Ripping on the super saw bench…

If you fancy yourself a craftsman of wood, then you are no doubt familiar with the countless people that ask you to build/repair/customize/take a look at/help them with all manner of projects involving wooden goods and furniture.

I am always amazed at the boldness of people like this, whether they are complete strangers or quasi relatives, they always seem to assume I/we are the most capable people in the world. How do they know I’m not some half-crazed nut job that likes to chop the legs off  of Hepplewhite highboys with a chain saw??!?!??

Anyway, I’ve been mistakenly referring to myself as one of these alleged “craftsman” for some time, and thankfully, over the last few years, I’ve gotten quite good at dodging these oh so tactfully poised inquiries into my willingness to work on whatever jackass crown molding job or shoddy antique refinishing boondoggle people have laid at my feet. I will say, however, that there are some requests that I am more than happy to oblige. Those are the ones that come from parents and grandparents.

Call it respect for one’s elders, or reverence for those we owe our existence and prosperity to, but I do enjoy helping close family. Hell, I often suspect that the only reason my family hasn’t disowned me by now is that I may be the only one in the family that has half a chance at not cutting off a limb or burning the house down when home projects are undertaken.

Anyway, when my mom asked me a few weeks ago to make a table leaf for her antique white oak dining table, how could I refuse? I know its something she’s wanted for a while, and seeing as its her birthday next week, I figured it would be a marked improvement over my usual gift of, well…nothing.

Fortunately for the readers of my blog (or not, depending on your preferences) this little project actually contains some great saw work…..YAHOOOOO!!!!

So let’s get down to brass tacks…

The table is made of quarter sawn white oak, and thusly, I purchased a nice 8 foot board of about 7 inches wide. Since the leaf will have a finished width of 11 inches, and you always want to balance your laminations, I need two 5 and 1/2 inch wide planks. And you know what that means, boys and girls……….its rrrrrrrrrrrripping time!

This is a great chance to show off my new SuperSawBench that I finished a few weeks ago. I’ve been doing a lot of cross cutting on my new bench, but haven’t had a chance to do a lot of ripping….so lets try it out….

I’ll use my trusty Wenzloff/Disston #9….here she is all limbered up…

When I first started ripping on a saw bench, it took me a little while to adjust to it…especially the ripping notch, but now that I’m used to it, it certainly is the go to spot. And I start by marking my cut line on the board and aligning it in the center of the ripping notch…

Positioning your body correctly is the most challenging part of learning to rip at the saw bench…..because it has to FEEL right to you. And what feels right to you may not feel right to someone else, so its difficult to describe how to do it correctly for that reason. The point is, you need to be relatively comfortable as you start the rip, so you can focus on keeping the saw moving and the cut square, not on how much your back hurts. In this case, a picture is worth 1000 words…

If you recently read BobRozaieski’s article in Popular Woodworking about ripping with a hand saw, then you know how important it is to center your eye over the spine of the saw plate…this is how you are most inclined to saw straight, square and true. Here’s what you should see as you are about to start sawing…

Can you see my pencil line marking the cut? Nope! That’s how you know you’re lined up straight…and that’s how your view should be from start to finish….if not, you’re liable to cant your saw out of square. Not good.

After I get the saw started, I have to inch the board forward every few seconds to keep the saw from cutting into the bench top. Once you get the hang of this, you kind of instinctively nudge it forward as needed with your rear foot or left (non-sawing) hand. Here you can see clearly how the ripping notch functions: each side of the notch supports the work while allowing you to cut deeper into the board without cutting the bench…

About halfway into the rip, the board starts to cantilever out into nowhere, and ripping can become a little tedious….so here’s why many craftsman of old recommend building saw benches in pairs…

…for outfeed support!

As I get towards the end of the rip, I need to pay close attention to securing the board. I no longer have the benefit of using my right knee as a home-made hold-fast, so I make use of my other meat clamp (my hand) and apply firm pressure…

The other way to accomplish a rip like this is to cut halfway through and then turn the board around and cut the other half from the other end, that way you don’t need to worry about the out feed support. But then you have to get a little more creative with holding the waste side of the cut…kind of a pain in the butt, and much easier to cut off a thumb nail….DAMHIKT. 😦

All done!

