Monday, December 12, 2011

Stuff I learned from Garrett Hack

Last weekend, I attended a 2-day seminar with Garrett Hack followed by a 3-day hands-on workshop with him as well.  If the name rings a bell, he's an associate editor for Fine Woodworking magazine and a builder of some very very nice furniture.  Go visit his personal site for a slideshow of his work.  No, no... go now (then come back :)

Chris Wong was out to visit (still...) and attended the 2-day with me.  That seminar included a detailed design review of several pieces of furniture including many of Garrett's own creations. The idea was for us as a group to critique the choices made in the pieces, what seems "wrong" to each of us, and how to do it better.  Design is often overlooked in these woodworking classes so it was hugely refreshing to spend the better part of a morning looking at fantastic craftsmanship with a critical design eye.  My friend Marco hijacked Garrett's laptop and inserted his own demilune table into the slide show; it was a table he made previously in a class Garrett taught.  We skipped by it after a laugh; personally, I was going to say that it looked pretty good and that he should have made the other half, too. :)

It is interesting that when Garrett designs furniture, he makes a conscious effort to make it lighter than you think.  For example, thin walls on drawers, light woods for drawer bottoms, coopered doors using very light core material skinned and veneered.  I found this very interesting since I've never heard someone put the weight of the product as a design goal among the other client-driven constraints.

Garrett is the author of two books on hand planes so naturally this seminar course was going to be heavy of good plane information.  Not so much the history of specific planes (I would have fallen asleep...) but rather his personal philosophy of using them.

For example, Garrett uses a lot of low-angle planes.  That surprised me since I've often heard people say that low-angle bevel-up planes were beginner planes; personally, I have 6 bevel-up planes on my bench and never thought them to be akin to training wheels.  So I was happy to see him confirm my belief that they are not.

Garrett also sharpens all his blades to a 25º bevel and gets excellent results.  For me, I have difficulty with small surface tearout on Maple with that arrangement, but since he's an obviously successful believer in the 25º at all times, I tried some scrap hard Maple being particular about closing up the throat.  Worked great! With a 45º blade (57º attack), I always got great results on Maple, but talk about a hard push.  With a more meticulous throat setting, though, I got a polished result.

Speaking of polish, Garrett pointed out that if you get your surface to a clean polish off the hand plane, you can read a magazine in the reflection... and he's right!  That's a new goal of mine when planing a final surface.  Another goal is to watch my lateral adjustment more carefully; d'oh! got busted for that a few times :)

Chris was staying at my place during this part of his vacation so after class, we'd spend the whole evening until 3 am in the shop.  One evening, we took home a gnarly piece of Mesquite because it seemed to defy hand planing.  The specific test was to use a new Woodriver #5 plane on it.  Chris is going to post a detailed review of the whole event likely after Christmas so watch his blog for that.  I flipped the board and planed the back side to a nice polished finish with a Veritas low-angle jack with a 25º bevel (training wheels removed :)

An interesting benefit of planing that Garrett pointed out was that a planed surface doesn't raise the grain when you wet it; he demonstrated with a planed board where he scraped a small section in the middle.  Only the scraped section had raised grain from the water.  That's very interesting and will alter my way of working with flat stock since I usually use water-based finishes.

Garret uses stringing in a number of his pieces using a scratch stock.  As simple as a scratch stock is, it is often overlooked for router bits.  A scratch stock is a piece of metal ground to a scraper profile you want; mount it in a handle with a fence and scratch the profile you want.  For thin stringing lines, this is perfect; it also works well for custom edge profiles.  There is no sharpening involved other than making sure the profiled section is polished to 90º like a scraper is before applying a hook (scratch stock are hook-less scrapers).
In this photo, the scratch stock I made in the class is to the right in a chunk of Mahogany.  The tool to the left in the back is a Veritas beading tool and is basically a fancy scratch stock.  The blade in my scratch stock is a piece of a bandsaw blade for a bandsaw mill; you could easily cut up old handsaw blades or even a scraper.  The block of Mahogany acts as a fence and the thumb screw holds the blade in place.  You run the fence along the edge of your project to scratch in the profile.
In this top view, you can better see the profiles.  My scratch stock is scratching a fine line for a stringing inlay whereas the Veritas tool has a scratch stock that will make a flute.  We didn't use the Veritas tool in the class; the point was to show how easy it is to make your own profile.  The Veritas tool, however, comes with a number of nicely ground profiles that you could buy without the handle if you want to pop it into a block of wood to try it out.

There was a long section on inlays, both of the stringing type and in inlaying motifs.  It is tedious work at times, but a little inlay goes a long way.

Garrett discussed bent laminations including all the details of resquaring up what comes out of the clamps.  One of my next projects involves a few bent laminations so this section was of particular interest.  Normally when I think of a bending form, I think of MDF, but he prefers to use construction lumber and with good reason.  For him, it is free as he lives on a large farm, but also you can more easily fare it with hand tools than something like MDF.

When dealing with bent laminations, you're creating shapes that aren't flat.  They still need joinery so we did a section on compound tenons and how to dovetail a drawer with a bowed front.  That was a very interesting section that I haven't yet practiced so I may glue up a bowed drawer front and try it out.

The course finished off with coopering.

This summary of the 5-day course doesn't scratch the surface of what was covered in the class or in conversations with Garrett.  As he explained, this course was a summary course of other classes he teaches that are 5-days long on just one section.  Even so, getting direction from a master to get started in some new areas is energizing.

He also happens to be a easy-going guy; if you get a chance, take a course - any course - with him.  Thanks, Garrett!