Thursday, August 28, 2008

Update on The Chisel

Good News….Bad News….

Why must it always be so damn difficult????

I think I found my chisel. A comment this morning by faithful reader Ethan put me onto the possibility that my missing chisel has something to do with Bad Karma over the differing opinions of John and me regarding drawer sides or possibly Bad Karma over my differing plans for the use of lumber. Either way I think the drawer side controversy is perhaps why she went missing. So following this revelation, I just needed to figure out how to get her back.


Somehow today I was able to find a different John…John Smith. More specifically, I found Col. John "Hannibal" Smith. Also, I not only found him, but I was able to successfully hire The A-Team to find my chisel.

The good news is they found it.

The bad news is that she is currently located in The Worst Toilet in Scotland.

So if I can now locate Ewan McGregor and get some Trainspotting instruction on how to make it through the trap of the toilet and swim down to where the chisel resides…everything should work out just fine.

(Note to self: it’s always interesting how some of my favorite blog posts garner NO feedback… so I am not sure if anyone will understand this one…and if they do…if there will be anything to add.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Amber Alert for the Shop

Where is she? Or is she a he? Where is it?

I’m missing a chisel, and it has me worried. There is a big empty slot in my chisel roll, and the void seems to consume the entire shop.

How does a chisel just disappear? Was it kidnapped? Did it wander off and lose its way during its trip back?

Am I responsible? Did I misplace it? Did I drive it away with a mallet whack that was just too harsh, applied at the wrong spot, or struck at the wrong time?

It’s not a big, tough Mortise Chisel that can chop through anything the world throws at it. It’s a more delicate socket chisel. It is a lovely Cocobolo handled skew chisel. It’s a delicate, beautiful, and viciously sharp tool that feels amazingly balanced. It’s a chisel that feels perfectly at home when I reach for it and hold it in my hands. My missing chisel is a tool that helps me to do my highest level of work.

Now that I think about it, I know I didn’t drive it away, because my Cocobolo handled skew chisels are only used for paring. They have never been struck. They have never been man handled or strong armed. They have always been delicately handled like little Baby chisels. Yet, it is missing.

Where are you, Baby Chisel?

I’ve looked all over the top of my cluttered workbench, the place where you belong. I’ve looked under the bench too. I’ve looked in the deepest corners of my tool cabinet. My search for you even forced me to face the spiders that hide under the lumber rack.

I’ve looked everywhere in my shop…our shop. And I have to assume that someone took you away. Someone who passed through the shop looked upon your beauty and decided that you should belong to them.

I tried to talk to a friend about it, but I was left feeling empty by all of the clich├ęs:
  • Do I really miss the chisel, or do I just miss the idea of having a full chisel collection?
  • If you love a tool…set it free….if it comes back to you then it is yours for all eternity.
  • There are plenty of other skew chisels in the world. Just call Tom Lie-Nielsen and order another.

I still bristle as my heart cries out the expected response, “I don’t want ANOTHER chisel. I want MY chisel!!!!!!!!!”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

not THAT ebony...

Yesterday I posted a blog entry on dealing with the guilt from other people who have unrealistic paradigms of what life (and specifically woodworking) should be.

I wrote it in the morning, and then a little after lunch I came back in from getting the mail and read an article in the latest Popular Woodworking that somehow applies. Its connection to the blog post is convoluted, but it does apply.

In the backpage feature (Out of the Woodwork) of the latest (October 2008) PopWood, the author talks about certain boards being almost too good to use. Meanwhile yesterday, I argued that perhaps I should hide some really, really nice lumber inside a cabinet piece where almost no one will ever see it.

Perhaps they are both dumbass arguments???? Maybe the PopWood article is just as screwed up as my blog posting??? The thing is they were both written by the same dumbass.

You see, I didn't know that issue was due out so soon. Normally, when I have an article in the magazine, they send me a couple of free preview copies about two weeks before the magazine goes out to subscribers. That didn't happen this time; I was still looking for my preview copies yesterday when I found the real thing. So even though I knew my Out of the Woodwork feature "Et Tu Brute" would eventually be out in circulation, I certainly didn't realize it would arrive at my house on the same day I published a blog post defending my right to use any lumber I choose. (Also, let me go on record clearly stating I would NEVER make drawer sides from the wide ebony mentioned in the magazine.)

So....let's scramble for some credibility here....

I think rather than saying I am a dumbass who has managed to put out conflicting thoughts on the use of good lumber versus prized lumber....I instead am going to embrace the USA election year political mentality of saying, "I didn't flip flop...I am just making sure I represent as many different voter opinions as possible."

