Friday, December 30, 2016

I Got a Ray Iles 6 inch Froe for Christmas!

Those early shake-makers were experts with the froe...

Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Western Trees, 1952


I like to split guitar bracing material from billets of spruce or Douglas fir, usually I use a 2 inch wide registered mortice chisel for the task, but the chisel doesn't work as well as a froe.

During this past summer and fall I bugged a friend of mine to weld a piece of steel pipe to an old file I have to make a small froe for the shop.

Either he was too busy or I was, the froe never got made.

Then, lo and behold, there on the Tools For Woodworking website were three different sized froes made by Ray Iles! I emailed the web address to my wife and told her which froe to order for me, I was so very excited!



On Christmas morning I unwrapped a wonderful present, a six inch Ray Iles froe.


It's a nice froe, very much the length I need...


and today I cut up a length of a hickory pick axe handle, chucked it into the lathe and made a new handle for the froe.

Why should I do that when the Iles froe comes with a very nice beech handle?

It is my tool and I want a different shaped handle and the handle will do quite well for now.


Froes are tools that are very near and dear to my heart. When I was a kid, I helped my parents rive shingles to replace the worn ones on my grandparents' house in the Sierra Nevada of northern California. Shingle making had been a cottage industry for many folks that lived in the great forests of Northern California from the 1850's until the end of World War II. My great uncle, Frank, told me that my grandfather, Rufus, could rive one thousand shakes a day, if he didn't have to stack them. During the Great Depression, my grandfather often sold the shakes for a penny a piece.

In the above photos are two froes and a shingle bolt marking gauge made by my grandfather.

The froe on the right is a "checking" froe; you would mark the top of the bolt with the checking froe to see how many shakes you could rive from the bolt.

The riving froe, on the left, is what you use to do the actual splitting and riving. Notice how the end of the riving froe is upturned on the very end, I was told this little bend made it easier to get the froe out of the bolt. If I had made my own froe this fall, it would have looked just like this one, only smaller.

Notice that the handle on the riving froe has a curve to it, this curve help saves the knuckles of the hand that is hold the froe from getting hit by your froe mallet. California Live oak limbs were harvested for froe handles, they were placed into forms while green to set the curve and were sold once dry. Some where I read that live oak handle sold for as much as 10 cents an inch in 1900.

If you want to see how I make a traditional froe mallet, traditional to northeastern California, click here.


This historic photo comes from the CSU Chico Digital Collections, click here to see the original photo. These men were working near the Clipper Mills area of Butte County, California. Both men are using froes with French eyes, the gentleman to the left is riving out bolts, the gent on the right is splitting shakes and take a look at the brake he is using. When I was a kid, a similar, but not as fancy, brake that was used by my grandfather was out behind the wood shed.

The stacks behind the men are shake bolts, usually six inches wide by thirty six inches long. One implement I don't see in this photo is the baler, a device to squeeze the shakes down so you could wrap them with wire. If I remember correctly, it was 100 shakes to a bundle.


Here's a photo of me, from about five years ago, using my grandfather's froe splitting a cheek for a lathe poppet.

As for the Ray Iles froe, it is well made and I look forward to using it, a nice tool to honor a bit of my heritage. All I need to do now is to figure out some sort of board brake to use at the workbench when I split out guitar braces.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Framing the New Workshop, Days 8 and 9

For most people, setting up a shop for the first time is largely a matter of adapting to the existing facilities.

Hideo Kamimoto, Complete Guitar Repair, 1975

I have so much work to do!



Today, I finished nailing down the roof sheathing and got some trim up on the fascia. I would have put up more trim, but the local lumber yard had nothing but junky 1x8 pine, I was a little disgusted by the selection.

The day started out partly sunny, the temperature was about 16 degrees Fahrenheit, by noon the temperature dropped to 12 degrees and a breeze came up making it too cold to work. Yes, there was a time in my life when I would framing in subzero temperatures, I work for myself now, no point in making work a brutal thing.

As I write this post, it is 10 degrees Fahrenheit with heavy snow. The forecast calls for subzero temperatures tonight with up to one foot of snow!





After getting the rafters up and into place, day seven, I got the sub-fascia up on the north and south elevations...


...the sub-fascia almost up...


and getting the the lookouts made on the east...


and west elevations.

Day eight I put down the 5/8 thick OSB roof sheathing.

This is what the shop looked like this afternoon...

I need to finish nailing all the wall shear, then 1/4 exterior plywood needs to be purchased, along with some ice and water shield and corrugated roofing for the roof.

Electrical wire needs to be pulled, outlet and lighting boxes located and nailed up, then there's insulation to put in. Did I mention the ten sashes that I will build entirely by hand?

