Amy Herschleb

Jun 302017
 
Making Things Work, Nancy R. Hiller (Putchamin Press, 2017)
Hilarious, engaging, and relatable, Hiller shares her philosophy of work with anecdotes drawn from her life about what constitutes success and the bumps in the road getting there. For some, her coarse language and tendency to call a tool a tool might irk a bad conscience. But for others, her dry wit and tenacity offer a refreshingly honest look at life and work on her own terms.

 

Good Clean Fun, Nick Offerman (Penguin, 2016)
We had the pleasure of seeing Offerman in the store at the outset of his book tour, and it was doubly a pleasure to read his book. It’s a conglomeration of fun, from projects to anecdotes to offbeat asides. Open it to any page and find something charming or inspirational. Learn to properly gauge your manliness. Build a stool. Have a cookout. Meditate on the process of giving new life to a once-living tree. Just don’t stop having a good time.

 

Woodland Craft, Ben Law (GMC Distribution, 2016)
An inspired glimpse at permaculture in the UK, Law’s book brings an ancient craft into modern day. From coppicing and woodland management to furniture and yurt building, this book spans from heritage to sustainability. If only there were such a book suited to North American conservation and resource management—dare to dream.

 

Where We Lived, Jack Larkin (Taunton Press, 2006)
Using data from the 1930s HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey) and first-hand journal entries and letters, Larkin looks at the oldest surviving habitations in the United States (mostly from the 1700 and 1800s) to discover how our colonizing ancestors lived. Bounded in this way by the progression of colonization, Cincinnati is considered “the West” and Florida does not exist. We delve into regional peculiarities, roads and commodes, the atrocity of slavery, and the effect of all, large and small, on the living arrangements of our unwashed if industrious ancestors. Fascinating.

Amy received her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She is the staff writer at Highland Woodworking. In 2015 she and her dad co-founded Coywolf Woodworks, their hobby shop in North Florida.

Mar 212017
 

Amy Herschleb attend Jim Dillon’s Hand Tool Sharpening class at Highland and came away with a new appreciation of working with sharp tools. In this series she will go into thoughtful detail on the 3 methods of sharpening Jim Dillon taught. Today she covers Method 3, The Tormek System.

CLICK HERE to read Part 3

The final technique covered in class was the Tormek sharpening system, specifically we used the T-8. The slow speed wet grinder put a new edge on a worn-out tool while the leather wheel, with abrasive paste added, polished the tool. It can be fitted with a wide array of jigs for different shapes of blades from knives to scissors to chisels to axes. A plastic gauge that rests against the grinding stone sets the angle at which you are removing material. In class I watched the principles of the operation, then put them to good use while in Florida, putting a new edge on my kitchen knives (a couple of them older than me) that had probably never been sharpened in their entire culinary careers.

Even with a jig, the process demands a great deal of attention, especially with long knives or those that end in a curve. In this instance, the use of a Sharpie is vital. By coloring the cutting bevel black, you may see where and where you are not wasting material. Often areas near the heel or the tip are ground away unevenly, because so much depends on consistent movement of the blade across the stone. By paying attention to the markings, the sharpener may check for inconsistency along the edge.

The Tormek system allows you to grind either toward or away from the bevel, toward for most knives and away for small knives. I ground the knives toward the bevel with the universal tool rest set up horizontally, keeping one hand on the jig and the other on the handle, floating the blades back and forth, keeping the jig resting on the tool rest bar.

Due to the shape of the wheel, sharpening on a this surface creates a concave bevel, that is, a slightly hollow shape. This makes for a narrower sharpening edge, and faster sharpening times. Over time, the sharpening bevel gets bigger as the blade gets shorter from sharpening. When sharpening takes too long, it’s time to regrind.

Beyond a couple false starts involving a flying carving knife (no one was hurt) and a gouge I tried to put into the leather stropping wheel and the part where I ignored Jim’s advice to test a blade on the arm hairs instead of a thumb tip (I wasn’t sure I’d done that good a job. Spoiler–I had) this went off without a hitch. For once, my kitchen is equipped with a selection of sharp and useful knives, and vegetables and meat may be cut down efficiently without gratuitous sawing and strong-arming.

After experimenting (in a supervised environment and then free range) with a variety of methods, I am most satisfied with the Tormek system. Sandpaper, though easy to come by and easy to replace, is absolutely repulsive to me in a tactile sense and will destroy a manicure. Knowing where there are two Tormeks at my disposal certainly helps things, as I can re-grind worn down tools, then keep them sharp at home with a 1000/6000 wet stone.


Amy received her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She is the staff writer at Highland Woodworking. In 2015 she and her dad co-founded Coywolf Woodworks, their hobby shop in North Florida.

Mar 202017
 

Amy Herschleb attended Jim Dillon’s Hand Tool Sharpening class at Highland Woodworking and came away with a new appreciation of working with sharp tools. In this series she will go into thoughtful detail on the 3 methods of sharpening Jim Dillon taught. Today she covers Method 2, Using Waterstones.