I think ripping a board like this is just about the most fun you can have in the shop (at least without strippers, anyway).

Yes, its work, but if you’re afraid of work, what the hell are you doing in the shop, right?

-Matt

Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm  Comments (8)  

A recipe for better sawing…

I’ve been having an on going conversation with Mark Harrell of BadAxeToolworks over email, and Mark has graciously shared with me some of his experiences and insights as a saw maker. One particular insight that struck me was how many times he sees woodworkers approach his table at a show, pick up a saw and bench hook, and be completely unable to saw square despite the exceptional function of his tools.

This got me thinking about what a revelation making and using a bench hook for the first time was for me. It truly changed my work over night.

And a recent post on WoodNet from a woodworker looking for pointers on sawing plumb and square to a line, prompted me to respond with some points that have been especially helpful to me, as well.

So, as I was cutting the final joinery for my super saw bench I figured I would share my thoughts on accurately sawing up on a workbench. And the following is my recipe for sawing square and plumb….now, mind you, none of these pointers are my own ideas….they were collected from great WW minds, both past and present. Each one was a giant revelation in how to saw better. Add them together and you’ve got a winning combination…

1) Use a bench hook. If you don’t have a bench hook, make one. You will be AMAZED!!!  Here’s some plans for bench hooks: http://www.ehow.com/how_4689202_make-bench-hook.html

2) Track your saw in two dimensions. Mark your cut on the face, and the edge of the board and learn how to watch both lines as you stroke. This will make you line up your saw, arm, and body with the cut line. Learn to track both lines, and you’re gauranteed better cuts…

 

3) Another way to track in two (or three dimensions)…try kerfing in the cut on two or three sides before making the full cut. Kerf in the face, and both edges of the board 1/16th to 1/8th deep and then use those to track the saw. This will automatically guide that saw as the teeth will naturally follow the path of least resistance, i.e. the existing kerf.

4) Slow down! No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to cut a board as fast as your power miter saw. This, for me, was one of the most important lessons in hand tool wood working. I had to force myself to let go of the desire to work as quickly as with power tools. I don’t make furniture in a factory. I don’t work in a cabinet shop. Time is not money. Money is money, and time in my shop should be fun. Now, when I work in my shop, I actually enjoy the WORK!!! I like planing, I like chiseling, and I LOVE sawing! I don’t even care when I finish something…its the process I enjoy now.

5) Lighten up! Loosen your grip and don’t force the saw, either forward, or downward. Just like in golf when you learn to drive the ball..let the club do the work like my dad always says. The same principle applies here….let the saw do the work. This was one of the things that Mark mentioned that most WW get wrong…the death grip!!!! When you eventually learn how to control the subtle nature of the saw stroke, then you can apply gentle force in just the right time parts of the stroke. How loose should you hold the saw? So loose that if the work and bench suddenly disappeared beneath you, it might fall to the floor. Seriously….(almost) that loose. You want to just wrap your fingers around the tote and hold it oh so gently enough that you feel the back curve of the tote pushing the inside of your palm when you stroke forward. You want to ruin the accuracy of your cuts when learning to saw? Grip it like you’re swinging an axe: certain disaster.

6) Finally, if you’re not getting accurate results, don’t keep cutting the same way. Remember the definition of foolishness: taking the same action over and over and expecting a different result. So change it up. Saw in a different position. Try it in a vise, try it on the bench hook. Try it with a back saw, try it with a hand saw. Eat them in a house, eat them with a mouse. Eat them in a box, eat them with a fox. (Sorry…who doesn’t like green eggs and ham?!?!?)

Add these up and what do you get? Table saw accuracy without the envigorating threat of losing a thumb…

And for the truly bold and courageous of you, you can do what I did and FORCE yourself to become a better sawyer: sell your table saw and give your compound miter saw to your dad so he can cut kindling with it. 🙂

Happy sawin’!

