Mar 282007

Make Your Own Woodworking Tools by Mike BurtonThis book could also be titled “Metallurgy and Blacksmithing for Woodworkers”. In no time, Burton will have you making chisels, knives and specialty tools with little more than a few files, a Mapp gas torch and a toaster oven. No, really. I’ve used the information is this book personally, and it works. I’ve made dovetail chisels, carving knives, scorps and countless other unique items necessary to finish tricky jobs. What a joy to create a tool you can envision but can’t find anywhere. The book has chapters on the different types of steel, equipment, safety, blacksmithing, heat-treating, sharpening, handles and projects. Although the information is specialized in nature, Burton’s homegrown style and humor will keep you from fighting the zzz monster. It is loaded with good quality, close-up color photography to highlight the text. If you want lots of charts, graphs, facts and figures, then go elsewhere. But if you want good practical folk knowledge from a lifetime of doing, then you’ll want this book near the bench.
Several books of this nature have sadly gone out of print. It is unfortunate because woodworkers in general are excellent problem solvers and researchers, given the right references. For the most part, we can jig up or improvise whatever we need to get a job done. Having books like Make Your Own Woodworking Tools: Metalwork Techniques to Create Customize, and Sharpen in the Home Workshop on the shelf is a true blessing. Typically when you want useful and concise information most resources barrage you with a ton of overly technical jargon, so that you quickly lose interest. You might even wind up with more questions than when you started. So there you have it, just enough how-to to bang out a few useful items without all the rigmarole.
Chris Black

Mar 232007

The Wixey Digital Angle Gauge Is Here!Our first full shipment of Wixey Digital Angle Gauges (168321) arrived today. They’ll be featured on p. 7 of our new catalog, which should be hitting your mailboxes in the next week or so. We get sent a whole-metric-bucket-ton of stuff from manufacturers to evaluate, so we’re pretty jaded to all the gadgetry out there. Most of the stuff gets tossed in a box in our store’s attic, and at some point finds its way to our clearance table. We’re particularly weary of any product that has a laser or digital readout. The Wixey Digital Angle Gauge is different. For one, it actually works! You’d think a manufacturer or distributor that wanted one of his or her products in our catalog would make sure it worked before sending it to us. We get things all the time that either have no apparent purpose or that just plain don’t work.
Not too long ago, a client asked me to build a couple of Japanese style sconce lamps. Nothing terribly complicated except for a series of lengthwise miters that had to be ripped on the table saw. Since the angles weren’t common, I went through quite a bit of trial and error to make everything line up. Eventually, I got it right, but it’d been nice if I’d had one of these angle gauges to set the bevel on the blade from the protractor reading.
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Mar 212007

The Great Hydrocote Brushing ControversyHydrocote products have been Highland Woodworking’s primary water-based finish for many years. Professionals and enthusiasts have come to rely on Hydrocote’s overall quality, durability and broad choice of supporting products. They make a polyurethane for floors and tables, a lacquer for general cabinet work and an exterior urethane for outdoor projects.
In Fine Woodworking’s Dec. 2006 issue (#187), Chris Minick wrote an excellent article on water-based finishes. A lot has changed with these finishes over the years, and they’ve done nothing but get better. In the article, the author applied all the test products with a brush and concluded that Hydrocote’s Resisthane was the best value. We’ve always said Resisthane makes a good choice for professionals because it’s inexpensive, extremely durable, dries very fast and doesn’t require a large investment in spray booth equipment.
The controversy began with a letter to the editor of Fine Woodworking in the April 2007 issue (#190). In the letter, a customer came to our store to purchase some Hydrocote Resisthane based on the review in the article in issue #187. On the can of Resisthane the customer read a warning not to apply the product with a brush because of the fast drying time. Chris Minick then replied that one could certainly brush waterborne finishes as long as you didn’t overwork the wet finish and allow it to flow out. We certainly agree with this assessment. The reason Hydrocote and Highland recommend spraying Resisthane is that it does dry fast. We have found over the years of taking technical calls and talking to end users that most folks who are new to water-based finishes don’t follow the instructions completely and tend to overwork the finish. Perhaps they are used to slower drying oil based finishes that require a bit of tipping off with the brush. Thus, they get poor results with water-based finishes. Consequently, we now carry a line of water-based finishes by Ceramithane that doesn’t dry as fast and flows out better when brushed on. Can you brush Resisthane? Of course, you can, but if you’re the type of person that likes to mess around with the finish after it’s on, then consider the slower drying Ceramithane.
Chris Black

