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New Year...New Hobby

I have been known to take up a hobby or 37. At 42, on the cusp of 43, and well into the 'balding' years, I have decided that, in lieu of a midlife crisis, I would take up woodworking. Don't get me wrong, a new car and a 27 year old with huge, firm, hands would be wonderful; But I can't afford the 27 year old, and I am not into cars that much.

In the summer of 2009, I went to an arts festival in Des Moines. The gentleman, who won best of show, did so with some amazing etched clay bowls. I am not sure why those clay pots inspired me to take up wood working, or if they were the only inspiration, but shortly thereafter I found myself living in the thriving metropolis of Martelle Iowa. I had my first ever basement.

Without a lot of money to buy all that one needs to build furniture, I started with magazines. The first one was called, "Start Woodworking", from the editors of Fine WoodWorking. I read tips on tools, ideas for projects, stories about great woodworkers, and I began to formulate a plan. I would start with a workbench, the workbench on page 24. The editors of the magazine did a good job of designing a project with the beginner in mind. They even provided a DVD with instructions that were really helpful.

The bench took several months to complete, though the plans were designed so that one could complete it is a weekend. I would guess that I spent 5 hours of thinking about building the bench, for every hour of actual working on it. I thought about what I needed to complete each step, but I was always only focused on the next step. The first step was to buy the 2×4s, 4×4s, 3/8" threaded rod, and a miter saw. Not an electric miter saw, a cheap manual one. I could afford it, it would cut, and I didn't at all care about how long it would take to make each cut. I also discovered in the garage and old hack saw that I could use for cutting the threaded rod.

With the wood cut, I decided I wanted to sand my lumber. The next purchase was a small Black and Decker 'Mouse' sander, some 80, 120, 180 grit sandpaper, and a cool looking level that I didn't need but it was shiny and I was powerless to NOT buy it. The next few weeks found me sanding each piece a bit each day. Barely into my first project I was already getting addicted to the process. The feeling of the construction grade lumber in my hand, after it had been sanded, gave me the slightest glimpse into the beauty of working with wood. I thought about how it must be to run my fingers across a piece of glass smooth mahogany or birds eye maple.

The plans required that I route a 3/8 inch groove into the stretchers. Before I read this magazine I didn't even know what a router or a stretcher was. Each new term learned, each skill set explored, opened up the possibilities that developing woodworking skills offers. And each discovery brought the reality home that care needs to be taken to master each aspect of woodworking. So before I could move on to routing I needed to do a bit of research. This is how one turns a 2 day project into a 2 month quest.

I read reviews and comments. There are many good routers to choose from and I decided to go with the Bosch 2.25 hp router with both the plunge base and the fixed base. I bought 3 bits. A 2" Spiral Downcut CL 2BB and a straight 3/8" by Amana Tools, and a 3/8" Up Spiral bit by Freud. I have come to the conclusion that Freud and Amana Tools are the two best out there. Admittedly Amana makes 2 levels of router bits, and I can't speak to their low end line, but the high end bits have been a joy.

With the router in hand, I had all the tools required to build my workbench. Each step was approached with a sense of confusion and fear. The first time I used the router I was filled with trepidation and pizza, as it was after dinner when I gave it a try. I spent close to 40 minutes setting up a guide for my router. Pieces of 2×4 clamped with 2 24" and 2 36" Jet clamps on my make shift workbench, allowed me to position the router to route. I had read that it is best to take several small passes for safety. Since I was already a bit scared that the router would spin wildly out of control and drive itself into my spleen, leaving me bleeding and generally disappointed, I decided that small passes were a good idea.

It worked as advertised. My first 2 passes made a wonderful 3/8" grove in my wood. I was filled with pride and sure that I was well on my way to being one of the greatest woodworkers of the last 700 years. My second board didn't go as well. I had tightened the collet on the router, though apparently not enough and it had slid up slightly. This had produced a slight up ramp for the groove. My ego needed this set back and I retightened it and decided that I was the greatest woodworker in my basement at that moment. This was good enough for me.

