29 January 2016

Last classes before the year of the Monkey

Here are a selection of images from the last two classes that I led for students interested in handtool woodworking skills on January 9-1th and and the second on the 27-28th. I was ably assisted in these endeavors by my colleague,  the youthful Lao Wang.
Father/son team in the matching Maize and Blue sweaters

Lao Wang ably explaining mortising
DaHai makes an unscheduled appearance in class

the latest must-have woodworking project



They seem happy with the results
There were a few other side events, too. I was asked to demonstrate woodworking at an event to help sell very upscale apartments.
Wood needs to be made smooth, damn it!
Yes, that's real sod on the floors. The live music was pleasant enough but I never got the glass of champagne that I asked for.

Interior landscaping

Exterior landscaping
 The woodshop often gets used as a backdrop for photo and film shoots. Because it's so exotic
A day in the life of a woodbutcher

Miss Wood 1915, first runner-up!

the available color palette
There was an openhouse around Christmastime so I explained making paints after which attendees were invited to paint their own Christmas tree decorations after which some asked what they had made.
Explaining the wonders of casein to the lactose interolant

"Oh, Tannenbaum..."

student project

Hounian kuaile!

21 January 2016

Counterfeit clamps and those close enough

I've mentioned shanzhai culture in the Chinese marketplace before. Here are a few specific examples of how its ubiquity can make buying something as simple as a wood clamp generate headaches and confusion.
It was over a year ago that I sat in on a lunch meeting with representatives from Pony/Jorgensen at the time of their choosing a distributor for the mainland. Even when an international manufacturer doesn't expect to earn much money in the mainland market, I suspect that it needs to support a presence with mutual financial interests if only to defend its intellectual property rights and trademarks. A local distributor is better positioned and motivated to pursue this legal challenge. That's the theory, at least.
The Jorgensen pipe clamps are both useful and easy to pirate. While they are long off patent, the distinctive orange paint is used to confuse consumers even when versions painted in other colors are often of a higher quality yet still of a lower quality than the original manufactured goods. Again, this is likely due to shanzhai workshops not understanding how these tools are used in practice and merely focusing on producing them as cheaply as possible.
Can you find the authentic Jorgensen amongst the blackened piping?

Made in someplace

tail end

As I've said before, black pipe is not a stock item in China. These pipes were bought as bare metal and painted black without any kind of lacquer coating. The Chinese don't bother threading both ends so it was I who stuck on the thread protector onto the end. Using these single example makes one easily appreciate how even small features can make such a noticeable difference. I'll point these out in the following counterexamples.

Shanzhai head

Shanzhai tail
It's readily apparent from the poor fit that the Chinese shanzhai manufacturer simply took an original casting and made a pattern from it, not allowing for shrinkage. Patternmakers are highly trained professionals who earn their keep; hence, they are also amply compensated. I've already thrown out some of the screwheads on the sly that did not work anymore because of the stripped internal threads. There was simply not enough metal to tap into. The sliding clamp piece is attached with a very poor quality roll pin. It can be seen in other examples that this is a common method in China even though it fails regularly, sliding out and requiring, often during a clamp up, to be hammered back into the hole. The black handle is made from high carbon cast iron. Even when they do not break off from brittleness, their surface finish makes them uncomfortable to turn by hand. The same poor castings also create more friction when turning these screws due to the shortage of tappable metal and the poor fit. Lastly, the discs that bite into the pipe are of such inappropriately chosen material that they have bent.
a lower priced Shanzhai version
The sliding iron crosspiece is as painful to use as it appears. Many others have been bent and wrapped around the threaded rod. The only way to comfortably turn these is with the box end of a wrench.

Here are some other Chinese made pipe clamps which are slightly better and do not attempt to fool consumers with the Jorgensen orange paint.
China Red


slightly higher quality clutch discs

rollpinned and failure

The next style of clamps is both harder to manufacture and harder to distinguish from fakes. They were sourced from a Taiwanese retailer, which might or might not be a more reliable supplier for authentic items due to better enforcement of copyright laws in the RoC. But money is money.
All these clamps arrived in the same shipment so the differences were readily apparent. I cannot say whether there is any overwhelming performance differences, certainly not as evident as above. Yet it's clear that through rivets make a better connection. The handles without the rivets do seem to have started to slip against the threaded rods.


