Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life.

Life in the Village and beyond, based around the interests of my life. Sunset at Telegraph Point.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Kids and Woodwork - A Happy Combination

When do you first remember enjoying woodwork?

For some people it is later in life, when there is a stirring within the creative spirit - to embrace a hobby that has so many sensory rewards.  The smell of freshly cut camphor laurel, the heady touch of freshly worked huon pine, the sound of shavings coming off the plane.

Timber is so thoroughly organic, that in using it we allow our senses to reach out and experience a small part of what makes up the soul of a tree.

While few of us will ever be in the same league as George Nakashima, we do - like him - allow ourselves to attempt to bring out the innate beauty of that most wonderful of materials - timber.

I would venture to say of most woodworkers, that the woodworking seed was planted within our being when we were very young.

How many of us picked up a hammer because we saw our dad do it?

Did we see our grandpa drilling a hole and longed to try it ourselves?  Use a handsaw, and simply want to cut wood like he did?

That is certainly what happened to me.  Growing up as a baby-boomer in a suburb of housing commission homes, there was no shortage of role models who were daily working with wood.  Parents and grandparents were all part of the can-do generations that were spawned by the Great Depression.
We were always making something - cubby houses, bows and arrows, boxes, toys and what we would have called furniture.  Our families were gracious and understanding enough to even allow some of this furniture inside the house.

Now, it seems, it is my turn to be the mentor for a new generation of prospective woodworkers.  Who'd have thought that Generation Z-ers who are the classically networked and i-lived generation, would have a yen for something so far out of left field (for them) as woodwork.

And yet there it is.  They have discovered the joys of using something substantial, that can be handled, rotated, shaped, assembled and presented as a finished product to be proud of - the work of their hands.

These are the same hands that daily explore virtual reality, where the only thing that is real is the screen in front of their eyes.  No wonder their spirit hungers for substance.

I think that George Nakashima would be delighted -

.......................... I know that I am!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Restoring A Gateleg Table - Part 1

This particular table was a ruin when I got it.  Broken and in pieces.
It sat in a corner of the shed waiting for me to move it up my priority list.

When I finally got around to it, I thought to do a little research on its design origins.
 The design is very old - 330 years at least.

Here is one remarkably similar, dating from around 1680.

It is oval in shape with spiral legs.  The only differences are that the spirals are restricted to the legs alone, and do not include spiral cross bracing at the bottom as this one does.

The bracing on mine is plain, but the other similarities are uncannily the same.  This one - a Charles II gateleg table - is made from walnut, while mine is made from oak, English Oak I think.

Somehow I don't think that mine will fetch the same auction price that this one reached - 6,250 English pounds at Christies of London!

In its previous life mine probably looked like this next one - a stained oaken build, with near identical features.
Unfortunately the top had been used as a depository for coffee cups and wet glasses and bottles. It looked like several episodes of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey.

Add to that - the scratches and general wear and tear of daily life, and the poor old thing was showing signs of distress.

The oak has been stained with the same type of varnish as this.  Because of the damage to the top, a complete sand back was necessary.

Like the timbers in this table top, the boards used in the top's construction were not bookmatched - indeed, not matched in any way at all that I could see.  Apart from the fact that they are all oak, they have little in common.  Edge joins were proud of each other and badly aligned.

So ......... where to start.  All of the joints that weren't broken were loose.  Since they are all dowel joints, they come apart fairly easily with a soft faced dead-blow hammer.

Having successfully separated the pieces, and carefully labelled them for re-assembly, it was time to start from the inside out.
So the gatelegs were attacked first.  Each had to be extracted from its frame, and then disassembled.  The joints were cleaned, and all old glue scraped or shaved away with a sharp chisel.

When re-glued, it is important to check for square.  The two interior diagonals are measured with a pair of sticks, and if not the same, are adjusted by wracking with a long clamp - as shown here.

Only after the gateleg has dried, can it be inserted into the frame created by the two legs, and the upper and lower rails.  The gateleg is held in place by a pair of dowels that allow it to pivot as a hinge.

A trial fit shows that there is no binding along the top and bottom rails, and the gate swings freely.

The whole frame is then re-assembled with attention once again to square.

Clamps this time have to be much longer, and mine only just fill the bill.  I take care to use packing so that the jaws don't damage the surface of the oak legs.  Glue and leave to set overnight.

