Missy’s Big Adventure

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Ms. Big Paws

Yesterday started early — in the shop before 7. Not long after that, a stranger showed up.

I have a weakness for stray animals, dogs in particular. This one, a Basset hound (the second Basset stray to show up in the past 14 years), was adorable and sweet. She had a collar but no tags. As with all stray dogs who come to my shop, I let her inside and called the shelter to report her found.

She was clearly well loved. Her nails were trimmed. Her teeth were white. She was, well, *not starving*. And she smelled like shampoo, albeit shampoo mixed with “eau de chien.”

Several hours passed with no word from the shelter. Since I had to go to town anyway, I put her in the truck (that took some doing) and took her to our vets’ practice so they could scan her to see whether she had a chip, hoping I’d learn who she belonged to (or who belonged to her, if we’re going to be honest; she was that sweet). No chip.

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“Are we there yet?”

While I unloaded the recycling and trash from my truck, then went to a couple of quick appointments, I left the truck running with the air conditioning on. It was at least 90 degrees out and I know better than to leave a dog (or any living animal — or plant, for that matter) in a vehicle in such weather.

Please note: I am not that person who routinely leaves the car running with the air conditioning or the heat on. But in this case I saw no responsible alternative. I was just trying to reunite a dog with her family.

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Proof of her sweetness. When I came back to the shop after lunch, she jumped up (all 70-or-so pounds of her, on stubby legs) and gave me a hug. I had to capture it on my phone. Not sure I’ve had a dog give me quite such a heartfelt hug before.

I’d given her a bowl of water when she first arrived, and she had a good drink. I also gave her some of Joey’s food and one of his biscuits (he complained loudly from inside the house), but she was reluctant to eat. Every so often while I worked, she would go over to the door as if to say “I need to get back to my people! They need me!” Yes, I could have let her go, but I have seen too many animals killed by vehicles on our road. I take care of strays in my shop because (a) I love animals and (b) I hope that someone would do the same for one of my dogs or cats.

Around 6 I called the shelter and left a message asking whether my shop guest had been reported lost by her family. A few minutes later I got a call from her owner, who lives around the corner — a corner about a mile long. She had run across the hypotenuse, through the woods.

I took her outside as a thunderstorm was forming. As soon as she saw the truck, she started running (again, all 70-or-so pounds of her on those stubby legs; I would never have guessed that she could exert such a pull on the leash). That was one sweet reunion. She even jumped (yes, all 70-or-so pounds of her, on those stubby legs) into their truck, which is higher off the ground than mine. Her name is Missy, they said; they’d been heartsick all day and had left messages at the shelter reporting her lost, just as I had, reporting her found. Somewhat frustrating for all of us, though no doubt the phone was busy (for all of our calls) because the shelter staff were taking care of business.

A good job done. Please support your local animal shelter.

Interview: Aimé Ontario Fraser

It’s my pleasure and my honor to present a post about Aimé Ontario Fraser.

Making Things Work

The first woman I was ever aware of in the realm of woodworking publications is Aimé Ontario Fraser. It was the early 1990s when I began to notice her name, and occasionally her picture, in the pages of Fine Woodworking. By then, I had spent a decade in custom furniture and cabinet shops in England and the States. One of the shops where I’d worked had three women, along with about ten men. But in the pages of the woodworking magazines I read, women rarely made an appearance.

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The last article I remember seeing with Fraser’s byline was in 2005. After that, she slipped from my notice. Every so often I wondered what had become of this woman who was among the first to normalize images of women in woodworking – to get our eyeballs so used to seeing women (of all ages, sizes, etc., just as we do…

View original post 1,921 more words

Interview: Aimé Ontario Fraser

The first woman I was ever aware of in the realm of woodworking publications is Aimé Ontario Fraser. It was the early 1990s when I began to notice her name, and occasionally her picture, in the pages of Fine Woodworking. By then, I had spent a decade in custom furniture and cabinet shops in England and the States. One of the shops where I’d worked had three women, along with about ten men. But in the pages of the woodworking magazines I read, women rarely made an appearance.

