Saturday, November 28, 2009


As I approach my birthday I had planned to rent a beach house with my twin around Bodega.
Brother had other plans ultimately and I wondered if I would go anywhere. I then found a place to spend a few days and happily found a wonderful Asian art store just a few steps from my little villa.

This table at left was about 10 feet long and 6 feet wide. You can see tenon in the corner. What you miss is where the two pieces of the corner meet. There at the 45's and from the center of the edge going in is a key. When the corner is put together a pin is inserted to pull the pieces together. It is such a great joint but I cannot think of the name right now.

The store Orientations located in Monterey, Ca. had some nice Asian art pieces. An old building that was always an Asian store, Orientations has both a Chinese and Japanese garden on its grounds. In addition to the art there was another interesting thing I had found. The owner designed the carpet to mimic tatami mats. But, this carpet will have no issue with wine, nor much else that comes with shows and customers. The staff was extremely helpful, yet left me alone to view the pieces without standing overhead.

I'm minutes from a bit of yoga, then a glass of 05 Robert Foley Merlot. Somewhere I'll get a piece of cake in advance for tomorrow.

Fence pogressing

Since we are always a bit behind on the gate project (we just assume since we have a year, but want to be ready if we are real slow...) we had a mid week meeting to try to work out some fence issues.

The small group of us mortised all of our remaining (for this span) sections of fence. I pared some 2x4 runners that their tenons will be placed into the 6x6 and 4x4 posts. These also will be what we will nail the cedar planks for the vertical fence boards against. I adjusted the majority of the tenons to fit easily into the mortises. These are not compression fit like most of our joints which makes it easy to do.

The photo at the left shows a 6x and some of the 2x4's I had been working on. Notice the handy little saw horses. These are only about 15" tall which allow me to sit with the beam between my legs and a foot resting on the stringer below. After using these at Laney I rough cut a set out at home and just have a few hours work to finish them.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Test fit of post and rail

The first section of fencing for Merritt is to be assembled in the next few weeks. We have done some test fits so far. It is difficult sometimes because we have various people working and simple things like leaving too much material after a saw cut can lead to quite a bit of work paring away with your chisel.

I took a quick picture of how a post and top rail fit together. Turning the 4x4 on its edge gives natural slopes for the little roof that will be housed a top, but is a lot of work and required some angled holds while sawing and chiseling.

We should have about 16 feet installed in the next few weeks. It is really slow going, but doing it all by hand is very time consuming. It does really become a meditation while working, which is good for the soul I think.

Monday, October 12, 2009

An interesting challenge

As an exercise to work out some details in the large fence project the Daikudojo folks are beginning for Lake Merritt in Oakland Ca, we discuss some of the ways we can use different joinery in the building process then work out rough test pieces on joint models.

One interesting challenge came as a few of us questioned a joint that had two 2”x 2” crossing on edge. The fence we are building will have a top piece on edge ( a 4”x4”) which will act as a roof for the top of the fence. There will be pieces added that will be inset in the 4x4 that will act somewhat like truss arms ( for lack of a better work and being tired and on a 13 hour train ride) where we will then add a 1” thick maybe 8” wide cedar board on either side.

The "assignment came about as fellow students of Van Arsdale Jim and myself were looking at a joint Jay had come up with as a possible candidate for out fence project joint. The joint was made of two pieces crossed on edge (think diamond) and then a mock up post where the joint was to sit upon. After looking the joint over for a while Jim and I talked about the difficulty of this joint and also this is a 200 ft fence which means a LOT of these things. We both went off and started drawing while dumbly looking around. After a lot of “how do I even mark this thing up let alone cut it” thoughts, I just started trying to be logical and wondering why I did not take geometry again in college.

Adding to the idea is that the post would come to rest below the side wings of the 4x4 ( think of the top pointing up). The example in the photo shows the two pieces and what
the 6x6 would like like ( it is a joint model as well) after it is cut up.

Adding another challenge was the idea of making the center piece of the post a tenon that would go through the 4x4 ( Im not making this up....) and be wedged at the top (all covered up by the top so no rain issues on the end grain.

In the end it looks like we are looking at a different option to affix these pieces together in the fence. I guess the fact that we have until 2010 to finish and not 2015 might be a reason. The interesting thing about Jay VanArsdale is, that with a background in sculpture, he tends to see joints that we have trouble picturing. Not that he invents these joints, some we have seen before some not, he is good at getting us to think when we see a joint together about how it may be put together.