The rest of the project required gluing 2 pieces of ¾ " ODF together to form the top, drilling some holes in the 4×4 legs, and attaching the 9" Jet vice. The only difficult part was installing the vice as it didn't come with instructions, but my own insecurity about getting it right, made me take it at a glacial pace. When I flipped the bench back over and put a piece of wood in the vice, I almost wept with joy.

At the end of the quest I learned several things. 1) When marking wood to be cut or drilled, avoid doing it while watching college football. My bench still bears the scars of several errant holes. 2) Drilling holes with a hand drill, so that they are straight, requires a bit of practice. 3) High quality drill bits are much easier to use than really old, worn out, dull, bits. This likely applies to all tools, the better the quality, the better the results. 4) Fostner bits are cool. 5) I love my workbench, with its shiny red Jet 9" vice. 6) The journey before me is perhaps the most exciting one I have undertaken in my lifetime.
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Reflections of a Mortise

Stepping through the beveled corner, art deco inlay, looking glass, into the world of woodworking is an experience that is humbling to say the least. On another woodworking site, a blogger posed the question, are 'Dovetails' overrated? The article was well written, the comments were astounding. The debate between the pro-tail vs. the pro-choice factions was more contentious than an abortion debate three days before a presidential election.

Wonderland indeed! The one point that I took away from the debate was that choosing to learn to cut dovetails by hand required a lot of practice and patience. As someone who revels in his obsessive compulsive side, this epiphany appealed to me more than pizza and beer on a Saturday night. Admittedly I am not a huge fan of beer, but I LOVE pizza; And I didn't want say 'Pizza and Diet Dew', lest any readers think I am a big sissy.

As I cracked a diet dew, I decided that I would begin my study by buying a chisel. My general rule is to always buy the best I can find. My knowledge of chisels was limited to knowing how to spell chisel, and I only recently learned that. The internet pointed me towards Lie-Nielson. Several other articles taught me that socket chisels are nice because the handles are less prone to splitting. Apparently the steel should be around 60 - 62 something, so it is not too soft and not too hard. This sounded like a fairy tale about 3 bears and a porridge stealing juvenile delinquent. But who am I to question the wisdom of those who come before me?! Lie-Nielson chisels are of this design. I felt smarter just for knowing that. I decided that I wanted a set of bench chisels, a fish tail, skew chisel and possibly a 3/8 mortise chisel. They only cost $555.00.

With my brand new 3/8" Irwin chisel (around $10.00) in hand, I took the old mallet I had found in the garage, and tapped it gently into my practice wood. The Lie Nielson will have to come at a later date. The practice wood was a lovely little piece of hard maple; she had a nice figure and was a bit shy. I could tell it was her first time too. As I tapped that wood with my tool I felt nervous. Was I doing it right? Was I hurting my lovely piece of wood? Was it good for her?

An hour later I had finished. I had drilled and chiseled my way to my first mortise. I was sweating but filled with joy. Oh the euphoria. So this is what all the fuss is about! I had chiseled out a 2 and ¼ inch by 3/8" mortise and was now ready to think about moving onto the tenon. Of course, this would have to wait for another day, as I wasn't ready for another go. I just wanted to bask in the glow of my first mortise.
I learned several interesting things about chisels. They are able to remove much thinner and cleaner shavings of wood than I would have imagined. I had assumed that they would take large chunks of wood with each hit. As I pared down the sides and brought the corners to 90 degrees(ish), the need for mastering hand tools became clearer than a D flawless diamond and quite possibly more valuable. I know now that if I can learn to use these wonderful tools, if I can make them do my bidding, then I just may be able to create a masterpiece or at the very least, a nice cutting board.

It is ironic that, two days before, I had been thinking how I might use my plunge router to cut the mortises I would need for the Krenov saw horses I was attempting. I still believe that it will be equally important to be able to cut them with power tools, and I will likely cut far more using a router than I will a chisel, in my lifetime. But I doubt that I will feel the same exhilaration.