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The last article I remember seeing with Fraser’s byline was in 2005. After that, she slipped from my notice. Every so often I wondered what had become of this woman who was among the first to normalize images of women in woodworking – to get our eyeballs so used to seeing women (of all ages, sizes, etc., just as we do with men) fitting butt hinges, planing boards, ripping panels on tablesaws, carving mantels, and so on, that we may someday no longer say “wow, a woman woodworker” and simply see someone building a cabinet or applying her skill in the furnishing of an interior. So I contacted Fine Woodworking’s unfailingly helpful Betsy Engel, who forwarded my inquiry to Fraser. To my delight, she agreed to speak with me.

***

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The Sono 15, a boat Fraser designed for teaching. “It’s a great little boat, and there are 27 of them around New England, all built by students of mine.”

Fraser got her start in woodworking as a high school exchange student in New Zealand. It was 1976 and New Zealand was the center of modern wood composite boatbuilding technology – we’re talking 1/8” or thinner layers of wood laminated with epoxy and fiberglass cloth to produce hulls that are very light and strong. Even though she hadn’t been allowed to take woodworking classes in high school back home (she had to take home economics instead), she got a job working for a boat builder. She loved the work.

Back in the States, she wanted to keep building. She became romantically involved with a sailing buddy in Connecticut whom she would later marry. “He built stuff, so we started doing boat stuff,” she says. Building boats and finishing hulls became her work for the next decade-plus. This is how she learned woodworking.

Aime Ontario Fraser

Fraser earlier in her career

Fifteen years later, she worked her way into running the boat shop at The Maritime Center (now the Maritime Aquarium), where she focused on traditional local boats and boatbuilding techniques. She led a group of serious volunteer builders, and the job also allowed her to work with schoolchildren; at one point she and a group of seventh graders built four boats in two weeks and then raced them on the river behind the Center.

On the topic of gender

At this point it’s worth noting that the trajectory of Fraser’s woodworking career has had a lot to do with being a woman in a field long dominated by men. “I’m pretty skilled as a woodworker,” she says. “I know how to make odd shapes and how to fit things together so well that the water doesn’t come in.” If you know anything about boatbuilding, you’ll appreciate she’s being modest. Such meticulous work is no mean feat. “But I never worked in a boatyard or on a building site. I honestly didn’t want to put up with that s**t.”

Take mansplaining, for instance. (Please, do take it, and never bring it back.) “I remember when I was in charge of the boat shop at the Maritime Center,” Fraser recounts, “and one of my jobs was to build boats so that people could watch me. I was a display! I had a team of volunteers including a V.P. from GE, a retired general, some heavy-duty people I had to manage. They would come into the shop and work, and we worked together to build boats in a traditional manner. But then men would wander by to watch the display. Some high level work was going on, and random men would tell me I was doing it wrong and start lecturing me on how to use a chisel or plane. Anyone who knew anything about building could see what I was really doing, yet so many clueless men felt compelled to tell me I was wrong. This phenomenon has always been hard for me to fathom.”

It’s fair to say that neither Fraser nor I would claim that such advice is only given to women. What’s irksome – well, aside from the “correction” being based on a widely held belief that fails to take all relevant factors into account – is the experience of people assuming you know less than you do because you’re a woman. Which is pretty ironic in Fraser’s case, considering she’s something of an expert on this subject. In 2002 she wrote an article on sharpening handplanes for Fine Woodworking (#157, July/August 2002) that involved electron micrographing plane irons and sharpening stones.

Shortly after, she put together a team for the New England Handplaning Contest (organized by The Woodworkers Store in Norwalk Connecticut); her team included the then-president of DMT, students, and friends, and relied heavily on Harrelson Stanley of HMS Enterprises, importer of Japanese tools and sharpening equipment. They trained by sharpening planes every day for weeks prior and discussed technique. The president of DMT made them a diamond flattening device so they could flatten the soles of their planes. Fraser was named the New England Handplane Champion for producing a 9-foot long lace-thin shaving of Alaskan cedar. “After I won it, I had to go to the grocery store on my way home. I remember walking down the frozen food aisle and thinking, ‘I’m the New England Hand Plane Champion!’” she recalls, chuckling at the geekiness of it all.

Nevertheless, corrections from men on the proper way to put down a plane continued to dog her. She did a TV commercial for Woodcraft in which she was planing a wide panel while talking about the company’s products. She put the plane down upright on the bench. Alarm bells went off around the country. “People throughout my career who were not professional woodworkers, people who did not win the New England Handplane Championship, would tell me I was doing it wrong!” she laughs. “I would have to say, ‘no if you put it on its side you risk nicking the blade [or] cutting yourself. Put it down gently, but not on its side, [or] somebody’s gonna get hurt.”