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dealing with Guilt

I had the great pleasure of enduring a guilt-laden lecture this weekend.

Apparently in my attempt to live my life and do what was right for me, I crossed someone else’s line of acceptable behavior and had to spend hours hearing about it.

You see, I made some drawer sides from stock that was something other than CRAP. It wasn’t luthier quality 5A Birdseye maple, but my drawer sides weren’t knotty pine, either. This simple action on my part incensed a friend of mine, and John spent the better part of Saturday constantly telling me that I was a wasteful, short sighted, selfish, arrogant, immature, and foolish spendthrift. Then, just for good measure he added that I was at least partially responsible for most of the actions carried out by the Khmer Rouge, the genocide in Rwanda, and the introduction of New Coke.

The ironic thing is that I actually thought I was being frugal. The only ½ inch stock I had was the pretty stuff. And it was just the right size for the drawer sides I needed. This wood was a perfect fit for what I needed. So rather than run a lesser wood through the planer and turn 30% of it to chips….I just made my drawer sides from the good stuff that might have otherwise sat in the cutoff bin for years. I thought I was justified in my decision.

Because my friend has 40 years of experience building drawers, he has an unwavering opinion of what drawer sides can be. In his world they have to be the worst wood from the cutoff bin. Drawer sides are made from wood you “settle for.” I guess I wanted more. See, I thought since it was my life I could have drawers that were beautiful on the sides, too. I bought the wood. It was my sweat and tears that went into the construction. (Wait….you guys know me…let me rephrase that…). It was my BLOOD, sweat, and tears that went into the construction. I’m an adult. I have a right to make my drawer sides from anything I want. My friend just doesn’t see it that way.

Perhaps I should start a new policy of including one ebony sided drawer in each piece of furniture I make. If I had great talent (and infinite time) I would add marquetry on top of those ebony drawer sides (not on the drawer front…on the sides). And then, I would NEVER point out to anyone that one drawer in the cabinet had hidden beauty. Like a woman who wears her prettiest Vicki Stuff under the faded jeans she dons to shovel out the horse stalls in the barn, my cabinets would always have one little beautiful hidden feature that I put in there just for me. And even though most of my contemporaries are making drawer sides from whatever stock they decide to “settle for”… on at least one drawer per project, I will make it in a way that shows my very personal decision to rise above the level of mediocrity and reach for that brass ring just one more time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Breaking Up with Purpleheart

I spent the morning upset about Purpleheart.

I was trying to do some fancy hand joinery in a piece of purpleheart and it just wasn’t meant to be. (Let’s face it…given its hardness, purpleheart can sometimes be as easy to work as glass).

Somehow during the process of struggling with the lavender wood it took me back years to when I was still dating.

My brain knew that what I was trying to do was doomed. Inside I knew the joint I was trying to cut was just not meant to be. However, my emotions really wanted it. I wanted that chisel to create the perfect tiny Dovetail on that rock hard, ¾ inch thick plank. And it was just like one of those doomed relationships from years ago I couldn’t’ get to work, regardless of how badly I wanted it.

So I reverted to something else from my past…I started blaming everything else for the circumstances I couldn’t change. I knew my chisels were razor sharp, but I yelled at them anyway. I know that I know how to cut with my dovetail saw, yet I still chose to curse my hand. My workbench held the board exactly where I wanted it to be, but after failure occurred I still wondered what would have happened if I had positioned the board differently.

Ultimately, I have to walk away knowing that I sincerely tried to do it, but I just couldn’t make it work. Rob Cosman probably could have done it, but this wasn’t about him. Frank Klausz might have achieved perfection, but it wasn’t Frank’s project. Instead, I am left with the knowledge that sometimes it is not enough to have all of the right tools and a heart full of desire. Sometimes, it just isn’t meant to be.

One final dating metaphor…I suppose even in walking away I can hold onto the hope that things might be different. Perhaps in two years I’ll pull that purple plank back out and see if the circumstances are different. We romantic woodworkers always cling to that “what if” hope.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Outdoor Type

I know….no blog postings for ten days and now two in one afternoon….

About 11 days ago I told of my adventure removing a splinter by myself while Gail was off visiting her sister in San Francisco.

Well, today tragedy struck again. I got another splinter but this one came from doing something we’ve all done at one time or another. I refer to the painful “reaching into the briefcase” splinter.

I happened to look in my briefcase today, and I saw that the center compartment is still filled with Euro coins from where I was in Ireland 2 months ago. So I decided to clean them out. I reached down in there and began scooping them out when I felt the most intense pain of my life.

