

11) I Am Sam

12) Schindler’s List

13) Braveheart

14) Saving Private Ryan

15) Blazing Saddles

Also, if you are in the shop and any of the following songs come on the radio, IMMEDIATELY STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:

1) Wildfire by Michael Martin Murphey

2) Honey by Bobby Goldsboro

3) Diary by Bread

4) Think of Laura by Christopher Cross

5) How Do You Mend a Broken Heart by the Bee Gees

6) Still by The Commodores

7) Alone Again, Naturally by Gilbert O’Sullivan

Finally, if you have been reading ANYTHING written by Nicholas Sparks then you should stay away from your shop for at least 4 weeks after you finish the book. You may think you are okay at 3 weeks, but you aren’t. Even three and a half weeks after finishing Message In A Bottle I would spontaneously break down into uncontrollable fits of agonizing tears. Nicholas Sparks requires FOUR FULL WEEKS!!!!!! You’ve been warned.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Safely Dealing with Big Cats

It’s safety week on The Woodwhisperer Network.

I covered the vast majority of my safety knowledge last year when I posted about the guy who has to remove a shoe if he wants to count into double digits.

However, I did come up with an important safety thought that I should share:

Differentiate between woodshop tools and toolshed items before someone gets killed and someone ends up in prison. (I know that doesn’t make sense, so I”ll explain.)

It starts with the dog. Our dog Peyton is obsessed with chewing lumber. He’s always grabbing rough sawn cut-offs from the shop and running off to gnaw on them. When he’s out in the back yard, he will jump up and tear the lowest limbs off of the trees. He’s an insane little pruner who leaves jagged limb spurs for any tree appendages he can reach.

Last week my lovely wife Gail decided to clean up some of the trees in the back yard that Peyton had roughed up, so she asked me for a saw. I suppose I should have paid closer attention to her, because Gail is a go getter. After giving me plenty of time to respond to her request for a saw, Gail grabbed one out of my woodshop and went to town on the trees in the backyard. She said that saw sure cut through those branches even though it was not a saw specifically designed for pruning trees. Can you guess what kind of saw she used?

Was it my dovetail saw? No.

Was it my Carcass Saw? No.

Was it my Tenon Saw? No.

Was it a DeWalt Reciprocating Saw? No.

Was it a Coping Saw? No.

Was it a Fret Saw? No.

Gail has style. When the dog jumps up and buggers up the lower limbs of the trees in our back yard, Gail cleans them up with a Panther Saw.

At first I was a little upset, but after hearing her describe how well it cut, I decided to try for myself. Wow…that Panther really does cut!!!!!

My safety advice is to pay attention when a loved one asks to borrow a tool. Gail and I got lucky. The borrowing of the Panther Saw worked out this time, but it could have easily had a disastrous outcome. A kinked blade or a dinged horn would have clearly led to a rumble in the backyard, and only one of us would have walked away.

Gail, you’ve been warned. Touch my Panther Saw again, and I’ll cut you!!!!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Raising Arizona....I Mean...Raising Peyton

May 2nd is an anniversary date at my woodshop. One year ago today, I opened the doors to that new apprentice, Peyton, whom I talked about on the back page of the April 2008 issue of Popular Woodworking.

One year ago today, Gail and I drove down to Blue Gill Kennels in Allegan, Michigan and just like H.I. and Edwina McDunnough in Raising Arizona, we picked out “the best *&^%$$ one” and brought him home.

We carried Peyton into the house, presented him as a gift to our 10 ½ year old yellow Lab (Abby), and then I dragged all 6 pounds of him down to the shop. I wanted to take a picture of him that would mean something, so I posed him with my dovetail saw and my workhorse #4 ½ Smoother. I also positioned him on a piece of wood that I don’t deserve to own. My thought is that 10 years from now when I am good enough to make something with that piece of wood I will pose the full grown boy next to it, as a way of showing how long I have saved it.

To annually celebrate Peyton’s arrival at our home (and woodshop), I now think that I will take a shop photo of him every year on May 2nd. Here is how he looked tonight…just 105 pounds heavier than last year.

There is one interesting coincidence about Peyton’s addition to our family. The day after we got him in 2007, Gail, Peyton, and I headed down to Indianapolis for a weekend class with David Charlesworth. (I took the class; Gail and Peyton hung out with my parents.)

I knew from David’s blog that he was a dog owner, so I went to great lengths to show off photos of my newly acquired puppy. At the end of that weekend, when David signed one of his books for me, he personalized it with “Jeff, Enjoy the new boy. David Charlesworth.”

The coincidence was when my April issue of PopWood arrived with the story of Peyton on the back page, my friend and fellow dog lover David Charlesworth had written the cover story on Band Saws.

David, your inscription has proven prophetic. Peyton adds great joy to my life.

How is it Edwina described it to H.I??? “I LOOOOOOVE HIM SOOOOO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Shaky Deaf Guys with Digital Protractors...

Purely original thoughts are rare. I hate it when I come up with a great joke and then find someone else has been using it for three years.

Here is the best joke I wrote last week. Just wait…it will probably turn up on Comedy Central in a few months in an act that was filmed in 2005. So even though I think this is an original Skiver…odds are someone else wrote this joke first:

Is a deaf mute with Parkinson’s disease considered to be a stutterer?

Well, with that lead in, I want to present a really cool sharpening trick I learned recently from Chris Gochnour. Putting a chisel or plane blade into a honing guide requires one to accurately set the blade at the desired angle, and there are many techniques for this. Some people put the blade in the honing jig while sighting against a protractor in the background. Others make jigs that register a given blade projection for each desired angle they want to use with their honing guide…ya know…extend the blade X.XXX inches for 25 degrees and Y.YYYY inches for 30 degrees, etc. That kind of jig is excellent for getting repeatable angles with a given honing jig. However, it still suffers from the question of how the angles were measured the first time the jig was created and assembled.

Mr. Gochnour put me onto using the Wixey or Beall digital protractors for setting the honing angle. THIS IS BRILLIANT!!!! I don’t know why I only considered using my $40 digital reader for my jointer fence and table saw blade tilt, but Chris’ idea is the most accurate method I have seen to mount a blade in a honing guide at a desired angle.

Chris Gochnour is a very savvy woodworker. He finds (or invents) amazing ways to accurately perform woodworking tasks that are too often looked upon as requiring gifted dexterity. I mean…you can put a four year old on a two wheel bike and let him struggle to learn to ride it, or you can bolt some training wheels onto his bike for a while as he develops a feel for balance. Chris seems to come up with all kinds of helpful ideas (training wheels).

I don’t know if Chris invented this idea of using the digital protractor box for setting a honing guide. Perhaps this has already appeared as a workshop tip in 5 different magazines. I just know that I learned this from Chris, so for now he gets the credit…

Now back to important considerations…like shaky sign language…