And then there’s just plain old-fashioned sexism. “I always faced a lot of crap for being a woman,” she continues. “‘Oh, you do that and you’re a woman?!’ I didn’t let it bother me. Writing helped a lot because it gave me many more opportunities than if I’d been a tradesperson alone. But I always felt, ‘This is what I am, this is what I do.’ I think like a woodworker. I never wanted to get too bothered about gender, though it’s always been there. At this one boatyard, one guy called me the Varnish Muffin. I said, ‘Look, I’m a professional; I have a staff of four and thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment. If you want me to come and varnish your boats, I will, but I am not a ‘Varnish Muffin.’ I don’t varnish just because I’m the captain’s girlfriend and girls varnish. I varnish because it’s my part of my profession.”

The Taunton connection

Throughout the early years of her career she wrote for WoodenBoat and other boat-related magazines, in addition to running her own business on the side. One winter’s day, as she headed out to work on a 60-foot yacht in the water, she realized, “if I fall off this dock I will die, and no one will know, because I’m the only one out here and it’s too cold, and the current is too swift [to survive].” She started looking for another way to stay in woodworking and was hired by the Taunton Press.

After leaving Taunton around 1998, she had a job as the director of education, planning classes and teaching at The Woodworkers Store in Norwalk, CT that had a woodworkers’ club. People paid for shop time by the hour and there was someone on hand to help with projects. “I tended not to do ‘woodworking for women’ because I felt that was talking down to people,” she says. “I recognize that women at that time needed extra encouragement. But I didn’t like the idea of putting the women off in another room. I [did teach] boatbuilding classes. It was Taunton’s 25th anniversary; the owner of the franchise teamed up with Taunton and we had a bunch of authors come in and demonstrate while working.”

After that, she was the Principle Instructor at the Wooden Boat Workshop, also in Norwalk. It operated on a similar concept, focused on building small boats.

Fraser has written two books: Getting Started in Woodworking and Your First Workshop. She did technical editing for Taunton Books, working on the Mark Duginske’s Band Saw Handbook and the second edition of Bruce Hoadley’s classic, Understanding Wood. After that, she hooked up with John Kelsey and Ian Kirby; together they had a small company called Cambium Press, which published Kirby’s books on sharpening and dovetails, along with other books. She also ghost-wrote James Krenov’s book With Wakened Hands. “I was given a box of photographs and several hours of recordings, and we made that book.” She spent a week with Krenov to finish it up – a special experience, given that he was one of her heroes from the 1970s. “I had the good fortune to hang out with people who were my heroes,” she reflects. “Krenov, Mark Duginske, Ian Kirby, and others. We became good friends and had a lot of fun together.”

By 2008 Fraser had gone out on her own, with a 1500-square-foot woodworking shop in an old warehouse in Connecticut. Along with other types of cabinets, she did specialized work for equestrians, designing and building travel cases for all manner of dressage equipment.

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Boot rack with jacket and hat, one of the specializes pieces of equestrian equipment Fraser made in her business

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Fraser’s business logo

Then the economy shifted, culminating in the housing crisis and the Great Recession. As a one-person business without the capitalization necessary to survive the drying up of high-end spending, she was devastated. She worked all day in her shop, then went to an evening job at a grocery store in an effort to keep the bills paid. “When they taught me how to run the fryer, I cried just a little,” she says. Eventually she realized she could not keep her business going. She sold all of her machinery, though she kept the hand tools and clamps.

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Saddle stand with shop-made brass hardware

Just last year, Fraser was hired as New England Training Coordinator for Mueller Reports, a company that specializes in insurance inspections for homeowners and small business. She trains people to inspect buildings. Not surprisingly, her knowledge of building and woodworking is invaluable. “It’s a wonderful challenge, and the steadiest paycheck I’ve had in my life,” aside from when she was at Taunton Press.

Fraser November 2017

Fraser in November 2017

For the present, Fraser thinks of woodworking as a fallow field she’s letting rest. She lives in a community that regulates how she uses her garage. “But I do have a basement and tons of clamps and tons of tools,” she adds, thinking about how she’ll get back into it.

Finally, what about the name Ontario? I’ve always been curious, so I asked. Fraser’s family is from Upstate New York near the Canadian border. Her grandmother was from Ontario, and her parents had a summer cottage on Lake Ontario, so that became her middle name.