Having never passed a kidney stone, here is the previous personal pain record holder: I was carrying the ball and had enough steam built up that when the defensive guy hit me he sort or bounced off, and as I kept running his attempt to grasp me caused him to slide down my body. With my left foot planted on the ground this guy’s knee came down right on top of my left foot, breaking 3 of my Metatarsals. (Shout out….Dr. Steve Ahlfeld…thanks again for fixing my foot. All these years later I have NO issues, even when the weather changes. It’s perfect.)

Anyway, broken metatarsals are nothing like the pain I felt prior to pulling my hand out of my briefcase and seeing a huge splinter jammed up under the fingernail of the middle finger on my right hand. Yes, just like some kind of sadistic POW torture, I had put the equivalent of a toothpick under my fingernail and broken it off.

It doesn’t help that I have a problem with biting my fingernails…

Strangely, the splinter only hurt on the way in. Having found its equilibrium, it was not causing any pain as it just sat there. Still, I couldn’t leave it there.

Gail won’t be home until Tuesday. (I know…she has been in San Francisco LONGER than we were in Ireland….) I don’t think it would be good for this splinter to wait that long. What if the nail grows over it, trapping it in there? Also, I don’t know what species it is. It could be Cherry, but it might be Padauk…and I just don’t like the thought of African wood living under my fingernail. What if it leads to Ebola? Laugh all you want, people, but none of us actually knows for sure….

So I had no option but to cruise over to PrimeCare (it’s cheaper and faster than the Emergency Room). However, when I got there I found there must be influenza sweeping through the blueberry farms of West Michigan because it seems every migrant farm worker in the area was there with a sniffling horde of kids. I asked, and a nurse confirmed they had a full crowd in front of me. So l left and went to lunch.

I drove 25 miles away to my favorite place to eat (BW3s) and used their free WiFi to email my tale of woe to my wife who was 3 hours behind me on the west coast. I ate my food while asking all of my favorite waitresses if they would like to earn some extra cash going after the splinter…no one needed the money that badly.

So I used the internet to find the closest medical facility. When I arrived at Spectrum Hospital’s Urgent Care facility, I found no migrant farm workers…only trained medical professionals looking to help.

The Physician’s Assistant asked if I wanted to try to tough it out or if I wanted to take the sure fire painless route. He misinterpreted my answer and the next thing you know I am “toughing it out.” Basically he just jammed some tweezers under my nail and yanked that bad boy out.

I have posed it with a dime (and a 10 cent Euro coin) for size comparison.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Perhaps I should not be left home alone in the future???

What does it say about my woodworking toughness when I get doctor-worthy splinters just reaching into my briefcase?

It’s probably a good thing that I am more into hotels than tents. It’s really best than I don’t like to go camping. To quote the Lemonheads….Honey, "I lied about being the outdoor type.”

Dude, Your Car Sounds So Fast

Just think about when today’s kids become woodworkers….things are going to be a lot different. I say this based upon their choice in automobiles.

To give a foundation for the validity of my statements, let me give you my resume.

I am a car guy. I didn’t see it coming. I was a cyclist, and cars were just the things that could potentially kill you out on the narrow country roads of Indiana. However, when I turned 16, I decided I needed a car. I just wanted a car…any car would have done. So I took all of my money from my paper route, and my parents helped me out by giving me some additional funds, and we went out looking for cars.

I remember we were down in Acton (southeast of Indianapolis) when we looked over and saw a car for sale. It was hard to miss it. It was orange. Those hood scoops were factory original…not some stupid aftermarket crap. The center caps on the Ralley II wheels indicated the car was part of PMD (the Pontiac Motor Division of GM). However, PMD was not the important 3 letter acronym associated with this car. I would say the more important letters were GTO. It had rusty quarter panels, perfect white vinyl interior, and everything was original…including the lady who sold it to us. She had bought it brand new from Tom Wood Pontiac back in 1972. She wanted $1000, and we got it for $900 cash. It was the fall of 1986, and I still didn’t know what I had. I just knew I had a car.

Then, I drove myself to school the next day and something happened…I pulled into my parking spot when a bunch of guys I didn’t know were suddenly surrounding my car and asking me questions about my “Goat.” GOAT?!?!?!? Wow, these guys aren’t dumb…they’re just dyslexic. Well, somehow thanks to an orange Pontiac GTO my life as a Gearhead was jumpstarted.

A couple of years later, in college, I fell hard for convertibles, and I kept myself going knowing that my Rose-Hulman degree would land me an engineering job and enough salary to get a new convertible. During rainy college nights, when I would be fixing Thumper (my 1981 VW Rabbit) on the side of I-70, I vowed that I would get a new car (a convertible) the moment I graduated.