The beams of the clamps are both done in a way to prevent the sliding head from slipping off. The dimple is a far superior method in contrast with the dinged end that both looks unattractive and has the potential to mar wood pieces.It's hard to understand anything but a dimple is acceptable. I've since noticed from clamps of Amazon that
stamped model numbers

Cast from different patterns

These two details show that the clamps might likely be made in two separate production facilities. While the stamping differences are part of a secondary stage of production, the different heads were made from different patterns and, likely, poured in different foundries.
riveted head into faulty casting


The heads in some clamps lack a direct rivet connection. In the riveted sample is a casting that was likely rejected for international export. More on this below.

mishandled or peened rivet

This is one feature that promises to affect utility in the long term.  I suspect that the rivetless handle is attached with little more than an epoxy adhesive, just the sort of planned obsolescence to render the clamp useless after a moderate amount of use.
In order to help resolve these issues, I sent an email to the manufacturer. Their website doesn't show any more products with maple handles, it seems. Is this a clue? Do I have new/old stock vintage clamps or something less?
After I got an automatic response informing that my question would be addressed promptly,
Thank you for contacting Pony Tools! We have received your email,  and you can expect a reply within 24-48 hours.
Thank you for your business and your continued support.

Pony Tools, Inc.
Customer Service Team

I've heard nothing since. And even after the vice-president told me to let him know whether I needed anything. In my previous position.
Shanzhai culture is deeply rooted in mainland industries. On its surface it is simple counterfeiting of established brand names. A recent example was discovered and shut down. This article explains the economics for those involved. In short: the benefits far outweigh the risks in. It's about fats money, 'kuai qian'. There are many degrees of Shanzhai; these examples are of but one. Pony and Jorgenson brand tools have moved their production to China. While this does reduce their labor costs, it causes the stockholders much more loss of control than they anticipate, and often fail to recognize.
It's evident that the bar clamps fixtures were made in a foundry without any connection to the Ponytools company. The poor quality strongly hints that the shanzhai producers never assembled a product inspcted for export and more likely don't know anything about woodworking to evaluate their own products. As I have pointed out before and here, mainland Chinese don't think of pipes and anything but for conveying water or gas.
The smaller bar clamps reveal a different story. I believe that they were manufactured under contract to be sold as exports under the Pony/Jorgensen brand name. These clamps were either rejected by quality control or discontinued for export when the main office decided that plastic handles were the future. So what is a factory manager to do with rejected products, overruns, or an assembly line that doesn't readily accommodate the updated features? Certainly not miss out on an opportunity to make some fast money. There is certainly no allegiance to protecting the integrity of the brand name? Diluting one is so much more profitable than building up its market value.
This phenomenon continues for two main reasons. 1) Chinese consumers are often poorly informed in how to detect fakes, and even when they do raise a complaint, there is very little that is done by authorities to enforce copyright or IPR. The thinking is that even counterfeiters are employers and as long as the micro titans of industry are well connected, they have little to fear. 2) Chinese consumers are often exclusively motivated by price. Even when they are made aware that they are buying an inferior product, they often weight that against how much they can save and not how much frustration a shanzhai product might cause. They certainly have no qualms about perpetuating a system that hurts that nation's reputation as a whole. The flaws in most products are subtle and without a comparison to an original, it's impossible to distinguish wheat from chaff.
What's disconcerting is that these were purchased through a Taiwanese distributor. Is it possible that the distributor was in on the ruse, or were these products only handled to be sold back to the mainland? The fact that they were mixed in one order suggests that they don't care, don't believe anybody might notice with interest, or they were selling the last of their stock.
There's more to this phenomenon to be highlighted in later postings.