Thank you, Aimé, for allowing me to interview you, for digging up all these old photographs, and for being one of the early public faces of women in our field.

A few images of Fraser’s work

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Lightweight case for holding bits

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Mobile office for use at horse shows

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Another mobile office

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A giant saddle stand with implement storage that also acts as a divider between two horses in the grooming stall

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Detail of tack room doors built of fragrant white cedar and reclaimed redwood used in wine vats

Book release events

English A&C promotional pic

The books are in! I’m putting together a series of related events and will update this list as plans are finalized.

Thursday, July 12, 8 p.m.
Central Florida Woodworkers Guild
Woodcraft of Orlando
8155 South US Highway 17-92
Casselberry, Fl 32730

Thursday, August 2, 6-8 p.m.
Tools for Working Wood, Brooklyn
Refreshments, book signing, surprise pinata!

Tuesday, August 7, 6:30 p.m.
Philadelphia Woodworks
4901 Umbria Street
Philadelphia, PA 19128

Saturday, August 11 (all day)
Lost Art Press Open Storefront, Covington KY
Limited attendance event from 7-10 p.m.: surprise pinata, book-related presentation, drinks. I will have a Voysey two-heart chair and Trustworth Studios wallpaper on display (so you can make your own tracings from the chair if you’d like).

Saturday, September 8
Cincinnati Woodworking Club
10:30 a.m.
Lower level of the Northminster Presbyterian Church
703 Compton Road
Cincinnati OH 45231
Note: Restricted to members and first-time visitors

Realities of having your own [woodworking] business, Part 367: Quit wasting my time

Certified

Certified. In the meantime, I am getting ever closer to certifiable.

Yesterday I spent almost three hours of prime work time addressing the mess produced by someone who didn’t bother to do his or her job.

My business is legally organized as a Subchapter S Corporation. This type of business doesn’t pay taxes on profits; the profits flow through to the shareholders’ personal income, and taxes are paid via their personal tax returns. (You got that, right? The taxes are paid. There’s no evasion.)

The deadline for business tax returns is a month earlier than for personal returns. This year the deadline was March 15. Submit a return even the morning after, and you’re delinquent. The current fine is $195 — just for being late, even though no actual payment is due with the return. I take these deadlines seriously.

For Postal submissions the IRS goes by the postmarked date. I always send tax forms by Certified Mail and keep the receipts in a special OCD section of my office desk. So I was miffed last Saturday when I received a late filing notice and a demand for $195. What the <bleep> was up?

Monday morning I called the phone number on the notice and waited on hold for 20 minutes. (This is always a good opportunity to check email, Instagram, etc.) At minute 21 I explained the situation to the staff person, who said they had received the return on March 26. Again: The date of receipt is not the date of legal record in this case. What matters is the date of the postmark…which someone had not bothered to note on my return.

“Can you fax me a copy of the mailing certificate while we’re on the phone?” she asked. We don’t use fax anymore, so I could not. They don’t accept email; nor can they accept a fax of the certificate once the call has ended.

“Make a copy of page one of the form we sent and send it to the address on the form with a copy of the mailing certificate,” she told me.

“So,” I replied. “I realize you must get an ear-full from most callers, but what is the point of a businessperson going to the trouble and expense of sending these returns via Certified Mail if your colleagues aren’t going to note the date of the postmark?” I mean, that is the ENTIRE POINT of Certified Mail.

She said something along the lines of ‘for what it’s worth, I agree with you.’ Because really, who wouldn’t? This is a case of blatant negligence — a tiny oversight on the part of an employee, but one that ended up costing me nearly as much in lost shop time as the fine they were demanding I pay.

I will not pay such fines when they are not actually due. It’s a matter of principle. I see a creeping trend on the part of powerful institutions toward using them as a kind of extortion. “Hey, it’s going to cost you more to sort this out than to pay it, so be a chum and just write the check.”

At midday I drove to the nearest copy place, several miles east of my shop. I could have sent the forms back from there, but again, I wanted to send them by Certified Mail. That means going to a Post Office. There are only two Post Offices in Bloomington, both several traffic-choked miles away, so I turned around and drove ten miles in the opposite direction, to the tiny burg of Stanford, where I waited in line while the clerk called her supervisor for detailed help with a printer malfunction that had produced an unusable postal order for the customer in front of me.

