Feb 052016

sharpeningThe Wednesday evening is cool and clear as I walk toward my favorite shop in the world. I make my way up the stairs, pausing as usual to admire some of the framed craftsmen photographs, excited to add a new skill to my bag. I’m on my way to take a Highland Woodworking workshop, the first I’ve ever attended. It will prove to be an informative evening of expert instruction, hands-on practice, one-on-one feedback, and very sharp tools.

I enter the workshop, a part of the store most customers never see, and am pleased to find workbenches, toolboxes, lathes and whetstones all ready for use. A short older man in glasses and work smock was busy laying out the items of the evening: turning tools, waivers, sharpening stones, and grinding gear. This is Hal Simmons, our instructor. Hal’s been turning for 19 years and has studied with many accomplished artists of the trade. As a member of the Georgia Association of Woodturners and a veteran HWW instructor, he’s an enthusiast through and through.

Hal’s energy and expertise radiates as we start the class with introductions. I am one of five participants – the youngest by at least 20 years. I am also the only one in the room who’s never used a lathe. Thankfully, Hal’s questions regarding our individual experience, equipment, comfort levels, and goals for the evening set the stage for an intimate, personalized session. After a brief safety talk we are ready to Turning, for my beginners out there, utilizes four basic cutting tools: the scraper, gouge, parting tool, and skew. For reasons of leverage and control, lathe tools have long, thick handles sporting straight steel bars ending in one of these blade styles. We begin with the scraper blade, arguably the least complicated to sharpen. Hal gives a thorough, straightforward demonstration addressing common mistakes and proper technique, as well as a wealth of expert tips from his years of experience. Some key points to remember are:

  • Always make sure your grinding wheel has a flat, clean surface before sharpening.
  • Keep both hands on the tool at all times.
  • Heat is the biggest enemy when sharpening: using a coarse-grit wheel (60 grit) makes quick work of removing metal, reducing your risk of overheating.
  • Use the ink of a marker on the surface that you’re grinding to ensure you’re taking metal away where you want to.
  • Don’t worry if there is a slight bur on your edge, this will be removed when the blade meets spinning wood.

We’re then put to the test, practicing on the provided tools. There is, of course, a lathe on hand, and we test our new edges immediately. Hal points out minor variations in cuts and angles that indicate the veracity of the grind. No one moves on until they have achieved the proper edge.

We spend the evening working our way through the remaining blade styles, each participant becoming more and more confident in his form and technique. It is encouraging to see these men, some of whom had been turning for years and never sharpened their tools, finally gain this confidence and understanding. What had begun as a few shy questions quickly turns into a no-holds-barred barrage of specific questions met with abundant feedback. How pleasing to be part of an excited bunch of wood workers nerding-out about tools with the expert!

Hal keeps us going with patient efficiency right up until 8:30, concluding with a short recap. He sends us off with his contact information, encouraging further correspondence and safe turning. I leave with a vastly enhanced understanding of lathe work in general and the confidence to take care of my future tools. I look forward to taking more classes here; what a valuable resource for the in-town woodworker!

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Feb 032016

ICWSIn 1947 a small group of wood enthusiasts from around the United States started a society dedicated to collecting wood, naming it the International Wood Collectors Society (IWCS), opening membership to people from around the world. Today there are over 500 members from 32 countries in the society. The founders started the IWCS with an emphasis on the academic collection of wood species, distributing information on collecting wood, correctly identifying and naming wood specimens and coordinating the availability of a standard sized wood sample (3”x6”x.5”) of wood species from members from all over the world. With the availability of so many beautiful woods from IWCS members from across the globe and from a multitude of commercial sources the IWCS expanded its charter to include the crafting of wood.

I became a member because, as a wood turner I was interested in learning more about the different types of wood I was buying. I wanted to know where the wood was from and the woods properties for turning, gluing and finishing before working with the wood. I was also interested to know if the wood was endangered because of over logging versus a species that was regularly harvested from renewable sources.

My membership in the IWCS over the years has provided a lot of benefits. First and foremost I have been meeting people from all over the world who share my love and interest in the diverse variety of beautiful woods. The IWCS has regional, national and international meetings where members get together and trade wood for sample collections and crafting, learn about accurate naming and classification of wood specimens, share information about trees and forests, and promote good ecology and forest management. The annual society meeting is held in the USA every other year and in another country like Australia or South Africa in alternate years. In addition there is a great bimonthly journal titled the World of Wood (WoW) that contains information about IWCS meetings, articles about wood collecting in different regions of the world and detailed articles about different wood species.

To learn more take a look at the IWCS web site at: http://woodcollectors.org. Whether you make round or flat items from wood you will find the International Wood Collectors Society a useful resource.

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Feb 022016
Tips from Sticks in the Mud – February Tip #2- The Convenience of Safety Glasses

No Southern-fried Southern boy wants to be called a Yankee, but we share the characteristics of shrewdness and thrift. Thus, each month we include a money-saving tip. It’s OK if you call me “cheap.” You know how easy it is to say to yourself, “This little task is going to take only a minute, and […]

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Feb 012016
Tips from Sticks in the Mud – February Tip #1- Family Eye Safety

Welcome to “Tips From Sticks-In-The-Mud Woodshop.” I am a hobbyist, not a professional, someone who loves woodworking, just like you do. I have found some better ways to accomplish tasks in the workshop and look forward to sharing those with you each month, as well as hearing your problem-solving ideas. I have often said that […]

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Jan 302016
Poll: Do you have a junk corner in your shop/house?

Do you have a junk corner like this?  My junk corner includes some things that don’t have a specified storage location, things I’m not sure I even want to keep and things that defy categorization.  Several things in this pile will be placed in storage drawers that need to have a new label printed and […]

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Jan 292016
Chips from the Chisel – Part 4

Editor’s Note: The following blog series, ‘Chips from the Chisel’ is John Gainey’s experience as a carpenter and joiner apprentice on the Cardiff Docks in South Wales from 1955-1960. John’s garden woodworking shop was featured in the November 2013 issue of Wood News Online. CLICK HERE to read Part 1. CLICK HERE to read Part […]

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Jan 222016

Editor’s Note: The following blog series, ‘Chips from the Chisel’ is John Gainey’s experience as a carpenter and joiner apprentice on the Cardiff Docks in South Wales from 1955-1960. John’s garden woodworking shop was featured in the November 2013 issue of Wood News Online. CLICK HERE to read Part 1. CLICK HERE to read Part […]

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