An example of this is when I first saw the Japanese temple base joint where there are 4 goosenecks. You think wow pretty, then you wonder HOW it works finally then you find it slides at an angle and your head stops that ache you get when you use it to think.

Ill work on trying to follow our progress through this blog or I may even focus a blog on that specific project as it is a 14 month project.

Give this joint a try. There have to be many ways to attack this thing.

a roof for the Bonzai garden

The Bonzai garden at lake merritt has a board to post what is going on for the day. It was made by the Daiku Dojo members a few years back. The top piece was really just a straight board. While we were waiting for our cedar for our big fence project, Jay thought we could give the post it board a little more flair. Jim has been working on this and the picture at left shows the new piece. Angles cut on top and the wings are single pieces cut by hand and the edges of the wings have carving mimicing the curves.
What I really like is that this is a pretty simple was to add a roof (small) to something and have it look really sweet.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Kitchen cabinet doors

In taking off the paint on my kitchen cabinets I found that I had three different types of doors. It looks like at least 4 of 6 had been replaced but possibly even up to 4. The larger cabinets were old doug fir plywood, which I thought would look bad in a natural finish. below the sink the doors had a piece of pine added to the inside edge to make them 1/2 wider, I figured these were just some replacement doors that were fit and likely cheap. The last 2 doors were likely original and were tung and groove doug fir. I had initially planned to just replace the under the cabinet doors with a bit of a Japanese influence, but as I was to takle all I realized I had better think my plan over.

After tearing down my barn, I had a stack of old growth doug fir, nail holes and all, some a bit cracked, these seemed to be the logical replacement. In a standard frame offset with furniture grade vertical grain plywood, I think the new doors are simple and a nod to both old and new.
After installing the doors, I still have yet to add handles of some type. I had thought a nod to Krenov might be a nice touch.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

inca planer blades

Quick post here. I happened to find some new old stock inca blades in the UK on ebay. Since they are a pain to get and Eagle never seems to have them in stock I was happy to get them delivered and all for about 50 bucks.

And they shipped on Monday and I received them on Sat. I could not even get the mail from NYC that fast. I'll be sending these to my uncles shop to have him draw up CAD plans for them and make me a few sets out of high speed steel. If all goes well and there is interest I'll have a run made and sell them. The CAD drawings alone will be great as any good shop can cut them at that point and have them heat treated.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A great community project

A few weeks back, the Japanese woodworking group I am a part of, finished and installed a Cedar gate at the garden in Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. It began like all community programs -gifted monies and we work for free through the guidance of Jay VanArsdale

Originally designed by Jay, the gate did change when a student made a series of errors on a 10"x 10" from a 1000 year old cedar tree. In the Japanese tradition, one must never waste wood, but work around any error. Additionally in the same tradition it seems that a teacher knows that mistakes will be made and that is part of the process of learning ( It still does not keep one from getting spitting mad). Originally the gate frame top piece would have been a roof on its own. After the damage was done, a new idea was conceived to add a roof of cedar to cover the error.

The picture is of the finished gate when we were able to assemble the structure. Many students worked on this project in varying degrees, both in time and skill level. I have no name list and do not want to leave anyone out, so Ill just not metion anyone by name except for Jay. Jay spent class time assisting and coaching as well as many hours at home to get the gate ready for the 5oth anniversary of Lake Merritts Japanese garden. There were many pictures taken of the process which was a great learning experience. Although they are not posted yet (All of the website time is unpaid) the pictures will be posted likely by end of the summer at

If you are in the bay area and interested in woodworking by hand I urge you to look into these classes at the Oakland community colleges. I travel 100 miles to attend these classes that are on the weekends. Many travel similar distances. If you are at a distance further, I suggest you just focus on the website, there still is much that can be learned from the site and int wealth of information. Also every semester there are beginning classes available if you have little or no experience with wood. These classes focus on making a joint for the duration of the class day , learning sharpening, plane - set up and proper technique. If you are more advanced Jay will gladly give you a joint to do that is much more complex and the class has many examples of joints already made that you can take apart and get a good look at.

The gate in the picture was hand built. The finish is Bioshield penetrating oil. We took a Makita 5" power plane to the top to try and fix some errors, but besides some screws in the roof that are hidden the gate is just joints and wood set in the ground surrounded by tightly packed rock.
This is the beginning of a the larger project of replacing 200 feet of fencing and adding a few more gates in the garden if we get funding through a grant this fall. Ill keep you posted.

