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Thursday, 31 May 2012

Best of British Diamond Jubilee Promotion

Buy your British-made tools at Workshop Heaven

Here at Workshop Heaven we are extremely proud to support our British tool manufacturers, and we don't need much of an excuse to crow about just how fantastic British-made tools and tooling are. So what better way to  mark Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee than by making it even easier for people to experience for themselves the pleasure of working with some of the finest tools in the world.

The British toolmakers we choose to work with don't do cheap and cheerful, and they don't need cheesy marketing and hype, the only thing they are exceptionally, outstandingly brilliant at is making things properly. In some cases the specialist skills and know-how behind Britain's factory gates can only be found in one or two other places on the planet. In many cases these are handwork processes that have been handed down through apprenticeship and proven impossible to mechanise.

Until June the 5th we have 10% off all of the 861 British-made tools that we carry, so whatever you choose to invest in, you can enjoy the fact that it will have instantly out-performed your bank account for at least the next three years - in advance!

Use discount code HMQ60 at the checkout
(Offer available while stocks last, expires June 5th 2012)

So whether you fancy treating yourself to some beautiful new Clifton planes, a set of hand ground Ashley Iles chisels or perhaps finding out for yourself just how incredibly smooth, stable and accurate a hand smithed Atkinson Walker circular sawblade is.....why not grab yourself a cuppa, and spend a few moments perusing some fine British workmanship.

Richard Kell Honing Guide
Richard Kell, Northumberland. Honing guides and measuring equipment made in small batches on a capstan lathe using traditional toolroom skills and a lifetime of experience. Components are made to tolerances as fine as 0.001" and then mated into closest matching pairs within that thousandth of an inch.  

Atkinson Walker Circular Saws
Atkinson Walker, Sheffield. Atkinson Walker industrial circular saw blades are individually heat treated and hand smithed so that when the perimiter is heated by friction and the centre cooled by airflow, the saw will remain circular rather than turning into a pringle shape. Resharpenable tungsten carbide teeth are trifoil brazed and diamond ground by fully automated robots working to 1/100mm precision.
Ashley Iles, Lincolnshire. Ashley Iles chisels, carving tools and turning tools, individually forged and hand ground 'by eye', no jigs or fixtures, just years of skill and experience. Ashley Iles HSS turning tools are all hand finished and cryogenically hardened. Ashley Iles will regrind any tool that they have made, free of charge.
Clifton Planes, Sheffield. Clifton plane castings are fully annealed - a process that takes two days and alters the crystalline structure of the metal making it strong, stable and rigid. They are then machined very slowly to preserve the crystalline structure. Each cutting iron is cut from an individually hand forged blank and heat treated for optimum performance.

 Ray Iles Engineering, Lincolnshire. Ray was one of the last toolmakers to apprentice under the little mesters of Sheffield in the 1950's, he has been making tools ever since. Ray Iles engineering specialises in making plane irons and traditional green woodworking tools.

Shield Technology, Grimsby. Shield Technology's range of concentrated, biodegradable rust removers, airborne corrosion control products and surface coatings were developed in consultation with a Cambridge University biochemist. This relatively new British company has already received industry awards for export achievement.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Craig Sommerfield - Inventor of the Kreg Jig

This is Craig Sommerfeld, a really nice guy from Iowa who had a great idea and followed it through. in 1986 Craig was building some kitchen units for his home and needed a better way of securing his face frames to the units than using nails and filler. Being a tool and die maker, he fashioned himself a J shaped piece of aluminium with an angled steel tubular insert so that he could accurately and repeatably drill shallow diagonal 'pocket holes' to accept screws inserted from the inside of the cabinet. And so Craig's Jig - later to become the Kreg Jig, was born.

 After enough, 'ooh now that's clever, can you make me one too?' comments, Craig took to making them during the week and then selling them at weekend woodworking shows. This is the graft bit, working shows is really hard work, but it pays dividends - as Craig says (if memory serves) "you get to look into peoples faces and see the moment when they get it, answer their questions and really understand what they want'. After thousands of demonstrations and a lot of work refining and perfecting the product into a complete system, the latest 4th generation Kreg Jig looks like this:

 The plastic bits are actually glass reinforced nylon and are virtually indestructible, the frame can be clamped or screwed to a bench for producing components (as shown above) or you can use the integral clamp to fix it directly to the workpiece. For situations where you need to take the jig to the workpiece and space is limited (repair work for example) the drill guide block can be removed and installed in a Kreg portable base unit, which locates over the side of the workpiece and can be adjusted for material thickness by sliding the guide block in or out and securing it with the brass screw.

