In Shop Blog, Techniques

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When I first started working here at the magazine we actually had time to go out for lunch each week (we now eat at our desks), and one day after eating at a Thai restaurant we wandered into a hippie-run gallery.

Before being overcome by patchouli and someone’s very intrusive orange aura, I spied something at the counter that made me laugh. It was one of those plastic things you stick on your car that people call a Darwin fish. I’m not a political guy and don’t know if I came from monkeys or not (my wife sure thinks so). But it made me laugh and so I stuck it to the back of my Honda Civic.

Soon after, I became convinced the item was cursed or there was some divine comedy at work.

Within a few months I was rear-ended at a stoplight, destroying the back end of my car – except for the Darwin fish.

Today I’m a more cautious fellow. Sometimes too cautious. As I was working on a folding Roubo bookstand this morning, I found myself hesitating to pick up the big ripsaw and resaw the sucker. So I futzed around with the scrollwork. Then I cut a Grecian ovolo on the front lip across the grain – fun. I flattened out the backboard as best I could with a smoothing plane.

But eventually I ran out of French details to add to the bookstand and I knew it was time to do the deed.

Curse No. 2
So I got my Honda Civic back after a month of body shop work and absentmindedly reapplied the Darwin fish to the trunk. I’m sure I chuckled when I did it. Ha. A fish with legs.

That fall as I was driving some co-workers to lunch at a Mexican restaurant, a dump truck merged into me, forcing me off the road and scraping the entire side of my car. And I ran over a speed limit sign. Then the police showed up and ticketed the dump trucker and me.

What the heck? Two wrecks and a ticket in four months?

I had to take a day off of work to go to court to fight the charge. I won. I got the car fixed and thought my troubles were over.

Wait for It
After about 15 minutes of sawing on the bookstand I started getting near the point where I had to slow down and watch the kerf. Working in my leg vise was a pain because I couldn’t see inside the hinge. So I laid the bookstand flat on my bench and put a hold-down over the hinge.

This worked quite well. I could see inside the hinge and it was easier to see the kerf on the outfeed side of the bookstand as well. By clamping the hold-down over the hinge, the pressure didn’t want to pop the bookstand open prematurely.

I kept sawing and I just couldn’t get to where the two pieces released. So I got out a knife and started digging around in the hinges, trying to cut through to the saw kerf. Then I heard a sickening sound, like an enormous branch straining and breaking. I knew that sound.

Curse No. 3
The winter after my second accident was wet and windy, and the trees behind our house were dropping dead limbs at an alarming rate. So we knew we had to get an arborist out to see what needed to be done to keep our trees healthy.

So we made an appointment and waited.

In the meantime, a big storm hit with high winds and lots of rain. I was lying in bed listening to the storm when I heard that sickening sound of a tree breaking apart, the individual fibers popping like breaking straw.

And then: crash.

I put on my bathrobe and went outside to see what happened. A large branch had broken off our maple and landed smack-dab in the middle of my windshield. The branch was still reaching for the sky and it looked like a tree was growing through my car.

Wet, and a bit crazed, I ripped the Darwin fish off the back of my car and threw it into the woods behind our house.

Beating the Curse?
As I heard that popping sound in the shop I closed my eyes. I couldn’t look at first. But after a moment I gazed down and saw the bookstand hinge swinging free. My patience and knifework had paid off. I give my performance a “B,” and maybe it will be “B+” work after I clean up the sawblade marks.

I was still a little on edge after hearing the sound of the hinge separating. And I’m still a bit wary that something is going to go wrong with this bookstand.

After all, the next week after I threw the Darwin fish into the woods, we had another storm. Lighting hit a tree and the woods caught fire.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 17 comments
  • gvancise

    This is harder than he makes it look. Today looks like a good day to get it right… finally.

  • Well, thanks for the encouragement Tom, and thanks again for the video Chris– and thanks for the initial inspiration Roy– (insert Dora the Explorer music here) We did it, Lo hisimos, we did it!

    I managed to crack this nut and posted about it in the Woodnet forum hand tools section if you’d like to see it.

    I learned a lot on this project and have a couple of tips-
    1- The guide portion from a combo square makes a fine chisel guide to ensure you pare the knuckles at a 45 degree angle… just put a large chisel on the square face and you will hit 45 degrees every time
    2- A scroll saw is perfect for cutting the knuckle seperating lines– it is very much a case where this is the perfect tool for the job– you can use a very tiny hole and very tiny blade
    3- speaking of holes, if you drill the saw blade entrance hole in the waste corner of the knuckle it will minimize the hole showing.

    I’ll still probably use power/cnc tools for some of the steps in the future (I have 15+ to make as gifts), but I am glad I did this one with (mostly) power tools.

    Thanks again all,

  • Lawrence Richards

    Thanks for the reminder about softwoods– this is a great point and one that I shall take to heart for my next hand-tools-only attempt. The point of it being a good learning project is well given as well–even my wife pointed out that I was much quicker and cleaner at chiseling out the second side (backside?) of my first attempt… perfect practice really does make perfect. I look forward to giving this another go.

    Thank you again for the video and PDF clarifying things for us; it is very useful.