So I discovered the joy of hand tools. I have since cut 7 mortises (4 without a drill) and 7 corresponding tenons by hand. The last 2 mortises (no drill) took less than 26 minutes each, which was a vast improvement over 1 hour. As I continued to meander through the wonderland, I happened upon a rabbit that said, "You should probably learn how to sharpen your chisel" and he winked. The wink made it seem dirty somehow. As I thought about the rabbit, I realized that this is why this journey is such a joy. Each day brings a new challenge. Each challenge opens a door. Each door leads to a hallway with more doors. I doubt I will ever find my way back to the mirror.

(Editor's Note: Ok, I don't actually have an editor, but I like the sound of it. I did want to say that I appreciate all the encouraging comments from the 1st post I threw up yesterday. As of the writing of this post there were 321 people who had read my previous post, and 3.4% of you chose to leave a comment. To the 96.4% who didn't comment, I can only assume that your mother told you, "If you don't have anything nice to say, say nothing at all." To those non-posters, please feel free to mock my spelling, grammar or content…But NOT my hat…never my hat!)
I must have missed your first posting and I will be the first to say "I do have bad spelling" but it is getting better….I hope.
On LJ's I do think we as a whole agree if you have nothing nice to say keep quiet. We like keeping LJ's a friendly community.
Nice article
Gnashing Teeth

Today I drove across Martelle, to the office of post, where I again stared into a cubbyhole filled with emptiness. No DVDs and books for me, in the 'Soup Nazi' voice, ran through my head. After coming home, through rush hour traffic, I sat in my comfy green computer chair, defeated. I know from my days of working in the marketing department at GEICO that the travel time for a piece of mail, from anywhere city, in the continental U.S., to the hamlet of someplace, takes no longer than 6 business days. Iowa sits smack dab in the middle of all the anywheres and someplaces in the country, so I figured 3. Today is day 6 and unbeknownst to The Taunton Press; they hang precariously on the precipice of a cliff, overlooking a valley filled with a pack of angry blog.

The thing about a pack of wild blog, with their teeth gnashing while they run amok, is that they can't be controlled. An angry blog will, given a chance, eat it weight in bad publicity within minutes. And don't even get me started about their breeding. They make rabbits look like vestal virgins. If you find an angry blog, after a meal of 1000 words of vitriol and spite, it will be very amorous towards others of its ilk. It will seek out other blogs to mate with. Twitter is an incredible breeding ground for these creatures. It seems that everyone in the world is trying to fix these little fuzzy and ravenous creatures up, just to watch them multiply. And don't even try to herd them; they are as likely to be driven in a single direction as a gaggle of cats. (I realize that it is geese that are a gaggle, but I am exercising my legal right to poetic license.)

Now some of you may not have heard of these beasts. Perhaps you know of them by their Latin name, Blogus Rantopotamus? Whether you have heard of them or not, it is wise to know they are out there. To truly understand the Blogus Rantopotamus, one must know of their origin. They are a fairly new breed of animal, though some would call them a plague or a virus. The story of their origins is unclear and you may well find many different version of how they came to be. This is my favorite.

In a warehouse in Poughkeepsie NY, an aging accountant sat at his desk. He had studied cost accounting in school and married his high school sweetheart, who attended Vassar. She left him after three years, for a woman she met at a poetry slam, and since that day, he has been bitter and angry. This is important because on this day, about seven and a half years ago, a new shipping clerk was preparing a box of miniature replica blunder busses for shipping. The accountant screamed, "What are you doing?!" at the young man, a recent college graduate in computer science, who hadn't really bothered to find a real job yet. I was getting this order ready to go out. "When did they order it?", "The order just came in on from the website (, if I hurry I can get it out tonight." The accountant screamed louder, "Did they pay for express shipping and handling?!", "No, but I am not sending it express, I am sending it through the regular mail." The clerk said sheepishly. "Where do they live?!", the accountant bellowed, though he knew the answer. "They live in New Jersey. If it goes out tonight, they will get it tomorrow or the next day." He responded, trying to understand why this was a big deal. "We don't want the customer to get them quickly, because if we do that, then nobody will pay for express shipping and handling! Are you an idiot?" said the accountant.

