The Nature of Pursuing Perfection:

Picture this, you've just picked up a hand plane for the very first time, let's just assume is sharp, and well tuned, you're planing away, making beautiful shavings, and admiring the glistening finish left behind. Now, imagine you were to look back at that board two years later, or that you're skills with a handplane had remained unchanged over that period. Do you think you'd be satisfied with the result, the one with which you'd been satisfied two years prior? I'd venture that you wouldn't, but why?

I surmise the reason why our level of expectation rises is directly correlated with our experiences. I was turning on the lathe this evening, and I found myself getting frustrated with my inability to achieve the result for which I was aiming. Six months ago I would have been thrilled to achieve the result I was getting tonight, but no longer. While I've improved considerably since I started turning, my ability still isn't where I'd like to be. 

In conclusion of this seemingly meandering trip through my brain, perhaps it's better to look back at how far we've come, and be thankful for each step of improvement, or further understanding, instead of beating ourselves up for not being where we think we should, or could be.

Until next time,

Austin

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Who the heck is this guy?

Well... I'm a snarky, somewhat sarcastic midwesterner who loves sweater appropriate temperatures, and making stuff. My name is Austin, and I just wanted to take a minute to tell you about myself, and my goal for "Save the Electrons."

I am a man of faith, a son, husband, and I have a little guy who calls me daddy (which is pretty much the greatest feeling in the world). I live in Ohio with my wife and son, and I am currently employed full time as a commercial cabinet maker, and that should perhaps let you in a little as to why I am loving working wood by hand. 

Before I began working for "the man," I was a luthier with my own business from the end of 2008, until the end of 2015. I started that journey when I attended the Galloup School of Lutherie, in Big Rapids, MI. After our son was born, and sales were waning with guitars, I threw in the towel, and I got a job as a machinist, and eventually moved into commercial cabinetry. 

Save the Electrons is something I have considered doing for quite some time, and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure what it will become. This site will serve as a sort of base of operations for me - I want to inspire others to try making things by hand, and I want to help equip them to do so in the ways I am able. I will probably have some products that I make for sale, used, and hopefully affordably priced handtools, inspirational, and maybe if I get lucky educational writings, and video content, and we'll see what else the future holds. 

Thats all for now.

 

-Austin

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Starting the Roman Workbench:

It was my first trip to Woodworking in America (Popular Woodworking's annual conference) this year, and wow was it ever an awesome experience. I saw many inspiring things, and made a ton of new friends, like-minded ones at that!  

There were two projects that I took away from WIA as something I really wanted to build, and oddly both were from Christopher Schwarz - a staked chair, and a staked low workbench. Enter Joshua Klein of Mortise and Tenon Magazine, and his recent invite to build along with him and Michael Updegraff as they build their own versions of the low Roman workbench.

In case you might not know, Chris did a great article in issue 2 of M&T Mag all about the low Roman bench, and if you haven't read it, pick up your copy today over at http://www.mortiseandtenonmag.com

Needless to say, after all of this I had all the fuel on my fire needed to actually get me started working on building one. 

Mortise and Tenon Magazine: Issue 2

Mortise and Tenon Magazine: Issue 2

The first thing I needed to do if I was going to build this bench was to acquire some more properly suited tools for making the legs from semi-seasoned firewood as Chris calls for. I found one draw knife at a local antique shop, and traded a few boards of cherry to a local friend for the froe, and the two other draw knives. 

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Three draw knives, one froe. 

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It was an unusually gorgeous day for February here in Ohio, so I set up a simple work area outside.  

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I then went about raiding my father's firewood pile for suitable stock for my legs. It was actually more difficult than I originally thought, as due to the size of his wood burner, he seems to cut most of his firewood too short for my purposes. I was, however,  able to locate four suitably long pieces of maple that I could split in two to form the eight legs. I also stole that extremely cheap hatchet from my father, but I really need to find a decent single and double beveled hatchet. 

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Brought out a few hand planes, and a 1 1/4" auger on a T handle. These are two of my favourite planes, my Stanley no. 26 (far and away my most used plane), and my Stanley no. 7. This was the first plank of poplar that I pulled from the stack to try to use as a top. 

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Some planing. 

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More planing. 

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Planing selfie. 

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I kept planing for over an hour... 

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I kept checking it for straightness, and after well over an hour of planing, I came to the conclusion that this board was just too twisted, I was going to have to take off another 5/8" if I wanted the top flat, and even if I didn't flatten the underside, I was only going to finish at around 1.75". So I went inside and found another board. 

But... After I got that board of poplar outside, it was just too thin... so back into the lumber stash I went. And I found two boards... 

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What I found were two red oak boards that were reasonably flat and about 1.25" thick. I decided to glue them face to face. One was longer than the other, so I cut it down in length. 

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The other board was wider than the other, so out came the D8, and I made a 7' rip cut to bring it down to the same width before I decided that this was the dumbest possible idea. So... 

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Working on the oak wasn't a total waste however, I did come up with using my hatchet stuck in the saw horse top as a planing stop.

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I turned my attention to working on the leg stock while I decided what I wanted to do about the top. First I took my caveman club, and my froe to split the firewood billets in half.  

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And I rounded up the stock to a little over 2" with the hatchet in preparation for turning. 

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At this point I had decided what I would do about my top situation. I went to my local mill and bought this 16/4 x 13.5" x 7' piece of tulip poplar. It only took me about thirty minutes to flatten this, and it's plenty hefty. 

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Then started turning the legs. Kind of a cigar taper, I guess. I left the tenon oversized, and I will do the final fitting with the holes in the bench top with a spokeshave. 

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This firewood is pretty with some BLO and beeswax applied. 