Good thing I got my copy of Charles Hayward's The Woodworker today from Lost Art Press! I admit that sashes were much easier to make when I worked at Yosemite National Park, the workshop was equipped with a floor mounted mortising machine, an eight inch joiner, a twenty four inch thickness planer, a 3hp shaper and a dedicated tenoning/coping machine just for sashes. I like Hayward's description of how to make a sash, I look forward to the task.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Framing the New Workshop, Day Five

Wall framing includes assembling of vertical and horizontal members that form outside and inside walls of a structure.

Willis H. Wagner, Modern Carpentry, 1992



Yesterday was Day Five of framing the new workshop.


I replaced the header over the door with a longer header, the door opening was too close to the east wall, I was afraid that you would bump into the wall when you entered the building. The opening was shifted to the west.

Then it was a matter of nailing up sheets of OSB shearing to keep the building from falling down.

I need to buy some 3/8" thick exterior grade plywood to cover the OSB and finish the exterior, but I want to prime and paint it before I put it up. The temperature didn't get above 24 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday, and there was a good breeze which made it feel even colder! Not the warmest day for swinging a hammer or for painting!




It is nice to walk through the door opening instead of squeezing through wall studs!



This shop will have a bank of five upper windows and three big windows, these will be approximately 30"x40", giving me plenty of light to work by. I will make the sashes by hand, I have a feeling I am going to get to know my Stanley No.45 plane very well this winter! I don't want to set up a router and router table to rout the rails, stiles and muntins, too much noise and dust!

I was hoping to fly the rafters today, but there are a few errands to run. The walls need to be "string lined" and straighten, the rafter pattern needs to be temporarily put in place to see if it fits properly so I can cut the other rafters.

Once the "lid" is on, I can pull wire and insulate. There is also the matter of finding a nice propane heater and having a gas line run to the building.

I can't wait to finish this shop!



Monday, November 21, 2016

Framing the New Workshop, Day One

When you work primarily with hand tools you don't need a lot of space or infrastructure.

Jim Tolpin, The New Traditional Woodworker, 2010


I am building an new workshop/studio on the exact spot and using the same footprint as the old garage that I dismantled early this month.

Working in the upstairs of our house has been a great joy, but I need to move on to another space and allow my wife and I to enjoy our house as a house again.

The original garage was built in 1964, (I was born in 1962!) by some very capable carpenters, as I discovered when I took the building down, but it had no real foundation and no look outs on the eave elevations which was causing the roof to sag.



After searching on the Internet, I found some wonderful plans for a shed building which I have adapted to build my own space. Those of you who have been following my blog know that I was a framing/finishing carpenter for many years, it is nice to frame again, but at my own speed without nail guns and air compressors filling the air with 21st century noise.

The floor joists are 2x6's on top of ground contact rated 8x8's.



The original footprint was 14'x 20', more than ample size for me, my hand tools and guitars



One thing I learned from an old time carpenter is to layout the roof rafters on the flooring deck, do all the work on the floor and not in the air. This afternoon I realized that I had failed to account for the shear thickness on the walls, I will have to add 7/16th's of an inch to each end of the the other rafters before I fly them.


I am working by myself, this wall was framed in two sections, one was 12' long and the other 8'. Much easier to lift a short wall than a long wall. This wall is 7'6" tall, the south elevation will have a 10'4" tall wall with lots of windows. I was hoping to frame that wall tomorrow, 11/22/16, but the forecast is for snow and I ran out of 8d nails today, which are used to attach the OSB shear to the framing. The tall wall I will have to build in three different sections, again, I am working by myself and I don't own any wall jacks.

Stay tuned, more pictures of the framing process!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Conifer Species

The trees of the West are a benign presence, mighty and healing...

Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Western Trees, 1953

The postage stamp that I live on has only seven species of conifer trees and one species barely grows big enough to be called a tree. The Continental Divide is about seven miles as the crow flies from our meadow, we don't get the howling winds that you find when you live closer to the Divide, but the winds do limit the height of trees and since this is the east side of the Rocky Mountains we live in a rain shadow. Not much moisture makes it to the ground.


Twice a day, I walk our dogs across our neighbor's property to Forest Service land and we squeeze through a narrow gulch to reach the upper slopes. In this gulch there is enough moisture to allow white fir and Engelmann spruce to grow. The tall tree in this photo is an Engelmann spruce, one of five that live in this gulch.


Ponderosa pine live on the very fringes of the gulch, the scientific name for the variety that inhabit this part of the Rockies is pinus ponderosa, scopulorum, which means "among the rocks". I understand that some of the old timers in this region called these pines "rock pines".


Ravens have a nest on this rock and magpies, too, usually raise their young in this part of the gulch.


The snag in this photo is a dead Douglas fir, an older gent said to me "35 years ago the spruce bud worm came in and killed most of the Douglas fir around here. That was after the pine beetle came through."



Big winds, with gusts up to 120mph, often visit us in December and January and these pines are victims from such a storm last January. We often get big wind storms in November, but so far this month it's just been "breezy"!