CLICK HERE to read Part 2

The next technique we practiced was with Japanese waterstones. Jim recommends Ian Kirby’s book Sharpening With Waterstones, which covers far more material than the title suggests. We began with 800 grit and worked up to 8000. A simple setup for waterstones Jim suggested was to make a wooden rack for the stone that will sit atop a 5-gallon bucket, so that the stone may be rinsed efficiently and the mess contained. In lieu of this in the classroom setting, after the initial soak, we wet ours constantly with a plastic squirt bottle and kept the stones on plastic sheeting.

The Japanese stone (specifically the 1000/6000 combination stone) is a great tool for touching up blades after using them, such as in the kitchen, before they can wear down far enough to warrant grinding a new edge.

Several weeks later, when I had the chance to visit the shop in Florida, I tried Dad’s DMT Duo-Sharp diamond stone. This one also had a plastic base and was reversible, with a grinding grit on one side and a polishing grit on the other (Dad’s is Fine/Extra-Fine). This I simply kept on the counter near the sink to rinse, then thoroughly dried the stone and base after use to protect the nickel from corrosion.

I found this technique to work very well, when I had the angle set by a guide. Without it, I managed to dull a kitchen knife significantly, simply by sharpening at the incorrect–or even an inconsistent–angle. This episode in the kitchen particularly emphasized the importance of careful setup and attention to detail in what risks being considered (by the uninitiated) the least vital of tasks. Meticulous preparation does indeed save you time down the road, as our buddy Young Thomas learned 178 years ago.

CLICK HERE to read Part 4 – Amy’s thoughts about the last of the three basic systems of sharpening she learned.


Amy received her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She is the staff writer at Highland Woodworking. In 2015 she and her dad co-founded Coywolf Woodworks, their hobby shop in North Florida.

Mar 172017
 

Amy Herschleb attend Jim Dillon’s Hand Tool Sharpening class at Highland and came away with a new appreciation of working with sharp tools. In this series she will go into thoughtful detail on the 3 methods of sharpening Jim Dillon taught. Today she covers Method 1, Sandpaper on Glass.

CLICK HERE to read Part 1

The first technique we learned was sandpaper on glass, the simplest and cheapest way to get started, though the most expensive method when used over time. The price of sandpaper eventually will exceed the short-term savings of a quick setup. We used wet-dry sandpaper (dry to minimize the mess in the workshop) beginning with 180 grit.

The first directive was to flatten the back of the blade. By drawing the blade at an angle in a single direction, a diagonal hatching is achieved. When the entire back is thus marked, we move on to 220 and change the angle of the blade so that the scratch marks now make a cross-hatching. When the back of the blade is entirely changed to this opposing diagonal, we move up a grade of sandpaper, and so on until we reached 2400 grit.

At 2400 we achieved a mirror-like surface, from which no further refinement was necessary. All that remained was to remove the burr left on the front of the blade by dragging the front of the edge, ever so lightly, against the sandpaper, then gently wiping the back on it. This technique, called “backing off”, prevents the edge from being crushed or otherwise deformed by being pushed against the burr, which is barely detectable.

For the beveled edge we tried two different honing guides: a side clamp honing guide and the Veritas MK II standard honing guide. These guides support the blade at a consistent angle against the sharpening medium and require a simple measurement to set up (side clamp) or have predetermined settings (Veritas). Chris Schwarz recommends sharpening everything to 35° in his blog, Jim Dillon 30°, and both have made a wooden gauge set to their angle of choice.

CLICK HERE to read Part 3 – Amy’s thoughts about the second of the three basic systems of sharpening she learned.


Amy received her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She is the staff writer at Highland Woodworking. In 2015 she and her dad co-founded Coywolf Woodworks, their hobby shop in North Florida.

Mar 162017
 

With the constant jokes circulating the woodworking workplace, there ought to be an award for who gets to be “the sharpest tool in the shed.” And as a newcomer to the field, until lately I would rank a non-starter.

I have been catching up on my reading, and being drawn to the attractively-bound volume, recently picked up The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, reissued and expanded by Lost Art Press. It contains not only the original 1839 text, but also an historical analysis of the techniques and tools, and then the process of building the three projects contained in the text by the apprentice cabinet maker “Young Thomas.” In one passage, the young apprentice is tasked with making a packing box, and finds the tools common to the apprentices to be in poor shape, befouled by shavings, edges dulled and dinged by nails, and the hone dry and hollowed. Instead of regrinding all three planes he needs, he is helped by his journeyman friend Robert, who lends him a hone to sharpen one plane and a second plane of his own to complete the commission. The protagonist immediately recognizes the necessity of beginning a task with tools prepared to do their job, rather than risking the outcome with poorly cared for tools.

I am not the person to teach you to sharpen. I am perhaps more an object lesson for the maxim “anyone may learn to sharpen,” just as Katy, age 8, is in Schwarz’s reworking of the Joiner and Cabinet Maker. Katy can sharpen, I can sharpen, you can sharpen.