    Lawrence Richards

  • Tom Holloway

    For practice, there’s nothing wrong with a section of, clear pine (or other softwood) 1×12, or 1×10, about 18" long. The result could be a keeper! Another key to making the hinge work, maybe not stressed enough by Roubo (or Roy, or Chris) is that in laying out of the hinge, it must be exactly as wide as the stock is thick. That’s why Roubo’s circle works well for the layout, even if you don’t carve the hinge pieces with the circle’s curve. No judgement intended but: this is a good project for developing hand tool skills, including layout, chisel work, sawing, cleanup with plane and scraper. I guess everyone decides for themselves what’s the payoff when the recipient says "That’s neat, how did you do it?" For some it may be "my CNC router did it for me." For others it may be "I did it myself, with hand tools."

  • Lawrence Richards

    Well– my first attempt was an utter failure, except that I learned much more from it than I ever would have from success.

    I chopped out the hinges and then succeeded in screwed up the slicing in half. The grain so badly threw my cut that I ended up throwing the whole thing into the bin after 2+ hours of chopping and cleaning out the hinges.

    One chunk of 8 inch wide hard maple down the tubes–and I now need to hone every chisel in my shop.

    I have already (please hold your judgement) made a CAD file to "cheat" the hinges with my CNC router, and will also accomplish some of the basics for background chip carve patterns–

    –but before I do the dozen or so I plan to make for Christmas prezzies with my "cheated" CNC router I WILL succeed at doing at least 2 by hand alone (with bandsaw assistance perhaps)

    I shall overcome this if only be it by sheer will and stubborness alone. Or perhaps I will re-visit "the spirit of woodcraft" by Mr. Underhill for yet another time. Mindfullness is what I am missing…

    Please wish me luck; I have only 10 months till Christmas presents have to be sent out.

    "I shall aim to chop the chopping block and not the wood…"

    …no matter the physical result, I am already rewarded by the journey

  • Kent Ryan

    Chris could you please post a drawing of the two nested book stands as described in the translation – I can’t "see it" maybe I have some company – THEN maybe not. At any rate, I ask for your assistance.

  • planewood

    Very funny story. Sound a bit "fishy". The book stand looks awesome! I have a piece of Mahogany I have been saving for years that might just be a good candidate for this project.
    Your writing reminds me of a story I used to tell about my old Mazda pick-up. It turns out that "Mazda" translates in English to "Hit Me".
    Many did.
    Chuck D.

  • Mark McKay

    I caught a Darwin Fish, I was like WOW……
    Then I fried it for supper.(with corn bread on the side)
    Circle of life complete.

    The Good Lord gives and I eats.

    Rabbit the Boat Wooden Builder

  • wapitiscat

    Maybe you should try a flying spaghetti monster decal. Noodly appendages. What’s not to love?


  • Bill Elliott

    I so look forward to these posts every morning. As someone already stated, it’s a welcome escape from the corporate machine.

    I’ll never look at a Darwin fish the same, and great job on the stand!

  • Steve B

    Hi Chris
    Fascinating tale and great project.

    I suspect a bookstand no matter how nice is not high on a lot of people’s wishlists. But it could be a popular project if promoted as a desk or table stand for a relatively big and heavy iPad or similar reader.

    And now that you have shown the potential, there are a couple of folks I know who really deserve a Darwin fish.

    Steve B. in Thunder Bay

  • Kelly Taylor

    great blog post, this blog is my escape from the corporate grind. BTW, nice saw, can you tell us about it?

  • Jon Sokol

    I don’t know the difference between a Grecian ovolo and howler monkey, but that was a good piece of writing!

  • Rick E

    Reminds me of a Brady Bunch episode. If you had bought the fish in Hawaii I would have been really be freaked out. BTW: You didn’t come from a chimp or some other primordial ooze. Your DNA and moral code should tell you that. Do you plan on rounding over the hinge sockets as the article showed? Any way we can get a close up of them?

  • Charles Davis

    Funny story! Reminded of the vivid stories and oft-cursed central character in the movie "Big Fish" (… just a random thought… at least it has a fish reference going for it.

    Didn’t realize you had an issue with intrusive orange auras… Word on the street is that Megan rocks a deep saffron aura… I don’t know how you put up with her… I mean her arura.

    I love the _evolution_ of this design. Looking very spiffy…

    I’m definitely going to make this when the full size template is put out (sorry, I see a screw and I have to turn it). Just embrace the love.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    There is not one way to do it. The order of steps is somewhat flexible.

    If you read the translation I posted a couple days ago the bookstands are made two at a time. Nested. And they are sawn apart with a frame saw.

    I took a different route. I hogged off the material with a chisel. I made several kerfs in the waste and popped it off by working across the grain. Then I cleaned it up with a fore plane and a smoother.

    Then I cut the ovolo. It made sense to me to do that before resawing.

  • Matt

    I’m confused about the steps here. Sorry, I don’t subscribe to the magazine – YET. Do you plane the Grecian ovolo before you resaw? So did you hog out everything above the ovolo with a scrub or something? Or did you resaw down to the ovolo and cut the waste? Pardon my thickness. I’m trying to make a bookstand myself piecing together what I think to be the steps from you blog.

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