What are the conifer species in my backyard?

Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, limber pine, white fir, lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce and Rocky Mountain juniper.

Trees are life.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The New Tool Shed

All sheds take longer to build than you may think.

David and Jean Stiles, Sheds, 2006




The new tool shed is finished - siding, roofing, windows and doors. It is 10'x12' in size, just barely big enough to hold what it needs to hold.

With the exception of the sub flooring, roof rafters and metal roofing, all material used to build this shed was recycled from the old workshop that I dismantled.



It's a shed because I didn't want to spend the time making a "standard" roof and I had a limited budget for materials. No lookouts on the "gable" sides, no soffit, no fascia boards, just a simple building to store tools and some lumber.



The sashes are made out of redwood, and yes, I know I didn't clean my fingerprints from the glass! It's an outbuilding, not Independence Hall, it doesn't have to be perfect. The wind and the snow this winter will clean the glass!



I made three shelves from 2x10 construction grade white fir boards and a workbench from 2x12 construction grade Douglas fir boards. Today or tomorrow I will start making some basic drawers for the workbench so I can store all the little tools, pliers, air hose fittings, etc., that will live in the shed.

This is also a good time for me to sort through many of the tools I acquired when I was a framing and finish carpenter, there are some tools in the tool boxes that I haven't used since 2005 when I walked away from the construction trade.


The lumber for the new workshop arrived yesterday. I am very excited to get started on framing "the old workshop", it will be the same size as the original, 14'x20'. It will be a shed with a 2/12 roof, fully insulated with a propane heater to keep the winter chill off of me and the tone woods.

I would start framing today, but the weather forecast is calling for 3-6 inches of snow tomorrow. I don't have to frame in bad weather anymore! Friday will find me in Colorado Springs, Colorado at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, talking to Colin McAllister's classical guitar students about classical guitar construction.

The wind is quite noisy today, mostly just a nice Continental Divide zephyr. Those of us who love living in the Colorado Rocky Mountains hardly ever refer to the wind as wind unless it is gusting to over sixty miles an hour.

Now, turn off your computer and get into your workshop!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Ponderosa Pines, the Morning Walk

Of all the pines, this one gives forth the finest music to the winds.

John Muir, naturalist












Now, to work.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Dismantling the Old Workshop

Many established guitar makers began their careers in humble surroundings; working in cramped conditions without much light, and lacking basic items like a sturdy workbench or a warm room. If your enthusiasm is great, then almost any obstacle can be overcome.

Roy Courtnall, Making Master Guitars, 1993


I dismantled the "garage".

It was a simple 14'x20'building, framed in 2x4's, covered with 1/4" thick exterior grade plywood with no foundation, just a dirt floor. The wall bottom plates sat on simple cinder blocks or on the ground and most of those plates were starting to rot. The original owner had the building constructed about 1966 to protect his Cadillac when he and his wife lived here. When we bought the place five years ago, instead of dismantling the garage I framed a floor in it and added a double door for additional light. It was a good storage space for tools, firewood, chainsaws, etc., but the time has come to take down the building.


There are enough framing materials from this building to make a small 10'x12'shed, all I need to buy is the subfloor and roofing OSB sheets and 2x8's for the roof rafters. Once this shed is up and filled with all my "other" tools, the plan is to re-build a building on the site of the garage with the same foot print as the original. I know many people think that a 280 square foot building is too small for a workshop, for me, however, after working in 9'x10' spaces for the last 20 years, this new workshop will seem as large as our national Capitol building.

And it will be heated.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Late Summer, Early Fall and a Spruce/Ziricote Classical Guitar

Thus begins what many residents feel is the Southern Rockies' most beautiful time of the year - Indian summer.

Audrey DeLella Benedict, The Southern Rockies, 1991


It is sunny today with bluebird skies highlighting the golds and oranges of the aspen trees.

Fog covered our little hollow all day yesterday, the sun came out at exactly 4:45pm and shone upon us for fifteen minutes, then the clouds came back.



The aspens and ferns in the backyard...



A few wildflowers are blooming, like this harebell...


Our little flower garden is going to seed...



I dropped six ponderosa pine on our property last week for firewood and fire mitigation, as you can see I have much work to do splitting and stacking the firewood.


This is the latest guitar on the bench, a 1961 Hernandez y Aguado style guitar, with a Colorado Engelmann spruce top...



and ziricote back and sides.

I am in the process of pore filling, later this week I will start the French polish.

It has an incredibly loud tap tone, it will be wonderful guitar.

Now, get out to your shop and make something!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

I Made a Wooden Toothing Plane

In the days before the belt sander, a cabinetmaker also used a toothing plane when smoothing such heavily figured woods as curly and bird's-eye maple.