-Matt

Published in: on January 19, 2011 at 9:01 pm  Comments (11)  

How to saw a tenon…

A few years ago, when I was still a young buck, I decided to make a bedside table and wanted to cut all the joinery by hand. I remember after cutting the tenons for the table skirt to leg joint, I was left with an overwhelming feeling of wanting to slit my wrists out of frustration. I should note that at that time I probably couldn’t have told the difference between a tenon saw and a roast beef saw.

Well, some years have passed since then and I’m only slightly wiser and about 50 lbs heavier…go figure. I do, however, finally have the proper tool for making such joinery cuts…a 16 inch tenon saw filed 10 points rip. You can read about the re-birth of my new saw here in my last post.

There was a method to my madness when I decided to take this old saw down the other day and tune it up finally…I knew that my new super saw bench that I’ve been working on was going to have some pretty honkin’ big tenons, and thusly need a pretty honkin’ big saw.

So I was in the shop today sawing the joinery for said bench, and while I won’t be posting the next installment of the bench build until I finish the leg assemblies, I figured this would be a good chance to share just how I go about cutting a tenon by hand. Besides having the right tool, a couple of tricks can help.

After marking out the tenon cheeks and shoulders, I chuck the work in my leg vise so that the cheek is perpendicular to the length of the bench. This allows unobstructed sawing and provides the most secure clamping of the work, as the saw strokes thrust against the mass of the bench, as opposed to clamping the work so that my stroke would be parallel with the length and could loosen in process.

Now that the work is secure, I go about kerfing in the cut on two sides. I start with the end grain on top of the tenon. Its important here to use a light stroke starting with the toe resting on the far edge away from you and slowly lowering your stroke until level. I aim for about a 1/16 to and 1/8 inch of depth…just get a good kerf established…

Next I kerf in the cheek facing me by placing the saw heel along the cheek line and lightly stroking upwards…

Now, I’ve created a two-dimensional kerf guide for my saw and can begin sawing the cheek. The trick, however, is to cut the tenon in two separate actions…in essence, dividing the tenon cheek into two equal triangles, or corners as Adam Cherubini says.

I begin with the saw teeth buried in the top kerf and apply pressure in my stroke on the heel. This way, the toe doesn’t start to cut on the far cheek line…

With each stroke the corner gets cut away. You can see how I don’t cut into the far cheek line…

When I reach the base of the cheek, I’ve cut out the first “triangle” and can flip the work around in the vise and kerf in the opposite cheek line…

…and then saw out the remaining triangle…

And finish by bringing the cut to just a hair shy of the shoulder line.

By using this two stage approach to sawing a tenon cheek, I’ve found that it eliminates the two biggest frustrations in hand sawing: 1) By using the two kerfed in lines as a multidimensional guide it ensures an accurate and plumb cheek cut, and 2) By keeping the saw teeth at an angle to the face grain (by keeping the toe higher than the heel) it ensures the most efficient action of the teeth and a swift cut.

Making these two changes to my tenon sawing routine turned me from wanting to throw myself onto a spinning table saw blade, to wanting to saw tenons for no reason what so ever ’cause it’s so damn fun!

And after the cheeks are done, it’s a quick trip to the bench hook to saw the shoulders…

And voila…

Repeat for the other cheek and shoulder, and we’re done!

A few swipes of the shoulder plane and she’ll be ready for fitting to the mortise.

Tune in next time and I’ll be putting the legs together on this saw bench so I can get back to working on my tools….enough of this silly woodworking already!!!!!!

🙂

-Matt

Published in: on January 1, 2011 at 10:52 pm  Comments (5)  

Resawing by hand…

I often find myself needing to resaw large slabs of wood efficiently in my shop, and since I love my rip saws, its only natural that this is the tool I choose to accomplish that task.

Resawing is, technically speaking, sawing a piece of timber along the grain to reduce it in thickness. Common resawing operations are making veneer from a board, sawing a thicker board in half for book matching or, as in my case, cutting a single 2 inch thick chunk into two 1 inch thick slabs for handle blanks.

