Thursday, March 26, 2009

tuning your scraper

I wrote recently about a cabinet scraper. Its a tool that is so useful on a daily basis and yet many a contemporary cabinet maker doesn't know how to use one, let along how to sharpen one. I hope that the following is not too much information for those who are never going to make furniture. It is my hope to give you a sense of what you must do to keep your tools "tuned" in the shop. Sharpening tools is a necessary part of the making of cabinets and furniture. It is also of course a viable metaphor for what we all have to do in our lives. It takes "away" from the making of the "thing" but without keeping our tools sharp and ourselves, we would struggle and fail to accomplish our goals. So here is a basic primer on sharpening a cabinet scraper.

The sharpening is accomplished on a maintenance basis using a hardened piece of steel attached to a handle. Think of a screwdriver without the "business end" still intact and that's the idea. They make burnishing tools that are for this purpose too, but the French craftsman I trained with had just a modified screw driver handle and shank. You have to be able to hold the tool while exerting some force on the edge of the scraper and also the steel has to be at least as hard as the steel in the scraper. There are two essential motions that one performs. This is assuming by the way, that the scraper has already received an initial dressing with a file followed by a sharpening stone. The first movement is to go across the scraper like one would do with a barbers blade on a stropping strap. Back and forth across the flat scraper in the same plane as the flat orientation. It helps to be doing this on the surface table of a machine. The goal is to create a little burr that "grows" outward ever so slightly but in line with the scraper. This motion can be repeated many times, as the more the metal is moved here the better the final result will be (within reason). The second motion is a one shot deal that occurs for all four edges that will cut. Two per long edge, one on each side. The burnisher is held at almost a right 90 degree angle to the scraper , but tilted ever so slightly toward the flat, at about a 80-85 degree angle. The scraper has to be held flat on a preferably metal bench part of a machine such as a jointer, with about 1/4" of the tool protruding away from the edge of the machine. You must have a very firm grip on the scraper pressing down and on the burnishing tool pressing against the scraper. You get one shot at this and there is no going back unless you want to start over. Hold the burnisher low so that you don't cut your hand against the edge of the tool! Start as close to the far corner as possible and pull towards yourself while pressing against the edge at a constant 83 degree angle (approx!) and that is it. Repeat 3 more times on each other edge. You will get a burr now pointing up that you can feel with your finger. When you slightly bend the scraper with your thumbs in the center while holding the outside edges and press along a piece of wood you should get very thin shavings of wood. If you are producing dust, it is not sharpened properly or you are not holding the scraper properly. If you are trying to follow along and do an actual sharpening, good luck and I hope I gave you enough information! I'll be happy to answer questions and welcome your feedback.

Monday, March 23, 2009

phantom pain

In response to a friend's question about a note that I had lost a part of my finger in an accident, I wrote: I lost the tip 8 years ago in a wood machinery accident. It was a jointer and I lost the finger down to the first knuckle but luckily in this case (luck is relative), not so far that I couldn't still fully bend the finger. I experienced excruciating electric shocking like pain that occurred at random moments and a persistent throbbing pain that was made better by elevating my finger so that (because this was the middle finger) everyone thought who didn't know me that I was "giving them the finger" (I wish I had the finger fully to give). The pain lasted for months and months until I realized one day about five or six months after the accident that the pain was no longer from the "source" but imprinted in my brain. Then with the help of a friend who is a doctor interested in alternative medicine, he guided me while I hypnotized myself and accessed that part of my brain circuitry that was causing the pain. I visualized that area of my brain like it was an architectural plan, and I was fixed in finding the "control room" and found it with massive amounts of electrical gear and "breaker" switches inside.  I felt myself entering that room and I walked up to the correct breaker and threw the switch into the "off" position. The pain disappeared and has never come back.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One of the stamps of approval that many end users of furniture are looking for today is "FSC certified" wood. From their website: 

"In many forests around the world, logging still contributes to habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples. . .Many consumers of wood and paper. . . believe that the link between logging and these negative impacts can be broken, and that forests can be managed and protected at the same time. Forest Stewardship Council certification is one way to improve the practice of forestry."

I have worked in Ohio with a local Amish lumber yard that buys all of its wood in the region to find a way of certifying their product. They recently (after much prodding) were happy to report to me that they have been certified as an "Appalachian Hardwood Lumber Producer" and produces lumber from a 344-county territory that is a certified "Sustainable Hardwood Forest" as defined by the AHMI (Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers, Inc.) and based on research data from the United States Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis "that shows net annual hardwood growth rates have exceeded annual hardwood harvest levels in the AHMI territory over the past 50 years."

I am pleased to have been at least one purchaser of their product that nudged them in this direction and also pleased to reassure the customer that this is one additional area we are dealing with in our efforts to be sustainable.

Friday, March 13, 2009

There is a new magazine in North East Ohio. They "discovered" that there is a furniture maker producing a national product here in their backyard.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I visited the atelier of another furniture manufacturer while visiting LA yesterday. The main craftsperson has a fascinating life story of travel from Armenia to Lebanon to France to Italy to France to the United States. The thing he hated about France and loves about the US is that even though his French was superb college level conversational and reading, and his English was barely functional upon entering the country, he was looked down upon in France and was well received and respected here. "Old" Europe still persists in its discrimination  and yet also acts as a library of trade skills that are quickly disappearing here. I was trained by a French furniture maker. A cabinet scraper is an essential everyday tool in traditional craftsmanship. Sanding was strongly discouraged because it added hard to remove dust to the work before the advent of compressed air. A scraper, properly sharpened can leave a finish equivalent to 320 sandpaper or finer. This Armenian-Lebanese-Italian-French craftsman also swears by his scraper. When I moved to Ohio from New York, I didn't meet a cabinet/furniture woodworker who knew how to use a scraper, much less to sharpen one. Hand skills like these are not just useful for the arcane demonstration of "antique" methods but also are critical for many steps of the way we work with wood in our shop.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I recently had an invitation to create a guest blog entry on a Chicago area blog for Chicago businesses. I am based in Ohio. So, I did say the following: I have Chicago roots. I was born there and four of my great-grandparents lived in Chicago. My Parents and Grandparents were born in Chicago. My Father had a furniture showroom there until he passed away in 1979. My Mother and Great-Aunt were Interior Designers in the City. My Great Aunt Mabel Schamberg designed the interior of the "House of Tomorrow" in the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. My furniture is represented in the Merchandise Mart. And last but not least I am a life long White Sox fan.