I think I may invest in one of those all-purpose printers that copy, scan, and fax. I used to have one, but when it broke (after less than five years) I decided to go back to basic black and white printing in the hope that a simpler bit of electronic equipment would be more long-lived.

Sometimes contemporary life is absurd.

A day in the life

Last week one of the students in my class at Marc Adams asked what a typical day was like in my world. I had to say there was no such thing; the days are all different, depending on the work at hand. The only time my workdays have a high degree of sameness and I can work with virtually no interruption is when I’m installing built-ins out of town or teaching. In both cases I spend the whole day doing the same thing (installation or teaching) and return home after the trip to find a mountain of backlogged correspondence and paperwork on a desk littered with cat hair.

But since you asked, Tyler, here’s what today looked like. If the rest of you think “a day in the life” is an exercise in navel gazing, please delete this post forthwith.

***

6 a.m. Dear Mark brings coffee to bed and we wake up together. (OK, yes, he was already awake. That’s how the coffee “got made.” Sometimes I love that passive voice. It makes everything seem just magical. Did I mention that Mark is a saint [most of the time; I, of course, am saintly all of the time — not]. He also fed Joey and fed Lizzie, our elderly cat, her first breakfast*.)

7 a.m. Check email and respond; read posts on Rude Mechanicals Press and Finn Koefoed-Nielsen’s blog (both highly recommended). Feed Lizzie her second breakfast.*

8-9:30 Rip door frame stock for the current kitchen job and start cutting rails & stiles to length

9:30 Drive into Bloomington with Voysey two heart chair leg template for scheduled meeting

10 a.m.** Meet with graphic designer to discuss how best to transfer mortise positions and other details from my chair leg template to her PDF so readers can get their own paper templates through my website. This is related to the book on English Arts & Crafts furniture that’s coming out in, like, a week. Last week Steph was on vacation and I was teaching, so this was the first chance we’ve had.

10:22 Stop by a recent client’s house to drop off the pair of Stewart Huff c.d.s she loaned me. (Highly recommended for his spot-on cultural criticism, provided you can stomach his expletive-laden irreverent humor.) Drive back to home/office/shop.

11 a.m. Conference call to discuss (in exquisite detail) plans for four-day shoot of kitchen cabinet building video in Iowa this August

12:30 p.m. Lunch. Check the obituaries and letters to the editor in the local paper, look at Instagram. Feed cat lunch.*

1 p.m. Check a few dimensions on my original Voysey chair template, because the graphic designer needs them, and send her the revised information.

1:22 Call David Keller with inquiry about his jig (related to cabinet building video). Leave message. Feed Lizzie her second lunch.*

1:25 Return call from potential kitchen client who left a voicemail message yesterday. Because she seems serious, knowledgeable, and our schedules have potential to mesh, I listen to her thoughts and respond with my own, then set up a meeting for next week.

2 p.m. Resume door making for the current job

3 p.m. to 3:07 Make a cup of tea. Feed Lizzie again.* (Note: A 7-minute break)

3:24 Answer my husband’s phone call (because husband). He wants to discuss the potential kitchen job; the woman who’d called me asked her husband to contact him about his availability to figure up a quote, because I told her that I rarely work with other contractors any longer and tell her that Mark is an excellent carpenter/general contractor who, along with his crew, is adept at installing my unconventional built-ins. Discuss how packed his schedule is already, apologize, etc.

3:30 Resume mortising and move on to tenons

5:45 Stop to visit with my wonderful former employee Daniel, who has come by to pick up my old radial arm saw on his way home from a week’s class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

Daniel and Nancy May 25 2018

We really were not intending to push La Croix sparkling water or Crucible Tool Works products, but in both cases, I would be proud to have people think that was my intention.

Because it’s Friday, I decide not to cut, haunch, and fit the remaining 54 tenons for the doors after Daniel leaves but to make a run to the liquor store for vodka instead.

7 p.m. Feed Lizzie her second dinner.* (Mark gave her the first.) Sit down at desk to write with Lizzie lying on a pile of paperwork next to the keyboard, farting. (That’s Lizzie farting, OK? Just to get that straight.)

Lizzie on my desk

Don’t judge. This is how I work.

8 p.m. Make a martini. The cat is still farting next to me. Now on to another bit of writing.

