Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stuff I learned from Charles Neil

I'm playing a bit of catch-up :)

Awhile back, I assisted Charles Neil while he taught a series of classes down in Tucson, Arizona.  Was a great chance to get to meet him in person as he doesn't make it out this way too often.  I say assisted because about all I could lend a hand doing was being the gopher.

If you've ever watched his videos (YouTube, DVDs, or his guild), you know he has a hundred ways to accomplish the same thing depending on your tooling and mood.  I respect that a lot since all too often in woodworking there's a preponderance of "only" ways to accomplish anything.  If anything, learning 12 ways to make a certain joint comes in handy when you have to correct something undoubtedly caused by your tape measure being a half inch short. ahem...

The first day was a woodworking show held at the Tucson Woodcraft.  Days two and three were the real classes.

Anybody who has watched Charles knows he's a finishing guy; all throughout a build, he's focused on preparing anything he can to simplify and improve the finishing stage.  He had a good overview class of various finishes followed by a small spraying workshop complete with Apollo and Earlex spray systems.

On the subject of finishes, one of the excellent take-aways was the use of General Finishes Enduro-Var to stabilize punky spalted Maple.  He had a very punky board with large soft pithy areas.  A quick coat of Enduro-Var (which dries very quickly) and the pithy part was solid enough to work.  He talked about a bowl he turned back home that was nearly falling apart.  A soak in Enduro-Var and he was able to finish turning without loads of CA glue.  I've used the stuff on a few small shop projects since the class and I can tell you it's tough!

The spraying class was a lot of fun for everybody; most people have questions about certain spray problems or don't have a sprayer yet and want to see how it feels.  We had a booth setup where they could spray exotic corrugated cellulose (ahem, cardboard).  What was fantastic for the participants was explaining a problem they get and having Charles reset the gun so it produced that problem.  It was then easy to make the adjustments right there and try again.  I think he's taught this class a time or three.

Another interesting take-away: of the Earlex sprayers, only the 5500 is truly capable of spraying water-based finishes.  The others can do it, with difficulty.  Any bit of crud in the lines or a thicker finish and you'll likely start having problems that you'll think are your technique (since the day before it shot okay).  Worth the extra dollars for the 5500.

Another class was on scooping a seat.  There are lots of popular videos that show scooping with an angle grinder and a shaping disc like a Holey Galahad or Kutzall.  That's slow and also tricky to get the depth correct everywhere.  He uses a technique with a dado blade to do the bulk of the removal and to set a consistent 'bottom' (for your bottom...).  The back angle that makes the center of the seat deeper is accomplished with a shim block on the seat blank.  Once you have 90% of the waste removed with the dado stack, pull out the Holey Galahad to shape what remains (frankly, I'd use the RAS-115 so I don't look like Fozzi Bear when done... yes, I was the hose-monkey who held the DC hose near the grinder and I looked like that when we were done; it was a hazing incident, I'm certain!!)

He's made a video of this now that you can see here:

Coincidentally, a friend of mine (hi, Brian!) is making a lot of Maloof-inspired chairs right now.  I mentioned this class to him and how well it worked so he found the video.  From what he said, it was much easier than other methods, faster, and cleaner.  Worth a try.

This posting is too serious, so we need a funny story.  Day 2 ends and it's time for dinner.  Everybody says the Silver Saddle is a great steak house so we decide to let the other gopher lead the way thanks to GPS.  To protect the guilty, we'll call this gopher Donald.  He types in Silver Saddle and the top two entries are both Silver Saddle.  I say it's the second one cuz it's Silver Saddle Grill; Donald punches the first one "oh, it sometimes has duplicate entries".  Well, true, both entries were 5.3 miles from Woodcraft.  We drive there.  We're getting close and it's in a residential neighborhood.  Then we're by a used tire yard with hubcaps.  Then, there it is, the Silver Saddle... strip club!  Awesome!  Wait, why is Donald going around apologizing to the other cars?  I mean if he needs cash or something...

Meanwhile, back at the Silver Saddle Grill, I'll assure you our waitress was prettier than any at the other place.

One class was on turning flame finials, both concave and convex.  There weren't a lot of takers for this class so Donald and I got a long private class on doing them and a lot of other ideas.  I had never turned before so this was an interesting start!  Donald said I couldn't get into turning because Festool doesn't make a lathe yet.  I didn't get the joke...

We did a class on steam bending and had a long discussion after the class.  Charles was intrigued with the Mesquite in the store since it isn't a wood you see back in Virginia.  The Tucson store was loaded with it.  What was intriguing is that nobody had tried bending it, but he's convinced it would bend well given the grain structure.  Certainly it would make for a beautiful continuous-back chair if it would bend.  It's on my list to try when I make a steaming box; air-dried woods typically bend better than kiln-dried and it's easy to get air-dried Mesquite here.

Funny story part deux: the store got the wrong type of PVC for the steamer so it was melting and collapsing everywhere before the class while pre-heating.  Just wanting to make it last through the class, Charles asked for some duct tape and was given a big new roll.  His eyes got big and told me, "with a whole roll, I can make a car!"  I believe it.

Last class was on cutting compound tenons on the table saw.  The jig is featured on his chairmaking DVD as well as the latest "Tables" series in his guild.  We built it before class in no time at all.  It's both ridiculously simple and ridiculously effective.  Clever.  You'll see it in use on a project video early next year.

All in all, it was an excellent 3 days of woodworking education.  Since I follow his guild and have many of his DVDs, I knew a lot of the content already.  The gems above (and the location of the other Silver Saddle) will definitely get used in future projects.

Thanks for the great weekend, Charles!


  • Charles Neil said...

    You just explained why we ended up at the strip joint (I swear I laughed just as hard reading it as I did that night) It is the Silver Saddle in South Tucson, Golden Corral is not where I go with my friends to have a good steak dinner! You forgot to mention that we ate there on Day 3 as well because it was so good the first night. Lots of laughs, lots of fun, and lots of woodworking. Ready to make an Arizona trip again, if not only to visit our new friend Paul-Marcel. (Did you get the waitresses phone number?)


  • HalfInchShy said...

    D'oh! That's why it didn't sound quite right. See had I gotten the waitress's phone number on a matchbook cover, I would remember the name better. Edited, thanks!

  • don said...

    Hey, you all wanted to go to the Silver Saddle and I got you there... Anyway, at first I was truly really po'd at the gps, until I saw Charles and Sherri laughing their a's off. I don't think I stopped laughing the rest of the night! Paul, thanks for reminding me...

    I know that I had a great time in Tucson, even managed to pickup about 150 bf of velvet mesquite while there.


  • Johnbro said...

    Thanks for the tip on Enduro-var--I'm making some boxes with spalted maple tops. I ran out to WC to day and picked some up and shot the first coat with my Earlex 5500. Unfortunately WC sold their last 1.0mm needle yesterday so I am working with a 1.5mm; we'll see how it goes. This is also the first project with the Earlex.

  • Anonymous said...

    John, the 1.5 will do fine, if your getting too much fluid simply turn the fluid knob down some, until you get a good spray based on your speed , no problem we suggest the 1.5 with waterbase, your good to go,

    Charles Neil

  • HalfInchShy said...

    heh heh, we rooted out Don :) My only disappointment is that we didn't go inside to see if they served steaks, too!

    Velvet Mesquite? I'll have to look for some. Sounds, well, sexy. Are you trying to work a velvet joke into the stripper thread? :D

    Well, John, you got the answer so there ya go! I was thinking a 1.0 tip is a little small for something with as many solids as Enduro-Var.