01 January 2016

Pallet Cleanser

While this project was inspired primarily by a resourceful Dane, I've also been wont to upcycle often and enjoy making something of worth that any other man might think only to toss to the curb. It also fulfilled a task my good wife set for me to make a tray that she would use for storing her stationery and other writing schlock so I could return the tray that she had appropriated back to her trousseau.  And if it also served additional roles for demonstrating to students and colleagues as to drawer construction and veneering with hide glue, then so much the better.
Pine is hard to come by in this woodshop since there is a definite preference for hardwoods, the more exotic and tropical, the better. I had disassembled a pallet a few months back, putting the salvageable pieces aside for an unspecified task.
repurposed and ready!
The larger pieces merit some commentary. I am astounded by how much more printing goes onto lumber as can be seen according to this date stamp! How soon before the sawyers begin using barcodes at the mill? 
Authentic only with sawyer's signature

Would somebody please tell me what "nonstructural lumber" is? And is my planing off that warning the equivalent of removing a mattress tag? Onwards, into the unknown. The surface of these nonstructural '2x4's is another oddity which I had not encountered. I am not even certain whether these ridges are pressed or cut into the wood.
Ribbed for her consternation

I applied the accidental veneers to the pine slats. [Insert untaken photos here] These are offcuts from resawing 8/4 and 9/4 stock for other projects offered here.
A fortune for the picking
The plainsawn surface provides its own toothed surface and works well for this simple application.
circumstantial veneer

The resawer with a bladeguard that never moves

While some of these offcuts are too thin for this method, most allow for a few passes on the jointer to reestablish a true face on the veneered side after which I run the pieces through a surface planer to get a common thickness that fits into the dado on the bottom inside of the tray, a snug 5/16". I left a bit of veneer overhang one length of the bottom boards, and then trimmed back the veneer on the mating side of the abutting boards. I found a pleasing arrangement and started assembly by gluing the first into the dado on the front with hide glue, and then to each of the halflaps, stacking them, leaving the last with a slight excess past the back, pressing down until the hide glue had cooled.
Back with last bottom piece
assembled bottom
After a day, I planed off the excess and cleaned up the inside of any bit of squeezeout with scrapers.
That which is seen

It was a satisfying build overall. The walnut veneer, in this case, provide a harder surface against everyday wear, not merely a pretty covering on the pine substrate. There's a lot of European Beech that passes through here. [Insert another untaken photo] It makes for a less eyecatching surface but adds even more hardness to drawer bottoms.
Xin nian kuaile!

12 November 2015

Trends in Handsaws

One recent project got me to thinking of a developing trend in handtools. Since I know that there are many industrialist bigwigs who read my weblog, I feel particularly obligated to impart my wisdom to this cohort through the weblogging medium.
Initially, I got an idea that I needed a planing board after reading a posting by Christopher Schwarz in which he referenced the idea from George Ellis, Modern Practical Joinery. Schwarz commented that he would post his thoughts later as to how to properly use the planing board. I followed his construction notes, blueprints and referenced the Ellis book from a .pdf file that I had downloaded. I've not yet had enough experience to write up new insights although I do have a few inklings and planned modifications to make the appliance function to its fullest potential.
The bench appliance is made up of several slats that float in grooves plowed into the long rails that are held in place at four corners with pegged mortise and tenons joints. Though I chopped the mortises easily enough with Lie-Nielsen chisels, I've found that I can cut the tenons more easily and accurately with a Japanese style rip tooth Z saw. This saw didn't particularly cost me much and I was able to buy it from a Shanghai tooldealer. I've become more and more satisfied with the purchase as I steadily make use of it.

A pullstroke seems to start more smoothly in end grain and keep in line with long layout markings. When cutting deeply, the broad surface of the unbacked blade has obvious benefits over a stouter, western style backsaw. The main feature worthy of comment, however, is that this blade is, in fact, detachable from the handle and disposable. The blade hooks in and is wedged between crimped metal of the handle. I've not yet noticed any diminishing of the blades sharpness since I purchased it two years ago.  I am confident that when I do decide that the sawblade no longer passes muster, I can buy its replacements locally, keeping the still functional handle.
It locks in place with a good, strong wallop
This feature is possible due to a method for cheaply producing sawblades: induction hardening. The teeth are hardened through magnetic oscillations, the same method on many glass topped cookstoves. The distinguishing aspect of this heating method is that it doesn't distort nor discolor the steel as with fire quenching. The teeth can be ground precisely before the hardening process; whereas, in older methods, the teeth needed to be tempered in order to be sharpened with a file. The upside of tempering steel is that the sawblade can be resharpened repeatedly after becoming dull, or even reshaped.