*I have no idea how old she is. I adopted her from the local shelter in 2004. She was already mature and had clearly been well cared for. Translation: spoiled. She knew about half and half, canned food, and came to my notice when she batted the bowl of dry “food” provided by the shelter attendant to the floor, a look of disgust on her face. The vet diagnosed her with a thyroid problem last fall. I started giving her the meds for that. If you’ve tried to give a cat oral medication, you know what that’s like. They basically say “F you, a**hole” even though you’re trying to help them. So in the end I decided her quality of life was more important than maxing the length thereof. She is skin and bones but pretty darn happy. 99% deaf and about 50% blind, she spends her days sleeping, eating, and snuggling with us, occasionally venturing outside to explore the area between the back door and the front.

**Yes, it does take half an hour these days — and that’s if we’re lucky — thanks to “improvements” made to the route in the past 20 years; it used to take 10 minutes. #progress

SawStop slider: my take, several months in

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I bought a SawStop slider last November after deciding to retire my radial arm saw. I’d used sliding crosscut tables at the shops where I worked in England; they were champs at cutting panels squarely and their fences were invariably set up with well designed, sturdy, movable stops. So when I happened upon the SawStop slider at Woodworking in America in 2016 I was hooked.

My apprehension about setting the thing up turned out to be unfounded. It took a few hours and the assistance of a tool-using friend. (See my post here.) The instructions were clear and detailed. (When it comes to technical writing, there’s no substitute for a native speaker of the relevant language. This has been one of SawStop’s strengths.)

A post on Instagram brought lots of comments, some of them criticizing the slider for being lightweight, both literally and figuratively. Based on my experience these past few months, Chris Hedges (@aedanworks) put it best with the following comment: “It’s a great attachment. Yes it has limitations but none that can’t be worked around. I think of it as a finishing slider. Wouldn’t go back to not having one!” Here are my specific observations.

***

What’s great about the slider is the primary feature for which I bought it: I can crosscut a full sheet of 4’ x 8’ plywood quickly and cleanly. I set my slider up to allow for maximum ripping capacity with the sliding fence still on the table. I can rip an 8’ piece of material (or longer) but doing so requires lifting the back end until it clears the crosscut fence, which can be awkward. Any serious ripping means removing the fence. The good news is it’s easy to replace and re-set with a square.

The stops can deflect enough to produce varying lengths of cut. You can prevent this by treating them as parts of a precision tool. If you slam a sheet of plywood against them they’re going to bend (not that I’m suggesting anyone reading this would be so indelicate). Alternatively, clamp a sturdy block to the fence.

The miter gauge that came with my original slider has been superseded by an improved model with positive angle stops. After buying the improved version I found that the fence can still be moved out of square (and so make the other angle settings off) if pressed too hard. You need to check it regularly. Then again, that’s just good practice with any machine set-up.

The instructions that came with my slider made no mention of attaching a sacrificial fence. I used double-sided tape (thanks to @lostartpress for that suggestion), which was fine for a few weeks. There is a slot in the fence that I guessed was probably meant for this, but SawStop has spoiled me by consistently providing clear, detailed, and complete instructions, so I was stumped. A call to the company confirmed my hunch. I mentioned how unusual it was that they neither mentioned this critical component in the manual nor included the necessary bolts. (I would put my money on this being addressed in the next edition of installation literature.) I’ll be buying some bolts from a local hardware store this week and making this minor upgrade.

Bottom line: It’s not heavy-duty industrial equipment, but I’m not running an industrial shop. Check regularly to make sure the fence hasn’t moved. Treat the length stops as precision instruments. And share your suggestions for improvements with the manufacturer at marketing@sawstop.com. There are real human beings who check the inbox, and they sincerely want to hear your thoughts. This is a company that’s continually working to make its products even better because they get that their success depends on quality.

The house is back in the family!

Reposting here, because this story is the beginning of a project I’ll be documenting on the Popular Woodworking blogs site and on Instagram

A Home of Her Own

My house “Saturday Morning Coffee” by Scott Sullivan

When I sold my old house in 2003 I asked the buyer to let me know, should he ever find himself contemplating a move. That was 15 years ago.

Last December my mother came for a weekend visit. On Saturday afternoon we were browsing at The Book Corner, my favorite bookstore downtown, when I happened to run into the man who’d bought my house. “Would you like to buy your house back?” he asked, explaining that he was going to move in with his partner and sell the place.