The clerk had studied TOC (Theory of Constraints) in college and knew that the totally variable costs were fixed and that his reasoning was wrong. He knew that in the long run a happy customer was better than earning an extra 2 dollars by making them think they needed express. But he also knew that if he refused to do as the accountant said, he might have to start looking for a real job, and he didn't want to do that before the summer was over. So he went home and later that night, in his mother's basement, next to the washer and dryer, he forwent World of War Craft and anonymously unleashed the first beast on the world. Unfortunately for the accountant, the blog reproduced through mitosis and the hungry pack of blogs eventually found him and ate his face off.

Tune in tomorrow when the blog either be an angry rant at Taunton Press or a lengthy description of my own foibles…and now back to your regularly scheduled programming…
…so in conclusion, I would like to say, "I love woodworking."

[Editors Note: An angry Blogus Rantopotamus has yet to be photographed. So we went with flowers.]
I will say I do enjoy reading your blogs. They make me smile and capture my thoughts.
Well written.
I have just two questions

"We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment"
-Jim Rohn

I thought I would spend the day continuing to work on my Krenov saw horses, since I didn't have any new DVDs or books on woodworking. For those that stopped by hoping to see a rant about John Lively's company The Taunton Press, you will be disappointed to know that I am too happy today to gripe about their inefficiency. Because Monday is a holiday, I won't get them before Tuesday, but that is ok, and I am not going to let it ruin my weekend. There is just too much woodworking to do, to be cranky. Of course, I may be really full of rancor on Tuesday, so today's question of the day is:

Have you ordered from The Taunton Press and how did they do in shipping the products to you?

You may post your answers in the comments, or if you prefer, you may send them to me directly. [email protected]

The first step today, was to cut the tenons in the stretcher for the second saw horse. I move at a glacial pace with my projects. With each micro step I try my best to do better than the step before. To date, I have cut 3 practice tenons and 8 real tenons, the last 2 were better than any of the ones before. Today's two tenons are better still. The journey is one of exploration and discovery. Today I discovered that in order to cut a straight kerf with my Japanese hand saw, I needed to watch the reflection in the blade. Once I started to focus on the reflection I improved markedly over my previous attempts.

Not only were the tenons better than before, they took less time. With each cut I become more comfortable with my saw. It is clear to me that the $100.00 Dozuki saw is worth every penny. The blade is sharp, cuts easily and if it is started on the right path, once it gets into the cut, it will continue to cut straight. It also cuts very quickly. I am completely sold on Japanese hand saws.

The day did not only yield a triumph in tenons, but an additional measure of success in photography. I never imagined that I would spend so much time photographing the minutia of my progress or that this constant work would make me better at lighting my subjects, but this seems to be the reality of it all. I would estimate I spent close to an hour shooting my tenons today. To be honest, I find joy in nearly everything around me, including, the ability to ask TWO questions of the day. Yes, I have that sort of power. It is intoxicating.

So here is my second question: Would anyone be interested in a blog piece about how I shoot, light, and process my blog shots? Feel free to answer with a Yes or No, or a Oui ou Non, or even a Si o No. I will actually accept any language, as I can always look it up online. I do love Babel Fish. Of course, if you prefer to give a lengthy answer, please limit it to English or French, and include a picture of your incredibly attractive, single, and female cousin with a middle aged balding men fetish.

I would also like to take a moment to thank those of you who have been reading my blog. The support and feedback has been wonderful. Today's piece represents the first day in my second fortnight and I am truly loving the ride. I hope you aren't too disappointed at the lack of a rant today. Enjoy your day practicing the discipline of woodworking.
Hey why not?
I know my photos could use a little help and any help would be appreciated in that area. So I say heck yeah fire away.
Oh and very good luck on the balding fetish thing….lol
She Took My Breath Away

Since I began blogging, I have taken to carrying around a small notebook, pencil, sharpener and eraser. I am more of a pen person, but using a pencil feels right to me. I was at the bar in the Dublin Underground, drinking an RC, no straw, my usual drink. This is my favorite place in Iowa City. It is a friendly place.

