Boiling Stones

I've been enjoying my new books. Lost Art Press recently released the two book set "The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years", a release that I've been eagerly awaiting ever since it was announced month (years?) ago. It's an absolutely fantastic curated collection of woodworker and author Hayward's articles from his years as editor of the English The Woodworker magazine from 1939 to 1967. If ever "Lost Art Press" lived up to its its name (by, you know, pressing lost art), its here. Hayward's career spanned the transition from hand work to the modern power tool age, a period when so much fundamental woodworking knowledge went from being common to almost forgotten. At 888 pages, it is a massive collection. But Lost Art Press has organized it by type and topic (and done an amazing job at re-setting the type and reproducing the illustrations) to where it is an engaging and very accessible read. As I go through it, every page seems to reveal a new gem, and authoritatively answers the kinds of questions that pop up on today's woodworking forums with regularity, ones that are often answered only hesitatingly and incompletely, by the well meaning, but ill-informed.

In a recent session going through the book, I came across a little article about cleaning oil stones. I hadn't thought to consider they even needed cleaning - I'd thought I would just keep them oiled up in use, and wipe the slurry off when done. But as my current set of Arkansas stones have been feeling "gummy" lately, and not cutting quite like they did when new, this piece caught my attention. Hayward says to either "... boil it in a strong solution of water and washing soda..." for a couple of hours, or, if you're in a hurry, cook it with a bare gas jet or blowlamp until the oil and grease (and embedded particles) are cooked out. The latter has the caveat that any uneven heating might cause the stones to crack. That seemed cool, but I wasn't ready to risk it.

So, I decided to boil mine, with a little dish soap and water. So far so good. Thanks Mr Hayward.

Follow up: Night and day. The stones are cutting fantastically. After I boiled them for about 2 hours (seeing a big oil slick form on the top of the water), I dried them, then applied some WD-40, went over them briskly with a wire brush, and put them back to work.

Not a Myth - Wood Moves

This weekend, humidity in the Chicago area was hovering around 94%, and its been between pretty high for the whole month of August. With extremes like these, it's been a great change to see the effect of wood movement on my past projects, and hopefully learn to better appreciate this unstoppable force.

One of my biggest, and earliest woodworking projects was to build a full set of kitchen cabinets when we re-did our kitchen. The design has 33 cabinet doors, 17 drawers, and face frames, all made from flat sawn red oak (and then the standard plywood boxes and drawer bodies). As this was early in my woodworking journey, I didn't have the level of appreciation for choosing proper grain direction that I do now. The frame and panel doors were made with plywood panels, a few with glass, and stub tenons & grooves (as opposed to full mortise & tenon joinery). The potential was high for them to move over time. But so far, I've been lucky: just a few of the 33 doors have moved a bit. Let's look at them...

This first photo shows the bottom inside edge of this door getting swollen, to the point where some force is needed to close it. It's also tight on the bottom edge. The door facing it is fine, however.

swollen at the bottom, making it hard to close

This pair of doors have also expanded towards each other, making for a tight fit. If I close the tow of them together, they close tightly. If one is closed, I can't close the other.

tight here

can't close one at a time

This door has twisted, so that the lower corner is "in" about 1/4" inch.

do the twist

And the rest of the doors and drawers are fine. 4 out of 33 is not bad for blindly picking wood without careful attention to grain. Of these 4, now might be a good time (at the point of maximum expansion) to trim the 3 "swollen" ones down to where they are just barely working smoothly again, knowing that they'll be fine as it shrinks, and for the next time it gets humid again. Now is the time to deal with this, as It's impossible to guess how much of a gap to leave in the dry seasons. For the one door that's twisted, I have to either live with it, or re-make it, this time being conscientious of the material.

Also in the kitchen, we have some birch laminated slabs for the counter tops, and two of them meet at a right angle. In the winter, there is as much as a 3/16" gap at this joint. But now, they are tight. They're only butted up to each other, and attached to the base cabinets with clips, allowing them to move.

that's tight!

Last year, I built a window bench / banquette, with batten supported lid/seats. These were fitting perfectly then, but looking at them today, the tops have moved about 1/4", and now stick out proud from the "side" pieces, who's grain is oriented 90° from the lids...

sticking out

The obvious fix here is to remove the lids from the piano hinges, shave some length off the back (where the lack of finish will not be seen) and re-attach them. I think I'll have to be careful not to cut them perfectly flush now, as they will shrink again, and be uneven the other direction. I'll have to opt for a happy medium, somewhere in between.

Here's an example of how good design can compensate wood movement. On the mission pedestal table I built last year, the wide tops have indeed expanded. But the movement is only visible where the the edges of the skirts are pushed apart, on the underside edge of the table. The table top still looks good, with the two halves coming together tightly. If I had built the top and skirt to fit tightly during of high humidity, the opposite might have happened during the dry season: the skirt pieces would have been flush, and the gap between the two halves would have opened, which would have been ugly.

a gap, but down where only furniture nerds will see it

The lesson from all this is not to think wood movement is theoretical, or can't happen to you. It's not, it can, and it will. It's therefore a good idea to take the time to examine the things you've built, and take note of how well, or how poorly, your earlier designs have held up under the extremes of humidity, and build your future projects accordingly. I'll revisit this in the middle of winter when things are bone dry, and we'll compare how the piece have moved, looking at both the fixes and the pieces that I left alone. Fingers crossed. However, as we're talking about wood, there's never going to a perfect fit. The wood will move, and our furniture must move with it. Hopefully, joints won't crack, doors won't stick, and boards won't twist, but when (not if) they do, take it into account, and learn from it.

Sharpening Western Saws by "Brit"

Shortly after getting started with woodworking, I started hanging out on the woodworking community site, Lumberjocks. It is a fantastic community that has been around since about 2007 or so, and features thousands of active members who make blog posts, tool reviews, posts about completed projects, all with countless photos, comments and discussion. It's been an invaluable source of learning for me.

Although the signal to noise ratio is very good, with most members being very helpful with links, tips and info, some members really stand out above the rest. One of those is Lumberjock's member Andy Lovelock, aka "Brit", from Dorset, England. He's been posting info, pictures and videos on various topics, but mostly old tool restoration, from braces to saws.

Today, I saw that he has outdone himself, by posting a 2 1/4 hour long video on sharpening western saws. The video is detailed, well edited and paced, and beyond thorough. The most amazing part is that he did this all for the love of sharing what he knows with his fellow woodworkers. As he states in his Lumberjock's blog post...

This instructional video has been provided free of charge and I’m not looking to profit personally from it in any way whatsoever. However, every year my local community puts on a charity Christmas carnival, the purpose of which is to raise money for local charities by collecting donations from the general public on the day. If you find the video useful and would like to show your appreciation, please consider making a donation at

It's this sort of "we're all learning together, so let's help each other out" attitude on Lumberjocks, and elsewhere in the woodworking community, that has made my journey of woodworking richer and more rewarding. I'll be making a donation in thanks, and I'll be watching this video over and over as I learn more about saw sharpening.

Take a look at his post and video here. 

Thank you Andy!