Better Than New: From salvage to savingsComments (0)
This article is from Issue 25 of Woodcraft Magazine.
Like the tools he rescues from the scrap heap, the period pieces Glen Jewell makes for his 168-year-old West Virginia home are better than new.
By Michael L. Maine
Glen Jewell runs a rehab center, of sorts, but it’s not for people. This barn on a three-acre wooded lot just a mile from downtown Charleston,West Virginia, is where rundown or disabled tools get reborn.
Glen, 72, has a passion for furniture making, particularly period pieces that reflect the era of the log home he shares with his wife, Carol. His second floor workshop occupies a barn Glen built in a style that complements their house. Beyond that, he has a passion for refurbishing old woodworking machines. Of the 19 major tools in his shop, only two (an oscillating spindle sander and a planer) were purchased new. The others he restored to “as good as or better than new” after acquiring them from the state’s surplus property agency, the county school system, or going-out-of-business auctions. “I sometimes feel like a missionary,” Glen explains. “I go out looking for lost souls, make them whole, set them on the straight and narrow, and then send them out to be productive in their world. I have never had a piece become a backslider.”
It started 30 years ago when Glen bought two Delta 12" turret-arm saws for $50. He invested $250 in parts, restored both saws, and later sold each for $600. The process has been repeated many times to include at least seven lathes, eight bandsaws, five table saws, numerous belt/disc sanders, drill presses, and other tools. Glen has calculated that he has about $10,000 invested in his current tools, but that new replacements would cost nearly $57,000.
The Jewells bought their “needs work” log home 30 years ago (Glen saw only the problems; Carol, the potential, Glen admits). In the 5'9"h×10'w×15'l stone cellar under the house Glen set up shop. Because of its limited size and the need to move the table saw just to rip a board longer than 4', Glen vowed that when he retired he would build a shop large enough to eliminate all of the moving and all of the unplugging and plugging in of cords.
That day finally came. Glen retired from Bell Atlantic telephone 17 years ago and set about building the barn beside the house. The first floor has space for two cars and Glen’s waterfowl-hunting boat, plus a half bath; the second floor contains his 24×32' shop. With benches and wall-mounted cabinets at both ends, and machines permanently set along the long sides and in the middle, Glen has plenty of room to maneuver long boards and sheet goods without moving or unplugging anything (see the floor plan on page 43). “There is one minor exception,” Glen confesses. “I have a bandsaw on a mobile base that I move in order to use my over-arm router, which is not very often.” As a period furniture maker and tool restorer, Glen is self-taught on both counts. But there was a different motivation for each—making furniture was a necessity; restoring tools, a mission. “I didn’t get into it because I had to. I always knew it was a good piece of equipment. I just didn’t want to see it die on the scrap heap,” Glen explains.
The Workshop at a Glance
Size: 24×32' barn loft.
Construction: Stick-built barn with shop over garage. 3" insulation in 8' walls; 6" insulation in the ceiling. Floor is unfinished tongue-and-groove yellow pine. Exterior is stained board-and-batten cedar. Roof is red tin.
Heating and cooling: Ceiling-mounted 80,000 btu forced-air gas furnace; 1½-ton air conditioner.
Lighting: Twenty-eight 4'-long twin-bulb fluorescents; halogen task lights over the workbench, flexible-arm fixtures at bandsaws; one mobile incandescent lamp.
Electrical: 200-amp main box with six 110-volt circuits and six 220-volt circuits. Ten 20-amp three-phase outlets.
Dust collection: Five-inch trunk line between the shop floor and garage ceiling. Four-inch Y branches to individual machines, except for the planer, joiner, and table saw, where the runs are 2'. A 1½-hp blower removes dust from the work area into a compost pile outside. Two Jet air-filtration systems cleanse the shop air.
Air compressor: 1-hp, 20-gallon compressor on the ground floor garage. Air is piped to both ends of the garage and shop.
Glen’s 12" variable-speed lathe dominates one side of the shop. It is flanked by a router-based mortiser/tenoner and shaper, and a Uniplane, over-arm router, and sander. Glen refers to this lathe (his seventh) as his “felon lathe” because it spent 20 years in the WV State Penitentiary.
A collection of vintage hand tools, including Glen’s grandfather’s handmade tenon marking gauge, is displayed on this end wall, above his mechanical/electrical workbench. The wall cabinet has eight small parts cabinets that contain 176 drawers.
When your goal is to furnish a 168-year-old home with period pieces, you have two choices: buy them or make them.“You can look a long time before you find a piece that fits or you can afford, so at first I made the pieces we needed,” he says.
With no formal training in either tool reconditioning or woodworking, Glen relied on knowledge he acquired on the job and his ability to retain what he read. “I got the training I needed so I could absorb a lot of information about electro/mechanical switching machines,” says Glen, who was director of engineering when he retired. “I had the acumen to understand everything they were telling me, and I could comprehend the technical journals.”
Armed with a knowledge of how machinery worked, the hardest part after acquiring a tool was tracking down an operating manual or finding replacement parts—that and getting some of the pieces up the stairs and into the shop. In one case the frame of a bandsaw was so heavy, Glen had to secure an eyebolt to the wall at the top of the stairs. Then with the help of a come-along and two friends, they winched it up the stairs and muscled it across the floor.