I was really focused on writing down some thoughts about possible future blog posts. I didn't notice the woman taking off her coat and sitting down one seat over on my right. I didn't hear her order the glass of white wine, or notice the look on the bar tenders face when he first saw her. I was scribbling away, when I felt the slightest tap on my right elbow, and as I looked up, she said in a French accent, "What are you writing about in zee little book?"

Normally that would be a pretty easy question, since I was the writer, and it wasn't one of those tricky multiple choice questions, I should have been able to fire back an answer immediately. It wouldn't have been a problem, had I not looked up. Had I kept my eyes on zee little notebook, I would have been able to say something like, "My woodworking blog". I saw her face first, and my response was, "I…um…It's…huh…I don't remember. What was the question?" I was having trouble breathing. She giggled and pointed my notebook.

I then went into a somewhat incoherent rambling about it being notes for a blog which I have been doing since Jan 2 of this year, and lots of other details, which just kept pouring out of me. The little voice in my head was screaming at me, "You are blathering like an idiot" I was pathetic. She sensed that this could on for a while, unless she intervened, "What is zee blog about?" This second question let me gather myself a bit, and I took a breath and said, "It is about woodworking."

She wore a white silk blouse, black skirt, and had short ebony hair, with the sort of face that launches a thousand ships. I think she said that she liked woodworking, but my head was still spinning a bit and I missed some of her response. It wasn't until she mentioned something about retiring from French national gymnastics team, after she grew 6 inches her senior year in high school, and had been a lingere model for the last 7 years, that I was able to focus on what she was saying again. It was a good thing too, as she asked me another question, "What is the URL for zee blog?"

She had her iphone out and typed in the address as I gave it to her. Since I knew that if I opened my mouth I would begin to blather on like the idiot again, I sat quietly and fidgeted with my pencil. "The photos are tres beau, did you take them?" I was a bit less shaky by this time, so I said, "yes, I enjoy photography."

We talked a bit about photography and then she asked, "So you have the wood?" At that moment I felt the urge to tilt my head slightly to the right and raise my left eyebrow. Tragically I suffer from the rare affliction eyebrowus parallelus, from the Latin, which means the inability to raise either eyebrow without raising the other simultaneously, thus keeping them parallel to the eyes. She quickly corrected herself, "Do you have a favorite wood?" To which I said that I like hard maple and walnut. She reached over and touched my arm, looked into my eyes and said, "I would love to see your wood." Damn eyebrowus parellelus!

She held out her hand and introduced herself. Her hand was warm. Her expression was kind and calming. I guessed that I wasn't the first guy to stammer in her presence. Feeling at ease, I said, "It is nice to meet you Sherri Seurat, my name is Brian Meeks."

Her father was an avid woodworker, and she was the great granddaughter of Georges Seurat. We talked about photography, her modeling career, her grandfather, and I was much less of an idiot than I had been in the beginning. I don't know how long we talked, but every minute was a delight.

I was telling her about my little workshop when she asked, "What sort of air filtration system do you have?" I said that I don't have one, but I wear a mask. The look of shock on her face startled me. "You don't have zee air filtration system? Don't you know that air quality is important in keeping your lungs healthy?!" Her voice began to rise. "My father never took care of himself; he breathed that dust every day until he died." She got up from her seat, sobbing, grabbed her coat and fled up the stairs. I was stunned, but I followed her and went outside just in time to see her hop into a cab and drive off. I watched her head off along the river towards the mountains. The beauty of the setting sun was lost on me. It looked cold and sad.

Thirty-seven minutes later I was loading the Jet AFS-1000B Air Filtration System into my car. I am pleased with my purchases. It has a remote. I can breathe again.
I really love reading your blogs. A smile comes to my face and thinking how could you let such a catch get away?
I do believe somtimes our short meeting are mear tools to help us along our way in life.
You never know she may come back into your life and take a look at your wood.
Thanks for sharing how you come to have yourself a new filtration system.
What is in a Name Indeed

Hello LJ's,

I have two new tools. As you know, I like to name them, but this time I am calling all readers to chime in. I need help naming my new Chisels. :)

Frick and Frack!
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