I selected a nice piece of bubinga, about 8 inches by 8 inches by 2 inches thick, so that  by resawing it, it becomes two very usable pieces…I could get two full size hand saw totes out of them, or, with efficient layout, maybe even four back saw totes (two from each piece). Bubinga is a realtively hard, dense, and tough wood….resawing it should be fun!

The first step before I start actually sawing is layout. And like all good work, the layout is critical. It’s very difficult to just clamp up the blank and start sawing, praying with each stroke that you stay square…that’s a real crap shoot (and I’m no where near good enough a sawyer to keep it straight anyway!) So, the trick is to use a marking gauge and scribe a line all the way around the blank along the center of its thickness to mark where your saw will cut.

Here’s the blank marked all the way around. I also darken the scribe line a bit with pencil…

Now I place the blank in my tail vise with one edge parallel to the bench top (it doesn’t matter which edge). In order to keep the saw tracking straight and square, you need to create a saw kerf all the way around the blank along the scribe lines. This will guide the saw blade as it cuts and ensure that it is tracking true in both dimensions. Without doing this crucial step first, as I mentioned above, it’s real crap shoot.

So, with the blank tightened up in the vise, I start with my 24 inch 6 point rip saw and begin to define the saw kerf along one edge of the blank. The key to remember as you start to cut is to use light preasure…don’t grip the handle tight and force it…hold it gently, letting the teeth do the work. At this point, the kerf is not defined, and taking it slow and easy to track the blade properly in the scribe line is paramount. If you force the saw, it will jump out of the line and cut off track. You should be gently holding the saw tote and only feeling the saw pushing back on your forward thrust…just in the palm of your hand. Keep the tooth line parallel to the face of the cut at this point… you’re aiming to create a saw kerf of even depth along the line. An 1/8th of an inch deep is plenty. Here’s my blank with the first kerf cut…

Next, I rotate the blank forward by 90 degrees and perform the same step all around the four sides of the blank. The fourth kerfing cut should join the first and third and each kerf should meet at the same point…right in the middle of the thickness of the blank.

With all four sides kerfed  in, now I rotate the blank 45 degrees in the vise and clamp it down so that one corner is pointing up….

The next step is to treat the blank like a giant mortise and ‘saw out the corner’ as Adam Cherubini likes to say. With the two kerfs started on each side, the saw plate will guide itself with little effort and cut true as a plumb bob.

I switch to a full size D-8 rip saw (thank you daryl!) at this point and start with, once again, gentle sweeps of the saw. I always let the saw do the work, especially at this point. The key here, is to align your eye so you can see the saw plate staying on line with the front and the back kerfs…that’s how you know you’re sawing true. Once I’m an inch or two into the kerf, I can start to really pump my arm back and forth to speed the cut….I always keep an eye on the front and back kerf to ensure I’m staying straight, but at this point, the saw pretty much stears itself.

Here I am about half way into the first ‘corner’…

Once I reach just shy of the half-way point, it’s a simple matter of flipping the blank 180 degrees in the vise, so that the other ‘corner’ is sticking up and repeat the previous step. Again, the key is just lining up the saw strokes with the two defined kerfs on each side and sawing away. You can see how easy it is to track the saw properly with the kerfed in corners….

When the blank is almost cut through, the two pieces start to feel loose and at this point, I switch back to the smaller saw and finish the cut…

A few more gentle strokes and the two pieces are free!

So there you have it….resawing the old fashioned way. The two blanks are nice and even in thickness…with a little planing, they’ll be ready for new lives as saw totes. I suppose you could say the more traditional way to resaw by hand would be with a frame saw, but I much prefer this method….I can’t see using a frame saw for much of anything (sorry Frank Klaus!).

All in all, this was probably five minutes or so of sawing….pretty quick. I’m not really worried about time in the shop though (and I’m a poor judge of it as well, I should add!)  My true motivation in resawing by hand is simply pleasure…I just love the feeling of mindfully sawing away. Call me crazy, but this is pure Zen (like Wilbur likes to say!). Plus, I probably burned about 20 or 30 calories, and that’s worth at least a bite from my cheeseburger from lunch…

:o)

Published in: on November 17, 2010 at 9:48 pm  Comments (7)  

That’s a Rip!