The red plastic handle for that I bought for the Z saw fits well in the hand and is easy to grip. It's lightly padded with some sort of dense foam. The handles are also available in different lengths, styles, and other colors, even wooden, and wrapped in bamboo binding. The range of blade options is even more impressive.

All of this is laid out to compare with the options that are generally available for broadly marketed western crosscut saws. Or is it clearer to say NonJapanese saws? Locally I am able to buy some of the wares offered by Irwin and Stanley, generally, whatever the bigboxstores and franchise retailers offer outside the Middle Kingdom.  Induction hardening has now become the industry default standard so much so that saws that are not made so are distinguished with the label, resharpenable, a marketer's neologism. I've been using this Irwin model for the last few months and I've been recommending them earnestly to students. I get good results with the saw both up on the high bench and down low for rough cutting. But eventually, it will become dull, just as my previous crosscut did, a Sandvik, seemingly no longer available in China. Paul Sellers has also written about his experiences with a similar Disston saw and the trends in the construction trades related to it.
as good as it gets marketwise
And when that sad day arrives, there will be no replacement blade, the whole saw, handle and blade, will be rendered disposable. I've noticed that both Stanley and Irwin are now beginning to offer Japanese style pull saws as part of their wares, yet with none of the options on the Japanese market. They offer push saws now with Japanese saw tooth geometry, but nearly all the saw handles are molded plastic, sometimes to imitate wood, the coloring, as far as I can reckon, is but a function of the market zone and not according to the consumer's preference. Despite attempts to reenter the bench plane market after abandoning it decades ago, (whither the surform?) Stanley has no apparent interest in offering anything more than a midrange handsaw. If there are screws, rather sawnuts, to attach the blade to the handle, they hold a meretricious function.

The responses are unsurprisingly predictable as to why brands like Irwin and Stanley, to call out just a few in the field, offer such a narrow range of handsaws and of such minimal quality. The executives will talk about market demands,  production efficiencies,  yada-yada, blah, blah, etc. The corporate/ business school culture is much more to blame. The top level honchos all know each other, or else they hire the same consultants, and thereby tend to do whatever the others are doing and indifferently follow the other's business plans without ever willing to admit so. And so it's not surprising that industrywide, the products would look so similar even if they weren't made in the few same Chinese factories.

It's amazing that very well paid men can convince themselves that they are earning their salaries while offering fewer options internationally than a single Japanese manufacturer can offer domestically. It makes me wonder whether industrialist islanders, perforce, develop higher standards for manufacturing due to the associated higher costs of production and local consumers even more discerning and demanding of domestic manufacturers. But the island setting cannot be the only factor. There are still a few manufacturers in the UK that rely on very highly trained craftsmen, but Sheffield steel is a shadow of what it once was.There are still small French manufacturers producing items that have long fell out of the mainstream but that still fulfill a niche market. The smaller scale of manufacturing and the shorter distance between craftsperson and factory seem to be more salient explanations.

Ecce, ecce! Here is my unsolicited advice to the leaders of the big industrial conglomerates that determine what handtools are available to the masses: do the right thing and take a cue from the Japanese sawmakers whose tool designs you've been surreptitiously offering under your brands, and make your saws with detachable, disposable blades. And while you're composing that email to your outsourcer in Dongguan, you might also think about offering more options for handles.  This is the last time that I waive my consulting fee, you shortsighted boomer bastards.

07 October 2015

MidAutumn Coursework: October 1st-5th

A group of seven students used their golden week holiday to learn about some fundamentals of woodworking with handtools. My assistant and I were pleased with their focus and diligence over the 5 day course, They learned such skills as joinery layout, handsawing, mortising, paring, dimensioning with benchplanes, and sharpening. The following photos are a sampling of their efforts.
Rebate joints

Using a drawknife to whittle down waste

Fettling a sliding dovetail socket

Kolrosing on a finished candlebox

All on task

An interloping paparazza!

Surfacing with a newly tuned jackplane
Coffee flavored Kolrosing

Transferring a design with marking knife

Final day group photo