Unlike Katy, I spend my childhood rigorously sheltered from the shop where straightforward carpentry and house-building occurred, and sharp objects in general. At the age of 13, my grandad gifted me a buck knife, I imagine, to the horror of my parents. But I grew up in the grip of that horror, and never did anything interesting with the knife, or anything else sharp, beyond slicing open my knuckle and never telling anyone (… oh).

And so I have carried on into adulthood. I never attempted nor considered it within the realm of possibility that I could sharpen until recently, when I took Jim Dillon’s sharpening class.

As I was not in the habit of bringing an assortment of tools to work every day, I chose a couple bench chisels from our workshop that needed a little TLC (tender loving care, not the 90s girl group. Though woodworking would definitely benefit from an infusion of feminist R&B).

Jim’s philosophy on sharpening grew out of taking classes with Drew Langsner at Country Workshops (or, we could say, was honed by). Langsner proved to be so particular in his sharpening that he would prepare all the tools himself before the class began, but when asked about the angle of a particular tool would answer, “oh… about 30 degrees.” Jim’s takeaway was that “sharpness is crucial, and the way you get there matters, but the precise angle (within a certain range) isn’t nearly important as the edge formed by two highly polished surfaces intersecting.”

In Jim’s class we covered three basic systems of sharpening, from low-tech to high-tech, on which I’ll elaborate: sandpaper, water stones, and the Tormek grinder. I had the opportunity to both learn about these in the classroom, and later, to try them out in the wild, unsupervised and at my own peril. The good news is everyone survived. The better news is that my forays into woodworking are safer and more effective because of learning this vital skill.

CLICK HERE to read Part 2 – Amy’s thoughts about the first of the three basic systems of sharpening she learned.


Amy received her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She is the staff writer at Highland Woodworking. In 2015 she and her dad co-founded Coywolf Woodworks, their hobby shop in North Florida.

Jan 022017
 

As a beginner woodworker, I have accomplished few enough things that I have a staggering amount to discover in any direction I turn. The reasons I was drawn to the craft in the first place included the joy of making things with my hands, a wish to share a hobby with my dad, and an all-encompassing love of trees (climbing trees, pecan pie, fires, writing paper, et al).

With these in mind, I’ve come up with a few resolutions for the New Year:

  1. Practice the skills I’ve learned: dovetails, sharpening, planing, sanding
  2. Keep learning new skills and writing about them: carving (the Ogham alphabet, a spoon), mortise & tenon
  3. Finish projects I’ve already committed to: block plane, pencil box, silk screen frames, a loft for the puppy, a carved spoon wedding present (I have a year for this, right?)
  4. Continue to build a thoughtful hand tool home shop based on the principles of The Minimalist Woodworker, KonMari, and Malta Kano.
Nov 212016
 

My partner and I live in a large, sloppy rental whose chief merits are an excess of space and the low-stakes-no-stakes upkeep. One room has been entirely devoted to a collection of decommissioned fake Christmas trees (the Forest Room). A taxidermied bobcat lurks on the periphery. I am slowly assembling a hand tool workshop there amongst the branches and twinkling lights. Part of the joy of working here at Highland is the opportunity to try out a wide variety of high-end tools to which I might otherwise not have access (the rest of the joy lies in the constant barrage of terrible jokes). Here are a few I would love to see beneath the tree(s) this holiday season:

The deed to a robust stand of (real) mixed hardwoods to call my own, ideally 10-15 acres in Northern Georgia with a stream. While I’m dreaming, I prefer something at or around $6000/acre. Let me know if you come across anything.

Gränsfors Bruk 420 Small Forest Axe 

The most versatile small axe for casual limbing, barking, light splitting and felling. With a traditional Scandinavian-style head.

Gränsfors Bruk Right Bevel Swedish Carving Axe

Well-balanced and suited for roughing utensils and bowls to final shape. The single-bevel style prevents the axe from turning into the material.

Hirsch Bevel Edge Chisel (Set of 4)

A step up in quality from the Narex, but at a more modest price point than the Lie-Nielsen, I wouldn’t feel bad banging on these with a mallet. They share a common root with my last name (the stag). They’re also available in a wide array of shapes and sizes for carving.

Lie-Nielson No. 102 Low-Angle Bronze Block Plane

Is there anything more lovely? More of a pleasure to use? Probably not. For fine cuts and endgrain work there’s nothing more stable, or that fits better in the [read: my] hand. A perennial favorite of the awards committees.

Japanese Dovetail Saw

Designed by Toshio Odate for cutting hardwood dovetails with a 19” replaceable blade and wrapped bamboo handle. It is smaller and lighter than the Gyokucho Rip Dozuki Saw (made popular by David Barron) and thus less unwieldy for me. The narrow kerf makes it ideal for precise cuts.

Festool ETS EC 125/3 EQ Random Orbit Sander

My favorite lightweight, low vibration, all-purpose sander. With Festool’s exceptional dust-collection system and superb craftsmanship, it’s the ideal sanding solution for a hand tool aficionado who abhors the sound and sensation of hand sanding.