Friday, April 17, 2009

ReFind wood

I often read of people worried about running "old wood"through their Jointers or planers for fear of damage from unknown objects. What they miss is some of the finest woods that may ever grace their shop bench. I have a metal detector, and a craftsman jointer, planer that I use for nearly all my found wood needs. The metal detector finds those BB's fence metal and old nails deep in the wood the eye misses. My blades on my craftsman are about 35.00 a set of three and I gladly let them become nicked and cut in the cheapest way to get wood around.
Recently I was hunting on a property in Woodland. There sat a 6x6 about 4 feet long. The classic greying of the oldgrowth lumber that long long ago was a fence post in a large field. Now turkeys are wadering around (The reason I discovered the wood) the posts as well as a 10x10 and a few other scrap redwood pieces. Often on old fence is replace either in front or back with a new metal wire fence leaving the old one in place. Some land owners are happy to part with the old fence and most of the posts 4x4 and larger are solid from the ground up so it can be a win/win if you just go and ask about the wood.
Most of the redwood I find looks like a milk chocolate bar, brown but in a lighter shade. Add some bio-shield ( I love that stuff) or lindseed oil and it can darken up like the deep browns of walnut.
I often think that many fear the nicking of a blade, but one can certainly find a cheap jointer or planer (mine was 100.00) to take one for the team if needed. Even among other woodworkers I often have them wondering what wood I am using. Nearly all of my fir or redwood is over 100 years old when it was initially milled. While there are imperfections, nail holes and cracks all this can be over looked in many applications.
I have made boxes, yoga blocks, trimmed a bathroom out, made flooring, made benches and on and on. All at little cost ( I even sold some milled redwood to the nieghbor to cover new manufactured beams in a beatiful house from the 20's) I can say there is nearly no way to tell that the beams are not massive redwood timbers covering as well a stove pipe.
So when in the country or near those old houses that are being ruined ( I mean remodeled) remember that you can grab windows, doors, 2xs and anything else the contractor is " fixing"
Even a deck from 20 - 30 years ago has prized timber compared to the garbage you will find at the local lumber yard.
So joint, or cut off that paint if it is there. And get that timber rolling in your shop.
And remeber some of that wood has been in the rain for a 100 years off and on. I sticker it mill it after a while then bring it into the house and stack it (like a good unmarried guy can do).
Nearly every board I cut would cost more to buy than a set of blades costs me. For me the decision is easy.
Now start looking for those nuggets in the rough.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The difference the wood makes

I was talking with a friend about mortising last weekend while we were both in the process of cutting them for different projects. He, not having a mortising chisel, was taking a very long time cutting a slot for a Japanese plane blade which got us talking of woods and how they respond to the magic of Japanese Woodworking.  
I use redwood primarily since I have a ton of it, and it being the majority old growth it has its own issues compared with new growth.  That said, often we see the classic mortise that is so beautiful and really clean cut by the Japanese carpenter.  But often the quality of the wood and type really allow the worker to shine more than if they were trying to cut and plane oak.  Now I do not mean to seem like the wood makes you a better woodworker, but when you try to plane port orford cedar and it has this great straight grain and the plane shavings come off like art in itself, it can make you feel like your such the champion, then you chisel and pare and have a similar result.  Wow you feel like your doing it right!  Then you grab some redwood that when you strike it with your chisel it compresses really unevenly inside the mortise, but you are still pretty happy with you planing though the shaving does not come as clean as with cedar.  The old growth tends to be brittle but burnishes really well with the hand plane. 
When I made instruments many years ago for a bass maker, we used a ton of hardwoods: purple heart, wenge, cocobolo, maples, and exotics that had their issues.  But when using machine tools you do not get the same feeling of this change as with hand work.  Sure you feel the drag of the cutter as it works through the wood, the hardness, and the pinch of carbide on your wallet.  Really some of these hardwoods should have little to do with the Japanese hand tool craftsman due to their difficulty.  Almost purely for the amount of hair you will pull out just in working with them.  
You find you would like to have a plane blade angle that is different, a saw that is more akin to hardwoods etc.
Often I find many of the people who are interested in the Japanese woodworking (by hand) have not a lot of experience with hand work, I still feel that way as well.  Even when you have the right tools, and the right wood (something nice and straight grained) it still can be difficult to even saw straight, but just keep working at it and keep in the cedar family, poplar and pines especially at the beginning and you'll feel much better about your progress away from the machines.  

