I'm taking a workshop with Frank Klausz on building a hand-dovetailed jewelry box. The first day was today, and what a day it was. I met Frank for the first time last night at a dinner held by the St. Louis Woodworker's Guild for those attending Frank's workshop this weekend. The dinner was thoroughly enjoyable, and Frank proved to be a wonderful storyteller and just as opinionated as some people who had met him had described.
Today was a whirlwind of learning, lecture, skill building, and work, with the not-so occasional mistake mixed in. Frank was knowledgeable, entertaining, helpful, and demanding throughout. I learned so much I fear I'll forget half of it before it sinks in. Most of all, I learned how hard it is to cut good dovetails by hand, and surprised myself with better results than I'd expected (though still less than I wanted). So far, my box is turning out pretty well, though I fear a couple of my dovetails will have unsightly gaps that can't really be fixed. But Frank was helping some folks with their boxes today by cutting small wedges from mahogany and filling gaps with them. So perhaps my gaps can be repaired as well.
When I came home tonight, I spent almost three hours working on my chisels and plane blades. Over an hour of that time was spent on the blade of the 4 1/2 Bailey plane (WWII era) I bought off of eBay a few weeks ago. What an absolute disaster that bottom of that blade is. Even after an hour of hard effort with waterstones (starting with 220 grit), there are two spots of pitting I couldn't get rid of. One is on the left side about three-quarters of an inch from the edge, so I'm not so worried about that one for now. The other one is right behind the edge and concerns me. I suspect that as I re-grind my primary angle and remove material into that area, the result will be automatic 'nicks' in the edge as the blade is ground into the pitting. I'll ask Frank about it tomorrow and may end up ordering a new blade from Hock Tools.
I also discovered today that a 15000 grit stone produces a wonderful mirror shine on metal. After Frank touched up one of my chisels with his 8000 and 15000 grit stones and it was amazing. I mentioned to him I was unaware of the 15000 grit stones, and he said I could get the same results by building a slurry which included swarf from the blade. With that slurry and a light touch to let the swarf polish the blade, he said I'd do just as well. I tried it when I got home this evening and discovered that there's a reason the 'starter' 8000 grit stone I have was so inexpensive. Now that I've worked my way past the surface of the stone (over the last few years), I've hit an area of the stone that contains much larger pieces of grit than 8000. It took me a while to figure out why I could not longer get a mirror-like polish on the backs of chisels or plane blades, and it was a real let-down. So it looks like I'll be buying an 8000 grit waterstone as soon as I can afford to do so. Unfortunately, the 15000 grit stones are about $50 each, so I'll have to live with 8000 grit for a while.
One of my favorite moments was when someone was asking Frank why we needed to make sure the inside of the tree was face-up on the lid for our jewelry box. Frank had stressed this many times during the day ("The inside of the tree is the outside of the box"). He explained how placing the inside of the tree makes for a better joint if we wanted our work to last a hundred years and not just twenty years. I confess that when he asked if anyone in the room cared if their work lasted a hundred years, I was the only one to say "I do". Maybe I just said it so no one else had to.
I am really looking forward to the second day of the workshop tomorrow. I imagine I'll learn just as much as I did today. And hopefully I won't make any huge mistakes.