These steps have to be repeated for both sets of gatelegs and their corresponding frames.  Once both are done, the top and bottom side rails can be attached to form the table base.  I'll do this next time in part 2.

May your problems be enough to challenge you so that you may grow in the solving ...............

.............. and may your cup of joy flow over.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bruce Wei Ukuleles - A Small Review

There has been much discussion about the pros and cons of various ukulele makes - from a wide range of different manufacturers.  Any Ukulele Forum will have a place for this kind of discussion.  I would like to comment upon some ukuleles made in Saigon, and marketed under the Bruce Wei label.
These are sold via his ebay store under bruceweiart and bruceweiguitars  pseudonyms.

The first thing to realise is that there are so many different types and styles of ukulele, produced as Bruce Wei.  Apart from the traditional Soprano, Concert, Tenor and Baritone ukes, there are a multitude of different styles within these four sizes.

In Soprano, one can choose from hourglass or cutaway,  in standard or long necked versions.  The long necked have a concert sized neck on a soprano body.

Concerts come in a slightly bigger range of body shapes - including the two above, as well as teardrop.  There is no production long-necked concert ukulele from Bruce Wei at the moment - perhaps in future.  He will, however, custom make one if so desired.  Sound hole placement on the concerts can include the f-holes variation adjacent the bridge, as well as the standard round three-quarter hole on the soundboard.

Tenor ukuleles show the most variety.  As well as the three styles mentioned for the others, there are: boat paddle, balalaika-style flat ended, pear shaped cutaways, tear drop cutaways that resemble a leaf - and all come with or without bindings.
Baritone ukuleles come in one shape - standard hourglass, with standard and f sound holes.  There is an archtop variation, but this looks tricky to play.
Sound hole placement on the tenors can vary enormously - from standard three quarter rounds to side f's, upper bout paired scrollwork, birds, turtles etc etc.  Sometimes the upper bout soundholes are accompanied by one in the side of the body - either high or low.  The pear shaped cutaways can have an extra sound hole in the back that is fitted with scrollwork.
There are four, six and eight string tenor ukes - the latter two being standard hourglass shapes.

And just to add two more variables to all Bruce Wei ukulele sizes - the body and/or the neck can include timber or mother of pearl or abalone inlay.

It would take an age to review all of the permutations and combinations of Bruce Wei ukuleles.  Here I am going to limit myself to just a few.

I am going to make an assumption based upon my direct observations of work practice in Saigon, as well as the sheer diversity that exists within even the one style of instrument marketed under the Bruce Wei brand.  It is common for western production methods to centralise manufacture within a single building or factory, and to complete most, if not all the stages of the manufacturing process under the one roof.  This can be efficient and cost effective.

Vietnamese  manufacturing may head in this direction, but it is more common to see small operators, in family-run businesses, sub-contracting to a centralised marketing hub,  I believe that this is the model being utilised for the manufacture of these instruments.  It explains why there are so many variations within even the one style of ukulele.

For example, concert body shapes of the hourglass design are not consistently the same profile.  The waists vary - depending on where they were sourced.  This is not a bad thing, but it does make quality control more difficult.

One thing that all Bruce Wei ukuleles seem to have in common, is that they are all hand built.  Made of solid woods, there are no laminated ukuleles from this manufacturer. In a sense, they are all custom made instruments - no robots, no assembly line - no two ever the same.

Timber selection in the Bruce Wei range is based around proven tonewood performers - acacia koa, mahogany, maple and spruce (and occasionally rosewood) for the bodies,  mahogany for the necks and Indian rosewood for the fretboards and bridges.  Headstocks vary, but are usually acacia koa or Indian rosewood.  There are always MOP or abalone fret markers (except in the case of fretboard inlay), and it is most uncommon for the fretboard to not have side markers as well. 
Strings are nearly always Italian Aquilas.

Quality shown on all the ukuleles is truly excellent.  The satin finish is impeccable, and all glued joints are tight, with barely noticeable seams.  Bruce admits that years ago, when he first started, quality control was his strongest challenge, but these challenges have been successfully met - and currently quality control is a strong point in his line-up.

The backs are radiused in most cases, but the soundboards are flat.  In the larger ukulele bodies, this may lead to distortion around the bridge as the instruments age, but there is little sign of that at the present.  The one improvement that the larger ukuleles could use, is a gently radiused soundboard.  Not only would it add strength, it looks more attractive in my view.  The generally accepted soundboard radius is 22 feet if I recall correctly.