Friday, February 6, 2009

Japanese Saw Horse

I have been using a slab of redwood on some metal horses from time to time to do work with mobility. I decided to make a Japanese styled bench with 2 saw horses and using a plank or the table.  I also just thought it would just be nice using a furniture grade bench in the house.
This is actually completely made of recycled redwood.  The posts were all from a fence in Woodland Ca, that had rotted and I had replaced them and the other fence members.  There was still a few feet of usable (not rotted or bug eaten) wood that, while not the deep dark brown redwood of some of the old wood I have reclaimed, is still tight grained and was easy to work with.  This is the first of the two horses which I based off of the one in the The Workbench Book by Scott Landis.

For the top I have a 2" slab of Doug Fir around 12" wide and a 4" thick piece of Fir that will make up the top.  The larger slab will be more of the work surface and the thinner piece will tend to hold my tools and such.

I did everything by hand which was a good way to break in my Mitsukawa Ryoba saw that I bought at Hida Tool in Berkeley a while back.  Although my specific saw is not on their list of tools on their website, I find that if you chat with them they will find something that will suit your needs if you are looking to purchase something that may hurt your wallet, but feel good in your hands.
I do have a cheaper Hardwood Ryoba from Mitsukawa with a replaceable blade, that I also very much recommend.  
In addition there was plenty of mortise and tenon work practice I was able to get in.
I am again working with Jay Van Arsdale, with others doing community work for the Japanese Garden in Oakland.  While we are just ramping up the project it seems like it will be a joy for all those around.  For info and a site with a lot of information see
Sorry about the terrible photo, I cannot find my camera, and this is my iphone still.  Weak I know!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Slabs of redwood siding

Today I removed the last pieces of siding from my barn.  It is crazy seeing 17 1/2" wide 18' long boards, but I have them. Most of them are 12" wide, some various sizes, but many long.  Still being able to see the saw blade curvature in the face and edge of the boards, it seems that the saw blade size was over 5 feet in diameter.  Sad as I am to see the structure coming down I now have a lot of 1" siding.   The skeleton is all old growth doug fir so now I have more 2x6 than I know what to do with.  And to see 1x4's that are over 24 feet long is pretty amazing as well.  Anyhow all the 1x is fire wood now as I cut most of it up due to the hundreds of nails per board.

Ill have some 8x8's that will become part of my porch and gate that Ill built once my knee completely heals from May's surgery.  I have had some help on the barn demo which helped and 100 year old lumber is pretty light - even the fir. Too bad I had to tear the barn down as I now have all my Inca tools in the front room waiting for a new home that I'll have to build.  At least I have the lumber to make something nice.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Went by Eagle Tools today

I went to Eagle Tools in LA today as I was in So. California and was close.  I checked on 510 jointer blades and they were out till spring. I think 10 weeks out was the quote.  I checked as there was a post on the inca groups on yahoo that talked about blades from a company in NY that were throwaways and an easy set and the ones that were at Eagle.  I asked about the 8" 410 jointer blades and they were coming in the spring as well.  They also do not have any saw blades pre drilled for the 20 mm arbor Inca 259 saw, but that can be done on a standard saw blade by a few companies if you ask I hear, I just thought I'd check.  

I actually did not need either, but thought it may be nice to have an extra sets around.  Anyhow I did need a couple of parts which they did have and I bought a few manuals just to have.
Eagle seems to have quite a new and used selection of INCA parts that are not really cheap, but all in all reasonable.  I actually expected to pay more, as I had been told that the prices were high.

I have seen though, that there are a few things that could be made if you have access to friends and the equipment to mill and I am having a few simple parts made since I have an aerospace company in the family and an access to aluminum plate and full service milling dept. As for parts and jigs of course you could use standard nuts and bolts instead of some of the actual knobs etc.  which will save some money, but it also is nice to have original parts. Although I did not have my parts wish list, and I forgot some of what I wanted to inquire about I did buy a few items. 

I bought an in-feed knob adjuster that originally was plastic, but Eagle is making them out of aluminum, a knob for the cover on the bandsaw, and the protective guard that goes over the blade on the jointer suva guard. 

It seems that the best way to get the parts from Eagle is to use the specific manual and reference the part numbers ( obvious I know) which you could email or call in.  While many people talk about Jesse as the one to talk to at Eagle, I was helped by another gentleman who knew his way around the Inca world pretty well so I'd bet holding out really may not be needed.