Mar 202007

Irwin Blue Chip ChiselsAlmost all of us who work here, including myself, are avid woodworkers. Needless to say, we love our tools. We take an active interest in making sure the stuff we sell works. If it’s expensive, we want the best. If it sells for less, we make sure it’s a good value. The bottom line is we want our friends, our customers, to be happy and enjoy our tools. So, we have things like a tech line and a fairly liberal return policy to make sure you get what you want. Another thing we do is we test our products. Product testing has been a tradition at Highland since day one. You’ve read our ad that says, “Our catalog gives you more than just manufacturer’s specs…” We really do take this stuff home, give it a go in our own shops and try to be as honest as possible with the copy in our catalog/web site.
A while ago, Irwin bought Marples, the maker of the famous Blue Chip Chisel. The Blue Chip has been a favorite at Highland for as long as anyone can remember. I still have my original set I bought as a carpenter’s apprentice. Blue Chips have always been what we consider a good value, fairly inexpensive tools for better than average quality. I have never broken a handle, though I’ll admit to occasionally bashing one with a framing hammer. There, no one saw. Irwin recently moved manufacture of the Blue Chips from Sheffield, England to China. Our current catalog went to print before we found out, so it still says “Made in Sheffield”. We actually found out today (March 20, 2007), when a new batch arrived on our loading dock. As a result, I’ll take a set home, and once again give ’em a go. I just finished sharpening the set, and so far they still take a fine edge. Over the next week or so, I’ll see how they hold up and let you know. Thanks.
Chris Black

Mar 172007

Saturday Mornings at Highland a Great Success
On February 17, 2007, we began our Saturday Mornings at Highland educational program, a series of free woodworking demonstrations every Saturday morning here in our retail store. So far the response has been tremendous.
Our first Saturday featured our own Phil Colson turning toy tops. The crowd quickly overflowed to the second floor with folks watching over the balcony. Phil engaged the crowd with his easygoing manner, answering questions and then going back to the lathe. After teaching turning techniques, Phil switched over to decorating the tops with various pens, inks and finishes. A bunch of kids, young and old, left with some sample tops and having had a great time.
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Mar 152007

165701.jpgThe Irwin Quick-Grip XP Bar Clamp & Spreader is a super heavy-duty version of Irwin’s famous one-handed Quick-Grip Clamp. They’ve replaced the standard bar with a thicker/wider steel I-beam that definitely resists bending, bowing and racking. The jaws of the XP toe in like a good bench vise, so clamping pressure stays exactly where you want it. Irwin claims the XP can achieve 900 lbs of clamping force when using two hands. Of course we just had to take it apart to see why it’s able to exert so much more force than standard one-hand clamps. Pulling the metal plate off the trigger housing, we noticed two sets of massive clutch plates that give you a fantastic mechanical advantage. The first set moves the jaws for clamping/spreading while the trigger release operates the second set. The trigger provides enough leverage to free the clamp even at maximum pressure without pinching your hand or shooting the bar back at you.
Like all current issue Quick-Grips, the XP’s fixed head reverses with a pull of a clip for spreading operations. If you’ve ever tried to repair a chair or tighten tongue and groove flooring, then you know how handy this feature is. Oh, and don’t worry about losing the retaining clip, it’s permanently attached. Irwin also seems to have eliminated the annoying habit of pads popping off the jaws. The bottom line is that these are some impressive clamps that should hold up and perform well in real world conditions.
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