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I accidentally got a little too close to my finished size when riving, and one of the legs is forever scarred with the evidence of the split. That's okay, though, 100 years from now someone will be able to figure out how I made it, and wonder why it wasn't made my a machine, since it is 2017, after all! 

 

-Austin

Why I Cut Fret Slots with a Hand Saw, and Why You Should, Too

If you're a hobbiest guitar maker, or do it for a living, but build in small quantities, here's why I think you should consider cutting your fret slots with a handsaw as a viable method. The steps listed below will help you to advance your guitar making accuracy, and versatility, without sacrificing 'Wilbur', your beloved piggy bank, to the over inflated market of guitar supply houses.

If you've ever bought fretwire more than once, and if you haven't yet, you will, you might know that the tolerances tend to vary slightly from one manufacturing run to the next. For this reason, I tend to buy fretwire in rather large quantities, at a time, though it never seems large enough,  but it is only reasonable, feasible, and cost effective for me to keep so much on hand at any given time. That being what it is, the inevitable always happens - eventually I run out, right as I have a deadline coming down the pike, and am forced to reorder. When that happens, rarely are the spec sizes EXACTLY what they were on the previous run, and that can cause some issues. The main dimension about which I am concerned is the tang width (that is, minus the barbs), and I like to have my fret slots about 0.001" - 0.002" larger than the tang width, but if the tang width changes from run to run, I can't really make my fret slots an absolute width.

 

Because that is the case, I have abandoned the CNC, or the table saw for cutting fret slots, and have instead turned to my trusty, modified, dovetail saw.

Trusty Dovetail Saw

Trusty Dovetail Saw

Cutting fret slots on a CNC with a micro end mill is great, but as I mentioned before, I'm a small guitar maker, and having to buy more micro end mills in different diameters as fret tang sizes vary gets expensive, and time consuming, especially when factoring runout into the equation in order to calculate your finished slot width. Not to mention, I seem to have the misfortune of breaking those pricey little end mills a little too often. The table saw is another great method, but with similar drawbacks to those mentioned about the CNC (i.e. Multiple blade kerfs).

The handsaw, and its secrets, and nuances seem to be dying in this day and age. People look at them as an antiquated means of cutting - one used by their grandparents, and great grandparents, or as a means of decoration hung strategically about the shop to herald days gone by (a sad use for what could be functioning useful tools, if you ask me). But the truth is, a handsaw is just as relevant today as it ever was. The reason I love to use a handsaw to cut fret slots is for its ability to quickly and easily morph from one kerf size to another, and back again. It's not quite the flick of a switch, but it's pretty simple once you know what you're doing. The saw I choose to use for sawing fret slots is a relatively inexpensive dovetail saw that I modified to my needs. This saw was made by Crown, and I believe I paid somewhere around $18 USD for it. Since a dovetail saw is actually filed as a rip cut, and cutting a fret slot is technically a cross cut, I refiled its teeth to less aggressive, more cross cut conducive rake.

I did this with a saw sharpening file that can be had for around $5 USD.

I did this with a saw sharpening file that can be had for around $5 USD.

A saw sharpening file is actually a 6 sided file, so the small point on each side is able to cut down the bottom of each a valley between the teeth.

A saw sharpening file is actually a 6 sided file, so the small point on each side is able to cut down the bottom of each a valley between the teeth.

The final two tools I used were a ball peen hammer, and a saw set. I've been given several ball peen hammers over the years, so that cost me nothing, though you can pick them up pretty cheap at second hand stores and flea markets, maybe not more than a couple bucks. The saw set cost me around $8 USD at a flea market as I recall, but a new one can be had for around $25.


Once I had refiled the teeth, I hammered out all the set of the teeth. This brought the kerf down to the thickness of the plate, which in this case was 0.02". That is the exact thickness of the tang on my current run of fretwire. While I could leave the slots size-on-size, I find that creates to much of a wedging effect, and induces too much back bow, or more than I like to see, when the frets are installed, and on top of that, a saw with no set is terribly inefficient at clearing the waste material making for slow sawing. So I want to add somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.002" of total set.

 To do that I use the saw set, and very gently squeeze. If I measure the kerf as being too wide, some gentle taps from the hammer help to bring it back into place. To check the kerf size, saw a slot, and check it with feeler gauges.

Once you have what you want size wise, you're ready to saw your fret slots.

A little more on the handsaws in question: a western saw is a push cut saw that requires set teeth to work effectively at clearing waste. A Japanese style saw is a pull cut saw that uses two opposing rows of teeth to do the clearing with the teeth set flush to the plate of the saw, and the saw plate is actually tapered in thickness thickest at the edge of the teeth, and thinner at the spine. The set of the teeth on a western saw allows the saw to cut a wider kerf than the saw plate, and allows clearance for the plate to avoid friction. The tapered design of a Japanese style saw plate does the same thing. All of that to say, even though you might see people on luthier's forums saying how much better the Japanese pull saws are than western push saws, you should buy a western style saw as the one I mentioned above. But why?
Here are three good reasons:

•You can easily adjust the set
•They are quicker and easier to sharpen
•They are plentiful, and can be found inexpensively

So why do we always see people on forums downing western style saws? Because they buy them from luthier supply houses, where the saw plates are the exactly thickness of the needed kerf, so they don't allow for any set, they come with improperly filed teeth rake, and they don't come sharp. All of those reasons make for a saw that performs poorly, which is why people flock to the Japanese style pull cut saws. Japanese style saws tend to come very sharp right out of the box, and don't require set, so they saw quickly at the very first moment of use.

In conclusion, I'm not saying you need to saw your slots the way I do; I'm not even saying that you have to use a western style saw over a Japanese saw over a western one. The aforementioned paragraphs are my thoughts and reasons for doing it the way that I do, and maybe it will help you look at the subject in a new light, and maybe give your arm a workout in the process.

Until next time,

-Austin