So what takes more of Glen’s time now: tool restoration or furniture building? “Restorations don’t take my time anymore so it is definitely studying or making period furniture,” Glen says. He also maintains an extensive library on period furniture and its construction and attends the annual Colonial Williamsburg Forum: Working Wood in the 18th Century.
FORAGING FOR LOW-COST TOOLS
There are plenty of tools out there that need TLC; you just need to know where to look. And the competition isn’t that intense either, especially now that Glen has decided he’s restored his last tool. “I stopped about two years ago, but I still have to keep reminding myself to pass them up,” he says. If you’re interested in searching for and reconditioning tools or buying used tools, Glen offers these tips:
Searching for tools to restore:
• Check out your state’s surplus equipment Web site.
• Investigate equipment sales from your local school district.
• Search free publications and newspapers containing classified ads for tool bargains or going out of business sales.
• Habitat for Humanity may operate a Re-Store in your area.
• Visit the U.S. Government’s surplus equipment Web site at www.gsaauctions.gov.
Buying used tools:
• Decide in advance the extent of restoration you intend. Are you simply going to put a blade in a worn-out piece of equipment and put it to work? Are you going to make it mechanically sound but accept its cosmetic weaknesses? Or are you going to make it as good as or better than new? Then…
1. Decide in advance what the tool is worth to you. If bidding at an auction, don’t get caught up in a bidding war.
2. Be patient. If you can’t get a tool now at the price you want, chances are you’ll come across one later at a better price.
The Floor Plan
Unlike many woodworkers who swear by their array of mobile tools, Glen designed his shop for precisely the opposite reason—so that he wouldn’t have to move anything. All major tools but one bandsaw stay put, for two reasons. His machines are older and therefore heavier than many made today, vibration is reduced, and Glen got his fill of “mobile” tools in his first workshop, which was a stone cellar under the house. “If I wanted to plane a long board, I had to drag the planer out the door. If I needed to rip a long board, I had to drag my table saw out the door. I vowed that when I retired I would build my shop big enough to have a permanent place for each piece of equipment,” he explains. Now most machines are positioned around the perimeter in pods according to function—sanding, scrolling, shaping, etc. His workbench (a conference table cut down to 3×8') is against one wall. Hand tools store in a cabinet above the bench; below, movable horizontal dividers between vertical supports provide 15 cubbyholes to store portable power tools and jigs. Rough lumber is stored on the first floor with cutoffs, trim molding, and sheet goods easily carried up a 4'-wide stairway to the second floor. Multiple fluorescent lights combined with four six-light barn sash windows and task lighting provide plenty of illumination.
Glen’s dust collection, though unusual, is effective and, because there are no bags or buckets, space efficient. Dust is sucked through trunk and branch lines, then blown out a first floor window where it lands in the compost pile.
Smart Ideas for the Taking
Simple saw rack:
This 10-slot saw rack allows Glen to store handsaws in a convenient location yet still protect the blades. A hole is drilled at a 22° angle into each section of block so it intersects the adjacent slot. Then a small rubber ball is inserted into the hole. When a saw is placed in the slot, its weight pulls the ball down and wedges the saw into the slot.
Because a drill-press table is not very large, a long piece of wood can shift or get out of level. To solve the problem Glen secured a small-diameter roller to a piece of scrap, and then clamped the scrap in a nearby vise to provide outfeed support.
Hands-free kill switch:
Most of the time, a woodworker needs both hands when operating a table saw. Releasing one hand to find a kill switch can be inconvenient and risky. Glen fashioned this H-shaped device so that the kill switch can be activated with nothing more than a glancing blow from a knee or hand. He attached a rubber bumper to the back of the vertical piece so it lines up with the standard OFF switch. “All I have to do is hit that board anywhere and it shuts the saw off, a real safety feature,” Glen says.
Pattern reproduction fence:
With this jig, Glen can make exact duplicates of a pattern for a candlestick table. When cutting away small pieces, they sometimes wedge between the saw and fence causing a rough edge or worse—a bent blade. This design allows Glen to simply flick the piece out of the way before any damage can occur. The fence is made of poplar, and it’s covered with an orange shellac to keep it from warping.
At home with craftsman Glen Jewell
Raised on a hardscrabble hillside farm in West Virginia, Glen learned early on what it was going to take to make it in the world—industry, ingenuity, and determination. After finishing high school, Glen packed up those traits and took them to college, got a degree in business management, and began a 32-year-career with Bell Atlantic Telephone Company supervising various organizations. Glen employs those same traits as a woodworker. His passion for woodworking started 30 years ago when he and his wife, Carol, bought their 1840/1910 log home and immediately set about restoring it. Because one exterior wall of the original log cabin became an interior wall after the 1910 log home was built over it, the first tool he used when embarking on a second-floor remodeling project was a chainsaw. From there, Glen refined his skills and began making style-appropriate furniture for the home. Today, Glen and Carol are avid antique collectors, and he is active in the Valley Woodworkers of West Virgina, Inc., and the Society of American Period Furniture Makers.
This WALNUT candlestick table is fashioned in the Dunlap style. (We’ll show how Glen built it in an upcoming issue of the magazine.) Glen’s interpretation includes a border of holly inlay and 120° fans in each of the six corners.
Glen built this Chester County, Pennsylvania, bible box from the dimensions on a postcard he received from a friend. The line-and-berry decorative motif was widely used early in that area’s history. The top includes intricate compass work, reflecting the area’s Germanic influence.
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