Thursday, July 30, 2009

making sleds

Jim writes this question in reference to my DVD Basic Box Making:
In the 3rd chapter you showed us how to make a cross-cut sled (something I’ve always needed) and I was successful in getting the sled made!! The problem I’m having is that the sled doesn’t slide as easily as I thought it would. I know there are probably a number of things to try but have you ever had a sticky sled? I tried soaping the runners and I also tried steel wool. I then tried sanding the entire under-carriage of the sled. It just seems to take too much effort to push the sled. I checked the spacing between runners and they appear to be the right distance. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
My response: How many screws did you put in the runners? One problem I've seen is that woodworkers think that if two screws go in, surely 5 or 6 more would be even better. If your runners slide smoothly then two screws in each should be enough. More will actually expand the runners, making them fit too tightly in the miter gauge slots. Wax will help. If you've put in lots of extra screws, begin removing some until it slides smooth. Did you follow the sequence I showed in the DVD with the first screws being installed from beneath, using a square to align? Then, I assume you added the second runner by screwing in from above. If you only used two screws in each runner as I suggest, remove one screw and see how it slides. If it is still tight, put that screw back and remove the other. Check it. When it slides smoothly, put a 2nd screw in at another spot along the runner, this one also from above.

In a magazine, I had noticed that one well known woodworking writer made a sled with lots of screws holding the runners in place. He then spent another 15 minutes or so, sanding the runners to fit the slots. You can always sand like he did, but it is much better to get it right using the easier method.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

how to set price

I got an inquiry from a box maker, Bob, who is making boxes for his first show and he asked the question, how to set price? That question is a doozie. When you are in your shop working on boxes, you can run things through your head, "I spent this amount on material and hinges, then if I make this many and sell them for that much, I'll make that amount of money." Those calculations fail to give the full picture. "How much do you think your time is worth when you are out of the wood shop?"

If your objective in selling your work is just to clear a few things out so you can make more and perhaps buy a new tool, and you are looking forward to sitting in a booth for a weekend, wondering when you can take a bathroom break, you may be satisfied with setting a selling price that fails to consider your marketing costs.

Galleries have mark-up on work because they have expenses. If you are selling your work direct, you also have expenses that should be reflected by mark-up in the selling price. Recently in a woodworking magazine, an editor was discussing his disappointment at a local craft show. He walked through and said to himself, "I could make that as nice as that for less money." But the fact was, he didn't and was unwilling to sit in a booth and sell his own work at that price. So here are a few of the things that craftsmen don't consider when doing their first show, and that should be considered in setting price: printing expenses, booth fees, travel expenses, packing materials, a margin to cover your time trying to sell the things. You can choose to just do the whole thing as a hobby, and in doing so, undercut the pros who are trying to make a living. They really do have to consider all the expenses in bringing their work to market. Their consideration of those costs is a matter of survival. You may have the luxury of not thinking about those things. But do yourself and the professional craftsmen of the world a big favor. Charge your customers for all the expenses. That will be good for your pocket book and sustain the market value of professional craft work. Would you really want to undercut their inspirational endeavors?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

two quick questions...

The first question to come in this morning concerns cutting box joints in angled stock. Can they be done on the table saw or are they best done by hand? Cutting box joints by hand, if you have the skills to do so is one of those things you just wouldn't bother to do. Dovetails would be the more interesting choice. The good news is that yes, angled box joints can be cut quite easily on a table saw. The only challenge is in knowing where to cut the first finger, and I would control the first cuts on each piece by using a stop block.

The second question comes from one of my students from last week's class. He is interested in buying a small, inexpensive table saw for making boxes in a small space in his basement and he is looking at the Ryobi BTS21.

My view of table saws comes from being actively involved in box making and as a box maker, I find that model lacking in essentials. It has no miter gauge slots, is difficult to install zero clearance inserts, and can only use a 6 inch dado (uncommon). While this saw can cut wood and is easy to fold and put away (It has its own wheels), it doesn't lend itself to the common, easy and safe box making techniques. It is far better buy old and used, tried and true, rather than a cheap saw with newfangled gimmicks that add little to its successful use.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Box Making day 5

Today was day 5 of my ESSA box making class and you can see the results. Miters that fit. Box joints that fit tight. Lift lids and hinged lids, interesting pulls and feet. Plus some very happy box makers who have learned a lot and have work to show for it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Box Making at ESSA day 4

Tillian is almost finished with his box, and Les has finished his first. Both show creativity. In a final day of box making, most of the students will make one more.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Box making at ESSA, day 3

It has been an exciting day in the woodshop. My students now have boxes ready to apply hinges. As shown in the photo above, Pete cut miter key slots in the sides of his box to give greater strength and lasting integrity to the corner joints.