We scheduled a visit for early the following week.

On the drive over I called one of my best friends, aware that she was hoping to move into town. It was the spur of the moment on a weekday; I didn’t expect to reach her, let alone that she would actually be available. But she…

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Join me on May 4

Hayrake table carving

Decorative gouging

To celebrate the impending appearance of English Arts & Crafts Furniture: Projects and Techniques for the Modern Maker (scheduled for publication May 30 from Popular Woodworking Books), I will give a short talk at Bloomington’s beloved By Hand Gallery as part of the First Friday downtown gallery series. I will have my version of Ernest Gimson’s 1908 hayrake table on hand and will be happy to answer questions about joinery, carving, finish, etc.

The gallery will also have copies of Making Things Work, in case you’d like to buy a copy and have it signed.

Hayrake table lambs tongue layout

Lamb’s tongue layout

Please follow me on Instagram (@nrhiller) for updates on ordering the book.

Hayrake table stretchers assembled

Hayrake stretcher system assembled dry

Hayrake table almost done

Once again, big thanks to Megan Fitzpatrick and Scott Francis, both formerly of Popular Woodworking, for offering me the opportunity to write this book.

Never stop learning

One of the things I love about my work is the constant learning. Whether I’m researching the life and work of a less-known maker of English Arts and Crafts furniture or making my way around a new machine, I find myself challenged on an almost daily basis, which is rewarding. This week I experimented with some tweaks on familiar joinery and finishing techniques, drawing on articles and advice from a few people I know: Mike Pekovich, Chris Schwarz, Kelly Mehler, and Tim Puro (in the order in which they appear below).

I’m finishing up a wall cabinet that will be a project article in Fine Woodworking. (Don’t ask when it will appear; we don’t know yet.) The sides of the little cabinet are joined to the floor with dovetails. After nearly 40 years of transferring tail positions onto pin boards the same way I was taught at the Isle of Ely College in Wisbech by dear old Mr. Williams and curmudgeonly Mr. Slater, I decided it was time to try the Pekovich blue tape method. It worked like a charm. (Jump to end of post for evidence that Mike has a sense of humor.)

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Another enhancement of my dovetailing life comes from Chris Schwarz, who recently recommended sawing closer to the baseline when cutting pins. I’ve always stayed well away from that line and chopped the rest with a chisel. No more.

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As for that auxiliary bench, several years ago, while teaching a class at Kelly Mehler’s School, I asked Kelly about his benchtop bench. He gave me a copy of the Fine Woodworking article with Jeff Miller’s plan; even though I’d been reading and subscribing to the magazine for years, it was the first project I built based on a magazine article. (I pretty much design what I build, but where technical accoutrements such as this are concerned, I’m grateful that someone else has worked out the bugs.) This little workhorse is a boon to those with aging backs and eyesight.

Because my bench is 38″ high, the benchtop bench ends up a few inches higher than ideal for me. Last week I found the perfect solution: I dragged the semi-useless toolbox that I made as a dovetail practice project in 1979 over to the work area and turned it into a platform.

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To finish this piece I decided to use Tim Puro’s recipe for giving mahogany a richer look (in the current issue of Fine Woodworking).

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Step one: oil-based dye

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After sealing with Zinsser SealCoat, I applied a layer of Old Masters gel stain in cherry. (Tim suggests wiping stain in cedar, but I had this gel stain handy.) Yes, that’s a little remnant of glue at the corner of the bottom rail and left stile. Watch what happened next.

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Two coats of shellac later, I scuff sanded with 320 grit paper and applied a glaze of Old Masters wiping stain in Dark Mahogany (still wet here). Note that the glue spot has in effect disappeared.

I’ll topcoat with Osmo because I want to seal the glaze well — and quickly — but don’t want a shiny finish.

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No, this is not a real cover, nor do I wear a safety helmet to work at my bench. This is a spoof created by Mike in 2006 as a gift to a client of mine who I knew would love it. I was never a pin-up girl, and that is not me on the wall in the background. That is Nicky, or Alexis — I don’t know her real name — one of the models in a 1976 calendar I bought as a 30th birthday present for my then-employee, Daniel, who astutely observed that models of yore had thinner lips and less, well, “pneumatic” breasts than many models today (but you won’t see them here, thanks to blue tape).