Michael Dunbar, Restoring, Tuning & Using Classic Woodworking Tools, 1989


I bought several toothing blades to use in my No.3 and No.5 Stanley planes to plane some "lower" grade East Indian rosewood back and sides. The irons work, but I have to be aware of the cutting depth of the iron, grain tear out is still possible using a toothed iron in a standard plane.

At the time I made this plane, I couldn't find any decent wooden toothing planes for sale on the internet. That's a good enough reason to make time to build one.



Following and adapting the plans for the "sandwich technique" found in Wooden Planes and How to Make Them, by David G. Perch and Robert S. Lee, which you can buy here, I started with a piece of 3x3 inch oak I had in my wood cache.



I ripped the sides from the main stock on a table saw, then sized the main body with the same saw, took all the pieces back to the bench and jointed everything with a No.7 jointer and a flat sanding board.



All angled pieces were cutting with my Bosch sliding compound miter saw. The cheeks to hold the wedge in were cut by hand with a handsaw.



I glued the whole thing together with hot hide glue, not the hide glue that comes in a plastic squeeze bottle, but the glue I made in my little brass glue pot and applied with a brush.

The plane does work. I made the width of the plane a little too wide for the iron and the iron chatters a bit. I think I will make another toothing plane, but this time I will make cap for the iron to see if that reduces the chatter.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Miter Joints in Guitar Making

The object of using this joint, which is constructively one of the weakest used in joinery, is that moulded surfaces that have to be changed in direction shall not be stopped abruptly nor continued in unsuitable curves.

George Ellis, Modern Practical Joinery, 1902


Miter joints in classical guitar making are purely decorative.

Most joints are butt joints. The sides are joined to the heel of the neck in slots, a scarf joint is used to make the head/neck union, some makers use a fancy "V" joint for that union. Click here to read more about the "V" joint.



The only place where I use a miter joint is where the bindings meet the end graft.




The binding runs over the top of the end graft...




...and a miter joint is used to join the side binding purfling to the purfling in the end graft.

As you can see in this photo, the bindings are butted together. Some makers use a scarf joint to join the ends of the binding.

Fancy binding and purfling schemes don't make a guitar sound good, that sound comes from how the wood is worked.

Pretty binding makes for a visually pretty guitar.

My goal is to make a guitar that sings so well your heart melts.




Saturday, July 23, 2016

Making Saw Handles

The saw cannot be classified with any other tool.

Paul N. Hasluck, The Handyman's Book, 1903



I inherited my grandfather's Warranted Superior crosscut panel saw quite some time ago - it is twenty inches long, 10 points per inch, the original handle must have disappeared on some worksite accident in the 1920's (he died in 1952, ten years before I was born). "Pop", my mother and her siblings always referred to him as such, made a replacement handle for it from a piece of oak board. He liked the saw well enough that he used a punch to punch an "R", for Rufus, his first name, into the blade near the handle. Just look it the photo, you will see it. My grandfather, I was told, was an excellent carpenter and when he could afford it he bought the very best tools, or he traded for them. This saw lived in workshop out back of the house when I was young, it was used only to cut down that year's Christmas tree.

A couple of years ago, I removed the original handle with the intent of making a replacement which I never got around to. The dry air of the Colorado Rocky Mountains shrunk the original handle so much it no longer fits the saw.


I do need another panel rip saw, the teeth on my brand new Lie-Nielsen panel rip saw is too aggressive for ripping thin pieces of wood, there was an older Disston "Rancher" crosscut saw left behind by the previous owners of our house. I cut that saw down to match the size and shape of my grandfather's saw.

A friend gave me a short mahogany board which I really had no use for, it was completely flat sawn, but I figured that it would make a good working handle for both saws.


I cut out a piece of that mahogany, thinned it one inch thick, drew the pattern on it and went at it with a brace and bit...



...cut out the handles with a jigsaw..



...then cut the slots with a back saw.



This morning I shaped one handle using files, finished it up with sand paper and applied a coat of Howard's Feed-N-Wax and attached it to the Disston Rancher.



After attaching the handle I discovered I need to teak my design a bit, the lower horn needs a little more depth and sweep and the "finger" that houses the top most nut needs to be a little longer and deeper.

I think I will make those adjustments and make another handle for my grandfather's saw. I would like to find a nice piece of quarter sawn Honduran mahogany to make the handle, I would settle for a pretty piece of alder. I don't plan on using the saw, I do want to build a tool box/chest shrine to house all of my grandfather's tools, to honor him and all those old carpenters I knew when I was a kid.


A nice looking handle! Now, I just need to re-file the teeth on this saw from crosscut to rip.

Now, turn off your computer and go make something!




A Basic Tool Kit for Making a Classical Guitar - Another Look

I was looking at a blog post of mine from eight years ago, Basic Hand Tool Kit for Making a Classical Guitar, Revised and saw that I have m...