Once the pockets are formed the two pieces can be clamped in place (genuine Kreg clamps work perfectly but in a pinch you can get by with standard ones) and secured together with screws. There's no waiting for the glue to dry and once the screws are driven home the clamps can be removed and you are onto the next joint. While we are at this point, there would be no advantage in adding glue to this joint because you can't glue endgrain - hence it would traditionally be done with a mortice and tenon or half-lap joint which give large long-grain to long-grain contact surfaces

 All Kreg products are solid, durable and robust, a result of the guy who invented the system and owns the company standing in front of his customers and selling it to them week in week out for years. The system is simple, fast, accurate and works beautifully. Whether you are making your first table and find traditional joinery a bit daunting, or a top designer-maker looking to improve the speed and efficiency of producing jigs and forms, Kreg pocket hole joinery may just be the answer.

For those that want more discrete pocket holes there is the Kreg Micro guide block, which simply replaces the guide block in the standard set up and produces 25% smaller pocket holes. Using the pan head screws the head of the screw is still fully concealed and the holes are plugable.

The next logical step is to go bigger, so for construction sized workpieces the new Kreg HD jig (announced earlier this week) is due to be launched this summer:

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Basic Blacksmithing Course

Last weekend I had the pleasure of becoming a new custodian of some very old skills, the honour of learning them from Oxfordshire Blacksmithing legend Clive Sanderson, and to top it all off, the privilege of working in a forge that dates back to 1790 and is now a scheduled ancient monument.

The intensive 2 day course covers the basic skills of traditional blacksmithing exactly as apprentices have learned them for centuries. Obviously you can't replace the hours of practice and opportunity to observe the master at work that you would get with a proper five year blacksmithing apprenticeship, but with 1 on 1 tuition and a little concentration it's surprising how much ground you can cover in a couple of days. Clive explained and demonstrated all of the following skills, which I then had plenty of time to practice on my own workpiece.

Fire management
Cutting and splitting
Forging to section (square, octagonal, round)
Drawing down and tapering
Upsetting or jumping up
Punching and drifting
Decorative Scroll work
We even managed to have a go at a bit of fire welding too.

Around the same time as I was born, Clive was starting his apprenticeship in a village blacksmiths shop three miles down the road. By the time I could walk he was making money at it and by the time I could ride a bike he had served his apprenticeship and could call himself a blacksmith. 

The techniques Clive teaches are absolutely traditional, they have been preserved and cherished since the iron age, like a living flame passed from one generation to the next.  Clive's pride in these techniques is inspiring, and has made me want to produce what I believe to be a perfect result every single time I use them.  I suppose this is the key to how craftsmanship gets passed down along with the skills.

The forge we were working in is part of Tooleys historic boatyard in Banbury. This little brick shed survived the wholesale redevelopment of the town centre ten years ago and it now sits rather incongruously among the mobile phone shops in the middle of the Castle Quay shopping centre. It isn't some touristy museum with a flickering orange lightbulb in the hearth and a recording of hammering to give it some atmosphere. It's a proper working forge, complete with heat, dirt and genuine expletives when someone is learning the hard way just how long metal stays hot.

By the end of the second day I had a new portfolio of comfortably understood blacksmithing skills and the confidence that I had used each of them at least once and achieved an acceptable result.  I also had a rather special candlestick to show for my efforts which also serves as a permanent reminder of both the individual techniques and a deeply rewarding experience.

If you'd like to find out more about the blacksmithing courses, book yourself in for one, or perhaps commission a piece of work, you can contact Clive direct at Charles Branson Design or via Tooleys boatyard on 01295 272917.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Rack and Rule

With a traditional single screw front vice, putting a workpiece in one end causes the moving jaw to rack diagonally and pinch one side of the workpiece without touching the other.

In some circumstances (holding a tapered leg for example) racking can be quite helpful but if you do want the jaws to close square you can eliminate racking easily enough by putting something of a similar thickness in the other end of the vice.

That said, rummaging around for a similar thickness something isn't exactly conducive to efficient workflow and you then need to hold the workpiece, the something and operate the vice all at the same time.

Enter the humble wooden folding rule in it's capacity as a something of variable thickness for putting in the other end of the vice. Just fold out the appropriate number of leaves and pop it in place, leaving both hands free to position the workpiece and operate the vice.