So, now that its meat powered saws only around the ole workshop, I thought I’d post about how exactly one goes about ripping a board without the electron sucking digit chomper around…..here goes.

When it comes to woodworking, when you cut a board lengthwise along the grain, its generally called ‘ripping’. Cross-cutting is….you got it…cutting across the grain perpendicularly. Ripping is a much more common task in the shop….I find myself ripping a heck of a lot more than cross cutting, so its a great skill to focus on.

Generally speaking, there are three different ways I rip in the shop…the first two ways are for rips of any length and the third involves the face vise and is for shorter rips only..usuually anything less than a foot or two. But when I need to reduce a whole board in width I turn to my workbench, or my saw bench.

First, lets talk about ripping at the workbench. Its simple enough….secure the board to be ripped on the top of the bench with the waste portion over hanging the edge. This is to allow for the saw to do its work unhindered by the benchtop. Here you can see our lovely demonstration board fixed to the bench with holdfasts….you can use regular clamps, but they are much more likely to hinder your work, don’t grip as well, and are a pain in the @$$ to set up.

Now that the board is secure, I grab the rip saw and have at it….but lets cover a quick few points before we start hacking away. Grip and stance are very important. For ripping at this height (my bench is 32 inches off the floor) its important to use a modified  grip called ‘overhand’ once you get the saw started in the kerf . It looks like this…

No, there’s nothing wrong with my saw…that’s how it was meant to be held….old saws have a cutaway to allow for this overhand grip. You’ll see below, that once you get the saw going, its much easier to thrust down and pull the saw on the up stroke at this height using a overhand grip. While I do use a combination underhand grip to begin the kerf, once I’m a few inches into the work, I switch to the grip above and saw with a motion that looks like I’m pounding my fists up and down onto the benchtop. Its also important to note that you stand aside of the work with the saw directly in front of you. Here’s how I start…

And after an inch or two, switch to the full overhand grip as such…

With this stroke, the work is quick and only takes a few seconds to rip the length. This particular board is black locust harvested locally here in the Ocean State, and my friend Mike calls it ‘…kind of like an American Teak’…its dense and hard as heck. Just about as durable a wood as you could ask for…it makes white oak look soft…..my point is this board is about 5/4 (a little over an inch thick) and rips pretty easy with a 5 and 1/2 point saw. Not too bad for about 500 year old technology. ;o)

So that’s ripping at the workbench. Let’s now take a look at ripping on the saw bench. A saw bench? What’s that? Well, my friend, its a bench you saw on. (Okay, maybe you didn’t ask that because its painfully obvious, but it makes me sound like I’m smart. …….ish) Here’s a pic of my saw bench cuddling with my favorite antique Disston #7 rip saw. Aren’t they cute together?

The saw bench is custom sized to rise to just below the knee cap of the craftsman (me, is this case) and that means about 19 or 20 inches. Needless to say, that’s a good deal shorter than the workbench, so a whole different stance and grip are called for. This process is probably much more familiar to everyone…its kind of intuitive and uses body weight to hold the work. Here’s what our lovely model looks like demonstrating its use…

I kneel on the board to hold it, using my quite substantial and daily increasing body weight to secure it. The thumb keeps the saw on track in the initial back stroke and then its away we go with the familiar plunging thrusts of sawing. Now, the first time I beheld a saw bench, I thought, “Wait, that’s never going to work….you’re gonna saw right through the top of the bench and cut it all up.” But alas, in my naivete, I was unaware of that great leap forward in saw bench evolution known as …………..The Ripping Notch!!!! Its that triangle shaped cutaway portion of the top that’s, well, for ripping. Here’s what ripping in the notch looks like as its happening…

So that’s a real quick ‘How To’ on ripping in the Pork Powered Woodshop. As I mentioned above, the third form is only for little rips…maybe if you’re still awake this time tomorrow, we’ll go over it as well.

Ta ta for now and thanks for lookin’

Keep makin’ saw dust!

Matt

Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm  Comments (6)