The fit of the necks to the bodies is particularly impressive, as is the neck shaping and sizing.
In combination with the fretboard, the mahogany necks are a work of art and exceptionally comfortable to play.

The fretboards are Indian rosewood - hard and durable - and the scale on each is exact.  They are as straight as a die and the frets themselves have been nicely bevelled along both edges.  Inlaid fretboards eschew the surface dot markers, but plain rosewood fretboards have MOP or abalone.  Usually these are the standard dots, but sometimes they are dressed up as birds, dolphins and other exotic shapes. All fretboards have inlaid MOP side markers at the 5th 7th, 10th and 12th frets and many have one at the 3rd.

The action on all the ukes is well set - not too high and with no buzzing.  Nuts and saddles are of quality buffalo bone - no plastic here.

Tuners are low geared requiring quite a lot of initial winding to bring the strings up to pitch, and require a lot of fiddling during the first week or so as the strings stretch.  Once the strings settle down, the low gearing is an advantage, and gives a precise adjusting mechanism in finding the correct tuning for each string.

All of them play and resonate well, with good sustain and clean and clear intonation.  There are differences in volume which I put down to the different body designs.
There are also differences in tone which reflect the chosen wood used in construction - particularly the body, and most especially the soundboard.  Mahogany sounds brighter and louder than does the acacia koa - which, to my ear, sounds more mellow.

There are hundreds of different brands and types of ukuleles on the market, endeavouring to meet a burgeoning demand for an instrument whose popularity has risen dramatically over the last few years.  There may have been a time in the past when musical instruments from Asia were looked upon as toys - particularly in the case of ukuleles.  Not any more.
These are serious instruments - made to a performance standard - that anyone would be pleased to own and play.  Apart from their beauty, their other attraction is their unparallelled value for money, and the fact that at this time - postage or freight costs are included in the price.

I am delighted with mine and am pleased to recommend them

As Teddy Roosevelt says ............

...... Speak softly ... and carry a ukulele ............

May your problems be small ones and your joys many .................

Post Script September 2014:

It is around two years since I first wrote this review.
I have written a Follow Up Review on my blog here:

PART TWO - What a difference time makes.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Blog!

The Village Woodworker turns ONE today.
Interestingly, folks seem to like reading my scribblings, and have joined me many times on our little journey into the life of the Village.  Most of it has been woodwork of course, but some surprises have popped up along the way.

When I started these blog entries, there were several woodworking projects in the works or on the drawing board.  These took shape over the weeks and months that followed.  It was a productive year.

I had no idea that I would become a ukulele-ist - of sorts - playing with a group every Monday night, and singing with the a capella group on Thursdays.

I never envisaged building any kind of musical instrument - that all seemed part of the esoteric arts - one year ago.  Now that we have entered the magical world of lutherie, there may be no turning back.  Here is Riverside Ukuleles tenor uke - serial number 1201.  There will not be a #1202 - too many other things to do - but a #1302 is a distinct possibility.

I have met so many new fellow travellers through this blogging medium - and have re-kindled old friendships.

The year has seen some holidays and some relaxation, as well as plain old perspiration in getting things done. 

The Village of Telegraph Point continues to grow, in its self-awareness and in the relationships that a living community engenders and nurtures. I love living here.

I hope that the year ahead holds as much joy and satisfaction as the last twelve months.  If so, I shall be content.
Thanks everyone, for sharing this journey with me.

Love life ............
......... and live!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Hans Brunner - Stanley Planes ................................ A Small Review

My old friend, Hans Brunner, has just released a new publication for hand tool enthusiasts, and for Stanley plane lovers and collectors.

Stanley Planes - An Australian Guide to Identification and Value by Hans Brunner covers most Stanley planes, their manufacturing details and prices realised - as well as illustrative pictures of each plane discussed.  This book had its genesis in Hans' old website gem Stanley By The Numbers.  This has been fully revised and added to in this publication.

Hans is very specific in pointing out from the opening remarks in this catalogue of planes, that he has written it to address the two most basic questions that people ask - what is it, and what is it worth?
This publication answers both of those questions extremely well.