By the way, going from the GTO to Thumper was quite a change. Thumper only had compression in 3 of its 4 cylinders, so even though I thought I was Ayrton Senna when I would shift the four speed manual transmission, the car sure didn’t perform like his F1 car. Thumper didn’t perform or sound like my GTO. However, the GTO only got 8 miles to the gallon. (Honest to God…it got 8 mpg). Thumper was far more economical for a college student even with the cheap fuel we had in the early 1990s. Still, I always loved the sound of the V8.

Today, Gail and I have four cars, and we cover a wide spectrum. We have a 4 cylinder Jeep Wrangler with a full roll cage, Skid Plates galore, a Warn Winch, and ARB Air Lockers with 4.56 gears. (Our rock crawling history was done with Low Gearing…not high HP.) Gail has a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with a V8. We have the amazingly economical 2006 VW Jetta TDi (Diesel), and we have a Mercedes SLK with AMG Sport Package. So we have a 4 cylinder, a 6 cylinder, an 8 cylinder, and a diesel. We fix EVERYTHING ourselves, and we keep our cars forever. (I am a true Gearhead...)

When we got the Mercedes, Gail said I had to get rid of the convertible I got 5 days after I graduated from Rose-Hulman, so I gave it to my mother. (I am a very good son).

I love my Mercedes. I love the fact that it is soooooooooo smooth. It idles like a finely engineered automobile, but when you plant the right foot hard, it opens up an adrenaline flood of tsunami proportion. If I am getting on it, the traction control kicks in on the 2-3 shift. Do you know what it takes to break loose those huge back tires while letting out the clutch on the shift into third gear?

However, when the SLK is cruising along, the guy driving next to it has no idea what that silver beauty can do. He probably thinks, “Wow that car is beautiful.” And when it is suddenly gone he thinks, “WOW!!!! That beautiful car is FAST!!!!!!!”

By comparison, this week while driving home from work, my Diesel Jetta was passed by a Husqvarna chain saw. It wasn’t really a chain saw; it was actually a WeedWhacker. You’ve seen them. Little cars driven by 18 year old guys with some kind of coffee can sticking out from under the rear bumper that makes the car sound like something you’d use to clean up a fence line. So the Weed Whacker passes me, and at the next stop light it couldn’t accelerate as fast as my Diesel Jetta that only has about 98 hp. And I, as a Mechanical Engineer and a Gearhead, just couldn’t figure it out. What is the appeal in that sound? Why would a kid want fancy wheels and a coffee can that makes WeedWhacker noises when there are so many other options?

I think I want to do an intervention. I want to work with the local schools and get all of the kids together at the racetrack when they turn 15 and go through a little Scared Straight program.

We’ll start with a Shelby Cobra. I’ll make sure the side pipes are nice and loud, and we’ll just take each kid for a couple of hot laps and let them see what real hp and real exhaust rumble is all about.

Then, I can pack 4 kids into an AMG Mercedes Sedan (let’s go with an S65). And we’ll start by just sitting there letting them play with the interior toys and feel the leather seats and just generally get the feel of what you get with a $200,000 Mercedes. Then, I’ll turn to look at the collection of 15 year old kids, and say, “Let’s see what this 4 door Family Truckster car can do.” (I won’t necessarily tell them that this particular 4 door has a bi-turbo V12 that pumps out over 600 street legal and factory warrantied horsepower.) It just looks like a beautiful 4 door Mercedes that blows away just about anything on the road without having to make any funky WeedWhacker noises.

This is my true calling. I need to work with America’s youth to let them know that WeedWhacker Mufflers are just wrong. You only have three choices:
  1. Leave your Mom’s Buick sounding just like it did the day she bought it.
  2. Get yourself an American V8 and bolt on some headers and a free flowing exhaust package and bask in the Symphony of the Right Foot Stomp
  3. Pay way too much money to get a race car that is hidden underneath the skin of a 4 door German luxury car, and go out looking for Corvettes and Mustangs to mess with.

If I don’t do this, then we are going to lose this generation to the mistaken belief that the WeedWhacker sound is not only acceptable, but that it actually symbolizes performance.

Think of what that attitude will do to the future of woodworking. My nephews will end up saying things like, “My uncle Jeff thinks that 5 hp Unisaw is tough, but give me a 7 ½” Skil saw with an exhaust rattler any day.” “Uncle Jeff thinks his 18 inch Bandsaw is cool, but I would much rather just use this jig saw with the optional motor Rattler.” These little punks won’t even have the decency to build upon the foundation of a Festool Plunge saw. They’ll be buying saws from Harbor Freight and bolting on aftermarket equipment to accentuate the screaming of the cheap Chinese bearings. And in their mind, they’ll be cool.