Learning new things is natural to humanity. Human beings strive for learning opportunities. So why is it that we fail to engage our children in schools? Could it be something in the way we teach? We look for outcomes satisfactory to the teachers, parents, administrators and even tax payers but forget that the most important outcomes are the feelings of tangible accomplishment that students feel in response to their efforts. After a time, they learn that effort is disassociated with the kinds of feelings they most crave.

I got something in the mail today that made this day special for me. Matthew B. Crawford sent a signed copy of his book Shop Class as Soulcraft. I am deeply honored to quote the first lines from Chapter one:
In schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement... Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.
-- Doug Stowe Wisdom of the Hands (blog) October 16, 2006

Box Making at ESSA, day two

Today was the second day of my box making class at the Eureka Springs School of the arts. In the photos above and below, you can see Bill studying the assembly of his box, while Tillian makes grooves on the edges of his top panel to fit the sides. Bob assists with safety on the table saw.

Monday, July 13, 2009

essa box making class, day one.

Today we did a lot of talk about design and the origins of creativity and the narrative aspects of box making. Then I demonstrated making two kinds of sled and 4 kinds of boxes. Finally, we prepared stock for my student's first set of boxes. The book matched walnut will be used to make boxes with a four corner match, so each piece requires some arrangement and study as shown in the photo above. I was too busy teaching to get photos taken except this one at the last minute. There are so many things to learn about box making.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

next steps

To know what we're making you will have to review earlier posts. My wife and I are currently driving across Kansas and I am remembering the question, which is flatter, Kansas or a pancake. The research indicated that Kansas was actually flatter, but there are actually many hills when traveling across the state.

Take a piece of maple stock and make a series of cuts, each with a 1/8 inch kerfed blade. You will only need to cut in a few inches, then pull the stock back from the cut, turn the saw off and adjust the fence for the next cut, and repeat until you have a series of uniform cuts.

Then insert 1/8 inch thick spacers into the saw kerfs as shown in the photo below. I use some hot melt glue to hold the spacers in place so they don't shift. The tools you will need tomorrow are a scroll saw. You can see the crescent moon inlay complete. You can also see your next step shown on the edge of the walnut stock. Make saw kerfs into the edge defining the thickness of the heart. Now you can be creative. I cut out a paper heart and then sketched wings on the maple stock. You can do something different if you like and then share it with other readers.

Friday, July 3, 2009

work along with me here.

These steps are the beginnings of making a winged heart as shown in an earlier post. First step is to cut a maple plug using a 3/8 inch plug cutter. Then drill a matching hole with a 3/8" drill in contrasting wood. In this case, I am using walnut which will be used to make the heart. If you have these materials, a plug cutter and drill, you can work right along with me. Glue the plug in place. You will need to spread the glue evenly and hammer the plug in as far as it will go. When the glue has dried, drill another 3/8 inch hole slightly offset to form the crescent moon shape. Then drill another plug from the background stock as shown in the photo below. I'll give you the next steps tomorrow.

Get started now, and you can send me photos of your results when the project is complete.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Making decorative elements

Over the next few days, I will share a process for making decorative elements for use on boxes. You can see the nearly finished object, a winged heart, in the photo above. At this point in the process, the heart and wings are being glued to a solid backing, a step which could be ignored if you plan to use it on a box.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

reader query on wood...

A reader, Nestor Demianczuk, sent photos of his work along with the following questions:
1. Is there an ideal ratio (length to width to height) to maintain in designing a box so that it is pleasing to the eye?
2. The stock that I buy from the wholesaler is usually about 15/16 inches thick. Does it make sense to try and get two equal thickness boards which probably will wind up to be 3/8 inch thick or should I just bite the bullet and make one piece over 1/2 inch so that when I plane it down it would result in a board about 7/16 inch thick and the rest is basically put into the scrap box and used for small dividers and trays?
First I will say that there are not any definitive answers to either of these questions. There are so many considerations in making boxes that there are no absolute right or wrong answers. On question 1. some box makers and furniture makers are intrigued with the golden ratio, a system of proportion based in the fibonacci sequence of numbers. Personally, however, I have made most of my boxes with an eye toward their use. It may be that some shapes and sizes will have particular appeal, but I would consider it an unreasonable constraint to impose a system of proportion on my making of boxes. Even if there were an ideal shape, you would have to stand in just the right position to see it.

On question 2. I find that smaller boxes feel best if they are made with resawn stock. Larger boxes feel best if made with thicker stock. This will mean that for small boxes you will want to resaw your stock down the middle and use both parts for box sides. If done well, you can get 3/8 inch stock, though I use 5/16 inch material for most of my small boxes. For medium size boxes, you may do as you suggest and use offcut material for dividers and the like. For large boxes, you may just want to plane the material down to the desired thickness. There are also other considerations. For instance, what kind of hinge are you planning to use? Hinges, because of their design may require that box sides be a specific thickness to feel right.

As my readers can see from the photo above, Nestor is doing quite well in his box making. I like the inlay he applied to the top panel.