In reference to individual plane models, Hans draws on his decades of knowledge and experience as  a vintage tool dealer and collector, to highlight points of interest as well as traps for the unwary.  Many of the Stanley planes came with a standard set of parts appropriate to that model - often these are missing or have substitutes from other models.  Enthusiasts and collectors wishing to avoid landing that dreaded frakenplane, will find Hans' insights invaluable.

Pages are laid out in catalogue format, and the planes are dealt with by the numbers, starting with 1 and ending with 444.  Bedrock Planes are dealt with separately, and Stanley variations such as two tone planes, Victor, Handyman and Stanley Gage are also mentioned.  The book finishes with honoured reference to Leonard Bailey and Victor planes - along with Bailey Defiance.

Stanley Number 8 and Stanley 386 Fence

As well as this cornucopia of plane facts and figures, there is an excellent section on cleaning and restoring vintage tools.  Many old tools are rare, and several Stanley planes fit into this category.  Since aggressive "cleaning" can destroy a tool's value, this treatise on restoration is invaluable.

Stanley 93 shoulder plane

There is a short history of the Stanley Works, and one of the easiest US Stanley plane dating guides in publication anywhere.  This is not as comprehensive as other in-depth dating and type studies, but is an excellent starting point for those wishing to establish an approximate age for their US made Stanley plane.

Stanley 65 Low Angle Block Plane

This publication is available directly from Hans Brunner - and at the bargain price of AU$22 including domestic postage, it is outstanding value for money.

If you are in any way interested in hand tools, their history and use, then this publication might very well become a much consulted reference.

Disclaimer:  I have no interest or involvement in this publication, nor am I in any way associated with the author, except as a long time friend. Note that the planes shown in use here are my own, and are not illustrations from the book itself.

May your woodworking be joyous and your daily challenges small ......................

Love life and live ......................

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Woodies With Goodies - continued

The Hastings Woodworkers Guild (HWWG)  Exhibition Weekend has come and gone.  It was great - plenty to see, do and listen to.
It is seldom appreciated by the viewing public just how much work goes into setting up and dismantling a show like this one.  It is, however, worth it.
We meet old friends and make many new ones.

We learn new techniques and exchange trade secrets (after the secret handshake of course).

Here, the great teacher woodturner - Peter Calabria - demonstrates turning a juniper bowl.

An absolute gentleman, Peter shares his time and expertise freely with anyone who is interested in wood turning.

Tony turned up a lidded box from one of his favourite Australian timbers - hairy oak.

Johnno shares his model making passion ..............
There were toys for grown ups and children to share ......

............. and toys just for kids.

Puzzles and games for big kids and little kids .....................

Robert's shop-made CNC machine attracted plenty of attention.

This year we had the Sing Australia group brighten our lives while the show went on around them. 

And so many other artists chose to join in our exhibition with samples of their beautiful creations, along with demonstrations for all to see ..................................

Last but not least, the old tools and collectables shared a long table with the buy swap and sell items from the Club woodies ....................  tool heaven for old tools ......................

While the show and exhibition is all over for another year, the memories, contacts and new friendships will linger, helping us into new directions over the next twelve months.
Enjoy your time in the shed and workshop .................
.........................and happy woodworking to all ............................

Monday, October 1, 2012

Woodies With Goodies ......................

.............otherwise known as the Hastings Woodworkers Guild Annual Exhibition.
Yep - it's on again.  A triptych of tumultuous, timbered transactions in October - our three day Show.
The lead-up to this event is months in the planning, and involves lots of community events in the weeks and days beforehand.

Apart from the advertising and the publicity, there are, of course the exhibits.  Generally, these are the cumulation of a year's work since the last exhibition - but often there are special pieces made just for the show.

My humble contributions this year are two exhibition pieces - the finished Amish Jelly Cabinet ............................

........................... and my tenor ukulele.

In the sales section, I will have some washroom cosmetics and towel rails ..........

............ and some planter stands - tall and short.

I wish my son was home so we could exhibit his just finished verandah bench. On ya lad!

There will be the old tools stall - which includes show, swap and sell from among the members of the Club, as well as antiques and collectables.  My old mate Ross, of Sunday Market fame, will be there - with bewildering bygones to bargain, barter or buy.

The show is looked forward to by all, and has in the past attracted around two thousand visitors to view our endeavours.  Maybe this year we can break that number.
Hope so .....................